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Monday Starts on Saturday

Monday Starts on Saturday

Monday Starts on Saturday 16


  I had noticed quite a while before this that the cadaver’s behavior had changed significantly. Perhaps something inside it had stopped functioning properly, or perhaps it was the way things were supposed to happen, but its relaxation times were getting shorter and shorter, so that by the end of Vybegallo’s speech it was no longer leaving the conveyor even for a moment. Or perhaps it had simply begun to find it difficult to move.

  “May I ask a question?” Edik said politely. “How do you account for the cessation of the acute fits of satisfaction?”

  Vybegallo stopped speaking and looked at the cadaver. The cadaver was guzzling. Vybegallo looked at Edik.

  “I’ll tell you how,” he said smugly. “That is a correct question, comrades. Yes, I would even call it an intelligent question, comrades. We have before us a concrete model of constantly expanding material needs. And only the superficial observer can believe that the acute fits of satisfaction have supposedly ceased. In actual fact they have made the dialectical transition from quantity to a new quality. They have extended, comrade, to the very process of the satisfaction of needs. Now it is not enough for it to be satisfied. Its needs have grown, so that now it has to eat all the time—now it has self-educated itself and it knows that chewing is also good. Is that clear, comrade Amperian?”

  I looked at Edik. Edik was smiling politely. Standing beside him, hand in hand, were doubles of Fyodor Simeonovich and Cristóbal Joséevich. Their heads had wide-set ears and they were turning on their axes, like the radar antennae at airports.

  “May I ask another question?” said Roman.

  “By all means,” said Vybegallo with an expression of weary condescension.

  “Ambrosius Ambroisovich,” said Roman, “what will happen when it has consumed everything?”

  Vybegallo’s gaze became wrathful. “I ask everyone present to take note of this provocative question, which reeks a mile away of Malthusianism, neo-Malthusianism, pragmatism, existentio- . . . -oa- . . . -nalism, and disbelief, comrades, in the inexhaustible powers of humanity. What is it you are suggesting by asking this question, comrade Oira-Oira? That a moment can come in the activity of our scientific institution, a crisis, a retrogressive development, when there will not be enough consumer products for our consumers? Wrong, comrade Oira-Oira! You haven’t thought it through properly! We cannot permit labels to be hung on our work and aspersions cast upon it. And we shall not permit it, comrades.”

  He took out a handkerchief and wiped his beard. G. Pronitsatelny asked the next question, screwing up his face with the intellectual effort: “Of course, I’m not a specialist. But what future has the model in question? I understand that the experiment is proceeding successfully. But it is consuming very energetically.”

  Vybegallo laughed bitterly. “There, you see, comrade Oira-Oira, that’s the way unsavory sensations are started. You asked a question without thinking. And our rank-and-file comrade here is already disoriented. Facing toward the wrong ideal . . . You are facing toward the wrong ideal, comrade Pronitsatelny!” he said, addressing the journalist directly. “The model in question represents a stage that is already past! Here is the ideal toward which we must turn our faces!” He went across to the second autoclave and set his ginger-haired hand against its polished side. His beard jutted out. “This is our ideal!” he declared. “Or, to be more precise, this is the model of our ideal, yours and mine. Here we have the universal consumer who desires everything and can, accordingly, achieve everything he desires. All the needs that exist in the world are embodied in him. And he can satisfy all those needs. With the help of our science, naturally. Let me elucidate for the press. The model of the universal consumer contained in this autoclave—or, to use our term, self-sealing vessel—desires without any limitation. We are all of us, comrades, with all due respect to ourselves, simply nothing in comparison with it. Because it desires things that we have absolutely no concept of. And it will not wait for favors from nature. It will take from nature everything that it needs for its complete happiness—that is, for satisfaction. Material-magic forces will simply extract from surrounding nature everything that it needs. The happiness of this model will be indescribable. It will know neither hunger nor thirst, nor toothache, nor other unpleasantnesses. All of its needs will be instantly satisfied as they arise.”

  “Excuse me,” Edik said politely, “but will all of its needs be material?”

  “Well, of course,” Vybegallo yelled, “its intellectual needs will develop accordingly! As I have already remarked, the more material needs there are, the more varied the intellectual needs will be. It will be a mental giant and an intellectual luminary!”

  I looked around at the people there. Many of them looked absolutely dumbfounded. The correspondents were scribbling away desperately. I noticed that some people were glancing from the autoclave to the incessantly guzzling cadaver and back again, with a strange expression on their faces. Stella was pressing her forehead against my shoulder, sobbing and whispering, “I’ve got to get out of here, I can’t take any more . . .” I think I was also beginning to understand just what Oira-Oira was afraid of. I pictured an immense maw gaping wide to receive a magically generated stream of animals, people, cities, continents, planets, the sun . . .

  “Ambrosius Ambroisovich,” said Oira-Oira. “Could the universal consumer create a stone so heavy that even he would be unable to lift it, no matter how strong his desire?”

  Vybegallo pondered that, but only for a second. “That isn’t material need,” he replied. “That’s caprice. That’s not the reason I created my doubles, for them to go getting, you know, capricious.”

  “Caprice can be a need too,” Oira-Oira objected.

  “Let’s not get involved in scholastics and casuistry,” Vybegallo proposed. “And let’s not start drawing analogies with religious mysticism.”

  “No, let’s not,” said Oira-Oira.

  B. Pitomnik glanced around and addressed Vybegallo again: “When and where will the demonstration of the universal model take place, Ambrosius Ambroisovich?”

  “The answer,” said Vybegallo, “is that the demonstration will take place right here in my laboratory. The press will be informed of the time later.”

  “But will it be just a matter of a few days?”

  “It could well be a matter of a few hours. So it would be best for the comrades of the press to stay and wait.”

  At this point, as though on command, the doubles of Fyodor Simeonovich and Cristóbal Joséevich turned and walked out of the room. Oira-Oira said, “Does it not seem to you, Ambrosius Ambroisovich, that holding such a demonstration in the Institute, here in the center of town, is dangerous?”

  “We have nothing to be concerned about,” said Vybegallo. “It’s our enemies who should be feeling concerned.”

  “Do you remember I told you there might possibly—”

  “You, comrade Oira-Oira, possess an inadequate, you know, grasp of the matter. It is essential, comrade Oira-Oira, to distinguish possibility from reality, theory from practice, and so forth . . .”

  “Nonetheless, perhaps the firing range—”

  “I am not testing a bomb,” Vybegallo said haughtily. “I am testing a model of the ideal man. Are there any other questions?”

  Some bright spark from the Department of Absolute Knowledge began asking about the operating mode of the autoclave, and Vybegallo happily launched into explanations. The morose lab assistants were gathering up their spiritual needs satisfaction technology. The cadaver was guzzling. The black suit he was wearing was splitting and coming apart at the seams. Oira-Oira watched him closely. Suddenly he said in a loud voice, “I have a suggestion. Everyone who is not directly involved should leave the premises immediately.”

  Everyone turned to look at him.

  “It’s going to get very messy,” he explained. “Quite incredibly messy.”

  “That is provocation,” Vybegallo responded pompously.

  Roman grabbed me by the hand and dragged me to the
door. I dragged Stella after me. The other onlookers hurried after us. People in the Institute trusted Roman. They didn’t trust Vybegallo. The only outsiders left in the laboratory were the journalists; the rest of us crowded together in the corridor.

  “What’s happening?” we asked Roman. “What’s going to happen? Why is it going to get messy?”

  “He’s about to blow,” Roman answered, keeping his eyes fixed on the door.

  “Who is? Vybegallo?”

  “I feel sorry for the journalists,” said Edik. “Listen, Sasha, is our shower working today?”

  The door of the lab opened and two lab assistants came out, carrying the tub and the empty buckets. A third lab assistant was fussing around them, glancing behind him apprehensively and muttering, “Let me help, guys, let me help, it’s heavy . . .”

  “Better close the doors,” Roman advised.

  The nervous lab assistant hastily slammed the door shut and came over to us, pulling out his cigarettes. His eyes were rolling and staring wildly. “Any moment now . . .” he said. “The smart-ass, I tried to tip him off . . . The way it guzzles! It’s insane, the way it guzzles.”

  “It’s twenty-five past two—” Roman began.

  Suddenly there was a loud boom and a jangling of broken glass. One of the lab doors gave a sharp crack and flew off its hinges. A camera and someone’s tie were blown out through the gap. We jumped back. Stella squealed again.

  “Keep calm,” said Roman. “It’s all over now. There’s one less consumer in the world.”

  The lab assistant, his face as white as his coat, dragged incessantly on his cigarette. From inside the lab we heard sniveling, coughing, and muttered curses. There was a bad smell. I murmured uncertainly, “Perhaps we ought to take a look.”

  No one replied. Everyone just looked at me pityingly. Stella was crying quietly, holding on to my jacket. Someone explained to someone else, “He’s on watch today, get it? Someone has to go and clear it all up.”

  I took a few hesitant steps in the direction of the doorway, but just then the journalists and Vybegallo came stumbling out of the lab, clutching onto each other.

  My God, the state they were in!

  Recovering my wits, I pulled the platinum whistle out of my pocket and blew it. The brownie emergency sanitation team came dashing to my side on the double, pushing their way through the crowd of staff.

  5

  Believe, that it was the most horrible spectacle that ever one saw.

  —François Rabelais

  What astounded me most of all was that Vybegallo was not discouraged in the least by what had happened. While the brownies worked on him, spraying him with absorbing agents and plastering him with fragrances, he piped in a falsetto voice, “You, comrades Oira-Oira and Amperian, you were apprehensive as well. Wondering what would happen, and how he could be stopped . . . You suffer, comrades, from a certain unhealthy, you know, skepticism. I’d call it a certain distrust of the forces of nature and human potential. And where is it now, this distrust of yours? It has burst! It has burst, comrades, in full view of the wider public, and splattered me and these comrades of the press.”

  The press maintained a dismayed silence as it obediently presented its sides to the hissing jets of absorbents. G. Pronitsatelny was shuddering violently. B. Pitomnik was shaking his head and involuntarily licking his lips.

  When the brownies had restored a first approximation of order in the lab, I glanced inside. The emergency team was briskly replacing windows and burning what was left of the gastric model in a muffle furnace. There wasn’t much left: a little heap of buttons with the English inscription FOR GENTLEMEN, the sleeve of a jacket, a pair of incredibly stretched suspenders, and a set of false teeth resembling the fossilized jaws of Gigantopithecus. Everything else had apparently been reduced to dust in the blast. Vybegallo inspected the second autoclave, the so-called self-sealing vessel, and declared that everything was in order. “Would the press please join me?” he said. “And I suggest that everyone else should return to their own duties.”

  The press pulled out its notebooks; the three men sat down at a table and set about defining the details of an essay titled “The Birth of a Discovery” and an article titled “Professor Vybegallo’s Story.” The audience dispersed. Oira-Oira left after taking the keys to Janus Polyeuctovich’s safe from me. Stella left in despair because Vybegallo had refused to let her transfer to a different department. The lab assistants left, noticeably more cheerful now. Edik left, surrounded by a crowd of theoreticians, figuring out in their heads as they walked along what was the minimum stomach pressure at which the cadaver could have exploded. I left too, and went back to my post, having first made sure that the testing of the second cadaver would not take place before eight o’clock in the morning.

  The experiment had left me feeling very unsettled. I lowered myself into an immense armchair in the director’s waiting room and tried for a while to understand whether Vybegallo was a fool or a cunning demagogue and hack. The total scientific value of all his cadavers was quite clearly zero. Any member of the Institute who had successfully defended his master’s thesis and taken the two-year special course in nonlinear transgression was capable of creating models based on his own doubles. And it was no problem either to endow these models with magical properties, because there were handbooks, tables, and textbooks for use by postgraduate magicians. In themselves these models had never proved anything, and from a scientific point of view they were of no more interest than card tricks or sword swallowing.

  Of course, I could understand all these pitiful journalists who stuck to Vybegallo like flies on a dung heap. Because from the viewpoint of the nonspecialist it all looked very impressive; it inspired a frisson of admiration and vague presentiments of immense possibilities. It was harder to understand Vybegallo, and his morbid obsession with organizing circus performances and public explosions to satisfy people who could not possibly understand (and had no desire to understand) the essence of what was happening. Apart from two or three Absolutists who were exhausted by their research trips and loved to give interviews on the state of affairs in infinity, no one else in the Institute abused their contacts with the press. It was considered bad form—and that disapproval derived from a profound internal logic.

  The problem is that the most interesting and elegant scientific results frequently possess the property of appearing abstruse and drearily incomprehensible to the uninitiated. In our time people who have no connection with science expect it to produce miracles and nothing but miracles, but they’re practically incapable of distinguishing a genuine scientific miracle from a conjuring trick or intellectual acrobatics. The science of sorcery and wizardry is no exception. There are plenty of people who can organize a conference of famous ghosts in a television studio or drill a hole in a fifty-centimeter wall just by looking at it, which is no good at all to anyone, but it produces an ecstatic response from our highly esteemed public, which has no real idea of the extent to which science has interwoven and blended together the concepts of fairy tale and reality. But just you try to define the profound internal connection between the drilling capacity of the human glance and the philological characteristics of the word concrete—just try to answer this one discrete little question, which is known as Auer’s Great Problem! Oira-Oira solved it by creating the theory of fantastical totality and founding an entirely new branch of mathematical magic. But almost no one has ever heard of Oira-Oira, and everyone knows all about Professor Vybegallo. (“Ah, so you work at NITWiT? How’s Vybegallo doing? What else has he discovered now?”) This happens because there are only two or three hundred people in the entire world capable of grasping Oira-Oira’s ideas, and while these two or three hundred include many corresponding members of the Academy of Sciences, they do not, alas, include a single journalist. But in its time Vybegallo’s classic work “Fundamentals of Technology for the Production of Self-Donning Footwear,” which is crammed full of demagogic nonsense, was a great sensation, thanks to
the efforts of B. Pitomnik. (It later emerged that self-donning shoes cost more than a motorcycle and are easily damaged by dust and moisture.)

  It was getting late. I was seriously tired and I dozed off without realizing it. I dreamed about some kind of fantastic vermin—gigantic multilegged mosquitoes with beards like Vybegallo’s—talking buckets of skim milk, a tub with short little legs running down the stairs. Occasionally some indiscreet brownie glanced into my dream, but when he saw these horrors, he bolted in fright. I was woken by a pain and opened my eyes to see beside me a macabre bearded mosquito trying to sink its proboscis, as thick as a ballpoint pen, into my calf.

  “Shoo!” I roared, and punched it in its bulging eye.

  The mosquito gurgled resentfully and ran away a few steps. It was as big as a dog, ginger with white spots. I must have pronounced the materialization formula without realizing it while I was asleep and unwittingly summoned this macabre beast out of nonexistence. I tried to drive it back into nonexistence but failed. Then I armed myself with the heavy volume Equations of Mathematical Magic, opened the small window, and drove the mosquito out into the frost. The blizzard immediately whirled it away, and it disappeared into the darkness. That’s the way unsavory sensations are started, I thought.

  It was six in the morning and the Institute was absolutely quiet. Either everyone was working hard or they’d all gone home. I was supposed to make one more round, but I didn’t want to go anywhere and I wanted something to eat, because the last time I’d eaten was eighteen hours earlier. So I decided to send a double instead.

  I’m really still a very weak magician. Inexperienced. If there’d been anybody else there with me, I’d never have taken the chance of exposing my ignorance. But I was alone, and I decided to risk it and get in a bit of practice at the same time. I found the general formula in Equations of Mathematical Magic, entered my own parameters into it, performed all the required manipulations, and pronounced all the required expressions in ancient Chaldean. Hard study really does pay dividends. For the first time in my life I managed to make a decent double. He had everything in the right place and he even looked a little bit like me, except that for some reason his left eye didn’t open and he had six fingers on his hands. I explained his task to him and he nodded, shuffled one foot across the floor, and set off, staggering as he walked. We never met again. Perhaps he somehow ended up in the Gorynych Wyrm’s bunker, or perhaps he embarked on an infinite journey on the rim of the Wheel of Fortune—I don’t know, I just don’t know. But as a matter of fact, I very quickly forgot all about him, because I decided to make myself breakfast.