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Monday Starts on Saturday

Monday Starts on Saturday

Monday Starts on Saturday 25


  “Countermotion!” Vitka declared.

  Edik lay down. “Excellent!” he said. “Well done!”

  “Countermotion?” said Roman. “I suppose . . . Aha . . .” he twiddled his fingers. “OK . . . Uh-huh . . . But what if . . . ? Yes, that explains why it knows all of us.” Roman made a sweeping gesture of invitation. “So they’re coming from that direction.”

  “And that’s why he asks what he was talking about yesterday,” put in Vitka. “And the science fiction terminology . . .”

  “Wait, will you!” I howled. The final page of the detective story had turned out to be written in Arabic. “Hang on! What countermotion?”

  “No,” said Roman regretfully, and I could see straightaway from Vitka’s face that he’d also realized countermotion wouldn’t do it. “It doesn’t work,” said Roman. “It’s like a film . . . Imagine a film—”

  “What film?” I yelled. “Help me!”

  “A film running backward,” Roman explained. “Get it? Countermotion.”

  “Damn and blast,” Vitka said disappointedly, and lay down on the sofa with his hands clasped over his nose.

  “No, it doesn’t work,” said Edik, also sounding regretful. “Don’t worry about it, Sasha, it doesn’t work anyway. Countermotion is defined as movement through time in reverse. Like a neutrino. But the problem is that if the parrot were a countermover, it would fly back to front and it wouldn’t die in front of our eyes but come to life . . . But it’s a good idea all the same. A countermoving parrot really could know something about outer space. It would live from the future into the past. And a countermoving Janus really couldn’t know what happened to him yesterday. Because our ‘yesterday’ would be his ‘tomorrow.’”

  “That’s the point,” said Vitka. “I just wondered why the parrot described Oira-Oira as ‘gray-haired.’ And why Janus sometimes predicts what will happen the next day so cleverly and in such detail. Remember what happened at the firing range, Roman? It just seemed like they simply had to be from the future.”

  “But tell me,” I said, “is countermotion really possible?”

  “In theory it is,” said Edik. “After all, half the matter in the universe is moving through time in the opposite direction. But nobody’s ever dealt with it on a practical level.”

  “Who needs it, and who could survive it?” Vitka asked morosely.

  “But you must admit it would be a remarkable experiment,” observed Roman.

  “Not an experiment, an act of self-sacrifice,” growled Vitka. “Say what you will, but countermotion’s mixed up in all this somehow . . . I’ve got a feeling in my gut.”

  “Ah, the gut!” said Roman, and nobody else said anything.

  While they were all keeping quiet, I was feverishly running over in my mind what we actually had. If countermotion was possible in theory, then in theory it was possible to violate the law of cause and effect. But not really violate it, because the law would remain valid separately for the normal world and for the countermover’s world . . . Which meant it was possible after all to assume that there weren’t three or four parrots but only one, always the same one. What did that give us? On the tenth it’s lying dead in a petri dish. Then they cremate it, convert it into ashes, and scatter them to the wind. But then on the morning of the eleventh it’s alive again. Not reduced to ashes at all, but quite unhurt. True, by the middle of the day it’s back in the petri dish again. That was awfully important. I could feel it was awfully important, that petri dish . . . The unity of place! . . . On the twelfth the parrot was alive again and asking for sugar . . . It wasn’t countermotion, it wasn’t a film shown backward, but there was more than a touch of countermotion about it all the same . . .

  Vitka was right. For a countermover the sequence of events was as follows: the parrot is alive, the parrot dies, the parrot is cremated. From our viewpoint, leaving the details out of consideration, it was exactly the opposite: the parrot is cremated, the parrot dies, the parrot is alive . . . As if the film had been cut into three pieces and first they showed the third piece, then the second, and then the first . . . Like fractures in a continuum . . . Fractures in a continuum . . . Points of fracture . . .

  “Guys,” I said in a faltering voice, “does countermotion definitely have to be continuous?”

  It took them a while to react. Edik smoked his cigarette, blowing smoke up at the ceiling. Vitka lay on his stomach without moving, and Roman stared vacantly at me. Then his eyes opened wide.

  “Midnight!” he said in a terrible whisper. Everybody jumped to their feet.

  It was as if I’d scored the winning goal in the cup final. They threw themselves on me, slavered on my cheeks, thumped me on the back and the neck, tumbled me onto the sofa, and then tumbled onto it themselves.

  “Well done!” shrieked Edik.

  “That’s real brains for you!” roared Roman.

  “And I had you down as a fool!” said the rude Korneev.

  Then they settled down and after that everything went as smooth as grease.

  First Roman announced out of the blue that now he knew the secret of the Tunguska meteorite. He wanted to tell us all straightaway, and we were delighted to agree, paradoxical as that might sound. We were in no hurry to move on to what interested us most of all! We felt like gourmets. We didn’t throw ourselves on our food. We breathed in the aromas; we rolled our eyes and smacked our lips; we walked around, rubbing our hands in anticipation . . .

  “So, let us finally clear up the confused problem of the Tunguska marvel,” Roman said in a stealthy voice. “The people who have tackled this problem before us were absolutely devoid of imagination. All those comets, antimatter meteorites, spontaneously exploding nuclear-powered spaceships, all those cosmic clouds and quantum generators—they’re all just too banal, which means they don’t even come close to the truth. I always thought the Tunguska meteorite was an alien ship, and I always believed they couldn’t find the ship at the site of the explosion because it had long since left. Until today I used to think that the fall of the Tunguska meteorite was the ship’s takeoff, not its landing. And that rough hypothesis explained a great deal. The idea of discrete countermotion makes it possible to wrap up this problem once and for all . . .

  “What happened on June 30, 1908, in the region of Podkamennaya Tunguska? In about the middle of July that year an alien ship entered the space of the solar system. But these were not the simple, artless aliens of science fiction novels. They were countermovers, comrades! People who had come to our world from a different universe in which time flows against ours. The interaction of the opposed timestreams transformed them from ordinary countermovers, who saw our universe like a film projected backward, into discrete countermovers. The precise nature of this discrete countermotion does not concern us here. The important thing is that their life in our universe became subject to a rhythmic cycle.

  “If we assume for the sake of simplicity that their diurnal cycle was equal to the Earth day, then from our point of view their existence would appear as follows. During the first day, let’s say July 1, they live, work, and eat exactly as we do. But at precisely, let’s say, midnight, they and all their equipment move on, not into July 2 but back to the beginning of June 30—that is, not one moment forward but two days backward, as seen from our point of view. And in just the same way, at the end of June 30 they don’t move into July 1 but back to the beginning of June 29. And so on. When they got close to the Earth, our countermovers were amazed to discover, if they hadn’t discovered it earlier, that the Earth makes extremely strange leaps in its orbit, leaps that render astral navigation very difficult. And in addition, as they hung above the Earth on July 1 by our count of time, they discovered a mighty fire at the very heart of the gigantic Eurasian continent. They had seen its smoke in their telescopes already—on July 2, 3, and so forth as we count time. The cataclysm interested them in its own right, but their scientific curiosity was finally provoked when on the morning of June 30 by our count, they saw th
at there was no sign of any fire and the taiga lay stretched out below the ship like a calm green sea. The intrigued captain ordered the ship to land in the very spot where yesterday, by his count of time, he had personally observed the epicenter of a raging inferno. After that everything happened the way it was supposed to. The switches clicked, the screens flickered, the planetary engines roared to life as the k-gamma plasmoine was injected . . .”

  “The what?” asked Vitka.

  “K-gamma plasmoine. Or, let’s say, mu-delta ionoplast. The ship, engulfed in flame, plunged into the taiga and naturally set it on fire. That was the scene observed by the peasants from the village of Karelinskoye and other people who were later recorded by history as eyewitnesses. The conflagration was appalling. The countermovers glanced outside, shuddered, and decided to sit it out inside the heat-resistant refractory hull of the spaceship. Until midnight they listened anxiously to the roaring and crackling of the flames, then precisely at midnight everything went quiet. Naturally. The countermovers had entered a new day, June 29 by our reckoning of time. And when the brave captain, having taken massive precautions, finally decided to venture outside at about two in the morning, by the light of the powerful searchlights he saw the fir trees swaying calmly and was immediately attacked by clouds of the small bloodsucking insects known in our terminology as gnats or midges.”

  Roman paused for breath and looked around at the rest of us. We were really enjoying this, and looking forward to dissecting the mystery of the parrot in exactly the same way.

  “The subsequent fate of the countermoving aliens,” Roman continued, “need not interest us. Perhaps on about June 15 they quietly and unnoticeably lifted off from the strange planet without any fuss, this time using nonflammable alpha-beta-gamma antigravity, and went back home. Or perhaps every last one of them died from being poisoned by mosquito saliva, and their spaceship went on standing on our planet, sinking back into the abyss of time, and the trilobites crawled over it on the bottom of the Silurian sea. Maybe even sometime around the year 906 or 909 a hunter stumbled across it in the taiga and for a long time afterward kept telling his friends about it, but they quite naturally didn’t believe a word he said. In concluding my brief address, I should like to express my sympathy for the renowned explorers who have striven in vain to discover anything in the area of the Podkamennaya Tunguska River. Mesmerized by the obvious, they have only investigated what happened in the taiga after the explosion, but none of them has tried to find out what happened before it. Dixi.”

  Roman cleared his throat and drank a mug of living water.

  “Does anyone have any questions for the speaker?” Edik inquired. “No questions? Excellent. Let’s get back to our parrots. Who would like the floor?”

  Everybody wanted the floor. And everybody started speaking at once—even Roman, who was a little bit hoarse. We grabbed the list of questions out of each other’s hands and crossed them out one after another, and after about half an hour we’d put together the following absolutely clear and comprehensively detailed picture of the observed phenomenon.

  In 1841 a son was born to the family of the poor landowner and retired army ensign Polyeuctus Khrisanfovich Nevstruev. He was called Janus in honor of a distant relative, Janus Polyeuctovich Nevstruev, who had precisely foretold the day and even the hour at which the boy child would be born. This relative, a modest and retiring old man, had moved to the retired ensign’s estate shortly after the Napoleonic invasion, living in an outbuilding and devoting himself to scholarly pursuits. He was a little strange, as men of science are supposed to be, with many eccentricities, but he was absolutely devoted to his godson, always staying close by his side and insistently instilling in him knowledge from the fields of mathematics, chemistry, and the other sciences. In effect Janus Jr. spent hardly a single day without Janus Sr., which was why he failed to notice something that amazed everybody else: as the years passed, instead of growing more decrepit the old man seemed to become stronger and more vigorous. By the turn of the century old Janus had initiated young Janus into the ultimate secrets of analytical, relativistic, and universal magic. They carried on living and working side by side, taking part in all the wars and revolutions, enduring all the vicissitudes of history more or less valiantly, until finally they ended up in the National Institute for the Technology of Witchcraft and Thaumaturgy . . .

  To be perfectly honest, this entire introductory section was pure literary improvisation. The only fact we knew for certain about Janus’s past was that J. P. Nevstruev was born March 7, 1841. We knew absolutely nothing about how and when J. P. Nevstruev had become the director of the Institute. We didn’t even know who had been the first to guess that S-Janus and A-Janus were one individual in two persons and let the secret slip. I’d heard about it from Oira-Oira, and believed it because I couldn’t understand it. Oira-Oira had heard about it from Giacomo, and he’d also believed it because he was young and the idea delighted him. Korneev had been told about it by a cleaning woman, and at the time he had decided that the fact in itself was so trivial it wasn’t worth puzzling over. And Edik had heard Sabaoth Baalovich and Fyodor Simeonovich talking about it at a time when he was still a junior lab assistant and believed in absolutely everything except God.

  So we only had the vaguest possible idea of the Januses’ past. But we knew the future with absolute certainty. In the distant future A-Janus, who currently spent more time dealing with Institute affairs than with scientific research, would become absolutely fascinated by the idea of practical countermotion and devote his entire life to it. He would acquire a friend, a little green parrot called Photon who would be given to him by famous Russian space pilots. That would happen on May 19 in either 1973 or 2073—that was how Edik had deciphered the mysterious number 190573 on the ring. Probably soon after that A-Janus would finally be successful and transform himself into a countermover, along with the parrot Photon, who at the time of the experiment would naturally be sitting on his shoulder and begging for a lump of sugar. At that precise moment, if we had even the slightest understanding of countermotion, the human future would lose Janus Polyeuctovich Nevstruev, but the past of mankind would acquire two Januses, for A-Janus would be transformed into S-Janus and start slipping backward along the axis of time. They would meet every day, but not once in his life would it even enter A-Janus’s head to suspect anything, because he had been used to seeing the kind, wrinkled face of S-Janus, his distant relative and teacher, since he was a baby. And every midnight, at precisely zero hours, zero minutes, zero seconds, and zero tertia by the local time, A-Janus would move, like all of us, from one day’s night into the next day’s morning, while at the same moment, in an instant equal to a single microquantum of time, S-Janus and his parrot would skip from our present night to our yesterday morning.

  That was why parrots numbers 1, 2, and 3, observed respectively on the tenth, eleventh and twelfth days of the month, had been so much alike: they were quite simply one and the same parrot. Poor old Photon! Perhaps he had simply succumbed to old age, or perhaps he’d caught a chill from a draft, but he’d fallen ill and come to die on his favorite balance in Roman’s lab. He had died, and his grieving master had given him a ritual cremation and scattered his ashes, and he’d done it because he didn’t know how dead countermovers behave. Or perhaps precisely because he did know.

  We, of course, had observed this whole process like a film with its sequential parts transposed. On the ninth Roman finds Photon’s surviving feather in the furnace. Photon’s body no longer exists; he has already been burned tomorrow. The next day, the tenth, Roman finds it in a petri dish. S-Janus discovers the body in the same place at the same time and burns it in the furnace. The surviving feather remains in the furnace until the end of the day and at midnight it skips into the ninth. On the morning of the eleventh Photon is alive, although he is already ill. He dies before our very eyes under the same balance on which he will henceforth love to sit, and simpleminded Sasha puts him in the petri dish, where t
he dead bird will lie until midnight, when he’ll make the transition to the morning of the tenth and be found by S-Janus, cremated, and scattered to the wind, but one of his feathers will survive and lie there until midnight, then skip to the morning of the ninth, where Roman will find it. On the morning of the twelfth Photon is fit and lively, he gives Korneev an interview and asks him for sugar, but at midnight he will skip to the morning of the eleventh, fall ill, die, be placed in the petri dish, at midnight skip to the morning of the tenth, be cremated and scattered, but the feather will be left, and at midnight it will skip to the morning of the ninth, be found by Roman, and be thrown into the wastepaper basket. On the thirteenth, fourteenth, fifteenth, and so on, Photon will delight all of us by being bright and talkative, and we’ll pamper him and feed him sugar lumps and peppercorns, and S-Janus will come and ask if he’s interfering with our work. By means of associative questioning we will be able to learn many interesting things from him about humanity’s expansion into space and no doubt also something about our own personal future.

  When we reached this point in our deliberations, Edik suddenly turned gloomy and declared that he didn’t like Photon’s remarks about his untimely death—to which the absolutely tactless Korneev remarked that the death of any magician is always untimely, but it comes to all of us anyway.

  “But maybe,” said Roman, “he’ll love you more than the rest of us, so your death will be the only one he’ll remember.” Edik realized he still had a chance of outliving us all, and his mood improved.

  However, the talk of death had set our thoughts running on melancholy lines. All of us, except Korneev of course, began feeling sorry for S-Janus. If you thought about it, his situation really was quite terrible. In the first place he was a model example of immense self-sacrifice in the name of science, because he was effectively deprived of any opportunity of benefiting from the fruits of his own ideas. And of course, he had no bright future to look forward to. We were moving toward a world of reason and brotherhood, but with every day that passed he moved further back toward the bloody Nicholas II, serfdom, the cannon fire in Senate Square, and—who could tell?—perhaps even Arakcheev, Biron, and the oprichnina.