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Alexander Abramov, Sergei Abramov. Journey Across Three Worlds
Translated from the Russian by Gladys Evans
Mir Publishers, Moscow, 1973
OCR: http://home.freeuk.com/russica2 Ў http://home.freeuk.com/russica2
Original title: "Хождение за три мира"
PART ONE. THE STRANGE STORY OF DR. JEKYLL AND MR. HYDE, TOLD ANEW ...
No, this was a different
Mr. Golyadkin, absolutely
different, but at the same
time absolutely similar
to the former...
F. Dostoevsky, The Double
Nil admirari! Be astonished at nothing!
A proposition borrowed from the philosophy of Pythagoras
WHO AM I?
I was returning home by way of Tverskoi Boulevard, walking up from the
Nikitskie Vorota. It was somewhere around five o'clock in the afternoon, but
the Saturday crowds usually teeming the streets at this hour by-passed the
boulevard, and the side-alleys were as deserted and quiet as they are in the
morning. The September sky, utterly cloudless of a sudden, gave no hint of
the nearness of autumn. Not one yellow leaf rustled underfoot and, after
last night's rain, even the faded late-summer grass between the trees seemed
as luxuriantly green as in May.
I strolled leisurely along an alley, hesitating at every bench with the
vague idea of sitting down. Finally I did, stretching out my legs; and the
very same second I felt as if everything around me was slipping off
somewhere, fading out and spinning in circles. I don't usually have dizzy
spells, but now I gripped the bench so as not to fall. Everything opposite
me on the boulevard - trees and passers-by - vanished in a lilac-tinted
mist. Exactly like in the mountains when clouds creep to your feet and
everything around disintegrates and melts into the thick, wet, cottony
flakes. But this was no rain: a pure dry mist swooped down, lapped all the
green from the boulevard, and then vanished.
Literally vanished. In the blink of an eye, the trees and bushes were
back again, like a repeated sequence in a colour cinerama film. The bench
opposite, with its deep seat, was again in place and the girl in the blue
coat - so almost listed missing - sat there with her book. Everything
looked, ostensibly, as before; but only ostensibly - some inner voice
instantly doubted it. I even looked around me to check my impressions and
contentedly reflected: "Nonsense, it's all the way it was. Exactly...."
"No, not exactly," reflected that other inner voice.
Was it another voice? I was arguing with myself, but my conscious mind
seemed to be split in half for the argument was more like a dialogue between
two utterly unidentical and dissimilar egos. Any thought that arose was at
once countered by another which intruded from somewhere or from somebody by
suggestion, but was aggressive and masterful.
"The benches are the same."
"They are not. On Pushkin Boulevard they're green, not yellow."
"The alley walks are the same."
"These are narrower. And where's the granite kerb?"
"And there's no lawn."
"Beside the court. There used to be a tennis-court here."
By now I was looking around with a feeling of growing alarm. The
double-ego feeling disappeared. I suddenly found myself in a new and
strangely altered world. When you walk along a street where everything is
dear to you and familiar to the eye, you do not notice the little things,
the details. But let them suddenly disappear, and you stop, caught by a
feeling of confusion and alarm. The surroundings were only similar to, but
not exactly the same as those I knew - I, who had strolled along the
boulevard walks a thousand times or more. Even the trees, apparently, were
somewhat different; the bushes weren't the same; and for some reason I
called the boulevard Pushkin instead of Tverskoi.
From habit I looked at my watch, arid my arm froze in mid-air. Even my
jacket was different from the one I'd put on that morning. As a matter of
fact, it wasn't my jacket, nor was the watch mine, and a scar curved out
from beneath the band, yet only about a minute ago no scar had been there at
all. But this was an old scar, healed long ago, the track of a bullet or
shell splinter. I looked down at my feet - even the shoes weren't mine but a
stranger's, with ridiculous buckles on the side.
"What if my appearance has changed, and my age is not the same? What if
I'm not ... me, at all?" came the burning thought. I jumped to my feet and
ran, rather than walked, along the alley toward the theatre.
The theatre stood in the same place, but it was a different one, with
an altered entrance and other billings. I did not find one title I knew on
the list of its repertoire. But in the dark glass doors, unlit from inside,
a familiar face was reflected. It was my face. So far, it was the only thing
in this world that was mine.
I was only now aware that my head ached. I rubbed my temples - it still
ached. I remembered that somewhere near by, on the square I believed, there
should be a chemist's shop. Perhaps it had been spared, if I were lucky. The
square was already visible through the flashing interstices between the line
of cars passing by, and I hurried ahead, continuing to glance behind me in
confusion and alarm. I could not exactly recall the buildings that lined
Pushkin Boulevard, though these did not appear to be different - except the
lamps over the doorways weren't the same eye-smacking ones and, what's more,
the street numbers were changed.
Where the green river of the boulevard flowed into the square, I was
literally turned to stone: its mouth was empty. Pushkin was gone. For a
moment, I thought my heart stopped beating. The naked stone bald-spot in
place of the monument frightened me now, rather than alarmed. I closed my
eyes, hoping the delusion would pass. At that moment, somebody passing by
bumped into me, perhaps accidentally, but so hard that I was spun round on
my heels. The delusion really did disappear. I saw the monument.
It stood far back in the square. Pushkin looked just as thoughtful and
severe as ever, his winged cloak negligently thrown over his shoulders - an
image dear to me from childhood. Even if it were in a different spot, it was
Pushkin! I began to breathe more freely, though behind the monument I could
see an utterly unknown building, quite modern, with the huge letters ROSSIYA
across its facade. Hotel or cinema? Only yesterday, there had been a
six-teen-storey building here, with the Cosmos restaurant on the ground
floor, and flats above. Everything was similar, yet dissimilar, familiar
down to the smallest detail, yet it was the details most of all that altered
the familiar look. For instance, I found the chemist's shop in the same
spot, the salesgirls stood behind the counters wearing the same white
smocks, identical queues crowded round the cashier's booth, and in the
optical section they were still selling eyeglasses with the same ugly,
uncomfortable frames. But when I asked a girl for some pyrabutan for a
headache, she gave me a puzzled grimace.
"Never heard of it."
"Well, for a headache."
"No," I muttered vaguely. "Pyrabutan."
"There's no such thing."
My stupidly foolish look drew a pitying smile.
"Take these 3-in-one tablets." And she threw a small packet on the
counter - a box I'd never seen before.
In my trouser pocket I found a handful of silver coins - the money
could hardly be told from ours. Later, sitting on a bench by the Pushkin
monument, I made a thorough search of all the pockets in the suit bestowed
on me by a whim of fate. The contents would have stumped any detective.
Besides some change I found a few one- and three-rouble notes that were
quite different from ours, a crumpled tram ticket, an excellent fountain
pen, and an almost new pocket-notebook with only a few pages torn out. There
were no documents or identification cards to give me a hint as to what or
who my double was.
I no longer felt any fear: there remained only a sharp, nervous
curiosity. I tried not to dwell on how long my intrusion into this world
would last, or how it would end - all kinds of conjectures, even the most
terrifying, could be made on the subject. But what was I to do while I was
on this free trip into the unknown? I wouldn't be let into a hotel. Where
could I spend the night, if my sojourn was a long one? Perhaps at home, or
with friends - after all, the owner of the suit must live somewhere, and he
probably had friends. The cream of the joke would be if they turned out to
be my friends. What if the whole thing were a dream? I slapped the bench as
hard as I could - it hurt! So it wasn't a dream.
For a brief moment I thought I saw a face I knew. Sauntering past went
a broad-shouldered, brawny fellow carrying a cine-camera. I recognized the
tuft of hair falling over the forehead, the massive shoulders and iron neck.
Could it be my neighbour, Zhenka Evstafyev, from flat 5? But why did he have
a cine-camera? He had never snapped a picture with any kind of camera in his
I jumped up and ran after him.
"Excuse me," I stopped him, staring at the familiar face. "Aren't you
Zhenka? ... Evgeny Grigoryevich?"
"I'm afraid you're mistaken."
I blinked my eyes in perplexity: the likeness was perfect. Even the
timbre of the voice matched.
"Well, am I like him?" laughed the stranger.
"It happens," and he shrugged and went his way, leaving me in a turmoil
It still seemed to me that all this was some kind of game, or a trick
of fate. In a moment Zhenka would come back and we should have a good laugh
over it. But he didn't.
Later, when I recalled this day, what came to mind first of all was the
feeling of perplexity and confusion. And one thing more - the unbearable
loneliness of being in a city where I'd known every stone from childhood,
yet which had wholly changed during a few seconds of dizziness. I gazed at
the faces of the passers-by in the vain hope of seeing one I knew. What for?
Probably he wouldn't have recognized me any more than Evstafyev had ...
besides, what could I say to anyone who did?
And exactly that happened.
"Sergei! Sergei Nikolaevich!" A medium-tall, grey-haired man hailed me.
He was wearing a suede zippered jacket. (I had never seen this man before.)
"Come here a minute."
I got up. My name really was Sergei, and even Sergei Nikolaevich.
"Just listen to the latest." He took me confidentially by the arm and
said softly: "Hang on to yourself. Sichuk stayed behind."
"What Sichuk?" I asked, surprised. "Mikhail?"
"Who else? We've only one Sichuk. All the worse for us."
I had known Mikhail Sichuk during the war at the front. Now he worked
either as a photographer or as a news cameraman. We weren't friendly, and
never got together.
"What do you mean - stayed behind?"
"What do I mean? He was touring Europe on the Ukraine. You get it,
I didn't get it at all. But, sensing the circumstances, I acted
"At the last foreign port he stayed behind, skipped - the scum! Either
in Turkey or West Germany: don't know which way they were heading, to or
"The scoundrel," I said.
"There'll be trouble."
"Well, those who vouched for him, and so on," laughed the man in the
suede coat. "Fomich is fit to be tied; he made a beeline for head office. It
has nothing to do with you, of course."
"I should hope not," I said.
The unknown released my arm and gave me a friendly jab on the back.
"You look a bit sour, Sergei. Or maybe I'm butting in?"
"In what way?"
"Are you in throes of composition ... or waiting for somebody? Why
aren't you at the editorial office?"
I was not attached to any editorial office. I had to break off the
conversation somehow - it was getting a bit too hot to handle.
"Business," I said vaguely.
"You're up to something, old fellow," he said with a wink. "Well, so
He vanished from my life as quickly as he had come into it. And like a
man thrown for the first time into deep water begins to learn the motions of
a swimmer, I also began to find my bearings in the unknown. Curiosity got
the better of fear and alarm. What had I found out so far? That here my
appearance was the same, and my name too. That Moscow was Moscow, only
different in detail. That there existed an Odessa, Turkey and a Germany.
That the S.S. Ukraine, as in our world, made runs around Europe. That I was
connected with a certain editorial office, and that in this world Mikhail
Sichuk was also a rotten bit of scum.
So I was not much surprised when, going down the steps towards the
Rossiya cinema - as I had already guessed, the building was a cinema - I ran
into Lena. I was bound to meet somebody who knew me, both here and from
whence I came.
Elegant as ever, Lena was walking along in her usual absent way, but
she knew me at once and was even a bit embarrassed, or so I thought.
"Is that you? Where are you coming from?"
"Just off a camel. Well, how are things over there?"
"Where?" she asked, surprised.
"At the hospital, of course. Did you just get off?"
She was even more surprised.
"I don't understand, Sergei. What are you talking about? I've only been
in Moscow three days."
I had seen her this morning in the office of the Head Doctor when I was
telephoning the Brain Institute. Before that, we met every day or almost
every day when I happened to be in the therapeutic department. So I was
silent, painfully seeking a way out of what was a clearly critical
situation. The road into the unknown certainly teemed with pit-falls.
"Sorry, Lena, I'm getting awfully absent-minded. And besides ... it's
so unexpected, meeting you...."
"How are you getting along?" she asked, with what seemed to me a
"So-so," I answered cheerfully. "I manage to get by."
She was silent a long time, taking a good look at me. Finally, she said
dryly: "What an odd conversation. Very odd."
I realized she would leave me in a minute, and my only chance of
finding a place to put down anchor here, for at least twenty-four hours,
would disappear with her. My incursion into the unknown could scarcely last
longer than that. I had to take a stab at it. And I did.
"Look, I've got to talk to you, Lena. I really have to. Something's
happened, you see...."
"What, exactly?" Her eyes narrowed suspiciously.
"I can't talk about it on the street." I hurriedly searched for words.
"Where are you ... living now?"
She was slow in answering, apparently weighing something or other.
"At present I'm at Galya's."
"As if you didn't know."
I certainly did not know. I didn't even ask what Galya she meant. But I
had to make her agree. It was my last chance!
"It's awkward, Sergei,"
"My God, what nonsense!" I cried, thinking of the Lena I knew.
But this was an utterly different Lena, who watched me guardedly, not
at all like a friend.
"Well then ... come on," she said at last.
THE NEXT MOVE INTO THE UNKNOWN
We walked in silence, hardly exchanging a word. Apparently, she was
nervous but tried not to show it; and withdrawn, perhaps even regretting her
bargain. From time to time I caught her giving me a searching, suspicious
glance. What was she suspicious or afraid of?
I immediately recognized the house in Staro-Pimenovsky Alley. My wife
had lived here once, before we became acquainted. Incidentally, her name is
To my disgust, my knees began trembling.
"What are you looking like that for?" she asked.
I continued to look silently around the room. Like everything else in
this unknown world, it was both like and unlike. Or maybe I had simply
"Whose room is it, Lena?"
"Galya's, of course. What strange questions you ask, Sergei. Haven't
you been here before?"
I had difficulty swallowing. Now I would give her another strange
"But hasn't she ... moved?"
Lena gave me a somewhat frightened glance; she moved a bit away as if I
had said some monstrous absurdity.
"Have you never met?"
"Why do you ask?" I countered, uncertainly. "Of course we have."
"When did you see her last?"
I burst out laughing and blurted out: "This morning. At breakfast."
But I immediately regretted saying it.
"Don't lie. What are you lying for? She's been at the institute from
yesterday afternoon. Worked all night. And she's still not back."
"Can't a fellow joke?" I replied, foolishly, realizing I was getting in
more and more of a muddle.
"Strange way of joking, I'd say."
"Maybe we're not talking about the same person?" I put in, trying to
She wasn't even angry, she merely frowned like a doctor who sees,
without quite understanding, the symptoms of a disease under observation.
"I'm talking about Galya Novoseltseva."
"Why 'Novoseltseva'?" I asked, genuinely surprised.
The cold eyes of a doctor now looked at me with professional interest.
"You've lost your memory, Sergei. They were already registered to marry
when war broke out."
"Never mind," I muttered, wiping a perspiring brow. "I only
"What I'm doing here with the woman who stole my chap, right?" she
laughed, losing for a moment the curiosity of a professional doctor. "Even
then, I didn't feel hurt, Sergei. Imagine the luck - my chap left me. But
now ... why, it's even funny. It was so long ago.... And my next after that
- you know..." she sighed. "I'm not lucky in love, Sergei."
It is hard to map out every step you take in an unknown world. And I
put my foot in it again, forgetting where I was and who I was.
"Who's in your way now, with Oleg?"
There was so much horror in that cry, I involuntarily shut my eyes.
"Something's wrong with your memory, Sergei. One doesn't forget things
like that. Galya received the official death notice as far back as
forty-four. You couldn't help but know that."
What did I know, and what didn't I? Dare I really tell her?
"You're either pretending," she said, "or you're sick. And I think
"Then go ahead and ask me what day of the month it is, and the year,
and so on."
"I still don't know what I should ask you."
"So tell me the diagnosis," I shot back, getting angry. "Gone crazy,
"That's not the medical term for it. There are various kinds of psychic
disorders.... What did you want to talk to me about?"
By now I had no desire to. If I told her the truth, she would send me
off to the lunatic asylum at once. I had to wriggle out of this somehow.
"You see, the thing is..." I began a hurried improvisation. "A simply
deplorable thing happened.... The most deplorable...."
"You've already said that. But what?"
"As a matter of fact, I've left home. Left my wife. I shan't go into
the reason. But I need shelter. Just for the night. Nox lodgus, vulgaris, to
put it coarsely...."
I fell silent. She said nothing either, only examined her fingertips.
"Haven't you any friends to go to?"
"To some I can't, and with others it's inconvenient. You know how it
is, sometimes...." I tried not to look at her.
"What if you hadn't met me?"
"But I did."
She was still wavering. "It's awkward, Sergei."
"Can't you see that for yourself?"
"You know what?" I was getting angry again. "Call a psychiatrist. At
any rate, I'll get put up for the night."
I looked into her eyes: the professional-doctor look had disappeared.
Now there was only a frightened woman. The incomprehensible is always a bit
"The room isn't mine," she spoke gently. "We'll wait for Galya."
"And what if she spends the night at the institute again?"
"I'll phone her. The telephone's in the hall. Take a seat while you're
She went out, leaving me alone in a room where everything seemed
familiar, down to the least detail. I had left this room to go to the
Registry Office to be married. From this room? No, not this one. The whole
thing was something like in similar triangles: certain lines coincide,
I picked up a pencil from the table and wrote in my notebook:
If anything happens to me, advise my wife, Galina Gromova, 43
Griboyedov Street. Also inform Professors Zargaryan and Nikodimov at the
Brain Institute. Very important.
I underlined the words 'very important' three times, pressing so hard
that the pencil broke.
So whatever else I intended to write remained unwritten.
After putting the notebook away in my pocket, I realized I had flubbed
again. My Zargaryan and Nikodimov would never get this letter. And here, in
this world, Galya Gromova bore a different surname.
A ring sounded from the front hall, and through the half-open door I
heard the click of a lock. Then Lena cried: "At last. I was just ringing you
"What's the matter?" asked a voice - agonizingly familiar.
"Sergei Gromov's here."
"Well, that's fine. We'll have tea."
"But look, Galya ... he's sort of strange...." Lena lowered her voice
to an inaudible whisper.
"What's wrong, is he crazy?" were the words that reached me.
"I don't know. He says he's left his wife."
"Lord, what nonsense. He's playing a joke on you, Lena, and you fall
for it. I saw her only half an hour ago."
The door was flung open. I leaped to my feet, but couldn't move. My
wife stood in the doorway.
The same face, the same age, even the hairdo was the same. Only the
ear-rings were unfamiliar, and I'd never seen her wear that kind of suit
before. I stood speechless, repressing my excitement by sheer force of will.
"What did you make up all this for?" asked Galya.
I was silent.
"I just saw Olga. She's gone home and expects you for supper. She said
you were going to take her to see the Leningrad Ballet."
I was silent.
"What kind of joke is this? And to play it on Lena. What for?"
I could find no words to answer her. Everything was ruined. What
explanation would satisfy them? The truth? Who, in my position, would dare
to tell the truth?"
"Lena says you're sick," Galya continued, giving me a searching look.
"Maybe you are really sick?"
"Maybe I am," I repeated.
I did not know my own voice: it seemed alien and far away.
"Well then," I added, "you must excuse me. I guess I'll just run
"Where?" asked Galya, with a start. "We won't let you go alone. I'll
take you home." She looked out the window. "My cab's still there. Run after
it, Lena. Maybe you'll manage to hold it."
Now we were alone.
"What does all this mean, Sergei? I don't understand it," said Galya.
"I don't either," I replied.
"But even so?"
"You're a physicist, I believe, aren't you, Galya?" I threw out at
She was sharply alert. "So what?"
"Can you picture the notion of a plurality of worlds? Worlds existing
side by side? Being at the same moment both mysteriously remote and yet
"Let's suppose that. Such hypotheses do exist."
"Then just suppose that one of these worlds right next door is similar
to ours. That it also has a Moscow, only a wee bit different. Perhaps even
the same streets, but with other ornamentation. Sometimes, the very same
house but with a different street number. And that you are there, and I, and
Lena - only our relationships differ...."
She still didn't get it. But I had got fed up with the spiritual
masquerade long before. So I dared to open up.
"Let's suppose that in that other Moscow your name isn't Galya
Novoseltseva, but Galya Gromova. That six years ago you and I left this room
to be married at the Registry. And today a miracle happened: I broke through
the membrane barrier ... and looked into your world. There you have a devil
of a problem for our limited brains."
Now she looked at me with real fright. Probably she was thinking along
the lines of Lena: a sudden madness, raving.
"All right, let's leave it lie," I said wryly. "Take me wherever you
wish, I don't care. And don't be scared - I won't choke you or kiss you.
There's Lena waving at us. Come on."
WHO IS JEKYLL AND WHO HYDE?
Even in this world, Galya must have possessed her usual control. A
minute later she was quite calm and collected.
"I hope we won't start in on science fiction in front of the cabby?"
she asked, on the way to the taxi.
"So you consider it scientific?" I couldn't resist saying.
I could not read anything special on her face. Her behaviour was
ordinary, that of a clever woman - Galya's way with people who were
strangers and yet whom she found interesting. Attentive eyes, respectful
attention to a companion, unconsciously coquettish, mocking.
"Why do you have Pushkin's monument in the middle of the square?" I
asked, as we drove past.
"Where do you have it?"
"On the boulevard."
"You're lying about everything. Just as you lied about our going to the
Registry. And why did you say six years ago?"
"Fate," I laughed.
"Where was I six years ago?" she wondered, thoughtfully. "In the spring
I was in Odessa."
"So was I."
"Why do you lie? You never even came with us."
"In your world I didn't, but in ours - on the contrary."
"That's funny," she said, pronouncing every syllable. And added with a
critical look at me: "But you don't give the impression of being a lunatic."
"Nice to hear it," I wanted to say, but I didn't. A dark squall hit me
right in the face. Everything went black.
"What's wrong?" I heard Galya's frightened cry, and then her hurried,
excited words: "Driver, driver, pull up somewhere by the pavement. He feels
I opened my eyes. The mist of bewitchment was still swirling round
inside the car. And through this fog a woman's face was staring at me.
"Who is it?" I asked hoarsely.
"Do you feel bad, Sergei?"
"Galya?" I said, surprised. "How did you get here?"
She did not answer.
"Did something happen to me there ... on the boulevard?" I asked,
looking around me.
"Yes, it did," said Galya. "We'll talk about it later. Can you go home,
or do you need a doctor?"
I stretched, shook my head, and sat up straight. Clearly I could do
without a doctor. While we rode, I told Galya about walking along Tverskoi
Boulevard, about my dizzy spell, and how I tried to talk to myself in the
midst of a lilac fog.
"And afterwards," Galya asked, with sudden interest - before that she
had been listening now with distrust, now with indifference. "What happened
I shrugged in bewilderment.
"Don't you remember?"
"I don't remember."
I really didn't remember, and only on returning home did I find out
from Galya what had happened at her place.
"It was delirium," I said.
With her love for expressing things precisely, Galya now corrected me:
"For delirium, it's very consistent. Like playing a well-rehearsed role.
People don't rave like that. Besides, delirium is a symptom of illness, yet
you don't give mo that impression."
"But the fainting spell on the boulevard?" broke in my wife, Olga. "And
in the taxi?"
As a doctor she searched for a medical explanation. But Galya was as
doubtful as before.
"Then what happened between the fainting spells?"
"Some kind of somnambulistic state."
"What do you think I am - a lunatic?" I told her, offended.
"If it was a dream, then it must have been a day-dream," put in Galya
with amusement, insistent on accuracy. "Besides, we saw the dream and not
Sergei. Speaking of dreams, do you still have them?"
"What have dreams got to do with it?" I burst out. "I fainted, and I
didn't see any dreams."
I realized only too well that Galya never played jokes on anyone. So
her story about my wandering around like a sleepwalker - the only way my
behaviour could be described - seriously alarmed me. Before, I had never
fainted or walked along the edge of a roof in the moonlight, nor had loss of
memory. However, I could find no explanation of the event that answered to
"Maybe it was the result of hypnosis?" I suggested.
"Then who hypnotized you?" Olga frowned. "And where? At the office? On
the boulevard? Nonsense!"
"Right. Nonsense it is," I agreed.
"Are you, by any chance, writing a science-fiction story?" Galya asked
suddenly. "Your very intelligible observation about the plurality of worlds
even aroused my interest.... Can you imagine, Olga?" she laughed. "Two
adjacent worlds in space, like similar triangles. Both there and here -
Moscow; there and here, a Sergei Gromov. But you weren't there- - instead,
he was married to me."
"So the secret's out," joked Olga. "And the sleepwalker, of course, is
a visitor from another world in Sergei's likeness."
"He explained it to me like this. Moscow, he said, was the same, only a
little bit different. Pushkin's monument is on the square in our world, but
on the boulevard in theirs. I almost burst out laughing."
Olga, apparently, was thinking hard. "And you know what might explain
things?" she asked, suddenly animated, still seeking a rational explanation
even as I was. "Look here, didn't Sergei know that the monument had once
been moved? He did. So perhaps this information, stored away in his memory,
became fixed in his delirium? Some stimulation triggered the signal - and
there you are: the myth about an adjacent, similar world."
These arguments only annoyed me.
"It makes me sick listening to you. Some kind of new variant of
Stevenson's tale. A regular Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. Only which is Jekyll
and which is Hyde?"
"It's perfectly clear who," parried Galya. "You wouldn't hurt yourself
in choosing between them."
Olga did not understand, and asked: "Who are you talking about?"
"About international imperialist spies, Olga," I said jocularly.
"Parachuted here from an unidentified plane."
"So am I. Look, there is a certain English writer, Stevenson by name.
Usually, you read his stuff when you're a teenager. However, even doctors
do. For them, by the way, his story is almost like a course in psychiatry,
for Jekyll and Hyde, in reality, are the same man. To be more exact, a
quintessence of the good and evil inherent in one person. By drinking an
elixir that he discovered - medically speaking, a particular combination of
sulphanilamide and antibiotics - the noble Dr. Jekyll turned himself into
the scoundrel Hyde. Is that precise enough for you?" I asked Galya.
"Quite. Search your pockets, maybe Hyde left some clues behind during
his temporary transmutation."
I dug into my pockets and threw on the table a packet of headache
"That must be one clue. I certainly never bought them."
"Perhaps you put them there?" Galya asked Olga.
"No. More than likely he bought them on the way home."
"I didn't buy anything," I put in angrily. "And, for the record, I
didn't go into the chemist's."
"That means Hyde did. Is there anything else he left?"
I mechanically felt the inside pocket of my jacket.
"Wait. This notebook doesn't belong here." I pulled it out and opened
it. "Something's written here. Where are my glasses?"
"Give it here." Galya grabbed the notebook and read aloud: 'If anything
happens to me, advise my wife, Galina Gromova, 43 Griboyedov Street. Also
inform Professors Zargaryan and Nikodimov at the Brain Institute. Very
important.' "The 'very important' is even underlined," she laughed. "And
Galina Gromova, that's me, of course. I already told you his delirium was
consistent. Only why Griboyedov Street? There's Staro-Pimenovsky, and now
it's Medvedev Street."
"But have we a Griboyedov Street?" asked Olga. "Somehow, I never heard
"There is," I interrupted. "It used to be Maly Kharitonevsky. Only
there's no building on it with that number. Apparently, Hyde had in mind
some avenue, rather than street."
"But who's this Zargaryan?" Galya said, full of curiosity. "I know of a
Nikodimov. He's a physicist, a rather famous one, by the way. Only he's not
at the Brain Institute, but at the Institute of New Problems in Physics. But
who this Zargaryan is, I really don't know."
"But Sergei didn't write this!" cried Olga suddenly. "It's not his
handwriting ... though the 'v' has the same flourish and the down stroke in
the 't' is the same. Look for yourself!"
I found my glasses and read the note.
"The handwriting's similar. I wrote that way as a student. Working on
the paper spoiled my writing. I don't write like that now."
I rewrote the lines in the notebook. They differed greatly from the
"Ri-ight," drawled Galya. "No need for a handwriting expert. But
perhaps the handwriting changes when you're in a somnambulistic state."
"I wouldn't know," said Olga. "Somnambulism's in the field of
psychiatry. It's a sort of psychic upset that comes like lightning. I can't
explain it any other way. And I don't like all this, not at all."
"Nor do I," Galya conceded.
She read and reread both memorandums in the notebook. Her face
reflected not only concentrated thinking but repressed anxiety. Galya's
clear, logical mind did not want to give in to the inexplicable.
"I simply can't explain it. Either scientifically or logically, from
the standpoint of common sense, so to say. A person of absolutely sound mind
- and suddenly he turns sleepwalker. Of course, a fainting fit is
understandable: a doctor could find an explanation. But this raving about a
plurality of worlds - that's more like something out of a science-fiction
story. And then his asking for a night's lodging, for a roof over his head,
when the man has his own private flat."
"Apparently my Hyde was looking for shelter," I laughed. "He couldn't
go to a hotel, d'you see."
"Here's what I don't like. The hypothesis about Hyde explains it all.
But I prefer dealing with pure science, rather than science fiction. Though
everything about it is fantastic. Now why, Sergei, did you ask to go to
Lena's? You didn't know she lives with me."
"That's new to me, even now. I've not seen Lena for ten years. I can't
even imagine what she looks like."
My adventure in Galya's story surprised me more than anything else.
Lena and I never met, never corresponded. We'd probably even forgotten each
"Is she an old flame?" asked Olga.
"All of us went to school together before the war," replied Galya. "We
were all going to enter the medical faculty. But nothing came of it: Sergei
and Oleg went to the front, and I got a yen for physics. Only Lena went in
for medicine. By the way, she really was in love with you, Sergei."
"With Oleg," I said.
"All the girls ran after him," sighed Galya. "But I had the worst fate:
I won and lost." She stood up. "Peace be to thy house, but it's high time I
left. The council of detectives is closed and Sherlock Holmes proposes to
make an excursion into the realm of physics."
"Psychology, you mean to say."
"No, I mean physics. I'm interested in Zargaryan and Nikodimov, and
what they're doing in the Institute of New Problems in Physics."
"Whatever for?" asked Olga in surprise. "I should apply to a
"And I would choose Zargaryan. Who is he? What is he engaged in? Is he
connected with Nikodimov? And if he is, then in what field?" Galya turned to
me: "Did you ever hear of either name?"
"Maybe you read about them somewhere and have merely forgotten?"
"I've never seen the names anywhere, nor have I forgotten."
"And that's the most interesting point in all your somnambulistic
story. Physics, my dear, physics. The Institute of New Problems in Physics.
New, remember!" And Galya turned to Olga. "You know what? Call Zoya and find
out about Zargaryan. She knows everybody."
We decided to call Zoya in the morning.
THE SHEET FROM THE NOTEBOOK
I fell asleep at once, and slept soundly right through till morning.
Dreams, I might say, are a peculiarity of mine that sets me apart from
other mortals. It wasn't by accident that Galya asked if I still had dreams.
I have them. They repeat themselves, persistently, and are almost unchanged
in content, oddly like fragments of travelogue films.
Naturally I also have ordinary dreams in which everything is confused
and foggy, both as to proportion and distortion, like in a Fun House mirror.
My recall of such dreams is so vacillating and short-lived that they are
hard to recapture and describe. But the dreams I'm talking about I shall
remember all my life, and I can describe them just as precisely as I can my
They are always in colour, and the colours are as true and harmonious
as in nature. In one I see a spring-time meadow appearing out of the night
mist, flowering as profusely as in real life. Arid I even remember the
designs on a girl's cotton-print dress that flashes for a moment through the
sunny dream. Nothing special happens in these dreams: they do not frighten
or alarm me, but have something alluring about them, like getting a tiny
peep into somebody else's life.
The one I see most frequently shows a corner in a strange city, the
view of a street which I've never actually seen though I can remember all
the details: the balconies, shop windows, the lindens along the pavement,
the iron grilles. I can call them all to mind as clearly as if I had seen
them but yesterday. I can even recall the passers-by, for they are always
the same, even the black cat with white spots that runs across the road. It
always crosses at one and the same corner, near one and the same house.
Sometimes I see myself in an arcade surrounded by shops off galleries
like in Moscow's GUM department store. But the arcade has only one storey
and branches off into numerous side alleys that run lengthwise and
crosswise. For some reason I am always waiting by a stationery shop, or
slowly strolling past a shop-window displaying draperies and miraculously
lit by a sort of odd iridescent lighting. I have never seen this arcade in
real life, yet I not only remember the windows but even the shape of the
goods, the tall glass archways and the coloured mosaic on the pavement.
Sometimes the dream carries me into the interior of a town flat which I
have never been in, or else into an idyllic village landscape. Often there
is a road running between naked earthen slopes sparsely scattered here and
there with patches of dusty grass. The road runs down to a blue strip of
water, gay with golden water-lilies. Sometimes a woman in white walks ahead
of me, sometimes an old man with a fishing-rod; but neither of them ever
turns round and I never overtake them. I see only a strip of water,
embroidered with duckweed and water-lilies; but for some reason I know it is
a pond and that the road will now turn right along the bank, and that I ran
here as a small boy - though neither the pond nor the road belongs to my
It was these dreams that awoke Olga's doubts of my psychic balance and
made her so insistent that I consult a psychiatrist. But I was more inclined
to follow Galya's advice. The ill-starred sheet from the notebook with the
names of Zargaryan and Nikodimov gave me no peace, because I was absolutely
sure I had never, under any circumstances, hoard of these particular names.
As for subconsciously absorbing them from talk overheard in the underground
or on the street, naturally I didn't believe that. A normal memory preserves
what is overheard in the conscious mind, not in the subconscious.
"All right, I'll call Zoya," Olga agreed.
Zoya worked in the Institute of Scientific Information and, according
to her, knew all the 'big shots'. If Nikodimov and Zargaryan belonged to
this highly-attested category, in one minute I should get an earful of a
good dozen anecdotes about their way of life. However, I didn't need
anecdotes, but precise information as to their particular fields arid latest
activities. I had to make sure that they wore my Nikodimov and Zargaryan.
I decided to ring up Klenov first of all. He is head of the science
department at our editorial offices. I'd known Klenov from the time we were
at the front together.
"I need some dope, old man. The exact whereabouts of two giants:
Nikodimov and Zargaryan."
Laughter came from the receiver.
"Even yesterday I thought you were a bit off your rocker."
"When was that?" I asked, surprised.
"When I bumped into you in Pushkin square. About six o'clock. When I
told you about Mikhail.."
I licked my overdry lips. So Klenov had seen Hyde and talked with him.
And had noticed nothing. Very interesting.
"I don't remember," I said.
"Don't play games. About Mikhail stopping behind, don't you remember?"
"Where did he stop off?"
"In Istanbul. I already told you once. He asked for political shelter
at the American Embassy. "
"He must be crazy!"
"He's got all his buttons, the snake. They should have kept an eye on
him. They say 'the human heart is a mystery'. They should have guessed his
little plan before it was too late. Now we're writing a collective letter
not to let him come back when he comes crawling to us on his belly. What's
up with you? You honestly don't remember?"
"Honestly. My mind is a complete blank about yesterday from around five
in the afternoon to ten in the evening. First I fainted, and I don't
remember a thing about what happened afterwards - what I did or what I said.
I came to when I was being brought home. Must be a souvenir of that
concussion I got near Dunafoldvar, remember?"
As if Klenov didn't remember the time we forced the Danube. Oleg was
with us. And Mikhail Sichuk, incidentally, was there too. Only he was
foresighted enough to get into the rear: headed the editorial office of a
front-line newspaper. For about a minute we were both silent. What we went
through at the Danube wasn't to be forgotten. Then Klenov spoke.
"You should get some advice from a professor. I can arrange a
consultation, if you like. I know a few good specialists."
"No need of that," I sighed. "Better if you can tell me what Nikodimov
and Zargaryan are doing in science."
"You hoping for a feature? You won't get anywhere. Nikodimov answers
such attempts with the method of Conan Doyle's Professor Challenger. He
dropped one reporter from Science and Life down the waste chute."
"Don't worry yourself about my nearest future. Just give me all you
know. Who is this Nikodimov? And no jokes, if you don't mind. I need it
"Look, he's a physicist, with a very wide range of interests. Puts out
works on the physics of fields of attraction. Interested in electric
magnetism in complex media. At one time, working with Zemlicka, he brought
out the concept of a neutrino generator."
"With Zemlicka. A Czech bio-physicist."
"And the general idea - can you tell me?"
"I'm an ignoramus here, of course, and I heard it from ignoramuses -
but, in a general sense, it's something like a neutrino laser, which cuts a
window into anti-worlds."
"Are you serious?"
"What do you think? That it looks a bit shady? That's how it was
regarded, by the way."
"What about Zargaryan?"
"Is he tied up with Nikodimov right now?"
"You already know that? Congratulations."
"Is he a physicist too?"
"No, a neurophysiologist or something like that. As a matter of fact,
his field is telepathy."
"What, what?" I screamed.
"Te-le-pa-thy," repeated Klenov didactically. "There is such a science:
"I doubt it. They gave that up in the Middle Ages. No such science."
"You're behind the times. It's al-read-y a science. Condensers of
biological currents, and all that kind of thing. Satisfied?"
"Almost," I sighed.
"If you're going into the attack, I'll back you body and soul. We'll
print anything you can get hold of. And I'd advise you to start off with
Zargaryan. He's easier, more approachable. Just the fellow you want...."
I thanked him and hung up the receiver. The information wasn't beyond
Zoya's level. An anti-world, telepathy.... Should phone Galya for more
"Hello, this is me - the sleepwalker. Are you up already?"
"I get up at six in the morning," Galya cut me off. "I'm interested in
one little detail of your Odyssey. Why did you tell Lena you'd left your
"I can't answer for Hyde's doings. I want to explain them. Listen hard,
Galya. What's the essence of the idea of a neutrino generator, and how is it
connected with the condensing of biological currents?"
"Nikodimov and Zargaryan?" laughed Galya.
"As you see, I found something out, at least."
"You found out rubbish, and you're talking rubbish. Nikodimov renounced
the idea of the neutrino generator long ago, that is, the way it was
formulated by Zemlicka. Now he's working on the fixation of the power field
set up by the activity of the brain ... something like a single complex of
the electro-magnetic field that arises in the brain cells. You see, I also
"Zargaryan is a physiologist. What's his tie-up with Nikodimov?"
"Their work is top secret. I don't know the inside story, nor if
there's any future in what they're doing," admitted Galya. "But one way or
another, it's connected with codifying the physiological neuronal state of
"What?" I asked blankly.
"The brain," Galya stressed, "the brain, my dear. Your Hyde connected
these names with the Brain Institute, and not by chance. Though ... from
what aspect to view all this.... Perhaps, it's even a problem of pure
She was thinking hard: the membrane in the receiver carried her heavy
"The key is here, Sergei," she concluded. "The more I think about it,
the surer I am. Find the scientists, and you'll find the key."
The scientific research over, there was still the ordinary search. We
began it with Zoya.
She answered the call at once. Yes, she knew both Zargaryan and
Nikodimov. The latter only by name: he was like a ground-hog who never came
near receptions. But she was personally acquainted with Zargaryan. Had even
danced with him at an evening social. He was very interested in dreams.
"He's interested in dreams," repeated Olga to me, putting her hand over
"What??" I cried, and reached for the telephone. "Zoya darling. It's
me. Right you are, in person, your secret worshipper. What were you saying
just now about dreams? Who's interested? It's very important."
"I told Zargaryan about a strange dream I had," responded Zoya, "and he
was terribly interested, asked all about the details. And what details -
frightful, but utterly. And he listened, and told me I should come to him
every week and be sure to relate all my dreams. He needed it for his work.
But you know yourself, I'm no fool. I know what kind of work he meant."
"Zoya," I groaned, "beg him to give me an appointment."
"Are you mad?" cried Zoya, terrified. "He can't stand reporters."
"But you won't tell him I'm from a paper. Simply say that a man who
sees strange dreams wants to see him. And the strangest thing of all is that
these dreams are repeated, as if tape-recorded. Repeated year after year.
Zoya, try to tell him all that. If you fail, I'll try to contact him
She rang back in ten minutes.
"Just imagine, it worked. He'll see you today after nine o'clock. Don't
be late. He doesn't like it," she chattered on without a break, just as she
usually did in her office at the institute. "He was interested right away,
and immediately asked how clear the dreams were, what was the degree of
recall, and so on. I said you would tell him about the clarity yourself. I
also told him you worked with me. Don't give me away."
Zargaryan lived in the south-west of town in a new apartment building.
He opened the door himself, silently listened to my explanation, and just as
silently led the way into his office. Tall and lithe, black hair bristling
in a crew-cut, he reminded me of the hero in an Italian neo-realistic novel.
To look at, he wasn't more than thirty.
"Do you mind my asking what led you to me?" His eyes pierced right
through me. "Yes, of course, I know it was strange dreams and so on ... but
why did you particularly ask for a consultation with me?"
"When I tell you everything, the answer to that won't be necessary," I
"Do you know anything about me?"
"Until last night, I'd no idea you existed."
He thought a moment and asked: "Exactly what happened last night?"
"I'm sincerely glad that we begin our talk with that," I said
decisively. "I did not come to you because I was worried by dreams, nor
because you are a Martin Zadeka as, for instance, you are regarded by Zoya
at the Institute of Information. By the way, I don't work there, I'm a
I immediately noticed a grimace of dissatisfaction on Agrarian's face,
"But I didn't come to you for an interview. I'm not interested in your
work. To be more exact, I wasn't interested. And I repeat once more that
until last night I had never even heard your name, but none the less I wrote
it down in my small notebook while in a state of unconsciousness. "
"What do you mean by a state of unconsciousness?" interrupted
"That's not exactly the right term. I was fully conscious, yet I
remember nothing - what I did or what I said. I simply wasn't there,
somebody else acted in my place. It was he who wrote this in my notebook."
I opened the notebook and passed it to Zargaryan. He read it and looked
at me rather strangely, peering from frowning brows.
"Why is it written twice?"
"I wrote it the second time, to compare the handwriting. As you see,
the first was not written by me, that is, it's not my handwriting. And it's
not the handwriting of a sleepwalker, or a lunatic, or of somebody with
"Does your wife live on Griboyedov street?"
"My wife lives with me on Kutuzovsky Prospekt. And there is no house on
Griboyedov street with that number. And the woman mentioned in the note is
not my wife, but simply an acquaintance, a school friend. Besides, she
doesn't live on Griboyedov."
Once more he read the note and pondered.
"And did you never hear of Professor Nikodimov either?"
"No more than I heard of you. Even now I only know that he's a
physicist, something like a ground-hog who is never to be found at
receptions. That detail, I'll have you note, is from the Institute of
Zargaryan smiled, and I immediately noticed that he wasn't a severe man
at all, but a good-hearted and perhaps even a gay fellow.
"Along general lines the portrait bears a certain resemblance," he
said. "Keep shooting."
And I talked. I can tell a good story, even with a dash of humour, but
he listened without any outward show of interest. However, when I reached
the place about the plurality of worlds, he raised his brows.
"Did you read that anywhere?" he asked quickly.
"I don't remember. In passing, somewhere."
"Go on, if you don't mind."
I concluded my story by reminding him of Stevenson's Jekyll and Hyde.
"The queerest thing is that this mystical-phantom business explains
everything, and I can find nothing else that makes sense."
"You think that's the queerest?" he asked vaguely, once again reading
the lines in the notebook. "They refused to let us bring up this problem at
the Brain Institute, but it was raised all the same."
I looked at him blankly.
"Have you been precise in everything you have told me?" he suddenly
asked, with another piercing glance. "Two worlds like similar triangles,
right? With a Moscow in both, differing only in ornamentation. And hero and
there you and your friends. Is that it?"
"There you are married to a different woman, live on a different
street, and in some way or other are connected with a Zargaryan and a
Nikodimov, of whose existence here you were completely unaware. Right?"
He stood up and walked around the room, as if to hide his excitement.
But I saw how wrought up he was.
"Now tell me about your dreams. I think there's a connection between
I described my dreams. This time he stared with unconcealed interest.
"That means another life, eh? A certain street, a road down to a river,
a shopping arcade. And all very clear-cut, like in a photograph?" He spoke
slowly, weighing every word, as if thinking aloud. "And you remember
everything afterwards. Clearly, including all details?"
"I even remember the mosaic on the pavement."
"And it is all uncannily familiar, even to trivial things? It seems
you've been there a hundred times and probably lived there, but in real life
there was nothing of the kind?"
"In real life, nothing of the kind," I repeated.
"What do the doctors say? You must have sought advice."
It seemed to me that he said this with a shade of cunning.
"What do the doctors say..." I spoke scornfully. "Stimulation ...
inhibition. Any fool knows that. In the daytime the cortex is in a state of
excitation, at night an inhibition process sets in. Irregular, with islands.
These islands keep working, paste together dreams from day-time impressions,
like in a cutting room." Zargaryan laughed.
"Or staging a series of attractions, like in the circus."
"But I don't believe it!" I grew angry. "The devil they are! There's no
staging about it, everything is unchangeably fixed down to minute trifles,
to the leaf on a certain tree, to the screw in a window-frame. And all this
is repeated, like showings in a cinema. Once a week I'm sure to see
something I dreamed before. Yet they still insist that you dream only of
what you've seen or experienced during your waking hours. And nothing else!"
"Even Sechenov wrote about that. He even examined the blind, and it
turned out that they dream only of what they saw when they had their sight."
"But I never saw them," I repeated stubbornly. "Not in real life, nor
in the cinema or in paintings. Nowhere! Is that clear? I never saw them!"
"But what if you did?" laughed Zargaryan.
"Where?" I cried.
He did not answer. He silently took out a cigarette, lit it, and
suddenly recollected me.
"Oh, excuse me. I didn't offer one to you. Do you smoke?"
"You haven't answered me," I said.
"I will answer you. We have ahead of us a long, interesting talk. You
can't even imagine what a find this meeting is for Nikodimov and me.
Scientists wait for years for such moments. But I'm lucky: I only waited
four years. Can you give me another couple of hours?"
"Of course," I agreed, confused and still in the dark.
A sudden change came over Zargaryan. His excited, undisguised interest
slightly embarrassed me. What was there special in what I had told him?
Perhaps Galya was right, and the key to the puzzle of all that had happened
was right here?
But Zargaryan was already telephoning somebody.
"Pavel Nikitich? It's me. Do you intend staying much longer at the
institute? Wonderful. I'm going to bring a certain person over, right away.
He's with me now. Who? You'd never guess. The one we've been dreaming about
all these years. What he's told me confirms all our ideas. And I stress
that. Everything! And even more. It's hard to take it all in - my head
spins. No, I'm not drunk, but a drink is called for. Later on. We're on our
way, so wait for us."
He hung up and turned to me.
"D'you realize what a refractor is for an astronomer? Or an electronic
microscope for a virologist? And for me, that's the kind of valuable
instrument you are. For Nikodimov and me. I'll give Zoya a royal present for
this.... After all, it was she who gave you to me. Let's go."
I was as much in the dark as before.
"I hope you're not going to give mo injections or cut me up? Will it
hurt?" I asked, sounding like a patient on his way to see a surgeon.
Zargaryan burst into laughter, as pleased as punch.
"Why should it hurt, my dear man?" ho said, adopting the accent of an
oriental trader. "You'll sit in a chair, fall asleep for half an hour or so,
look at dreams. Like in the cinema." Dropping the accent, he added: "Come,
Sergei Nikolaevich, I'll drive you to the institute."
The institute was off the highway in an oak grove which, in the dark of
this starless night, looked to me like an enchanted wood out of a fairy
tale. The gnome-like hushes, trees with clawing branches, black tree-stumps
peering out of the grass like wild animals from across the roadside ditch -
all seemed to be luring me into a romantic yet sinister gloom. But in place
of the tumbledown hut perched on chicken-legs - the typical witch's abode in
Russian fairy tales - there rose at the end of the alley a round ten-storey
building with the occasional lighted window. Some of them blinked, flashing
in spurts as if gigantic Jupiter lights in a film studio were being switched
on and off.
"Valery Mlechin casting spells over wireless light-transmission," said
Zargaryan, catching my glance. "You think that's us up there? No. Our labs
are up under the very roof on the opposite side."
An express lift whisked us to the tenth floor, and we stepped out into
a circular corridor with a moving passage that carried us with it. It moved
softly, soundlessly, at about escalator-speed.
"It works automatically as soon as you step on it," explained
Zargaryan, "and is stopped by putting your foot on one of these frosted,
Slightly convex milky-white transparent tiles were set every two
metres, one after another, along the plastic ribbon of the corridor. We
floated past white, sliding doors bearing large numbers. Opposite room 220,
Zargaryan stepped on the regulator.
We stopped, and the door slid open instantly revealing the entrance to
a large, brightly lit room. Zargaryan nudged me towards a chair.
"Amuse yourself for ten minutes while I talk with Nikodimov. First, it
will save you from repeating your story; second, I can put it more
He approached the opposite wall: it slid open and immediately closed
behind him. "Photoelectric cell," I thought to myself. The equipment in this
institute answered the most up-to-date demands of scientific design for
working comfort. A description of the corridor alone would have sent Klenov
into ecstasy: it wasn't for nothing he had promised to back me 'soul and
However, except for the sliding walls, the room where I waited held
nothing very remarkable. A modern desk of clear plexiglas on nickel-plated
steel legs; an open wall safe resembling an electric oven; concealed
lighting, and a foam-rubber sofa-bed with cushions. Here you could spend the
night in comfort if you were delayed. Along one wall I saw a monstrous pile
of yellow, semi-transparent tape-ribbons along which thick, jagged lines
ran: something like those on cardiograms. The coloured plastic floor, with
its extravagant designs, made the room seem elegant, but the ascetic
book-stands and the wall diagrams, also of plastic, returned it to the realm
of the strictly serious. There was one diagram of the cortex of both
cerebral hemispheres, marked with metal arrows crowned with coded
inscriptions in Greek and Latin letters. Another that hit the eye had only a
mass of strange metallic lines flanked by a handwritten inscription:
Biocurrents of Sleeping Brain. Sheets of paper were pinned up bearing the
typed text: Length and Depth of Sleep - laboratory observations at Chicago
The books on the stands were in complete disorder, piled on top of one
another, lying open on telescopic shelves. These, apparently, were in
constant use. I picked one up: it was a work by Sorokhtin on the atony of
the nerve centre. There were piles of books and brochures in foreign
languages and, it seemed to me, they all dealt with some kind of irradiation
following stimulation or inhibition. I found one book by Nikodimov, in an
English edition, whose title was The Principles of Codifying Impulses
Distributed Through the Cortex and Subcortex of the Brain. Whether I got it
right or not, I don't know, but I immediately regretted that we journalists
lacked the training necessary to at least come close to understanding the
processes taking place on the peaks of modern science.
At this moment the wall slid open, and Zargaryan called me: "You can
come in now."
The room I found myself in was the acme of laboratories, gleaming with
stainless steel and nickel plating. But I had no chance to get a good look
at it. Zargaryan was already introducing me to an elderly man with a
chestnut-coloured beard touched with silver, and hair to match worn longer
than was usual among scientists - more suitable for a professor of music.
His aquiline nose related him to the hawk, but somehow he reminded me of the
Faust I had seen during my youth in an opera staged by a company on tour
from some remote country district.
"Nikodimov," he said, smiling as he caught my roving eye. "There's no
use looking. You won't understand anything in any case, and explanations
would be lengthy. Besides, there's nothing very remarkable here - anything
of interest is in the floor beneath us: the condenser and operational
controls. And here is a screen by which we fixate the fields, in various
phases, of course. As you see, an elementary jumble of electric plugs,
switches and levers. Like something out of Mayakovsky, right?"
I cast a sidelong glance at the chair behind the screen, over which
hung a helmet resembling an astronaut's but with coloured wires attached to
"He's scared," said Nikodimov, winking at Zargaryan. "What's so
terrifying about it? Surely a chair...."
"Wait," interrupted Zargaryan cheerfully. "Don't explain: let him guess
for himself. See, old fellow, it's like a barber's chair, but no mirror. Or
maybe a dentist's chair? But no drill. Where can you find such a chair? In
the theatre, the cinema? No again. Perhaps in the pilot's cabin of an
aeroplane? Then where's the joystick or wheel?"
"Looks more like an electric chair," I said.
"Naturally. An exact copy."
"And you'll put the helmet on me, too?"
"What do you think? Death in two minutes!" His eyes twinkled. "Clinical
death. Then we resurrect you."
"Don't frighten him," laughed Nikodimov, and turned to me. "You're a
"Then I beg you ... no write-ups. Everything you'll find out here is
not ripe for printing yet. Besides, the experiment might prove a failure.
You might see nothing and we'll have to write it off as a loss. Well ... but
when it is ready, the story will certainly be yours. I promise you that."
Poor Klenov. His hopes for an article vanished like a dream.
"Do your experiments have a direct relation to my story?" I dared to
"Geometrically direct," interrupted Zargaryan. "That's only Pavel
Nikodimov's cautiousness, but I tell you straight: there's no possibility of
failure. The proofs are too clear."
"Ye-es," drawled Nikodimov, thoughtfully. "Pretty good proofs. So
Stevenson's story happened to you? Is that how you explain it? Jekyll and
"Of course not. I don't believe in reincarnation, or transformed
"But even so?"
"I don't know. I'm looking for an explanation. From you."
"Wise of you."
"So there is an explanation?"
I jumped to my feet.
"Sit down," said Zargaryan. "No, go and sit in the chair you're so
scared of. Believe me, it's much more comfortable than Voltaire's."
To put it mildly, I was rather hesitant. That devilish chair positively
"All explanations only after the experiment," continued Zargaryan. "Sit
here. Come, where's your nerve gone? We won't pull any teeth."
I sank deep into the chair, as if in a feather bed. A feeling of
special lightness came over me, almost like weightlessness.
"Put out your feet," said Zargaryan. Apparently he was the one
directing the experiment.
The soles of my feet rested on rubber clamps. On my head I felt the
soundlessly lowered helmet. It gripped my forehead lightly, and was
unexpectedly comfortable, like a soft, felt hat.
"Is it too loose?"
"Yes, a bit."
"Make yourself comfortable. We shall now regulate it."
The helmet became tighter. But I felt no pressure: its supple lining
seemed to fuse with my skin. I had the feeling that an evening breeze had
stolen through the window and was pleasantly cooling my forehead and
ruffling my hair. Yet I knew the window was closed and my head was enveloped
in the helmet.
Suddenly the light went out. I was surrounded by a warm, impenetrable
"What's up?" I asked.
"It's all right. We are isolating you from light."
How were they isolating me? With a wall, a cowling, a hood of some
kind? I touched my eyelids: the helmet did not cover my eyes. Stretching out
my hand, I could feel nothing.
"Drop your arm. Sit still. You will sleep now."
I settled more easily in the chair, relaxed my muscles. And truly, I
felt sleep coming over me, an imminent Nirvana drowning all my thoughts,
recollections, intruding words. For some reason, I remembered a four-line
But sleep is only a shadow-creation,
An unstable dissimulation,
Illusion of live animation -
Yet not a bad prevarication.
What kind of illusory dreams would sleep bring me this time, good ones
or evil? The thought flashed and died away. There was a slight ringing in my
ears, as if a mosquito were buzzing on a very high note somewhere close by.
Now voices, very clear, reached my ears, though I could not place their
"Is anything coming through?"
"There's some interference."
"Try the second scale."
"I'll turn it on full power."
The voices disappeared. I fell into a soundless, untroubled state of
non-existence, pregnant with unusual expectancy.
THE DREAM WITH A MIRACLE
I half opened my eyes and blinked. Everything swirled round in a rosy
mist. The lights of the chandelier on the ceiling were arched out in a
shining parabola. I was surrounded by a circle of women all in matching
black dresses, all with matching washed-out faces. They cried out to me in
"What's the matter? Are you ill?"
I forced open my eyelids as wide as I could. The mist melted away. The
chandelier was at first tripled, then doubled, and finally became its normal
self. The women shrank into a single figure with Olga's voice and smile.
"Where are we?" I asked.
"At the reception."
"Can you have forgotten? At the Hungarian Embassy's reception. At the
"What are we doing here?"
"Good lord, the tickets were sent to us this morning! I just managed to
get my dress from the dressmaker. You seem to have forgotten everything! "
I was certain no tickets had been sent to us that morning. Perhaps
they'd come the evening before, on my return from Nikodimov? Did this mean
I'd lost my memory again?
"But what happened to me?"
"The reception room was terribly stuffy and you suggested we go out for
some fresh air. When we got to the foyer here, you suddenly felt bad."
"Nothing strange about it. It was impossible to breathe in there, and
your heart isn't too good. Would you like something to drink?"
"I really don't know."
Olga seemed almost like a stranger to me in the new dress she had
mentioned. It was the first time I'd heard about it. When did she go to the
dressmaker's if I'd been home all day?
"Wait a minute, I'll go and bring you some Narzan mineral water."
She disappeared into the reception room, and I continued to look
vaguely about at the familiar foyer of the restaurant. I recognized it, but
that didn't ease my position. I couldn't at all understand when the
Hungarians had sent the tickets, arid why they'd sent them. I had no title
of honour, I wasn't an academician or a master of sport. Yet Olga accepted
it as a matter of course, as something quite usual in our way of life.
I was still standing there motionless when Olga returned with the
Narzan. I got the impression that she wanted to return to the reception.
"Have you met anyone you know?"
"All the chiefs are there," said Olga, brightening. "Fedor Ivanovich
and Raisa, even the deputy minister."
I was not acquainted with either a Fedor Ivanovich or a Raisa, let
alone a deputy minister. But I didn't want to risk admitting it, and merely
asked: "Why the deputy minister?"
"It was he who fixed it so we could all come. After all, our clinic is
attached to the ministry. He gave the tickets to Fedor, who passed some on
to Raisa. Probably there were a few extra tickets."
Olga did not work at a ministerial clinic, but at a very ordinary
district polyclinic. I knew that for a fact. Once she had actually been
invited to work at the clinic for the Ministry of Communications, but she
"You go on back," I said. "I'll take a little stroll for a breath of
I went outside, stood at the entrance and lit a cigarette. The yellow
light from the street lamps was swimming in the wet asphalt pavement.
Two-decker buses, as red as those in London, splashed by me. I had never
seen such buses before. Between the upper and lower deck windows ran an
advertising strip with the painted sign:
SEE THE NEW FRENCH FILM CHILD OF MONTPARNASSE.
I'd never heard of it. What was wrong with my memory? It was full of
gaps. In the distance, to the left of the Bolshoi Theatre, a gigantic neon
oblong burned against the sky.
Flickering letters raced round it: 'Earthquake in Delhi.... Soviet
doctors flew to India.' The latest news in lights. I couldn't recall when it
was put up.
"Getting some air?"
I heard a well-known voice, turned, and saw Klenov. He had just come
out of the restaurant.
"I'm leaving," he said. "There's lots of liquor, but I don't drink.
Ulcers. I've paid my respects, and now for home."
"Between ourselves, how come you're paying respects?"
"Well, d'you see, Kemenes invited us. He's press-attache now."
Tibor Kemenes, a Russian-speaking Hungarian student, had been our guide
in Budapest. I was just out of hospital, and we had wandered for hours
around the city, so new to us. But when had Kemenes become press-attache at
their embassy in Moscow? And how was it I only found out now?
"Yes, people go up the ladder. But you and I got stuck somehow, old
fellow. We are the ones who keep the wheels turning."
"Speaking of turning the wheels, there won't be any article,
incidentally," I told him.
"What article?" asked Klenov in surprise.
"About Zargaryan and Nikodimov."
He laughed so hard, passers-by turned back to stare.
"You certainly picked an eccentric for a subject. That Nikodimov keeps
a panther on a chain at his cottage instead of a dog. And in Moscow he drops
reporters down the waste chute."
"You already told me that."
Klenov gripped my shoulders and looked me in the eye.
"What have you been drinking, Tokay or palinka?"
"I've not taken a drop."
"That's easy to see. Why, Saturday night I went to my cottage at
Zhavoronki, and only returned today at five in the afternoon. You must have
been talking with me in your dreams."
Klenov waved good-bye and went off, but I stood there, deeply shaken by
his last words: 'talking with me in your dreams'. No, it was now I was
talking with him in a dream. In a dream too real to be true.
Immediately I recalled the conversation in Faust's laboratory, the
chair with the various lead-in wires. And Zargaryan's warning from the
darkness: 'Sit still. You will sleep now.' Some kind of electronic sleep
with artificially aroused dreams. It all seemed as if I were awake, only
this real life for some reason was turned upside down. Then why should I be
surprised? It was as plain as day.
I went back inside. A turbid haze of smoke hung over the tables, like
steam, mixing with the electric light. People were dancing. I searched in
vain for Olga, then entered the adjoining room. The long tables, littered
with half-demolished food and drink, were witnesses that the guests had
recently been feasting here. They had been served European buffet style, and
ate standing holding their plates, or sat on the window-sills covered with
folds of the draperies. Now only the latecomers remained, searching the
tables for drinks and snacks still untouched. Somebody, who was playing a
lone hand at the end of a large table, turned and called out to me.
"Over here, Sergei. Tuck in. Palinka, just like in Budapest."
It was Mikhail Sichuk who, according to another version I knew, had
already managed to skip the country. Perhaps in this dream he'd managed to
return. Through a hole in space or on a flying-carpet. I didn't bother my
head over it, nor did I react to the miracle. I simply poured myself a glass
of palinka from Mikhail's bottle, and drank. I was beginning to like dreams
that contained even real sensations of taste.
"To our friends and comrades," toasted Mikhail, also drinking.
"How did you get here?" I asked, diplomatically.
"The same as you. As a hero of the liberation of Hungary."
"Oh, you're a hero?"
"We're all heroes." Mikhail drained his glass and grunted. "It's
heroism to have survived such a war!"
I grew angry. "Only to be a traitor, afterwards?"
Mikhail put his glass down and pricked up his ears.
"What are you getting at?"
I realized, of course, that I wasn't being logical, that it was
senseless to accuse under the circumstances, but I got carried away.
"You went off on the Ukraine in real style. On a Soviet
excursion-voucher, you scum!"
"How did you guess?" asked Mikhail in a whisper.
"That you skipped?"
"That I wanted to travel, and went to a lot of trouble to get a
"If they'd known, you wouldn't have got it."
"But they didn't give it to me."
As chairman of the trade-union committee, I myself had arranged for
Mikhail's voucher. But in this dream everything was topsy-turvy. Perhaps I
had gone in his place? I had also wanted to go, but there hadn't been an
extra voucher. But what if there had been? My dream tossed me around like a
chip of wood in the ocean.
"Sit down, Sergei. Are you avoiding me?"
Somebody caught my arm as I was threading my way between the tables in
the banquet room. I looked into his face and was frozen dumb. And I was
"Sit down, won't you? Let's drink Tokay. After all, it's the best in
My legs gave way and I fell, rather than sat, in a chair by the table.
Sad eyes that I knew so well stared at me. The last time I'd seen them - not
both, but one - was in '44 on the Danube highway. Oleg lay on his back, his
face covered with blood trickling down from where his right eye had been a
moment earlier. Fright and grief had frozen in the other.
Now they both looked at me. A curved, reddish scar stretched from the
right eye up across the temple.
"What are you staring like that for, Sergei? Do I look so much older?"
"I was remembering forty-four. When you ... you...."
"When I what?"
"When you were killed, Oleg." He smiled. "Bullet was a bit off. Only
the scar's left. Had it hit a fraction more to the right - curtains. Neither
my eyes nor I would be here." He sighed. "Funny. I wasn't afraid then, but I
"The operation. A splinter was left somewhere in my chest, memorial of
one other wound. So far I've lived with that splinter all right, but now
they say I mustn't any longer. Have to have an operation."
His familiar eyes with the long, almost feminine lashes were smiling.
The forehead angled back into the receding hairline at the temples, so that
it looked higher than before. Deep lines nestled close to the corners of his
lips. And yet there was something about this dear and familiar face that
struck me as strange. The imprint of time, perhaps. So Oleg would have
looked, if he had lived. But in this artificial world of dreams be was
alive. If Faust had created this model, then he was a god, and I was already
beginning to doubt which of the two worlds was real. A treacherous thought
struck me: what if something broke down in Faust's laboratory and I was
stuck here for good! Should I be sorry? I didn't know.
I pinched my arm hard.
"What for?" Oleg looked his surprise.
"For a minute I thought this was a dream."
Oleg laughed, and suddenly faded away into a lilac mist. That familiar
mist. It lapped up everything, and went black. Zargaryan's voice asked me
out of the dark: "Are you alive?"
"Of course, I am."
"Raise your arm. Can you move it freely?"
I moved my arm in the dark.
"Roll up your sleeve and loosen your collar."
He pressed something cold to my chest, then to my wrist.
"Don't be frightened. It's only a stethoscope. We'll check your heart.
How could he see in the dark through which not one speck of light
penetrated? But he saw.
"All right," he pronounced in a satisfied voice. "Only the pulse is a
"Maybe we'll break off the test?" The voice of an invisible Nikodimov
came from somewhere.
"Whatever for? Sergei Nikolaevich has the nerves of an athlete. Now
we'll show him another dream."
"So it was a dream?" I asked, feeling relief.
"Who knows?" Zargaryan slyly called out of the dark. "And if not?"
I didn't have time to answer. The darkness swallowed me up like the
A DREAM CULMINATING IN HYSTERICS
Out of the darkness burst a stream of light, flooding a white operating
theatre. On the table lay a prostrate body covered to the waist with a white
sheet. The dissected chest exposed to view the scarlet, bleeding inner
tissues and the pearly whiteness of ribs. The patient's eyes were closed,
his face bloodless and still. There was something familiar about the face:
it seemed I'd seen only recently those deep lines at the lips and the
curving, rosy scar on the right temple.
My hands were holding a probe buried in the open chest. I was in an
operating gown and white linen cap, my nose and mouth covered with a
surgical mask. The people opposite me were dressed as I was. I knew none of
them, but seemed to recognize the eyes of a woman standing at the patient's
head. Her eyes were riveted to my hands, and were so full of alarming
tension that it seemed as if a taut string were stretched between us. It
rang thinly the deeper the probe went into the opening.
Suddenly I remembered all that had occurred up to this moment. The
squeal of brakes from the car stopping at the entrance, the granite steps
wet with rain, the well-known vista of a street I had often dreamed about,
and then the respectful smile of the cloakroom attendant catching my coat on
the fly as I went by, the slow rise of the lift and the shining whiteness of
the operating theatre where I put on my gown and scrubbed hands and arms a
dreadfully long time. I remembered perfectly that it was I - yes, I - who
began the operation, opening the chest with a scalpel along the line of the
scar while my hands with professional, habitual skill cut, split and probed.
All this flashed into my conscious mind with the speed of sound, and
disappeared. I had forgotten everything. The habitual skill of my hands
turned into a frightened tremble and with sudden terror I realized that I
didn't know what to do next, or how to do it. Any further delay would mean
Without realizing what I did or why, I withdrew the probe from the
wound and dropped it. It gave out a hollow tinkle. In the eyes above the
muslin masks, I read one and the same question: 'What's happened?'
"I can't," I almost groaned. "I'm ill."
Walking on strangely cottony legs, I went to the door. Half turning
round, I saw somebody's back bent over the patient in my place, and a quiet
bass voice gave a command to the head nurse: "Probe!"
"Run!" my thoughts raced. So that nobody would see, so that I would see
nobody. No longer to read what I had managed to read in all those wide-open,
surprised and accusing eyes. I could not feel my legs under me. I ran like a
storm through the scrubbing surgery and into the hallway between two
right-angled corridors, flinging myself down on white, shining enamelled
"Just now, with these very hands, I killed Oleg," I told myself. I
gripped my temples with icy hands, groaned and perhaps even cried aloud.
"What's wrong ... Sergei Nikolaevich?" I heard a frightened voice.
The man who addressed me wore an operating gown like myself, but
without the cap, revealing a bald, naked skull and he asked uneasily:
"What's wrong? How did the operation go?"
"I don't know," I said.
"I threw it up ... left...." I scarcely opened my mouth. "I came over
"Who's operating then? Asafyev?"
"That's not possible!"
"I know nothing. I don't even know who you are! Who are you, what's
your name, where am I, for heaven's sake?" I screamed.
He shuffled from foot to foot, staring at me with amazed eyes, empty of
comprehension. Then he ran to the door through which I had just stormed.
I looked after him and stood up. I tore off my gown, ripping the ties,
wiped my hands and threw the gown on the floor. The cap followed. In the
depths of the corridor stretching before me I saw a flash of white - a
doctor or nurse-in high heels that tapped on the parquetry. She disappeared
in one of the rooms. I mechanically headed in her direction, passing
identically white doors. They led into consulting rooms of doctors, whose
names were printed on cards framed in white plastic. 'Dr. Gromov, S. N.' I
read. My office. Well then, in you go!
Klenov sat by a wide Italian window behind my desk, reading a
"So soon?" he asked with restraint, but a restraint that rang with
alarm and fear.
I was silent.
"Why are you here?" I countered.
"You told me to wait here, yourself!" burst out Klenov. "What's
happened to Oleg?"
"I don't know."
He leaped up. "Why not?"
"I felt bad ... almost lost consciousness."
"During the operation?"
"Who is operating then?"
"Don't know." I tried not to look at him.
"But why are you here now? Why aren't you in the operating room at
least?" screamed Klenov.
"Because I'm not a surgeon, Klenov."
He didn't push me aside, he charged me with his shoulder like a
hockey-player and ran into the corridor. And I sat inanely on a chair in the
middle of the room, couldn't even drag myself as far as my desk. "I'm not a
surgeon," I had told Klenov. Then how could I have started the operation and
conducted it to the critical moment without arousing anybody's doubts? So
that was possible in dreams. Then where did the fear come from, this near
terror of what had occurred? You see, Oleg, the operation, Klenov and I
myself were only shades in a world of dreams, and I knew it. "And if not?"
Zargaryan had asked. And if we're not!
Then the desk telephone rang, but I turned away. It went on ringing.
Finally I grew tired of it.
"Sergei, is that, you?" came a voice. "How was it?"
"Who's speaking?" I barked.
"Don't yell. As if you didn't know me."
"I don't. Who is this?"
"But it's me, Galya! Who else?"
Galya is excited, and quite rightly so, I thought. But why is she
phoning? If anyone should be waiting here, she should be. Instead of Klenov.
"Why are you silent?" she asked, surprised. "Was it a failure?"
"Look...." I faltered. "I can't tell you anything definite. I felt bad
during the operation. An assistant is finishing...."
Again that Asafyev, I thought. How do I know whether it's him or not?
And does it matter, since this is only a dream?
"Probably," I said aloud. "I couldn't tell. They're all in masks."
"But you don't trust Asafyev. Even this morning you said he's a surgeon
"When did I say that?"
"When we were having breakfast. Before the car came for you."
I knew perfectly well that I hadn't had breakfast with Galya. I had
been at home. I had no car. But why argue, if it was all a dream?
"And what happened to you?" she continued. "What do you mean ... you
"Weakness. Dizziness. Loss of memory."
"What about now? Are you asking about Oleg?"
"No, about you!"
I even marvelled. Where did Galya get such callousness from? Oleg lying
on the operating table, and she asks what's wrong with me!
"Complete atrophy of the memory," I said angrily. "I've forgotten
everything. Where I was this morning and where I am now, who you are, who I
am, and why I'm a surgeon if one look at a scalpel makes my flesh creep."
Silence from the receiver.
"Are you listening?"
"I'll come to the hospital at once," said Galya, and hung up.
Let her come. Did it matter when, where or why? Dreams are always
illogical, yet for some reason I was able to think logically even in dreams.
The resolve to run away, ripening from the moment I left the operating room,
was finally taken. "I'll leave a note of some kind for decency's sake, and
go away," I thought.
On the top sheet of the pad lying on the desk above some papers I read
the heading: 'Professor Sergei Nikolaevich Groinov, D. Sc. (Med.)'. This
brought to mind my sheet from the notebook on which my hypothetical Mr. Hyde
had scribbled the mysterious, cluo-like inscription. It had turned out to be
the key to the puzzle. True, I hadn't yet solved the puzzle itself, but the
key was in the lock. 'And if not?' Zargaryan had answered in reply to my
query whether it was a dream. What if I were just as much of an unseen
aggressor to Prof. Sergei Gromov as my Hyde of yesterday had been to me?
Shouldn't I follow his example and leave a similar kind of clue or
I was already writing on the professor's pad:
You and I are doubles, though we live in different worlds, and perhaps
even in different times. Unluckily, our 'meeting' happened during an
operation. I couldn't finish it: in my world I have a different profession.
Find the scientists in Moscow: Nikodimov and Zargaryan. They, probably, can
explain to you what happened at the hospital.
Without reading over what I had written, I went to the door, caught by
a single impulse - to go anywhere at all, so long as it was out of this
Hoffman-like devilry. Too late: the devilry was already at the door.
Before I could open it, Lena entered. She was still wearing the cap and
gown she had worn in the operating room, but no mask. I retreated a step and
asked in the trembling tone others had applied to me: "Well, how was it?"
She had scarcely aged at all since the last time I saw her after the
war: that must have been ten years ago. But I was more tightly connected
with the Lena of this dream, for our professions joined us.
"We removed the splinter," she said, barely moving her lips.
"He'll live." After a moment's silence, she added: "You counted on
"Why did you do it?"
"Because a terrible thing happened. Loss of memory. I suddenly forgot
all I knew, everything I had learned. And even professional skills that were
part of me. I couldn't, I didn't have the right to continue the operation."
"You're lying!" Her lips were clamped together so tightly they were
"You're lying. Are you improvising this on the spot or did you think it
up earlier? Do you think anybody will believe your story? I shall demand a
special commission of experts."
"Go ahead," I answered with a sigh.
"I've already talked with Klenov. We'll write a letter to the papers."
"You won't. I'm not lying to anybody."
"To anybody? But I know why you did it. From jealousy."
I even laughed.
"Jealous of whom?"
"And he even laughs, the scum!" she screamed.
Before I could catch her arm, she hit me in the face so hard that I
almost lost balance.
"You scum!" she repeated, choking with tears, and close to hysterics.
"Murderer! ... If it wasn't for Volodya Asafyev, Oleg would now be dead on
the operating table. Lying there dead, dead!"
A sudden darkness cut short her screams.
A DREAM FULL OF ANGER
I seemed to be blind and deaf, and my body was pressed to the parquet
floor as if paralysed. I could not even stir, and felt nothing except the
coolness of the waxed floor against my temple. How many hours, or minutes,
perhaps seconds, this feeling lasted I don't know. I had lost all sense of
Suddenly the blackness before my eyes faded like Indian ink does on
Whatman paper when you use it to spread a dull grey wash over an outlined
space. The space here was outlined by the walls of a narrow corridor lit by
a few dim electric bulbs and terminating in a steep stairway loading up to a
rectangle of daylight. I was standing now, pressing my face against the
waxed wall-panels, holding on to the handrail that ran the whole length of
As before, Lena was looking at me, but her expression had changed into
"Are you sea-sick?" she asked. "Nauseous?"
I certainly felt a bit under the weather, especially when the floor,
swaying like a swing, suddenly slipped from under my feet and my stomach
twisted in spasms.
"It's the pitching of the ship," she explained. "We're turning into the
"Whereabouts are we?" I said, failing to grasp what she meant.
"We've already reached Istanbul, Professor. Come and take a look."
I still could not catch on to what was happening.
A new devilish metamorphosis. Out of one dream into another. A
Technicolor scene from a fairy tale.
"Come up on deck. You'll feel better where there's a breeze," and she
pulled me after her. "Incidentally, let's see what Istanbul looks like.
Though one can hardly make anything out - it's raining."
The rain did not actually fall, but hung around us like a lustreless,
hazy netting. Through this net, the shoreline panorama seemed made of
shapeless, abstract patches with the outlines here and there of murkily
gleaming minarets and cupolas, some blue and others green. Clouds teemed
above it all, bunting and overtaking each other.
"We'll need our raincoats," frowned Lena, with a hand above her eyes to
ward off the fine wet spray. "Can't go ashore like this. What cabin are you
in, seven? Wait for me by the ship's ladder or on shore. All right?"
Now I knew the number of my cabin. Well then, let's go for a
mackintosh. A trip through foreign seas and countries is always interesting.
Even in the rain, even in a dream.
Entering my cabin, I found Mikhail Sichuk busy by his bunk. He was
hurriedly pocketing some papers and packets, and did not seem at all pleased
with my appearance.
"Is it raining?" he asked.
"It is," I answered mechanically, trying to puzzle out why my dreams
persistently confronted me with the very same personages. "What are you
stuffing in your pockets?"
This seemed to embarrass Mikhail.
"Oh, that ... just souvenirs to exchange. So it's raining..." he
mumbled, avoiding my eyes.
"That's bad. We'll all be bunched in a group, holding on to each other.
Otherwise we'll get lost...."
Then I remembered what Mikhail had done in real life. In this very same
Istanbul. In reality, and not in a dream.
"What's the name of our ship?" I asked.
"What? You've forgotten?" grinned Mikhail.
"Sclerosis. Can't remember, somehow."
"The Ukraine. What of it?" He looked at me with suspicion.
Everything fell into place. This dream, in time, was a month ago. All
the better. I could change the course of events.
"Nothing special," and I even yawned to put him off the track. "It's
raining. Suppose we don't go."
"Not go where?"
"Ashore. They'll make us walk half the day in the rain: mosques,
museums.... Wishing we were home. Let's settle down in the bar over a glass
"Isn't that the limit!" laughed Mikhail. "The last foreign port and we
go to the bar."
"Why the last? We still have Varna and Constanta to see. Very beautiful
cities, by the way."
"Socialist," drawled Mikhail scornfully.
"And you, of course, must have capitalist towns? "
"I paid good money out. I want my money's worth."
"Thirty pieces of silver," I said. "Judas money."
Incidentally in that other dream in the Metropole, I'd already put this
to Mikhail. And all for nothing. The shot had misfired. He never got his
excursion-voucher, and so never took the trip. But now I'd caught him in
"Look, I know what you're planning," I went on. "Two words to a
policeman at the first bus stop, and off in a taxi to the American Embassy.
Quiet, don't deny it! And at the embassy you'll beg for political shelter."
For a moment Mikhail was turned into a pillar of salt, like Lot's wife
immortalized in the Bible. But only for a moment. Realizing that somebody
had looked into his soul, into its secret depths, a quiet terror came and
went in his eyes. He was a damned good actor.
"Rubbish," he said, with a show of good-heartedness, and reached out to
take his raincoat off the hanger.
"I am not joking, Sichuk," I said.
"What does that mean?"
"It means I know the dirty thing you intended to do, and I'm going to
"That's interesting, but how?" he burst out.
"It's all very simple. Till we leave port, you don't go out of this
"Might as well warn you, I'm not a good subject for hypnosis. So get
out of my way," he declared insolently, and began putting his coat on.
I sat on the edge of the bunk nearest the door. Then I wrapped my
handkerchief round my left hand. I'm left-handed, and punch with my left.
There's no curve to the punch, and it has all the power of my arm and
shoulder muscles behind it, and the whole weight of my body. I learned this
from Sazhin, the USSR boxing champion in the light-heavyweight class. That
was in the late forties. I was younger then and glad of his help. I would go
to him at the training gym after work, right from the editorial office.
There, in a sheltered corner, I would correct his notes - he was going to
turn journalist. Then I would ask him to show me a few tricks.
And he did. "You'll never make a boxer, of course," he told me. "Too
old, and no talent.... But if you ever get in a fight, you'll be able to
take care of yourself. Only see you don't break your knuckles. Wrap your
Mikhail at once noticed my manipulation and became curious.
"What's that for?"
"So I don't skin my knuckles."
"What? You're joking?"
"I've already told once I'm not joking."
"One yell from me...."
"You won't yell," I interrupted him. "Or it'll be the worse for you.
I'll tell everything you plan doing and ... curtains, as they say."
"Who's going to believe it?"
"They'll believe it. Once they're tipped off, they'll start thinking
out the how's and wherefore's. You won't be let ashore."
"But I can accuse you of the same thing."
"Then they won't let either of us go. And when we get home, it'll all
be straightened out."
Dressed in his hat and coat, Mikhail sat opposite me on his bunk.
"You're crazy. What gave you the idea I was going to skip?"
"I saw it in a dream."
"I'm asking you straight."
"What difference does it make? The important thing is, I'm not
mistaken. I can read it in your eyes."
"I'm a Soviet citizen, Sergei."
"You're not. You're the scum of the earth. I found that out even at the
front. Knew you were a coward, a bad lot. Only I never managed to expose you
Red spots came up on Mikhail's cheeks. His fingers played nervously
with his coat buttons, doing them up and undoing them. He must have finally
realized that his well-worked-out plan could fail.
"I won't yell, of course. I don't want a row." His voice took on a
tearful note. "But, honestly, this is all nonsense. Sheer nonsense."
"What's in your pockets?"
"I told you. All kinds of stuff: pins, badges, photos."
"Why should I?"
"Then don't. Lie down on your bunk, and stay there."
He got up and walked to the door. I put my back against it.
"Let me out," he said through his teeth, grabbing my shoulders.
He was stronger than I, but out of cowardice didn't realize it.
However, without any manifest hesitation, he came straight for me.
"Let me out," he repeated, pulling me toward him.
I gave him the knee, and he flew back. Then, crouching, he tore at me
trying to smash his head under my chin.
But it didn't connect, and I let fly at his face with a straight left,
landing right on his mouth. He swayed and crashed to the floor between his
bunk and the wash-basin. A red trickle ran from his cut lip. He touched it
with his fingers, saw blood, and screamed: "He-elp...." And broke off.
"Go ahead, yell," I told him. "Yell louder. You don't scare me."
His eyes narrowed, radiating spite alone.
"All the same, I'll skip," he hissed. "Next time."
"You be man enough to announce that at home. Officially, so that all
can hear. Say it plainly, that you don't like our system, our society. Beg
for a visa from some embassy or other. You think you'll be held? Oh no.
We'll be glad to chuck you out. We don't need human scum like you."
"So why don't you let me go now?"
"Because you're crawling out quietly. By a fraud. Because you're
letting everybody down who trusted you."
Mikhail jumped up and rushed me again, his mouth stretched in an ugly
grin. He wasn't thinking now of getting out of the cabin at any cost; he was
gripped by blind anger and lost his head.
I knocked him off his feet again. Sazhin's lessons came in handy after
all. This time he fell on his bunk, but so hard that his head hit the wall.
It looked to me as if he had lost consciousness. But he stirred and groaned.
I folded a towel, wet it under the tap, and laid it on his face.
There was a knock at the door. I slid a glance at Mikhail. He did not
even turn round. I released the catch on the door. In came a perfect
stranger wearing a wet raincoat; apparently it was raining harder.
"You coming, Sergei Nikolaevich?"
"No," I answered. "I'm not. My friend isn't feeling well. Sea-sick, I
guess. I'll stay with him."
Mikhail still did not move, nor even raise his head. I waited till the
footsteps died away down the corridor.
"I'm going to the bar," I warned Mikhail. "But, if you'll excuse me,
I'm locking the door."
I locked the door, but did not get to the bar. Again the sudden
darkness, that I was so used to, returned me to the familiar chair with the
helmet and pick-ups.
The first thing I heard was the tail end of a conversation which
clearly was not meant for my ears.
"A traveller in time - that's stale. I should call it a 'walk in the
"Maybe in the seventh?"
"We'll formulate it. How is he?"
"Unconscious, so far."
"Consciousness has already returned."
"And the encephalogram?"
"Recorded in full."
"I told you before he's a real find."
"Shall I turn on the isolator?"
"Turn it off, you meant to say? Give it zero three, and then zero ten.
Let his eyes get used to light gradually."
The blackness lifted a bit. As if a crack had opened somewhere letting
in a tiny ray of light. Though invisible, it made the objects around me
visible. With each passing second they grew more clear-cut, and soon I saw
Zargaryan's face before me, as if on a cinema screen.
"Ave, homo, amici te salutant. ( Greetings, man, friends salute you.-
tr.) Do I need to translate?"
"No," I answered.
There was now full light. The astronaut's helmet lightly slipped from
my head and lifted up. The chair-back gave me a push as if suggesting that I
get up. I did. Nikodimov was already in his place at the desk, inviting me
to join them both.
"Did you have many experiences?"
"Many. Shall I relate them?"
"Not in any case. You are tired. You will tell us tomorrow. What you
need now is rest, and a proper sleep. Without dreams."
"But what I saw ... were they dreams?" I asked.
"We'll put oft all exchange of information till tomorrow," he smiled.
"Today, don't relate a thing, not even at home. The main thing is sleep, and
"But shall I fall asleep?" I doubted.
"Without a doubt. After supper, take this tablet. And tomorrow we'll
meet again here. Let's say at two o'clock. Ruben Zargaryan will come for
"Now I'll have him homo in a jiffy. Swift as the wind," said Zargaryan.
"And don't think about anything. Don't try to recollect anything. Don't
live it over again," added Nikodimov. Urbi ot orbi, not a word. Need I
"I guess not," I said.
PROGRESS TOWARD THE SOLUTION
I kept my word, and gave Olga only a general outline about what had
taken place. I myself did not want to relive all I had seen in my artificial
dreams, even in my thoughts. Nor did I ask Olga about anything that had the
slightest connection with my dreams. But late at night, in bed, I could not
"Did we ever get an invitation from the Hungarian Embassy?"
"No," said Olga in surprise. "Why do you ask?"
"Which of your acquaintances is called Fedor Ivanovich, and who is
"I haven't the faintest," she answered, more surprised than ever. "I
don't know any people with those names. No wait ... I remember. You know who
Fedor Ivanovich is? The head of a polyclinic. Not ours, but the one I was
asked to work in, the one attached to the ministry. And Raisa - that's his
wife. It was she who made mo the offer. When did you get to know them?"
"I'll tell you tomorrow. Right now, my mind is a muddle. Forgive me," I
muttered, and fell asleep.
I woke up late, after Olga had already gone leaving my breakfast on the
table and coffee in the thermos. I didn't want to get up. I lay in bed,
unhurriedly going over the events of yesterday. I remembered with particular
clarity the dreams I had seen in Faust's laboratory - not dreams, but
living, concrete reality. I remembered them in detail, down to the little
things you usually don't notice in real life. And immediately I recalled
even the paper pad in the hospital consulting room, the colour of the
buttons on Mikhail's raincoat, the sound of the probe falling on the floor,
and the taste of the apricot palinka or brandy. I recalled all the
Hoffman-style confusion, compared the conversations, actions and
interrelations, finally coming to strange conclusions. Very strange, though
their strangeness hardly lessened their cogency.
A telephone call got me out of bed. It was Klenov, who had already
found out from Zoya about my meeting Zargaryan. I would have to take a hard
"Do you know what 'taboo' means?"
"Suppose I do?"
"Then get this: Zargaryan is taboo, Nikodimov is also taboo,
telepathy's taboo. That's the works."
"I'll tear my clothes to ribbons."
"Tear away! By the way, have you got a cottage in Zhavoronki?"
"A garden plot, you mean to say? Only it's not in Zhavoronki. We were
offered two choices: Zhavoronki or Kupavna. I chose the last."
"But you could have chosen Zhavoronki?"
"Naturally. Why are you interested?"
"I'm interested in a lot of things. For instance, who is press-attache
now at the Hungarian Embassy? Kemenes?"
"You haven't got encephalitis, by any chance?"
"I'm asking in all seriousness."
"Kemenes is press-attache in Hungary. He hasn't been sent to Moscow."
"But he might have been?"
"I get it. You're writing a thesis on the subjunctive mood."
In a way, Klenov almost guessed it. In my attempts to figure out the
secret hovering around me, I tripped over the subjunctive mood time and
again that morning. What might have happened if.... If Oleg hadn't been
killed at Dunafoldvar? If it hadn't been Oleg that married Galya, but I? If
I had gone in for medicine after the war instead of entering the faculty of
journalism? If Olga had agreed to work at the ministry's clinic? If Tibor
Kemenes hadn't gone to work in Belgrade, but had come to Moscow? If, if....
Over the subjunctive mood, this Hoffman devilry burst into rich bloom. I
might have gone to a reception in the Hungarian Embassy. I might have gone
on the Ukraine around Europe. I might have been a Doctor of Medical
Sciences, a surgeon operating on a living Oleg. All of these things might
have been in real life, if....
And another if. What if I had seen not dreams at Zargaryan's, but a
hypnotic stream of life, altered here and there according to circumstances?
Then the fantastic Jekyll and Hyde story would have received a lawful vote.
If Gromov the journalist could be turned into a surgeon for a certain time,
then why shouldn't Gromov the surgeon become journalist Gromov for a time?
He had that day on Tverskoi Boulevard. In a flash, flooded with Indian ink
and lilac mist. In a flash, like Hyde jumping into Jekyll's body from the
foam-rubber chair in Faust's laboratory. You see, Dr. Gromov had his
Nikodimov and Zargaryan who controlled the same mysterious forces.
That meant that Zargaryan, Nikodimov and I, the three of us equally,
had taken part in the simultaneous current of certain parallel
non-intersecting lives. How many parallel lives were there? Two, five, six,
a hundred, a thousand of them? What course were they following, and in what
space or time? I remembered Galya's talk with Hyde about the plurality of
worlds. What if it wasn't a fantastic hypothesis, but a scientific discovery
- one more mystery solved about matter?
But my mind refused to accept this explanation. All the more so because
my mind was untrained in the exact sciences. I could only bewail the limited
knowledge of our education in the humanities. I did not have enough brains
to think over, to ponder upon, the problem I had brought to light,
That was the state of mind I was in when Galya dropped in on her way to
work. She had learned from Olga last night that I'd gone to see Zargaryan,
and she was literally burning with curiosity to know if I'd found the key to
"I found it," I said. "Only I can't turn the key in the lock: I haven't
I told her about the chair in Faust's laboratory, and about my three
'dreams'. She was silent for a long time before she gave me a question. "Had
he grown old?"
"What did you expect? Twenty years have gone by."
She fell silent again, lost in thought. I was afraid that her personal
curiosity overshadowed that of a scientist. But I was mistaken.
"Something else interests me," she said, breaking the silence. "The
fact that you saw him grown older. With wrinkles. With a scar that never
existed. It's impossible!" "Why?"
"Because you've never read Pavlov. You cannot see in a dream what
you've never seen in real life. The blind from birth do not see dreams. And
what was Oleg like when you knew him? A boy, a youth. Where did the wrinkles
of a forty-year-old man come from, and the scar on the temple?"
"But if it's not a dream?"
"You've already got an explanation?" Galya shot back.
I got the idea that she had guessed exactly what explanation I thought
the most likely, and the most frightening.
"So far it's only an attempt at an explanation," I reminded her
hesitantly. "I keep trying to compare my adventure with these dreams.... If
Hyde could play such a joke on Jekyll, then why couldn't they both exchange
"But don't you remember your talk with Hyde about the plurality of
worlds? Parallel worlds, parallel lives?"
"Rubbish," objected Galya.
"You simply don't want to take it seriously," I reproached her. "It's
easy enough to say 'rubbish'. They said the same thing about the Copernicus
I didn't make her give in by this remark but at least forced her to
think about my own thesis.
"Parallel worlds? Why parallel?"
"Because they don't intersect anywhere."
Galya laughed, openly scornful.
"Don't try writing science fiction: that's my advice. You wouldn't get
anywhere. Non-intersecting worlds?" She snorted. "So Nikodimov and Zargaryan
have found a point of intersection? A window into an anti-world?"
"Who knows?" I said.
I found out the answer to that two hours later in Faust's laboratory.
To tell the truth, I went there as if to an examination, with the same
inner trepidation and fear before the unknown. Again and again I ran over
the dreams I recalled, the visions I'd seen during the experiment. I called
them 'dreams' from habit, though I had come to the final conclusion that
they weren't dreams at all. I compared all details suggesting such a
comparison, and systematized my conclusions.
"Have you got it well rehearsed?" asked Zargaryan merrily when he met
"Rehearsed what?" I muttered, embarrassed.
"Your story, of course."
He saw through me. But rising anger made me overcome my embarrassment.
"I don't much like your attitude."
He only laughed in answer.
"Do all the complaining you like. The tape-recorder isn't turned on
"The 'Yauza-10'. For purity of sound, it's wonderful."
I hadn't expected to make a tape-recording. It's one thing to tell a
story, bat quite another to tape-record. I shook my head, almost refusing.
"Sit down and begin," Nikodimov encouraged me. "You'll make your mark
in science. Pretend you're dictating to a pretty stenographer."
"Only no hunter's tales," added Zargaryan with sly humour. "The tape's
supersensitive, with Munchausen tuning.... I'm switching on."
Childishly, I stuck my tongue out at him, and my shyness disappeared at
once. I began my story without any prologue, quite freely, and the more I
talked the more colourful it became. I did not simply relate it: I explained
and compared, looking into the past; compared the vision with reality and my
experiences with my subsequent views. All Zargaryan's irony disappeared like
smoke: he listened greedily, stopping me only to reverse the tape. I
resurrected for them all the impressions I had in the lab chair: Lena's
anger in the hospital, Sichuk's face convulsed with evil, and the lifeless
smile of Oleg on the operating table, everything that I recalled and that
had staggered me, that even shocked me now while I tape-recorded my still
The tape reel was still turning when I finished: Zargaryan did not
immediately turn it off, and it recorded the whole minute of silence that
reigned in the room.
"So you didn't see the department store arcade," he observed bitterly.
"Nor the road to the lake. A pity."
"Wait, Ruben," Nikodimov stopped him. "That's not the point. You see.
the phases are almost identical. The same time, the same people."
"Only infinitesimal deviations."
"But they are there," said Zargaryan,
"And the difference in the signs?"
"Does such a difference change a man? Time changes, perhaps. If it's a
minus phase, then it's possibly time coining from an opposite direction -
"Don't be so sure. Perhaps it's only a different system of counting
time," said Zargaryan.
"All the same, everybody will call it fantasy! And reason?"
"If you don't violate reason, you won't get anywhere in general. Who
said that? Einstein."
The conversation didn't get any clearer. And I coughed.
"Excuse me," said Nikodimov, embarrassed. "We got carried away. Your
dreams don't give us any peace."
"But are they dreams?" I expressed my doubts.
"You doubt it? So you've been thinking, have you? Maybe we'll start off
the explanations with yours?"
I remembered all Galya's sneers, but I was not afraid of hearing the
same again. So I stubbornly repeated the myth of Jekyll and Hyde, who met on
the crossroads of space and time. If this was an anti-world, plurality,
mysticism, the ravings of a mad dog - so be it! But I had no other theories
to explain it with.
However, Nikodimov did not even smile.
"Have you studied physics?" he asked suddenly.
"Through a school textbook," I admitted, and thought: 'Now he'll
But Nikodimov did not mock me, he merely stroked his beard.
"A rich training. But how, with the help of a school textbook can you
define a plurality of worlds? Let's say, in Cartesian co-ordinates?"
Searching my memory, I found the Wellsian Utopia that Mr. Barnstaple
got into, without turning off an ordinary highway.
"Excellent," agreed Nikodimov. "We'll begin with that. What did Wells
compare our three-dimensional world to? To a book whose every page was a
two-dimensional world. So, one might suppose that in multi-dimensional space
there might also be neighbouring three-dimensional worlds, moving in time
along nearly parallel routes. That's according to Wells. When he wrote his
novel after the First World War, the genius Dirac was still a youth, and his
theory received popular acclaim only in the thirties. You can, of course,
picture up what Dirac's 'vacuum' is?"
"Approximately," I said carefully. "Generally speaking, it is not a
void, but something like a neutrino-antineutrino pulp. Like plankton in the
"Picturesque, but not lacking sense," agreed Nikodimov again. "And this
very same plankton from elementary particles, the neutrino-antineutrino gas,
constitutes a border between worlds with a plus sign and those with a minus
sign. There are scientists who look for anti-worlds in other galaxies, but I
prefer seeking them right next door. And not only a symmetrical system -
world and anti-world, but the infinity of this symmetry. As we have an
infinite number of combinations in a game of chess, so even here there are
infinite combinations of worlds and anti-worlds, adjacent to each other. You
ask how I picture this adjacency? As a stable, geometrically isolated
existence? No, on the contrary. In a simplified form this is the idea of the
inexhaustibility of matter, of its perpetual motion generating these worlds
along certain new, still unknown co-ordinates. To be more exact, along
certain phase-like trajectories.
"Well, but what about ordinary motion then?" I interrupted, perplexed.
"I'm also a particle of matter, but I move through space independent of your
"Why 'quasi'? One is simply independent of the other. You are moving
through space independent of your moving through time. Whether you sit at
home or travel somewhere - you get equally older. So it is here: in one
world you might, let's say, be travelling by sea; in the other, at the very
same time, you are playing chess or having dinner at home. More than that:
in the infinite repetition of worlds you may travel, be ill, or work; while
in other infinite plurality of similar worlds, you don't actually exist,
perhaps through an unfortunate accident or suicide, or you were simply never
born at all because your parents never met. I hope I make myself clear?"
"He's shamming," said Zargaryan. "What he needs right now is a vivid
example - that's clear at a glance. Look here, imagine an unusual reel of
film. In one frame you are flying in an aeroplane, in another you are
shooting, in a third you are killed. In one frame a tree is growing, in
another it is cut down. In one, the Pushkin monument stands on Tverskoi
Boulevard, in another in the centre of the square. In a word, life shown in
separate frames, moving, let us say, vertically from below upward or from
above downward. And now picture the same life in separate frames, but moving
horizontally from every frame, from left to right or vice versa. There you
have an approximate model of matter in multi-dimensional space. Now what do
you think is the most essential difference between this model and the
I didn't answer. What was the use of guessing?
"The difference is that there are no identical frames, but identical
"Similar," I countered.
"Not only," Nikodimov interrupted. "We still don't know the law by
which matter moves in these dimensions. Take the simplest law: the
sinusoidal. With the ordinary sinusoid, the slightest change in the argument
brings about a corresponding change of function, and that means another
world. But in a period, we get the same value of the sine and consequently
the same world. And so on into eternity."
"That means I might also find myself in a world like ours? Exactly the
"You wouldn't even notice any difference," said Zargaryan.
"And how do you explain what happened to me on the boulevard?"
"The same as you do. Jekyll and Hyde."
"A Gromov from another world who looks the same as me?"
"Precisely. A certain Nikodimov and a Zargaryan in that world
transferred the conscious mind of your double. This did not occur
momentarily, not all at once. Your own mind protested, argued: that explains
the dualism during the first few minutes. But afterwards it gave in to the
I suggested the proposition that my trying episode in the hospital was
an exchange visit, but Nikodimov doubted it.
"It's possible, of course, but scarcely likely. It would be closer to
the truth to suppose that it was a Gromov more or less like your aggressor.
The same profession, the same circle of acquaintances, the same family
situation. But I've already told you of the possibility of an almost
complete, and even utterly complete, identity...."
"To put it more vividly," interrupted Zargaryan, "we have visited
worlds whose borders fit into the borders of ours, touching the interior. We
call them adjacent worlds, conditionally of course. And there are even more
interesting worlds intersecting ours or, shall we say, perhaps in general
not having points of contact with ours. There, time is either in advance of
our time, or it lags behind. And who knows by how much?" He was silent, then
added almost dreamily:
Far beyond a certain birch-tree,
So long, so very dear to me,
In sudden silence is revealed
The unknown - strange and most unreal.
"You didn't finish," I laughed, remembering the same verses. "It's
different farther on!"
To reach an unknown world we strive,
'It's sad, not all who go arrive.
The desk telephone rang.
"Not all who go," repeated Nikodimov thoughtfully. "Our chief wouldn't
The telephone kept ringing.
"Talk of the devil, and.... Don't answer."
"All the same, he'll find us."
The trip into the unknown was put off till the evening when we were to
meet in the Sofia Restaurant, where freedom from the top brass was fully
NOSCE TE IPSUM (KNOW THYSELF)
I did not see Olga until supper time: she was delayed at the
polyclinic. There was nobody to talk with, about what had happened. Galya
didn't ring up, and I was careful to avoid Klenov because of his
insufferable instructive manner; because of it I even slipped away from an
I wandered the streets for about an hour, so as not to arrive at the
restaurant too early and have to hang around the entrance looking foolish.
Trying to collect my thoughts, I sat by Pushkin's monument, but everything
I'd heard that morning was so new and surprising that I couldn't even think
it all out. Finally, all the flow of my thoughts led to the question of how
to evaluate my meeting the two scientists. As an unusual success,
'reporters' luck', or as a menace that always lies hidden in something the
mind cannot grasp. I was inclined to think it was 'reporters' luck'. If a
lab guinea-pig could reason, it would probably be proud of its association
with scientists. And I was proud of mine. Another sign of reporters' luck
was the type of scientists my friends belonged to. I read somewhere that
scientists are divided into classic and romantic types. The classic typo is
he who develops something new on the basis of the old, on what is firmly
established in science. But the romanticists are dreamers. They are
interested in fields of knowledge close to their own or remotely connected
with them. They not only produce something new founded on the old: more
often they do it by using utterly unlooked-for associations. I had even
expressed my admiration of this type in an article I wrote. Now 'reporters'
luck' had thrown us together. Only romantics can so bravely and recklessly
sin against reason. And, apparently, I was very anxious to continue my part
in this sinning.
Such were my thoughts as I went to keep my appointment, arriving not
earlier but even later than my new friends. They already awaited me at the
entrance: Zargaryan all in smiles and Nikodimov, dressed in an old-fashioned
stiff jacket, modestly effacing himself in the rear. The stand-up starched
collar, popular around the turn of the century, would have suited him
perfectly - he looked as severe as a prophet out of the Old Testament. The
irresistible Zargaryan more than made up for it. Wearing a strict dark suit,
with just enough of his tie showing to display a gold pin linked to a
rounded shirt-collar, he so impressed the stout, bald maitre d'hotel that
Nikodimov and I went unnoticed. We walked behind, half-smiling at the waiter
bustling ahead of our tall Ruben and captiously selecting the secluded table
When dinner was served, Zargaryan poured the cognac.
"The first toast is mine ... to chance meetings."
"You can't possibly imagine how great a role chance plays in my life.
By chance I met Zoya and through her, by chance, you. I even met Pavel
Nikodimov by chance. Five years ago I read his article on the concentration
of the sub-quantum biofield in the Bulletin of the Academy of Sciences. I
went to him at once. It turned out that we were approaching one and the same
problem along different paths."
He was silent. I remembered Klenov telling me that they worked in
absolutely different fields of science, but before I could utter my question
Zargaryan read my mind.
"A strange union, eh? Physics and neurophysiology," he laughed.
"What are you, a mind-reader?"
"And why not? I must be according to my staff position. After all I'm a
telepathist. I'm engaged in many things in this field, but most of all I'm
interested in dreams. Why do we so often dream of what we never saw in our
conscious lives? How is this connected with Pavlov's teaching that the
essence of dreams is a reflection of reality. What stimulations, in such
cases, act on the brain cells? Perhaps things one is accustomed to - light,
sounds, contacts, smells? But if not? Then there must be certain new
stimulations we are not aware of...."
I remembered why my dreams drew his attention: they were not
reflections of reality. But, apparently, many people have seen such dreams.
Only these dreams weren't stable, as Zargaryan had explained. They were
easily forgotten, hazy in the conscious mind, but the main thing was they
did not repeat themselves.
"I figured it this way," he continued. "If, according to Pavlov, dreams
reflect what is seen in our waking hours, yet the one experiencing them
never actually saw the things he dreamed of, then it means somebody else
did. But who? And how can what he sees be imprinted on the conscious mind of
I interrupted him.
"Then my department store, street scene, the road to the lake or pond -
they are some stranger's dreams?"
"Without any doubt."
"I still didn't know at the time. There arose a supposition that it was
hypnotic transmission. But suggestion does not occur by chance, suggestion
out of nowhere. It is always sent from the hypnotizer to the hypnotized. Not
one of the cases I observed showed any evidence of suggestion. I put forward
the idea of mental telepathy. In parapsychology, we call the brain sending
the signal the inductor, and the brain receiving it the percipient. And
again, not in one case investigated did we manage to discover the inductor.
Characteristic examples are your more stable dreams. Who transmits them to
you? From where? You wore lost in conjectures. I was, too, though I inclined
to the supposition that it is some other living person existing in another
form and perhaps in another world. However, that would he almost
mysticism.... I stood before a closed door. It was Pavel Nikodimov who
opened it for me, or rather his paper did. Then I said: 'Open, Sesame!'
Isn't that the way it was, Pavel?"
"Just about," affirmed Nikodimov good-heartedly. "But you skipped the
most picturesque details: Sesame did not open so easily. You see, I'm a
crabby fellow ... get along rather badly with people. My assistant ... well,
he ran away when they began to put pressure on us. Took you for a lunatic,
Ruben. I can even remember the district psychiatrist he phoned to. But even
that didn't stop you. But you're right, our collaboration began from a
chance meeting. So I back your toast. Let's drink to it."
"And afterwards?" I asked. "It's a big jump from an idea to
"We didn't jump, we crawled. The mathematical idea led to the physical
state of the field. We started off with biocurrents. You see, the
biocurrents of the brain are actually electro-magnetic fields originating in
its nerve cells. Through their radiation they generate a sort of single
energy-field - the so-called conscious and subconscious of a person's mind.
Take your analogy. The fields of Jekyll and Hyde are only similar: they are
incompatible or, as we say, antipathetic.
While you are awake, while your brain is active, the antipathy of the
fields is constant and invariable. But when you fall asleep, the picture
changes. The antipathy is now weakened, so the fields of the 'doubles' are
superposed, so to say, and your dreams automatically repeat what the other
has seen. But for Jekyll to become Hyde a complete compatibility of fields
is necessary, which is possible only during exceptional activity on the part
of the inductor's field. And we've discovered that you possess this
exceptional gift of activity."
I listened eagerly to Nikodimov, but not all of it sank in, some of it
escaped me. It was as if I had spells of deafness and from time to time lost
the guiding thread in this devilish labyrinth of fields, doubles,
frequencies and rhythms; but with sheer force of will I would catch it
again. It looked like a speech interrupted by dots to indicate omissions.
"... through our experiments," Nikodimov was saying, "we came to the
conclusion that under reciprocal transmission the fields activate waves with
a frequency much higher than the usual alpha-rhythm. We called this new type
of frequency kappa-rhythm. And the higher the frequency of the kappa waves,
the more vivid are the dreams received by the sleeping receptor. Further on
it wasn't so difficult to establish the regularities as well. Complete
compatibility of fields is connected with a sharp rise in frequency. So we
got the idea of making a concentrator, or a transformer of biocurrents. By
establishing the directed current of radiation we apparently transfer your
conscious mind, locating an identical mind for it beyond the borders of our
three-dimensional world. Of course, we are still at the very beginning of
the road - the movement of the field along a phase trajectory is somewhat
chaotic for the time being, because we cannot yet control it. We cannot say
exactly where you will regain consciousness - in the present, past or in the
future, going by our time. Dozens of experiments must still be made...."
"I'm ready," I interrupted him.
Nikodimov did not answer.
A husky, boyish voice drifted down to us from the stage where a
juke-box stood that a young pop-music fan had turned on. The voice floated
over the noisy dining-hall, over the short- or long-haired or bald heads,
over the wine-darkened crystal goblets, floated invisibly and powerfully
with a strength and purity of feeling unexpected in a restaurant almost blue
with cigarette smoke.
"A song with an undercurrent," said Zargaryan.
I listened. "You are my destiny," sang the boy, "you are my
"And you are our destiny," Zargaryan picked up the words with a serious
and even triumphant note. "And maybe our happiness. You alone."
I averted my eyes, embarrassed. Whatever you say, there is something
good about being somebody's destiny and happiness. Nikodimov at once caught
my movements and the rather vain idea behind it.
"But perhaps we are your destiny, too," he said. "You will know a lot
more, and particularly about yourself. You see, you are only a particle of
that living matter which is 'you' in an endlessly complicated vastness -
time. In a word, as the ancient Romans said: Nosce te ipsum - know thyself."
THE LAST SUPPER
I was ready to know myself in all the sum total of dimensions, phases
and co-ordinates, but I didn't tell Olga about it that night. I gave her a
vague sketch of my talk with the scientists and promised to relate it in
greater detail the following day, which was her birthday. We usually
celebrated it alone, but this time I invited Galya and Klenov to be our
guests. I wanted very much to include Zargaryan and Nikodimov, the guilty
parties in this unexpected - I could even say wonderful - event in my life.
I had mentioned it in passing when we left the restaurant, but Nikodimov
either wasn't listening attentively or missed it through absent-mindedness.
"Best leave it," Zargaryan had whispered confidentially. "He won't come
anyway - he's a hermit, as he admitted himself. But I'll come when I can get
away, perhaps a bit late though. We haven't finished our talk yet," and he
slyly stressed it, "about self-knowledge, have we?"
He certainly came later than the rest of our company, arriving when the
table-talk had already turned into argument, so hot an argument that there
was shouting, an argument stubborn to the point of rudeness when you forget
all formalities in an effort to get your word in.
My story of what I experienced during the test and of my later talk
with the scientists had made the impression of maniacal raving.
"We-ell..." Klenov muttered uncertainly, and was silent.
"I don't believe it," cried out Galya excitedly, red in the face and
with sparks in her eyes.
"It's nonsense! And it's sensation-hunting, as my lab colleagues say. A
shady business. They're pulling the wool over your eyes."
"But why should they?" snapped Klenov. "What's their game? Nikodimov
and Zargaryan aren't glory-hunters or schemers. It would be all very well if
they wanted publicity, but they demand silence, d'you see. With their names,
they don't want to arouse even a shadow of doubt that it's a truly
"Everything new in science, all discoveries, are built on past
experiments," said Galya heatedly. "And where can you see that in this
"The new often refutes the old."
"There are different kinds of refutations."
"Exactly. Einstein wasn't believed either, at first, for it was Newton
Olga kept stubbornly silent and out of it all, until it drew Galya's
"W7hy don't you say something?"
"I'm afraid to."
"You people are only arguing about certain abstract ideas, but Sergei
is taking a direct part in the experiment. And, as I understand it, it won't
stop here. If everything he says is true, why, the brain of an average
person can scarcely sustain it."
"And are you so sure that I'm an average person?" I joked.
But she did not take it as a joke, nor did she answer me. Galya and
Klenov again ruled the conversation. I had to answer dozens of questions and
again repeat my story of the dreams I'd had in Faust's laboratory.
"If Nikodimov can prove his hypothesis," Galya finally admitted, "then
it will turn physics upside down. It will be the greatest upset that ever
occurred in our knowledge of the world. If he proves it, of course," she
added stubbornly. "The experiment on Sergei is still not proof."
"But I'm interested in something else," said Klenov thoughtfully. "If
you accept the truth of the hypothesis a priori, another question arises
that's of no less importance: how did life develop on every space phase? Why
are they so similar? I'm not referring to the physical but their social
aspect. Why is it that each transformed Moscow of Sergei's is a present-day,
post-war Moscow which is capital of the Soviet Union and not tsarist Russia?
Look, if Nikodimov's hypothesis is proved, do you realize what they will ask
about in the West, before anything else? Politicians, historians, church
dignitaries and journalists will ask: is it obligatory that all worlds have
a similar social structure? Is it absolutely certain that their historical
development has been identical?"
"Nikodimov spoke of still other worlds from different currents of time,
perhaps even with counter-times. In that case, one might hit on Neanderthal
man or on the first of Earth's stellar flights."
"That isn't my point," Klenov said impatiently. "However brilliant
Nikodimov and Zargaryan's discovery may be, it does not reduce the
importance of the question of social systems in every world. According to
Marxism, all is clear: the physical similarity presupposes a social
similarity. Everywhere the development of productive forces determines the
character of production relations. But can you imagine the song that will be
sung by those adherents of the cults of personality and chance? The
barbarians might not have reached Rome, and the Tatars, Kalka. Washington
might have lost the war of American independence, and Napoleon might have
won at Waterloo. Luther might not have become head of the Reformation, and
Einstein might not have discovered the theory of relativity. Bradbury
carried this dependence of historical development on blind chance to the
absurd. A traveller in time accidentally kills a butterfly in the Jurassic
period, and it leads to a change in the American presidential election
campaign: in place of a progressive and radical candidate, they elect a
fascist and obscurantist as President. We know, of course, that Gold-water
wouldn't have been elected any way even if all the dinosaurs of the Jurassic
period had been killed. And we know that if Napoleon had won at Waterloo, he
would probably have been defeated somewhere near Liege. And somebody else
would have headed the Reformation instead of Luther; and if Einstein hadn't
discovered the theory of relativity, someone else would have done so. Even
not rising to the heights of historical materialism, Belinsky wrote more
than a hundred years ago that blind chance did not rule either in nature or
in history, but strict, irrevocable, inner necessity did."
Klenov spoke with that professional erudition of a lecturer, which so
annoyed me at editorial meetings, and I cut in purely in the spirit of
"Well, but just imagine if there had never been a Hitler in some
neighbouring world? He was never born. Would there have been war or not?"
"Can't you answer that yourself? And Goering, Hess, Goebbels, Rommel,
and lastly Strasser? The Krupps would have passed the conductor's baton to
somebody. And I visualize you as a great delegate with a mission, Sergei.
Don't laugh - truly great. Not only in helping to prove Nikodimov's
hypothesis, but in the fact that you will be strengthening the position of
the Marxist conception of history. That everywhere and always, under similar
conditions of life on our planet, no matter what changes, phases or whatever
you call them take place, the class struggle always determined and still
determines social development until it becomes a classless society."
At this moment Zargaryan appeared with a bouquet of chrysanthemums. In
ten minutes he won over Olga and Galya, and Klenov's professional erudition
changed into the respectful attention of a college freshman.
Zargaryan gathered up all the threads of the talk at once, spoke of the
proposed Nobel prize winners, of his recent trip to London, interchanged
remarks with Galya about the future of laser technology. With Olga he
discussed the role of hypnosis in paediatrics. Then he praised Klenov's
article in the journal Science and Life. But he purposely, or so it seemed
to me, diverted the conversation from my part in the scientific experiment.
However, when it struck eleven he caught my perplexed glance and said
with his characteristic smile: "I know, d'you see, what you're thinking. Why
is Zargaryan silent about the experiment? Am I right? Actually, old chap, I
didn't want to leave right away, because further conversation will be
impossible after I've said my say. Intriguing?" he laughed. "It's simple
enough, really. You see, tomorrow we intend making a new experiment, and we
are asking you to take part."
"I'm ready," I said, repeating what I had already told him in the
"Don't be in a hurry," Zargaryan stopped me, and now there was a note
of seriousness in his voice which I had noticed once before, and agitation
as well. "First, the new experiment is to be much longer than the previous
one. Maybe it will last several hours, perhaps even twenty-four.... Second,
the test will cover more remote phases. I say 'remote' only to keep it
within the bounds of comprehension. The point is hardly a matter of
distances, the more so that we cannot determine them; and besides, what we
mean by distances is of no importance for the activities of the biocurrents.
The diffusion of the radiation is practically instantaneous and does not
depend either on the spatial arrangement of the phase or on the sign of the
field. But I must honestly warn you that we do not know the degree of risk
"So it's dangerous?" asked Galya.
Olga asked no questions, though the pupils of her eyes seemed a shade
"I cannot answer that definitely." Apparently Zargaryan had no desire
to conceal anything from me. "If the aiming is not accurate enough, our
converter might lose control of the superposed biofield. What the results
would be to the test-subject, we don't know. Now imagine something else: in
this world he is unconscious, in the other his conscious mind has been
imparted to a certain person ... let's say somebody travelling by plane.
What would happen to Sergei's conscious mind if there were a crash, we don't
know. Would the converter manage to switch over the biofield in time, or
would two people die, one in that world and one in this?"
Zargaryan was answered with silence. He stood up, and resumed.
"I've already told you that after my explanation the small talk would
end. You are free, Sergei, to make your decision. I'll come for you in the
morning and hear it with full respect even if it is a refusal."
We saw him out in silence, returned to the table in silence, and the
conversation was not resumed for a long time.
Finally, Galya asked me point-blank: "You're waiting for my advice, I
I silently shrugged my shoulders. What did it matter whether she
advised me or not?
"I already started believing in this delirium," she continued. "Just
imagine - I believed it. And if I were suitable for the test and had
received the offer you have... I should not think twice about my answer. But
as to advice.... Well, that's Olga's job."
"I won't talk you out of it, Sergei," said Olga. "Decide for yourself."
I still kept silent, not taking my eyes off my empty glass. I waited to
hear what Klenov would say.
"You know, it would be interesting to know..." he suddenly began, not
speaking to anyone in particular. "That is, I wonder if Gagarin thought it
over when they offered him the chance to make the first flight into space?"
PART TWO. JOURNEY ACROSS THREE WORLDS
It is not enough to have this
globe, or a certain time - I will
have thousands of globes, and all time.
Walt Whitman, Poem of Joys
But, looking into the future,
As through a mirage-like prism,
What a supreme paradise I desire-
Out of one eye to glimpse communism.
Ilya Selvinsky, Sonnet
Zargaryan came for me in the morning before Olga left for work. We had
both got up early, as we always do when one of us is leaving on a holiday or
a business trip. But the feeling of the abnormality and strangeness of this
morning, compared to other such moments in the past, cast a darkness over
the window, the sky, and the spirit. We purposely didn't speak of what lay
ahead but conversed as usual in little more than monosyllables. I kept
looking for my missing toothbrush and Olga couldn't get the water to run at
the proper temperature.
"Now it's hot, now it's cold. You try the taps."
I tried my hand at it, and got nowhere.
"Are you nervous?"
"Not a bit."
"But I'm afraid."
"Wasted emotion. Nothing happened before. T sat a couple of hours in
the chair, and that's all there was to it. Fell asleep and woke up. Didn't
even have a headache afterwards."
"But you know this time it won't be for two hours. Maybe ten, maybe
twenty-four. A long experiment. I can't even understand how they could
"If it's permitted, then everything's okay. You needn't have any
"But I do have doubts." Her voice rang a bit shrilly. "First, I doubt
it as a doctor. Twenty-four hours without consciousness. Without the
supervision of a doctor...."
"Why without a doctor?" I interrupted. "Outside of his speciality,
Zargaryan has had medical training. Besides, there's lots of pick-ups to
keep everything under control - pressure, heart and breathing. What else do
you want?" Her eyes shone suspiciously close to tears. "And if you don't
return...." "From where?"
"Do you know from whore? You haven't the faintest idea. Some sort of
transferred biofield. Worlds. A wandering conscious mind. It's terrifying to
"Then don't think of it. People fly in aeroplanes. It's also
terrifying, but they do it. And nobody worries over it."
Her lips trembled, the towel slipped from her hand to the floor. I was
glad when the telephone rang and I could avoid a recurrence of the dangerous
It was Galya. She wanted lo come over, but was afraid she mightn't make
it in time." "Zargaryan isn't there yet?"
"Not so far. We're waiting." "How's your mood?" "Not bad. Olga's
crying." "How silly. In her place I'd be glad - her man off on a feat of
"Let's not overdo it, Galya." "Why not? That's how they'll see it when
it's all over. No other way. A leap into the future. The very thought of
such a chance is enough to make your head swim."
"Why into the future?" I laughed, wanting to tease her. "What if it's
into some Jurassic period? With pterodactyls!"
"Don't talk nonsense," interrupted Galya. Doubting Thomas has now
turned fanatic. "Don't you dare even think it."
"Man proposes, God disposes. Well, let's say chance rather than God."
"What did you learn in the faculty of journalism? A fine Marxist I've
"Look, baby," I prayed. "Don't force me to repent of my political
mistakes right now. I'll do that when I come back."
She laughed, as if we were talking about a trip to the cottage.
"Well, good luck, you hear? And bring me back a souvenir."
"It would be interesting to know what souvenir I could bring her," I
told Klenov who had joined Olga and I for morning coffee. "A
pterodactyl-claw or a dinosaur-tooth?"
I was touched. He hadn't been too lazy to come to see me off on my
rather unusual journey, and had even managed to calm Olga down.
The tears had gone from her eyes.
"To get a gander at dinosaurs wouldn't be bad," observed Klenov
philosophically. "You could organize some kind of safari in time. That would
make a big noise."
"There'll be no noise, Klenov. And no safari. I'll meet you somewhere
in an adjacent bit of life. We'll go to the cinema and see Child of
Montparnasse. We'll drink palinka again. Or Hungarian tsuika."
"You have no imagination," said Klenov angrily. "They won't send you
into an adjacent little world. Remember what Zargaryan said? It's quite
possible there are worlds moving in some other course of time. Let's suppose
their time is behind ours. But not by a million years! What if it's a half
century behind? You look around and on the streets it's October 1917."
"And if it's a hundred years ago?"
"That wouldn't be bad either. You'll go to work at the Sovremennik
magazine ( The Contemporary.-Tr.) Maybe they put out a Sovremennik with the
same trend? Probably. And there you 'll see Chernyshevsky sitting at a desk.
Interesting, right? You're not drooling at the mouth?"
We both laughed, and loudly enough to upset Olga.
"I want to cry, and they laugh!"
"We have a shortage of sodium chloride in our bodies," said Klenov. "So
our tear ducts have dried up. And, by the way, Olga, tears from a hero's
wife are contra-indicated. Better have a drink of cognac. What if you wake
up in the future and find there's a dry law?"
I had to refuse the cognac, because Zargaryan was already ringing at
the front door. He looked severe and official, and never dropped a word all
the way to the institute. I was silent, too. Only when he had parked his
Volga car alongside its twins in the institute's parking lot, and we were
going up the granite steps to the door, did bespeak. There was no smile, no
funny accent, none of the usual whimsy that accompanied his sly remarks or a
"Don't think I'm afraid or disturbed. It's Nikodimov who figures it is
possible that a certain per cent of risk is involved. The problem, he says,
is not yet mastered, too few experiments. And I think that everything is in
our hands, that it's a hundred per cent ours. I'm sure of success.
Absolutely!" The last he cried so that it echoed through the near-by grove
of trees. "And I'm silent because one is sparing of words before the battle.
Got that, Sergei?"
We shook hands on it, and were silent till we reached the laboratory.
Nothing had changed since my last visit. There was the same soft-toned
plastic, the golden gleaming copper, shining nickel, the smoke-coloured
glass panels reminiscent of television screens only several times larger. My
chair stood in its usual place in the network of coloured lead-in wires,
both thick and thin, some as tiny as spider-webs. The spider was in ambush
awaiting his victim. But the soft, comfortable chair, lit from the window by
an unexpectedly appearing sun, did not incite alarm or suspicion. It
reminded me more of a heart set in a nest of blood vessels. As yet the heart
did not beat: I was not sitting there.
Nikodimov met me in his stiffly starched white gown, and with a smile
that was just as stiff and starched.
"I should be glad, of course, only glad that you've agreed to
participate in this risky experiment," he told me after an exchange of
friendly compliments. "For me, as a scientist, this may be the final and
decisive step toward my goal. But I must ask you to consider your decision
once more, weigh all the pros and cons before we begin this particular
"But it's already decided," I said.
"Wait. Think it over. What urges you to agree to it? Curiosity? To tell
the truth, that's not a very admirable stimulus."
"And scientific interest?"
"You have none."
"What drives journalists to go, let us say, to the Antarctic or into
the jungles?" I parried. "They don't have scientific interests either."
"So, it's inquisitiveness. I agree. And a love for sensation, which all
reporters have in common to some degree, even in the best sense of the word.
Stanley was chasing sensation when he went to Africa to search for the lost
Livingston, and as a result won equal fame. Perhaps that's what is turning
your head, I don't know. I can imagine how Ruben talked with you," laughed
Nikodimov, continuing in Zargaryan's voice: '"Yes, d'you see, it's a daring
feat - one never yet seen in the annals of science! The glory of a
globetrotter in time, equal to that of the first man to fly into space!' I'm
sure he called it just that, didn't he? Globetrotter in time?"
I glanced sidewise at Zargaryan who was listening, not at all put out
and even smiling. Nikodimov caught my glance.
"Of course he said it! That's what I thought. A barrel of honey. And I
will now add to it my spoonful of tar. I cannot, my dear fellow, promise you
either the fame of a time-globetrotter or a ceremonial meeting on the Red
Square. I don't even promise there'll be a special article in your honour.
In the best case, you will return home with a fund of sharp sensations, and
with the knowledge that your part in the experiment has been of some use to
"And is that so little?" I asked.
"It depends. You see, only we three will know of your valuable
contribution. Your oral testimonial is still not proof where science is
concerned. You will always find sceptics who might declare it a hoax, arid
they probably will. The same goes for apparatus which could describe and
reproduce the visual images arising in your conscious mind - to our sorrow,
we have nothing like that as yet."
"It's possible to obtain another form of evidence," put in Zargaryan.
Nikodimov pondered. I impatiently awaited his answer. What evidence did
Zargaryan have in mind? All the material evidence of my being in adjacent
worlds remained there: the probe I had dropped during the operation, my note
on the hospital writing pad, and Mikhail's split lip. I had brought nothing
back but memories.
"Now I'll explain to you what Ruben means," pronounced Nikodimov
slowly, as if to stress each word he said. "He has in mind the possibility
of your penetrating a world far ahead of us in time and development. If such
a possibility happens and you can make use of it, then your conscious mind
might take images of not merely visual objects but abstract ones -
mathematical ones, let us say. For example, the formula of a physical law or
an equation expressing in conventional mathematical symbols something as yet
unknown to us in cognition of the surrounding world. But all this is pure
supposition, only theory. No better than telling fortunes from
tea-leaves.... We shall try to transmit your conscious mind somewhere
farther than the immediate worlds bordering our three-dimensional one, but
we cannot even tell you what this 'farther' means. Distance in these
measurements is not counted in microns, or kilometres or even par-sees. Some
other system of measuring distance acts here, and so far we have no
knowledge of it. But most important, we don't know what you risk by
undergoing this experiment. Before, we did not lose sight of your energy
field, but is there any guarantee we won't lose it this time? In a word, I
won't at all be offended if you say 'let's put off the test'."
I smiled. Now Nikodimov awaited an answer. Not one wrinkle on his face
deepened, not one hair of his long, poetical locks stirred, not one crease
in his gown moved. How different he was from Zargaryan! Here was true prose
and poetry, ice and flame. And the flame behind me was already flaring up -
the chair fell over as Zargaryan stood up.
"Well then, let's put off..." I spoke slowly, deliberately, slyly
glancing at Nikodimov. "Let's put off ... all this talk about risk till the
All that happened afterwards was condensed into a few minutes, perhaps
seconds.... I don't remember. The chair, the helmet, the pick-ups, the
darkness, the scraps of conversation about scales, visuality, the certain
ciphers accompanied by familiar Greek letters - perhaps pi or psi - and
finally Boundlessness, blackness, and the coloured mist swirling upward.
A DAY IN THE PAST
The swirling stopped, the mist acquired a transparency and dullish grey
shade resembling a spring rather than a winter morning. I could see a
cluttered yard all in puddles that were sheeted with bluish ice, also the
dirty-red crust on the melting snow by a fence and a dark green van right
beside me. The back doors were wide open.
A heavy blow on the back knocked me to the ground. I fell into a
puddle, the ice crackled, and the left sleeve of my quilted jacket was wet
"Aufstehen!" came a cry from behind.
I got up with difficulty, hardly keeping my legs, and before I could
look behind me another blow on the spine threw me against the van.
Somebody's hand reached out from its dark maw, caught me and pulled me
inside. The doors were immediately clapped to, and the heavy bolts clanged.
Then I heard the purr of a motor, the metallic creaking of the van, and
the crunch of ice under its wheels. As it turned sharply, I fell over and
hit my head on a bench. I groaned.
And again the familiar hands reached for me, raised me and sat me on
the bench. In the semi-darkness around us, I couldn't make out the face of
the man sitting opposite.
"Hold on to the bench," he warned. "The road here is God knows what."
"Where are we?" I asked, in what seemed to me to be a strange voice,
hollow and hoarse.
"Perfectly clear where. In the death car." My neighbour sniffed the
air. "No-o-o.... It seems there's no smell. So they're taking us to
"Where are we?" I asked again. "What town?"
"Kolpinsk. Regional centre before. Look out the small window - and
I stretched up toward the little square opening, unpaned, with three
iron bars across it. Past the small opening flashed by a water-pump, an
entrance path to the gap in a fence, one-storey squat cottages, a sign on a
second-hand store printed in black on a yellow matting, then naked poplars
by the curb of a muddy pavement.
The deserted little street stretched out, long and unsightly. The rare
passers-by, it seemed, were in no hurry.
"You'll have to excuse me," I told my companion, "apparently
something's happened to my memory."
"Not only the memory suffers here - they kill the soul," he replied
"I can't remember a thing. What year it is, or the month, the day....
Don't be afraid, I'm not crazy."
"I'm not afraid of anything now. Besides, it's easier dealing with a
lunatic than a Judas. This is a hard year - forty-three. It's either the
very end of January or the beginning of February. There's no use remembering
what day it is, it's all one for we won't live till morning. What's your
"I don't know," I answered.
"Six, probably. Yesterday they brought in a pilot that was shot down.
Right from the town hospital. Patched him up and brought him in. Was that
I was silent. Now I remembered how it was, or rather how it might have
been. In January of forty-three, I was flying home from the Skripkin pine
forest in the partisan area north-west of the Dnieper. Somewhere near
Kolpinsk we had run into heavy flak from a German anti-aircraft battery. The
plane broke out of it almost by a miracle and made home base safely. But in
this phase of space-time, we probably hadn't got through. And it was
probably the wounded passenger who was taken to the town hospital and not
the pilot. From the hospital to cell six, and from there to 'confession' as
my companion called it. What he meant needed no exact definition.
We didn't talk any more, and only when the van stopped and the bolts
clattered on the doors did he whisper something in my ear, but what it was I
couldn't make out and never managed to ask. He had already jumped onto the
road and, pushing aside the convoy, helped me down. A blow on the back from
a gun stock threw him toward the entrance. I followed him, and the German
soldiers hurried along beside us screaming shrilly: "Schnell! Schnell!"
We were separated on the ground floor. My companion - I never even got
a look at his face - was led off somewhere down the corridor. And I was
dragged upstairs to the first floor, literally dragged, because every kick
was for me a knockdown. So it went on till I got to a room with blue
wallpaper where a fat blond officer sat behind a desk, his boyish blue eyes
matching the paper. His black SS-jacket fitted him like a schoolboy's
uniform, and he himself was like the plump schoolboy pictured in German
confectionery shop advertisements.
"You have the right to sit down. Right here. Here," he repeated in
German and pointed at a plush chair by the table. The chair must have been
requisitioned from the local town theatre. My legs were shaking, my head
spinning, and I sat down without concealing my relief which was at once
"You are completely recovered. Very good.
And now tell the truth. Wahrheit!" said the boyish SS-man, and fell
into an expectant silence.
I was silent too. I had no fear. I was saved from that by the feeling
that all this was illusory; I felt remote from all that was going on. This
wasn't, you see, happening in my life and not to me; this puny, emaciated
body in a dirty quilted jacket and broken army boots did not belong to me
but to another Sergei Gromov living in another time and space. Thus I
comforted myself with the help of physics and logic, but physiology
painfully refuted them with every breath I drew, with every movement I made.
For now this body was mine and it had to take what was destined for it. I
asked myself in alarm whether I had, in the long run, enough strength and
will, enough endurance, courage and inner pride.
In the war days it had been easier. We were all prepared for such a
contingency by all the conditions of the war years, by the way of life, by
the spirit of the times - severe and hard as they were. I was ready then,
and probably so was the Sergei Gromov whose place I now occupied in this
room. But was I ready now? I felt chilled for an instant and, I'm afraid to
confess it, terribly frightened.
"You understand me?" asked the SS-man.
"Perfectly," I nodded.
"Then talk. Wieviel Soldaten hat er? Stolbikov? What detachment?
Soldier, partisan? Number of men?"
"I don't know," I said.
I was not lying. I honestly didn't know the strength of all partisan
formations under Stolbikov's command. It continually changed. Now a number
of groups would go scouting deep in the rear and not return for weeks, now a
detachment would be reinforced by formations operating in neighbouring
sections. Besides, my Stolbikov had one complement of men, but the Stolbikov
living in this space-time might have another, either more or less. If I told
all I knew, it would be interesting to know whether it would coincide with
the reality the SS-man was interested in. Judging by his insignia, he was an
"Tell the truth," he repeated severely. "It's better that way. Wahrheit
"But I honestly don't know."
His blue eyes became noticeably blood-shot.
"Where are your documents? Here," he cried, and threw my wallet on the
desk. I wasn't sure it was mine, but I presumed it was. "We know everything.
"If you already know, then why ask?" I said quietly.
Before he could answer, the field-telephone buzzed on the desk. With an
agility that surprised me, he grabbed the receiver and stood at attention.
His face was transformed into a mixture of servility and delight. He kept
repeating 'Ja, Ja', in German and clicked his heels. Then he put my wallet
into a drawer and pushed a buzzer.
"They will take you away now," he told me in bad Russian. "Keine Zeit.
Three hours in a cell."
He indicated where with his thumb.
"Think, remember, and we'll talk some more. Otherwise, it will be the
worse for you. Zehr schlecht."
I was taken into the cellar and pushed into a barn-like room with no
window. I felt the walls and the floor. The first were of stone, sticky with
mould, and the Door was covered with wet mud. My legs would no longer
support me, but I did not risk lying down. I sat against the wall on my
hands, just the same it was drier.
The reprieve I got aroused the hope of a safe way out. The experiment
might end, and the lucky Hyde abandon the Jekyll buried here in the mud. But
I was immediately ashamed of my thoughts.... Both Galya and Klenov would
have called me a coward without blinking an eye. Zargaryan and Nikodimov
wouldn't have said it, but would have thought it. Maybe, somewhere in the
depths of her soul, Olga would as well. Thank goodness I had thought of this
in time. I began to think of a lot of things. About the fact that now I had
to answer for two - for him and me. How he would have behaved, I could
guess: I might even say I knew. You see, he was myself, the same particle of
material in one of the forms of its existence beyond our three-dimensional
world. Chance might change his lot, but not his character, not his line of
conduct. So it was all clear: I had no choice, not even the right to desert
with the help of Nikodimov's wizardry. If I were returned now, I would beg
Nikodimov to send me back to this hole.
I must have fallen asleep there, despite the damp and cold, because
dreams overtook me. His dreams. A bearded Stolbikov in a sheepskin hat, a
middle-aged woman in a padded jacket with a tommy-gun slung from her
shoulder who was slicing or shredding a round loaf of rye bread. Naked
children were on the bank of pond covered with green duckweed. I immediately
recognized the pond with the crooked pines on the shore, could see the road
between steep clay cliffs leading down to it. It was my dream, long
remembered and always incomprehensible. Now I knew where it came from.
The dreams shortened my reprieve. Again the boyish SS-man demanded my
presence. This time he was not smiling.
"Well?" he shot out. "Are we going to talk?"
"No," I said.
"Schade," he drawled. "A pity. Put your hand on the table. Your fingers
so." He snowed me how with his puffy palm and wide-spread sausage-like
I obeyed. Not without fear, I admit; but going to the dentist is also
terrifying at times.
Fatty pulled from beneath the table a piece of wood with a handle,
something like an ordinary joiner's wooden hammer, and cried:
The wooden hammer smashed deliberately down on my little finger. The
bone crunched and a savage pain shot up my arm to the shoulder. I could
barely restrain a scream.
"Ve-ry good?" he asked, stressing the syllables with satisfaction.
"Will you talk or not?"
"No," I repeated.
Again the hammer was raised, but I involuntarily pulled back my hand.
"You can save your hand, but not your face," he said, and instantly
slashed me across the face.
I lost consciousness, but came to almost at once. Somewhere close by I
heard Nikodimov and Zargaryan talking.
"There's no field."
"None at all?"
"Try another screen."
"The same thing."
"And if we try more power?"
Silence. Then Zargaryan answered: "Got it. But very weak visuality.
Maybe he's sleeping?"
"No. We registered the activity of the hypno-genetic system a half hour
ago. Then he woke up."
"I can't see it."
"I'll give more power."
I couldn't interfere. I could not feel my body. Where was it? In the
lab chair or the torture chamber?
"Got the field," said Zargaryan.
I opened my eyes, or rather I partly opened them. Even the slightest
movement of my eyelids aroused a sharp, piercing agony. Something warm and
salty trickled from my lips. My hand seemed to be burning over a fire.
The whole room, from floor to ceiling, seemed full of turbid, quivering
water through which I could dimly make out two figures in black uniforms.
One was my fat man, the other looked slender and more symmetrically built.
They were talking abruptly and fast, in German. My German is poor, so I
didn't listen. But I thought the conversation was about me. First I heard
Stolbikov's name mentioned and then mine.
"Sergei Gromov?" repeated the thin one in surprise, and said something
to the other.
Then he ran over to me and carefully wiped my face with a handkerchief
that smelled of perfume and sweat. I did not stir.
"Gromov ... Sergei..." repeated the second SS-man in pure Russian, and
bent over me. "Don't you know me?"
I looked at him and recognized the man's face; though older, it still
retained the long-remembered features of my former classmate, Genya Muller.
"M tiller," I whispered, and lost consciousness again.
COUNT SAINT GERMAIN
I woke up in a different room in someone's dwelling. Not a cosy room,
but one furnished with the pretentiousness of vulgar chic. A potbellied
cabinet filled with crystal glasses, a redwood buffet, plush sofa with round
bolsters, branching deer-horns over the door, and a copy of Murrillo's
Madonna in a large gilded frame. All this had either been accumulated by
some local official or brought here from various flats by requisition of the
Hauptsturmfiihrer to make a quiet little nest for top brass.
The Hauptsturmfiihrer himself, in an opened jacket, was sprawled lazily
on the sofa looking at an illustrated magazine, and I stole a look at him
from the morocco leather chair in which I sat beside a table laid for
supper. My bandaged hand was no longer painful. But I was devilishly hungry.
However, I kept silent and did not stir, hoping to avoid showing it in the
presence of my former classmate.
I had known Genya Muller from the age of seven. Together we entered the
same school situated in a quiet Arbat side-street, and had shared all our
joys and troubles right through to the ninth form. Muller senior, a
specialist in weaving looms, had come to Moscow from Germany soon after the
Treaty of Rapallo. He had first worked in the Altman Concession and later on
somewhere in the Mostrikotazh, the Moscow Weaving Mills. Genya was born in
Moscow and in school nobody counted him a foreigner. He spoke Russian as
well as we did, studied the same things, read the same books, sang the same
songs. He was not liked in school, and I hadn't liked his arrogance and
boastfulness either. But we lived in the same block of flats, sat at the
same desk, and were considered friends. With the years our friendship had
dwindled away through a rising difference in viewpoint and interests. And
when the Hitlerites had occupied Poland, the Muller family moved to Germany,
and Genya even forgot to say goodbye to me when he left.
True, my Genya Muller wasn't this Muller who now lay on the sofa with
his boots off. and I also wasn't this Gromov, all in bandages, who sat
opposite him in the red morocco chair. But as the experiments had shown,
phases of adjacent existences do not change a man's temperament or
character. So even my Genya Miiller had all the grounds to grow up into
Heinz Muller, Hauptsturmfuhrer in the Nazi stormtroopers and chief of the
Kolpinsk Gestapo. And, as a result, I could conduct myself with him
He lowered the magazine and our eyes met.
"So you've woken up at last," he said.
"Regained consciousness, rather."
"Don't put on. After our sorcerer and magician Dr. Getsch amputated
your finger and did a good job of cosmetic stitching, you slept for two
hours. Like a log."
"But what for?"
"What d'you mean - what for?"
"Why the cosmetic stitching?"
"To fix your face. Kreiman overdid it with his hammer. Well, so now
you're a good-looking fellow again."
"Maybe Herr Muller has a fiancee he wants to marry off. If so, he's too
"Gut out the Herr business. Here it's Genya Muller and Sergei Gromov.
Somehow they ought to be able to get together."
"But why, I'd like to know?" I asked.
Muller got up and stretched.
"Isn't that enough of your 'why's and wherefore's'? I pulled you out of
the grave today. And you still can ask 'why'?"
"Then I won't ask. You want to make me an informer, or some other kind
of rat. I'm no good for that."
"You're good for the grave."
"So are you," I parried. "We'll still make it. And now I could eat a
He laughed. "You sure hit the nail - we'll still make the grave all
He sat at the table and poured cognac for us both.
"Our vodka's junk, but the cognac's excellent. Right from Paris.
Martel. What'll we drink to?"
"Victory," I said.
He laughed even louder. "You amuse me, Sergei. A clever toast. I drink
to it." He drank, and added with a crooked smile, "And next I'll drink to
getting out of this dirty hole fast. I've got an uncle in Berlin, who has
connections. Promised me a transfer this summer. To Paris, or Athens. A
little farther from the firing line."
"So they're bothering you?"
"Of course they are. Any minute some skunk may throw a grenade from
round a corner! They got my predecessor. And sentenced me."
"So you won't live long," I observed indifferently.
Without taking a bite, he again filled the glasses. His hands shook.
"That's why I'm hurrying up my transfer. If only they don't drag it out,
I'll be sitting there in Paris and, before I can look round, the war will be
"We'll still keep fighting," I said. "You'll have to wait for two and a
His hand holding the glass froze in mid-air above the table.
"To be precise," I explained, "two and a half years from now on May 8,
1945, an agreement of unconditional surrender will be signed. And wouldn't
you like to know who will surrender? The Germans, friend, the Germans. And
where do you think this will happen? Right in Berlin, almost on the ruins of
your imperial chancellery."
Without tasting his cognac, Muller slowly put his glass back on the
table. At first he was amazed, then frightened. I intercepted his glance
directed at the small table by the sofa where his Walther pistol lay.
Probably he thought I'd gone crazy and immediately remembered his gun.
Before he could reply, the buzzer of the intercom-phone went. He
grabbed the receiver, gave his name, listened and said something fast in
German. I caught one word: Stalingrad. Then I remembered what my companion
had said in the Gestapo's dark-green 'Black Maria' - 'now it's either the
very end of January or the beginning of February'. And it was.
Muller returned to the table with a gloomy face.
"Stalingrad?" I inquired.
"Do you understand German?"
"No, I merely guessed. Your Paulus is done for. Kaput."
He tapped his knife cautiously on the plate.
"Don't talk nonsense. Paulus has just been made a General Fieldmarshal.
And Mannstein has already reached Kotelnikov."
"Your Mannstein has been defeated. Smashed and thrown back. As for
Paulus - it's the end. What's the date today?"
I laughed. How wonderful to know the future!
"Well then, this is the day that Paulus capitulated at Stalingrad, and
your Sixth Army, or what's left of it, have become prisoners with 'Heil,
Hitler' on their lips."
"Shut up!" he screamed, and took his pistol from the table. "I won't
forgive anybody who makes such jokes as that!"
"But I'm not joking," I said, putting a piece of tinned ham in my
mouth. "Can you check it somewhere? Go ahead, call up."
Muller thoughtfully played with his gun.
"All right. I'll check. I'll call von Hennert-he should know. Only get
this: if it's a hoax, I'll shoot you personally, and right now."
He went to the telephone, took a long time getting connected, and asked
something, standing as straight as if on review as he listened. Then he hung
up and tossed the pistol onto the sofa without deigning to glance at me.
"Well, was I right?"
"How did you know?" he asked, approaching me. His face was a picture of
astonishment and perplexity. He looked at me as if asking whether I was I or
a representative of the High Command in my person.
"Von Hennert was quite surprised that I knew. I had to do some quick
thinking on that score. It hasn't been proclaimed officially yet, but
"And did he say that Hitler had already ordered general mourning for
the Sixth Army?"
"You know that too?"
He continued to stand, not taking his eyes off me, puzzled and unable
to figure it out. "Come now, where did you get it from? You couldn't have
known yesterday, that's for sure. But today.... Who could have told you? You
were brought here with somebody else, I believe?"
"That was this morning," I said. "At that time, your Paulus was still
He blinked his eyes.
"Somebody might have picked up a Moscow broadcast?"
"Where?" I laughed. "In the Gestapo?"
"I don't get it." He spread his hands in a gesture of despair. "Nobody
knows about it yet in town. I'm convinced of that."
Suddenly I had an idea. It struck me that I might still save my unlucky
Jekyll. Nothing threatened him till morning, but he would meet the morning
fully conscious and free of my aggression. Then his life wouldn't be worth a
cent. Muller wouldn't stand on ceremony with him, the more so if he
explained that he remembered nothing of today's business. I had to think.
The play would be tough.
"Don't try guessing, Genya," I said. "You won't figure it out. It's
simply that I'm not the ordinary fellow you think I am."
"What do you mean by that?"
"Did you ever hear that in one of our scientific research institutes,"
I began, improvising as if inspired, "a research group was liquidated in
1940? There was a lot of fuss about it abroad. Putting it broadly, it was a
group of telepathists."
"No," he replied vaguely. "Never heard of it."
"But you know what telepathy is?"
"Something like transmitting thoughts at a distance?"
"Approximately, yes. It's not a new thing, even Sinclair wrote about
it. Only idealistically, with all kinds of other-world nonsense. But we made
experiments on specifically scientific grounds. The brain, you see, is
looked upon as a microwave radio-set, picking up idea-signals at any
distance like ultra-long wavelengths. A bit less than a micron. Everybody
has this inherent possibility, but in rudimentary form. However, it can be
developed if you find a precipient brain, that is, one specially tuned in to
inner induction. Many were tested, I among them. Well, so I turned out to be
an exceptional precipient."
Muller sat down and rubbed his eyes.
"Am I dreaming, or what? I don't get it."
I could already see by his face that I'd won the game: he almost
believed. Now I had to erase the 'almost'.
"Have you ever read about Gagliostro or St. Germain?" I asked. Noting
his naive and empty eyes I realized he hadn't.
"History cannot explain them, especially St. Germain," I continued.
"The count lived in the eighteenth century, and he could relate events of
the twelfth, thirteenth and fourteenth centimes as if he had witnessed them.
He was considered a wizard, an astrologer, an Agaspherus, European monarchs
vied with each other in inviting him to their courts. He foretold the future
too, incidentally, and rather successfully. But nobody's been able to
explain what kind of man he was, not so far. Historians ignore him, or call
him a charlatan. But they should have used the term telepathist. That's it
in a nutshell. He received ideas from the past and the future. Just as I
Muller was silent. I could not imagine what he was thinking of. Maybe
he guessed that I was a fake? But for all that, I had one irrefutable and
invincible trump - Stalingrad.
"The future?" he repeated thoughtfully. "So you can foretell the
"I mustn't go too far," I mused silently. "Muller's no fool and he's
used to down-to-earth thinking." And that was what I played on.
"It's not hard to foretell yours," I said aloud, no less craftily than
his sly question. "You know yourself that after Stalingrad the underground
and partisans will be more active everywhere. You won't live till summer,
Muller. You haven't a chance."
His mouth curved in an ironical smile, as if saying 'all the same I'm
master of the situation'.
"I can also foretell your future," he snapped at me aloud, "and without
telepathy. Tit for tat."
"Man to man," I laughed. "But we can change the future. You mine, and I
He raised his brows, again not getting the drift. "Okay then, let's lay
down the cards."
"You send me to the partisans today. And I'll guarantee your
immortality to the end of the month. Not a bullet or grenade will touch
He was silent.
"You don't lose much. You grant me life, and you win the kitty -
"To the end of the month," he laughed.
"I'm not God almighty."
"And the guarantee?"
"My word and my documents. You saw them. And you must have guessed that
I can do something."
He pondered a long time, his eyes roaming silently and vaguely around
the room. Then he poured the rest of the cognac into our glasses. He hadn't
eaten, and the drink was already taking effect. His hands shook even more.
"All right, then," he ground out. "One for the road?"
"I'm not drinking," I said. "I'll need a clear head and a firm hand.
You give me a gun, even if it's only your Walther, and tie my hands loosely
so I can free them quickly."
"And what tale am I to use to send you off? I've got a boss, you know."
"So you're sending me to the top brass. Along some forest road."
"There'll have to be a driver and a convoy. Can you handle them?"
"I hope you won't regret the loss of the convoy?"
"I'll regret, the loss of the car," he frowned.
"So I'll return you the car and the driver. Agreed?"
He went to the telephone and began making calls. I was surprised at the
speed with which he carried everything out. In about half an hour, a Gestapo
Opel-Kapitan was already ploughing its way through the village all powdered
with snow. Beside me sat an evil-looking Fritz with a tommy-gun across his
knees. Let him stew in his bad temper. That didn't worry me any more than my
promise to Muller did. You see, / had promised, and not the Gromov who would
finally take my place. Only when would this happen and where? If in the car,
then I must do all I could so that my ill-starred Jekyll would quickly get
the hang of things. I stretched the slack bonds that tied my arms behind my
back. They loosened at once. Another jerk and I could put my free hand in my
jacket pocket and grip the butt of the blue-steel pistol. Now I had only to
wait. With a sixth or maybe sixteenth sense, I could feel the approach of
that strange lightness of my body, the head-spinning and the mist that put
out everything - light, sounds and thoughts.
And so it was. I woke up when I felt Zargaryan's hand removing the
"Where were you?" he asked, still invisible.
"In the past, Ruben. Too bad."
He let out a loud and mournful sigh. Nikodimov was already holding the
tape against the light to observe it, pulling it from the container.
"Did you follow the time, Sergei Nikolaevich?" asked Nikodimov. "That
is, when you entered and left the phase?"
"Morning and evening. One day."
"It's twenty minutes to twelve midnight now. Does that agree with your
"A trivial lag behind our time."
"Trivial?" I laughed. "More than twenty years."
"On a scale of a thousand years, that's almost nothing."
But I wasn't worried about thousand-year scales. I was anxious about
the fate of Sergei Gromov whom I'd left about twenty-five years ago in the
suburbs of Kolpinsk. I think, by the way, he did not waste any time.
TWENTY YEARS AFTER
The new experiment had become as humdrum as a visit to the polyclinic.
Now I didn't gather friends together before leaving, Zargaryan didn't come
for me, and nobody accompanied me in the morning. I took the bus to the
institute and Nikodimov at once sat me in the chair without testing the
degree of my good will and readiness for the test.
He only asked: "When did you get into difficulties in the last
experiment? Was it toward evening, in the late afternoon?"
"About then. It was already dark outside."
"The apparatus focused the sleep period, then there was an increase of
nervous strain, and finally a state of shock...."
"That's quite correct."
"I think we can now anticipate such a complication, if it should
arise," he said. "And bring your psyche back."
"That's exactly what I don't want. You already know..." I broke in.
"No, this time we aren't taking any risks."
"What risk? Who's talking about risk?" thundered Zargaryan, appearing
like a phantom, all in white against the background of the white doors.
He had been in the next room, checking the power generator.
"I'd give a year of my life for one minute of your journey," he went
on. "It isn't a science, as Nikodimov thinks. It's poetry. Do you like
"More or less," I answered.
In autumn time when leaves are dying
Within a dawn-lit perilous wood,
Someone's fate and name come flying
Like seeds - and in our minds intrude.
He broke off and asked: "What words stick in your memory?"
"Dawn-lit and perilous," I told him.
I could not see him now, and his voice came from the darkness. "The
main thing is 'dawn-lit'. So let's be solemn. Remember that you are at the
gateway to the future."
"You're sure of that?" came Nikodimov's voice.
I heard no more. Sounds died out until the dead silence was broken by a
monotonous, rumbling roar.
Now there was no silence, no mist. I found myself in a soft chair by a
wide, slightly concave window. Strangers sat in similar chairs beside and
opposite me. The surroundings reminded me of the interior of an airliner or
the coach of a suburban train where people sit in threes across from each
other, with a passageway running from door to door. This passageway or aisle
was probably about forty metres long. I tried to orient myself without
looking at my neighbours, slipping sidelong glances from under lowered lids.
My attention was drawn first to my hands - large, oddly white, with a dry
clean skin such as occurs after frequent and hard scrubbing. The significant
thing was that they were the hands of an old man. "How old am I and what's
my profession?" I pondered. "A lab man, doctor, scientist?" The suit I wore
provided no direct answer - it was not new but neither was it much worn, and
it was made of a smooth material with an unusual pattern. There was no use
trying to guess.
I looked out the window. No, it wasn't an airliner because we were
flying too low for an aeroplane of this size, lower than flight at zero
altitude as they call it. But it wasn't a train either, because we were
flying over the earth, over homes and small groves, almost scraping the tops
of the pine and fir trees and, incidentally, flying so fast that the
landscape outside the window ran together into a sickening blur. From want
of habit, it hurt to look at it.
I got a handkerchief from my pocket and wiped my eyes.
"Do they hurt?" grinned a passenger sitting opposite. He was a thin
grey-haired man wearing gold-framed glasses without ear-pieces - no knowing
how they stayed on. "We forget when we're older that we shouldn't look out
the window. It's not the fifties now. Gall it an observation car!"
"What, you don't like it?" asked a young fellow challengingly from an
"Of course I do. And why not? Who wouldn't like it? An hour and a half
from Leningrad to Moscow. Bit of a novelty."
"Why a novelty?" said the young man with a shrug. "Even twenty years
ago they were talking of monorail roads. It's only modernization. And why
look out the window? Turn on the TV," he told me.
I felt confused, not having the faintest idea where the television was
or how to turn it on. I was anticipated by my grey-haired neighbour
opposite. He pressed some kind of lever at the side, and the window was
covered by the familiar frosty screen. The picture arose somewhere in its
depths, so that it could easily be seen by those sitting sidewise to it, as
I was. It was in stereo-colour and depicted a huge, multi-storey building
beautifully ornamented with grey and red tiles. A helicopter was landing on
its flat roof out of a pure blue sky.
"We bring you the latest news," said an unseen announcer. "Party and
Government leaders visit the three-hundredth housing-commune in the Kiev
district of the capital."
A group of well-dressed middle-aged people left the cabin of the
helicopter and disappeared under a cupola of plexiglas. Express lifts and
escalators flashed by. The eye of the camera was aimed down at the gleaming
windows of the ground floor.
"This floor is occupied by a large department store, repair shops and
dining-rooms to serve the building's occupants."
Now the guests strolled slowly from floor to floor, through rooms
furnished and decorated in shapes and colours quite new to me.
"One turn of the plastic lover and the bed goes into the wall, and out
comes a concealed book-case. And this couch may be widened or lengthened:
its metal supports and the foam-rubber surface expand to double the size."
There followed an open vista of public foyers with giant television and
"This floor is wholly given over to young people who prefer living
separately," commented the announcer, sliding walls apart for us to see the
"I can't understand it. Why do they do all this?" broke in one lady,
knitting away and giving a scornful sniff as she gave me a sidelong glance.
I looked at the young man on the aisle seat, awaiting his remark, and I
wasn't left disappointed. How like he was to the young people I knew! He had
caught from them the torch of enthusiasm, almost boyish vehemence, an
uncompromising attitude to everyone who wasn't in step with the times.
"House-communes weren't just built today ... they're not new ... yet
you still don't know why..." he said.
"I certainly don't know!" insisted the lady. "Glory to God, we no
sooner get rid of shared flats, and they're back again!"
"What's 'back again'?"
"Your house-communes. We're resurrecting living in shared flats."
"Don't talk nonsense. People are not leaving separate, private flats to
go into communal flats - whatever they are, I certainly don't know. They
leave to go into house-communes! You're looking at them now. They provide a
new, wider capacity of living conveniences!"
The lady with the knitting fell silent. Nobody supported her. And on
the screen smoked the oil derricks conquering a leaden garnet sky over fir
and larch trees.
"We are with you in Third Baku," continued the announcer, "at the newly
opened section of the Yakutsk oil region in Siberia."
A Third Baku! In my time, I had only known two of them. How many years
had gone by? I gave the same silent question to the white-gowned surgeons on
the screen who were demonstrating a bloodless operation using a pencil
neutron-ray and to the inventors of a compound for sealing wounds. I
addressed my silent question to the announcer himself who finally appeared
before the viewers. "In conclusion, I want to remind our audiences of the
deficit of specialists in occupations which our economy is much in need of.
As before, we need adjusters for automatically operated shops, controllers
for tele-guided mines, operators for atomic electric stations, assemblers of
multi-purpose electronic computers. "
The screen blanked out, and from somewhere overhead came a voice that
slowly announced: "We are arriving in Moscow. The warning lights are on.
With the green light, the escalator will be turned on."
Above the door in front there was a flicker of red lights. They
darkened to blue and changed to a bright green. Entering the aisle, the
passengers were carried along on a moving floor. I joined them, so I never
noticed the monorail station. Nor did I see it from outside. The escalator
road, moving fast, swept us into the lobby of a Metro station. I didn't
recognize it and, to speak honestly, never had a chance to get a good look
at it. We were moving at almost hydrofoil speed, slowing down only at the
escalator stairs which took us down to the platform. "Where's the ticket
booth?" I wondered. "Can the Metro be free of charge?" This was answered
affirmatively by the stream of passengers pushing into the open doors of an
I got off at Revolution Square, which I recognized at once: below
ground where I came across the familiar bronze pieces of sculpture in the
arcade, and above where the yellow columns of the Bolshoi Theatre looked
down at me from a distance across the green sweep of the square.
And Marx's monument stood in the same spot, but in place of the Grand
Hotel there towered a gigantic white building with flashing ribs of
stainless steel; and, instead of the side wing of the Metropole Hotel and to
the right, ran a vista of noisy, multi-layered streets. But the street
movement seemed as familiar as of old, almost unchanged. Along the wide
pavement, as tightly-packed and unhurried as always, went the varicoloured
droplets of the human current, more colourful than ever under the high
summer sun. And along the asphalted canal road, skirted by buildings and
squares, rumbled another current of motor cars, also colourful. By careful
observation, I could easily make out the diversities. Different styles and
trends in clothing, the changed lines and shapes of cars. Most of the latter
rode on air-cushions rather than wheels, and reminded you of the bulging
brows of whales or dolphins as they moved soundlessly on a violet haze of
air. "How many years have passed?" I asked myself, and again could find no
answer. Impossible to cross the square: an iron tracery of grilles ran along
the pavement, openings for passengers were only at stops of cigar-shaped
buses. I walked down toward the Alexandrovsky Gardens, passed the Historical
Museum, glanced fleetingly at the Red Square. Nothing there was changed -
the same tooth-tipped ancient red walls, the clock on the Spasskaya Tower,
the severe monolithic block of the Mausoleum and that miracle of
architecture - the cathedral of Vasily Blazhenny. But the huge hotel we had
built in Zaryadye wasn't there at all. A bit farther on, across the Moskva
River, rose unknown tall buildings behind the cathedral.
I went into the gardens and sat on a bench. And though the town was
tumultuous with its full-blooded impetuous life, in the morning hours here,
as in our world, the park was almost deserted. To tell the truth, I was
feeling a bit lost. Where should I go, and what for? Where was my home? Who
was I? And what experiences lay before me this day in my new life? I felt a
wallet in my pocket, very plump and compact, made of flexible, transparent
plastic. Without taking out the identification card, I could read my name,
profession and address through the plastic. Again I was a servant of
Hippocrates, some kind of director in a surgical clinic, and probably an
eminent man because the wallet contained congratulations from three foreign
scientific societies sent to Professor Gromov on his sixtieth birthday.
So twenty years had passed! For me, it was already old age; for science
- 'seven-league boots.' D'Artagnan, on his way to meet Aramis and Athos was
tormented by doubts: would it be a bitter experience to see his friends
grown old? His doubts had been dispersed, but would mine? In my mind I
imagined myself calling at the address on the card. Probably the door would
be opened by Olga, twenty years older. And what if it wouldn't be Olga? I
certainly did not want to complicate the situation. I mechanically thumbed
through the pack of money in the wallet. It was probably enough for one day
in the future. So what should I do? Perhaps simply walk along the streets,
travel around town, see it a little more, breathe the air of the future in
the literal sense? Was that such a little thing? For Zargaryan and
Nikodimov, it was. What material affirmation could I bring them from the
future? Go to the Lenin Library - it probably existed here - dig into index
files and interest myself in topics found in scientific journals? Suppose I
even managed to find something close to the work of my scientific friends.
Let's suppose. But how would I be able to grasp anything from the articles
of scientists of the eighties, if sometimes even the attempts of Zargaryan
to express things in an elementary and popular form had been hopeless to
overcome my mathematical ignorance! Memorize some kind of formula? But I
would forget it at once! And if they were in a series? And if I came across
absolutely unknown mathematical symbols? No, no, it was nonsense - nothing
would come of it.
Wrapped in such thoughts, I made my way to a taxi stand. Ahead of me
stood a woman, apparently in a hurry for she kept looking at her
"I've been waiting ten minutes, and not one car," she said. "Of course,
the bus is simpler and costs nothing. But the auto-taxi is more amusing."
"The auto-taxi?" I repeated.
"You're new here, of course," and she smiled. "That's what we call \the
driverless taxis, with automatic controls. Simply lovely to ride in!"
But the first auto-taxi gave me the shivers. There was something wild
and unnatural in this snub-nosed car without wheels or driver that
soundlessly floated up to us and discharged four spider-legs as it came to a
stop. The invisible man behind the wheel opened the door, the passenger got
in and said something into a microphone. The legs vanished as noiselessly as
they had appeared, the doors closed, and the car disappeared round a corner.
I probably stared after it rather long and stupidly, asking myself in
perplexity: 'What do you say into the microphone, and how do you pay if you
haven't enough change?' I was already thinking of taking flight when another
passenger approached the stop. There was something uniquely elegant about
his accentuated leanness and pepper-and-salt hair, even the carefully
trimmed spade-like beard gave him a sort of challenging look.
"I'm in a hurry," he admitted, impatiently looking round the square.
"Here's one coming, I think."
A snubby auto-taxi had floated up and come to a stop.
"I'll be glad to give you my turn," I said. "I'm in no hurry."
"Why? Let's go together, if you've nothing against it. First we'll
deliver you, and then me."
Something familiar flashed in his dark eyes. And he had the same high,
sloping and pure forehead, the same piercing and amused glance. Only the
beard transformed his face almost beyond recognition.
AN OLDER ZARGARYAN
I looked into his eyes again, questioningly. It was he. My Zargaryan,
twenty years older.
But I didn't let on I knew him.
"Where do you want to go?" he asked.
I merely shrugged. Did it matter where a man goes who hasn't seen
Moscow for twenty years?
"Then off we go. Don't object, mind you. I'll be a wonderful guide. By
the way, where are you having dinner? Would you like to go to the Sofia?
With me? Honestly, I hate having dinner alone."
Even nearing fifty, he hadn't lost his boyish ardour. And he entered
hotly into the role of guide at once.
"We won't go along Gorky. It's hardly changed. We'll take Pushkin,
quite a new street. You won't know it. That will be our programming."
He fed the programme into the microphone, adding where to turn and
where to stop. The taxi, soundlessly closing its doors, floated off and
skirted the square.
"And how do you pay?" I inquired.
"Put the money here in this small box." He pointed to a slot in the
panel under the windshield.
"But if you've no change?"
"We'll see that we get change."
The taxi had already turned onto Pushkin, as much like the Pushkin
Street of my days as the Palace of Congresses is like a factory club. ,
Perhaps it was outwardly different even in the sixties - you see, similar
worlds do riot mean they are identical - but now it was different on a grand
scale. Twenty-storey buildings of glass and plastic, all different, united
into an ornamental rock canyon, along whose depths rolled a colourful stream
of cars. The two-level pavements, like in a shopping centre, ran along the
ground storeys and the upper levels, being connected by curved parabolic
bridges over the street. Bridges also joined the buildings and formed
auxiliary pathways at roof-top level. "For bicycles," explained Zargaryan,
catching my glance. "There we have swimming-pools and landing strips for
He played the role of guide with a conscience, smacking his lips with
satisfaction at my surprise. And our snubby dolphin had by this time crossed
the boulevard, flown along an unrecognisable Chekhov Street, and was now
floating along Sadovaya to the Sofia skyscraper. I recognized neither the
square nor the restaurant. Mayakovsky, flashing in the sun as if poured of
bronze glass, brooded over the square on a pedestal higher than the Nelson
column in London. The parallelepiped-shaped restaurant Sofia was also
flashing, dancing with reflected sunlight as if made of crystal and gold.
The restaurant inside astonished me. The usual white tables under
old-fashioned starched tablecloths stood cheek by jowl with strange
geometric figures like marquee tents made of rain-like and argon strings.
"What's this?" I said, almost struck dumb. Zargaryan smiled like a magician
anticipating an even greater effect.
"You'll see. Have a seat."
We sat at one of the ordinary starched tables.
"Would you like to be unseen and unheard to those around you?"
He raised a corner of the tablecloth, pressed something and the room
disappeared. We were separated from it by a tent of rain that had neither
moisture nor damp. Through the curtain of rain were entwined shining threads
that were neither of glass nor of wire. We were surrounded by the blessed
silence of an empty cathedral.
"Can one go through it?" I asked.
"Why, it's only air, but not transparent. Light- and sound-proof. In
our labs we use black ones. Absolute darkness."
"I know," I said.
Now it was his turn to be surprised, catching something in my answer
quite new to his ear.
I was fed up playing guessing games.
"Is your name Zargaryan? Ruben?" I asked, though I was absolutely sure
I wasn't mistaken.
"Caught red-handed," he laughed. "So the beard didn't help?"
"I knew you by your eyes."
"By the eyes?" He was again surprised. "The eyes don't show up well in
photos put in journals or newspapers. So where else could you have seen me?
At the cinema?"
"Are you engaged in the physics of biofields, the same as before?" I
began carefully. "Then don't be surprised at what you're going to hear. I
lied when I told you I'd not been in Moscow for twenty years. Actually, I've
never been in this Moscow. Never!"
I slowed down, waiting for his reaction, but he was silent and
continued to examine me with growing interest. "On top of that, I'm not the
person you are now looking at. I'm a phantom in his image, a visitor from
another world. The phenomenon is probably very familiar to you."
"Have you read my works?" he asked in unbelief.
"No, of course not. You haven't published them yet in our world. You
see, our time is twenty years behind yours."
Zargaryan jumped to his feet.
"Excuse me, I'm only beginning to understand. So you're from another
phase? Is that what you're trying to say?"
He was silent, blinking his eyes, and stepped back. The shining shroud
of rain-air partly concealed him, ridiculously cutting off part of his head,
spine and feet. Then he again dived out of it and sat opposite me, with
great difficulty restraining his excitement. His face seemed to light up
from within, and it held the shattering surprise of a man seeing a miracle
for the first time, the joy of a scientist that the miracle had happened in
his presence, the happiness of a scientist who had the power to control such
"Who are you, then?" he asked at last. "Name and profession."
I laughed. "Somehow it's amazing to answer for two people, but I have
to. The name is the same here that it is there - Gromov. Here I'm a
professor, there I'm without any title, a private person one might say. The
professions differ - here a doctor and surgeon, famous in fact; there a
simple newspaperman. Yes, and there I'm twenty years younger. Just as you
are in that world."
"Curious," said Zargaryan, still eyeing me with interest. "I might have
expected anything but that. I myself have sent people out of our world, but
to meet such a visitor here - I never dreamed of that! What a fool. All
matter is one - along all phase trajectories. I am here and I am there: and
now we're sending each other visitors," he laughed, suddenly asking me with
a changed intonation: "Who carried out the experiment?"
"Nikodimov and Zargaryan," I answered slyly, ready for a new explosion
of astonishment. But he only asked, "What Nikodimov?" It was my turn to be
surprised. "Pavel Nikitich. Wasn't it his discovery? Don't you work with
"Pavel died eleven years ago, and while he lived he never received the
recognition he deserved. Factually, it is his discovery. I came to it by
other ways, as a psychophysiologist." (I heard restrained grief in his
words.) "To my sorrow, the first success with biofields came only
afterwards. His son and I made the experiments." I hadn't known that
Nikodimov had a son. Incidentally, maybe that was only here.
"You're luckier than we are," said Zargaryan thoughtfully. "You began
earlier. In twenty years you will be farther ahead than ourselves. Is this
your first experiment?"
"The third. First I went into adjacent, completely identical worlds.
Then farther, into the past. And now further still - to you."
"What do you mean by 'nearer' or 'farther'? And 'adjacent'!" he
repeated sarcastically. "What naive terminology!"
"I mean to suggest," I faltered, "that worlds or, as you put it, phases
with other currents of time may be found farther away from us than the
He didn't conceal his laughter.
"Nearer, farther! Is that how they explained it to you? Children."
I was outraged for my friends' sake. All in all, I liked my Zargaryan
"And hasn't the fourth dimension its own extension?" I asked. "Is the
theory of the infinite plurality of its phases a mistaken one?"
"Why the fourth?" seethed Zargaryan, flaming up as was his custom.
"What if it's the fifth? Or the sixth? Our theory doesn't define its
sequence or course in space. And who told you it was an incorrect or
mistaken theory? It is limited, and only that. The term 'infinite plurality'
simply cannot be taken literally. Any more than the infinity of space. Even
your contemporaries knew that. Even then, relativity in cosmology excluded
the absolute contraposition of the finite and the infinite. You must
understand one simple thing: the finite and the infinite do not exclude each
other, but are inwardly connected. Con-nec-ted!" He repeated the last word
in syllables, and laughed, looking into my blankly staring eyes. "Complex,
And it's just as complex to explain to you what 'nearer' and 'farther'
mean in this case. I can transfer your biofield into an adjacent world that
outstrips ours by a century, but where it is, near or far, I am unable to
define geometrically." He suddenly gave a start and stopped speaking, as if
something had broken off his train of thought.
For a second or two we were both silent.
"You know, that's an idea!" he exclaimed.
"What are you driving at?"
"I'm thinking about you. Do you want to leap even farther into the
"I don't get it."
"You will in a minute. I'll mix into your experiment. You go to my lab
with me, I'll switch off your biofield and transfer it to another phase.
What d'you say?"
"Nothing, so far. I'll think it over."
"Scared? But the risk is the same. There you are forty, and not sixty,
with a strong heart ... otherwise we wouldn't risk it. I'd be delighted to
change places with you, but I'm not a suitable subject. You know how hard it
is to find a brain-inductor with such a highly active field?"
"You found one before."
"Three in ten years. You are the fourth. And consider yourself lucky. I
promise you a trip more interesting than a flight to Mars. I'll find your
descendant of the fifth generation with the same field. A hundred-year jump,
eh? What are you worried about?"
"My biofield. What if they lose it back there?"
"They won't. First I'll send you back. Just a moment's walk in your
time and space, and then you'll wake up in another. Don't be afraid,
there'll be no explosion, no eruption, and no radiation. And your apparatus
will fixate everything that's necessary. Well now, shall we fly?"
He got up.
"We'll have dinner later. We - here, and you in the future."
Actually, I thought, I had nothing to lose.
"Let's fly," I said, and also stood up.
When I repeated Zargaryan's words, I had no suspicion that we would
really fly. First, we took the express-lift to the roof where
speedway-taxi-helicopters landed. In two or three minutes' time, we were
sailing over Moscow and headed south-west.
To my dying day I shall never forget the panorama of Moscow at the end
of the twentieth century. I kept assuring myself that it wasn't my Moscow,
not the one I'd been born and brought up in and which was separated from
this Moscow by an invisible border of space-time, as well as by twenty years
of great reforms in building practice. I stubbornly told myself this, but my
eyes convinced me that I must be wrong. You see, with us, in my world, this
same construction went on at the same speed and along similar trends: the
same forces inspired it, with the same aim in view. So, in our world, the
city was, comparatively speaking, just as beautiful and perhaps more so.
It was as if a magician with a camera was showing me an amazing picture
of the future. I viewed it avidly, searching for remembered details, happy
as a boy when I recognized the old and the new, familiar, though it had
changed as a young man does when he reaches the prime of life. All that was
familiar immediately hit me in the eye - the Palace of Congresses, the
golden cupolas of the Kremlin cathedrals, the bridges over the Moskva River,
the Bolshoi Theatre, all of them toys from this height. And there was the
Luzhniki stadium and the university. I lost sight of other tall buildings of
my day among the many-storey stone forest-like structures, and perhaps they
weren't there at all. The city had overflowed far beyond the border ring of
the circular highway: it ran in the same place, at least it followed the
same curve, but was wider or seemed wider, and the ant-like cars crawled
along it to form a similarly wide and rarely narrowing ribbon.
The traffic's monstrous scale and colourful-ness astounded me most of
all. Like rivers flowed the streets and alleys filled with iridescent
automobiles. Bicycles and motorcycles on asphalt tracks criss-crossed the
town over the roofs of the buildings. The centipede cars chased each other
along the strings of monorail trestle-roads. And over all this, from
landing-strip to landing-strip, flitted the black-and-yellow or
blue-and-white dragon-fly helicopters.
We dropped down on one such landing-strip on the roof of a huge tall
building, and alighted from the cabin. I didn't manage to see the building
itself during the flight, but the first thing that struck my eye on the flat
roof, guarded by a high metallic netting, was a large swimming pool. The
pool was filled with clear, pure water lit from below by greenish,
scintillating lights. Around the pool were deck-chairs, rubber mattresses,
tents and a canteen under a tightly stretched awning.
"It's the dinner break," said Zargaryan, his eyes searching among the
bathers and the half-naked people in swim-suits sitting in the canteen.
"We'll find him in a moment. Igor!" he yelled.
A tanned athlete in dark sun-glasses playing on the near-by tennis
court now approached us, still holding his racket.
"Is there somebody in the lab?" asked Zargaryan.
"Why should there be?" the boy answered lazily. "They're all in the
"And the apparatus hasn't been switched off?"
"No. But what's up?"
"I'd like you to meet this professor to start with, Professor Gromov."
"Nikodimov," murmured the athlete removing his glasses. He was not at
all like the longhaired Faust.
"Has something happened?" he asked.
"Something unforeseen and very curious. You'll know in a minute," said
Zargaryan, not without a note of triumph in his voice.
A man with a sense of humour would doubtless have found something in
this situation that was common to my first visit to Faust's laboratory.
Zargaryan pressed the lift button with the same sly, significant look and
then turned on the escalator - before, a moving corridor had taken me to the
entrance to the laboratory, now a stair escalator ran from the roof directly
into the lab. It moved smoothly down, clicking on the turns.
"With your permission," he smiled at me, "I'll explain everything to
this child in the jargon of biophysics. It will be more accurate, and take
I tried hard to get something out of the conglomeration of unfamiliar
terms, ciphers and Greek letters. I had never been so overwhelmed by the
lexicology of my Zargaryan, even when he got carried away and forgot I was
there. A few things were clear, at least. But young Nikodimov caught it all
on the fly and looked at me with unconcealed curiosity. He didn't appear to
me to be in the mental heavyweight class, and I was surprised at the ease
with which he darted about among the 'maze of plugs, levers and handles'
that I knew so well.
Incidentally, I didn't know them so well, to tell the truth. Everything
in this duplicate-world room was bigger, greater in scale, and far more
complex than the equipment in the neat laboratory I had left somewhere in
another space-time. Where one might be compared to a doctor's surgery, this
one reminded you of the control-room of a large automated factory. Only the
blinking control lamps, the tele-screens, the haphazardly hanging wires, and
the chair in the centre of the room, of course, were somewhat familiar. Not
more so, by the way, than a new Moskvich car reminds you of an old 'Emka'. I
directed my attention to the arrangement of screens - they were built in an
arc along panels curving around the room, something like the control panels
of electronic BRAIN computers. The mobile control panel could, apparently,
slip along the line of screens according to the observer's wish. And it was
interesting to look at them, even now when they weren't in use. Now they
would light up, now go out, now flash as if reflecting some inner lighting,
now blindly freeze into a cold leadish dullness.
"Well," laughed Zargaryan, "so it's not much similar? What differences
are there, in particular?"
"The screens," I said. "We have a different arrangement. And there's no
helmet," I pointed at the chair.
There actually was no helmet. And no pickups. I sat in the chair, as if
in my own sitting-room, until Zargaryan spoke.
"If you compare your adventures with a game of chess, you are in time
trouble. You have played your opening move in the space of your world. In
ours, you begin the midgame, without any hope of winning. You understand
right away that you can't bring back any souvenirs with you except sporadic
impressions. In other words, one more failure. How many times Igor Nikodimov
and I have been in the same position. How many endless nights there were,
errors in calculations, unjustified hopes, until we finally found a
brain-inductor with mathematical development. He brought a formula back in
his memory, one that set the academicians on their ears! Now it is known as
the Janovski equation, and is used to figure out complex cosmic routes. To
our great regret, your memory won't help here. But then appeared a saving
variant - you met me. The candle of hope is lit again, a slender candle, but
it's burning. Now we have to hurry, now the endgame is ahead of you, and
you're in time trouble, friend. We are all in time trouble. The activity of
the field is at its limit, is on the point of falling. Before you realize
it, Ulysses will have to return to Ithaca. Igor!" he cried. "Finish up, it's
time." At this point he sighed and added in a faint voice: "Time to say
good-bye, Sergei Nikolaevich. Happy landings! We can't count on meeting
again, I'm afraid."
Only now the awesome thought got through to me of what was going on. A
leap across a century! Not simply into an adjacent world, but into a world
of absolutely different things-different machines, habits and relations. For
several hours, or maybe twenty-four, Hyde would own Jekyll's soul, but could
he deceive those around him if he wished to remain incognito? He would be
hidden by Jekyll's face, Jekyll's suit - but would he be given away by his
tongue, out-of-date ideas and feelings, conditional reflexes long unknown in
that world? Had the terrible risk of the jump gone to my head?
However, I said nothing to Zargaryan, did not reveal my sudden
awareness of danger, did not even start when he gave the command to turn on
the protector. Darkness, as before, again surrounded me. Darkness and
silence through which as if from a distance - to be exact, through a thick
grey fog - pierced scarcely discernible voices, also familiar but almost
forgotten as if they were already separated from me by a hundred-year leap
"I can't understand it at all. What about you?"
"It's disappeared. Something probed through, but there's no image."
"But on the sixth there is. Only the brightness is weakening. Can you
figure it out?"
"There is something showing. Again it's out of phase. Like that other
"But we haven't registered any kind of shock."
"Nor did we then."
"That time the encephalograph charted sleep. The phase of a paradoxical
"In my opinion, this is different. Take a look at Screen Four. The
curves are pulsating."
"Raise the power, perhaps?"
"Are you worried?"
"So far there's no reason to. Check the breathing."
"The same. And the blood pressure hasn't gone up. Perhaps some change
in the biochemical processes?"
"So far, there's no proof. But I have the impression that there is
outside interference. Either resistance from the receptor or artificial
"I don't know. Let's wait."
"But I am waiting. Though...."
"I don't get it. Where is that from?"
"There's no use guessing. How's the reflection?"
"In the same phase."
"In the one we need?"
And again silence, like ooze, swallowing all sound. I no longer heard,
nor saw, nor felt.
A LEAP ACROSS A CENTURY
The transference from darkness to light was accompanied by a strange
state of peacefulness. As if I were swimming in transparent cool oil or was
in a state of weightlessness in milky-white space. The quiet of a
sound-proof chamber surrounded me. There were no doors, no windows - light
came from nowhere, soft and warm like sunlight through clouds. The snowy
cloud of the ceiling invisibly fused with the cloudy swirl of the walls. The
whiteness of the sheets dissolved in the whiteness of the room. I could not
feel the touch of blanket or sheets; it was as if they were woven of air
like the clothing of Andersen's naked king.
Gradually I began to make out the things around me. Suddenly I saw the
outline of a screen with white leather behind it. At first it was completely
invisible, but if you looked at it hard it took on the appearance of a metal
sheet, reflecting like a mirror the white walls, the bed and myself. It was
facing me as if it were somebody's eye or ear, and it seemed to be listening
and watching my every movement or intention. As it turned out later, I was
Beside the bed floated a flat white pillow with a fine-grained surface.
When I reached out to touch it, it turned out to be the seat of a chair
resting on three legs made of thick transparent plastic material which was
quite new to me. In addition, I noticed the same kind of table, and
something like a thermometer or barometer under a glass-like dome,
apparently an apparatus for registering air fluctuations.
The snowy whiteness all around me created the feeling of peace, but
alarm and curiosity were beginning to grow inside me. Throwing back the
weightless blanket, I sat up. The underclothing I wore reminded me of a
hunting outfit: it fitted snugly yet one wasn't aware of its presence. I
gave a sudden start, though, when I noticed the blurred image of a person
sitting up in bed reflected in the dim surface of the screen. He wasn't at
all like me, seemed taller, younger and had a more athletic build.
"You may get up and walk to and fro," said a woman's voice.
I looked around involuntarily, though I realized I wouldn't see anybody
in the room.
"Don't be surprised at anything, not at anything!" I ordered myself,
and obediently walked to the wall and back.
"Once more," said the voice.
I repeated the exercise, guessing that somebody, somewhere, was
"Raise your arms."
"Lower them. Once more. Now sit down. Stand up."
I conscientiously did everything required of me, without asking
"Well, and now lie down."
"I don't want to. What for?" I said.
"One more check-up in a state of quiet."
Some strange force lightly pushed me back on the pillow, and my own
hands pulled up the blanket. Curious. How did my unseen observer manage
that? Mechanically or by suggestion? The imp of protest inside me burst
"Where am I?"
"But this is some kind of hospital room."
"It's an ordinary revitalizing room. We set it up in your home."
"GEMS. Of the thirty-second district."
"GEMS?" I asked blankly.
"Central Medical Service. Have you forgotten?"
I fell silent. What could I answer?
"A partial loss of memory following shock," explained the voice. "Don't
try to make yourself remember. Don't strain yourself. Just ask, if you want
to know something."
"Then I'll do just that," I agreed. "Who are you, for instance?"
"A curator on duty. Vera-seven."
"What?" I asked in surprise. "Why seven?"
"You sound odd with your 'why seven?' Because in our sector, besides
me, there is Vera-one, Vera-two, and so on."
"And your last name?"
"I still haven't done anything remarkable enough for that."
It was dangerous to ask more. A clearly risky turn of affairs had set
"Can you show yourself?" I asked.
"That is not obligatory."
Probably she's an ugly, disgusting old woman. Pedantic and nagging. I
"Nagging, that's true," said the voice. "Pedantic? Maybe."
"Can you read the mind?" I asked embarrassed.
"Not I, but the cogitator. A special apparatus."
I did not answer, wondering whether the devilish apparatus could be
"It can't be," said the voice.
"It's not fair, or even respectable."
"It's not res-pec-ta-ble!" I cried angrily. "It's not nice! Dishonest!
To look and listen in isn't honest, and to crawl into a person's skull-box
is very low."
The voice was silent. Then it spoke severely and with reproach.
"The first patient in all my practice to object to the cogitator. We do
not tune it in to a healthy, sound person. But with a patient, we observe
everything: the nervous system, the heart vessels, the breathing apparatus,
all the functions of the body."
"Then why do you use it on me? I 'm sound as a bell."
"Usually observers do not meet their patients, but I am allowed to."
Now I could see who the voice belonged to. The reflecting surface of
the screen darkened like water in a muddy pool, and faded out. Looking
straight at me was the face of a young woman with short wavy hair. She was
dressed in white.
"You may ask questions - your memory will come back."
"What's the matter with me?"
"You had an operation. A heart transplant. After an accident. Do you
"Now I remember," I cried. "Is it plastic?"
"Is what plastic?"
"The heart, naturally. Or is it a metal one?"
She laughed with the superiority of a school-teacher who receives a
stupid answer from a pupil.
"It's not for nothing that they say you live in the twentieth century."
I was frightened. Could they know everything? But perhaps that was even
better.... I wouldn't have to explain anything, not make up stories. But
just in case, I asked: "Why?"
"But don't you? Artificial hearts were employed very long ago. We
changed that, and use organic material grown in a special medium. But you
think in terms of the twentieth century: the usual thing with historians.
They say you know all about the twentieth century. Even what kind of shoos
"Heels on spikes," I laughed.
"I don't understand."
I gave a start. The wide-spread, century-old daily word which had lived
to the age of nuclear physics apparently had disappeared from the vocabulary
of the twenty-first century. What do they use in place of nails or spikes, I
"Look here, my dear girl..." I began.
But she interrupted with a laugh.
"Is that how they spoke in that century - 'my dear girl'?"
"Absolutely," I assured her seriously. "I'm fed up lying here. I want
to get dressed and go out."
"You may get dressed: clothes will be given you. But you mustn't go out
yet. The process of observation is still not over. The more so after shock
with loss of memory. We shall still check your organism as to the
neuro-functions habitual to you."
"Of course. You will receive your 'mechanical historian', the best and
latest model, by the way. Without any button controls. Fully automatic,
responds to your voice."
"And will you look and listen?"
"Then it's no go," I said. "I'm not going to get dressed and work in
front of you."
A merry surprise was reflected in her eyes. She had difficulty in
muffling her laughter.
"Why not?" she asked, her hand covering her mouth.
"Because I live in the twentieth century," I snapped.
"All right," she said. "I'll turn off the video-graph. But the inner
organic processes will remain under observation."
"All right," I said. "You may be the seventh, but you're smart."
Again she failed to catch my meaning, but I only waved good-bye. Either
she had never read Chekhov or had forgotten. Her sweet face had already
disappeared from the screen. Suddenly, part of the wall melted away, letting
into the room something resembling a radiator made of interlaced
right-angled pipes. The 'something' turned out to be an ordinary mobile
wardrobe hanger, on which my proposed clothes were conveniently hung.
I chose narrow, light-coloured trousers, which fastened at the ankle
like our ski-pants; then a sweater to match that reminded me of our familiar
West-Side style. The reflection in the mirrored surface of the screen was
not much like me, but quite respectable and nice to look at. It wouldn't do
to meet the people of this new century in underclothing! I turned round when
I heard a noise behind me, as if someone was tip-toeing in. However, it
wasn't a person, but an object somewhat reminiscent of a refrigerator or a
fire-proof safe. How it came in I don't know: it seemed to appear out of the
air in place of the disappearing mobile clothes hanger. It came in and
stopped, winking the green eye of its indicator.
"I wonder," I said aloud, "if this could be my 'mechanical historian'?"
The green eye turned red.
"Mist-12 for short," said the safe in an even, hollow voice lacking all
richness of intonation. "I'm at your service."
I was long silent before I opened the conversation. I trusted the girl:
she wouldn't eavesdrop or watch. But what could I talk to this mechanical
Cyclops about? Couldn't carry on social talk.
"How great is your information?" I asked carefully.
"Encyclopaedic," came the quick answer. "More than a million
references. I can name the exact figure."
"No need of that. And the subjects of the references? "
"The limit of the glossary extends to the start of the twentieth
century. The nature of the references is unlimited."
I wanted to check up on it.
"Give me the name and surname of the third cosmonaut."
It was quite correct - the answers coincided with the facts. I
pondered, and asked another question.
"Who won the Nobel Prize in literature in 1964?"
"Sartre. But he refused it."
"And who is Sartre?"
"A French writer and an existentialist-philosopher. I can formulate the
essence of existentialism."
"No need for that either. When was the Aswan Dam built?"
"The first part was finished in 1969. The second...."
"Enough," I interrupted him, thinking with satisfaction that we had
built it five years earlier. Apparently, not everything in this world
coincided literally with ours.
The Mist was silent. It knew a great deal. I could begin a conversation
about our experiment, the next important topic for me. But I couldn't decide
to approach it directly.
"Tell me what the biggest scientific discovery was in the early part of
the century," I began, choosing my way carefully.
"The theory of relativity," it replied without hesitation.
"And at the end of the century?"
"The scientists Nikodimov and Janovski discovered the phase
trajectories of space."
I almost jumped up on the spot, ready to kiss this impassive Cyclops
with the winking eye-it winked at me every time he rapped out an answer. But
all I did was ask another question.
"Why Janovski and not Zargaryan?"
"At the end of the eighties, the Polish mathematician Janovski brought
out additional corrections to the theory. Zargaryan did not take part, save
in the early experiments. He died in a motor accident long before the
success of the first cross-world traveller permitted Nikodimov to publish
I understood, of course, that it wasn't my Zargaryan, but just the same
my heart missed a beat.
"Who was the first cross-world traveller then?"
"Sergei Gromov, your great grandfather," rapped out the Mist in its
hollow, metallic voice.
It was not at all surprised at the stupidity of my question. Who should
know all about the doings of his forefather if not his descendant? But
surprise had not been programmed into the crystals of the Mist's cybernetic
"Do you need the bibliographic references?" he asked.
"No," I said, and sat on the bed gripping my temples.
However, my invisible Vera-seven hadn't forgotten me.
"Your pulse is fast," she said.
"I'll turn on the videograph."
"Wait," I stopped her. "I'm very interested in working with the Mist.
It's an amazing machine. Thank you for sending it."
The Mist waited. Its red eye was again green.
"Did Nikodimov have scientific opponents?" I asked.
"Even Einstein had them," said the Mist. "Who pays them any attention?"
"What were their objections?"
"The theory was completely refuted by the church. A World Congress of
Church Organizations, held in Brussels in the eighties, looked upon the
theory as the most harmful heresy to be proclaimed over the last two
thousand years. Three years before that, a special Papal Bull had declared
it a blasphemous perversion of the teachings of Jesus Christ, the Son of
God, and a return to the pagan doctrine of many gods. As many Christs for as
many worlds. This could not be endured by either bishops or patriarchs. And
an eminent scientist, the Italian physiologist Pirelli, called the phase
theory the most effective scientific discovery of the century as far as its
anti-religious trend went which was absolutely incompatible with the idea of
one God. It is true, however, that something was done to make it compatible.
The American philosopher Hellman, for instance, explained that the
Berkeleian 'thing in itself ' was a phase movement of material."
"Ravings of the Old Grey Mare," I said.
"I do not understand," responded my Cyclops. "A mare is a sexual gender
of a horse. Grey is a colour. Ravings are disconnected speech. A crazy
horse? No, I do not understand."
"Simply an idiom of speech. The approximate idea is absurd, below
normal. Comes from 'The old grey mare, she ain't what she used to be' - a
"I shall programme it," said the Mist. "Correction of Gromov to
"All right," I stopped him. "Better tell me about phases. Are they all
"Marxist science affirms they are. By way of experiment, it has been
shown that many are similar. Theoretically, it relates to all of them."
"And were there any objections to the idea?"
"Of course. Opponents of the materialistic conception of history
insisted that similarity was not obligatory. They proceeded from the premise
that chance plays a role in the life of man and society. If it weren't for
the crusades, they said, the history of the Middle Ages would have been
different. Without Napoleon, the map of new Europe would have differed. And
if Hitler had been absent from German political life, the world would not
have been led into World War Two. All this has long been disproved.
Historical and social processes do not depend on chance which changes one or
another individual destiny. Such processes are obedient to the laws of
historical development that are common to all."
I remembered my argument with Klenov and my question: 'But, you see,
there is such a possibility - there is no Hitler. He was never born. What
And the Mist repeated Klenov's answer almost word for word: 'There
would have appeared another fuehrer. A little earlier, or a bit later, but
he would have appeared. You see, the deciding factor is not a matter of
personality, but the economic situation of the thirties. The objective
chance of the appearance of such a personality obeys the law of historical
"So everywhere it is one and the same thing?" I asked. "In all phases,
in all worlds? The same historical figures? The same crusades, wars,
revolutions? The same changes of social formations? "
"Everywhere. The difference is only in time, but not in development.
The changes of the social and economic formations in any phase are akin.
They are dictated by the development of the productive forces."
"So they thought last century. But now?"
"I don't know. I am not programmed on that. But my design conforms with
the probability theory and I can make conclusions independent of
programming. The laws of dialectical materialism remain true not only for
"Another question, Mist. Is the mathematical expression of the phase
theory very complicated?"
"It includes the general formulas, the calculations of Janovski and
Shual's system of equations. There are three pages on it in the textbooks. I
can recite them."
"I can give them graphically."
"Will it take long?"
I heard a slight noise, like the buzzing of an electric razor, and the
front panel of the machine lowered to become a shelf on metal hinges. On the
shelf lay two white accurate right-angled cards, closely covered with
certain ciphers and signs. When I picked them up, the panel closed so tight
I could not see any line of demarcation.
Behind me came a thin, childish voice.
"I'm here, Pop. Are you angry?"
I turned. A boy of six or seven years stood by the white wall. He wore
a sky-blue suit tightly outlining his body. He looked like a picture from a
children's fashion magazine where they always draw such handsome,
A FATHER'S RIGHT
"How did you come in?" I asked.
He walked backward and disappeared. The wall was as even and white as
before. Then a cunning face peeked through it, and the boy appeared in the
room like 'the man who walked through walls'.
"Light and sound protectors," I remembered. Here they used white to
give a complete illusion of walls.
"I sneaked in secretly," admitted the boy. "Mom didn't see, and Vera
turned off the eye."
"How do you know?"
"The eye looks in here through the gym. When you run in there, she
cries out: 'Go away, Ram. You're in the field of vision.'"
"Where does she cry out from?"
"From far away. In the hospital." He pointed off somewhere as if
pointing to it.
I didn't say the probably expected 'Clear enough' because it wasn't
clear at all.
"And Julia's been crying," Ram informed me.
"Why is that?"
"Over you. You objected to the experiment. That's bad, Pop. That's no
way to act."
"What experiment is it?" I asked out of curiosity.
"They want to turn her into an invisible cloud. Like in a fairy story.
The cloud will fly and fly away, and then return. And it will become Julia
"And I wouldn't give my permission?"
"You refused to. You're afraid the cloud won't come back."
Now I was completely lost. Lost in the woods.
Vera came to my rescue by reminding me of my pulse again.
"Vera," I begged, "can you clear this up? Why did I refuse to let Julia
become invisible? It's all my rotten memory!"
I heard a familiar laugh.
"How oddly you talk. Rot-ten.... It sounds so funny. As for Julia, you
must decide that for yourself - it's a family matter. That's why Aglaya
tries to get in to see you. I wouldn't let her, afraid of exciting you. But
"Let her in," I said. "I'll try to keep calm."
I couldn't risk asking who Aglaya was. I'd get by somehow. I looked at
the place where Ram had just vanished, but Aglaya came in from the opposite
side. She came in as if she had every right to be here, and sat across from
me. She was a tall woman, under forty, and wore a dress of marvellous cut
and colour. She would have looked just right in our world on the platform at
any kind of international festival.
"You look well," she remarked, looking at me closely. "Even better than
before the operation. And with a new heart you'll probably live to a
"But what if I won't live to a hundred?"
"Why shouldn't you? Biological incompatibility was frightening only in
your favourite century."
I hesitantly shrugged, leaving the conversation in her hands. A game of
surprises was beginning. Who was she to me? And I to her? What did she want
of me? The ground was getting slippery, every step called for a quick wit,
and fast thinking.
Our talk began at once.
"So you've agreed?" she asked unexpectedly.
"As if you don't know. I spoke with Anna."
"Don't pretend. You know what I'm talking about. You agreed to the
What experiment? And who was Anna? Why must I agree or disagree?
"Did they force you to?" she asked me.
"Don't mention names, the child will hear. And after such an operation.
Before you're yourself again. A new heart. Blood vessels with cosmetic
seals! And they come to you with an ultimatum: agree, and that's all!"
"There's no need to exaggerate," I said, feeling my way.
"I'm not. I know all about it. And Anna supports it because she's all
wrapped up in science. She simply has no biological feelings! Julia's not
her daughter. But she's yours. And she's my granddaughter."
I thought that for a father and grandmother, we were too young-looking
to have a grown-up daughter who was going in for some kind of complex
scientific experiment. I remembered Ram's story and smiled.
"And he can still smile!" cried out my companion.
I had to tell her the story of the invisible cloud, as Ram had
"So Anna hasn't told her. That was wise. Now you can withdraw your
"Why should I?"
"And you will permit them to turn your daughter into some kind of
cloud? What if it melts away? Or the atomic structure cannot be restored?
Let Bogomolov experiment on himself! They won't let him, d'you see. Too old,
they say, and weak. Is it any easier for you and I that she is young and
strong?" Aglaya paced around the room like an angry Brunhilda. "I don't
understand you, Sergei. You were so hotly against it."
"But I agreed, you see," I objected.
"I don't believe there was an agreement!" she screamed. "And Julia
doesn't know anything about it. You tell her they'll have to cancel the
experiment ... she'll be here in a minute. A person is not the sole master
of his fate when he has a mother or father."
I had a flash of hope: "Maybe the experiment won't take place very
"It's arranged for today."
I thought it over. Julia, apparently, was around twenty, maybe a bit
younger or older. She was the assistant of a professor, or something like
that. They were going to carry out an experiment which to us would seem
utterly fantastic. And here, too, it was apparently associated with mortal
danger. A father had the right to interfere, and not permit the risk to be
taken. Now I had been handed this right. And I couldn't even refuse to use
it without giving myself away and creating a far more critical situation.
Aglaya's eyes stared at me with unconcealed anger but I could not answer her
at once. To say 'no' to the experiment and eliminate the alarm of those
people to whom the girl's fate was so dear? But her place would be taken by
another, I was sure of that. Somebody else would just as readily take the
risk as Julia. So how could I take away from her the right to do this brave
act? But to say 'yes' and perhaps deal a death blow to the person who was
unable now to interfere and correct me?
"So man is not the sole master of his fate when he has a mother or
father," I repeated thoughtfully.
"Such is the tradition of this century," she snapped back.
"A good tradition when the risk is merely a foolhardy one. But if not?
If a man or a girl takes the risk in the name of a higher interest than the
happiness or grief of his or her dear ones?"
"Whose interests are higher?" asked Aglaya.
"Those of one's native land, of course."
"It is not threatened with danger."
"Then those of science!"
"It doesn't need human lives. If somebody dies, the scientists are to
blame who permit death to occur."
"And if there's no blame, if the risk was a brave act?"
'Brunhilda' again rose to her feet, magnificent as a monument.
"They did not only transplant your heart."
Without another glance at me, she swept through the wall which parted
before her like the obedient Red Sea in the Bible.
"You did right," said Vera.
I sighed. "But if not?"
"One more talk, and then we'll take off the observation."
The person I was to talk with was already in the room. It is difficult
to describe her appearance, for men usually don't understand all the fine
points about hair-do and dress. The latter was severe in cut, bright, and
not so far in advance of our styles. The face had something in common with
the photographs in my family album - the Gromov look.
I automatically studied the purity of her features, her discreet charm.
"I'm waiting, Daddy," she said dryly. "And they are waiting to hear at
"Didn't they tell you?" I asked.
"That I'm no longer against it."
She sat down and got up again. Her lips trembled.
"Daddykins, you dear..." she sobbed, and buried her face in my sweater.
I was aware of a faint, strange scent. Like flowers on a meadow after
rain when all the dust is washed away.
"Have you a bit of time to spare?" I asked.
"Tell me about the experiment. After the shock, I seem to have
"I know. But it will pass."
"Of course. But that's why I ask. Is it your discovery?"
"Well, really," she laughed. "Naturally it's not mine, nor Bogomolov's
either. It's a discovery from the future, from some adjacent phase. Just
picture any object in the shape of a rarefied electronic cloud. The speed of
displacement is terrific. No obstacle can withstand it, it goes through
anything. As the experiments have shown, you can throw anything you wish for
an unlimited distance - transmit pictures, statues, trees, houses. By this
means a day or so ago, they transmitted from near Moscow a single-span
bridge right across the Caspian Sea, setting it down right on the spot
between Baku and Krasnovodsk. And now the experiment is to be made on man.
So far, only within the city limits."
"All the same, I don't see how...."
"Of course you wouldn't understand, Daddy, my dear old historian. But,
roughly speaking, schematically, it's about like this: in any solid body the
atoms are packed tight. They cannot spread out, nor do they penetrate each
other because of the presence of electrostatic forces of attraction and
repulsion. Now imagine that a way has been found to reconstruct these inner
connections between the atoms and, without changing the atomic structure of
the body, to reduce it to a rarefied state in which, let us say, atoms are
found in gases. What do we get? An atomic-electronic cloud which one can
again condense into the molecular-crystalline structure of a solid body."
"What 'if? The technological process was mastered long ago." She rose.
"Wish me good luck, Daddy."
"One question, child." I took her hand. "Do you know the phase theory?"
"Of course. It's taught in school now."
"Well, but I never had it. And I need to memorize everything about it,
even if I do so mechanically."
"There's nothing simpler. Tell Eric, he's Mother's chief hypnotist.
You've forgotten everything, Dad. We have a suggestion-concentrator and a
dispersion unit." She raised her wrist to her face and spoke into a tiny
microphone on a bracelet.
"In a minute... just a minute. Everything's ready, and it's all right.
No, that's not necessary, don't send for me ... I'll come by the movement.
Of course, it's simpler. And more convenient. No rising, no landing, no
noise or wind. I'll stand on the pavement ... and be there in two minutes."
She hugged me and, saying good-bye, added: "Only no watching. I've
turned off the super. You'll be kept regularly informed and in good time.
And tell Eric and Dir no tricks, and not to switch into the network."
And all in flight, tense and ethereal, as if skimming over waves, she
disappeared through the white swirling wall which closed after her.
I walked over to what looked to me like a wall. Vera never raised her
voice. Glancing over my shoulder like a thief, I walked through the wall.
Before me stretched a long corridor leading, apparently, to a verandah.
Through the glass door, if it was glass, I saw a twilight-darkened sky and
the rather distant outline of a skyscraper. When I came closer, there was
neither glass nor door. I just walked through. A woman and two men sat at a
low table. Ram was hopping on one foot along the verandah which was guarded
by low, clipped bushes in place of a railing. They were covered by large
creamy flowers, gleaming with evening dew, that reminded me of bright
Christmas tree ornaments.
"Daddy's come," cried Ram, hanging on my neck.
"Leave Daddy alone, Ram," said the woman severely.
A soft light, falling from somewhere above, slipped past and left her
in the shadow. "Probably Anna," I thought.
"Observation has been removed," she continued.
"So now you've complete freedom to move about," laughed the older man,
who must have been Eric.
"Not complete," corrected the woman. "No farther than the verandah."
The younger man, Dir apparently, jumped up and walked along by the
bushes, not glancing at me. Long-legged, dressed in shorts that fitted his
waist snugly, he looked like an athlete in training.
"Julia just left," I said.
"You shouldn't have given permission," snapped Dir over his shoulder.
"We all heard it," explained Anna.
I was annoyed. Everybody in this house hears and sees all. Just try to
be alone. Like living on a stage, I thought.
"But you really have changed," smiled Anna. "Only I can't put my finger
on just what it is. Perhaps it's for the better?"
I was silent, meeting Eric's attentive and observant glance.
"Gromova has entered the eino-chamber," said a voice, but where it came
from I couldn't make out.
"Do you hear that?" Dir turned to us. "All the time it was Julia-two,
and now she's already Gromova!"
"Glory begins with a surname," laughed Eric.
I reminded him that the super was turned off, adding that Julia had
asked the guests not to tune into the network.
"WHAT did you say - guests?" asked Anna in surprise.
"So what?" I asked guardedly.
"There certainly is something wrong with your memory. We haven't used
the word 'guest' in its former meaning for half a century. Are you so buried
in history that you've forgotten?"
"Now we use the word 'guests' only for visitors from other phases of
space and time," explained Eric in a rather odd tone.
I didn't manage to answer - the voice again interrupted.
"Preparations for the experiment are proceeding in cycles," he rapped
out. "No deviations have been observed."
"In twenty minutes," said Dir. "They won't begin earlier."
Everybody was silent. Eric did not take his attentive curious gaze off
me. There was nothing unpleasant in his look, but it aroused my involuntary
"I heard your request about formulas, when you were speaking with
Julia," he said suddenly, with a quite benevolent intonation. "I'd be glad
to help you. There's plenty of time, so come along."
I got up, glancing down past the green border. The verandah hung at
skyscraper height. Beneath were the dark crowns of trees, probably the
corner of a city park. I went out with Eric.
"Light!" said Eric as we entered a room, apparently not addressing
anyone in particular. "Only on our faces and on the table."
The light in the room, as if compressed, was condensed into an
invisible projector that picked out of the darkness my face and Eric's, and
a small table I found beside me.
"Have you the formulas with you?" asked Eric. I gave him the cards from
"I don't need them," he laughed. "This is your lesson. Put them on the
table and give them your complete attention. Only the upper rows, the lower
ones aren't necessary. Those are calculations which are filled out by the
electronic computer. Now read the upper rows line by line."
"I shan't remember them," I protested.
"That isn't necessary. Merely look at them."
"For very long?"
"Until I tell you not to."
"Somewhere you have a suggestion concentrator," I remembered Julia's
"What for?" laughed Eric. "I work by the old methods. Now look at my
I saw only the pupils of the eyes, as big as burning icon-lamps.
"Sleep!" he cried.
Exactly what happened after that I don't remember. I think I opened my
eyes and saw an empty table.
"Where are the formulas?"
"I threw them away."
"But look here, I remember nothing."
"It only seems that way. You'll remember later when you get home. You
are a guest, aren't you? Am I right?"
"Quite right," I said decisively.
"From what time?"
"From the last century, in the sixties."
He laughed softly in delight. "I knew it from the results of the
medical observations. Both the shock and loss of memory looked very
suspicious. I studied you by videograph when Julia was speaking to
Bogomolov. You had such a look on your face, as if you were seeing a
miracle. When she said that she'd go by the 'movement', I realized you had
never once stepped on a travelling panel-pavement. And we've had them for
half a century. You had forgotten all that has come into being in our times,
right up to the semantics of the word 'guest'. You might deceive surgeons,
but not a parapsychologist."
"All the better," I said. "Lucky for me that I met you. I'm only sorry
I must leave without seeing anything, neither the houses nor the streets,
neither the travelling-panels, nor your technology, nor even your social
system. To be on the heights of communist society - and not see anything but
a hospital room!"
"Why on the heights? Communism isn't stationary, it's a developing
system. We have to go far yet before we reach the heights. Now we are making
a gigantic leap into the future ... with the conclusion of Julia's dream.
Your world will do the same after you take back the formulas of our century
that are imprinted in your memory. Although only minds meet so far, all the
same these meetings of worlds enrich us, and advance the dreams of mankind."
I wanted to leave a remembrance behind me in this world, to a man whose
brain I had usurped.
"May I leave a note for him?" I asked Eric.
"Why a note? Simply tell him. It will be his voice, but your words."
I looked around, perplexed.
"You're looking for a tape-recorder? We have another and better means
of reproducing speech. Too long to explain. Simply talk."
"I beg you to forgive me, Gromov, for usurping your place in life for
these nine or ten hours," I began hesitantly, but a sympathetic nod from
Eric urged me on. "I am only a guest, Gromov, and I'm leaving as suddenly as
I came. But I want to tell you that I've been very happy living these hours
of your life. I interfered in it by giving Julia my blessing and letting her
do this brave deed. But I couldn't do otherwise. To refuse would have been
cowardly, and to stop her - obscurantism. I regret only one thing: I cannot
wait for the victory of your daughter, nor for the victory of your science
and system. That great happiness will belong to you."
"Sergei, Eric!" cried Dir, running in. "It's starting!"
"Too late," I said, feeling the familiar approach of the dark,
soundless abyss. "I'm leaving you. Good-bye."
IN PLACE OF AN EPILOGUE
Outside my window lies the street lashed by wind and rain. The electric
lamps in the murky rain-curtain are like spiders lost in their own webs. A
bus goes tearing through the gloom of the slanting shield of water. It is an
ordinary autumn evening in Moscow.
I have finished the last lines of the essay or memoirs, or perhaps
personal diary - I don't know what to call it - which I shall not risk
publishing. But it had to be written. Klenov rang up early this morning,
stating the exact number of lines for the column. By the way, he immediately
made a reservation; it all depended on the reaction of world scientific
societies. Maybe I'd be given a whole page.
The Academy of Sciences starts its session tomorrow at ten in the
morning, and nobody knows when it will end. There will be Nikodimov's report
and Zargaryan's, then my speech and those of foreign scientists and ours.
According to Klenov, more than two hundred people have arrived. All the
stars of our physico-mathematical galaxies, not counting visitors and
correspondents. I shall not cite the government's communique, for everybody
knows it. After it came out, not only my scientific friends but reporter
Sergei Gromov woke up famous.
More than two months have passed since my return, but it seems like it
was only yesterday that I woke up in Faust's laboratory in the familiar
chair with its electrodes and pick-ups. I woke up tired and with a feeling
of bitter, almost unbearable loss. Zargaryan was asking me something, but I
answered unwillingly and uncertainly. Nikodimov silently looked at me,
studying the oscillograph results.
"We began at 10.15," he said suddenly, "and at one o'clock we lost
"Not completely," said Zargaryan.
"Right. Brightness fell first to zero, then it revived but was very
faint, and rose to the supreme point. Even with a more exact direction
sighting. To tell the truth, I was all at sea."
"At one o'clock," I repeated thoughtfully, looking at Zargaryan, "at
exactly one or a bit earlier, I was with you in the Sofia restaurant."
"Are you delirious?" he asked, after a moment's silence.
"Yes, with you older by twenty years and wearing a 'Kurchatov' beard
that covered half your chest. In a word, it was Moscow at the close of the
century. In that same Sofia. By the way, it's quite different from ours. And
Mayakovsky, too. He stands taller than the Nelson column." I drew in a whole
lungful of air, and blurted out: "And you got hold of me and threw me ahead
by a whole century. That's when you lost me ... during the second
Now they were both looking at me, not so much with distrust as with
sharp suspicion. But I went on, not even leaving the chair for I hadn't the
strength to rise.
"You don't believe me? It's hard to believe, naturally. Fantastic.
Incidentally, the screens in their lab are in one line forming a parabola,
and with a mobile control panel. And on the roof there's a swimming
pool...." I swallowed, and was silent.
"You need some doping," said Zargaryan. He mixed two egg yolks with
half a glass of cognac and gave it to me, almost spilling it his hands were
so shaky. The drink revived me. Now I could go on.... And I talked and
talked without stopping for breath, and they listened as if bewitched, with
the reverence of habitues of premiere performances at the conservatoire.
Then they interrupted, shooting questions like machine-gun bursts. They
questioned and cross-examined me. Zargaryan cried out something in Armenian,
and over and over again I had to repeat my recollections: now about the
monorail track, now the gold and crystal Sofia, now the chair without the
helmet or pick-ups, now the white revitalizing room and the unseen
Vera-seven, then about the Mist with its glossary and the story of Julia in
which the mysterious image of a century was reflected as in frosted glass. I
still could not bring myself to describe the most important thing of all -
my meeting with Eric. And when I got to it, something suddenly erupted in my
memory like a blinding flash of magnesium.
"Paper," I cried out hoarsely. "Quickly! And a pencil."
Zargaryan handed me a fountain pen and pad. I closed my eyes. Now I saw
them absolutely clear-cut, as if held before my eyes - all the rows of
ciphers and letters expressing the formulas on the Mist's cards. I could
write them one after another without missing a thing, without getting mixed
up, reproducing exactly everything engraved in my memory in that other
world, all of which appeared with indelible vividness. I wrote blindly,
vaguely hearing Zargaryan's whisper: "Look, look ... he's writing
automatically with closed eyes." And that is how I wrote, not opening my
eyes, not stopping, with feverish swiftness and clarity until I had
reproduced on paper the last concluding equation of mathematical symbols.
When I opened my eyes, the first thing I saw was Nikodimov's face
leaning over me, whiter than the sheet of paper I'd been writing on.
"That's all," I said, throwing down the pen.
Nikodimov took the pad and raised it close to his short-sighted eyes.
Then he froze motionless - it was as if a cinema reel had suddenly been
brought to a stop in the middle of a film showing.
"This needs a wiser mathematician than I," he said finally, passing the
pad to Zargaryan. "And he won't manage without an electronic computer. It
will have to be computed."
It took Nikodimov and Zargaryan one and a half to two months to do it,
working in Moscow and the Brain centre in Novosibirsk. Academicians and
post-graduate researchers worked with them. The baffling calculation secrets
of the mathematics of the future were finally solved by Yuri Privalov, the
youngest Doctor of Mathematical Science in the world. The phase theory of
Nikodimov-Zargaryan was now firmly established on a sound mathematical basis
proved by experiments from the future. The equations translated into
mathematical language became the Shual-Privalov equations. And tomorrow they
would be made available to all mankind.
Olga's asleep, faintly lit by a pencil gleam from my lamp. She doesn't
seem very content, in fact there is a slightly frightened look on her face.
She already told Galya and me of her fear that fame and popularity, all this
sensational excitement that awaits me tomorrow, will become a barrier
between us that might break up our life together. Of course, the talk of a
barrier is nonsense, but even now my life is beginning to look like an
idiotic Hollywood true story.
Foreign correspondents, who earlier sniffed out that something was
brewing, follow me through the streets. The telephone rings all day and we
have to smother it with a pillow at night, so that the sound of its ringing
doesn't awaken us. Already a certain American publishing house has made me a
wild offer for my impressions. And I, parrot-like, have to repeat over and
over that no impressions are to be printed as yet; and when they are they
can be read in Soviet publications. And Klenov chaffs me in a friendly way
that all the same I shall have to write about my JOURNEY ACROSS THREE
I don't agree - not three! Many more. And among them there will
definitely be the one that I never really saw - that wonderful, inimitable
world of Julia and Eric.
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