The Descent from Heaven
The Greatest Catastrophe in History
The Known — Is Ended
At the beginning all arose, and the Hymn, like a solemn mantle, slowly waved above our heads. Hundreds of tubes of the Musical Tower, and millions of human voices. For a second I forgot everything; I forgot that alarming something at which I-330 had hinted in connection with today’s celebration; I think I even forgot about her. At that moment I was the very same little boy who once wept because of a tiny inkstain on his unif, which no one else could see. Even if nobody else sees that I am covered with black, ineffaceable stains, I know it, don’t I? I know that there should be no place for a criminal like me among these frank, open faces. What if I should rush forward and shout out everything about myself all at once! The end might follow. Let it happen! At least for a second I would feel myself clear and clean and senseless like that innocent blue sky. . . .
All eyes were directed upward; in the pure morning blue, still moist with the tears of night, a small dark spot appeared. Now it was dark, now bathed in the rays of the sun. It was He, descending to us from the sky, He—the new Jehovah—in an aero, He, as wise and as lovingly cruel as the Jehovah of the ancients. Nearer and nearer He came, and higher toward Him were drawn millions of hearts. Already He saw us. And in my mind with Him I looked over everything from the heights: concentric circles of stands marked with dotted blue lines of unifs — like circles of a Spiderweb strewn with microscopic suns (the shining badges). And in the center the wise white spider would soon occupy His place — the Well-Doer clad in white, the Well-Doer who wisely tangled our hands and feet in the salutary net of happiness.
His magnificent descent from the sky was accomplished. The brassy Hymn came to silence; all sat down. At once I perceived that everything was really a very thin spiderweb the threads of which were stretched tense and trembling — and it seemed that in a moment those threads might break and something improbable . . . .
I half-rose and looked around, and I met many lovingly worried eyes which passed from one face to another. I saw someone lifting his hand and almost imperceptibly waving his ﬁngers — he was making signs to another. The latter replied with a similar ﬁnger sign. And a third. . . . I understood; they were the Guardians. I understood; they were alarmed by something — the spiderweb was stretched and trembling. And within me, as if tuned to the same wave-length, within me there was a corresponding quiver.
On the platform a poet was reciting his pre-electoral ode. I could not hear a single word; I only felt the rhythmic swing of the hexametric pendulum, and with its every motion I felt how nearer and nearer there was approaching some hour set for . . . I continued to turn over face after face like pages, but I could not ﬁnd the one, the only one, I was seeking, the one I needed to ﬁnd at once, as soon as possible, for one more swing of the pendulum, and . . .
It was he, certainly it was he! Below, past the main platform, gliding over the sparkling glass, the ear wings ﬂapped by, the running body gave a reﬂection of a double- curved S-, like a noose which was rolling toward some of the intricate passages among the stands. S-, I-330, —- there is some thread between them. I have always felt some thread between them. I don’t know yet what that thread is, but someday I shall untangle it. I ﬁxed my gaze on him; he was rushing farther away, behind him that invisible thread. . . . There, he stopped . . . there. . . . I was pierced, twisted together into a knot as if by a lightning- like, many-volted electric discharge; in my row, not more than 40° from me, S- stopped and bowed. I saw I-330, and beside her the smiling, repellent, Negro-lipped R-13.
My ﬁrst thought was to rush to her and cry, “Why with him? Why did you not want . . .?” But the salutary, invisible spiderweb bound fast my hands and feet; so gritting my teeth, I sat stiff as iron, my gaze ﬁxed upon them. A sharp physical pain at my heart. I remember my thought: “If non-physical causes produce physical pain, then it is clear that . .”
I regret that I did not come to any conclusion. I remember only that something about “heart” flashed through my mind; a purely nonsensical ancient expression, “His heart fell into his boots,” passed through my head. My heart sank. The hexameter came to an end. It, was about to start. What “It”?
The ﬁve-minute pre-election recess established by custom. The custom-established, pre-electional silence. But this time it was not that pious, really prayer-like silence that it usually was. This time it was like the ancient days when the sky, still untamed, would roar from time to time with its “storms.” It was like the “lull before the storm” of the ancient days. The air seemed to be made of transparent, vaporized cast iron. You wanted to breathe with your mouth wide open. My hearing, intense to the point of pain, registered from behind a mouse-like, gnawing, worried whisper. Without lifting my eyes I saw those two, I-330 and R-13, side by side, shoulder to shoulder — and on my knees my trembling, foreign, hateful, hairy hands. . . .
Everybody was holding a badge with a clock in his hands. One. . . .Two. . . . Three. . . . Five minutes. From the main platform a cast-iron, slow voice:
“Those in favor shall lift their hands.”
If only I dared look straight into his eyes as I always had! If only I could think devotedly: “Here I am, my whole self! Take me!” But now I did not dare. I had to make an effort to raise my hand, as if my joints were rusty.
The whisper of millions of hands. Someone’s subdued “Ah,” and I felt something was coming, falling heavily, but I could not understand what it was, and I did not have the strength or courage to take a look. . . .
“Those opposed?” . . .
This was always the most magniﬁcent moment of our celebration: all would remain sitting motionless, joyfully bowing their heads under the salutary yoke of that Number of Numbers. But now, to my horror again I heard a rustle — light as a sigh, yet it was even more distinct than the brass tube of the Hymn. Thus the last sigh in a man’s life, around him people with their faces pale and with drops of cold sweat upon their foreheads. . . . I lifted my eyes, and . .
It took one hundredth of a second only; I saw thousands of hands arise “opposed” and fall back. I saw the pale, cross-marked face of I-330 and her lifted hand. Darkness came upon my eyes.
Another hundredth of a second, silence. Quiet. The pulse. Then, as if at the sign of some mad conductor, from all over the stands a rattling, a shouting, a whirlwind of unifs lifted by the rush, the perplexed ﬁgures of the Guardians running to and fro. Someone’s heels in the air near my eyes, and close to these heels someone’s wide-open mouth tearing itself in an inaudible scream. For some reason this picture remains particularly distinct in my memory: thousands of mouths noiselessly yelling as if on the screen of a monstrous cinema. Also, as if on a screen, somewhere below at a distance, for a second, O-90, pressed against the wall in a passage, her lips white, defending her abdomen with her crossed arms. She disappeared as if washed away by a wave, or else I simply forgot her because . . . .
This was not on the screen any more but within me, within my compressed heart, within the rapidly pulsating temples. Over my head, somewhat to the left, R-13 suddenly jumped upon a bench, all sprinkling, red, rabid. In his arms was I-330, pale, her unif torn from shoulder to breast, red blood on white. She held him ﬁrmly around the neck, and he with huge leaps from bench to bench, repellent and agile, like a gorilla, was carrying her upward, away.
As if it were in a ﬁre of ancient days, everything became red around me. Only one thing in my head: to jump after them, to catch them. At this moment I cannot explain to myself the source of that strength within me, but like a battering-ram I broke through the crowd, over somebody’s shoulders, over a bench, and I was there in a moment and caught R-13 by the collar.
“Don’t you dare! Don’t you dare, I say! Immediately —”
Fortunately no one could hear my voice, as everyone was shouting and running.
“Who is it? What is the matter? What —” R-13 turned around; his sprinkling lips were trembling. He apparently thought it was one of the Guardians.
“I do not want — I won’t allow — Put her down at once!”
But he only sprinkled angrily with his lips, shook his head, and ran on. Then l — I am terribly ashamed to write all this down but I believe I must, so that you, my unknown readers, may make a complete study of my disease — then I hit him over the head with all my might. You understand? I hit him. This I remember distinctly. I remember also a feeling of liberation that followed my action, a feeling of lightness in my whole body.
I-330 slid quickly out of his arms.
“Go away!” she shouted to R-. “Don’t you see that he —? Go‘”
R-13 showed his white Negro teeth, sprinkled into my face some word, dived down, and disappeared. And I picked up I-330, pressed her ﬁrmly to myself, and carried her away.
My heart was beating forcibly. It seemed enormous. And with every beat it would splash out such a thundering, such a hot, such a joyful wave. A flash: “Let them, below there, let them toss and rush and yell and fall; what matter if something has fallen, if something has been shattered to dust? Little matter! Only to remain this way and carry her, carry and carry . . .”
The Same Evening, Twenty-two O’clock
I hold my pen with great difﬁculty. Such an extraordinary fatigue after all the dizzying events of this morning. Is it possible that the strong, salutary, centuries-old walls of the United State have fallen? Is it possible that we are again without a roof over our heads, back in the wild state of freedom like our remote ancestors? Is it possible that we have lost our Well-Doer? “Opposed!” On the Day of Unanimity — opposed! I am ashamed of them, painfully, fearfully ashamed. . . . But who are “they”? And who am I? “They,” “We” . . .? Do I know?
I shall continue.
She was sitting where I had brought her, on the uppermost glass bench which was hot from the sun. Her right shoulder and the beginning of the wonderful and incalculable curve were uncovered — an exceedingly thin serpent of blood. She seemed not to be aware of the blood, or that her breast was uncovered. No, I will say rather: she seemed to see all that and seemed to feel that it was essential to her, that if her unif had been buttoned she would have torn it open, she would have . . .
“And tomorrow!” She breathed the words through sparkling white clenched teeth. “Tomorrow, nobody knows what . . . do you understand? Neither I nor anyone else knows; it is unknown! Do you realize what a joy it is? Do you realize that all that was certain has come to an end? Now . . . things will be new, improbable, unforeseen!”
Below the human waves were still foaming, tossing, roaring, but they seemed to be very far away, and to be growing more and more distant. For she was looking at me. She slowly drew me into herself through the narrow golden windows of her pupils. We remained like that, silent, for a long while. And for some reason I recalled how once I had watched some queer yellow pupils through the Green Wall, while above the Wall birds were soaring (or was this another time?).
“Listen, if nothing particular happens tomorrow, I shall take you there; do you understand?”
No, I did not understand, but I nodded in silence. I was dissolved, I became inﬁnitesimal, a geometrical point . . .
After all, there is some logic — a peculiar logic of today — in this state of being a point. A point has more unknowns than any other entity. If a point should start to move, it might become thousands of curves, or hundreds of solids.
I was afraid to budge. What might I have become if I had moved? It seemed to me that everybody, like myself, was afraid now of even the most minute of motions.
At this moment, for instance, as I sit and write, everyone is sitting hidden in his glass cell, expecting something. I do not hear the buzzing of the elevators, usual at this hour, or laughter, or steps; from time to time Numbers pass in couples through the hall, whispering, on tiptoe . . .
What will happen tomorrow? What will become of me tomorrow?