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Monday Starts on Saturday

Monday Starts on Saturday

Monday Starts on Saturday 24


  We giggled. Vitka looked at us and said vengefully: “Oirrra-Oirrra!”

  “Grrray-haired,” the parrot responded promptly. “Harrrd fought! Grrratifying!”

  “Something’s not right here,” said Roman.

  “What isn’t?” said Vitka. “That sounds spot on to me . . . Prrrivalov!”

  “Prrrimitive prrroject! Prrrimitive! Harrrdworking!”

  “He knows all of us, my friends,” said Edik.

  “Frrriends,” the parrot echoed. “Peppercorrrn! Zerrro! Zerrro! Grrravitation!”

  “Amperian,” Vitka said hurriedly.

  “Crrrematorium! Perrrished prrrematurely!” said the parrot, then it thought a bit and added, “Amperrrmeter!”

  “It doesn’t add up,” said Edik.

  “Everything always adds up,” Roman said pensively.

  Vitka clicked the catch and opened the dictaphone. “The tape’s finished,” he said. “Pity.”

  “Know what I think?” I said. “The simplest thing would be to ask Janus. Whose parrot is it, where is it from, and all the rest.”

  “But who’s going to ask?” Roman inquired.

  No one volunteered, Vitka suggested listening to the recording, and we agreed. It all sounded very strange. At the sound of the first words from the dictaphone the parrot flew onto Vitka’s shoulder and began listening with obvious interest, interpolating occasional phrases like “Drrramba ignorrring urrranium,” “Corrrrect,” and “Korrrneev’s rrrude, rrrude, rrrude!”

  When the recording came to an end, Edik said, “In theory we could compile a lexical dictionary and analyze it on the computer. But even without that some things are already quite clear. First, it knows all of us. That’s already amazing. Second, it knows about robots. And about rubidium. Where do they use rubidium, by the way?”

  “It’s not used anywhere in the Institute,” said Roman.

  “It’s something like sodium,” said Korneev.

  “Rubidium’s one thing,” I said. “But how does it know about lunar craters?”

  “Why do they have to be lunar?”

  “Where on Earth do they call mountains craters?”

  “Well, in the first place, there’s an Arizona crater, and in the second place, it’s not a mountain, it’s more like a depression or a trough.”

  “Temporral trrrough,” declared the parrot.

  “The terminology it uses is really extremely interesting,” said Edik. “I would hardly call it common usage.”

  “That’s right,” said Vitka. “If the parrot spends all its time with Janus, then Janus is involved in some strange business.”

  “Strrrange orrrbital trrransition,” said the parrot.

  “Janus doesn’t work on space projects,” said Roman. “I’d know about it.”

  “Maybe he used to, though?”

  “No, he never used to either.”

  “Some kind of robots,” said Vitka wearily. “Craters . . . Where did the craters come from?”

  “Maybe Janus reads science fiction?” I suggested. “Out loud? To a parrot?”

  “Yeah, OK . . .”

  “Saturn,” said Vitka to the parrot.

  “Dangerrrous attrrraction,” said the parrot. It thought for a moment and explained, “Crrrashed. Terrrible. Rrreckless.”

  Roman stood up and began walking around the laboratory. Edik laid his cheek on the tabletop and closed his eyes. “But how did it turn up here?”

  “The same as yesterday,” said Roman. “From Janus’s lab.”

  “Did you see it happen?”

  “Uh-huh.”

  “There’s one thing I don’t understand,” I said. “Did it die or didn’t it?”

  “How do we know?” said Roman. “I’m no vet. And Vitka’s no ornithologist. And maybe it isn’t really a parrot after all.”

  “What, then?”

  “How should I know?”

  “It could be a complex induced hallucination,” said Edik, without opening his eyes.

  I pressed a finger against one eye and looked at the parrot. I saw two parrots.

  “I see two of it,” I said. “It’s not a hallucination.”

  “I said a complex hallucination,” Edik reminded me.

  I pressed a finger against each eye and went blind for a while.

  “You know what,” said Korneev. “I declare that we are dealing with a violation of the law of cause and effect and therefore the only possible solution is that it’s all a hallucination, so we should all stand up, get in line, and sing as we march off to see the psychiatrist. Everybody up!”

  “I’m not going,” said Edik. “I’ve got another idea.”

  “What is it?”

  “I won’t say.”

  “Why not?”

  “You’ll beat me up.”

  “We’ll beat you up anyway.”

  “Go ahead.”

  “You don’t have any idea,” said Vitka. “You just imagine that you do. Off to the psychiatrist with you.”

  The door from the corridor squeaked open and Janus Polyeuctovich walked into the laboratory. “I see,” he said. “Hello.”

  We stood up. He went around us all and shook our hands.

  “Is Photon in here again?” he said, catching sight of the parrot. “He’s not bothering you, is he, Roman Petrovich?”

  “Bothering me?” said Roman. “Me? Why would he bother me? On the contrary.”

  “Well, it is every day—” Janus Polyeuctovich began, and suddenly broke off. “What was it we were talking about yesterday?” he asked, rubbing his forehead.

  “You were in Moscow yesterday,” said Roman in a respectful voice.

  “Ah . . . yes, yes. Very well. Photon! Come here!”

  The parrot soared across to Janus’s shoulder and said in his ear, “Grrrain! Grrrain! Sugarrr! Sugarrr!”

  Janus Polyeuctovich smiled gently and went through into his laboratory. We looked at each other, stunned.

  “Let’s get out of here,” said Roman.

  “Psychiatrrrist! Psychiatrrrist!” Korneev muttered ominously as we walked down the corridor on the way to the sofa in his office. “Rrritchey Crrrater! Drrramba! Sugarrr!”

  5

  There are always enough facts—it’s imagination that’s lacking.

  —D. Blokhintsev

  Vitka moved the canisters of living water down onto the floor, then we collapsed onto the sofa-translator and lit up. After a while Roman asked, “Vitka, did you switch off the sofa?”

  “Yes.”

  “I’ve got this crazy nonsense running round my head.”

  “I turned it off and I blocked it,” said Vitka.

  “OK, guys,” said Edik, “so why isn’t it a hallucination then?”

  “Who says it isn’t?” asked Vitka. “I still suggest the psychiatrist.”

  “When I was courting Maya,” said Edik, “I induced hallucinations that astounded even me.”

  “What for?” asked Vitka.

  Edik thought about it. “I don’t know,” he said. “I suppose I must have gotten carried away.”

  “The question I’m asking is, why would anyone want to induce hallucinations in us?” said Vitka. “After all, we’re not Maya, thank God. We’re masters of magic. Who could overpower us? OK—Janus, Kivrin, Junta. Maybe Giacomo too.”

  “Our Sasha’s a bit on the weak side,” said Edik apologetically.

  “So what?” I asked. “I’m not the only one seeing things, am I?”

  “We could check that out,” Vitka said pensively. “If we . . . well, you know . . .”

  “Oh no,” I said. “That’s enough of that from you. There must be other ways, surely? Press on your eyeballs. Or give the dictaphone to an outsider. He can listen to it and say if there’s anything recorded on it or not.”

  The masters of magic smiled pityingly. “You’re a good programmer, Sasha,” said Edik.

  “But a maggot,” said Korneev. “Still a little larva.”

  “Yes, Sashenka,” Roman sighed. “
You can’t even imagine what a genuine, detailed, consistently induced hallucination is like.”

  A dreamy expression appeared on the masters’ faces—they were obviously recalling sweet memories. I looked at them enviously. They smiled and screwed up their eyes. They winked at someone. Then Edik suddenly said, “Her orchids bloomed all winter long. Their scent was the very loveliest that I could invent . . .”

  Vitka came to his senses. “Berkeleians,” he said. “Pitiful solipsists. ‘I dislike what I fancy I feel!’”

  “Yes,” said Roman. “Hallucinations are not something we should be talking about. That’s too simpleminded altogether. We’re not children and we’re not old women. I don’t want to be an agnostic. What was that idea you had, Edik?”

  “Me? Oh yes, I did have one. But it’s pretty primitive too. Matricates.”

  “Hmm,” said Roman doubtfully.

  “What are they?” I asked.

  Edik reluctantly explained that in addition to the doubles I was so familiar with, there are also matricates—precise, perfect copies of objects or beings. Unlike doubles, matricates match their originals precisely, right down to their atomic structure. They can’t be told apart by the usual methods. You need special equipment, and it’s a very complicated and labor-intensive business. Balsamo had been awarded his master’s degree for proving that Philippe Bourbon, popularly known by the sobriquet “the Man in the Iron Mask,” was a matricate of Louis XIV created by Jesuits in secret laboratories in order to seize the throne of France. Nowadays matricates are produced using Richard Cirugue’s biostereographical method.

  I didn’t have a clue who Richard Cirugue was, but I said straightaway that the idea of matricates could only explain the unusual similarity of the parrots. And nothing else. For instance, it still didn’t explain where yesterday’s dead parrot had gone to.

  “Yes, that’s true,” said Edik. “I don’t insist on it. Especially since Janus has absolutely no connection with biostereography.”

  “Exactly,” I said, growing bolder. “Then it would make better sense to hypothesize a journey into the described future. You know, like Louis Sedlovoi.”

  “How’s that?” Korneev asked, not sounding particularly interested.

  “Janus simply flies into some science fiction novel, collects the parrot out of it, and brings it back here. When the parrot dies, he goes flying off again to the same page and then . . . That explains why the parrots are so similar. It’s one and the same parrot, and it explains why it has that science fiction vocabulary. And apart from that,” I went on, feeling that all this really didn’t sound too stupid after all, “it might even explain why Janus keeps asking questions: every time he’s afraid he might not have come back to the right day . . . I reckon I’ve explained it all pretty neatly, don’t you?”

  “And is there a science fiction novel like that?” Edik asked curiously. “With a parrot?”

  “I don’t know,” I said honestly. “But they have all sorts of animals in those starships of theirs. Cats and monkeys and children . . . And in the West they have an absolutely vast amount of science fiction, more than you could ever read.”

  “Well, in the first case, a parrot out of Western science fiction is hardly likely to start talking Russian,” said Roman. “But the biggest problem is, we’ve got absolutely no idea how these space parrots, even if they’re out of Soviet science fiction, could know Korneev, Privalov, and Oira-Oira.”

  “Not to mention,” Vitka drawled, “that it’s one thing to transfer a material body into an ideal world and quite another to transfer an ideal body into the real world. I doubt if you could find a writer who’s created an image of a parrot capable of independent survival in the real world.”

  When I remembered the semitransparent inventors I couldn’t think of any objection to that.

  “But anyway,” Vitka continued benevolently, “our wee Sasha is showing definite signs of promise. His idea has a certain noble insanity about it.”

  “Janus wouldn’t have burned an ideal parrot,” Edik said with conviction. “An ideal parrot can’t even rot.”

  “But why?” Roman suddenly said. “Why are we being so inconsistent here? Why Sedlovoi? Why would Janus copy Louis Sedlovoi? Janus has his own subject. Janus has his own research problems. Janus studies parallel spatial dimensions. Let’s make that our starting point!”

  “Yes, let’s,” I said.

  “Do you think Janus has managed to establish contact with some parallel spatial dimension?” asked Edik.

  “He must have established contact a long time ago. Why don’t we assume that he’s gone further than that? Why don’t we assume that he’s working on the transfer of material bodies? Edik’s right: they’re matricates, they have to be matricates, because there has to be a guarantee that the transferred object is absolutely identical. He selects the transfer mode on an experimental basis. The first two transfers were unsuccessful— the parrots died. Today’s experiment seems to have succeeded.”

  “Why do they speak Russian?” asked Edik. “And why would the parrots have the kind of vocabulary they do?”

  “It means there’s a Russia there too,” said Roman. “But there they already mine rubidium in the Ritchey Crater.”

  “The whole thing’s far too forced,” said Vitka. “Why parrots and not something else? Why not dogs or guinea pigs? Why not simply tape recorders, if it comes to that? And then again, how do these parrots know that Oira-Oira’s old and Korneev’s a superb researcher?”

  “But rude,” I put in.

  “Rude, but superb. And anyway, where did the dead parrot get to?”

  “Listen to me,” said Edik. “This is no good. We’re going at it like dilettantes. Like those amateurs who write letters to magazines: ‘Dear scientists! This is the nth year I’ve heard a tapping under the ground in my basement. Can you please explain what causes it?’ We’ve got to be systematic. Where’s your piece of paper, Vitka? Let’s get it all down in writing.”

  So we wrote everything down in Edik’s lovely handwriting.

  First we accepted the postulate that what was happening wasn’t a hallucination, otherwise there simply wouldn’t have been any point. Then we formulated the questions to which the hypothesis we were seeking ought to provide the answers. We divided these questions into two groups, the “parrot” group and the “Janus” group. The “Janus” group was introduced on the insistence of Roman and Edik, who claimed they had a definite gut feeling that there was a connection between Janus’s oddities and the oddities of the parrot. They were unable to provide an answer to Korneev’s question about the precise physical meaning of the words gut and feeling, but they emphasised the point that in himself Janus represented an extremely curious subject for investigation—and so, like father, like parrot. Since I had no particular opinion about this, they were in a majority, and the final list of questions was as follows:

  Why are parrots numbers 1, 2, and 3, observed respectively on the tenth, eleventh and twelfth days of the month, so similar to each other that at first we took them for one and the same bird?

  Why did Janus cremate bird number 1 and probably also the bird that came before number 1 (number 0), from which only one feather remained?

  Where did the feather go?

  Where did parrot number 2 (the one that died) go?

  How can we explain the strange vocabulary used by parrots numbers 2 and 3?

  How can we explain that number 3 knows all of us, even though we had not seen it before?

  (I wanted to add “Why did the parrots die and what caused it?” but Korneev growled, “Why is the first sign of poisoning that the corpse turns blue, and what causes it?” and they didn’t write down my question.)

  What is the connection between Janus and the parrots?

  Why does Janus never remember who he was talking to yesterday and what about?

  What happens to Janus at midnight?

  Why does S-Janus have a strange habit of talking in the future tense, while A-Janus
has never been observed to do anything of the kind?

  Why are there two of them, and what is the source of the story that Janus Polyeuctovich is one individual in two persons?

  After that we thought very hard for a while, glancing constantly at the sheet of paper. I kept hoping for further inspiration from my noble insanity, but my thoughts simply evaporated into space, and the longer it went on, the more I inclined toward Sasha Drozd’s point of view that there were weirder things going on in the Institute. I realized that this cheap skepticism was simply the product of my own ignorance and lack of experience in conceptualizing the world in terms of different categories, but there was nothing I could do about it. Everything that was happening, so my reasoning ran, was only really amazing if we believed that the three or four parrots were all the same parrot. They really were so similar to each other that at first I’d been misled. It was quite natural. I’m a mathematician—I respect numbers, and when numbers match, especially six-digit numbers, I automatically assume that the numbered items match as well. But it was quite clear that they couldn’t all be the same parrot—that would violate the law of cause and effect, a law that I had no intention of abandoning because of a couple of lousy parrots, and dead ones at that. But if they weren’t all the same parrot, that reduced the scale of the entire problem.

  So what if the numbers matched? So what if someone had thrown out the parrot when we weren’t looking? And what else was there? The vocabulary? What did a few words mean? There had to be some very simple explanation for that. I was just about to pronounce on the subject when Vitka said, “Guys, I think I’m onto something.”

  None of us said a word. We just turned to look at him—all at the same time, in noisy agitation. Vitka stood up.

  “It’s as simple as a pancake,” he said. “Flat, trivial, and banal. It’s hardly even worth telling you about it.”

  We slowly stood up. I felt as if I was reading the final pages of a gripping detective novel. Somehow all my skepticism had completely evaporated.