The Mirror-like Sea
I Am to Burn Eternally
I was walking on the dock where the Integral is being built, when the Second Builder came to meet me. His face, as usual, was round and white, a porcelain plate. When he speaks it seems as if he serves you a plate of something unbearably tasty.
“You chose to be ill, and without the Chief we had sort of an accident yesterday.”
“Yes, sir. We ﬁnished the bell and started to let it down, and imagine; the men caught a male without a number. How he got in I can’t make out. They took him to the Operation Department. Oh, they’ll get the answers out of the fellow there; ‘why’ and ‘how,’ etc. . . .” He smiled delightedly.
Our best and most experienced physicians work in the Operation Department under the direct supervision of the Well-Doer himself. They have all kinds of instruments, but the best of all is the Gas Bell. The procedure is taken from an ancient experiment of elementary physics: they used to put a rat under a gas bell and gradually pump out the air; the air becomes more and more rareﬁed, and . . . you know the rest.
But our Gas Bell is certainly a more perfect apparatus, and it is used in combination with different gases. Furthermore, we don’t torture a defenseless animal as the ancients did. We use it for a higher purpose: to guard the security of the United State — in other words, the happiness of millions. About ﬁve centuries ago, when the work of the Operation Department was only beginning, there were yet to be found some fools who compared our Operation Department with the ancient Inquisition. But this is as absurd as to compare a surgeon performing a tracheotomy with a highway cutthroat. Both use a knife, perhaps the same kind of knife, both do the same thing, viz., cut the ‘throat of a living man; yet one is a well-doer, the other is a murderer; one is marked plus, the other minus. . . . All this becomes perfectly clear in one second, in one turn of our wheel of logic, the teeth of which engage that minus, turn it upward, and thus change its aspect.
One other matter is somewhat different: the ring in the door was still oscillating, apparently the door had just closed, yet she, I-330, had disappeared, she was not there! The wheel of logic could not turn this fact. A dream? But even now I still feel in my right shoulder that incomprehensibly sweet pain of I-330 near me in the fog, pressing herself against me. “Thou lovest fog?” Yes, I love the fog, too. I love everything, and everything appears to me wonderful, new, tense; everything is so good! . . .
“So good,” I said aloud.
“Good?” The porcelain eyes bulged out. “What good do you ﬁnd in that? If that man without a number contrived to sneak in, it means that there are others around here, everywhere, all the time, here around the Integral, they —”
“Whom do you mean by ‘they’?”
“How do I know who? But I sense them, all the time.”
“Have you heard about the new operation which has been invented? I mean the surgical removal of fancy?” (There really were rumors of late about something of the sort.)
“No, I haven’t. What has that to do with it?”
“Merely this: if I were you, I should go and ask to have this operation performed upon me.”
The plate distinctly expressed something lemonlike, sour. Poor fellow! He took offense if one even hinted that he might possess imagination. Well, a week ago I, too, would have taken offense at such a hint. Not now though, for I know that I have imagination; that is what my illness consists of. And more than that: I know that it is a wonderful illness—one does not want to be cured, simply does not want to!
We ascended the glass steps; the world spread itself below us like the palm of a hand.
You, readers of these records, whoever you may be, you have the sun above you. And if you ever were ill, as I am now, then you know what kind of sun there is or may be in the morning; you know that pinkish, lucid, warm gold; the air itself looks a little pinkish; everything seems permeated by the tender blood of the sun; everything is alive; the stones seem soft and living, iron living and warm, people full of life and smiles. Perhaps in a short while all this will disappear, in an hour the pinkish blood of the sun will be drained out; but in the meantime everything is alive. And I see how something flows and pulsates in the sides of the Integral; I see the Integral; I think of its great and lofty future, of the heavy cargo of inevitable happiness which it is to carry up there into the heights, to you, unseen ones, to you who seek eternally and who never ﬁnd. You shall ﬁnd! You shall be happy! You must be happy, and now you have not very long to wait!
The body of the Integral is almost ready; it is an exquisite, oblong ellipsoid, made of our glass, which is everlasting like gold and ﬂexible like steel. I watched them within, ﬁxing its transverse ribs and its longitudinal stringers; in the stern they were erecting the base of the gigantic motor. Every three seconds the powerful tail of the Integral will eject ﬂame and gases into universal space, and the Integral will soar higher and higher, like a ﬂaming Tamerlane of happiness! I watched how the workers, true to the Taylor system, would bend down, then unbend and turn around swiftly and rhythmically like levers of an enormous engine. In their hands they held glittering glass pipes which emitted bluish streaks of flame; the glass walls were being cut into with ﬂame; with ﬂame were being welded the angles, the ribs, the bars. I watched the monstrous glass cranes easily rolling over the glass rails; like the workers themselves, they would obediently turn, bend down, and bring their loads inward into the bowels of the Integral. All seemed one: humanized machine and mechanized humans. It was the most magniﬁcent, most stirring beauty, harmony, music!
Quick! Down! To them and with them! And I descended and mingled with them, fused with their mass, caught in the rhythm of steel and glass. Their movements were measured, tense and round. Their cheeks were colored with health, their mirrorlike foreheads unclouded by the insanity of thinking. I was floating upon a mirrorlike sea. I was resting. . . . Suddenly one of them turned his carefree face toward me.
“Well, better today?”
“You were not here yesterday. And we thought something serious . . .” His forehead was shining — a childish and innocent smile.
My blood rushed to my face. No, I could not lie, facing those eyes. I remained silent; I was drowning. . . . Above, a shiny, round, white porcelain face appeared in the hatchway.
“Hey! D-503! Come up here! Something is wrong with a frame and brackets here, and . . .”
Not waiting until he had ﬁnished, I rushed to him, upstairs; I was shamefully saving myself by flight. I had not the power to raise my eyes. I was dazed by the sparkling glass steps under my feet, and with every step I felt more and more hopeless. I, a corrupted man, a criminal, was out of place here. No, I shall probably never again be able to fuse myself into this mechanical rhythm, nor ﬂoat over this mirror-like, untroubled sea. I am to burn eternally from now on, running from place to place, seeking a nook where I may hide my eyes, eternally, until I . . . A spark cold as ice pierced me. “I myself, I matter little, but is it necessary that she also . . .? I must see that she . . .”
I crawled through the hatchway to the deck and stood there; where was I to go now? I did not know what I had come for! I looked aloft. The midday sun, exhausted by its march, was fuming dimly. Below was the Integral, a gray mass of glass — dead. The pink blood was drained out! It was obvious to me that all this was my imagination and that everything was the same as before; yet it was also clear to me that . . .
“What is the matter with you, D-503? Are you deaf? I call and call you. What is the matter with you?” It was the Second Builder yelling directly into my ear; he must have been yelling that way for quite a while.
What was the matter with me? I had lost my rudder; the motor was groaning as before, the aero was quivering and rushing on, but it had no rudder. I did not even know where I was rushing, down to the earth or up to the sun, to its ﬂame. . . .