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Monday Starts on Saturday

Monday Starts on Saturday

Monday Starts on Saturday 19


  At the 115th leap my roommate Vitka Korneev came floating into the room. As always in the morning, he was cheerful and full of energy, even good humored. He lashed me across my bare back with a wet towel and began flying around the room, making movements with his arms and legs as if he were swimming the breaststroke, telling me as he did so about his dreams and interpreting them as he went along according to Freud, Merlin, and Mademoiselle Lenormand. I went and got washed, then we both got ready and set out for the cafeteria.

  In the cafeteria we took our favorite table under a large, faded poster (“Be bold, comrades, and snap your jaws! —Gustave Flaubert”), opened our bottles of kefir, and started eating while we listened to the local news and gossip:

  The traditional spring rally had taken place the night before on Bald Mountain, and the participants had behaved quite deplorably. Viy and Khoma Brut had gotten drunk and gone wandering through the dark streets of the town, pestering passersby and using foul language, then Viy had stepped on his own left eyelid and flown into a furious rage. He and Khoma had gotten into a fight, knocked over a newspaper kiosk, and ended up in the militia station, where they were both given fifteen days for being drunk and disorderly. It had taken six men to hold Khoma Brut so that his head could be shaved, and meanwhile the bald-headed Viy had sat in the corner giggling offensively. The case was being passed on to the people’s court because of what Khoma Brut had said while his hair was being cut.

  Vasily the cat had taken a spring vacation—to get married. Soon Solovets would be blessed once again with talking kittens suffering from hereditary amnesia.

  Louis Sedlovoi from the Department of Absolute Knowledge had invented some kind of time machine, and he was going to give a paper about it at a seminar today.

  Vybegallo had reappeared in the Institute. He was going around boasting that he’d been inspired by an absolutely titanic idea. It seemed that the speech of many monkeys resembled human speech recorded on tape and played backward at high speed. So he’d, you know, recorded the conversations of the baboons in the Sukhumi nature reserve and listened to them back to front at low speed. The result, he claimed, was something absolutely phenomenal, but exactly what he wasn’t saying.

  The computing center’s Aldan had burned out again, but it wasn’t Sashka Privalov’s fault, it was Junta’s: just recently he’d made it a matter of principle to take an interest only in problems that had already been proved not to have any solution.

  The decrepit old sorcerer Perun Markovich Neunyvai-Dubino from the Department of Militant Atheism had taken leave for his next reincarnation.

  In the Department of Eternal Youth the model of immortal man had died following a protracted illness.

  The Academy of Sciences had allocated the Institute a massive amount of money to improve the facilities on its site. Modest Matveevich intended to use this sum to surround the Institute with fancy cast-iron railings supported by columns with allegorical images and pots of flowers, and in the backyard, between the transformer shed and the fuel store, he was going to install a fountain with a jet nine meters high. The sports committee had requested money for a tennis court, but he had refused, declaring that a fountain was required for scholarly cogitation, and tennis was nothing but a pointless jiggling of arms and joggling of legs.

  After breakfast everyone went off to their labs. I stopped by the computer room and shuffled miserably around the Aldan while the sullen, unfriendly technicians from the Technical Service Department fiddled around inside its gaping entrails. They didn’t want to talk to me and suggested morosely that I should go somewhere else and mind my own business. I wandered off to visit friends.

  Vitka Korneev threw me out because he couldn’t concentrate with me around. Roman was giving a lecture to some trainees. Volodya Pochkin was chatting with some journalists. When he caught sight of me he looked delighted and shouted, “Aha, there he is! Let me introduce the head of our computer center, he’ll tell you all about how . . .” I gave a very cunning imitation of my own double, which gave the journalists a real fright, and managed to escape. At Edik Amperian’s place they treated me to fresh cucumbers and we’d just struck up a lively conversation about the advantages of the gastronomical view of life when their distillation apparatus exploded and they forgot all about me.

  I went out into the corridor in absolute despair and ran into S-Janus, who said, “I see,” and then after a pause inquired whether we’d spoken yesterday. “No,” I said, “unfortunately we didn’t.” He carried on, and I heard him ask Gian Giacomo the same standard question at the end of the corridor.

  Eventually I wound up with the Absolutists, arriving there just before the beginning of the seminar. The members of the department were taking their seats in the small conference hall, yawning and gently stroking their ears. Sitting in the chairman’s seat with his fingers calmly clasped together was the head of department, master academician of all white, black, and gray magic, the all-knowing Maurice Johann Laurentius Pupkov-Zadny. He was gazing benignly at the fidgety efforts of the speaker, assisted by two clumsily made doubles with hairy ears, to set up a machine with a saddle and pedals on the display stand. It looked like an exercise machine for the overweight. I took a seat in the corner as far away as possible from everyone else, pulled out a notebook and a pen, and assumed an interested expression.

  “Very well, then,” said the master academician, “do you have everything ready?”

  “Yes, Maurice Johannovich,” Louis Sedlovoi replied. “It’s all ready, Maurice Johannovich.”

  “Then perhaps we should begin? I don’t see Smoguly anywhere . . .”

  “He’s away on a research trip, Johann Laurentievich,” said a voice from the hall.

  “Ah yes, now I remember. Exponential investigations? Right, right . . . Well, then. Today Louis Ivanovich will present a brief report concerning certain possible types of time machines . . . Am I right, Louis Ivanovich?”

  “Er . . . actually . . . actually, the title I would have given to my talk is—”

  “Very well then. Call it that.”

  “Thank you. Er . . . I would call it ‘The Feasibility of a Time Machine for Traveling in Artificially Structured Temporal Dimensions.’”

  “Very interesting,” put in the master academician. “However, I seem to recall there was a case when one of our colleagues—”

  “Excuse me, that is the very point I’d like to start with.”

  “Oh, I see . . . Then please carry on.”

  I listened attentively at first. I even got quite engrossed. It seemed that some of these guys were working on very peculiar things. It turned out that some of them were still wrestling with the problem of movement in physical time, but without actually getting anywhere. But someone—I didn’t catch the name, someone old and famous—had proved it was possible to displace material bodies into ideal worlds, that is, into worlds created by the human imagination. It seemed that apart from our usual world with its Riemannian metrics, uncertainty principle, physical vacuum, and boozy Khoma Brut, there were other worlds that possessed a very distinctly defined reality. These were the worlds that had been produced by the creative imagination throughout the course of human history. For instance, there was the world of mankind’s cosmological ideas; the world created by painters; even a semiabstract, subtly structured world created by generations of composers.

  Some years ago, it seemed, a pupil of that someone old and famous had put together a machine on which he had set off on a journey to the world of cosmological ideas. Unidirectional telepathic contact had been maintained for a while, and he had managed to report that he was on the edge of a flat Earth and below him he could see the coiling trunk of one of the three great elephants, and he was about to make the descent to the great tortoise. No further communications had been received from him.

  The speaker, Louis Ivanovich Sedlovoi, was clearly not a bad scientist (he had a master’s degree) but he suffered from vestigial elements of Paleolithic consciousness, so that he was ob
liged to shave his ears regularly. He had constructed a machine for traveling in described time. According to him, a world actually existed that was populated by Anna Karenina, Don Quixote, Sherlock Holmes, Grigory Melekhov, and even Captain Nemo. This world possessed its own extremely curious properties and laws, and the degree of vividness, reality, and individuality of the people who inhabited it depended on the talent, passion, and veracity with which they had been depicted by the authors of the relevant works. I found all this very interesting, because Sedlovoi got quite carried away and spoke in a lively and engaging manner. But then he suddenly got the idea that all this didn’t sound very scientific, so he hung up a load of diagrams and charts on the stage and launched into a tedious exposition in highly specialized language about decremental bevel gears, multiple temporal transmissions, and some kind of permeative steering device.

  I soon lost track of the thread of his reasoning and started gazing around at the other people there. The master academician was sleeping majestically, occasionally raising his right eyebrow in a pure reflex reaction, as if he were expressing some doubt concerning what the speaker was saying. The people in the back rows were engrossed in a furious game of battleships in Banach space. Two extramural students working as lab assistants were studiously noting down every word, their faces frozen in hopeless despair and abject submission to their fate. Someone furtively lit up a cigarette, blowing the smoke down between his knees under the desk. In the front row the masters and bachelors listened with their customary close attention, preparing their questions and comments. Some were smiling sarcastically; others looked perplexed. Sedlovoi’s research supervisor nodded approvingly after each phrase. I began looking out the window, but there was nothing to see but the same boring old emporium and occasional boys running by with fishing rods.

  I livened up a bit when the speaker declared that he had finished his introduction and now he would like to demonstrate his machine in action.

  “Interesting, interesting,” said the master academician, who had woken up. “Righty-ho . . . Will you go yourself?”

  “Well, you see,” said Sedlovoi, “I’d prefer to stay here to provide clarification in the course of the journey. Perhaps someone here would . . . ?”

  Everyone there shrank back, obviously remembering the mysterious fate of the traveler who had journeyed to the edge of the flat Earth. One of the masters offered to send his double. Sedlovoi said that wouldn’t be interesting, because doubles were rather insensitive to external stimuli and would be poor transmitters of information. Someone in the back rows asked what kinds of external stimuli there might be. Sedlovoi said the usual ones: visual, olfactory, tactile, acoustic. Then someone else in the back rows asked what kind of tactile stimuli would predominate. Sedlovoi shrugged and said that depended on how the traveler behaved in the places he reached.

  Someone in the back rows said, “Ah . . .” and no more questions were asked. The speaker gazed around helplessly. Everyone in the audience was looking somewhere else, anywhere but at him. The master academician kept repeating good-naturedly, “Well? Well then? You young people! Well? Who will it be?”

  I got to my feet and walked up to the machine without speaking. I simply can’t bear the sight of a speaker dying the death; it’s just too shameful, too pitiful and painful.

  Someone in the back rows called out, “Sashka, what are you doing? Get a grip!” Sedlovoi’s eyes glittered.

  “May I?” I asked.

  “By all means, most certainly!” Sedlovoi muttered, grabbing hold of my finger and dragging me toward the machine.

  “Just a moment,” I said, freeing myself gently. “Will it take long?”

  “Just as long as you want!” exclaimed Sedlovoi. “You just tell me what you want, and that’s what I’ll do . . . And anyway, you’ll be driving yourself! It’s all very simple.” He grabbed hold of me and dragged me toward the machine again. “You steer with these handlebars. Here’s the reality-clutch pedal. This is the brake. And this is the accelerator. Do you drive a car? That’s fine then! This control key . . . Which way do you want to go—into the future or the past?”

  “The future,” I said.

  “Ah,” he said, and I thought he sounded a little disappointed. “Into the described future . . . All those science fiction novels and utopias. Well of course, that’s interesting too. Only don’t forget that the future is bound to consist of discrete elements; there must be huge gaps of time that haven’t been filled in by any authors. But then, that doesn’t matter . . . All right then, you press this key twice. Once now, to start, and the second time when you want to come back. Do you understand?”

  “Yes,” I said. “But what if something goes wrong with it?”

  “It’s absolutely safe!” he said with a flutter of his hands. “The very instant anything goes wrong with it, if so much as a single speck of dust gets in between the contacts, you’ll come straight back here.”

  “Be bold, young man,” said the master academician, “and you’ll be able to tell us what lies out there in the future, ha-ha-ha . . .”

  I clambered into the saddle, feeling very stupid and trying not to catch anyone’s eye.

  “Press it, press it,” the speaker whispered urgently.

  I pressed the key. It was obviously some kind of starter. The machine jerked, snorted, and began trembling gently.

  “The shaft’s bent,” Sedlovoi whispered in annoyance. “Never mind, never mind . . . Engage the gear. That’s it. And now the accelerator, step on it.”

  I pressed on the accelerator, at the same time smoothly releasing the clutch. The world started to fade away. The last thing I heard in the hall was the master academician’s voice asking, “And how exactly are we going to observe his progress?” And then the hall disappeared.

  2

  There is no difference between Time and any of the three dimensions of Space except that our consciousness moves along it.

  —H. G. Wells

  At first the machine progressed in short leaps and bounds, and it was all I could do to stay in the saddle by wrapping my legs around the frame and clinging to the arched steering bar as tightly as possible. Out of the corner of my eye I glimpsed magnificent spectral buildings, dull yellow plains, and a cold, cheerless sun shining through gray mist from close to its zenith. Then I realized that all the juddering and shuddering was because I’d taken my foot off the accelerator and the engine wasn’t providing enough power (exactly the same as with a car), so the machine was moving along in jerks, and in addition every now and then it kept running into the ruins of ancient and medieval utopias. I pushed the accelerator down a bit, the machine immediately started moving smoothly, and at last I was able to make myself more comfortable and take a look around.

  I was surrounded by a spectral world. Immense buildings of multicolored marble with decorative colonnades towered up among little village-type houses. All around me fields of grain swayed to and fro although there was not a breath of wind. Plump herds of transparent beasts grazed on grass, and handsome gray-haired shepherds sat on little hillocks. They were all, every single one, reading books and ancient manuscripts. Then two transparent men appeared beside me, struck poses, and began talking. They were both barefoot and wrapped in pleated tunics, with wreaths on their heads. One had a spade in his right hand and a scroll of parchment in his left. The other was leaning on a mattock and toying absentmindedly with a huge copper inkwell dangling from his belt. They spoke strictly in turn and at first I thought they were talking to each other. But very soon I realized they were talking to me, although neither of them had even glanced in my direction. I started listening.

  The one with the spade was expounding at monotonous length the fundamental political principles of the wonderful country of which he was a citizen. This system was exceptionally democratic, and any coercion of citizens was quite out of the question (he repeated this several times with special emphasis); everyone was rich and free of care, and even the lowliest of plowmen had at least three
slaves to his name. When he halted to catch his breath and lick his lips, the other one, with the inkwell, started speaking. He boasted that he had just worked his three hours as a ferryman on the river, hadn’t taken a penny from anyone because he didn’t even know what money was, and now was on his way to devote himself to composing poetry in a shady nook by a babbling brook.

  They spoke for a long time—judging by the speedometer, it must have been several years—and then they disappeared and there was no one. The motionless sun shone through the spectral forms of the buildings. Suddenly, flying machines with webbed wings like pterodactyls began drifting slowly across the sky high above the earth. For a moment I thought they were all on fire, then I noticed that the smoke was coming out of large conical funnels. They flew over me, flapping their wings ponderously, ashes came showering down, and someone up there dropped a knobbly log of wood on me.

  Changes began taking place in the magnificent buildings around me. There were just as many columns, and the architecture remained as sumptuously absurd as ever, but new patterns of color appeared. I think the marble was replaced by some more modern material, and the blind-eyed statues and busts on the roofs were replaced by gleaming devices that looked like the dish antennae of radio telescopes. There were more people on the streets, and a huge number of cars appeared. The herds of beasts and the reading shepherds had disappeared, but the fields of grain carried on swaying, even though there was still no wind. I pressed on the brake and came to a halt.