Translated from the Russian by Leonard Stoklitsky
     First published 1974
     (c) English translation, Mir Publishers, 1974
     OCR: http://home.freeuk.com/russica2
     Original title:  ""

     Being an account
     of the latest fantastic
     discoveries, happenings of the
     eighteenth century,
     mysteries of Matter,
     and adventures
     on land and at sea


     I'll die if I don't see the Caspian.


     If you wish to subject an unknown substance
     to the action of an unknown force you must
     first study this substance.
     Honore de Balzac -LA PEAU DE CHAGRIN

     There  is a  great  temptation  to  start a novel of adventure  with  a
shipwreck. Something like this:
     "With  a  sickening crunch the three-masted bark  Aretusa, sailing from
the New Hebrides with  a cargo  of copra,  listed heavily to  starboard. The
raging sea swept over-"
     But we  did not yield to the temptation. This true story  of ours  will
open without a shipwreck.  Since  we wish, however, to conform throughout to
the dictates of good style, we solemnly promise to arrange one later on.
     So much for that.
     One fine summer day the m.s. Uzbekistan was approaching a large Caspian
town. The time was shortly  after lunch, and the promenade deck was deserted
except for a man in a green check suit. He was  taking  his  ease  in a deck
chair, sheltered from the broiling sun by an awning.
     Nikolai Opratin, a person destined to play no small role in this story,
was a lean,  dapper man in his late thirties. He had an energetic face, with
a bony chin, thin lips and a high brow ending  in a carefully concealed bald
patch. His close-shaven  cheeks  and  the  aroma  of his  aftershave  lotion
created the impression that he had just stepped out of a barber's chair.
     Postprandial naps were a pernicious habit  in which Nikolai Opratin did
not  indulge.  He reclined  in  his deck chair, gazing at the  ship's broad,
foamy wake. On his right he could see the grayish-yellow strip  of coastline
rising out of the blue sea. The long hilly island at the entrance to the bay
was already in sight.
     The island  had been much  smaller twenty years ago, Opratin reflected.
Through the centuries the level of the  ancient Caspian had often  risen and
fallen, sometimes  by  as  much as eighty metres.  In recent  years  it  had
dropped greatly.  Man, no longer willing to be just a passive observer,  had
now set himself the difficult task  of raising the level of the Caspian. One
of  the  ideas  suggested  was   to  seal  off,  with  a  dam,  the  Bay  of
Kara-Bogaz-Gol,  where  the  hot   desert  sun  evaporates  fourteen   cubic
kilometres  of Caspian water annually. Another was to divert northern rivers
into the  Caspian. Under this bold scheme,  the Kama,  Vychegda and  Pechora
rivers  were to be pumped across the watersheds  and made to flow southwards
into the Volga, which empties into the Caspian Sea.
     Even  if  Kara-Bogaz-Gol Bay were cut off from the sea, northern rivers
diverted, and water from  Central Asia's  great  Amu Darya river  added, the
level  of the Caspian would not  rise by the desired three metres before the
year 2000.
     That was  far too long  to  wait. Actually,  the addition of  only  one
thousand cubic kilometres of water to the Caspian in the course  of one year
would do the trick.
     But this was easier said than done. Several thousand giant pumps and  a
power station with a  capacity of scores  of millions of kilowatts  would be
required to  shift  that amount of water  from  the Black  Sea, say, to  the
Caspian in one year.
     Nikolai Opratin, Candidate of Science (Tech.), had all these figures at
his  fingertips because he  was the man in  charge of  the  key aspect  of a
Caspian-level scheme at the Research Institute of Marine Physics.
     Although the  level of the  Caspian had dropped, the sea was still more
than deep enough for the Uzbekistan. The town came into view, rising  slowly
out of  the blue  bay. Smokestacks  and the delicate  tracery of  TV aerials
could be seen with the naked eye.
     The  decks  now  swarmed  with  passengers.  Many  were  holiday-makers
returning home from a cruise along the Volga.
     A trio of sailing enthusiasts leaned on the rail as they discussed  the
merits of a white sailboat that was overtaking the ship.
     Young men and women in blue  jerseys with white  numbers on their backs
tirelessly took snapshots of one another.
     A  husky, well-built man  in a  striped  shirt worn  over  his trousers
strolled along the deck with his plump wife on his arm. From time to time he
paused  to give  a young photographer some pointers about  which aperture to
set and which shutter speed to use.
     "What  a  pity  our  holiday is  coming  to an  end, Anatole," a  woman
somewhere behind Opratin remarked in a high-pitched voice.
     "Thank goodness it's over-that's  what I say,"  a  man's voice replied.
"Just think of all the time lost." The  voice struck Opratin as familiar. He
turned  round  to see  a  slender  young blonde  in  a red sun-dress, and  a
middle-aged  man  in  a  crumpled  pongee   suit.  The  man  had  a   broad,
large-featured face, puffy eyelids and an unruly shock of brown hair.
     The couple, deep  in conversation,  stopped  by  the rail  not far from
Opratin's deck chair.
     Opratin  rose, straightened his jacket, and walked over to  them. "Good
afternoon, Benedictov," he said in a low voice.
     The man in the pongee suit stared at  him coldly. "Ah, the  expert  who
writes reviews," he remarked. He reeked of brandy.
     "I saw you in  the restaurant during lunch but didn't venture to impose
on  you," said Opratin. He  turned to Benedictov's companion  with  a slight
bow. "My name is Nikolai Opratin."
     "How do you do," she replied.  "I'm  Rita  Benedictov. I've heard about
     Opratin lifted  the corners of his mouth in a smile. "I don't doubt it.
Nothing  very  flattering,  I'll  wager."  His  tone  was  half-questioning,
half-affirmative. The young woman merely shrugged. With the sun on her face,
her  brown eyes  were  warm and clear, but there was a hint of melancholy in
     "Were you on the Volga cruise too?" she asked.
     "No,  I  came aboard last  night  at  Derbent.  Business. By the way, a
curious thing happened to me in Derbent-"
     A glance at Benedictov's  face told Opratin that he  couldn't care less
about anything that had happened at Derbent.
     "Tut-tut, he still holds a grudge against me," Opratin thought.
     That  spring a scientific journal  had asked Nikolai Opratin to write a
review  of  an  article submitted for  publication by  a biophysicist  named
Anatole  Benedictov.  The  article had impressed  him.  Benedictov  began by
analysing,  in the light of modern physics,  the phenomenon of ionophoresis,
known since 1807 when Professor Reiss of Moscow discovered that drops of one
liquid are capable  of  moving through another  liquid.  Further, Benedictov
gave an account of his observations of fish having electric organs and cited
interesting information about them.  The  electric  ray,  Torpedinidae,  for
example, generates  300  volts  at  eight  amperes,  and the  electric  eel,
Electrophorus Electricus, as much as 600 volts.
     Benedictov  maintained  that  such  fish, Nature's largest living power
generators, created an electric field the action of  which makes  water pass
through their scales into their bodies. He had  planted  contacts in fish to
measure differences in  the action  potential  of the skin and  the internal
organs,  and  had   concluded  that  under  certain  definite  electrostatic
conditions liquids penetrate through  living tissue.  Benedictov put forward
the  hypothesis that it would  soon be possible to subject  fish to  special
irradiation that  would make them  both  penetrable  and  able to  penetrate
through solid matter  when required. For example, fish would be able to pass
freely through concrete dams on rivers.
     In his review Opratin had spoken highly of the fish experiments but had
politely ridiculed the  penetrability hypothesis.  The editor of the journal
had  introduced  him to Benedictov. Benedictov had  disagreed with Opratin's
conclusions, called  the  review  "narrow-minded", and  refused  to let  his
article be published.
     All this had taken place about three and a half months earlier. Now the
author and the reviewer were meeting for a second time.
     "There  was no need to  take offence, Benedictov," Opratin said mildly.
"Your article had a lot of interesting points, as I noted in my review-"
     "I didn't take offence," Benedictov interrupted.
     "It's just that I  don't think you-  hm, well, that you know much about
     Opratin  took out his handkerchief and wiped  his forehead. "Let's  not
argue about it," he  said quietly.  "You know more about  some  things and I
know more about others. Isn't that so?"
     "In that case, stick to what you know and don't go poking your nose-"
     "Anatole, please," the woman  said, putting her hand on  her  husband's
     "I shouldn't have spoken to him," Opratin thought. "He's all keyed up."
Aloud he said: "I have no intention of interfering in your  affairs.  I hope
you'll  finally realize  your  hypothesis  is  groundless.  Ionophoresis and
reciprocal penetrability of bodies are immeasurably far apart. Goodbye."
     Opratin  made  a  dignified  turn but  before he  had taken  two  steps
Benedictov  called to him.  "Look  here", he said.  "Want a demonstration of
     "Stop it, Anatole," said the woman. "Don't, I beg you."
     Benedictov waved her aside. "Look!" He thrust his hand inside his shirt
and drew out a knife.
     Opratin took an involuntary step backwards.
     The husky man in the striped  shirt  strode  over to Benedictov.  "Hey,
none of that! Put that knife away."
     Benedictov ignored him. "Here's penetrability for  you!"  he exclaimed.
He pushed up his left sleeve and slashed his forearm with the knife.
     Someone gave a stifled scream. A crowd started to gather.
     "See that?" Now Benedictov plunged  the knife into his arm.  The narrow
blade, on which a wavy pattern was engraved, passed straight through his arm
without even leaving a scratch on it.
     The crowd was struck dumb. Benedictov laughed.  As he  was putting  the
knife away the husky man stepped towards him again.
     "Give it here," he said. "I'll teach you to frighten people." He made a
grab for the knife but his hand closed over emptiness.
     "Keep   out  of  this!"  Benedictov   shouted.  But  the   man  twisted
Benedictov's arm, and the knife  dropped to  the deck, dangerously near  the
edge. Several hands reached for it.
     The next instant a slim figure in a sleeveless red dress pushed forward
through the  crowd,  ducked  under the railing  and  dived down  towards the
water, six metres below.
     "Man overboard!" someone shouted.
     Life  preservers plopped  into the  sea and lifeboat  tackle  began  to
creak.  The ship started  on  a circle that would  bring it back to the spot
where  the  passenger  had  fallen  overboard.  But  this turned out  to  be
unnecessary. The white sailboat, then about a hundred metres  from the ship,
made a wild turn into the wind.  Listing heavily, the boat raced towards the
head bobbing among the waves.
     As the crowd looked on, a tall, bronzed young man dived into the sea. A
few minutes later the  red sun-dress  was  to  be  seen  on the deck of  the
     The Uzbekistan approached the sailboat from the lee side.
     "Any help needed?" the officer of the watch called out.
     A woman's voice floated up. "No, thanks. They'll take me ashore."
     The passengers excitedly discussed the rescue. Cameras were focussed on
the sailboat. Anatole  Benedictov, his face white  as  a sheet, stood  apart
from the crowd. He gripped the railing and stared down fixedly at the sea.
     When Nikolai  Opratin  raised his  head after  looking  in vain for the
knife on deck his eyes met the intent gaze of the husky man.
     "A tricky little knife," the man remarked. "A pity the  fishes will get
     Opratin turned away.


     Now let us  turn back the clock a  few hours and shift the scene to the
bazaar in that large town on the Caspian Sea.
     It was Sunday, and the bazaar was so thickly packed with people that it
could have been described as a dense substance, all the constituent elements
of which were in constant motion. Motivated by the law of supply and demand,
buyers and  sellers  were  attracted to one  another like bodies  possessing
different electric charges. They moved towards  one another,  overcoming  an
opposing force, namely, different ideas about prices.
     Two tall young men strode quickly  towards the bazaar.  The tow-headed,
blue-eyed  man,  whose  name was Yura  Kostyukov  and  who wore a bright red
short-sleeved shirt and sand-coloured trousers, glanced at his watch.
     "It's a quarter to nine already. Val is probably waiting for  us at the
yacht club."
     "Let her wait,"  his  friend Nikolai Potapkin said. "The worst that can
happen is  she'll give you a tongue-lashing." Nikolai had a  high  forehead,
prominent cheekbones  and a shock of dark hair. His grey eyes were calm  and
somewhat quizzical. The rolled-up sleeves of his white shirt revealed a pair
of hairy muscular forearms.
     The  two friends passed through an arched  gateway and came out  near a
display of  paintings, some of them executed  on cardboard, some on oilcloth
and  some  on polythene film.  They were the kind of  paintings you will see
only at bazaars. Most of them were  crude copies of well-known canvases. The
two young  men stopped in front of one  of them which  depicted a plump nude
with  pinkish-purple skin  reclining on the bright  blue  surface  of a pond
beside a dazzlingly white swan.
     "Just look at that," Yura remarked. "What a wealth of colour!"
     "It's Leda and the swan, from Greek mythology," said Nikolai.
     Yura laughed. "You mean  that fat lady is Leda, the Spartan beauty? The
mother of Helen of Troy and Clytemnestra? The mother-in-law of King Menelaus
and King Agamemnon?"
     "But look at how she's lying on the water," Nikolai said.
     At  that  moment  a  man  in  his  forties, wearing  large, horn-rimmed
eyeglasses, with greying hair,  plump tanned cheeks  and a small  pot-belly,
came up to them.
     "Fie," he said in a low voice. "You ought to be ashamed of yourselves."
     The two young men turned round. "Why, it's Boris!" Yura exclaimed.
     "Fie,"  the  plump  man  repeated.  Boris  Privalov  was  head  of  the
department in which  the two young men  were employed as research engineers.
"Staring at a nude!"
     "No-  I'm  intrigued by the  way she's  floating  on top of the water,"
Nikolai said. "You might think she was lying on a sofa."
     Boris  Privalov examined the  pinkish-purple lady  more closely.  "H'm,
yes, indeed. An extraordinary  case of surface tension. But you  didn't come
here to buy a painting, did you?"
     "Of  course  not. We're looking  for  a  pulley-block for our stay-sail
halyard,"  Yura  explained.  "We  were  at the  marina,  giving  the  boat a
onceover,  and we saw  a block had to be replaced. We couldn't find anything
suitable  in the store-room there. Dockmaster Mehti said we  were getting to
be as finicky as pampered lap dogs. He said that if we didn't like the block
he offered us we could trot down to the bazaar for one. So that's  that. Are
you looking for anything in particular?"
     Before replying, Privalov  glanced about.  "No,  just browsing,  so  to
     "Do  you suppose it would  be  possible  to build  up  surface  tension
artificially?" Nikolai asked.
     "Build it up, you say?"
     "Yes."  Nikolai put a finger on  the  blue surface of the  water in the
painting.  "So  that a person could stretch out on the water, the way  she's
     "But what for?"
     Nikolai lifted his shoulders. "I don't know. It simply occurred to me."
     "An  interesting  point," Privalov said after a pause,  during which he
glanced about again. "But first you  would  have  to examine the question of
just what  a  surface is in general." He looked first at  Nikolai,  then  at
Yura,  then began to talk. He loved to discuss scientific problems, and when
some point caught his fancy he could talk about it for hours.
     A cluster of people formed around  them as  first one passer-by stopped
to listen, then a second, then a third.
     "Boris! Where've you disappeared to?" a woman's voice called.
     Privalov stopped short. "I'm  here. Olga," he  said  to  a round-faced,
thick-set  woman who was pushing her way  towards him  through the crowd. "I
ran into a couple of my men-"
     "So I see." The woman glanced with distaste at the painting. "How could
you stand here looking at that abomination?"
     "Good morning," said Yura, an earnest smile on his face. "You see, it's
really our fault-"
     "How  do you  do,"  the  woman  replied.  "Come, Boris.  I've  found  a
hand-chased copper  jug for your collection-if someone hasn't snatched it up
     Privalov nodded to the two young men and followed his wife. But after a
few steps he halted and squatted to examine a pile of metal junk.
     "Here's the block you're looking for, boys," he called.
     Nikolai came over to him,  picked up the  block and examined it. "It'll
do," he said.
     "Boris!" Privalov's wife called.
     "Just a moment."  Still squatting on his  haunches, Privalov pushed his
glasses up onto his forehead  and studied a  small bar of rusty iron that he
had picked up. He tapped it with a forefinger.
     Nikolai paid for the  block. With  a wave of his hand the  owner of the
pile  of junk  threw in the bar of rusty iron for the same  price.  Privalov
wrapped it in a page from a newspaper and put it in his pocket.
     "What do you want the piece of iron for?" Yura asked.
     "Oh, it just caught my eye. Well, so long, Siamese twins."
     "We're thinking of going out in the boat  to take a  look at the site,"
said Nikolai, lowering his voice.
     Privalov's face brightened. "That's  a good idea, a wonderful idea,  in
fact. I was just- Wait a moment-"
     Ho stepped over to his wife and whispered something to her.
     "Of  course not!"  she  exclaimed.  "What talk  can there  be about the
pipeline? Today's Sunday and everybody's off."
     "Sunday is  a  working  day on the project because the power supply  is
better than on weekdays."
     "But you wanted to look for some old copper wares, Boris."
     "I'll get  along meanwhile," Privalov  said  firmly.  "Now  don't fret,
Olga. I'm sorry but I must go. I'll be back for dinner."
     With a sigh, Olga gazed reproachfully at her husband's back.
     Privalov and his young companions  left the  bazaar, took a  trolleybus
and in fifteen minutes reached the marina.
     A dark-haired girl in a white blouse and gay-coloured skirt was sitting
on the edge of the pier dangling her tanned legs above the water and reading
a  book. When Yura caught sight of the  girl he hastened out along  the pier
towards her. .
     "Hallo there, Val!" he called.
     The girl slammed her book shut and sprang to her feet.
     "You ought to be ashamed of yourself!" She snatched  off her sunglasses
to glare at Yura. "We  made a date for eight o'clock  and now  it's going on
for ten."
     "We had  an urgent job to  do for Mehti,"  Yura explained. "Val, I want
you to meet Boris Privalov."
     Privalov held  out his  hand. "It's a pleasure," he said. "I've  spoken
with you on the phone. You're the girl who rings up Yura, aren't you?"
     Val smiled. "Why, yes. But maybe I'm not the only one."
     "Of course you're not," Nikolai put in. "Half of the girls in town ring
him up."
     "Can I help it if I'm popular?" Yura asked plaintively.
     Val gave a giggle and pinched his arm.
     They went  aboard a sailboat  that was tied up  at the pier. It had the
name Mekong on its bows.
     Why  was  this  Caspian  boat  named  after  that  great  river,  4,500
kilometres long, which flows through China, Burma, Laos, Thailand,  Cambodia
and Vietnam?
     Well, sailing enthusiasts prefer lyrical  names like Orion and  Sputnik
to the old-fashioned Swift or Hurricane. The man formerly  in charge of this
white sailboat had taken a liking to the Greek word meconium, which conjured
up some sort of mythological picture in  his mind. But as soon as he painted
this  name  on the bows  he  found  himself  the  butt of  curious jokes and
innuendoes. Looking  up  the word, he learned that  it was indeed Greek, but
had nothing to  do  with mythology at all. He never  showed up at the marina
     The boat was turned over to  Nikolai and Yura. Instead of racking their
brains for a totally new name they simply changed Meconium into Mekong.
     The stay-sail  halyard block  was quickly replaced by the new one. Soon
after, the Mekong, heeling to starboard, was sweeping across the bay towards
the sea.
     "Haul  the  sheets  home!"  commanded  Nikolai,  who  was the  skipper.
Privalov had  crewed for them  for more than a year but he much preferred to
spend his weekends at home on  the sofa  with a book. He did not turn up  at
the marina very often, although he liked sailing.
     After making fast the stay-sail sheet Privalov stretched out on the hot
boards of  the deck. How wonderful  it was to  lie  there not thinking about
anything, feeling the sun warm your bare back,  watching the  city with  its
hustle and  bustle  recede into the distance,  and listen to the chatter and
laughter of the two young men and the girl!
     How wonderful it would be not to think about anything! But the pipeline
kept intruding.
     Quite  some  time had already passed since a bold project for laying an
underwater pipeline between the mainland and the  Neftianiye Reefs, a famous
oilfield   in  the  Caspian  Sea,  had  been  developed  at  Privalov's  Oil
Transportation Research Institute. It was an ingenious scheme  that involved
winding forty kilometres of pipes  onto a gigantic wheel lying  in the water
just  off the shore and then  gradually unwinding the line  and towing it to
the Neftianiye Reefs. Meanwhile the  oil extracted there  was  being shipped
out in tankers.
     Privalov's plan had  been approved, although many people thought it too
     During the past week  the  pressure  of affairs  at  the Institute  had
prevented  Privalov from  visiting the pipeline site.  Running into Yura and
Nikolai at the bazaar had been a piece of luck for him.
     A gentle northerly breeze carried the boat smoothly seawards. As he lay
on his chest at the edge of the deck, Privalov reflectively observed the two
resilient bow-waves  formed by the boat. The Mekong seemed to be folding the
water apart rather than cutting through it.
     The water was resisting. Surface  tension. Privalov  raised  himself on
his elbows and looked at Nikolai seated at the tiller.
     "Now listen,"  he said.  "If  strong enough, the  surface  tension of a
liquid could replace a pipe." "I don't get it, Boris,"  said Nikolai.  Yura,
sitting  on  the other side with Val, moved his head, tightly bound in a red
kerchief, from under the stay-sail and stared inquisitively at Privalov.
     "You don't get it?" Privalov reached over to his  trousers, brought out
his cigarette case and  lit  up. "Take  an underwater  pipeline. The  oil is
separated from the sea by the wall of the pipe. If we could make its surface
tension strong enough, oil would flow  in a separate stream, its own surface
tension acting as a sort  of film, or casing, and then  you  wouldn't need a
pipe. See?"
     "That's fabulous!" Nikolai  exclaimed.  "A pipe-less pipeline! But  how
could you increase the tension?"
     Privalov lay back.  "It's all out  of this world," he said, screwing up
his eyes against the sun.
     "Out of this world?"
     "Well, yes. Surfaces have specific properties that no one  is  able  to
control. Forget it. The whole thing's just a daydream."
     Privalov  fell silent.  He  did  not  utter  another  word until  their
destination came into sight.
     The  sailboat  rounded the  yellow  tongue of the cape  and headed  for
shore. They had to drop anchor about a hundred metres from the beach because
the bay was too shallow for them to proceed any further. Privalov shaded his
eyes with  his  hand  and studied the structures  on  the beach.  They  were
surrounded by barbed wire.
     "Might  think  we  were  in a  desert,"  he muttered.  "I had a feeling
there's something wrong. Well, let's take a swim and go back home."
     It  was mid-afternoon by the time they lifted anchor and set out on the
return  trip. Nikolai  lay  on  the  deck beside Privalov,  his hand on  the
stay-sail sheet, watching a big white passenger ship overtake them. Yura was
now at the tiller. Val was perched beside him.
     "Yura," she whispered. "Do you know if Nick has a girl friend?"
     "Why don't you ask him yourself?"
     Val laughed.  "Oh, I couldn't. I'm afraid of  him." After a  pause  she
said, "You know my friend Zina, don't you? Let's introduce her to him."
     "Better riot," said Yura. "He's very choosy."
     Val frowned. "Humph!" she said with a pout.
     Yura struck up a song and Nikolai joined in.  Sometimes they thought up
their own words to popular songs, and sometimes they set poems to well-known
     Meanwhile,  the ship had drawn  abreast of the sailboat.  "Look  at the
crowd on deck," Nikolai remarked. "Some sort  of a brawl, judging by the way
they're milling about."
     At that instant a slim figure in red plunged over the side of the ship.
     "Veer!" Nikolai shouted.
     Yura  leaned  on  the  tiller. The  blocks  creaked  and  the  mainsail
described a wide arc as  it swung over to the other side. The boat,  listing
heavily to starboard, sped towards the ship.
     "Take it, Val!  Brace yourself  with your feet!" Nikolai gave the  girl
the stay-sail sheet and dived into the water.


     Towards the end of  the day Privalov's old friend  Pavel Koltukhov, the
Institute's chief engineer, dropped in to see him.
     "Looks  like smooth  sailing at last, Boris," he said, sitting down and
stretching out his legs. "Work will be resumed at the site tomorrow."
     "Thank  goodness!"  Privalov  flung  himself back in his  chair. "Those
self-styled efficiency experts! To  claim that it's cheaper to transport oil
by tanker than by pipeline!  But they forgot that tankers return empty. They
close their eyes to the cost of taking on ballast water and then discharging
it. To say nothing of the number of stormy days on the Caspian."
     Koltukhov nodded his bald head in  agreement. Then he stuck a cigarette
between  his lips  and gave Privalov a  sharp  glance from beneath  beetling
     "You  don't  have to persuade  me a pipeline is  better,"  he said.  He
walked over to a big map of the Caspian hanging on the wall.
     "Forty kilometres of pipeline," he said. "Three more parallel pipelines
will  make it a total of 160 kilometres.  A pipeline across the whole of the
Caspian will  add another 300 kilometres. We'll be paving  the floor of  the
Caspian with steel."
     "We'll be  paving  it with millions of  roubles  too," Privalov  added,
joining Koltukhov in front of the map. "Here we are in the twentieth century
and the only way we know of transporting liquids is through pipes, just like
in the first century."
     Koltukhov chewed his lip. "Have you read Arshavin's latest article?" he
     "About towing oil across  the sea  in containers made of thin polythene
film? Yes, I've read it."
     "Not  a bad idea," Koltukhov remarked. "It's been picked up  abroad. So
don't say we don't know how to transport liquid goods."
     "There's an  idea that  keeps preying on my mind."  said  Privalov. "It
concerns the physics of surfaces. All surfaces possess  energy, don't  they?
Suppose  we  found  a way of  using this energy to  alter  the properties of
surface tension. I mean, building up surface tension to such a degree that a
stream of oil would be contained in a 'skin' of its own surface."
     "Where'd you get that idea?"
     "At the bazaar." Privalov told Koltukhov the gist of his talk  with the
two young engineers.
     "Why,  I see  you're just an  old day-dreamer."  Koltukhov gave a short
laugh.  "You'll lead  those young men of yours astray. I'd advise you not to
read Jules Verne the last thing before going to sleep."
     "Oh, all right, all right."
     "You're too long in the tooth for that sort of thing, Boris."
     "What's age got to do  with  it? I read what  I  like, and I like Jules
Verne. He's refreshing."
     The  telephone rang. Privalov lifted the receiver. "Yes? How do you do.
Certainly you may." He  put down the receiver. "Opratin from Marine  Physics
is dropping in."
     "Oh, our old acquaintance. Do you see much of him?"
     "No, not really.  I'm  better  acquainted with the surveyors from  that
outfit. They're helping us to lay out the route."
     Koltukhov glanced  out  of the window at  the  building of  the  Marine
Physics Institute on the other side of the street. He watched  a lean man in
a straw hat step out of the front door and stride quickly across the street.
     "Our  neighbour's in a  hurry," he remarked. "They  say he's efficient.
I'll wager he hasn't read Jules Verne since he was a boy."
     A few minutes later there was a knock on the door. "Come  in," Privalov
     Opratin opened the door and, removing his hat, stepped into the room.
     He  smoothed down his  thinning hair.  "How have you  been keeping?" he
asked Koltukhov. "Haven't seen you for some time. How are things?"
     "Not so  bad." When  talking with  visitors Koltukhov liked to give the
impression that he was just a "plain, down-to-earth Voronezh peasant", as he
put it. And he really did come from Voronezh peasant stock. "I spend my time
making the rounds and giving advice."
     "Still dabbling in resins and plastics"?
     "We executives don't have much time  for anything except organizational
matters," Koltukhov said with an apologetic note. "But I do have a cubbyhole
of my own, with mixers, thermostats and a press. Whenever  I see a couple of
young  men  engaged in idle  conversation in  the  corridor I punish them by
recruiting  them to help me make a  couple of  plastic models.  Besides, you
know, those resins have an  awful smell." After  a slight pause he said,  "I
hear you had quite an adventure."
     Opratin chose to be noncommittal. "Really?"
     "Your director told  me  you  fell  into a pit in  Derbent while  on  a
business trip and had to prolong your stay there."
     A shadow flitted across Opratin's face. "Yes," he said, "I did run into
a bit of unpleasantness."
     Koltukhov glanced at his watch. "Well, I'll leave you two together now.
It's time I was off."
     He nodded to the two men and walked unhurriedly to the door.

     The name  of  the  old Caspian town of  Derbent means "Iron Gates". The
town once guarded the narrowest place on a caravan route running between the
mountains and  the sea. Nikolai  Opratin had been sent there to  examine the
ruins of fortress  walls  in order to obtain more precise information  about
the level of the Caspian in ancient times.
     On his last day in Derbent Opratin wandered into an old stone quarry on
the deserted shore.  While clambering about the quarry he caught his foot in
a fissure. Suddenly the rocks gave way. His heart missed a heat as  lie felt
himself falling into  nothingness. He landed with a splash  in a pool of mud
about a dozen feet below.
     He picked himself up and paused to catch his breath. Just a moment ago,
a  hot blue  sky  had stretched  above him;  now  he was surrounded by musty
semi-darkness. He took out  his flashlight and  swept its beam  to right and
left. He saw damp, moss-covered walls.
     This  prompted  the  thought  that he  had  probably  fallen  into  the
underground passage that had once connected the Naryn Kale Fortress with the
sea. The passage was mentioned in legends but so far no one had been able to
find it.
     The flashlight beam moved downwards. Opratin  was a self-possessed man,
but the sight of a human skeleton filled him with horror. He turned  to flee
and  stumbled  into  a pool of cold  water. This  brought him to his senses.
Besides, whom was he fleeing from?
     He  returned to the  skeleton, to which the remnants of clothing  still
clung. The poor devil must have fallen into the  passage and been crushed by
rocks. Opratin's flashlight picked out a  half-rotten sack. He gave the sack
a push with his shoe. A gun fell out of it.
     "It's a German pistol, a Luger," Opratin said to himself. "How odd!"
     Poking through  the  contents of  the sack  he found a  portable  radio
transmitter, several  sticks of dynamite and  some cartridges  covered  with
green mould.
     He  turned  his flashlight back on the skeleton.  Something sparkled in
the neck of the torn  shirt.  Bending down to take  a closer look, he saw  a
shiny metal chain on  which  hung a small  crucifix and a flat  rectangle of
iron  with letters  on it. Opratin wiped the iron rectangle with a corner of
the sack and read:
     A M D G
     Below these were smaller letters.
     Only  a  Catholic  would  wear  a  crucifix  round  his  neck,  Opratin
reflected. How long had the man lain there? Then suddenly he came out of his
reverie. He certainly had no intention of  becoming  a  corpse  to keep  the
skeleton company. He picked up the pistol, saw that it was in working order,
and fired at the spot  of blue sky above his  head. Minutes passed,  minutes
that seemed hours  to Opratin.  He fired  again. The passage rumbled like an
active volcano, but no sound came from above.
     Opratin  fired  again  and  again until all  the  cartridges were gone.
Breathing heavily, he leaned against the damp wall. Despair swept over him.
     Suddenly he heard alarmed voices overhead. He shouted. Choking from the
stench of the passage  and the smell of gunpowder,  he shouted until he  was
hoarse. The faint light from above was blotted out  by a head that  appeared
in the opening.
     "Who fired those shots?" a voice demanded from above.
     A few minutes later a rope was lowered through the hole and Opratin was
hauled out.
     Opratin had  to postpone  his departure while he answered questions put
by the local authorities and set forth the whole matter in writing. That was
a nuisance, for Opratin hated to waste time.
     Nikolai  and Yura sat side by side at a  desk, bent over a blueprint of
the pipeline route. They were checking the figures indicating the depths.
     Valery Gorbachevsky, a young lab technician, glanced at his watch, then
walked  over  to  the mirror  and  smoothed  down  his  black sideburns  and
moustache,  meanwhile singing  a song  about a lad named Chico who came from
Puerto Rico.
     "My dear Valery," said Yura, "do you know where Puerto Rico is?"
     The lab technician shrugged a shoulder. "Of course. You don't doubt it,
do you?"
     "Not very far from Madagascar, isn't it?"
     "Well, yes, you could put it like that," Valery said hesitatingly.
     "Now you see, my friend, how disastrous it is-" Just then the telephone
rang, and Yura broke off to pick up the receiver.
     "The chief wants you, Nikolai. With the route plan."
     Nikolai went up to the next floor, taking  the steps two at a time, and
entered Privalov's office.  Privalov had a visitor, a  man  in a green suit,
whom Nikolai had never seen before. The visitor  gave Nikolai a keen glance,
nodded and said, "My name's Nikolai Opratin."
     Nikolai introduced himself and sat down.
     "Nikolai  Opratin comes from the Institute of Marine Physics across the
street,"  Privalov  said to  Nikolai.  "He has  given  me  some  interesting
information  which  we will  have to take  into account. Yes, indeed."  Here
Privalov pushed his glasses up onto his forehead and  bent over the  plan of
the pipeline route. "Now take this shoal that's to be deepened by blasting."
     Opratin crossed his  legs. "That won't  be necessary,"  he said with  a
glance at Nikolai. "I've just told your  chief the level of the Caspian will
rise in three years'  time. That means there  isn't any  need to  deepen the
     "Is your information reliable?"
     Opratin smiled. "The most reliable there is."
     Privalov leaned back in his chair. His glasses slid down to  the tip of
his hose.
     "Well, we'll just have to  revise  our calculations," he  said, rubbing
his forehead. "I'd like  you to step over to the Institute of Marine Physics
tomorrow, Nikolai. Will that be all right?" he asked, turning to Opratin.
     "Certainly. After lunch, preferably."
     "Fine.  You  can't imagine how much worry this pipeline is causing  us.
Doubting Thomases  are  holding up the work. We visited the site last Sunday
and-oh, well, you understand."
     Opratin nodded sympathetically. "Yes, I do.  By the way, I  didn't know
you went in for sailing."
     "I saw you in a sailboat last Sunday."
     "Where were you?"
     "Aboard the Uzbekistan."
     "Well, well. Why did you drop a lady overboard?"
     Opratin's thin lips spread in a faint smile.
     "It wasn't me who dropped her," he said. "There was some sort of row on
deck.  I don't know  whether she was pushed  overboard  or just  fell in. It
seemed to me she was holding some metal object in her hand."
     "A metal  object?" Privalov  glanced at  Nikolai. "Did you see anything
like that when you fished her out of the sea?"
     "The only metal I saw was the buckles of her sandals."
     Opratin rose.  "Anyway,  there was something else about that particular
spot  besides the rescue  of the  lady. I saw bubbles rising to the surface.
Could have been natural gas, couldn't it?"
     "It could. You ought to inform the gas experts."
     "How can  I  if I don't  know  the exact spot? It's not like on  shore,
where you have landmarks."
     "If  I remember rightly, the  TV tower was straight ahead of us at that
moment," said Nikolai. "The refrigeration plant was at  right angles  to it.
The No. 18  buoy in the channel  was about a  hundred metres to  the  north.
Those points should be enough to find it, I think."
     "Thank you,"  said Opratin. "I'll  be expecting you tomorrow." He  said
goodbye and left.

     They left the  Institute  together  and  walked down the  street in the
bright sunshine.
     "Why do you think she fell overboard, Yura?" Nikolai asked.
     Yura grinned. "Beware of women who  fall overboard. I shouldn't  rescue
them if I were you."
     "Oh, shut up," Nikolai growled, and quickened his steps.
     The woman in the red sun-dress was not exactly preying on his mind, but
there was something  about her  narrow, dark-eyed face, framed in fair hair,
that vaguely disturbed him. He had a feeling he had seen that face somewhere
     She was, of course, an unusual woman. She had not shown a trace of fear
in the  sea. When he swam over  to her she  had said, "No need to rescue me.
I'm  a good swimmer." By that time the sailboat  was beside  them.  Yura had
heeled  into the wind  so sharply that the starboard side was level with the
water and Nikolai did not even  have  to help the woman climb into the boat.
She thanked them politely, her gaze  on a point  somewhere  between Privalov
and the mast, wrung out her dripping hair and then went down into the cabin.
Val came out of the cabin with the red sun-dress and hung  it up  to dry  in
the sun.
     When the boat reached the marina the woman  sprang gracefully onto  the
pier. "Please don't trouble  yourselves," she said. "I'll get home all right
without  any help." Her  red dress flashed among  the  trees  on the seaside
promenade and vanished. That was the last they saw of her.
     The two men turned oft the bustling avenue into quiet Cooper Lane.
     "Will you  come  in  for  a  while?"  Nikolai asked, stopping under  an
archway that led into a courtyard.
     "Can you lend me something to read?"
     "Of course I can."
     They crossed the  yard diagonally. It  was a yard  they  had known from
childhood, with  a glassed-in gallery running the length  of the  two-storey
house. An outside  stairway supported by iron posts, down which  it had been
so convenient and pleasant to  slide, led up to the top floor. In the cellar
the children used to hunt for buried treasure and hide from pursuit, sending
arrows flying through the air.
     Yura  and Nikolai had grown up in this  wonderful courtyard which could
be turned,  in the twinkling  of an  eye,  into a prairie  or the deck  of a
frigate. Here they  had invented  their earliest games and read their  first
books. They had raced about the  yard, shooting  arrows  from their bows and
lassoing the rubber plants set out for watering.
     One  of the ground-floor tenants  in  those days was a sailor. The boys
used to gaze respectfully at his black cap with its gold emblem and the gold
stripes on his sleeve. The sailor would be away for weeks at a lime, leaving
behind,  at home,  a  live turtle and a daughter  with freckles  and  yellow
     Although girls were  not invited to play Red  Indians, Yura and Nikolai
made an exception in the case of the sailor's daughter. Yellow Lynx, as they
named her, could run like the wind and slide down the stairway posts  like a
cat.  She did  not cry  when they  pulled  her by  her braids.  She  plunged
courageously into courtyard battles, using her fingernails  and screaming in
a high, piercing voice.
     Besides the  live  turtle there were  other  interesting things in  the
sailor's flat. A  real dirk hung on one wall  and a barometer on another. On
the desk, beside  a bronze inkwell,  lay two pieces of iron  with mysterious
letters carved on them. Yellow Lynx and the boys resolved that some day they
would discover the meaning of those mysterious letters.
     The sailor and his daughter  left for Leningrad  early in the spring of
1941.  Nikolai copied a picture  from  a volume of Pushkin's Tales showing a
ship with a huge taut sail decorated  with a drawing of the sun, approaching
a wharf  on which men in  old-fashioned long robes  were firing cannons.  He
presented it to Yellow Lynx  as a  farewell  gift. They were both about nine
years old at the time.
     Soon after, a  husky young man by  the name  of  Bugrov,  whom the boys
addressed  as Uncle  Vova, moved into the  sailor's  flat.  He  had  a  blue
motorcycle on  which he  sometimes  took the  boys riding. What  is more, he
taught them the Greco-Roman style of wrestling. A circus poster on the  wall
of  the  new tenant's  room  showed  him among the  other  performers,  very
handsome and muscular in black tights, his chest bulging.
     When the war broke out Uncle Vova locked up his flat and went into  the
army. Nikolai's  father,  who worked at a railway-carriage  repair shop, was
also drafted. Yura's  father, an  oil refinery engineer,  was  given a draft
     Now  the  boys  played  army  scouts  and guerrillas.  Life  was  hard,
especially  for Nikolai and  his mother, who was a nurse and worked day  and
night at an army hospital.
     Nikolai's father was killed in a battle on the Dnieper River.
     After  seven years  of schooling Nikolai told his mother that he wanted
to go to work. She tried to persuade him to stay in school but  he would not
be  moved. Yura's father found a job for  Nikolai as an apprentice fitter in
the oil  refinery's  maintenance  shop and persuaded  him  to  attend  night
     Soon after, Yura's family moved to another part of town and Nikolai was
left without  a playmate. But this did not matter because he had no time for
     Yura felt that fate had  been unkind to him for making him sit over his
books  all through the war  instead of letting him fight the Nazis. Besides,
he  envied Nikolai's hands,  with  their traces of grease and metallic dust.
And so, after finishing the eighth grade at school Yura went to work in  the
maintenance shop, side by side with Nikolai. They went through  night school
together and then entered the evening department of a college. Shortly after
graduating with degrees  in  engineering the two young men were  assigned to
jobs  in the Oil  Transportation Research Institute, where they worked under
Boris Privalov.
     They  crossed  the  courtyard, climbed  the  stairs,  walked  down  the
glassed-in  gallery and  entered  Nikolai's  room. There,  it was pleasantly
cool.  Bookshelves  lined the  wall  above  Nikolai's  desk.  A photographic
enlarger stood on the  floor in  a corner of the  room, like a  stork on one
     Yura picked up the  underwater gun Nikolai was  making and examined it.
"The spring's a bit tight."
     "No, it's just right," said Nikolai. "Can't have it any looser."
     "If you finish it by Sunday we can do some shooting."
     "We're racing on Sunday."
     "Why, so we are. I forgot." Yura stretched out luxuriously on the sofa.
     "I want you to look at this," said Nikolai, producing several sheets of
paper covered with sketches and figures  from a drawer of the desk. "What do
you think of it?"
     Yura glanced at the sketches. "They  look like pears." He yawned. "Take
these drawings away. I'm too lazy to think."
     "But first listen. Remember that conversation about surface tension and
the interesting idea Privalov suggested?" "He told us to forget it."
     Nikolai  lost his temper.  "You're an  idiot! I can't  discuss anything
with you nowadays. All you can think of is Val."
     "You're  the  idiot," Yura replied cheerfully. "All  right, let's  have
     Nikolai turned on the fan. "What shape does  a liquid  have?" he asked,
lighting a cigarette.
     Yura lifted his eyebrows. "It takes the shape of the vessel  into which
it's poured. Primitive man guessed that much."
     "Very well. Now  take a  drop of  liquid. What  keeps  the liquid  in a
droplet? Surface tension. No vessel is  needed. A sphere is the ideal  shape
of  a minimum surface. But a droplet is not spherical. The  earth's  gravity
gives it a bulge, making it pear-shaped."
     "In short, a drop-like shape." "Exactly."
     There was a knock on the door. A tall, husky man in a white singlet and
blue  jeans entered. He had a broad, heavy-jawed face, and there was a  tuft
of red hair on top of his head.
     "Caught you  in at  last, Nikolai," he  said in  a deep, hoarse  voice.
"Where've you been hiding?"
     "What can  I do for you,  Uncle Vova?" Nikolai asked. "I want to borrow
your aqualung for a couple of days."
     "My diving gear?"
     "Don't worry,  you'll  get it  back  in  perfect  condition,"  he  said
reassuringly, 'I'll refill the cylinders too."
     "All right, take it,"
     Uncle Vova picked up the aqualung and inspected it.
     "Fine workmanship," he remarked. "Thanks."
     "When did you return?" asked Nikolai.
     "Sunday. By the way,  I saw you pull that girl out of the sea. You made
a neat job of it."
     "Why, it looks as though the whole town saw it."
     "Really?" Uncle Vova pricked up his ears. "Who else?"
     "The whole ship. You were on the Uzbekistan too, weren't you?"
     "Oh,  I don't give a damn  about  the  Uzbekistan"  Uncle Vova  replied
vaguely. "Well, I'm off." He nodded and went out.
     "Now Yura, listen  to  what-" At this point Nikolai noticed  that Yura,
his long legs hanging over the  edge of the sofa,  was sound asleep. Nikolai
shook him  by  the shoulder.  Yura jerked  a leg and  pushed his friend away
without opening his eyes.
     "Wake  up this  instant or  I'll shake  the  life  out of you!" Nikolai
     Yura  opened his  eyes. "I  must  have dozed for a moment," he remarked
with a conciliatory smile.
     "You certainly did. Get off the sofa."
     "I'm more comfortable  on it. You can  continue talking.  We stopped on
droplets being droplet-shaped. It sounds fascinating."
     "Are you trying to be funny?"
     "Not 'for the world."
     "Then listen. The size  of a  droplet depends on  the  magnitude of the
surface  tension. In the  case of water"-Nikolai glanced at his notes-  "the
surface  tension is 72.8 ergs per square centimetre. The surface tension  of
alcohol is a little more than 22 ergs."
     "What is it for mercury?"
     "Mercury? Just a minute." Nikolai took down a thick reference book from
a shelf and leafed through it. "Just listen to  this! The surface tension of
mercury is 470 ergs. That's terrific!"
     "You  can increase the tension  by passing an  electric current through
the  mercury. Don't  you  remember reading about  that  old  'mercury heart'
     "Why, that's right. Thanks for recalling it, Yura."
     Yura made a regal gesture. "Think nothing of it."
     "We'll set  mercury aside  for the  time  being,"  said  Nikolai.  "Now
consider  the following. Have you noticed the way water runs along telegraph
wires in the rain?"
     "An intriguing sight, isn't it?"
     "The flow has a droplet-like cross-section," Nikolai went  on. "Suppose
we use an electric ray instead of a wire. The ray creates a field. The field
increases the surface tension, and the cross-section builds up."
     "Better not tangle with  fields,  old man. You and  I  don't  know much
about them."
     "We  won't  really tangle with  them. All we need is  a  high-frequency
     "Let's have a look  at  those papers," said Yura after  a pause.  "What
does this diagram represent?"
     Nikolai sat down on the sofa beside him.
     "Look here," he said. "We'll string up an inclined wire  and send water
down it to a vessel at the bottom.  Since we know the time and the amount of
water we'll be  able to calculate the speed at which it moves. We'll measure
the cross-section of the droplets and calculate their  surface tension. Then
we'll put a spiral round the wire-"
     "I get the point-a  resonance circuit  and  superimposed  frequencies."
Yura sprang to his feet. "Give me some wire!"
     Nikolai's grey eyes wrinkled in a  smile.  Once  Yura was hooked on  an
idea his energy knew no bounds.
     Yura pulled off his shirt, tossed  his hair back  off his  forehead and
produced a screwdriver from  his pocket. It  was his  favourite screwdriver,
for which he had made  a hollow plastic  handle, with  a neon indicator lamp
inside  it, in his student days. He  carried the  screwdriver  everywhere he
went. Like Roland's sword, it had a name of its own. It was called Durandal.
     "We'll disembowel your radio set  for a start," Yura  said.  "But don't
worry,  we'll only remove the input circuit. And the heterodyne." He  turned
the set  Over on its side and went at it  with  his screwdriver. "We'll take
out the giblets. Don't just stand there, Nick. Go out on the gallery and put
the wire up."
     Working away busily,  Yura  went on.  "A great  man once  said the true
experimenter can set up any kind of experiment with three sticks, a piece of
rubber, a glass tube, and some of his own saliva."

     Anatole  Benedictov  switched  on  the  motor.  The belt  drive made  a
rustling sound and  the  glass  disc of the electrostatic machine  began  to
revolve. Blue sparks crackled.
     A round aquarium  on the  table  had wire wound around it,  with  thick
copper tubing  on top of the wire.  A  copper disc  hung above  the aquarium
parallel  with the surface of  the water.  Small fish  darted  about  in the
greenish water.
     Benedictov turned the  levers  of  the  valve oscillator. Then,  slowly
tightening a screw, he brought the copper disc close to the water.
     The fish  stopped  darting about. They seemed to fall asleep instantly.
Benedictov looked at his watch, dropped heavily into an armchair and  closed
his eyes.
     The room was  shrouded in semi-darkness. Rita sat on the  sofa. A black
cat lay at her feet.
     "You   ought  to  give  up  these   experiments,  Anatole,"   she  said
thoughtfully. "You're biting off more than you can chew."
     "It's too late, Rita. I can't give up now."
     There was a silence. The electricity crackled. The fish in the aquarium
     "Why  do you keep  experimenting with living creatures, Anatole?"  Rita
asked, leaning forward. "Your old-time predecessors used inorganic matter."
     "You know why. Living matter  gives  me something a piece of wood  or a
chunk of metal never could. It gives me action potentials."
     "But the knife is lost. How can you continue experimenting without it?"
     "I don't know. I need that knife all the time." Benedictov paused, then
added,  "Did you  actually see it fall overboard? Could someone in the crowd
have grabbed it?"
     "No, it went overboard. I dived after it at once, but the knife sank to
the bottom."
     "What  a  thing  to have happened!"  Benedictov rubbed his  shaggy head
     The doorbell  rang. When Rita opened  the door she found a husky man in
blue overalls and a cap pulled down over his eyes standing there.
     "I'm from the municipal  electricity board,"  he said.  "I've  come  to
inspect the wiring."
     "Step in," said Rita. "The meter's over there."
     The electrician removed the fuses and inspected them.
     "These have to be replaced," he said. "They're defective."
     "Rita!" Benedictov called from his  room. "Why  did you switch  off the
     "Hurry up and put those fuses back," Rita told the electrician.
     "Are you in a hurry to be fined?" said the electrician, but he put back
the  fuses. "Where's  the  kitchen?" He went  through  the  rooms, his head
tipped  back, looking at the  wiring. Suddenly he stopped short. "Is  that a
motor running?" he asked. "Got a license for it?"
     "Rita!" Benedictov called impatiently.
     "Excuse  me  a moment,"  Rita  said to  the  electrician  as she turned
towards Benedictov's study.
     The electrician heard her explaining what the matter was. A man's voice
said, "To hell with him! Let him look. Here, hold this fish."
     "Ouch!" Rita exclaimed.
     The electrician glanced into the room in time to see the woman drop the
fish and a big black cat spring to seize it.
     "Shoo!" cried Benedictov.
     The electrician jumped back from  the doorway as the  cat, covered with
blue sparks and screeching piteously, dashed into the passage. Its fur stood
on  end,  the  sparks   crackling.  The  cat  ran   frenziedly  between  the
electrician's legs, received a kick, and bounded down the passage.
     "The cat thought I tossed the fish to her," Rita said with a  laugh  as
she came out of the study. "Have you finished looking things over?"
     Benedictov followed his wife into the passage.
     "Who are you?" he asked the electrician in alarm. "What do you want?"
     "I  ought to  fine  you for such  goings-on,"  the  electrician growled
hoarsely, tugging  his cap down over his forehead. He  strode to  the  door,
pulled it open and went out, slamming the door behind him.

     After the war Bugrov returned home to  his  flat in Cooper Lane where a
circus poster, now yellowed, still hung on the wall beside his bed.
     Soon  afterwards he married  a stately,  imperious woman named Claudia.
She hid the poster in the lower drawer of the bureau, placed little rugs and
embroidered cushions here, there and everywhere.
     Bugrov  did not return to the circus. He obtained a medical certificate
stating that he was a disabled veteran and began to make spring dynamometers
at home for a small producers' co-operative of disabled war veterans.
     When  Bugrov  saw Benedictov's strange knife on board the Uzbekistan on
his way home from a holiday on the Volga he immediately realized that such a
knife could  be a  gold mine in a  circus act. He carefully noted  the place
where the  woman  in red had dived overboard. When  the passengers from  the
Uzbekistan went ashore he took a taxi and followed Benedictov to his home.
     Bugrov hesitated for several  days  before finally  deciding  on direct
action to learn whether  the man still had the knife or whether it  had sunk
to the bottom of the Caspian.
     "It was a  waste of time," Bugrov thought gloomily  as he walked to the
trolleybus stop. "I didn't learn anything about  the  knife.  All  I did was
tangle with a cat."  Recalling the black cat  covered with sparks he spat on
the ground in fury.
     Vova  Bugrov  did  not  know  that cats  possess  excellent  electrical
properties, although they could hardly be a source of electric power. It has
been estimated that if 1,500  million cats were stroked simultaneously  they
would generate a mere 15 watts.
     "But maybe  it wasn't a complete loss,  after all," Bugrov reflected in
the trolleybus. "The cat's owner  was out of sorts. He swore  and shouted at
his wife. He might have  been upset because the knife sank into the sea. Why
didn't I grab it?  I should have kept my eye on the handle. Well, I'll  have
to search the sea bottom."
     Bugrov fell into a daydream about a wonderful  circus  act.  The day he
arrived in  a small town posters would be pasted  on all  the fences showing
Bugrov in a red robe-no, a green robe would perhaps  be better-and a turban,
with a knife piercing his  throat. "Famous Fakir so-and-so" the poster would
read. He'd  have  to  think up a  good  name for himself. The hall  would be
jammed to the rafters as he, Vova, emerged on the stage in a green  robe, or
maybe a black robe.
     He'd have to  borrow  his neighbour's scuba  gear  and do some  diving.
There was no  silt in that place. Just  sand. He was sure he  would find the
     Bugrov pushed  his  cap  to  the back  of his  head  and  winked at his
reflection in the trolleybus window.

     Nikolai Opratin  saw Benedictov as soon  as he opened the door into the
laboratory. Corpulent and dishevelled, the biophysicist stood beside a table
around which ran  a  thick  copper  coil. He was unfastening  the harness in
which a brown and white dog hung. When he set the dog on the  floor it shook
itself and began to sniff angrily at the experimenter's feet.
     "Good morning," Opratin said.
     "What do you want?" Benedictov asked coldly.
     "Your advice about fish."
     Benedictov turned away. "Ask someone else."
     "I'm sorry about that argument we had on board the ship," Opratin  said
softly. "I'm ready to take back my words."
     The biophysicist was silent. Then  he  nodded  in the direction of  the
glass partition  at  the  end  of the  laboratory. "Come this  way," he said
     They  sat down opposite each other at a  table  covered with papers and
blocks of paraffin cut into cubes.
     "The problem we're working on is the level of the Caspian, that is, how
to raise  it," Opratin  explained. "We  plan a series of experiments  in the
course of which  ionized water  will appear in the sea. My question is:  how
will this affect the fish?"
     Benedictov gave a cough but said nothing.
     "Our  Institute  will of course  get in touch officially  with  yours,"
Opratin went on, his gaze fixed on Benedictov's face. "But I'd like to know,
ahead of time-"
     "What  are your ionization figures?" Benedictov asked,  moving closer a
spirit lamp on which stood a nickel-plated tray.
     The conversation  faltered. Benedictov answered  questions in unwilling
monosyllables. He coughed and squirmed in his chair. His bloodshot eyes were
     Suddenly he rose, murmured an  excuse, and left  the room. Opratin  let
his eyes  roam over the table. He noticed an empty glass ampoule. As he read
the Latin inscription on it his thin lips twisted in an ironic smile.
     Benedictov returned  looking a completely  different man,  fresh-faced,
cheerful, with sparkling eyes.
     "Please continue," he said on his way to his desk.
     "Look  here,"  said  Opratin softly. "Did you  try  to  magnetize  that
     Benedictov stopped  short. Opratin's pale  blue eyes stared steadily at
him without blinking. Benedictov felt acutely uncomfortable.
     "What's it to you?" he muttered.
     The ensuing silence lasted several seconds. Benedictov was the first to
lower his eyes.
     "Sit down,"  Opratin said.  "I'm not asking out of idle curiosity. I've
been thinking a lot about your  knife and  it seems to me I've guessed a few
things. Can it be magnetized?"
     "Suppose it can? So what?"
     "This is extremely important. Don't look at me as if you wanted to tear
me to pieces. I've come here to help you."
     "I don't need any help."
     Opratin  let  this remark pass. "Did  you  measure the knife's electric
resistance?"  he  asked.  "Did  you test  it  for  use  as  the  core  of an
     Benedictov had not done that either.
     "Did you try it on a voltaic arc?"
     Benedictov shook his head thoughtfully.
     "How does the knife react to chemical substances?"
     He  flung  question  after  question  at  Benedictov.  Benedictov  gave
reluctant replies. He had not performed  half of the tests about  which this
uninvited inspector was asking him.
     "Well, well,"  said  Opratin. He  smoothed  his thinning hair.  "To all
appearances, my dear man, you have followed the wrong path."
     "What path I follow is my own business," Benedictov growled.
     "Yes, to be sure." Opratin drummed his fingers on the table.  "You're a
biologist and I'm a  physicist. Don't you  think  that if we combined forces
we'd reach the goal faster?"
     Benedictov said nothing.
     "I won't lay claim to any of your laurels. I just want to help you. All
I'm interested in are the scientific results." Opratin looked searchingly at
Benedictov. "What do you say?"
     The biophysicist glanced out of the window. "Damn it!" he said flatly.


     Early  Sunday morning Nikolai  Potapkin ran down the steps and out into
the courtyard, swinging his little suitcase. The  sleeves of his white shirt
were  rolled up above the  elbows, his open  collar exposed  a tanned chest.
Glancing up at the cloudless sky, he  shook his head. Not a breath of  wind!
Yet this was  the day of the big  regatta. He arrived at the  marina to find
preparations  in progress only on the centreboard and Star  class boats, for
which  even  a  slight breeze  would be enough. The crews  of the L-4 boats,
discouraged  by the absence of wind, were gathered in their  cabins in front
of TV sets watching a children's programme.
     Nikolai  found  Yura  sitting  on the edge of the  pier in  his bathing
trunks, his long arms wrapped round his knees, singing a song from an Indian
film in a mournful voice.  He sat down beside Yura  and took up the refrain.
They sang until dockmaster  Mehti stuck his  head out of the window  of  the
boathouse  and  begged  them  to  stop.  "This  isn't  an  opera-house,"  he
     "You shouldn't have lent uncle  Vova your scuba  gear,"  Yura  remarked
after a while. "We could have done some diving."
     "Why not come over to my place if the races are cancelled? We might try
to change the pitch of the spiral."
     "I don't want to."
     "Why not?" Nikolai  looked at his friend. "Ah, yes, of  course. A  date
with Val."
     "No, I-"
     "Then what the devil-"
     "Nothing  will come of it, Nick. The surfaces of substances are  a hazy
subject. If famous scientists don't know how to handle them, then what's the
use of us trying?"
     "You needn't if you don't want to. I'll get along without you."
     "You can't.  At  least  I know my  way about electronics, which is more
than you can say."
     "Anyway,  I won't  give up.  There  must be a  field in  which  surface
tension increases."
     "A field!"  Yura  repeated  derisively. "'Oh,  field,  broad field, who
strewed you with whitened bones?'"
     Boris Privalov came up to the young  men. "Good morning,  boys. Doesn't
look as though there'll be any racing today, does it?"
     "The  races haven't been officially called off yet," said Yura.  "We're
waiting. Take a seat."
     The three of them sat side by side on the pier,  dangling their feet in
the water, the sun warming their backs, waiting for the wind to come up.
     "Do you recall our talk about surface tension, Boris?" Nikolai asked in
a determined voice.
     The sun flashed  on Privalov's glasses as he turned to look at Nikolai.
"Yes, I do."
     "Well, it's  like  this."  Nikolai launched  into a description of  the
experiment with water and a wire, and  mentioned the spiral and the  desired
     Privalov listened closely, frowning and screwing up his eyes.
     "It's amateurish," he said  finally.  "You can't go in for that sort of
thing  without thorough preparation. There's a  book by Adam  on the physics
and chemistry of surfaces. I'll lend it to you." He was silent for a  while.
"Besides, at the  moment  we  have  more than  enough work on our hands, and
later there will be a pipeline across the whole of the Caspian."
     "I've been hearing about a transcaspian pipeline for years," said Yura.
"We're beginning to wonder whether it will ever be built."
     "It will. I forgot to ask you yesterday, Nikolai,  if you went over  to
     "Yes, I did."
     "See anything interesting?"
     "Not particularly.  I think  they're  setting  up  a big  electrostatic
     "Electrostatic, you say?" Privalov looked thoughtful.
     Yura sprang to his feet. "A wind! A wind's coming up!"
     A light southerly sea breeze ruffled the surface of the bay and rustled
in  the trees along Seaside Boulevard. The flag of the Chief Judge fluttered
     A ship's bell tinkled. The class M flag was run up.
     "The  centreboard boats are getting ready," Yura said excitedly. "If it
blows a little stronger the keel boats can follow suit. Let's go."
     After  the centreboards the  Star  class  boats started off.  There was
enough wind for these small, light boats which carried a great deal of sail.
     The wind freshened, and half an hour later boats of the L-4  class were
announced. Soon the steady ringing of a ship's bell informed the competitors
that five minutes were left before the start.
     Ah, those last five  minutes! What a tricky business it was getting  as
close to  the starting line  as possible within those five  minutes, but not
crossing it ahead of time!
     Four rings of the bell  meant four minutes were left, then  three, two,
and one. Finally, a quick ringing of the bell gave the signal for the start.
Beating  against  the  wind,  the  boats  entered  the   first  lap  of  the
fifteen-mile course.
     Wind filled the sails as the sheet, held in strong hands, quivered; the
sea whispered to the boats sliding through it;  the sun bathed everything in
gold against the blue of the sea.
     The  Mekong  was  among  the first  to  round  the mark.  Following  an
advantageous course, it  approached its closest  rival on  a parallel course
windward, but  the other boat did not  let the  Mekong overtake it.  In  the
excitement  both crews forgot about the other competitors. When  the  Mekong
finally  forged ahead, the  crews discovered that almost all the other boats
had overtaken both of them, were rounding  the  second buoy and were raising
their spinnakers,  the  big triangular sails  used when  running  before the
     Yura, who  was  sitting  on  the  deck, raised  himself  on  one  knee.
"Obstacle ahead!" he shouted. "Two boats lying at anchor!"
     When  the  Mekong came closer they saw a man in a straw  hat sitting in
one of the boats. They  could hear  the motor running, but the  boat was not
     The second boat, some distance away, was empty.
     "Ahoy there!" Yura shouted, leaning over the side. "Watch out!"
     Just  then the  wind  died down,  prompting  the thought that Nature is
sometimes actively hostile to man. Why else should the wind die down at noon
on a Sunday just when a regatta is at its height?
     The  sails  flapped  several  times  and  then  hung limp.  The  Mekong
continued to move  forward a short  distance by inertia  before coming  to a
full stop about half a cable length from the motor-boat.
     "Well,  all we  can  do now  is  sunbathe.  What a  race!" said Yura in
disgust. Whistling  softly, he scratched the boom with his fingernails, then
threw a ten-kopek  coin overboard. But these century-old  remedies failed to
call up a wind.
     "I've done  everything I can," Yura announced. Then he stretched out on
the deck and began to sing in a doleful voice:

     The river flows but it doesn't flow;
     The day got off to a bad start.
     How can I tell you what's in my heart?
     But I think you probably know.

     Nikolai  glanced  at  the  distant  shore  and  the refrigeration plant
outlined against the blue sky.
     "Why,"  he said wonderingly,  "I  believe  this is  the spot  where  we
rescued that young woman in the red dress."
     All  of a sudden silence  descended as the motor  of the boat ahead was
switched off. They heard an angry voice say:
     "I came here first. Everything I find here is mine."
     "Don't be silly," another  voice  said. "The sea doesn't belong to you.
It belongs to everyone."
     "I'll show you who it belongs to!"
     The motorboat rocked as the man in the straw hat waved his arms.
     "I  wonder  who he's talking  to?"  Nikolai looked more closely at  the
motorboat. Then he fetched his binoculars from the cabin and trained them on
the  straw hat.  "Just what I  thought. The voice sounded  familiar.  That's
     "Give him my regards," Privalov said.
     "Damn it!"  Nikolai  exclaimed. "You  spoke of wanting  the scuba gear,
Yura. Well, there it is."
     Taking the  binoculars, Yura clearly saw Bugrov's big head in the water
beside  the  motorboat. The mask was pushed up on Vova's forehead and he was
clinging to the boat with one hand.
     Yura  lowered the  binoculars.  "You're right. The  diving  gear is  in
danger. It looks as though they want to drown each other."
     "I'd like to know what they're doing here," said Nikolai. "Do you mind,
Boris, if I take a short swim?"
     "Don't be too long. The wind may come up any minute."
     "I'll be back soon." With  these words Nikolai plunged into the sea and
swam towards the motorboat.
     "Come, Yura," said Privalov, lighting a cigarette and letting the smoke
out through his nostrils, "tell me about your experiments once again."
     That morning Nikolai Opratin had spent more than an hour on  the  small
wharf belonging  to the Institute of Marine Physics. He had attached a cable
drum to the side of an Institute motor-boat and had wound on it a thin cable
with a strong electromagnet at its end.
     Anatole Benedictov had said the knife could be magnetized.  If this was
so, then he, Opratin,  would find  it. How stupid that the knife should have
fallen overboard!  And  what  a scene Benedictov  had made  on deck! Opratin
recalled the glass ampoule on the biophysicist's desk. A drug addict.
     Yet without that scene  on  deck he, Opratin, would not have learned of
the existence of the mysterious knife. A drop of common sense in a barrel of
     Opratin finished equipping  the boat, started up the motor, and chugged
out of the bay.
     The  sea heaved lazily beneath the hot August sun. The red cone of  the
fairway buoy with a big white "18" painted  on it rocked on the surface. The
TV mast was at  Opratin's stern and the refrigeration plant on the left.  He
turned the boat a few degrees to starboard.
     Now this must be the place. This was where Benedictov's wife had fallen
overboard after the knife had dropped into the sea. An interesting woman, no
doubt about that. Had she fallen or had she jumped?
     An empty boat bobbed in  the water about  twenty metres away. Where was
the owner?  Had  he drowned? Or had  the boat torn free  of its moorings and
drifted out of the bay? Opratin was not in the least interested. He pushed a
lever which  switched the motor's drive from the propeller to a generator to
which the cable with the electromagnet was attached. The cable wound off the
drum  into the  water. Opratin wondered  how soon his particular  fish would
     At  the  end  of  the  cable  was  an electromagnetic  underwater probe
connected with an ultrasonic range-finder. The zigzagging green  line on the
oscillograph screen would  show  the  shape of metallic objects  on the  sea
floor.  If Opratin wanted  some  object he could switch on the electromagnet
and pick it up.
     Using the oars,  Opratin  slowly moved the boat back and forth, combing
the place.  Suddenly the cable  jerked. Bubbles rose  to the surface, then a
huge hand was thrust out of  the water, followed by a head, the face covered
by a mask. The mask was connected by a hose to a cylinder on the man's back.
     The diver closed the valve of the aqualung and pushed the mask up  onto
his  forehead, revealing a  broad  face with a heavy jaw. Opratin recognized
him at once. He  was the man who had tried to take the knife from Benedictov
aboard the Uzbekistan. It  was obvious why he was at this particular spot in
the sea. An unpleasant situation.
     While the diver coughed and spat  out water Opratin decided to take the
     "Hey you, there!" he shouted. "Why the devil did you pull my cable?"
     "You'll soon find out!" came the  answer in a threatening tone. The man
swam over to Opratin's motorboat, reached up to grip its side, and let loose
a stream  of obscenities that set Opratin's teeth on edge. The  substance of
Bugrov's  monologue  was  that  law-abiding citizens could  not  go  in  for
skin-diving on  their day off because "others"-a word which Bugrov proceeded
to define-played all kinds of dirty tricks on them.
     Bugrov had been combing the area in circles. He would  anchor his boat,
dive down and swim around  in a circle,  studying  the  firmly-packed  sandy
bottom.  His supply  of  air was almost  half  used up when  he saw  a black
cylinder suspended from a cable slowly moving over the bottom. He swam up to
the cylinder and  tugged at it, gripping the place where it was  attached to
the cable. An electric shock galvanized him, and he tore his hand away  with
difficulty. Dazed and angered, he headed for the surface.
     Bugrov had been having bad luck with electricity lately.
     "Get going, quick-before I turn your tub upside down!" he roared.
     Opratin  did  not want any  trouble,  the more so that  a  sailboat was
approaching.  He moved  over to the stern  and  said  in a  placative  tone,
"Listen, how was I to know you were swimming here?"
     "Couldn't you see my boat? Stop acting innocent, you scum!"
     They wrangled  for another  few  minutes, until Opratin realized he was
being foolish  and  would have  to get  rid of the man  some  other  way. He
switched off the motor,  gave  the becalmed sailboat a fleeting  glance, and
said,  "I know what  you're  looking for, but  you'll never find it with  an
     Bugrov blinked in disbelief.
     "D'you take me for a  fool?" he asked  hoarsely. "Get out! I  came here
first. Everything I find here is mine."
     "Don't  be  silly!  The  sea  doesn't belong  to  you.  It  belongs  to
     "I'll show you  who it belongs to!" Bugrov began to rock the motorboat.
Opratin had to throw out his arms to keep his balance.
     "All right, I'm leaving," Opratin said, strongly tempted to hit the man
over the head with  his anchor. "But you'll  never  see that knife.  You can
take my word for it as a scientist."
     This  made  an impression  on Bugrov,  who  had  a  deep  faith in  the
omnipotence of science.
     "Are you  looking for the knife too?"  he  asked in  what was almost  a
civil tone.
     "There, that's the  way  to talk," said Opratin. "Yes, I am. If I don't
find it I'll make one just like it."
     Bugrov gave the face under the straw hat a thoughtful glance.
     "I'm apt  to be quick-tempered," he said.  "Maybe  I said some things I
shouldn't have."
     Opratin gave a wry grin.

     Nikolai quickly covered the hundred metres or  so to the motorboat in a
noiseless breast stroke. As  he  approached it he  heard Bugrov say,  "All I
want is the knife. I'm willing to make sacrifices for science."
     "I'm glad to hear it," said Opratin.
     "I am what  I am," Bugrov said modestly. "Will I be going to the island
     "No, not very."
     "There's  a  fishery nearby.  I can get caviar  cheap  there."  He fell
silent, his head filled with visions of future profits.
     At that  moment  Opratin caught  sight of  Nikolai  beside the boat. He
removed his dark glasses to take a better look.
     "Is that you?"  he  asked  with  a pleasant smile. "What  an unexpected
     "Hi, there," called  Bugrov,  recognizing his neighbour. "Where" d  you
drop from?"
     "That  sailboat,"  Nikolai  caught hold of  the motorboat's  life line.
"We're becalmed, so I decided to take a swim."
     An awkward silence followed.
     "I'll  be on my way," said Bugrov,  pushing off from the motorboat. "Do
you want your scuba gear now?"
     "No," said Nikolai. "Bring it to me at home."
     Bugrov swam back to his rowboat.
     "I see you know him," remarked Opratin.
     "Yes, we live in the same house." Nikolai stared  at the generator, the
face plate of the cathode-ray tube of the oscillograph and the drum with the
cable running into the sea.
     Opratin smiled. "How I envy you. Sailing is a wonderful  sport. But  I,
as you can see, have to carry out investigations on Sundays too."
     "Yes, I  see," said Nikolai, trying feverishly to make out what sort of
cable it was. "Well, good luck."
     He pushed off from the motorboat and swam back to the sailboat. If only
he had known the circumstances under which he would cling to the  life  line
of that motorboat a second time!

     The  wheel now worked well. Unwinding the "spool", a tug  had laid  the
first  pipeline  to Neftianiye Reefs.  The pressure trials  completed,  they
returned  home towards  evening. At this  time of day  there  was  not  much
traffic on the road, which ran between  vineyards, with  oil derricks beyond
them, and their sleek grey car made good time.
     Privalov  relaxed  in the  back  seat,  satisfied  after  two  days  of
intensive  work.  Pavel  Koltukhov, who  sat beside him,  dozed  and  smoked
simultaneously; he  woke every  now  and then to take  a  puff or two on his
cigarette and then closed his eyes again.
     Nikolai was at the wheel. Beside him Yura  was going through his  notes
on the pressure trials.
     "That's a load off  my mind," Privalov said with  a sigh.  "I hope  the
builders will be able to handle the parallel pipelines without us."
     "You can gird your loins for another job," said Koltukhov.
     "You mean  the  transcaspian  pipeline? But  the  project  hasn't  been
approved yet."
     "Approval was wired yesterday. Is your survey programme ready?"
     "It's been ready a long time."
     "That's fine. We'll discuss it tomorrow."
     Nikolai slowed down as they passed through a small town and then put on
speed when they came out into open country again.
     "How are things going, boys?" Privalov asked  in a low voice. "Have you
read that book by Adam?"
     "It  isn't  what you'd  call light reading,"  Nikolai  replied.  "We're
stuck, Boris. We're thinking of experimenting with mercury."
     The remainder of the drive into town passed in silence. After the young
men got out  on the corner of Toilers  of the Sea Street,  Privalov took the
wheel and drove to the Institute.
     "Look here, Boris," said Koltukhov. "Do you think it's fair to let your
imagination run  wild and  make  those two young men pay for it  by  wasting
their time and energy?"
     "I'm  not  making them do anything. They  started experimenting without
sufficient  theoretical grounding. I  told them what  to read  and gave them
some advice. That's all."
     "Then why  does  Nikolai spend  every  free  minute  of his time in the
automation department, showering everyone there with questions?"
     Privalov  shrugged  his  shoulders.  "Aren't  you   letting   your  own
imagination  run wild?  Dabbling in resins  like  an  alchemist,  in between
     "I'm  doing  something  useful.   I'm  improving  pipeline   insulation
     "But  you've  done  that already. Now  you're  making  some  smelly new
compounds. People have to hold their noses when they go past  your den under
the stairway."
     Koltukhov merely grinned.
     "All right," he said,  lighting another cigarette. "I'll  let you in on
my secret.  My idea is a much  better one than yours. How do we  protect our
pipes and  steel  structures  from corrosion by sea water? By covering  them
with   insulation.  Besides  being  expensive,   this  method  isn't  always
dependable. When cracks form in the insulation, corrosion goes  ahead faster
than ever, as you yourself know. Another way of controlling corrosion is  by
using electricity, but this is expensive too, and it involves a lot of work.
You have to  string transmission lines and  bring a positive  charge  to the
pipeline. My idea  is a plastic coating  that would serve  as insulation and
have an electrostatic charge at the same time."
     "Not a bad idea," said Privalov. "But mine is better. It does away with
both pipes and insulation."
     Koltukhov  dismissed  it  with a wave of  his hand.  "You  talk  like a
college boy, Boris."
     The car drove into the Institute yard.
     "Is old man Bagbanly in town?" Privalov asked.
     "I think so. Why?"
     "I'd like to get in touch with him."
     "Yes, do go and have a talk with him. He'll  throw  cold water on  your
idea, if anyone does."
     They  sat  on the balcony  drinking  tea.  Professor  Bakhtiar Bagbanly
thoughtfully stirred his glass as he gazed out on the broad crescent of city
lights skirting the bay. A Corresponding Member of the  Academy of Sciences,
he  was  a   clever,  erudite  man  with  the  skilful  hands  of  a  gifted
experimenter. He had been Privalov's favourite lecturer when Privalov was an
undergraduate  twenty  years before.  Many  of  Professor  Bagbanly's former
students dropped in to discuss their work with him. He was generous with his
knowledge and advice, and he addressed all the  young  people by their first
names.  They addressed  him  in the  Eastern fashion as "Bakhtiar  Muellim",
meaning "Teacher Bakhtiar".
     The old man  had  a large  grey  head,  black  eyebrows and a  drooping
silvery moustache beneath a hooked nose.
     Professor Bakhtiar  Bagbanly fixed his twinkling brown eyes on Privalov
and said, "I  didn't understand a  thing.  Your words  are  as vague  as the
dreams of a camel. Now tell me straight out. What is it that you want?"
     Privalov knew  that the  old man's brusque  manner was not  to be taken
seriously, and so he let the "camel" bit pass unheeded.
     "I'll begin from the beginning", he  said, taking a sip of tea.  "We're
starting to design a pipeline across the bed of the Caspian."
     The old man nodded.
     "A pipeline, as you know, is not an end in itself," Privalov continued.
"It is only a means towards an end, which is a regular supply of oil."
     "What's wrong with using a pipeline to attain this end?"
     "As far as that goes, nothing. But what is the purpose of the pipes? To
separate the oil from the environment."
     "That's well put."
     "Please don't make fun  of me, Bakhtiar Muellim. When  it  comes to the
technique  of transporting  oil  across a  sea, or  transporting  one liquid
through  another  in general,  our thinking  is  conservative.  How  do  our
pipelines differ from  those used in ancient times? Well, the pipes are more
durable and the pumps more powerful. But the principle of the thing  remains
the same.  Pipeline delivery is better than  using  oil tankers,  of course.
It's cheaper and it does not pollute the sea. But, you realize-"
     "I  realize  that you don't like pipes.  How do  you propose to replace
     "This is what came to my mind." Privalov finished his tea and moved his
glass  aside. "I  recalled Plato's experiment. If we take  oil with the same
specific weight as that of water and pour it into the water, surface tension
will cause the oil to assume the minimum shape and form a sphere. Isn't that
so? But suppose we build up surface tension in such a way that it acts along
two axes instead  of  three? Then one  cross-section of  the oil  will  be a
circle and the other-  In a word, the oil will take the shape of a cylinder.
The surface of the oil will become a pipe, as it were."
     Professor  Bagbanly  grinned and  shook his  head. "Ingenious!  A  pipe
without a pipe. But please proceed."
     "Further," Privalov continued enthusiastically, "we must have  a field.
Imagine an underwater power beam pulsed along a route.  A definite frequency
would generate  a field  in which the oil  stretches along the  beam. Do you
realize what that would mean? A stream of oil running through the water from
the west coast of the Caspian to the east coast."
     "You've described  the  design  of the  steam  locomotive  to  me," the
professor said.  "Now  tell me how it can  travel  without being  pulled  by
horses. What would make the stream of oil move?"
     "Perhaps the energy of the beam itself. A conductor moves in a magnetic
field if  it crosses lines of force, doesn't it? I don't  know yet, Bakhtiar
Muellim. I'm just advancing a bare hypothesis."
     "Bare and defenceless," the old man added.
     There was  a long  silence. Then  Professor Bagbanly  rose and began to
pace the balcony.
     "You  speak  of  surface tension," he said finally, "and  you hope  old
Bakhtiar will gladden your ears with a harmonious concept. You nurse an idle
hope,  my son.  The  surfaces  of  matter constitute  one of the fundamental
riddles of modern physics. The surface  tension  of  liquids is a zone where
the  specific  properties of surfaces manifest  themselves.  Surface tension
produces  forces that are always directed  inwards. The tea in that glass is
in a state  of tension. Its surface  presses inwards from the top and bottom
and  sides with  a force of more than ten tons per square centimetre. Hence,
liquids  are well-nigh  incompressible.  Until  recently it was thought that
liquids could not be compressed at all. Or take solids. When we cut a  piece
of  clay with a knife we disunite whole worlds and form new surfaces. In the
process, energy is released."
     "Just what lies under a surface?" Privalov asked.
     "I  don't know, my son. Nobody knows yet. How  can you get under it? If
you  scrape  off  a surface,  another surface  of the substance  immediately
forms. It is the interface  on which the  interatomic forces  that  hold the
elements of  a  substance  together  interact with  the ambient  medium  and
achieve a balance in some specific  fashion. How? That is something we don't
yet know. But if we  get to know it, then sooner or later we'll penetrate to
the heart of  the matter. And once  we have fathomed the secrets of surfaces
we will proceed to utilize the colossal force latent in them."
     "Do  you mean to say  that  my idea  is  too far  ahead of the  times?"
Privalov asked sadly.
     "It  well may  be. Take an example  which Shuleikin cites in his Marine
Physics. When  an express train brakes suddenly  the enormous kinetic energy
it  releases  is absorbed  by  the extremely thin  surface layer of  contact
between the wheels and brake-shoes, yet this does not seem unbelievable.
     "Suppose," Bagbanly  continued as he walked back and forth, "we succeed
in increasing the surface tension and-"
     "You agree, Bakhtiar Muellim!" Privalov almost shouted.
     "Don't be in such a hurry. I assume that it is  possible-theoretically,
but not in reality."
     "Because your oil 'sausage'-if you succeed in making one-will encounter
tremendous  resistance as  it moves through the water. Friction,  my friend.
Friction is also a property of  surfaces. The surface  layers will tear away
from the inner layers, and the jet will disintegrate."
     "Excellent,"  said  Privalov.  "That means we have another job-that  of
reducing the friction."
     Bagbanly dropped into an armchair and burst out laughing.
     "You're   wonderful,  Boris,"  he  said,  wiping  his  eyes  with   his
handkerchief.  "Both friction and surface tension are child's play  to  you.
You're even prepared to turn matter inside out."
     "Well,  I'll be going,  Bakhtiar Muellim, "  Privalov said with a sigh.
"Thanks for your advice."
     The old man stared  at him intently. "You know what? Take  me in  as  a
member  of  the team on this project. I'll work on it out of curiosity.  Who
knows what  may come of  it? But only on condition  we don't go to extremes.
We'll concentrate on the underlying principles and nothing more."

     "Are you sure the knife fell overboard, Rita?" Anatole Benedictov said.
     "Yes, I'm sure."
     "Quite sure?"
     "Well, really!" Rita laid aside her book and rose from the sofa.
     "Don't be angry,  darling. You see, a couple of men have hunted for the
knife on the sea bottom at that place and they failed to find it."
     "It would be easier to find a needle in a haystack."
     "You've changed lately. Your  attitude to my  work is different. That's
why I asked."
     "You're the one who's changed, Anatole.  You're simply stopped noticing
me.  Do give up those  experiments. Please  give  them up. They'll drive you
crazy.  They've  already  come between us. Think of  how wonderfully we were
getting along before that ill-fated discovery."
     "That's true," said Benedictov.
     "We were, weren't we?" Rita asked hopefully.
     Benedictov glanced at his watch. "A person is coming to see me in a few
minutes. We'll be doing some work together."
     Rita shook her head and silently left the study.

     Anatole  Benedictov had fallen in love with Rita several years earlier,
when he was teaching at the University and she was a gay,  vivacious biology
student  there. Shortly before that he had presented  a brilliant thesis for
an advanced  degree dealing with electric  currents in living organisms, and
had published a  study of electric fish which  had  aroused  much discussion
among biologists. During one  of his lectures he  had noticed several  girls
giggling  and  whispering as  they  passed  a  sheet  of  paper through  the
auditorium.  He strode rapidly over  to them and snatched up  the  paper. He
looked  down at  it  and frowned. What  he  saw was  a  sketch  of  himself,
shaggy-haired, thickset, with a fish's tail,  conducting  with  a trident as
fish danced round him. Beneath the sketch were the words, written  in a fine
     Neither fish  nor  fowl,  neither  physicist  nor  biologist,  He's  an
intermediate class electro-ichthyologist.
     "Whose work is this?" he asked,  letting  his angry eyes  roam over the
     A slender blonde girl rose. "It's mine,"  she  said politely, her brown
eyes gazing boldly into Benedictov's.
     It was an announcement rather than a statement.
     "Thank  you,"  Benedictov  said slowly,  in  a  slightly  nasal  voice,
thrusting the drawing into his pocket and continuing his lecture.
     After they were married, Benedictov admitted to Rita that when she said
"It's mine" he had suddenly felt a wave of heat engulf him.
     As for Rita Matveyev,  she  had  long been  in love  with the brilliant
     Rita graduated from  the University  the  year  they were  married  and
started  teaching biology in a secondary school. That same  year  Benedictov
was  given a  laboratory at a research institute.  Here he  enthusiastically
continued  his investigations in the sphere  of action potentials. The young
couple led a fast-paced life, keeping open house for their many friends.
     Half a  year  before their cruise on the Uzbekistan the Benedictovs had
moved into a new  flat. On moving day  there occurred  a strange event which
triggered a series of disasters.
     Rita  and her  husband had decided to leave a lot of  their  old things
behind when they  moved.  Anatole  naturally  protested  when  he found  her
putting an old flower vase and a rusty bar of iron into a packing crate.
     "We agreed not to take such things, Rita," he said. "You ought to throw
that trash away."
     Rita discarded the vase but insisted that she could not part  with  the
bar of iron,  which  had been in the possession of her family for years  and
     "A Matveyev relic?" Benedictov asked  with a laugh, picking up the bar.
He turned it over in his hands and shook it.
     The blade of a knife slid out of the side of the bar.
     Benedictov  stared dumbfounded at the narrow blade. It was covered with
a thin, transparent layer of grease  through which a wavy pattern showed. He
cautiously touched the blade. His fingers went through it-just as they would
have passed through empty space.
     He pressed his hand to his eyes.
     "What's  the matter?"  Rita asked in alarm.  She  came  up  to him  and
glanced at the bar. Her eyes widened.
     No, she didn't know anything about the bar except, that according to an
old family  legend  a distant  ancestor  had brought it back from India. Her
father had treasured the bar all his life, and now  she was  doing the same.
No one had ever imagined there might be something inside it.
     Benedictov held the bar as if it were a  rattlesnake.  He slowly closed
his fist over the blade. His fingers came together over emptiness.
     Rita gave  a  start.  "Wait a minute," she said. "There was another bar
just like this one,  all covered with  rust. We used it  to prop  up the old
wardrobe that  had  a broken leg." She ran  into the next room,  returning a
moment  later to say, "It's gone. We  must have thrown it out yesterday when
we carted all that old rubbish away."
     The first few moments of astonishment gave way to curiosity. Benedictov
carefully examined the bar. Two lines of letters  were engraved on one side.
Between the two lines there was  something that  looked like a  crown. Or it
might  have simply been a  spot  of  rust. Benedictov  noticed a  fine  line
running round the outside of the  bar. The whole thing was  obviously  not a
solid bar of iron but a box with a cover.
     After a  long struggle Benedictov finally pried off the top. Inside the
box lay a knife handle, with a piece of cloth wound round it. The cloth must
have become loosened with time and when the box was shaken the blade dropped
     There was nothing extraordinary about the  beautiful handle of yellowed
ivory. It could be grasped. He concluded that the  section of the blade that
went into the handle must be made  of ordinary metal too, otherwise it would
not remain attached to the handle.
     But the  blade  itself! It  passed  freely  through  everything without
leaving the slightest trace, as though it were made of thin air.
     The first glimpse of the mysterious knife marked a turning point in the
life  of the Benedictovs. Anatole  determined  to  get to  the  root of  the
     "Penetrability. The  ability to  pass through  matter. That's the goal,
Rita. You say this knife has been in your family at least two hundred years?
Well,  if  they could make a knife that  passes through matter you and I can
certainly do the same."
     Anatole painted  glowing pictures  of  Altered  Matter which  man could
easily control. Rita  became enthusiastic too. She helped Anatole  to set up
experiments and kept a record of their results.
     Weeks and then months passed.  Benedictov turned his study into a small
laboratory where, more and  more frequently, he worked through the night. He
grew impatient  and irritable.  Rita  noticed that his behaviour  had become
strange. At  times he would be  depressed  and  sullen,  and  then  he would
suddenly become his cheerful,  energetic self again,  capable of working for
days on end without resting. He fell into apathy just as suddenly.
     Rita  grew  worried. She  now realized that Anatole had taken on  a job
that  was too much  for one  man. But when she tentatively suggested that he
ought to let the Academy of Sciences  know  about his discovery  he declared
that he could not do  this until he  himself got to  the bottom  of it. With
great difficulty she persuaded him to take her on  a holiday  cruise  on the
     We already know how disastrously their holiday ended.
     When the doorbell  rang, Anatole jumped up  but  Rita  got to the  door
first. She opened it to Nikolai Opratin, who looked his usual dapper self in
an elegant grey  suit. Bending  his neatly combed head, he touched  his cold
lips to Rita's hand and inquired after her health.
     "I am in perfect health," Rita  said, enunciating the words distinctly.
     "Hold on, there. Where are you going?" Anatole asked.
     "To the  pictures."  The door slammed  shut  and  the two men were left
alone in the flat.
     "All the better without her." Anatole growled, leading the way into his
     Nikolai  Opratin  cast a  critical  glance  over the equipment. Then he
removed his jacket, carefully pulled up his  trousers at the knees, and sank
into an armchair. Benedictov sat down opposite him.
     "First, Anatole,  I want  you  to  tell me in  detail about the knife,"
Opratin began.
     He listened closely to Benedictov's account.
     "Indian  magic.  If  I hadn't  seen it  myself  I wouldn't believe  it.
Penetrability ends near the handle, you say?"
     "Yes, there's a sort of intermediate zone of about six millimetres. The
part that goes into the handle is ordinary steel."
     "Did you weigh the blade?"
     "Yes. The weight corresponds to the size."
     "That's extremely interesting. It means the knife behaves like ordinary
matter in the gravitational field."
     "It seems to me,"  said Benedictov, "that the bonds between  atoms,  or
perhaps within atoms, have been changed in some way in this knife.
     I am  convinced that the properties  of  living  organisms, whose vital
functions are connected with the discharge of  energy in the  form of action
potentials, will provide the key to the riddle."
     He  went over to the round aquarium encircled by wire and launched into
a discourse, but Opratin soon interrupted him.
     "I get the picture, Anatole," he said courteously  but firmly. "You put
the fish between the plates of  a capacitor  in an  oscillatory circuit  and
look for  a resonance  in the bioelectrical frequency  of  the fish. I don't
think this avenue will  lead you  anywhere.  You're right, though, about one
thing -that the inter-atomic bonds in the  knife  were altered.  But how was
the energy of the intrinsic bonds of this substance overcome? If we only had
the knife now! By the way, you said it  lay inside an iron box.  You haven't
lost the box too, have you?"
     Benedictov took a small iron  bar from a drawer  and  held  it  out  to
Opratin. It looked something like a pencil case.
     Opratin sprang to his feet. "What the  devil!"  he exclaimed. "The same
     Engraved on the cover were  the letters  "A M D G". Below the letters a
crown had been engraved, and below that were "J d M" in smaller letters.
     Opratin walked  the length  of  the  study and back  again,  his  steps
ringing like the pounding of a hammer.
     "What's the  matter?"  Benedictov asked,  turning  his  head to  follow
Opratin. "What's upset you?"
     "Oh, nothing much. What do those letters stand for?"
     "The  upper four are the initial letters of a Jesuit motto but I  don't
remember it. I don't know what the bottom ones stand for. It's unlikely they
have anything to do with our problem."
     "Well, let's not  lose time setting  up our  first experiment. When you
described your generator I got an idea. Was a crate of instruments delivered
to you today?"
     "Yes. By the  way, were you the  one who  sent that  ape to  this place
disguised as an electrician?"
     "How  could  you  ever  think  that?  He's  my  laboratory  technician.
Extremely useful, and not  a bad fellow at all. But to get back to business.
I think we should begin with a minimum surface, with the point of a needle."
     Opratin  opened  a case  and took out  a metal holder to which  a long,
highly polished needle was attached. Then he briefly set forth the method of
the experiment.
     The equipment lay on a small table, under a binocular magnifying glass.
The  needle and  the holder  were  placed in a screw-clamp with a micrometer
screw in  such  a way that the  needle  point was close to a steel cube. All
this was  inserted  in  a coil  between  parallel plates  and enclosed  in a
thick-walled vessel. Wires  connecting the  apparatus with the electrostatic
machine and the oscillator ran through holes drilled in the glass.
     "Now we'll  see what  your oscillator is capable of," Opratin remarked.
"Well, here we go. We'll try to make the electric field act on the intrinsic
bonds of the substance of this cube."
     The disc of the electrostatic machine began to whirl, humming softly.
     "Switch on the oscillator," Opratin commanded.
     A  tumbler clicked. Inside  the  glass vessel  the little  motor slowly
turned the micrometer  screw,  bringing the  point of the  needle closer and
closer to the cube.
     Opratin and Benedictov kept their eyes glued to the magnifying glass.
     A  bell tinkled as the tip of the needle  came  into  contact  with the
cube. The automatic recorders were switched on. The point continued to move,
penetrating into the steel. But the sensitive instruments did not record any
force. The needle was entering the steel cube without meeting resistance!
     That lasted only a moment.
     The next instant Opratin  and Benedictov were flung  against the  wall.
The glass chamber was shattered to smithereens.
     Benedictov looked round. He was overwhelmed. Had it all been a dream?
     Opratin  rose to  his feet. His face was pale.  Blood trickled down his
     "The cube!" he cried. "Where is it?"
     They  found the cube in a  corner beside fragments of  the screw-clamp.
When they examined it under a  microscope they could  not find the slightest
trace of a hole made by the needle. But the automatic recorder, an impartial
witness, told them that  the  needle  had  penetrated  into the  steel to  a
distance of three microns.
     The  two scientists sank into armchairs facing each  other.  For a time
they were silent.
     "What," Benedictov finally said, "do you think of the whole thing?"
     "I think it was a great moment." Opratin  spoke in a calm voice and his
face now wore a somewhat detached expression. "We achieved penetrability for
an instant by  weakening the bonds  of the substance of  the cube.  But  the
energy that created those bonds was released-and that was what hit us."
     After a  long pause  he continued,  his voice calmer  than ever: "We've
made a start, Anatole. But we won't get anywhere working at home. Once we're
invading the structure of matter there's no telling what kind of blasts  may
be produced. We  must build a big installation.  We'll need a  Van de Graaff
generator without fail. We're going to conduct a great many experiments."
     "What do you propose?"
     "I can arrange matters so that  I work by myself, without any outsiders
poking their noses in. But what about you? You aren't a member of our staff,
unfortunately."  Opratin  fell silent. Then he said bluntly: "You'll have to
join the staff of the Research Institute of Marine Physics."

     Nikolai and Yura  had been  experimenting  with  mercury  in the  small
glassed-in gallery in Cooper Lane for several days. They had put  together a
"mercury heart", an old-fashioned apparatus used to demonstrate how electric
current builds up surface tension.
     The  device was assembled on one pan of  a laboratory scales.  A  large
drop of mercury was covered  with a solution that would conduct electricity.
A screw  with a needle lay  so that  the point  of  the needle  touched  the
mercury. The drop of mercury was connected by the conducting solution to the
anode of a storage battery and the needle was wired to the cathode.
     A weight on the other pan kept the scales balanced.
     The  electric current increased the surface tension, making the drop of
mercury shrink and move away from the needle. But when the circuit  was thus
broken, the  drop  of  mercury spread out until it again touched the needle.
This "mercury heart" pulsated continuously.
     The  young engineers  tried  to  act on the "heart" with high frequency
current by winding  a spiral round  the apparatus  and linking  it up with a
valve oscillator. They  hoped a certain  definite frequency of  oscillations
would greatly increase the surface tension of the mercury and  squeeze it to
such  an  extent that it  would no longer touch the needle.  Then, by adding
mercury and registering the increase in  the weight of the drop, they  could
measure the degree to which the surface tension had increased.
     They  tried different shapes  of  spiral  and different frequencies but
nothing  came of it. The "mercury heart" continued to  pulsate with the same
calm, steady rhythm.
     "We're  not  getting anywhere,"  said  Yura,  turning off  the current.
"We're just wasting our time."
     But Nikolai patiently continued to vary the experiment.

     The rusty  iron  bar  that Privalov brought home from the bazaar lay at
the  bottom  of  the pantry  for  more than  a fortnight.  Privalov had  not
forgotten about the bar but simply had no time to examine it.
     Finally, one  afternoon, he  attached  a  vise to  the  kitchen  table.
Humming a popular tune, he laid out his tools. His wife  Olga, who was doing
up the dishes, frowned.
     "I wish you wouldn't bring home so  much junk," she grumbled.  "What do
you want that dirty piece of iron for?"
     Meanwhile, Privalov  had  put the bar into the vise  and was removing a
thick layer of kerosene-softened rust with a sharp scraper.
     "It's  not iron,"  he said.  "Don't you remember? I once told you  that
iron is rarely met in its pure state. It is usually alloyed  with carbon  to
make steel.  The  element iron, or ferrum, is found in a pure state  only in
laboratories. Incidentally, it hardly  ever rusts. All the rust on  this bar
means that it is steel."
     "What about stainless steel?"
     "Stainless steel is just a name. There is  sometimes  more chromium and
nickel in it than iron.
     "I seem to be  learning lots of new  things in my  old age," Olga said,
wiping a plate. Her eyes were  amused. After a time  she said, "Let's go  to
the cinema, Boris. I know where 'The Sorceress' is on. It's  an old picture,
but we haven't seen it."
     "I have nothing against 'The Sorceress'," said  Privalov as he  scraped
away. "You know I've always stood up for witches, magicians and goblins. But
before we deal  with the  occult sciences I'd like to see what's inside this
little box."
     "Box? Do you mean to say this little bar is hollow?"
     "Exactly. The moment  I picked it up at the bazaar I  noticed that it's
too light for its size. But I didn't see  any  joints, and I wanted to learn
how it's put together."
     "Be careful, Boris. It could be a booby trap."
     "That's not likely. I don't see a single opening for a fuse or a safety
     "But what if it really is one?"
     Privalov grinned.  "You remind  me  of  the  grandmother  in  Tolstoy's
Childhood. Remember? She refused  to  listen to an explanation  of why small
shot isn't the same as gunpowder."
     "A very flattering comparison."
     "Don't fly into a huff. You see, the box was made very long ago, before
delayed-action mechanisms were  invented." He  set  a frying pan on the  gas
range and put the box in the pan.
     "Are you going to fry it?"
     "I'm applying the cleansing  action  of fire."  Privalov turned the box
over.  "We'll just warm up all these  rheumatic old joints." Humming all the
time, he  shook some tooth-powder  into a  saucer, poured water into  it and
stirred the mixture, then dipped a cloth in  it and smeared the sides of the
box. The chalk hissed as it quickly dried on the hot metal.
     Next Privalov  dipped a dry rag in kerosene  and squeezed out  the  rag
above the box. The yellow drops were instantly soaked up by the chalk. Thin,
clear-cut lines forming  a  severe geometrical  pattern showed up, as though
scratched on the box by a needle.
     "It's  put together with dowels, like a wooden box. The edges must have
been caulked,  and then the whole thing was polished. Kerosene on chalk will
always show up a crack, no matter how tiny."
     "You're not going to open it now, are you?"
     "Oh, yes,  I forgot. 'The  Sorceress'." Privalov quickly tidied  up the
table and went off to wash his hands.

     Boris Privalov entered the laboratory towards the end of the day.
     "Do you  remember the  rusty iron bar I picked  up  at the bazaar  that
day?" he asked Nikolai and Yura. "Here it is, all cleaned up."
     "Why, it's dowelled," said Nikolai, turning it over in his hands. "Must
have been made ages ago."
     "Let's open it," Privalov suggested. He went over to the bench and  put
the box  into  the  jaws of a vise. With  each tap of  a hammer  the  dowels
loosened, one side  of  the  box  rising  at  an  angle. Another blow of the
hammer, then still another, and one side of the box clattered to the  floor.
Three heads  bent over the open box. Inside lay a white  roll of cloth. Yura
reached out to touch it but Privalov caught his arm. He cautiously unwrapped
the roll. Inside it were sheets of thin but strong paper.
     The  pages  were  covered with  fine handwriting  in  letters that were
hardly connected with one another.
     "It's  in  a  foreign language!" Yura exclaimed.  Privalov  pushed  his
glasses up onto his forehead and looked down at the manuscript.
     "Black  ink",  he said. "It wasn't  written in this century.  Ink isn't
made out of nut-gall nowadays. From the way the letters are shaped they must
have been written with a goose quill. And it's in Russian,  although  in the
old-time spelling." "An old manuscript!" Yura exclaimed delightedly. "Boris,
we  must get Val to read it for us. She's a philologist and her field is Old
     "Could it  be  a  last will and  testament, I  wonder?"  Privalov  said
thoughtfully.  He began  to  read, but  it was  slow  work  because  of  the
unfamiliar spelling. The manuscript began as follows:
     "I commence  this epistle  on the  second day of January in the year of
Our Lord 1762, desirous of passing on my thoughts  and ideas to  my  beloved
eldest son, Alexander.
     "My youth was spent in  trials and tribulations and wanderings, similar
unto  those  of Homer's  Ulysses. Upon  attaining manhood I was often called
away  from  home  by  duty, so that I seldom saw  you,  Alexander. After you
entered the service I retired. Now I spend my days  at home,  and I see less
of you than ever.
     "As I await my last hour I have chosen this time to set down an account
of matters to which I have given much thought, and I place  my hopes in you,
for you are strong in the sciences.
     "I shall put down  my story point by  point, from the beginning, lest I
should omit something. First, during the reign of our great ruler, Peter the
Great, son of Alexis, eternally blessed be his memory, I was despatched on a
long journey...."

     Many the men whose towns he saw
     whose ways he proved',
     And many a pang he bore in his own
     breast at sea,
     While struggling for his life and
     his men's safe return.
     Homer -THE ODYSSEY

     Lieutenant Fedor Matveyev of the Russian Navy had gone through the same
school  as many another young nobleman who, by the will of Peter  the Great,
was  torn  away from his  placid rural life and  cast into the  maelstrom of
those turbulent times.
     The School of Navigation in Moscow, instruction in carpentry, the wheel
wright's  craft  and shipbuilding in Holland,  the  Louis Quatorze  Nautical
School in Marseilles, artillery training  in Paris, and round-the-clock work
in  the shipyards of the new, cold city  of St. Petersburg  had  turned  the
illiterate village  bumpkin, pigeon fancier and church  singer into a  smart
naval officer fluent in foreign  languages and inured to the deprivations of
a wanderer's life.
     The indomitable will of Russia's extraordinary tsar had scattered these
young men of a new mould far and wide.
     Fedor Matveyev was not the least  surprised  when he received orders to
join a hydrographic expedition on the Caspian Sea. He and young men like him
had no time to be surprised-they were too busy surprising others.
     When Fedor reached the Caspian  town  of Astrakhan  his ears were still
ringing  with  the roar of  the battles on the  Baltic  Sea, and  his  right
shoulder ached from a wound made by a Swedish falcon bullet.
     He was struck by  the  quietness here. In  contrast  to  the steel-grey
waters and overcast skies of  the  Baltic, the Caspian Sea was green; it had
yellow sandy beaches, a dazzling blue sky and a merciless southern sun.
     The tsar's instructions ordered  the  expedition,  which  was under the
command of  Prince Bekovich-Cherkassky, "to search assiduously for  harbours
and  rivers where ships might be put  in and scout-boats find a haven during
storms; to establish  the  location of sandbars  and  underwater  reefs, and
enter all these and other  things on maps; to cross  the  sea  and note  the
location of islands and shoals; to put the width of the sea on the map".
     Fedor  Matveyev  enthusiastically set about mapping the unfamiliar sea.
There  was  an ancient mystery  about  those  uninhabited, windswept shores.
Fedor knew that beyond the sun-baked yellow sands lay fabulous India.
     He  was unaware, as  yet, that Prince Bekovich-Cherkassky's  expedition
had another mission, a secret one.
     Finding the shortest trade route to India had  long been one  of  Peter
the  Great's ambitions. He had  heard much about that  country's wonders and
unbelievable wealth.
     Indian  goods  reached  Europe  through  Persian  and  Arab  merchants.
European goods flowed to India through the same hands. Yet, reflected Peter,
Nature herself had decreed that Russia should be a middleman in the commerce
between Europe and Asia.
     On the  route  to India lay  Khiva  and  Bukhara,  troubled lands whose
rulers were constantly engaged in strife.  In  the year 1700 Shah Niaz, Khan
of Khiva, had expressed  a desire to become a  subject of the Russian  tsar,
hoping with Peter's help to bolster up his shaky throne. But then new rulers
succeeded  one another so  rapidly in Khiva that it was impossible  to  keep
track of them.
     Everything was a mystery in that sun-scorched land.
     For  instance, old maps  showed the Amu  Darya flowing into the Caspian
Sea. Herodotus, the Greek historian, and  Arab historians also, said the Amu
Darya flowed into the Caspian. Yet it was rumoured that the fickle river had
shifted its channel. The rulers of Khiva, it  was said, had built an earthen
dam which caused the river to flow into the Sea of Aral.
     What  sort  of  river  was this  Amu, river  of the Bull, known  to the
ancient  Romans  as the Oxus and to the Arabs as the  Jihun? Peter the Great
was aware that it rose somewhere in India.  If it could  be turned back into
the Caspian,  and if he, Peter,  could be master of its  banks, or  at least
live  in  peace  and  friendship  with  those  who  held  them, India's rich
commodities could  be delivered down  that  river to the Caspian Sea, across
the Caspian to the city  of  Astrakhan, and  from  there  up  the Volga into
Russia-by-passing the Persian merchants. These  Indian commodities  would be
cheaper,  and, besides, Russia's  treasury would  profit. Furthermore, Peter
had heard there was gold in that area, near the town of Irket.
     All these rumours must be verified. The area must be explored by trusty
     Peter could not  tolerate delay. Early in  May  1714 he ordered  Prince
Bekovich-Cherkassky, a  lieutenant in the Preobrazhonsky Guards Regiment, to
set out for the Caspian Sea with the men he needed, "to search for the mouth
of the river Amu  Darya". On May  19 he ordered the Prince, in addition, "to
proceed to Khiva and  from there  to Bukhara, to ascertain the possibilities
of trade, and under cover of that, to find out everything he could about the
town of Irket."
     Before   his    conversion    to    Christianity    Prince    Alexander
Bekovich-Cherkassky's name had been Devlet Kizden Mirza. He came from a line
of Kabardian rulers. As a boy he had been stolen by Nogai tribesmen. He fell
into the hands of the  Russians when Russian troops  under  Vassily Golitsin
besieged the town of Azov, and was  taken into the home of Vassily's brother
Boris, one  of Peter's tutors.  In 1707 he was  sent abroad to  study.  Soon
after,  he  married  into  the  Golitsin  family,  taking  Boris  Golitsin's
daughter, the Princess Martha, for his wife. When Prince Bekovich-Cherkassky
joined the Preobrazhensky Regiment he attracted the tsar's attention. It was
to this strong, courageous, well-educated young man  with a knowledge of the
East that Peter the Great assigned the difficult mission of  finding a route
to India.
     On his way to  Astrakhan,  which  he  reached  in  August  1714, Prince
Bekovich-Cherkassky stopped at Kazan, on the Volga. Here  he took  more than
1,500 soldiers and 19 cannon under his command.
     The  expedition  set  sail from  Astrakhan for  Guryev,  a town on  the
Caspian,  at the  mouth of the Ural River, on November 7 and nearly perished
at the  very beginning of  the voyage. A vicious autumn storm scattered  the
twenty-seven light  Volga  boats and two  schooners.  The  battered flotilla
limped back to Astrakhan  one  month  later,  at the  beginning of December,
without ever having reached Guryev.
     After wintering  at Astrakhan and  obtaining about two dozen new boats,
the expedition set sail again on April 25, 1715.
     Prince  Bekovich-Cherkassky  stood   on  the  weather   side   of   the
quarter-deck as his flagship emerged from the Volga delta into  the expanses
of  the  sea.  The  green  waters  of the  Caspian now gurgled  beneath  the
schooner's keel. The  Prince stood  there, lost in thought.  He  was  only a
little Over thirty at the time, and the  realization that he was responsible
for so many men and so many ships weighed heavily on him.
     He gazed  in  silence across the green vastness, wondering what awaited
him beyond those deserted shores and the burning, shifting sands.
     The flotilla cruised along the eastern coast of the Caspian until  late
autumn. It stopped  at  Guryev,  rounded the Mangyshlak Peninsula and sailed
southwards for a long  time, mapping and describing  in detail the  strange,
deserted coastline. The sun blazed down on  them. The barrels of water taken
on  at  Guryev became  putrid; the men were  tormented  by thirst. But  even
stronger than thirst was the yearning for distant Russia, for shady  forests
and smoke rising from the chimney of one's own log cabin.
     The  flotilla sailed  past a gap in the coastline through which the sea
rushed noisily. This was the mysterious Gulf of Karabugaz, eternally covered
with a dark haze of evaporation.
     Then it  sailed  over a  long,  dangerous underwater spit  that  is now
called Bekovich Bank. After rounding the bank it entered Krasnovodsk Bay,  a
place that slept the sleep of the dead amidst burning sands and hillocks.
     In the autumn of 1715,  one year after it had first sailed out into the
Caspian Sea, the flotilla returned to  Astrakhan.  The expedition had failed
to reach either Khiva or Bukhara, and it had not learned anything about gold
in that area. But it  had confirmed the fact that the Amu Darya did not flow
into the Caspian and that its old  channel had dried up. Also, it had mapped
the coast of the Caspian.
     The expedition proved to be too small and unsatisfactorily equipped for
a long, dangerous overland journey.

     On  February  14,  1716,  Prince  Bekovich-Cherkassky was given  a  new
assignment. He was  appointed Ambassador  to the court of the  Khan of Khiva
with  instructions  to  proceed  to Khiva  along  the  Amu  Darya, carefully
studying the  river and examining  the dam to see whether the river could be
turned back into its old channel instead of flowing into the Sea of Aral. He
was also to determine how many men would be needed to do that.
     Rumour had  it that  Khan Shirgazy, who now ruled Khiva, was  extremely
hostile to the local princes  and was eager to consolidate his power. Prince
Bekovich-Cherkassky  was  instructed  to  persuade  him to become a  Russian
subject loyal to the tsar by promising  to help him to  unite his domain. In
return  for  putting a  Russian  regiment at  his  service  the  Khan  would
presumably act in the interests of Russia.
     The Prince was also instructed by Peter to  send an intelligence  agent
to Khiva disguised as a merchant to search for a water route to India.
     By decree of the Senate  the strength of the expedition was enlarged to
6100  men  in  three  infantry regiments,  two dragoon  units,  two  Cossack
regiments,  a  marine detachment  and  a  building crew.  The building  crew
included  men  experienced  in  the  construction  of  fortifications.   The
expedition also had scribes, interpreters, doctors and pharmacists.
     The  regiments   and   baggage-trains   gathered   at  Guryev.   Prince
Bekovich-Cherkassky set  out for  Guryev  from Astrakhan, accompanied for  a
short  distance, as far  as  the  Caspian,  by his  wife  Martha  and  their
children.  A  fishing  vessel  followed the  flotilla to  take  her  and the
children back to Astrakhan.
     Soon  after  they  set sail  the  weather changed. A furious wind drove
heavy waves against  the  current. The  Prince bade  his  wife and  children
farewell, then  stood for a long time watching the  triangular white sail of
their boat grow smaller in the distance. As he observed the clouds gathering
above the Volga  and  listened to the  wind howling in  the rigging,  he was
filled with foreboding.
     Before long the news reached Guryev that his  wife  and  daughters  had
been drowned in the storm. Only his little son had been rescued.
     When in the company of others the Prince tried  to hide his sorrow. But
the sight of  him sitting alone in his tent, gazing fixedly into space,  his
face a picture of despair, was enough to wring the hardest heart.
     At the end  of May 1717 the expedition  set out from Guryev  for Khiva.
There was  a good road, and they had an abundance of water as well as plenty
of  forage for the horses.  The expedition  was  able to  make up to fifteen
kilometres a  day  across the salt marshes, and reached the Emba  River in a
week's time. There the men and  the horses rested for two  days, then  built
rafts and crossed the river.
     Here the sands began. Following a caravan route, the expedition finally
reached the blue Sea of Aral.
     The  men  were tormented  by the heat  and  by thirst. All  around them
stretched scorching sands. Time and again the expedition failed to reach the
next well by nightfall. Slowly but surely it was moving towards its doom.
     Fedor  Matveyev  found  the march difficult.  Although  he had  a  good
physique and endured the heat better than many of the others, a presentiment
of disaster kept  nagging at him.  Outwardly, however,  he was composed.  He
encouraged the weary  and seemed  to know  just  where to dig shallow  wells
during bivouacs. The water brought up was brackish but potable.
     Finally the expedition  reached Lake Aibugir. Now Khiva  was only a few
days' march away.
     It had  been assumed,  when plans  for the  expedition were first laid,
that  Khan Shirgazy  was a weak  ruler,  fearful of his subjects,  and would
eagerly accept an offer of Russian military aid. That was no longer the case
in  1717.  Khan Shirgazy  had brutally suppressed  an  uprising  and was now
stronger than ever before. As the Russians approached  Khiva he  resolved to
show his enemies just how strong he really was.
     One morning a band of Khiva horsemen galloped into view from behind the
hillocks along  the lake  shore. Brandishing  curved sabres  and filling the
desert with war cries, they charged the Russian camp.
     The attack  failed because the sentries  were vigilant and the camp was
surrounded by a  wall of carts from  the baggage-trains. The attacking force
had to dismount and lie prone. The exchange of fare lasted until evening.
     During  the  night  the Russians fortified  their  positions.  They dug
ditches on three sides of the camp and built an earthen  rampart. The fourth
side was the lake, which was thickly overgrown with reeds. They  tied  reeds
into bundles and piled them together to conceal the batteries.
     The  next  morning  an army  of  20 000 men-ten  times  more  than  the
expedition had-led by Khan Shirgazy himself, surrounded the camp.
     The siege lasted two days.  The  Russian  cannon pounded away steadily;
the men  did not run out of  either  cannon-balls or  vodka, and  water  for
cooling  the gun barrels was  at  hand.  Heavy losses were inflicted  on the
attacking  Khivans. Although  the  Prince's  men  were  exhausted from their
gruelling march they fought gallantly.
     When Khan Shirgazy saw that  he could not  take the  camp  by storm  he
decided  to  resort  to  guile.  To  the  astonishment of the  Russians  the
besieging troops vanished during the night. Silence reigned over the desert.
     The  next day  passed in  tense  expectation.  Towards  evening  a lone
horseman came  galloping across  the  desert  towards  the  camp. Wearing  a
richly-embroidered robe and  turban, and with  his hennaed beard,  he was  a
colourful sight.  When  he reached the camp  he introduced himself as  Ishim
Hodja, envoy of the Khan, and explained courteously that the attack had been
made without the Khan's knowledge. The Khan,  he said, had ordered the heads
of the guilty to roll, and now invited the Prince to a council  of peace and
     The latter sent a Tatar named Useinov to tell the  Khan that he, Prince
Alexander  Bekovich-Cherkassky,  was  an envoy  of the  white  tsar, bearing
credentials  and  many  gifts, and  that it  would  be  to  the Khan's great
advantage to receive the Russian mission.
     Khan Shirgazy received Useinov and asked him to tell the Prince that he
would reply after he had consulted with his advisers.
     He did  consult with his  advisers. They said it had been a  mistake to
withdraw from Lake Aibugir, for the  Prince did not have many men and it was
too early to resort to guile.
     Soon the curved  blades of  the Khiva horsemen again glinted in the sun
in front  of the Russian fortifications beside the lake. Slender arrows  and
clay bullets glazed with lead again flew  towards the  camp. Again clouds of
black  smoke  drifted across the desert as the Russian gunners,  veterans of
the war against Sweden,  took  aim  and fired. After beating  off the attack
Prince  Bekovich-Cherkassky again  sent  his parliamentarian to the  Khan to
demand an explanation of this perfidious conduct.
     Khan Shirgazy insisted once again the attack had  been made without his
knowledge. Again he declared that  those to blame for the attack had already
been caught and  punished, some  by death  and others by a fate  worse  than
death. The next  day Prince  Bekovich-Cherkassky  himself rode  over to  the
headquarters of the Khan for a talk.
     The Khan received him graciously. He promised to order his  men to tear
down the dam on the Amu Darya. He promised  to be a younger brother to Peter
the Great. He pledged peace and love and he kissed the tsar's scroll.
     The day was clear, with a fierce sun beating down mercilessly. All of a
sudden the motionless air stirred, and a light breeze arose.
     Dogs howled  and  horses  neighed. The sheep which the Khan's  men  had
brought along for a feast huddled together, bleating piteously.
     A  black  smudge  appeared on the disc  of the  sun.  It  grew rapidly,
spreading across the sun. Darkness fell. Stars came out.
     The Khiva men  beat on tambourines and drums  to drive away the  demons
that were trying to swallow the sun.
     Khan Shirgazy was  alarmed.  Could this be a bad omen, just when he was
about to sign a treaty with the white tsar?
     An  elderly  mullah  in  a  green  turban  stood on tiptoe, his  goatee
tickling the hairy ear of tall Khan Shirgazy. He whispered, a crooked finger
pointing to the darkened sun, "Do you see the omen, oh mighty ruler?"
     "I do," the Khan growled.
     "The  omen  is shaped like a crescent. It  signifies that  the glory of
Islam will eclipse the glory of the infidels."
     This reassured the Khan. When the eclipse ended  he  accepted the gifts
of the white tsar with a  light heart. Examination of the gifts lasted until
     Then  the  Khan  and the Prince  mounted their steeds  and set out  for
Khiva, riding side by side. They were  followed  by the Khan's suite and the
Russian expedition. The Russians, now in good spirits,  sang as they marched
     A short distance  from Khiva the  Khan and his men set up  camp  on the
bank  of  a  stream.  The   Russians  pitched  their  tents  nearby.  Prince
Bekovich-Cherkassky  and his companion, Prince  Samonov, were the  guests of
honour in the Khan's tent.
     During  supper  the  Khan explained  to the  Prince  that it  would  be
impossible  to  quarter the entire Russian  mission in  Khiva because  there
would not be  enough food  for them and it would take  some time to bring in
more supplies.  Unless the Prince had plenty of his own provisions, in which
case, of course-
     Prince Bekovich-Cherkassky had to  confess that he was running short of
provisions.  The  Khan then suggested that  he divide the Russian force into
five units, each to be quartered in a different town where, he promised, the
food and lodging would be of  the best. Prince  Bekovich-Cherkassky  and his
companions would, of course, be offered hospitality in Khiva itself.
     It is hard to understand  why Prince Bekovich-Cherkassky ever agreed to
such a dubious  arrangement. Perhaps  he  believed that Khan Shirgazy really
had  been frightened by the Russian  artillery during the skirmishes at Lake
Aibugir.  Or  he was so overwhelmed by his personal grief that he was unable
to think clearly.
     The Russian foot  soldiers, dragoons and gunners  marched off from  the
stream in five different directions, each group accompanied by Khiva guides.
The  thick  dust raised by the departing units hung  for  a long time in the
hot, still air.  Slowly the strains of their marching songs died away in the
     Prince  Bekovich-Cherkassky stood in front of the Khan's  tent,  gazing
after his men, oblivious of the Khivans who had crowded round him.
     The units vanished from sight. The dust began to settle.
     "You dog!  Betrayer of Islam! You have sold your soul to the infidels!"
said Khan Shirgazy softly, laying a hand on the Prince's shoulder. "You dog!
You tried to deceive me with your miserable gifts!"
     Prince  Bekovich-Cherkassky  spun  round.  Although  he had  difficulty
understanding  the Uzbek  language he immediately grasped the meaning of the
Khan's words. All he had to do was read the Khan's face.
     Khan Shirgazy drew out the  royal credentials  from  the sleeve of  his
robe. Slowly and solemnly he tore the paper in half, threw the pieces on the
ground,  spat  on  them,  and  rubbed them  into  the sand with the pointed,
turned-up toe of his yellow boot.
     Prince Bekovich-Cherkassky  took  a step backwards. He  reached for his
sword, then dropped his hand.
     Smiling and chattering, the Khan's bodyguards drew closer, their swords
     Khan  Shirgazy  turned away. "Don't spoil the face,"  he murmured as he
passed the bodyguards.
     The  heads  of the senior Russian  officers  were brought to Khiva  and
displayed to the public.
     Prince Bekovich-Cherkassky's head  was  not  among  them. Rumour had it
that Khan  Shirgazy had sent the head as a gift to the Khan of Bukhara,  but
cautious,  far-sighted  Abul-Faiz had  refused to accept the horrifying gift
and had sent it back.
     The  five Russian detachments were destroyed one after another. Some of
the men were killed, others were sold into slavery. A few managed to escape,
some during the  fighting and others later, while  in captivity. Only a very
few  managed  to  make  their  way  back  to Russia  by various routes after
enduring indescribable deprivation and dangers.

     When  Fedor Matveyev  opened  his eyes he found himself lying  beside a
dusty road that ran through a tract of desert where only camel's-thorn grew.
He groaned as the memory of that frightful day came back to him. Had it been
yesterday, or the day before?
     The pitiless sun, directly overhead, made  his eyes ache. He felt  weak
and nauseous. There was a sharp, constant pain in his right shoulder.
     When  Fedor awakened  again  the sand, soaked with his blood, was cool.
Enormous stars glittered in the black sky. His throat was dry.
     Wheels creaked close  by,  accompanied by a monotonous, wailing song in
an unfamiliar language.
     "If  they capture me I'll  be tortured and killed,"  Fedor thought.  "I
must creep farther away from the road."
     With an abrupt movement he turned over on his stomach, gave a sharp cry
of pain, and fainted once more.
     During the night he recovered consciousness several times. Each time he
saw the same bright stars overhead  and heard the creaking of wheels and the
plaintive song. Added to these  sensations was the feeling  of  being jolted
and the acrid odour of sheep's wool and horse sweat.
     Fedor  had been  found lying  unconscious  near  the  road  by an Uzbek
peasant  named Sadreddin, who put him in his bullock cart and took him home.
There he and his family nursed Fedor solicitously, using ancient remedies to
treat his  deep  wound.  Fedor's collarbone was broken- but young bones mend
quickly. The wound was encouraged to fester  and was not  allowed to heal so
that the pus could carry away the small fragments of broken bone.
     After  the  fever  subsided  Fedor  began  to  recover.  He  was  given
nourishing food and could feel himself growing stronger day by day.
     What would happen next? Fedor could not but be worried. The peasant who
had taken him in was a kind man but he could not help wondering how he could
turn the presence of this infidel to advantage. The young Russian could help
him in the  fields, and he  probably knew  some handicraft  which  he  could
practise. But  it  would be impossible to hide a  healthy young  Russian for
long. The Khan's men would learn about him sooner or later-and that would be
the end  of Sadreddin.  Taxes were onerous as it  was, and now  he would  be
stripped of  everything he possessed. He could  let  the Russian go free, of
course. But where would  he go to? Sadreddin grew angry  with  himself.  The
faithful should never take pity on infidel dogs.
     No, he had not fed and nursed the Russian to let him go just like that.
He would find a different way out.
     One  night  at  the  end of  summer  Sadreddin  prepared  a  basket  of
provisions  and  put the  basket and Fedor into  his covered  cart.  Casting
fearful glances to right and left, he drove through the sleeping hamlet.
     He had not concealed  his plans. Fedor knew that the  kindly  Uzbek was
taking him to some place far away from Khiva to sell him.
     "Are you a gunner?" he asked Fedor for  the hundredth time as the  cart
rolled along.
     Fedor, who had learned a little Uzbek, nodded.
     "Can you do a blacksmith's work?"
     Again  Fedor  nodded  absentmindedly. He was wondering  what to  do. It
would  not be hard to overpower  sluggish Sadreddin and take  the  horse and
cart and food away from him. But what next? It  must be all of 800 versts to
Guryev. Travelling by cart it would take him a month to reach that city. But
it would be risky to follow the road. On the  other hand, setting out across
the desert, without knowing where the wells were, would mean certain death.
     Sadreddin  knew that Fedor had no way of escaping, and so he  travelled
along slowly without taking any precautions.
     They reached Bukhara in two weeks' time. There Sadreddin  sold Fedor to
a  merchant  from  Kashgar  for a good  price. He spent the money on Bukhara
     "You have brought  good luck to my house,"  he told  Fedor in  parting.
"You fetched a good price.
     If I can return home with these  goods without being robbed, my  family
will  live  well.  For  this, Allah will help  you, even though  you are  an
     The swarthy  Kashgar  merchant, who  had  been  told  Fedor's  history,
laughed  into his thick black beard. Poor Sadreddin thought the price he had
been paid for Fedor made him a rich man. He had no idea of the true value of
a  strong  young  man  who had  been  trained  in  the  arts of  warfare and
     The merchant treated Fedor well, even giving him a horse  to  ride, for
he knew  that Fedor  would not attempt  to  escape from the caravan. He also
gave Fedor sheets of  paper and a  copper  inkpot on a  chain to hang at his
belt. When the caravan set  up  camp for the night Fedor would take his pen,
made of a split reed sharpened at the end, and, in a hand grown unaccustomed
to  writing,  would  describe the  landmarks and details of  the journey. In
Astrakhan  not so  long  ago  he had envisioned his travels to distant India
from Khiva to  gather information about that country. Now he was actually on
his way to India but as a slave instead  of  a scout of the tsar. Still, who
could tell? These notes might yet prove useful.
     Fedor had decided to conceal his  homesickness and bitterness and  bide
his time.
     It took  the caravan three weeks to reach the  mountains.  For ten days
they climbed higher and higher along a  narrow path. It grew colder. Fedor's
heart  leaped with joy at the  sight of snow, but it made  him more homesick
than ever for the snowy plains of Russia.
     Finally  they  made  their way  over the  pass  and descended into  the
flowering Vale of Kashmir, following the river Gilgit to its confluence with
the Indus. They crossed the Indus and some of its tributaries. Several weeks
later they entered the city of Amritsar, a big commercial centre.
     So this  was  India! It was  a  land of strange  buildings,  unfamiliar
trees, colourful bazaars and  copper-skinned  people, some half-naked,  some
dressed in white  robes. Fedor drank in the marvellous sights with unfeigned
     The Kashgar merchant decked Fedor out in  new clothing and  gave him an
opportunity to rest up. But at  the inn he locked  Fedor  into his room  and
ordered the servants to guard him, not so much because Fedor might escape as
because someone might try to steal him.
     One day  the merchant  brought a tall, thickset  Hindu, all dressed  in
white, to see Fedor. The Hindu looked him up and  down intently, then smiled
and  seated himself cross-legged  on a carpet, making a  sign to Fedor to be
seated too.
     During the years he spent in the East Fedor adopted many of the customs
of the region,  but nothing was harder for him  to learn than to sit on  the
floor in Indian fashion, with the soles of his feet lying on his thighs.
     "Sprek je de Nederlandse taal? the Hindu asked.
     Fedor was amazed to hear him speak Dutch.
     "You  have nothing  to  worry about,"  said  the  Hindu.  "If  what the
merchant says about you is true you will have a fine life."
     The Hindu then proceeded to question Fedor. He asked him about dams and
water wheels. They discussed European politics and Russia's war with Sweden.
Fedor was surprised to find himself conversing with a highly-educated man.
     Finally the Hindu turned  to the Kashgar  merchant. Although Fedor  did
not understand a word  of what they said it was clear they were  bargaining.
This went on for a long time. At times the  merchant, accustomed to bazaars,
would raise his voice to a scream.  The Hindu  kept his  voice low but firm.
Then  there came  the  moment when he unwound his  broad sash and removed  a
small  purse and scales with a single  tray  and a weight  suspended from an
ivory  rod. From the  purse he took two  precious  stones that sparkled with
greenish lights. He dropped the gems into the tray, and, holding the loop of
the ivory rod in his left hand,  he moved the weight along the rod  with his
right hand to balance the scales.
     The  Kashgar merchant looked at the mark at  which the  weight stopped,
then carefully picked up the stones  and examined  them, first one and  then
the other,  against  the light. He  bowed respectfully  and without saying a
word started unwinding his sash to put the jewels away inside it.
     "You can see how much you are worth," the Hindu remarked in Dutch.
     Fedor did not like  the idea of  being sold for such  a high price.  He
knew little about precious stones but realized that if he were ever ransomed
the ransom would be high. His family was not rich. They would hardly be able
to raise such a sum.  The tsar had seen him only once or twice and  probably
would  not remember  him. If the Foreign Board were  asked to pay  a ransom,
would it consent?
     "Now  fortify yourself with food," the  Hindu said to Fedor.  "There is
not much time and we have quite a distance to travel."
     A servant at the caravansarai  brought  in a  bowl of rice  and  mutton
similar to the  Uzbek pilau, and a pitcher  filled with a cold liquid. Fedor
and the  Kashgar  merchant  set about their meal.  The Hindu rose and  moved
towards the door.
     "Why doesn't he have something to eat too?" Fedor asked in a low voice.
     "Sh-h," the merchant whispered. "He's a Brahman.  They  never  eat with
other castes. Besides, they don't eat meat and many other things."
     "Who is he?" Fedor asked.
     The merchant's reply was vague. "He must be an  important person. All I
know  is that his name is Lal Chandra and he comes from  the Punjab, not  so
very far away from here."
     By evening Lal Chandra's covered wagon was some distance from Amritsar.
The  driver,  bare to  the  waist, urged on  the horses. Lal Chandra  dozed,
reclining against rug-covered cushions. Fedor lay on the floor of the wagon,
his thoughts far away, in distant Russia.
     They  drove  through  Lahore and then  followed the  bank of  a  river.
Afterwards they turned west and rode for  a long time across a desert  tract
that looked like  the  land in the vicinity of the Sea of Aral. They crossed
the beds of dried-up  rivers. They followed the bank of one of these streams
and finally halted in front of an iron gate in a high stone wall.
     The  gate  swung open  to allow the wagon  to  pass through, then swung
shut. Fedor  looked  out  but he  could see no one  beside the gate. Nor was
there anyone on the long road that wound through a  park in which unfamiliar
trees grew.  The hot air was  filled with a  heady fragrance, evidently from
the big, bright flowers. The wagon stopped before  a tall stone mansion with
many niches in which stood strange creatures carved of stone.
     Lal  Chandra slowly descended from  the wagon. Fedor sprang  out  after
him, stretching his stiff legs. Lal Chandra led him along a narrow, vaulted,
dusky passage into a large  cool room where  a big statue of  polished stone
stood. Fedor had never seen anything like it, not even in his  most horrible
nightmares. Three steps led up  to a low pedestal on  which sat a woman with
her  feet tucked  under  her. Her face was  unbelievably beautiful, her eyes
were  blind, and her lips were curved into an enigmatic, frightening  smile.
The woman  had six arms. Two arms  ended in hands folded  peacefully in  her
lap,  two  were bent at  the elbow  and raised, and two were thrust  forward
menacingly. She had three pairs of breasts. Lal Chandra placed  the palms of
his hands in front of his face and prostrated  himself before the statue. He
remained motionless for a long time.
     "He  obviously isn't Moslem," Fedor thought, "if he  is praying to this
     Finally the Hindu rose and bowed  three times before the  goddess. Then
he led Fedor into a small room that resembled a monk's cell, with bare stone
walls and  a  vaulted ceiling. Slanting  rays  of sunshine  coming through a
window near the ceiling provided the illumination. In the floor  was a  pool
filled with water, evidently running water.
     "I  do  not  know  whether your  gods  prescribe  ablutions," said  Lal
Chandra, "but I must purify myself before attending to my affairs.  You may,
too, if you wish."
     Fedor  promptly  removed his clothing and  sank with pleasure into  the
cool water. He began to splash noisily, not noticing the Hindu's frown.
     After the ablutions Lal  Chandra led Fedor along another passage into a
large, bright room with windows looking out on a garden. The windows did not
have either glass  or mica  in  them  but were covered by intricately carved
shutters with interstices through which the light came. Here, too, there was
a statue  of the six-armed goddess. Smaller than the first one, it was  made
of copper and stood on a high marble support.
     Low tables  lined  the walls. The  shelves above them  were filled with
fancifully shaped  glass,  clay and  metal vessels, scales,  sandglasses and
water clocks.
     In a  corner there  was  a  stove. The curved  necks  of copper vessels
jutted out of its sides.
     Fedor's attention was caught by a monstrous object on a platform in the
middle of the hall, opposite the statue of the goddess with six arms.
     Moulded copper columns, ornamented with carvings of plants and animals,
supported a horizontal shaft whose necks rested on copper wheels half a foot
in diameter.  An enormous disc  of some  black material  was mounted  in the
middle of the shaft. It was covered with radially distributed plates, narrow
and shining, that might  have been made of gold. At one end of the shaft was
a pulley encircled by a round, woven strap. The ends of the  strap went into
openings in the floor.
     Fedor stood in front of the bulky machine trying to  grasp its purpose.
He had never seen anything like it before.
     "It pleases me to  see  that here you have forgotten about contemptible
food," Lal Chandra said, touching Fedor on  the shoulder.  "But man is weak.
Pass through that door"-he pointed to a narrow opening in the wall- "and you
will find the kind of food to  which you are accustomed. Then you will learn
what you are to do."
     In  the  small adjoining  room  Fedor found  a bowl of  fried meat  and
steamed  vegetables  on  a low table. A  narrow-necked pitcher  stood on the
floor. There was no  chair. "I  suppose I'll  have to get used to it," Fedor
said to himself with a sigh as he awkwardly squatted down beside the table.

     The  days in  Lal Chandra's house passed slowly. Fedor wandered through
empty corridors and peeped into cool rooms. He never saw anyone in them. But
he  knew  that he had only  to strike a bronze gong  for a silent servant to
appear on the threshold.
     The  food  was plentiful, but it brought Fedor no joy. He wanted to  go
out beyond the wall to see what the locality looked like, but each  time  he
came to the  gate he found it locked.  Escape was impossible. Besides, Fedor
was hunted by the feeling that someone was watching his every step.
     On the  other side  of  the filigree  shutters lay  an alien night. The
silence was absolute. He longed to hear a sound, any sound, even the barking
of a dog. At times he  was  driven to  such despair  that thoughts of laying
hands on himself came into his mind.  Cry out though  he might, Russia would
never hear him.  She was too far away,  beyond high mountains  and scorching
     Fedor shook the shutters  in fury. He pressed his tear-stained face  to
the cold metal.
     Lal Chandra  visited  him almost every day.  He  would enter, tall  and
erect, in  his white  robe, and conduct  a vague conversation on theological
topics. These talks made  Fedor uncomfortable. At  home he  had never prayed
with any particular  fervour and he had never had the time or inclination to
go into the subtleties of religion. He had felt that it was enough if he, as
a soldier, crossed himself before climbing into bed.
     One day he  was  unable to restrain himself,  and in  the midst  of Lal
Chandra's  monotonous utterances he  burst out: "I'm sick of all  this  dull
talk. You bought me to work. Well, give me something to do."
     Lal Chandra was  silent  for a while.  "Soon,"  he said, "I shall raise
before you the veil that shrouds a  holy mystery which  the gods reveal only
to the chosen."
     "Couldn't your gods find anyone else but me?" Fedor asked derisively.
     "Do  not speak thus of gods about whom you know nothing. Only I possess
knowledge of this mystery. You will  be my assistant. You are  a  foreigner,
without friends or relatives here, and  therefore you are less dangerous  to
me than a fellow tribesman."
     "If I am initiated into  this mystery you will  not allow me  to return
home when the opportunity comes. I don't want to know it."
     "It will be of no use to you at home. It is important and awe-inspiring
only here," Lal Chandra replied evasively. "But you must  not speak about it
to  anyone.  If you do, yours will be a horrible death." With those words he
walked out of the room.
     Fedor stood motionless for a long time, lost in gloomy thought.
     The next evening Lal Chandra  softly entered Fedor's room and sat  down
beside him.
     "Which deity did you worship in your country?" he asked.
     Fedor was at a loss. "The Holy Trinity," he wanted to say, but he could
not find the words in Dutch. "I believe in the holy three," he said.
     "Three gods-The Trimurti," Lal Chandra repeated thoughtfully. "Do  your
gods work miracles?"
     "Of course they  do. The Bible tells  how Jesus Christ, the son of God,
turned water into wine and raised  Lazarus  from the dead.  Then there's the
story in the Old Testament of a bush that burned but didn't burn up."
     "Have you ever seen a miracle?"
     "No, never."
     "Now listen carefully, young man," Lal Chandra began. "When the gods do
not work miracles, men tend to  forget  that they must obey the high priests
implicitly. But we are not given to  know  why the gods fail for a long time
to remind us of themselves."
     "Are you a priest?" Fedor asked in surprise.
     "I am  but a humble servant of Kali, the Goddess of Terror. I have been
chosen  to  be her instrument, so that  men  of the  lower castes should  be
convinced, through miracles, of the might of the gods, and resign themselves
to  their lot  of  obedience and toil.  As for our rulers, when  they see  a
miracle  they  will  realize that they  must obey  the high priests.  Do you
understand me, young man?"
     "You mean that if your gods don't work miracles you'll-"
     "Exactly. The  gods, who have unveiled a small  part of their mysteries
to me, may  work  miracles through me. For  the gods are all-powerful.  Come
with me. I will show you signs of their might."
     Picking up a clay lamp, Fedor followed Lal Chandra into the big room in
which  the strange machine stood. Lal Chandra clapped his  hands  thrice and
then issued an order to the servant who silently appeared before him.
     The  huge  black  disc rumbled as  it started to rotate.  Creaking, the
woven belt emerged from the floor and passed over the pulley.
     "Are men down below turning it?" Fedor asked.
     Lal Chandra nodded.  The  disc spun faster  and faster. Its gold plates
merged into a glowing ring. A high-pitched hum filled the room.
     Next  Lal  Chandra  turned an  ebony  lever, and  two  sparkling bronze
spheres  that  were part  of the  machine  drew closer and  closer together.
Suddenly  there was  a dry  crackle  as a streak of  bluish-violet lightning
flashed  between the  sphere.  The air  felt  fresh  and cool,  as  after  a
     While Fedor watched in fascination, lightning blazed in the dusk-filled
room. He felt his skin creep.
     With  a  turn  of  the lever  Lal  Chandra separated  the spheres.  The
lightning ceased.
     Lal  Chandra  gestured  towards  the  bronze  statue  of the  six-armed
     "Do not be afraid of the goddess. Embrace her."
     "Horrible creature," Fedor muttered in Russian.
     "Are you afraid?"
     Fedor boldly put his arms around the bronze hips of the goddess. In the
same instant he  was deafened and stunned, and flung to the floor. Crackling
lightning  had sprung  from the body  of  the  goddess. A  wave of freshness
struck his nostrils.
     Fedor regained his feel, cursing roundly.
     "Forgive my little  joke," Lal  Chandra  said,  his lips parting  in  a
smile. "1 simply wanted to show you the power which the goddess has given me
over lightning."
     Fedor became  aware  of an  itching sensation in  the  palm of his left
hand. Looking down, he saw a cut at the base of his thumb.
     "Your goddess bites, damn it!" he exclaimed. He was trembling.
     Lal Chandra smeared a fragrant salve on the cut and the pain subsided.
     "Now you will learn the purpose to which you  will be put," he said. "I
have heard that the  art of  building  water-wheels  is well  known in  your
country. Is this art known to you?"
     The  covered  wagon, driven by the same half-naked  coachman, travelled
across a barren tract for  a long  time  before it came to a rocky road that
led to the bank of a small stream.
     Lal  Chandra stepped out of the wagon and Fedor sprang down after  him.
They pushed their way through  thickets  until they  reached the high bluff.
There, squeezed between rocky banks, the stream was very narrow and formed a
swift waterfall. Below the waterfall the stream was placid.
     "Would this be a good place for a water-wheel?" Lal Chandra asked.
     "Yes, a very good one,"  Fedor replied.  "But does the  stream flow all
the year round?"
     "No,  it dries up in summer. Anyway, we won't need it long, only during
the rains. Take the measurements you'll need to build a large wheel here."
     Fedor looked round.  On the other  side  of  the stream, not  far away,
stood a temple-like building with two towers.
     "Will  we be able to approach  that temple later?" he asked. "I'll have
to if I'm going to take measurements."
     "Of  course. That temple  is  where the will  of the  gods  is going to
manifest itself."
     "Very well," said Fedor. "I'll get my sight-vane."
     He went back  to the wagon  for  his instrument, a  shallow wooden bowl
with two tiny notches on the edges, diametrically opposite one another.
     Picking up a clay pitcher and the sight-vane, Fedor approached the spot
where the water cascaded over the lip of the  rocks. He placed the bowl on a
flat  stone, filled the  pitcher with water, and poured water into  the bowl
until it was almost full. Then he lay down on the ground and turned the bowl
in front  of his  eyes  so that  both notches  were in line with one  of the
towers of the  temple. By pouring more water from the pitcher into the bowl,
and carefully propping up the sides of the bowl  with stones, he  forced the
water  to  swell above the edges  of the bowl.  Then,  closing one  eye,  he
concentrated  on getting  the  nearest and  farthest  edges  of the bowl  to
coincide in height. Holding his breath lest he get out of line,  he counted:
the  water  level was six rows of  stones below  the  windows  of the second
storey of the temple.
     Then Fedor rose, rubbed his  numb elbows, scrambled up the rocks to the
top of the waterfall, and repeated his  observations there,  after  which he
descended to where Lal Chandra was waiting.
     Next  the  two men  waded  across the  stream and entered the abandoned
temple. Ahead of them strode the coachman, Ram Das, carrying a torch.
     Bats flitted  about  under the vaulted ceiling. The  flapping of  their
wings nearly extinguished the torch. The air was damp and had a musty smell.
     "Any  snakes here?" Fedor  asked. "You won't find cobras in  damp, dark
places," said Lal Chandra. "But we are in the hands of Shiva and Kali."
     The passage led  into a  room whose ceiling was so high that  the light
from the  torch  did not reach the  top.  The  sides  of the room faded into
terrifying darkness.
     On a  three-tiered pedestal stood Fedor's old acquaintance, the goddess
Kali, with her six arms, three  faces and six breasts, wrathful, inscrutable
and  ready  to act.  The face that was turned to Fedor gazed across the room
with a  strange  expression in  which an inviting smile was  combined with a
threatening  frown. The  gaze was fixed  on an equally enormous statue, with
four arms,  standing on  one leg,  the other being bent  at  the  knee, in a
dancing posture. This was the god Shiva, Kali's spouse.
     Lal Chandra prostrated himself before the menacing goddess.
     "What a  handsome couple you make!" Fedor whispered to himself jokingly
in  an  effort to  regain his composure. He  was in the  grip  of  a fit  of
shivering caused either  by the dampness or by the  eerie atmosphere of  the
     He glanced at Ram  Das. As the driver stood there holding the torch his
face expressed neither fear nor  religious devotion. He simply looked bored.
There may have been  a trace of scorn in the  look the half-naked slave gave
his master, Lal Chandra, lying prostrate before the sovereign over life  and
     The  expression  on  the slave's  face  sobered Fedor.  He resumed  his
scrutiny of the goddess. Suddenly  he startled in horror. From her  graceful
neck hung a chain of human skulls.
     "The  foul  murderess!"  he  exclaimed  in  Russian. Ram  Das  did  not
understand the words,  but the  wrathful tone prompted him to  level a long,
thoughtful glance at Fedor.
     A few minutes later Lal Chandra led Fedor through a series of intricate
passageways  to the stairs leading up into one of the towers.  Fedor climbed
up the weathered, sand-sprinkled  steps  to the  ninth  storey. Looking down
from  a window, he saw Lal Chandra at the  foot of the tower. Fedor took out
his length  of string, in which he had tied knots at intervals  of one foot,
attached a stone  to the end, and began paying out the string, counting  the
knots.  When  the  stone  reached  the  sixth   row  of  bricks  below   the
second-storey window Lal Chandra gave a shout. Fedor stopped  paying out the
string, leaned far out of the window, and saw that the  row of bricks he had
noticed when he made his second measurement was at the seventy-fourth foot.
     "That means  the waterfall  is seventy-four feet high,"  he thought. "I
wonder how far it is to the ground."
     He allowed the string to run out until the stone at the end touched the
ground. The distance was about ninety feet.
     Fedor  now forgot  about everything but the unusual and interesting job
ahead of him. He was in such high spirits that when he descended and saw the
silent torch bearer he clapped him on the shoulder. "We'll make a  wonderful
wheel!" he exclaimed happily.
     Ram Das moved forward without a word. But after  taking a few  steps he
stopped,  glanced round,  lifted his  torch  high  to illuminate  everything
around them, and then gestured to Fedor.
     "Do you understand what I say?" he asked in a Moslem dialect.
     "I do," Fedor replied in Uzbek.
     "Do not rejoice like a new-born calf. You will live just as long as you
are needed to finish this job. Do you understand that?"
     A shudder ran through Fedor.
     "But what can I do? How can I escape?" he asked tonelessly.
     "It is too early  to talk of such things.  I will find a  suitable time
and place to talk with you. But now, silence!"
     The torch-bearer moved forward. A few  minutes later they  emerged into
the bright sunshine. Ram Das threw the torch, which had burned low, into the
stream. The flame hissed and went out.
     Lal Chandra smiled at Fedor.
     Man is a strange creature. Sometimes Fedor  would wake up in the middle
of the night and, recalling Ram Das's  grim words, give way to  despair. But
when morning came his fears would evaporate, whether because of his carefree
Russian nature or because he was carried away by the work.
     As he sat over the sketches and calculations of the huge water-wheel he
sang to himself. At times these Russian songs were  sad,  at times they were
     Now  the days passed more quickly. Fedor learned  to  speak  the  local
dialect. Lal Chandra  often  travelled to the old  temple to  supervise  the
restoration work that had been begun there. Fedor was no longer alone behind
the high  wall.  The courtyard was  now filled with artisans busy fashioning
parts for the wheel under his direction.
     The courtyard had been turned into  an open-air  workshop, with forging
furnaces  and  a  copper-smelting furnace. In  the middle  of the  yard  the
contours of a giant wheel seventy-two  feet in  diameter had  been traced on
the hard-packed ground, as at a shipyard.
     Sometimes  Fedor actually felt as though he were in the shipyards or in
the courtyard of the Smolny palace at St. Petersburg, except that here there
was none of the joking,  bickering or singing  characteristic of Russians at
     Carpenters were making parts of the  rim and  the buckets of the wheel.
The  swiftly falling water would turn the wheel,  which  would  convert this
simple, comprehensible  form of  energy into another form, into  mysterious,
darting lightning.
     The  gigantic rim  was made  of the finest  hardwood. Copper  and  iron
bindings fastened the joints.
     Once grey-bearded Jogindar  Singh,  the foreman of the carpenters, came
up  to Fedor. The two  men  communicated in an incredible mixture  of Uzbek,
Indian and Dutch.
     "I  want  to ask  you how  thick  the wheel  axis will  be,"  said  the
carpenter. As Fedor started  to explain, a graceful  girl in a sky-blue sari
that left  one shoulder bare  approached  them.  The girl said something  to
Jogindar Singh that Fedor did not understand, gave Fedor a  fleeting  glance
of curiosity, and ran off.
     "It is now noon,"  said Jogindar Singh. "My daughter has summoned me to
dinner. May we have the honour of your company?"
     Fedor agreed eagerly.  He  wanted a  chance  to  talk  to  that  quiet,
understanding man. Also, he wanted another glimpse of the girl.
     Lal Chandra's workmen lived  near the workshop,  in tents set up  among
the trees in the big garden.  They lived here with their families since they
had no right to leave  the premises until the job  was finished. Each family
prepared its food over a fire in front of its tent.
     On the way, Jogindar Singh and Fedor washed their hands in a large pool
of running water.
     As they  entered the tent the girl uttered a low cry and ran out. After
a moment  she returned  carrying a black lacquered tray  covered with bright
flowers, and placed it on a mat spread on the floor. On the tray lay a mound
of boiled rice over which a fragrant spicy sauce had been poured.
     Then  the  girl brought in hot flat cakes and a  brass  pitcher of cold
water  mixed with the  slightly  astringent  juice of a fruit  unfamiliar to
Fedor.  The girl moved  lightly and quickly. She sat down beside her father,
and Fedor looked at her dark, slanting eyes and thin brown arms. She dropped
her eyes.
     Jogindar  Singh  settled down to  his dinner.  Fedor  also  dipped  his
fingers into the rice.
     "I  thought  you  Hindus weren't  supposed  to  eat in  front of  other
people," he said.
     "That  rule is  followed  by  those who divide  people into jaties," or
castes," said the elderly carpenter.
     "To which caste do you belong?"
     "I'm  a  Sikh  and  so  are all  the  others  working  here," said  the
carpenter, gazing intently at Fedor. "We do not divide people into castes."
     "Does that mean you do not recognize Brahmans?"
     "We  do not  believe in  future  reincarnation," Jogindar Singh replied
evasively. Just who are you? Moslems?"
     It was obvious that the carpenter did not want to answer his questions,
so  Fedor  ate  in  silence.  He washed  down  the rice with water from  the
pitcher. From time  to  time he stole glances at the girl, wondering how old
she was.  He decided she could not be more than  eighteen, and he  was  just
about to ask what her name was when her father began to speak.
     "Look here, foreigner. I do not know how you came  to the  Punjab but I
can see "'it was not because you wanted to."
     "Wanted to?" Fedor laughed bitterly. " I was sold, like an ox."
     "Do  not put your trust in Lal Chandra," the  carpenter went on. "He is
your enemy. He is our enemy too."
     "Then  why do  you work for him?"  "We work for him because- Listen, we
Sikhs were forced off our land. Everything was taken away from us." Jogindar
Singh's eyes glittered angrily. "But that  is  not for  long! We  Sikhs will
gather our forces-"
     The light pouring  through  the entrance to  the tent was  suddenly cut
off. Fedor turned round to see Ram Das standing there.
     "You've found a suitable place  for such  talk,  old man," the coachman
remarked derisively.
     "There are no strangers here," the carpenter replied quietly. "Only our
brethren live in the garden."
     "In the garden! That damned house is full  of Lal Chandra's spies," Ram
Das said as he squatted beside the tray of food.
     Fedor looked at the coachman's frowning, sharp-featured face and again,
as in the temple, a chill ran down his spine.
     "Foreigner, you are as trusting as a child," Ram Das said. "Lal Chandra
has given you a nice toy to play with and you forget that your end is near."
     Fedor paled. "What  can I do?" he asked. "As long as I am  building the
wheel  no one will touch  me. Afterwards,  if I  have to, I'll stand up  for
     "No one is going to challenge you to a duel. You don't know the customs
of the Brahmans. Instead of  dying  a useless death  why do  you  not remain
alive and help us? Jogindar Singh, send  your daughter out  of the tent. She
must not listen to the talk of men."
     The  Punjab was  an arid semi-desert in  the  north-western  corner  of
fabulous, fertile  India.  It was inhabited by stern, warlike men who passed
their lives in a grim  struggle against  drought in order to earn an austere
living for themselves and a life of luxury for their rulers.
     The Punjab, along  the border, had  the most  extensive  trade contacts
with other countries and was  the part of India that was most often invaded.
Alexander the Great's weary warriors came  to the Punjab  in the year 327 B.
C. Later the region was invaded by the Persians and the Afghans.
     The  Punjab,  accustomed  to  foreigners,  to foreign merchants and  to
foreign conquerors, became the centre of the Sikh community.
     Sikhism was a monotheistic religion that rejected castes, mortification
of the flesh, priests, temples and public worship. The Sikhs wanted a better
life in this world, and did not believe in reincarnation.
     Shortly before Fedor Matveyev landed in the Punjab, the Sikhs had risen
up against  the subahdars,  Moslem  viceroys of the Mogul  dynasty, and  the
local feudal  rajahs.  The uprising  had  been drowned  in blood, with  mass
     Although the Sikhs had suffered defeat and bitter losses, and had (been
deprived of their lands, they  had not lost heart. Feigning  submissiveness,
they gradually gathered forces for another uprising.
     Those  were troubled  times in  the Punjab. The dynasty of Great Moguls
was clearly  on the  wane. The Punjab rajahs,  whom Lal Chandra served, were
preparing to  seize power from the  weakened hands of the Mohammedan rulers.
But  the blood-stained spectre  of another Sikh uprising haunted  the rajahs
and Brahmans. As a counter-measure they prepared to work miracles that would
distract the people from the sobriety of the Sikh religion, convince them of
the might of the old Hindu gods, and  persuade them to  resign themselves to
obeying Hindu rulers.
     The Brahmans had long possessed a variety of miracles demonstrating the
power  of  their  gods.  The miracles  were performed by  wandering  fakirs,
ascetic  wonder-workers  and hypnotisers  of wide experience.  They tortured
themselves  in public by driving needles into their bodies, walking barefoot
over burning coals, and allowing themselves to be buried alive.
     The idea behind it all was that man can endure whatever trials life may
bring him.
     But it  had become difficult  to astound the grim people of  the Punjab
with  the  old,  familiar  miracles in  which fakirs  pierced their  bodies,
charmed snakes or turned themselves into towering palm-trees.
     That was why Lal Chandra was  preparing new  miracles of  a kind  never
seen or heard of before.
     Fedor Matveyev had .plenty to think about.
     At home, in Russia, he had known that their family owned some two dozen
peasant households, that those peasants belonged to his father. The house in
which the Matveyevs lived  was much like a peasant's hut, while the family's
food differed from that of their peasants only in that there was more of it.
However, the lighting  in the Matveyev home came not from splinters but from
tallow candles, which, true, his frugal mother insisted on using sparingly.
     The Matveyevs  occupied the best  pews in  the tiny church,  and Father
Pafnuty  never missed  an opportunity  to  sing the  praises of the Matveyev
family in his prayers.
     Tallow candles and prayers did not, of course, matter so much as having
a familiar, stable way  of  life. Father owned  the  peasants. The  peasants
ploughed, planted, reaped and threshed the grain, and then brought it to the
barn  of  their owner. Thus  it had  been  for centuries, and  thus it would
always 'be. There had always been masters and there had always been slaves.
     But now, in a foreign land, Fedor was himself a slave. Not a slave like
the servants of Lal Chandra, true, but still  a slave.  When Ram Das  openly
urged him to take the side of the Sikhs, Fedor  was thrown into the greatest
     He recalled  his father's stories  about  the  peasant  uprising  under
Stepan Razin, which had so terrified the big landowners. Now Indian peasants
were  planning the  same thing against  their masters and, besides,  against
their  gods. How could  a man who  belonged to the  nobility think of making
friends with rebels?
     For  that matter, Ram Das was a  fine one, pretending to  be  a  humble
slave! He was, Fedor guessed, practically the leader of these Sikhs.
     The Sikhs had placed their  trust  in him. They  had told  him  that an
uprising  was  planned for  the  day  the  Brahmans arranged  a festival  to
celebrate restoration of the temple of the goddess Kali. The \Sikhs had told
him that he must help them.
     But how could he bring himself to help rebels?
     Besides,  what  if  they  were lying when they said that as soon as  he
finished his work on the water-wheel he would  be killed? What if they  were
simply trying to frighten him?
     Should he go  to Lal Chandra  and tell  him  the  whole  story? No,  he
couldn't do that either.
     There was no one to advise him.
     Fedor's soul was in turmoil.

     Jogindar Singh asked Fedor to come to the smithy with him.
     "Kartar Sarabha wants to make you a gift," he said.
     Thickly-bearded Kartar  Sarabha, the blacksmith, smiled  broadly.  "You
have taught me many useful things that I  did not know. In gratitude I  want
to make you a present  of a  knife. A man should not go about unarmed.  I'll
work while you look on."
     This, Fedor realized, was a sign of great  trust in  him, a  foreigner.
Craft secrets were being shown to him.
     The  blacksmith picked  up  a bunch  of  short wires and  sorted  them,
bending and unbending each one. Fedor noticed that some  were  made  of soft
iron and others of firm steel. The steel wires were hard to bend.
     After making his selection and tightly tying the ends together, Sarabha
heated  the middle of the bunch in the forge and tied it neatly into a knot.
Then he heated it again and began to hammer it with rapid but careful blows.
The wires were welded together into a bar.
     After a few more heatings the blacksmith began  to  pound with  all his
     "Come tomorrow before dinner. We'll finish it,"  he  said, tossing  his
tongs into a trough of water.
     The next  day  Fedor was presented with a blade that  had been polished
and  fitted  into a handsome  ivory handle. Examining the  knife, he gave an
exclamation of surprise. Smoky ornamentation with wavy lines ran the  length
of the bluish-grey steel blade. This was Indian damask steel, famous for its
hardness and elasticity.
     Fedor  found himself drawn more and  more  often to  the tents  of  the
Sikhs. He liked these plain, stern men with whom he could talk frankly. Most
of all, he was drawn to Bharati, the daughter of the grey-bearded carpenter.
Bharati giggled when Fedor tried  to converse  with her in  a hodgepodge  of
languages.  She was merry and  bubbled with life, unlike the  people  around
     On stifling evenings Fedor  and Bharati  sat  by the side of the  pool,
dangling  their bare  feet in  the cool  water. Fedor  would  absentmindedly
launch into  a long story in Russian.  The  girl listened intently, her dark
head bent and her big eyes glowing.
     He told her about his distant  homeland with its  forests and snow, and
rivers whose waters turned white and  hard as stone in winter. He  talked of
great ships with  tall masts  and  white sails  taut  in  the wind,  and the
thunder of the cannon at Hango-Udd. Of the green meadows  in spring, and the
song of larks high in the blue sky.
     Did Bharati understand him? Probably she did, for it was not the  words
that mattered.
     From time to  time she  gave Fedor  a sidelong glance. In the starlight
his face  with its turned-up nose, his fair hair tossed  back, and his brown
beard, soft and curly, made him look, in her eyes, like a  god of the North.
She knew that in daylight his eyes were as blue as the water in the ocean.
     When Fedor caught himself speaking Russian he fell silent in confusion,
then  shifted to his usual  gibberish. Bharati laughed, splashing her  brown
legs in the  pool, but  then  she would suddenly  stop splashing and  sit in
silence for a long time. Or else she would  start telling Fedor, in her West
Punjab dialect, about her life, about the travels with her father, about the
winter monsoons  that  blow from  the land and the summer monsoons that blow
from the ocean and bring rain, about the hot deserts and the swampy jungles.
     As  Fedor  listened  to  the  half-understood  words  pronounced  in  a
high-pitched, flute-like voice, he gazed at the girl's dark, elongated eyes,
the black braids hanging over her shoulder, and her strong, slender arms.
     Now Fedor got down to designing the big lightning machine that would be
placed in the temple of Kali. He still knew nothing about the terrible force
that  had thrown him  to the ground that  day. He remembered that jolt as  a
combination of the cold bronze hips of the goddess Kali, the crackle of blue
lightning, the smell of a thunderstorm, and the sensation  that his body was
being pierced by thousands of needles. The instant of pain was followed by a
strange shivering and a metallic taste in his mouth.
     Fedor understood that neither  the six-armed  Kali nor any  other deity
had anything to do with shafts  and gears. It was just that the Brahman knew
something which others did not know.
     The  mysterious  force, as  Fedor  now realized,  was  produced  by the
revolving of the disc, and it could travel anywhere along metal. Lal Chandra
knew how to accumulate that force in metal vessels filled with a liquid; the
bronze statue of Kali was hollow and filled with the same liquid.
     Fedor was dying to learn the  Brahman's  secret and  carry  it  home to
Russia with him. He  did not yet know how to discover the secret, or how  to
escape afterwards, but he was already wondering  how he could get to see the
tsar and tell him about the supernatural force.
     Sometimes Lal  Chandra burned spices and  gums in a bowl standing  on a
tripod, from which came  odorous  smoke,  while Fedor helped him to move the
bronze spheres of the machine together and  apart. Different spices produced
different kinds of  lightning, from very weak flashes to streaks that leaped
across a wide gap between the two spheres.
     The smell of  the burning spices and gums reminded Fedor of incense and
church, there was something  godly  about it. But sometimes there was such a
stench that  even intrepid  Lal Chandra covered  his  nose, extinguished the
fire  in  the  bowl,  and  aired  the  premises.  Such  a  stench could not,
naturally, be associated with divine guidance.
     Fedor  realized  more and more clearly that  Ram Das was right and that
Lal  Chandra was contemplating  some evil  deed.  He  was not  calling forth
lightning  for the sake of science, or burning his infernal spices merely to
glorify his many-armed idols.
     One  day  the  corpse of  a  middle-aged man, thin  hut well-built, was
brought  into the laboratory  on  a stretcher. A  table  with  a heavy black
marble  top was  placed  beside the  lightning machine. Two  thick, flexible
cables woven of  bronze  wires were attached to the bronze spheres. Bands of
thin  silk  soaked  in  a resin of  some kind were  wound round  the cables.
Needle-sharp silver tips were soldered into the free ends of the silk bands.
     At a sign from Lal  Chandra the servants placed the naked corpse on the
marble top of the table and silently vanished.
     Lal Chandra threw a pinch of spice into the smoking bowl on the tripod.
Greenish clouds of smoke filled the room with a pungent odour.
     Next the Brahman picked up one of the cables.
     "Take the other but be careful not to touch the tip," he told Fedor.
     The disc of the  lightning machine revolved faster and faster. The gold
plates  merged  into a glowing  arc.  The room was filled with  a monotonous
     Fedor held the cable  with both hands, the  sharp-pointed end  sticking
out like a spearhead. Lal Chandra slowly moved  his  sharp end of  the cable
towards Fedor.
     There  was  a crackle  as  a blinding streak of blue  lightning  leaped
between the two ends.  A  spectral light  illuminated  the  clouds of  green
smoke.  Fedor  stood  perfectly  still.  He  was accustomed  to  flashes  of
lightning. Lal Chandra  swept the end  he was holding to  one  side, and the
lightning,  with a final  crackle, ceased. Still holding the cable, he  went
over to the marbletopped table and pulled off the cloth covering the face of
the dead man.
     Fedor gave a start of horror.  The face  was a terrifying bluish-white.
The  tip  of  the  tongue protruded between convulsively  twisted  lips. The
wide-open glassy  eyes held an  expression of terror. Round  the neck  ran a
blue furrow- the clear mark of a woven noose.
     Fedor at once remembered the Sikh stories of  the  abominable  sect  of
thugs. Their "sacred" nooses hidden beneath their robes, members of the sect
roamed  the highways and the city  streets in the evening, lying in wait for
victims. Holding the noose by the ends in both hands, the thug crept up from
behind, threw the noose round the neck of a lone passer-by,  twisted it into
a knot  in a  quick  movement and,  thrusting a knee into the victim's back,
pulled the noose tight.
     This was done to propitiate the wrathful goddess Kali.
     Fedor had also  learned  from  the  Sikhs  that such  thugs  had  never
appeared in the Punjab, where the cult of  the terrible Kali was not held in
     Lal  Chandra's  domain lay far from any community, and the servants did
not leave the grounds of  the mansion. This  meant  that the man, one of Lal
Chandra's slaves-Fedor recognized him in spite of his distorted features-was
not  the accidental  victim of  a fanatic.  He  had  been  strangled  on the
grounds, inside the high wall, for some transgression, or simply because Lal
Chandra needed a corpse.
     A  terrifying  thought struck Fedor. Lal  Chandra  was  not  concealing
anything from him, did not hesitate to show him a man whom he had seen alive
the day before and who had been strangled in such a fashion.
     This could only mean that Lal Chandra considered Fedor as good as dead.
When the  job was finished Fedor  would be strangled  just as efficiently as
this poor creature had  been. For an instant Fedor thought he could feel the
noose round his neck. He swallowed convulsively. Without thinking, he took a
step towards Lal Chandra.
     The Brahman glanced at him in alarm. The silent duel lasted for no more
than a  second. Then Fedor pulled himself  together, turned  and asked  in a
toneless voice what he was to do next.
     Lal Chandra calmly approached the corpse and plunged the sharp tip into
the brown shoulder.
     "Stick your tip into his foot," he ordered.
     "I ought to stick it into you," went through
     Fedor's mind. "But where would that get me? There are probably thugs in
the next room. Never mind, your turn will come."
     Fedor silently pushed the tip of the cable into the dead man's foot-and
leaped aside with a cry. The man's leg had jerked, bent at the knee and then
jerked forward as though it was about to kick Fedor.
     Lal  Chandra's  laughter rang  out  beneath the vaulted ceiling of  the
     "Scared,  Russian warrior?"  he asked mockingly. "Don't be  afraid.  He
cannot harm you."
     Fedor took  a deep  breath. He gave the  Brahman a challenging look and
said: "I am a man of war  accustomed to dealing with living adversaries." He
added in Russian: "May the dogs sniff at you, you murderer!"
     Later,  Fedor found  an opportunity to tell Jogindar  Singh  about  the
horrifying experiment.
     "That means he  is gathering thugs," said the elderly carpenter. "Well,
thugs are mortal. When the time  comes we'll see whether the goddess Kali is
pleased by the death of her priests."


     A  long  caravan passed  through  the  iron  gate leading  out  of  Lal
Chandra's  garden. In front went eight elephants loaded with the wooden  and
metal parts  of  the  water-wheel and  the big  lightning machine. After the
elephants came several two-horse carts carrying the workmen. Fedor, Jogindar
Singh and Bharati  rode in the first cart.  Far behind rolled carts drawn by
longhorn oxen, carrying materials that would not be needed at once. The slow
oxen would reach the  temple only on the  third  day. The  elephants and the
horse-drawn carts would arrive there in about twenty hours.
     The caravan crossed rivers and small streams that were beginning to dry
up. Each time the elephants entered  a stream they behaved the way elephants
always do, sucking up water  with  their trunks  and then spraying  it  over
their heads and backs.
     "What   wonderful  animals!"  Fedor  exclaimed.   "So  clever   and  so
     "Aren't there elephants in your country?" Bharati asked.
     "No,"  said Fedor,  suppressing a  sigh. "They're fine animals  but I'd
willingly never see another elephant again if only I could return home."
     Jogindar Singh glanced at Fedor, noting the sad expression on his face.
"Is there anyone waiting for you at home?"
     "Yes, of course. My mother, my father and my sister."
     "No wife or children?"
     Fedor gave  a  wry smile. "When you're in the navy you  don't have much
time to build a nest of your own."
     "Father," said Bharati, "the foreigner is  weary from the long journey,
yet you plague him with questions."
     Fedor stretched out a hand and gently touched the girl's shoulder. With
a graceful movement she freed her shoulder from his hand.
     The cart shook as  it rumbled across the stony, practically dry, bed of
one of the numerous tributaries of the Ravi.  On the other side they halted,
unharnessed  the  horses,  and settled down to rest in the shade of a  large
     The carpenter built a fire and  Bharati began to prepare  their evening
meal. It was still so light that the flames looked pale.
     Fedor picked up a dry stick and started to whittle it.
     "If you have courage you can escape from here," the old man said all of
a sudden in a low voice.
     Jogindar Singh squeezed Fedor's arm above the elbow.
     "Speak softly.  There are many alien ears  here. Listen carefully.  The
river on which the Kali temple stands flows into the Indus. If you sail down
the Indus for ten days you will reach the sea."
     "The sea?" Fedor whispered.
     "Just before it enters the sea  the Indus divides  into many arms," the
carpenter  went  on. "If you follow  the northernmost arm you will reach the
sea near the  village of Karachi. But if  you take the southernmost arm  and
then sail  along the  coast to the southeast you will come to the  Island of
Diu. The  Portuguese seized it long ago and have built a  fortress there. Do
you know the Portuguese?"
     Fedor rubbed his brow with his hand, straining his memory to recall the
Portuguese maps he had seen in France when he was studying navigation there.
     "But  Diu is  somewhere  far to the  south. About 500  sea  miles  from
     "I do not know how to measure that distance," said Singh, "but it is no
longer than  the voyage  down the Indus.  Look." He took the stick Fedor had
been whittling  and sketched, in the  sand, a  plan  of the route along  the
     Fedor sprang to his feet  and walked around  the campfire. The  sea! He
could hear the hurricane wind roaring in his ears and see  the blue expanses
shining in the sun. The sea! Only the sea route could bring him home.
     Suddenly  he remembered  where  he was. He sat down and  picked  up the
stick again. As he whittled he said, his  voice discouraged, "Thank you  for
your kind advice. But I cannot go to sea in a nutshell."
     "Listen further."  Singh moved closer to  him. "Draw me  the plans  and
I'll build you just the kind of boat you want," he whispered. "There will be
a  great  deal  of work going on at  the Kali temple,  and I'll  be  able to
deceive Lal Chandra's  men. They won't notice anything."  The old  carpenter
fell silent. Then he said, "But before you make your escape you must tell us
everything you know about the miracles Lal Chandra is preparing."
     Soon  after,  the  caravan  set  out again.  Jogindar Singh fell asleep
inside  the cart. Fedor sat on the  box in front, gazing thoughtfully at the
road, white in the moonlight, which stretched ahead. He  could see only  one
thing before his eyes- a sturdily built  boat with low sails. It must have a
sliding keel, like those  on Turkmen feluccas. Then no squall could overturn
the boat. Oh Lord, could freedom really be so near?
     Suddenly he heard soft  weeping. He turned round to look into  the dark
depths  of the  cart, which was covered  with linen cloth.  It was  Bharati!
Fedor felt  ashamed of himself.  There  he  was,  rejoicing like a child and
forgetting all about her!
     He stroked her hair and patted her shoulder in the darkness.
     "Darling,"  he  whispered. "Did you think I  would go anywhere  without
you?  Don't be afraid. Your seas are warm, and I'm a good sailor. I'll  take
care of you. We'll make our way to Russia. Then everything will be fine."
     The girl gave a sob and raised her tear-stained face.
     "How can I leave Father?" she whispered.
     "Why, we'll take  him along too!  When the  time comes  we'll  tell him
everything. He'll understand."
     Bharati shook her head sorrowfully. "No, he won't go anywhere. He won't
leave his people. And I can't leave him."
     Fedor fell silent, overwhelmed by despair.
     The caravan reached the temple at dawn. Fedor sprang down to the ground
at once. He  felt  light-headed  from  lack  of  sleep and his thoughts were
confused and disconnected.
     From dawn to dusk sweat poured from the  slaves of Lal Chandra and from
the Sikh  artisans as  they laboured beneath the merciless  sun.  They drove
piles for  a  dam  into  the  bed  of  the dried-up  stream  just  above the
waterfall, and  hacked through the  rocky bank so that the water  behind the
dam  could reach the chute. In the hollow leading to the temple they set  up
thick logs to support the chute. They made a frame for the water-wheel.
     Fedor  was  so busy  from  morning  to  night that he  hardly  ever saw
Bharati. He had no chance  to talk with her father except about the  dam  or
the chute, for Lal Chandra's overseers were always close by.
     "Will Jogindar Singh be able to handle the job without you if we return
to the house for a  few days?" Lal Chandra asked Fedor one evening. "Yes, of
     "I want you to talk to him tomorrow morning and tell him  what  to  do.
Give him  and his men an assignment for each day. I want  you to be prepared
to leave tomorrow evening, as soon as the heat abates."
     The next morning Fedor  handed Jogindar Singh several drawings and took
him aside to explain what they were about. They seated themselves  on planks
laid  across  the  posts  which  would support the chute. There  was no  one
nearby.  As  they  examined the drawings Fedor discarded one  of  them.  The
carpenter took the crumpled sheet from him and smoothed it out on  his knee.
It was a drawing  Fedor had  made during a sleepless, lonely night, a sketch
of a sailboat with a sliding keel.
     "This sketch is all to no purpose," Fedor  muttered gloomily. "I  don't
need a  boat at all because I love your daughter and she cannot leave you at
such a time." Jogindar Singh closed his eyes. "We'll do everything we can to
save you before the festival,"  he said finally,  after a long silence. "But
anything could happen-"
     Many  changes had taken place in Lal Chandra's mansion. Here, there and
everywhere  Fedor saw strangers who spoke dialects he could  not understand.
These were itinerant fakirs.  They showed one another the miracles they were
preparing to perform at the festival in honour of the renovated temple. They
completely  ignored  Fedor and he was  able  to  see  what  was behind their
     One morning three men with heavy sacks appeared  at  the gate and asked
to see Lal  Chandra.  They  were ragged  and emaciated, with  long  hair and
matted  beards,  their  dark-skinned bodies were  covered with scratches and
     Ram Das learned afterwards that they were just back from the Himalayas.
Lal Chandra sent them there  at a time when the stars were propitious to lay
large cakes  of rare, precious resins on  top of the highest  snowy peaks in
order  to bring the  resins closer  to  the stars. They had spent some  time
there  in the  mountains- suffering from the intense cold,  living on scanty
rations, and trembling in  fear of the mountain  spirits. Of the seven  whom
Lal Chandra had sent, four perished in the fissures of glaciers or fell over
precipices. This was all that  Ram Das was able to learn.  He predicted that
no one would ever again see the three men who had returned with the resins.
     Soon  after, a  tall, portly Brahman  in white  robes  appeared  in the
mansion. Lal Chandra treated him with great deference. On the morning of the
Brahman's arrival Lal Chandra sent Fedor away for the whole day.
     Fedor had a great many things to keep him busy. On Lal Chandra's orders
he stretched  the plaited copper cables covered with  resin-impregnated silk
from the lightning machine into the garden, to the pool at whose edge he and
Bharati used to sit in the evenings.
     Posts  which had been soaked  in  oil were set up on both sides  of the
pool.  Copper bars attached to the posts were lowered into the water. At the
ends of the bars  there  were  highly polished concave  copper  mirrors that
faced one another in the water.
     An  enormous, tower-like barrel,  fourteen feet  in diameter and a good
thirty-five  feet  high, made of sheets  of copper, stood  beside  the pool.
Fedor  had drawn the plans of  the barrel only a short while before,  at the
Kali temple, and he was  amazed to see it completed when  he returned to Lal
Chandra's  house. For two days in  a row men had scooped  water  out of  the
pool,  had  climbed  up to a platform on top  of  the copper barrel, and had
poured more than 10 000 pails of water into it. Then Lal Chandra himself had
climbed  to the top of the barrel and sprinkled several  bags of spices  and
gums into the water.
     A thick  copper chain hung  from the  platform into the water.  Similar
copper cables  covered with silk connected the  barrel  and  the  chain with
clips at the pool.
     Fedor knew that the force  produced by the lightning machine could pass
anywhere along metal, but not through silk and wood soaked in oil.
     He  also  knew that this force was  strongly drawn to the  ground, from
which all metal parts had to be kept away.
     Lal Chandra and Fedor carefully examined all the connections.
     "Strike the gong to set the machine in motion," Lal Chandra said in his
gentle voice.
     The   imposing  Brahman   strolled   towards  the  pool.  Lal   Chandra
deferentially  explained  something to  him  in  a  language Fedor  did  not
understand. They both kept their eyes on the surface of the pool.
     Near one of  the  bars the  water bubbled and boiled as though  it were
being heated by invisible fires. At the other  bar  the water  was  far less
turbulent but a faint, strange-smelling mist was rising from it.
     Lal Chandra picked up  the  free end of a wire and, holding it at arm's
length, brought it up to the bar where the water was bubbling.
     There was a crackle, a flash  of lightning, and a great pillar of  fire
shot out of the water.
     Fedor  leaped aside; he stared flabbergasted  at  the  bright pillar of
flame. The flame shrank in size but it remained as bright as ever. If anyone
had told Fedor that water could burn he would not have believed it. Yet now-
     "Break the path of the mysterious force," Lal Chandra commanded.
     One of  the cables ran through a wooden frame to which a copper bar was
attached at one end by a hinge, while the other rested on a copper plate.
     Fedor  tugged at  a  silk  cord, and  the  bar rose. Lightning streaked
between the bar and the plate for an instant.
     The water  near the bar immediately stopped bubbling and the flame died
     "Now open the path to the force," Lal Chandra said.
     Fedor released the cord. The copper bar dropped to the plate. Again the
water bubbled and seethed, but there was no flame.
     Lal Chandra picked up a clay pitcher  of  fragrant oil and, tipping  it
cautiously, poured some oil into  the water above the mirror attached to the
     The  oil instantly  flowed through  the water to the other  side of the
pool. They could see the oil forming a ball as it stopped above the opposite
     With Fedor's help Lal Chandra lifted a huge pitcher containing at least
three pails of the same fragrant reddish oil and poured it into the pool.
     Instead of spreading across the surface the oil sank into the water and
flowed in a long stream to the opposite mirror. A fairly large-sized ball of
oil had now formed there.
     Lal Chandra picked up  a ladle  with a long handle  and dipped  out the
oil. The mysterious force did not strike him.
     Fedor was so impressed by everything he had seen that he could  not get
it out of  his mind. That night he lay awake a long time. "I must get to the
bottom of it, no matter what," he resolved.

     Fedor lay in bed with open eyes, unable to fall asleep. Scenes from the
past went through his mind. How fed up he was with this foreign land! How he
wished he were home!
     More  than  five years had  passed  since  Prince Bekovich-Cherkassky's
detachment  met  its doom.  He  had been  in the  service of Lal Chandra for
nearly five long years.
     "I'll probably  be  granted a good long furlough if I  ask  for it as a
reward for what I've gone through," he reflected. "Then I can have a holiday
at  home. Mother and Father probably think I am  dead.  Father  Pafnuty must
have conducted a funeral service."
     Sleep was out of the question. Fedor rose from his bed. In a loin-cloth
and a thin shirt he stepped across the windowsill to  a covered gallery that
ran round the inner  courtyard. There it  was somewhat  cooler than  in  his
room. Fedor leaned against the railing and again gave himself up to thought.
     Suddenly he  heard voices. He  pricked  up his ears and  listened. They
were speaking a language he did not  know, the language in which Lal Chandra
talked to the fakirs. He recognized Lal Chandra's gentle voice. Sometimes it
was interrupted by an imperious, sharp, threatening voice. Fedor realized it
was the voice of the Brahman who had been present during the experiment with
water, fire and oil. He must be an important person.
     The third voice was unfamiliar. It spoke more rarely than the other two
and repeated the same phrase,  in the same tone, in  reply to everything the
Brahman said.
     The  voices  were  coming  from  a  window  on the  upper storey  of an
intricate tower that  rose above the central hall in which the altar to Kali
     The tower was a square, ledged  pyramid covered with sculptured figures
of elephants, horses and many-armed gods. Fedor had always thought the tower
was purely  ornamental since there was no way of entering it from the house.
But now, in the middle of the night, a  faint light glowed in the window and
it was from there that the voices came.
     Something urged Fedor to act. He slipped back over the windowsill  into
his room, took his knife from its hiding place in the bedding, and tucked it
inside his loin-cloth. Then he returned to the  gallery, scrambled up a post
to its flat roof, and from there made his way to the roof of the house.
     As he approached  the  tower Fedor realized  that  the  window with the
light in it was  all of forty feet  from the roof.  Well, in for a penny, in
for a pound! Clinging to the  high-reliefs of gods and sacred animals, Fedor
clambered  upwards  from  ledge  to ledge. It was a  moonless  night, and he
thought it unlikely anyone would notice his white-shirted figure against the
white masonry of the tower.
     Clasping the stone body of a deity, Fedor cautiously peered through the
     An oil lamp illuminated  a  round room. The floor was covered with rugs
on which bright cushions were scattered.
     An  imposing-looking old man was seated on cushions in  front of a  low
table covered with papers and rolls of parchment. His thin,  deeply wrinkled
face, framed in long grey hair, was impassive.
     In front of the old man, their  backs  to Fedor, stood Lal Chandra  and
the distinguished  Brahman. Lal Chandra was now shouting in  a high-pitched,
venomous voice. The elderly Brahman's voice was also savage. But the old man
kept calmly repeating the same words.
     Fedor  glanced  about the  room with curiosity.  The  shelves along the
walls  and the  tables were covered  with  glassware and instruments,  and a
small lightning machine stood in the corner.
     So this was where Lal Chandra  got his ideas, thought Fedor. He did not
invent his "miracles" himself but took  the ideas for them from this old man
whom he kept locked up and  whom he forced to create all those mysteries for
his own purposes.
     Now the two Brahmans were evidently trying to force the old man to tell
them something.
     Suddenly the old  man rose to his feet. Tall and thin, he looked at the
two Brahmans scornfully from beneath thick grey eyebrows. He began to speak,
slowly  and  calmly. Judging  by  their  expressions, Lal  Chandra  and  his
distinguished companion found his words unpleasant.
     As  the  old man  moved, Fedor  saw something  glitter behind his back.
Looking more closely, he  saw a thin chain leading from the  man's belt to a
ring attached to the wall.
     A feeling of pity mingled with anger swept over Fedor. How he wanted to
spring into  the  room and throw  himself on those  two  torturers. His hand
involuntarily sought his knife.
     "I'll strike  that aristocratic  viper  first," he thought. "Then  I'll
settle with Lal Chandra, may the dogs  sniff at his  corpse. But  what next?
With all those menials everywhere I won't be able to get out  of the  house.
There are probably guards inside the tower too."
     The aristocratic Brahman said something to Lal  Chandra in a low voice.
Lal  Chandra bowed  and  went  out  through a small door  under  the vaulted
ceiling.  A  second  later a tall fakir  with a  caste  mark on his forehead
entered. Placing the palms  of his hands together, he bowed  to the Brahman.
Then he went up behind the old man and, taking  a thin cord out of his robe,
wound  it round the neck of  his victim, carefully  passing it under the old
man's  grey beard. He  twisted the ends of the cord round his hands,  raised
his right leg, and thrust his knee into the old man's back.
     Fedor saw red. Without thinking, he sprang onto the windowsill. Another
leap,  and he was in the room.  He landed a powerful uppercut to the bearded
chin of the executioner.
     The blow flung the fakir against the wall,  where  he crumpled  into  a
motionless heap.
     Fedor turned to the Brahman and, snatching  out  his knife, stabbed him
in the chest.
     Both  the knife and  Fedor's hand passed through the Brahman's chest as
if it  were thin air.  Fedor  fell forward, and his body also  passed freely
through  the body of  the Brahman. All he felt was a faint warm wave of air.
The Brahman was incorporeal!
     "Ah-h-h!" Fedor screamed in horror. "Begone, demon!"
     The  Brahman  dashed  to  the  thick, iron-bound  wooden door.  Without
opening the door he passed straight through it and vanished.
     "Rise, young man. Time is precious," said the old man in Hindi. "Do you
understand me?"
     Fedor, who was still sitting on the floor, looked about wildly.  He was
shaking. He brought his trembling  hand to  his forehead and quickly crossed
     "Rise," the old man repeated imperiously. "Rise and bar the door."
     Fedor  obeyed,  muttering  "Begone,  demon! Begone,  demon!"  under his
     "Now hand me that vessel."
     Like a sleepwalker, Fedor moved over  to a shelf, took down a vessel of
red glass, and handed it to the old man.
     The old man folded the middle section of the chain in two and dipped it
into the vessel, from which acrid smoke arose.
     "By killing  the high priest you will confer a great  blessing  on  the
people.  But  you  cannot  do  it  with  an ordinary  knife. If  we  are not
interrupted you will understand.  I shall  make your knife suitable for that
     The old man lifted the chain out of the vessel and examined the links ,
which had grown quite thin. He tore the chain apart.  Then, dragging the end
of the chain behind him, he hurried over to the lightning machine. He picked
up the ends of wires leading from the  machine and connected them to several
copper vessels. Next  he quickly re-arranged some  silver  rings round which
wires had been wound.
     "Quick, your knife!"
     Fedor stood staring  at the machine  with unseeing  eyes.  The old  man
seized him by the collar of his shirt and shook him energetically.
     "Wake up! Wake up! Do you understand me?"
     Fedor nodded weakly.
     "Give me the knife! Now turn the handle!"
     Fedor turned the handle, producing a shower of blue sparks. The old man
thrust the blade  of the knife into  one of the rings. A faint aureole shone
round the knife.
     "Turn faster!"
     The aureole grew brighter, then suddenly died out.
     "That's enough! Now grasp the knife by the blade."
     Fedor saw his fingers pass through the blade as though it were  made of
air. With a cry, he drew back his hand and stumbled towards the window.
     "I was told you were a warrior but I see you are a cowardly old woman!"
the old man cried furiously. This brought Fedor to his senses.
     Hesitatingly, he picked up the  knife by the handle. It was an ordinary
handle, solid all the way through. He touched the  tip of the blade with the
palm of his hand. His palm passed through it and reached the handle.
     "The blade can now injure no one except the high priest," said the  old
man. "But for him it means death."
     Voices came from below. Looking out, Fedor saw that the yard was filled
with men carrying torches.
     "Now listen to me," said the old man. "As  long as I preserve my secret
my life is safe. No matter how hostile they are  they will not  harm me, for
my death would be more terrible to the high priest  than his own death. This
is  not  the first  time they have  tried to frighten  me  by pretending  to
strangle  me. You have  nothing to  fear  either until they  carry out their
plans. They need you to build things for them."
     Footsteps and voices were heard outside the door.
     "Remember  that only this knife can  strike down  the high priest," the
old man whispered rapidly. "Now it is still too early. But you will slay him
when the time is ripe. Hide the knife outside the window. I'll find a way of
getting it to you. Do you understand me?"
     Fedor thrust his head and shoulders  out of the window and  slipped the
knife into a hollow in the  stone carving.  The old man also thrust  out his
head,  felt  for the knife with his hand, and  gave a satisfied nod. Then he
returned to  his  place  and seated himself on  his cushion, concealing  the
broken chain.
     All of a sudden  the high priest entered  the room  through the  barred
door. He gave Fedor an icy glance.
     "When you raised your hand against me, foreigner, you did not know what
you  were doing", he  said.  "Therefore, I  forgive  you.  Only by  complete
obedience can you atone. Now, unbolt the door!"
     Fedor stared at him in terror.  Fighting down  his fear, he went to the
door and pushed aside the bolt.
     Lal Chandra entered, followed by servants  carrying torches. At  a sign
from their master  two of them lifted  the motionless body  of the fakir and
carried him out.
     "You do not know our customs, young man,"  Lal Chandra said in  an even
voice. "It was your Karma that brought you here. I advise  you not to meddle
in our concerns, which are beyond your comprehension."
     Thus  ended  a  night  that  had  been  a  nightmare.  But  it  had  an
unexpectedly happy ending for Fedor.
     The next day Lal Chandra took Fedor back to the temple of Kali.

     The summer heat began to abate. Monsoonal winds from the ocean piled up
dark rain clouds. The first rains fell in the mountains.
     Lal Chandra went about with  a worried expression on his face. He drove
the builders to exert  themselves to the maximum. Time was running out.  The
stream would start to rise any day now.
     The dam, flood-gate and chute were ready.
     So was the water-wheel. Long wooden shafts now  ran from  it through an
opening in the temple  wall into a room just off the main  hall. Attached to
each shaft were ten wooden discs, each  fourteen feet in  diameter,  covered
with a smooth, shiny coat of a rare resin.
     On either side  of  the discs were gold-leaf plates  across which swept
brushes of fine gold thread.
     Not  far  from the machine stood twelve enormous copper vats.  All this
was  connected  by  an   intricate   system  of  copper  cables  wrapped  in
oil-saturated cloth.  Copper bars  with ebony handles had been inserted into
the cables at intervals. They were used to help switch  the mysterious force
to wherever it was wanted.
     In the main hall of the temple there was a sunken  pool in front of the
statue of  Kali. The copper cables connected with  the concave mirrors  were
hidden in the water of the pool.
     Day by day the  stream rose.  Barred  by  the dam, it filled the  rocky
gorge and raced over the open spillway with a roar.
     After that  memorable  night two sturdy  fakirs openly  followed  Fedor
wherever he went. At  night they slept  outside the  door of his room in the
temple.  It  was utterly  hopeless to  try to  tell Jogindar Singh about the
incorporeal  Brahman,  for  the fakirs  brazenly  squatted  beside  them and
listened to everything they said.
     Could the  incorporeal man have been just  a nightmare? Again and again
Fedor recalled how the knife in his hand had gone through that wraith. Fedor
was not a coward. He had  gone into battle time and again without flinching.
But he felt helpless when it came to mysterious forces.
     Fedor  also  recalled the old  man in the  tower  and the  knife he had
turned  into air  before Fedor's eyes. Fedor  tried to remember  how it  had
happened. While he was turning the lightning  machine the old man had thrust
the knife  into  some  twisted  wires. The  lightning  machine was  somewhat
different from  Lal Chandra's. Fedor vaguely recalled  that  the old man had
said the high priest  could not get along without him. Did that mean the old
man was the one who had made the high priest incorporeal?
     He also recalled the terrified face of the incorporeal high priest when
he, Fedor,  had  rushed at him  with  the knife.  Why  should he  have  been
terrified? Perhaps he had not been incorporeal long and was not yet  used to
     Fedor's head was in a whirl. He simply had to tell  the Sikhs about the
miracle. Ram Das was the one to tell it to. But Lal Chandra had sent Ram Das
off on an errand.
     He  never should have listened to the old man. Instead  of  hiding  the
magic knife he should have plunged it into that  incorporeal high priest and
been done with it.
     Fedor was sitting alone in his room late  one evening when  he suddenly
heard a  deep roar outside. He dashed out of  the room. His guards, sleeping
beside the door, sprang to their feet and ran after him.
     The roar was coming from the chute. Fedor realized that the water  gate
had been raised and water was now rushing towards the wheel. He ran into the
main  room of the  temple. In the darkness  he easily found  the narrow door
behind the six-armed goddess and  stepped into the  secret  room  where  the
lightning machine stood. He saw what he had expected to  see. The discs were
whirling  at a  tremendous  rate, making a soft,  swishing  sound. The  gold
plates had merged  into circles; they reflected the reddish light of the oil
lamps. The air in the room was  filled with the freshness that accompanies a
     Six  men, none of whom Fedor  had ever seen before, were tinkering with
the machine. Lal Chandra stood to one side watching. He had not heard  Fedor
     A  sense of deep injury engulfed Fedor.  He had  put so much hard  work
into building the machine! He had invented so many things connected with it!
Yet they had not even called him to watch the trial run.
     Forgetting  everything  except  his  resentment,  Fedor tugged  at  Lal
Chandra's wide sleeve.
     Lal Chandra started in fright.
     "What are you doing here?" he asked, turning round to face Fedor.
     "Why didn't you tell me?" Fedor shouted.
     "You  are  not needed  any  more." Lal  Chandra's  voice  was no longer
     Fedor seized the Brahman by the collar and shook him.
     "I'm not your slave! I'm a lieutenant in the Russian  Navy!" he shouted
angrily. He spoke in Russian, as he always did when excited. "I'll shake the
wits out of you."
     Lal Chandra screamed hoarsely.  The men turned round, dropped what they
were doing, and flung  themselves on Fedor. Fedor fought back furiously. The
Indians  were unfamiliar with fist fighting,  and he knocked  them down  one
after  another. But  they immediately rose  to  their feet and  attacked him
     Lal Chandra bent  down and scuttled  through the  low door.  Fedor tore
himself away from the clinging hands of his attackers and  dashed after him.
Lal Chandra ran back and  forth, hampered by his long robe. For a moment the
two men raced round the grim goddess like children, changing their direction
all the time.
     Men carrying torches appeared, and half a dozen  of them fell on Fedor.
But  he tore loose once more and, making a  leap, caught Lal Chandra  by the
sleeve. With the deepest satisfaction he drew  back his  arm and smashed his
fist into Lal Chandra's cheekbone. The Brahman fell backwards into the pool.
     The last thing Fedor remembered was the sensation  of being  strangled.
When he recovered consciousness he was lying in his room.  His head rang and
his arms ached. He went to the door and gave a pull. It was locked from  the
     Fedor saw no hope of ever being set free.
     Twice a  day he was  brought a bowl of meagre  fare. Lal Chandra's  men
kept a close watch over him.
     One evening he was sitting on  the floor  of his vaulted room, beside a
low table, going over his notes by  the light of an oil lamp. He had started
a diary long ago, while on  the way to India. But what was the  use of these
notes  now? His eyes wandered sadly  around the dusk-filled room.  He  would
never be able to escape from here.
     He closed his eyes and let his head drop into his hands.
     A pebble suddenly fell on  the floor. Fedor gave a start and jumped  to
his feet.  A faint rustling came from somewhere above his  head. Lifting his
eyes, he saw a swarthy bare arm thrust through the ventilation opening.
     "It's starting," he  thought in alarm. "They'll let snakes down through
holes or sprinkle poison on me."
     "Fedor,"  a  voice  softly  called.   Fedor's  heart  lightened  as  he
recognized  the  voice  of Ram Das. How had he made  his way through  such a
narrow passage? He must have removed some bricks.
     "Let me hear your voice," said Ram Das from behind the wall.
     "It's  me,  all right. Who else  could it  be? Listen to what I have to
say, Ram Das." Fedor quickly told him what had taken place in the tower.
     "Did you say the Brahman is incorporeal?" Ram Das interrupted him. "Did
you say he can pass through solid walls?"
     "You saw it with your own eyes?"
     "Are  their gods really so  powerful?" There was a note of  fear in Ram
Das's voice.
     "All is lost," thought Fedor in despair. "The Sikhs were  my only hope.
When they see this miracle at the festival they'll give up all resistance."
     "Listen, Ram Das,  but that's not all." Fedor hurriedly related how the
old man had given the blade of his knife the property of penetrability.
     "Can the incorporeal Brahman really be slain with that knife?" came Ram
Das's hollow-sounding voice.
     "Yes, yes, he can! The knife is  hidden  in a crack in the wall outside
the old man's window. Be sure to get it, Ram Das."
     "The  old  man is kept under such heavy  guard that it's hard  to break
through to  him.  But  I'll  do  whatever I can to  help  you.  You must  be
prepared. Goodbye. I must go now."

     The roads were thronged. From Gujarat and Rajputana in the south,  from
the foothills of the mountain ranges in the north, and from Lahore and Delhi
in the east crowds of people converged on the  river Sutlej, a tributary  of
the Indus, where the miracle had taken place.
     In  the land where lived the apostate Sikhs, who had rejected the  gods
of the Brahmans, these gods had  decided to remind  men of their  existence.
The  goddess  of  love and  death,  the  awe-inspiring  Kali, was displaying
mysterious powers in a long-abandoned temple.
     That was what friendly men told the pilgrims at crossroads and villages
on  the way. These men distributed food and  pointed out the  route. Closing
their eyes as  though in  prayer,  they  related  that a certain pundit  had
attained the highest knowledge.  Although he had  repudiated his body he was
still visible, and hence he  was  called the Mahatma Ananga, the "great soul
without flesh".
     Tales  were told at roadside campfires of how Mahatma Ananga, gathering
his faithful  pupils  about him, had begged the gods, through Kali, who  had
close ties with humans, to bring accord to an earth torn by dissent.
     In response, the gods had given a sign. When the body of a pupil of the
Mahatma  Ananga,  who had died  in  the cause of  the highest knowledge, was
brought to the temple of Kali, the goddess had refused to accept his death.
     The body of the righteous man had been lying in trepidation at the feet
of the ruler  over life and death for many days. Kali  refused to accept his
     Since the goddess kept  a strict account of those who were born, coming
from their  past  incarnation,  and those  who died, passing  into  the next
incarnation, the return to  life  of the righteous man would have to be paid
for by the sacrifice of another life.
     The day of  the sacrifice had been appointed. On that day awe-inspiring
Kali would show one and all the power of the ancient gods.
     The pilgrims arrived  in large groups, keeping  close together.  To lag
behind was dangerous. The elusive brotherhood of Thug assassins  had already
strangled several people to death in honour of their goddess.
     There were crowds of people all around  the temple. The  hollow between
the temple  and the  bank of the  stream was closely packed  with tents  and
primitive shelters.
     Bright  sunlight illuminated a colourful scene: white-robed  men, women
in  flowered  veils,  bronze  faces  and  bodies,  countless  carts.  Temple
attendants distributed an infusion of thorn apple leaves among the pilgrims,
to  "free  them from  their  sins."  This was  a narcotic  that  temporarily
deprived people of their reason and memory. They also distributed a beverage
made  of poppy-seed called "the tears of  oblivion".  They were particularly
generous with bhang, a  beverage made from the juice  of the tender  tops of
Indian hemp mixed with an infusion of nutmeg and cloves.
     Clouds of flies  hovered  above  the camp of the pilgrims. The odour of
fragrant spikenard mingled with the smells of food, human and  animal sweat,
aromatic incense, the  smoke  of  camp-fires, and the wormwood-like odour of
     The pilgrims grew more and more excited. They demanded miracles.
     The  Sikhs, bearded and in turbans, did not take part in  the religious
frenzy. They camped to  one  side  and  seemed to be waiting  for something.
People scowled at them  because the Sikhs were  apostates. Knowing, however,
that the Sikhs did not recognize the philosophy of Ahimsa, or non-injury  of
animal life, they took care to give them a wide berth.
     In the evening innumerable campfires burned bright as people made their
evening ablutions and cooked food.  Temple attendants distributed rice and a
powerful mixture of  opium  and bhang. The excitement that now swept through
the crowd was even stronger than in the daytime. To the beat of drums inside
the temple a Brahman emerged to  announce  that  the  temple was now open. A
howling crowd surged in through the doors, filling the vast hall and all the
passages. The  Sikhs were the last to enter. They  took up places along  the
walls, none of them mingling with the crowd.
     Semi-darkness reigned  inside the temple. The oil  lamps cast quivering
shadows on the sinister faces of the goddess, on the garland of human skulls
round her bronze neck, and on her belt, an interlacing of chopped-off hands.
The rubies in her eye-sockets glowed.
     A human body lay motionless at the  feet of the goddess,  its  outlines
vague beneath the white shroud.
     Suddenly the drums fell  silent. An imposing  Brahman  (appeared on the
small open space between the pool and the goddess. He waited until the crowd
was quiet, then said in a resounding voice:
     "Brothers, do  not be surprised at what your  eyes will see. Keep calm,
for each has his own Karma and the  gods are all-powerful. Let us praise the
great Kali. May the gods show us miracles to strengthen our faith!"
     There was a faint crackle in the dead silence.
     Suddenly, flames leaped  up out of the bowls on the tripods around  the
pedestal of the goddess. A murmur of astonishment ran through the crowd.
     The Brahman pressed  his hands  together in prayer and  turned  to  the
     "Oh  mighty  one,  oh   black-faced   one!  She  who  tramples  on  the
decapitated!" he intoned. "Manifest your will, for through  you the Creator,
the Preserver and the Destroyer rule us! Give us life or give  us a merciful
     His last  words  were drowned by peals of thunder. Dazzling  streaks of
lightning  flashed through the clouds  of  smoke, in  the  direction  of the
crowd,  from the pointed fingers  of the terrible goddess, from the tips  of
her pointed nipples, and from the ends of her long eyelashes.
     The crowd was gripped  by terror. Shouting and pushing,  people hurried
towards  the exit.  But  their way  was barred by crackling  blue flashes of
lightning that came from the bronze lances decorating the archway.
     "Oh you of little faith!" intoned the Brahman. "Why are you frightened?
Did I not announce that the will of the gods would be manifested to you?"
     The lightning stopped, and the crowd ceased to mill about. Silence fell
as the people timidly  pressed closer  to  one another.  Suddenly cries came
from the hall:
     "Look, a dead man!"
     "This man is dead too!"
     "Death has entered the temple!"
     Here and there in the crowded hall lay the bodies of those who had been
struck by lightning.
     "Frightened, you of little faith?" the Brahman shouted. "How can flight
save you from the will of the gods? Does not death at the hands of Kali give
the chosen a better incarnation? Pray! Beg the goddess to open your eyes!"
     Where space  permitted in  the tightly-packed crowd, people  prostrated
themselves, their hands pressed together devoutly.
     "Now gaze on this!" the Brahman commanded. "The Mahatma Ananga himself,
the man without flesh, will appear before you!"
     The Brahman stepped to one side, his hands pressed together in front of
his face.
     A sigh of wonderment swept through the temple as a man in  a long white
robe came  into sight  straight  out of the pedestal. He silently spread his
arms, blessing  the pilgrims, and strode into the crowd. People separated to
let him pass, but he did not need an opening. He walked straight through the
crowd, straight through people. They realized  that he was incorporeal. Some
tried  to  grasp the  hem of  his robe to kiss it  but  their fingers passed
through the fabric as though it were woven of air.
     There were cries of awe-stricken horror beneath the vaulted  ceiling of
the temple.  Men fell to their knees to kiss the floor where the Incorporeal
Brahman had walked.
     After  passing through the  amazed crowd Mahatma Ananga returned to the
Kali pedestal. With an imperious gesture he commanded silence. Then he began
to speak.
     "The gods have  liberated me  from the flesh  that  oppresses man. I am
incorporeal. No human weapon can harm me. I need neither food nor drink. Yet
I am alive. My soul has not  been reincarnated. This is the gift of the gods
to those  who obey them implicitly.  But what do  you  live for, you who are
wrapped up in  concern for your  pitiful bodies? A handful  of rice  is more
precious to you than Nirvana."
     He talked for a  long  time, wrathfully condemning those  who preferred
the miserable  blessings  of  the  present  life  to  future  reincarnation.
Untouchables   must  stop   the  practice   of   adopting  Mohammedanism  or
Christianity. The gods would not forgive those who failed to keep the faith.
The apostate Sikhs had not resigned themselves to their fate. They wanted to
gain possession of lands  that  belonged,  by the  will of the gods, to  the
Brahmans. They must repent and return to the ancient faith before it was too
late. Otherwise the gods would punish them so sternly that no trace  of them
would  remain. The patience of the gods  was exhausted. They were  incensed.
Through him, Mahatma Ananga, they had resolved  to  manifest their  will and
punish the recalcitrants and apostates.
     While all  this was  going on Fedor Matveyev languished in the  machine
room next door, his arms chained to rings in the wall.
     The enormous discs revolved and hummed  rhythmically. Lal Chandra stood
with his eye at a tiny hole in the wall,  watching  what was going on in the
hall.  From time to time,  without turning round, he said something, and his
assistants did his  bidding, moving  the copper bars back and forth to  open
and shut the path of the mysterious force.
     From the way  they moved the bars  Fedor could  imagine what was taking
place in the temple. He could  hear the roar of the crowd and the awe-struck
cries as the miracles were performed.
     He  himself had built these machines whose lightning would  soon reduce
him to ashes. His friends, the Sikhs, were somewhere near,  but  what  could
they  do? They were  lost in  the frenzied  crowd.  Besides,  they too might
succumb to the Brahmans at sight of the miracles.
     Two fakirs approached Fedor, untied his bonds and, gripping him  by the
arms, thrust him through the low door into the hall. He found himself facing
the  Incorporeal Brahman. On  the other side of the pool was a sea of heads,
malicious grimaces and hateful eyes.
     "This wretched foreigner wished to deprive me of life," the Incorporeal
Brahman said disdainfully. "He did not know that only the gods can  do that.
Give him a knife. Let him try once again to pierce my body."
     An expectant  murmur ran through the crowd. A  grinning fakir stretched
out a knife to Fedor, who struck it from the man's hand. The knife clattered
as it fell on the stone paving.
     "If only  I  had  the  knife  the  old man  hid."  Fedor  thought. "But
evidently that is not to be. Say your last prayers, naval lieutenant."
     "Remove the shroud," said the Brahman.
     When the  shroud was lifted,  a naked corpse was revealed lying at  the
bronze feet of the goddess.
     Lightning streaked from the fingers of Kali.
     A  scream  of  horror  rang  through the  hall  and was then echoed and
re-echoed  time  and again.  The corpse  had come to  life.  It quivered and
stirred at the feet of the terrible goddess.
     "Look here, one and all!" the Incorporeal Brahman shouted. "The goddess
refuses to accept the  death of my finest  pupil. He hovers between life and
death. The  time has not yet come for his  reincarnation! But if  Kali is to
return him to life she must receive a sacrifice in exchange!"
     Twelve attendants marched up to the pool in single file. Each carried a
pitcher  on  his shoulder,  the  thick, dark,  odorous contents of which  he
poured into the pool.
     "We  have  brought  you  precious oil as a  sacrifice," the Incorporeal
Brahman  intoned,  turning to the goddess. "Will  you  accept this bloodless
     There was a sound of gurgling. The water in the pool began to boil. The
oil  gathered  into a  dark  ball,  then  streaked through the  water to the
opposite side of the pool, throwing up a fountain. For an instant the pillar
of oil  stood  motionless,  then it  collapsed,  sprinkling  the  crowd with
fragrant drops.
     "The goddess rejects  a bloodless sacrifice!" cried the Mahatma Ananga.
"She gives it to you with her blessing. She demands a human sacrifice. Those
pilgrims who  were  chosen  by the sacred lightning have been given a  happy
reincarnation. Their death was a joy to them. But this foreigner will meet a
terrible death, for he  is  alien to  our gods  and will be given the lowest
reincarnation. His soul will pass  into the body of  a blind worm that gnaws
away at seaside cliffs!"
     The water in the pool began to seethe. A bright flame  appeared  on top
of it.
     "See,  the goddess agrees!" shouted the Incorporeal Brahman. "The water
has turned to fire! May the foreigner die without bloodshed.
     Kali herself will give him death. Place him at the feet of the goddess,
beside my pupil. Let  everyone see the goddess take the life of  one man and
transfer it to another man!"
     Fedor  desperately  ran  his  eyes across  the  crowd.  The faces  were
hostile. "This is the end, Fedor Matveyev," he said  to himself.  "Here come
the fakirs. Now they'll seize you-"
     "Watch out, Fedor!"
     Suddenly  he was gripped by  a  feeling of  grim merriment.  He  stared
eagerly at the back of the hall, where the light was dim.
     Something flew over the heads of the crowd and fell at Fedor's feet. In
a flash he bent  down, snatched up his  knife by  the handle, and plunged it
into the breast of the Incorporeal Brahman.  He felt  the cloth of  the robe
resist as it tore.
     A  spreading patch of  blood stained  the  white  robe  of  the Mahatma
Ananga.  He wheezed, choked and would have  fallen  if  Fedor had  drawn his
knife from the wound. But Fedor did not release the handle. He realized in a
flash that if the Incorporeal Brahman fell he would sink through the ground,
creating a miracle that would spoil everything.
     His  ears  failed to register the shouts  of the  crowd, and he did not
know  what was going  on behind  his back. All he  felt was that the Mahatma
Ananga was growing heavier and was slipping sideways.
     Death had returned the usual properties to  the body of the Incorporeal
Brahman.  Although Fedor firmly clasped the handle  the  knife pulled itself
out of the body.  No longer supported by the  knife, the body dropped to the
stone floor with a dull thud.
     An instant of eerie silence was followed by cries of rage and fear.
     Ram Das ran up to Fedor and seized him by the arm.
     "This way!" he cried. "Hurry!"


     Fedor let the helm slip out of his hands. It did not  matter  since  he
could see nothing whatsoever in the utter  darkness. Besides, it was raining
     The powerful current swept the small boat downstream. The heavens split
open with a  sound like the ripping of a sail. Streaks of lightning lit up a
wide, swollen river, uprooted trees and a thick wall of rain.
     "We're being carried by  the  current," he thought. "Let's hope we hold
out until dawn." He sat in the stern, trying to shield Bharati from the rain
with his  body.  The girl's  head was in his lap. She  was trembling.  Fedor
stroked her wet hair. He could find no words with which to comfort her.
     Jogindar Singh's body lay  on the  deck, his white robe  a  blur in the
black night. His strong  arms lay by his side.  Never again would those arms
wield an axe.
     The Sikhs had failed to find Lal Chandra. The  sly Brahman  had escaped
through secret  passages.  Almost  immediately after,  armed  men  began  to
encircle the  temple.  The Brahmans and rajahs had evidently  stationed them
nearby in case something went wrong. Shots rang out in the  courtyard of the
temple  and  in  the  dark  passageways. The  Sikhs brandished  their curved
     Ram  Das had  led  Fedor unnoticed out  of the temple and  down  to the
stream,  where Bharati  and her  father  were waiting.  They  set out in the
direction of the Sutlej in the rain, stumbling over the rocks in their path.
Shots sounded  behind them. Suddenly Jogindar Singh  pitched forward to  the
ground with  an anguished cry.  Fedor  picked  him up and carried him on his
back.  He and Bharati pushed through  thickets  for a long time  before they
finally  reached  the Sutlej. There  Bharati found the sailboat,  tied to  a
     Dawn came at last, the grey light revealing  a rain-spattered river the
colour of yellowish mud. Bharati,  petrified by  sorrow, sat beside the body
of her father.
     It  took every  ounce of  Fedor's strength to guide  the boat towards a
small island. Near the shore he leaped  into the water and  then dragged the
boat up onto the wet sand.
     In the  tiny cabin under the deck  he  found an axe.  The carpenter had
seen to it that the  boat was fully  equipped. Fedor  hacked  out  a shallow
grave in the rain-soaked earth and tenderly  laid the body of Jogindar Singh
in it. After covering the grave with earth he built a mound of stones on top
of it.
     Bharati's rigid  face frightened him.  It  would be  easier for her, he
thought, if she would give way to tears. He touched her shoulder.  Silently,
she turned away from the grave, and silently she climbed back into the boat.
     Waist-deep in the water,  Fedor tugged at the boat to free it from  the
sand. His feet  sank in the silt. Finally he gave a push that took  his last
strength. Dislodged, the boat slid forward into the river.
     Suddenly he heard Bharati scream in terror. Turning his head, Fedor saw
that  her face was  drained of colour. She was pointing at  something with a
hand  that trembled, keeping up  a  piercing cry. Fedor swung round to see a
long  brown  log  heading  rapidly  towards him.  Suddenly the log opened  a
monstrous mouth lined with sharp teeth.
     Fedor  pushed off from the bottom as hard as he could  and scrambled up
onto the  deck of the boat. That very instant he heard teeth snap behind his
back. Before  he  could catch  his breath Bharati flung  her  arms round his
neck,  buried  her  head  on  his chest, and  burst into  tears. She  sobbed
convulsively, her thin shoulders quivering under his hands.
     "You must be careful," she whispered through her tears.  "I have no one
else but you now. Promise you will take care."
     Fedor guided  the boat back into  the  mainstream.  He had never seen a
crocodile  before,  although he  had heard  much about them. He  recalled  a
sentence  from  one of  the  first books  he  had  read in  childhood.  "The
crocodile  is an aquatic reptile  which  weeps as  it  kills  and  eats  its
victim." Fedor gave a wry  smile as he remembered the crocodile's terrifying
jaws. He  did  not  think it  likely that  such  a  monster would mourn  its
     After  two days of rain the sun reappeared. Meanwhile, they had reached
the Indus, and the mighty river was steadily carrying them towards the sea.
     Fedor  now  tied up  the boat  on  the bank  for the night. He  built a
campfire over which Bharati prepared their simple meal.
     At the end  of a week Fedor noticed that the river  was growing  wider;
the water was turning clearer by the hour. Finally there came a morning when
the boat ceased to  move at all. The incoming  tide was preventing the river
from reaching the sea.
     That meant  the ocean was near. The light northerly breeze carried with
it a tang of salt air.
     Fedor raised the foresail, woven of strong palm leaves. Then he lowered
the heavy copper-bound sliding keel into the water and hauled in the sheets.
The sound of water gurgling underneath the boat filled his heart with joy.
     The water grew  lighter  and bluer until  it was the colour of the sky.
The banks receded farther and farther, fading into a haze. Finally,  a  long
blue sea wave picked the boat up, rocked it gently, and then smoothly passed
it on to the next wave. They had reached the sea!
     Fedor gave a deep sigh of relief and smiled at Bharati. The girl smiled
back at her blue-eyed, good-natured, merry god.
     "Where are we going now?" she asked.
     Fedor had  given  the  matter  a good  deal  of  thought. He remembered
Bharati's  father  saying  that  if  he turned to the right  he would  reach
Karachi,  which Persian  merchants visited frequently.  To turn to the  left
meant sailing southeast towards the Portuguese possessions.
     The idea of travelling across Persia worried Fedor. Although it was the
shorter route he  had heard,  in  Lal  Chandra's  house, vague rumours  that
things were not quiet in the land of the Persians.
     No, it  would  be better to sail  to Diu. Portugal  was  far  away from
Russia and had no reason to quarrel with her.
     And so Fedor turned to the left and sailed southeast, following the low
     Bharati grew more cheerful.  The sea breezes  put colour in her cheeks.
She boiled rice  and  baked freshly-caught  fish on the hot clay of  a small
hearth  that  Fedor  had fashioned at one of their  stopping places  on  the
Indus. She quickly learned to handle the sails and was soon able to sail the
boat single-handed, giving  Fedor  an opportunity  to  snatch a few hours of
     The wind rose. Whitecaps rippled and foamed on the high waves. The mast
swayed, the boards creaked. The boat lay on  its  side, the deck half in the
     Bharati pressed close to Fedor.
     "Why don't you go down below?" he said. "You'll get wet."
     The girl  shook  her head. "I'm  not  afraid of anything when I'm  with
     "Then hold on tight. Otherwise you may be washed overboard. We're going
to be shaken up properly."
     Fedor knew that it would be far from easy to ride out a storm at sea in
their small craft.
     But Bharati trusted him, and he would do everything he could to protect
her.  This  was  not  his first  storm  at sea. He still remembered  how the
Caspian Sea had boiled and raged beneath his ship.
     With great effort Fedor managed to take down the sail. He folded it and
covered Bharati with it.
     The wind continued  to rise as night fell. The sea was a black, howling
wall. It tossed the boat like a nutshell from wave  to wave, up and down, up
and down.
     Fedor's  sole aim now was to hold the  bow into the waves. If he turned
broadside to them, the waves would capsize the  boat at once. It was  a good
thing that  Jogindar Singh had followed Fedor's instructions  to the  letter
when making the boat.  A boat without  a deck  or keel would  have sunk long
     With Bharati's help he fashioned  a  floating anchor. He  took down the
mast, laid it beside the spanker-boom, wrapped both of them in the sail, and
tied  the bundle  together. He attached one end to a long rope tied  to  the
prow. Then he threw the  heavy bundle overboard.  The prow immediately swung
into  the wind.  Held  by the floating  anchor,  the boat  barely moved  and
offered the storm no resistance. The raging wind simply streamed around it.
     Fedor opened the hatch.
     "Down below, quick!" he shouted. He pushed Bharati in front of him  and
jumped down inside after  her,  banging  down  the cover of  the  hatch  and
fastening it.
     It was dark in  the  little cabin but at least it was dry and they were
out of the wind.
     The  boat pitched and tossed, up and down, up and  down. They  lost all
sense of time. Had the night come to an  end? Or had  two nights passed? All
they heard was the thunder of the waves and the creaking of the deck boards.
     "Are you asleep, Bharati?"
     "Feel all right?"
     Fedor  rose and groped  about  in the  dark, swearing as he knocked his
head and banged his knees.  Then he  struck flint against steel, there was a
shower  of sparks, and a tiny red  glow  appeared. Fedor blew on the tinder,
lit the oil lamp, and looked at Bharati's pale face.
     "Feel all right, dear? Not seasick?" "No," she whispered obstinately.

     The setting  sun warmed his back.  A  northerly  wind  drove lazy waves
ahead of it. The storm was over.
     But it did not make any difference now.
     Fedor sat  in  the stern, stubbornly  holding  the boat  to an eastward
course. The  coastline was  still invisible. He had no idea of how many days
and nights they had been sailing in the Arabian Sea.
     Bharati lay at his knees. That  morning he had poured the last drops of
water in the pitcher through her parched, compressed lips.
     Alas, Fedor  Matveyev!  You are  evidently  not destined  to reach your
native land. Can it  really be that you escaped  death from lightning in the
temple only to die an agonizing death at sea?
     Bharati lay with closed eyes. Fedor anxiously bent over her to reassure
himself  that  she was breathing. One thought was  uppermost in  his mind: I
must save her.
     Night fell instantly, without twilight. The black sky was soon spangled
with bright but remote stars.
     The gentle rocking of the boat made Fedor feel drowsy, but he knew that
if he fell asleep it would  be the end.  With  a tremendous effort he  shook
himself awake and swept his eyes across the sea. What was that large reddish
star that hung  so low in the sky on the  port side? Why was it  so low? And
why did it sway? Fedor sprang to his feet to take a better look at the star.
Why, it was a ship's light! "Bharati! Wake up! A ship!" As if to confirm his
words the wind  brought them the sound  of a guitar and snatches  of a song.
Fedor jumped down  into the cabin. He rummaged about searching for an Indian
gunpowder  rocket. There it was!  He tied it to a stick which he attached to
the bow. Striking flint against steel until his hands bled, he produced fire
and brought the tinder up to the rocket. A hissing red arc soared across the
dark sky.


     The January frost had thickly iced the small windowpanes and was making
the pine logs of the walls creak.
     It was warm  inside the house. The long table standing against the wall
was   covered   with  samples   of  ore,   metal  and  coal,   draughtsman's
paraphernalia, manuscripts, and vessels  containing  powders and liquids. In
the  corner stood  a machine  which was  unique in that part  of Russia.  It
consisted  of a lacquered disc covered  with  shiny strips of metal and  set
between two supports topped by copper spheres, a belt drive and a handle.
     The room  was shrouded in semi-darkness. Candles cast a yellow light on
a grey head. A goose quill scratched across rough paper. Although the winter
evenings were long they were not long  enough for Fedor Matveyev. He had not
yet succeeded in unravelling the old mystery.
     Fedor went over to the  machine  and turned  the  handle.  With  a  dry
crackle a thin streak of violet-coloured light flashed between the spheres.
     He  sank  into  an armchair,  folding his  lean  hands,  hands that had
swollen veins but were still strong. His thoughts turned to the past. It had
been a long and hard journey from India to Russia. After sailing a seemingly
endless time along  the  coast  of Africa the  Portuguese frigate had landed
them in  Lisbon. From there they had travelled by sea and  by  land, through
many  countries,  without a  penny to their name, until they finally reached
St. Petersburg. But they had not been able to  leave their  ship on arrival,
for the Neva River had risen and flooded the city. It was said that the tsar
himself  travelled up  and  down  the flooded  streets in a boat, helping to
rescue the drowning.
     How frightened Bharati  had been of  the cold and  foggy northern  city
covered with seething water!
     Soon after, there came the staggering news of the tsar's death.
     Fedor dutifully reported his escape from  captivity, but no one had any
attention  to spare  an unknown  lieutenant. Those were  the  days  when the
succession to the throne was being decided. Finally someone advised Fedor to
go to  the new town of Ekaterinburg and see Wilhelm de  Hennin, the managing
director of a chain of factories in Siberia and  the  Urals, who was said to
be interested in anyone with a knowledge of mining and building.
     On the way to Ekaterinburg Fedor and Bharati stopped  oft  at Zakharino
to see Fedor's parents. His father and  mother were not particularly pleased
to have a daughter-in-law brought from overseas. They did not like  her long
face or her narrow hips,  or the fact that  she was as 'dark as a  Gypsy and
carried herself with dignity.  But since their son was going away soon  they
said nothing. They insisted that  Bharati be christened in the  local church
and  that  her name be changed  to Anna. They gave Fedor some money  for his
journey not much, true, but still it was something.
     At  Ekaterinburg  Fedor  was made to feel welcome and appointed to  the
post  of  chief  mechanic.  His  job  was  to  supervise  mining  machinery,
water-wheels, and dams, and the construction of new factories; also,  he was
put in charge of the fire brigade. He  was given living  quarters, and a new
life began for him. He performed his numerous duties faithfully.
     Russian food and long Russian winters fattened Bharati, made the colour
of her skin lighter and put roses in  her cheeks. She  reared their children
and did her household chores conscientiously,  making liqueurs and preserves
and  laying  in supplies of  honey for the  winter. She  learned to speak  a
fairly good  Russian. When she  and  Fedor visited  his parents a few  years
later the old people received her more graciously.
     As the years passed the operation of the mines engrossed Fedor more and
more. His fair hair became streaked  with silver. His children  were growing
up. Fourteen-year-old Alexander, the eldest son, was preparing to leave  for
St. Petersburg to enter a military school there.
     But he had not yet unravelled the mystery. True, he had discovered what
the mysterious force  that  made the lightning was. Reading all the books he
could  find on this  subject, he  had learned that about  one  hundred years
before,  in 1650, a  certain Otto  von Gericke,  burgomaster  of the town of
Magdeburg  in Germany,  had placed  a smooth  ball of  sulphur on a whirling
axis, and by rubbing it between  the palms of  his hands had  made  the ball
glow and crackle.
     In 1709, the Englishman Francis Hawksbee had substituted a glass sphere
for  the sulphur  ball and  also produced  sparks  with a  crackle.  Mikhail
Lomonosov had mentioned this machine in a poem about the many uses of glass.
     A revolving  glass sphere  crackles and makes flashes of light, Similar
unto those of thunder in the night.
     Fedor also  discovered that the ancient Greeks had  obtained  sparks by
rubbing  a  piece  of  amber  with  a  flannel cloth, and  the  name  of the
mysterious force came from the word electron, the Greek for "amber".
     It was clear  that  the  force in Lal Chandra's lightning  machine  was
electricity, but what a far 'cry  from Hawksbee's harmless  sparks!  Fedor's
disc machine produced far stronger sparks than Hawksbee's ball but it  could
not be  compared with Lal Chandra's machine. How had  the  Brahman  made the
electricity so terribly strong that it  killed people and caused corpses  to
     It was evidently  all a matter of being able to  accumulate electricity
in  vessels containing a liquid. With a mental picture of  everything he had
seen in India always before him, Fedor conducted experiment after experiment
with metal vessels into which  he poured various liquids  and then connected
to his machine, but nothing came of it.
     During a trip to St. Petersburg Fedor went to  the Academy of  Sciences
to  talk  with Mikhail  Lomonosov,  the brilliant  young  scientist  who had
recently been appointed professor of chemistry  there. Fedor had  heard much
praise of Lomonosov.
     "There is  as yet  no science of electricity, sir," Lomonosov told him.
"But I hope there will be. I advise you to see Richman. He is  in  charge of
our electricity experiments. He is a foreigner, but he does not put on airs.
Both Richman and I believe that the electricity obtained through friction is
the same  force  as  lightning. We are on the  eve of  extremely interesting
discoveries' 174
     Through Lomonosov's  good offices Fedor wag able to visit the "chambers
for electric experiments", one of the first  electricity laboratories in the
     Richman listened  to Fedor's story with interest  and  made many notes.
Like  Lomonosov,  he  was  engaged in  a  systematic  study of  electricity,
particularly atmospheric  electricity. Lomonosov was searching for the "true
cause of electricity  and  how  to measure it",  realizing that a theory  of
electricity could not be built up without precise data.
     In  1753 Richman was killed  by lightning  while  he was measuring  the
electric force of lightning discharges.
     Lomonosov was showered with reproaches and threats.
     "They wanted  to  shield  man  against  God's  wrath-lightning-but  God
punished them for their audacity!" cried his opponents.
     Although it took a long time for news to reach the Urals, Fedor closely
followed events in St. Petersburg.
     "I'd laugh if I didn't feel like crying instead," Fedor remarked to his
wife. "Remember how  the  Brahmans in India  made lightning  to deceive  the
people? Russia's equivalent of the Brahmans are angry because others wish to
find out what lightning is. If our Brahmans got  their  hands on electricity
they'd very soon reveal their true nature. No, I feel it's a blessing that I
did not tell anyone about my experiences in India or about my experiments."
     "Please give up  your experiments,  Fedor dear," said Bharati, alarm in
her dark, almond-shaped eyes. "Ever since Herr Richman was killed I have had
no peace of mind."
     "No, I won't give up," Fedor said. "If  my  life is not  long enough my
children  will continue the  experiments. They, or  their descendants,  will
live to see a better day."

     The candles began to sputter and Fedor trimmed the wicks. The log walls
crackled in the severe frost. In  the next room Bharati softly sang the same
mournful song she had sung  so long ago  beside the temple of the formidable
goddess Kali.
     Fedor closed  his eyes. People and events of those distant days came to
life again in his mind's eye.
     The old man chained to the wall in the tower-he had probably carried to
the grave his great secret of how to make the human body incorporeal.
     The oil that flowed in a long stream through the water of the pool. The
Incorporeal Brahman. Perhaps he had dreamed it all.
     The  candles shed  a  flickering yellow glow  on the silvery head.  The
goose quill scratched on the rough paper.

     "I conclude this epistle on  the twelfth day  of January in the year of
Our Lord 1762. I think that if the need should arise it would be best of all
if  you  were to seek assistance in  the Academy of Sciences, from Professor
Mikhail Lomonosov, inasmuch as he is well versed in science.

     "My last  wish, my son, is  that the  forces of electricity should  not
come  under the  power of those insatiable mongrels who are concerned solely
with their  own  personal  benefit  instead  of  with  the  welfare of their

     Forgive me, Newton!
     The concepts you created still
     guide our physical thinking,
     but we now know that for
     a deeper understanding of world relations
     we must replace your concepts with others.
     Albert Einstein


     "I've  deciphered  the  manuscript,  and  translated  in   into  modern
Russian," said  Val. "I found  it  very  interesting  because the eighteenth
century is  just my field. Shall I  begin?" She looked at Boris Privalov. He
     They were gathered  on the porch of  a country cottage with a flat roof
and whitewashed walls. The intense heat of late afternoon penetrated through
the patterned leaves of the fig tree that grew beside the porch.
     Every  summer Privalov  and  his  wife  Olga rented  the  same  seaside
cottage,  not far from town. She spent all her time there, while he came out
for the weekends.
     On this  occasion  he  had brought four guests along without giving his
wife warning. They were Pavel Koltukhov, Yura, Nikolai and a girl named Val,
whom   Olga  had   never   met   before;  also,   there  was  an   enormous,
ferocious-looking dog.
     They had travelled down in a crowded suburban train and arrived hot and
dusty. After a refreshing shower  they settled themselves on the porch. Olga
brought out platters of grapes and figs. "Don't trouble yourself now, Olga,"
said Privalov. "We'll all pitch in later on to prepare supper.
     Just sit down and relax. You'll hear a fascinating story."
     "Hear ye, brethren, hear  ye," chanted Yura,  swinging a foot as he sat
on the railing of the porch.
     Privalov put up a hand to silence him. "All right, Val," he said.
     Val  opened  a  red  folder,  carefully  lifted  out  Fedor  Matveyev's
manuscript,  and  laid  it  to  one  side. Then  she  picked  up a  sheaf of
typewritten pages and began to read.

     Val  read  the last word and  turned the page over. For  a few  moments
Privalov and his guests sat  silent, engrossed in those extraordinary events
of two centuries ago, about  which they had  just heard from the lips, as it
were, of Lieutenant Fedor Matveyev of the Russian Navy.
     "Thank you, Val," Privalov said softly.  He rose and  went  over to the
wall to switch on the ceiling light.
     "A  remarkably  interesting  story!"  exclaimed  Olga. "I  can  clearly
picture him. Do you think it's all really true?"
     Pavel  Koltukhov  snorted.  "It's  all  nonsense,"  he  said.  He lit a
cigarette and let out a thick cloud of smoke.
     Privalov asked Val to read, in the original eighteenth-century Russian,
the  section  in  which  Fedor  Matveyev  described how he had  first  flung
himself, knife in hand, on  the Incorporeal Brahman. She  found that page of
the manuscript and read, slowly: "I stabbed  him in the heart, but the whole
knife, and  also my hand  along with it, went through his flesh as though it
were thin air. A second  later he  vanished  from the room, passing straight
through  the closed door. The  door  was made  of wood,  at least two inches
thick, and was bound in iron."
     Koltukhov gave another snort. "Nothing but  a  fairy-tale." He took the
manuscript from Val and  neatly copied a  dozen lines or so from it into his
     Privalov  woke  up just  as the sun was  rising. He tiptoed  across the
squeaky floor of the porch and down the steps into  the garden. The sand was
cold under  his bare  feet.  The trees  cast long shadows  across  him as he
walked. In a corner of the garden  he saw Nikolai,  illuminated by the faint
rays of the sun, sitting  on the  low  stone  barrier  of the well.  The red
folder containing Fedor Matveyev's manuscript lay open on his knee.
     "Well, what do  you think  of it all?" Privalov asked as he came up and
sat down beside Nikolai. He yawned  loudly. "You didn't  say a word all last
     "I'm  wondering about Matveyev's knife."  Nikolai glanced at  Privalov.
"Why couldn't  it be true?  Why couldn't they  have accidentally stumbled on
the specifications of a machine that made matter penetrable?"
     "There you go again, Nikolai. Just forget all about penetrability. They
didn't know enough two hundred years ago to-"
     "But,  Boris,  by accident,  I mean. Fedor Matveyev clearly describes a
machine of just this kind in the tower room in which the old man was chained
to the wall. He  only saw it for a few  minutes and his description  is very
vague. Here's the place  in the manuscript. Listen," Nikolai read  slowly: "
'A wire  spiral,  something like  an  Archimedes' spiral, cut  out of a thin
half-twist of  silver.'  What do you think  that half-twist contraption into
which the old man thrust Matveyev's knife  could have been, Boris? I believe
it must have been some sort of a high-frequency output inductor."
     Boris Privalov smiled. "It's all very vague,  Nikolai, much too vague,"
he said, laying a hand on the young man's shoulder. "I'm far more interested
in the  stream  of oil that flowed through the pool.  Remember? In this case
the  description   of  the  apparatus  is  fairly  clear.  There   were  big
electrostatic generators switched on  parallel with electrolytic  capacitors
of  an enormous capacity or,  as Fedor Matveyev  put it,  'copper vessels to
collect  the mysterious  force'. If they really  did  make oil  flow through
water in  a  compact stream- well, that means they'd solved the problem of a
power  ray and  the building up of surface tension. But those reflectors  in
the pool, I mean, their shape-"
     "Yes,  shape," Nikolai said, following his own  train of  thought. "The
shape of the inductor, devil take it!"
     "But look, Nikolai. The Hindus just hit on it blindly.  But we won't be
groping in the dark the  way they did. This  isn't the  eighteenth  century,
thank goodness. We need a theoretical foundation. I  told you what Professor
Bagbanly said, didn't I? Let's have no more of this primitive tinkering with
spirals. An installation has to be set up, and we'll need your help."
     Nikolai nodded. "But what about the manuscript?"
     "We'll send it to the Academy of Sciences."
     Nikolai closed  the  folder with an angry  gesture and  climbed to  his
fe3t. "So  we just  forget  about  the  whole thing, is that it?"  he  asked
bitterly, turning and walking towards the porch, tall, lean and tanned.
     Privalov  followed him  with his  eyes,  then lifted his shoulders in a
     (The  beach was crowded, for it was Sunday. The  suburban trains spewed
city  dwellers out  of their  stuffy  carriages  by  the  hundreds  and  the
thousands. All the places under the awnings and umbrellas were occupied; the
white sand was thickly covered with tanned bodies.
     Boris  Privalov and his friends settled themselves at the water's edge,
where the sand was a bit cooler. Lazy waves lapped at their feet.
     Val  put  on her bathing cap and  waded slowly into the water. Yura and
Nikolai plunged into the  waves and were soon racing each other to the buoy.
Rex,  who did not like to bathe, barked  at them for a while, urging them to
come back, then lay down and stuck out his tongue as far as it would go.
     Olga Privalov set up her beach umbrella  and lay down in its shade with
a book.
     Pavel Koltukhov folded a page  from a  newspaper  into  a hat which  he
perched on his head as he stretched out on the sand beside Privalov.
     "I'd like to borrow one of your engineers for a couple of days, Boris,"
he said. "What for? To dabble in resins?"
     "Let me  have Jura.  He seems a clever lad." "Certainly.  But see to it
that he has time to do his own work too." "Naturally."
     "What  was  it  you copied out of the manuscript last night?"  Privalov
asked  a few minutes  later.  "Seek  and ye  shall find," Koltukhov answered
vaguely. Then he started telling Privalov how necessary it was  to  draw up,
without delay, a cost estimate of the research involved  in the transcaspian
oil pipeline project. The murmur of his voice put Privalov to sleep.
     Nikolai and Yura came running out of the water, their bodies dripping.
     "If Nikolai  keeps it up  we'll  have  to put him in a  straightjacket,
Boris," Yura said as he flung himself onto the sand. "He insists that  Fedor
Matveyev  was  telling the truth when  he talked about an incorporeal  man."
"Oh, shut up!" muttered Nikolai. But Yura continued: "Anyway, I'm sure I had
the last word. I  asked him this:  if  that old wizard really  possessed the
property of  penetrability  then why didn't  he sink  through  the  ground?"
Privalov lay on his back on the sand, his eyes closed blissfully against the
     "Do me a favour, boys" he said in a drowsy voice. "Stop pestering me."
     The bountiful sun was spreading hot  gold  over the beach. Two or three
clouds  hung in a sky pale from the heat. A suburban train blew its  whistle
close by,  and soon another eager  crowd of  city dwellers streamed from the
station to the beach.  They moved  in a file along the water's edge, a  gay,
perspiring throng. Koltukhov  grumbled as  some of  them stepped  across his
lean shanks.
     One  of  the  passers-by halted as he  caught sight of  Koltukhov.  Rex
raised his head and growled.
     "Is that you, Pavel?" the newcomer asked.
     Koltukhov looked up. Above him stood Nikolai Opratin.
     "Why,  hullo  there,"  said  Koltukhov  lazily,  lifting  his  hand  in
greeting. "Lured by the sea and the sun too, eh?"
     Opratin courteously raised his straw hat to each member of the group in
turn, then went off to change into his  swimming trunks. When he returned he
stretched out on the sand beside Koltukhov.
     "What's new, Pavel?"
     "Nothing much. We heard an Indian fairytale  yesterday." Koltukhov then
proceeded to  give a  humorous  version  of  Fedor  Matveyev's adventures in
     "The damned fool!" Privalov thought. "Still, why make  a secret of it?"
He removed his eyeglasses and went into the water.
     Opratin listened to Koltukhov with a smile.  But  the moment  Koltukhov
jokingly mentioned Fedor Matveyev's knife the  smile  vanished and Opratin's
face grew strained and attentive.
     "Let me interrupt you for a  moment, Pavel, but  that knife-You say the
manuscript describes how it was given the property of penetrability?"
     "Oh, that's all nonsense," said Koltukhov. "It's just a fairy-tale. The
only thing I can put stock in  is the  electrostatic generator. That sort of
thing was well within the scope of the eighteenth century. By the way-" Here
Koltukhov  felt he  was making a  very neat  transition to the one topic  he
wanted  to  talk to Opratin about. "By the  way, I hear  you have a powerful
electrostatic generator at your  Institute. Mind if I drop in from  time  to
time and use it? I'll try not to impose on you."
     "By all means," said Opratin. "What will you be using it for?"
     He never got  an answer, for Koltukhov  launched into  reminiscences of
his adventurous youth.
     Val came running up. She pulled off her bathing cap, shook out her dark
hair, and sat down beside Olga.
     "Is she the one, did you say, who translated  the manuscript?"  Opratin
asked Koltukhov in a low voice.
     "That's right. Would you like to meet her?"
     "That was a most interesting  find you made," Opratin said to Val after
Koltukhov had  introduced him to her. "It  isn't every day  that an original
manuscript from Peter the Great's time turns up."
     Opratin then entered  into  a  lively conversation with Val.  Yura gave
them  a sidelong glance, called to Rex, and headed for a large rock  nearby.
Nikolai joined him  there. Dangling  their feet in the water they  began  to
sing, in mock earnestness, a plaintive old Russian ballad.
     "What are you waiting for, Rex?" Yura said sternly.
     The  dog threw back his head, gave a convulsive yawn, and then began to
howl softly in accompaniment.
     Val glanced towards the two young men and shrugged.
     The dreary song went on and on for a long time.

     As the hardware in Cooper Lane became more  and more sophisticated Yura
said, with a click of his tongue, gazing proudly around the room:
     "Wonderful! Even Faraday never had a home laboratory like ours."
     Despite the obvious advantages  of the laboratory  over Faraday's  they
were not making  any  progress worth mentioning.  The two  young men created
electrical fields of various  kinds around the "mercury  heart", which  beat
conscientiously  but showed  no  signs whatsoever of increasing its  surface
     A breakthrough of some kind was definitely needed.
     One  day  Nikolai  invited   a  young  engineer  from  the  Institute's
automation department named Hussein Amirov to drop in and take a look at the
"mercury  heart".  Hussein spent a whole  evening testing  the oscillator on
different frequencies.  "Nice  little toy  you've  got  here,"  he  said  to
Nikolai.  "But  there's  something wrong with the operating conditions. I'll
think about it."
     The  next morning  he phoned Nikolai. "Look here, old man, your mistake
is that you're not letting the high frequency through in pulses. You'll have
to  put  in  a   tuning-fork  breaker."  Soon  after,  Nikolai  installed  a
tuning-fork. An electromagnet kept its prongs in constant vibration, and the
contacts on the  prongs closed and disconnected the circuit. Movable weights
attached to the prongs regulated the frequency of the oscillations.
     Pulses  had been a good idea. But  Nikolai and Yura could not manage to
hit on a combination  of high  frequency  and  breaker  frequency that would
cause the mercury heart, contracted by increased  tension, to  stop beating.
On the other hand, perhaps no such frequency existed at all.
     One  evening  the  two  were  busy as  usual  with their  installation,
experimenting with a  new series of frequencies. And as usual,  the  results
were disappointing.
     "We can sit here from now to doomsday and still neither of us will ever
be another Faraday," Yura said to Nikolai, pushing back his chair noisily.
     "You're right," Nikolai  agreed with a sigh. He  shook  his fist at the
"mercury heart".  Then  he  took out Fedor  Matveyev's  manuscript  from his
briefcase. He  had  borrowed it from Privalov for the evening.  It was to be
sent  to Moscow  the next  day  with  an accompanying  letter  by  Professor
     "Is  the  half-twist  spiral in  that manuscript still  preying on your
mind?" Yura said. "What do you think it might lead you to?"
     "You  know what  as well  as  I  do. If  we could increase the  surface
tension of liquids it means-"
     Yura waved his hand impatiently. "I didn't have that in mind. According
to Fedor Matveyev the knife acquired penetrability after the old man who was
chained to the wall thrust it into that spiral. Do you really think-"
     "I don't think anything. All I want is to find a new form of inductor."
Nikolai carefully turned the pages of the manuscript.
     "Let's have a  look at  the  last page,  where  he writes about Mikhail
Lomonosov," said Yura.
     They read in silence for some time.
     "That  damned half-twist spiral!" Nikolai  exclaimed, rummaging in  his
pockets for his cigarettes. "What  are you doing that  for?" he asked  Yura,
who was holding a sheet of the manuscript up to the light.
     "Look! Some sort of drawings."
     Pencil lines were visible on the  back of the  last page. The lead  had
rubbed  off almost  completely, only the faint traces  of lines pressed into
the thick paper by the point of a hard pencil could be seen.
     "Why, that's our box! But there's more than one."
     A firm hand had  drawn three boxes,  one below the other, and indicated
their  sizes.  Two  of  them looked like the box in which  Fedor  Matveyev's
manuscript had been preserved, while  the third  was square and  flat. There
was an inscription under  each drawing. All three boxes bore the letters A M
D G, evidently meant to  be engraved. Below the  letters was  a drawing of a
crown, and below that, in smaller script, the letters J d M.
     "Our  box  should have the same  letters on it, don't you  think?" Yura
picked up  the  box and  examined it.  "Yes, here they are. We didn't notice
them before because the lines were filled with rust."
     Nikolai frowned. Where had he seen those letters before? He  went  over
to the bookcase and ran his eyes over  the titles on the backs of the books.
Finally he pulled out Vicomte de Bragelonne and started leafing through it.
     "My memory didn't let me down," he remarked with satisfaction. "Listen:
'Bewildered, Baizerneaux de Dmoutlezun leaned  over his shoulder and read, A
M D G...'."
     Taking the book from  Nikolai, Yura read aloud the footnote,  a grin on
his face: " 'Ad  majorem Dei gloriam. To the greater glory of God. The motto
of the Jesuits.' But what's  J d  M? It isn't in the book.  What  a  lot  of
puzzles Lieutenant Fedor Matveyev has given us to solve!"
     "We need a system," said Nikolai. He took a sheet of paper  and quickly

     Boxes Inscriptions Size of boxes in drawing
     Length Width Height
     1 La preuve 9 1 3/4 1 3/4
     2 La source 9 1/2 2 2
     3 La clef de mystere 4 4 1/2

     Yura  rubbed his  hands vigorously.  "That's  a  good  idea. Now  we'll
translate the inscriptions. Call up Val. She knows French."
     "Well,"  Nikolai said  after talking with  Val, "la  preuve means  'the
evidence',  la source means 'the source' and la  clef de mystere means  'the
key to the mystery'."
     "The key to the mystery, you say?" Yura took a caliper and measured the
height,  length  and width of the  iron  box.  "It's 257.5 by  54.2  by 54.2
millimetres. Get out  your slide-rule and calculate the ratio. Divide  257.5
by 54.2."
     "It's 9 1/2 by 2 by 2," said Nikolai. He glanced at his chart. "Our box
with the manuscript is the one called 'the source'."
     'Well, that's clear," said Yura. "Now, what's the  unit of measurement
used in the drawings? If we divide 54.2 by two we  get 27.1 millimetres. The
English inch is equal to 25.4 millimetres. So-"
     "So it isn't  in inches.  We'll  come back  to  that  later. Now  let's
systematize what we know."
     They draw up another table:
     "Someone put the manuscript in the box that finally came into our hands
and ordered  two more boxes, one  for 'the evidence' and the other for  'the
key to the mystery'.  It probably wasn't Fedor Matveyev.  It's hardly likely
he would  go  in for Jesuit mottos. Who  was  it, then? What's hidden in the
other boxes? And where are they?"

     Inscriptions Size of Boxes Remarks
     In the scale on In millimetres
     the drawings
     Length Width Height Length Width Height Missing
     Evidence 9 1 3/4 1 3/4 243.9 4 7.4 47.4
     Source 9 1/2 2 2 257.5 54.2 54.2 Our box
     Key to the
     Mystery 4 4 1/2 108.4 108.4 13.55 Missing

     Yura and Nikolai spent a number of evenings in a fascinating search for
the key  to the enigmatic inscriptions.  A M D  G told them that Jesuits had
been directly involved in the affair. What the letters  J d M meant, though,
was a complete mystery.
     In  the public  library they found a  book  on heraldry from which they
discovered that  the crown  on the boxes  was a count's crown. They realized
that J d M were the initials of some count, the "d" standing for "de".
     Next  they settled down to read  everything they could find  about  the
     Yura and Nikolai had a big notebook  in which they entered all kinds of
information on  things  like  radio  circuits,  photography hints,  sailboat
designs, poetry, designs of scuba gear and underwater guns, data  on surface
tension and so on.
     Now they put into it copies of the drawings of the three boxes with the
following commentary:
     (a) The old French inch is equal to 27.1 millimetres.
     (b) This  inch  was abolished  in France on  the 19th Frimaire  in  the
eighth year of the  Republic, that is, on December 10, 1799, when the metric
system was adopted.
     (c)  The  inscriptions  were  made in a  pencil  with a lead  of ground
graphite  mixed with clay and  baked, much  like modern  pencils. Pencils of
this type appeared after 1790.
     1. The type of pencil shows that the inscriptions were made after 1790.
The  measurements  were  made  before  1799,  when  the  metric  system  was
introduced,  or possibly after, since  it  took a long time for  the  metric
system to come into general use.
     2. The  letters  A  M  D  G  indicate that  the  person  who put  Fedor
Matveyev's manuscript in the box belonged to the Society of  Jesus. He was a
count and his initials were J d M.
     3. The box was found on the territory of the Russian Empire, from which
the Jesuits were expelled by Tsar Alexander I in 1820. Between 1803 and 1817
the  Ambassador  of the  King of Sardinia  to  Russia  was Count  Joseph  de
Maistre, an important Jesuit, and the J d M could have been his initials. He
was  a mystic and an  obscurantist who  was  unlikely to have recognized the
metric system introduced by the godless Convention  but was quite likely  to
have used a new-fangled pencil with a lead of ground graphite.
     4.  Fedor Matveyev could  not  have lived  until  the year 1803. Only a
grandson or a great-grandson could have been alive and grown-up between 1803
and 1817.
     General Conclusions

     The  information  in Fedor  Matveyev's manuscript about electricity and
the uses to which it was put by an  Indian religious sect came to the notice
of Count  de Maistre,  the Jesuit, between  1803  and 1817,  and aroused his
interest, probably because he thought it might benefit the Society of Jesus.
For some reason, the  Count hid  the  manuscript  in  a little iron box  and
engraved the initials of  the Jesuit motto and his  own initials on the box.
He  named  the  box   'The   Source',  evidently  meaning  'the  source   of
     In addition, the Count ordered (or intended  to order)  two more boxes.
We know their  dimensions. One box, almost the same  size as  the  box which
Boris Privalov  found, was to contain 'The  Evidence'-but we do not know  of
what-and the other, a flat box, was to be  for 'The Key to the Mystery'. The
third box  may have  contained  the results of experiments  to  unravel  the
secrets of the Indian Brahmans that Fedor Matveyev described."

     "Not bad at all," said Boris Privalov  when Nikolai and Yura showed him
the notebook. "It's all quite logical. But where do you go from here?"
     "We'll start a search for the other two boxes," Nikolai replied.
     "Should we make inquiries of the Society of Jesus?"
     "That would be  going  too  far. We'll confine ourselves  to the bazaar
     "The bazaar?" Boris glanced questioningly at Nikolai. "But  of  course!
That's  the only  link you  have,  isn't it? You'd better not delay. I heard
it's going to be closed down for good very soon."

     The bazaar's "hardware department" was practically deserted and Nikolai
and Yura quickly found the man they had dealt with before. It took them some
time  to convince him they were  not guardians of the law.  Only then did he
confess that the iron  bar which Privalov had bought  was part of a batch of
junk obtained illegally from a state-operated scap metal depot.
     A delicate and tactful interview  with  the man  in charge of the depot
led to an introduction to  the crew  of  waste disposal truck No. 92-39. The
crew immediately took Nikolai and Yura for detectives. The two young men did
not bother to disillusion them.
     The driver and  his assistants studied the iron box, talked it over for
a long time and finally recalled the address of the house where a family had
thrown out a great deal of junk just before moving into a new flat.
     Yura  and Nikolai found  the house.  A  loquacious  concierge told  the
amateur detectives that  one of the  tenants had indeed  moved out  early in
summer.  His name was Benedictov. He had discarded a lot of  old things when
he moved.  The  neighbours had always complained  of his experiments at home
for they had inevitably short-circuited the electricity. She could give them
his new address.

     When  the door opened, Yura later said, Nikolai tensed all his  muscles
for flight. Rita was no less amazed to see the two young men.
     Yura  was the  first  to recover. "Please excuse  us,"  he  said in  an
unnaturally loud voice. "May we see the master of the house?"
     "He's not in. What do you want to see him about?"
     Nikolai opened his mouth to say  something but all that  came out was a
hoarse sound. Yura hastened to his rescue.
     "We'll explain what it's all  about, but talking here in the doorway is
somewhat inconvenient."
     Rita led her uninvited guests into the flat.
     "My name is Yura Kostyukov," Yura said, "and this is my friend  Nikolai
     "I'm Rita Benedictov."
     Yura was beginning to feel quite at  home. "You go in for diving, don't
you?" he said in a casual, friendly tone.
     Rita frowned. "What did you want to see my husband about?"
     "We'd like to  know  if you had a small iron bar in your old  flat. Not
really a bar, though, but a metal box with Latin letters engraved on it."
     "Latin letters?" Rita repeated slowly.
     "Yes.  The letters aren't very large and they're filled  in with  rust.
The  box isn't much bigger than this." Yura marked  off a  rectangle  on the
green  tablecloth with his finger.  "The thing is  that the box contained an
eighteenth-century manuscript. We found the box quite by chance in a pile of
junk at the bazaar.  The man who sold it to us said it came from a  house in
Krasnoarmeiskaya Street.  There we were told you had thrown out a lot of old
junk when you moved. You did live in Krasnoarmeiskaya Street, didn't you?"
     Rita did not reply. As she  stood there beside the table  the lamplight
gave her hair a golden sheen.
     "We've  discovered that there should be two more boxes," Yura  went on.
"We don't know what's in them, but we may assume whatever is there will have
either scientific or historical value." All of a sudden his patience came to
an end. "In brief," he said, "if you're the one who threw out that box maybe
you can tell us where the other two boxes are."
     "Two more boxes, you say?" Rita asked thoughtfully.
     "That's right, two more."
     She looked Yura straight  in  the eye and said  firmly:  "You're  quite
mistaken. We did  live in Krasnoarmeiskaya Street  before we moved into this
flat but we did not discard any small metal boxes."
     "What a  pity," said Yura  after a moment. "Please excuse us for having
taken up so much of your time."
     They  hurried downstairs. When they were  outside, in the street,  Yura
gripped Nikolai by the arm.
     "We're on  the right track!" he  exclaimed. "She knew  the box we  were
talking  about  but she hadn't known there was a manuscript inside  it.  She
thought  it was  just  a solid  bar of rusty  iron and she threw it out. Now
she's sorry."
     Nikolai  said  nothing.  He  was wondering  why Rita's  face seemed  so
     Yura shook  him  by  the  shoulder.  "Wake  up, you miserable creature.
There's a mystery here,  and  as  sure as my name is  Yura I'll  get to  the
bottom of it. Together with you, right?"
     It is hard to say  which caused  a greater  stir  at the  Institute-the
transcaspian  pipeline project or  Fedor  Matveyev's  manuscript.  Following
Privalov's  detailed report to the staff about the manuscript, debates raged
in  the departments  and laboratories over the  Incorporeal  Brahman and the
stream of oil flowing through  water. Many linked up the stream of oil  with
the Caspian  pipeline problem. The  more fervid imaginations  gave birth  to
fantastic  plans. The wildest and most hare-brained  schemes were put before
Privalov.  Some   he  discussed,  while  others  he  angrily   dismissed  as
     "What have  I done to deserve this?"  he grumbled. "The pipeline across
the Caspian  will  be  built  of the  most ordinary pipes-I repeat, ordinary
     That was the honest truth. But it was also true that Professor Bagbanly
had  visited the Institute several  times in  the evening  and  had had long
talks with Privalov. It was true, too, that a  surprising machine  was being
built in  one of  the rooms in Privalov's  laboratory.  Engineers  Yura  and
Nikolai, and also Valery  Gorbachevsky, the lab  technician, could have told
something  about  it,  but  they  had  strict  orders  not  to  divulge  any
     Pavel Koltukhov was displeased  by all  the  feverish  and  far-fetched
schemes  being  hatched at the  Institute. The  most stubborn  debaters were
invited to his  office, where he first heard them out  and then cooled their
ardour with a stream of caustic remarks.
     Meanwhile,  Koltukhov continued to work on his resins. Sometimes, after
synthesizing  a  new  compound,  he  would step  across the  street  to  the
Institute of Marine Physics and  drop  into  Opratin's  laboratory. He would
melt the  resin in a mould and place  it between the plates  of  a capacitor
linked up with a powerful  electrostatic machine. While the  resin was being
charged  Koltukhov  chatted  calmly  with  Opratin about this  and  that and
related  episodes from  his  life. "Does  your resin hold its  static charge
long?'" Opratin asked him one day.
     "That depends on how I charge it. Your chief told me you are setting up
an installation with a Van de Graaft generator on an  island  somewhere. Now
if we were to charge the resin from that generator-"
     "I'm  afraid you'll have Lo wait some  time for that," Opratin  smiled.
"We've just begun installing it."
     Pavel  Koltukhov  had his heart set  on a  strongly charged resin  that
could be used to  insulate underwater  pipelines.  He believed that  a  thin
insulation layer having a static charge could prevent corrosion more cheaply
and reliably than the many layers now used to cover the pipes.
     "I knew about the properties of electrically charged resins before, but
it never occurred to me before," Koltukhov said. "Fedor Matveyev was the man
who gave me the idea." "Fedor Matveyev?"
     "Remember the eighteenth century manuscript  I  told  you  about on the
     Opratin's expression grew guarded and his eyes flickered. "Why, yes, of
course. But what's the connection?"
     "Matveyev wrote that the Hindus  carried some kind of resin up into the
mountains," Koltukhov said slowly. "They left  it for a time on high  peaks,
where  it  received what they called 'heavenly  strength'. This gave  me the
idea that the Hindus might have been using the energy of cosmic rays without
actually being aware  of  it. There would be plenty  of  cosmic radiation at
high altitudes. They must have had some excellent resins, which  they turned
into highly charged electrets."
     "Highly  charged  electrets,"  Opratin  repeated  softly,  tapping  his
fingers on the table. "Yes, that certainly has possibilities."
     In  the  twenties  of  the  present  century  two Japanese  researchers
discovered that some resins become charged and turn into permanent and quite
new sources  of  electricity after having been melted and  left to cool in a
strong  electrostatic  field,  between  the  plates  of  a capacitor. Like a
magnet,  they  pass  on  their  properties  without losing  them. These were
electrets. If an electret is  cut in two,  new  poles will  arise at the new
     Yura found himself spending more  and  more  of his time in Koltukhov's
resin  laboratory.  He liked  making new  compounds according to Koltukhov's
formulas and measuring the electricity in the charged resins.
     One day Koltukhov sent Yura  over to Opratin's laboratory to charge the
latest batch of resin.
     Opratin  greeted Yura pleasantly, showed him the electrostatic machine,
and helped him to switch it on.
     Yura  looked about with curiosity. There were several  people  in white
overalls  at  work in the laboratory. One of  them, a thickset  man  with  a
shaggy  head of hair, sat  with his  back  to Yura, at  a table  on which an
aquarium with  a wire coil round it  and a valve  oscillator stood. "Are you
doing high frequency experiments?" he asked casually.
     "Oh, that's just a minor project," Opratin replied  with a  keen glance
at Yura. "Are you interested in high frequencies?" "No, not particularly."
     A tall, husky man  in  blue overalls entered the laboratory. To  Yura's
surprise, this was Uncle Vova Bugrov.
     "Comrade  Benedictov,  here's  the food for your fish," Bugrov  said to
Anatole Benedictov in a deep, hoarse voice.
     The shaggy-haired man sitting beside the valve oscillator turned round,
nodded, and took the two paper  bags Bugrov was holding out to him. Yura was
unable to shift his gaze from the man's broad face and puffy eyelids.
     "Why, hullo," said Bugrov shaking Yura's hand. "What brings  you to our
     "Do  you work here?"  Yura  asked in surprise, his  eyes still fixed on
     "I'm a laboratory technician. I've switched to science now.  They think
very highly of me here. You know, I'm training a group of scientific workers
in wrestling."
     "What does Benedictov do here?" Yura asked in a low voice.
     "Benedictov?  He's a  scientist. He knows all there  is  to know  about
fish. Shall I tell you what else  I'm doing?" Bugrov asked boastfully.  "I'm
an inventor, if you want to know. I'm making an  electric  dynamometer. What
d'you think of that?"
     After charging  the resin Yura rushed back to his own Institute and ran
up the stairs two at a time.
     "There's  news, Nikolai," he shouted.  Panting,  he told  Nikolai about
seeing Benedictov, about the valve oscillator and about Vova Bugrov.
     Nikolai ran the  palm  of his  hand  across  his  high  forehead. "High
frequency-  and fish? I  wonder- But  Opratin is  studying the  level of the
Caspian, isn't he?"
     "Benedictov's the man to ask about the iron boxes."
     "You think he'd tell you?"
     During  the  lunch  break Nikolai  remained in the deserted laboratory.
Sitting at his desk,  he cut a thin strip from the sheet of drawing paper on
his board. He pinned one end to the desk, twisted  the other in a half-curl,
and glued the ends together.
     He sat for a long time  staring, in deep thought, at the twisted  piece
of paper.  Then, with  a pencil, he  drew a line along the edge of the paper
until  it came full  circle. The line ran round  both sides of the  strip of
paper, without Nikolai  either lifting his pencil from the paper or crossing
the  pencil  line at  any point.  This  strip of paper  was the  model  of a
mathematical paradox known as the Mobius band. From  the mathematical  point
of view the band had no thickness and its surface was not divided into outer
and inner surfaces.  It was only a surface, and nothing more. A window  that
mathematics had opened up into the sphere of the Unknown.
     Nikolai made a second strip twisted in the same direction  and tried to
put it inside the first one, but  this proved to be impossible. By trying to
put one strip into another he  would have to  bring the inner surface of one
towards the outer  surface of the other. But if neither had an outer surface
or an inner surface how could he do this?
     Nikolai  flung the strips on the table  and  propped up his head on his
hand. "What if I made a similar spiral out of copper and linked it up to the
output circuit of an oscillator?"
     He went  out  to the lounge,  pulled Yura  away from  a  game  of table
tennis, and said: "Do you remember a thing called the Mobius band?"


     "At last!" Opratin exclaimed, running his eyes across the letter, which
was typed on an official letterhead.
     Ever since summer, Opratin's imagination had been fired by the  letters
A M  D G on  Benedictov's box  that  had  contained  the missing knife. When
Benedictov  showed  him the box  Opratin  had immediately recalled  the  old
underground  passage in Derbent, the crucifix on the  chest of the skeleton,
and, lying beside it, the small flat box on a golden chain, with the letters
A M D G engraved on it.
     From what Pavel Koltukhov had  said  Opratin  now knew that  there were
three boxes, and that the third box, the one in Derbent, contained some sort
of "key to the mystery".
     Opratin had written  a number of cautious letters, first to Derbent and
then to Moscow,  after  learning that  the  agent's equipment had been  sent
there.  Now the  long-awaited reply was in his hands. The  agent had been  a
submarine officer  in the Italian Tenth Torpedo-Boat Flotilla, notorious for
its sudden raids on British naval bases with mines guided by frogmen.
     Part of the Tenth Flotilla had been transferred  to the Crimea in 1942.
When the Nazis broke through to the North Caucasus  part of the Flotilla had
concentrated submarines and frogmen-guided torpedoes  at Mariupol on the Sea
of Azov for transfer to the Caspian Sea.
     Vittorio  da Castiglione,  an officer of the Tenth Flotilla, parachuted
down onto the Caspian coast near Derbent on a dark autumn night. His mission
had  probably been to reconnoitre the underwater  approaches to  the port of
Derbent and note installations that could be attacked with guided torpedoes.
But he had wandered into an old  quarry and had perished there. Nobody would
ever have learned about Vittorio da Castiglione if Opratin  had not stumbled
over him.
     "To recapitulate," Opratin said  to  himself,  "one box contained Fedor
Matveyev's manuscript and another the knife. But what was  in the third box?
Probably  something  very important  that  would throw light  on the  entire
     Well, he'd soon know what it was all about.
     Nikolai Opratin rubbed his hands in satisfaction.
     The  Institute  of Marine Physics was  making preparations to raise the
level of the Caspian Sea. This undertaking was based on the extremely simple
proposition  that a heavy  rain  can produce one and a half  millimetres  of
precipitation  in one  minute. If rain poured down constantly on  an area of
thirty square kilometres of the Caspian day in and day out, the level of the
sea would rise three metres in the course of a year. Water for the downpours
would have  to be "borrowed" from the Black Sea, where there  were  plans to
build  a  powerful nuclear water boiler.  A new  Soviet method of  obtaining
nuclear energy made such an installation possible.
     As a  gigantic fountain of steam gushed  forth from  the depths of  the
Black Sea  a  system of  directional antennae would  force the endless  grey
cloud to snake its way over the Caucasus Mountains. On reaching the downpour
area in  the  Caspian  Sea the  cloud would  enter  the  zone  of a powerful
electrostatic field.  Here the concentrated  steam would  lose its  heat, be
converted into water, and pour down on the sea.
     Laboratory  No. 8 was  setting up  cloud condensation  experiments, and
this  kept  Opratin,  as  head  of  the laboratory,  very  busy  indeed. The
installation had given  him  a good  many  sleepless nights. Erection of the
installation on  a remote,  uninhabited  island  in the Caspian  was nearing
completion.  Opratin was personally  supervising  the operations. He  had in
mind certain other plans that were linked up with this installation.
     The two new members of the staff  introduced  a somewhat  disharmonious
note  into  the  carefully  planned  arrangements in  Opratin's  laboratory.
Shaggy-haired,  absent-minded  Anatole  Benedictov  spilled  reagents   from
bottles  on the tables, broke a  great many vessels and  often caused  short
circuits. He argued  with Opratin in a loud voice.  Yet Opratin  was patient
with him, and this was what aroused the greatest astonishment.
     With Benedictov's arrival  the "fish  problem" suddenly loomed large in
the Institute programme. At any rate, it occupied all the best places in the
corridors, for that was  where Anatole Benedictov had set  up his aquariums.
He plagued  the  assistant manager in charge of  supplies with  demands  for
various types of food for his fish.
     Feeding  the fish  was one of  the duties of the new lab technician,  a
husky, rosy-cheeked man with  slits for eyes and  a  tuft of reddish hair on
top  of his  head. This was Vova Bugrov. Bugrov very soon felt quite at home
in the  world  of  scientific research. As one watched  him  puttering about
beside the spectrograph, softly humming  a popular tune, one  felt  that the
delicate cassettes were doomed.
     "I wonder why Opratin ever  took this chap on as  a technician,"  staff
members  asked one another.  "He  looks  more like  a gangster than anything
     To everyone's surprise, though, the new technician turned out to have a
light touch;  his  huge  paws handled  the  precise  instruments  gently and
deftly. Bugrov could do a marvellous soldering job. He put great effort into
developing  the spectrograms, and he  kept a detailed journal (with spelling
mistakes in it, true) of the functioning of the various lab instruments  and
machines. This was more than even Opratin had expected from Bugrov.
     The motorboat skimmed across the bay towards the open sea.  Prow lifted
high, it left behind a pair  of long, spreading, foamy moustaches.  It was a
calm, sunny morning in October, with a slight chill in the air.
     Bugrov, his cap pulled down over his forehead, sat  beside the outboard
motor. Suddenly he pricked up his ears.  Above the  steady roar of the motor
he caught snatches of an interesting conversation.
     "No, I don't think they know about the knife," said Nikolai Opratin.
     "Then why did they come asking to see me?" Anatole Benedictov retorted.
"They  asked  questions, Rita says,  about three small iron  boxes. But  why
three?  One  contained  the  knife; in  the other,  you say,  they  found  a
manuscript. But where does a third box come from?"
     "That's my business."
     Opratin wrapped his raincoat more closely round him.  Benedictov  tried
to light a cigarette but every  time he struck a match the wind blew it out.
He swore as he kept tossing matches into the water.
     On reaching the island  they guided the boat into  a cove with a gently
sloping  shore.  Bugrov cut the  motor and nimbly jumped out  onto  the damp
sand. He tied the painter to a length of pipe he had driven into the sand on
an earlier visit to the island.
     Here, on this desolate little island, Laboratory No. 8 of the Institute
of Marine Physics had set up an experiment facility.
     Two months ago  a blunt-nose self-propelled barge  had pulled its  flat
belly up onto the sandy shore, and a tractor, followed by a crane on crawler
treads, had rolled out of its dark interior with much clanging.
     An  old concrete  pillbox built on the island  during the war  had been
converted into a pilot plan for cloud condensation.
     Benedictov and Opratin climbed to the top of the low but steep rise and
disappeared  inside the former pillbox. Bugrov  remained  on  the  shore. He
walked up and down the sand for a while to  stretch his legs,  then sat down
on a rock to think.
     There  was plenty  to  think  about. For  two  months now  he had  been
punching the clock, something he had never done before in his life- and what
was  he getting out of it?  Where was the  knife for which he  had agreed to
take on the job of lab technician?
     It was  becoming embarrassing. Friends were laughing  at him. A steady,
full-time job, of  all  things!  In  science, too!  It  was time  he gave up
working like a horse, they said.
     Bugrov couldn't have agreed with them more. He would give it up-just as
soon as he finished his dynamometer. It would be a beauty! All you'd have to
do was step on the footboard  and  flex your muscles,  and the machine would
show you how strong you were. There would be no lights or bells, like in the
ordinary dynamometers. This one was strictly scientific.
     All of  a sudden Bugrov grew angry with  himself. What was  he thinking
about?  The  knife  was  what he needed!  Then  he  would  be  able  to tour
provincial towns with an astonishing knife act.
     He scrambled up the rise  and approached the pillbox. After opening the
inclining steel door he entered an underground passageway lined with shelves
holding  storage cells.  The passageway led into a round room  with a  domed
ceiling.  An internal combustion engine  stood there. From  this room Bugrov
passed through a narrow doorway into what had once been the casemate.
     The  room  was crowded  with  laboratory  equipment.  Red-hot filaments
glowed in an electric fireplace. Nikolai  Opratin and Anatole Benedictov sat
at a table under a bright light.
     Bugrov  marched  to the middle  of  the room  and stood there, hands in
pockets, his padded jacket flung open. His face wore an insolent expression.
"You promised me the knife," he said. "When will it be ready?"
     Opratin  drummed his fingers on the  table. "Look here," he said in  an
even voice, "if you  get on my nerves  you'll never lay eyes on the knife at
all. Can't you see we haven't set up all the equipment yet? Be patient."
     "I'm patient,  all  right," Bugrov  replied defiantly. "Too patient, in
fact. I'm just warning you. You'd better speed things up."
     "That will  do. Instead of complaining you could put  your  energies to
better use by tinkering with the power generator. You're the one who will be
servicing it."
     Bugrov pushed his cap to the back of his head and left the room.
     The mutiny on the island had been put down.
     "I can't see why you have anything to do with that gorilla," Benedictov
     Opratin  shook  his head. "Rank ingratitude, I call it. That gorilla is
the person who gets you those ampoules you're so fond of."
     Benedictov said nothing.
     "He's right. We'll have to speed things up," Opratin went on. "We won't
be  here alone forever.  We'll have  to start work  on cloud condensation as
well, and that means researchers will be coming here to work. I shan't allow
them to see the equipment in the room below, of course, but still- Anyway, I
have  an  idea." He told Benedictov of his talk  with Pavel Koltukhov, about
the  episode  mentioned  in  Fedor  Matveyev's  manuscript  and   about  the
     "Don't you  see?  The Hindus  may very  well have used  electrets as  a
source of energy. Electrets have a peculiar property to which I have given a
great deal of thought."
     "A shift  in polarity. Sometimes an electret begins  to lose its charge
within a few hours. The  charge drops to zero and  then increases again, but
now the positive  and negative poles have  changed  places. An electret with
altered poles will exist for an indefinite time. Sometimes this happens  and
sometimes  it doesn't. W7hat changes  take  place  in the substance  of  the
electret? What is this zero threshold across which its charge passes? That's
the question."
     "A magnet magnetizes other substances without losing its properties. An
electret  charges  other   substances  without  losing  its  charge,"   said
Benedictov.  He  was  speaking  with  his eyes closed,  concentrating on his
words. "Splendid!  That confirms  my  idea.  What  we must do is  set up  an
installation in  which the knife will transmit  the charge.  The knife  will
charge  other  bodies  with its  properties, will  remake their structure to
resemble  its  own.  To  put  it  more  exactly,  the  knife  will  transmit
     Opratin stared at Benedictov in silence for a few seconds.
     "Transmit penetrability," he repeated in a low voice. "Use the knife as
a transducer. That's a brainwave!"
     Benedictov coughed to clear his throat and then amplified his idea.
     "It's a brainwave!" Opratin  repeated, striding  up  and down the room.
"Do you mean to say we can do it with living material too?"
     "Exactly. My experiments with fish make me confident of success."
     Opratin  stopped  pacing the floor. "To sum up, we'll make an  electret
with switched polarity that  will create a permanent  field. We'll intensify
the  field with a  powerful  charge of static electricity, using our Van  de
Graaff generator. We'll set up the installation in such a way as to make the
fields intersect. We'll place Fedor Matveyev's knife, the transmitter of the
'charge,' at one intersection and an ultrashort wave radiator at  the other.
It will  be a kind of  cage in which we'll  put some  of your fish, or maybe
dogs.  Or anything else,  for that  matter.  We'll keep  changing  the field
intensity and  keep on  experimenting until we hit on just the right angle!"
Opratin's eyes sparkled. He was so excited that he could hardly stand still.
"Yes, we'll force that knife to transmit its properties to another object!'"
     Arguing and interrupting each  other,  the two  scientists proceeded to
sketch designs of the future  installation.  Suddenly Benedictov flung aside
his pencil and rose, his joints creaking.
     "The  knife," he said. "We must have the knife. We  won't  get anywhere
without it. I don't think you're searching for it the way you should."
     "I've combed the sea floor at that place three times." Opratin stopped,
then added in a lower voice, "Is there any reason why your wife  should want
to hinder our work?"
     "Hinder our work? No, although lately she's  been urging me to drop  my
experiments. But that's all. Why do you ask?"
     ^Because  the knife doesn't seem to be at the bottom of the sea. I have
a feeling your wife is concealing it."
     Benedictov's face grew long. "Impossible. Why should she do that?"
     "Why  should  she  try  to  persuade  you  to  give  up  this  line  of
     Benedictov  did  not reply.  The  electric  fireplace threw red shadows
across his gloomy face.
     "Never mind, you leave the knife to me," Opratin said. "I'll get it."


     Nikolai and Yura  were now completely engrossed in the enigmatic Mobius
band. Their  catch-all notebook was filled to overflowing with  formulas and
sketches of intertwined bands.
     "Your idea of using one side  is marvellous, Nikolai!" Yura  exclaimed.
"I'm sure the Mobius band will give us the field we need. Imagine! No pipes!
A stream of oil flowing straight through the sea!"
     Yura's enthusiasm was infectious. "I've estimated," Nikolai said, "that
doing away with  pipes to transport oil across  the Caspian would save about
25,000 tons of steel."
     "But that's not the main thing," Yura said impatiently. "We'll learn to
control surfaces. It'll be an epoch-making discovery!"
     "Now don't let our imagination run  away with  you,"  Nikolai remarked.
"We aren't in that class at all. With our limited resources we  can only set
ourselves  a limited goal like increasing  the surface  tension of a drop of
mercury. If we succeed we'll try to do the same with oil."
     Yura grew downcast. "Is that all?"
     "No, not quite. Don't spread this all  over the Institute and don't say
anything, meanwhile, to our chief. Is that clear?"
     "Yes,  strictly confidential," Yura said with  a sigh. "The Inquisition
put the same kind of pressure on Galileo."
     The  evenings in Cooper Lane were now a busier time than ever. Yura and
Nikolai  had  enlisted  the  services  of  three  young  engineers from  the
automation  department, who  helped  them  to assemble  intricate electronic
circuits. They often blew the fuses and then had  to go out with a candle to
repair  the damage. Luckily,  Nikolai's  mother  was a patient, kind-hearted
     One day lab  technician Valery Gorbachevsky took Yura aside.  "Need any
help evenings?" he asked.
     Yura  stared at him. "How  do you know what we're doing  after  working
     "I'm not deaf, am I?"
     "All right, drop in tomorrow at eight. Just keep whatever you see under
your hat. Don't mention it to Privalov. What we're doing at home is  our own
private concern."
     Valery nodded.
     "After all, Faraday was once a lab technician too."
     "Faraday? A lab technician?"
     "That's right. Not  here,  of course, but at  the Royal Institution  of
Great Britain. As you can see, a big future lies ahead of you."
     That evening Yura, a guitar slung  over  his  shoulder, strode  briskly
down Cooper Lane and turned into the courtyard of Nikolai's  house. A series
of what sounded like gunshots came from the other side of the archway, where
a tall, plump woman  was beating a carpet. At sight of Yura she gave a broad
smile. "Haven't seen you for a long time," she said.
     "Good evening, Claudia," said Yura.
     "Is Nikolai throwing a birthday  party?" she asked. "Guests keep coming
and coming. Young people, all of them." She smiled  again. "My Vova is doing
scientific research too nowadays."
     "Well,  give him my best regards."  Yura smiled politely and ran up the
steps two at a time. He flung  open a door from behind which came voices and
laughter. Everyone was there.  Nikolai and the three other  young  engineers
were tinkering with  the instruments. They had the  efficient assistance  of
Valery, who never suspected he was destined to be the hero of the day.
     "What held you up?" asked Nikolai.
     "Uncle  Vova's wife stopped  me  for a chat and asked me to pass on her
very best regards," Yura replied.
     "Why the guitar?"
     "I'll sing you some songs."
     "Stop twaddling. Come on, let's check the connections."
     "I'll tell you  why I brought the guitar." Yura's tone was now serious.
"Our tuning-fork generator is made to oscillate  by  an electromagnet, isn't
it? But the  electromagnet  means an extra magnetic  field, in  other words,
frequencies that we don't need at all. So I thought-"
     "That's right," swarthy  Hussein Amirov  put in. "A guitar  can  do the
work more simply than an electromagnet."
     The installation  stood  on  a  big  table  behind blue  draperies.  It
consisted  of  the  original  mercury heart  and  valve  oscillator  with  a
tuning-fork breaker, to which a twist  of copper tubing, an  enormous Mobius
band, had  been  added.  The output  circuit  of the  valve  oscillator  was
connected to coils  surrounding  the band. The scales containing the mercury
heart stood inside the band.
     The one-sided  Mobius  band was expected to produce a field which would
sharply increase the  surface tension of the  mercury and squeeze it so hard
that it  would  stop  pulsating.  Then, by  adding  mercury  until the heart
started  beating again  they would be able to calculate, from the additional
weight, the extent to which surface  tension had been stepped  up. Once they
hit  on the right combination of  frequencies they could start experimenting
with oil.
     Nikolai switched  on the  battery of  capacitors. To do this he had  to
crawl under the table and disturb Rex, who was sound asleep there.
     As  Yura checked  the  connections the neon  bulb in the  handle of his
screwdriver glowed with a twinkling pink light from time to time.
     "All systems functioning," Yura finally declared. "Breaker frequency is
440 hertz."
     "Ting, ting,  ting" went the tuning-fork gently  in the  silence of the
     Yura hurriedly tuned  his guitar. Next  they  adjusted  the tuning-fork
breaker by moving the weights on its prongs.
     Now all they had to do was touch a guitar 'string,  and the contacts of
the tuning-fork breaker |would begin to break the  high-frequency circuit at
the rate of 440 times per second.
     The mercury  heart  beat quietly  inside  the  mysterious  field of the
Mobius band. Our  experimenters knew, of course, that a long, boring  search
lay ahead  of them. They knew that an experiment  rarely  yields the desired
result  the first  time. Still,  deep  down inside there  was the hope  that
perhaps today a miracle would take place.
     It didn't.
     "We'll  have to vary the  operating  factors,"  said Nikolai. "Will you
strike B on the tuning-fork, Valery?"
     Yura plucked a guitar string.'
     There was silence, broken suddenly by a sharp knock on the door.
     "Who  could that  be?" Nikolai  wondered.'  "Mother  said  she wouldn't
return home until late."
     The young  men moved away from the installation and drew  the draperies
to hide it from view. Only Valery, with  his tuning-fork,  :and Rex remained
behind the draperies.
     "Let's liven up the party!" shouted Yura. He plucked the strings of the
guitar, took a few dancing steps, and began to sing:

     Why do you wander in the moonlight,
     Oh black-eyed beauty of mine?
     Powder in your pocket to poison me with,
     A locomotive in your pocket to crush me with.

     Nikolai opened the door and Vova Bugrov, in a striped  blue pyjama top,
came in.
     "Hullo, everybody," he said politely,  letting his eyes roam  about the
room. His  glance  rested on the blue  draperies  and on the scraps  of wire
scattered  on the floor. Then he shook hands  with each of the  young men in
turn. "Having a party?" he asked.  "That's fine. I'll take  only a minute of
your  time, Nikolai." He  pulled a rusty spring out of his pocket. "Will you
calculate its strength, please?"
     "You said you'd switched to electric dynamometers," said Yura.
     "So I have," Bugrov replied with dignity. "This is just something-well,
to make a long story short, a couple of pals dropped in and asked me to help
     Nikolai quickly measured  the diameter of the spring  and the  wire  to
which it was attached, and then took out his slide-rule.
     "Twenty-eight kilograms."
     "Thanks." Bugrov picked up the spring and moved towards the door.
     At that moment  there was a crash behind the draperies. The  young  men
exchanged glances. Vova swung round and stared at the draperies. Rex emerged
from beneath them, his paws tapping the floor. He stretched and then sniffed
at Bugrov's shoes.
     "Go away,  dog," said Bugrov, backing  towards the door. "I  don't like
being sniffed at."
     Nikolai  saw  Bugrov out and locked  the  door  behind him. Yura struck
another few chords to  be on the  safe  side. Strumming the bass strings, he

     Powder in your pocket to poison me with,
     A locomotive in your pocket to crush mo with.

     Nikolai pulled back the  draperies. The  scales with the  mercury heart
had crashed  to  the floor.  The tuning-fork  generator  lay  in  a pool  of
solution with sparkling drops of mercury in it. Valery sat on the table, his
face as white as a sheet. He was holding up his  right hand and was  staring
in horror at his extended little finger.

     That  evening  Boris  Privalov and  Pavel  Koltukhov  remained  at  the
Institute long after everyone else had left.
     "If you don't mind my  saying  so,  Boris, you're going round the  bend
about that idea of a pipeline without any pipes," said Koltukhov.
     "Has Professor Bagbanly gone round the bend too?"
     Koltukhov said nothing.
     Privalov looked at his  watch and stood up.  "By  the way, he should be
here soon. Would you like to see what we're doing?"
     They went down to the first floor and walked along  a seemingly endless
corridor. Privalov unlocked the doors of a room in which a stator from a big
dynamo  stood.  Inside  the  stator,  almost  touching  the  pole  shoes and
windings, was a coil of glass tubing filled with a pink liquid. The ends  of
the coil were connected with a tank and a centrifugal pump.
     "It looks like a high-frequency  still  for making  home-brew  liquor,"
Koltukhov said  with a laugh, touching the cold  glass with the  tips of his
     "We're doing two experiments  with this apparatus," Privalov explained.
"The liquid in the tube is water  to  which we have  added acid to make it a
conductor and a colouring substance to make it easier to observe. Now watch.
This is the first experiment."
     At the push of a button a faint hum arose as the centrifugal pump began
to drive the pink liquid through the glass coil.
     "The winding  of the  stator  is not  connected with the  mains,"  said
Privalov. "It's only connected with the voltmeter. Watch this!"
     The voltmeter needle  trembled and crept towards the right-hand side of
the dial.
     "See that?"
     "Of course. The liquid is a conductor.  It  cuts the magnetic  lines of
force of the stator and induces electromotive force in the windings. There's
nothing new about that. A meter in which  a liquid passes  through a tube of
non-magnetic material is based on this principle."
     "That's true, there's nothing new about  it. But whereas the voltage in
those meters is insignificant, here-"
     "Oho!" exclaimed Koltukhov,  his eyes  on the voltmeter. "How  did  you
manage that?"
     "Professor  Bagbanly,"  Privalov  said  shortly.  "Now   we'll  do  the
experiment the other way round."
     He switched off the pump. The  liquid stopped moving  and the voltmeter
needle returned to "zero".
     "Now I'll simply send some current into the stator winding."
     He pushed another  button. Although not driven  by  the pump, the  pink
liquid again ran up into the spiral.
     "Let's make it harder." Privalov turned the knob of a valve. "Keep your
eye on  the pressure-gauge.  I could increase  the resistance still more and
get a higher pressure. But the fragility of the glass tubes prevents me from
doing so. Do you see what I'm getting at?"
     Koltukhov looked puzzled. His eyes stared fixedly from beneath his grey
     "Wait  a   minute,"  he  said.  "In  other  words,  a   liquid   in  an
electromagnetic  field starts  moving all by itself.  Is this a model of the
movement of a liquid through a pipeless pipeline?"
     "Right. The  only  difference is that the surface tension of the liquid
will  take  the place of pipes,  while  a  directed field will  replace  the
windings and magnets."
     "  'The  only  difference' is  a  mild  way of  putting  it," Koltukhov
     They  heard  quick  footsteps  in  the  corridor. The  door  opened and
Professor Bakhtiar Bagbanly entered.
     "Ah,  our  main  opponent!" he  said  as  he  shook  hands  with  Pavel
Koltukhov. "Have you come to see for yourself?"
     "He's sceptical," said Privalov.
     "Well, that's part of the scientific approach."  Professor Bagbanly ran
his eyes  over  the apparatus,  then asked Privalov some technical questions
about  the  experiment.  He  began  to  pace  the  room,  a  short,  stocky,
large-headed man with thick grey hair.
     "What examples do we have of mutual penetrability?" he asked suddenly.
     "Diffusion," said Privalov. "The diffusion of solids."
     "Yes, but diffusion calls  for specific conditions.  Even if  you press
perfectly polished surfaces of lead and tin together very hard, it will take
years  before  even the  slightest penetration takes place. However, if  you
heat a  compressed  bundle  of lead and  tin  to  100  degrees  a  layer  of
intermingled molecules will appear in their border area within twelve hours.
What is it  that puts up resistance to transition through the contact zone?"
The  Professor stopped  his pacing  and gave  the two engineers a thoughtful
look. "The surface! That mysterious world of two-dimensional phenomena."
     He  resumed his  pacing, meanwhile  smoothing; with his fingertips, the
grey moustaches beneath his hooked nose.
     "There's another diffusional phenomenon,"  he  went  on, "and  that  is
pressure  contact welding. It produces mutual penetration, but you need high
temperatures and pressures to do it."
     "What  about welding inside  a vacuum?" Privalov asked. "It can be done
at a very low pressure  and without much heating. What is more, you can join
the most diverse materials-steel and glass, for instance. Actually, it isn't
so much welding as intensified diffusion."
     Professor Bagbanly  nodded  in  agreement.  "Yes,  but  why?  Possibly,
because in a  vacuum  a surface is  free  and opens up, as it were, since it
borders on empty space. The forces protecting the surface weaken and open up
the substance. However, our goal is to intensify diffusion until we attain a
state  of  unhindered mutual penetration.  Forcing matter to open its gates,
isn't that so?"  He traced a question mark in  the air with  his forefinger.
"Is there a lot of matter  in solids? The answer is no, there's very little.
Actually, an  atom has  a very insignificant  volume. But  what is  the atom
filled with? After all, matter is concentrated  in the nucleus  of the atom.
From the  standpoint of density, everything  under the sun is as sparse as-"
he searched  for  a comparison-" as  sparse as the hair on the  head  of our
friend Pavel Koltukhov."
     Koltukhov gave a smirk and involuntarily ran a hand over his bald head.
     "Considered from the position of a  mechanical model, matter can easily
be penetrated,"  Professor  Bagbanly went on. "Actually,  though,  we cannot
regard matter as a mechanical conglomeration of small spheres situated at  a
great distance from one another. Powerful  internal forces connect  all  the
components and prevent penetration.  If those  forces  did not exist my hand
would  easily  pass  through metal."  He laid the palm  of his  hand on  the
stator.  "The  probability of  physical particles meeting  is insignificant.
Less probable than peas  colliding  if two handfuls are  thrown towards each
     The Professor wiped his hands on his handkerchief and looked at the two
men, his former pupils, as though expecting them to make some objections.
     "Now I'll formulate the problem," he said, in the same tone of voice he
had once used when lecturing to his students. "Hang your ears on the hook of
attention.  Without  changing the  mechanical structure  of matter  we  must
rearrange its bonds-the bonds  between atoms and between molecules-in such a
manner that they will be completely neutral when they come into contact with
ordinary  matter  during the  period of reciprocal penetration. The internal
bonds must be re-arranged! Then we'll achieve penetrability."
     Koltukhov opened his mouth to make a caustic remark, but just  then the
telephone rang.
     Privalov picked up the receiver. "Hullo. Yes, this is me. Is  that you,
Nikolai?  Now  take  it easy-" He listened for a  moment. "What?!" His  face
changed. "I'll be there in a jiffy." He put down the receiver and glanced at
Professor Bagbanly. "We must all rush off at once!"
     When the blue  draperies were pulled across that  section  of the  room
Valery  realized  that  an uninvited  guest had dropped in.  He put down the
tuning-fork and,  to keep himself busy, examined the  connections.  It was a
good thing he did, for he discovered that one of the weights which regulated
the frequency of the tuning-fork breaker was  loosely attached, and that the
scales on which the mercury heart stood had shifted slightly.
     "From the vibration, no doubt," Valery said to himself. Carefully, with
his little  finger,  he moved the  scales  inside  the Mobius band while  he
adjusted the  weight with his other hand.  At the same moment  guitar chords
sounded on the other side  of the blue draperies and Yura's voice burst into
     "An  old-fashioned tune," Valery reflected  as he continued to move the
scales with his finger. All of a sudden he felt a faint quiver in the little
     "An electric shock?" he wondered. "No, I haven't touched any metal."
     To be on the safe side, he thrust his little finger into his mouth. How
curious! The  finger did not feel  his mouth, and his mouth did not feel the
finger. He  stared fearfully  at his  finger. It looked perfectly normal. He
put it into his mouth again. But again there was no sensation whatsoever. He
tried biting the tip of the finger. His  teeth came together as though there
was nothing between them.
     Remembering that  there  was a  visitor in the  house, Valery stifled a
scream. "It took an iron will to keep from shouting," he later said. But his
body  gave a jerk  that dislodged  the  mercury heart from  the  scales  and
overturned the tuning-fork breaker.

     Professor Bagbanly,  Boris Privalov and Pavel Koltukhov hurried  up the
stairs and burst breathlessly into Nikolai's flat.
     "Where's Valery?" Privalov demanded.
     Valery, his face  pale  and  covered with sweat, came  into  the  room.
Nikolai excitedly told what had happened.
     Professor Bagbanly touched  Valery's  little  finger. The  tip and  the
joint next to it were penetrable.  The Professor's forefinger passed through
them easily and touched his thumb.
     "Feel anything?" he asked.
     "No," Valery whispered.
     It was easy to establish where the penetrability ended.
     "Light  a  match," said Professor  Bagbanly. "Calm down, young man," he
added when he saw Nikolai nervously break a couple of matches as he tried to
light them. He turned to Valery. "I want you to put  the tip of your  finger
into the flame of Nikolai's match."
     Everyone  held  his breath. Valery  looked as though he were walking in
his sleep. He slowly put his little  finger into  the flame.  It wavered but
its shape did not change. "Do you feel anything?"
     "Yes,"  said Valery  hoarsely,  holding the tip  of  his  finger in the
flame. "My fingertip feels warm."
     The engineers were dumbstruck. They stared in a daze at Valery's little
     "Thrust your finger into the table," the professor said.
     Valery obeyed. Half of his finger went into the wood.
     "Less goes in now," he  said.  "At first almost the whole  finger  went
     Professor Bagbanly exchanged glances with Privalov.  Then  he set about
examining the apparatus.
     "A  Mobius  band?"  he said.  "Quite an idea.  What did the instruments
register when it happened?"
     "We weren't thinking about penetrability," Yura  explained.  "We wanted
to increase  surface tension, using this mercury heart. Valery must have put
his hands inside the Mobius band a dozen  times without anything  happening.
But when he moved the weight-and I plucked the  strings of  my guitar at the
same time-something clicked. Valery was so scared he  overturned everything,
and so we  don't  know  the exact  readings."  "Automation  experts, humph!"
Koltukhov remarked, looking the silent,  frightened young men  up  and down.
"What's the  idea of this clandestine laboratory? I shudder  to think of the
damage you might have done!"
     "Have you tuned your guitar since then?" Privalov asked.
     "No," said Yura.
     "Then play  exactly  what  you  played  then. We'll  record  it,"  said
Professor Bagbanly. "You have a tape recorder here, don't you?"
     Meanwhile, Valery's little finger was gradually returning to its normal
state. He kept testing it against the table. Finally  only  the very tip  of
the finger went into the wood.  Then, suddenly, he felt his  fingertip being
pinched,  and  with  a cry he pulled his hand away, leaving a bit of skin in
the wood. He immediately thrust his bleeding finger into his mouth. His face
broke into a broad smile. "It's ended!" he shouted.

     The courtyard in Cooper  Lane throbbed  with  music. Strains  of music,
much of it in  a plaintive Oriental  key, poured forth through  all the open
windows from radios, record players and tape recorders.
     Nikolai  had  never  contributed  much  to  the  musical  life  of  the
courtyard, but now he aroused the hostility  of all his  neighbours. Evening
after evening there came  from his windows the same tiresome  strumming of a
guitar, accompanied by the thumping of  a  foot keeping time, and his friend
Yura's voice singing:

     Powder in your pocket to poison me with,
     A locomotive in your pocket to crush me with.

     A detailed description of the installation had been sent to the Academy
of  Sciences in  Moscow, together  with a long memorandum and the tapes. The
young  engineers  had  been  ordered to keep their  mouths  shut and to stop
experimenting at home.
     "You've  done  enough mischief," said Koltukhov. "Probing the structure
of matter is not as simple as strumming a guitar."

     Rita  returned home from  school earlier  than usual that day.  She let
herself in with her key,  stepped into the entryway  and took  off her coat,
then paused to listen. Rustling and creaking  sounds  came from the bedroom.
The creaking was clearly the wardrobe door.
     She  knew that Anatole was never at home at  this hour. Could a burglar
have broken in?
     Rita  tiptoed to  the bedroom door. She held  her breath  and listened.
Yes, it was a burglar! What she had to do was lock the bedroom door and dash
to the phone.
     Just then she heard a familiar cough.
     "How you frightened me!" she exclaimed, flinging open the bedroom door.
     Anatole Benedictov, in his brown house jacket, was standing in front of
the open wardrobe. He did not turn when Rita entered. Instead, he closed the
wardrobe and limped to the window.
     "What's the matter?" she asked in alarm. "Why are you home so early?"
     "I feel a bit under the weather."
     "Why are you limping?"
     "Oh, it's  nothing," Benedictov said reluctantly. "I was  looking for a
handkerchief. Could you get me one, please?"
     Rita opened the wardrobe and took out a handkerchief.
     "You  don't look  well,  Anatole," she  said. "Could  you be running  a
     He  waved aside the suggestion and  went  into his study. Rita  changed
into her house dress and went to the kitchen to prepare dinner.
     Two days ago she had noticed  that the articles in the  drawers of  her
dressing table  were disarranged. She had not attached any  importance to it
at the time,  but  now she realized that Anatole  was probably searching for
the knife. He  did not believe her when she said the knife was at the bottom
of the sea.
     She sliced the potatoes in  thick rings and  put them into the sizzling
frying pan. Anatole loved fried potatoes. He hardly talked to her at all any
more, she  thought sadly and anxiously. He  had grown terribly  excited when
she  told  him  about the two  young men who had dropped in. "No  one in his
right  mind  would  have  thrown out  that  box containing  Fedor Matveyev's
manuscript!"  he  had shouted. But how could  she have known  that the rusty
little bar propping up the old wardrobe would  contain an eighteenth-century
manuscript? Nor did she know anything about a third box the young men wanted
to lay hands on.
     After that  unpleasant conversation Anatole had grown more sullen  than
ever. He no longer talked to her at all about his work.
     Now Anatole was working on some project together with Opratin. Rita had
long since lost hope that Anatole  would achieve  some  measure of  success.
However, perhaps his collaboration with  Opratin  would prove  fruitful. But
what if they really couldn't get along without the knife?
     Another  source of doubt  and anxiety  was  the  young engineer who had
rescued her at sea.  Rita's thoughts kept returning to the two young men who
had called on her. What did they want those small iron boxes for?
     The name Nikolai Potapkin did  not mean anything to Rita, yet there was
something vaguely  familiar about  the young engineer's  face and his way of
carrying himself. She had been conscious of this when he and his friend came
to inquire about the boxes. Now she was almost certain. Without knowing why,
she refused to acknowledge it.
     When Rita called out to her  husband to say that  dinner  was  ready he
refused to come to the table. He lay  on the  couch in the  study,  his eyes
feverish and his face flushed and drenched in sweat.
     "You're ill!" Rita exclaimed. "I'll call the doctor."
     "No doctors. Just get me some penicillin from the medicine chest."
     Only late at night, when he was running a high fever, did he allow Rita
to apply a cold compress  to his leg. Then she accidentally discovered a big
abscess on his right hip.
     Nikolai Opratin dropped in the next evening. He sat beside Anatole  for
a while, discussing various matters. He was most polite to Rita.
     He told her  that the work  was going along well, and praised Anatole's
     The next morning the burly, plump-cheeked man brought round a packet of
drugs for Anatole. "I was told to hand this over to him personally," he told
Rita in a hoarse bass voice.  But Anatole was asleep and she refused to wake
     After  she closed  the  door on her unpleasant visitor  Rita opened the
packet.  It  contained ampoules  of  a  drug which  Rita recognized to  be a
     Suddenly  the whole  thing became  clear to  her.  She sat  beside  her
husband's sickbed for a long  time in a daze.  She did not cry.  She felt as
though she had shrivelled up inside.
     When  Anatole awoke she  silently showed him the packet. He frowned and
began to snuffle.
     An unpleasant conversation followed.
     "Yes, yes, I understand," said Rita, clasping her hands, which were now
two  lumps of ice.  "You wanted  to  increase your working capacity and then
gradually started taking bigger and bigger doses."
     "Oh, leave me alone," he said wearily.
     "Give it up, Anatole," Rita pleaded.  "Stop taking the  drug. That boil
of yours comes from a dirty hypodermic syringe. You won't give yourself  any
more  injections, will you? You'll drop the habit, and then  everything will
be fine again."
     "That's enough!" Anatole shouted.
     "I insist that  you stop," Rita said resolutely. "I'll take you in hand
if you lack the will-power to  do it yourself. As for that fat-faced fellow,
I'm going to have him arrested."
     Benedictov raised himself on his elbow and swung his feet out over  the
side of  the bed. Rita rushed to prevent him from getting up. He pushed  her
aside. Without uttering a single  word he put  on his  clothes and walked to
the  door, dishevelled, desperate-looking, and aloof. He slammed the door so
hard that a shower of plaster came down from the ceiling.
     Rita stood beside the  door  for  a long time, the palms of  her  hands
pressed to her cheeks. She did not cry. But something within her was broken.
     Anatole did not return. Twenty-four hours later Vova Bugrov came to the
door  bearing a note in which Anatole  asked for his things. Rita picked  up
the telephone.
     "Not thinking of calling the law, were you?" Vova asked with a grin. "I
wouldn't if  I were you. I didn't get those ampoules for myself but for him,
because  he begged me to. If you report it you'll make things very  hard for
     Vova  was right, Rita  realized. She  silently packed a suitcase of her
husband's clothes. Vova went into the study and picked up several laboratory
instruments. As he  prepared to  leave he  mumbled that  Benedictov was  now
staying with Nikolai Opratin.
     When  Anatole  told Opratin that  he  had  walked out of the house  the
latter frowned. Fate had sent him a restless man for a partner.
     "Well, what's there to be said  now?" he remarked. "You may  stay at my
place for  the time being. There's  plenty of  room. For the sake of science
I'm willing to put up with a lodger as bad-tempered as you are."
     Anatole moved into  the spare room in Opratin's bachelor establishment.
There were Oriental rugs on the floor of the room and in two of the  corners
stood cabinets with porcelain figurines.
     "Are you a collector?" Anatole asked with a condescending smile.
     "Porcelain'is a weakness of  mine," Opratin said  shortly. "How is your
     "It's healing."
     "Look  here,  Anatole,"  said  Opratin.  "We've  got  to  speed up  our
experiments  on the island. I've  been told that Privalov and his assistants
are  working  along the same  lines as  we are. They've set up some  sort of
installation and are getting promising results."
     "How do you know all this?"
     "It doesn't matter how I  found out.  From Vova Bugrov,  if you want to
know.  They've got  in touch with the Academy of Sciences through  Professor
Bagbanly. In other words, they are consulting with scientists in Moscow. How
do you like that?"
     Anatole did not like it at all. "I'm going out  to the  island tomorrow
morning," he said, slapping the table with the  palm of his hand.  "I'll get
things humming.  Don't  forget, though, that  if we don't lay  hands on that
knife by the time we get the installation assembled we'll be on the rocks."
     "You'll  have  the  knife,"  Opratin said calmly.  "And something else,
besides-something that  may be even more  important.  I'll make  a  trip  to
Moscow in January. With Bugrov."
     "Who'll take me out to the island in the motor-boat?"
     "I'll get  someone  at the Institute  to do that. Only  don't  let  him
anywhere near the laboratory. But  you  know that. We'll discuss the details
when the time comes."
     There she  was, alone  in  the flat, a deserted  wife.  She  looked  up
Opratin's number in the telephone directory. All she had to do was dial that
number and she would hear Anatole's voice. All she had to do was  say, "Come
home, Anatole. Forgive me. I can't go on alone."
     No,  she  couldn't say that. She hadn't  done anything that  called for
forgiveness. He should be the one to beg forgiveness.
     But  she was plagued  by the thought that she had failed him, not  kept
proper watch over him, not stopped him in time,  and that therefore  she was
to blame.
     A friend in Moscow wrote  inviting  her to come  for a visit during the
New Year school  vacation. "A change will do you  good. You can take in some
of the new plays," the friend said. Rita wondered whether perhaps that might
not be a good idea.
     The ringing  of the bell made her jump. She  ran  to open the door. Her
heart was beating furiously.
     Nikolai  Opratin stood at the  door.  He  greeted her  courteously  and
smiled at her. Rita was unable to say a word. Her lips trembled.
     Finally she pulled herself together and invited him to step in. She was
determined not to give Opratin the  slightest indication that she  wanted to
burst into tears.
     What was he saying? "Anatole and I may soon have an important discovery
to announce  to the world. We  would be able to do so even sooner if  we had
that knife of yours." He scrutinized her with cold, appraising eyes.
     Rita said nothing.
     "It is in your own interests too," he said. "Give us the knife".
     "How can I!" she said in a steady voice. "You know as well as I do that
the knife fell overboard."
     "It didn't fall overboard," Opratin said quietly.  "But if you find the
subject distasteful let's drop  it.  However, its a pity, a great pity."  He
rose. "What shall I tell Anatole?"
     "Give him my very best regards. Tell him I'm going to Moscow."
     "To Moscow?"
     "Yes, to visit a friend of mine during the winter school vacation."
     "When will that be?"
     "At the very beginning of January."
     "What  a remarkable coincidence," said  Opratin,  smiling with his lips
only. "I'll be going to  Moscow on business early in January. I hope to have
the pleasure of seeing you there."


     The blue  bus with the transparent roof rolled along  the  snow-covered
highway, past birch groves and white-mantled farm fields. It  went through a
small town,  rumbled over a bridge across a frozen stream and dived into the
dark tunnel of a fir forest.
     Nikolai kept his eyes  glued to the bus window, gazing with interest at
the unfamiliar landscape. He had come to Moscow with Boris Privalov two days
before on  matters  connected with the trans-caspian oil  pipeline  project.
They had  spent all  of  the previous  day at  the  Ministry,  talking  with
engineers  and officials.  Now they  were on  their way to  the Institute of
Surfaces, one of the newest research facilities of the Academy of Sciences.
     When they turned off  into a  driveway the pale winter sun splashed its
rays through the windows, and it immediately grew cosier inside the bus.
     Privalov folded his newspaper. "We've arrived," he said.
     They stepped out of the  bus into a frosty blue midday silence and  the
fragrance of a  fir  grove. The  frost  pinched  their  nostrils.  The  snow
crunched underfoot.
     They crossed a large cleared area on which the Institute housing estate
had been built, then walked through another grove and came to a broad avenue
of Institute laboratories and other buildings.
     A path in the deep snow brought them  to a two-storey building. Inside,
they walked  down a green-carpeted corridor, passing a  series of doors with
numbers  on them.  They stopped in front  of  a thickly padded  door  with a
lighted sign above it that said "Quiet,  please". From the other side of the
door  came  the  sound of a  man's voice singing to  the accompaniment  of a
guitar. This seemed  as incongruous in the businesslike Institute atmosphere
as the mooing of a cow in a symphony orchestra.
     To the  strumming  of the guitar, with a foot energetically beating out
the time, a youthful voice sang:

     Powder in your pocket to poison me with,
     A locomotive in your pocket to crush me with.

     Nikolai and  Privalov exchanged  glances.  They had  recognized  Yura's
voice. This was their tape recording of the experiment.
     Members of the Institute staff were expecting Privalov and Nikolai. The
visitors were led into  a large, windowless room  whose walls  were  covered
with consoles and control  panels. Daylight streamed in through a broad oval
     A lean man in  a  dark  suit, with  high cheekbones,  a hooked nose and
neatly  parted  hair  rose  from  his  desk to greet  the visiting  research
engineers. Nikolai cautiously pressed the hand that was held  out to him and
stuttered as he  gave his name.  He was awed  at meeting  Academician Georgi
Markov a world-famous scientist.
     "Please be seated,"  Academician Markov said, indicating armchairs with
a brief wave of  his hand. "I'm glad to see you. In  a few moments two of my
assistants will drop in and tell you what we are doing with your music."
     Nikolai felt like sinking through the floor. How tired he was of Yura's
pranks! There were  hundreds of pleasant songs,  yet Yura had chosen to sing
one of the silliest ditties in the world. But what did it matter to Yura? He
did  not  have  to sit here  and watch the polite smile on  the face  of the
country's most distinguished physicist.
     "I  can  tell  you  that  if  it  were  not  for  Professor  Bagbanly's
confirmation  that  he had seen it with  his  own  eyes we never would  have
believed it."  Academician Markov  looked  at Nikolai. "You're the  one  who
designed the installation, aren't you?"
     "Actually, all I did was think of how to make use of the Mobius band."
     "How did you get the idea?"
     "Fedor Matveyev's manuscript prompted it. If you remember, he described
some sort of a coil."
     "That's right. A half-twist spiral. It interested us too.  Allow  me to
congratulate you. It was an excellent idea."
     Nikolai felt flattered.  Before he was aware of it he was grinning from
ear  to ear. Wiping off the  grin, he said  hurriedly:  "Automation  experts
helped us to design  the installation  on the basis of ideas suggested by my
colleague  Yura Kostyukov. He's the man  whose  voice you hear singing  that
unpardonably silly  song which, of  course-"  "Think nothing  of  it,"  said
Academician  Markov with  a  friendly smile.  "At your age I liked that song
     A stocky young  man,  not much  older than  Nikolai,  wearing  a sports
jacket, and a rosy-cheeked girl in a grey suit entered the room.
     The  Academician  asked Nikolai to describe the experiment he and  Yura
had  carried  out in  Cooper  Lane.  All listened to  Nikolai's  account  in
attentive silence.
     "We weren't interested in  penetrability  at  all," Nikolai remarked in
conclusion.  "All  we  wanted  to do  was build up  the  surface  tension of
     "You've made the picture clearer," said  Academician Markov. "Now we'll
hear what Vassily Fedorovich has to say."
     The  stocky  young man  in  the sports jacket  began by  laying several
diagrams and photographs on the table. Then  he launched  into a description
of the installation he and his fellow-workers had built. Basically, it was a
duplicate of the one in Cooper Lane,  but with precise  recording  apparatus
and a more efficient mechanism in place of the tuning-fork breaker.
     Privalov  and Nikolai  were  then  invited to examine the installation.
Yes, this isn't Cooper Lane, Nikolai mused as he looked at the apparatus and
instruments. Actually, though, there wasn't any real difference. Here, as at
home, the Mobius band was the dominant element.
     Two rods  pressed together by powerful electromagnets had been  set  up
inside the band, and under the  right conditions they were to penetrate each
other. But the right conditions  had not yet been attained. The dials of the
instruments registered zero.
     A  tape  recorder inside  a soundproof  room was  playing  back  Yura's
rendition   of   that  ill-fated   song.   The   sound  was  converted  into
electromagnetic oscillations that  were  recorded on tape for feeding into a
     The Institute computer knew all the parameters of the set-up. All, that
is,  except  the  crucial one. If  Valery  had  not shifted  the tuning-fork
breaker the weights would have remained in  the same  accidental position in
which penetrability had taken place. Now the installation had to be operated
to the  accompaniment of all the  frequencies  that occurred in Yura's song.
The computer kept  formulating  and  solving  a  series  of  equations.  The
solutions were communicated to  the  installation in the  form of electrical
     "I wonder," said Boris Privalov, turning to Academician Markov, "if you
could tell us what you think of penetrability and its causes."
     "It is really too early to  say anything definite. However, it seems to
me  that our friend Professor  Bagbanly is fundamentally right. It is  all a
matter of  a  reorganization  of  the  internal bonds  of  matter. Something
special takes place in  the Mobius band, with its one-sided  surface.  At  a
definite frequency, of course."
     Then, with  the words "Let us proceed further," he led his visitors out
into  a  wide corridor.  "A  Mobius  band in  a  high-frequency  circuit  is
certainly  a  most  fortunate  conjecture.  It  holds  out great  prospects,
prospects which  perhaps  you do  not  even  suspect. But since  we  have  a
definite goal in front of us-an underwater  oil pipeline- we decided that in
the first  stage we would  apply  our  energies to this particular  problem.
Actually, we face two problems.  First, we  need greater surface tension  to
shape a  stream of oil as desired. Second, we need penetrability in order to
reduce  to  a  minimum,  or  else  eliminate altogether, resistance  to  the
movement of the stream. Do you agree?"
     "Yes, you're quite right," said Privalov.
     "The  second problem is  still  a  matter of the future, but the  first
one-well, take a look for yourselves."
     He flung open a door.
     A round concrete  pool three  and a half  metres in diameter filled the
middle  of the  room. A  large horizontal metal band attached to  corrugated
insulators encircled it.
     "A  Mobius  band?" Nikolai  asked  hesitantly,  examining  it.  "It's a
     They followed their host up to a platform, from which they saw that the
pool was half full of a viscous black liquid having a greenish tinge.
     "That's  petroleum," said  Academician  Markov.  "Ten tons  of  it. Now
     He pressed a button on a panel.
     The surface  of  the  oil  welled up in the  middle  and  continued to^
expand. The  edges began to draw away from  the sides of the  pool, exposing
its bottom. The  process  went ahead faster  and faster. Some powerful force
was shaping the  black  liquid into an almost perfect sphere three metres in
diameter. Its surface grew shiny and iridescent. The figures standing on the
platform were reflected in it crookedly, as though in a distorting mirror.
     "Oho!" Privalov exclaimed.
     Nikolai gazed with glowing eyes at the black sphere lying in the  pool.
His mind went back to the pulsating drop of mercury in Cooper Lane. But only
for a moment. Everything was  swept  away by  the  enormous black sphere. So
this was surface tension!
     "The  f-frequency-W-what's the f-frequency?" Nikolai  asked, stuttering
in excitement.
     "We'll  give you all the details. But this force isn't strong enough to
take the place of the pipe wall made of steel."
     The  Academician switched  off the current  and the  sphere immediately
collapsed,  flowing back  to  fill the  pool  again. The oily  black surface
heaved deeply and then became motionless.
     "I  think  the  Mobius  band  can  give  us a much  greater  degree  of
intensification,"  said  the  scientist.  "An  interesting  feature  is  the
reversible  process,  a  law of physics.  Within  a  very  narrow  range  of
operational factors-which we still don't know completely-the set-up produced
a  weakening  of the bonds of matter.  Strictly speaking, that business with
the  finger   in  your   laboratory,  the  penetrability,   is  a  spin-off.
Incidentally, do you people realize what this amazing discovery means?"
     Nikolai said nothing.  He had  long  ago taken  a  pledge not  to build
castles in the air. He would keep strictly to the oil pipeline.
     "Not altogether, naturally," said Privalov.
     "But  we  think  there'll  be  a  revolution in  the  cold  working  of
metals-cutting without resistance and the like."
     Academician Markov nodded.
     "Furthermore,  penetrating  tools will  be used to  sink coal mines and
drill  oil  wells,"  Privalov  went on, his  voice eager. "I  even think-you
mustn't laugh,  though-there might be a way of protecting spaceships against
     "It's  within  the   realm  of   possibility,"  the  Academician   said
thoughtfully. "But it won't be at all easy to work out the specific approach
required  in  each practical application.  The  surface  of matter possesses
energy, and it looks as though we may lay our hands on it."
     Privalov  ran his  fingers  through  his  thick hair.  "A  new  type of
     "No,  a  new  source  of  energy," Academician  Markov  said.  "A  more
available source than nuclear energy."
     All were silent for a moment.
     "If only we could actually  look at and feel a specimen of restructured
matter," the Academician went on. "Who can  tell when our  set-up yields the
first matter of this type?  What a pity the effect produced on the finger of
your  lab technician  was so  short-lived. Now if  we could by  some miracle
acquire Fedor Matveyev's knife-if such a knife actually exists, of course."
     "What if the knife is  just lying about somewhere at this very minute?"
The stocky young man in the sports jacket put in. "Fedor Matveyev did  bring
it to Russia, didn't he?"
     The words "lying  about somewhere"  conjured  up  in Nikolai's  mind  a
picture of a summer day flooded with hot sunshine, the boat races, Opratin's
zuotorboat and Vova  Bugrov  in the water beside it. When Nikolai swam up to
the  boat  he  heard Bugrov  say  "All I  want is the  knife." Vova  had  an
aqualung. There  was some kind of  a scanning device in  the motorboat. They
were searching the sea bottom at the spot where Rita had fallen overboard.
     Before  that, Opratin  had come to their  Institute and had  questioned
them to learn just where  she had fallen into the sea. Come  to think of it,
he had asked-yes, he had-whether the woman had had anything metallic  in her
hand. It was the knife, Fedor Matveyev's knife, that Opratin and Bugrov were
looking for.
     If  the little iron box containing Matveyev's manuscript had been taken
for a  piece  of ordinary  junk and had been thrown out of Rita's house- and
Nikolai did not  doubt that it had-it was possible  she could have possessed
Matveyev's knife. It could have been in another box.
     Nikolai recalled the sketches on the last page  of  the manuscript. The
box in which they had found the manuscript was named "The Source". There was
a  sketch of  another box, called "The Evidence".  Evidence!  What  could be
better evidence than that knife?
     Nikolai had finally woven all those scattered impressions into a single
picture.  Fedor Matveyev's knife  did exist. Rita knew about it. Opratin and
Bugrov were searching for it. Or perhaps had already found it.
     Although Nikolai  was  eager to  pour  out the  whole story he held his
tongue. This was neither the time nor the place. He brought his mind back to
what the others were saying.
     "If Fedor Matveyev held the knife by the handle it means the handle was
made of ordinary  material," the scientist stated. "There must  have been  a
transition zone in the blade.
     "Should I send a  wire to Yura?" Nikolai wondered.  "Maybe he could pry
some  information out of Bugrov or  Bugrov's wife. We must lay  hands on the
knife. We simply must."
     Again he brought his mind back to the conversation.
     "The bonds in matter are not stable. They are constantly changing-"
     "Why didn't Yura and I think of it before?" Nikolai asked  himself. "It
dawned on me  only  just now, when he  said the knife  might  be lying about
     "We   may   need  some  practical  assistance  from   your  Institute,"
Academician Markov was saying. "How would your director look upon that?"
     "I  don't know", Privalov confessed.  "The pipeline across  the Caspian
which  we  are designing is to  consist  of  ordinary  steel  pipes.  It's a
definite  project, with a definite deadline, and we  have to concentrate our
energies  on it. The idea  of a pipeline without pipes-well, that's merely a
vague conjecture so far."
     "We'll arrange for permission from the Ministry, or  rather, this  girl
here will do it. She's  a representative from the Ministry. She's so  pretty
you might take her for an empty-headed little creature, but I can assure you
that  she  knows every  nook, corner  and  path in the bureaucratic jungle."
"What a thing to say about me!" the girl protested, laughing.
     Soon after, the two visitors made their farewells. Privalov settled his
tall caracul hat firmly on  his head with a  sigh,  took Nikolai by the arm,
and they left the Institute of Surfaces.
     The moment the men returned to Moscow Nikolai sent off a wire to Yura.
     Am  certain  0.  and   B.   are   seeking  Fedor's  knife.  Investigate
immediately. Contact Bugrov's wife.


     Nikolai  was flabbergasted  by  what he  had  seen  and  heard  at  the
Institute of  Surfaces. The  magnificent prospects which  Academician Markov
had hinted at in passing  were  hard to take in all at once. They had  to be
assimilated gradually.
     He  and  Privalov spent several  evenings in their hotel  room  talking
about those prospects.
     As they were drinking tea  in their room  one morning there was a knock
on the door.
     "Some letters  for you," said the floor clerk. There  were two letters,
one from Privalov's wife, the other for Nikolai from Yura. Nikolai slit open
the envelope and ran his eyes over the  first few lines of Yura's letter. He
could not help laughing aloud. Yura was his usual self.
     The letter began as follows:
     "The Right Honourable Nicholas S. Potapkin, Esq.
     "Dear Sir,
     "First of  all, allow me to inform you that when the mail coach at last
drew up to our gates, instead  of  the long awaited  detailed  letter  all I
found in the pouch was a short  and meagre message. Damn it all, sir. I am a
plain  man, sir, arid I want to state in  plain language that  I looked upon
you as a gentleman. Nevertheless,  I am writing  to you,  although  I  would
perhaps do  better to exchange my pen for  a pistol, which is the best thing
to use against  damned coyotes like yourself.  After reading your dispatch I
jumped into the saddle and galloped off like the wind.  I hitched my mustang
to a chaparral bush, then strode through the gateway of your ranch-"
     At  this juncture Yura's patience with Wild West lingo ran  out and  he
continued more simply.
     "I waited a long time  under the archway  before Bugrov's wife came out
of the house and into the yard. Then I humped  into her, quite by chance, of
course, and gallantly  bowed and scraped before  her. I gave free rein to my
tongue as I brought  her around to answering my main question: was  it  true
that Uncle Vova, using  our scuba diving gear, had found an object which had
fallen into the  sea  from the deck of the Uzbekistan?  'How  come  you know
about that?' she asked, looking at me with suspicion. 'Were you on board the
ship too?' 'No,' I answered, 'but I was on board the sailboat that picked up
the lady in red.' At this she took me aside and told me the whole story."
     Here Yura described in detail  what had taken place on the  deck of the
     When he finished reading this part  of the letter Nikolai sprang to his
     Privalov raised his head. "What's the matter?"
     "Read this, Boris. Starting from here."
     Privalov quickly scanned the page.
     "Oho!"  he  exclaimed. "So  Matveyev's knife  really does  exist!  What
happened next?"
     Next, Yura  reported that  Bugrov  had  left for Moscow  together  with
Opratin. Yura related how, after his talk with Claudia, he had gone upstairs
to  see Nikolai's mother. Nikolai  had  authorized  him  to collect his  pay
envelope and pass it on to her. While he and  Nikolai's mother were chatting
about  the cold weather in  Moscow and  wondering whether Nikolai wasn't too
lightly dressed for those severe frosts, there was a knock on the door. Yura
went to open it. A thick-set, unshaven, shaggy-haired, middle-aged man stood
     "I would like to see Nikolai Potapkin," he said.
     "That's  me,"  Yura said, making a  sign  behind his back  to Nikolai's
     "I'm Anatole Benedictov," the visitor said.
     "Pleased to meet you. Won't you take off your coat and sit down?"
     Benedictov  refused to take off his coat,  but he sat down at the table
and put his hat and gloves in his lap.
     "This is  a return visit," he said. "I'll get right down to the  point.
My wife told me you were interested in some small iron boxes. Could you tell
me what it's all about?"
     "You know the  answer to that question better than I do," Yura replied.
"A little iron box that was thrown out of your house as a  piece of junk was
found  to contain a manuscript. We became interested in  the  manuscript and
began to search  for the two  other little boxes mentioned in it. One of the
boxes  evidently  contained  Fedor Matveyev's knife.  It's a  great pity the
knife is lying at the bottom of the sea. Or have you found it by now?"
     Benedictov's hands twitched nervously.
     "Very well," he said, coughing to clear  his  throat. "Since you are so
thoroughly informed, could you tell me what's inside the third box?"
     "I wish I knew."
     Both were silent for  a while. Then Benedictov said: "As far as I know,
you are working on the problem of penetrability. We're doing something along
those lines too.  I've heard that you put together an original apparatus and
obtained interesting  results. If it isn't  a secret, could you-" He  paused
and looked expectantly at Yura.
     "It isn't a secret,  of course," Yura  said slowly, choosing his words.
We're designing an oil pipeline and while we were at it we became interested
in the  diffusion  of liquids.  As for our experiments,  I'm afraid I cannot
give you  any details. I'm not authorized  to do so. Why  don't you approach
the director of our Institute through the regular channels?"
     "Through the  regular  channels, you say?" Benedictov gave a  wry grin.
"Thanks for the advice. It was a pleasure to meet you."
     With those words Benedictov clapped his hat on his shaggy head.
     "The  feeling  is mutual,"  Yura  replied  courteously.  He  picked  up
Benedictov's gloves, which had fallen to the floor, and  handed them to him.
"These are yours, I  think. Did you get my address from the telephone book?"
he asked casually.
     "No, from a member of our staff who lives in this house."
     "Ah, yes, of course. By the way, it would be very interesting to have a
look at Fedor Matveyev's knife. If it isn't a secret."
     "You yourself said it's at the bottom of (he sea," Benedictov muttered.
     On his way to the door, accompanied by  Yura, Benedictov  paused  for a
second to look at the blue draperies.
     "Yes, you're  right,"  Yura  said  in  reply to  Benedictov's  unspoken
question. "This is where the experiment took place."
     He  pulled  aside  the  draperies  with  a  broad  gesture.  Benedictov
involuntarily stepped forward, but all he saw was a tape recorder of unusual
design  and,  under  the  table,  several  black  boxes  containing  storage
     "We dismantled  our set-up," Yura explained.  "But  you  know  what? If
you're  doing  work along the same lines, then why don't we  co-operate? Why
not drop in at our Institute?"
     Benedictov looked at Yura from under his heavy, swollen eyelids but did
not  reply. He  simply said goodbye  and went out in a slow, shuffling gait.
Yura stood at the window watching him depart.
     "Very curious news," Privalov  remarked, pouring himself another cup of
     "I  had  a feeling from  the beginning that  she hadn't  simply  fallen
overboard." Nikolai crumpled Yura's letter in his fist and began to pace the
floor.  "She went over the rail because she was diving for the knife. That's
obvious. If she had found it  she would have  given it  to  her  husband, of
course.  But her husband is collaborating with Opratin, and he-Opratin, that
is-was searching for the knife at the spot  where it fell  into  the sea. We
can assume  that Rita  didn't find  the knife, and it is still lying at  the
bottom of the sea, or else-"
     "Or else what?" Privalov asked.
     "Or else Opratin has found it."
     "In that case we must speak to Opratin and ask him to lend us the knife
for a time so that we  can study  it," Privalov said quietly. "It would help
us  enormously."  He sipped  his  tea. "If Opratin is in Moscow we'll get in
touch with him. Sit down at the telephone and ring up the hotels. Start with
the Golden Wheat and the Yaroslavl."
     With so many  hotels  the job of locating Opratin  by telephone  seemed
hopeless.  Time and again  Nikolai heard  the words:  "No one  of that  name
registered here", or else the clerk did not bother to listen to the question
but merely said, "Sorry, but we're full up." Finally, however, a voice said,
"Opratin?  Just a  moment.  What's his first name? Yes,  he's  staying here.
Opratin and Bugrov. Room 130."
     Nikolai laughed. "This  is  really  one for the book.  He's in a  hotel
across the street from us." Nikolai dialled the number of Opratin's room but
no one answered.
     "We'll try again  in the  evening," said Privalov.  "I have to attend a
conference  of oil  industry  construction experts. Meanwhile I want  you to
straighten out a few questions at the Ministry."
     Nikolai  sighed.  He did not like  the Ministry. The endless  corridors
there always had a depressing effect on him.
     "Oh, yes, I almost forgot,"  said Privalov.  "Get yourself a ticket for
Wednesday. I'll stay on a while longer."
     When Boris Privalov entered  the lobby of the  underground his  glasses
became clouded over from the warm air inside. He took them off to wipe them,
and when he put  them on again the first person  he saw was Nikolai Opratin,
who had just stepped off the escalator.
     Opratin wore  an  elegant coat with a  fur  collar and a  hat of  young
reindeer skin. He hurried up and greeted  Privalov with  what struck him  as
exaggerated affability.
     "How pleasant to run into someone from home in the hustle and bustle of
Moscow!" he exclaimed, pumping Privalov's hand. "I'm really very glad to see
     "Why  all   this  effusion?"  Privalov  wondered.   "He's   usually  so
restrained. But, after all, it is indeed nice to meet someone from home."
     After the exchange of small talk customary on such an occasion, Opratin
asked,  in a casual tone,  "What  are they saying in the Academy about Fedor
Matveyev's manuscript?"
     "They're still  studying it. Incidentally,  there is a supposition that
something else besides the manuscript has come down to our day."
     "Really?" Opratin said, his voice now wary. "What's that?"
     "Fedor Matveyev's knife."
     "You don't put any stock in those Indian fairy tales, do you?"
     Privalov did not like this. Why  the subterfuge? He decided to take the
bull by the horns.
     "But we  know that one of  the  members  of your staff, Benedictov, had
Fedor Matveyev's knife. We  also know  that you searched  for it  on the sea
floor at the spot where the woman fell overboard from the Uzbekistan. If you
found the knife, the Academy people would be interested  in hearing a report
on  it. You  realize how important  it  would  be  for  the  advancement  of
     "You were misinformed," Opratin said in  an  icy tone. "I know  nothing
whatsoever about the knife."
     "But you were searching-"
     "My  'searching',  as  you put it, was  connected exclusively  with the
problem  of raising the level of the Caspian. As  regards Benedictov, he  is
working on a research project  at  our Institute, and I haven't the faintest
idea of what he does in his spare time."
     This was a polite but firm rebuke.  Privalov felt awkward. Indeed, what
grounds did he have for broaching this subject? Yura's letter? A remark made
by the talkative wife of a man called 'Uncle Vova'?
     "I beg your pardon," he said. "It seems I was indeed misinformed."
     "Yes, you were." Opratin glanced at his watch. "I must leave you now. I
have an appointment." He gave a thin smile and set off briskly  towards  the
     Privalov followed him  with a puzzled glance. If he only  knew that  at
this very moment  Opratin, his hand  in his pocket, was fingering the handle
of Fedor Matveyev's knife!

     After  several wearisome hours at the Ministry Nikolai  went  to  Kursk
Station for a ticket.
     There were queues at the booking office. Nikolai shook the snow off his
cap and took his place at the end of one of them.
     "Who's last in the queue?" he asked.
     A  thickset  man  in a brown  leather coat  lifted his  eyes  from  his
newspaper to glance at Nikolai disapprovingly.
     "I'm next to the last," he said.  "There's a lady behind me." He looked
round. "There she is, over there. You'll be after her."
     Nikolai glanced fleetingly at the young woman in a black  fur  coat and
white fur hat. She was at a newsstand with her back to him.
     The leather coat sniffed to clear his clogged nose and absorbed himself
in his newspaper. Bored,  Nikolai took  advantage  of his superior height to
read  the headlines over  the man's shoulder. His eye  was caught by a  news
item about an exhibition of captured equipment used by spies and  subversive
agents.  The item described  some of the displays: the wreckage of a foreign
reconnaissance  plane  brought  down  by Soviet airmen; pistols  fitted with
silencers;  walkie-talkies.  There  was  also the equipment  carried  by  an
Italian subversive agent who died in a Caspian port in 1942. His remains had
been accidentally  discovered in  an underground  passage not long ago.  The
agent  had apparently belonged to the Society  of Jesus, for around his neck
he wore a small flat box on which was engraved A M D G.
     What was this? Nikolai leaned forward and fixed his eyes on the printed
     AMDG. The initial letters of the Jesuit motto.
     The  leather  coat said irritably: "I intensely dislike having  someone
breathing down my neck, young man."
     "I beg your pardon," Nikolai muttered in confusion. He hurried  over to
the newsstand and bought a paper, which he began to read at once.
     All of a sudden he felt someone staring  fixedly at him. He  glanced in
annoyance at the lady in  black standing beside him, and then flung his head
back as though he had been hit on the jaw. The lady was Rita.
     "Are-are you in Moscow?" he stammered.
     "It's obvious I am, isn't it?"
     "Yes.  So am I. I'm on  a  business trip." Nikolai  coughed and started
folding his paper.
     "Are you returning home soon?"
     "Yes, I'm getting a ticket for Wednesday. What about you?"
     "I'm leaving tomorrow."
     Nikolai thrust  his  paper into his pocket. Rita turned  to  the  woman
behind  the counter of the newsstand. "I'll take  these picture  postcards,"
she said.
     She chose half a dozen cards with colour reproductions on them. Nikolai
glanced absently at them. One  was  a winter  landscape,  another Levi-tan's
"March",  then  a picture in the  Bilibin  style, of  a  ship with  a  taut,
wind-filled sail, bearing a drawing of  the sun, approaching a landing stage
where bearded men  in long  robes stood beside cannon wreathed  in clouds of
     Nikolai said the  first thing  that  came into his  head. "'Guns firing
from the  wharf, ordering the  ship to  tie up.' I used to copy that picture
when I was a child."
     Rita swung  round  to face him.  "Did  you ever  give  that  drawing to
     Nikolai  caught  his  breath. He  stared intently  into that  pleasant,
mobile, questioning face  and  suddenly saw  long familiar  features-a perky
freckled nose, a mischievous smile, and glossy  yellow braids jutting out at
a belligerent angle
     "Yellow Lynx?" he whispered.

     What had Rita been doing in Moscow?
     Her friend met her at the railway station on arrival and took her home.
That same day  Rita  went to  a  hospital  in  Pirogov  Street  and  made an
appointment to see a famous neuropathologist. He listened attentively to her
     "Only  a special course  of treatment  can help your husband,"  he told
her. "The cure  takes time  and  patience-but it is  the  only way. You must
persuade your husband to undergo this course of treatment. I can arrange for
him to enter the hospital where a pupil of mine, Dr. Khalilov, is doing very
good work in this field. The sooner he does this,  the better it will be for
him. I'll give you a letter to Dr. Khalilov."
     Now Rita was more upset than ever. She was determined to leave for home
at once,  before the end of the  winter school vacation. However, her friend
persuaded her to spend at least a week in Moscow.
     During that week Opratin came to see her three times.
     It so  happened that  Rita  and Opratin had travelled to Moscow on  the
same train. They had discovered this when  the train  halted  at Mineralniye
Vody and both had stepped out onto the platform  for a breath  of fresh air.
At  Kharkov, Opratin had again  approached  her on the platform and  chatted
with  her  for a few minutes. Rita had  given  him  her  friend's  telephone
number, at which she could be reached in Moscow.
     There was something  threatening and alarming about Opratin's visits to
Rita  in Moscow. His presence made her uncomfortable; she felt as though the
shadow of her husband were standing behind him.
     Opratin talked to her in a gentle,  friendly  tone. He agreed with  the
doctor,  he  said, that  Anatole should undergo  treatment. He himself would
help  to arrange a leave of any duration for Anatole. Rita was not to worry;
there were no particularly alarming  symptoms  as yet. Anatole was  cheerful
and enthusiastic about his work.
     "That backbreaking, endless, senseless  work of  Anatole's is what  has
estranged him from me," Rita thought.
     "We're on the  right track now," said  Opratin. "But I want you to bear
in  mind that it depends to a great extent  on you how much  longer the  job
will take."
     Opratin came to see her for the third time on a cold, snowy morning. It
was warm inside the flat, but tense, disturbing music poured from the radio.
     "That's  a waltz  from Masquerade" Rita  remarked  in a  low  voice  to
Opratin, who  was seated on the sofa, his legs crossed, tapping  one foot in
time to the music.
     "Look here, Rita," he  said as the violins soared and then fell silent.
"I know I'm making a nuisance of myself but I really must speak to you again
about Fedor Matveyev's knife."
     "This is becoming intolerable," Rita said coldly. "I've told you twenty
times that the knife fell into the sea and was lost."
     "No,  the  knife  is  in  your  possession," Opratin declared. "I can't
understand why you are  being so stubborn. Now follow me carefully.  Anatole
and  I have invented  a  remarkable machine. If we  exclude  that accidental
phenomenon which your ancestor Fedor Matveyev witnessed in India, no one has
ever  come  so close  to solving  the problem of the mutual penetrability of
matter  as we have. This will be  a major breakthrough. Your husband's  name
will stand side  by side with those of  the most brilliant scientists of our
     "But I don't want that!" Rita burst out.
     She turned away, biting  her lip to keep from crying, and walked to the
farther end of the room.
     "He doesn't need fame," she continued in a calmer  voice. "He needs  to
forget about  that damned  knife, cure himself and return home. That's all I
want. That and nothing more. Please leave me alone."
     Opratin rose. "Very well. I'll leave  you alone. But Anatole will never
return to you. Well, goodbye."
     He moved to the door.
     "Wait!" Rita shrieked. "Why-why won't he return?"
     Opratin turned round abruptly. "Because he is slowly but surely killing
himself. Because the doses  he is now taking would kill an elephant. Because
he will not be able  to  endure it if we  don't succeed. And success depends
only on the knife. The knife guarantees solution of the  problem and, at the
same time, your husband's recovery."
     Rita pressed the palms of her hands to her temples. Her eyes were those
of a sick, hunted animal.
     Opratin waited. The wind  whipped flurries of snow against the windows,
making the panes tremble.
     Rita walked with  wooden steps  into the next room.  Opratin heard  the
click of a lock.
     She returned and flung a knife on the table.
     It fell with a strangely light tap.
     Opratin walked unhurriedly over to the table. He picked up the knife by
the handle  and fixed his eyes on  the narrow blade  with  the wavy  design.
Suddenly he plunged it into the table. The blade entered the thick, polished
wood almost up to the hill. Opratin's eyes blazed with triumph.
     "Rita, allow me to-"
     "Don't. Just go."
     She stood by the window for  a long lime,  looking  out  from the ninth
floor at a Moscow wrapped in clouds of snow.
     Then she threw on her coat, dashed out of the  flat, and took a taxi to
the railway station.

     "Yes, Yellow Lynx. That was what they called me when we were kids." She
took Nikolai by the arm. Her eyes shone as though a  film had  been stripped
from them. "I still have that drawing you made."
     "I kept thinking there  was something  familiar about your  face," said
Nikolai in a constrained whisper.
     "I kept wondering too. When you and your friend came  to my house I was
on the verge of recognizing you."
     "You know who  my friend was? It was Yura." "Yura?" Rita laughed. "Dear
me, he used lo be such a little boy. But so brave, with those feathers stuck
in his hair."
     "But  we told you  our names. Didn't you-" "Do you  know my last name?"
     "Well,  I didn't know  yours  either. Children  are never interested in
last names. If we'd attended the same school it would  have been a different
     Nikolai studied Rita's face. "Can it really be Yellow Lynx?" he thought
in amazement. "You've changed a lot," he said.
     Rita's face grew sober. She gave  him a long, inquiring glance. Nikolai
had the feeling that she was about to tell him  something important. But she
only said, "Do you still live in the same place?"
     "Yes, in Cooper Lane."
     "Cooper Lane," Rita mused. "It seems like a hundred years ago."
     "Why not  take a ticket for Wednesday?" Nikolai suggested hesitatingly.
"Then we could travel together."
     Rita was silent. Did she want to spend another whole day in Moscow? No,
definitely not. She wanted lo leave tomorrow. There was nothing more for her
to do  in Moscow. But she  suddenly  heard herself  saying, "Yes,  Wednesday
would suit me fine."
     Afterwards they  walked along the Sadovoye Ring. Rita,  her gloved hand
raised to protect  her face from the snow, told  Nikolai how her  family had
moved  lo Leningrad and then the war had come and her father had been killed
when Tallinn was evacuated. He had been in command of a big Troop Transport.
She and  her mother had survived the siege of Leningrad.  After the war they
had moved back  to the town  on the Caspian Sea because her mother was  very
ill and the doctors had ordered a warmer climate for her.
     Rita said nothing about her marriage.
     "Why didn't you ever pay a visit to Cooper Lane?"
     "I did, soon after we came back. I stopped in to look at the flat where
we  used to live. I saw a  fat woman sitting on  the balcony, knitting.  The
place called  up painful memories. Everything reminded me of Father. If only
Father   had  lived-"  Rita  stopped.  "Everything  would  have  turned  out
     She shivered. Nikolai screwed up his courage and took her by the arm.
     "I remember now," he  said.  "There used to be  two small bars of iron,
with some  kind  of mysterious letters engraved on  them, on  your  father's
desk. Lately I've been wondering where  I  saw them before. Do you remember?
We pledged to do everything we could to discover their secret." "Do you know
that my maiden name was Matveyev?" Rita suddenly asked.
     "Matveyev?" Nikolai repeated in confusion. "That means you're-"
     "That's right,  I'm-" Rita's face grew longer. "Rut we won't talk about
that now. Please don't. There's been too much for one day."
     She  gave  Nikolai  a  searching  look,  studying  his  frank face  and
attentive grey eyes. His ears were a bright red. Imagine going about in such
a frost with just a spring hat on one's head!
     "I'm so glad I met you." she said in a low voice. "I have such a lot to
tell you. No, not now. On the train."

     It was nearly five o'clock by the time Nikolai returned to the hotel.
     "Boris, you simply won't believe  your eyes!" he called out exuberantly
from the doorway. "Read this." He drew the newspaper from his pocket.
     Privalov pushed his  spectacles up  to his forehead and skimmed through
the item about the displays at the exhibition.
     "A small  metal box with the inscription A M D G." Privalov leaned back
in his chair and his glasses dropped onto his nose of themselves. "You think
this has some relation to-"
     "Yes, definitely.  It's  the same engraving as on our box. What if this
is 'The Key to the Mystery'?"
     "In the hands of an Italian subversive  agent? Hm-m. Sounds doubtful to
     "De  Maistre  came from Italy too,"  Nikolai protested. "And  there are
Jesuits  there to this day, of course. We ought to go to the museum and take
a look, Boris. If the size of the box coincides with the measurements in the
     There were not too  many visitors at the exhibition. Several youngsters
were arguing heatedly in front of the walkie-talkie display. Two airmen were
examining the wreckage of a foreign plane brought down on Soviet territory.
     It did not take Privalov and Nikolai long to find, in the  next room, a
tall glass showcase in which  stood a life-size  dummy dressed in a tattered
outfit, with a parachute on its back. A small golden crucifix gleamed at the
throat,  visible through  the  open collar.  Bars of  blasting  charges,  an
aqualung,  a frogman's suit,  a pistol,  a radio transmitter and receiver, a
ball of nylon cord and other articles were laid out at the dummy's feet.
     Rut there was no sign of a small metal box with the inscription A  M  D
     "How odd!" Nikolai slowly ran  his eyes again  over  the things in  the
showcase. "Very odd indeed. The paper clearly slated-"
     "Let's speak to the person in charge," said Privalov.
     The  director  of the  exhibition,  a  short,  balding man,  raised his
eyebrows in surprise when  Privalov told him  there was no  metal box in the
     "That can't be," he said. "You simply failed to notice it."
     But the  director himself was unable to find the  box with the initials
of the Jesuit motto. It had vanished.
     "It was here last night," he said, looking worried. "I remember showing
it to  a group of visitors." At  this point he noticed that the tiny lock on
the showcase had been forced open.
     The director gave Privalov a questioning look and asked him to  explain
his interest in the little box.
     Privalov  briefly recounted the  history of the iron  boxes. He did not
say anything  about their contents but merely mentioned that  the Academy of
Sciences was interested in them.
     "No  doubt you have  an  inventory  of  the  Italian  agent's  things,"
Privalov said when he had finished.  "We  should like to see the description
of the stolen box."
     The director showed them the inventory. They could hardly believe their
eyes when they read that the body of the Italian agent and his equipment had
been  found  by a  person named Nikolai  Opratin, a  Candidate  of Technical
Sciences, in the environs of Derbent the previous August.
     "At  every  turn  we come up against Opratin,"  Nikolai  said in a  low
     "I now  recall having heard about  some  sort  of adventure  he had  at
Derbent,"  said Privalov.  "Let's read further." A flat  metal box  with the
letters A M  D G, and below them the letters J d M engraved on it was listed
as No. 14 in the inventory. It weighed 430 grammes. Its size was-
     "The very same measurements!" Nikolai exclaimed. "I remember them well.
This is 'The Key to the Mystery'. There's no doubt about it."
     An hour  or  so later they had to repeat the story of  the boxes  to  a
black-eyed young investigator, who wrote it all down in a notebook.
     It  was fairly late by the time Privalov and  Nikolai  emerged into the
street. A raw  wind  whirled the  snow  into their faces. The  frost pinched
their ears.
     "'The Key to the Mystery'," Privalov mused. "What could it be? Probably
some very important paper."
     "Perhaps it's a description of the machine."
     They walked along  a  narrow  path  in the snow leading  to the  hotel.
Fences stretched on one side  of them and  stalls  and booths  on the other.
Somewhere in  the distance a dog howled.  The  lighted windows of the  hotel
sparkled in front of them.
     "What a day!" Nikolai thought. He recalled he had not had any dinner.
     "I'll drop into the cafeteria, Boris," he said.
     As  he walked past the  hotel  across  the street from his own, Nikolai
stopped at the entrance.
     "Why not?" he thought. "I'll draw  Uncle Vova  out  of the room-without
Opratin knowing about it,  of  course-and put the question to  him straight.
Drive him into a corner. Something tells me he's the one who stole it."
     Nikolai entered the  lobby and  asked the  desk  clerk to summon a  man
named Bugrov from room 130.
     "Bugrov?"  The clerk  looked into the  register.  "He  checked out this
afternoon.  Opratin and Bugrov.  They called  a taxi and  drove off  to  the


     "Get in quick!" the plump conductress said to Nikolai.
     Nikolai waved to Privalov for the last time and hurriedly followed Rita
up the steps and into the carriage.
     The early winter twilight thickened fast.  The houses  of a small  town
appeared in sight and vanished, to be followed  by a frozen stream and three
motionless figures standing with fishing lines beside holes in the ice.
     Nikolai  was  the first to speak. "There's something you wanted to tell
me, Rita, isn't there?"
     "Yes, there is."
     The wheels clicked rhythmically on the rail joints.
     Nikolai  stared out into  the darkness with unseeing  eyes as he waited
for Rita to begin.
     "I  don't  know  how  to  start,"  Rita  finally  said.  "It's  all  so
complicated-and I've never told anyone about it before." She sighed  softly.
"All  right,  listen. You remember those two small bars of iron that used to
lie  on  Father's  desk  when  we were children,  don't  you? I'll  tell you
everything I know about them."
     The authors  will now  take the liberty of relating  the  story  of the
boxes since  they have every reason to believe that they now know it  better
than Rita did.

     The Story of the Three Boxes

     Stories about strange  doings  in  the Matveyev family  had  long  been
circulating in St. Petersburg. To begin with,  way back during the reign  of
Peter the Great a Matveyev, a naval lieutenant, had returned from India with
a bewitchingly beautiful dark-eyed  girl. The "taint" in the Matveyev family
had  probably started  with her. Her sons and grandsons did not rise high in
the  government service.  They cut  short  their  careers  by resigning  and
burying themselves on their estate in the Tver Province. There they lived in
seclusion, rarely entertaining any visitors.
     From  the  few outsiders  who did  enter the  house it was learned that
rustling, grinding  and crackling sounds would come from a forbidden chamber
long past midnight.  These sounds were  accompanied by infernal  sparks; the
kind  of freshness  in  the  air that  follows a  thunderstorm would  spread
through the house.
     Moreover, it was whispered that  the Matveyevs  had a  magic knife, the
Indian  girl's dowry.  No one really knew what kind of a magic  knife it was
until it came the turn of Arseny Matveyev, great-grandson of  Fedor Matveyev
and  his Indian wife,  to graduate from the naval school in St.  Petersburg.
The young  warrant  officers hired a  room in  a tavern  on the Moika  for a
bachelor supper party to celebrate their graduation. They  made a great many
fiery  speeches over the wine. They recalled adventures from  their cruises,
for all of them had sailed in seas near and far as naval cadets.
     At the height of the  party Arseny  Matveyev placed his swarthy hand on
the table, palm  downwards,  snatched  a knife  from a  scabbard inside  his
shirt, and plunged it into his hand right up to  the  hilt. Then  he quickly
returned the knife  to  its  hiding place and held up his hand.  It bore  no
trace of a scratch, no sign  of  blood. Afterwards, the young revelry-makers
could not say for sure whether they had actually seen this or whether it was
a product of their wine-heated imaginations.
     However that may be, Arseny Matveyev and his knife were soon forgotten.
Napoleon's army invaded Russia. The years that followed were wreathed in the
gunpowder smoke of danger and martial glory.
     But there  was one person in St. Petersburg, a man  always dressed only
in black, who thought constantly about the  miraculous knife.  From  trusted
men he received periodic reports about  Arseny Matveyev, wherever the latter
happened to be.
     The  man in black was Count Joseph Marie de Maistre, Ambassador  of the
King of  Sardinia  (a  king  who  had been deprived  of  his  realm)  and an
important personage in the Society of Jesus.
     Before the War of 1812 there had been a Jesuit school in St. Petersburg
where,  for a  high fee,  quite a  number  of young  men  from distinguished
families  learned  Latin prayers  and  Bible  history,  plus  obedience  and
humility.  When graduates of the school entered the  government service they
did not forgot their spiritual fathers.
     Young Prince Kurasov visited Count de Maistre perhaps more  often  than
others.  He  was  the  one  who  told  the  Sardinian  Ambassador about  the
miraculous knife. The prince had been one of the few  non-naval  men invited
to the supper party and had seen Arseny Matveyev  plunge the knife into  his
     The prince's story gave Count de Maistre much food for thought. A knife
that passed harmlessly through a hand? The elderly Jesuit believed as firmly
in divine  signs as he did in the glorious predestination of the Society  of
Jesus, vigilant guardian of the faith and thrones. This was certainly a sign
from on high.  Just  as the knife  had passed through  human flesh,  Jesuits
would  pass without  hindrance  into the  palaces  of monarchs and  into the
chambers of high officials to persuade  them to stamp out free thinking. The
time had  come to put  a stop to  the  anti-religious  sciences that  had so
multiplied.  These  Devil's  instruments  advocated   the   Jacobinism  that
destroyed thrones.  The  time had  come  to make  men's hearts humble before
divine  Providence.  The time had come to  elevate the Society, despite  the
persecution to which it was subjected, despite the blindness of some rulers.
The  great honour of  bringing this sign to the attention of the Society had
fallen on him, Count Joseph Marie de Maistre.
     The Count resolved  not  to let Arseny  Matveyev  disappear  from view.
Through scraps of information brought  him by other  graduates of the school
he followed the  young man's  fortunes in the war.  He knew that Arseny  had
been wounded,  had convalesced  at his  estate at Tver, had been recalled to
the Baltic  Fleet, promoted to the rank of lieutenant, and was now stationed
at Kronstadt, near St. Petersburg.
     One day in  March 1815 a carriage drew up to the Sardinian Ambassador's
residence,  and  a  tall, thin-faced  man  stepped out  of  it. Fastidiously
skirting a large puddle of melting snow, he mounted the steps leading to the
front  entrance. The Count received him  at once. The  thin-faced  man bowed
respectfully as he entered the Count's study.
     The  Count was  sitting in a deep  armchair before  the  fireplace.  He
turned  his lined,  parchment-yellow face to  the newcomer  and  indicated a
chair with a wave of his hand.
     "What is the news, mon prince?" he asked in a weary voice.
     Young Prince Kurasov seated himself on the edge of a chair.
     "The news  is  fairly good, Your Excellency,"  he said  wanly.  "I have
learned that Arseny Matveyev does not carry the knife about with him but has
left  it  at Zakharino,  the  family estate.  He  has been appointed  senior
officer on the brig Askold, now being outfitted at Kronstadt preparatory  to
cruising in the Pacific Ocean in search of new lands."
     The Count lowered his eyelids. "Is that all?"
     "No.  Now comes the most important news. Three days ago, in the company
of philosophers and atheists  like himself, Arseny  Matveyev made  seditious
speeches. He  spoke in favour of the  convocation  of a general assembly  in
     Count de  Maistre sat up straight and  struck the arm of his chair with
his  frail  fist. The  eyes  in the  yellow  face glowed with  an  evil  and
unexpectedly youthful sparkle.
     "It  seems  to  me,  Your Excellency," Prince Kurasov  said cautiously,
"that it would be well to set things in motion-"
     The Count stopped him with a gesture and became lost in thought.
     "No,  mon  prince,'" he  said  after  a  long interval, "we'll  take  a
different course. When does the lieutenant depart on the brig?"
     "In June."
     "Splendid!  We've waited a long time, and  we can wait a little longer,
until June.  The matter  must be arranged without undue fuss. Do not disturb
Arseny Matveyev."

     A little over two and a half years later, on a hot day in February, the
brig Askold,  badly  battered  by severe storms, dropped anchor  at  Rio  de
Janeiro. There the Russian  Consul  handed Arseny a  letter from  his father
that had arrived nearly two years before.
     "I  shall  briefly set  forth the  misfortunes which have  befallen our
house, not through God's will  but  because of the  evil designs of wretched
creatures," his father  wrote. "You  of course remember Prince  Kurasov.  He
used  to be a friend of  yours. Fawning  and deference have enabled this man
Kurasov to rise  to the higher ranks and, some say,  to involvement with the
secret police. Out of spite, or for some other reason,  Kurasov has informed
against you, repeating everything that you said  in your youthful  hastiness
and  naming  the books you  read. This  denunciation  brought  officials  to
Zakharino. They searched the  house from top to  bottom,  turning everything
upside down, under the pretence of looking for seditious papers.
     "But it seems to me that  they  were looking for something else.  Since
they did not find any papers of that kind some of those hounds ransacked our
special chamber  most painstakingly.  They examined the electricity machines
from all sides. Furthermore, they confiscated the manuscript  in which Fedor
Matveyev,  my  grandfather  and your great-grandfather, described his Indian
travels. They also confiscated that wonderful knife of his."
     At the beginning of June 1818, after an  absence of nearly three years,
the Askold sailed into the roadstead near St. Petersburg.
     Early  next  morning Prince Kurasov's valet announced  that  Lieutenant
Matveyev  wished  to see  him. The  Prince, in his  dressing-gown, was being
shaved by his barber.
     "Tell him I'm not at home," he ordered.
     A  few minutes  later there was a commotion downstairs, and the valet's
raised voice could be heard. Then the door was flung  open. Arseny Matveyev,
his cheeks tanned  a  deep brown, stood on the threshold. He was in uniform,
with a sword at his side. Prince Kurasov pushed aside the barber's hand  and
slowly rose  to his feet, wiping the lather from his cheek. Arseny looked at
him with burning eyes.
     "Is this how you welcome old friends, Prince?"
     "Please leave the room, sir," the Prince said coldly. "You should thank
the Almighty you got off so easily."
     Arseny put his  hand on  his sword-hilt. "I give you exactly one minute
to hand back the souvenirs you  took from my father's estate," he  said with
restrained fury.
     The Prince's narrow face turned whiter  than  his lace  cuffs. He  took
several slow steps  backwards,  towards his canopied bed, and  stretched out
his hand to tug at the bell-rope. In two bounds Arseny, his sword drawn, was
at the Prince's side.
     Meanwhile the barber had fled, whimpering, from the room.
     The  Prince,  frightened out  of  his wits, stammered  that  the things
confiscated during  the  search  had  been turned  over  to Count Joseph  de
Maistre, the former Sardinian Ambassador.
     "Where does that Jesuit reside now? Tell me, quick!"
     "The Count left Russia last year," Prince Kurasov replied sullenly.  "I
do not know where he is now."
     Arseny  spent  only  a short  time in St. Petersburg.  He tendered  his
resignation arid left for Zakharino.
     The warm September day was drawing to a close. Candles had been lighted
in the small  snow-white Villa standing in a garden on the edge of a town in
northern Italy. Their  flickering glow  was reflected in the mahogany panels
that lined the walls of the study. A spare old man in  black  stood  leaning
against an elegant table, examining a sheet of parchment which he held close
to his  eyes. Another man, portly  and somewhat  younger, stood to one side,
     "My friends were not mistaken in recommending you and your erudition to
me," the old man said, laying the sheet of parchment on the table.
     The scholar bowed.
     "You have done the Society of Jesus a great service," said the old man,
taking a purse out of a drawer in the table.
     "Ad majorem Dei gloriam" the scholar said, accepting the purse. "I wish
Your Excellency a good night."
     After seeing his visitor out of the room the old man summoned a servant
and told him to close all the shutters in the house and kindle a fire in the
fireplace. In his old age Count de Maistre suffered greatly from the cold.
     He sat  down at  the  table  and again examined  the parchment.  He was
pleased.  The old riddle brought  back  from cold Russia  had been given  an
excellent interpretation. He could already foresee the  great  day when  the
glory of the Society of Jesus would shine as never before. He,  Count Joseph
de Maistre, had not toiled in vain these many years.
     The clatter of horses'  hooves  on the stony road not far away came  to
his ears for a minute or so.
     Opening a  carved  casket,  the  Count  removed  from  it  a  rolled-up
manuscript tied with a ribbon, and a knife with  an ivory  handle. Then, one
after  another,  he took out  three small iron boxes and gazed admiringly at
their  gleaming  sides.  A  master  craftsman  in  Turin had fashioned  them
according to his design, and on each box had engraved the initial letters of
the great motto: A M D G
     Below  it he  had  engraved Count  Joseph  de  Maistre's crown and  his

     J d M

     The Count placed the rolled manuscript in  one of the boxes, muttering:
"The Source".
     Then  he cautiously took the knife by  its handle and  laid  it in  the
second box: "The Evidence," he said.
     "And  this-"  he  neatly  folded the  parchment which  the  scholar had
brought- and this will be 'The Key to the Mystery'."
     All of a sudden he glanced with a  start at the dark window. He thought
he had heard the crunching of pebbles. But no, all was quiet.
     The Count placed "The Key to the  Mystery" in the third box. Now he had
only to close the covers and have them sealed.
     He  heard  a  rustle  outside the window. Was it the porter  making his
     The Count  went  up to  the  window  and flung it open,  but  instantly
started back with a cry. A man in a cloak and a wide-brimmed hat was staring
at him from the shadow of an old hornbeam. He was young and swarthy, and his
dark eyes gleamed fiercely at the Count.
     "You have vigilant guards, Count," he said in French. "I was forced  to
climb over the wall. Do not be afraid. I am not a robber."
     The Count had recovered somewhat from  his fright.  "Who are you,  sir?
What do you want in my house?"
     "My name is Arseny Matveyev. Now you know what I want."
     Fear  distorted  the  Count's yellow  face.  Suddenly,  with  an energy
unexpected in such an old body, he dashed  to the table, on which his pistol
case lay.
     By this time Arseny was in the room.
     "Stop where you are, Count!"
     The unbidden guest whipped  out a pistol from under his cloak and aimed
it at  the Count, who took a step backwards. Realizing that the game was up,
the old Jesuit said in a gentle voice:
     "It  is  not becoming, my son,  to  threaten an  old man with a pistol.
Someone has evidently misled you."
     "Silence!" Arseny Matveyev barked.  "I  didn't  travel the  length  and
breadth of France  and Italy  searching for  you  just  to  listen  to  your
miserable evasions. Put  the knife and  the manuscript  on  that table. I'll
count to three."
     "There is no need," the Count said dispiritedly. "They are lying on the
     Arseny strode over to the table. His eyes sparkled with joy at sight of
the knife.
     "The  manuscript is in that little  box," said Count de Maistre. "Don't
touch the third box. It is mine."
     "I  am  not a Jesuit. I do  not covet what  belongs to  others," Arseny
snapped, this time in Russian. "Take this for your iron boxes."
     He  tossed a  gold coin on  the table. Then he closed the covers of the
two boxes, one containing the knife and the other the manuscript, and thrust
them into his pockets.
     "Don't you dare to raise the alarm, you old  fox," he said as he turned
to leave. "If you do, you'll get a dose of lead."
     With  those  words  Arseny Matveyev  jumped down from the window.  Soon
after,  the  sound  of horse's hooves  on the  stony  road  faded  into  the
     On  returning to Russia, Arseny  Matveyev  was  unable to get down to a
thorough  study of the secret which  his great-grandfather had  brought from
India. Other affairs absorbed him. After his father's death he freed the few
serfs the family owned and turned over the estate to his younger brother. He
had  the two  small iron  boxes  reliably  sealed.  Then  he  moved  to  St.
Petersburg, where he joined a secret society of revolutionaries.
     On December 14, 1825, after the failure of the December uprising in St.
Petersburg, Arseny  came  galloping into  Zakharino in the  night. The  next
morning gendarmes broke into the house. As they led Arseny out of the house,
under arrest,  he only had time to whisper to his brother: "Guard those  two
little iron boxes like the apple of your eye. Farewell."
     Arseny Matveyev  was exiled to salt mines in Siberia. He never returned
from there.

     "All  I know," said Rita,  "is that Arseny brought  home two small iron
boxes from abroad, and they were in  the  possession of the Matveyev  family
ever since. No one knew that anything was inside them. When my husband and I
started  packing our  things before moving to  our present flat,  the  knife
suddenly  dropped out of one of the  boxes. Mother  threw the other box away
along with a  lot of old junk. It  was dirty  and rusty and had been used to
prop up an  old wardrobe  with a broken leg.  Who could have  guessed  there
would be a manuscript inside?"
     "Did you ever hear anything about a third box?" Nikolai asked.
     "No. That's why  I  was so surprised when you and Yura came  to ask  me
about it. What do you know?"
     "Only that it exists."
     Nikolai then told Rita about the Italian subversive agent and the theft
in the museum.
     "There was  something very important in that third little box," he said
in conclusion. "De Maistre called it 'The Key to the Mystery'."
     The  other  passengers in the  carriage  had  gone to  bed.  The  plump
conductress  was  sweeping  the corridor.  They  continued  to stand by  the
window, watching  the snowbound night  fly  past,  marked  off by  telegraph
     Nikolai reflected in amazement that here was Rita standing by his side,
elbow to elbow, no longer an infinitely distant stranger but Yellow Lynx, an
old friend from his childhood. Yet still in all a stranger.
     "Look here, Nikolai," Rita  said suddenly, pressing her forehead to the
glass and closing her eyes. "Can I trust you?"
     He wanted to  say that he  was  ready  to jump off  the  train into the
darkness then and there if she asked him to.
     "Yes," he said.
     Rita was silent for  a while. Then she threw back her  head. "I feel as
though I'll burst into tears in a moment if I don't tell someone-"
     She then proceeded to tell him,  without holding  anything  back, about
the misfortune that had befallen her. She told him how  Anatole had  started
to study the knife and how she had encouraged his ambition. How, desiring to
increase his  working capacity, he  had  become a  drug  addict. How she had
jumped  overboard after  the knife, caught it in  the clear water, hidden it
under  her  dress and  told  her  husband  it was lost  because-so  she  had
thought-without   the  knife  he  would   not  be  able  to   continue   his
investigations.  How  she  had urged  Anatole  to  give  up  those  accursed
experiments,  but  instead he  had joined up with Opratin  and  was  wearing
himself  out  with work and with drugs. How he had walked out of  the house.
And  finally, she told  Nikolai  how she  had given  Opratin the  knife  the
previous day in the hope that this  would help them to complete  the project
sooner, after which Anatole would return to her.
     "You gave the knife to Opratin!" Nikolai exclaimed.
     Rita measured him with a long look.
     "Promise me you won't tell a soul about any of this. Not a single soul.
Not even Yura."
     "But  why, Rita?  Why keep silent? On the contrary, something has to be
done.  We  must convince your husband  that  such  single-handed experiments
aren't fruitful. We must persuade him to switch to our Institute."
     "No," she said. "He wouldn't pay any attention to that kind of talk. It
would only make him still angrier."
     "He wouldn't  listen  to  me, of course.  But he  would to Privalov and
Professor Bagbanly."
     "No, you don't know him," Rita repeated insistently. "You must  promise
to say nothing. I demand it."
     "Very well," said Nikolai in a downcast voice, "I promise."

     "They unfurled their canvas sails
     And sped across the Caspian Sea."
     -From the Russian epic poem
     Vassily Buslayevich


     Valery  Gorbachevsky  felt, on  that  lovely  day  in  June,  that  his
bottle-green  sun-glasses were rose-coloured.  His leave of absence  to take
his correspondence college exams was over, and everything had gone well,  if
you closed your eyes to a mediocre mark in English.
     He was now on his way to work after an interval of twenty days. He  was
walking  fast because he  had had  to  stop at the library, which  opened at
eight  o'clock,  to return  some textbooks, and  he was  afraid he would  be
reprimanded by Nikolai Potapkin for being late.
     Valery skirted the bed of gladioli near the entrance and  flew into the
lobby. He  dashed past  the cloakroom, with  its  thickets of  nickel-plated
racks, and past the time-board,  now closed, hoping that speed  would enable
him to avoid the timekeeper.
     It did not work out that way. The timekeeper, pleasant-faced Ella,  was
at  her  place.  Strangely  enough, Yura Kostyukov,  incredibly handsome  in
cream-coloured  flannels  and  a  new  green-and-yellow  checked shirt,  was
sitting  beside  her.  Still  under   the  influence  of   Fedor  Matveyev's
manuscript, Yura was amusing himself by paying the girl  courtly compliments
in  eighteenth  century  fashion. Ella did  not understand half of what Yura
said but she was flattered and could not stop giggling.
     When Yura caught sight of Valery he turned with great dignity to glance
at the clock.  "Please  note, Ella," he drawled, "that  this man,  returning
from a  leave of absence, has arrived eleven minutes late but  does not look
the least repentant."
     "What  the hell are you doing  here?" Valery  wondered disrespectfully.
Out loud he said the first thing that came into his head. "The trolleybus-"
     "Ah,  to be sure,  to be sure."  Yura nodded understandingly. "I hadn't
thought of  that. But fate is always  merciful to the lazy  ones." He drew a
folded sheet of paper from his  breast pocket.  "Here you  are. This is  for
     "My annual vacation?" Valery said, reading the paper. "But I don't want
it just now."
     "There  are times when  the management has the right to insist that the
personnel go on vacation even if they don't want to," Yura said in a tone of
mock authority. "I didn't ask for my vacation either. Neither did any of the
     "All of us? The whole laboratory?"
     "At nine  o'clock  you'll be able to draw  your vacation pay. And don't
ask idle questions."
     "I'll step into the laboratory meanwhile."
     "Follow my example, young man, and restrain your zeal."

     Yura was right. Managements do have the right, when circumstances arise
that prevent the normal functioning of a  factory shop, office or the  like,
to insist that members of the staff take their annual vacation regardless of
any schedules that may have been drawn up previously.
     In this case the circumstances had been the following:
     After Privalov  and Nikolai returned from Moscow  the development  of a
pipeless  oil  pipeline  had  been included  in their  Institute's  research
programme.  Since  the  main research  was  being done at  the  Institute of
Surfaces  in  Moscow, cautious Pavel Koltukhov forbade  experiments in  this
     "The devil take  the  lot of you!" he exclaimed in  reply to Privalov's
arguments. "I'm fed up with your delightful habit of sticking your finger in
other people's pies.  First thing I know your lab technician will be putting
his head in an inductor, and I'll have to answer for it."
     When a thick envelope arrived from Moscow towards the end of  April the
Institute  director summoned  Koltukhov and Privalov to a  conference.  When
Professor Bagbanly arrived shortly afterwards he was also  shown through the
massive leather-covered door of the director's office. The conference lasted
for hours. First  glasses of tea were  carried in,  then bottles of  mineral
     Yura appeared in the reception room after lunch. "Smells like something
burning," he remarked  with a  glance  at the closed door, wrinkling up  his
     The secretary did  not pause in her typing. "Run along now,  Yura," she
said. "They'll manage without you."
     Yura went back to the laboratory.
     "Something's cooking  in the director's office,  Nikolai," he whispered
to his friend. "They've been at it since morning. Boris forgot all about his
yoghurt  during the lunch break.  It's probably  news from  Moscow.  Listen,
can't you tear yourself away from  your  slide rule? What's  the matter with
you, anyway?"
     Nikolai  said   nothing.  He   studied  his  unfinished   drawing  with
exaggerated  attention.  The curve he had  just plotted  reminded him  of  a
wind-filled sail. This association brought back a picture of the high  white
side of  the Uzbekistan, and a slender figure in a red sun-dress diving into
the sea. Also, a picture of melancholy dark eyes.
     Nikolai drew his hand across his forehead.
     Rita had once been simply a stranger, gradually to be forgotten, driven
from  his mind. But now- now  everything was all  confused. No matter how he
tried  he could not forget her. She was no longer a stranger. She was Yellow
Lynx, a childhood playmate.
     Nikolai  had hardly seen her since  their return from Moscow.  She  had
phoned him several times at work. He had  asked her,  in a wooden voice, how
life was treating her. She had  told him that Anatole had returned home  and
had promised her to  go into hospital for treatment  as soon as he  finished
the job. Anatole's work was going along  well. Rita spoke about it in a gay,
animated voice. Nikolai was glad for her sake. But every time she rang up he
experienced pain.
     One day Rita invited Nikolai and Yura to drop in for tea. She wanted to
introduce them, her childhood friends, to her husband.
     Nikolai had never  seen  Anatole  before. He was  struck  by  Anatole's
unhealthy colouring, the bags under his eyes, and his dull glance.
     Anatole picked languidly at the cake on  his plate. He  took no part in
the conversation. Nikolai was dying to ask him about Fedor Matveyev's knife,
but that  question  and many  others on the  tip of his tongue could  not be
asked because of the promise he had given Rita.
     Anatole  turned his lacklustre eyes  on  Nikolai.  "Has  your apparatus
produced any sort of long-term penetrability?" he asked.
     Nikolai almost choked  in  surprise.  He hurriedly chewed the  piece of
cake in his mouth. "I don't  really know," he replied. "We turned everything
over to the Academy of Sciences."
     "How   are   your  experiments  coming  along?"  Yura  politely   asked
Benedictov. "When will we be able to offer you our congratulations?"
     "How can we compete with the Academy?" Anatole asked glumly.
     Yura twitched  his  blond eyebrows. "Why compete? Join us.  The days of
ivory-tower scholars are over. Modern scientific problems are so-"
     Anatole interrupted him. "You're too young, far  too young, in fact, to
tell me which  days  are  over and which aren't."  He  frowned. No one  said
anything.  Rita  hurriedly  changed  the  topic.  "You  boys  are  going  to
tomorrow's concert at Philharmony Hall, aren't you?"
     But this  did not help.  The afternoon  was ruined. Soon after, Anatole
rose, complaining of a headache, and left the room.
     Yura could see what was troubling  Nikolai,  but for the first time  in
their  many years  together he could think of no  way to help his friend. He
even  went so  far as to  ask Val's advice, but she viewed the matter rather
disdainfully. She  did  not seem to  like this newly-found playmate of their
     The envelope that  had come  from the  Institute of Surfaces in  Moscow
really did contain interesting news.  The  frequencies which had  influenced
the Cooper Lane  installation  had been ascertained. What  had  been vaguely
hinted at in  the clumsy experiment mounted  by the young engineers had been
translated  into the language of formulas  and  figures. The  workers at the
Moscow  Institute  had  obtained  their  initial  result: the  rods  pressed
together in the field of the Mobius band had penetrated each other, although
not   deeply.  They  felt  that  their  southern   colleagues  could   begin
experimenting with liquids.
     The cautious Koltukhov surrendered. He  gave Privalov the  go-ahead  to
set up an experiment.
     Preparations took all  of May and  half of June. An apparatus  having a
glass coil mounted inside the stator of  an electrical machine was installed
in  one of the  rooms of Privalov's laboratory. A Mobius band  of  yellowish
metal, a metre and a half long, was  placed  beside  the  stator. Behind the
band there was an aluminium disc, a condenser screen linked up to a powerful
electrostatic generator.
     The glass coil was filled with water and  connected to  a small drum of
     The idea was that penetrability-in this  case, permeability, to be more
precise-would arise in the field of the  Mobius band, that is, the oil would
flow through the water in the coil.  This would be  the model  of a pipeless
oil  pipeline,  a  model of complete diffusion  of liquids with  reorganized
internal bonds. The particles of oil would pass freely through the particles
of water.
     The Institute of Surfaces believed there ought to  be  a certain amount
of  external excitation  of  the  field  when  the  installation  went  into
operation. A  hard gamma beam would  be suitable, Academician  Georgi Markov
thought. And so, a lead container with an ampoule of a radioactive substance
inside it had been suspended beside the Mobius band.
     Chief  engineer  Koltukhov   had   the   control  panel  and  measuring
instruments moved  into an adjoining room. He himself locked and sealed  the
door of the room in which the installation stood.
     During the first few days different  types of operating conditions were
tried out, but with no results. The oil that was pumped into the coil simply
pushed the water out of it.
     The  eventful day  started  just  like the others.  The men took  their
places  at   the  control  panel,  and  Yura   switched  on  the  television
transmitter. The Mobius band and the glass coil appeared on the screen.
     "Attention. All sec. Let's start," said Privalov. "The container."
     The  electrician pressed  a button. In  the next  room an electromagnet
removed  the lid of  the lead container and a  flux of  gamma  rays streamed
towards  the border  area  of  the  oil  and  water.  The  ruby eye  of  the
radioactivity indicator began to glow.
     "Now the static charge!"  A switch  clicked,  and the  generator on the
other side of the wall  began  to whine.  A green  zigzag  appeared  on  the
rounded  bottom of  the  cathode-ray tube  of  the oscillograph in  front of
Nikolai and crept to the right, along the scale. Nikolai turned the knob  to
hold the zigzag in place.
     "Let's have frequency 230, Nikolai," said Privalov.
     Moving  from  one frequency  to the next, Privalov  patiently proceeded
through the programme planned for that day.
     Suddenly Yura leaned forward to the  screen. The borderline between the
dark oil and the transparent water had become smudged.
     "It's begun!" he whispered tensely.
     All eyes  turned  to the screen.  It did look as though the oil was  no
longer pressing  against  the  water,  pushing  it ahead of  itself, but was
passing through it.
     Privalov kept  his eyes  fixed  on the  pressure-gauge. Resistance  was
dropping. There was  no doubt about  it. One hundred and twenty  grammes per
square  centimetre.... Seventy.... Fifty-two....  Glancing at the TV screen,
he saw that the glass coil was cloudy.
     Yura laughed jubilantly. "It's permeability, Boris!"
     The water's resistance was rapidly dropping towards the desired zero.
     Thirty-five.... thirty.... Suddenly the  needle quivered,  then stopped
at twenty-seven.
     Privalov  impatiently  tapped  the glass  of the  pressure-gauge with a
fingernail. The needle was  motionless, as though it had come  up against an
impassable barrier.
     "Add five-tenths, Nikolai," he said in a low voice.
     Nikolai gave the field intensity  knob a  slight turn. The green zigzag
on the oscillograph screen climbed, but the pressure-gauge needle refused to
     "Some   sort   of  threshold,"  Privalov  said.  "Let's  have   another
     "Look!" exclaimed the electrician. "Just look at this."
     They turned  to  glance at  the electric meter.  Electricity was  being
consumed at a much  greater rate than usual. The meter was whirling  so fast
that the right-hand figures were a blur.
     Privalov  glanced  at the ammeter. The needle  was almost  on  zero, as
though the installation  had  been switched off. But the electric meter  was
spinning  faster  and faster.  The electricity from the  mains  seemed to be
vanishing into a bottomless pit.
     Koltukhov came up.
     "It's simply being swallowed up," he said. "What's happening?"
     The telephone rang. He picked up the receiver.
     "Yes,  this  is  me, Koltukhov.  No,  we  haven't  switched on any  new
machines. What? Yes, we'll have to. I'll call you back in five minutes."
     He  put down the receiver and  turned  to Privalov. "They're worried at
the substation. Voltage  in  the district  is  falling. They've  switched on
their  reserve but  it  doesn't help. The power loss is  appalling and quite
incomprehensible. Shall we stop the whole thing?"
     The  zigzag  on  the  oscillograph  kept  climbing,  although operating
conditions had not changed.
     "No!"  Privalov kept  his  eyes glued to the zigzag.  "Give  us another
     The green zigzag  jumped to  the top  of the  frame.  The meter was now
screaming like a siren. The  figures blurred into grey streaks. Suddenly the
glass  shattered and the meter flew to pieces.  The electrician  barely  had
time to cover his eyes with his hand.
     A  bright  light  flooded  the  TV screen.  Yura  involuntarily  sprang
     Privalov dashed to  the main switch  to turn off the  installation  but
before he could  reach  it there  was an  explosion on the other side of the
wall. Plaster rained down on their heads.  The floor  shook. Privalov jerked
the switch down and looked round. As he pushed back his hair with his sleeve
he smeared  his face  with plaster dust.  No one seemed to be hurt, or  even
particularly frightened, for that matter. It had all happened too suddenly.
     "Turn on the TV receiver," Privalov said hoarsely. "Just the TV."
     The screen lit up with lustreless horizontal bands. There was no image.
Yura fiddled with the knobs.
     "It  looks as though the  transmitter was knocked out," he said softly.
"Along with everything else in that room."
     "Close the container," said Koltukhov.
     The electrician pressed a button, but the red bulb continued to glow.
     "It   doesn't   close,"   he   said.   "Something's   wrong   with  the
     "Something's wrong with  the  whole  thing,"  Koltukhov  put  in. Then,
raising his voice, he said: "Everyone leave the room, please."
     The corridor buzzed with alarmed voices. The director of  the Institute
came hurrying down the stairs.
     "What happened?" he asked.
     Leading him aside, Koltukhov and Privalov  told  him briefly  about the
explosion and what had preceded it.
     "There's an open  container inside that room,"  Koltukhov  added.  "The
blast may have ejected the ampoule and  smashed it. The walls are thick, but
after all, that's 1,500 milligrams of radioactive matter-"
     "Seal  the  laboratory  and  summon  the  emergency  squad,"  said  the

     The  damage done by the blast was relatively insignificant. Part of the
floor was charred,  plaster had fallen from  the ceiling and walls, and  the
installation  was  wrecked. The copper cartridge  with the ampoule inside it
had flown  out  of its lead container, just as Koltukhov had said it  might,
and  the  radioactive  matter had dispersed.  That room,  the  two adjoining
rooms, and the  three  second-floor rooms above them could not be used until
everything had been rendered quite harmless.
     Privalov's entire laboratory was closed down for the time being.
     And so, Valery Gorbachevsky found himself taking a  vacation before  he
had time to return to work eleven minutes late.
     For a while he had thought Yura  Kostyukov  was pulling his leg, and he
decided to  go upstairs and see for himself. Before  he had put  his foot on
the first step he saw Privalov coming down,  carrying a small suitcase, with
a raincoat over his arm.
     "Goodbye," he  said, offering Valery his hand. Then he shook hands with
Yura and moved towards the outer door.
     "For heaven's sake, tell me what happened," Valery begged Yura.
     "Privalov's taking a plane to Moscow."
     "What for?"
     Yura did not  know. He  knew only that Privalov and Koltukhov,  wearing
protective clothing, had  entered the  room  and found  something there that
prompted them to go to Moscow at once. He also knew that a steel-bound crate
had been shipped off to Moscow.

     At five o'clock in the morning the city on the horseshoe-shaped bay was
still  asleep. A mist hovered above the  grey water  of the harbour and  the
black hulks of the barges in the roadstead.  But the red and gold fires of a
new day were beginning to blaze in the east.
     -Carrying  small  suitcases,  Nikolai  and  Yura,  accompanied  by Rex,
approached the entrance to the marina. Valery Gorbachevsky, outfitted with a
transistor radio and fishing gear, was already waiting for them.
     At  the far  end of  the pier,  dockmaster Mehti sat leaning against an
overturned boat. His  tanned, large-featured face  looked like old bronze. A
grey  halo  fringed  his  round, mahogany-coloured bald  spot.  His  striped
jersey, ring in one ear, intricate  tattooing on  his arms, and the knife in
his  hand made  him  look  as though  he had just stepped out of  a story by
Robert Louis Stevenson.
     A  large sun-cured fish and a tin filled with small lumps of sugar were
neatly set out in front of him on a clean white cloth. Strong tea steamed in
a mug.  The dockmaster  was cutting a loaf of  fresh  unleavened  bread into
thick slices.
     "The terror  of the seas is taking his morning grog," Yura whispered to
his companions. Aloud he said:
     "Good-morning, Mehti."
     The dockmaster turned a bright black eye on the newcomers and nodded.
     "We  made  the boat ready yesterday," Nikolai  told  him. "Everything's
     "That's what you think," Mehti said sternly. "I'll take a look and see.
Have a snack with me."
     The young men sat down beside him and were each handed a mug of tea.
     "Taking music along with  you,  I see," Mehti remarked, glancing at the
transistor set.
     "Yes," Yura replied.  "Besides  listening to music we'll keep in  touch
with the world while we're out at sea."
     Mehti said nothing. He put q sizable piece of cheese into his mouth and
chewed it thoughtfully.
     After breakfast they set out to inspect the boat.
     The  Mekong lay  at  anchor some two hundred metres from  the pier. The
dockmaster  walked over to  the  edge of the pier with his rolling gait  and
stepped into a dinghy. The young men followed him.
     Mehti  had  paid  no attention to Rex up until then. Now he said, "That
dog will have to get out."
     "But why?" Yura protested. "Rex is a fine dog."
     "Fine dogs stay at home. They don't go to sea."
     "He'd die of a broken heart if we left him at home, Mehti."
     "He didn't die whenever you went sailing without him before, did he?"
     "Oh, Mehti, please let us take Rex. Rex is really a nautical dog."
     "The next thing I  know you'll bring a donkey and try  to tell me  it's
nautical too," Mehti retorted. "Put that dog ashore at once."
     This was done. Valery, who was quietly enjoying the  scene, then untied
the  painter at the bow.  Energetic strokes of the oars carried  them out to
the sailboat.
     Mehti  painstakingly  checked every  knot and every lanyard. Finally he
pronounced the boat ready to sail.
     Nikolai  and  Yura left Valery aboard  the  Mekong and returned  to the
clubhouse, where Mehti put on his spectacles and opened his register.
     "Here," he said to Nikolai, poking a fingernail at a clean page, "write
down the number of  people aboard, list their names,  and state where you're
sailing to  and for  how long. Then sign that you  have permission  from the
port authorities, that you were given a copy of the latest weather forecast,
and that you have the necessary maps and charts."
     Now that they were  so unexpectedly on  holiday our friends had decided
to make a  voyage  along the  coast, to  the mouth of the river Kura. If the
wind was right  they  would continue farther south,  as far as Lenkoran, and
visit the botanical gardens there. En route they intended to stop at some of
the islands in the archipelago.
     Valery,  a  newcomer on the  Mekong,  was  terribly  excited  about the
cruise. He had practically memorized Yura's sailing manual.
     Val had also expressed her delight at being invited to come along.
     One evening, two  days before they were  to sail, when the men were  at
Yura's house checking  their route and their lists  of gear  and provisions,
Nikolai suddenly pushed the map aside and reached for a cigarette.
     "Let's invite another passenger," he said, lighting his cigarette.
     "Okay," said Yura, who guessed at once  whom Nikolai had in mind. "Ring
her up."
     "It would be better if you did. You're more persuasive."
     Rita picked up the receiver at the first ring. "It's really nice of you
to think of me," she said after Yura had invited her to  come along  on  the
cruise. "But I can't be away from town for any length of time."
     "It's just for a week, Rita. The school vacation has begun, hasn't it?"
     "Oh, Yura, I'm so sorry, but I simply can't. Thanks for the invitation,
though. And remember me to Nikolai."
     She  put down the receiver, settled herself in her  favourite corner of
the  sofa, her legs under her, and opened her  book. Her eyes  ran  down the
lines but the meaning of the words did not sink in.
     She  was alone again. Anatole had not been home for two weeks now. They
hadn't quarrelled, it  wasn't that. She looked after him  to the best of her
ability and did not ask him any  questions. She realized that he was ashamed
to take the  drug in  front of her but could  not get  along without  it. He
often  made  long  trips  to some  sort of special  laboratory. A hitch  had
cropped up in his work again.  He spent  the nights at  Opratin's,  where he
never heard any reproaches.
     The next morning Rita went to  the Institute of Marine Physics. Anatole
was not at his  desk, and she had to wait  in the lobby  a fairly long  time
before someone found him and he came downstairs.
     "How clever of you to drop in," he said. He took her hand in his sweaty
palm. His eyes were tender.
     They stepped out into the garden and sat down on a bench at the edge of
the lawn.
     "Are you coming home tonight?"
     His face darkened. "This is just our busiest time, Rita. We've done the
main part of it.  Now we have to make sure there are  no flaws. It will take
another few weeks-"
     "Very well," Rita said sadly. "I'll wait."
     "I'll be going out to the laboratory again in a few days. If it doesn't
work- Then  I'll collect  all the  material  that's  out  there and try it a
different way."
     "I went  to see  Dr.  Khalilov. He's  willing to  take you  in whenever
you're ready. The sooner you start, Anatole, the better-"
     "I know, I know. Just wait a little." Anatole took her hand again. "Has
the school vacation started already?"
     "Yes."  The instant Rita said  this  she remembered the  previous day's
telephone call. "I've been invited to  go  sailing, Anatole. Do  you think I
     "Who invited you? Those childhood friends of yours?"
     "Yes. It's a seven-day cruise along  the coast." "Go  by all means. The
change will do you good. Remember our cruise of last year?"
     After a few more minutes of desultory conversation Rita said goodbye to
Anatole and left. At the gate she looked  back. Anatole was  standing at the
edge of the sunflooded lawn, gazing after her. His arms hung by his sides.
     On returning home Rita rang up Yura and told him she would  be  glad to
join them.

     As Nikolai  finished writing his  entry in the  register and signed his
name with a flourish they heard  rapid footsteps. '"That's Val", said  Yura.
"Here  we are, Val." "Hullo, there." Val ran up, panting for  breath. "I was
sure I'd be late.  How do you  do, Mehti." Mehti acknowledged  the  greeting
with a nod, picked up the register, and disappeared with it into his office.
     "What a  glorious day," Val exclaimed.  "I  was  worried I'd  be  late.
Nikolai warned  me so sternly yesterday about coming on time. Well, what are
we waiting for? It's seven already, isn't it? Time to start."
     "Let's wait a  bit longer," Nikolai  muttered. He walked to the edge of
the pier, where he could look down deserted Seaside Boulevard.
     "I see.  That friend  of your childhood, is it?" Val pulled a wry  face
and looked at Yura. "So you did invite that nut."
     Yura spread  his  hands reproachfully. "There she is," Nikolai cried as
he caught a glimpse of a red sun-dress far down the boulevard.
     Rita came up smiling,  her face relaxed. She shook hands with everybody
and patted Rex.
     "You're a bit late," Val could not resist saying.
     "It doesn't matter in the least," Nikolai put in hastily.
     They walked to the end  of  the pier. Mehti was  not in sight, so  Yura
pushed Rex into the dinghy and ordered him to lie down.
     "Couldn't we do without Rex?" Val asked.
     "Dogs need a change of scenery too," Yura explained.
     As they approached the sailboat Rita read the name on its bow. "Mekong"
she said. "Is it the same one?"
     "The  very  same."  Nikolai replied  gaily as he helped her to climb on
board. Then he snapped: "Make sail."
     As they hauled the sheets  home Yura and Nikolai pretended it was  hard
work and struck up an old sailors'  chantey they had  heard Mehti sing  many

     Sail to have a fast clipper.
     Pull, boys, pull, boys!

     With each "pull" they gave a tug in unison and the sail rose higher and

     Will you tell me who is skipper?
     Pull, boys, pull, boys, pull!

     "Regular pirates, they are," Val remarked.
     "They do everything very neatly," Rita said approvingly.
     "Of course they do. Sailing is their hobby."
     The lines were belayed and the sail swelled tautly. The Mekong, listing
slightly, glided off.
     Nikolai sat at  the tiller.  Yura  rose, planted his feet wide apart on
the deck, thrust an arm forward and declaimed:

     An unforgettable moment. .
     The breeze freshens,
     We round the lighthouse,
     You are so near, so dear,
     Yet your hand I dare not touch.
     In the water Cassiopeia's lights
     Glitter like gold, and clouds sail by.

     Valery gazed  admiringly at Yura. Rita  listened with a smile. Speeding
before  the wind into  the  sparkling  blue morning gave her a deep sense of
     "I'll be the taskmaster," Yura said. "Courageous Commodore Nikolai will
sail our ship over the bounding main." He made  Nikolai a deep bow. "I'm his
first mate. And with  your  kind permission I'm also his fearless navigator.
Valery will be our  deck boy and vigilant  lookout. Carnivorous Rex will, in
case of mutiny, bite the lower limbs of the mutineers."
     Hearing his name, Rex put out his tongue and licked Yura's bare foot.
     "What  about us?" Val asked.  "How dare  you rank us below  Rex in your
silly hierarchy?"
     "But I don't. You and Rita will provide the crew with nourishing meals.
In your spare time  you can protect the delicate skin of your noses from the
scorching rays of the tropical sun by pasting a strip of paper on them."
     The boat sped out of the bay into the blue sea, its sail billowing. The
city behind them disappeared into a bluish haze.
     Yura lay down on the deck beside Nikolai.
     "This is the very same place. Do you suppose that knife is still on the
     Nikolai did not answer. He was busy setting a new course.
     "You're not bored, Rita, are you?" he asked.
     She smiled at him. "Not at all. It's terribly interesting. Everything's
fine. You promised to teach me to steer the boat."
     Nikolai handed her the tiller and showed her how to steer  a course  by
     "It's not easy," Rita  said after a  few minutes. "The boat won't  obey
     "Don't jerk the tiller, move it gently. Now  turn it to port, that  is,
to the left. That's right."
     "Grip the rudder tight," Yura advised.
     Rita did not raise her eyes from the compass. "Why?"
     "All sea stories say so."
     Nikolai grinned. "Don't listen to him. You'd have a hard time  gripping
the  rudder because  the  rudder  is under the  boat. What you're holding is
called the tiller."
     After  several days at  sea  the two girls were able to walk a  sloping
deck and to light the primus-stove that swung in a hanger.  They had finally
come to  believe  that the boat was  rocking and the primus-stove was almost
motionless. Dinners were prepared according to Yura's recipe: a tin of  meat
was  poured into a mixture  of  millet  grits  and  potato cubes and  cooked
together. The crew of the Mekong ate this stew with great gusto.
     The  weather was perfect. No one aboard the Mekong wore  anything  more
than the briefest bathing costume and sun-glasses. Before long they were all
a deep bronze from the sun.
     "Darwin was right,"  Nikolai remarked one afternoon. "He  says,  in his
Voyage of the  Beagle, that a  white  man bathing beside a Tahitian does not
look at all impressive. A dark skin is more natural than a white skin."
     Val  lifted her  head from  her  book.  She opened  her  mouth  to  say
something  but after a glance  at Nikolai's dark brown shoulders she changed
her mind.
     Gradually the coolness between the two young women faded. Prompted by a
feeling of feminine solidarity, Rita often took  Val's side  in the frequent
debates aboard the Mekong. Sometimes the two of them went off by themselves,
to the  extent that  this was possible  on such a small  boat, and held long
conversations. Or rather,  Val talked about herself  and  the thesis she was
writing, and how  annoying and  unfeeling Yura  was at  times. Rita listened
with an understanding smile.
     The sun, the sea and the fresh air all had their effect. Rita developed
a beautiful tan, she grew  more relaxed. Her appetite began to  horrify her.
The anxieties and disappointments of the past few  months  were being pushed
out of her thoughts by the sea and the sky.
     One evening when the velvety black sky was strewn with diamonds and the
Mekong was gliding across a smooth, dark sea, leaving behind a silvery wake,
Rita sat in the stern, hugging her knees, while Nikolai half-reclined beside
her. His watch was coming to an end but he was in no  hurry to waken Valery,
asleep in the  cabin.  In the silence, broken  only  by  the wash whispering
softly alongside  the hull, the words "Your hand I  dare not  touch" flashed
through Nikolai's mind. He closed his eyes.
     "I've been recalling our childhood,"  Rita  said.  "Calm, starry nights
like this belong only to childhood."
     Her voice seemed to float towards him from afar.
     "What a  strange  power the sea  has," Rita went on  slowly.  "You  can
actually feel it cleansing your soul."
     "Your hand I dare not touch," Nikolai repeated soundlessly.
     "Are you listening?"
     Nikolai opened his eyes. "Yes."
     "Now I am beginning to understand why there  have been  so many sailors
in our family."
     Val and Yura sat out of sight in the bow, behind the stay-sail. Val had
her dark head on Yura's shoulder as she gazed enthralled at  the sea and the
     "Look how bright it is," she whispered: pointing to a golden star.
     "That's Venus,"  said Yura. "Did you know that the Greeks thought Venus
was  two stars?  They  called the evening  star in the west Vesper, and  the
morning star in the east Phosphor."
     "Oh dear, you always have something to say about  everything. Why can't
you just sit quietly and drink in the beauties of Nature?"
     Suddenly she turned her head and  peeped out from behind the stay-sail.
"I  wonder  what  they're talking  about," she whispered.  "Do  you  suppose
they're on intimate terms with each other?"
     "I haven't the faintest idea."
     "Oh, Yura, do tell me."
     "But  I  really don't know. " Yura was  compelled  to add:  "You  women
always want everything  pigeon-holed neatly.  In such cases it's best not to

     The cluster of islands lay baking in the sunshine.
     The Mekong glided past Duvanny Island,  where Stepan Razin and his  men
divided  the  booty of the Persian campaign. They visited Bull Island to see
the vast  number of birds that nested there, and then  dropped anchor on Los
Island,  where  hot mud bubbled constantly in craters,  some all  of  twenty
metres in diameter. In places the mud tipped over the edge of its crater and
flowed down to the sea in a brown rivulet.
     "I  had no idea all this rather  frightening wilderness was so close to
us!" Rita exclaimed.
     It  was noon. The wind  had dropped, and the sun was blazing. The sails
hung limp. Yura tossed a match into the  smooth  green water. It  floated on
the surface without drifting away from the boat.
     Heat waves shimmered in the motionless air. The horizon had vanished in
a haze; land could not be seen anywhere.
     "What do you do if there is no wind for a long time?" Val asked.
     "Haven't you read any sea stories?" Yura asked. "We eat up all our food
and then draw lots to see who is the first to be divided up for dinner." The
talk turned to how long a person could live without food  or water, and they
recalled well-known cases of men who had survived many days alone at sea.
     "I wouldn't be able  to  eat  raw fish the  way Dr. Alain Bombard did,"
said Val.
     "If you  had nothing else you'd eat it and like it," Yura retorted. "As
for water, we have some miracles we can work if we have to." "What kind?"
     "A resin that turns  sea water into fresh water through  ion  exchange.
But there's no need to worry-it won't come to that."
     "I'm not worrying."
     There was still no wind.  The sky was  a milky  white, as though it had
been drained of colour. A fog crept towards them from the north.
     "I don't like this  dead calm," Yura  said to Nikolai in  a  low voice.
"Let's drop anchor. By evening there may be a current that will carry us off
to where we don't want to go."
     The water,  as  smooth and colourless as the sky, swallowed  the anchor
without a splash.
     The storm broke without warning. Squalls  of a raging  north wind  tore
the fog to shreds and whistled menacingly in the rigging.
     The entire  weight of his body  on  the tiller, Nikolai  held  the boat
against the wind. Yura and Valery took down the jib and ran up the hurricane
sail. Then, bracing themselves on the pitching deck, they reefed in the taut
mainsail  with great difficulty.  Valery was almost  swept overboard  at one
point. The stays and shrouds moaned as the wind tore at them.
     The  Mekong, her mainsail tightly reefed, was  driven southward.  Waves
swept over her and crested on her deck; the foam hissed and dissolved.
     Rita and Val sat silent in the cockpit, pressed close together, staring
at the wild sea.
     On the water-swept foredeck Valery helped Yura  to  fashion a  floating
anchor from boathooks and oars which they wrapped in a staysail.
     To  be carried forward into the unknown, into the roaring night, across
a sea strewn with  reefs and submerged rocks, was terrifying. Holding to the
tiller with difficulty.  Nikolai tacked back and forth.  As she  tacked, the
boat lay on  her side, her  reefed mainsail  dipping into the waves. Nikolai
knew the keel  was heavy and was confident they would not be upset. "Hold on
tight," he shouted. "Don't be scared! We'll soon right ourselves!"
     Each tack  demanded  tremendous exertion. Nikolai's muscles ached,  his
forehead was beaded with sweat.
     He  bore down on  the tiller with all his might, overcoming the furious
resistance of the waves.
     "Hurry up there!" he shouted to Yura above the howling of the wind.
     Suddenly a  shudder went through the boat. There was a  grinding  sound
under  the keel; boards snapped  in two, the  mast came crashing  down.  All
these sounds almost drowned out a short cry-but Nikolai  heard it. He dashed
forward along the listing deck, pushed Valery  aside and jumped overboard. A
breaker washed over him, the undertow tugging at his legs. But he managed to
touch  bottom  with one foot. Looking up, he  caught  a glimpse of a beach a
short distance ahead.
     The wave rolled Nikolai back beside the Mekong. He dived and felt along
the pebbly  bottom. In another moment his head was out  of the  water and he
had Yura in his arms. But, unable to keep on his  feet, he sank to his knees
in  the  water.   He  rose  again,  now  standing  chest-deep,  and  shouted
breathlessly: "All ashore! It's shallow here! Rope yourselves together!"
     Carrying the unconscious body of his  friend  over his shoulder, he was
knocked  off his feet again and  again  by the  waves as he stumbled along a
sandbar towards the shore.
     The  Mekong lay on its side. The three on board clung to  whatever they
could lay hands on.  Rex, pushed up  against the  cabin  handrail, whimpered
     At the sound of Nikolai's voice Valery recovered  from  his fright. Now
he was the senior crew member aboard the boat.
     "Listen,  you  girls!" he  shouted. "Everything's  all right! We'll  go
     He tied the end  of  a sail sheet round  his waist, then roped Rita and
Val to it and ran the other end  through Rex's collar. He jumped out  of the
boat and  helped the girls to  do  the same.  The  three of  them  staggered
towards shore, Rita carrying Rex.
     Finally they  came ashore. Still roped  together, they  climbed a  clay
slope. On the other side of the hillock they took shelter from the wind in a
hollow. The sand in the hollow was surprisingly warm underfoot.
     Here they saw Yura lying on  the sand. Nikolai was energetically giving
him artificial respiration.
     Val dashed forward. "Yura!" she cried wildly.

     To  save the 'reader unnecessary anxiety, we announce here and now that
Yura survived the ordeal.
     Meanwhile,  the action shifts  to  Moscow. Boris Privalov and Professor
Bagbanly arrived in  the  capital  by  plane several  days before  the heavy
steel-bound crate.
     From the  airport they drove  straight to the  research centre in which
the Institute of Surfaces was situated. Rooms  had been reserved for them in
the hotel there.
     "What do you say  now?" Privalov asked Academician Markov  after he had
looked through the records of the experiment.
     But the Academician refused  to be  hurried. "We'll examine your latest
miracle first." Turning  to Professor Bagbanly, he remarked, "I haven't seen
you in Moscow for quite a time, have I?"
     A few  days  later, in the  middle of the afternoon, a lorry drove into
the yard of  the Institute  workshop and a crane lifted a heavy crate out of
it. What the Institute employees saw after the crate had been opened up  was
a block of concrete. It had been the  support on which the Mobius band stood
during the experiments. Now  a yellowish metal arc about  the size and shape
of  a pail handle  jutted up from it.  The remainder of the  Mobius band had
sunk into the concrete.
     Academician Markov slowly ran his hand along the arc.  His hand  passed
through  the metal. All he felt  was something like a  warm, gentle  puff of
air. The  sensation was not unfamiliar to him. The Institute experiments had
already produced several models of restructured matter.
     When they cut the block in two they found that the section  of the band
which had sunk into the concrete was impenetrable. Analysis showed, however,
that all the elements found in concrete were present in the area occupied by
the  band.  The  atomic-molecular  systems   of   concrete  had  filled  the
interatomic spaces in the metal. This was penetrability.
     "It's a fantastic, unprecedented mixture," the Academician remarked the
next morning  as  he looked  through the analysis report.  "Yet  it actually
     "The Mobius band came into the zone  of its own action," said Professor
Bagbanly, "and therefore it sank into the concrete."
     "Yes, you could say that the band devoured itself."
     "But why did it get  stuck?"  asked  Privalov.  "Why  didn't  it go  in
deeper, through  the floor and then through the earth  too, for that matter?
How did gravity act on it?"
     "Gravity?  How little we know about gravity! We may suppose, of course,
that the band  descended  until  it  reached some sort  of  limit,  where it
encountered repulsive forces."
     "The energy limits of penetrability," Professor Bagbanly suggested.
     "Yes,  the  energy limits." Academician Markov took a sheet of  squared
paper from a  folder  and placed  it in  front of his visitors. "I asked our
power experts to make a chart of the phases of  your  experiment. This curve
is power consumption," he said,  pointing  to  it with his pencil.  "You can
clearly see the moment when consumption skyrocketed."
     There was silence for a while as all three studied the chart.
     "The moment  when  matter  absorbed  energy,  to  be more  exact,"  the
Academician went on. "An energy abyss, if you wish.  You simply did not have
enough energy to fill it."
     "What if there had been enough?" Privalov asked quickly.
     "Then I believe the experiment would have continued calmly to the end."
The Academician pointed a long finger at Privalov. "You did not complete the
process of restructuring the internal  bonds of matter. The process exploded
backwards, returning the energy-not only what had been expended but also the
energy of the surface."
     "That means we-"
     "Yes,  Boris. What you called  an  explosion was the surface energy. Do
you recall, last  winter,  my  mentioning a  new  power  source?  Well,  you
obtained it."
     Professor Bagbanly tapped the chart with a fingernail. "This section of
the curve must be reduced to a dot."
     "Yes, but  if we are to reduce the time factor the process must have an
independent and sufficiently large power supply."
     "What kind of supply?" Privalov asked.
     "I don't know yet."
     -That evening Academician Markov rang up the hotel and invited Bagbanly
and Privalov to visit him  at home. He  met them in  the front garden of his
attractive little cottage and led them into a simply furnished sitting room.
Tea was served.
     Over the tea and cakes the Academician said: "I should like to tell you
a rather curious story. Or would you prefer to watch telesivion?"
     "I vote for the story," said Professor Bagbanly, setting down his empty
cup and preparing to listen.
     "Well,  here  it is. While I was rummaging through my collection of old
manuscripts the other day I came across a strange  Chinese tale. Excuse me a
moment." The  Academician left the room,  returning  a  minute later  with a
folder.  "I do  not possess  the original manuscript, unfortunately. It is a
rare collector's item;  the characters are  embroidered  on silk. This is  a
photographic reproduction I brought back from India a few years ago."
     The guests examined the copy of the manuscript with interest.
     "Here is the translation." The  Academician  produced a sheaf of papers
from the folder. "Let me read it to you."

     The Story of Liu Ching-chen, Seeker of Complete Knowledge

     Liu  Ching-chen  dedicated his  life to seeking Truth and Knowledge. He
mastered all the sciences and  all the natural elements:  metal, wood, fire,
water  and  earth.  He knew there existed three worlds: Desire,  Colour, and
     He often gazed at the moon. On clear nights he saw, in the moon, a jade
hare pounding a drug in a mortar. Liu Ching-chen knew  that anyone who  took
this drug would gain immortality. But  the moon was far  away. The wisdom of
complete knowledge was still farther away.
     Liu  Ching-chen  read  and  reread  the  Buddhist  secret  books  which
Hsuan-tsang had brought from India. But Hsuan-tsang had not brought  all the
wisdom of Buddha.
     To the west, beyond the high  mountains,  in distant India,  stood  the
mysterious  temple  of  Peals of  Thunder,  where books about  the  heavens,
treatises about the earth, and sutras about evil demons were preserved.
     So Liu Ching-chen turned his face to the west  and set out for India on
foot, knowing  this  would please  the  gods. He experienced  thirst in  the
desert,  fear  in the  forests, and hunger on the barren plains. He  crossed
high rocky mountains, where on stormy nights evil  spirits  sharpened  their
bronze  swords  against  the rough boulders. Finally, after making  his  way
across the last eight mountain passes and through the last nine ravines, Liu
Ching-chen reached India. This was in the year of Metal and the Tiger.
     Liu Ching-chen  came to the Temple of  Incarnation, where special cells
were set  aside  for meditation. Here he was told of a Hindu sage living  in
the mountains who, through frugality, silence and immobility, had attained a
state of mystical awareness that was the Third Degree of Holiness.
     Liu Ching-chen set out for the terrifying  mountains  in search of  the
cave  where  this  India  sage  sat  contemplating  his inner  self,  having
renounced a world that was merely the semblance of reality.
     The sage did not turn Liu Ching-chen away. He told him about the system
of philosophy known as  Sankhya, the eight aspects of the Unknown, the eight
aspects  of Delusion,  and  the eighteen  aspects of Absolute  Darkness.  He
taught  Liu Ching-chen the Four Modes  of Breathing and all else that  gives
man power over his own body. He taught Liu  Ching-chen  the  science of  the
power of the spirit over the world around him.
     Liu Ching-chen  moved into  a cave not far from the Indian sage. He did
not disturb the  sage; he did not see him  in the flesh, but he communicated
with him by the force of his spirit.
     He learned to renounce all that was  earthly. He was indifferent to the
changing of the seasons, to inclement weather, to wind and snow.
     One day, the sky  grew dark. Hot air streamed down the mountain slopes,
driving before it masses of snow that melted instantly. Frightful heat swept
over  Liu Ching-chen; he felt the mountain tremble beneath him. Then  he saw
one of the Five Beasts, the Unicorn, descend from the heavens.
     The Unicorn was more than 300 chi, or 100 metres, long, and at least 80
chi, or  25 metres, around. Its body was covered with golden scales. It  lay
without  moving. Then it expelled a breath, and  the hissing of the air that
came out of  its nostrils was so loud and so terrifying that Liu  Ching-chen
could  no  longer bear  to be alone. He fled  to join his Hindu mentor. They
huddled  together,  trembling  with fear  as they  gazed  at this  sign from
heaven, and they prayed to Buddha.
     Then the jaws  of the Unicorn opened and a man stepped out. Although he
was more than seven chi tall and his  naked body  had a transparent covering
through  which gleamed copper-coloured  skin,  he was a  two-legged creature
with nine orifices, and therefore a human being.
     The   copper-coloured  man   looked  round.  He  carried  a  weapon,  a
three-pronged  spear,  which he  thrust  into  the  rocks without  leaving a
scratch on them.  Then  six  more like  him  stepped  out  from between  the
Unicorn's jaws.  They strode along, plunging their three-pronged spears into
the rocks, producing streaks of green lightning  with which they  splintered
the rocks.
     After a large  number  of  rocks  had  been splintered into rubble  the
copper-coloured men drew a  scroll out of the Unicorn's mouth, unrolled  it,
and turned it into a path that ran of itself but remained in the same place.
They tried to feed broken  stone to the Unicorn,  but every time they picked
them up  the stones fell through the palms of their hands like water through
a sieve.
     They collected  switches of gold and silver, wove  a cage  out of them,
and placed the cage on top of the pile of rubble. They drew red tendons from
the body of the Unicorn and  tied them to the cage.  Liu Ching-chen  and his
companion  heard the Unicorn give a long  scream. They saw  a radiance about
the  cage,  and they  sensed, in  the  air,  the  freshness that  follows  a
thunderstorm.  The copper-skinned  men could  now pick up  the stones, which
they  flung on the running path. The path carried  the stones into the mouth
of  the Unicorn, and the  Unicorn swallowed them. After this the men stepped
into the mouth of the Unicorn, carrying away all the switches from the cage,
and the Unicorn roared with pleasure as it swallowed the stones.
     Finally  the  Unicorn  belched up  the stones it  had not been able  to
digest. These were black and scorched from being in his belly, and the smoke
they gave off was green. Together with the black stones the Unicorn threw up
iron crowns that looked like flowers with many  petals, after which its jaws
snapped  shut.  The Unicorn  rose  on its  tail, erupting fire,  and  soared
upwards. It hovered over the mountain for a long time, resting on the fire.
     Liu Ching-chen  and  his  mentor fell flat on  the  ground, for the air
round them was hot and heavy, and it scorched and oppressed  them. When they
dared to lift their heads the Unicorn was gone.
     At the  bottom  of the  ravine lay  smoking stones, the remains  of its
     The two men sat there for a long time in a  state of silent meditation,
attempting to comprehend what had taken place.
     Then the Hindu sage rose and walked over to the stones. He bent down to
pick up  the remains of  the Unicorn's  meal, but his fingers passed through
the stones. He was unable to hold them in his hands.
     They  meditated three more days. On the morning of  the  fourth day the
Hindu sage said:  "We are wrong to regard  the world  about us  as Maya, the
world of illusion. Take  those stones. We could  see them and we  could feel
them, but  the celestial beings could only  see them;  they  could not  feel
them. Yet  they had  knowledge. Applying their  knowledge, they  changed the
essence of the stones so that they could feel them.
     "Woe is me!  How many years I have lost seeking knowledge  in the wrong
place! Man does  have power  over material things. Man smelts ore  to obtain
iron.  He  fells trees and  makes  resin.  There is no Maya;  there are only
things and man's power over them."
     The Hindu departed.  But Liu  Ching-chen did not lose  faith. He  wrote
down  what  he  had  seen, and having thus  freed  his  mind  he resumed his
meditation. He was now at peace again. But this peace was disturbed when the
Hindu sage returned to the ravine.
     The Hindu  was richly  outfitted  and was accompanied by many servants.
They placed a black wheel with golden discs before the Hindu and whirled  it
for a long time, like a  prayer wheel, until sparks flew and the air took on
a fresh smell.
     Imitating the  copper-coloured men, the  Hindu placed a golden cage  on
top of the  stones and the iron,  the food of the Unicorn, and repeated what
the copper-coloured men had  done. The stones obeyed him, and he was able to
pick them up.
     "Liu  Ching-chen," he called. "A nobleman has  given me  these servants
and the food and the vessels. I shall  live in his house and seek Power over
Things. You were my disciple before; be my disciple now."
     However,  Liu Ching-chen refused to yield to  temptation. He knew  that
the Hindu, the servants,  the mountains and everything  else  were Maya, the
world of illusion.
     After the Hindu departed, carrying away the stones and the iron  of the
copper-coloured  men, Liu Ching-chen remained in the mountains a long  time.
Then he  went down  to the  valley, to  the Temple of Incarnation. There the
mantle  of holiness  descended  on him. He now returned  home to  teach  his
fellow-men meekness  and humility, inasmuch  as  the world of the senses  is
merely Maya, the seeming, non-existent world.
     The Hindu,  so it  was rumoured,  learned  something mysterious when he
entered into the affairs of earthly rulers and was therefore done away with.
His  soul  went  through  a  bad  reincarnation, descending  the  Ladder  of
Perfection.  Thus,  too,  will  it  be  with  all  who  attempt  to  give  a
materialistic  interpretation  to  heavenly  miracles  and  signs.  Such  an
interpretation is an insult to the  gods, for the world  of things is merely
Maya, illusion.
     Academician  Markov  fell silent. He neatly  folded the  pages  of  the
photographic reproduction and put them back into the folder. Then he removed
his glasses and polished them with a handkerchief.
     The afterglow  of the setting sun slowly faded  outside the  window.  A
bird cried somewhere in the pine woods. The blue silence of twilight settled
over the Moscow countryside.
     The  Academician's guests,  spellbound  by  the story  he had just read
them, sat in silence. Professor Bagbanly was the first to speak.
     "The Hindu  in this  story  reminds me  of the  ancient  sage  in Fedor
Matveyev's manuscript," he remarked, rising. He began to pace the floor. "To
what century does your story relate?"
     "The  sixth,  according  to  the  European  system  of  chronology. Not
earlier.  The  hero read  books which  Hsuan-tsang  brought  from India, and
Hsuan-tsang lived in the sixth century."
     "But wasn't some kind of year mentioned in the tale?"
     "Yes. Liu Ching-chen came to India in the year of Metal  and the Tiger.
According to the old Chinese system, that  was the twenty-seventh year  of a
cycle. There were  sixty years in a cycle. The first year of a cycle was the
year of Wood and the Mouse."
     "How does that fit in with our calendar?"
     "Well,  in the current cycle the year of Metal and  the Tiger was 1951.
If we go back sixty years from that  we get 1891, then 1831, then 1771, then
     "The  year  1711?"  Privalov  interrupted.  "That  tallies  with  Fedor
Matveyev's manuscript. Liu  Ching-chen could have come into contact with the
same Hindu sage who several  years later gave Matveyev's  knife the property
of penetrability.
     "Why can't we assume," he went on,  "that a spaceship from some distant
world was forced to land somewhere in  the  Himalayas?  The ship came from a
world where the bonds connecting matter  are different.  The spacemen had to
replenish their supply of nuclear fuel. The rock they found in the Himalayas
proved  to  be  active  enough  for  their  needs.  They  split  it  by  the
electro-spark method."
     "Not the  Lazarenko  method,  by any chance?"  Professor Bagbanly asked
     "At any rate, they probably had a similar method.  But a  hitch  arose:
they  found matter  on earth to be penetrable. They then assembled some sort
of  apparatus  and  changed  the  properties  of  the  stones,  making  them
impenetrable, and loaded them  into the  spaceship on a belt  conveyor. Next
they  repaired the ship, putting  in some new gears and discarding  the used
ones-those  were  the  'iron  flowers'-and flew  off to  wherever they  were
     Professor Bagbanly laughed. "You'd make  a good science-fiction writer,
     Academician Markov was sketching the head of an  old man  with  a beard
and a hooked nose on his writing pad.  He appeared to be completely absorbed
in  what  he  was  doing, but suddenly  he  raised his  head and  looked  at
Professor Bagbanly. "Why not?" he  said. "Anything's possible in this world.
The wildest fantasies do not surprise science any longer."
     "True enough. But a spaceship in the Himalayas-"
     "The Hindu happened to be  in the mountains," the Academician  went  on
quietly.  "He  watched those creatures  from  outer space.  He had  probably
dabbled in  physics  before this. Later  he may  have  used the restructured
stones as  a  force  for  passing  on their  properties to  other  objects."
Privalov  sprang to his feet. "Passing on their properties to other objects?
What an odd idea!"  "Not  at  all," the  Academician  insisted.  "If  we had
something made  out  of  a substance  with changed  bonds-for example,  that
legendary  knife of  Fedor  Matveyev's-we'd immediately  look  for a way  of
transferring its properties." Privalov seemed  upset to hear  this.  "Do you
mean we  aren't on the right track? Does  that mean  the 'half-twist spiral'
which Fedor Matveyev mentioned was  not  a Mobius band  at all but something
     "No, we're on  the right track, Boris.  About  that band of Matveyev's,
it's hard to tell-  It  may have  been simply a  part of the  apparatus. The
important  thing  is that  the word suggested  a  magnificent idea  to  your
Nikolai Potapkin."  The  Academician paused,  then  went on,  "However, it's
still merely an  assumption. Only one thing is obvious. At the beginning  of
the eighteenth century India had a great scientist,  a man whose name we  do
not know. He greatly enriched his age, but his own life was a tragedy."
     Boris  Privalov sat lost in thought. His mind was on Liu Ching-chen and
the  Hindu  sage.  In  his  imagination  he saw the towering  peaks  of  the
Himalayas, and  exhausted  men  bringing down  some sort of resins  from the
mountains.  Fedor Matveyev  mentioned  those resins,  leading  Koltukhov  to
conceive the idea of powerfully charged electrets.
     After a time he said: "What if we tried to fill in the power abyss with
     "With electrets?" The  Academician  looked  at  him  in  surprise. "But
they're a very weak source, even though, I admit, inexhaustible."
     "Weak, you  say?  But  listen to  this!"  Privalov  retold  the episode
described  in  Fedor Matveyev's  manuscript and  then  spoke  of Koltukhov's
supposition that Lal Chandra's men had charged the resin with cosmic rays.
     "Yes, now I remember," said  the Academician.  "But it never entered my
head- Well, well, do go on."
     Privalov excitedly gave a  detailed  account of Koltukhov's experiments
with electret coatings for pipelines.
     "By Allah, that's not  a bad idea at all!" Professor Bagbanly exclaimed
when Privalov had finished. "The Academy has the most powerful electrostatic
generators  in  the  world.  Let's  use them to  charge  resin according  to
Koltukhov's method."
     "A  powerful, inexhaustible battery of  electrets," Academician  Markov
murmured thoughtfully. "Very well, let's try it." He paused, then said, "The
frequency situation  is clear.  Now we'll tackle the power situation.  Let's
build a model of your pipeless oil pipeline, but in a small pool and without
glass tubes."
     "Like Lal Chandra's?" Privalov asked.
     "Something like it. But without  any theatrical effects such as burning
water.  Lal  Chandra  must  have  broken  down  the  water  in the  pool  by
electrolysis and ignited the hydrogen with a spark.
     That's no use to  us,  of  course. But  pumping  oil  through water  is
something  we want  to do. We'll set  up a  Mobius band  in the pool, both a
reception band  and  a  transmission  band. Also a  power beam installation.
We'll test the electrets.
     "We'll try to drive  a stream  of oil through water. We'll see  how the
restructured  matter  behaves  within the framework  of  intensified surface
tension. If  we  get  results that  look promising  we'll try  to shift  our
experiment to your place on the Caspian. We'll choose a suitable area of the
sea and do  the experiment under natural  conditions. By the way, I must  go
down to the  Caspian for  something  else  besides  this  pipeline business.
There's another problem that is just as important."

     Kneeling behind  Yura's head, Nikolai energetically brought Yura's arms
up over  his  head  and  then back to his sides. He worked steadily, up  and
down, up and down. Val stood beside him. She was shaking all over.  Suddenly
Yura gave a faint groan. Sobbing, Val fell to her knees beside him.
     "Go away!" Nikolai shouted angrily, moving Yura's arms up and down more
vigorously than  ever. Yura's body jerked. He opened his eyes, sighed,  then
turned his head and vomited.
     Meanwhile, the storm continued to  rage.  The wind howled  savagely and
the surf thundered as it crashed against  the rocks. Sand began  to fill the
hollow. It grated between their teeth and sifted into their ears.
     "He'll live," said Nikolai as he threw himself onto  the sand  in utter
     "My head aches," Yura muttered, looking up at the  dark figures  around
him. "One,  two, three-" he  counted. "Where's  Rex?  Ah,  there he is."  He
closed his eyes. Val held his hand tightly in hers. "I hit my head on a bitt
when the stay-sheet swung past me," he whispered a little later.
     "Nikolai pulled you out of the water," said Val. Big tears were rolling
down her cheeks. Yura muttered something that sounded like "He did the right
     When it started to grow light the crew of the Mekong climbed the slope.
Below  they saw a strip of beach. Stiff tufts of  tall brown grass thrust up
out of the sand. The Mekong lay on its side on  a reef.  Without its mast it
looked headless. Waves were washing over it.  The  sea,  an angry dark grey,
was covered with whitecaps.
     "Let's take a  look  at the boat,"  said Nikolai, running down  to  the
     Yura was  about  to follow but stopped  when Nikolai  turned round  and
shouted: "Stay where you are! Valery and I will go."
     The  two young  men slowly  waded along  the reef,  pushing  their  way
through the cold, heavy waves. Large chunks of sandstone were scattered over
the bottom.
     The boat's rudder was  firmly wedged between  two submerged rocks.  The
broken  mast,  still attached to the  deck, was  being pounded  by the waves
against the side of the boat.
     Nikolai and Valery scrambled up onto the deck and made their way to the
cabin, which was half full of  water and  in a  complete mess. The portholes
had been smashed in; a lady's slipper, several ring-shaped bread rolls and a
bunch of onions floated on the water. On the starboard side there was a hole
four  planks wide below the  waterline. Nikolai discovered this when he  put
his foot through it.
     "Looks like we're stuck on this island," he muttered.
     He dived,  ran his hands round the  corner of the cabin that  was under
the water, and brought up a canvas sack of tools.
     "Now I feel better," he told Valery, snorting and blowing out water.
     "Here's the fishing gear!" Valery shouted joyfully. During the night he
had  been silent and a bit frightened. Now he was his old self again. "We'll
catch fish and live like Robinson Crusoe."
     They dragged up to the  deck  everything  the water had not swept  away
through  the hole. Then they  fashioned a  small  raft out of boards, loaded
what  they had salvaged  onto it, lashed the things all  down securely  with
ropes, and dragged the  raft to  shore. Immediately afterwards, they made  a
second trip, returning  bowed down under  the weight of the wet sails. Also,
they dragged the mast to the beach.
     When they had rested up a bit they spread the sails out to dry, placing
rocks  on the corners to prevent them from being  carried away by  the wind.
They likewise spread out  the  salvaged food and  clothing on the pebbles to
     The high wind drove low, ragged  clouds over the little island and sent
huge waves sweeping across the reef. The five young people  and the dog were
stranded on an inhospitable patch of land.
     Setting her bare feet down gingerly on the pebbles, Rita walked over to
     "What are we going to do, Commodore?" she asked.
     "We're going to have some breakfast first, and then we'll see."
     They  went back to  the hollow, where they  were sheltered  against the
wind. Yura opened three tins of meat with his knife.
     "Couldn't we heat them up?" Val asked.
     "Certainly. If we had kerosene and matches."
     "No matches at all? How will we get along without fire?"
     "Oh, we'll  have fire," Yura promised. "After all, this isn't the Stone
     They ate  in  silence, using two  knives, two  screwdrivers and  Yura's
trusty Durandal screwdriver.
     Nikolai reviewed their situation. "The  boat's  smashed,"  he said, "so
we'll have to  forget  about, any further sailing for the time  being. We'll
have  to live on this  island for a while. Fishing, vessels and ships of the
Caspian oil prospecting service sail among these islands all the time, so we
needn't worry about not being rescued. We'll  keep a signal fire burning all
night long."
     "Let's  take stock of our food," Yura  suggested.  "Any self-respecting
Robinson Crusoe always starts with that."
     The  castaways found they had nine tins of meat, four  tins of sardines
and a  tin of hardtack. They also  had three packets of dehydrated pea  soup
that  were  splitting  open, twenty-seven  potatoes,  six packages  of soggy
biscuits, a  bundle  of onions, and  two  bottles  of  vegetable oil.  Their
supplies of flour, sugar, millet grits and butter had vanished for good.
     "What about water?" Rita asked.
     "I  think there's enough." Nikolai indicated a wooden cask. "There must
be thirty litres here. It'll last us a good ten  days. Then we can  use this
resin to turn sea water into at least  twenty  litres of drinking water. But
we don't have enough food."
     "We'll catch fish," said Valery.
     "Yes, of course.  Fish will be our mainstay. We'll save the tinned meat
for an emergency. I'm sure we'll manage."
     The other items  salvaged were: Rita's  sundress, one  sandal of  Val's
(the right foot) and one sandal of Valery's  (the left foot),  the blankets,
the  primus  stove,  the transistor  radio,  the aqualung, the  camera,  the
fishing rod, the binoculars and the compass. Printed matter included sailing
directions, Kaverin's novel  Fulfillment of Desire, whose pages the wind was
indifferently ruffling, and  a map,  now spread out to dry on the  beach and
held down by stones along the edges.
     A mess-tin, a saucepan and a canvas pail were the only vessels they now
had. In  the  tool  case they found,  besides  the  two  knives  and the two
screwdrivers,  a  hatchet,  pliers,  a  chisel,  a  hacksaw,  nails,  a  tin
containing sail thread  and needles, and a tin of  polish with which to keep
the brass on  the boat bright. The label said the  polish could  be used  to
clean  jewels,  dentures,  lavatory  pans, samovars,  wind  instruments  and
     "The funny thing is that  it's all true," said Nikolai, turning the tin
about in  his hands. "What a pity we don't have any trolleybuses or precious
     They all wore watches, but only Rita's and Valery's  still  kept  time.
Nikolai's watch ticked only  when he shook it,  while  Yura's waterproof and
shockproof model did not react to shaking or to anything else.
     "Well, the  warranty that  came  with my watch said the  wearer  should
guard it against shock and water," Yura remarked.
     He was  studying  the map,  running  his  finger  over the  still  damp
     "Where are we?" Nikolai asked, squatting on his haunches beside Yura.
     "This must be Ipaty Island," Yura said. "We were driven southwards  and
the gale  struck  right here.  Yes, Ipaty  Island."  He leafed  through  the
sailing directions. "The island emerged from the sea about a  century  and a
half ago. Before that there was a shoal here known as Devil's Site."
     Towards noon the wind  died  down and it grew warmer. The castaways set
about building themselves  a shelter. They placed the  mast on the ground in
such a way  that it jutted all  of three metres over the hollow. Next,  they
heaped stones  on the end of  the mast to  make it secure, and supported the
jutting end  with crossed  boat-hooks.  They  draped the spinnaker over this
frame  and tied the edges to stakes driven into the ground. The  storm  sail
was arranged to curtain off part of the tent for the ladies. They turned the
folded mainsail into a springy floor and the jib into a door.
     Yura  clicked his tongue. "A tiptop wigwam. I've dreamed of living in a
cosy wigwam like this since I was a kid."
     "Our next job," said Nikolai, "is fire. The sky seems to be clearing up
a  bit. As soon as the sun comes out we'll make fire. Meanwhile,  let's  get
some firewood."
     "You  sound  as  though  someone  had  laid  in  a supply  of  firewood
especially for us," Val remarked sarcastically.
     "That's  exactly  what  the   sea   has  done.   North  of  us  lies  a
densely-populated coast. The north wind is the  prevailing wind here. And to
top it all, our camp is  situated on the north side of this island. So there
must be firewood somewhere close by."
     Valery was  told  to  find a  calm  cove  and  try his  luck  with  the
fishing-rod. The others wandered off along the shore.
     "Here's the first piece of wood!" Nikolai exclaimed, picking up an old,
cracked slat from a dinghy.  After that  they  found boards from  crates and
pieces of square beams and fishing-net frames.
     When, loaded with firewood, they  returned to the camp, a patch of blue
was visible through the clouds.  The  sun peeped out timidly but immediately
dived back into a cloud.
     Valery had caught a few little bullheads and one good-sized carp, which
he handed over to the girls to clean. The cloud slid away from the sun. Yura
unscrewed the lens of  the camera and  used it  as a magnifying glass to set
fire  to several  strands  of rope. After energetic blowing, a  few chips of
wood  caught fire. It was not long before a fire  was blazing merrily in the
     "We'll never have to worry as long as you boys are here," Val remarked,
     The  men sharpened  the knives on  a  flat  stone  and  carved,  out of
driftwood, five objects more or less resembling spoons.
     They set to dinner with a healthy appetite.
     "I never tasted a  better  fish stew  in my life," Rita confessed. "I'm
ashamed of myself but I can't seem to stop eating-"
     After lunch  they grew drowsy,  for none  of them had  slept  much  the
previous night.
     "Crawl into the wigwam and take a nap," Nikolai said. "I'll stand watch
for a while."
     He  sat alone for a long time, tossing pieces of driftwood on the fire.
Rex dozed  by  his  side.  He was glad the girls showed  no  signs of  being
worried  but were  content  to  leave everything to  Yura and  himself. But,
facing the facts squarely,  he had to admit it was  unlikely that they would
be rescued.  They could not bank on anyone calling at the island. He'd  have
to think of a way cut-in the primeval silence the surf pounded with a sullen
roar. The  sky had cleared in the west, and it  now glowed red and gold from
the setting sun.
     He'd have to think of a way out-
     He  dozed  off,  but before long a rustling sound caused him to jerk up
his  head.  Rita had emerged from the tent. She  yawned and sat  down beside
     "Are  we  going  to be here  long, Nikolai?" she asked,  picking  up  a
handful of sand and letting it run through  her fingers. "It's important for
me to know."
     "I'm  afraid I can't tell you. We'll think of  a way out. Are you sorry
you came along?"
     "No, not a bit. But I'd like to return to town as soon as possible."
     "We'll think  of  a way  out," he repeated. "There's no such thing as a
hopeless situation."
     Rita smiled at him. "Be sure to find a way out," she said softly.
     That evening they sang  songs in chorus. They  were in high spirits  as
they learned the  words of a Papuan song that Nikolai had found in a book by
the  explorer Miklukho-Maklay.  The rather  repetitious  Papuan song,  which
fitted in with their present situation, spoke of how to make the pith of the
sago  palm edible.  Yura conducted, while the others danced  round the fire,
hands linked, and sang:

     Bom, bom, marare;
     Marare, tamole.
     Mara, mara, marare,
     Bom, bom, marare.

     Rex howled conscientiously, his muzzle pointed skywards.
     When they finished singing they  decided in what order they would stand
night watches of two hours each. The man on duty would keep  a fire going on
top of the hillock as a signal to any ship that might pass by.
     Yura was  the first to go on duty. Val sat beside  him. Reflections  of
the fire flickered across their faces.
     "Does your head ache badly?" Val asked,
     "No, it's much better."
     "Just think of it-if it  hadn't  been for Nikolai-" She  did not finish
the sentence but moved closer to him. He put his arm round her shoulders and
said in a voice she did not recognize, "Know what, Val? Let's get married."
     He did not see Val's face light  up because just then the fire gave off
a shower of sparks and he leaned forward to toss on a piece of wood.
     Val  laughed softly. "First we'll have to get off  this island-" "Well,
what  do you say?" Val kissed him quickly and rose to her feet. "Good night,
Yura,"  she  whispered, and crawled into  the tent,  smiling  happily in the
     The morning dawned on a blue sea without a  single ripple.  Wispy white
clouds floated in the sky.
     Yura and Nikolai waded along the reef until they  reached the Mekong. A
careful examination  convinced them that they would not be able  to patch up
the  hole  or get the boat  off the reef. Two pontoons and a launch would be
needed to tow their sailboat back to the marina.
     On their return  to shore Nikolai  slowly  swept the horizon  with  his
binoculars. Then he handed them to Yura. "Look over there."
     What Yura saw through the glasses  was a lacy  network of lines  in the
sky  that looked as though they  had been drawn  in  India ink on blue silk.
This was the top of an oil rig.
     Yura ran  into the tent  for the map  and  compass. He studied the  map
carefully and then declared  that what they saw was an offshore  exploratory
rig near Turtle Island.
     "Yes, that confirms it,"  he said. "We're on  Ipaty.  (Turtle Island is
about fifteen nautical miles from here. The rig can  be our reference point.
Shall we try to swim there?"
     "No, it's too  far. Besides, the current  will be against  us.  What we
must do is build a raft."
     "A raft?"
     "That's right. With a sail and  a  sliding  rudder. Like the  Kon-Tiki.
We'll choose a  day with a south wind-with a north wind we wouldn't  make it
on a raft-and it  shouldn't  take us more than  eight hours to  reach Turtle
Island. If we find geologists there they'll have a transmitter.  We'll radio
to town and Mehti will send a motor-boat for us."
     "Suppose there aren't any geologists working there?"
     "Then we'll continue on to the next island. We'll go island-hopping."
     "So be it. We'll start building a raft at once."
     After breakfast the castaways  set out to explore  their new domain and
to search for building material for a raft.
     The  north shore of the  island was strewn with driftwood.  There  were
also  logs  that  storms  had  torn  loose  from timber rafts, with  staples
sticking  out of them.  They selected logs  they  could use for the raft and
rolled them higher up on shore.
     Some five hundred metres farther on the sloping shore turned southwards
and  grew  steeper. There the  water  was  a bluish-grey. Large gas  bubbles
seethed in it and burst on reaching the surface.
     "Another volcano!" Yura exclaimed.
     "And  here's  his  land brother,"  said  Nikolai.  Ten metres from  the
water's edge  there was a little mound topped by  a small crater  from which
warm, watery mud was slowly flowing down to the sea.
     Nikolai climbed to the top of the crater, pulled off his  shirt, spread
it out on the ground, and heaped thick grey clay from the crater on it.
     "What's that for, Nikolai?" Valery asked.
     "A stove."
     "But you'll ruin your shirt," said Rita.
     "Quite the contrary. This clay is a fine cleansing agent."
     The south shore proved to be steep. It was edged with a narrow strip of
pebbles and boulders, and there was no sand.
     "An  easy place to approach  from the sea," Nikolai remarked  when they
came to a  cove. "Look,  the water here is deep very close to the shore; you
could come close in a boat."
     "That's just what somebody has been doing," said Valery, pointing to  a
piece of pipe half buried in the pebbles on the beach. It had obviously been
used as a bollard.
     The  young engineers examined the  pipe. They discovered the trade-mark
of  the Southern Pipe Mill and also a series of numbers indicating  the size
of the pipe, the number of the melt, the grade of steel, and the year it was
     "Why, it's last year's date!" Yura exclaimed.
     "That  means geologists come here." Nikolai looked at Rita. "I told you
we wouldn't be stuck here."
     The tour of  the island did  not  take long.  The total  length  of the
shoreline could not have been more than three kilometres.
     "Now, my friends, let's  get to work," said Nikolai after they returned
to camp. "Valery, cast your fishing-line  again.  Yura and I will  drag some
     With the help from the  girls  Yura and Nikolai rolled the logs on  the
north side  of the island down to the water, roped them together, and pulled
them round to  the camp. On the way Nikolai picked up a stump that was  half
rotten and covered with a thick coating of salt.
     "What are you going to do with that horrid thing?" Val asked.
     "You'll see."
     After a dip in the sea  Yura and Nikolai built a stove out of chunks of
sandstone and coated it with volcanic clay.
     "Campfires may be  more  romantic  but they don't produce much heat and
they eat up a lot of wood," said Yura. "We're not savages, after all."
     Valery  returned  with his catch, followed by Rex, rapturously sniffing
at the fishtails trailing over the pebbles.
     Meanwhile, Nikolai set fire to the rotten  slump. When  it  had  burned
away he collected the ashes in a tin, tasted them, nodded with satisfaction,
and dropped a pinch into the pot in which the fish were cooking.
     "What are you doing?" Val exclaimed in horror. "Are you mad?"
     Nikolai held the tin out to her. "You try it."
     "Not for the world!"
     Rita stuck a dampened finger into the tin and licked it.
     "Why, it's salt!" she exclaimed.
     "Miklukho-Maklay  is  helping us again," Nikolai  explained. "He  wrote
that the tribes of New Guinea  eat the ashes of a tree that has lain in salt
water for a long time."
     Rita laughed. "I've read Miklukho-Maklay too but I don't remember that.
There certainly is nothing to worry about when you boys are around."
     After lunch they boiled some water  and rationed it out. Although water
was poured into a tin for Rex as usual, he refused to drink it.  Instead, he
stretched out in the shade of the tent and  placed  his  tongue on his front
paws. Yura  and  Nikolai exchanged  glances. "What's wrong  with  him?" Yura
asked. "He hasn't touched water since morning."
     "Could he be going mad?" Val suggested worriedly.
     Rita called to Rex, took his head between her  hands, looked closely at
his eyes and nose, then opened his jaws and examined them.
     "I've  never seen a healthier dog in my  life," she said, pushing Rex's
nose into the tin of water. "Please drink, Rex."
     But Rex squirmed 'out of her grip and ran off.
     "I don't like that,"  said  Yura. "I wonder where he's off to. I intend
to find out."
     He set off after the dog, in the direction of the middle of the island.
The others followed. At the top of the rise they saw another mud volcano, at
the  foot  of which grew tufts  of brown grass. Nearby, between two parallel
slopes, there lay  several pools  of water. Rex was wandering  from pool  to
     "There's  the  answer,"  said Yura.  "The  water  from  the cask  isn't
fresh-and he must  have found fresh  water here this morning. Fine explorers
we  are! We investigated  the  edge of the island but  didn't think of going
into the middle. Rex did our thinking for us."
     Skirting the  mud volcano, they reached  a rise beyond which they could
see the blue water of the cove  where they had  found the mooring pipe. From
above  they  saw a reinforced  concrete dome  rising out of the  grey clayey
soil. Beside it protruded a  concrete ventilation pipe covered with  an iron
grating. On the other side of the dome a pipe covered with  a flaky  film of
oxide jutted out of the ground.
     Nikolai ran his hands over the  rough surface of the pipe.  "Looks like
the exhaust pipe of an engine," he said.
     On the slope there was a depression that led to a massive steel door. A
large  lock wrapped in  a piece of  oily cloth hung on the door. A lead seal
dangled from the lock.
     "I should  certainly like to know what it all means," Yura remarked  at
sight of the seal.
     "Look!" Rita exclaimed. "What's the matter with Rex?"
     The dog was sniffing the sand near the door and whining. Then he ran to
one side and started digging into the pebbles.
     "This looks like an old pillbox," Nikolai said thoughtfully. "There may
have been an antiaircraft gun here during  the war. Now the pillbox is being
used for something else. Perhaps a storehouse."
     "Let's  forget  about it," said  Yura.  "This must  be  something  very
hush-hush. It's no business of ours."
     "What's that dog growling about? Rex, come here," Rita called. "Take it
easy, old boy. We're going home now."

     A week  passed. A cloudless sky stretched above Ipaty Island. The  sea,
alas, was deserted. Neither a wisp of smoke nor a glimpse of a sail appeared
on the horizon.
     Making  a raft out of different-sized logs was a  slow process for  the
inexperienced  builders. After  much effort and many arguments the logs were
selected and neatly tied together. The sliding keel,  made out of pieces  of
board, required just as much effort.
     The spanker boom from the boat, fastened down with shrouds and a  stay,
was the mast. A steering oar made of two long poles and the seat of a chair,
all gifts of the sea, wore attached to the stern.
     All day  long an axe tapped,  a  hack-saw whined, and songs rang out on
the reef where work was in progress on the raft.
     The fish  were biting well. Just in  case, the girls strung the fish on
cords and hung it up to dry in the sun and the wind, the oldest way there is
of curing fish.
     It was not  long,  though,  before all of  them were  sick and tired of
their fish diet.
     "But  it's  good  for you," Rita  scolded  when  she  saw  Yura  toss a
half-eaten piece over his shoulder. "Fish has  lots of  phosphorus; it's the
best brain food."
     "There's nothing  I'd like  better right  now than some sausage,"  Yura
said with a sigh.
     Rex was also tired of fish. He ran about the island hunting lizards and
water  snakes,  partly for  the fun  of it. Sometimes  he  sniffed about the
reinforced concrete dome and  threw up pebbles  with his  paws-always at one
and  the  same  spot. Nikolai  and Yura were  intrigued  by  the  dog's  odd
behaviour. They deepened the hole Rex had  dug,  and about a metre below the
surface  of  the clayey soil  they found the  body  of  a  dog.  Yura gave a
whistle. "This dog was dissected!" he exclaimed.
     "A desert island and experiments on dogs!" Nikolai said. "I'd certainly
like to know what's going on here."
     Widening the hole, they found  that several other  dogs had been buried
there.  Rex alternately growled and  whined  piteously,  pressing  close  to
Yura's  leg. They filled in the  hole and stamped on the earth when they had
     When Nikolai returned  to camp and  told  the  others about their queer
find a shadow fell across Rita's face.
     "Experiments on dogs?" she repeated.
     She said nothing more for the  rest of the day. In the  evening,  alone
with  Nikolai beside  the  signal campfire, she said, "I  can't stand it any
longer. I simply must return to town."
     "The raft's ready," said Nikolai. "As soon as we get a south wind-"
     "Suppose we don't for another week?"
     Nikolai did not  reply. What  could  he say? There had been a dead calm
for days. Even the flames in the campfire hardly flickered at all.
     In the red glow from the fire Nikolai looked remote and estranged. Rita
turned  her head  to  glance about  forlornly  at the  night;  the  familiar
pounding of the surf rang in her ears.
     "He also experimented on dogs," she said in a low voice.
     "He did?" Nikolai looked at Rita,  then  turned  his eyes away. An  odd
thought had occurred to him. What if-
     Rita was thinking the same thing. Anatole often went away to some  sort
of secret laboratory for long periods of time. He had never told Rita  where
the laboratory was.
     "You made  me promise, Rita, so I'm not saying anything. But  we're not
doing the right thing. The whole matter should be brought out into the open.
Those two ought to be drawn into our joint project. Or, at least, Anatole-"
     Rita remained  silent. Finally  she  said: "I think  he'll realize that
himself.  Anyway, I can't stay here  any longer.  You promised to think of a
way out. Well, keep your promise."
     Nikolai was on the point  of saying that he couldn't conjure up a south
wind, but he refrained.
     Towards the end  of the  eleventh day, after supper, when it had  grown
somewhat cooler, Val suddenly burst into laughter.
     "What a sight you are!" she said, running her eyes over the three young
men. "You're unshaven and dirty-faced. You look  like savages."  She put her
hand  out to touch Yura's soft reddish beard.  He jerked his head  away  and
clicked his teeth.  She drew back her hand. "You really have  turned into  a
savage," she said.
     "You  know, Val,  you and  I don't look any better," Rita remarked, her
glance falling on her scratched and bruised arms and her broken fingernails.
     "You're right," Val  agreed  mournfully. "How grand it would be to wash
my hair in fresh, hot-water and to put on a little perfume-"
     "You know what?  Let's  drive  the  men away tomorrow and heat  up some
water. We'll have a glorious bath."
     "You're wonderful, Rita!" Val cried. "And let's do the laundry too."
     This conversation took place on the eve of their  twelfth  day on Ipaty
Island, a day of important events.
     Next morning Nikolai, Yura and Valery brought armfuls of seaweed to the
campfire  and burned it for  ashes. They carried fresh water  from the pools
near  the mud volcanoes and filled all the vessels. Then they departed. Rita
and Val  scrubbed the clothes, using  ashes and volcanic clay for soap,  and
had a good wash themselves. Meanwhile, the three young men went swimming off
the southern  tip  of the  island, diving and  fishing with their spear gun.
Afterwards they stretched out to rest on the beach of the cove. Rex went  up
the slope in pursuit of a lizard.
     "I  swam to the other side of that headland," said Nikolai.  "The water
there  is  agitated; there  must  be  a  strong  discharge of  gas  at  that
particular spot."
     "Yes, we're living on  top of a  volcano," Yura stated. He was lying on
his  back,  his  face covered with  his  faded red  kerchief. "How hot it is
today! Feels like there's going to be a change in the weather."
     They lay motionless, exhausted by  the  heat and their long stay in the
water. Suddenly they heard a faint sound in the dead silence of high noon.
     Nikolai sat up and cocked his head. "What's that? An engine?"
     The sound was repeated a moment later and then stopped short.
     Nikolai scooped up the binoculars and ran to the top of the slope. Yura
and Valery followed close behind him.
     A boat  was coming towards  the  island from the  west. Although it was
still far  away  they could make out three  figures  in  it. One of them was
steadily bending forward and then backward.
     "It sounded like a motorboat. Why should they be rowing?"
     "Let's  have a look." Yura took the  binoculars from  Nikolai. "They're
coming this  way. And I'll be damned if that  isn't Uncle Vova Bugrov at the
     Nikolai snatched the binoculars away from him.
     Yes, it was Bugrov. He sat with his back to the shore, but he turned to
look at the island two or three times and Nikolai recognized him. Bugrov was
propelling the motorboat towards the island with strong strokes of his oars.
Now Nikolai could  make out the two passengers. One of them was Opratin.  He
sat in the stern, in a short-sleeved green shirt and a straw hat.  The third
person, a thickset, shaggy man, sat hunched  over in the  bow. Nikolai could
see  only  his back,  across  which a  white shirt stretched  tight, but  he
immediately knew the man was Anatole.
     "How do  you like that?" Nikolai asked, handing the binoculars  to Yura
     "They've certainly chosen a secluded spot for  their experiments," said
Yura. "Shall we let them know we're here?"
     Nikolai did not answer at once. "Should I tell Rita?" he wondered. From
their hollow on  the  north-eastern shore the  girls  would  not see  a boat
approaching from the west.  Best not to hurry. He and Yura and  Valery would
watch a while longer.
     "Wait a bit," he said. "Let's see what they're up to."
     Yura nodded.  "Right  you are. There must  be some important reason why
they've  hidden themselves away  on this  island. Let's go over  to the  big
crater. The grass is high there and we'll have a good view."
     They whistled  for Rex to come  back to  them and then stretched out on
the slope  of  the crater. The  sun blazed down on  their backs; the  stiff,
prickly grass scratched their bare  skin. But they had a perfect observation
post. The cove lay spread out below them.
     The nose of the boat touched the shore. Bugrov sprang out into the deep
water and tied the painter to a ring on the mooring post.
     Next, Opratin and  Anatole stepped  out  of  the boat.  Anatole at once
started up the slope, panting and halting at frequent intervals to catch his
breath. Opratin remained behind to talk with Bugrov.
     "Good  thing  we were close to the island when the engine  died on us,"
they  heard  Bugrov  say  in  his booming  voice. "I'll  have to  check  the
     Opratin  said something  and then turned away to  follow Anatole in the
direction of the reinforced concrete dome. They vanished from view when they
descended into the  hollow in front of  the pillbox  door. The bolt clanked,
then the massive door creaked and slammed shut.
     Bugrov got down to work on the beach. He took the ignition  distributor
out of the engine and laid it on a piece of canvas spread on the ground.
     Yura, Nikolai and Valery  continued  to  lie in  hiding  for some time,
watching him work.
     "I'm fed up with this cat-and-mouse stuff," Yura finally whispered. "We
ought to come out into the open and let them know we're here."
     "Wait a bit," Nikolai insisted.
     "Then let's move into the shade. My brains are sizzling."
     Bending low, they noiselessly skirted the mud volcano and came into the
shade  near the concrete outlet of the ventilation shaft.  The heat was less
oppressive  here. Cool air  from the underground chamber  was wafted to them
through  the  dark  grating covering  the shaft.  They could  hear  a  faint
     Suddenly Anatole's voice came to them-so clearly that they gave a start
and involuntarily bent lower.
     "You'll have to get  along without me,"  Anatole  was saying.  "I'll do
what I have to do."
     "Contact Bagbanly? Privalov?" Opratin's voice was so muffled they could
barely make it out. They leaned closer to the grating, their bodies tense.
     "Yes, I will. I'll give them the material and we'll all work together."
     Opratin's  voice  was calm. "You have  no  right to do  that without my
     "Do  you  have the  right to use the Institute laboratory,  which isn't
yours, and to buy  expensive equipment  for this project  on the Institute's
     There was a short pause.
     "So that's how you  view the matter," said Opratin. "Very nice of  you.
Why  have you considered  it possible  to  work here up until now? Why  this
crisis of conscience all of a sudden?"
     Anatole muttered something and gave a cough.
     "The result is what counts," Opratin went on. "No  one's going to blame
us after we announce a major breakthrough. Winners are never blamed."
     "We haven't anything to announce. There isn't any breakthrough."
     "Yes there is. Penetrability is in our hands."
     "It's  like a grenade in the hands  of a child. No stability. We  don't
know the essence of the phenomenon."
     "In another month or two we'll achieve stability."
     "You're deceiving yourself!" Anatole shouted.
     Rex  growled  softly  in  reply  and  received  a  slap  from  Nikolai.
Fortunately, the men below had not heard the dog.
     "We've  reached  an impasse,"  said  Anatole.  "We're  not  making  any
headway. We must climb out of this damned cellar and write to the Academy of
Sciences. I realized that long ago, but I was just being obstinate-"
     "You have no right to do that," Opratin said in a  harsh voice. "We did
the work together."
     "Very well. I won't say anything about the circuit  you  developed. You
can choke on it for all I care. But the idea of the 'transmission effect' is
mine. I'm taking the knife and I'll write up a paper on my own work."
     Yura's eyes were round as he nudged Nikolai with his elbow. The knife!
     "You forget, my  dear man, that I was the one who obtained  the knife,"
Opratin remarked coldly.
     "She gave  you the  knife  only because  of me, and not because she was
smitten with you. Ah,  if  only I had listened to  her! Oh well- But why are
you being so stubborn?" Anatole asked after a pause. "We've done an enormous
amount of work. Let's declare honestly that we can't go any  farther without
help. Fame and honours won't slip through our fingers-"
     "That's enough!" Opratin  shouted.  "I'm sick and tired of fussing over
you. You're nothing but a miserable dope addict!"
     "But  who made me an addict? You're  a scoundrel, that's  what you are!
Who procured the drugs for me?  You did-because you wanted to hold me in the
palm of your  hand.  But I'm not a finished man yet.  I'll go into  hospital
and- And you can go to the devil! You may take 'The Key to the Mystery' with
you for all I care!"
     "Get out of here! We're returning to town at once."
     "I should say not. I'm going to  finish  my  latest experiment. I'll go
down below now, rest a while where it's cool, and then-"
     The voices  fell  silent. The two men  must  have moved to  a different
     "Did   you  hear  that?"  Yura  whispered  eagerly.  "They  have  Fedor
Matveyev's knife and 'The Key to the  Mystery'. We were right. They were the
ones who stole 'The Key to the Mystery' from the Moscow museum."
     "Keep quiet!"
     They waited, listening intently.
     "Look  here, Nikolai. We must come out into the open. There's something
very fishy about the whole thing."
     "It doesn't smell fishy to me. It smells of ozone."
     "Ozone?" Yura sniffed. The air coming up through  the ventilation shaft
had a fresh smell as if before a thunderstorm. "High voltage-" he muttered.
     The door on the other side of the pillbox squeaked as it was opened and
then slammed shut.
     Bending  low,  Nikolai  ran  to the mud volcano, with  Yura  and Valery
behind him. They returned to their first hiding place.
     They  saw  Opratin descend the  slope  to  the  beach, carrying a black
attache case. He walked over to where Bugrov was working.
     "Why all of a sudden?" they heard Bugrov  growl. "We were going to stay
three days."
     Opratin said something that they could not hear.
     "Is he staying behind?" Bugrov asked.
     "Wait a bit, until I put the engine together again."
     "Be quick about it." Opratin began  to stride nervously up and down the
     "What are we  going to do, Nikolai?" Yura whispered.  "Are  we going to
wait till they return for Anatole?"
     "The devil only knows when they'll come back. We can't wait."
     "Then  let's  go down to them now. At least one  of us could return  to
town with them."
     "I don't want Opratin to know we're here," said Nikolai. "He'll get the
wind up if he sees us here and he'll play some dirty trick on Anatole."
     "But why couldn't  Valery go down  to them and say he  was shipwrecked?
Opratin doesn't know Valery."
     "No, we'll do it differently. He'll never suspect anything."
     Yura stared at his friend, blinking in puzzlement.
     "Valery, be  a  pal and run down to the camp for  the scuba gear," said
Nikolai.  "Bring  some vegetable  oil  too.  We'll  be waiting for  you over
     "What are you planning?" Yura asked. "Are you going to-"
     Nikolai nodded. "Yes, I'll hide underneath the boat and-"
     "You're mad!"
     "Run  along, Valery,  and be quick about  it. Not  a word to the girls,
mind you!"
     Valery gulped in bewilderment.  "No, of course not." He raced round the
mud volcano,  clambered down the slope to the east shore and ran towards the
     "Don't be an idiot," Yura hissed. "It's fifty miles to town."
     "I  know that,"  Nikolai replied calmly. "The cylinders are practically
full. I'll  tie  myself  under the bow of the  boat  and breathe through the
     "You'll freeze before you're halfway there."
     "I'll cover my body with vegetable oil."
     Yura raised himself on his elbow. "I won't  let  you do it. I'll tackle
Opratin. To hell with him-"
     Nikolai pushed him down hard. "Don't worry about me," he said. "I'll be
all right. After we  leave, you go in to Anatole and talk  to him.  Tell him
Rita  is here. I'll get  Mehti  to  send  a launch for you this  evening. Or
tomorrow morning, at the latest. Okay?"
     Yura knew it was useless to argue.
     They crawled over to the opposite  slope of the big crater, from  which
streams of warm  mud  were flowing, and  descended to the beach on the  east
     Valery came running up. Nikolai took the bottle, poured some of the oil
into the palm of his hand, and began to  rub it into his skin. His body soon
became shiny and slippery.  He looked at the pressure  gauge on the aqualung
and found that it stood  at 140 atmospheres, which meant it was almost full.
Yura helped him to strap the cylinders to his back.
     "Well, here we go." Nikolai squeezed Yura's hand, then shook hands with
Valery. "See you soon, boys."
     "Be careful, Nicky."  Yura could say nothing more. He looked miserable.
Nikolai clapped him on the shoulder and grinned.
     He  moistened  the mask  in  the sea  and  clamped  his  teeth  on  the
mouthpiece. From  the  mouthpiece  two goffered hoses  led to the cylinders,
while a snorkel for ordinary breathing led upwards. Nikolai put on the mask,
which  covered his nose and eyes. He tied a length of rope around his waist,
walked awkwardly down to the edge of the beach in his flippers, and  entered
the water.
     When he had waded in up to his chin he switched on the cylinders, dived
straight down and then swam along the shell-strewn bottom.
     He  rounded the  steep  headland and entered the  cove.  Using  his air
supply  sparingly,  he slowly swam along the shore  until  he  saw the  dark
bottom of the motorboat. He swam under the boat, cautiously running his hand
along the slimy bottom. At the  bow his  fingers  encountered  the  lifeline
hanging from the starboard side.
     The motorboat rocked and settled  deeply in the stern. The two  men had
evidently climbed in.
     "If only they don't  notice the bubbles," Nikolai  thought as he took a
firm grip on the life line.

     Yura and  Valery stood on  the shore, silently watching the air bubbles
that marked Nikolai's movement under water.
     The silence of the cove was broken by the roar of the outboard motor.
     Yura gave a start, then turned and began to climb up the slope. Pebbles
rattled under his bare feet and sand trickled down.
     From the  slope of  the big  mud volcano  Yura  and Valery watched  the
motorboat leave the cove and disappear round the headland. When it came into
sight again the motor was droning steadily. Its bow rising into the air, the
boat rapidly moved away from the island.
     Through the binoculars Yura saw Bugrov  and Opratin, both in the stern.
A head in a mask jutted out of the water at the bow.
     "He's sitting pretty," Yura muttered.
     "Boys! Where are you?" came Val's voice from  the middle of the island.
Val and Rita appeared on the crest of the next slope. Yura rose and waved to
them. The girls climbed up the side of the mud volcano.
     "We heard  a noise,"  said Rita,  breathing  hard.  "It sounded like  a
     Valery  pointed towards  the  motorboat, now a dark  streak against the
blue water.
     "A boat?" Val asked in astonishment. "Is it coming in?"
     "No, it's going out."
     "Why didn't you signal?"
     "Where's Nikolai?" Rita asked.
     "I'll tell you  all about it." Yura  gave them a brief run-down  of the
day's events on the island.
     "You say Anatole's in there?" Rita  sprang to her feet and raced to the
concrete dome. She jumped down  into the depression in front of the entrance
to the pill-box, then  paused to catch her breath. Her face was pale through
the suntan.
     A lock with a lead seal dangling from it hung on the steel door.
     The others came running up.
     "It's locked," Valery said. "How could that be?"
     "Anatole must have changed  his mind  and  left  with the others," said
Yura. "Actually, we didn't see them getting into the boat."
     "No, we didn't see them getting in but-"
     Yura interrupted him. "He was probably lying in  the bottom of the boat
     "But  what if Opratin locked  him in?"  Rita  pounded on the steel door
with her fists.
     "Don't start inventing things," Yura said  sternly. "They quarrelled, I
know, but to lock him in- That's nonsense."
     "How did you ever manage to overhear their conversation?"
     Yura gestured with his head. "We were on the other side."
     They skirted the dome and came up to the ventilation shaft.
     "Anatole!" Rita shouted through the grating  into the black maw  of the
shaft. "Anatole!"
     The hollow echo was followed by silence.
     "He went away,  I  tell you," Yura insisted.  Meanwhile,  his brain was
working feverishly. "He could have come out later  than the others- while we
were outfitting Nikolai on the beach," he thought. "We didn't see him in the
boat, but he might have been lying in the bottom for all we know."
     "I simply must get inside, Yura."
     "You mustn't break the seal."
     "I won't have any  peace of  mind until I see  for myself." Rita's dark
eyes were filled with fear. Yura looked  away. He put his hand on the  rusty
ventilation grating.
     "Oh, to hell with it!" he exclaimed after a pause. He looked round. His
eyes fell on an  old, broken oar.  He picked it up and thrust it between the
rods of the grating. After pushing the oar up and down a few times he  heard
the  grating creak and give.  Valery  helped  him  to  pull one  end of  the
loosened rods out of  the concrete  and bend them  upwards. The opening into
the shaft was now wide enough to crawl through.
     "I'll go first," Valery volunteered.
     "No, you stay here. Rita and  I will crawl  in,"  said Yura. "Rita, you
really oughtn't to, of course. You'll scratch your arms and shoulders badly.
But if you insist-"
     "We'll all crawl in,"  said  Val.  "Valery and I also want to  see what
it's all about."
     "I'll swear  everyone's off his rocker today!" Yura exclaimed. "Well, I
can't do anything about it. Hand me a rope, Valery."
     He tied  the rope to  the concrete pipe and  dropped the end  into  the
     "I'll  signal  who's  to  go when,"  he  said. "You'll  come down last,
     Yura wriggled through  the  opening, crawled into the cool darkness and
began to slide down the rope. Before he knew it he had scraped his shoulders
and  elbows  on  the  rough  concrete.  The  camera  banging round  his neck
interfered with  his movements. The  shaft  was no more than two and a  half
metres deep, after which it levelled out into a horizontal passageway.
     Pressing against the concrete, Yura moved forward, feet first. Soon his
feet reached  empty space. Bending forward,  gripping  the  rope tightly, he
lowered himself into a dark room. When his feet touched the floor he rose to
his full height and wiped the sweat from his face with the back of his hand.
     After his eyes had adapted themselves to the darkness he saw shelves of
instruments in the faint light that entered the room through the ventilation
shaft.  He took  a  cautious  step forward but stubbed his bare  toe against
something hard.  He swore out loud. The hard object was a  table leg. He ran
his hand over the top  of the table, feeling papers,  books and some kind of
blocks. At last,  a table lamp! Yura pressed the button and light filled the
room. He glanced round curiously.
     "Did  you  switch on a  light?" Rita  called from above. "May  we  come
     "Yes,  come down,"  Yura  shouted  back.  He stepped over to the  shaft
opening that yawned in the low ceiling and explained how to crawl down.
     Rita was the first to appear. Yura helped her crawl out of the shaft.
     "Have you looked round?" she asked, letting her eyes run over the room.
     "No, not yet. Wait a while."
     Val crawled out of the  shaft, followed  by Valery. All four were badly
scratched. Their tanned arms and legs were covered with white streaks.
     They looked about. Electrical instruments, optical instruments, jars of
chemicals, panels of electronic dials  and a great deal  of other laboratory
equipment lay on the shelves that lined the walls. The  long table was piled
with books, white blocks and rolls of squared paper  covered with  charts. A
canvas folding chair completed the furnishings of the room.
     "We mustn't touch  anything," Yura  warned his companions. His face was
grave; a worried wrinkle  lay between  his eyes. It was clear he felt a deep
sense of responsibility.
     A narrow opening  in the wall led into darkness. Rita resolutely headed
towards the opening.
     "I'll  go first,"  Yura said,  putting  out  an  arm  to  stop  her. He
carefully moved through the  opening and descended a few steps.  His fingers
encountered a switch.  Strong lights  flared  up  beneath a vaulted ceiling,
evidently  the under-surface of the dome visible from outside. In the middle
of the circular  chamber stood an  internal combustion engine connected with
an electric generator.
     Yura leaned over to look at the trade-mark on the generator, and raised
his head in surprise. It had a capacity of six thousand volts!
     "He's not here," said Rita.
     Yura  recalled having heard  Anatole say:  "I'm going  downstairs."  He
glanced round. There it was, a hatch in the concrete floor. He gave a strong
tug at the ring, and  the lid came up.  Holding onto rungs in the wall, Yura
descended the steps in the direction of a light.
     "You can come down!" he shouted as he stopped to look round.
     Two white columns that were insulators stood on the other side of a low
partition. The tops  of the columns went  through the ceiling into a chamber
where they were crowned by large metal spheres. In a deep hole at  the  foot
of the columns there was  an electric motor with a roller across which ran a
wide band of silk.
     The motor was in operation. Yura heard the faint swish of the silk band
as it passed over the roller. A smell of ozone came up from the hole.
     "Is that a Van de Graaff generator?" Valery whispered.
     Yura  nodded. His mind  was on something else. He could  not understand
why everyone had gone away and left the generator running and the lights on.
Then his attention was caught by something else.
     A pile of thick discs about one metre  in diameter, apparently plastic,
lay  beside the Van de  Graaff generator  on a  support made of high-voltage
insulators. On the top disc lay a sheet of copper from which an unbelievably
thick cable ran to a white control panel.
     "Look  at  this!"  Yura held  out  his Durandal  screwdriver.  The neon
indicator bulb in  the handle shone a bright red. "Don't touch anything,  he
warned. "This seems to be a battery of electrets with a colossal charge from
the generator. Everything here is live."
     "Electrets?" Valery asked. "The things Koltukhov is investigating?"
     Yura did not reply. The situation worried him. "This is quite a voltage
and quite a setup," he said to himself. He walked over to the white panel of
instruments and levers. The face plates of cathode-ray tubes gleamed. Inside
a coil  beside  the  insulators hung  a  medium-sized knife  with a yellowed
     "My  knife!"  Rita  exclaimed,  moving   towards  the  coil,  her  hand
     "Get back!" Yura roared. "Are you mad? Look at this!"
     The bulb in the handle of the Durandal was blinking away for dear life.
     "This must  be the main  voltage  node," Yura thought. "I wonder  where
those wires go."
     Wires ran from the coil to  a  large cage of vertical copper tubes. The
cage was empty except for two rods, joined by a cross-piece, that jutted out
of the concrete floor. A piece of cloth that looked like tarpaulin or canvas
lay on the cross-piece.
     Yura brought his screwdriver up to one of  the tubes  out of  which the
cage was made. The indicator continued to light up.
     "What's that?" Val pointed  to a  half-open  cardboard box lying beside
the cage.
     Yura picked up the box. Glass ampoules  sparkled in it. Before Yura had
time  to read the Latin  name  on  the blue label Rita snatched the box from
him. She gave the box one glance and then flung it away.  Her lips quivered.
She turned aside. Completely mystified, Val and Valery stared at her.
     Yura alone noticed that  the  box  had fallen  on the floor inside  the
cage-and had vanished. It had sunk into the concrete floor without leaving a
     Yura stared dumbfounded at the spot where the box had fallen.  This was
     "I want that knife," he heard Rita say.
     He turned to her. "You mustn't touch anything."
     "But  it's mine!" Rita's voice rose.  "Besides, you said yourself  that
Anatole wanted to break with Opratin and take the knife with him."
     Yura shrugged. After all, it was her knife.
     "All right," he said. "But first I'll use my camera."
     He  took several  pictures of  the  mysterious  cage,  the wooden  rods
jutting  up out of the floor, and the  control panel with the knife  and the
     Then he carefully examined the apparatus. The wire  that ran  from  the
knife handle was plugged into a socket in the control panel. Yura pulled out
the plug. After reading what was written above the buttons, he pushed one of
them,  in  the middle of the panel. Cautiously he switched off the  magnetic
starter, then brought his  screwdriver up to the coil. Now the indicator did
not flicker.
     His  heart beating fast, he released  the coil that held the  knife  in
place and drew it out of the spiral.
     "Is that Fedor Matveyev's knife?"  Valery whispered, breathing down his
     So this was Fedor Matveyev's knife! It had an ivory handle  yellow with
age, and a wavy pattern  on the damask-steel blade, the blade that had slain
the Incorporeal Brahman in the temple of the goddess Kali.
     Yura placed the palm of his hand against the cutting edge of the blade.
His hand passed through the steel. Valery tried  to seize the blade  but his
hand closed over emptiness. His eyes shone with excitement.
     Yura held out the knife to Rita. "Here you are. See that you don't lose
it again. Are you satisfied now?"
     "I certainly am," Rita  replied. "Anatole was here  but he  left. Let's
     "As soon  as we return to town give the  knife to Anatole," said  Yura.
"Otherwise you may land in all sorts of unpleasantness."
     "You're  quite  right."  Rita's thoughts turned  to  Nikolai. "Isn't it
awfully dangerous to hang in the water under a boat for such a long time?"
     "He'll hold out."
     They climbed the steps to the  top floor of the laboratory. Yura looked
at  the  table  again.  This  time  he  noticed a small  flat iron  box half
concealed by papers.  One of the  sides had been removed, so that the row of
tenons of the dovetail joints seemed to grin menacingly at them.
     "This is it!" Yura exclaimed, seizing the box. "This is 'The Key to the
     Indeed, it was  the  last  of the  three boxes  which  Count Joseph  de
Maistre had sketched  on the  final page of Fedor Matveyev's manuscript, the
box  that had  been  stolen  from  the exhibition in  Moscow. There was  the
familiar engraving on the cover:
     "It's  'The  Key to the Mystery'," Yura repeated, his voice solemn. "It
should contain an explanation of the riddle of Fedor Matveyev's knife."
     "Oh, Yura, let's look inside it," Val pleaded.
     "Well, here goes. You are witnesses." Yura, pale  with excitement, drew
out a thick yellowed sheet of paper folded several times.
     The sheet did not rustle.
     "It must be parchment."
     "Yes, it is." Val fingered the sheet. "Calfskin.
     My,  how  thin it is!  Calfskin was  used  only  for the most important
     Yura unfolded the sheet.  His eyebrows, bleached white by the sun, rose
higher and higher.
     What he saw was a strange drawing of a seven-pointed star surrounded by
circles, with radial lines, ciphers and symbols.
     "The zodiac, eh?" Yura muttered.
     "Let  me  look."  Val  took  the  parchment  from  him.  "Why,  it's  a
     Yura was astonished. "A horoscope?"
     "Yes, and evidently the horoscope of some important person."
     Yura began to laugh.
     "What's so funny?" Val asked.
     "A horoscope,"  Yura  groaned.  "So  that's  what we've been hunting so
long!" Laughter choked him. "That old scoundrel! He led us all up the garden
     Valery burst  out laughing too,  although he  had only  a vague idea of
what it was all about.
     "Who's a scoundrel?" he asked, still laughing.
     "Count Joseph de Maistre." Yura had  calmed down  somewhat. "He was the
one who called a horoscope 'The Key to the Mystery'."
     Val did not  share their  merriment.  "Stop giggling,"  she said. "This
might be some kind of a code. There are Latin words at the bottom."
     The  text  under  the  horoscope started with  the  words  Anno  Domini
     "That's the year 1815," Val explained. "In  the middle there's  another
date-MCMXV-the year 1915. A century between the two dates."
     "Look, there's  something  written on the back too," said Rita, who was
examining the parchment. "What's this? Why, it's my name!"
     The  other  side  of the  parchment  was  thickly  dotted  with circles
connected by lines.
     Theodor Matvejeff  1764  was clearly written  in the  top circle. (The
sign  means "died". -Ed. It is used in genealogies')
     Marguerite Matvejeff was written in the circle at the bottom.
     "This is the genealogy of the Matveyev family," Yura said thoughtfully.
"Starting with that naval lieutenant and ending with you, Rita."
     Rita gave him a startled  glance. "Do you mean to say the Jesuits  have
been spying on our family all these years?"
     "We'll soon find out." Yura  took the parchment from her, folded it and
put it  back in  the iron box.  He closed  the box and fitted the cover into
place. "I'm taking this with me. It was stolen from a museum."
     He wound the chain attached to the  box round the  strap  of his camera
and looked about him once more.
     "Let's get out of here.  You go first, Valery." Valery seized the rope,
pulled  himself up  on  it, and vanished  into the  ventilation  shaft.  Val
followed  him.  When  Rita  went over to  the wall and grasped the rope  she
suddenly turned  to look at Yura. She was struck by the  strained expression
on his face. She followed his eyes but could see nothing except the  folding
chair. "What's the matter, Yura?" "Come, climb up," he said in  a low voice.
He  was  staring  fixedly  at the  folding  chair, at  the  two rods with  a
cross-piece over which canvas  was stretched. Down  below, inside  the cage,
the top of the same kind of folding  chair  was sticking out of the concrete
     The chair had sunk into the concrete  floor! In the same way as the box
of ampoules but not completely.
     Yura shuddered. He squeezed  his eyes tight and shook his head.  No, it
was impossible! It could not be!
     "Yura!" came Val's voice from the "shaft. "Yura, where are you?"
     Yura shook himself.  He turned out the light, walked slowly to the wall
and began to climb up the rope.
     The sun  now hung on  the very horizon. The slopes cast long shadows on
the sand.
     "Do you suppose Nikolai is there by now?" Rita asked.
     "He must be," Valery said.
     "Why did he risk it?"
     "He's an excellent swimmer. Besides, you know how strong he is."
     Rita gave Valery a grateful look.
     They reached the camp. Their dinner hour was long past; it was time for
supper. Suddenly Yura halted.
     "Where's Rex?" he asked. Putting  two fingers in his mouth, he  gave  a
long whistle. "Rex!" he called.
     The dog was nowhere in sight.
     "You go ahead and prepare  supper," said Yura. "Valery and I will  look
for Rex."
     They found him on the shore of the  southern  cove, sitting at the very
edge of the water.  He turned round  for an instant when Yura called to him,
shifted his paws restlessly, and turned back to stare into the water.
     Yura and Valery ran down the slope to  the beach and came to  an abrupt
halt. The cove was swarming with  water  snakes. Holding their  heads  above
water, they were swimming out to sea. From higher up the beach more and more
were slithering out  of  their holes  and heading  for the water. There were
hundreds of them, all  good swimmers. They were accustomed to migrating from
island to island in search of birds' eggs, but such a  mass-scale exodus was
     "It's all  very  strange, their  deserting  this  island,"  said  Yura.
"Something is worrying Rex, too."
     He  lay down  on  the  beach  beside  Rex,  and  suddenly  felt  faint,
wide-spaced earth tremors. What a damned island!
     "Let's go up to the big crater!" he cried, springing to his feet. "Rex,
come with us!"
     Warm  grey  volcanic  mud usually  flowed  slowly  over the edge of the
crater. Now the flow had stopped, and the mud was hardening.
     "The crater  is  closed," said Yura. "What do you know about that?" "Is
it a bad sign?" Valery asked. "Yes, very."
     When the two young men returned to camp they found the girls busy round
the fire. Val was telling Rita something about  horoscopes, while Rita  kept
one eye on the fish stew.
     "No need to upset them," Yura thought. "It may all blow over. At least,
we won't tell them till  the  launch arrives.  It probably won't  come  this
evening. Most likely tomorrow morning. I wonder how Nikolai made out. What a
stubborn devil he is! And what a day this has been!"
     They ate the now unbearably tiresome fish stew in silence.
     Val  sighed.  "It  seems  impossible  to  believe we'll  really be home
tomorrow. Imagine-a hot shower, clean sheets, and food that doesn't taste of
     "Just  wait,  Val," said  Rita. She  sat up  straight, her body  tense,
listening. "I may  be  imagining things but  it  seems  to me  the earth  is
moving." For a  time  there was silence round the fire. "I may as well  tell
you,"   Yura  remarked  casually,  removing  a  fishbone   from  his  mouth.
"Something's   happening  inside  the   earth.   The  craters,   which   are
safety-valves for  gas  that  is compressed  by  tremendous  pressures,  are
blocked up.  Now  the gas  is bubbling deep down inside the earth, seeking a
way out-"
     "Where will it come out?" Val asked.
     "If we only knew!  Or  when- Perhaps  a hundred  years from now-or in a
minute.  On  the whole, that's  the situation." He  rose.  "Get your  things
together. We're moving out to the raft. We'll be safer there."
     It  took them only half an hour to  break camp. The population of Ipaty
Island, with all its possessions, migrated to the raft.
     Time passed slowly. The underground rumbling suddenly grew much louder.
Whimpering, Rex pressed himself against Yura's leg.
     All of a sudden the island rocked  as a white pillar of gas flew up out
of the moving ground. A shower of pebbles and chunks of clay drummed down on
the raft. Fierce  heat hit their faces. Fire flashed. A gigantic torch leapt
skywards with a roar.

     Nikolai waited a few seconds after the  stern of the motorboat  settled
into the water, then cautiously raised his head beside the bow, knowing that
he could not be seen from where the men were seated.
     The  boat had  cast off. Nikolai could hear the clink of metal.  Bugrov
must be putting the ignition distributor back in place.
     "You're  always in such a tearing hurry," Nikolai heard Bugrov grumble.
"I didn't even have a  chance to catch any fish.  There's lots of fish here.
See  all  those  bubbles  on top  of  the  water?"  "Stop  chattering," came
Opratin's  hard  voice. "They  don't suspect anything," Nikolai  thought. "I
mustn't  lose any time. I'd  better make  myself  comfortable here under the
     He quietly drew  one end of his rope through  the lifeline hanging over
the starboard side. He ran the other end of the rope through the lifeline on
the port side. Then he tied the two ends together under the water and thrust
his  arms through the loop so that the rope ran under his  armpits. Now  the
two aqualung cylinders pressed against the bottom of the boat, with the keel
beam between them.
     "Not bad at all," Nikolai  thought, gripping the rope, his arms bent at
the elbows. "It won't be so bumpy."
     The motor  began  to  drone evenly,  and the  boat  moved away from the
shore, slowly at first, then faster and faster. The headland swam into  view
and vanished.
     As the  boat  ploughed forward its  prow  rose  into  the air,  lifting
Nikolai's head and shoulders out of  the water. He now  breathed through the
snorkel to save the air in the cylinders.
     He calculated that the motorboat  should cover the fifty  miles to town
in  about  five hours. The cylinders of the aqualung held about 2,000 litres
of air. He had used up some two hundred litres swimming underwater to get to
the  motorboat.  The  aqualung  could  be  used  until the  pressure  in the
cylinders dropped  to thirty  atmospheres.  This meant the last four hundred
litres could  not  be used.  Near town he would have  to  drop off and  swim
underwater for  ten minutes or so. That gave him  1,000 litres for the trip,
in other  words, half an  hour's supply of air. It was  to be used in case a
head  sea prevented him from breathing through  the snorkel. He must try not
to make unnecessary  movements. Still, he  could not get along  on less than
thirty litres of air a minute.
     Everything  went well at first. Skimming above the smooth sea,  Nikolai
enjoyed the water that streamed round his body. His feet, supported by broad
flippers,  trailed behind.  The cylinders on his back pressed firmly against
the keel beam.
     But soon the boat encountered a head  sea. The prow  rose and fell, and
Nikolai had to adapt himself to  this by inhaling only when the prow was out
of the water. Even so,  water got into the snorkel now and then, and Nikolai
did not always have time to clear the tube.
     Once,  when the prow rose high out  of the  water, Nikolai saw,  on his
left,  the  sun shining brightly  on black  rocks surrounded by  foamy white
     He knew  these rocks. He felt as  though  he had been  under that keel,
lashed by the  waves, for an eternity. Yet they had only covered  about five
miles, one-tenth of the distance!
     Nikolai was getting used to meeting the waves head on, but his body was
growing chilled from the wind and the water. Evidently the oil he had rubbed
into his skin was being washed  off. He felt colder and colder.  The rope to
which he was clinging cut into the palms of his hands. A sharp  pain twisted
the big toe of  his left foot and quickly rose to his calf. With difficulty,
he turned on his right side. Bending his knee and then straightening out his
leg, he struggled desperately against the cramp.
     Suddenly he heard the motor slow down. The prow sank into the water. He
was now submerged. The boat came to a stop.
     Breathing at once grew easier. The motionless water seemed much warmer.
Nikolai cautiously thrust his head out of the water.
     "Why must you take a  dip now?" he heard Opratin's irritated voice ask.
"Why can't you wait?"
     "Why wait? It's  hot,"  said Bugrov.  "Just a  quick dip. There's  Bull
Island on the 'left. That means we're halfway."
     "Only halfway? We're going very slowly today."
     "You're right," Bugrov agreed. "I wonder why." Opratin spoke again. "By
the way, where did you pick up Anatole Benedictov in town?"
     "Where we agreed-at pier 16. Then we went to pier 24 to pick you up."
     "Was there anyone else on 16? Did anyone see you?"
     "I don't think so. Why?"
     "Oh, nothing. Hurry up and take your dip."
     The boat listed and there was a splash. Bugrov must have dived from the
stern. Nikolai  slipped out  of  the rope, turned  on  the  air valve,  and,
twisting his body so that he faced the bottom, dived.
     While Bugrov splashed about the stern, Nikolai waited to one side, at a
depth  of three metres. That  clown  was hot  and wanted to cool off, so he,
Nikolai, had to expend some of his precious air! True, this break gave him a
chance  to stretch his stiff arms and legs  and warm up. How thirsty he was!
He  had not had  anything to  eat or  drink since morning.  His  mouth  felt
horrible  from  swallowing salt  water. And  only  halfway  there-two  hours
more-an eternity. Oh, for  a  cup of hot tea! The strong tea Mehti brewed at
the marina.
     There  was  a   rattling  sound  in  the  boat.  Working  his  flippers
energetically,  Nikolai swam up to the bottom of the  boat, gripped the rope
again, and switched his breathing to the snorkel.
     The  motor came to life.  The waves that beat against him  kept sending
water into the tube. Before he  managed to  blow it through  he took another
gulp  of sea water. He  was growing steadily colder.  His  body did not have
time to compensate for the heat that the air and water were carrying off.
     A  transparent edge of water splashed in the plexiglass eyepiece of the
mask. Every now and then Nikolai lifted his head out of the water by raising
himself on the rope. The sea had grown darker, and so had the sky. A crimson
sun hung in the sky to the left, ready to sink into the sea.
     Something black suddenly flashed before his eyes, followed at once by a
painful blow on his left shoulder.
     It was  a heavy, watersoaked log which could easily have ripped a  hole
in the bottom of  the boat. But luckily it only hit the boat a slanting blow
on its port side after scraping Nikolai's shoulder.
     "A  close  shave,"  Nikolai thought,  unaware  that  his  shoulder  was
bleeding. He did not know which was worse-the constant cramps in his legs or
the  nausea  caused by  loss of blood, the cold, his  thirst and  the  large
amount of sea water he had swallowed.
     The nausea, the  cramps, the  tearing pain in his shoulder and the cold
water  sweeping over his tortured body  began to obscure  his consciousness.
"You told me  to think of a  way out. Well,  here it  is. It's all  for your
sake. Sitting  beside the fire with you was wonderful. Your hand  I dare not
touch. Your hand I dare not touch."
     The drone of  the motor intruded into his fading consciousness.  With a
great effort he lifted his head.
     Lights  ahead! The red and white lights of the channel  buoys winked in
the twilight.
     Lights had been switched on in the city too. He'd made it!
     Nikolai turned on  the cylinders and  climbed  out of the rope. Placing
his flippers against the bottom of the boat, he shoved off.
     How black the water was! Inhale-exhale- inhale-exhale-
     He came to  the surface and pulled out the  mouthpiece. The boat was no
longer in sight.
     To the left-he must swim to the left, in the direction of the marina.
     That evening dockmaster Mehti climbed  into  his  dinghy, as usual, and
set out to see if all the sailboats were properly tied up at their buoys.
     Old  Mehti was in  a  foul mood. Almost  two  weeks had  passed, and no
Mekong. Nikolai was an  experienced  sailor, but why hadn't  he informed him
about the  delay? He had  rung up  Lenkoran and talked  with the coastguards
there. They told him  the Mekong had not entered the mouth of the Kura. They
had promised to send a launch to search among the islands.
     His  job  at the marina was becoming altogether  impossible. He had  no
time to do  anything but take phone calls. From one woman in particular, who
said her daughter was aboard  the Mekong. She cried as she talked to him. He
could not understand why the men had taken  girls with  them.  When  you had
women aboard you had tears. That was a well-known fact.
     Mehti steered his dinghy up to buoy No. 2.  The Hurricane was well tied
up.  But why was there a man with  cylinders on his back and flippers on his
feet lying on the deck?
     "Hey, you, this isn't a hotel!" Mehti shouted angrily.
     The man did not  stir. Mehti climbed aboard  the sailboat. He bent over
the  man, who  was  lying  face  downwards,  a  mask  clasped  tight  in  an
outstretched hand, and turned him over.
     "Nikolai," he muttered in astonishment.
     It was all  of twenty  minutes  before Nikolai recovered consciousness.
His limbs jerked spasmodically.  The light hurt his  eyes. When  he tried to
throw off the blanket Mehti had laid over him his arm refused to move.
     Suddenly he realized that he was lying  in the dockmaster's quarters at
the marina. He saw Mehti's face bending over him. He heard Mehti's familiar,
grumbling voice.
     "Ipaty Island," he  said hoarsely, his tongue  moving  with difficulty.
"Send a launch-Ipaty Island-" Then he fainted again.
     The ambulance which the dockmaster had summoned sounded its horn.
     After  Nikolai was  driven away  to  hospital  Mehti rang  up the  port
authorities to notify them that he  was  putting  out to sea in a launch. He
could not understand  how Nikolai had reached the marina. It was nonsense to
suppose he  had swum  all the way from Ipaty Island. The days of miracles at
sea  were  over. But one  thing was certain: something  had  happened to the
Mekong. Mehti put a first-aid kit into the launch.  He was bending over  the
engine, tuning it  up for the trip,  when he noticed  a glow in the sky. The
rosy-hued reflections of a distant fire shone in the southern section of the
evening sky. Mehti climbed  back to the pier from the launch. He stood there
wondering what to do, his gnarled fingers moving impatiently. First, he must
find out where the fire was.  He stepped into his office but before he could
lift the receiver the telephone rang.
     "Mehti?  Port duty officer Seleznov here. You  just told us one of your
boats was stranded at Ipaty,  didn't you? Well, we're sending a torpedo boat
to that area to investigate the fire. Want to come along?"
     "Of course I do," Mehti replied.
     The  torpedo boat  slid up  alongside the pier soon  after. "Climb  in,
Mehti,  and  we're  off,"  the  tall,  helmeted  captain  shouted  from  the
     Mehti sprang onto the deck. "How are you, Konstantin," he said, shaking
hands with the captain. "Haven't seen you for a long time."
     "Since last year's regatta. How have you been keeping, old man?"
     The  engines revved up, and the torpedo boat swung round and headed out
of the bay, leaving two long trails of white foam behind.
     Mehti  sat down  on the  low  deckhouse railing. Two  men  in  civilian
clothes were  standing  on  deck, and  several more were  below in the  tiny
cabin. Mehti guessed they were oil experts and oilfield firemen.
     When they were  well  out of  the  bay  the captain nodded to the petty
officer beside  him  and the officer  pressed the lever of the accelerators.
The engines roared deafeningly and the launch  leaped forward. The glasslike
bow-wave was motionless and pink in the glow of the fire.
     Mehti descended the narrow ladder to the cabin, where he sat down  on a
folding chair. It  was quieter  down below. The  oil experts were exchanging
brief  comments. Some  thought the  fire  might  be at  the oil well on High
Island, the well farthest out in the archipelago.
     The captain came down the ladder. "My radio operator says the situation
on High Island is normal. From there they can see the fire to the southeast.
A message from a fishing village  at  the mouth of the  Kura reports that  a
fire can be seen in the northeast."
     He spread a map on the table. "It must be somewhere in the Ipaty area,"
he said,
     Mehti went up on deck. The ominous red glow that filled the sky and the
sea was  growing brighter  by the minute.  Soon  a pillar of  fire came into
view. There was no longer any doubt about it. Ipaty Island was in flames.
     Mehti stared in silence at the giant torch erupting out of the sea.
     "Was this where your young  people were?"  the captain  shouted in  his
     The dockmaster did not reply. His face, lit up by the fire, was stony.
     Advancing from  the  weather side, the  torpedo  boat slowly approached
what  had  only recently been an island. The water  at the foot of  the  gas
torch seethed and raged.
     "Ipaty has gone to the bottom," someone said gloomily.
     "We must extinguish this fire," one of the oil experts  said, shielding
his face from the heat with his hand. "If the wind rises the fire may spread
to the rigs on Turtle Island-and there's gas there too."
     The torpedo boat circled around the  remains of the  island. It pitched
heavily, for the sea bottom was still shifting and the sea was turbulent.
     "May I take a look?" Mehti asked the captain. He trained the binoculars
on  the reef and  saw the  black skeleton of the sailboat. Tongues of  flame
were  still  licking  the  deck. Mehti  lowered  the glasses.  His  face was
expressionless. Big tears rolled down his bristly cheeks.
     A  call  was  sent  out  for fire-fighting  launches.  Several of these
manoeuvrable little boats with high superstructures arrived on the  scene an
hour  later.  Surrounding the pillar of fire, they trained powerful  jets of
water on its base.
     The fire put up furious resistance. First it retreated hesitantly, then
leaped  forward in  an attack on the launches.  The  paint  on  the launches
cracked and peeled off in curlicues. The fierce heat scorched the sailors in
their asbestos suits.
     Although the launches were tossed from  side to side by  the waves  the
firemen, most of them former navy gunners, firmly controlled the hoses. They
crossed their jets of  water at the  base of the pillar, to sweep the  flame
off the surface of the sea:
     It was impossible to tell whether it was night or day.
     Finally  the jets of water sliced off  the pillar of fire at its  base.
After a last burst of flame the fire died away.
     Darkness  fell instantly. It was not exactly  dark, though, for the sky
was just beginning to grow light in the east. Could it have taken an  entire
night to fight the fire?
     Dockmaster Mehti asked the captain to come  as close as possible to the
reef. He stared at the blackened framework of the sailboat for a long time.
     The  captain  touched   his  shoulder.  Mehti  silently  gave  him  the
binoculars. He  slowly went down  to the cabin, stretched  out on the little
sofa, and turned his face to the wall.
     Their engines  roaring,  the  torpedo boat and  the fire launches moved
away from the island that no longer existed.

     Nikolai Opratin sat  on  a  bench on  Seaside  Boulevard,  watching the
crowds  strolling past him. It was a hot summer evening, and the entire city
was streaming towards the sea.
     The clicking of  triggers came from  the shooting-gallery. The majestic
strains of Tchaikovsky's First Piano Concerto floated from the bandshell.
     There was  not a single vacant place on the benches. On  Opratin's left
some young people were  eating  ice-cream  and laughing. On his right others
were  joking  and  laughing.   "What  a  pack  of  fools!"  Opratin  thought
disdainfully. "Cackling like geese."
     He found he was unable to concentrate. This had never happened  before,
and it made him angry.
     He had returned from the island only two hours before. From the pier he
had taken a taxi home, where a cold shower  had failed to dispel his anxiety
and despair. A vein  under his left eye throbbed annoyingly. He examined his
face in the mirror  and pressed  the vein with a forefinger, but it  did not
stop throbbing.
     He  felt that he simply could not remain at home alone.  He  had to get
outdoors. A few minutes later he put on his straw hat and went out to sit on
a bench on the boulevard.
     How had  it all happened? After Anatole  went below,  Opratin  remained
alone for  a while, studying the  charts of the latest  experiments. He  was
upset by the talk he had  just had  with Anatole. That miserable dope fiend!
Wanting to  surrender the hard-won fruits of their labours! He certainly was
not going  to  let that happen.  First, he'd see to it  that Anatole and the
Institute  parted  company.  He  knew  he could convince  the  director that
Anatole had  to be dropped because he was  no longer  suitable for his post.
Then he would render Anatole helpless by confiscating all his papers and the
records of the experiments.  The knife, too. Actually, though, the knife was
not really needed any  longer. There were "charged"  pieces of  metal and  a
portable installation.
     Opratin gathered together the papers he needed and  went downstairs for
the portable installation.
     Anatole was dozing in the folding chair,  inside the cage. He must have
given himself  another shot in  the arm. Opratin kicked  the box of ampoules
that lay on the floor. He  stared down at Anatole, frowning. The puffy face,
the rumpled hair, the hoarse breathing. A living corpse, actually.
     As he  picked  up  the  black  attache  case  containing  the  portable
installation Opratin  became  aware  of  a faint  rustling and crackling. He
glanced at  the control panel and swore  under his breath. The Van de Graaff
generator  was switched  on. The  endless silk band  rustled  from pulley to
pulley, carrying a  flow of static charges  to the spherical  tips.  And the
tips were strongly charged as it was.
     Anatole  was  a  maniac!  He  must  have  again  tried  to  adjust  the
installation by  increasing the field intensity.  ;  Restructured matter was
not  supposed  to drop downwards; the  earth's gravitational field pushed it
up. Or, at any rate, this had been the case  in the beginning. But in recent
weeks the installation seemed  to have  gone mad. The  concrete floor of the
cage swallowed up everything thrown into the cage.
     Lately, the  cage seemed  to draw Anatole like a  magnet. He would fuss
with  it for hours, rearranging the pipes  and the  wiring. What is more, he
had  developed the dangerous habit of taking a siesta  in the cage. Time and
again Opratin  had warned Anatole  not to climb into the cage because he was
absentminded and might easily forget to switch off the installation.
     This  time  Anatole  must  have turned  off the installation  after his
latest experiment  but had  forgotten about the Van de  Graaff generator. As
Opratin was on  his way to the control panel  to switch off the generator  a
low  crackling  sound came from  above. He  stopped short. A dazzling  white
sphere the size  of  a  basketball came rolling  out of the generator column
with a swish. Globe lightning!
     Opratin stared dumbfounded at the glowing fire-ball. The scorching clot
of  energy was heading straight for his feet, giving oft sparks as it rolled
along. Opratin backed towards the steps which led to the hatch. The cover of
the hatch  was open;  a  breath of wind could send the fire-ball upwards and
out through the hatch. But what if it exploded down here instead?
     The fire-ball swayed gently  and  glided upwards, almost into Opratin's
face. Then it floated along in front of the control panel.
     Opratin felt behind  him for  the steps, then swung round and scrambled
upstairs.  But  before he could jump out of the hatch there was  a  flash of
dazzling light,  a short hiss,  and a sharp metallic click. A blast of  heat
struck his back.
     Forcing himself  to turn round, he saw that  the fire-ball was gone. It
had disintegrated without exploding.
     The cage  was  empty-except  for the upper part  of  the folding  chair
jutting up out of the floor.
     Opratin, horrified, closed his eyes. His heart beat violently.
     He stepped out of the laboratory and stood before the door for a moment
to  get  his  face  and  hands under control.  Only  after his hands stopped
trembling did he lock and seal the door.

     Dimly,  in the background of his  consciousness, he heard the ceaseless
scuffle of the feet of the animated and colourful summer throngs promenading
along the boulevard.
     What was he to do? How could he explain Anatole's disappearance? If  he
told the  truth, no one would  believe  him.  You only  had globe  lightning
during a thunderstorm. There had been no thunderstorm. No one had ever heard
of a  man-made  fire-ball. Who would believe that a  Van de Graaff generator
had produced one?
     Opratin shuddered at the  memory of the flash of light and the metallic
click. As the fire-ball floated past the control panel it had activated  the
magnetic starter of the installation.
     An accident during an experiment?  But then  there would be an inquiry,
and the  installation, which had  nothing to do with cloud condensation  and
the level  of  the Caspian, would be discovered.  People would want, to know
where Benedictov's body was. No, no-not that.
     What if he said that Benedictov had remained behind alone on the island
to finish a series  of experiments,  and had probably drowned while bathing?
His body had evidently been carried out to sea. But Bugrov knew that Anatole
hated sea bathing. Should he  talk to Bugrov? No, that scum of the earth had
been looking daggers at  him  lately. He would not hesitate to claim that he
had been forced to steal from a display case in a museum.
     Should he tell  the whole  truth? After all, he was in no  way to blame
for anything. He was on the verge of a major breakthrough in science. It was
not his fault that Benedictov had fallen victim to his own absentmindedness.
Yes, he'd make a full confession, and let come what may.
     Suddenly  he heard alarmed voices. Raising  his head, he saw a wavering
glow on the southern horizon. Something was burning far out at sea.
     Opratin pushed  his way through  the crowd and headed  for home. He did
not  sleep a wink all night. He  paced  the floor, he flung himself  into an
armchair, then sprang to his feet and paced the floor again-
     Early next morning his telephone rang.
     "A  big crater erupted on Ipaty last night," came the  excited voice of
the Institute director. "The Island no longer exists."
     Opratin  was  struck  dumb.  He passed the palm  of  his hand over  his
inflamed eyes.
     "That's terrible,"  he said into the phone at last. "Anatole Benedictov
was on the island-"
     Ipaty no longer existed.
     Opratin  took  a  shower,  shaved  himself  slowly and thoroughly,  and
dressed carefully. When he set out for the Institute he was his usual smart,
dapper self.

     Four  days  later  a  white  launch  chugged  up  to  the  marina. Four
fantastically-garbed young people stepped out onto the pier. One was a lanky
young man with a tawny beard, wearing only  shorts and, on his head, a faded
kerchief;  camera and  binoculars  straps ran  across  his chest in opposite
directions.  Another  was a round-faced, swarthy, black-haired youth in blue
swimming trunks with a fishing rod in one hand and a transistor radio in the
other. There  was a  fair-haired young woman in a  torn red  sun-dress,  the
tatters held together  with safety  pins.  The fourth was a  pretty brunette
with   big  black  eyes  who,  despite  the  hot  day,  was  wrapped   in  a
yellow-striped green blanket.  All  were  deeply sunburnt  and  barefoot.  A
tiger-striped yellow boxer brought up the rear.
     The  sailing  enthusiasts  at  the marina stared  in amazement  at  the
procession. When they realized  that  the man with the tawny beard was  Yura
Kostyukov  they  rushed  up  to shake his hand.  Dockmaster Mehti vigorously
pumped Yura's arm and then turned to shake hands with Yura's companions.
     The four had drifted on the becalmed sea for three days. On the morning
of the fourth they were picked up by a rescue  launch from Lenkoran that was
searching  for them in that area. "You can thank Nikolai Potapkin for saving
your lives," Mehti said to Yura. "He was the one who told us you had a raft.
If  we hadn't known that we wouldn't have outfitted search parties. We would
have thought you  all  perished on  the island." One of the  boating  people
offered to drive the four of them home and they left the marina in his car.
     "Well, we're back  home  again, old  man." Yura said to Rex as  the car
drew up in front of his house.  He thanked the driver and ran up the  stairs
to  the  fourth floor. Rex leaped and  danced in front  of the  door. No one
answered  Yura's ring. "They're not back  yet,"  he thought  thankfully. His
parents  had  left for a holiday in  the  Caucasian spa  of  Kislovodsk just
before the cruise.
     Yura picked up his key from the neighbour with whom he had left it, and
entered  his flat. First, a hot shower. Yura scrubbed his body energetically
with a stiff loofah.  The water that ran down the drain was black. He soaped
again and again. Finally, when his skin squeaked  under his hands, he heaved
a sign of relief. What a job it had been to remove all that dirt!
     After he had dressed, Yura glanced into the  kitchen. Rex was  drowsing
on his pad. When he saw Yura he rose and gave a long yawn.
     "You'll stay at home," Yura told him. "I'll run over to see how Nikolai
is getting along.  I'll bring you back something to eat. Would you like some
     Rex barked his indignation. Yura had learned from dockmaster Mehti that
Nikolai  was  in  hospital-the  same  hospital  where  Nikolai's mother  was
employed  as a nurse. Arriving at  the hospital,  he asked for her. When she
came down into the lobby and saw Yura her face  lit up. She embraced him and
shed a  few tears. "Forgive me for weeping," she said. "It's so wonderful to
see you. I had been told-"
     "How is Nikolai?"
     "Much better.  He  has pneumonia, you know. Besides,  he lost  a lot of
blood from a deep  cut on  his shoulder  where  a log scraped it.  He  keeps
asking for you. I've been telling him you're in town, but that  he can't see
you yet because the doctors don't allow him any visitors."
     "I must see Nikolai at once."
     "I'm sorry, not today, dear. He's still weak. Come tomorrow."
     "May I send him a note? It's extremely important."'
     "Well, all right."
     Yura tore a page  out of his pad and quickly wrote: "Hi, old man. We're
all safe  and sound and dying to see  you. Meanwhile, just one question: was
Benedictov in the motorboat?"
     "All  he  has to answer is one word-yes or no," Yura said, handing  the
note to Nikolai's mother.
     "It's our last  hope," Yura thought as  he  restlessly paced the  lobby
waiting for Nikolai's mother to return. "If only  the answer is yes. Then we
can forget all  about that dreadful top  of  a folding chair sticking out of
the concrete. If only-"
     A few minutes later Nikolai's mother came down  the  stairs. She handed
Yura a sheet of paper on which the word NO was printed in block letters.

     When Rita entered her flat she could tell at once that Anatole had been
living at home. The bed was unmade, his pyjamas were tossed over the back of
a chair, and half  a glass of cold tea  and a sugar bowl stood on the table.
He must have left Opratin's place and  been living at home  all the time she
was away.
     She rang up the Institute of Marine Physics but it was  the  end of the
day and no one came to the phone.  She  stood lost  in thought  for a while,
then dialled Opratin's number. The phone rang and rang without an answer.
     Her mother was visiting relatives in Rostov. Whom else could she phone?
What a pity Nikolai could not be reached.
     Rita  took  a  bath, then called Opratin again. This  time he answered.
"Rita?"  he asked  in  astonishment. "Are  you in town?" "Obviously. Where's
Anatole?" "Excuse me-"  Opratin fell silent for a few moments. Then he said:
"You ask about Anatole's whereabouts. Don't you know what happened?" "What's
happened?" she cried, pressing her hand to her heart. "Tell me at once."
     "I  hate to  be the one to break the  news. Anatole was working in  our
island laboratory. He was killed when the island  suddenly blew up." "You're
lying. He wasn't in  the  laboratory."  "I  realize the  state you are  in,"
Opratin said gently and with sympathy. "Believe  me, I am quite sincere when
I say-"
     "It's a lie!" she  cried furiously. "He left the island  with you. What
have you done to him, you horrid creature?"
     "If you're going to carry on like this I must say goodbye."
     Rita heard a click, and  then the  line went dead. She slowly  replaced
the  receiver. For  a moment she  stood motionless, her  arms hanging by her
sides, in the deathly silence of the  empty flat. Then  she snatched up  the
receiver  and dialled Yura's number. No one came to  the phone. She waited a
few minutes, then tried again. Still no Yura.

     On leaving the hospital Yura  took a taxi straight home, locked himself
in the bathroom,  turned off  the  light, and set about  developing his last
roll of film.
     On  the  other side of  the  bathroom  door  hungry  .Rex  whined.  The
telephone rang  frantically.  Yura  was too busy to go out to answer it. "It
must be Val," he thought. "I'll call her back as soon as I'm free."
     Snatching the  wet film out  of the fixer, he switched on the light and
studied it frame by frame. The negatives of the pictures he had taken in the
island laboratory  did  look  odd.  There it  was-the cage, the  back of the
folding  chair jutting  up out  of the concrete floor, and  below it a vague
whitish  spot.  What  the  devil  was   that?  How  could  the  camera  have
photographed what was under concrete?
     Yura turned on the fan to dry the film more quickly.
     Now for the printing.  He ran  the roll  of film  through  the enlarger
until  he came  to the frame with the cage. He  printed an enlargement of it
and tossed the paper into the developing tray. In the red light the cage and
then  the  cross-piece  of  the  chair  showed  through  slowly,  as  though
unwillingly. He could  see the  hazy outlines of the chair itself and - Cold
shivers ran down his spine.
     Now the vague contours of  a human  body  were emerging.  The  body was
reclining in the  folding  chair  and had  been photographed from a  strange
angle-from almost directly overhead.
     Bugrov felt  terrible. The man sitting  on the  other side  of the desk
knew far too much about him.
     "Whom did you buy the drugs from?" "I don't  know his  surname," Bugrov
replied sullenly. "They called him Mahmud."
     "The  one who  used  to  stand on the corner of Ninth Street, near  the
filling station?" "Yes."
     "Well, Mahmud's been arrested." Bugrov scowled  at the investigator. "I
didn't buy the drugs for myself."
     "I know you didn't." The investigator's voice hardened. "But you bought
them, and you ruined a man."
     Bugrov leaped to his feet. "That's a lie!  He ruined himself. I  refuse
to be held responsible. He begged me to buy him the drugs. Do you think I-"
     "Calm down," the investigator said. "I'm not accusing you. He could not
get along without them, poor chap. Now tell me this. What were the relations
between Nikolai Opratin and Anatole Benedictov-"
     "They  squabbled all the time. They'd start quarrelling every  time  we
set out for the island and they'd keep it up all the way."
     "What about?"
     "How do I  know?  I don't know the science part of it. Opratin wouldn't
let me any farther than the motor compartment. 1 think there was  a hitch of
some kind."
     The  investigator asked  Bugrov to describe the last trip to the island
in the minutest detail.
     "So you left Benedictov in the  laboratory, did you?" he remarked after
Bugrov finished his story. "You sealed the door and left. Is that it?"
     Bugrov stared at him in astonishment.
     "Who'd seal a door if there was a living person inside?"
     "H'm, a living person,  you say?" The investigator stared intently into
Bugrov's eyes. "Did  you climb  up  to  the  pill-box  before  you left  the
     "No. I was busy tinkering with the engine."
     "What did you and Opratin talk about on the return trip?"
     "What did  we talk  about? I don't remember talking at all. He was like
an owl."
     "But you did talk all  the same.  When  you stopped the  boat to take a
     On hearing  this  Bugrov  was more astonished  than ever. "Why,  that's
right," he said. "We spoke of how slow the boat was going."
     "Anything else?"
     "He  asked me on what  pier  I had  picked  up Benedictov. And  whether
anyone had seen us."
     The  investigator nodded and wrote  something down. "Now we're  getting
     "He talks as if he was in  the boat with us,"  Bugrov  thought.  "Maybe
Opratin told him about it. But  no, that slick customer wouldn't go  talking
to the law."
     The investigator carefully took a small,  flat iron box  on a chain out
of his drawer and laid it on the desk in front of Bugrov.
     ''Ever seen this before?" he asked.
     Sweat broke out on Bugrov's forehead. "I'm sunk!" he thought, searching
in his pocket for a handkerchief.
     "As far as I'm  concerned," Bugrov said in  a bored voice, "this little
piece of iron  junk  is  the  last thing  I'd want. I took it for scientific
     "You stole it."
     "Have it  your own way." Bugrov pushed away the chain disdainfully with
his little finger.  "I just  gave it a little  snip  with a  pair of pliers,
that's all. I didn't take it for myself."
     "You'll have to answer for this museum theft."
     Bugrov turned to look at  the  sky  outside the  window. He wouldn't be
able to wriggle out of this one.
     "It's a  pity.  The Institute gave you very good references.  Well, you
may go now. Just sign this statement promising not to leave town."
     Nikolai  Opratin drummed with  his fingers on the  black  attache  case
lying in his lap and said evenly, "You have no right  to level such a charge
against me. It's slander."
     The investigator placed a  folder on the desk. He had spent quite a few
days studying the papers inside  the  folder before he  summoned Opratin for
     "Please answer  the question,"  he said shortly. "Why did you lock  and
seal the door before leaving the island?"
     "I  did  nothing  of  the  sort. I  left  the  key and  the  seal  with
     The investigator gave Opratin a severe look. Opratin met it calmly.
     "What did you  ask Bugrov on the way back  when he stopped  the boat to
take a dip?"
     "I didn't ask him anything."
     The  investigator  pressed a button and  said to  the man who  entered:
"Show Bugrov in."
     When Bugrov entered the room a few seconds later Opratin did not glance
at him.
     "He asked if anyone had seen Benedictov get into the boat when I picked
him up that morning,"  Bugrov said in reply to the investigator's  question.
"They boarded the boat at different piers."
     "I never asked such a question," Opratin said quietly.
     "What do you mean?" Bugrov exclaimed. "You certainly did!"
     The investigator  stopped him with  a gesture. "We have a witness,"  he
said, pressing the button again.
     This  time Nikolai Potapkin entered the room. Opratin measured him with
an indifferent glance, then looked pointedly at his watch.
     Nikolai confirmed  that Opratin had talked with Bugrov on the trip back
from the island.
     Opratin shrugged.  "This  whole business is  absurd.  Assuming,  for  a
moment,  that we actually did talk, how could this young man have  heard it,
in the middle of the Caspian?"
     "This  young man travelled  from  Ipaty  Island to the mainland hanging
onto the  prow  of your  motorboat," said  the investigator.  "That has been
verified and is absolutely true. Now I want to ask you another question," he
said,  turning to  Nikolai.  "What did Opratin and Benedictov talk about  in
their underground laboratory before the latter vanished?"
     Nikolai   repeated   the   conversation.  Bugrov  stared   at  him   in
bewilderment, his mouth open.
     "Do you admit  that such a conversation  took place?"  the investigator
asked, turning  to  look squarely at Opratin.  "Do  you admit  that you  and
Benedictov had a bitter quarrel?"
     Opratin  did not reply at once. His  fingers drummed  nervously  on his
attache  case. It appeared those youngsters had been on the island.  He  had
never  suspected it. He had been vaguely  disturbed  ever since Benedictov's
wife had screamed into the phone that he was lying. He had hung  up at once.
He had thought she  was simply upset. But now it turned out that-  What else
could  they  have  seen?  But  they  could  not possibly  have  entered  the
laboratory- They did not have a  shred of evidence. The laboratory had blown
up, and Benedictov together with it.
     "Th-there was no such conversation," said Opratin in a hollow voice.
     "Was  there  no ventilation  shaft in  your  pillbox  either?"  Nikolai
shouted angrily.
     The  investigator  pressed  a button to  summon  Yura and  Valery,  who
confirmed Nikolai's words.
     All eyes were now turned  on Opratin. He slowly passed the palm  of his
hand over his damp, thin hair.
     "Very well," he said slowly, choosing his words. "Let us assume  that I
did  quarrel  with Benedictov." (Be calm, get  a grip on yourself.) "What of
that? We quarrelled, I left, and he  remained to complete the work on  hand.
On  that very  day  the  big crater erupted. The  laboratory  was destroyed,
Benedictov was killed."
     "You killed him!" Yura cried.
     "That's a lie!" Opratin turned a pale face to him. "That's a despicable
     Yura strode to the table. "You switched on the installation  and killed
him. Show him the photographs."
     "Don't  rush  things,  young  man," said the  investigator. Turning  to
Opratin  he said: "There was a setup in your laboratory  that had nothing to
do with cloud condensation. I have pictures of the equipment and a statement
by your director. Take a look."
     He spread several large photographs on the desk. Opratin  said nothing.
He  looked  at  them  indifferently, one by one,  until he  came to the last
picture. He stared dumbfounded at the picture of the cage inside which could
be seen the dim contours of a folding chair and the outlines of a human body
photographed from directly above.
     Opratin pressed the tips of his fingers to his eyes. Under his left eye
a vein throbbed. His cheeks paled.
     With a nod to the witnesses the investigator  indicated  that he wanted
them to leave the room.
     "Well?" he asked.
     Opratin was sitting  in a strange  manner, knees drawn  up so that  his
feet  were  not  touching the  floor.  He now had control  of  himself;  his
expression was solemn. His  fingers  drummed nervously on  the nickel-plated
clasp of the black attache case in his lap. The clasp gave a loud click.
     "Well?" the investigator repeated.
     Opratin said  nothing.  He sat  tensely  poised,  his gaze fixed on the
distance. His lips moved almost imperceptibly,  as though  counting  off the
     "Has he gone round  the bend?" the investigator wondered. He  pressed a
     "Lead  the prisoner away," he said  to the sergeant who had entered and
halted near the door.
     Opratin rose in an odd manner, almost as if he had jumped up.
     "You'll hear  more about me," he said in a remote voice, moving towards
the door.
     "You're under arrest. Detain him, sergeant."
     The sergeant took up  a position  in  front of the door  and raised his
hand. Opratin halted for an instant, then moved to the side, walked straight
through the wall beside the door, and vanished.
     The sergeant stared round-eyed at the investigator for an instant, then
rushed out into the corridor, followed by the investigator. They saw Opratin
walking down the  corridor. He was moving like a robot,  taking slow  steps,
woodenly placing  his feet flat on the ground, as though he were testing the
strength of the  floor. In his right  hand he still  held  the black attache
     The sergeant caught up with him and stretched out his hand to seize him
by the arm. But his hand went  through  Opratin's arm as though through air.
All the sergeant felt was a light puff of warm air.
     "Follow him!" cried the investigator. "Hurry! Don't  take your eyes off
     Hearing the shouts on the  floor above  them, Nikolai, Yura and  Valery
halted in the lobby. Opratin  was descending the stairs  and coming straight
towards  them. They stood  shoulder to shoulder to bar his  way. Opratin did
not turn aside. He  walked straight through them, then through the astounded
man on duty at the door, who tried to stop him, and out into the street.
     His face white and tense, he walked  without stepping aside for anyone.
He paid no attention to the shouts of the investigator and  the sergeant who
were following him, or to the three young men who were on his heels.
     For the first  time in his  life Opratin was  displeased with  his  own
conduct. What in the world had he been thinking of? He  had made  one stupid
blunder after another. He should  have told  the  whole  story  at once.  He
should  have admitted  that  although  the laboratory  was  being  used  for
experiments that were not in the programme these experiments would lead to a
major breakthrough.
     He should have told  the truth, as  he had wanted to  at the beginning.
The  whole  truth  about the apparatus, about Benedictov's carelessness, and
about the fire-ball.  Who could have expected those damned youngsters to get
into the laboratory?
     And  in the first place, he  shouldn't  have gone to the investigator's
office when  he  received the summons. How could an investigator be expected
to understand  all  this? He would simply look  on it as a  crime. This case
should be examined by a committee of  scientists. He should have gone higher
up at once.  He should  have  said straight out: we've obtained a remarkable
scientific result.
     It  was  not too late now,  either. Within  half an hour he would be in
touch  with the right  people. He  would  tell them he  had kept quiet about
Benedictov's  death simply  because  he had panicked. They  would understand
that, and appoint a committee  of inquiry.  He would be allowed to carry his
experiments through to the end.
     On reaching the intersection Opratin stepped out into the heavy traffic
without a glance either to the right or to the left. A bus bore down on him.
The  driver, his  face distorted with fear, tried in vain to  brake in time.
Opratin felt a moment's terror but then-
     The  passengers  saw  a  clean-shaven, well-dressed man cut off  at the
knees by the floor of their bus, pass through them without touching a single
person, and disappear, leaving behind  a faint odour of eau  de Cologne.  It
was all over before they had time to exclaim in fright or astonishment.
     Meanwhile Opratin,  quite unharmed, had  reached  the other side of the
street and was walking on, swinging his attache case in time  to  his wooden
steps. He paid no attention either to people or to cars. One more  block and
he would be close-
     He was slowly crossing the street when a heavy lorry turned the corner.
Opratin did not even glance at it.
     There  was a piercing shriek. Tires squealed. Its engine giving a sharp
bang, the  lorry  came to such a  sudden stop that the  driver's  chest  was
pressed against the steering wheel and he lost consciousness.
     A crowd instantly gathered.
     The body of the ghost-man hung in an unnatural, twisted position on the
front of the  lorry,  his right  arm  plunged  into the  bonnet  up  to  the
     The black attache case had been thrown some  two metres  away from  the
lorry. It lay half buried in the roadway.
     Penetrability had suddenly ceased, and  Opratin's body had regained its
normal properties at the very moment  when his right arm had moved  into the
space occupied by the running engine. The  particles of Opratin's arm and of
the lorry  engine had  intermingled into an unbelievable mixture. The engine
had immediately gone dead.
     Nikolai and  Yura  pushed their  way through the crowd to the lorry and
stopped short, overwhelmed by what they saw.
     A siren sounded. The crowd parted to make way for an ambulance.


     On  that particular Saturday evening  Boris Privalov lay on  the  sofa,
reading and smoking, enjoying the peace and quiet.
     But there is no such thing as  perfect peace and quiet, not  even for a
short interval.
     "Do you  intend to  lie there all evening, Boris?"  asked Olga from the
     Boris turned a page. "What if I do?"
     "Let's go to the pictures. Everyone's seen-"
     "I can't, my dear. I'm expecting Pavel Koltukhov."
     "Tonight again?"
     "We have things to talk over, Olga."
     News had  arrived from Moscow that  the experiment at the  Institute of
Surfaces had been successful. A stream of oil had flowed  through the  water
of a pool three metres long. In October operations were to be shifted to the
Caspian  Sea,  where  a  full-scale experiment  would  be  mounted.  The Oil
Transport Research Institute was  busy  assembling the necessary  equipment,
and the power engineers had an especially large amount of work to do,  under
the stern, faultfinding eye of Professor Bagbanly.
     Pavel  Koltukhov,  whose electret  scheme  was being  applied,  had now
become just about the most enthusiastic champion of a pipeless oil pipeline.
He spent days on end testing new samples of powerfully charged electrets.
     Besides all this, a suitable area in the sea had to be found. It had to
be remote enough to  conceal the experiment from curious eyes.  At the  same
time, it had to  have  a convenient power supply. Nikolai and  Yura had been
searching  for  just the right  place  along the neighbouring shore  of  the
Caspian for more than a week now.
     The doorbell rang. Her lips pressed tight, Olga went to open it.
     Pavel Koltukhov entered, unbuttoning his collar and yanking off his tie
on the  go. As  he  sat down he  put a cigarette into his mouth and launched
into an account of the furious argument he had just had with the head of the
pipeline building organization.
     "Would you like a cup of tea?" Olga asked coldly.
     "With pleasure," Pavel Koltukhov  replied from behind a thick  cloud of
tobacco smoke.  "Did you hear that, Boris? 'Don't try to confuse me with all
those  figures,' I told  him. 'I can  penetrate  right into  your thoughts.'
Well,  you should have seen the look he  gave me. He asked in  a  frightened
voice: 'Can you really?'" Pavel Koltukhov laughed boisterously.
     "After what  happened to  Opratin no  one can  talk of  anything except
penetrability," said Privalov.
     "I should think not," Olga chimed in as she poured the tea.  "The whole
town's talking about the ghost-man. Put aside that book, Boris,  and come to
the  table."  Then,  turning  to Pavel Koltukhov,  she  went  on:  "I  can't
understand how he made  himself incorporeal. Boris  says  Opratin built some
kind of a machine on the island. That's all very well but he didn't have any
machine in the investigator's office. Or did Opratin come from the island in
that-that incorporeal state?"
     "He carried  an attache case,"  Pavel  explained, looking  at  the cake
appreciatively. "A portable machine, evidently. It's  a pity the machine was
smashed when it went into the asphalt."
     "He  must have dropped the attache case when the  lorry hit him,"  said
Boris. "That's why the penetrability process stopped. How is Opratin, by the
way? Still unconscious?"
     "Yes.  He's still in a  state  of severe  shock," said Pavel Koltukhov.
"They had to amputate his whole arm, and several ribs are broken."
     "It's all so frightful," exclaimed Olga. "The way Benedictov died, too.
How could a photograph show his body if the body was buried in concrete?"
     "That's still a mystery,"  said her husband. "Professor Bagbanly thinks
that the  matter  restructured  according  to  their  method  produced  hard
radiation, which acted on the film."
     "It's just frightful," Olga  repeated.  "I  can't believe that  Opratin
would  kill anybody.  Besides, in  such a  brutal,  cold-blooded manner." "I
don't  believe  it  either,"  said  Pavel  Koltukhov, drawing  his  beetling
eyebrows  into  a  frown.  "I  don't believe murder  was  committed. I  know
Opratin. He's a reserved man, and extremely ambitious. Not easy to get along
with, perhaps, but commit a murder? No, I don't believe he did it."
     "Then  how  do you  explain Anatole  Benedictov's  death?" asked Boris.
"It's  been proved,  after all, that he died before the island  blew up." "I
don't know.  It must have been some sort of accident. A complicated machine,
restructured matter, and high voltage- With a combination like that anything
could happen. Take Valery's little finger, for example."
     "Benedictov couldn't have turned on the installation himself."
     Pavel Koltukhov said nothing. He took another puff at his cigarette.
     "Besides, look at  the way  Opratin  behaved when the investigator  was
questioning him. If he were innocent why did he lie?"
     "I'd like very much to  go over  to the hospital  and have a talk  with
Opratin," Koltukhov said after a pause.
     "You wouldn't be permitted to  see him." "No, we wouldn't be allowed to
see Opratin, of course. But I know a doctor at that hospital. We were in the
same  regiment during the war. I could talk to him about Opratin. Let's  pay
him a visit tomorrow, shall we?"
     Boris Privalov and Pavel Koltukhov were not allowed to  see Opratin for
two reasons. First, because Opratin was in deep shock and recognized no one.
Second, he was a murder suspect.
     They were told  all this by Pavel Koltukhov's old doctor  acquaintance,
an elderly,  good-natured man. His hands clasped behind his back, he  strode
up and down  his office  and talked, punctuating  his  words with thoughtful
     "It's a  unique  case," he said. "I haven't  the faintest idea of  what
changes  occurred in the body when the bonds of matter  were altered. It's a
physiological mystery, my friends. We're studying it, of course. Clinically,
the  picture is  very involved. There have been drastic changes in the blood
formula. There are other curious  points. On  Opratin's back, for  instance,
there is a dark pigmentation of a most curious geometrical pattern. We can't
say whether Opratin will come out of this alive. We have managed to maintain
his heart activity so far, but as to the future-" The doctor spread his arms
wide. "I just don't know. He's had a fantastic shock."
     When he returned home Boris Privalov sat  down to work on the design of
underwater  radiators.  Nothing  seemed   to  be   going   right   with  his
calculations. Probably because his mind was really elsewhere.
     He could not stop thinking and wondering about that strange geometrical
pattern on Opratin's back.
     He  stepped out onto the balcony into the hot,  midday  sunshine. Then,
making up his mind, he went inside, strode  over to the telephone, looked up
the number of  the hospital, and asked for Pavel Koltukhov's doctor  friend.
When the doctor  came to the phone Boris asked him to describe the design on
Opratin's back in the greatest possible detail.
     "Well, it consists of spots about as dark as a good suntan," the doctor
said, somewhat puzzled at this request. "There are lines and zigzags against
a  background that looks,  as a matter of fact, something like a drawing  of
the rising sun."
     "Thank you," said Privalov. He put down the receiver and began to  pace
the room excitedly. Then he ran his eye across the  books on his shelves. He
pulled several down one after another and leafed through  them. Next he rang
up his wife at the library where she worked. "Are you coming home soon? When
you  do,  please bring  whatever books  you have there about lightning. Yes,
that's right, ordinary lightning."
     Early in the  evening he ran up the stairs of the house in which  Pavel
Koltukhov lived. Breathing heavily  from the climb, he pressed the doorbell.
Koltukhov was watering  the flowers on  his balcony. When he finally came to
the door and opened it he looked at his friend in surprise.
     "What's happened?" he asked with concern.
     "Did you ever hear, Pavel, about marks left by lightning on the body of
a person who's been struck by it?"
     In rare cases lightning does leave  characteristic marks on the wall of
a  house or the body of  the person  it  strikes. Usually the  marks  are  a
star-shaped figure with many rays; sometimes they  look like a photograph of
the  surrounding  place,  or are the  imprint of an  object in the  person's
pocket, such as a key or a coin.
     It  is  thought  that   the  stream  of  electrons  and  negative  ions
accompanying the lightning reflects objects in the vicinity in the  shape of
     Koltukhov listened with a doubtful expression on his face. "As far as I
know," he remarked, "there has not been a single thunderstorm on the Caspian
this summer. Where'd the lightning come from?"
     "Remember Yura Kostyukov's photographs?"  said Privalov. "Remember  his
description  of that  laboratory? It had  a  Van  de Graaff generator, spark
gaps, and a battery of  electrets. The setup had  an extremely high voltage,
Pavel. The generator itself produced lightning-globe lightning."
     "Now that's really too much, Boris. I've never heard of man-made  globe
     "Well, Pavel, we must see that pattern on Opratin's back for ourselves.
We  must obtain  permission, one  way or another,  to visit  him. Let's  see
whether Professor Bagbanly can help us."
     The  "geometrical pattern" on Opratin's back was carefully  examined in
the presence of the investigator in charge of the case and experts. The dark
patches and lines were compared with the photographs  and description of the
installation. The following facts emerged.
     The strange  imprint on  Opratin's back  proved to be an outline of the
cage  with  a  human figure inside it, half buried in  concrete. Moreover, a
faint shadow  of the coil of the "inductor of transformations" was detected,
as was the clear-cut silhouette, in profile, of the control panel.
     The  imprint  was  made  by  globe lightning  created,  probably,  by a
powerful self-discharge of the generator.
     Just before the  accident Anatole  Benedictov  was sitting  in  a chair
inside the cage.  The  cage was not switched on. Opratin was at the hatchway
with his back to the control panel, evidently  about  to leave the premises.
In the time between the moment when the cage was switched on and the  moment
when  Benedictov sank halfway into the concrete Opratin  could  not possibly
have  moved  from  the control  panel  to the  hatchway, since penetrability
occurred instantaneously.
     The conclusion, confirmed by the position of .the shadow  of the rotary
switch on the profile  of the control panel, was  that the magnetic  starter
had been  activated by the approach of  the  fire-ball, which at that moment
was between the panel and Opratin.
     On  the evening of the following day Pavel Koltukhov again sat drinking
tea at  the Privalovs. He was telling Olga what the committee of experts had
     "If it had not been for the lucid mind of this old visionary," he said,
nodding towards Boris  Privalov, "Nikolai Opratin would still  be facing the
charge of a horrible murder."
     "Opratin lied to the investigator only because-"
     "He  was  afraid he  wouldn't be believed,"  said Koltukhov. "He had no
idea he was carrying the proof of his innocence on his own back."
     "Have you shown  Professor  Bagbanly  the  latest  calculations?" asked
Boris, switching the conversation to current matters.
     "Yes. It's  a  pity you didn't  go along with me today to see  him.  He
called a team of experts together to throw light on that horoscope."
     "What for?"
     "That's  just  what I said too.  'Why  are you  going  in for all  that
mumbo-jumbo?' I asked  him. 'It's interesting,' he said. 'We had a historian
here, and he gave an ingenious interpretation of the horoscope.'"
     "Yes, and it turns out  the horoscope was drawn up  for a very specific

     The End of the Story of the Three Boxes

     As the sound of horse's hooves died away  Count Joseph de  Maistre fell
back into his armchair. His lean fingers  dug so deeply  into the  arm rests
that his hands began to  ache. He felt a sharp pain in his chest and, with a
groan, he closed  his eyes. When  the  pain subsided he summoned his servant
and ordered him to trim the candles and bring coffee.
     Should he send someone in pursuit? No, there was no sense in that.  The
arrogant Russian was by now far away. The Lord would punish him.
     He would write to faithful  servants of the Society of Jesus in Bussia.
They would keep an eye on Arseny Matveyev; that freethinker would not escape
     The key to the mystery was the main thing, and it was in his hands. The
Count  picked up the parchment  from the table  and  glanced  at the drawing
showing the relative positions of the planets and  the signs of  the zodiac.
The fruit of  the astrologist's labours aroused his deepest respect. Exactly
one hundred years after the  magic knife fell into his, Joseph de Maistre's,
hands, a man would be born who would learn the secret of the knife and bring
new  glory  to the  Jesuits. The  power of the Society  would  become  truly
boundless and this, as God knew, was the Count's sole desire.
     The  old Count slowly folded the parchment and hid  it in the flat iron
box with the letters A M D G engraved on the lid.
     Count de  Maistre's  last  will  and  testament  was not forgotten. One
hundred years later Jesuit priests chose  a new-born child according to  the
signs  in the  horoscope,  and persuaded its parents to  entrust the child's
education to a Jesuit college.
     Vittorio da  Castiglione  developed into a clever but reserved boy. His
eyes  gazed out on the turbulent world beyond the college  walls with a cold
weariness that had nothing childish about it.
     When  Vittorio reached the age of twenty-one he was told, in the course
of  a  solemn ceremony  arranged  in sombre surroundings,  about  the  lofty
mission planned for him more than a century before. The young Jesuit learned
how the illustrious Count  de Maistre had concerned himself about the future
greatness of  the Society,  how a  free-thinking Russian had stolen a secret
manuscript  and  a magic knife  from him.  Now he, Vittorio,  must  find and
return to  the Society the source and evidence of the great mystery, so that
they could be  passed on  to the  finest minds  of  the  Catholic world,  ad
majorem Dei gloriam, for the greater glory of God.
     Vittorio was told all about the Matveyev family, all the details  which
the Society had so painstakingly collected and recorded on the other side of
the horoscope.  He hung  the small flat box, with the  parchment inside  it,
round his neck, along with his tiny gold crucifix, knelt, and vowed solemnly
that he would carry |out his mission.
     Vittorio da  Castiglione trained for  it diligently. He learned Russian
and studied navigation at a school for  submarine officers in  Livorno. When
Hitler's divisions, followed by those of Mussolini, moved against Russia the
young submarine officer  set  out for  the Russian battlefront  in the Tenth
     At  the end of August  1942, after spending some time in Sevastopol and
Mariupol, Vittorio parachuted from a Junkers plane into the misty night of a
mountainous area near Derbent.  There,  on the  shore of the Caspian Sea, he
was to  select  a base for his flotilla. Afterwards he was to  make his  way
south,  to  a  large coastal town,  with an important subversive assignment.
According to his information, the descendants of Fedor Matveyev lived there.
Their names were firmly fixed in his memory.
     His hour of greatness was approaching.
     In the  deserted stone quarries near  Derbent, the  ancient city of the
Iron Gates, Vittorio sought a secluded spot where he could conceal his radio
transmitter, aqualung  and other paraphernalia for the time being.  Suddenly
the earth gave way beneath his feet and he fell  into a pit and was crushed,
and killed, by a heavy rock.
     And so Vittorio da Castiglione, twenty-seven years old, a minion of the
Jesuits, perished, to the greater glory of God.

     It was very early in the morning when Nikolai and Yura returned to town
by bus from their latest trip. They  agreed to meet at the Institute an hour
later, after a shower and breakfast.
     Cooper Lane was still asleep. The morning breeze whispered shyly in the
dusty branches of the acacias. The ringing of an alarm clock came through an
open window.
     Nikolai walked under the archway leading into the courtyard. Inside the
yard he saw Bugrov at his morning exercises. Holding large dumbbells, he was
doing slow knee-bends.  When he saw Nikolai he winked at him, then  gestured
for him to come closer.
     "There was a meeting at the Institute day before yesterday," he said in
a loud whisper. "The Institute is going to vouch for me. See?"
     "No, I don't."
     "You don't think quick, do you? I suppose  you didn't get  enough sleep
last  night. Anyway, remember that  small  piece of  iron I  pinched  from a
museum in Moscow?"
     Nikolai nodded.
     "Well, they wanted to put me on trial for it. But would that be fair? I
didn't take it for  myself. I need it like  a turkey needs a walking  stick.
Anyway,  a general meeting  at the Institute said it would help  me  out  by
vouching for me. The vote in favour was unanimous."
     "Congratulations," said Nikolai.
     "Thanks." Bugrov  tossed the  dumb-bells into  the air and caught them.
"Did you hear about Opratin? He's been cleared of the murder charge."
     "Is that so?"
     "That's right. You know who killed Anatole Benedictov? A fire-ball."
     "A fire-ball?"
     "That's what I'm telling you. A scientific phenomenon, see?"
     Nikolai  waved  his hand impatiently and ran up the steps to  his flat.
After  he had showered his mother told  him the current  domestic news while
she prepared his breakfast.
     All of a sudden  she  stopped short.  "Oh, I quite forgot to  tell you.
Rita dropped in last night."
     "Did she say why?" he asked quietly.
     "No, but  she asked  me to  tell you  to ring her up  as  soon  as  you
     Nikolai hurriedly finished dressing and dashed to the telephone.

     Although  the  term  had  not  yet  begun-it  was  only  the middle  of
August-Rita went to school  every day. She was re-equipping the  biology lab
and planned to enlarge the experiment plot on which the children gardened.
     All this activity was her salvation.
     Val  often  dropped in  to see her in the evening. Nikolai and Yura had
visited her  several times. Once the entire crew of  the Mekong gathered  at
her  flat in the evening. Valery Gorbachevsky was  the hero of the occasion.
He had brought a  copy of a scientific journal in  which  Professor Bagbanly
described the restructuring of  the  internal bonds of matter.  The  article
spoke  of the "Gorbachevsky effect", as  the professor  called the memorable
accident involving Valery's little finger.
     His  face  glowing,  Valery  showed  the  article  to Rita. She did not
understand  anything,  naturally,  since  the article  consisted  mostly  of
formulas and  charts, but  she congratulated Valery,  who did not understand
the article either.  Yura insisted that  a mould of Valery's finger, if  not
the  finger itself, would  soon  be on display at the  Economic Achievements
Exhibition in Moscow.
     But  when Rita was all by herself her grief prevented her from settling
down to anything. She would wander through the rooms  of the flat,  touching
and moving objects to no purpose. She would  stand for a long  time in front
of the bookcases,  leafing through  Anatole's books.  When she  came  across
marginal notes in  his  hand she studied them intently, trying to  guess the
meaning of the underlined words and symbols.
     One day Rita came upon a notebook with a blue oilcloth cover that stood
between two thick volumes. She looked through it.  Scattered among memoranda
were notes on how  experiments were going, formulas and diagrams. There were
other entries, too, the kind that are made only in diaries.
     Lying  curled  up in  a  corner of  the sofa, Rita read and reread  the
notebook. At last she could no longer contain herself and burst into tears.
     In the morning she telephoned  Yura and was  told that he had left town
on an assignment. She went to school and worked on the experiment plot until
evening. Then, in the hot, thronged streets, she suddenly realized  that she
simply could not go back to her empty flat.
     Rita  went to Cooper Lane.  She stopped in  the familiar  courtyard and
stared at it, her soul a tumult of anguished feeling.  How small and old  it
was, this courtyard of her childhood.
     Slowly,  as though in a dream, Rita climbed the  stairs  to the  second
floor. A middle-aged woman with a kind, familiar face opened the door.
     "How do you do?" said Rita. "Don't you remember me? I  used  to live in
this house. My name is Rita."
     "My  goodness, little Rita. I  would never have recognized you. Do come
in. What a pity Nikolai has left town for several days."
     "Has he left town too?"
     Nikolai's mother insisted that  Rita stay  for  a  cup of  tea. As Rita
drank her  tea  she kept glancing at a big photograph  on  the  wall,  of an
unsmiling lad with  a forelock,  in a white  shirt with sleeves rolled high.
This was the Nikolai she had known when they were children.
     Rita stayed  at Nikolai's  house until  late  in the  evening.  It  was
soothing to listen to his mother talk.
     "Thank you," she said in a low voice as she took her leave.
     "For what?" Nikolai's mother asked in surprise.
     The bell. Who could it be so early in the morning? Rita hurried  out of
the bathroom to the telephone.
     "Excuse  me  for ringing  so early,"  said  a familiar  voice, "I  just
arrived back in town and Mother told me-"
     "That's quite all right, Nikolai. I'm an early riser. I must see you."
     They met at the bus stop near Rita's school.
     "Has anything happened?" Nikolai asked anxiously, with a searching look
at Rita's face.
     "I  found  a  notebook  of Anatole's. His  notes  on what he was doing.
There's much of it I don't understand.  May be you could use the notes." She
drew the notebook in the blue cover out of  her bag. "Take  it, please,  and
read  it. You may  pass it on to Privalov, or  to  the Moscow Academician to
whom you sent the knife."
     "Very well, Rita. I'll read it today."
     "There's something else." Rita  lowered her  voice  and closed her eyes
for a second. "Nasty  rumours are being spread  about  Anatole. Nikolai, you
must help me to clear his name. Help me to make the truth known."
     "If  only  you had allowed me to  do that before," Nikolai thought. "If
only you had not made me promise, in the train-"
     "Very well, Rita, I'll do everything I can," he said.
     She pressed  his  hand. "Now go. But don't disappear for long. Ring  me
     That afternoon Yura and Nikolai stepped aboard an Institute launch  and
set out for Bird Rock, a small island seven kilometres from shore.
     The island was as flat and round as a dinner plate. A black rock washed
smooth by the tide rose on the weather side. Seagulls nested  on  this rock,
and it was after them that the island had been named.
     Our  friends measured off an area  for future structures,  a job  which
took  them  until  evening. The launch was due  to  return for them only the
following  day. They pitched their tent,  lighted their  primus  stove,  and
prepared a meal. Then Nikolai pulled the notebook in the blue oilcloth cover
out  of his knapsack, and  he and Yura lay down side by side  on the sand to
read it.

     The full-scale experiment in pipeless oil delivery was  to  be  mounted
between the shore and Bird Rock, seven kilometres away.  The seabed  at both
terminals of  the route had been deepened. Steel  pylons had  been set up in
the water for the transmission and reception radiators.
     A conventional pipeline along the coast ran to the dispatching station.
Here, making a sharp dip, it dropped  straight down into the sea  along  the
pylon.  At  a depth of twenty metres it ended in a plastic elbow bend with a
wide funnel facing seawards. Two large, well-insulated Mobius bands had been
mounted,  one in front of  the other,  inside the funnel.  Behind the  elbow
bend,  in a  pressurized  chamber  stood  a  generator  of  original  design
connected with a circular screen aerial surrounding the funnel. Thick cables
ran from the Mobius bands and the generator to  panels of the shore station,
which had a complex array of electronic control equipment.
     Similar equipment had  been set up on Bird Rock.  The shore  funnel and
the Bird Rock funnel were situated exactly on the same axis. Setting up  the
two pipes  directly  in  line  with  each  other across a  stretch of  seven
kilometres  of  sea had  called for the greatest precision.  Geodesists  and
divers had had to work hard to attain the desired precision.
     The idea  of  the  project was as follows:  the  coastal pipeline would
carry the oil into the  sea, to a depth of twenty metres. As it  came out of
the  funnel  the stream  of oil would flow through the  field  of  the first
Mobius band and acquire  penetrability. The field of the second  Mobius band
would  compress the surface of  the stream and  give it an exact  shape. The
underwater circular aerial would create an energy beam between the shore and
Bird Rock. The static  field would  force the stream of  oil to flow through
the water-along this  beam. As it passed through the  field of the receiving
Mobius band  at  Bird  Rock  the stream  of  oil  would  regain  its  normal
properties. After entering  the  reception funnel  it  would  be pumped to a
storage tank.
     In  the  last stage of the preparations Yura and Nikolai, who  had been
put  in charge of the reception  station, with  Valery Gorbachevsky as their
assistant, spent several days and nights at Bird Rock.
     Finally  the apparatus was assembled and  the assemblymen departed from
Bird Rock for  the mainland,  leaving  behind only an engineer  and a  radio

     The cars  sped along the coastal highway, ran through a small community
buried in the  greenery of vineyards, then turned  off onto a dirt road that
took  them to the beach.  They came  to a stop  beside a board fence  in the
shade of a cluster of old mulberry trees.
     The members of  the experiment  team  were  gathered there, as  well as
quite a crowd of people  from the Oil Transport Research Institute and other
research institutions. Academician Georgi Markov was  there; he had flown in
from Moscow the day before especially for the occasion.
     Several launches were tying  up at the  pier.  One of them discharged a
thickset man with a head of curly greying hair. He was followed by a solemn,
dignified Vova Bugrov carrying a small suitcase.
     Academician Markov shook hands warmly -with the grey-haired man and led
him over to Boris Privalov.
     "Do you know each  other?" he asked. "Jafar Rustamov is director of the
Marine Physics Institute."
     "We've met before," smiled Boris Privalov. "Jafar's institute is across
the street from ours."
     "You two  can  look  forward  to  a great  deal of  joint  work,"  said
Academician Markov.
     Privalov gave him a questioning glance, but the  Academician had turned
to Professor Bagbanly.  Rustamov smiled to himself; he already knew what the
Academician from Moscow had in mind.
     Bugrov nodded loftily to Nikolai and Yura.
     "Hullo there, boys," he said. "I'm surprised to see you here."
     "We're surprised to see you here," said Nikolai.
     "I was  invited,"  Bugrov replied,  squinting against the  sun.  "I was
asked  to  come  together with  our director.  I'm in  charge of  underwater
     Everyone went into the building that housed the chief control desk. The
desk was composed of  three panels: one  for the generator of penetrability,
which was connected with the Mobius  bands at the underwater funnel; one for
the pumps that drove the oil into the funnel, and one for the energy beam.
     Electricians  were working at  the  third  panel, ironing  out a hitch.
Although  the generators  hummed,  the needle  on the  field-intensity meter
stood at zero. Boris Privalov impatiently tapped the glass of the meter.
     "What's the matter?" Academician Markov asked sharply.
     "I  can't understand it," Privalov muttered.  "Everything was all right
     "Get in touch with Bird Rock."
     A few minutes  later the radio operator told  them: "Bird Rock  reports
that the indicating light is out."
     "Evidently the funnel was not attached tightly  enough, and the current
pushed it  out  of line,"  said Pavel Koltukhov. "The beam doesn't reach the
aerial on Bird Rock because the axis of the underwater funnels has shifted."
     "You should have done a  line-up from  the surface," Academician Markov
said. "Use your divers."
     "I  have  a  suggestion, Professor," said Jafar Rustamov. "I have a man
who  can do  the job.  I should also  like  him  to  film the  start  of the
operation, if you don't mind."
     "Where's your diver?" asked Academician Markov.
     Bugrov  stepped  forward,  coughing  modestly   behind  his  hand.  The
Academician looked him up and down.
     "He'll smash the installation," said Professor Bagbanly. "Just look  at
those huge fists."
     "Let me go down together with him," said Nikolai, coming forward. "I'll
show him the spot and help him to-"
     "What an idea-after a bout of pneumonia!" Yura exclaimed. "I'll  do the
     "Very well. Only be quick about it."
     Bugrov clapped Yura on the shoulder. "Let's go," he said.
     They changed  into their  swimming trunks  and went  out  to the little
steel bridge connecting the shore with the pylon down which the pipeline ran
into the sea.
     Nikolai  helped them to  put on the aqualungs.  A  wrench  was  tied to
Yura's wrist, and a signal  rope was looped  round his waist. He and Nikolai
agreed on the signals they would use.
     After pulling on his mask and switching on the cylinder, Yura slid into
the sea. Bugrov plopped into the water in his wake.
     They  descended slowly through  the  cold green semi-darkness alongside
the steel sections of the pylon.
     When  the pressure-gauge showed they were at  a  depth of twenty metres
Yura  saw an elbow with a wide funnel at  its end. It held the Mobius  bands
and the aerial of the radiator.
     Yura  waved to Bugrov and  crawled inside  the pylon.  He  loosened the
elbow with his wrench, and  then Bugrov cautiously turned the funnel  in the
stiff joint. This was  by no means easy to do. The current pressed Bugrov up
against the pylon; he moved his  flippers,  seeking a support for his  feet.
Yura gestured to indicate that  he should turn the funnel  a little more  to
the left, but less energetically.
     Suddenly  there were two vigorous tugs on the signal rope. Nikolai  was
telling Yura that the beam  had reached Bird Rock, which  meant  the axes of
the funnels were in line. Yura immediately gestured to Bugrov,  then started
locking the nuts one after another. After he finished Bugrov took the wrench
and gave the nuts  a  final twist. Watching Bugrov's  shoulder muscles bulge
Yura was certain no current would ever move the funnels out of line again.
     He tugged on his rope three times to say that everything was all right.
The Mobius bands could be fed and the pumps switched on. Then he wrapped his
arms and legs round the steel  crossbars of the pylon and waited. Bugrov did
the same nearby. He untied the cine camera from around his waist and trained
it on the funnel.
     A long  minute  passed before the pylon began  to vibrate. There  was a
vague  rumble overhead  as the pump was switched on and it started  to force
oil down the pipe, driving out the water.
     All of a sudden a dark stream  the thickness of a human body poured out
of the  funnel, as though an invisible man were slowly pulling a big log out
of the elbow of the pipe. The log grew longer and longer.
     A stream  of  oil fourteen  inches  in diameter was flowing through the
water. It flowed evenly and compactly with  a clearly defined  surface  that
was surrounded by a faint violet glow.
     A  stream  of oil  flowing  through the sea was no  longer  a dream, no
longer a remote vision! It was a man-made miracle!
     Yura felt like  shouting, turning  somersaults, laughing. He  waved  to
Bugrov, but Bugrov was busy filming the stream.
     With four tugs on the signal rope Yura let Nikolai know that the stream
of oil was flowing. An answer came at  once; his signal was understood. Yura
untied the rope  round his waist and pushed off from the pylon and  began to
swim alongside the stream of oil.
     It was easy to  keep up with  the stream, for  the installation was not
functioning at full capacity. The stream of oil was moving at a speed of  no
more  than one metre  per  second. When the transcaspian pipeline  went into
operation the speed  could be greatly increased, for the  stream cut through
the water easily, without meeting resistance.
     Yura, eager to rejoin the others on shore,  gestured to Bugrov. Working
their flippers slowly, the two men swam to the surface.
     Nikolai  waved to  them from the bridge and shouted something, his face
shining with excitement.

     The committee that  was to approve  the  pipeline travelled out to Bird
Rock  on a big white launch. There was  plenty of  time;  the stream of  oil
would reach the island only two and a half hours later.
     Alarmed seagulls circled  above the black rock,  human beings had given
them no peace for the past few weeks.
     The committee members stepped out of the launch onto the sandy shore of
the  island and unhurriedly inspected the open steel tank. They  did not all
believe the tank would be rilled with oil that had flowed, without a pipe to
contain  it,  through  seven  kilometres  of  sea. They listened  closely to
engineer  Yura Kostyukov, who told  them again and again how he  had  seen a
stream of oil emerging from the funnel.
     When  only a few minutes  were left to  the scheduled  time Academician
Markov  ordered the pump switched on. A stream  of foaming water rushed into
the tank. There was no oil as yet. The pump had to be turned off.
     Yura could not hold back  his impatience. Ho silently  stripped  to his
swimming trunks, heaved  the  aqualung cylinders on his back, pulled on  his
mask, and dived into the water. Bugrov also put on an aqualung and dived in.
     Yura saw the stream of oil  almost at once. It was  moving towards him,
with a dark, snub-nosed end that looked like a gun muzzle. As before, it was
surrounded by a faint violet glow.
     The strange  sight filled Yura with awe.  He pushed himself  upwards so
fast that his  eardrums began  to  ache, and he slowed his rate of  rise. He
broke the glassy surface of the sea to return to a world of bright sunshine.
Yanking out his mouthpiece, Yura shouted to the people on the shore:
     "It's here! Switch on the pump!"
     Hastily gripping  the mouthpiece  between his teeth again he  dived and
swam over to the pylon, where Bugrov sat with his camera.
     They saw the stream of oil pass through the Mobius band, after which it
was neatly drawn into the broad funnel.
     Members of the experiment team crowded about the platform at the top of
the  tank. So far, the  pump was bringing up foamy water. Suddenly the water
darkened.  Scattering  an  iridescent  spray,  a  dark-brown  stream of  oil
splashed into the bottom of the tank.
     Pavel Koltukhov, who stood closest to the stream, put a finger into it.
Yes, it  was  oil,  oil that had been  sent across  seven kilometres of  sea
without a pipe, in an "incorporeal", restructured state, easily piercing the
water. Now it was passing through the field of the receiving Mobius band and
again becoming tangible and "normal".
     Professor  Bagbanly drew Boris Privalov to him  and embraced  him.  "My
heartiest congratulations, Boris," he said.
     "I  congratulate  you too," said Boris Privalov, his voice hoarse  from
excitement and happiness.
     The committee went down to the launch and returned to the mainland. Now
the experiment was  repeated in reverse. This time  the stream of oil flowed
just as obediently from Bird Bock to the tank on shore.
     "The  experiment has been  very satisfactory," said Academician Markov.
"Be sure  to collect the tapes from all the recording instruments. This will
be enough for today."
     "Is that  all he could tell us-that this is enough for today?" Privalov
thought. "As  though it  weren't a day  of  a miracle?  But  I  suppose  big
scientists  think  along  different  lines than  the rest of us do. To  them
today's experiment is just one among a great many others."
     Meanwhile the group was beginning to disperse. Jafar Bustamov was about
lo leave too, but Academician Markov detained him. "Please don't hurry away,
Jafar," he said. "I want to talk to you."
     Academician   Markov,   Professor  Bagbanly,  Boris   Privalov,   Pavel
Koltukhov,  Jafar  Rustamov and Nikolai and Yura were now the only ones left
in  the  control-desk  building.  They sat  in  front of the  white  panels.
Outside, the leaves on the old mulberry trees rustled in the breeze.
     Every once in a while a yellow  leaf  drifted into the room through  an
open window and slowly sank to the floor.
     "Let's sum up,"  said the Academician. "We've ripped off the surface of
matter and restructured the internal  bonds of matter. The impenetrable  has
become penetrable.
     "The Mobius band, a generator built in Boris Privalov's laboratory, and
the  field frequency characteristics found at the Institute  of Surfaces all
contributed to the success of this experiment. A highly interesting question
still  has  to  be  investigated,   and  that  is  the  interaction  between
penetrability  and  the earth's  field  of  gravitation. Our laboratory  has
thoroughly analysed  the  band that was engulfed  by the block  of concrete.
From Benedictov's notebook we know that  their concrete floor 'swallowed up'
restructured   matter.  There   is  also  Benedictov's  tragic  death."  The
Academician spread his hands.
     No  one  said anything  for  a few moments.  Boris  Privalov broke  the
silence.  "How, Academician  Markov,  do  you explain the fact  that in some
cases the object which  acquires  penetrability remains above the surface of
the ground or the floor, and in other cases it drops through this surface?"
     "So far, I think it goes something like this. Restructured matter, like
ordinary matter, possesses mass  and hence gravitates towards  the centre of
the earth. But if an obstacle of ordinary matter,  say, a floor, the seat of
a  chair, or the surface of  the earth itself, appears in  the gravitational
path,  then  the  obstacle acts as  a  damper  of  gravity'. The property of
penetrability  manifests  itself  in  all  directions  except  the  strictly
vertical. But under certain conditions the 'field of transformation' and the
field of gravitation may  interact in such  a way  that the 'damper  effect'
shifts downwards vertically. Then we get the 'sinking'."
     "We must co-ordinate the parameters of the installation  with the force
of  gravity  in  the  given  geographical  area,"  said Professor  Bagbanly.
"Preliminary gravimetric measurements are essential."
     "I  agree with you, Professor. Incidentally,  allow  me to congratulate
you on your energy scheme. It stood the test splendidly."
     "I appreciate your  kind  words," Professor  Bagbanly said,  laying his
hand on his heart. "But a new scheme  will be needed for  a route across the
entire Caspian,  and for long distances in general.  Don't forget that we'll
have  to  bend the beam to make it conform to  the curvature of the earth. I
couldn't do that by myself even if I were to lean all my weight on the other
end of the beam."
     Academician  Markov gave Professor  Bagbanly  a  friendly  pat  on  the
     "We'll all lean on your beam together," he said with a laugh. "That way
we  may succeed in  bending  it.  Koltukhov's electrets are  of  fundamental
importance.  They provided  an  inexhaustible  source of  current  and  thus
prevented the possibility of a power failure."
     "Nikolai Opratin had a battery  of electrets on his  island,"  Yura put
     "There it  was  being  used for  a different  purpose, to  transfer the
properties of the knife to other objects," said Professor Bagbanly.
     "You  mentioned  the  notebook  that   belonged  to  the  late  Anatole
Benedictov,  didn't  you?"  Privalov  asked,  turning  to  the  Academician.
"Suppose we were to reproduce  his 'transmission  installation'? It seems to
me that would make the work easier."
     "It  certainly would," said the  Academician.  "Benedictov really did a
brilliant piece of research. Opratin  apparently played  a most  significant
role too. Do  you  remember my saying last spring that I thought it might be
possible to transfer the properties of an object  with restructured bonds to
other objects? Benedictov did just that. The unknown Indian scholar may have
worked along the same lines.
     "But Benedictov failed to achieve stability. It's a great pity, a  very
great  pity, he did not work in contact with us. There  are many interesting
points in his  records. By the  way, I am urging  the Academy of Sciences to
publish his papers."
     "That's splendid!" Nikolai exclaimed. "Now,"  said  Academician Markov,
"I want to hear what our friend Jafar Rustamov has to say."
     The director of the Institute of Marine Physics passed  a hand over his
curly hair, coughed, and began:
     "The problem of raising the level of the Caspian-"
     "Look here, my son," said Professor Bagbanly. "I know how good  you are
at making speeches. But don't  make one now. Just give us the gist of it. We
know all about the problem."
     "I should say we do." said Pavel Koltukhov.  "We  know all  about water
heaters on the Black ;Sea, a cloud  conductor across  the Caucasian mountain
range and man-made cloudbursts-"
     Bustamov nodded. "Very well, to put it briefly, Nature uses up millions
of kilowatthours of solar energy to produce  a  few  average-sized clouds in
the second  half  of  a  summer day.  You  know  that,  of course." His eyes
crinkled in a sly smile.
     "Yes, certainly," said Koltukhov in a voice that was not quite certain.
     "Fine. Now we  have  nuclear power, a tremendous source of  energy. The
only drawback,  my  friends, is its  cost.  A long man-made  downpour is  an
extremely  expensive business.  We  have  done  preparatory research anyway,
because any  expenditure would  be justified if we succeeded in raising  the
level  of  the  Caspian.  This  summer  we lost  our experimental  condenser
installation on Ipaty Island. But  you all know that. Now Academician Markov
has suggested  something else. Instead of shifting clouds from the Black Sea
to the  Caspian  he proposes building an  underground sea-water line beneath
the Caucasian isthmus."
     "A sea water line?" Privalov repeated, slowly rising from his chair.
     The  young  engineers jumped to their feet and  stared at  Rustamov  in
     "Yes, a sea-water line," said Academician Markov. "At approximately the
42nd parallel, between Poti on the Black Sea and Derbent on the Caspian Sea.
Today we  sent  a stream  of  oil through the sea. Tomorrow a sea-water line
could  carry  a  stream  of Black  Sea  water through  the  ground into  the
     A stunned silence reigned  in the room for a moment. The engineers were
struck dumb by the scope of the idea.
     "I've already calculated that it  would be much  cheaper than  anything
else," Rustamov went on briskly. "I was doubtful about it at the  beginning,
but now I see how it can be done. It's a good idea."
     "Good?"  shouted  Privalov.  "You  say  it's a  good  idea?  I  call it
     "Don't  get excited, Boris,"  said  the  Academician. "The  idea  of  a
sea-water  line cannot be  compared  in scope  with all the  prospects which
penetrability  holds out to us. The future will produce a great deal that is
amazing and surprising.  I can tell you one thing.  Our  Institute is  doing
highly promising experiments in releasing the energy of surfaces."
     Nikolai  and  Yura,  standing  by the window, were excitedly discussing
     "They're already planning  the details of the scheme,"  said Koltukhov,
nodding in their direction. "See that wild gleam in their eyes?"
     Outside, twilight was falling; silvery stellar dust powdered the sky.
     The launch sped along,  cutting diagonally across the path of moonlight
on the water. The passengers sat in silence, weary after the long, fruitful,
and fascinating day.
     They were racing ahead  towards the lights of the big city. The channel
buoys cheerfully blinked their red and yellow lights.
     "Do you remember how it all began, Boris?" Nikolai suddenly asked.
     "How what began?"
     "Well, the experiments with surface tension and the rest of it."
     Boris Privalov paused for a moment. "Actually, how did  it all begin? I
recall there was some talk about it while we were out sailing one day."
     "But before  that, don't  you remember  the bazaar? We were standing in
front of that painting of Leda and the Swan, and you said-"
     Boris  Privalov  laughed.  "Ah, to be sure.  You're right.  That vulgar
painting was what gave us the idea-"
     He turned to Academician Markov to tell him how it had all begun at the
bazaar. The Academician laughed, then said, his face serious, "That painting
was  just an  accidental  factor. The  important thing  is-"  He  could have
carried on from there  at length,  but instead he limited himself  to giving
Boris's arm a friendly squeeze.
     A big white ship, all  gleaming with lights, cut across the path of the
launch. Dance music came from the open portholes of the saloon.
     Yura turned to read the name on the high bow of the ship.
     "The Uzbekistan" he said. "Look, Nicky, it's the Uzbekistan!"
     Nikolai did not answer. He stood there gazing after the ship for a long

     One  evening  in  early winter  when  snowflakes were  floating  lazily
earthwards, only to melt at  once on the wet black pavement, Rita sat curled
up in her favourite spot on the sofa, leafing through a thin paperback.
     She studied the lines of familiar and unfamiliar formulas and carefully
read the description of  experiments,  for  she well  remembered some of the
early ones. Again she looked at the cover. At the top was the author's name:
Anatole  Benedictov, and below it the title: Changing the Internal Bonds  of
     The book had just arrived from Moscow that morning. It had not come out
in a large printing, for it was intended for a narrow circle of researchers.
Academician  Markov was the editor and also  the author  of the introductory
essay and the commentaries.
     The room was quiet.  Rita lifted  her  head to look about her,  at  the
standing lamp, the fish in the aquarium,  a solitary microscope on the desk.
Then she looked at the cover of  the  book  again, and at the author's name:
Anatole Benedictov.
     The  doorbell  rang.  Rita  sprang up and ran out  into  the  entryway,
straightening her housecoat on the way. No one had  rung her bell for a long
     Pronka, the black cat, was at her side as she opened the door. When she
saw it  was Val and Yura her face lit up. Behind them Rex moved impatiently,
his paws tapping on the floor.
     "How  glad I  am to see you!"  Rita exclaimed,  shaking hands  with her
visitors. She was about to pat Rex on the head when he suddenly gave a jerk,
pulling the leash out of Yura's hand, and raced into the depths of the flat,
barking wildly. They could hear chairs being knocked over.
     "That dog will be the death of me," Val complained.
     Hurrying  into  the  dining-room,  they found  Pronka  on  top  of  the
sideboard, her fur  on end,  hissing furiously. Rex kept leaping frantically
into the air in a vain attempt to get his teeth into his age-old enemy.
     "Down, Rex, down!"  Yura shouted sternly, seizing  Rex  by the  collar.
"Where are your manners, sir?"
     Rita picked up  Pronka and carried her  into the  kitchen, the  door of
which she carefully closed.  Rex wagged his  stub of  a tail guiltily. Order
was restored.
     "You look splendid, Val," Rita said. "Marriage certainly seems to agree
with you."
     (The  reader  will  forgive  the  authors for  failing to  describe the
wedding  of Val  and  Yura.  They  will  merely note that it was  a very gay
wedding indeed, and that the  crew of  the Mekong was  there  in full force.
Valery drank a bit  too much and then  went on to give a display of the test
dance  steps, followed by a moving rendition of an old  Papuan song, to  the
delight of all present at this most delightful wedding.)
     "I'm  surprised to  hear you  find me  looking  well," Val  said. "It's
taking all my patience to get along with this brute."
     "Why aren't you treating your wife properly, Yura?" Rita asked.
     "Nobody is mistreating her," Yura replied from the armchair in which he
had settled himself. "You know, she gave me her thesis to read-"
     "Just  imagine," Val interrupted. "I'm going to present it soon,  so  I
wanted his opinion. Well, I gave it to him to read, and he-"
     "Tore it up?" Rita asked in mock horror.
     "Worse than that.  He read  it aloud, making snide  remarks as  he went
along. You know the sort of things Yura is capable of saying."
     Rita laughed.  "How glad I  am to see  you!" she said again,  feeling a
surge of affection for the young couple. "I'm going to serve you tea now."
     Yura  was on his feet instantly. He took  Rita by  the arm.  "Let's not
have any tea this time, really. We dropped in to pick you up and take you to
Nikolai's with us."
     Rita gave Yura a long look. "What for?"
     "No  special purpose. Just  a friendly call. Nikolai has  always been a
stay-at-home,  and  now more  so  than ever before.  He's permanently in low
spirits and sits at  home  all the  time.  He doesn't even want to go to the
pictures. I have to drag him out. Let's go over and cheer him up."
     Rita said nothing for a moment. "Very well," she consented.
     The  snowflakes that  were floating down  to  the  wet  pavement melted
immediately.  But there was snow  clinging to the garden fence  in  a  thin,
fragile layer. Yura scooped some of it into a snowball and aimed it at Val.
     "Don't you dare, you beast!" she cried, taking shelter behind Rita. She
was wearing a new coat.
     Yura tossed  the snowball  at  Rex. Rex  was  wearing  his old  coat of
beautiful striped fur  and was  not at  all  afraid of ruining it. He yelped
with joy.
     They came to the house in Cooper Lane, entered the yard and climbed the
steps to the second floor. Yura pushed the bell. The door opened-

     MIR PUBLISHERS  would be  grateful for your  comments on the  contents,
translation and design of this book. We would also be pleased to receive any
other suggestions you may wish to make.
     Our address is:
     USSR, 129820, Moscow 1-110, GSP
     Pervy Rizhsky Pereulok, 2

     Printed in the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics

     EVGENY  VOISKUNSKY  was  born  in  Baku,  Azerbaijan,  in  1922.  After
finishing secondary school he went to Leningrad to study the history of art.
     The  Second World War  interrupted his studies. He served in the Baltic
Fleet, taking part in the defence  of Hanko Island  and Leningrad.  For many
years after the  war he  worked for the newspaper published by the Navy. His
first novels were about  men serving in  the Soviet Navy. The  Crew  of  the
Mekong is the first of the  science-fiction novels written  in collaboration
with I. Lukodyanov.

     ISAI LUKODYANOV (born 1913) was an engineer at a machine-building works
and served in the Air Force during the Second World War. Then he returned to
Baku  and became a design  engineer. He is  the author of several  technical
books.  In  recent years  he has written  science-fiction stories and novels
together with E. Voiskunsky.

     These two well-known writers of science fiction followed up The Crew of
the  Mekong with the novel  The Black Pillar, a collection  of short stories
called At the Crossroads of Time, the novel -  Very Distant Tartess and  the
novel The Gentle Splash of Stellar Seas.

     Last edited: December 22, 2001

: 70, Last-modified: Wed, 20 Mar 2002 07:02:52 GMT