Arkady and Boris Strugatsky. The Final Circle of Paradise

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 © Copyright by Arkady Strugatsky, Boris Strugatsky
 © Copyright by Leonid Renen, english translation
 Published by D.A.W. Books, Inc; November 1976.
 "Hishnye veshi veka"         (in Russian)
 "Tidslderns rovgiriga ting" (in Sweeden)
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                    There  is  but one problem --
                    the only one in the world --
                    to restore to men a spiritual
                    content, spiritual concerns....
                              -- A de St. Exupery




     The customs  inspector  had  a  round  smooth  face  which
registered   the   most   benevolent   of   attitudes.  He  was
respectfully cordial and solicitous.
     "Welcome," he murmured. "How do you like our sunshine?" He
glanced at the passport in my hand. "Beautiful  morning,  isn't
it?"
     I  proffered him my passport and stood the suitcase on the
white counter. The inspector rapidly leafed through it with his
long careful fingers. He was dressed in a  white  uniform  with
silver  buttons  and silver braid on the shoulders. He laid the
passport aside and touched the suitcase with the  tips  of  his
fingers.
     "Curious,"  he  said.  "The  case has not yet dried. It is
difficult to imagine that somewhere the weather can be bad."
     "Yes," I said with a sigh, "we are already well  into  the
autumn," and opened the suitcase.
     The  inspector  smiled  sympathetically  and glanced at it
absent-mindedly.  "It's  impossible  amid   our   sunshine   to
visualize  an  autumn.  Thank  you,  that  will  be  quite  all
right.... Rain, wet roofs, wind...
     "And what if I have something hidden under the  linen?"  I
asked -- I don't appreciate conversations about the weather. He
laughed heartily.
     "Just   an   empty  formality,"  he  said.  "Tradition.  A
conditioned reflex of all customs inspectors, if you will."  He
handed  me  a  sheet  of  heavy  paper.  "And  here  is another
conditioned reflex. Please read it -- it's rather unusual.  And
sign it if you don't mind."
     I  read.  It  was a law concerning immigration, printed in
elegant type on heavy paper and in four languages.  Immigration
was absolutely forbidden. The customs man regarded me steadily.
     "Curious, isn't it?" he asked.
     "In  any  case  it's  intriguing,"  I  replied, drawing my
fountain pen. "Where do I sign?"
     "Where and how you please," said the  customs  man.  "Just
across will do."
     I signed under the Russian text over the line "I have been
informed on the immigration laws."
     'Thank  you,"  said the customs man, filing the paper away
in his desk, 'Now you know practically all our laws. And during
your entire stay -- How long will you be staying with us?"
     I shrugged my shoulders.
     "It's difficult to say in advance. Depends on how the work
will go."
     "Shall we say a month?"
     'That would be about it. Let's say a month."
     "And during this whole month," he bent over  the  passport
making  some notation, "during this entire month you won't need
any other laws." He handed me my passport.  "I  shouldn't  even
have  to  mention that you can prolong your stay with us to any
reasonable extent. But in the meantime, let it be thirty  days.
If  you  find  it  desirable  to  stay longer, visit the police
station on the 16th of May  and  pay  one  dollar...  You  have
dollars?"
     "Yes."
     "That's  fine.  By  the way, it is not at all necessary to
have exclusively a dollar.  We  accept  any  currency.  Rubles,
pounds, cruzeiros."
     "I  don't  have  cruzeiros," I said. 'I have only dollars,
rubles, and some English pounds. Will that suit you?"
     "Undoubtedly. By the way, so as not to forget,  would  you
please deposit ninety dollars and seventy-two cents."
     "With pleasure," I said, "but why?"
     "It's  customary.  To guarantee the minimum needs. We have
never had anyone with us who did not have some needs."
     I counted out  ninety-one  dollars,  and  without  sitting
down,  he  proceeded  to write out a receipt. His neck grew red
from the awkward position. I looked around. The  white  counter
stretched  along  the entire pavilion. On the other side of the
barrier, customs inspectors in white smiled cordially, laughed,
explained things  in  a  confidential  manner.  On  this  side,
brightly  clad  tourists shuffled impatiently, snapped suitcase
locks, and gaped excitedly. While they waited  they  feverishly
thumbed through advertising brochures, loudly devised all kinds
of plans, secretly and openly anticipated happy days ahead, and
now  thirsted  to  surmount  the  white  counter  as quickly as
possible.  Sedate  London  clerks  and  their  athletic-looking
brides, pushy Oklahoma farmers in bright shirts hanging outside
Bermuda  shorts  and sandals over bare feet, Turin workers with
their  well-rouged  wives  and  numerous  children,  small-time
Catholic  bosses from Spain, Finnish lumbermen with their pipes
considerately banked,  Hungarian  basketball  players,  Iranian
students, union organizers from Zambia...
     The  customs  man  gave  me  my  receipt  and  counted out
twenty-eight cents change.
     "Well -- there is all the  formality.  I  hope  I  haven't
detained you too long. May I wish you a pleasant stay!"
     "Thank you," I said and took my suitcase.
     He  regarded  me  with  his  head  slightly bent sideways,
smiling out of his bland, smooth face.
     "Through this turnstile, please. Au revoir.  May  I
once more wish you the best."
     I  went  out  on  the plaza following an Italian pair with
four kids and two robot redcaps.
     The sun stood high over mauve mountains. Everything in the
plaza was bright and shiny and colorful. A bit too  bright  and
colorful,   as   it   usually  is  in  resort  towns.  Gleaming
orange-and-red buses surrounded by tourist  crowds,  shiny  and
polished  green  of  the  vegetation in the squares with white,
blue, yellow, and gold pavilions, kiosks, and tents. Mirrorlike
surfaces, vertical, horizontal, and inclined, which flared with
sunbursts. Smooth matte hexagons underfoot and under the wheels
-- red, black, and gray, just slightly springy  and  smothering
the  sound  of  footsteps.  I  put down the suitcase and donned
sunglasses.
     Out of all the sunny towns it has been my luck  to  visit,
this  was without a doubt the sunniest. And that was all wrong.
It would have been much easier if the day  had  been  gray,  if
there had been dirt and mud, if the pavilion had also been gray
with  concrete walls, and if on that wet concrete was scratched
something obscene, tired, and pointless, born of boredom.  Then
I  would  probably  feel like working at once. I am positive of
this because such things are irritating and demand action. It's
still hard to get used to the idea that poverty can be wealthy.
And so the urge is lacking and there  is  no  desire  to  begin
immediately,  but  rather  to take one of these buses, like the
red-and-blue one, and take off to the beach, do a little  scuba
diving, get a tan, play some ball, or find Peck, stretch out on
the floor in some cool room and reminisce on all the good stuff
so  that  he  could  ask  about  Bykov,  about  the Trans-Pluto
expedition, about the new ships on which I too  am  behind  the
times,  but  still  know  better  than he, and so that he could
recollect the uprising and boast of  his  scars  and  his  high
social  position....  It  would  be most convenient if Peck did
have a high social position. It would be well if he  were,  for
example, a mayor....
     A  small  darkish  rotund individual in a white suit and a
round white hat set at a rakish angle approached  deliberately,
wiping  his  lips  with  a  dainty  handkerchief.  The  hat was
equipped with a transparent green shade and a green  ribbon  on
which  was  stamped "Welcome." On his right earlobe glistened a
pendant radio.
     "Welcome aboard," said the man.
     "Hello," said I.
     "A pleasure to have you with us. My name is Ahmad."
     "And my name is Ivan,"  said  I.  "Pleased  to  make  your
acquaintance."
     We nodded to each other and regarded the tourists entering
the buses.  They  were  happily  noisy and the warm wind rolled
their discarded butts and crumpled  candy  wrappers  along  the
square. Ahmad's face bore a green tint from the light filtering
through his cap visor.
     "Vacationers,"  he said. "Carefree and loud. Now they will
be taken to their hotels and will immediately rush off  to  the
beaches."
     "I wouldn't mind a run on water skis," I observed.
     "Really?  I  never would have guessed. There's nothing you
look less like than a vacationer."
     "So be it," I said. "In fact I did come to work"
     "To work? Well, that happens too, some  do  come  to  work
here.  Two  years  back  Jonathan  Kreis  came  here to paint a
picture." He laughed. "Later there was  an  assault-and-battery
case  in  Rome,  some papal nuncio was involved, can't remember
his name."
     "Because of the picture?"
     "No, hardly. He didn't paint a thing here. The casino  was
where  you  could  find  him  day  or night. Shall we go have a
drink?"
     "Let's. You can give me a few pointers."
     "It's my pleasurable duty -- to give advice," said Ahmad.
     We bent down simultaneously and both of us  took  hold  of
the suitcase handle.
     "It's okay -- I'll manage."
     "No,"  countered Ahmad, "you are the guest and I the host.
Let's go to yonder bar. It's quiet there at this time."
     We went in under a blue  awning.  Ahmad  seated  me  at  a
table,  put  my  suitcase  on  a  vacant chair, and went to the
counter. It was cool and  an  air  conditioner  sighed  in  the
background. Ahmad returned with a tray. There were tall glasses
and flat plates with butter-gold tidbits.
     "Not very strong," said Ahmad, "but really cold to make up
for that."
     "I don't like it strong in the morning either," I said.
     I quaffed the glass. The stuff was good.
     "A  swallow  --  a  bite,"  counseled Ahmad, "Like this: a
swallow, a bite."
     The tidbits crunched and melted in the mouth. In my  view,
they  were  unnecessary. We were silent for some time, watching
the square from under the marquee. gently  purring,  the  buses
pulled  out  one after another into their respective tree-lined
avenues. They looked ponderous yet strangely elegant  in  their
clumsiness.
     "It would be too noisy there," said Ahmad. "Fine cottages,
lots of  women  -- to suit any taste -- and right on the water,
but no privacy. I don't think it's for you."
     "Yes," I agreed. "The noise would  bother  me.  Anyway,  I
don't  like vacationers, Ahmad. Can't stand it when people work
at having fun."
     Ahmad nodded and carefully placed the next tidbit  in  his
mouth. I watched him chew. There was something professional and
concentrated   in   the  movement  of  his  lower  jaw.  Having
swallowed, he said, "No, the synthetic will never compare  with
the natural product. Not the same bouquet." He flexed his lips,
smacked  them  gently,  and continued, "There are two excellent
hotels in the center of town, but, in my view..."
     "Yes, that won't do  either,"  I  said.  "A  hotel  places
certain  obligations  on  you.  I  never  heard  that  anything
worthwhile has ever been written in a hotel."
     "Well, that's not quite true," retorted Ahmad,  critically
studying  the last tidbit. "I read one book and in it they said
that it was in fact written in a hotel -- the Hotel Florida."
     "Aah," I said, "you are correct. But then your city is not
being shelled by cannons."
     "Cannons? Of course not. Not as a rule, anyway."
     "Just as I thought. But, as a matter of fact, it has  been
noted  that something worthwhile can be written only in a hotel
which is under bombardment."
     Ahmad took the last tidbit after all.
     'That would be difficult to arrange,"  he  said.  "In  our
times  it's  hard  to  obtain  a  cannon.  Besides,  it's  very
expensive; the hotel could lose its clientele."
     "Hotel  Florida  also  lost  its  clients  in  its   time.
Hemingway lived in it alone."
     "Who?"
     "Hemingway."
     "Ah... but that was so long ago, in the fascist times. But
times have changed, Ivan."
     "Yes,"  said  I,  "and  therefore in our times there is no
point in writing in hotels."
     "To blazes with hotels then," said Ahmad. "I know what you
need. You need a boarding  house."  He  took  out  a  notebook.
"State your requirements and we'll try to match them up."
     "Boarding house," I said. "I don't know. I don't think so,
Ahmad.  Do  understand  that I don't want to meet people whom I
don't want to know. That's to begin with.  And  in  the  second
place,  who  lives  in  private  boarding  houses?  These  same
vacationers who don't have enough money for a cottage. They too
work hard at having fun. They concoct picnics, meets, and  song
fests.  At night they play the banjo. On top of which they grab
anyone they can get  hold  of  and  make  them  participate  in
contests  for the longest uninterrupted kiss. Most important of
all, they are all transients.  But  I  am  interested  in  your
country, Ahmad. In your townspeople. I'll tell you what I need:
I  need a quiet house with a garden. Not too far from downtown.
A relaxed family, with a respectable housewife.  An  attractive
young daughter. You get the picture, Ahmad?"
     Ahmad  took  the  empty glasses, went over to the counter,
and returned with full ones. Now  they  contained  a  colorless
transparent  liquid and the small plates were stacked with tiny
multistoried sandwiches.
     "I know of such a cozy house," declared Ahmad. "The  widow
is forty-five and the daughter twenty. The son is eleven. Let's
finish  the drinks and we'll be on our way. I think you'll like
it. The rent is standard, but of course it's  more  than  in  a
hoarding house. You have come to stay for a long time?"
     "For a month."
     "Good Lord! Just a month?"
     "I  don't know how my affairs will go. Perhaps I may tarry
awhile."
     "By all means, you will," said Ahmad. "I can see that  you
have  totally  failed to grasp just where you have arrived. You
simply don't understand what a good time you can have here  and
how you don't have to think about a thing."
     We finished our drinks, got up, and went across the square
under  the  hot  sun  to  the parking area. Ahmad walked with a
rapid, slightly rolling gait, with the green visor of  his  cap
set  low  over  his  eyes,  swinging the suitcase in a debonair
manner.  The  next  batch  of  tourists  was  being  discharged
broadcast from the customs house.
     "Would you like me to... Frankly?" said Ahmad suddenly.
     "Yes, I would like you to," said I. What else could I say?
Forty years I have lived in this world and have yet to learn to
deflect this unpleasant question.
     "You  won't  write a thing here," said Ahmad. "It's mighty
hard to write in our town."
     "It's always hard to write anything. However,  fortunately
I am not a writer."
     "I  accept  this  gladly. But in that case, it is slightly
impossible here. At least for a transient."
     "You frighten me."
     "It's not a case of being  frightened.  You  simply  won't
want  to  work.  You  won't  be able to stay at the typewriter.
You'll feel annoyed by the typewriter. Do you know what the joy
of living is?"
     "How shall I say?"
     "You don't know anything, Ivan. So  far  you  still  don't
know  anything  about  it. You are bound to traverse the twelve
circles of paradise. It's funny, of course, but I envy you."
     We stopped by a long open car. Ahmad  threw  the  suitcase
into the back seat and flung the door open for me.
     "Please," he said.
     "Presumably  you  have  already  passed  through  them?" I
asked, sliding into the seat.
     He got in behind the wheel and started the engine.
     "What exactly do you mean?"
     "The twelve circles of paradise."
     "As for me, Ivan, a long time ago I selected  my  favorite
circle,"  said Ahmad. The car began to roll noiselessly through
the square. "The others haven't existed  for  me  for  quite  a
while.   Unfortunately.   It's  like  old  age,  with  all  its
privileges and deficiencies."
     The car rushed through a park and  sped  along  a  shaded,
straight   thoroughfare.  I  kept  looking  around  with  great
interest but couldn't recognize  a  thing.  It  was  stupid  to
expect  to.  We had been landed at night, in a torrential rain;
seven thousand exhausted tourists stood on the pier looking  at
the  burning liner. We hadn't seen the city -- in its place was
a black, wet emptiness dotted with red flashes. It had rattled,
boomed, and screeched as though being rent asunder.  "We'll  be
slaughtered  in the dark, like rabbits," Robert had said, and I
immediately had sent him  back  to  the  barge  to  unload  the
armored  car.  The gangway had collapsed and the car had fallen
into the water, and when Peck had pulled Robert out,  all  blue
from  the  cold,  he  had  come  over  to  me  and said through
chattering teeth, "Didn't I tell you it was dark?"
     Ahmad said suddenly, "When I was a boy, we lived near  the
port  and we used to come out here to beat up the factory kids.
Many of them had brass knuckles, and that got me a broken nose.
Half of my life I put up with a crooked nose  until  I  had  it
fixed last year. I sure loved to scrap when I was young. I used
to  have a hunk of lead pipe, and once I had to sit in jail for
six months, but that didn't help."
     He stopped, grinning. I waited  awhile,  then  said,  "You
can't  find  a good lead pipe these days. Now rubber truncheons
are in fashion: you buy them used from the police."
     "Exactly," said Ahmad. "Or else you buy  a  dumbbell,  cut
off  one  ball and there you are, ready to go. But the guys are
not what they used to be. Now you get deported for such stuff."
     "Yes. And what else did you occupy yourself with  in  your
youth?"
     "And you?"
     "I planned on joining the interplanetary force and trained
to withstand  overstress.  We also played at who could dive the
deepest."
     "We too,"  said  Ahmad.  "We  went  down  ten  meters  for
automatics  and  whiskey.  Over  by  the  piers they lay on the
seabed by the case. I used to get nosebleeds. But when the fire
fights started, we began to find corpses  with  weights  around
their necks, so we quit that game."
     "It's  a  very  unpleasant  sight, a corpse under water --
especially if there is a current," said I.
     Ahmad chuckled "I've seen worse. I had  occasion  to  work
with the police."
     "This was after the fracas?"
     "Much later. When the anti-gangster laws were passed."
     'They were called gangsters here too?"
     "What  else  would you call them? Not brigands, certainly.
'A group of brigands, armed with flame throwers and gas  bombs,
have  laid  siege  to the municipal buildings,' " he pronounced
expressively. "It doesn't sound right, you  can  feel  that.  A
brigand  is  an  ax,  a  bludgeon, a mustache up to the ears, a
cleaver --"
     "A lead pipe," I offered.
     Ahmad gurgled.
     "What are you doing tonight?" he asked.
     "Going for a walk."
     "You have friends here?"
     "Yes. Why?"
     "Well... then it's different."
     "How come?"
     "Well, I was going to suggest something to you, but  since
you have friends..."
     "By the way, " I said, "who is your mayor?"
     "Mayor?  The  devil  knows, I don't remember. Somebody was
elected."
     "Not Peck Xenai, by any chance?"
     "I don't know." He sounded regretful. "I wouldn't want  to
mislead you."
     "Would you know the man anyway?"
     "Xenai...  Peck  Xenai...  No,  I  don't knew him; haven't
heard of him. What is he to you -- a friend?"
     "Yes, an old friend. I have some others here, but they are
all visitors."
     "Well," said Ahmad, "if you should get bored and all kinds
of thoughts begin to enter your head, come on over for a visit.
Every single day from  seven  o'clock  on  I  am  at  the  Chez
Gourmet. Do you like good eating?"
     "Quite," said I.
     "Stomach in good shape?"
     "Like an ostrich's."
     "Well,  then,  why  don't  you  come by? We'll have a fine
time, and it won't be necessary to think about a thing."
     Ahmad braked and turned cautiously into a driveway with an
iron gate, which silently swung open before us. The car  rolled
into the yard.
     "We have arrived," announced Ahmad. "Here is your home."
     The  house  was  two-storied,  white  with  blue trim. The
windows were draped on the inside. A clean, deserted patio with
multi-colored flagstones was surrounded by a fruit-tree garden,
with apple branches touching the walls.
     "And where is the widow?" I said.
     "Let's go inside," said Ahmad.
     He went up the steps, leafing through his notebook  I  was
following  him  while looking around. I liked the mini-orchard.
Ahmad found the right page and set up the  combination  on  the
small  disc  by  the doorbell. The door opened. Cool, fresh air
flowed out of the house. It was dark inside, but as soon as  we
stepped  into  the hall, it lit up with concealed illumination.
Putting away his notebook, Ahmad said, "To  the  right  is  the
landlord's  half, to the left is yours. Please come in. Here is
the living room, and there is the bar. In a minute we'll have a
drink. And now here is your study. Do you have a phonor?"
     "No."
     "It's just as well. You have  everything  you  need  right
here.  Come  on  over  here.  This is the bedroom. There is the
control board for acoustic defense. You know how to use it?"
     "I'll figure it out."
     "Good. The defense is triple, you can have it quiet  as  a
tomb  or  turn  the place into a bordello, whatever you like...
Here's the air-conditioning control,  which,  incidentally,  is
not  too  convenient,  as  you  can  only  operate  it from the
bedroom."
     "I'll manage," I said.
     "What? Well, okay. Here is the bathroom and powder room."
     "I  am  interested  in  the  widow,"  I  said,  "and   the
daughter."
     "All in good time. Shall I open the drapes?"
     "What for?"
     "Right you are, for no reason. Let's go have a drink."
     We returned to the living room and Ahmad disappeared up to
his waist in the bar.
     "You want it on the strong side?" he asked.
     "You have it backwards."
     "Would you like an omelette? Sandwiches?"
     "How about nothing?"
     "No,"  said  Ahmad,  "an  omelette  it  shall  be  -- with
tomatoes." He rummaged in the bar. "I don't know what does  it,
but  this  autocooker  makes  an  altogether astonishingly good
omelette with tomatoes. While we are at it, I will also have  a
bite."
     He  extracted  a  tray from the bar and placed it on a low
table by a semicircular couch. We sat down.
     "Now about the widow," I reminded him. "I would like to  .
present myself."
     "You like the rooms?"
     "They'll do."
     "Well, the widow is quite all right, too. And the daughter
is not bad either."
     He  extracted  a  flat  case from an inside pocket. Like a
cartridge clip it was stacked with a  row  of  ampoules  filled
with  colored  liquids.  Ahmad  ran his index finger over them,
smelled the omelette, hesitated, and finally selected one  with
a  green  fluid, broke it carefully, and dripped a few drops on
the tomatoes. An aroma pervaded the room.  The  smell  was  not
unpleasant,  but,  to  my taste, bore no particular relation to
the food.
     "Right now," continued Ahmad, "they are still asleep." His
gaze turned abstracted. "They sleep and see dreams."
     I looked at my watch.
     "Well, well!"
     Ahmad was enjoying his food.
     "Ten-thirty!" I said.
     Ahmad was enjoying his food. His cap was  pushed  back  on
his  head,  and  the  green  visor stuck up vertically like the
crest of an aroused mimicrodon. His eyes  were  half-closed.  I
regarded him with interest.
     Having  swallowed  the  last bit of tomato, he broke off a
piece of the crust of white bread and carefully wiped  the  pan
with it. His gaze cleared.
     "What  were  you  saying?" he asked. "Ten-thirty? Tomorrow
you too will get up at ten-thirty or maybe even at  twelve.  I,
for one, will get up at twelve."
     He got up and stretched luxuriously, cracking his joints.
     "Well," he said, "it's time to go home, finally. Here's my
card,  Ivan.  Put it in your desk, and don't throw it out until
your very last day here." He went over  to  the  flat  box  and
inserted another card into its slot. There was a loud click.
     "Now  this  one,"  he said, examining the card against the
light.  "Please  pass  on  to  the  widow  with  my  very  best
compliments."
     "And then what will happen?" said I.
     "Money  will  happen.  I  trust  you  are not a devotee of
haggling, Ivan? The widow will name a  figure,  Ivan,  and  you
shouldn't haggle over it. It's not done."
     "I  will try not to haggle," I said, "although it would be
amusing to try it."
     Ahmad raised his eyebrows.
     "Well, if you really want to so much, then why not try it?
Always do what you want to do. Then  you  will  have  excellent
digestion. I will get your suitcase now."
     "I  need  prospects,"  I  said. "I need guidebooks. I am a
writer,  Ahmad.  I  will  require  brochures  on  the  economic
situation  of  the  masses, statistical references. Where can I
get all that? And when?"
     "I will  give  you  a  guidebook,"  said  Ahmad.  "It  has
statistics,  addresses, telephone numbers, and so on. As far as
the masses are concerned, I don't think  we  publish  any  such
nonsense.  Of  course,  you  can send an inquiry to UNESCO, but
what  would  you  want  with  it?  You'll  see  everything  for
yourself.  Just hold on a minute. I'll get the suitcase and the
guidebook."
     He went out and quickly returned with my suitcase  in  one
hand and a fat bluish-looking little tome in the other.
     I stood up.
     "Judging by the look on your face," he announced, smiling,
"you are debating whether it's proper to tip me or not."
     "I confess," I said.
     "Well then, would you like to do it or not?"
     "No, I must admit."
     "You  have  a  healthy, strong character," Ahmad approved.
"Don't do it. Don't tip anybody. You could collect one  in  the
face,  especially from the girls. But, on the other hand, don't
haggle either. You could walk into one that  way  too.  Anyway,
that's  all  a  lot of rot. For all I know you may like to have
your face slapped, like that Jonathan  Kreis.  Farewell,  Ivan,
have  fun,  and come to Chez Gourmet. Any evening at seven. But
most important of all, don't think about a thing."
     He waved his hand and left. I picked up the mixture in the
dewy glass and sat down with the guidebook.




     The guidebook was printed on bond paper with a gilt  edge.
Interspersed  with  gorgeous  photographs,  it  contained  some
curious information. In the  city  there  were  fifty  thousand
people,  fifteen hundred cats, twenty thousand pigeons, and two
thousand dogs (including seven hundred winners of medals).  The
city  had fifteen thousand passenger cars, five thousand helis,
a thousand taxis (with and without  chauffeurs),  nine  hundred
automatic  garbage  collectors,  four  hundred  permanent bars,
cafes, and snack bars, eleven restaurants, and four first-class
hotels, and was a tourist establishment which served  over  one
hundred  thousand  visitors  every  year.  The  city  had sixty
thousand TV sets, fifty movie theaters, eight amusement  parks,
two Happy Mood salons, sixteen beauty parlors, forty libraries,
and  one  hundred  and  eighty  automated  barber shops. Eighty
percent of the population were engaged  in  services,  and  the
rest worked in two syntho-bakeries and one government shipyard.
There  were  six  schools  and  one university housed in an old
castle once the home of crusader Ulrich da Casa.  In  the  city
there were also eight active civilian societies, among them the
Society  of  Diligent  Tasters, the Society of Connoisseurs and
Appraisers, and the Society for the Good  Old  Country  Against
Evil  Influences.  In  addition,  fifteen hundred citizens were
members of seven  hundred  and  one  groups  where  they  sang,
learned  to  act,  to arrange furniture, to breast-feed, and to
medicate  cats.  As  to  per-capita  consumption  of  alcoholic
beverages, natural meat, and liquid oxygen, the city was sixth,
twelfth,  and  thirteenth  highest  in Europe respectively. The
city had seven men's clubs and five women's clubs, as  well  as
sport  clubs  named  the  Bulls  and  Rhinos.  By a majority of
forty-six votes, someone by the  name  of  Flim  Gao  had  been
elected mayor. Peck was not among the municipal officials.
     I  put the guidebook aside, took off my jacket, and made a
thorough examination of my domain. I  approved  of  the  living
room.  It  was done in blue, and I like that color. The bar was
full of bottled and refrigerated victuals so that I could at  a
moment's notice entertain a dozen starving guests.
     I went into the study. There was a large table in front of
the window  and  a comfortable chair. The walls were lined with
shelves tightly filled with collected works. The  clean  bright
bindings  were  arranged with great skill so that they formed a
colorful and appealing layout. The top shelf  was  occupied  by
the  fifty-volume  encyclopedia  of  UNESCO. Lower shelves were
kaleidoscopic with the shiny wrappers of detective novels.
     As soon as I saw the telephone  on  the  table,  I  dialed
Rimeyer's  number,  perching  on  the  chair  arm. The receiver
sounded with prolonged honkings and I waited, twirling a  small
dictaphone which someone had left on the table. Rimeyer did not
answer.  I  hung  up and inspected the dictaphone. The tape was
half-used-up, and  after  rewinding,  I  punched  the  playback
button.
     "Greetings  and  more greetings," said a merry male voice.
"I clasp your hand heartily or kiss you on the cheek, depending
on your sex and age. I have lived  here  two  months  and  bear
witness  that  it  was most enjoyable. Allow me a few points of
advice. The best institution in town is the Hoity Toity in  the
Park  of  Dreams. The best girl in town is Basi in the House of
Models. The best guy in town is me, but I have already left. On
television just watch Program Nine; everything else  is  chaff.
Don't  get  involved  with  Intels,  and give the Rhinos a wide
berth. Don't buy anything on credit -- there'll be  no  end  to
the  runaround. The widow is a good woman but loves to talk and
in general... As for Vousi, I didn't get to meet  her,  as  she
had  left  the  country to visit her grandmother. In my opinion
she is sweet, and there was a photograph of her in the  widow's
album,  but I took it. There's more: I expect to come back next
March, so be a pal, if you decide to return, pick another time.
Have a --"
     Music followed abruptly. I listened awhile and turned  off
the machine.
     There  wasn't  a  single  tome  I  could  extract from the
shelves, so well were they stuck in, or maybe  even  glued  on,
and  as there was nothing else of interest in the study, I went
into the bedroom.
     Here it was especially cool and cozy. I have always wanted
just such a bedroom, but somehow never  had  the  time  to  get
around to setting one up. The bed was big and low. On the night
table stood an elegant phonor and a tiny remote-control box for
the  TV.  The screen stood at the foot of the bed, while at the
head the widow had hung a very natural-looking picture of field
flowers in  a  crystal  vase.  The  picture  was  painted  with
luminous  paints  and  the  dewdrops  glistened in the darkened
room.
     I punched the TV control at random and  stretched  out  on
the bed. It was soft yet somehow firm. The TV roared loudly. An
inebriated-looking  man  launched  himself  out  of the screen,
crashed through some sort of railing, and  fell  from  a  great
height  into a colossal fuming vat. There was a loud splash and
the phonor exuded a smell. The man disappeared in the  bubbling
liquid  and  then  reappeared,  holding  in his teeth something
reminiscent of a well-boiled boot. The  unseen  audience  broke
out in a storm of horse laughs. Fade out... soft lyrical music.
A white horse pulling a phaeton appeared out of green woods and
advanced  toward me. A pretty girl in a bathing suit sat in the
carriage. I turned off the TV, got up, and went to look at  the
bathroom.
     There was a piny smell and flickering of germicidal lamps.
I undressed,  threw  the underwear into the hopper, and climbed
into the shower. Taking my time, I  dressed  in  front  of  the
mirror,  combed  my  hair,  and shaved. The shelves were loaded
with rows of vials, hygienic devices,  antiseptics,  and  tubes
with  pastes  and greases. At the edge of one shelf there was a
pile of flat colorful boxes with the logo "Devon."  I  switched
off  the  razor  and  took  one of the boxes. A germicidal lamp
flickered in the mirror, just as it did  that  day  in  Vienna,
when  I  stood  just like this studiously regarding just such a
little box, because I did not want to go out  to  the  bedroom,
where  Raffy  Reisman  loudly  argued  about something with the
doctor; while the green oily liquid  still  oscillated  in  the
bath,  over  which hung the steamy vapor and a screeching radio
receiver, attached to a  porcelain  hook  for  towels,  howled,
hooted,  and  snorted  until Raffy turned it off in irritation.
That was in Vienna, and just as here, it was  very  strange  to
see  in  a bathroom a box of Devon -- a popular repellent which
did an excellent job of chasing  mosquitoes,  chiggers,  gnats,
and  other  bloodsucking  insects  which were long forgotten in
Vienna and here in a seaside resort town. Only in Vienna  there
had been an overlay of fear.
     The  box  which  I  held in my hand was almost empty, with
only one tablet remaining. The rest of  the  boxes  were  still
scaled.  I finished shaving and returned to the bedroom. I felt
like calling Rimeyer again, but  abruptly  the  house  came  to
life.  The  pleated  drapes  flew  open  with a soft whine, the
windowpanes slid away in their  frames,  and  the  bedroom  was
flooded  with warm air, laden with the scent of apples. Someone
was talking somewhere, light footsteps sounded overhead, and  a
severe-sounding  female voice said, "Vousi -- at least eat some
cake, do you hear?"
     Thereupon I imparted a  certain  air  of  disorder  to  my
clothes  (in  accordance  with  the current style), smoothed my
temples, and went into the hall, taking one  of  Ahmad's  cards
from the living room.
     The  widow  turned  out  to  be  a  youthful  plump woman,
somewhat languid, with a pleasant fresh face.
     "How nice!" she said, seeing  me.  "You  are  up  already?
Hello, my name is Vaina Tuur, but you can call me Vaina."
     "My pleasure," I said, shuddering fashionably. "My name is
Ivan."
     "How   nice,"   said   Aunt   Vaina.   "What  an  original
soft-sounding name! Have you had breakfast, Ivan?"
     "With your permission, I intended  to  have  breakfast  in
town," I said, and proffered her the card.
     "Ah,"  said  Aunt  Vaina,  looking through the card at the
light.  "That  nice  Ahmad,  if  you  only  knew  what  a  nice
responsible fellow he is. But I see you did not have breakfast.
Lunch you can have in town, but now I will treat you to some of
my croutons. The major general always said that nowhere else in
the world could you have such wonderful croutons."
     "With pleasure," said I, shuddering for the second time.
     The  door  behind  Aunt  Vaina  was  flung open and a very
pretty young girl in a short  blue  skirt  and  an  open  white
blouse  flew  in on clicking high heels. In her hand she held a
piece of cake, which she  munched  while  humming  a  currently
popular  song.  Seeing me, she stopped, flung her pocketbook on
its long strap over her shoulder with a show  of  abandon,  and
swallowed, bending down her head.
     "Vousi!"  said  Aunt  Vaina, compressing her lips. "Vousi,
this is Ivan."
     "Not bad!" said Vousi. "Greetings."
     "Vousi," reproached Aunt Vaina.
     "You came with your wife?" said Vousi, extending her hand.
     "No," said I. Her  fingers  were  soft  and  cool.  "I  am
alone."
     In  that  case,  I'll  show  you all there is to see," she
said. "Till tonight. I must run now,  but  we'll  go  out  this
evening."
     "Vousi!" reproached Aunt Vaina.
     Vousi  pushed  the rest of the cake into her mouth, bussed
her mother on the cheek, and  ran  toward  the  door.  She  had
smooth  sunburned  legs,  long and slender, and a close-cropped
back of the head.
     "Ach, Ivan," said Aunt Vaina, who was also looking at  the
retreating  girl, "in our times it is so difficult to deal with
young girls. They develop so early and leave us so  soon.  Ever
since she started working in that salon..."
     "She is a dressmaker?" I inquired.
     "Oh  no!  She  works  in  the Happy Mood Salon, in the old
ladies' department. And do you know, they value her highly. But
last year she was late once and now she has to be very careful.
As you can see she could not even have  a  decent  conversation
with  you,  but it's possible that a client is even now waiting
for her. You might not believe this,  but  she  already  has  a
permanent  clientele.  Anyway,  why  are  we standing here? The
croutons will get cold."
     We entered the landlord's side. I tried with all my  might
to  conduct  myself correctly, although I was a bit foggy as to
what exactly was correct. Aunt Vaina sat me down  at  a  table,
excused  herself,  and  left.  I looked around. The room was an
exact copy of mine, except that the walls were rose instead  of
blue,  and  beyond  the window, in place of the sea was a small
yard with a low fence dividing it from the street.  Aunt  Vaina
came  back  with  a  tray  bearing  boiled cream and a plate of
croutons..
     "You know," she said, "I think I will have some  breakfast
too.  My  doctor  does not recommend breakfast, especially with
boiled cream.  But  we  became  so  accustomed...  it  was  the
general's  favorite  breakfast. Do you know, I try to have only
men boarders. That nice Ahmad  understands  me  very  well.  He
understands  how  much  I  need  to sit just like this, now and
then, just as we are sitting, and have a cup of boiled cream."
     "Your cream is wonderfully good," said I, not insincerely.
     "Ach, Ivan." Aunt Vaina put down her cup and fluttered her
hands. "But  you  said  that  almost  exactly  like  the  major
general...  Strange,  you  even  look like him. Except that his
face was a bit narrower and he  always  had  breakfast  in  his
uniform."
     "Yes," I said with regret, "I don't have a uniform."
     "But there was one once," said she coyly, shaking a finger
at me.  "Of  course!  I  can  see it. It's so senseless! People
nowadays have to be ashamed of their military past. Isn't  that
silly? But they are always betrayed by their bearing, that very
special manly carriage. You cannot hide it, Ivan!"
     I  made  a very elaborate non-committal gesture, said, "Mm
-- yes," and took another crouton.
     "It's all so out of place, isn't  that  right?"  continued
Aunt  Vaina with great animation. "How can you confuse such two
opposite concepts -- war and the army? We all detest  war.  War
is  awful.  My  mother described it to me, she was only a girl,
but she remembers everything. Suddenly, without warning,  there
they  are  --  the  soldiers,  crude, alien, speaking a foreign
tongue,  belching;  and  the  officers,  without  any  manners,
laughing  loudly,  annoying  the  chambermaids, and smelling --
forgive me; and that senseless commander's meeting hour... that
is war and it deserves every condemnation! But the army! That's
an altogether different affair! Surely you remember, Ivan,  the
troops  lined  up by battalion, the perfection of the line, the
manliness of the faces under the helmets, shiny arms, sparkling
decorations, and  then  the  commanding  officer  riding  in  a
special  staff car and addressing the battalions, which respond
willingly and briefly like one man."
     "No doubt," said I, "this has impressed many people."
     "Yes! Very much indeed. We have always  said  that  it  is
necessary  to  disarm,  but  did  we really need to destroy the
army? It  is  the  last  refuge  of  manhood  in  our  time  of
widespread  moral  collapse.  It's  weird  and  ridiculous -- a
government without an army...."
     "It is funny," I agreed. "You may not believe  it,  but  I
have been smiling ever since they signed the Pact."
     "Yes,  I can understand that," said Aunt Vaina. "There was
nothing else for us to do,  but  to  smile  sarcastically.  The
Major General Tuur" -- she extricated a handkerchief -- "passed
away with just such a sarcastic smile on his face." She applied
the  handkerchief  to  her eyes. "He said to us: 'My friends, I
still hope to live to the day when everything will fall apart.'
A broken man, who has lost the meaning of life... he could  not
stand  the  emptiness  in  his  heart." Suddenly she perked up.
"Here, let me show you, Ivan."
     She bustled into the next room and returned with  a  heavy
old-fashioned photo album.
     I  looked at my watch at once, but Aunt Vaina did not take
any notice, and sitting herself down at  my  side,  opened  the
album at the very first page.
     "Here is the major general."
     The  major general looked quite the eagle. He had a narrow
bony face and translucent eyes. His long body was spangled with
medals. The biggest, a  multi-pointed  starburst  framed  in  a
laurel  wreath,  sparkled in the region of the appendix. In his
left hand the general tightly pressed a pair of gloves, and his
right hand rested on the hilt of a ceremonial poniard.  A  high
collar with gold embroidery propped up his lower jaw.
     "And here is the major general on maneuvers."
     Here  again  the  general looked the eagle. He was issuing
instructions to his officers, who were bent over a  map  spread
on  the  frontal  armor of a gigantic tank. By the shape of the
treads  and  the  streamlined  appearance  of  the  turret,   I
recognized it as one of the Mammoth heavy storm vehicles, which
were  designed for pushing through nuclear strike zones and now
are successfully employed by deep-sea exploration teams.
     "And here is the general on his fiftieth birthday."
     Here too, the general looked the  eagle.  He  stood  by  a
well-set  table  with  a  wineglass in his hand, listening to a
toast in his honor. The lower left corner  was  occupied  by  a
halo  of light from a shiny pate; and to his side, gazing up at
him with admiration, sat a very  young  and  very  pretty  Aunt
Vaina.  I  tried  surreptitiously to gauge the thickness of the
album by feel.
     "Ah, here is the general on vacation."
     Even on vacation, the general remained an eagle. With  his
feet  planted  well  apart,  he  stood  an  the  beach sporting
tiger-stripe trunks, as he scanned the misty horizon through  a
pair  of  binoculars.  At his feet a child of three or four was
digging in  the  sand.  The  general  was  wiry  and  muscular.
Croutons  and cream did not spoil his figure. I started to wind
my watch noisily.
     "And here..." began Aunt Vaina, turning the page,  but  at
this  point,  a  short  portly  man  entered  the  room without
knocking. His face and in particular his dress seemed strangely
familiar.
     "Good morning," he enunciated, bending his smooth  smiling
face slightly sideways.
     It  was  my erstwhile customs man, still in the same white
uniform with the silver buttons and the  silver  braid  on  the
shoulders.
     "Ah!  Pete!"  said  Aunt  Vaina.  "Here  you  are already.
Please, let me introduce you. Ivan, this is Pete, a  friend  of
the family."
     The  customs  man  turned  toward  me without recognition,
briefly inclined his head, and clicked his  heels.  Aunt  Vaina
laid the album in my lap and got up.
     "Have a seat, Pete," she said. "I will bring some cream."
     Pete clicked his heels once more and sat down by me.
     "This should interest you," I said, transferring the album
to his  lap.  "Here is Major General Tuur. In mufti." A strange
expression appeared on the face of the customs man.  "And  here
is the major general on maneuvers. You see? And here --"
     "Thank  you,"  said the customs man raggedly. "Don't exert
yourself, because --"
     Aunt Vaina returned with cream and croutons. From  as  far
back  as  the  doorway,  she  said,  "How  nice to see a man in
uniform! Isn't that right, Ivan?"
     The cream for Pete was in a special cup with the  monogram
"T" surrounded by four stars.
     "It  rained  last  night,  so  it must have been cloudy. I
know, because I woke up, and now there is not a  cloud  in  the
sky. Another cup, Ivan?"
     I got up.
     'Thank  you,  I'm  quite full. If you'll excuse me, I must
take my leave. I have a business appointment,"
     Carefully closing the door behind me, I  heard  the  widow
say,  "Don't  you find an extraordinary resemblance between him
and Staff Major Polom?"
     In the bedroom, I unpacked the  suitcase  and  transferred
the  clothing to the wall closet, and again rang Rimeyer. Again
no one answered. So I sat down at the desk and set to exploring
the drawers. One contained a portable typewriter, another a set
of writing paper and an empty bottle of grease  for  arrhythmic
motors.  The  rest  was  empty,  if you didn't count bundles of
crumpled receipts, a broken  fountain  pen,  and  a  carelessly
folded sheet of paper, decorated with doodled faces. I unfolded
the sheet. Apparently it was the draft of a telegram.
     "Green  died  while  with  the Fishers receive body Sunday
with condolences Hugger Martha boys." I read the writing twice,
turned the sheet over and studied the faces, and read  for  the
third  time. Obviously Hugger and Martha were not informed that
normal people notifying of death first of all tell how and  why
a  person  died  and not whom he was with when he died. I would
have written, "Green drowned  while  fishing."  Probably  in  a
drunken stupor. By the way, what address did I have now?
     I  returned  to  the  hall.  A  small  boy  in short pants
squatted in the doorway to the landlord's half. Clamping a long
silvery tube under an armpit, he was panting and  wheezing  and
hurriedly  unwinding  a  tangle of string. I went up to him and
said, "Hi."
     My reflexes are not what they used  to  be,  but  still  I
managed to duck a long black stream which whizzed by my ear and
splashed against the wall. I regarded the boy with astonishment
while  he  stared at me, lying on his side and holding the tube
in front of him. His face was damp and his  mouth  twisted  and
open.  I turned to look at the wall. The stuff was oozing down.
I looked at the boy again. He was getting  up  slowly,  without
lowering the tube.
     "Well, well, brother, you are nervous!" said I.
     "Stand  where you are," said the boy in a hoarse voice." I
did not say your name."
     "To say the least," said I.  "You  did  not  even  mention
yours, and you fire at me like I was a dummy."
     "Stand where you are," repeated the boy, "and don't move."
He backed  and  suddenly  blurted in rapid fire, "Hence from my
hair, hence from my bones, hence from my flesh."
     "I cannot," I said.  I  was  still  trying  to  understand
whether he was playing or was really afraid of me.
     "Why not?" said the boy. "I am saying everything right."
     "I  can't go without moving," I said. "I am standing where
I am."
     His mouth fell open again.
     "Hugger: I say to  you  --  Hugger  --  begone!"  he  said
uncertainly.
     "Why  Hugger?"  I  said.  "My name is Ivan; you confuse me
with somebody else."
     The boy closed his eyes and advanced upon me, holding  the
tube in front of him.
     "I surrender," I warned. "Be careful not to fire."
     When  the  tube dented my midriff he stopped and, dropping
it, suddenly went limp, letting his hands fall. I bent over and
looked him in the face. Now he was brick-red. I picked  up  the
tube.  It  was  something  like  a toy rifle, with a convenient
checkered grip and a flat rectangular flask which was  inserted
from below, like a clip.
     "What kind of gadget is this?" I asked.
     "A splotcher," he said gloomily. "Give it back."
     I gave him back the toy.
     "A  splotcher,"  I said, "with which you splotch. And what
if you had hit me?" I looked at the wall. "Fine thing. Now  you
won't  get it off inside of a year. You'll have to get the wall
changed."
     The boy looked up at me suspiciously. "But it's Splotchy,"
he said.
     "Really -- and I thought it was lemonade."
     His face finally acquired a normal hue and demonstrated an
obvious resemblance to the  manly  features  of  Major  General
Tuur.
     "No, no, it's Splotchy."
     "So?"
     "It will dry up."
     "And then it's really hopeless?"
     "Of course not. There will simply be nothing left."
     "Hmm,"  said I, with reservation. "However, you know best.
Let us hope so. But I am still glad that there will be  nothing
left on the wall instead of on my face. What's your name?"
     "Siegfried."
     "And after you give it some thought?"
     He gave me a long look.
     "Lucifer."
     "What?"
     "Lucifer."
     "Lucifer,"   said  I.  "Belial,  Ahriman,  Beelzebub,  and
Azrael.  How  about  something  a  little  shorter?  It's  very
inconvenient  to  call  for  help  to  someone with a name like
Lucifer."
     "But the doors are closed," he said and backed  one  step.
His face paled again.
     "So what?"
     He  did not respond but continued to back until he reached
the wall and began to sidle along it without  taking  his  eyes
off  me. It finally dawned on me that he took me for a murderer
or a thief and. that he wanted to escape. But for  some  reason
he  did  not  call  for  help  and  went  by his mother's door,
continuing toward the house exit.
     "Siegfried,"  said  I,  "Siegfried,  Lucifer,  you  are  a
terrible coward. Who do you think I am?" I didn't move but only
Turned  to keep facing him. "I am your new boarder; your mother
has just fed me croutons and cream and you go and  fire  at  me
and  almost splotched me, and now you are afraid of me. It is I
who should be afraid of you."
     All this was very much  reminiscent  of  a  scene  in  the
boarding  school  in Anyudinsk, when they brought me a boy just
like this one, the son of a sect member.  Hell's  bells,  do  I
really look so much the gangster?
     "You  remind  me  of Chuchundra the Muskrat," I said, "who
spent his life crying because he could not come  out  into  the
middle  of the room. Your nose is blue from fear, your ears are
freezing, and your pants are wet so that  you  are  trailing  a
small stream...."
     In  such  cases  it makes absolutely no difference what is
said. It is important to speak calmly and not  to  make  sudden
movements.  The expression on his face did not change, but when
I spoke about the stream, he moved his eyes momentarily to take
a look. But only for a second. Then he jumped toward the  door,
fluttering  for  a second at the latch, and flew outside, dirty
bottoms of his sandals flying. I went out after him.
     He stood in the lilac bush, so that all I  could  see  was
his  pale face. Like a fleeing cat looking momentarily over its
shoulder.
     "Okay, okay," said I. "Would you please explain to me what
I must do? I have to send home my new address. The  address  of
this  house  where I am now living." He regarded me in silence.
"I don't feel right going to your mother -- in the first place,
she has guests, and in the second--"
     "Seventy-eight, Second Waterway," he said.
     Slowly I sat down on the steps. There was  a  distance  of
some ten meters between us.
     'That's  quite  a  voice you have," I said confidentially.
"Just like my friend the barman's at Mirza-Charles."
     "When did you arrive?" said he.
     "Well, let's see." I looked at my watch,  "About  an  hour
and a half ago."
     "Before  you  there  was  another  one,"  he said, looking
sideways. "He was a  rat-fink.  He  gave  me  striped  swimming
trunks, and when I went in the water, they melted away."
     "Ouch!" I said. "That is really a monster of some sort and
not a human -- he should have been drowned in Splotchy."
     "Didn't have time -- I was going to, but he went away."
     "Was it that same Hugger with Martha and the boys?"
     "No -- where did you get that idea? Hugger came later."
     "Also a rat-fink?"
     He  didn't  answer.  I  leaned  back  against the wall and
contemplated the street.  A  car  jerkily  backed  out  of  the
opposite   driveway,   back   and   forthed,  and  roared  off.
Immediately it was followed by another just such a  car.  There
was the pungent smell of gasoline. Then cars followed one after
another,  until  my eyes blurred. Several helis appeared in the
sky. They were  the  so-called  silent  helis,  but  they  flew
relatively  low, and while they flew, it was difficult to talk.
In any case, the boy was apparently not going to talk.  But  he
wasn't  going to leave, either. He was doing something with his
splotcher in the bushes and was glancing at me now and then.  I
was  hoping he wasn't going to splotch me again. The helis kept
going and going, and the cars kept swishing  and  swishing,  as
though all the fifteen thousand cars were speeding by on Second
Waterway,  and all the five hundred helis were hung over Number
78. The whole thing lasted  about  ten  minutes,  and  the  boy
seemed to cease paying attention to me while I sat and wondered
what  questions  I  should  ask  of  Rimeyer.  Then  everything
returned to its previous state, the smell of exhaust was  gone,
the sky was cleared.
     "Where are they all going -- all at once?" I asked.
     "Don't you know?"
     "How would I know?"
     "I don't know either, but somehow you knew about Hugger."
     "About  Hugger,"  I  said.  "I  know  about  Hugger  quite
accidentally. And about you I know nothing at  all...  how  you
live and what you do. For instance, what are you doing now?"
     "The safeguard is broken."
     "Well then, give it to me, I'll fix it. Why are you afraid
of me? Do I look like a rat-fink?"
     "They all drove off to work," he said.
     "You  sure  go  to  work late. It's practically dinnertime
already. Do you know the Hotel Olympic?"
     "Of course I know."
     "Would you walk me there?"
     He hesitated.
     "No."
     "Why not?" I asked.
     "School is about to end -- I must be going home."
     "Aha! So that's the way of it," said I. "You  are  playing
hookey,  or  ditching it, as we used to say. What grade are you
in?"
     "Third."
     "I used to be in third grade, too," I said.
     He came a bit out of the bushes.
     "And then?"
     "Then I was in the fourth." I got up.  "Well,  okay.  Talk
you  won't, go for a walk you won't, and your pants are wet, so
I am going back in. You won't even tell me your name."
     He looked at me in silence and  breathed  heavily  through
his  mouth.  I went back to my quarters. The cream-colored hall
was irreparably disfigured, it seemed to  me.  The  huge  black
clot  was  not  drying.  Somebody  is  going to get it today, I
thought. A ball of string was underfoot. I picked  it  up.  The
end of the string was tied to the landlady's half-doorknob. So,
I  thought,  this too is clear. I untied the string and put the
ball in my pocket.
     In the study, I got a clean sheet of paper from  the  desk
and  composed  a  telegram to Matia. "Arrived safely, 78 Second
Waterway. Kisses. Ivan." I telephoned it to the local PT&T  and
again dialed Rimeyer's number. Again there was no answer. I put
on  my  jacket, looked in the mirror, counted my money, and was
about to set out when I saw that the door to  the  living  room
was open and an eye was visible through the crack. Naturally, I
gave  no  sign.  I  carefully  completed  the  inspection of my
clothing, returned to the bathroom, and vacuumed myself  for  a
while,  whistling  away  merrily. When I returned to the study,
the  mouse-eared  head  sticking  through  the  half-open  door
immediately  vanished.  Only  the silvery tube of the splotcher
continued to protrude. Sitting down in the chair, I opened  and
closed  all  the  twelve drawers, including the secret one, and
only then looked at the door. The boy stood framed in it.
     "My name is Len," he announced.
     "Greetings, Len," I said  absent-mindedly.  "I  am  called
Ivan.  Come  on  in -- although I was going out to have dinner.
You haven't had dinner yet?"
     "No."
     "That's good. Go ask your mother's permission and we'll be
off "
     "It's too early," he said.
     "What's too early? To have dinner?"
     "No,  to  go.  School  doesn't  end  for  another   twenty
minutes."  He was silent again. "Besides, there's that fat fink
with the braid."
     "He's a bad one?' I asked.
     "Yeah," said Len. "Are you really leaving now?"
     "Yes, I am," I said, and took the ball of string  from  my
pocket. "Here, take it. And what if Mother comes out first?"
     He shrugged.
     "If  you  are  really  leaving," he said, "would it be all
right if I stayed in your place?"
     "Go ahead, stay."
     "There's nobody else here?"
     "Nobody."
     He still didn't come to me to take the string, but let  me
come to him, and even allowed me to take his ear. It was indeed
cold.  I  ruffled  his  head  lightly and pushed him toward the
table.
     "Go sit all you want. I won't be back soon."
     "I'll take a snooze," said Len.



     The  Hotel  Olympic  was  a  fifteen-story   red-and-black
structure. Half the plaza in front of it was covered with cars,
and  in  its  center  stood  a  monument  surrounded by a small
flowerbed. It represented a man with  a  proudly  raised  head.
Detouring  the  monument,  I  suddenly realized that I knew the
man. In puzzlement I stopped and examined it  more  thoroughly.
There  was  no doubt about it. There in front of Hotel Olympic,
in a funny old-fashioned suit  with  his  hand  resting  on  an
incomprehensible   apparatus   which  I  almost  took  for  the
extension of  the  abstract-styled  base,  and  with  his  eyes
staring  at infinity through contemptuously squinting lids, was
none other than Vladimir Sergeyevitch Yurkovsky. Carved in gold
letters  on  the  base  was  the  legend  "Vladimir  Yurkovsky,
December 5, Year of the Scales."
     I couldn't believe it, because they do not raise monuments
to Yurkovskys.  While  they live, they are appointed to more or
less responsible positions, they are honored at jubilees,  they
are  elected to membership in academies. They are rewarded with
medals and are honored with international prizes, and when they
die or perish; they are  the  subjects  of  books,  quotations,
references,  but always less and less often as time passes, and
finally they are forgotten altogether. They depart the halls of
memory and linger on only in books. Vladimir Sergeyevitch was a
general of the sciences and a remarkable man.  But  it  is  not
possible  to erect monuments to all generals and all remarkable
men, especially in  countries  to  which  they  had  no  direct
relationship and in cities where if they did visit, it was only
temporarily.  In any case, in that Year of the Scales, which is
of significance only to them, he was not  even  a  general.  In
March  he was, jointly with Dauge, completing the investigation
of the Amorphous Spot on Uranus. That  was  when  the  sounding
probe  blew up and we all got a dose in the work section -- and
when we got back to the Planet in September, he was all spotted
with lilac blotches, mad at the world, promising  himself  that
he  would  take time out to swim and get sunburned and then get
right back to the design of a new probe because the old one was
trash.... I looked at the hotel again to reassure  myself.  The
only  out  was  to assume that the life of the town was in some
mysterious and potent manner highly dependent on the  Amorphous
Spot  on  Uranus.  Yurkovsky  continued  to smile with snobbish
superiority. Generally, the sculpture was  quite  good,  but  I
could  not  figure  out  what  it  was  he  was leaning on. The
apparatus didn't look like the probe.
     Something hissed by my ear.  I  turned  and  involuntarily
sprang back. Beside me, staring dully at the monument base, was
a  tall  gaunt  individual closely encased from head to foot in
some sort of gray scaly  material  and  with  a  bulky  cubical
helmet  around  his  head. The face was obscured behind a glass
plate with holes, from which smoke issued in  synchronism  with
his  breathing.  The wasted visage behind the plate was covered
with perspiration and the cheeks twitched in frantic tempo.  At
first  I  took him for a Wanderer, then I thought that he was a
tourist executing a curative routine, and only  finally  did  I
realize that I was looking at an Arter.
     "Excuse me," I said "Could you please tell me what sort of
monument this is?"
     The damp face contorted more desperately. "What?" came the
dull response from inside the helmet.
     I bent down.
     "I am inquiring: what is this monument?"
     The  man  glared at the statue. The smoke came thicker out
of the holes. There was more powerful hissing.
     "Vladimir Yurkovsky," he read, "Fifth of December, Year of
the Scales... aha... December... so -- it must be some German."
     "And who put up the monument?"
     "I don't know," said the man. "But it's written down right
there. What's it to you?"
     "I was an acquaintance of his," I explained.
     "Well then, why do you ask? Ask the man himself."
     "He is dead."
     "Aah... Maybe they buried him here?"
     "No," I said, "he is buried far away."
     "Where?"
     "Far away. What's that thing he is holding?"
     "What thing? It's an eroula."
     "What?"
     "I said, an eroula. An electronic roulette."-
     My eyes popped.
     "What's a roulette doing here?"
     "Where?"
     "Here, on the statue."
     "I don't know," said the man after  some  thought.  "Maybe
your friend invented it?"
     "Hardly," said I. "He worked in a different field."
     "What was that?"
     "He was a planetologist and an interplanetary pilot."
     "Aah...  well,  if he invented it, that was bully for him.
It's a useful thing. I should remember it: Yurkovsky, Vladimir.
He must have been a brainy German."
     "I doubt he invented it," I said. "I repeat -- he  was  an
interplanetary pilot."
     The man stared at me.
     "Well,  if  he  didn't  invent it, then why is he standing
with it?"
     "That's the point," I said. "I am amazed myself."
     "You are a damn liar," said the man suddenly. "You lie and
you don't even know why you are lying. It's early morning,  and
he is stoned already.... Alcoholic!"
     He  turned  away  and shuffled off, dragging his thin legs
and hissing loudly. I shrugged my shoulders, took a  last  look
at  Vladimir Sergeyevitch, and set off toward the hotel, across
the huge plaza.
     The gigantic doorman  swung  the  door  open  for  me  and
sounded an energetic welcome.
     I stopped.
     "Would  you  be  so  kind," said I. "Do you know what that
monument is?"
     The doorman looked toward the plaza over my head. His face
registered confusion.
     "Isn't that written on it?"
     "There is a legend," I said. "But who put it up and why?"
     The doorman shuffled his feet.
     "I beg your pardon,"  he  said  guiltily,  "I  just  can't
answer
     your  question.  The  monument has been there a long time,
while I came here very recently. I don't wish to misinform you.
Maybe the porter..."
     I sighed.
     "Well, don't worry about it. Where is a telephone?"
     "To your right, if you please," he said looking delighted.
     A porter started out in my direction, but I shook my  head
and  picked  up  the receiver and dialed Rimeyer's number. This
time I got a busy signal. I went to the elevator and up to  the
ninth floor.
     Rimeyer,  looking untypically fleshy, met me in a dressing
gown, out of which stuck legs in pants and with shoes  on.  The
room  stank  of  cigarette  smoke  and  the ashtray was full of
butts. There was a general air of chaos in the whole suite. One
of the armchairs was knocked over, a  woman's  slip  was  lying
crumpled  on  the  couch,  and a whole battery of empty bottles
glinted under the table.
     "What can I do for you?" asked Rimeyer  with  a  touch  of
hostility,  looking  at my chin. Apparently he was recently out
of his bathroom, and his sparse colorless hair was wet  against
his  long  skull. I handed him my card in silence. Rimeyer read
it slowly  and  attentively,  shoved  it  in  his  pocket,  and
continuing to look at my chin, said, "Sit down."
     I sat.
     "It  is  most  unfortunate. I am devilishly busy and don't
have a minute's time."
     "I called you several times today," said I.
     "I just got back. What's your name?"
     "Ivan."
     "And your last name?"
     "Zhilin."
     "You see, Zhilin, to make it short, I have to get  dressed
and  leave  again."  He  was  silent awhile, rubbing his flabby
cheeks. "Anyway there's not much to talk about.... However,  if
you  wish,  you can sit here and wait for me. If I don't return
in an hour, come  back  tomorrow  at  twelve.  And  leave  your
telephone  number and address, write it down right on the table
there...."
     He threw off the bathrobe, and dragging it  along,  walked
off into the adjoining room.
     "In  the  meantime,"  he continued, "you can see the town,
and a miserable little town it is.... But you'll have to do  it
in any case. As for me, I am sick to my stomach of it."
     He  returned  adjusting his tie. His hands were trembling,
and the skin on his face looked gray  and  wilted.  Suddenly  I
felt  that  I  did  not  trust  him  --  the  sight  of him was
repellent, like that of a neglected sick man.
     "You look poorly," I  said.  "You  have  changed  a  great
deal."
     For the first time he looked me in the eyes.
     "And how would you know what I was like before?"
     "I  saw  you  at  Matia's.  You  smoke a lot, Rimeyer, and
tobacco  is  saturated  regularly  with  all  kinds  of   trash
nowadays."
     "Tobacco -- that's a lot of nonsense," he said with sudden
irritation.  "Here  everything  is  saturated with all kinds of
tripe.... But perhaps you  may  be  right,  probably  I  should
quit."  He  pulled  on his jacket slowly; "Time to quit, and in
any case, I shouldn't have started."
     "How is the work coming along?"
     "It could be worse. And unusually absorbing work  it  is."
He  smiled  in  a  peculiar unpleasant way. "I am going now, as
they are waiting for me and I am late. So, till  an  hour  from
now, or until tomorrow at twelve."
     He nodded to me and left.
     I  wrote my address and telephone number on the table, and
as my foot plowed  into  the  mass  of  bottles  underneath,  I
couldn't  help  but think that the work was indeed absorbing. I
called room service and requested a chambermaid to clean up the
room. The most polite of voices replied that  the  occupant  of
the  suite categorically forbade service personnel to enter his
room during his absence and had repeated the  prohibition  just
now  on  leaving  the  hotel.  "Aha," I said, and hung up. This
didn't sit well  with  me.  For  myself,  I  never  issue  such
directions  and  have  never hidden even my notebooks, not from
anyone. It's stupid to work at deception  and  much  better  to
drink  less. I picked up the overturned armchair, sat down, and
prepared for a  long  wait,  trying  to  overcome  a  sense  of
displeasure and disappointment.
     I  didn't  have  to wait for long. After some ten minutes,
the door opened a crack and a pretty face  protruded  into  the
room.
     "Hey there," it pronounced huskily. "Is Rimeyer in?"
     "Rimeyer is not in, but you can come in anyway."
     She   hesitated,  examining  me.  Apparently  she  had  no
intention of coming in, but was just saying hello, in passing.
     "Come in, come in," said I. "I have nothing to do."
     She entered with a light dancing  gait,  and  putting  her
arms  akimbo,  stood  in front of me. She had a short turned-up
nose and a disheveled boyish hairdo.  The  hair  was  red,  the
shorts crimson, and the blouse a bright yolk yellow. A colorful
woman   and   quite   attractive.  She  must  have  been  about
twenty-five.
     "You wait -- right?"
     Her eyes were unnaturally bright and she smelled of  wine,
tobacco, and perfume.
     She  collapsed on the hassock and flung her legs up on the
telephone table.
     "Throw a cigarette to a working  girl,"  she  said.  "It's
five hours since I had one."
     "I don't smoke. Shall I ring for some?"
     "Good  Lord,  another sad sack! Never mind the phone .. or
that dame will show up again. Rummage around in the ashtray and
find me a good long butt."
     The ashtray did have a lot of long butts.
     'They all have lipstick on them," said I.
     "That's all right; it's my lipstick. What's your name?"
     "Ivan."
     She snapped a lighter and lit up.
     "And mine is Ilina. Are you  a  foreigner,  too?  All  you
foreigners seem so wide. What are you doing here?"'
     "Waiting for Rimeyer."
     "I  don't  mean  that!  What  brought  you  here,  are you
escaping from your wife?"
     "I am not married," I said quietly. "I  came  to  write  a
book."
     "A book? Some friends this Rimeyer has. He came to write a
book.  Sex  Problems  of  Impotent Sportsmen. How's your
situation with the sex problem?"
     "It is not a problem to me," I said mildly. "And how about
you?"
     She lowered her legs from the table.
     "That's a no-no. Take it slow. This isn't Paris, you know.
All in good time. Anyway, you should have  your  locks  cut  --
sitting there like a perch."
     "Like  a  who?"  I  was  very  patient  as  I  had another
forty-five minutes to wait.
     "Like a perch. You know the type." She made vague  motions
around her ears.
     "I  don't know about that," I said. "I don't know anything
yet as I have  just  arrived.  Tell  me  about  it,  it  sounds
interesting."
     "Oh no! Not I! We don't chatter. Our bit is a small one --
serve, clean up, flash your teeth, and keep quiet. Professional
secret. Have you heard of such an animal?"
     "I've heard," I said. "But who's 'we' -- an association of
doctors?
     For some reason, she thought this was hilarious.
     "Doctors!  Imagine  that."  She  laughed. "Well, wise guy,
you're all right -- quite a tongue. We have  one  in  the  once
like  you.  One  word,  and  we're  all  rolling in the aisles.
Whenever we cater to the Fishers, he always gets the job,  they
like a good laugh."
     "Who doesn't?" said I.
     "Well, you are wrong. The Intels, for instance, chased him
out. 'Take  the  fool  away,' they said. Or also recently those
pregnant males."
     "Who?"'
     "The sad ones. Well, I can  see  you  don't  understand  a
thing. Where in heaven's name did you come from?"
     "From Vienna."
     "So -- don't you have the sad ones in Vienna?"
     "You couldn't imagine what we don't have in Vienna."
     "Could be you don't even have irregular meetings?"
     "No,  we  don't  have  them. All our meetings are regular,
like a bus schedule."
     She was having a good time.
     "Perhaps you don't have waitresses either?"
     "Waitresses we do have, and you can  find  some  excellent
examples. Are you a waitress then?"
     She jumped up abruptly.
     "That  won't  do  at all," she cried. "I've had enough sad
ones for today. Now you're going to have a loving cup  with  me
like a good fellow...." She began to search furiously among the
bottles  by  the window. "Damn him, they're all empty! Could be
you're a teetotaler? Aha, here's a little vermouth.  You  drink
that, or shall we order whiskey?"
     "Let's begin with the vermouth," said I.
     She  banged  the  bottle on the table and took two glasses
from the window sill.
     "Have to wash them. Hold on a minute, everything's full of
garbage." She went into the bathroom  and  continued  to  speak
from  there.  "If  you  turned out to be a teetotaler on top of
everything else. I don't know what I would do with you.... What
a pigsty he's got in his bathroom -- I love it! Where  are  you
staying? Here too?"
     "No, in town," I replied. "On Second Waterway."
     She came back with the glasses.
     "Straight or with water?"
     "Straight, I guess."
     "All  foreigners  take  it  straight.  But we have it with
water for some reason." She sat on my armchair and put her arms
around my shoulders. We drank and kissed without  any  feeling.
Her  lips  were  heavily lipsticked, and her eyelids were heavy
from lack of  sleep  and  fatigue.  She  put  down  her  glass,
searched  out  another butt in the ashtray, and returned to the
hassock.
     "Where is that Rimeyer?" she said. "After  all,  how  long
can you wait for him? Have you known him a long time?"
     "No, not very."
     "I  think  maybe he is a louse," she said with sudden ire.
"He's dug everything out of me, and now he plays hard  to  get.
He doesn't open his door, the animal, and you can't get through
to him by phone. Say, he wouldn't be a spy, would he?"
     "What do you mean, a spy?"
     "Oh,  there's  loads  of them.... From the Association for
Sobriety and Morality.... The Connoisseurs and  Appraisers  are
also a bad lot...."
     "No, Rimeyer is a decent sort," I said with some effort.
     "Decent...  you  are all decent. In the beginning, Rimeyer
too was decent, so good-natured and full of fun... and  now  he
looks at you like a croc."
     "Poor fellow," I said. "He must have remembered his family
and become ashamed of himself."
     "He doesn't have a family. Anyway, the heck with him! Have
another drink?"
     We  had another drink. She lay down and put her hands over
her head. Finally she spoke.
     "Don't let it get to you. Spit on it! Wine we have  enough
of, we'll dance, go to the shivers. Tomorrow there's a football
game, we'll bet on the Bulls."
     "I  am not letting it get to me. If you want to bet on the
Bulls, we'd bet on the Bulls."
     "Oh those Bulls! They are some boys! I  could  watch  them
forever, arms like iron, snuggling up against them is just like
snuggling against a tree trunk, really!"
     There was a knock on the door.
     "Come in!" yelled Ilina.
     A  man  entered and stopped at once. He was tall and bony,
of middle age, with a brush mustache and light protruding eyes.
     "I beg your pardon, I was looking for Rimeyer," he said.
     "Everyone here wants to see Rimeyer," said Ilina. "Have  a
chair and we'll all wait together."
     The  stranger  bowed  his  head and sat down by the table,
crossing his legs.
     Apparently he had  been  here  before.  He  did  not  look
around,  but  stared  at  the  wall  directly  in front of him.
However, perhaps he just was not a curious type. In  any  case,
it  was  clear  that neither I nor Ilina was of any interest to
him. This seemed unnatural to me, since I felt that such a pair
as myself and  Ilina  should  arouse  interest  in  any  normal
person.  Ilina  raised  up  on her elbow and scrutinized him in
detail.
     "I have seen you somewhere," she said.
     "Really?" said the stranger coldly.
     "What's your name?"
     "Oscar. I am Rimeyer's friend."
     "That's fine," said Ilina. She was obviously irritated  by
the  stranger's  indifference,  but  she kept herself in check.
"He's also a friend of Rimeyer." She stuck her  finger  at  me.
"You know each other?"
     "No," said. Oscar, continuing to look at the wall.
     "My  name is Ivan," said I. "And this is Rimeyer's friend,
Ilina. We just drank to our fraternal friendship."
     Oscar  glanced  indifferently  in  Ilina's  direction  and
nodded  his  head  politely. Ilina picked up the bottle without
taking her eyes off him.
     "There's still a little left here," she said.  "Would  you
like a drink, Oscar?"
     "No, thank you," he said, coldly.
     "To fraternal friendship!" said Ilina. "No? You don't want
to? Too bad!"
     She  splashed  some  wine  in my glass, poured the rest in
hers, and downed it at once.
     "Never in my life would I have thought that Rimeyer  could
have  friends  who  refuse  a  drink.  Still,  I  have seen you
somewhere before."
     Oscar shrugged his shoulders.
     "I doubt it," he said.
     Ilina was visibly becoming enraged.
     "Some sort of a fink," she said to me loudly. "Say  there,
Oscar, you wouldn't be an Intel?"
     "No."
     "What  do  you  mean, no?" said Ilina. "You're the one who
had a set-to with that  baldy  Leiz  at  the  Weasel,  broke  a
mirror, and had your face slapped by Mody."
     The stone visage of Oscar grew a shade pinker.
     "I  assure  you,"  he said courteously, "I am not an Intel
and have never in my life been in the Weasel."
     "Are you saying that I'm a liar?" said Ilina
     At this point I took the bottle off the table and  put  it
under my armchair, just in case.
     "I am a visitor," said Oscar. "A tourist."
     "When did you arrive?" I said to discharge the tension.
     "Very  recently,"  replied  Oscar. He continued to gaze at
the wall. Obviously here was a man with iron discipline.
     "Oh, oh!" said Ilina suddenly. "Now I remember! I  got  it
all mixed up."
     She  burst  out  laughing, "Of course you're no Intel! You
were at our office the day before last. You're the salesman who
offered our manager some junk like... 'Dugong' or 'Dupont..."
     "Devon," I prompted. "There is a repellent called Devon."
     Oscar smiled for the first time.
     "You are quite right, of course," he said. "But I am not a
salesman. I was only doing a favor for a relative."
     "That's different," said Ilina and jumped up. "You  should
have  said  so.  Ivan,  we  all  need  to  drink to a pledge of
friendship. I'll call... no, I'll go get it myself. You two can
have a talk, I'll be right back."
     She ran out of the room, banging the door.
     "A fun girl," said I.
     "Yes, extremely. You live here?"
     "No, I'm a traveler, too....  What  a  strange  idea  your
relative had!"
     "What do you have in mind?"
     "Who needs Devon in a resort town?"
     Oscar shrugged.
     "It's  hard  for me to judge; I'm no chemist. But you will
agree that it's hard for us to comprehend the  actions  of  our
fellow  men,  much less their fancies.... So Devon turns out to
be - What did you call it, a res...?"
     "Repellent," I said.
     "That would be for mosquitoes?"
     "Not so much for as against."
     "I can see you are quite well up on it," said Oscar.
     "I had occasion to use it."
     "Well, well."
     What the devil, thought I. What is he getting at?  He  was
no longer staring at the wall He was looking me straight in the
eyes  and smiling. But if he was going to say something, it was
already said.
     He got up.
     "I don't think I'll wait any longer," he  pronounced.  "It
looks like I'll have to drink another pledge. But I didn't come
here  to  drink,  I  came here to get well. Please tell Rimeyer
that I will call him again tonight. You won't forget?"
     "No," I said, "I won't forget. If I tell  him  that  Oscar
was in to see him, he will know whom I am talking about?"
     "Yes, of course. It's my real name."
     He   bowed,   and   walked   out  at  a  deliberate  pace,
ramrod-straight and somehow unnatural-looking. I dipped my hand
in the ashtray, found a  butt  without  lipstick,  and  inhaled
several  times. I didn't like the taste and put out the stub. I
didn't like Oscar, either. Nor Ilina. And especially Rimeyer --
I didn't like him at all. I pawed through the bottles, but they
were all empty.



     In the end I didn't wait long enough to see Rimeyer. Ilina
never came back. Finally I got tired of sitting in  the  smoky,
stale  atmosphere  of  the  room  and went down to the lobby. I
intended to have dinner  and  stopped  to  look  around  for  a
restaurant. A porter immediately materialized at my side.
     "At  your service," he murmured discreetly. "An auto? Bar?
Restaurant? Salon?"
     "What kind of salon?" I asked, my curiosity piqued.
     "A hair-styling  salon."  He  looked  at  my  hairdo  with
delicate   concern.   "Master  Gaoway  is  receiving  today.  I
recommend him most strenuously."
     I recollected that Ilina had called me a disheveled  perch
and said, "Well, all right."
     "Please follow me," said the porter.
     Crossing  the  lobby,  he  opened a wide low door and said
into the spacious interior, "Excuse  me,  Master,  you  have  a
client."
     "Come in," replied a quiet voice.
     I  entered.  The  salon  was  light  and  airy and smelled
pleasantly. Everything in it shone -- the chrome, the  mirrors,
the  antique  parquet  floor.  Shiny  half-domes  hung from the
ceiling on glistening rods. In the center stood  a  huge  white
barber  chair.  The  Master  was  advancing  to meet me. He had
penetrating immobile eyes, a hooked nose, and a gray Van  Dyke.
More than anything else he reminded me of a mature, experienced
surgeon.  I  greeted  him  with  some  timidity, He nodded and,
surveying me from head to foot, began to circle  around  me.  I
began to feel uncomfortable.
     "I  would like you to bring me up to the current fashion,"
said I, trying not to let him out of my field of view.
     But he restrained  me  gently  by  my  sleeve  and.  stood
breathing  softly  behind my back for a few seconds. "No doubt!
No doubt at all", he murmured, then touched me  lightly  on  my
shoulder.  "Please," he said sternly, "take a few steps forward
-- five or six -- then turn abruptly to face me."
     I obeyed. He regarded me pensively, pulling on his  beard.
I thought he was hesitating.
     "On the other hand," he said, "sit down."
     "Where?" I said.
     "In the chair, in the chair."
     I  lowered  myself  into  its  softness  and  watched  him
approach me slowly. His intelligent face was suddenly  suffused
with a look of profound chagrin.
     "But  how  is  such  a  thing  possible?"  he  said. "It's
absolutely awful."
     I couldn't find anything to say.
     "Gross disharmony," he muttered. "Repulsive... repulsive."
     "Is it really that bad?" I asked.
     "I don't understand why you came to me," he  said,  "since
you obviously don't place any value at all on your appearance."
     "I am beginning to, from this day on," I said.
     He waved his hand.
     "Never  mind...  I  will work on you, but..." He shook his
head, turned impulsively, and went to a high table covered with
shiny devices. The back of the chair depressed smoothly, and  I
found  myself  in  a  half-reclining position. A big hemisphere
descended  toward  me  from  above,  radiating  warmth,   while
hundreds  of  tiny  needles  seemed to sink into the nape of my
neck, eliciting a strange combination of simultaneous pain  and
pleasure.
     "Is it gone yet?" he asked.
     The sensation abated.
     "It's gone," I said.
     "Your  skin  is  good,"  growled the Master with a certain
satisfaction.
     He returned  with  an  assortment  of  the  most  unlikely
instruments and proceeded to palpate my cheeks.
     "And  still  Mirosa  married  him,"  he  said suddenly. "I
expected anything and everything, except that. After  all  that
Levant  had done for her. Do you remember that moment when they
were both weeping over the  dying  Pina?  You  could  have  bet
anything that they would be together forever. And now, imagine,
she is being wed to that literary fellow."
     I  have  a  rule:  to pick up and sustain any conversation
that comes along. When you don't know what it's all about, this
can even be interesting.
     "Not for long," I said with assurance. "Literary types are
very inconstant, I can assure you, being one myself."
     For a moment his hands paused on my temples.
     "That didn't enter my head,"  he  admitted.  "Still,  it's
wedlock,  even  though  only a civil one.... I must remember to
call my wife. She was very upset."
     "I can sympathize with her," I said. "But  it  did  always
seem to me that Levant was in love with that... Pina."
     "In  love?"  exclaimed  the  Master, coming around from my
other side. "Of course he loved her! Madly! As only  a  lonely,
rejected-by-all man can love."
     "And so it was quite natural that after the death of Pina,
he sought consolation with her best friend."
     "Her  bosom  friend,  yes,"  said  the Master approvingly,
while tickling me behind the ear. "Mirosa adored Pina!  It's  a
very  accurate  term -- bosom friend! One senses a literary man
in you at once! And Pina, too, adored Mirosa."
     "But, you notice," I picked  up,  "that.  right  from  the
beginning  Pina  suspected  that  Mirosa  was  infatuated  with
Levant."
     "Well, of course! They are extremely sensitive about  such
things.  This  was  clear  to everyone -- my wife noticed it at
once. I recollect that she would nudge me with her  elbow  each
time  Pina  alighted on Mirosa's tousled head, and so coyly and
expectantly looked at Levant."
     This time I kept my peace.
     "In general, I am  profoundly  convinced,"  he  continued,
"that birds feel no less sensitively than people."
     Aha,  thought  I,  and  said, "I don't know about birds in
general, but Pina was a lot more sensitive than let's say  even
you or I."
     Something  bummed  briefly  over  my head, and there was a
soft clink of metal.
     "You speak like my wife,  word  for  word,"  observed  the
Master,  "so  you  most  probably must like Dan. I was overcome
when he was able  to  construct  a  bunkin  for  that  Japanese
noblewoman...  can't  think  of  her  name.  After all, not one
person believed Dan. The Japanese king, himself..."
     "I beg your pardon," I said. "A bunkin?"
     "Yes, of course, you are not a specialist.... You remember
that moment when the Japanese noblewoman comes out  of  prison.
Her  hair,  in  a high roller of blond hair, is ornamented with
precious combs..."
     "Aah," I guessed. "It's a coiffure."
     "Yes, it even became fashionable for  a  time  last  year.
Although a true bunkin could be made by a very few... even as a
real  chignon, by the way. And, of course, no one could believe
that Dan, with his  burned  hands  and  half-blind  ..  Do  you
remember how he was blinded?"
     "It was overpowering," I said.
     "Oh  yes,  Dan was a true Master. To make a bunkin without
electro-preparation, without biodevelopment... You know, I just
had  a  thought,"  he  continued,  and  there  was  a  note  of
excitement  in his voice. "It just struck me that Mirosa, after
she parts with that literary guy,  should  marry  Dan  and  not
Levant.  She  will  be  wheeling  him out on the veranda in his
chair, and they will be listening to the  singing  nightingales
in the moonlight -- the two of them together."
     "And crying quietly out of sheer happiness," I said.
     "Yes,"  the voice of the Master broke, "that would be only
right. Otherwise I just don't know, I  just  don't  understand,
what  all  our struggles are for. No... we must insist. I'll go
to the union this very day...."
     I kept quiet, again. The Master was breathing uneasily  by
my ear.
     "Let them go and shave at the automates," he said suddenly
in a vengeful  tone,  "let them look like plucked geese. We let
them have a taste once before of what it's like; now we'll  see
how they appreciate it."
     "I  am  afraid it won't be simple," I said cautiously, not
-- having the vaguest idea of what this was about.
     "We Masters are used to the complicated. It's not all that
simple -- when a fat and sweaty stuffed shirt comes to you, and
you have to make a human being out of him, or at the very best,
something which under normal circumstances does not differ  too
much  from  a  human being... is that simple? Remember what Dan
said: 'Woman gives birth to a human being once in nine  months,
but  we  Masters  have  to  do  it  every  day.'  Aren't  those
magnificent words?"
     "Dan was talking about barbers?" I said, just in case.
     "Dan was talking about Masters. 'The beauty of  the  world
rests  on  our  shoulders,'  he  would  say.  And again, do you
remember: 'In order to make a man out of an ape, Darwin had  to
be an excellent Master.'"
     I decided to capitulate and confess.
     "This I don't remember."
     "How long have you been watching 'Rose of the Salon'?"
     "Well, I have arrived just recently."
     "Aah,  then you have missed a lot. My wife and I have been
watching the program for seven years, every Tuesday. We  missed
only  one  show; I had an attack and lost consciousness. But in
the whole town there is only one man who hasn't missed even one
show -- Master Mille at the Central Salon."
     He moved off a few paces, turned various colored lights on
and off, and resumed his work.
     "The seventh year," he  repeated.  "And  now  --  can  you
imagine  -- the year before last they kill off Mirosa and throw
Levant into a Japanese prison for life, while Dan is burned  at
the stake. Can you visualize that?"
     "It's  impossible,"  I  said. "Dan? At the stake? Although
it's true that they burned Bruno at the stake, too."
     "It's possible," he said with impatience. "In any case, it
became clear to us that they want to fold up the program  fast.
But  we  didn't  put  up  with  that.  We declared a strike and
struggled for three weeks. Mille  and  I  picketed  the  barber
automates.  And  let  me  tell  you  that  quite  a  lot of the
townspeople sympathized with us."
     "I should think so," I said. "And what happened?  Did  you
win?
     "As you see. They grasped very well what was involved, and
now the  TV  center knows with whom they are dealing. We didn't
give one step, and if need be, we won't. Anyway we can rest  on
Tuesdays now just like in the old days -- for real."
     "And the other days?"
     "The  other days we wait for Tuesday and try to guess what
is awaiting us and what you literary fellows will do for us. We
guess and make bets -- although  we  Masters  don't  have  much
leisure."
     "You have a large clientele?"
     "No, that's not it. I mean homework. It's not difficult to
become  a Master, it's difficult to remain one. There is a mass
of literature, lots of new methods, new applications,  and  you
have  to  keep  up  with  it  all  and  constantly  experiment,
investigate and keep track of allied fields -- bionics, plastic
medicine, organic  medicine.  And  with  time,  you  accumulate
experience,  and  you  get the urge to share your knowledge. So
Mille and I are writing our second book, and practically  every
month,  we  have  to  update the manuscript. Everything becomes
obsolete right before your eyes. I am now completing a treatise
on a little-known  characteristic  of  the  naturally  straight
nonplastic  hair;  and do you know I have practically no chance
of being the first? In our  country  alone,  I  know  of  three
Masters who are occupied with the same subject. It's only to be
expected  --  the  naturally straight nonplastic hair is a real
problem.     It's     considered     to      be      absolutely
nonaestheticizable....  However, this may not be of interest to
you? You are a writer?"
     "Yes," I said.
     "Well, you know, during the strike, I had a chance to  run
through a novel. That would not be yours, by any chance?"
     "I don't know," I said, "What was it about?"
     "Well,  I  couldn't  say  exactly....  Son  quarrels  with
father. He has a friend, an unpleasant fellow  with  a  strange
name. He occupies himself by cutting up frogs."
     "Can't remember," I lied -- poor Ivan Sergeyevitch.
     "I  can't remember either. It was some sort of nonsense. I
have a son, but  he  never  quarrels  with  me,  and  he  never
tortures animals -- except perhaps when he was a child"
     He  backed  away  again and made a slow circuit around me.
His eyes were burning; he seemed to be very pleased.
     "It looks as though we can stop here," he said.
     I got out of  the  chair.  "Not  bad.  Not  bad  at  all,"
murmured  the  Master.  I  approached  the mirror. He turned on
spotlights, which illuminated me from all sides so  that  there
were no shadows on my face.
     In  the  first  instant  I did not notice anything unusual
about myself. It was my usual self. Then I felt that it was not
I at all. That it was something much better than I. A whole lot
better.  Better  looking  than  I.  More  benevolent  than   I.
Appreciably  more  significant than I. I experienced a sense of
shame, as though I were deliberately passing myself  off  as  a
man to whom I couldn't hold a candle.
     "How did you do this thing?" I said in a strangled tone.
     "It's nothing," said the Master, smiling in a very special
way. "You  turned  out to be a fairly easy client, albeit quite
neglected."
     I stood before the mirror like Narcissus and couldn't tear
myself away. Suddenly, I felt awed. The Master was a  magician,
and an evil one at that, although he probably didn't realize it
himself.  The  mirror reflected an extremely attractive lie. An
intelligent, good-looking, monumental vapidity.  Well,  perhaps
not  a  total  vacuum,  for after all I didn't have that low an
opinion of myself. But the contrast was too great.  All  of  my
inner  world,  everything  I valued in myself -- all that could
just as well have not existed.  It  was  no  longer  needed.  I
looked at the Master. He was smiling.
     "You have many clients?" I asked.
     He  did  not  grasp  my  meaning,  but after all, I didn't
really want him to understand me.
     "Don't worry," he replied, "I'll always work on  you  with
pleasure. The rawest material is the most intriguing."
     "Thank you," said I, lowering my eyes so as not to see his
smile. "Thank you. Goodbye."
     "Just  don't forget to pay," he said placidly. "We Masters
value our work very highly."
     "Yes, of course," I caught myself. "Naturally. How much do
I owe you?"
     He stated how much I owed.
     'What?" said I regaining my equilibrium.
     He repeated with satisfaction.
     "Madness", I said forthrightly.
     "Such is the price of beauty,"  he  explained.  "You  came
here as an ordinary tourist, and you are leaving a king of this
domain."
     "An  impersonator  is  what  I am leaving as," I muttered,
extracting the money.
     "No, no, not that bad!" he said  confidentially.  "Even  I
don't  know that for sure. And even you are not convinced of it
entirely.... Two more dollars, please. Thank you.  Here  is  50
pfennigs change. You don't mind pfennigs?"
     I  had nothing against pfennigs. I wanted to leave as fast
as possible.
     I stood in the lobby for a while, becoming  myself  again,
and  gazing  at  the  metallic figure of Vladimir Sergeyevitch.
After all, all this is not new. After all, millions  of  people
are  not what they pass themselves for. But the damnable barber
had made me over into an empiriocritic. Reality was masked with
gorgeous hieroglyphics. I no longer believed what I saw in this
city. The plaza covered with  stereo-plastic  was  probably  in
reality not beautiful at all. Under the elegant contours of the
autos  lurked  ominous  and  ugly  shapes.  And  that beautiful
charming woman is no  doubt  in  fact  a  repulsive  malodorous
hyena,  a  promiscuous  dull-witted  sow.  I closed my eyes and
shook my head. The old devil!
     Two meticulously groomed oldsters stopped nearby and began
to debate  heatedly  the  relative  merits  of  baked  pheasant
compared  with  pheasant  broiled  with  feathers. They argued,
drooling saliva, smacking  their  lips  and  choking,  snapping
their  bony  fingers  under each other's noses. No Master could
help these two. They were Masters themselves and they  made  no
bones  about  it.  At  any  rate,  they restored my materialist
viewpoint. I went to a porter and inquired about a restaurant.
     "Right in front of you," said he and smiled at the arguing
oldsters. "Any cuisine in the world."
     I could have mistaken the entrance to the  restaurant  for
the  gates  to  a  botanical  garden.  I  entered,  parting the
branches of exotic trees, stepping alternately  on  soft  grass
and  coral  flagstones. Unseen birds twittered in the luxuriant
greenery, and the discreet clatter of utensils was  mixed  with
the  sound  of  conversation  and  laughter. A golden bird flew
right in front of my nose, barely able to carry the load  of  a
caviar tartine in its beak.
     "I am at your service," said the deep velvety voice.
     An  imposing giant of a man with epaulettes stepped toward
me cut of a thicket.
     "Dinner," I said curtly. I don't like maitres-d'hotel.
     "Dinner," he said  significantly.  "In  company?  Separate
table?"'
     "Separate table. On second thought..."
     A notebook instantaneously appeared in his hand.
     "A man of your age would be welcome at the table of
     Mrs. and Miss Hamilton-Rey."
     "Go on," I said.
     "Father Geoffrois..."
     "I would prefer an aborigine."
     He turned the page.
     "Opir,  doctor of philosophy, just now has sat down at his
table."
     "That's a possibility," said I.
     He put away the book and led me along a  path  paved  with
limestone  slabs. Somewhere around us there were people eating,
talking,   swishing   seltzer.   Hummingbirds    darted    like
multicolored  bees  in  the leaves. The maitre-d'hotel inquired
respectfully, "How would you like to be introduced?"
     "Ivan. Tourist and litterateur."
     Doctor Opir was about fifty. I liked him at  once  because
he immediately and without any ceremony sent the maitre-d'hotel
packing  after  a  waiter. He was pink and plump, and moved and
talked incessantly.
     "Don't trouble yourself," he said when I reached. for  the
menu.  "It's  all set already. Vodka, anchovies under egg -- we
call them pacifunties -- potato soup..."
     "With sour cream," I interjected.
     "Of course!... steamed sturgeon a la Astrakhan... a  patty
of veal..."
     "I would prefer pheasant baked in feathers."
     "No  -- don't; it's not the season... a slice of beef, eel
in sweet marinade."
     "Coffee," I said.
     "Cognac," he retorted.
     "Coffee with cognac."
     "All right, cognac and coffee with cognac. Some pale  wine
with the fish and a good natural cigar."
     Dinner  with  Doctor Opir turned out to be most congenial.
It was possible to eat, drink, and listen. Or  not  to  listen.
Doctor  Opir  did  not  need  a  conversation.  He  required  a
listener. I did not have  to  participate  in  the  talking,  I
didn't  even  supply  any  commentaries,  while  he orated with
enthusiastic delight, almost without interruption,  waving  his
fork, while plates and dishes nonetheless became empty in front
of him with mystifying speed. Never in my life have I met a man
who was so skilled in conversation while his mouth was so fully
packed and so busy masticating.
     "Science!  Her  Majesty!"  he exclaimed. "She matured long
and painfully, but her fruits turned out  to  be  abundant  and
sweet. Stop, Moment, you are beautiful! Hundreds of generations
were  born,  suffered,  and  died,  and not one was impelled to
pronounce this incantation. We  are  singularly  fortunate.  We
were  born  in  the  greatest  of  epochs,  the  Epoch  of  the
Satisfaction  of  Desires.  It  may  be  that   not   everybody
understands  this  as yet, but ninety-nine percent of my fellow
citizens are already living in a world where, for all practical
purposes, a man can have all he can think of. O,  Science!  You
have  finally  freed  mankind.  You  have  given  us  and  will
henceforth provide for us everything -- food -- wonderful  food
-- clothing  of  the  best  quality and in any quantity, and to
suit any taste! -- shelter -- magnificent shelter.  Love,  joy,
satisfaction,  and  for  those  desiring  it, for those who are
fatigued by happiness --  tears,  sweet  tears,  little  saving
sorrows,  pleasant consoling worries which lend us significance
in our own eyes.... Yes, we philosophers have maligned  science
long  and  angrily.  We  called  forth  Luddites,  to  break up
machines, we cursed Einstein, who changed our  whole  universe,
we  vilified Wiener, who impugned our godlike essence. Well, so
we really lost that godlike substance. Science robbed us of it.
But in return! In return,  it  launched  men  to  the  feasting
tables  of Olympus. Aha! Here is the potato soup, that heavenly
porridge. No, no, do as I do... take this  spoon,  a  touch  of
vinegar...  a  dash of pepper... with the other spoon, this one
here, dip some sour cream and... no, no... gently,  gently  mix
it.... This too is a science, one of the most ancient, older in
any  cue  than  the  ubiquitous synthetic.... By the way, don't
fail to visit  our  synthesizers,  Amalthea's  Horn,  Inc.  You
wouldn't  be  a  chemist?  Oh  yes,  you are a litterateur! You
should write about it,  the  greatest  mystery  of  our  times,
beefsteaks  out of thin air, asparagus from clay, truffles from
sawdust.... What a pity that Malthus is dead'! The whole  world
would be laughing at him! Of course, he had certain reasons for
his  pessimism.  I am prepared to agree with those who consider
him a genius. But he was too ill-informed, he completely missed
the possibilities in the natural sciences. He was one of  those
unlucky  geniuses  who  discover  laws  of  social  development
precisely at that moment when these laws cease to operate. I am
genuinely sorry for him. The whole of humanity was but billions
of hungrily gaping mouths to him. He must have lost sleep  from
the  sheer horror of it. It is a truly monstrous nightmare -- a
billion gaping maws and not one head. I  turned  back  and  see
with  bitterness  how blind they were, the shakers of souls and
the masters of the minds of the recent  past.  Their  awareness
was dimmed by unbroken horror. Social Darwinists! They saw only
the  press  of the struggle for survival: mobs of hunger-crazed
people, tearing each other to pieces for a place in the sun, as
though there was only that one single place, as though the  sun
wasn't  sufficient  for  all!  And  Nietzsche...  maybe  he was
suitable for the hungry slaves of the Pharaohs' times, with his
ominous sermons about the master race, with his supermen beyond
good and evil... who needs to be beyond now? It's not so bad on
this side, don't you suppose? There were, of course,  Marx  and
Freud.  Marx,  for example, was the first to understand that it
all depended on  economics.  He  understood  that  to  rip  the
economics   out   of   the  hands  of  greedy  nincompoops  and
fetishists, to make  it  part  of  the  state,  to  develop  it
limitlessly,  was  the  very  way  to  lay the foundations of a
Golden Age. And Freud showed us for what, after all, we  needed
this  Golden  Age.  Recollect  the  source of all human misery.
Unsatisfied instincts, unrequited love, and unsated  hunger  --
isn't  that  right?  But  here  comes Her Majesty, Science, and
presents us with satisfactions. And how rapidly  all  this  has
come  to  pass! The names of gloomy prognosticators are not yet
forgotten, and already... How do you like the  sturgeon?  I  am
under  the  impression  that the sauce is synthetic. Do you see
the pinkish tint? Yes, it is  synthetic.  In  a  restaurant  we
should  be  able  to  expect  natural  sauce. Waiter! On second
thought -- the devil take it, let's not be so finicky.  Go  on,
go  on...  Now what was I saying? Yes! Love and hunger. Satisfy
love and hunger, and you'll see a happy man. On  condition,  of
course,  that  your  man  is secure about the next day. All the
utopias  of  all  times  are  based   on   this   simplest   of
considerations.  Free  a man of the worry about his daily bread
and about the morrow, and he will become truly free and  happy.
I  am  deeply  convinced  that  children,  yes,  precisely  the
children, are man's ideal. I see the most profound  meaning  in
the  remarkable similarity between a child and the carefree man
who is the object of utopia. Carefree means happy -- and we are
so close to that ideal! Another few decades, or  maybe  just  a
few  more  years,  and  we will attain the automated plenty, we
will discard science as a healed man discards his crutches, and
the whole of mankind will  become  one  huge  happy  family  of
children.  The  adults  will be distinguished from the children
only by their ability to love, and  this  ability  will,  again
with  the  help  of  science,  become  the  source  of  new and
unheard-of joys and pleasures.... Excuse me, what is your name?
Ivan? So, you must be  from  Russia.  Communist?  Aha...  well,
everything  is  different  there  I  know....  And  here is the
coffee! Mm, not bad. But where is the cognac? Well, thank  you!
By  the way, I hear that the Great Wine Taster has retired. The
most grandiose  scandal  befell  at  the  Brussels  contest  of
cognacs,  which  was  suppressed  only  with  the  greatest  of
difficulties. The Grand Prix is awarded to  the  White  Centaur
brand.   The   jury  is  delighted!  It  is  something  totally
unprecedented! Such a phenomenal  extravaganza  of  sensations!
The  declaratory  packet  is  opened,  and,  oh horrors, it's a
synthetic! The Great Wine Taster turned as white as a sheet  of
paper  and was physically ill. By the way, I had an opportunity
to try this cognac, and it's really superb,  but  they  run  it
from  crude  and  it  doesn't  even  have  a  proper name. H ex
eighteen naphtha fraction  and  it's  cheaper  than  hydrolyzed
alcohol....  Have a cigar. Nonsense, what do you mean you don't
smoke? It's not right not to have a cigar after a  dinner  like
this....  I  love  this  restaurant.  Every time I come here to
lecture at the university, I dine at the  Olympic.  And  before
returning, I invariably visit the Tavern. True, they don't have
the greenery, nor the tropical birds, and it's a bit stuffy and
warm  and  smells of smoke, but they have a genuine, inimitable
cuisine. The Assiduous Tasters gather nowhere but there  --  at
the  Gourmet.  In  that place you do nothing but eat. You can't
talk, you can't laugh, it's totally  nonsensical  to  go  there
with a woman -- you only eat there! Slowly, thoughtfully..."
     Doctor  Opir  finally  ran down, leaned back in his chair,
and inhaled deeply with total enjoyment. I sucked on the mighty
cigar and contemplated the man. I had  him  well  pegged,  this
doctor  of  philosophy. Always and in all times there have been
such men, absolutely pleased with their  situation  in  society
and  therefore  absolutely satisfied with the condition of that
society. A marvelously well-geared tongue  and  a  lively  pen,
magnificent  teeth  and  faultless innards, and a well-employed
sexual apparatus.
     "And so the world is beautiful, Doctor?"
     "Yes," said  the  doctor  with  feeling,  "it  is  finally
beautiful."
     "You are a gigantic optimist," said I.
     "Our  time  is the time of optimists. Pessimists go to the
Good Mood Salon, void the gall  from  their  subconscious,  and
become  optimists.  The  time of pessimists has passed, just as
the time of tuberculars, of sexual maniacs, and of the military
has passed. Pessimism, as an  intellectual  emotion,  is  being
extirpated  by  that self-same science. And that not indirectly
through the creation of affluence, but  concretely  by  way  of
invasion  of  the  dark  world of the subcortex. Let's take the
dream generator, currently the most popular  diversion  of  the
masses.  It  is  completely harmless, unusually well adopted to
general use,  and  is  structurally  simple.  Or  consider  the
neurostimulators...."
     I attempted to steer him into the desired channel.
     "Doesn't   it   seem  to  you  that  right  there  in  the
pharmaceutical field science is overdoing it a bit sometimes?"
     Doctor Opir smiled  condescendingly  and  sniffed  at  his
cigar.
     "Science  has  always  moved  by trial and error," he said
weightily. "And I am inclined to  believe  that  the  so-called
errors  are  always  the  result  of  criminal  application. We
haven't yet entered the Golden Age, we are just in the  process
of  doing  so,  and all kinds of throwbacks, mobsters, and just
plain dirt are under foot. So all kinds of drugs  are  put  out
which  are  health-destroying,  but  which  are created, as you
know, from the best of motives; all kinds of aromatics  ...  or
this...  well,  that  doesn't  suit  a dinner conversation." He
cackled suddenly and obscenely "You can guess my meaning --  we
are  mature  people!  What  was  I  saying?  Oh  yes,  all this
shouldn't disturb you. It will pass just like the atom bombs."
     "I only wanted to emphasize," I remarked, "that  there  is
still the problem of alcoholism, and the problem of narcotics."
     Doctor  Opir's  interest  in  the conversation was visibly
ebbing. Apparently he imagined that  I  challenged  his  thesis
that  science  is  a boon. To conduct an argument on this basis
naturally bored him, as  though,  for  instance,  he  had  been
affirming  the  salubriousness  of  ocean  swimming  and  I was
contradicting him on the basis that I had almost  drowned  last
year.
     "Well,  of  course..." he mumbled, studying his watch, "we
can't have it all at once.... You must admit, after  all,  that
it is the basic trend which is the most important.... Waiter!"
     Doctor  Opir  had  eaten  well, had a good conversation --
professing progressive philosophy -- felt well-satisfied, and I
decided not to press the matter, especially as I really  didn't
give  a  hang  about  his  progressive philosophy, while in the
matters which interested me the most, he probably would not  be
concretely informed at all in the final analysis.
     We paid up and went out of the restaurant. I inquired, "Do
you ]mow,  Doctor,  whose  monument  that is? Over there on the
plaza."
     Doctor Opir gazed absent-mindedly. "Sure  enough,  it's  a
monument," he said. "Somehow I overlooked it before.... Shall I
drop you somewhere?"
     "Thank you, I prefer to walk."
     "In  that case, goodbye. It was a pleasure to meet you....
Of course it's hard to expect to convince  you."  He  grimaced,
shifting  a  toothpick  around  his  mouth.  "But  it  would be
interesting to try. Perhaps you will attend my lecture? I begin
tomorrow at ten."
     "Thank you," I said. "What is your topic?"
     "Neo-optimist Philosophy. I will be sure to touch  upon  a
series of questions which we have so pithily discussed today."
     "Thank you," I said again. "Most assuredly."
     I  watched as he went to his long automobile, collapsed in
the seat, puttered with  the  auto-driver  control,  fell  back
against  the seat back, and apparently dozed off instantly. The
car began to roll cautiously across the plaza  and  disappeared
in the shade and greenery of a side street.
     Neo-optimism...      Neo-hedonism...      Neo-cretinism...
Neo-capitalism... "No evil without good," said the fox.  So,  I
have  landed in the Country of the Boobs. It should he recorded
that the ratio of congenital fools does not vary as a  function
of  time.  It  should  be  interesting  to  determine  what  is
happening to the percentage of fools by conviction. Curious  --
who  assigned  the  title  of Doctor to him? He is not the only
one! There  must  have  been  a  whole  flock  of  doctors  who
ceremoniously granted that title to Neo-optimist Opir. However,
this occurs not only among philosophers.
     I saw Rimeyer come into the hall and forgot Doctor Opir at
once.  The  suit  hung on Rimeyer like a sack. Rimeyer stooped,
and his face was flabby. I thought he wavered in his  walk.  He
approached the elevator and I caught him by the sleeve there.
     He jumped violently and turned on me.
     "What in hell?" he said. He was clearly unhappy to see me.
     "Why are you still here?"
     "I waited for you."
     "Didn't I tell you to come tomorrow at noon?"
     "What's the difference?" I said. "Why waste time?"
     He looked at me, breathing laboriously.
     "I am expected. A man is waiting for me in my room, and he
must not see you with me. Do you understand?"
     "Don't shout," I said. "People are noticing."
     Rimeyer glanced sideways with watery eyes.
     "Go in the elevator," he said.
     We  entered  and  he  pressed the button for the fifteenth
floor.
     "Get on with your business quickly," he said.
     The  order  was  startlingly  stupid,  so   that   I   was
momentarily disoriented.
     "You mean to say that you don't know why I am here?"
     He rubbed his forehead, and then said, "Hell, everything's
mixed up.... Listen, I forgot, what is your name?"
     "Zhilin."
     "Listen, Zhilin, I have nothing new for you. I didn't have
time to  attend  to  that  business.  It's  all a dream, do you
understand? Matia's inventions. They sit there, writing papers,
and invent. They should all be pitched the hell out."
     We arrived at the  fifteenth  floor  and  he  pressed  the
button for the first.
     "Devil  take  it,"  he  said. "Five more minutes and he'll
leave.... In general I am convinced  of  one  thing,  there  is
nothing  to it. Not in this town, in any case." He looked at me
surreptitiously, and turned his eyes away. "Here is something I
can tell you. Look in at the Fishers. Just like that, to  clear
your conscience."
     "The Fishers? What Fishers?"
     "You'll  find out for yourself," he said impatiently. "But
don't get tricky with them. Do everything they ask."  Then,  as
though   defending   himself,  he  added,  "I  don't  want  any
preconceptions, you understand."
     The elevator stopped at the first floor  and  he  signaled
for the ninth.
     "That's it," he said. "Then we'll meet and talk in detail.
Let's say tomorrow at noon."
     "All  right,"  I said slowly. He obviously did not want to
talk to me. Maybe he didn't trust me. Well, it happens!
     "By the way," I said, "you have been visited by a  certain
Oscar."
     It seemed to me that he started.
     "Did he see you?"
     "Naturally.  He  asked  me  to  tell  you  that he will be
calling tonight."
     "That's bad, devil take  it,  bad...."  muttered  Rimeyer.
"Listen... damn, what is your name?"
     "Zhilin."
     The elevator stopped.
     "Listen,  Zhilin,  it's  very bad that he has seen you....
However, what the hell is the difference. I must  go  now."  Re
opened  the  elevator  door,  "Tomorrow  we'll have a real good
talk, okay? Tomorrow... and you look in on the Fishers. Is that
a deal?"
     He slammed the door with all his strength.
     "Where will I look for them?" I asked.
     I stood awhile, looking after him. He was almost  running,
receding down the corridor with erratic steps.



     I  walked  slowly,  keeping to the shade of the trees. Now
and then a car rolled by. One of these stopped and  the  driver
threw  open  the door, leaned out, and vomited on the pavement.
He cursed weakly, wiped his mouth with his  palm,  slammed  the
door,  and  drove  off.  He was on the elderly side, red-faced,
wearing a loud shirt with nothing under it.
     Rimeyer  apparently  had  turned  into  a  drunkard.  This
happens  fairly  often:  a  man  tries  hard,  works  hard,  is
considered a valuable contributor, he is listened to  and  made
out as a model, but just when he is needed for a concrete task,
it  suddenly turns out that he has grown puffy and flabby, that
wenches are running in and out of his place, and that he smells
of vodka from early morning.... Your business does not interest
him, while at  the  same  time,  he  is  frightfully  busy,  is
constantly  meeting someone, talks confusingly and murkily, and
is of no help whatsoever. And then he turns up in the alcoholic
ward, or a mental clinic, or is involved in a legal process. Or
he gets married unexpectedly -- strangely and  ineptly  --  and
this  marriage  smells  strongly of blackmail. ... One can only
comment: "Physician, heal thyself."
     It would still be nice to hunt up Peck. Peck  is  hard  as
flint, honest, and he always knows everything. You haven't even
finished  the  rundown  on  the tech control, and haven't had a
chance to get off the ship, before he is buddy-buddy  with  the
cook,   is   already   fully   informed  and  involved  in  the
investigation of the  dispute  between  the  Commander  of  the
Pathfinders  and  the  chief  engineer,  who  didn't settle the
matter of some prize; the technicians are already  planning  an
evening  in  his honor, and the deputy director is listening to
his advice in a quiet corner... Priceless Peck! He was born  in
this city and has spent a third of his life here.
     I  found  a telephone booth, and rang information for Peck
Xenai's number and address. I was asked to wait. As usual,  the
booth  smelled  of  cats.  The  plastic  shelf was covered with
telephone numbers and obscene images. Someone had carved  quite
deeply,  as with a knife, the strange word "SLUG." I opened the
door,  to  lighten  the  string  atmosphere,  and  watched  the
opposite  shady  side  of  the  street, where a barman stood in
front of his establishment in a  white  jacket  with  rolled-up
sleeves, smoking a cigarette. Then I was told that according to
the  data  at the beginning of the year, Peck resided at No. 31
Liberty Street, number  11-331.  I  thanked  the  operator  and
dialed the number at once. A strange voice told me that I had a
wrong  number.  Yes,  the  number  was  correct, and so was the
address, but no Peck lived there, and if he  had,  they  didn't
know  when  he  left  or where he had gone. I hung up, left the
booth, and crossed the street to the shady side.
     Catching my eye, the barman came to  life  and  said  from
afar, "Come in, why don't you?"
     "Don't know that I'd like to," I said.
     "So  you won't be friendly, eh?" he said. "Come in anyway.
We'll have a talk. I feel bored."
     I stopped.
     "Tomorrow morning,"  I  said,  "at  ten  o'clock,  at  the
university, there will be a philosophy lecture on Neo-optimism.
It will be given by the renowned Doctor Opir from the capital.
     The  barman listened with avid interest -- he even stopped
inhaling.
     "How do you like that!" he said. "So  they  have  come  to
that!  The  day before yesterday, they chased all the girls out
of a night club, and now they'll be having lectures. We'll show
them lectures!"
     "It's about time," I said.
     "I  don't  let  them  in,"  he  continued,  getting   more
animated.  "I  have  a  sharp eye for them. A guy could be just
approaching the  door,  when  I  can  spot  him  for  an  Intel
'Fellows,'  I  say,  'an Intel is coming.' And the boys are all
well picked; Dodd himself is here every night  after  training.
So,  he  gets  up and meets this Intel at the door, and I don't
even know what goes on between  them,  but  be  passes  him  on
elsewhere.  Although  it's  true  that sometimes they travel in
bunches. In that case, so there wouldn't be a  to-do,  we  lock
the door -- let them knock. That's the right way, isn't it?"
     'That's  okay  by  me,"  I  said. I had had enough of him.
There are people who pall unusually quickly. "Let them."
     "What do you mean -- let them?"
     "Let them knock. In other words, knock on any door."
     The barman looked at me with growing alertness.
     "What say you move on," he said.
     "How about a quick one," I offered.
     "Move along, move along," he said. "You won't  get  served
here."
     We   looked   at  each  other  awhile,,  then  he  growled
something, backed up, and slid the glass door in front of him.
     "I am no Intel," I said. "I am  a  poor  tourist.  A  rich
one."
     He looked at me with his nose flattened against the glass.
I made  a  motion  as  though knocking a drink back. Re mumbled
something and went back into the darkness of  the  place  --  I
could see him wandering aimlessly among empty tables. The place
was called the Smile. I smiled and went on.
     Around  the  corner  was  a wide main thoroughfare. A huge
van, plastered with advertisements, was parked by the curb. Its
back was  swung  down  for  a  counter,  on  which  were  piled
mountains    of    cans,   bottles,   toys,   and   stacks   of
cellophane-wrapped clothing and underwear.  Two  teenage  girls
twittered  some  sort  of  nonsense  while  selecting  blouses.
"Pho-o-ny," squeaked one. The other, turning  the  blouse  this
way  and  that,  replied,  "Spangles,  spangles and not phony."
"Here by the neck  it  phonies."  "Spangles."  "Even  the  star
doesn't glimmer."
     The  driver of the van, a gaunt man with huge, horn-rimmed
dark glasses, sat on the step of the advertising  rotunda.  His
eyes  were  not  visible, but, judging by his relaxed mouth and
sweat-beaded nose, he was asleep. I approached the counter. The
girls stopped talking and stared at me with parted mouths. They
must have been about sixteen, and their eyes  were  vacant  and
blue, like those of young kittens.
     "Spangles," I said. "No phonying and lots of sparkle."
     "And around the neck?" asked the one who was trying on the
blouse.
     "Around the neck it's practically a masterpiece."
     "Spangles," said the other uncertainly.
     "OK,  let's  look  at  another  one,"  offered  the  first
peacefully. "This one here."
     "This one is better, the silvery one with the frame."
     I saw books. They were  magnificent  books.  There  was  a
Strogoff  with such illustrations as I had never even heard of.
There was  Change  of  Dream  with  an  introduction  by
Saroyan.  There  was a Walter Mintz in three volumes. There was
almost an entire Faulkner, The New  Politics  by  Weber,
Poles  of  Magnificence  by Ignatova, The Unpublished
Sian She-Cuey, History of Fascism in the "Memory  of
Mankind"  edition.  There were current magazines, and almanacs,
pocket Louvres, Hermitage, and Vatican. There  was  everything!
"It  phonies too but it has a frame." "Spangles." I grabbed the
Mintz. Holding the two volumes  under  my  arm,  I  opened  the
third. Never have I seen such a complete Mintz. There were even
the migr letters.
     "How much will that be?" I called.
     The  girls  gaped again; the driver sucked in his lips and
sat up.
     "What?" he said huskily.
     "Who is the owner here?" I said.
     He got up and came to me.
     "What would you like?"
     "I want this Mintz. How much is it?"
     The girls giggled.  He  stared  at  me  in  silence,  then
removed his glasses.
     "You are a foreigner?"
     "Yes, I am a tourist."
     "It's the most complete Mintz."
     "Of course, I can see that. I was stunned when I saw it."
     "Me too," he said, "when I saw what you were after."
     "He is a tourist," twittered one of the girls. "He doesn't
understand."
     "It's all free," said the driver. "Personal needs fund. To
take care of personal needs."
     I looked back at the bookshelf.
     "Did you see Change of Dream?" asked the driver.
     "Yes, thank you, I have it."
     "About Strogoff I will not even inquire."
     "How about the History of Fascism?"
     "An excellent edition."
     The  girls  giggled  again.  The  driver's  eyes popped in
sudden wrath.
     "Scram, snot faces," he barked.
     The girls jumped. One of them thievishly  grabbed  several
blouse packages. They ran across the street, where they stopped
and continued to gaze at us.
     "With frames!" said the driver. His thin lips twitched. "I
should drop this whole idea. Where do you live?"
     "On Second Waterway."
     "Aha, in the thick of the mire.... Let's go -- I will drop
you off.  I  have a complete Schedrin in the van, which I don't
even exhibit; I have the entire  classics  library;  the  whole
Golden Library, the complete Treasures of Philosophic Thought."
     "Including Doctor Opir's?"
     "Bitch  tripe,"  said  the driver. "Salacious bum! Amoeba!
Rut do you know Sliy?"
     "Not much," I said. "I don't like him.  Neo-individualism,
as Doctor Opir would say."
     "Doctor  Opir  stinks,"  said the driver. "While Sliy is a
real man. Of course, there is the individualism. But  at  least
he  says  what  he  thinks and does what he says. I'll get some
Sliy for you.... Listen, did you see this? And this!"
     He dug himself up to his elbows in books. He stroked  them
tenderly and his face shone with rapture.
     "And this," he kept on. "And how about this Cervantes?"
     An  oldish lady of imposing bearing approached and started
to pick over the canned goods.
     "You still don't have Danish pickles... didn't I  ask  you
to get some?"
     "Go to hell," said the driver absent-mindedly.
     The woman was stunned. Her face slowly turned crimson.
     "How dare you!" she hissed.
     The driver looked at her bullishly.
     "You heard what I said. Get out of here!"
     "Don't you dare!" said the woman. "What is your number?"
     "My    number   is   ninety-three,"   said   the   driver,
"Ninety-three -- is that clear enough? And I  spit  on  all  of
you. Is that clear? Any other questions?"
     "What  a  hooliganism!"  said  the woman with dignity. She
took two cans of delicacies,  scanned  the  counter,  and  with
great  precision,  ripped  the  cover off the Cosmic Man
magazine. "I'll remember you, number ninety-three! These aren't
the old times for you." She wrapped the two cans in the  cover.
"We'll see each other in the municipal court."
     I  took a firm hold on the driver's arm. His rigid muscles
gradually relaxed.
     "The nerve!" said she majestically and departed.
     She stepped  along  the  sidewalk,  proudly  carrying  her
handsome  head,  which  was  topped  with  a  high  cylindrical
coiffure. She stopped at the corner, opened one  of  the  cans,
and proceeded to pick out chunks with elegant fingers.
     I released the driver's arm.
     "They  ought  to  be shot," he said suddenly. "We ought to
strangle them instead of dispensing pretty books to  them."  He
turned  toward  me,  and  I  could  see his eyes were tortured.
"Shall I deliver your books?"
     "Well, no," I said. "Where will I put them?"
     "In that case, shove off," said the driver. "Did you  take
your Mintz? Then go and wrap your dirty pantaloons in it."
     He climbed up into the cab. Something clicked and the back
door began  to  rise.  You  could  hear everything crashing and
rolling inside the van. Several books and some  shiny  packets,
boxes,  and  cans  fell on the pavement. The rear panel had not
yet closed completely when the driver shut his door and the van
took off with a jerk.
     The girls had already disappeared. I stood  alone  on  the
empty  street  and  watched  the  wind lazily turn the pages of
History of Fascism at my feet. Later a gang of kids in  striped
shorts  came  around the corner. They walked by silently, hands
stuck in their pockets. One jumped down  on  the  pavement  and
began  to  kick  a can of pineapple, with a slick pretty cover,
like a football down the street.



     On the way home, I was overtaken by the change of  shifts.
The  streets  filled  up with cars. Controller copters appeared
over the intersections, and sweaty  police  cleared  constantly
threatening  jams  with  roaring  bull  horns.  The  cars moved
slowly, and the drivers stuck heads out of windows to light  up
from  each  other,  to  yell,  to talk and joke while furiously
blowing their horns. There was a instant  screech  of  clashing
bumpers.  Everyone  was  happy,  everyone was good-natured, and
everyone glowed with savage glee. It seemed as though  a  heavy
load  had  just  fallen  from  the  soul of the city, as though
everyone was seized with an enviable anticipation. Fingers were
pointed at me and the other pedestrians. Several  times  I  was
prodded  with bumpers while crossing -- the girls doing it with
the utmost good nature. One of  them  drove  alongside  me  for
quite   a  while,  and  we  got  acquainted.  Then  a  line  of
demonstrators  with  sober  faces  walked  by  on  the  median,
carrying  signs.  The  signs  appealed  to  people  to join the
amateur club ensemble Songs of the  Fatherland,  to  enter  the
municipal  Culinary  Art  groups,  and to sign up for condensed
courses in motherhood and childhood. The people with signs were
nudged by bumpers with special enthusiasm.  The  drivers  threw
cigarette  butts,  apple  cores,  and  paper wads at them. They
yelled such things as "I'll subscribe at once, just wait till I
put my galoshes on," or "Me,  I'm  sterile,"  or  "Say,  buddy,
teach  me  motherhood."  The  sign  carriers continued to march
slowly in between the two solid streams  of  cars,  unperturbed
and sacrificial, looking straight ahead with the sad dignity of
camels.
     Not far from my house, I was set upon by a flock of girls,
and when  I finally struggled through to Second Waterway, I had
a white aster in my lapel and drying kisses on my  cheeks,  and
it seemed I had met half the girls in town. What a barber! What
a Master!
     Vousi,  in  a  flaming  orange  blouse, was sitting in the
chair in my study. Her long legs in pointy shoes rested on  the
table,  while  her  slender fingers held a long slim cigarette.
With her head thrown back, she was  blowing  thick  streams  of
smoke at the ceiling, through her nose.
     "At long last!" she cried, seeing me. "Where have you been
all this time? As you can see, I've been waiting for you."
     "I've  been delayed," I said, trying to recollect if I had
indeed promised to meet her.
     Wipe off the lipstick," she  demanded.  "You  look  silly!
What's this? Books? What do you need books for?"
     "What do you mean by that?"
     "You  are  really  quite a problem! Comes back late, hangs
around with books. Or are those pornos?"
     "It's Mintz," I said.
     "Let me have them!" She jumped up and snatched  the  books
out  of  my  grasp.  "Good  God! What nonsense -- all three are
alike. What is it?  History  of  Fascism...  are  you  a
Fascist?"
     "How can you say that, Vousi!"
     "Then,  what do you need them for? Are you really going to
read them?"
     "Reread them."
     "I just don't understand," she said  peevishly.  "I  liked
you from the first. Mother says you're a writer, and I went and
bragged  to  everyone, like a fool, and then you turn out to be
the next thing to an Intel."
     "How could you, Vousi!" I said with reproach. By now I had
realized that it was impermissible to be taken  for  an  Intel.
"These  bookos  were  simply  needed  in  my literary business,
that's all."
     "Bookos!" she laughed. "Bookos! Look at what  I  can  do."
She threw back her head and blew two thick streams of smoke out
of  her  nostrils.  "I  got  it on the second try. Pretty good,
right?"
     "Remarkable aptitude," I remarked.
     "Instead of laughing at me, you should  try  it  yourself.
... A lady taught me at the salon today. Slobbered all over me,
the fat cow... Will you try it?"
     "How come she did that?"
     "Who?"
     "The cow."
     "Not  normal.  Or maybe a sad sack.... What's your name? I
forgot."
     "Ivan."
     "An amusing name! You'll have to remind me again. Are  you
a Tungus?"
     "I don't think so."
     "So-o...  and  I  went  and  told  everyone that you are a
Tungus. Too bad.... Say, why not have a drink?"
     "Let's."
     "Today I  should  have  a  strong  drink  to  forget  that
slobbering cow."
     She  ran  out  into  the  living room and came back with a
tray. We had some brandy and looked at each other,  not  having
anything  to say. I felt ill at ease. I couldn't say why, but I
liked her. I sensed something,  something  I  couldn't  put  my
finger   on;   something   which  distinguished  her  from  the
long-legged, smooth-skinned pin-up beauties, good only for  the
bed. I had the impression that she sensed something in me, too.
     "Beautiful day, today," she said, looking away.
     "A bit hot," I observed.
     She sipped some brandy; I did too. The silence stretched.
     "What do you like to do the most?" she asked.
     "It depends. And you?"
     "Same with me. In general, I like to have fun and not have
to think about anything."
     "So do I," I said. "At least I do right now."
     She seemed to perk up a little. I understood suddenly what
was the  matter:  during  the whole day, I had not met a single
truly pleasant person, and I simply had  gotten  tired  of  it.
There was nothing to her, after all.
     "Let's go somewhere," she said.
     "We could," I said. I really didn't want to go anywhere, I
wanted to sit and relax in the cool room for a while.
     "I can see you're not too eager," she said.
     "To  be  honest,  I  would prefer to sit around here for a
bit."
     "Well then, amuse me."
     I considered the problem, and recounted the story  of  the
traveling salesman in the upper bunk. She liked it, but I think
she  missed  the point. I made a correction in my aim, and told
her the one about the president and the old maid. She laughed a
long time, kicking her  wonderfully  long  legs.  Then,  taking
courage  from  another  shot  of brandy, I told about the widow
with the mushrooms growing on the wall. She slid  down  to  the
floor  and  almost knocked over the tray. I picked her up under
the armpits, hoisted her back up in the  chair,  and  delivered
the  story of the drunk spaceman and the college girl, at which
point Aunt Vaina came rushing in and  inquired  fearfully  what
was  going  on  with  Vousi,  and  whether  I  was tickling her
unmercifully. I poured  Aunt  Vaina  a  glass,  and  addressing
myself  to her personally, recounted the one about the Irishman
who wanted to be a gardener. Vousi  was  completely  shattered,
but  Aunt  Vaina  smiled  sorrowfully  and  confided that Major
General Tuur liked to tell the same story, when  he  was  in  a
good mood. But in it there was, she thought, a Negro instead of
the Irishman, and he aspired to the duties of a piano tuner and
not  a  gardener.  "And you know, Ivan, the story ended somehow
differently," she added after some thought.  At  this  point  I
noticed Len standing in the doorway, looking at us. I waved and
smiled  at him. He seemed not to notice, so I winked at him and
beckoned for him to come in.
     "Whom are you winking at?" asked Vousi, through  lingering
laughter.
     "It's Len," I said. It was really a pleasure to watch her,
as I love  to see people laugh, especially such a one as Vousi,
beautiful and almost a child.
     "Where's Len?" she wondered.
     There was no Len in the doorway.
     "Len isn't here," said Aunt Vaina, who  was  sniffing  the
brandy with approval, and did not notice a thing. "The boy went
to the Ziroks' birthday party today. If you only knew, Ivan..."
     "But why does he say it was Len?" asked Vousi, glancing at
the door again.
     "Len  was here," I said. "I waved at him, and be ran away.
You know, he looked a bit wild to me."
     "Ach, we have a  highly  nervous  boy  there,"  said  Aunt
Vaina.  "He  was  born  in a very difficult time, and they just
don't know how to deal with a nervous  child  in  these  modern
schools. Today I let him go visit."
     "We'll  go,  too,  now," said Vousi. "You'll walk with me.
I'll just fix myself up, because on account of  you  everything
got  smeared.  In  the  meantime, you can put on something more
decent."
     Aunt Vaina wouldn't have minded staying behind to tell  me
a  few  more things and maybe show me a photo album of Len, but
Vousi dragged her off and I heard her ask her mother behind the
door, "What's his name? I just can't remember it. He is a jolly
fellow, isn't he?"
     "Vousi!" admonished Aunt Vaina.
     I laid out my entire wardrobe on  the  bed  and  tried  to
imagine what Vousi would consider a decently dressed man. Until
now,  I had thought I was dressed quite satisfactorily. Vousi's
heels were already beating an impatient rat-a-tat on the  study
floor. Not having come up with anything, I called her in.
     "That's all you have?" she asked, wrinkling her nose.
     "It really isn't good enough?"
     "Well,  it  will pass. Take off the jacket and put on this
Hawaiian shirt... or better yet, this one here. They sure  have
dressing  problems in your Tungusia! Hurry up. No, no, take off
the shirt you have on."
     "You mean, without an undershirt?"
     "You know, you really are a Tungus. Where do you think you
are going -- to the pole or to Mars?  What's  this  under  your
shoulder blade?"
     "A  bee  stung me," I said, hurriedly pulling on my shirt.
"Let's go!"
     The street was already dark. The fluorescents shone palely
through dark foliage.
     "Which way are we bound?" I asked.
     "Downtown, of course.... Don't grab my arm, it's  hot!  At
least you know how to fight, I hope?"
     "I know how."
     "That's good. I like to watch."
     "To watch, I like, too," I said.
     There  were  a  lot more people out in the streets than in
the daytime. Under  the  trees,  in  the  bushes,  and  in  the
driveways  there  were groups of unsettled-looking individuals.
They furiously smoked  crackling  synthetic  cigars,  guffawed,
spat  negligently  and  often,  and spoke in loud rough voices.
Over each group hung the racket of radio receivers.  Under  one
streetlight  a  banjo  twanged, and two youngsters, twisting in
weird contortions  and  yelling  out  wildly,  were  performing
fling,  a  currently fashionable dance, a dance of great beauty
when properly executed. The youngsters knew  how.  Around  them
stood  a  small  crowd, also yelling lustily and clapping their
hands in rhythm.
     "Shall we have a dance?" I offered.
     "But no, no..." hissed Vousi, taking me by  the  hand  and
increasing her pace.
     "And why not? You do fling?"
     "I'd sooner hop with alligators than this crowd."
     "Too bad," I said, "They look like regular fellows."
     "Yes,  each  one  by  himself,"  said  Vousi,  "and in the
daytime."
     They  hung  around  on   the   corners,   huddled   around
streetlights,   gauche,   smoked  to  the  gills,  leaving  the
sidewalks  behind  them  strewn  with  bits  of  candy   paper,
cigarette  butts,  and  spittle.  They  were  nervous and showy
melancholic, yearning, constantly looking around, stooped. They
were awfully anxious not to look like others, and at  the  same
time,  assiduously imitated each other and two or three popular
movie stars. There were really not that many,  but  they  stood
out  like  sore  thumbs,  and it always seemed to me that every
town and the whole  world  was  filled  with  them  --  perhaps
because  every  city  and  the  whole world belonged to them by
night. And to me, they seemed full of some dark mystery, But  I
too used to stand around of evenings in the company of friends,
until  some  real people turned up and took us off the streets,
and many a time I have seen the same groups in all  the  cities
of  the world, where there was a lack of capable men to get rid
of them. But I never did understand to the very end what  force
it  is  that turns these fellows away from good books, of which
there are so many, from sport  establishments,  of  which  this
town  had  plenty,  and even from ordinary television sets, and
drives them out in the night streets with cigarettes  in  their
teeth  and  transistor sets in their ears, to stand and spit as
far as possible, to guffaw as offensively as possible,  and  to
do  nothing.  Apparently at fifteen, the most attractive of all
the  treasures  in  the  world  is  the  feeling  of  your  own
importance  and  ability to excite everyone's admiration, or at
least attract attention. Everything else seems unbearably  dull
and  dreary,  including,  perhaps  above  all, those avenues of
achieving the desirable which are offered by the tired world of
adults.
     "This is where old Rouen lives," said Vousi. "He has a new
one with him every night. The old turnip has managed it so that
they all come to him of their own will. During the fracas,  his
leg  was  blown off.... You see there is no light in his place,
they are listening to the hi-fi. On top of which, he's ugly  as
mortal sin."
     "He   lives   well   who   has   but   one  leg,"  I  said
absent-mindedly.
     Of course she had to giggle at this, and continued.
     "And here lives Seus. He is a Fisher. Now  there's  a  man
for you!"
     "Fisher,"   I   said.   "And   what   does   he  do,  this
Seus-Fisher?"'
     "He Fishers. That's what Fishers do -- they Fisher. Or are
you asking where he works?"
     "No, I mean to ask where does he Fisher?"
     "In the Subway." Suddenly she stopped. "Say, you  wouldn't
be a Fisher?"
     "Me? Why, does it show?"
     "There  is something about you, I noticed at once. We know
about these bees that sting you in the back."
     "Is that right?" I said.
     She slipped her arm through mine.
     "Tell me a story," she said,  cajoling.  "I  never  had  a
Fisher among my friends. Will you tell me a story?"
     "Well  now...  shall  I  tell  you about the pilot and the
cow?"
     She tweaked my elbow.
     "No, really..."
     "What a hot evening," I said. "It's a good thing  you  had
me take off my jacket!"
     "Anyway,  everybody  knows. Seus talks about it, and so do
others."
     "Ah, so," I said with interest. "And what does Seus tell?"
     She let go of my arm at once.
     "I didn't hear it myself. The girls told me."
     "And what did they tell?"
     "Well, this and that.... Maybe they put it all on.  Maybe,
you know. Seus had nothing to do with it."
     "Hmmm," I said.
     "Don't  think  anything about Seus, he's a good guy and he
keeps his mouth closed."
     "Why should I be thinking about Seus?"  I  said  to  quiet
her. "I have never even laid eyes on him."
     She  took my arm again and enthusiastically announced that
we were going to have a drink now.
     "Now's the very time for us to have a drink."
     She was already using the familiar  address  with  me.  We
turned  a  corner  and came out on a wide thoroughfare. Here it
was lighter than day. The lamps shone, the  walls  glowed,  the
display windows were lambent with multicolored fires. This was,
apparently,  one of Ahmad's circles of paradise. But I imagined
it differently. I expected roaring  bands,  grimacing  couples,
half-naked  and naked people. But here it was relatively quiet.
There were lots of people, and it seemed to me that  most  were
drunk,  but they were all very well and differently dressed and
all were gay. And almost all smoked. There  was  no  wind,  and
waves of bluish smoke undulated around the lights and lanterns.
Vousi  dragged  me  into  some establishment, found a couple of
acquaintances, and  disappeared  after  promising  to  find  me
later.  The crowd was dense, and I found myself pressed against
the bar. Before I could gather my wits, I found myself  downing
a  shot.  A brown middle-aged man with yellow whites of the eye
was booming into my face.
     "Kiven hurt his leg -- right? Brush became an antique  and
is  now  quite  useless.  That makes three -- right? And on the
right they haven't got nobody. Phinney is  on  the  right,  and
that's worse than nobody. A waiter, that's what be is."
     "What are you drinking?" I asked.
     "I  don't  drink  at  all,"  replied  the  brown  one with
dignity, breathing strong fumes at me. "I have  jaundice.  Ever
hear of it?"
     Behind  me,  someone fell off a stool. The noise modulated
up and down. The brown  one,  sitting  down  next  to  me,  was
shouting out some story about some character who almost died of
fresh  air  after  breaking  some  pipe at work. It was hard to
understand any part  of  it,  as  various  stories  were  being
shouted from all sides.
     "... Like a fool, he quieted down and left, and she called
s taxi  truck,  loaded  up his stuff, and had it dumped outside
the town..."
     "... I wouldn't have your TV in  my  outhouse.  You  can't
think  of  one  improvement  on  the  Omega,  my neighbor is an
engineer, and that's just what he says -- you can't think up an
improvement on the Omega..."
     "... That's the  way  their  honeymoon  ended.  When  they
returned  home, his father enticed him in the garage -- and his
father  is  a  boxer  --  and  trounced  him  until   he   lost
consciousness. They called a doctor later..."
     "...  So, all right, we took enough for three... and their
rule is, you know, take as much as you wish,  but  you  get  to
swallow all of it... and they are watching us by now, and he is
carried  away -- and says -- let's take more... well, I says to
myself, enough of this, time to break knuckles..."
     "... Dear child, with  your  bust,  I  wouldn't  know  any
grief,  such  a bosom is one in a thousand, but don't think I'm
flattering you, that's not my style..."
     A scrawny girl with bangs down to  the  tip  of  her  nose
climbed  up  on  the vacant stool next to me and began to pound
with puny fists on the bar, yelling, "Barman, barman, a drink."
     The din died down again, and I  could  hear  behind  me  a
tragic  whisper  -- "Where did he get it?" "From Buba, you know
him, he is an engineer." "Was it real?" "It's scary, you  could
croak." "Then you need some kind of pill --" "Quiet, will you?"
"Oh,  all  right,  who  would be listening to us? You got one?"
"Buba gave me one package, he says any drugstore  has  them  by
the ton... here, look." "De... Devon -- what is it?" "Some sort
of  medicine,  how  would  I  know?"  I  turned around. One was
red-faced with a shirt unbuttoned down to his navel, and with a
hairy chest. The other was  strangely  haggard-looking  with  a
large-pored nose. Both were looking at me.
     "Shall we have a drink?" I said.
     "Alcoholic," said the pore-nose.
     "Don't,  Pete. Don't start up, please," said the red-faced
one.
     "If you need some Devon, I've got it," I said loudly.
     They  jumped  back.  Pore-nose  began   to   look   around
cautiously.  Out  of  the corner of my eye, I could see several
faces turn toward us and grow still.
     "Let's go, Pat," said red-face. "Let's go! The  hell  with
him."
     Someone put a hand on my shoulder. I turned around and saw
a handsome sunburned man with powerful muscles.
     "Yes?" I said.
     "Friend,"  he said benevolently, "drop this business. Drop
it while it's not too late. Are you a Rhinoceros?"
     "I am a hippopotamus," I joked.
     "No, don't. I'm serious. Did you get beat up, maybe?"
     "Black and blue."
     "All right, don't feel  bad  about  it.  Today  it's  you,
tomorrow  it's  them....  As  for  Devon and all that -- that's
crap, believe me. There's lots of crap in the world,  but  that
is the crap of all crap."
     The  girl  with  the  bangs  advised me, "Crack him in the
teeth... what's he sticking his nose in for... lousy dick."
     "Lapping it up, and doing it up brown, aren't  you?"  said
the  sunburned  one coolly, and turned his back on us. His back
was huge, and  studded  with  bulging  muscles  under  a  tight
half-transparent shirt.
     "None  of  your business," said the girl at his back. Then
she said to me, "Listen, friend, call the barman for  me  --  I
can't seem to get through to him."
     I gave her my glass and asked, "What's to do?"
     "In  a  minute,  we'll  all  go," replied the girl. Having
swallowed the alcohol, she went limp all at once. "As  to  what
to  do  -- that's up to luck. Without luck, you can't make out.
Or you need money if you deal with promoters. You're probably a
visitor? Nobody here drinks that dry vodka. How is it your way,
you should tell me about it.... I'm not going  anywhere  today,
I'll go to the salon instead. I feel terrible and nothing seems
to  help....  Mother says -- have a child. But that's dull too,
what do I need one for?"
     She closed her eyes and lowered her chin on  her  entwined
fingers. She looked brazen, but at the same time crestfallen. I
attempted  to rouse her but she stopped paying attention to me,
and suddenly started shouting again, "Barman, barman, a drink!"
     I looked for Vousi. She was nowhere to be seen.  The  cafe
began to empty. Everyone was in a hurry to get somewhere. I got
off  my stool, too, and left the cafe. Streams of people flowed
down the street. They were all going in the same direction, and
in about five minutes, I was swept out onto a  big  square.  It
was  huge and poorly lighted, a wide gloomy space bordered by a
ring of streetlights and store windows. It was full of people.
     They stood pressed against each  other,  men,  women,  and
youngsters, boys and girls, shifting from foot to foot, waiting
for  I  knew  not  what.  There was almost no talking. Here and
there  cigarette  tips  flared,  lighting  hollow  cheeks   and
compressed  lips.  Then  a  clock began to strike the hour, and
over the square, gigantic luminous panels sprang  into  flaming
light.  There  were  three  of  them  --  red, blue, and green,
irregularly shaped rounded  triangles.  The  crowd  surged  and
stood  still.  Around  me, cigarettes were put out with subdued
movements. The panels went out momentarily and then started  to
flash  in  rotation: red-blue-green, red-blue-green... I felt a
wave of hot air on my face, and was suddenly dizzy.  They  were
astir  around  me.  I  got  up on tiptoes. In the center of the
square, the people stood motionless; I had the impression  that
they  were seized rigid and did not fall only because they were
pressed  in  by  the  crowd.  Red-blue-green,   red-blue-green.
Wooden, upturned faces, blackly gaping mouths, staring, bulging
eyes.  They  weren't  even  winking  there, under the panels. A
total quiet fell, so that I  jumped  when  a  piercing  woman's
voice  nearby  yelled:  "Shivers!"  All at once, tens of voices
responded: "Shivers! Shivers!" People on the  sidewalk  on  the
square's  perimeter  began  to  clap  hands  in rhythm with the
flashes, and to chant  in  even  voices,  "Shi-vers!  Shi-vers!
Shi-vers!"  Somebody prodded me in the back with a sharp elbow.
I was pressed forward to the center, toward the panels. I  took
a  step  and another and started through the crowd, pushing the
stiffened bodies  aside.  Two  youngsters,  rigid  as  icicles,
suddenly  started  thrashing  wildly,  grabbing  at each other,
scratching and pounding with  all  their  strength,  but  their
faces  remained  frozen in the direction of the flashing sky...
red-blue-green, red-blue-green. And just as  suddenly  as  they
started, they grew still again.
     At  this  paint,  finally,  I understood that all this was
extraordinarily amusing. Everyone laughed. There  was  lots  of
room around me and music thundered forth. I swept up a charming
girl  and  we began to dance, as they used to dance, as dancing
should be done and was done a long, long time ago,  as  it  was
done  always  with abandon, so that your head swam, and so that
everyone admired you. We stepped out of the way, and I held  on
to her hands, and there was no need to talk about anything, and
she  agreed  that the van driver was a strange man. Can't stand
alcoholics, said Rimeyer, and pore-nose  is  the  most  genuine
alcoholic,  and  what  about  Devon  I  said,  how could you be
without Devon when we have an excellent zoo, the buffaloes love
to wallow in the mud, and bugs are constantly swarming  out  of
it.  Rim,  I  said,  there are some fools who said that you are
fifty years old -- such nonsense when I wouldn't give you  over
twenty-five  --  and this is Vousi, I told her about you, but I
am intruding on you, said Rimeyer; no one can  intrude  on  us,
said  Vousi,  as  for Seus he's the best of Fishers, he grabbed
the splotcher and got the ray right  in  the  eye,  and  Hugger
slipped  and  fell  in  the  water  and  said -- wouldn't it be
something for you to drown -- look your gear are melting  away,
aren't  you  funny,  said  Len, there is such a game of boy and
gangster, you know, you remember we played with Maris...  Isn't
it  wonderful,  I  have  never  felt so good in my life, what a
pity, when it could be like this  every  day.  Vousi,  I  said,
aren't  we  great fellows, Vousi, people have never had such an
important problem before, and we solved it and  there  remained
only  one  problem,  Vousi,  the  sole problem in the world, to
return to people a spiritual content, and  spiritual  concerns,
no, Seus, said Vousi, I love you very much, Oscar, you are very
nice,  but  forgive  me,  would  you,  I  want it to be Ivan, I
embraced her and felt that it was right to kiss her and I  said
I love you...
     Boom! Boom! Boom! Something exploded in the dark night sky
and tinkling  sharp  shards  began to fall on us, and at once I
felt cold and uncomfortable. There were  machine  guns  firing!
Again  the  guns  rattled.  "Down, Vousi," I yelled, although I
could not yet understand what was going on, and threw her  down
on the ground and covered her with my body against the bullets,
whereupon blows began to rain on my face.
     Bang, bang, rat-tat-tat-tat... around me people stood like
wooden  pickets. Some were coming to and rolling their eyeballs
inanely. I was half reclining on a man's chest,  which  was  as
hard  as  a  bench,  and right in front of my eyes was his open
mouth  and   chin   glistening   with   saliva...   Blue-green,
blue-green, blue-green... Something was missing.
     There were piercing screams, cursing, someone thrashed and
screeched  hysterically. A mechanical roar grew louder over the
square. I raised my head with difficulty. The panels were right
overhead, the blue and green flashing regularly, while the  red
was  extinguished and raining glass rubble. Rat-tat-tat-tat and
the green panel broke and darkened. In the blue remaining light
unhurried wings floated by, spewing the reddish lightning of  a
fusillade.
     Again  I  attempted  to throw myself on the ground, but it
was impossible, as they  all  stood  around  me  like  pillars.
Something  made  an ugly snap quite near me, and a yellow-green
plume rose skyward from which puffed a repulsive  stench.  Pow!
Pow!  Another two plumes hung over the square. The crowd howled
and stirred. The yellow vapor was caustic like mustard, my eyes
and mouth filled, and I began to cry and cough, and around  me,
everyone began to cry and cough and yell hoarsely: "Lousy bums!
Scoundrels!  Sock  the  Intels!"  Again  the roar of the engine
could be heard, coming in louder and louder. The  airplane  was
returning.  "Down,  you  idiots,"  I yelled. Everyone around me
flopped down all over each other.  Rat-tat-tat-tat!  This  time
the  machine  gunner  missed  and the string apparently got the
building opposite us. To make up for the miss,  the  gas  bombs
fell  again  right on target. The lights around the square went
out, and with them the blue panel, as a free-for-all started in
the pitch-black dark.



     I'll never know how I arrived at that fountain. It must be
that I have good instincts and ordinary cold water was  exactly
what  I  needed. I crawled into the water without taking off my
clothes, and lay down, feeling better immediately. I was  lying
on  my back, drops rained on my face, and this was unbelievably
pleasant. It was quite dark here, and dim stars  shone  through
the  branches  and  the  water.  It was very quiet. For several
minutes I was watching a brighter star, for some reason unknown
to me, which was slowly moving across the sky, until I realized
that I was watching the relay satellite Europa.  How  far  from
all  this,  I  thought, how degrading and senseless to remember
the revolting mess on the square, the disgusting foul mouthings
and screechings, the wet phrumping of the gas  bombs,  and  the
putrid  stench  which turned your stomach and lungs inside out.
Understanding   freedom   as   the   rapid   satisfaction   and
multiplication  of  needs  and  desires,  I recollected, people
distort their natures as they engender within  themselves  many
senseless  and  stupid  desires,  habits  and the most unlikely
inventions....
     Priceless Peck, he loved to quote old pundit Zosima as  he
circled  around  a  well-laid table, rubbing his hands. We were
snot-nosed undergrads then and ingenuously believed  that  such
pronouncements,  in  our  time,  were  meant  only  to show off
flashes  of  humor  and  erudition....  At  this  point  in  my
reflections,  someone  noisily  plunged into the water some ten
paces from me.
     At first he coughed hoarsely, spat and blew his  nose,  so
that  I  hurried to leave the water, then he started to splash,
finally became quiet, and  suddenly  discharged  himself  of  a
string of curses:
     "Shameless  lice,"  he  growled. "Whores, swine... on live
people! Stinking hyenas, rotten  scum...  learned  prostitutes,
filthy  snakes."  He  hawked  furiously again. "It bothers them
that people are having a good time! Stepped  on  my  face,  the
crud!"  He  groaned  nasally and painfully, "The hell with this
shiver business. That will be the day when I'll go again."
     He moaned again and rose. I could hear the  water  running
from his clothes. I could dimly perceive his swaying figure. He
saw me too.
     "Hey, friend, have a smoke on you?"
     "I did," I replied.
     "Low-lifers! I didn't think to take them out. Just fell in
with everything  on."  He  splashed  over  to  me  and sat down
alongside. "Some moron stepped on my cheek," he informed me.
     "They marched over me, too,"  I  said.  "The  people  went
ape."
     "But,  you  tell  me,  where do they get the tear gas?" he
said. "And machine guns?"
     "And airplanes," I added.
     "An airplane means nothing," he contradicted. "I have  one
myself.  I bought it cheap for seven hundred crowns.... What do
they want, that's what I don't understand."
     "Hoodlums," I said. "They should have their  faces  pulped
properly, and that would be the end of that argument."
     He laughed bitterly.
     "Someone  did!  For  that you get worked over good.... You
think they didn't get beat up? And how they got  beat  up!  But
apparently  that  isn't  enough....  We should have driven them
right into the ground, together with their  excrement,  but  we
passed  up  the  chance....  And  now  they  are  giving us the
business! The people got soft, that's what, I tell you.  Nobody
gives  a  damn.  They put their four hours in, have a drink and
off to the shivers! And you can pot them like clay pigeons." He
slapped his sides in desperation. "Those were  the  times,"  he
cried.  "They didn't dare open their mouths! Should one of them
even whisper, guys in black shirts or maybe white  hoods  would
pay a night visit, crunch him in the teeth, and off to the camp
he  went,  so  there wouldn't be a peep out of him again.... In
the schools, my son says, everyone bad-mouths fascism: Oh dear,
they hurt the Negroes' feelings; oh dear, the  scientists  were
witch-hunted;  oh  dear,  the camps; oh dear, the dictatorship!
Well, it wasn't witch-hunting that was needed,  but  to  hammer
them  into  the  ground,  so  there  wouldn't  be  any left for
breeding!" He drew his hand under his nose, slurping  long  and
loud.
     "Tomorrow  morning,  I have to go to work with my face all
out of shape.... Let's go have a drink,  or  we'll  both  catch
cold."
     We crawled through the bushes and came out on the street.
     "The Weasel is just around the corner," he informed me.
     The  Weasel was full of wet-haired half-naked people. They
seemed depressed, somehow embarrassed,  and  gloomily  bragging
about their contusions and abrasions. Several young women, clad
only  in  panties,  clustered  around  the  electric fireplace,
drying their skirts. The men patted them platonically on  their
bare  flesh. My companion immediately penetrated into the thick
of the crowd, and swinging his arms and blowing his  nose  with
his fingers, began to call for "hammering the bastards into the
ground." He was getting some weak support.
     I asked for Russian vodka, and when the girls left, I took
off my  sport  shirt  and  sat  by  the  fireplace.  The barman
delivered my glass and returned at once to his crossword in the
fat magazine. The public continued its conversation.
     "So, what's the shooting for? Haven't  we  had  enough  of
shooting?  Just  like little boys, by God... just spoiling some
good fun."
     "Bandits, they're worse than gangsters, but like it or not
that shiver business is no good, too."
     "That's right. The other day mine says to me, 'Papa, I saw
you; you were all blue like a corpse and  very  scary'  --  and
she's only ten. So how can I look her in the eyes? Eh?"
     "Hey  anybody! What's an entertainment with four letters?"
asked the barman without raising his head.
     "So, all right, but who dreamed all this up -- the  shiver
and the aromatics? Eh and also..."
     "If you got drenched, brandy is best."
     "We were waiting for him on the bridge, and along he comes
with his eyeglasses and some kind of pipe with lenses in it. So
up he  goes over the rail with his eyeglasses and his pipe, and
he kicked his legs once and that was that. And then  old  Snoot
comes  running,  after having been revived, and he looks at the
guy blowing bubbles. "Fellows," he says, "What the hell is  the
matter with you, are you drunk or something, that's not the guy
-- I am seeing him for the first time..."
     "I  think  there  ought to be a law -- if you are married,
you can't go to the shiver."
     "Hey somebody," again the bartender,  "What's  a  literary
work with seven letters -- a booklet, maybe?"
     "So, I myself had four Intels in my squad, machine gunners
they were.  It's  quite  true  that  they fought like devils. I
remember we  were  retreating  from  the  warehouse,  you  know
they're  still  building a factory there, and two stayed behind
to cover us. By the way, nobody asked  them,  they  volunteered
entirely  by  themselves.  Later  we  came  back and found them
hanging side by side from the rail crane, naked, with all their
appurtenances ripped off with hot pincers. You understand?  And
now,  I'm  thinking, where were the other two today? Maybe they
were the very same guys to treat me to some tear gas, those are
the types that can do such things."
     "So who didn't get hung? We got hung  by  various  places,
too!"
     "Hammer  them into the ground right up to their noses, and
that'll be the end of that!"
     "I'm going. There is no point in hanging around here,  I'm
getting  heartburn.  They must have fixed everything up by now,
back there."
     "Hey, barman, girls, let's have one last one."
     My shirt had dried, and as the cafe emptied, I  pulled  it
on  and  went  over  to  sit  at  a  table  and  to  watch. Two
meticulously dressed gentlemen in the corner were sipping their
drinks through straws.  They  called  attention  to  themselves
immediately  -- both were in severe black suits and black ties,
despite the very warm night. They weren't talking, and  one  of
them  constantly  referred  to his watch. After a while, I grew
tired of observing them. Well, Doctor Opir, how do you like the
shivers? Were you at the square? But of course  you  were  not.
Too  bad.  It  would  have  been  interesting  to know what you
thought of it. On the other hand, to the devil with  you.  What
do  I  care  what  Doctor Opir thinks? What do I think about it
myself? Well, high-grade barber's raw  material,  what  do  you
think? It's important to get acclimatized quickly
     and  not  stuff  the  brain with induction, deduction, and
technical procedures.  The  most  important  thing  is  to  get
acclimatized as rapidly as possible. To get to feel like one of
them....  There,  they  all  went  back  to the square. Despite
everything that happened, they still went back  to  the  square
again.  As for me, I don't have the slightest desire to go back
there. I would, with the greatest of pleasure at this point, go
back to my room and check out my new bed. But when would  I  go
to  the  Fishers?  Intels,  Devon, and Fishers. Intels -- maybe
they are the local version of the Golden Youth? Devon...  Devon
must be kept in mind, together with Oscar. But now the Fishers.
     "The Fishers; that's a little bit vulgar," said one of the
black suits, not whispering, but very quietly.
     "It  all  depends on temperament," said the other. "As for
me, personally I don't condemn Karagan in the slightest."
     "You see, I  don't  condemn  him  either.  It's  a  little
shocking  that  he picked up his options. A gentleman would not
have behaved that way."
     "Forgive me, but Karagan is no gentleman.  He  is  only  a
general   manager.   Hence   the   small-mindedness   and   the
mercantilism and a certain what I might call commonness..."
     "Let's not be so  hard  on  him.  The  Fishers  --  that's
something  intriguing. And to be honest, I don't see any reason
why we should not involve ourselves. The old Subway  --  that's
quite  respectable.  Wild is much more elegant than Nivele, but
we don't reject Nivele on that account."
     "'You really are seriously considering?"
     "Right now, if you wish.... It's five to two, by the  way.
Shall we go?"
     They  got  up,  said  a friendly and polite goodbye to the
bartender, and proceeded toward the exit. They looked  elegant,
calm,  and  condescendingly remote. This was astounding luck. I
yawned loudly, and muttering, "Off  to  the  square,"  followed
them,  pushing  stools  out  of  my  way. The street was poorly
illuminated, but I saw them immediately. They were in no hurry.
The one on the right was the  shorter,  and  when  they  passed
under  the  street lights, you could see his safe, sparse hair.
As near as I could tell, they were no longer conversing.
     They detoured  the  square,  turned  into  a  dark  alley,
avoided  a  drunk  who  tried  to strike up a conversation, and
suddenly, without one backward glance, turned abruptly  into  a
garden  in  front of a large gloomy house. I heard a heavy door
thud shut. It was a minute before two.
     I pushed off the drunk, entered the garden, and  sat  down
on  a silver-painted bench under a lilac bush. The wooden bench
was situated on a sandy path which ran through  the  garden.  A
blue  lamp  illuminated  the  entrance  of  the  house,  and  I
discerned two caryatids supporting the balcony over  the  door.
This  didn't  look  like the entrance to the old subway, but as
yet, I couldn't tell for sure, so I decided to wait.
     I didn't have to wait long. There was a  rustle  of  steps
and  a  dark  figure  in a cloak appeared on the path. It was a
woman. I did not grasp immediately why her proudly raised  head
with  a  high  cylindrical  coiffure,  in  which  large  stones
glistened in the starlight, seemed familiar. I  arose  to  meet
her,  and  said,  trying  to sound both respectful and mocking,
"You are late, madam, it's after two."
     She was not in the least startled.
     "You don't say!" she exclaimed. "Can it be my watch is  so
slow?"
     It  was  the  very same woman who had the altercation with
the van driver, but of course she did not recognize  me.  Women
with  such  disdainful-looking lower lips never remember chance
meetings. I took her by the arm, and we mounted the wide  stone
steps.  The  door  turned  out to be as heavy as a reactor-well
cover. There was no  one  in  the  entrance  hall.  The  woman,
without  turning, flung the cloak on my arm and went ahead, and
I paused for a second to look at myself  in  the  huge  mirror.
Good  man,  Master  Gaoway, but it still behooved me to stay in
the shadows. We entered the ballroom.
     No, this was anything but a subway. The room was  enormous
and  incredibly  old-fashioned.  The walls were lined with dark
wood, and fifteen feet up, there was a gallery with a  railing.
Pink  blond-curled angels smiled down with only their blue lips
from a far-flung ceiling. Almost the entire floor of  the  room
was  covered  with  rows  of  soft  massive chairs covered with
embossed leather. Elegantly dressed people, mostly  middle-aged
men,  sat  in  them  in  relaxed and negligent poses. They were
looking at the far end  of  the  room,  where  a  brightly  lit
picture blazed against a background of black velvet.
     No  one  turned to look at us. The woman glided toward the
front rows, and I sat down near the door. By now, I was  almost
sure  that  I  had come here for nothing. There was silence and
some coughs, and lazy streams of smoke curled upward  from  the
fat cigars; many bald pates glistened under the chandeliers. My
attention   turned   to   the  picture.  I  am  an  indifferent
connoisseur of paintings, but it looked like a Raphael, and  if
it was not genuine, it was certainly a perfect copy.
     There  was  a deep brassy gong, and simultaneously a tall,
thin man in a black mask appeared by the side of the picture. A
black leotard covered  his  body  from  head  to  toe.  He  was
followed by a limping, hunchbacked dwarf in a red smock. In his
short, extended pawlike arms, he held a dully glinting sword of
a  most  wicked appearance. He went to the right of the picture
and stood still, while the masked  individual  stepped  forward
and  spoke  in  a measured tone: "In accordance with the bylaws
and directives of the Honorable Society of Patrons, and in  the
name  of  Art,  which is holy and irreproducible, and the power
granted me by you, I have examined the  history  and  worth  of
this painting and now --"
     "Request a halt," sounded a curt voice behind me.
     Everyone  turned around. I also turned around and saw that
three young, obviously very powerful, and immaculately  dressed
men  were  looking at me full in the face. One had a monocle in
his right eye. We studied each other for a few seconds, and the
man with the monocle twitched his cheek and let it drop. I  got
up  at once. They moved toward me together, stepping softly and
soundlessly. I tried the chair, but it was  too  massive.  They
jumped  me.  I met them as best I could and at first everything
went well, but very quickly it became evident  that  they  wore
brass  knuckles,  and I barely managed to evade them. I pressed
my back against  the  wall  and  looked  at  them  while  they,
breathing  heavily,  looked at me. There were still two of them
left. There was the usual coughing in the auditorium. Four more
were coming down the gallery steps, which squeaked and  groaned
loudly enough to reverberate in the hall. Bad business, thought
I, and launched myself to force a breach.
     It  was hard going, just like the time in Manila, but then
there were two of us. It would have been better  if  they  were
armed, as I would have had a chance to expropriate a gun.
     But  all  six of them met me with knuckles and truncheons.
Luckily for me it was very crowded. My left  arm  went  out  of
commission,  and  then the four suddenly jumped back, while the
fifth drenched me with a clammy liquid from a  flat  container.
Simultaneously, the lights were extinguished.
     These tricks were well known to me: now they could see me,
but I  could  not  see them. In all probability that would have
been the end of me, were it not that some idiot threw open  the
door  and announced in a greasy basso, "I beg forgiveness, I am
terribly late and so sorry..." I charged toward the light, over
some bodies, mowed down the latecomer, flew across the entrance
hall, threw open the front door, and pelted down the sandy path
holding my left arm with my right hand. No one was pursuing me,
but I traversed two blocks before it dawned on me to stop.
     I flung myself down on a lawn and lay for a long  time  in
the short grass, grabbing lungfuls of the warm moist air. In no
time,   the  curious  gathered  around  me.  They  stood  in  a
semicircle and ogled me avidly, not saying a word. "Take  off,"
I  said,  getting  up  finally. Hurriedly, they scooted away. I
stood awhile, figuring out where I was, and began  a  stumbling
journey  homeward.  I  had had enough for today. I still didn't
get it, but I had had quite enough. Whoever  they  were,  these
members  of  the Honorable Society of Art Patrons -- secret art
worshippers, extant aristocrat-conspirators or whoever else  --
they  fought  cruelly and without quarter, and the biggest fool
in that hall of theirs was still apparently none other than I.
     I passed by the  square,  where  again  the  color  panels
pulsed   rhythmically,   and   hundreds  of  hysterical  voices
screamed, "Shi-vers! Shi-vers!" Of this too I had  had  enough.
Pleasant dreams are, of course, more attractive than unpleasant
ones,  but  after  all,  we  do  not  live  in  a dream. In the
establishment where Vousi had taken  me,  I  had  a  bottle  of
ice-cold  soda water, observed with curiosity a squad of police
peacefully camped by the bar, and went out, turning into Second
Waterway.
     A lump the size of a tennis ball was rising behind my left
ear. I weaved badly and walked slowly,  keeping  close  to  the
fences. Later, I heard the tap of heels behind me and voices:
     "... Your place is in the museum, not in a cabaret."
     "Nothing   of   the  sort,  I  am  not  drunk.  Can't  you
und-derstand, only one measly bottle of wine..."
     "How disgusting! Soused and picking up a wench."
     "What's the girl got to do with it? She is a m-model!"
     "Fighting over a wench. Making us fight over her."
     "Why in hell d-do you believe them and don't believe me?"
     "Just because you're drunk! You're a bum, just  like  they
all are, maybe worse...."
     "That's  all  right. I'll remember that scoundrel with the
bracelet quite well.... Don't hold me! I'll walk by myself!"
     "You'll  remember  nothing,  friend.  Your  glasses   were
knocked  off in the first instant, and without them, you aren't
even a man, but a blind sausage.... Stop kicking, or it will be
the fountain for you...."
     "I'm warning you, one more  stunt  like  that,  and  we'll
throw  you out. A drunken kulturfuhrer -- it's enough to
make you sick."
     "Stop preaching at him, give a man a chance  to  sleep  it
off."
     "Fellows! There he is, the l-louse!"
     The  street  was  empty,  and  the louse was clearly me. I
could bend my left arm already, but it hurt like the devil, and
I stepped back to let them pass. There were three of them. They
were young, in identical caps, pushed  over  their  eyes.  One,
thickset and low-slung, was obviously amused and held the other
one,  a tall, open-faced, loose-jointed fellow, with a powerful
grip, restraining  his  violent  and  sporadic  movements.  The
third,  long  and  skinny,  with a narrow and darkish face, was
following at some distance with his hands behind his  back.  As
he got alongside me, the loose-jointed one braked determinedly.
The short one attempted to nudge him off the spot, but in vain.
     The  long  one  passed  by  and then stopped, looking back
impatiently over his shoulder.
     "Thought  you  were  gonna  get  away,  pig!"  he   yelled
drunkenly,  attempting  to  seize me by the chest with his free
hand.
     I retreated to the fence and said,  addressing  myself  to
the short fellow, "I had no business with you."
     "Stop being a rowdy," said the distant one sharply.
     "I  remember  you  very  well  indeed,"  yelled the drunk.
"You're not going to get away from me! I'll get even with you!"
     He advanced upon me in surges, dragging the short one,
     who hung on with bulldog grimness, behind him.
     "It's not him," cajoled the low-slung one, who  was  still
very  merry.  "That guy went off to the shivers and this one is
sober."
     "You won't fool me."
     "I'm warning you for the last time. We are going to  expel
you."
     "Got scared, the bum! Took off his bracelet."
     "You  can't  even  see  him. You're worthless without your
glasses."
     "I can see everything pe-erfectly!... And even if he isn't
the one..."
     "Stop it! Enough is enough!"
     The long one finally came back and grasped the drunk  from
the other side.
     "Will  you  move  on!" he said to me with irritation, "Why
the devil are you  stopping  here!  Haven't  you  ever  seen  a
drunk?"
     "Oh, no! You aren't going to get away from me."
     I  continued  on  my  way. I had not far to go by now. The
trio dragged along behind me noisily.
     "I can see right through  him,  if  you  please.  King  of
Nature!  Drunk  enough  to  retch, and to beat up whoever comes
along. Got beat up himself, and that's all he needs.... Let  go
of me, I'll hang a few good ones on his mug...."
     "What  have  you come to, we have to walk you along like a
hood."
     "So don't walk me!... I loathe them.... Shivers,  wenches,
whiskey... brainless jelly..."
     "Sure, sure, take it easy, just don't fall."
     "Enough  of  your reproofs... I am sick of your hypocrisy,
your puritanism. We should  blow  them  up,  shoot  them!  Raze
everything off the face of the earth!"
     "Drunk as a coot, and I thought he was sobered up!"
     "I  am  sober. I remember everything... the twenty-eighth,
right?"
     "Shut up, you fool."
     "Shh! Right  you  are!  The  enemy  is  on  the  alert....
Fellows,  there  was  a spy here somewhere.... Didn't I talk to
him?... The son of a bitch took off his  bracelet...  but  I'll
get that dick before the twenty-eighth!"
     "Will you be quiet!"
     "Shh!  And  not  another word. That's it! And don't worry,
the grenade launchers are my baby."
     "I am going to kill him right now, the bum!"
     "Lay it on the enemies of civilization.... Fifteen hundred
meters of tear gas -- personally... six sectors... awk!"
     I was already by the gate  to  my  house.  When  I  turned
around  to  look,  the burly man was lying face down, the short
one was  squatting  alongside,  while  the  long  fellow  stood
rubbing the edge of his right hand.
     "Why  did you do that?" said the short man. "You must have
maimed him."
     "Enough prattle," said the long one furiously.  "We  can't
seem  to  learn  to  stop  prattling.  We  can't  learn to stop
boozing. Enough!"
     Let us be as children, Doctor Opir,  thought  I,  slipping
into  the yard as quietly as possible. I held the latch to keep
it from clicking into place.
     "Where did he go?" said the long one, lowering his voice.
     "Who?"
     "The guy who went ahead of us."
     "Turned off somewhere."
     "Where? Did you notice?"
     "Listen, I wasn't concerned about him."
     "Too bad. But all right, pick him up, and let's go."
     Stepping into the shadow of the  apple  trees,  I  watched
them drag the drunk by the gate. He was wheezing horribly.
     The house was quiet. I went to my quarters, undressed, and
took a  hot shower. My shirt and shorts smelled of tear gas and
were covered with the greasy spots of the  luminous  liquid.  I
threw  them  into  the  hamper. Next, I inspected myself in the
mirror and marveled once more at how lightly I had gotten away:
a bump  behind  the  ear,  a  sizable  contusion  on  the  left
shoulder, and some scraped ribs. Also skinned knuckles.
     On   the   night   table,  I  discovered  a  notice  which
respectfully suggested that I deposit a sum to cover  the  rent
for  the apartment for the first thirty days. The sum was quite
considerable, but tolerable. I counted out a  few  credits  and
stuffed  them into the thoughtfully provided envelope, and then
lay down on the bed with my hands behind my  head.  The  sheets
were cool and crisp, and a salty sea breeze blew in through the
open  window.  The  phonor  susurrated  cozily behind my ear. I
intended to think awhile before falling  asleep,  but  was  too
exhausted and quickly dozed off.
     Later,  some  noise  in  the background awakened me, and I
grew alert and listened with eyes wide open.
     Somewhere nearby, someone either cried or sang in  a  thin
childish  voice.  I  got  up cautiously and leaned out the open
window. The thin halting voice was intoning: "... having stayed
in the grave but a short time, they come out and live among the
living as though alive." There was the sound of sobs. From  far
away  like  the keening of a mosquito came the chant "Shi-vers!
Shi-vers!" The pitiable little voice  went  on  --  "Blood  and
earth  mixed  together  they  can't eat." I thought that it was
Vousi, drunk and lamenting upstairs in her room, and called out
softly, "Vousi!" No one replied,  The  thin  voice  cried  out:
"Hence from my hair, hence from my flesh, hence from my bones,"
and  I  knew who it was. I climbed over the window sill, jumped
onto the lawn, and went to the apple grove,  listening  to  the
sobbing. Light appeared through the trees, and soon I came to a
garage. The doors were cracked open and I looked in. Inside was
a  huge  shiny Opel. Two candles were burning on the workbench.
There was a smell of gasoline and hot wax.
     Under the candles,  seated  on  a  work  stool,  was  Len,
dressed  in  a  full-length  white  gown,  in bare feet, with a
thick, well-worn  book  on  his  knees.  He  regarded  me  with
wide-open  eyes,  his  face  completely  white  and frozen with
terror.
     "What are you doing here?" I said loudly and entered.
     He continued to look at  me  in  silence  and  started  to
tremble. I could hear his teeth chattering.
     "Len,  old  friend," I said, "I guess you didn't recognize
me. It's me -- Ivan."
     He dropped the book and hid his hands in his  armpits.  As
earlier today, in the morning, his face beaded with cold sweat.
I  sat  down  alongside  of  him  and  put  my  arm  around his
shoulders. He collapsed against me weakly. He shook all over. I
looked at the book. A certain Doctor Neuf had blessed the human
race with An Introduction to  the  Science  of  Necrological
Phenomena. I kicked the book under the bench.
     'Whose ear is that?" I asked loudly.
     "Mo... Mama's..."
     "A very nice Ford."
     "It's not a Ford. It's an Opel."
     "You're right -- it is an Opel... a couple of hundred
     miles per hour I would guess..."
     "Yes."
     "Where did you get the candles?"
     "I bought them."
     "Is  that  right!  I didn't know that they sold candles in
our time. Is your bulb burned out? I went out  in  the  garden,
you  know, to get an apple off a tree, and then I saw the light
in the garage."
     He moved closer to me and said, "Don't leave for  a  while
yet, will you?"
     "OK.  What  do you say we blow out the lights and go to my
place?"
     "No, I can't go there."
     "Where can't you go?"
     "In the house and to your  place."  He  was  talking  with
tremendous  conviction. "For quite a while yet. Until they fall
asleep."
     "Who?"
     "They."
     "Who are -- they?"
     "They -- you hear?"
     I listened. There was only the rustle of branches in the
     wind and somewhere very far away the  cry  of:  "Shi-vers!
Shi-vers!"'
     "I don't hear anything special," I said.
     "That's because you don't know. You are new here and
     they don't bother the new ones."
     "But who are they, after all?"
     "All of them. You've seen the fink with the buttons?"
     "Pete? Yes, I saw him. But why is he a fink? In my
     opinion, he's an entirely respectable man."
     Len jumped up.
     "Come  on,"  he  said in a whisper, "I'll show you. But be
quiet."
     We came out of the garage, crept  up  to  the  house,  and
turned  a  corner.  Len held my hand all the time; his palm was
cold and wet..
     "There -- look," he said.
     Sure enough, the sight was frightening. My customs  friend
was  lying  on  the  porch  with his head stuck at an unnatural
angle through the railing. The mercury  vapor  light  from  the
street  fell  on  his  face, which looked blue and swollen, and
covered with dark welts. Through half-open lids, the eyes could
be seen, crossed toward the bridge of the nose.
     'They walk among the living, like  living  people  in  the
daytime," murmured Len, holding on to me with both hands. "They
bow  and  smile,  but at night their faces are white, and blood
seeps through  their  skin."  I  approached  the  veranda.  The
customs  man  was  dressed  in pajamas. He breathed noisily and
exuded a smell of cognac. There  was  blood  on  his  face,  as
though he'd fallen on his face into some broken glass.
     "He's  just  drunk,"  I  said  loudly.  "Simply  drunk and
snoring. Very disgusting."
     Len shook his head.
     "You are a newcomer," he whispered. "You see nothing.  But
I saw." He shook again. "Many of them came. She brought them...
and  they  carried her in... there was a moon... they sawed off
the top of her head... and she  screamed  and  screamed...  and
then  they  started  to eat with spoons. She ate, too, and they
all laughed when she screamed and flopped around..."
     "Who? Who was it?"
     "And then they piled on wood  and  burned  it  and  danced
around  the  fire...  and  then  they  buried everything in the
garden... she went out to get the shovel in the car... I saw it
all... do you want to see where they buried her?"
     "You know what, friend?" I said. "Let's go to my place."
     "What for?"
     "To get some sleep, that's what for. Everyone is  sleeping
-- only you and I are palavering here."
     "Nobody  is sleeping. You really are new. Right now no one
is sleeping. You must not sleep now."
     "Let's go, let's go," said I, "over to my place."
     "I won't go," he said. "Don't touch me. I didn't say  your
name."
     "I  am  going  to  take a belt," I said menacingly, "and I
will strap your behind."
     Apparently this calmed him. He clutched my hand again  and
became silent.
     "Let's  go,  old  pal, let's go," I said. "You're going to
sleep and I will sit alongside you.  And  if  anything  at  all
happens, I will awaken you at once."
     We  climbed into my room through the window (he absolutely
refused to enter the house by the front door), and I put him to
bed. I intended  to  tell  him  a  tale,  but  he  fell  asleep
immediately. His face looked tortured, and every few minutes he
quivered  in  his  sleep.  I  pushed  the  chair by the window,
wrapped myself in a bathrobe, and smoked a cigarette to calm my
nerves. I attempted  to  think  about  Rimeyer  and  about  the
Fishers,  with whom I had not met up after all; about what must
happen on the twenty-eighth; and about  the  Art  Patrons,  but
nothing  came of it and this irritated me. It was annoying that
I was unable  to  think  about  my  business  as  something  of
importance.   The   thoughts  scattered  and  jumbled  emotions
intruded, and I did not think so much as I felt. I felt that  I
hadn't  come for nothing, but at the same time, I sensed that I
had come for altogether the wrong reason.
     But Len slept. He  did  not  even  awake  when  an  engine
snorted at the gate, car doors were slammed, there were shouts,
chokes, and howls in different voices, so that I almost decided
that a crime was being committed in front of the house, when it
became  clear  that  it  was  just  Vousi  coming back. Happily
humming, she began  to  undress  while  still  in  the  garden,
negligently  draping her blouse, skirt, and other garments over
the apple branches. She didn't notice me, came into the  house,
shuffled  around upstairs for a while, dropped something heavy,
and finally settled down. It was close  to  five  o'clock.  The
glow of dawn was kindling over the sea.



     When I woke up, Len was already gone. My shoulder ached so
badly  that  the pain pounded in my head, and I promised myself
to take it easy the whole day. Grunting and  feeling  sick  and
forlorn,  I executed a feeble attempt at set-ting-up exercises,
approximated a wash-up, took the envelope with the  money,  and
set  out  far Aunt Vaina, moving edge-wise through the doorway.
In the hall, I stopped in  indecision:  it  was  quiet  in  the
house,  and  I wasn't sure that my landlady was up. But at this
point the door to her side of the house opened, and  Pete,  the
customs  man, came out into the hall. Well, well, thought I. At
night he had looked like a drowned drunk. Now in the  light  of
day, he resembled a victim of a hooligan attack. The lower part
of  his  face was dark with blood. Fresh blood glistened on his
chin, and he held a handkerchief under  his  jaw  to  keep  his
snow-white braided uniform clean. His face was strained and his
eyes   tended  to  cross,  but  in  general,  he  held  himself
remarkably calm, as though falling face-down into broken  glass
was  a  most ordinary event for him. A slight misadventure, you
know, can happen to anybody; please don't pay it any attention;
every-thing will be all right.
     "Good morning," I mumbled.
     "Good morning," he responded, politely  dabbing  his  chin
cautiously and sounding a bit nasal.
     "Anything the matter? Can I help?"
     "A trifle," he said. ' The chair fell."
     He  bowed courteously, and passing by me, unhurriedly left
the  house.  I  observed  his  departure  with   a   thoroughly
unpleasant  feeling,  and when I turned back toward the door, I
found Aunt Vaina standing in front of  me.  She  stood  in  the
doorway,  gracefully  leaning on the jamb, all clean, rosy, and
perfumed, and looking at me as though I was Major General  Tuur
or, at least, Staff Major Polom.
     "Good  morning,  early bird," she cooed. "I was puzzled --
who would be talking at this hour?"
     "I  couldn't  bring  myself  to  disturb  you,"  I   said,
shuddering  fashionably  and mentally howling at the pain in my
shoulder. "Good morning, and may I take the  }liberty  to  hand
you --"
     "How nice! You can tell a real gentleman right away. Major
General  Tuur  used  to  say  that a true gentleman never makes
anyone wait. Never. Nobody..."
     I became aware that slowly but very persistently, she  was
herding  me  away  from her door. The living room was darkened,
with the drapes apparently drawn, and some strange sweet  smell
was wafting out of it into the hall.
     "But you did not have to be in such a rush, really..."
     She was finally in a convenient position to close the door
with a smooth negligent gesture. "However, you can be sure that
I will  value  your  promptness  appropriately.  Vousi is still
asleep, and it's time for me to get Len off to  school.  So  if
you will excuse me... By the way, we have the newspapers on the
veranda."
     "Thank you," I said, retreating.
     "If  you'll  have the patience, I would like to ask you to
join me for breakfast and a cup of cream."
     "Unfortunately, I will have to be going," I  said,  bowing
out.
     As  to newspapers, there were six. Two local, illustrated,
fat as almanacs; one from the capital; two luxurious  weeklies;
and,  for some reason, the Arab El Gunia. The last I put
aside, and sifted through the  others,  accompanying  the  news
with sandwiches and hot cocoa.
     In  Bolivia,  government  troops, after stubborn fighting,
had occupied the town of Reyes. The rebels were  pushed  across
the  River  Beni.  In  Moscow,  at the international meeting of
nuclear physicists, Haggerton and Soloviev announced a  project
for  a  commercial  installation  to  produce  anti-matter. The
Tretiakoff  Gallery  had  arrived  in  Leopoldville,   official
opening  being  scheduled for tomorrow. The scheduled series of
pilotless craft had been launched from the Staryi  Vostok  base
on Pluto into the totally free flight zone; communications with
two  of  the  craft  were  temporarily  disrupted.  The General
Secretary of  the  UN  had  directed  an  official  message  to
Orolianos, in which he warned that in the event of a repetition
of  the  use  of  atomic  grenades by the extremists, UN police
forces would be introduced into Eldorado. In Central Angola, at
the sources of the River Kwando, an  archaeological  expedition
of the Academy of Sciences of the UAR had uncovered the remains
of a cyclopean construction, apparently dating from well before
the  ice  age.  A group of specialists of the United Center for
the Investigation of Subelectronic (Ritrinitive) Structures had
evaluated  the  energy  reserves  available   to   mankind   as
sufficient for three billion years. The cosmic branch of Unesco
had   announced   that   the   relative  population  growth  of
extraterrestrial  centers  and   bases   now   approached   the
population  growth on Earth. The head of the British delegation
to the UN had put forth a proposal, in the name  of  the  great
powers, for the total demilitarization, by force if need be, of
the remaining militarized regions on the globe.
     Information  about how many kilos were pressed by whom and
about who drove how many balls through whose goal posts  I  did
not bother to read. Of the local announcements, I was intrigued
by three. The local paper, Joy of Life, reported: "Last night a
group of evil-minded men again carried out a private plane raid
on  Star  Square,  which  was  full  of  citizens  taking their
leisure. The hooligans fired  several  machine-gun  bursts  and
dropped  eleven  gas  bombs.  As a result of the ensuing panic,
several men and women  suffered  severe  injuries.  The  normal
recreation of hundreds of respectable people was disrupted by a
small group of bandit (excuse the term) intelligentsia with the
obvious  connivance of the police. The president of the Society
for the Good Old Country Against Evil Influences  informed  our
correspondent  that  the  Society intended to take into its own
hands the matter of the protection of the well-earned  rest  of
fellow  citizens.  In no equivocal manner, the president let it
be known whom specifically the people regarded as the source of
the   harmful    infection,    banditism,    and    militarized
hooliganism..."
     On  page  twelve, the paper devoted a column to an article
by "the outstanding proponent of  the  latest  philosophy,  the
laureate  of  many  literary prizes, Doctor Opir." The treatise
was titled "World Without Worry." With beautiful words and most
convincingly indeed, Doctor Opir established the omnipotence of
science, called  for  optimism,  derided  gloomy  skeptics  and
denigrators, and invited all "to be as children." He assigned a
specially  important  role  in  the  formation  of contemporary
(i.e.,    anxiety-free)    psychology    to    electric    wave
psychotechnics. "Recollect what a wonderful charge of vigor and
good feeling is imparted by a bright, happy, and joyful dream!"
exclaimed  this representative of the latest philosophy. "It is
no wonder that sleep has been known for over a hundred years to
be a curative agent for many psychic disturbances. But  we  are
all  a touch ill: we are sick with our worries, we are overcome
by the trivia of daily routine, we are irritated  by  the  rare
but  still remaining few malfunctions, the inevitable frictions
among individuals, the normal healthy  sexual  unsatisfiedness,
the  dissatisfaction with self which is so common in the makeup
of each person. ... As fragrant bath salts wash away  the  dust
of  travel  from  our tired bodies, so does a joyful dream wash
away and purify a tired psyche. So now, we no  longer  have  to
fear  any  anxieties  or malfunctions. We well know that at the
appointed hour, the invisible radiation of the dream generator,
which together with the public I tend to call by  the  familiar
name of 'the shivers,' will heal us, fill us with optimism, and
return  to us the wonderful feeling of the joy of being alive."
Further, Doctor Opir expounded that the shivers were absolutely
harmless physically and psychologically, and that  the  attacks
of detractors who wished to see in the shivers a resemblance to
narcotics and who demagogically ranted about a "doped mankind,"
could  not  but  arouse  in  us a painful incomprehension, and,
conceivably, some stronger public-spirited emotions that  could
be   dangerous   to  the  malevolently  inclined  citizens.  In
conclusion, Doctor Opir pronounced a happy dream to be the best
kind of rest, vaguely hinted that the shivers  constituted  the
best antidote to alcoholism and drug addiction, and insistently
warned  that the shivers should not be confused with other (not
medically approved) methods of electric wave application.
     The weekly Golden Days informed the public that a valuable
canvas, ascribed in the opinion of experts to the  gifted  band
of  Raphael,  had  been stolen from the National Art Galleries.
The weekly called the attention of the authorities to the  fact
that  this  criminal  act  was  the  third during the past four
months of this year, and that neither of the previously  stolen
works of art had ever been found.
     All  in  all,  there  was  really  nothing  to read in the
weeklies. I glanced through them quickly, and they left me with
the most depressing impression.
     All  were  filled  with   desolate   witticisms,   artless
caricatures,  among  which  the  "captionless" series stood out
with   particular   imbecility,   with   biographies   of   dim
personalities, slobbering sketches of life in various layers of
society, nightmarish series of photos with such titles as "Your
husband  at work and at home," endless amounts of useful advice
on how to occupy your time without, God forbid, burdening  your
head,   passionately   idiotic   sallies   against  alcoholism,
hooliganism, and  debauchery,  and  calls  to  join  clubs  and
choruses  with  which  I  was already familiar. There were also
memoirs of participants in the "fracas"  and  in  the  struggle
against  organized  crime, which were served up in the literary
style of jackasses totally  lacking  in  taste  or  conscience.
These   were   obviously   exercises  of  addicts  of  literary
sensationalism, loaded with suffering  and  tears,  magnificent
feats  and  saccharine  futures. There were endless crosswords,
chainwords, rebuses, and puzzle pictures.
     I flung the pile of papers into the corner. What a  dreary
place  they  had  here!  The  boob  was  coddled,  the boob was
lovingly nurtured, and the boob was cultivated;  the  boob  had
become  the  norm; a little more and he would become the ideal,
while jubilant doctors of  philosophy  would  exultantly  dance
attendance  upon him. But the papers were in full choreographic
swing even now. Oh, what a wonderful  boob  we  have!  Such  an
optimistic  boob,  and such an intelligent boob, such a healthy
alert boob, and with such a fine sense of humor; and  oh  boob,
how well and adroitly you can solve crossword puzzles! But most
important  of  all,  boob,  don't  you  worry  about  a  thing,
everything is  quite  all  right,  everything  is  just  dandy,
everything  is in your service, the science and the literature,
just so you can be amused and  don't  have  to  think  about  a
thing....  As  for those seditious skeptics and hoodlums, boob,
we'll take care of them! With your help, we can't help but take
care of them! What are they complaining about, anyway? Do  they
have more needs than other people?
     Dreariness and desolation! There had to be some curse upon
these   people,   some   awful  predilection  for  dangers  and
disasters. Imperialism, fascism, tens  of  millions  of  people
killed  and  lives  destroyed, including millions of these same
boobs, guilty and innocent, good and bad. The last  skirmishes,
the  last  putsches,  especially pitiless because they were the
last. Criminals,  the  military  driven  berserk  by  prolonged
uselessness,  all kinds of leftover trash from intelligence and
counterintelligence,  bored  by  the  sameness  of   commercial
espionage,  all  slavering  for  power. Again we were forced to
return  from  space,  to  come  out  of  our  laboratories  and
factories,  to call back our soldiers. And we managed it again.
The zephyr was  gently  turning  the  pages  of  History  of
Fascism by my feet. But hardly had we had the time to savor
the  cloudless  horizons,  when  out  of  these  same sewers of
history crept the scum with submachine guns,  homemade  quantum
pistols, gangsters, syndicates, gangster corporations, gangster
empires.  "Minor  malfunctions  are  still encountered here and
there," soothed and calmed Doctor Opir,  while  napalm  bottles
flew through university windows, cities were seized by bands of
outlaws,   and  museums  burned  like  candles....  All  right.
Brushing aside Doctor Opir and his kind, once again we came out
of space, out of the labs and factories, recalled the soldiers,
and once again managed the problem. And again  the  skies  were
clear. Once more the Opirs were out, the weeklies were purring,
and once more filth was flowing out of the same sewers. Tons of
heroin,  cisterns  of  opium, and oceans of alcohol, and beyond
all that something new, something for which we had no  name....
Again  everything  was  hanging by a thread for them, and boobs
were solving crosswords, dancing the fling, and desired but one
thing: to have fun. But somewhere  idiot  children  were  being
born,  people  were  going insane, some were dying strangely in
bathtubs, some were dying no less  strangely  with  some  group
called  the  Fishers,  while art patrons defended their passion
for art with brass knuckles. And the weeklies  were  attempting
to  cover  this  foul-smelling  bog  with a crust, fragile as a
meringue,  of  cloyingly  sweet  prattle,  and  this  or   that
diplomaed  fool glorified sweet dreams, and thousands of idiots
surrendered with relish to dreams in lieu  of  drunkenness  (so
that they need not think)... and again the boobs were persuaded
that  all  was  well,  that  space  was  being  developed at an
unprecedented pace (which was true), and that sources of energy
would last for billions of years (which was  also  true),  that
life  was  becoming  unquestionably more interesting and varied
(which was also undoubtedly true, but  not  for  boobs),  while
demagogue-denigrators (real-thinking men who considered that in
our times any drop of pus could infect the whole of mankind, as
once upon a time a beer putsch turned into a world menace) were
foreign  to  the  people's  interests and deserved of universal
condemnation. Boobs and criminals, criminals and boobs.
     "Have to  work  at  it,"  I  said  aloud.  "To  hell  with
melancholy! We'd show you skeptics!"
     It  was  time  to  go see Rimeyer. Although there were the
Fishers. But all right, the Fishers could be attended to later.
I was tired of poking around in the dark. I  went  out  in  the
yard. I could hear Aunt Vaina feeding Len.
     "But, Mom, I don't want any!"
     "Eat, son, you must eat. You are so pale."
     "I don't want to. Disgusting lumps l"
     "What lumps? Here, let me have some myself! Mm! Delicious!
Just try some and you'll see it's very tasty."
     "But I don't want any! I'm ill, I'm not going to school."
     "Len, what are you saying? You've skipped a lot of days as
it is."
     "So what?"
     "What  do  you  mean,  so  what?  The director has already
called me twice. We'll be fined."
     "Let them fine us!"
     "Eat, son, eat. Maybe you didn't get enough sleep?"
     "I didn't. And my stomach hurts... and my head...  and  my
tooth, this one here, you see?"
     Len's  voice sounded peevish, and I immediately visualized
his pouting lips and his swinging stockinged foot.
     I went out the gate. The day was again  clear  and  sunny,
full of bird twitter. It was still too early, so that on my way
to  the Olympic, I met only two people. They walked together by
the curb, monstrously out of place in the joyful world of green
branch and clear blue sky. One was painted  vermilion  and  the
other  bright  blue.  Sweat  beaded  through the paint on their
bodies. Their  breaths  heaved  through  open  mouths  and  the
protruding  eyes were bloodshot. Unconsciously I unbuttoned all
the buttons of my shirt and  breathed  with  relief  when  this
strange pair passed me.
     At  the hotel I went right up to the ninth floor. I was in
a very determined mood. Whether Rimeyer wanted to  or  not,  he
would  have to tell me everything I wanted to know. As a matter
of fact, I needed him now for other things as well. I needed  a
listener,  and in this sunny bedlam I could talk openly only to
him, so far. True, this was not the Rimeyer I had  counted  on,
but this too had to be talked cut in the end....
     The red-headed Oscar stood by the door to Rimeyer's suite,
and, seeing  him,  I slowed my steps. He was adjusting his tie,
gazing pensively at the ceiling. He looked worried.
     "Greetings," I said -- I had to start somehow.
     He wiggled his eyebrows and looked  me  over,  and  I  was
aware that he remembered me. He said slowly, "How do you do."
     "You want to see Rimeyer, too?" l asked.
     "Rimeyer  is  not feeling well," he said. He stood hard by
the door and apparently had no intention of letting me by.
     "A pity," I said, moving up  on  him.  "And  what  is  his
problem?"
     "He is feeling very bad."
     "Oh, oh!" I said. "Someone should have a look."
     I  was  now  right up against Oscar. It was obvious he was
not about to give way. My shoulder responded  at  once  with  a
flare of pain.
     "I am not sure it's all that necessary," he said.
     "What do you mean? Is it really that bad?"
     "Exactly.  Very  bad.  And  you  shouldn't bother him. Not
today, or any other day!"
     It seems I arrived in time, I thought, and  hopefully  not
too late.
     "Are you a relative of his?" I asked. My attitude was most
peaceable.
     He grinned.
     "I  am  his  friend.  His  closest  friend in this town. A
childhood friend, you might say."
     'This is most touching," I said. "But I am  his  relative.
Same as a brother. Let's go in together and see what his friend
and brother can do for poor Rimeyer."
     "Maybe his brother has already done enough for Rimeyer."
     "Really now... I only arrived yesterday."
     "You  wouldn't,  by any chance, have other brothers around
here?"
     "I don't think there are any among your friends, with  the
exception of Rimeyer."
     While  we  were  carrying  on  with  this  nonsense, I was
studying him most carefully. He didn't look too nimble  a  type
-- even  considering  my  defective  shoulder.  But he kept his
hands in his pockets all the time, and although I didn't  think
he  would  risk  shooting  in the hotel, I was not of a mind to
chance it. Especially as I had  heard  of  quantum  dischargers
with limited range.
     I  have been told critically many times that my intentions
are  always  clearly  readable  on  my  face.  And  Oscar   was
apparently  an  adequately  keen  observer. I was coming to the
conclusion that he obviously did not  have  anything  there  at
all,  that  the  hands-in-the-pocket  act was a bluff. He moved
aside and said, "Go on in."
     We entered. Rimeyer was indeed in a bad way. He lay on the
couch covered with a torn  drape,  mumbling  in  delirium.  The
table was overturned, a broken bottle stained the middle of the
floor,  and  wet  clothes  were  strewn  all  over  the room. I
approached Rimeyer and sat down by him so as not to lose  sight
of  Oscar,  who  stood by the window, half-sitting on the sill.
Rimeyer's eyes were open. I bent over him.
     "Rimeyer," I called. "It's Ivan. Do you recognize me?"
     He regarded me dully. There was a fresh cut  on  his  chin
under the stubble.
     "So  you got there already..." he muttered. "Don't prolong
the Fishers... doesn't happen... don't  take  it  so  hard  ...
bothered me a lot... I can't stand..."
     It  was pure delirium. I looked at Oscar. He listened with
interest, his neck stretched out.
     "Bad when you wake up..." mumbled Rimeyer. "Nobody... wake
up... they start... then they don't wake up..."
     I disliked Oscar more and more.  I  was  annoyed  that  he
should  be  hearing  Rimeyer's ravings. I didn't like his being
here ahead of  me.  And  again,  I  didn't  like  that  cut  on
Rimeyer's  chin -- it was quite fresh. How can I be rid of you,
red-haired mug, I wondered.
     "We should call a doctor," I said. "Why didn't you call  a
doctor, Oscar? I think it's delirium tremens."
     I  regretted  the  words  immediately.  To my considerable
surprise, Rimeyer did not smell of alcohol at  all,  and  Oscar
apparently knew it. He grinned and said, "Delirium tremens? Are
you sure?"
     "We  have  to call a doctor at once," I said. "Also, get a
nurse."
     I put my hand on the phone. He jumped up instantly and put
his hand on mine.
     "Why should you do it?" he said. "Better  let  me  call  a
doctor. You are new here and I know an excellent doctor."
     "Well,  what kind of a doctor is he?" I objected, studying
the cut on his knuckles -- which was also quite new.
     "An exemplary doctor. Just happens to be a  specialist  on
the DT's."
     Rimeyer   said   suddenly,   "So  I  commanded...  also
spracht Rimeyer... alone with the world..."
     We turned to look at him. He spoke haughtily, but his eyes
were closed, and his face, draped in loose, gray  skin,  seemed
pathetic.  That  swine  Oscar, I thought, where does he get the
gall to linger here? A sudden wild thought flashed  through  my
head -- it seemed at that moment exceedingly well conceived: to
disable  Oscar with a blow to the solar plexus, tie him up, and
force him then and there  to  expose  everything  he  knew.  He
probably  knew  quite  a lot. Possibly everything. He looked at
me, and in his pale eyes was a blend of fear and hatred.
     "All right," I said. "Let the hotel call the doctor."
     He removed his hand and I called  service.  While  waiting
for  the doctor, I sat by Rimeyer, and Oscar walked from corner
to corner, stepping over the liquor puddle. I followed him  out
of  the  corner  of  my  eye. Suddenly he stooped and picked up
something off the floor. Something small and multicolored.
     "What have you got there?" I inquired indifferently.
     He hesitated a bit and then threw a small flat box with  a
polychrome sticker on my knees.
     "Ah!" I said, and looked at Oscar. "Devon."
     "Devon," he responded. "Strange that it's here rather than
in the bathroom."
     The  devil,  I  thought.  Maybe  I  was still too green to
challenge him openly. I still knew  but  very  little  of  this
whole mess.
     "Nothing strange about that," I said at random. "I believe
you distribute  that  repellent.  It's  probably a sample which
fell out of your pocket."
     "Out of my pocket?" He was astonished. "Oh, you think that
I... But I finished my assignments a long time ago, and now I'm
just taking it easy. But if you're interested, I can be of some
help."
     That s very interesting, I said. "I will consult --"
     Unfortunately, the door flew open at  this  point,  and  a
doctor accompanied by two nurses entered the room.
     The  doctor  turned  out  to  be a decisive individual. He
gestured me off the couch and flung the drape off  Rimeyer.  He
was completely naked.
     "Well, of course," said the doctor. "Again..."
     He raised Rimeyer's eyelid, pulled down his lower lip, and
felt his  pulse.  "Nurse - cordeine! And call some chambermaids
and have them clean out these  stables  till  they  shine."  He
stood up and looked at me. "A relative?"
     "Yes," I said, while Oscar kept still.
     "You found him unconscious?"
     "He was delirious," said Oscar.
     "You carried him out here?"
     Oscar hesitated.
     "I  only  covered  him  with  the drape," he said. "When I
arrived, he was lying as he is now. I was afraid he would catch
cold."
     The doctor regarded him for a while, and  then  said,  "In
any  case,  it  is immaterial. Both of you can go. A nurse will
stay with him. You can call this evening. Goodbye."
     "What is the matter with him, Doctor?" I asked.
     "Nothing special. Overtired, nervous exhaustion... besides
which he apparently smokes too much. Tomorrow he can be  moved,
and  you  can take him home with you. It would be unhealthy for
him to stay here with us. There are too many  amusements  here.
Goodbye."
     We went out into the corridor.
     "Let's go have a drink," I said.
     "You forgot that I don't drink," corrected Oscar.
     "Too  bad.  This  whole  episode  has upset me. I'd like a
snort. Rimeyer always was such a healthy specimen."
     "Well, lately he has slipped a lot," said Oscar carefully.
     "Yes, I hardly recognized him when I saw him yesterday."
     "Same here," said Oscar. He didn't believe a word  of  it,
and neither did I.
     "Where are you staying?" I asked.
     "Right  here,"  said  Oscar.  "On  the floor below, number
817."
     "Too bad that you don't drink. We could go  to  your  room
and have a good talk."
     "Yes,  that wouldn't be a bad idea. But, regretfully, I am
in a great rush." He was  silent  awhile.  "Let  me  have  your
address. Tomorrow morning, I'll be back and drop in to see you.
About ten -- will that suit you? Or you can ring me up."
     "Why  not?"  I said and gave him my address. "To be honest
with you, I am quite interested in Devon."
     "I think we'll be able to come to an understanding,"  said
Oscar. "Till tomorrow!"
     He  ran  down  the  stairs.  Apparently he really was in a
hurry. I went down in the elevator and sent off a  telegram  to
Matia: "Brother very ill, feeling very lonesome, but keeping up
spirits,  Ivan."  I truly did feel very much alone. Rimeyer was
out of the game again, at least for a day. The only hint he had
given me was the advice about the Fishers. I had  nothing  more
definite. There were the Fishers, who were located somewhere in
the  old  subway; there was Devon, which in same peripheral way
could have something to do with my  business,  but  also  could
just  as  well  have  no  connection  with it at all; there was
Oscar, clearly connected  with  Devon  and  Rimeyer,  a  player
sufficiently ominous and repulsive, but undoubtedly only one of
many  such  unpleasant  types  on the local cloudless horizons;
then again there was a certain "Buba," who  supplied  pore-nose
with  Devon....  After  all,  I have been here just twenty-four
hours, I thought. There is time. Also, I could still  count  on
Rimeyer in the final analysis, and there was the possibility of
finding  Peck.  Suddenly  I  remembered the events of the night
before and sent a wire to  Sigmund:  "Amateur  concert  on  the
twenty-eighth,  details  unknown,  Ivan."  Then I beckoned to a
porter and inquired as to the shortest way to the old subway.



     "You would do better to come  at  night.  It's  too  early
now."
     "I prefer now."
     "Can't wait, eh? Perhaps you've got the wrong address?"
     "Oh no, I haven't got it wrong."
     "You must have it now, you are sure?"
     "Yes, now and not later."
     He clicked his tongue and pulled on his lower lip. He was
     short,  well  knit,  with  a  round  shaved head. He spoke
hardly moving his tongue and rolling his eyes  languidly  under
the lids. I thought he had not had enough sleep. His companion,
sitting  behind  the  railing in an easy chair, apparently also
had missed some. But he did not utter a word  and  didn't  even
look in my direction. It was a gloomy place, with stale air and
warped  panels  which  had  sprung away from the walls. A bulb,
dimmed with dust, hung shadeless from the ceiling  on  a  dirty
cable.
     "Why not come later?" said the round-head. "When everybody
comes."
     "I just got the urge," I said diffidently.
     "Got  the  urge..."  He  searched  in his table drawer. "I
don't even have a form left. Eli, do you have some?"
     The latter, without breaking his silence,  bent  over  and
pulled  out  a  crumpled sheet of paper from somewhere near the
railing.
     The round-head said, yawning, "Guys that come at break  of
day...  nobody  here...  no  girls... they're still in bed." He
proffered the form. "Fill it out and sign. Eli and I will  sign
as  witnesses.  Turn  in  your  money.  Don't worry, we keep it
honest. Do you have any documents?"
     "None."
     "That's good, too."
     I scanned the form. "In open deposition and of my own
     free  will,  I,  the  undersigned,  in  the  presence   of
witnesses,  earnestly request to be subjected to the initiation
trials toward the mutual quest of membership in the Society  of
VAL."  There  were  blank spaces for signature of applicant and
signatures of witnesses.
     "What is VAL?" I asked.
     "That's the way we are registered,"  answered  round-head.
He was counting my money.
     "But how do you decipher it?"
     "Who  knows? That was before my time. It's VAL, that's all
there is to it. Maybe  you  know,  Eli?"  Eli  shook  his  bead
lazily. "Well, really, what do you care?"
     "You are absolutely right." I inserted my name and signed.
     Round-head  looked it over, signed it, and passed the form
to Eli.
     "You look like a foreigner," he said.
     "Right."
     "In  that  case,  add  your  home  address.  Do  you  have
relatives?"
     "No."
     "Well then, you don't have to. All set, Eli? Put it in the
folder. Shall we go?"
     He lifted up the gate in the railway and walked me over to
a massive  square  door,  probably left over from the days when
the subway had been fitted out as an atomic shelter.
     "There is no choice," he said as though  in  self-defense.
He   pulled   the   slides  and  turned  a  rusty  handle  with
considerable effort. "Go straight down the  corridor  and  then
you'll see for yourself."
     I thought that I heard Eli snickering behind him. I turned
around.  A  small  screen was fitted in the railing in front of
Eli. Something was moving on the screen, but I  could  not  see
what  it  was.  Round-bead put all his weight on the handle and
swung back the door. A dusty passage became visible. For a  few
seconds   he  listened  and  then  said,  "Straight  down  this
corridor."
     "What will I find there?" I said.
     "You'll get what you were looking for. Or have you changed
your mind?"
     All of which was clearly not what I was looking  for,  but
as  is  well known, nobody knows anything until he has tried it
himself I stepped over the high sill and the door  shut  behind
me with a clang. I could hear the latches screeching home.
     The  corridor  was  lit  by  a few surviving lamps. It was
damp, and mold grew an the cement walls. I stood still  awhile,
listening, but there was nothing to be heard but the infrequent
tap  of  water drops. I moved forward cautiously. Cement rubble
crunched underfoot. Soon the corridor came to  an  end,  and  I
found  myself in a vaulted, poorly lit concrete tunnel. When my
eyes accommodated to the darkness, I discerned a set of tracks.
The rails were badly rusted and puddles of dark  water  gleamed
motionless  along  their  length.  Sagging cables hung from the
ceiling. The dampness seeped to  the  marrow  of  my  bones.  A
repulsive  stench  of sewer and carrion filled my nostrils. No,
this was not what I was looking for. I was not  of  a  mind  to
fritter away my time and thought of going back and telling them
that  I would be back some other time. But first, simply out of
curiosity, I decided to take a short walk along the  tunnel.  I
went  to  the right toward the light of distant bulbs. I jumped
puddles, stumbled over the rotting ties, and got  entangled  in
loose wires. Reaching a lamp, I stopped again.
     The  rails  had  been  removed. Ties were strewn along the
walls, and holes filled with water gaped  along  the  right  of
way.  Then  I  saw the rails. I have never seen rails in such a
condition.  Some  were  twisted  into  corkscrews.  They   were
polished  to  a  high  shine  and reminded me of gigantic drill
bits. Others were driven with titanic force into the floor  and
walls  of  the  tunnel.  A third group were tied into knots. My
skin crawled at this sight. Some were simple knots, some with a
single bow, some with a double bow like  shoelaces.  They  were
mauve and brown.
     I looked ahead into the depths of the tunnel. The smell of
rotting  carrion  wafted  out  of it, and the dim yellow lights
winked rhythmically as though something swayed  in  the  draft,
covering  and uncovering them periodically. My nerves gave way.
I felt that this was nothing more than a  stupid  joke,  but  I
couldn't  control  myself. I squatted down and looked around. I
soon found what I was looking  for  --  a  yard-long  piece  of
reinforcing  rod.  I  stuck it under my arm and went ahead. The
iron was wet and cold and rough with rust.
     The reflection of the winking lights glinted  on  slippery
wet   walls.   I   had   noticed  some  time  back  the  round,
strange-looking marks on them, but at first did  not  pay  them
any  attention. Then I became interested and examined them more
closely. As far as the eye could reach, there were two sets  of
round  prints on the walls at one-meter intervals. It looked as
though an elephant had run along the wall -- and not  too  long
ago at that. On the edge of one of the prints, the remains of a
crushed  centipede  still  struggled feebly. Enough, I thought,
time to go back. I looked along the tunnel. Now I could plainly
see the swaying curves of black cables under the lamps. I  took
a  better  grip on the rod and went ahead, holding close to the
wall.
     The whole thing was getting  through  to  me.  The  cables
sagged under the arch of the tunnel, and on them, tied by their
tails  into  hairy clusters, hung hundreds upon hundred of dead
rats, swaying in the draft. Tiny teeth glinted horribly in  the
semi-dark,  and  rigid little legs stuck out in all directions.
The clusters  stretched  in  long  obscene  garlands  into  the
distance.  A thick, nauseating stench oozed from under the arch
and flowed along the tunnel, as palpable as glutinous jelly.
     There was a piercing  screech  and  a  huge  rat  scurried
between  my  feet.  And  then another and another. I backed up.
They were fleeing from there, from the dark where there was not
a single lamp. Suddenly, warm air came pulsing  from  the  same
direction.  I  felt  a  hollow  space with my elbow and pressed
myself into the niche. Something  live  squirmed  and  squeaked
under  my  heel;  I swung my iron rod without looking. I had no
time for rats, because I could hear something  running  heavily
but softly along the tunnel, splashing in the puddles. It was a
mistake  to  get involved in this business, thought I. The iron
rod seemed very light and insignificant in comparison with  the
bow-tied  rails.  This was no flying leech, nor a dinosaur from
the Kongo... don't let  it  be  a  giganto-pithek,  I  thought,
anything but a giganto-pithek. These donkeys would have the wit
to  catch  one  and  let it loose in the tunnel. I was thinking
very poorly in those few seconds. And suddenly for no reason at
all I thought of Rimeyer. Why had he sent me here? Had he  gone
out of his mind? If only it was not a giganto-pithek!
     It  raced  by  me  so fast that I couldn't discern what it
was.
     The tunnel boomed from its  gallop.  Then  there  was  the
despairing  scream  of  a  caught  rat  right  close  by and...
silence. Cautiously I peeked out. He stood about ten paces away
directly under one of the lamps, and my legs suddenly went limp
from relief.
     "Smart-alec entrepreneurs," I said aloud,  almost  crying.
'They would dream up something like this."
     He  heard my voice and raising his stern legs, pronounced:
"Our temperature is two meters,  twelve  inches,  there  is  no
humidity, and what there isn't is not there."
     "Repeat your orders," I said, approaching him.
     He  let  the  air  out  of  his  suction  cups with a loud
whistle, twitched his  legs  mindlessly,  and  ran  up  on  the
ceiling.
     "Come down," I said sternly, "and answer my question."
     He  hung  over  my  head,  this  poor long-obsolete cyber,
intended for work an the asteroids, pitiable and out of  place,
covered with flakes of corrosion and blobs of black underground
dirt.
     "Get down," I barked.
     He flung the dead rat at me and sped off into the dark.
     "Basalts!   Granites!"  he  yelled  in  different  voices.
"Pseudo-metamorphic types! I am over Berlin! Do you copy!  Time
to get to bed!"
     I  threw  away  the rod and followed him. He ran as far as
the next lamp,  came  down,  and  began  to  dig  the  concrete
rapidly,  like  a  dog,  with his heavy work manipulators. Poor
chap, even in better times his brain was capable of  performing
properly only in less than one one-hundredth of a G, and now he
was  altogether  out  of his mind. I bent over him and began to
search for the control center under his armor. "The rotters," I
said aloud. The controls were peened over  as  though  battered
with a sledge. He stopped digging and grabbed me by the leg.
     "Stop!" I shouted. "Desist!"
     He  desisted,  lay  down on his side, and informed me in a
basso voice, "I am deathly tired of him, Eli. Now would be  the
time for a shot of brandy."
     Contacts  clicked  inside  him  and  music  poured  forth.
Hissing and whistling, he gave a  rendition  of  the  "Hunters'
March."  I  was  looking  at  him  and  thinking how stupid and
repulsive it all was, how  ridiculous  and  at  the  same  time
frightening.  If  I  had  not  been  a  spaceman, if I had been
frightened and run, he would almost certainly have  killed  me.
But  nobody  here  knew  I  had  been in space. Nobody. Not one
person. Even Rimeyer didn't know.
     "Get up," I said.
     He buzzed and started to dig the wall, and I turned around
and went back. All  the  time  while  I  was  returning  to  my
turn-off  I could hear him rattling and clanging in the pile of
contorted rails, hissing with  the  electrowelder  and  ranting
nonsense in two voices.
     The  anti-atomic door was already open, and I stepped over
the sill, swinging it shut behind me.
     "Well, how was it?" asked round-head.
     "Dumb," I replied.
     "I had no idea you were a spaceman. You have worked out on
the planets?"
     "I have. But it's still dumb. For  fools.  For  illiterate
keyed-up boobs."
     "What kind?"
     "Keyed-up."
     "Well  --  there you got it wrong. Lots of people like it.
Anyway, I told you  to  come  at  night.  We  don't  have  much
amusement  for  singles." He poured some whiskey and added some
soda from the siphon. "Would you like some?"
     I took the glass and leaned on the railing.  Eli  gloomily
regarded  the  screen,  a cigarette sticking to his lip. On the
screen careened shifting views of the glistening tunnel  walls,
twisted  rails,  black  puddles,  and  flying  sparks  from the
welder.
     'That's  not  for  me,"  I  announced.  "Let  barbers  and
accountants  enjoy  it. Of course, I have nothing against them,
but what I need is something the likes of which I have not seen
in my entire life."
     "So  you  don't  know  yourself  what  you   want,"   said
roundhead. "It's a hard case. Excuse me, you aren't an Intel?"
     "Why?"
     "Well,  don't  take offense -- we are all equal before the
grim reaper, you understand. What am  I  trying  to  say?  That
Intels  are  the most difficult clients, that's all. Isn't that
right, Eli? If one of your barbers or bookkeepers  comes  here,
he  knows  very  well  what it is he needs. He needs to get his
blood going, to show off and be proud of himself,  to  get  the
girls  squealing,  and exhibit the punctures in his side. These
fellows are simple, each one wants to consider himself  a  man.
After  all,  who  is  he  --  our  client? He has no particular
capabilities, and he doesn't need any. In earlier times, I read
in a book, people used to be  envious  of  each  other  --  the
neighbor  is  rolling  in  luxury  and  I  can't  save up for a
refrigerator -- how could you put up with that?  They  hung  on
like bulldogs to all kinds of trash, to money, to cushy jobs --
they  laid  down  their  lives  for such things. The guy with a
foxier head or a stronger fist would wind up on  top.  But  now
life  has  become  affluent  and  dull and there is a plenty of
everything. What shall a man apply himself to? A man is  not  a
fish, for all that, he is still a man and gets bored, but can't
dream  up  something  to  do  for  himself. To do that you need
special talents, you need to read a mountain of books, and  how
can  he  do  that  when  they  make  him  throw  up.  To become
world-famous or to invent some new  machine,  that's  something
that  wouldn't  pop  into his head, but even if it did, of what
use would it be? Nobody really needs you,  not  even  your  own
wife  and  children if you examine it honestly. Right, Eli? And
you don't need  anybody  either.  Nowadays,  it  seems,  clever
people  think  things  up  for  you,  something  new like these
aerosols, or the shivers, or a new dance.  There  is  that  new
drink -- it's called a polecat. Wanna me knock one together for
you?  So  he  downs some of this polecat, his eyes crawl out of
their sockets, and he's happy. But as long as his eyes  are  in
their sockets, life is just as dull as rainwater for him. There
is an Intel that comes here to us, and every time he complains:
Life,  he  says,  is dull, my friends... but I leave here a new
man; after, say, 'bullets' or 'twelve to one,' I see myself  in
a  completely  new  light. Right, Eli? Everything becomes sweet
all over again, food, drink, women."
     "Yes," I said  sympathetically.  "I  understand  you  very
well. But for me it's all too stale."
     "Slug is what he needs," said Eli in his bass voice.
     "What's that again?"
     "Slug is what I said."
     Round-head puckered in distaste.
     "Aw, come on, Eli. What's with you today?"
     "I  don't  give a hoot for the likes of him," said Eli. "I
just don't like these guys.  Everything  is  insipid  for  him,
nothing suits him."
     "Don't  listen  to him," said round-head. "He hasn't slept
all night and is very tired."
     "Well, why not," I contradicted. "I am  quite  interested.
What is this slug?"
     Round-head puckered his face again.
     "It's  not decent, you understand?" he said. "Don't listen
to Eli, he is a good enough guy,  a  simple  fellow,  but  it's
nothing  for  him  to  lambaste a man. It's a bad term. Certain
types have taken to writing it all over the  walls.  Hooligans,
that's  what  they  are, right? The snot-noses hardly know what
it's about, but they write anyway. See how we had to plane  off
the railing? Some son of a bitch carved into it, and if I catch
him,  I'll  turn  his  hide inside out. We do have women coming
here too."
     "Tell  him,"  pronounced  Eli,   addressing   himself   to
roundhead,  "that  he should get hold of a slug and quiet down.
Let him find Buba..."
     "Will you shut  up,  Eli?"  said  round-head,  now  angry.
"Don't pay any attention to him."
     Having  heard  the  name  Buba, I helped myself to another
drink and settled more comfortably on the railing.
     "What's it all about?" I said. "Some kind of secret vice?"
     "Secret!" boomed Eli, and let out an obscene horselaugh.
     Round-head laughed, too.
     "Nothing can be a secret here,"  he  said.  "What  had  of
secrets can there be when people are living it up at the age of
fifteen?  The  dopes,  the  Intels, manufacture secrets. They'd
like to get a fracas going on the twenty-eighth, they  are  all
in  a  huddle, took some mine launchers out of town recently to
hide them, like kids, honest to God! Right, Eli?"
     "Tell him," the good simple  fellow  Eli  was  persisting.
"Tell  him  to be off to Hell and gone. And don't go protecting
him. Just tell him to go to Buba at the Oasis and that's that."
     He threw my wallet and form on the railing. I finished the
whiskey. Round-head said soberly, "Of course, it's entirely  up
to  you,  but  my advice is to stay away from that stuff. Maybe
we'll all come to it someday, but  the  later,  the  better.  I
can't  even  explain it to you, I only feel that it is like the
grave: never too late and always too soon."
     "Thank you," I said.
     "He even thanks you." Eli let  loose  another  horselaugh.
"Have you seen anything like it! He thanks you!"
     "We kept three dollars," said round-head. "You can tear up
the blank.  Or  let  me tear it up. God forbid something should
happen to you, the police will come looking to us."
     "To be honest with you," I said, putting the wallet  away,
"I  don't  understand  how  they  haven't  closed  your  office
already."
     "Everything is on the up and up with us," said round-head.
"If you don't want any, no one is forcing you. But if something
should happen, it's your own fault."
     "No one is forcing the drug addicts either," I retorted.
     "That's some comparison! Drugs are a profiteering  corrupt
business!"
     "Well,  okay,  I'll  be  seeing  you,"  I  said.  "Thanks,
fellows. Where did you say to look for Buba?"
     "At the Oasis," boomed Eli. "It's a cafe. Beat it."
     "What a polite fellow you are, my  friend,"  I  said.  "It
gets me right in my heart."
     "Go on, beat it," repeated Eli. "Stinking Intel."
     "Don't  get  so  excited,  pal,"  I  said, "or you'll earn
yourself an ulcer. Save your stomach, it's your  most  valuable
possession."
     Eli  started  to  move slowly out from behind the railing,
and I left. My shoulder had started to ache again.
     A warm, heavy rain was falling outside. The leaves on  the
trees  shone  wetly  and  joyfully, there was a smell of ozone,
freshness and thunderstorm. I stopped  a  taxi  and  named  the
Oasis.  The  street ran with fresh streams, and the city was so
pretty and comfortable that it seemed improper to think of  the
moldy and abandoned Subway.
     The  rain  was  pelting in full swing when I jumped out of
the car, ran across the sidewalk, and  burst  into  the  Oasis.
There  were  quite  a  few  people,  most  of them were eating,
including the bartender, who was spooning some soup  out  of  a
dish  placed  among  drinking  glasses.  Those who had finished
eating  sat  smoking  and  abstractedly  staring  out  of   the
streaming  window  at  the  street.  I  approached  the bar and
inquired in a low voice whether Buba was there.  The  bartender
put down his spoon and surveyed the room.
     "Naah," he said. "Why don't you have something to eat now,
and he'll be along soon enough."
     "How soon?"
     "Twenty minutes, half an hour maybe."
     "So!"  I  said.  "In  that case I'll have dinner, and then
I'll come over and you can point him out to me."
     "Uhuh," said the bartender, returning to his soup.
     I picked up a tray, collected some sort of a meal, and sat
down by the window away from the rest of the patrons. I  wanted
to  think.  I  sensed  that there was enough data to ponder the
problem effectively. Some sort of pattern seemed to be forming.
Boxes of Devon in the bathroom. Pore-nose spoke about Buba  and
Devon  (in  whispers).  Eli  talked of Buba and "slug." A clear
chain of  links  --  bath,  Devon,  Buba,  slug.  Further:  the
sunburned  fellow with the muscles cautioned that Devon was the
worst of junk, while the roundhead saw  no  difference  between
slug and the grave. It all had to fit together. It seemed to be
what  we  were  looking  for.  If so, then Rimeyer had done the
right thing to send me to  the  Fishers.  Rimeyer,  I  said  to
myself,  why  did you send me to the Fishers? And even order me
to do as I was told and not to fuss about it?  And  you  didn't
know,  after  all,  that  I was a spaceman, Rimeyer. If you did
know, there were still the other games with  bullets  and  "one
against  twelve," besides the demented cyber. You really took a
dislike to me for something or other, Rimeyer. Somehow  I  have
crossed  you. But no, said I, this cannot be. It is simply that
you did not trust me, Rimeyer.  It  is  simply  that  there  is
something  that  I  do not know yet. For example, I do net know
just who this Oscar is who trades in Devon in this resort  city
and  who  is  connected with you, Rimeyer. Most likely you have
been meeting with Oscar before our conversation in the elevator
... I don't want to think about that.
     There he was lying like a dead man and here I was thinking
such things  about  him  when  he  could  not  defend  himself.
Suddenly  I  felt a repulsive cold crawling feeling inside. All
right, suppose we trapped this gang.  What  would  change?  The
shivers  would  remain,  lop-eared Len would be up all night as
before, Vousi would be coming home  disgustingly  drunk,  while
customs  inspector  Pete would be smashing his face into broken
glass. And all would  be  concerned  about  the  "good  of  the
people."  Some  would be irrigated with tear gas, some would be
driven into the ground  up  to  their  ears,  others  would  be
converted  from  apehood  into something which passes muster as
human.... And then the shivers would go out of  style  and  the
people would be presented with the super-shivers, while in lieu
of  the  extirpated slug a super-slug would surface. Everything
would be for the good of the people. Have  fun,  Boobland,  and
don't think about a thing!
     Two  men  in  cloaks sat down at the next table with their
trays. One of them seemed to me in some way familiar. He had  a
haughty  thoroughbred  face,  and were it not for a thick white
bandage on the left side  of  his  jaw,  I  was  sure  I  would
recognize  him.  The other was a ruddy man with a bald pate and
fussy movements. They were speaking quietly, but not so  as  to
be  inaudible,  and  I  could  hear them quite well where I was
sitting.
     "Understand  me  correctly,"  the  ruddy  one  said   with
conviction  while  hurriedly consuming his schnitzel, "I am not
at all against theaters and museums. But the allocation for the
municipal theater for the  past  year  has  not  been  expended
fully, while only tourists visit the museums."
     "Also picture thieves," inserted the man with the bandage.
     "Drop  that, please, we don't have pictures that are worth
the theft. Thank God,  they  have  learned  how  to  synthesize
Sistine  Madonnas out of sawdust. I wish to call your attention
to the point that dissemination of culture  in  our  time  must
occur  in  an  entirely  different  manner. Culture must not be
inculcated into the people, rather it  must  emanate  from  the
people.  Public chorister, do-it-yourself groups, mass games --
that is what our public needs."
     "What our public needs is a good army of occupation," said
the man with the bandage.
     "Please stop talking that way,  when  you  actually  don't
believe  what  you  are  saying.  Our  coverage  by the various
associations is really  at  an  unacceptably  poor  level.  For
instance,  Boella complained to me last night that only one man
attends her readings, and he apparently only  does  so  out  of
matrimonial intentions. But we need to distract the people from
the  shivers,  from  alcohol,  from sexual pastimes. We need to
raise the tone --"
     The other interrupted, "What do you want from me?  That  I
should  defend  your  project  against  that ass, our honorable
mayor, today? Be my guest! It is absolutely all the same to me.
But if you would like to hear my opinion about tone and spirit,
let me tell you it does not exist, my dear Senator; it is  long
dead! It has been smothered in belly fat! And if I were in your
place I would take that into account and only that!"
     The  ruddy  man  seemed to be crushed. He was silent for a
while and then groaned suddenly, "Dear God, dear God, to  think
of  what  we  have been driven to concern ourselves with! But I
ask you -- is not someone flying to the stars? Somewhere  meson
reactors  are  being  built,  new  learning  systems  are being
devised! Dear God, I just recently grasped that we are not even
a backwater, we are a preserve! In the eyes of the whole  world
we  are  a  sanctuary  of stupidity, ignorance, and pornocracy.
Imagine, Professor Rubenstein has a chair in our city  for  the
second  year.  A  sociopsychologist  of  world  renown.  He  is
studying us like animals.  Instinctive  Sociology  of  Decaying
Economic  Structures  --  that's  the  name  of his work. He is
interested in people as bearers of primeval instincts,  and  he
complained  to  me that it was very difficult for him to gather
data in countries where instinctive activity is  distorted  and
suppressed by pedagogical systems! But with us he is in seventh
heaven! In his own words, we don't have any activity other than
instinctive!  I  was  insulted,  I was ashamed, but, good Lord,
what could I say to contradict him? You must understand me! You
are an intelligent man, my friend, I know you are a  cold  man,
but  I  can't really believe that you are indifferent to such a
degree."
     The man with the bandage looked at him haughtily and then,
abruptly, his cheek twitched. I recognized him at once: he  was
the character with the monocle who had thrown the luminous slop
all over me so deftly yesterday at the Art Patrons' hall.
     Why,  you  vulture,  thought  I. You thief. So you need an
army of occupation! Spirit smothered in lard indeed!
     "Forgive me, Senator," he said. "I do understand  it  all,
and  that's  precisely  why  it  is  perfectly clear to me that
everything surrounding you is in a state of dementia. The final
spasm! Euphoria!"
     I got up and approached their table.
     "May I join you?" I asked.
     He stared at me in astonishment. I sat down.
     "Please excuse me," I said.  "I  am,  to  be  specific,  a
tourist  and  just  a  short  time  here;  while you seem to be
natives and even to have some  connection  with  the  municipal
government.  So  I  decided  to  inflict  myself on you. I keep
hearing about Art Patrons, Art Patrons. But what it's all about
no one seems to know."
     The man with the bandage experienced another  tie  in  his
cheek. His eyes grew wide -- he too recognized me.
     "Art  Patrons?"  said the ruddy one. "Yes, there is such a
barbarous organization with us here. It is very sad  that  such
is the case, but it's so."
     I  nodded,  studying  the  bandage.  My  acquaintance  had
already regained his composure and was eating  his  jelly  with
his accustomed haughty look.
     "In  essence  they are simply modern-age vandals. I simply
couldn't  find  a  more  appropriate  word.  They  pool   their
resources  and  buy  up stolen paintings, statues, manuscripts,
unpublished literary works, patents, and destroy them. Can  you
imagine  how  revolting  that  is?  They  And some pathological
delight in the destruction of examples of world  culture.  They
gather in a large, well-dressed crowd and slowly, deliberately,
orgiastically destroy them!"
     "Oh  my,  my,  my!"  I  said,  not  taking my eyes off the
bandage. "Such people should be hung by their legs."
     "And we are after them," said the ruddy one.  "We  are  in
pursuit of them on the legal level. We are unfortunately unable
to  get  after  the  Artiques  and  the  Perchers,  who are not
breaking any laws, but as far as the Art Patrons are  concerned
--"
     "Are  you  finished  yet,  Senator?" inquired the bandaged
one, ignoring me.
     The ruddy one caught himself.
     "Yes, yes. It's time for us to go.  You  will  excuse  us,
please,"  he  said,  turning  to  me. "We have a meeting of the
municipal council."
     "Bartender!" called the bandaged one in a metallic  voice.
"Would you call us a taxi."
     "Have you been here long?" asked the ruddy man.
     "Second day," I replied.
     "Do you like it?"
     "A beautiful city."
     "Mm -- yes," he mumbled.
     We  were  silent.  The  man  with  the  bandage impudently
inserted his monocle and pulled out a cigar.
     "Does it hurt?" I asked sympathetically.
     "What, exactly?"
     "The jaw," I said.  "And  the  liver  should  hurt,  too."
"Nothing ever hurts me," he replied, monocle glinting. "Are you
two acquainted?" the ruddy one asked in astonishment.
     "Slightly," I said. "We had an argument about art."
     The  bartender  called  out that the taxi had arrived. The
man with the bandage immediately got up.
     "Let's go, Senator," he said.
     The ruddy one smiled at me abstractedly and also got up.
     They set off for the exit. I followed them  with  my  eyes
and went to the bar.
     "Brandy?" asked the bartender.
     "Quite,"  I  said.  I  shuddered with rage. "Who are those
people I just spoke to?"
     'The  baldy  is  a  municipal  counselor,  his  field  are
cultural  affairs.  The  one  with  the  monocle  is  the  city
comptroller."
     "Comptroller," I said. "A scoundrel is what he is."
     "Really?" said the barman with interest.
     'That's right, really," I said. "Is Buba here?"
     "Not yet. And how about the comptroller, what is he up
     to?"
     "A scoundrel, an embezzler, that's what he is," I said.
     The bartender thought awhile.
     "It could well be," he said. "In fact he's a baron -- that
is, he used to be,  of  course.  His  ways,  sure  enough,  are
unsavory.  Too  bad  I  didn't  go  vote  or I would have voted
against him. What's he done to you?"
     "It's you he's done. And I've given  him  some  back.  And
I'll give him some more in due time. Such is the situation."
     The  bartender,  not  understanding  anything,  nodded and
said, "Hit it again?"
     "Do," I said.
     He poured me more brandy and said,
     "And here is Buba, coming in."
     I turned around and barely managed to keep the glass in my
grip. I recognized Buba.



     He stood by the door looking about him as though trying to
remember where he had come and what he was  to  do  there.  His
appearance was very unlike his old one, but I recognized him at
once  anyway,  because for four years we sat next to each other
in the lecture halls of the school, and then there were several
years when we met almost daily.
     "Say," I addressed the bartender. "They call him Buba?"
     "Uhuh," said the bartender.
     "What is it -- a nickname?"
     "How should I know? Buba is Buba,  that's  what  they  all
call him."
     "Peck," I cried.
     Everyone  looked  at me. He too slowly turned his head and
his eyes searched for the caller. But he paid no  attention  to
me.  As  though  remembering  something, he suddenly started to
shake the water out of his cape with  convulsive  motions,  and
then,  dragging  his heels, hobbled over to the bar and climbed
with difficulty on the stool next to mine.
     "The usual," he said to the bartender. His voice was  dull
and strangled, as though someone held him by the throat.
     "Someone  has  been  waiting  for  you,"  said the barman,
placing before him a glass of neat  alcohol  and  a  deep  dish
filled with granulated sugar.
     Slowly he turned his head and looked at me, saying, "Well,
what is it you want?"
     His  drooping  eyelids were inflamed red, with accumulated
slime in the corners. He breathed through his mouth  as  though
suffering with adenoids.
     "Peck  Xenai,"  I said quietly. "Undergraduate Peck Xenai,
please return from earth to heaven."
     He continued to regard me without a change in his  manner.
Then he licked his lips and said, "A classmate, perhaps?"
     I felt numb and terrified. He turned around, picked up his
glass,  drank  it  down, gagging in revulsion, and began to eat
the sugar with a large soup spoon.  The  bartender  poured  him
another glass.
     "Peck," I said, "old friend, don't you remember me?"
     He looked me over again.
     "I wouldn't say that. I probably did see you somewhere."
     "Saw  me  somewhere!"  I  said  in desperation. "I am Ivan
Zhilin. Could it be you have completely forgotten me?"
     His hand holding the glass quivered almost  imperceptibly,
and that was all.
     "No,  friend,"  he  said, "forgive me, please, but I don't
remember you."
     "And you don't remember the 'Tahmasib' or Iowa Smith?"
     "This heartburn has really got to me today,"  he  informed
the bartender. "Let me have some soda, Con."
     The bartender, who had listened with curiosity, poured him
a soda.
     "Bad  day,  today,  Con,"  he  said. "Can you imagine, two
automates failed on me today."
     The bartender shook his head and sighed.
     "The manager is bitching," continued Buba, "called  me  on
the  carpet and bawled me out. I am going to quit that place. I
told him to go to hell and he fired me."
     "Complain to the union," the bartender advised.
     "To hell with them." He drank his soda and wiped his mouth
with the palm of his hand. He did not look at me.
     I sat as though spat upon, forgetting completely  what  it
was  I  wanted  Buba for. I needed Buba, not Peck -- that is, I
needed Peck too. But not this one. This was not Peck, this  was
some  strange and repulsive Buba, and I watched in horror as he
sucked up  the  second  glass  of  alcohol  and  again  set  to
shoveling spoonfuls of sugar into himself. His face effloresced
with  red  spots,  and  he  kept  gagging  and listening to the
bartender  as  he  animatedly  recounted  the  latest  football
exploits. I wanted to cry out, "Peck, what has happened to you?
Peck, you used to hate all this!" I put my hand on his shoulder
and said imploringly, "Peck, dear friend, hear me out, please."
     He shied away.
     "What's  the matter, friend?" His eyes were now completely
unseeing. "I am not Peck, I am Buba, do you understand? You are
confusing me with someone else, there isn't any  Peck  here....
So what did the Rhinos do then, Con?"
     I  reminded  myself  where  I  was,  and  forced myself to
understand that there was no more Peck, and that  there  was  a
Buba,  here,  an agent of a criminal organization, and this was
the only reality, while Peck Xenai was a  mirage  --  a  memory
which must be quickly extirpated if I intended to press on with
my work.
     "Hold on, Buba," I said. "I want to talk business to you."
     He was quite drunk by now.
     "I  don't  talk  business  at the bar," he announced. "And
anyway I am through with work. Done. I have no more business of
any kind. You can apply to the city hall, friend. They'll  help
you out."
     "I  am  applying to you, not the city hall," I said. "Will
you listen to me!"
     "You I hear all the time, as it is. To the detriment of my
health."
     "My business is quite simple," I said. "I need a slug."
     He shuddered violently.
     "Are you out of your mind, pal?"
     "You should be ashamed," said the bartender. "Right out in
front of people... you have lost all sense of decency."
     "Shut up," I told him.
     "You be quiet," the barman said menacingly.  "It  must  be
some  time  since you've been busted? Watch your step or you'll
get exported."
     "I don't give  a  damn  about  the  exportation,"  I  said
insolently.   "Don't   stick   your  snoot  in  other  people's
business."
     "Lousy sluggard," said the bartender.
     He was visibly incensed, but spoke in a low voice. "A slug
he wants. I'll call an officer right now and he'll give  you  a
slug."
     Buba  slid  off the stool and hurriedly hobbled toward the
door.
     I left off with the bartender and hurried  after  him.  He
shot  out  into  the rain, and forgetting to cover himself with
his cape, started to look around in search of a taxi. I  caught
up with him and grasped him by the sleeve.
     "What  in  God's  name  do  you  want  from  me?"  he said
miserably. "I'll call the police."
     "Peck," I said. "Come out of it, Peck. I am  Ivan  Zhilin,
and you must remember me."
     He kept looking around and wiping the streaming water from
his face  with  the palm of his hand. He looked pitiful and run
down, and I, trying to suppress my irritation,  kept  insisting
to  myself that this was my Peck, priceless Peck, irreplaceable
Peck, good, intelligent, joyful Peck, kept trying  to  remember
him  as he was in front of the Gladiator's control console, and
I couldn't because I couldn't imagine him  anywhere  except  at
the bar over a glass of alcohol.
     "Taxi," he screeched, but the car flew by, full of people.
     "Peck,"  I  said,  "come  with me. I'll tell you all about
it."
     "Leave me alone," he said, his teeth chattering. "I  won't
go  anywhere with you. Leave off! I didn't bother you, I didn't
do anything to you, leave me be, for God's sake."
     "All right," I said, "I'll let you  alone.  But  you  must
give me a slug and also your address."
     "I don't know of any slugs," he moaned. "God, what kind of
a day is this!"
     Favoring  his  left leg, he wandered off and suddenly dove
into a  basement  under  an  elegant  and  restrained  sign.  I
followed.  We  sat  down  at  a  table and a waiter immediately
brought us hot  meat  and  beer,  although  we  hadn't  ordered
anything.  Buba  was shivering and his wet face turned blue. He
pushed the plate away with revulsion and began to  swallow  the
beer,  both  hands  around  the mug. The basement was quiet and
empty. Over the sparkling counter hung a white sign  with  gold
letters reading, "Paid Service Only."
     Buba  raised  his  head from the beer and said pleadingly,
"Can I go, Ivan? I can't... What's the point of all this  talk?
Let me go, please."
     I put my hand on his.
     "What's  happening to you, Peck? I searched for you. There
is no address listed anywhere. I met you quite by accident, and
I don't understand anything. How did you get involved  in  this
mess?  Can  I  help you possibly, with anything? Maybe we could
--"
     Suddenly he jerked his hand away in a rage.
     "What an executioner," he hissed. "The devil lured  me  to
that  Oasis....  Stupid chatter, drivel. I have no slug, do you
understand? I have one, but I won't give it to you.  What'll  I
do then -- like Archimedes? Don't you have any conscience? Then
don't torture me, let me go."
     "I  can't  let you go," I said, "until I get the slug. And
your address. We must talk."
     "I don't want to talk to  you,  can't  you  understand?  I
don't want to talk to anyone about anything. I want to go home.
I  won't  give  you my slug. What am I -- a factory? Give it to
you and then chase all over town?"
     I kept silent. It was clear that he hated me now. That  if
he  thought he had the strength he would kill me and leave. But
he knew that he did not have the strength.
     "Scum," he  said  in  a  fury.  "Why  can't  you  buy  one
yourself?  Don't  you  have the money? Here! Here!" he began to
search  convulsively  in  his  pockets,  throwing  coppers  and
crumpled bills on the table. "Take it, there's plenty."
     "Buy what? Where?"
     "There's  a damned jackass! It's... what is it? Hmm... how
do you call it... Oh hell!" he cried. "May you drop straight to
hell!"
     He stuck his fingers into his shirt pocket and pulled  out
a  flat plastic case. Inside it was a shiny metal tube, similar
to a pocket radio local oscillator-mixer subassembly. "Here  --
get  fat!"  He  proffered me the tube. It was quite small, less
than an inch long and a millimeter thick.
     "Thank you," I said. "And how do I use it?"
     Peck's eyes opened wide. I think he even smiled.
     "Good God!" he said almost tenderly. "Can it be you really
don't know?"
     "I know nothing," I said.
     "Well then, you should have said so from the start. And  I
thought  you  were  tormenting  me  like a torturer. You have a
radio? Insert it in place of  the  mixer,  hang  it,  stand  it
somewhere in the bath, and go to!"
     "In the tub?"
     "Yes."
     "It must be in the bath?"
     "But yes! It is absolutely necessary that your body be
     immersed in water. In hot water. What an ass you are!"
     "And how about Devon?"
     "The  Devon  goes  in the water. About five tablets in the
water and one orally. The taste is awful, but you won't  regret
it  later. And one more thing, be sure to add bath salts to the
water. And before you  start,  have  a  couple  of  glasses  of
something  strong. This is required so that... how shall I say?
-- so you can loosen up, sort of."
     "So," I said. "I got  it.  Now  I've  got  everything."  I
wrapped the slug in a paper napkin and put it in my pocket. "So
it's electric wave psychotechnics?"
     "Good Lord, now what do you care about that?"
     He was up already, pulling the hood over his head.
     "No matter," I said. "How much do I owe you?"
     "A trifle, nonsense! Let's go quickly... what the hell are
we losing time for?"
     We went up into the street.
     "You  made  the  right  decision," said Peck. What kind of
world is this? Are we men in it? Trash is what it is and not  a
world. Taxi!" he yelled. "Hey, taxi!"
     He shook in sudden excitement. "What possessed me to go to
that Oasis...  Oh  no...  from  now  on  I'll  go  nowhere  ...
nowhere."
     "Let me have your address," I said.
     "What do you want with my address?"
     A taxi drew up and Buba tore at the door.
     "Address," I said, grabbing him by the shoulder.
     "What a dumbhead," said Buba..  "Sunshine  Street,  number
eleven... Dumbhead!" he repeated, seating himself.
     "I'll come to see you tomorrow."
     He paid no more attention to me.
     "Sunshine," he threw at the driver. "Through downtown, and
hurry, for God's sake."
     How  simple,  I thought, looking after his car. How simple
everything turned out to be. And everything fits. The bath  and
Devon. Also the screaming radios, which irritated us so, and to
which we never paid any attention. We simply turned them off. I
took a taxi and set out for home.
     But what if he deceived me, I thought. Simply wanted to be
rid of  me  sooner.  But I would determine that soon enough. He
doesn't look like a runner, an agent, at all, I thought.  After
all,  he is Peck. However, no, he is no longer Peck. Poor Peck.
You are no agent, you are simply a victim. You  know  where  to
buy  this  filth,  but  you  are only a victim. I don't want to
interrogate Peck, I don't want to  shake  him  down  like  some
punk.  True,  he  is  no  longer Peck. Nonsense, what does that
mean, that he is not Peck. He is  Peck,  and  still  I'll  have
to...  Electric  wave psychotechnics... But the shivers they're
wave psychotechnics too.... Somehow, it's a bit too  simple.  I
haven't passed two days here yet, while Rimeyer has been living
here  since  the  uprising. We left him behind, and he had gone
native and everyone was  pleased  with  him,  although  in  his
latest  reports he wrote that nothing like what we were looking
for existed here. True, he has nervous exhaustion... and  Devon
on  the  floor. Also there is Oscar. Further, he did not beg me
to leave him be, but simply pointed me in the direction of  the
Fishers.
     I  didn't  meet  anyone either in the front yard or in the
hall.. It was almost five.  I  went  to  my  rooms  and  called
Rimeyer. A quiet female voice answered.
     "How is the patient?" I asked.
     "He is asleep. He shouldn't be disturbed."
     "I won't do that. Is he better?"
     "I  told  you  he  fell  asleep. And don't call too often,
please. The phone disturbs him."
     "You will be with him all the time?"
     "Till morning, at least. If you call again, I'll have  the
phone disconnected."
     "Thank  you,"  I said. "Just, please, don't leave him till
morning, I'll not trouble you again."
     I hung up and sat awhile in the big comfortable  chair  in
front  of  the huge absolutely bare table. Then I took the slug
out of my pocket and laid it in front  of  me.  A  small  shiny
tube,  inconspicuous  and  completely  harmless  to all outward
appearances, an ordinary electronic component. Such can be made
by the millions. They should cost pennies.
     "What's that you got there?" asked Len, right next to my
     He stood alongside and regarded the slug.
     "Don't you know?" I asked.
     "It's from a radio. I have one like it  in  my  radio  and
it's breaking all the time."
     I pulled my radio out of my pocket and extracted its mixer
and laid it alongside the slug. The mixer looked like the slug,
but it was not a slug.
     "They are not the same," said Len. "But I have seen one of
those gadgets, too."
     "What gadget?"
     "Like the one you have."
     All at once, his face clouded over and he looked grim.
     "Did you remember?"
     "No, I didn't," he said. "I didn't remember anything."
     "All right, then." I picked up the slug and inserted it in
place of the mixer in the radio. Len grabbed me by the hand.
     "Don't," he said.
     "Why not?"
     He didn't reply, eyeing the radio warily.
     "What are you afraid of?" I asked.
     "I'm not afraid of anything. Where did you get that idea?"
     "Look  in the mirror," I said. "You look as though you are
afraid for me." I put the radio in my pocket.
     "For you?" he said in astonishment.
     "Obviously for me. Not for yourself, of course, though you
are still scared of those... necrotic phenomena."
     He looked sideways.
     "Where did you  get  that  idea,"  he  said.  "We're  just
playing."
     I snorted in disdain.
     "I am well acquainted with these games. Rut one thing I
     don't  know:  where in our time do necrotic phenomena come
from?"
     He glanced around and began backing up.
     "I'm going," he said.
     "O no," I said decisively. "Let's finish what we  started.
Man to man. Don't think that I am altogether an ignoramus."
     "What  do  you  know?"  He  was  already near the door and
talking very quietly.
     "More than you," I said severely. "But  I  don't  want  to
shout  it all over the house. If you want to talk, come on over
here. Climb up on the desk and have yourself  a  seat.  Believe
me, I'm not a necrotic phenomenon."
     He  hesitated for a whole minute, and everything for which
he hoped and everything of which he  was  afraid  appeared  and
disappeared  on  his face. At last, he said, "Just let me close
the door."
     He ran into the  living  room,  closed  the  door  to  the
hallway, returned to close the study door tight, and approached
me.  His hands were in his pockets, the face white, contrasting
with the protruding ears, which were red but cold.
     "In the first  place,  you  are  a  dope,"  I  pronounced,
dragging him toward me and standing him between my knees. "Once
there  was  a boy who lived in such a fear that his pants never
dried out, not even when he was on a beach, and his  ears  were
as  cold  as  though  they  had  been  left  in  a refrigerator
overnight. This boy trembled constantly and so well  that  when
he  grew  up his legs were all wiggly, and his skin became like
that of a plucked goose."
     I was hoping  that  he  would  smile  just  once,  but  he
listened  very  intently and very seriously inquired, "And what
was he afraid of?"
     "He had an elder brother, who was a  nice  fellow,  but  a
great  one  for  drinking.  And,  as  often  happens, the tipsy
brother was not at all like the sober brother. He got  to  look
very  wild  indeed.  And  when he really drank a lot, he got to
look like a dead man. So this boy..."
     A contemptuous smile appeared on Len's face.
     "He sure found something to be scared of.  When  they  are
drunk is when they turn good."
     "Who are they?" I asked immediately. "Mother? Vousi?"
     "That's  it. Mother is just the opposite -- in the morning
when she gets up, she's  always  nasty,  and  then  she  drinks
vermouth once, then twice, and that's it. Toward evening she is
altogether nice because night is near."
     "And at night?"
     "At night that creep comes around," Len said reluctantly.
     "We  are  not  concerned  with  the  creep,"  I  said in a
businesslike manner. "It's not from him that  you  run  to  the
garage."
     "I don't run," he said stubbornly. "It's a game."
     "I  don't  know,  I  don't  know,"  I said. "There are, of
course, certain things in this world of which even I am afraid.
For instance when a boy is crying and trembling. I  can't  look
at  such things, and it just turns me over inside. Or when your
teeth hurt and it is required by circumstances that you keep on
smiling -- that's pretty bad and there is no  way  of  ignoring
it.  But  there  are  also  just  plain  stupidities. When, for
example, some idiots help themselves, out of sheer boredom  and
surfeit,  to  the  brain  of  a living monkey. That's no longer
frightening, it's just plain  disgusting.  Especially  as  they
didn't  think  it up by themselves. It was a thousand years ago
when they thought of  it  first,  and  also  out  of  excessive
affluence,  the  fat  tyrants of the Far East. And contemporary
idiots heard and rejoiced.  But  they  should  be  pitied,  not
feared."
     "Pity  them?" said Len. "But they don't pity anybody. They
do whatever they like. It's all the same  to  them,  don't  you
see?  It  they  are bored, then they don't care whose head they
saw apart. Idiots... Maybe in the daytime they are idiots,  but
you don't seem to understand that at night they are not idiots,
they are all accursed."
     "How can that be?"
     "They  are  cursed  by  the  whole  world They can have no
peace, and they won't ever have it. You  don't  know  anything.
What's it to you? As you arrived, so you will leave... but they
are  alive  at  night,  and  in  the  daytime  they  are  dead,
corpselike."
     I went to the living room and brought him some  water.  He
drank down the glass and said, "Will you leave soon?"
     "Of  course not, how can you think that? I just got here,"
I said, patting him on the shoulder.
     "Could I sleep with you?"
     "Of course."
     "At first I had a padlock, but she took it away  for  some
reason. But why she took it she won't say."
     "OK,"  I  said.  "You will sleep in my living room. Do you
want to?"
     "Yes."
     "Go ahead and lock yourself in and sleep to  your  heart's
content. And I will climb into the bedroom through the window."
     He raised his head and gazed at me intently.
     "You think your doors lock? I know all about this place.
     Yours don't lock either."
     "It's  for  you they don't lock," I said as negligently as
possible. "But for me they'll lock.  It's  only  a  half-hour's
work."
     He laughed unpleasantly, like an adult.
     "You  are afraid, too. All right, I was only joking. Don't
be afraid, your locks do work"
     "You dope," I said. "Didn't I tell you I wasn't afraid  of
anything  of  that  sort?"  He  looked  at me questioningly. "I
wanted to make the lock work for you in the living room, so you
could sleep in peace, as long as you are so afraid. As for  me,
I always sleep with the window open."
     "I told you, I was joking."
     We were silent for a bit.
     "Len,"  I said, "what will you be when you grow up?" "What
do you mean?" he said. He was  quite  astonished.  "What  do  I
care?"
     "Now,  now  --  what do you care. It's all the same to you
whether you will be a chemist or a bartender?"
     "I told you -- we are all under a  curse.  You  can't  get
away  from  it,  why  can't you understand that? When everybody
knows it?"
     "So what?" I said. "There were  accursed  peoples  before.
And then children were born who grew up and removed the curse."
     "How?"
     "That  would  take  a long time to explain, old friend." I
got up. "I'll be sure to tell you all about it. For now, go  on
out and play. You do play in the daytime? Okay then, run along.
When the sun sets, come on over, I'll make your bed."
     He  stuck  his  hands in his pockets and went to the door.
There he stopped and said aver his shoulder, "That gadget you'd
better take it out of the radio. What do you think it is?"
     "A local oscillator-mixer," I said.
     "It's not a mixer at all. Take it out or it  will  be  bad
for you." "Why will it be bad for me?" I said.
     "Take  it out," be said. "You'll hate everybody. Right now
you are not cursed, blat you will become cursed. Who gave it to
you? Vousi?"
     "No."
     He looked at me imploringly.
     "Ivan, take it out!"
     "So be it," I said. "I'll take it out. Run along and play.
And never be afraid of me. Do you hear?"
     He didn't say anything and went out, leaving me sitting in
my chair, with my hands on the desk. Soon I heard him puttering
about in the lilacs under  the  windows.  He  rustled,  stamped
about,   muttering  something  under  his  breath,  and  softly
exclaimed, talking to himself, "Bring the flags  and  put  them
here  and here... that's it... that's it... and then I got on a
plane and flew away into the mountains."  I  wondered  when  he
went  to bed. It would be all right if it were eight o'clock or
even nine; maybe it was a mistake to start  all  this  business
with him. I could have locked myself in the bathroom and in two
hours I would know everything. But no, I couldn't refuse him --
just imagine I was in his place, I thought. But this is not the
way;  I  am  catering  to  his  fears,  when  I should think of
something more clever. But try to come up with it -- this is no
Anyudinsk boarding school.
     A boarding school this certainly is not,  I  thought.  How
different  everything  is, and what lies ahead of me now, which
circle of paradise, I wonder? But if it  tickles,  I  won't  be
able  to stand it! Interesting -- the Fishers -- they too are a
circle of paradise, for sure.  The  Art  Patrons  are  for  the
aristocrats  of the mind, and the old Subway is for the simpler
types, although the Intels are also aristocrats of the mind and
they get intoxicated like swine  and  become  totally  useless,
even  they are useless. There is too much bate, not enough love
-- it's easy to teach hate, but love  is  hard  to  teach.  But
then,  love has been too well overdone and slobbered over so it
has become passive. How is it that love is always  passive  and
hate  always  active and is thus always attractive? And then it
is said that hate is natural, while love is  of  the  mind  and
springs from deep thought.
     It  should be worthwhile to have a talk with the Intels, I
thought. They can't all be hysterical  fools,  and  what  if  I
should  succeed  in  finding a Man. What in fact is good in man
that comes from nature -- a pound of gray matter. But this  too
is  not  always good, so that he always must start from a naked
nothing; maybe it would be good if  man  could  inherit  social
advances,  but then again, Len would now be a small-scale major
general. No, better not -- better to start from zero.  True  he
would  not  now  be afraid of anything, but instead he would be
frightening others -- those who weren't major generals.
     I was startled to suddenly see Len perched in the branches
of the apple tree regarding me fixedly. The next moment he  was
gone,  leaving only the crash of branches and falling apples as
an aftermath.  He  doesn't  believe  me  in  the  slightest,  I
thought.  He  believes  nobody.  And  whom do I believe in this
town? I went over everyone I could recall. No, I  didn't  trust
anyone. I picked up the telephone, dialed the Olympic and asked
for number 817.
     "Hello! Yes?" said Oscar's voice.
     I kept quiet, covering the radio with my hand.
     "Hello,  I'm listening," repeated Oscar irritably. "That's
the second time," he  said  to  someone  aside.  "Hello!...  Of
course  not,  what  sort  of  women could I be carrying on with
here?" He hung up.
     I picked up the Mintz volume, lay down on the  couch,  and
read  until  twilight.  I  dearly  love  Mintz,  but I couldn't
remember a word I read that day. The evening  shift  roared  by
noisily.  Aunt  Vaina fed Len his supper, stuffing him with hot
milk and crackers. Len whimpered  and  was  fretful  while  she
cajoled  him  gently  and  patiently.  Customs  inspector  Pete
propounded in a commanding yet benevolent tone,  "You  have  to
eat, you have to eat, if Mother says eat, you must comply."
     Two  men  of  loose character, if one could judge by their
voices, came around looking for Vousi and made a play for  Aunt
Vaina.  I thought they were drunk. It was growing dark rapidly.
At eight o'clock the phone in the study rang. I ran  barefooted
and  grabbed  the receiver, but no one spoke. As you holler, so
it echoes. At eight-ten, there was a knock on the door.  I  was
delighted, expecting Len, but it turned out to be Vousi.
     "Why  don't  you  ever come around?" she asked indignantly
from  the  doorway.  She  was  wearing  shorts  decorated  with
suggestively  winking  faces,  a tight-fitting sleeveless shirt
exposing her navel, and a huge translucent scarf: she was fresh
and firm as a ripe apple. To a surfeit.
     "I sit and wait for him all day, and all the  time  he  is
sacked out here. Does something hurt?"
     I got up and stuck my feet into my shoes.
     "Have a chair, Vousi." I patted the couch alongside me.
     "I  am  not going to sit by you. Imagine -- he is reading.
You could at least offer me a drink."
     "In the bar," I said, "How is your sloppy cow?"
     "Thank  God  she  was  not  around  today,"  said   Vousi,
disappearing in the bar. "Today I drew the mayor's wife. What a
moron.  Why, she wants to know, doesn't anyone love her?... You
want yours with water? Eyes white, face red, and a rear end  as
wide  as a sofa, just like a frog, honest to God. Listen, let's
make a polecat, nowadays everybody makes polecats."
     "I don't go for doing like everybody."
     "I can see that for myself. Everyone is  out  for  a  good
time, and he is here -- sacked out. And reading to boot."
     "He -- is tired," I said.
     "Oh, so? Well then, I can leave!"
     "But  I  won't let you," I said, catching her by the scarf
and pulling her down beside me. "Vousi, dear girl,  are  you  a
specialist  only  for  ladies'  good  humor  or in general? You
wouldn't be able to put a lonely man whom nobody loves  into  a
good humor?"
     "What's  to  love?"  She  looked  me over. "Red eyes and a
potato for a nose."
     "Like an alligator's."
     "Like a dog's. Don't go putting your arm about me, I won't
allow it. Why didn't you come over?"
     "And why did you abandon me yesterday?"
     "How do you like that --.abandoned him!"
     "All alone in a strange town."
     "I abandoned him! Why, I locked for you all over.  I  told
everyone  that you are a Tungus, and you got lost -- that was a
poor thing for you to do. No -- I won't permit that! Where were
you last night? Fishering, no doubt. And the same thing  today,
you won't tell any stories."
     "Why  shouldn't  I tell?" I said. And I told her about the
old  Subway.  I  sensed  at  once  that  the  truth  would   be
inadequate,  and  so  I  spoke  of  men in metallic masks, of a
terrible oath, of a wall wet with blood, of a sobbing skeleton,
and I let her feel the bump behind my ear. She liked everything
very well.
     "Let's go right now," she said.
     "Not for anything," I said and lay down.
     "What kind of manners is that? Get up at once and we'd go.
Of course, no one will believe me. But you will show your bump,
and everything will be just perfect."
     "And then we'll go to the shivers?" I wanted to know.
     "But yes! You know that turns out to he even good for your
health."
     "And we'll drink brandy?"
     "Brandy and vermouth and a polecat and whiskey."
     "Enough, enough... and no doubt we'll  also  squeeze  into
cars  and  drive  at  a  hundred  and  fifty miles per hour?...
Listen, Vousi, why should you go there?"
     She finally understood and smiled in discomfiture.
     "And what's wrong with it? The Fishers also go."
     "There is nothing bad," I said.  "But  what's  good  about
it?"
     "I  don't know. Everybody does it. Sometimes it's a lot of
fun... and the shivers. There everything  --  all  your  wishes
come true."
     "And that's it? That's all there is?"
     "Well, not everything, of course. But whatever you think
     about,  whatever  you would like to happen, often happens.
Just like in a dream."
     "Well then maybe it would be better to go to bed?"
     "What's the matter with you?" she said sulkily. "In a real
dream all kinds of things happen... as though you  don't  know!
But with the shivers, only what you like!"
     "And what do you like?"
     "We-e-ll! Lots of things."'
     "Still...  imagine I am a magician. And I say to you, have
three wishes. Anything at all,  whatever  you  wish.  The  most
impossible. And I will make them come true. Well?"
     She  thought  very hard so that even her shoulders sagged.
Then her face lit up.
     "Let me never grow old," she said.
     "Excellent," I said. "That's one."
     "Let me..." she began inspiredly and stopped.
     I used to enjoy tremendously asking my friends  this  very
question  and  used  to  ask it at every available opportunity.
Several times I even assigned compositions to my youngsters  on
the  theme of three wishes. And it was always most amusing that
out of a thousand men and women, oldsters  and  children,  only
two or three dozen figured that it is possible to wish not only
for  themselves  personally, or their immediate close ones, but
also for the world at large, for mankind as a whole.  No,  this
was  not  witness to the ineradicable human egotism; the wishes
were not invariably  strictly  selfish,  and  the  majority  in
subsequent  discussions,  when reminded of missed opportunities
and the large problems of all mankind, did a double take and in
honest anger reproached me  that  I  hadn't  explained  at  the
beginning.  But  one  way or another they all began their reply
along the lines of "Let me..." This was a manifestation of some
kind of ancient subconscious conviction that your own  personal
wishes  cannot  change anything in the wide world, and it makes
no difference whether you do or do not have a magic wand.
     "Let me..." began Vousi once more, and again was silent. I
was watching  her  surreptitiously.  She  noticed   this,   and
dissolving  into  a  broad smile, said with a wave of her hand,
"So that's your game. Some card you are!"
     "No -- no -- no," I said. "You should always  be  prepared
to  answer  this question. Because I knew a man once who always
asked it of everyone, and then was inconsolable -- 'Oh what  an
opportunity  I missed, how could I not have figured it out?' So
you see it's entirely in earnest. Your first wish is  never  to
grow old. And then?"
     "Let's  see  --  what else? Of course, it would be nice to
have a handsome fellow, whom they  would  all  chase,  but  who
would be with me only. Always."
     "Wonderful," I said. "That's two. And what else?"
     Her  face  showed that the game had already palled on her,
and that any second she'd drop a bomb. And she did. All I could
do was blink my eyes.
     "Yes," I said, "of course that, too. But that happens even
without any magic."
     "Yes and no," she argued and began to  develop  the  idea,
based  on the misfortunes of her clients. All of which was very
gay and amusing to her,  while  I,  in  ignominious  confusion,
gulped brandy with lemon and tittered in embarrassment, feeling
like a virgin wall flower. Well, if all this went on in a night
club,  I  could  handle  it.  Well,  well,  well...  some  fine
activities go on in those salons of the Good Mood. How  do  you
like these elderly ladies...
     "Enough,"  I  said. "Vousi, you embarrass me, and anyway I
understand it all very well now. I can  see  that  it's  really
impossible to do without magic. It's a good thing that I am not
a magician."
     "I  really  stung  you  well," she said happily. "And what
would you wish for yourself, now?"
     I decided I'd reciprocate in kind.
     "I don't need anything of that sort," I said.  "Anyway,  I
am not good at things like that. I'd like a good solid slug."
     She smiled gaily.
     "I  don't  need three wishes," I explained, "I can do with
one."
     She was still smiling, but the smile  became  empty,  then
crooked, and then disappeared altogether.
     "What?" she said in a small voice.
     "Vousi!" I said, getting up. "Vousi!"
     She didn't seem to know what to do. She jumped up and then
sat down  and  then jumped up again. The coffee table fell over
with all the bottles. There were tears in  her  eyes,  and  her
face  looked  pitiable,  like  that  of  a  child  who has been
brutally, insolently, cruelly,  tauntingly  deceived.  Suddenly
she  bit  her  lip  and  with all her strength slapped my face.
While I was blinking, she, now in full tears, kicked  away  the
overturned  table and ran out of the room. I sat, with my mouth
open. An engine roared into life and lights sprang  up  in  the
dark  garden, followed by the sound of the motor traversing the
yard and disappearing in the distance.
     I felt my face. Some joke. Never in my life have  I  joked
so  effectively.  What  an old fool I was! How do you like that
for a slug?
     "May we?" asked Len. He stood in the door, and he was  not
alone.  With him was a gloomy, freckle-faced boy with a cleanly
shaved head.
     "This is Reg," said Len. "Could he sleep here too?"
     "Reg," I said, pensively smoothing my eyelids. "Of  course
-- even  two  Regs  would  be okay. Listen, Len, why didn't you
come ten minutes earlier!"
     "But she was here," said Len.  "We  were  looking  in  the
window, waiting for her to leave."
     "Really?"  I  said.  "Very interesting. Reg, old chum, how
about what your parents will say?"
     Reg didn't reply. Len said, "He doesn't have parents."
     "Well, all right," I said, feeling a  bit  tired.  "You're
not going to have a pillow fight?"
     "No," said Len, not smiling, "we are going to sleep."
     "Fair  enough,"  I  said. "I'll make your beds and you can
give all this a quick clean-up."
     I made their beds on the couch and the big chair and  they
took  off  their  clothes at once and went to bed. I locked the
door to the hall, turned out their lights,  and  went  into  my
bedroom,  where  I  sat  awhile  listening  to them whispering,
moving furniture, and settling  down.  Then  they  were  quiet.
About  eleven  o'clock  there  was  the  sound  of broken glass
somewhere in the house.  Aunt  Vaina's  voice  could  be  heard
singing  some  sort of marching song, followed by more breaking
glass. Apparently the tireless Pete again was falling down face
first. From the center  of  town  came  the  cry  of  "Shivers,
shivers." Someone was loudly sick on the street.
     I  locked the window and lowered the shades. I also locked
the door to the study. Then I went to the bathroom  and  turned
on  the hot water. I did everything per instructions. The radio
went on the soap shelf, I threw several Devon  tablets  in  the
water,  together  with  some  salt  crystals,  and was about to
swallow the tablet when I remembered that it was propitious  to
"loosen  up."  I didn't want to disturb the boys, but it wasn't
necessary -- an open bottle of brandy  stood  in  the  medicine
chest.  I took a few swallows right out of the bottle, stripped
down to the skin, climbed into the  bath,  and  turned  on  the
radio.



     I  intentionally did not set the thermo-regulator, so that
when the water cooled off, I  returned  to  consciousness.  The
radio was still shrieking and the sparkle of white light on the
walls  hurt  my eyes. I was thoroughly chilled and covered with
goose bumps. Switching off the radio, I turned on the hot water
and remained in the bath, basking in the flooding warmth and  a
very   strange,  very  novel  sensation  of  total,  cosmically
enormous emptiness. I expected a  hangover,  but  there  wasn't
any.  I  simply  felt  good. And there were very many memories.
Also my thoughts flowed inordinately well, as  though  after  a
long rest in the mountains.
     In  the  middle  of  the last century, Olds and Miller had
conducted  experiments  on  brain  stimulation.  They  inserted
electrodes  into  the  brains  of  white  rats. They employed a
primitive technology and a barbarous  methodology,  but  having
located pleasure centers in the rats' brains, they succeeded in
having the animals press the lever which closed the contacts to
the electrodes, hour after hour, producing up to eight thousand
auto-excitations  per hour. These rats did not need anything in
the real world. They weren't in  the  slightest  interested  in
anything  but  the  lever.  They  ignored  food, water, danger,
females;  they  were  indifferent  to  everything  except   the
stimulation  lever.  Later,  these  experiments  were  tried on
monkeys and produced the same results. Rumors were  about  that
someone  carried out similar experiments on criminals condemned
to death....
     That was a difficult time for mankind: a time of  struggle
against  atomic  destruction, a time of increasing limited wars
over the entire face of the planet, a time when the majority of
mankind was starving, but even  so,  the  contemporary  English
writer   and  critic  Kingsley  Amis,  having  learned  of  the
experiments with rats, wrote:  "I  cannot  be  sure  that  this
frightens  me  more  than  a  Berlin or a Taiwan crisis, but it
should, I believe, frighten me more." He feared much about  the
future,  this  brilliant  and venomous author of New Maps of
Hell, and: in particular, he foresaw the  possibilities  of
brain  stimulation  for  the creation of an illusory existence,
just as intense as the actual, or more intense.
     By the end of the century, when the first triumphs of wave
psychotechnology were  realized,  and  when  psychiatric  wards
began  to  empty,  amid the chorus of exulting cries of science
commentators, the little brochure by Krinitsky and  Milanovitch
had  sounded  like  an irritating dissonance. In its concluding
section the Soviet educators wrote approximately as follows: In
the overwhelming majority of countries, the  education  of  the
young  exists  on  the  level  of the eighteenth and nineteenth
centuries. This ancient system  of  education  always  did  and
continues  to  posit  as  its objective, first of all and above
all, the preparation for society  of  qualified  but  stupefied
contributors  to  the  production  process.  This system is not
interested in all the other potentialities of the  human  mind,
and for this reason, outside of the production process, man, en
masse,   remains   psychologically  a  cave  dweller,  Man  the
Uneducated. The  disuse  of  these  potentialities  causes  the
individuals'  inability  to comprehend our complex world in all
its contradictions, to correlate  psychologically  incompatible
concepts and phenomena, to obtain pleasure from the examination
of  connections  and laws when these do not pertain directly to
the satisfaction of the most  primitive  social  instincts.  In
other  words,  this  system  of  education  for  all  practical
purposes does not develop in man pure imagination,  untrammeled
vision,  and  as  an immediate consequence, the sense of humor.
The  Uneducated  Man  perceives  the  world  as  some  sort  of
essentially trivial, routine, and traditionally simple process,
a  world from which it is possible only by dint of great effort
to extract pleasures which are, in the end,  also  compulsively
routine and traditional. But even the unutilized potentialities
remain,  apparently,  a  hidden reality of the human brain. The
problem  for  scientific  education   consists   precisely   in
initiating  the  action of these possibilities, in teaching man
to dream,  in  bringing  the  multiordinality  and  variety  of
psychic   associations   into   quantitative   and  qualitative
coordination  with   the   multiordinality   and   variety   of
interrelationships in the world of reality. This problem is the
one  which,  as  is well known, must become the fundamental one
for mankind in the  coming  proximate  epoch.  But  until  this
problem  is resolved, there remains some basis to fear that the
successes of  psychotechnics  will  lead  to  such  methods  of
electrical  stimulation  as  will  endow  man  with an illusory
existence which can exceed the real existence in intensity  and
variety  by  a  considerable  margin. And if one remembers that
imagination allows man to  be  both  a  rational  being  and  a
sensual  animal,  and  if  one  adds  to that the fact that the
psychic subject matter evoked by the  Uneducated  Man  for  his
illusory  life  of  splendor  derives  from  the  darkest, most
primitive reflexes, then it is not hard to perceive  the  awful
temptation hidden in such possibilities.
     And therefore -- slug.
     It  is  now  understandable, I thought, why they write the
word "slug" on fences.
     Everything is now  understandable.  It's  odious,  that  I
understand....  Better if I understood nothing, better if, upon
regaining consciousness, I shrugged my  shoulders  and  climbed
out  of the bath. Would it have been understandable to Strogoff
and Einstein and Petrarch? Imagination is a priceless gift, but
it must not be given an inward direction.  Only  outward,  only
outward...  What  a  tasty worm some corrupter has dropped from
his rod into this stagnant pool! And how accurately timed!  Yes
indeed,  if  I  were  commander of Wells' Martians, I would not
have bothered with fighter tripods, heat rays, and  other  such
nonsense.  Illusory existence ... no, this is not a narcotic, a
narcotic has a long way to go to approach it. In a. way this is
exactly appropriate. Here. Now. To each  time  its  own.  Poppy
seeds  and hemp, the kingdom of sweet blurred shadows and peace
-- for the beggar, the worn-out, the downtrodden... But here no
one wants peace, here no one is dying of hunger, here is simply
a bore. A well-fed, well-heated, drunken bore.  It's  not  that
the  world  is  bad,  it's  just  plain  dreary.  World without
prospects, world without promise. But in the end man is  not  a
carp,  he still remains a man. Yes, it is no kingdom of shades,
it is indeed the real existence,  without  detraction,  without
dreary  confusion.  Slug  is  moving on the world and the world
will not mind subjecting itself to it.
     Suddenly, for a fraction of a moment, I felt  that  I  was
lost.  And  it  was  cozy  to  be destroyed. Fortunately I grew
angry. Splashing out water, I climbed out of the bath,  cursing
and  stoking  my  ire,  pulled  my shorts and shirt over my wet
body, and grabbed my watch. It was three o'clock, and it  could
have been three in the afternoon or three the following morning
or  three  o'clock  after  a  hundred  years. Idiot, I thought,
pulling on my trousers. Softened up and let Buba go when he was
ready to give  me  the  address  of  the  gangsters'  den.  The
operatives  could  have  been  there  by  now and we could have
nabbed the whole accursed nest, the vile nest. The vermin nest.
The repulsive cloaca... And at this instant  against  the  very
depth  of  my  consciousness,  like  a  dancing  spot of light,
flicked a very calm thought. But I could not fasten upon it.
     I located  some  Potomac  in  the  medicine  cabinet,  the
strongest  stimulant  which  I could find in it. I started into
the living room, but the youngsters were snoring away there, so
I climbed out the window. The  city  was  resting,  of  course.
Guffawing  louts hung around under the street lamp on Waterway,
bawling crowds surged on the brightly  lit  avenues.  Somewhere
songs  were  shouted,  somewhere  they  were yelling "Shivers!"
Somewhere glass was being broken. I picked out a  chauffeurless
taxi, found the index for Sunshine Street, and dialed it on the
control  console. The car took off across town. The cab smelled
sour and bottles  rolled  underfoot.  At  one  intersection  it
almost  plowed  into  a daisy chain of howling humanity, and at
another there was the rhythmic flashing of  colored  lights  --
apparently it was possible to set up the shivers elsewhere than
the  plaza.  They  were  resting, resting with all their might,
these benevolent patrons from  the  Happy  Mood  Salons,  these
polite  customs  inspectors, clever barbers, tender mothers and
manly  fathers,  innocent  youths  and  maidens  --  they   all
exchanged  their  diurnal  aspects  for the nocturnal, they all
worked hard to have fun and so that it wouldn't be necessary to
think about a thing....
     The taxi braked. It was  the  very  same  place.  It  even
seemed as though there was that same burning smell...
     ...  Peck registered a hit on the armored carrier with the
Fulminator. It spun on a single tread, hopping in the piles  of
broken bricks, and two fascists immediately jumped out in their
unbuttoned  camouflage  shirts,  flung  a grenade apiece in our
direction, and sped off into the darkness. They moved knowingly
and adeptly, and it was obvious that these were not  youngsters
from  the  Royal Academy or lifers from the Golden Brigade, but
genuine full-blown tank corps officers. Robert  cut  them  down
point-blank  with a burst from his machine gun. The carrier was
bulging with cases of beer. It  struck  us  that  we  had  been
constantly  thirsty for the last two days. Iowa Smith clambered
into the carrier and began handing out the  cans.  Peck  opened
them  with a knife. Robert, putting the machine gun against the
carrier, punched holes into the cans with a sharp point on  the
armor. And the Teacher, adjusting his pince-nez, tripped on the
Fulminator  straps  and  muttered, "Wait a minute, Smith; can't
you see I've got my hands full?" A five-story  building  burned
briskly  at  the  end of the street, there was a thick smell of
smoke and hot metal, and we avidly downed the  warm  beer,  and
were  drenched through and through, and it was very hot and the
dead officers lay on the broken and crushed bricks, with  their
legs  identically  flung  out  in  their  black  pants, and the
camouflage shirts bunched at their necks, and  the  skin  still
glistening with perspiration on their backs.
     'They are officers," said the Teacher. "Thank God. I can't
bear the sight of any more dead kids. Accursed politics! People
forget God on account of it."
     "What  god  is  that?"  inquired  Iowa  Smith  out  of the
carrier. "I've never heard of him."
     "Don't jest about that, Smith," said  the  Teacher.  "This
will  all  end  soon,  and  from then on no one nowhere will be
permitted to poison the souls of men with vanity."
     "And how then shall they multiply?" asked Iowa  Smith.  He
bent  over  the  beer again, and we could see the burn holes in
his pants.
     "I am talking about politics," said the Teacher  modestly.
"The  fascists  must be destroyed. They are beasts. But that is
not enough. There are many other political parties,  and  there
is no place for them and all their propaganda in our land." The
Teacher  came from this town and lived within two blocks of our
post.  "Social  anarchists,  technocrats,  communists,  are  of
course -- "
     "I  am  a  communist,"  announced Iowa Smith, "at least by
conviction. I am for the commune."
     The Teacher looked at him in bewilderment.
     "Also I am a godless man," added Iowa Smith. "There is  no
god, Teacher, and there's nothing you can do about it."
     At  which  point  we  all  began  to  say that we were all
atheists, and Peck  said  that  on  top  of  that  he  was  for
technocracy,  while  Robert  announced  that  his  father was a
social anarchist and his grandfather was a social anarchist and
he, Robert, probably could not escape being a social anarchist,
although he didn't know what it was all about.
     "Well now, if the  beer  would  get  ice-cold,  said  Peck
pensively, "I would at once believe in God with great delight."
     Teacher  smiled embarrassedly and kept wiping his glasses.
He was a good man and we always kidded him, but he  never  took
offense.  From the very first night I observed that his courage
was not great, but he never retreated without being  commanded.
We were still chattering and joking when there was a thunderous
crash, the burning building wall collapsed, and straight out of
the  swirling  flames  and  clouds  of  smoke and sparks swam a
Mammoth attack tank, floating a yard above the  pavement.  This
was  a  new  horror,  the  likes  of  which we hadn't seen yet.
Floating out in the  middle  of  the  street,  it  rotated  its
thrower as though looking around, and then, hovering on its air
cushion,  began  to  move  in  our  direction,  screeching  and
clanking metallically. I regained my wits only by  the  time  I
was  behind  a gate post. The tank was now considerably closer,
and at first I couldn't see anyone at all, but then Iowa  Smith
stood up in full view out of the carrier, and propping the butt
of  the  Fulminator  against his stomach, took aim. I could see
the recoil double him up. I saw  a  bright  flash  against  the
black  brow  of  the  tank. And then the street was filled with
roar and flame, and when I raised my burned eyelids with  great
effort, the street was empty and contained only the tank. There
was  no carrier, no mounds of broken brick, no leaning kiosk by
the neighboring house -- there was only the  tank.  It  was  as
though the monster had come awake and was spewing waterfalls of
flame and the street ceased being a street and became a square.
Peck  slapped  me  hard  on the neck and I could see his glassy
eyes right in front of my face, but there was no  time  to  run
toward the trench and break out the launcher.
     We  both picked up the mine and started running toward the
tank, and all I remember is looking continually at the back  of
his  head,  and gasping for breath and counting steps, when the
helmet flew off Peck's head, and he fell, so I  almost  dropped
the  mine  and  fell  on  top  of him. The tank was blown up by
Robert and Teacher. I still don't know how they did it or when;
it must be they were running behind us with another mine. I sat
until morning in  the  middle  of  the  street  holding  Peck's
bandaged  head on my knees and staring at the awesome treads of
the tank sticking out of the asphalt lake.  That  same  morning
the  whole  bloody thing came to an end all at once. Zun Padana
surrendered with all his staff and was shot in  the  street  by
some crazed woman when already a prisoner....
     This  was  the  very  same place. I even thought I smelled
smoke and burned metal. Even the kiosk stood on the corner, and
it too was a bit crooked in the latest style  of  architecture.
The  part  of  the  street  which  the tank turned into a plaza
remained a plaza, and on the site of the asphalt lake there was
a small square in which someone was being  beaten.  Iowa  Smith
was  an urban planner from Iowa, U.S.A., Robert Sventisky was a
movie  director  form  Krakow,  Poland.  The  Teacher   was   a
schoolteacher  from this town. No one ever saw them again, even
dead. And Peck was Peck, who had now become Buba
     Buba lived in the same sort of cottage as I, and its front
door was open. I knocked, but no one responded  and  no  one  -
came  out  to  meet me. I entered the dark hall. The lights did
not go on. The door to the right was locked, and I looked  into
the  one  on  the  left. In the living room a bearded man, in a
jacket, but without pants, was sleeping on  a  tattered  couch.
Someone's feet stuck out from under the overturned table. There
was  a  smell  of brandy, tobacco smoke, and of something else,
cloyingly sweet, like in Aunt Vaina's room the  other  day.  In
the  door  to the study, I bumped into a handsome florid woman,
who was not in the slightest surprised to see me.
     "Good evening," I said. Please excuse me,  but  does  Buba
live here?"
     "Here,"   she   said,   examining  me  out  of  glistening
oily-looking eyes.
     "Can I see him?"
     "And why not -- all you want."
     "Where is he?"
     "Funny man. Where would he be?" she laughed.
     I could guess where, but said, "In the bedroom?"
     "You are warm," she said.
     "What do you mean -- warm?"
     "What a dunce, and sober yet! Would you like a drink?"
     "No," I said, angry. "Where is he? I need him right away."
     "Your prospects are poor," she said gaily. "But search on,
search on. As for me, I must go."
     She patted me on the cheek and went out.
     The study was empty. There was a large crystal vase on the
table with some kind of reddish fluid in it. Everything smelled
of that nauseatingly sweet odor. The bedroom  was  also  empty;
crumpled  sheets and pillows were scattered about. I approached
the bathroom door. The door was full of holes,  obviously  made
by  bullets  shot  from  the  inside, judging by their shape. I
hesitated, then took hold of the handle. The door was locked.
     I opened it with considerable difficulty. Buba lay in  the
bath  up  to  his  neck  in greenish water; steam rose from its
surface. The radio howled and wheezed on the edge of the tub. I
stood  and  looked  at  Buba.  At   the   erstwhile   cosmonaut
experimenter,  Peck  Xenai.  At the once-upon-a-time supple and
well-muscled fellow, who at eighteen left his warm city by  the
warm  sea, and went into space for the glory of man, and who at
thirty returned to  his  country  to  fight  the  last  of  the
fascists  and  to  remain here forever. I was repelled to think
that only an hour ago, I had looked like  him.  I  touched  his
face  and  pulled  his  thin hair. He did not stir. Then I bent
over him to let him sniff some Potomac, and suddenly  saw  that
he was dead.
     I knocked the radio off the edge of the tub and crushed it
under  heel.  There was a pistol on the floor. But Peck had not
shot himself; it must have been simply that someone  interfered
with  him  and  he  shot  through  the door in order to be left
alone. I stuck my arms in the hot water,  picked  him  up,  and
carried  him  to  the  bed. He lay there all limp and terrible,
with eyes sunken under his  brows.  If  only  he  were  not  my
friend...  if  only he were not such a wonderful guy... if only
he were not such an outstanding worker...
     I called emergency aid on the phone and  sat  down  beside
Peck.  I  tried not to think of him. I tried to think about the
business at hand. And I tried to be cold and harsh, because  at
the  very  bottom  of  my  conscious  mind,  that flick of warm
feeling, like a speck of light, flashed again, and this time  I
understood what the thought was.
     By  the  time  the doctor came, I knew what I was going to
do. I would find Eli. I would pay any sum. Maybe I  would  beat
him.  If  necessary, I would torture him. And he would tell me,
whence this plague flows out upon  the  world.  He  would  name
names  and  addresses.  He would tell me all. And we would find
these men. We would locate and burn their secret  laboratories,
and  as for themselves, we would ship them out so far that they
would never return. Whoever they might be. We would catch  them
all,  we  would catch all who ever tried slug and isolate them,
too. Whoever they were. Then I would demand  that  I,  too,  be
isolated  because  I knew what slug was. Because I grasped what
sort of thought I had, because I was socially  dangerous,  just
as  they all are. And all that would be only the beginning. The
beginning of all beginnings, and ahead would remain that  which
was  most  important:  to  make  it so that people would never,
never, wish to know what  slug  was.  Probably  that  would  be
outlandish. Probably many would say that it was too outlandish,
too harsh, too stupid -- but we would still have to do it if we
wanted mankind not to stop....
     The  doctor,  an  old  gray  man, put down his white case,
leaned over Buba, looked  him  over,  and  said  indifferently,
"Hopeless."
     "Call the police," I said.
     Slowly he put away his instruments.
     "There  is  no need of that whatsoever," he said. "There's
no criminal content, here. It is a neurostimulator...."
     "Yes, I know."
     "There you are -- the second case this  night.  They  just
don't know when to stop."
     "When did it start?"
     "Not very long ago... a few months."
     "Then why in hell do you keep it quiet?"
     "Keep  it quiet? I don't understand. This is my sixth call
tonight, young man. The second case of nervous  exhaustion  and
four cases of brain fever. Are you a relative?"
     "No."
     "Well,  all  right,  I'll send some men." He stood awhile,
looking at Peck. "Join some  choruses,"  he  said.  "Enter  the
League of Reformed Sluts..."
     He  was  mumbling something else as he left, an old, bent,
uncaring man. I covered Peck with a sheet,  pulled  the  drape,
and  went  out  into  the  living room. The drunks were snoring
obscenely, filling the air with alcoholic  fumes,  and  I  took
them  both  by  the  heels  and  dragged  them out in the yard,
leaving them in the puddle by the fountain.
     Dawn was breaking once more and the stars were dimming  in
the  paling  sky. I got into the taxi and dialed the old Subway
on the console.
     It was full of people. It was impossible to get through to
the railing, although it seemed to me that only  two  or  three
men  were  filling  out  the  forms,  while  the rest were just
looking,  stretching   their   necks   eagerly.   Neither   the
round-headed  man  nor  Eli were to be seen behind the barrier,
and no one knew where  they  could  be  found.  Below,  in  the
cross-passages  and tunnels, drunken, shouting, half-crazed men
and hysterical women were  milling  about.  There  were  shots,
distant  and  muffled  and  some  loud  and close, the concrete
underfoot shook with the detonations, and a mixture  of  smells
-- gunpowder,  sweat,  smoke, gasoline, perfume, and whiskey --
coated in the air.
     Squealing and arm-waving teenagers surrounded a big fellow
who dripped blood and whose pale face  shone  with  a  look  of
triumph. Somewhere wild beasts roared menacingly. In the halls,
the  audience  was  going wild in front of huge screens showing
somebody blindfolded, firing a spray of bullets from a  machine
gun  held  against  his  belly,  and someone else sat up to his
chest in some black and heavy liquid, blue from  the  cold  and
smoking   a   crackling   cigar,   and   another   one  with  a
tension-twisted face, suspended as though cast in stone in some
sort of web of taut cords...
     Then I found out where Eli was.  I  saw  round-head  by  a
dirty  room  full of old sandbags. He stood in the doorway, his
face covered with soot, smelling of burnt gunpowder, the pupils
of his eyes fully distended. Every few seconds he bent down and
brushed his knees, not hearing me at all,  so  that  I  had  to
shake him to make him take notice of me.
     "There  is  no  Eli," he barked. "Gone, do you understand?
Nothing but smoke -- get  it?  Twenty  kilovolts,  one  hundred
amperes, see? He didn't leap far enough!"
     He  pushed  me away vigorously and took off into the dirty
room, jumping over the sandbags. Elbowing the  curious  out  of
the way, he got to a low metal door.
     "Let  me through," he howled. "Let me at it once more. God
favors a third time!"
     The door shut heavily and the mob surged  away,  stumbling
and  falling  over the bags. I didn't wait for him to come out.
Or not to come out. He was no longer of any use  to  me.  There
was  only  Rimeyer  left.  There was also Vousi, but I couldn't
count on her. So there was really only Rimeyer. I was not going
to wake him. I'd wait outside his room.
     The sun was already  up  and  the  filthied  streets  were
empty.
     The   auto-streetcleaners   were   coming   out  of  their
underground garages to do their job. All they  knew  was  work;
they  had  no potentialities to be developed, but they also had
no primitive reflexes. Near the Olympic, I had to  stop  for  a
long  chain of red and green men followed by a string of people
enclosed in some sort of scales, who  dragged  their  shuffling
feet  from one street into the next, leaving behind a stench of
sweat and paint. I stood and waited for them to pass, while the
sun had already lit up the huge mass of  the  hotel  and  shone
gaily  in  the metallic face of Yurkovsky, who, as he had while
alive, looked out over the heads of all men. After they passed,
I went into the hotel. The clerk was dozing behind his counter.
Awaking, he smiled professionally and asked in a cheery  voice,
"Would you like a room?"
     "No," I replied, "I am visiting Rimeyer."
     ' Rimeyer? Excuse me -- room 902?"
     I stopped.
     "I believe so. What's the matter?"
     "I beg your pardon, but he is not in."
     "What do you mean, not in?"
     "He checked out."
     "Can't  be,  he  has  been ill. You are not mistaken? Room
902?"
     "Exactly right, 902, Rimeyer. Our perpetual  client.  It's
an  hour  and a half since he left. More accurately, flew away.
His friends helped him down and aboard a copter."
     "What friends?" I asked hopelessly.
     "Friends,  as  I  said,  but,   excuse   me,   they   were
acquaintances.  There  were three of them, two of whom I really
don't know. Just young athletic-looking men. But I do know  Mr.
Pebblebridge,  he was our permanent guest. But he signed out --
today."
     "Pebblebridge?"
     "Exactly. Lately he has been meeting Rimeyer quite  often,
so  I concluded that they were quite well acquainted. He stayed
in  room  817.  A  fairly  imposing   gentleman,   middle-aged,
red-headed..."
     "Oscar!"
     "Exactly, Oscar Pebblebridge.
     'That  makes  sense,"  I  said,  trying  to keep a hold on
myself. "You say they helped him?"
     "That's right. He has been very sick and they even sent  a
doctor  up:  to  him  yesterday. He was still very weak and the
young men held him up by his elbows, and almost carried him."
     "And the nurse? He had an attendant nurse with him?"
     "Yes, there was one. But she left right after them -- they
let her go."
     "And what is your name?"
     "Val, at your service."
     "Listen, Val," I said. "You are sure it didn't  look  like
they were taking him away forcibly?"
     I looked hard at him. He blinked in confusion.
     "No,"  he  said.  "Although,  now  that you have mentioned
it..."
     "All right," I said. "Give me the key to his room and come
with me."
     Clerks are, as a rule, quite savvy types. Their  sense  of
smell, at least for certain things, is quite impressive. It was
perfectly obvious that he had guessed who I was. And maybe even
where  I  came from. He called a porter, whispered something to
him, and we went up to the ninth floor.
     "What currency did he pay in?" I asked.
     "Who? Pebblebridge?"
     "Yes."
     "I think... ah yes, marks, German marks."
     "And when did he arrive here?"
     "One minute... it will come to  me...  sixteen  marks  ...
precisely four days ago."
     "Did he know that Rimeyer stayed with you?"
     "Excuse me, but I can't say. But the day before yesterday,
they had  dinner  together. And yesterday, they had a long talk
in the foyer. Early in the morning while  everybody  was  still
up."
     It  was  unusually  clean  and  tidy  in Rimeyer's room. I
walked about looking over the place.  Suitcases  stood  in  the
closet.  The  bed  was  rumpled,  but  I  could see no signs of
struggle. The bathroom also was clean and tidy. Boxes of  Devon
were stacked on the shelf.
     "What do you think -- should I call the police?" asked the
clerk.
     "I    don't   know,"   I   replied.   "Check   with   your
administration."
     "You understand that I am in doubt again. True, he  didn't
say  goodbye.  But  it all looked completely innocent. He could
have given me a sign, and I would have  understood  him  --  we
have  known  each  other  a  long  time.  He  was  pleading Mr.
Pebblebridge: 'The radio, please don't forget the radio.'"
     The radio lay under the mirror, hidden  by  a  negligently
thrown towel.
     "Yes?"  I  said.  "And  what  did  Mr. Pebblebridge say to
that?"
     Mr. Pebblebridge was soothing him, saying, "Of course,  of
course, don't worry..."
     I  took  the  radio, and leaving the bathroom, sat down at
the desk. The clerk looked back and forth from the radio to me.
     So, I thought, now he knows why I came here. I  turned  it
an. It moaned and howled. They all know about slug. No need for
Eli,  nor  Rimeyer;  you can take anyone at random. This clerk,
for instance. Right now, for instance.  I  turned  it  off  and
said, "Please be good enough to turn on the combo."
     He  ran  over  to it with mincing steps, turned it on, and
eyed me questioningly.
     "Leave it on that station. A little softer. Thank you."
     "So you don't advise me to call the police?"
     "As you wish."
     "It seemed you had something quite definite in  mind  when
you questioned me."
     "It  only  seemed  so,"  I  said coldly. "It's just that I
dislike Mr. Pebblebridge. But that does not concern you."
     The clerk bowed.
     "I'll stay here for a while,  Val,"  I  said.  "I  have  a
notion  that  this  Mr.  Pebblebridge will be back. It won't be
necessary to announce that I am here. In the meantime, you  are
free to go."
     "Yes, sir," he said.
     When  he left, I rang up the service bureau and dictated a
telegram; "Have found the meaning of life but am lonely brother
departed unexpectedly come at once Ivan." Then I turned on  the
radio  again, and again it howled and screeched. I took off the
back and pulled out  the  local  oscillator-mixer.  It  was  no
mixer.  It  was  a  slug. A beautiful precision subassembly, of
obviously mass-produced derivation, and the more  I  looked  at
it, the more it seemed that somewhere, sometime, long before my
arrival  here,  and  more  than  once, I had already seen these
components  in  some  very  familiar  device.  I  attempted  to
recollect  where I had seen them, but instead, I remembered the
room  clerk  and  his  face  with  a   weak   smile   and   his
understanding,  commiserating  eyes. They are all infected. No,
they hadn't tried slug -- heaven forbid! They hadn't even  seen
one!  It  is  so indecent! It is the worst of the worst! Not so
loud, my dear, how can you say that in front of the boy...  but
I've  been told it's something out of this world.... Me?... How
can you think that, you must have a low  opinion  of  me  after
all....  I don't know, they say over at the Oasis, Buba has it,
but as for myself -- I don't know....  And  why  not?  I  am  a
moderate man -- if I feel something is not right, I'll stop....
Let  me  have  five packets of Devon, we have made up a fishing
party (hee, hee!). Fifty thousand people. And their friends  in
other  towns.  And  a hundred thousand tourists every year. The
problem is not with the gang. That's the least of our  worries,
for what does it take to scatter them? The problem is that they
are  all  ready,  all  eager,  and  there  is not the slightest
prospect of the  possibility  to  prove  to  them  that  it  is
terribly  frightening,  that it is the end, that it is the last
debasement.
     I clasped the slug in my fist, propped up my head  on  it,
and stared at Rimeyer's dress jacket with the ribbon bar on it,
hanging  on  the  back of the chair. Just like me, he must have
sat in this chair a few months ago, and also held the slug  and
radio  for  the  second time, and the same warm flick of desire
wandered through the depths  of  his  consciousness:  there  is
nothing  to  worry  about,  because  now  there is light in any
darkness, sweetness in any grief, joy in any pain....
     ...There, there, said Rimeyer. Now you have  got  it.  You
just  have  to be honest with yourself. It is a little shameful
at first, and then you begin to understand how  much  time  you
have lost for nothing.... ...Rimeyer, I said, I wasted time not
for  myself.  This  cannot  be  done,  it  simply cannot, it is
destruction  for  everyone,  you  can't   replace   life   with
dreams.... ...Zhilin, said Rimeyer, when man does something, it
is  always  for himself. There may be absolute egotists in this
world, but perfect altruists are just impossible.  If  you  are
thinking  of  death  in a bathtub, then, in the first place, we
are all mortal, and in the second place,  if  science  gave  us
slug,  it will see to it that it will be rendered harmless. And
in the meantime, all that is required is moderation. And  don't
talk  to me of the substitution of reality with dreams. You are
no novice, you know perfectly well that these dreams  are  also
part  of  reality.  They constitute an entire world. Why do you
then call this acquisition ruin?... ...Rimeyer, I said, because
this world is still illusory, it's all within you, not  outside
of  you, and everything you do in it remains in yourself. It is
the opposite of the real  world,  it  is  antagonistic  to  it.
People  who  escape  into this illusory world cease to exist in
the real world. They become as dead. And when  everyone  enters
the  illusory  world  --  and you know it could end thus -- the
history of man  will  terminate....  ...Zhilin,  said  Rimeyer,
history  is  the  history  of people. Every man wants to live a
life which has not been in vain, and  slug  gives  you  such  a
life....  Yes, I know that you consider your life as not having
been in vain without slug, but, admit it, you have never  lived
so luminously, so fully as you have today in the tub. You are a
bit  ashamed  to recollect it, and you wouldn't risk recounting
it to others. Don't. They have their life, you  have  yours....
...Rimeyer,  I  said,  all  that  is true. But the past! Space,
schools, the struggle with fascists, gangsters -- is  all  that
for naught? Forty years for nothing? And the others -- they did
it all for nothing, too?... ...Zhilin, said Rimeyer, nothing is
for  nothing  in  history.  Some  fought  and did not live long
enough to have slug.  You  fought  and  lived  long  enough....
...Rimeyer, I said, I fear for mankind. This is really the end.
It's  the  end  of  man interacting with nature, the end of the
interplay of man  with  society,  the  end  of  liaisons  among
individuals, the end of progress, Rimeyer. AU these billions of
people  submerged  in.  hot  water and in themselves... only in
themselves....  ...  Zhilin,  said  Rimeyer,  it's  frightening
because it's unfamiliar. And as for progress -- it will come to
an  end  only for the real society, only for the real progress.
But each separate man will lose nothing,  he  will  only  gain,
since  his world will become infinitely brighter, his ties with
nature,  illusory  though  they  may  be,  will   become   more
multifaceted;  and  ties with society, also illusory but not so
known to him, will become more powerful and fruitful.  And  you
don't  have  to  mourn  the  end  of progress. You do know that
everything comes to an end. So now comes the end of progress in
the objective world. Heretofore, we didn't know how  if,  would
end,  But  we  know  now. We hadn't had time to realize all the
potential intensity of objective existence, it could be that we
would have reached such knowledge in a few hundred  years,  but
now  it  has  been  put  in  our  grasp.  Slug brings a gift of
understanding of our remotest ancestors which you  cannot  ever
have  in  real life. You are simply the prisoner of an obsolete
ideal, but be logical, the ideal which slug offers you is  just
as  beautiful.  Hadn't  you  always  dreamed  of  man  with the
greatest  scope  of  fantasy   and   gigantic   imagination....
...Rimeyer,  I  replied,  if  you  only  knew how tired I am of
arguing. All my life I have argued with myself and with others.
I have always loved to argue, because  otherwise  life  is  not
worth  living. But I am tired right now and don't wish to argue
over  slug,  of  all  things....  ...Then  go  on,  Ivan,  said
Rimeyer....
     I  inserted the slug into the radio. As he had then, I got
up. As he did then, I was past thought, past belonging in  this
world, but I still heard him say: don't forget to lock the door
tight so that you won't be disturbed.
     And  then I sat down. ...So that's the way of it, Rimeyer!
said I. So that's how it went. You surrendered. You closed  the
door  tight.  And  then  you sent lying reports to your friends
that there wasn't any slug. And then  again,  after  hesitating
but  a  moment,  you  sent  me  to  my death so that I wouldn't
disturb you. Your ideal, Rimeyer,  is  offal.  If  man  has  to
perform what is base in the name of an ideal, then the worth of
such ideal is -- less than dross....
     I  glanced at the watch and shoved the radio in my pocket.
I was past waiting for Oscar. I was hungry. And beyond  that  I
had  the  feeling  that for once I had done something useful in
this town. I left my phone number with the  room  clerk  --  in
case  Oscar  or  Rimeyer should return -- and went out onto the
plaza. I did not believe that Rimeyer would come back  or  even
that  I  would  ever see him again, but Oscar could hold to his
promise, though more likely, I would have to seek him out.  And
probably not alone. And probably not here.



     There   was   but  one  visitor  in  the  automated  cafe.
Barricaded behind bottles and hors d'oeuvres at a corner  table
sat a dark man of oriental cast, magnificently but outlandishly
dressed.  I  took  some yogurt and blintzes with sour cream and
set to, glancing at him now and then. He ate and drank much and
avidly, his face shiny with sweat, hot  inside  his  ridiculous
formal  clothes.  He  sighed,  leaning  back  in  his chair and
loosening his belt. The motion exposed a  long  yellow  holster
glistening in the sunlight under the clothing.
     I  was  on  my  way  into the last of the blintzes when he
hailed me: "Hello," he said. "Are you a native here?"
     "No," I said. "A tourist."
     "So that means you don't understand anything either."
     I went to the bar, threw a juice  cocktail  together,  and
approached him.
     "Why  is  it  empty  here?"  he continued. He had a lively
spare face and a bold gaze. "Where are the inhabitants? Why  is
everything  closed  up?  Everyone  is asleep, you can't get any
service."
     "You just arrived?"
     "Yes."
     He pushed an empty plate away, moved up a  full  one,  and
gulped some light beer.
     "Where are you from?" I asked. He glared at me menacingly,
and I added quickly, "If it's not a secret, of course."
     "No,"  he  said, "it's not a secret," and went back to his
eating.
     I finished the juice and got ready to leave. Then he said,
"They live well, the dogs. Such food and as much as  you  want,
and all for free."
     "Well, not quite for free," I contradicted.
     "Ninety dollars! Pennies! I'll show them how to eat ninety
dollars   within   three   days!"   His   eyes  stopped  roving
momentarily, "D-dogs!" he muttered and fell to again.
     I was quite familiar  with  such  types.  They  came  from
minuscule,  totally milked kingdoms and prefectdoms, reduced to
utter poverty, and greedily ate and drank, mindful of  the  hot
dusty  streets  of  their  home  towns,  where in the niggardly
ribbons  of  shade,  moribund  men  and  women  lay  dying  and
immobile, while children with distended bellies rummaged in the
garbage  piles of foreign consulates. They were surcharged with
hatred and needed only two things -- food and weapons. Food for
their own gang, which was the opposition, and weapons to  fight
the  other gang, which was in power. They were the most flaming
patriots, who spoke hotly and effusively of their love for  the
people,  but  resolutely refused all help from without, because
they loved nothing but their power and no one  but  themselves,
and  were  ready  in  the name of the people and the victory of
high principles to mortify the same people, right down  to  the
last   man,   if   necessary,  with  hunger  and  machine  gun.
Microhitlers!
     "Weapons? Food?" I asked.
     He grew wary.
     "Yes," he said. "Food and weapons. Only without any  silly
conditions.  And  as  free  as  possible.  Or  on  credit. True
patriots never have any money. While the ruling  clique  drowns
in luxury...."
     "Famine?" I asked.
     "Anything  you  want.  While  you here swim in luxury." He
gazed at me with hatred. "The whole world is drowning in wealth
and we alone are starving. But your  hopes  are  in  vain!  The
revolution cannot be stopped!"
     "Yes," I said. "And whom is the revolution against?"
     "We  are  fighting  the  blood leeches of Boadshah! We are
against corruption and debauchery of the ruling top  layer,  we
are for freedom and true democracy. The people are with us, but
they  have  to be fed. And you tell us that you'll give us food
only after we disarm. And even threaten  intervention....  What
filthy,  lying  demagogy!  What  deception of the revolutionary
masses! To disarm in the face of  those  bloodsuckers  --  that
means to throw a hangman's noose over the heads of all the true
freedom fighters! We answer you -- no! You will not deceive the
people.  Let  Boadshah and his brutes disarm! Then we shall see
what needs doing!"
     "Yes," I said. "But Boadshah  also,  in  all  probability,
does not wish a noose thrown over his neck."
     He  put  the beer down savagely, and his hand moved toward
the holster in a habitual gesture. But then he  quickly  caught
himself.
     "I  should  have known you don't understand a damn thing,"
he said. "You who are well fed have grown drowsy  from  a  full
stomach,  you  are too conceited to understand us. You wouldn't
have dared to talk to me like that in the jungle."
     In the jungle, I would have  talked  differently  to  you,
bandit, I thought, and said:
     "I  really  don't  understand many things. For instance, I
don't understand what will happen when you gain the upper hand.
Let us imagine that you have won, Boadshah has been hanged,  if
be, in his turn, hasn't fled to seek food and weapons --"
     "He  won't  get  away.  He'll  get  his  just deserts. The
revolutionary people will tear him to shreds. That's when we'll
go to work. We will regain the  territory  seized  from  us  by
affluent  neighbors, we will carry out the entire program which
the lying Boadshah  constantly  shouts  about  to  deceive  the
people....  I'll  show  them how to strike! They'll learn about
strikes with me on top -- there'll be no strikes!  They'll  all
go under arms and forward march! We will win and then..."
     He shut his eyes and moaned a bit, shaking his head.
     "And  then  you  will be well fed, you will swim in luxury
and sleep till noon?"
     He laughed.
     "I deserve that. The people deserve it. No one  will  dare
reproach  us. We will eat and drink as much as we wish, we will
live in real houses, we will say to the  people:  now  you  are
free -- divert yourselves!"
     "And  don't  think about a thing," I added. "But don't you
think that all that could come out badly for you?"
     "Forget it," he said. "That's sheer demagogy.  You  are  a
demagogue.   Also  a  dogmatist.  We  too  have  all  kinds  of
dogmatists similar to yourself. Man, they say,  will  lose  the
meaning  of life. No, we reply, man will lose nothing. Man will
acquire and not lose. You have to feel the people. You have  to
be  from  the  people yourself. The people don't like sophists.
What the hell for do I let myself be fed on by wood leeches and
feed on worms myself?" Suddenly he smiled  amiably.  "You  must
have  taken  offense  at me a bit, for calling you well fed and
other things. Please don't. Affluence is  bad  when  you  don't
have  it,  but  your  neighbor  does. But achieved affluence --
that's a great thing! It's worth fighting for. Everybody fought
for it. It must be obtained  with  weapons  in  hand,  and  not
traded for freedom and democracy."
     "So your final goal is still abundance? Just abundance?"
     "Obviously!  The  final objective always is abundance. The
difference is that we are choosy about the means to get it."
     "I have already grasped that. But what about man?"
     "What do you mean, man?"
     I did understand that it was futile to argue.
     "You have never been here before?" I asked.
     "Why?"
     "Look into it, I said. This town gives excellent practical
lessons in abundance."
     He shrugged his shoulders.
     "So far, I like it here." Again he pushed  away  an  empty
plate  and  replaced  it with a full one. "These hors d'oeuvres
are strange to me.... Everything is tasty  and  cheap....  It's
enviable."  He  swallowed  a few forkfuls of salad and growled.
"We know that all great revolutionaries fought  for  abundance.
We  don't  have  time to theorize, but there is no need for it,
anyway. There are  enough  theories  without  us.  Furthermore,
abundance is in no way threatening us. It won't threaten us for
quite a while yet. We have much more pressing problems."
     "To hang Boadshah," I said.
     "Yes  --  to begin with. Next we will need to do away with
the dogmatists. I can perceive that even now.  Next  comes  the
realization  of  our  legitimate  claims. After that, something
else will come up. And only then, and after many other  things,
will  abundance arrive. I am an optimist, but I don't believe I
will live to see it. Don't you worry -- we'll  manage  somehow.
If  we can stand hunger then we can take abundance for sure....
The dogmatists prattle that abundance is  not  an  end,  but  a
means.  We  reply  that  every  means  was once an goal. Today,
abundance is a goal. Tomorrow, perhaps it may become a means."
     I got up.
     "Tomorrow may be too late," I said. "It  is  incorrect  of
you  to fall back on great revolutionaries. They would not have
accepted your shibboleth: now you are free -- enjoy yourselves.
They spoke otherwise: now that you are free -- work. After all,
they never fought  for  abundance  for  the  belly,  they  were
interested in abundance for the soul and the mind."
     His  hand  twitched toward the holster again, and again he
caught himself.
     "A Marxist!" he said with astonishment. "But  then  again,
you  are  a  visitor.  We have almost no Marxists, we take them
and..."
     I kept control of myself.
     Passing by the window, I took another look at him. He  sat
with  his  back to the street and ate and ate, his elbows stuck
out.
     When I got home, the living room was already  vacant.  The
youngsters  had  piled the bedsheets and pillows in the corner.
There was a note under the telephone on the desk. Written in  a
childish   scrawl,   it  read:  "Take  care.  She  has  plotted
something. She was fussing in the bedroom." I  sighed  and  sat
down in the armchair.
     There  was  still  an  hour  until the meeting with Oscar,
assuming he came. There was no sense in going to sleep, but  in
addition,  it  might  not be safe -- Oscar could bring company,
and come earlier than expected, possibly not through the  door.
I  got  the  pistol  out  of  the  suitcase, put in a clip, and
dropped it in my side pocket. Next  I  climbed  into  the  bar,
brewed myself some coffee, and went back to the study.
     I  took  the  slug  out  of  my  radio  and the one out of
Rimeyer's, lay them down in front  of  me  on  the  table,  and
attempted  again to recollect where indeed I had seen just such
components and why I thought that I had seen  them  before  and
more than once. And then it came to me. I went into the bedroom
and  brought in the phonor. I didn't even need a screwdriver. I
took the case off the phonor, stuck my index finger  under  the
odorizer  horn, and, catching it with my finger nail, extracted
a vacuum tubusoid FX-92-U, four outputs, static field, capacity
equals two. Sold in consumer electronic stores at  fifty  cents
each. In local patois -- a slug.
     It   had   to   be,  I  thought.  We  are  disoriented  by
conversations about a new drug. We are constantly  derailed  by
talk  about  horrific  new  inventions.  We  have  already made
several similar blunders.
     There was the time when Alhagana and Burris  served  up  a
complaint  in  the  U.N.  that the separatists were using a new
type of weapon -- freeze bombs. We  threw  ourselves  furiously
into  a  search  for underground laboratories and even arrested
two genuine underground inventors (sixteen and ninety-six years
old, respectively). And then it turned out that  the  inventors
were  in  no  way  connected,  and  the awful freeze bombs were
acquired by the  separatists  in  Munich  from  a  refrigerator
warehouse  -- and were in fact reject super-freezers. True, the
effect of these super-freezers was  indeed  horrible.  Used  in
conjunction  with molecular detonators (widely used by undersea
archaeologists  in  the  Amazon  for   dispersing   crocs   and
piranhas),  the  super-freezers  were  capable of instantaneous
temperature  depression  of  one  hundred  and  fifty   degrees
centigrade  over a radius of twenty meters. Afterward, we spent
much effort indoctrinating ourselves with the concept  that  we
should  keep  in mind that in our times, literally every month,
masses of new inventions  appear  with  the  most  peaceful  of
applications,  but with the most unexpected side effects. These
characteristics are often such that lawbreaking in the area  of
weapons  manufacture  and  stockpiling  becomes meaningless. We
became extremely cautious about new types of armament, employed
by various extremists, and only a  year  later  got  caught  by
another  twist, when we went looking for a mysterious apparatus
with which poachers lured pterodactyls from the Uganda Preserve
at  a  great  distance.  We  found  a   clever   do-it-yourself
adaptation  of  the  "Up-down" toy in combination with a fairly
generally available medical device.
     And now we had caught slug -- a combination of a  standard
radio with a standard tubusoid and a standard chemical and very
common plumbing-supplied hot water.
     To  make  a  long  story  short, there would be no need to
search for secret factories. We'd have to look  for  some  very
adroit  and unprincipled speculators who sensed very delicately
indeed that  they  found  themselves  in  the  Country  of  the
Boob....  They'd  be  like  trichinae  in  a  ham.  Five or six
enterprising self-seekers. An innocent cottage somewhere in the
suburbs. Just go to a department store, buy the vacuum tubusoid
for fifty cents, peel off the plastic wrapping, and place in an
elegant box with a glassite cover. And then sell it  for  fifty
marks  --  "only  to you and only through friends." True, there
was still the inventor. Probably he was  not  alone,  and  most
certainly he was not the only one.... But probably they had not
survived;  for  this  was nothing like a lure for pterodactyls.
Anyway, was the matter really one of speculators? Let them sell
another forty slugs, or a hundred. Even in the City  of  Boobs,
people  had to figure out in the end what it was all about. And
when that happened, slug would spread like wildfire.
     The first ones to see to that would be the moralists  from
the  Joy  of  Living.  They  would be followed by Dr. Opir, who
would sally forth and announce  that  according  to  scientific
endings,  slug  was  conducive  to  clarity  of thought and was
unsurpassed in the treatment of alcoholism and  depression.  In
general,  the  future  ideal  was a vast trough filled with hot
water. Then they would stop writing  the  word  "slug"  on  the
fences.
     That's  who  should  be taken by the throat, I thought, if
anybody. The trouble is not the profiteers. The trouble is that
there  exists  this  Country   of   the   Boob,   this   filthy
misconstruction.  It  has  taken the shivers under its wing and
can't wait to legalize slug....
     There was a knock on the door. Oscar came into the  study,
and he was not alone. With him was Matia himself, stocky, gray,
with  dark  glasses  and  thick cane, as always, looking like a
veteran  who  has  lost   his   sight.   Oscar   was   smirking
self-satisfiedly.
     "Hello,  Ivan,"  said  Matia.  "Meet  your  back-up, Oscar
Pebblebridge, from the southwest section."
     We shook hands. What I  have  always  disliked  about  our
Security  Council  is  the  plethora  of  mossy traditions, and
especially   infuriating   is    the    idiotic    system    of
cross-investigation,  due  to  which we are constantly tripping
over each other's sleuthing, busting each other's mugs, and not
uncommonly shooting each other with fair accuracy. I can hardly
see that as serious work -- more like  adolescents  playing  at
detectives. Let them go soak their heads in a swamp.
     "I was going to take you in today," confided Oscar. "Never
in my life have I seen such a suspicious character."
     Without saying a word, I took the pistol out of my pocket,
unloaded it, and threw it in the desk drawer. Oscar followed my
actions  with approval. I said, addressing Matia, "I guess that
the  investigation  would  simply  collapse,  without   getting
started,  had I known about Oscar. But I must inform you that I
almost maimed him yesterday."
     "I read you right," said Oscar smugly.
     Grunting, Matia lowered himself into the armchair.
     "I can't ever remember a situation," he said,  "when  Ivan
was  pleased  with everything. But conspiracy is the foundation
of our business.... Take a chair and sit  down,  both  of  you.
You,  Oscar,  had  no right to be maimed, and you, Ivan, had no
right to be arrested. That's how you should regard it. And what
have you got here?" he said, taking off  his  dark  glasses  to
look  at the slugs, "Taking up radio as a hobby in between your
work? Laudable, laudable!"
     It was evident that they didn't know a  thing.  Oscar  was
leafing through his notebook, where everything was encrypted in
his  own personal code, and was apparently preparing himself to
make a report, while Matia scanned  over  the  slugs  with  his
fleshy  nose,  holding the glasses aloft in his hand. There was
something symbolic in this spectacle.
     "And so, agent Zhilin is enriching his leisure with  radio
technology," continued Matia, restoring his glasses and leaning
back  in  his chair. "He has lots of free time, he has switched
to a four-hour day.... And bow do you stand on the question  of
the  meaning  of  life,  agent  Zhilin? It appears you may have
found it. I hope it won't be necessary to take  you  away  like
agent Rimeyer?"
     "It  won't be required," I said. "I had not enough time to
become addicted. Did Rimeyer tell you anything?"
     "But of course not,"  he  said  with  vast  sarcasm.  "Why
should he do that? He was ordered to find the drug, and he did,
and  he  used  it,  and  now  he  apparently considers his duty
discharged. He became an addict himself, don't you see.  He  is
silent.  He  is  loaded with this brew up to his ears, and it's
useless to talk to him! He raves that he has murdered  you  and
constantly  asks  for his radio." Matia stopped short and gazed
at the radios. "Strange," he said and looked at me. "However, I
like orderliness. Oscar got here  first,  and  he  has  certain
deductions  both  about  the  goodies  and  the  conduct of the
operation. Let's begin with him."
     I looked at Oscar.
     "About what operation?"
     "The devil knows," said Matia.
     "The raiding of the center. You haven't located the center
yet?"
     The hunt is on, I thought, and  said,  "No,  I  didn't.  A
center I haven't latched on to. But --"
     "All  in good order, in proper order," said Matia severely
and banged the table with the flat of his hand. "Oscar, you may
begin, and as for you, Ivan, you listen  attentively  and  make
your deductions. If you are still capable, that is."
     Oscar  began.  Obviously  he  was  a good worker. He moved
fast,  energetically,  and  purposefully.  True,  Rimeyer   had
twisted   him   around  his  finger  as  well  as  he  had  me.
Nevertheless, Oscar had been able to grasp much in spite of it.
He understood that the sought-for "goodies" were known  locally
as  "slug."  Very rapidly he had grasped the connection between
slug and Devon. He divined that neither the  Fishers,  nor  the
Perches,  nor the Sorrowers had any relation to our problem. He
had deduced with superb  insight  that  in  this  town  it  was
practically  impossible  to  hide  any secret. He had even been
able to insinuate himself into the confidence  of  the  Intels,
and  had  established beyond any doubt that there were only two
truly secret societies -- the Art Patrons and the Intels. Since
the Art  Patrons  could  be  eliminated,  that  left  only  the
Intels....
     "It  was  not  contrary  to  the  conviction  which  I had
formed," said Oscar, "that  the  only  people  with  access  to
laboratories   and   capable   of   conducting   scientific  or
quasi-scientific research were the students and  professors  in
the  university.  It's true that the factories in the city also
have laboratories. There are only four  of  them,  and  I  have
investigated  them  all.  These  laboratories  are  stringently
specialized and are loaded to the limit with ongoing  work.  As
the  factories  work  around  the  clock,  there  is  no  basis
whatsoever to postulate that the industrial labs  could  become
centers  of  slug  manufacture.  On  the other hand, out of the
seven university labs, two are  obviously  surrounded  with  an
atmosphere  of  mystery. I was unable to determine what goes on
in them, but I spotted three students, who, I  believe,  should
know for sure...."
     I listened to him intently, amazed at how much he had been
able to accomplish here, but it was already all too clear to me
where  his main error lay. I could see he was following a false
trail, and alongside of that, there  grew  within  me  a  vague
feeling  of an even more significant error, of a most important
error, the error in the underlying premises of the Council.
     "I arrived at the  visualization,"  he  continued,  "of  a
gangsterlike  organization of the vertical type with rigorously
separated functions in decentralized sections.  The  production
section  is  involved  in the manufacture and perfection of the
slug.... I should inform you that slug, whatever it may be,  is
being perfected: I was able to establish that in the beginning.
Devon  was  not employed at all.... Next, the marketing section
is concerned with expanding the slug  distribution,  while  the
strong-arm section terrorizes the population and interdicts all
debate on that topic.... The intimidation of the people..."
     Now I understood it all.
     "Just a minute, Oscar," I said. "Can you guarantee that in
the entire city there are only two secret organizations?"
     "Yes," he said. "Only the Art Patrons and the Intels."
     "Please  continue, Oscar," said Matia with displeasure. "I
would ask you not to interrupt, Ivan."
     "Sorry," I said. Oscar continued to talk,  but  I  was  no
longer  listening. Something flared in my mind. The traditional
initial model for all  our  undertakings,  with  its  invariant
axiom  predicating  the existence of a ramified organization of
evildoers, had been shattered into dust, and I was only  amazed
that  I had failed heretofore to recognize its inane complexity
in the context of this simple-minded  country.  There  were  no
secret  shops  guarded  by  gloomy persons with brass knuckles,
there were no wary, unprincipled  businessmen,  there  were  no
traveling  salesmen  with  double-walled  shirt collars stuffed
with contraband, and it was quite for nothing  that  Oscar  was
drafting the elegant chart of squares and circles, connected by
a  confusion  of  lines, and inscribed with the words "center,"
"staff," and numerous question  marks.  There  was  nothing  to
demolish  and  be and no one to send off to Baffin Land.... But
there was modern industry involved  in  everyday  trade,  there
were state stores where slugs were sold for fifty cents apiece,
and  there  were  --  but  only  in  the  beginning  one or two
individuals not devoid of inventiveness and dying of inactivity
and  thirsting  for  new  sensations.   And   there   was   the
medium-sized  country  where,  once  upon a time, abundance and
affluence were the end to  be  attained,  and  they  never  did
become  the  means  to  another  end. And that was all that was
needed.
     Someone inserted a slug into a radio by  mistake  and  lay
down  in  the bath to relax and maybe listen to some good music
or to hear the latest news -- and it started.  The  news  oozed
and remnants of phonors found their way into the garbage ducts,
then  someone figured out that slugs could be obtained not only
from phonors, but could simply be bought in stores. Someone was
inspired to use aromatic  salts  and  someone  employed  Devon.
People  started  to die in their baths from nervous exhaustion,
and  the  statistical  department  of  the   Security   Council
submitted  a  top  secret  report  to  the Presidium. It became
apparent at once that all such deaths occurred with people  who
had come here as tourists. And furthermore, that there were far
more  such  deaths  in  this  country than anywhere else on the
planet. As so often happens, a false theory was constructed  on
well-verified  facts,  and we, one after another, well schooled
in conspiracy, were sent here to uncover  the  secret  gang  of
dealers  in a new and unknown drug, and we arrived here and did
stupid things. But, as always, no labor goes for naught, and if
you must look for the guilty, then all were  guilty,  from  the
mayor to Rimeyer, and if so, then no one was guilty, and now we
have to --
     "Ivan," said Matia irritably, "are you asleep?"
     They  were  both looking at me. Oscar was extending me his
notebook with the diagrams. I took the notebook and threw it on
the table.
     "Listen," I said. "Oscar has done wonders, of course,  but
we  have come a cropper again! Oscar, you have seen such a lot,
but you understood nothing. If there are  any  people  in  this
land  who  hate  slug,  it's  the  Intels.  The  Intels are not
gangsters, they are desperate men and patriots. They  have  but
one  aim  --  to stir this bog. By any means. To give this city
some kind of purpose, to force it away from the trough They are
sacrificing themselves, do you  understand?  They  invite  fire
upon themselves, they are attempting to arouse the town to come
sort  of common emotion, even if it has to be hatred. Can it be
you haven't heard of the tear  gas,  the  shooting  up  of  the
shivers? They are not making slug in the laboratories, they are
building  bombs and cooking tear gas ... and generally breaking
the laws on weapons technology. They are preparing a putsch for
the twenty-eighth, but as for slug -- here it is!"
     I shoved one at each of them, and simultaneously expounded
everything I thought on the subject.
     At first, they listened to  me  in  disbelief.  Then  they
stared  at  the slugs, not taking their eyes off them until I'd
finished, and when I did, they were quiet for  quite  a  while.
Matia held his slug as though it were a buzzing wasp. There was
displeasure written on his face.
     "Vacuum  tubusoid...  Hmmm...  In  fact...  and radios ...
there is something to it."
     Matia stuck the slug in his  shirt  pocket  and  announced
decisively,  "There  is nothing in it. That is, of course, I am
very pleased with you, Ivan, since you  have  apparently  found
that  which was needed, but your work is in the Council and not
with the Commission of World Problems.  They  adore  philosophy
there,  and  haven't done a single useful thing to date. As for
you, you have been working with us for ten years now,  but  you
still  haven't  grasped  the simple truth: if there is a crime,
there must be a criminal."
     'That's not true," I said.
     "That is true!" said Matia. "Don't start a debate with me!
You are eternally debating!... Be quiet, Oscar. It's my turn to
talk. I am asking you, Ivan, what is the worth of your version?
What do  you  propose  to  do?  But  be  concrete,  please!  Be
concrete!"
     "Concretely..." I faltered.
     True enough, my version did not suit them.
     They probably didn't even consider it a version.
     For  them it was just philosophizing. They were men, so to
say,  of  resolute  action,  knights  of   immediate   decisive
measures.,  They  let nothing slide. They cut through knots and
demounted Damocles' swords.  They  made  rapid  decisions,  and
having  made them, they no longer doubted. They didn't know how
to be otherwise. That was their world-view --  and  I  was  the
only  one  to  consider that their time had passed. Patience, I
thought. I am going to need an awful lot of patience. Suddenly,
I understood that life's logic was again ripping me  away  from
my  best comrades, and that now it would be especially hard for
me, since the resolution of this argument  would  take  a  long
time, a very long time.... They were both looking at me.
     "Concretely," I repeated. "Concretely I suggest a plan for
the development  and  spread  of a humanistic viewpoint in this
country."
     Oscar grimaced with distaste, and Matia said biliously:
     "Nah! I am talking seriously."
     "So am I. What we need is not detectives, nor squads armed
with machine pistols."
     "We need a decision!" said Matia, "not conversations,  but
decisions!"
     'That's precisely what I am proposing -- a decision."
     Matia reddened
     "We  have  to  save  people,"  he said. "Souls we can save
after we save the people.... Don't annoy me, Ivan!"
     "While you are  restructuring  world-views,"  said  Oscar,
"people will be dying or turning into idiots."
     I  didn't  want  to  argue,  but  said anyway, "As long as
world-views are not restructured,  people  will  be  dying  and
turning   into  idiots,  and  no  squads  will  help.  Remember
Rimeyer!"
     "Rimeyer forgot his duty," raged Matia.
     "Exactly," said I.
     Matia slammed his mouth shut and, tearing off his glasses,
was silent for a while, his  eyes  rotating  angrily.  He  was,
without  a  doubt, a man of iron; you could actually watch turn
drive his rage inward. In a minute he  was  entirely  calm  and
smiling placidly.
     "Yes,"  he  said. "It seems that I am forced to admit that
intelligence as a  social  institution  has  regressed  to  the
piteous  end.  Apparently  we  destroyed  the  last of the true
operatives in  the  time  of  the  last  putsches.  "Knife"  --
Dannziger;  "Bamboo"  --  Savada;  "Doll"  --  Grover; "Ram" --
Boas... True, they were bought and they were sold, they had  no
country,  they were scum, lumpens, but they worked! "Sirius" --
Haram... worked for four intelligences and was a scoundrel.  He
was  a  filthy  animal. But if he gave information, it was real
information,  clear,  precise,  and  timely.  I  can  recollect
ordering  him  hung without the slightest pity, but when I look
at my current co-workers, I can understand what a loss
     that was.... Granted, a man can fail in the end and become
a drug addict, as "Bamboo" Savada did finally.  But  why  write
lying  reports? Rather resign, excuse yourself, don't write any
reports at all.... I  arrive  in  this  town  in  the  profound
conviction  that  I know it through and through, because I have
had here for ten years an experienced, proved, resident  agent.
And  suddenly  I determine that I know precisely nothing. Every
local kid knows who the Fishers are. But I don't know.  I  know
only  that the KVS Society which occupied itself with about the
same things as the Fishers was  disbanded  and  outlawed  three
years ago. I know this from the reports of the resident. But at
the  local police I am informed that the VAL Society was formed
two years ago, which  I  did  not  learn  from  the  resident's
reports.  I  am  employing a simplified example, since I really
don't  give  a  damn  about  the  Fishers,  but  this   becomes
transformed  into a general style of work. Reports are delayed,
reports lie, reports misinform... in the end reports are simply
invented. One man openly resigns from the Council  and  doesn't
consider  it  incumbent  upon him to so inform his superior. He
has enough, you see;  he  had  intentions  to  communicate  but
somehow couldn't find the time.... Another, instead of fighting
the  drug  problem, becomes an addict himself.... And the third
philosophizes."
     He nodded at me with regretful bitterness.
     "Understand me correctly, Ivan," he continued. "I  am  not
opposed to philosophy. But philosophy is one thing and our work
altogether  another.  Judge  for yourself, Ivan. If there is no
secret  headquarters,  if  we  are  faced  with  a  deluge   of
do-it-yourself  enterprise, then why all the secretiveness? All
this conspiratorial atmosphere? Why is slug enveloped  in  such
mystery?  I  allow  that  Rimeyer is silent because of pangs of
conscience in general and specifically on your  account,  Ivan.
But  the rest? Slug is not illegal; everyone knows about it and
yet  everyone  keeps  it  a  secret.   Oscar,   here,   doesn't
philosophize;  he  postulates  that  the inhabitants are simply
terrorized. I can understand that. And what do  you  postulate,
Ivan?"
     "In  your  pocket,"  I  said,  "there is a slug. Go in the
bathroom. There's Devon on the shelf -- one tablet orally, four
in the water. There's some whiskey in the medicine chest. Oscar
and I will wait. And then you can tell  us  aloud,  so  we  can
hear,  we your comrades in work and your underlings, about your
sensations and experiences. And we -- better it should be Oscar
-- should listen, but as for me, I think I'll leave."
     Matia put on his glasses and stared at me.
     "You are implying that I won't tell? You propose  that  I,
too, will be derelict in my duty?"
     "What  you  will learn will have no relation whatsoever to
your duty.  That  you  will  renege  on  subsequently.  As  did
Rimeyer.  Comrades,  this  is  slug.  It's a cute device, which
awakens fantasy and directs  it  where  it  will,  particularly
where  you yourself subconsciously -- and I mean subconsciously
-- would like to direct it. The further you  are  removed  from
the  animal, the more inoffensive would slug be, but the closer
to the animal, the more you would be impelled to adhere to  the
conspiratorial  way.  The  animals  themselves  are  altogether
silent. They just know how to press the lever."
     "What lever?"
     I explained about the rats to them.
     "Did you try it yourself?" asked Matia.
     "Yes."
     "And?"
     "As you can see, I tend to silence."
     Matia sibilated for some time and then said, "Well,  I  am
no nearer to the animal than you are. How do you put it in?"
     I  loaded  the  radio  and  handed  it  to  him. Oscar was
following all this with interest.
     "God be with me," said Matia, "Where is  your  bath?  I'll
wash after my trip while I'm at it."
     He  locked  himself  in,  and  we  could hear him dropping
things.
     "Strange affair," said Oscar.
     "It's really not an affair," I contradicted. "It's a piece
of history, Oscar, and you would like to fit it into a file and
tie it with a ribbon. But this  is  no  gangster  business.  It
should be obvious to a hedgehog, as Yurkovsky used to say."
     "Who?"
     "Yurkovsky,   Vladimir  Sergeyevitch.  There  was  such  a
renowned planetologist. I worked with him."
     "Aah," said Oscar, "By the way, on the plaza by the  Hotel
Olympic there is a monument to a Yurkovsky."
     "The very same man."
     "Really?"  said  Oscar.  "On  the  other  hand, it's quite
possible. However, the monument was not put up because he was a
renowned planetologist. It's simply that for the first time  in
the history of the city, he broke the electronic roulette bank.
It was decided to immortalize such a feat."
     "I  expected  something  of  the sort," I murmured. I felt
depressed.
     The shower began to hiss in the bathroom, and there was  a
frightful  roar  from Matia, At first, I decided that he turned
on ice water instead of warm, but  he  kept  yelling  and  then
began  to  curse  in  the  most  horrendous  terms. Oscar and I
exchanged glances. He was generally calm, interpreting this  as
the   typical   action  of  slug,  and  his  face  exhibited  a
compassionate expression. The latch rattled  wildly,  the  door
flew  open with a crash. Bare heels slapped in the bedroom, and
a naked Matia rolled into the study.
     "Are you some kind of an idiot?" he bellowed at me.  "What
sort of filthy trick is this?"
     I  went  numb.  Matia  resembled  a  grotesque  zebra. His
well-fed body was covered with poison-green  vertical  stripes.
He reared and stamped his feet, spraying emerald drops. When we
regained  our  composure  and  investigated  the  site  of  the
accident, we learned that the shower head had been stuffed with
a sponge saturated with a green dye. I  remembered  Len's  note
and guessed that Vousi was the culprit. It took a long while to
restore  a  normal  atmosphere.  Matia viewed the incident as a
boorish joke  and  an  inadmissible  disregard  of  subordinate
discipline  and behavior. Oscar horse-laughed. I scrubbed Matia
with a brush and explained. Then Matia announced that from  now
on  he wouldn't trust anyone and would try out slug when he got
home. He dressed and went into conference  with  Oscar  on  the
plans for blockading the city.
     I was cleaning up in the bath and thinking that with this,
my work  in  the Council was coming to an end, and another kind
of work was beginning -- which I did not know how to  begin.  I
would  have  liked  to include myself in the blockade planning,
not because I considered it necessary, but because  it  was  so
simple,  so  much  more  simple  than to return to people their
souls which had been devoured by affluence, and to  teach  each
one  to  think  of  world  problems  in the same way as his own
personal ones.
     "Isolate this pus bag from the rest of the world,  isolate
it  totally, that's the total of our philosophy," orated Matia.
That was aimed at me. But perhaps not even me. For Matia was  a
brilliant  mind.  He  understood  too  well  that isolation was
always a defense, but here we had to attack. But he knew how to
advance only with squads, and this was embarrassing to him.
     To rescue. For how long  would  you  need  rescuing?  When
would  you  learn  to rescue yourselves? Why were you eternally
harkening to priests, fascists, demagogues, and imbecile Opirs?
Why didn't you want to exert your brains? Why  did  you  resist
thinking  so?  Why  couldn't  you  understand that the world is
vast, complex, and fascinating? Why was everything  simple  and
boring  tc  you? In what way did your mind differ from the mind
of Rabelais, Swift, Lenin, Einstein, Makarenko, Hemingway,  and
Strogoff?  Someday I would grow tired of all this. Someday when
I had no more strength and conviction. For  I  was  similar  to
you.  But  I  wanted  to  help you, and you didn't want to help
me....
     Reg and Len came over after school, and Len  said,  "We
have decided, Ivan. We will go to the Gobi Central." He had red
fuzz  on  his  lip  and huge red hands, and I could see that it
divas he who had thought up the Gobi trip, and  quite  recently
-- not  more  than  ten minutes ago. Reg, as usual, was silent,
chewing on a blade of grass and placidly studying me  with  his
calm  gray  eyes. He has become altogether a square, I thought,
and said, "Wonderful book, isn't it?" "Yes, indeed," said  Len.
"We  understood  at  once  where  we should go." Reg was quiet.
"Heat and stench are suspended in  the  shadow  of  these  hard
laboring  dragons," I said from memory. "They devour everything
under them -- the ancient Mongolian prayer gate, the bones of a
two-humped beast fallen in some sand storm..." "Yes," said Len,
while Reg went on chewing his blade of grass. "Every  time,"  I
continued  (now  from  Ichin-dagli), "that the sun arrives at a
mathematically precise  required  position,  a  strange  mirage
blossoms out in the East -- of a strange city with white towers
which  no  one  has yet seen in reality. " "One should see that
with his own eyes," said Len,  and  laughed.  "Friend  Len,"  I
said,  "it's too fascinating and therefore too simple. You will
see that it's  too  simple  yourself  and  it  will  become  an
unpleasant disappointment." No, I hadn't said it right. "Friend
Len,"  I  said,  "what  sort  of a mirage is that? Here is one.
Seven years  ago,  in  your  mother's  house,  I  saw  a  truly
marvelous  mirage:  both of you standing before me almost grown
up..." No -- I was saying that for myself,  not  for  them.  It
should  be said differently. "Friend Len," I said, "seven years
ago you explained to me that your people were accursed. We came
here and removed the curse from you and Reg and from many other
children who had no parents. And now it's your turn to  remove,
the curse, which..."
     It  will  be  very difficult, but I'll explain it to them.
One way or another, I'll get it  across.  We  have  known  from
childhood  how  to  remove  the curses on the barricades and on
construction sites and in laboratories, and you will remove the
last of the  curses,  you  will  be  the  future  teachers  and
educators.  In  the last war -- the most bloodless and the most
difficult for its soldiers.
     Upstairs Vousi screeched and Len started to cry piteously.
Oscar's voice boomed in the  study.  How  well  off  he  is,  I
thought. Simple: slug is bad, harmful, unnatural. Therefore, it
must  be  destroyed,  forbidden by law, and then you must watch
closely that the  law  is  strictly  enforced.  Only  Matia  is
smarter  than  that,  because he is older and more experienced.
Matia can still be pulled over to my side. My word doesn't mean
anything to him, but others will  be  found  to  whom  he  will
listen....  How  wonderful  that I can now cry out to the whole
world and be heard by millions of like-thinkers!
     And then I thought that I would not leave  this  place.  I
had  been  here only three days. It could not be that there was
no one here who would be with us. No one  who  hated  all  this
with a deadly hatred, who wanted to blast this dull sated world
out  of its stasis. Such people always existed and always will.
Perhaps that bibliophile driver or that tall, harsh one of  the
Intels...  and  who  knew how many more. They stumbled about as
though they were blind. We would do everything in our power  to
help  them so that they would not waste their anger on trifles.
It was our place to be here now. And my place, too.
     What a labor lies ahead, I thought, what a task!  For  the
time being, I didn't know where to begin in this Country of the
Boob,  caught  unprepared  in  a flood of affluence, but I knew
that I wouldn't leave here as  long  as  the  immigration  laws
permitted.  And  when they stopped permitting it, I would break
them....

: 46, Last-modified: Fri, 15 Apr 2011 19:47:20 GMT