Both of Them
Entropy and Energy
The Opaque Part of the Body
If your world is similar to the world of the ancients, then you may easily imagine that one day you suddenly come upon a sixth or a seventh continent, upon some Atlantis, and you ﬁnd there unheard-of cities, labyrinths, people ﬂying through the air without the aid of wings or aeros, stones lifted into the air by the power of a gaze — in brief, imagine that you see things that cannot come to your mind even if you suffer from dream sickness. That is how I feel now. For you must understand that no one has ever gone beyond the Green Wall since the Two Hundred Years’ War, as I have already told you.
I know it is my duty to you, my unknown friends, to give more details about that unsuspected, strange world which has opened to me since yesterday. But for the time being I am unable to return to that subject. Everything is so novel, so novel it is like a rainstorm, and I am not big enough to embrace it all. I Spread out the folds of my unif, my palms — and yet pailfuls splash past me and only drops can reach these pages. . . .
At ﬁrst I heard behind me, behind the door, a loud voice. I recognized her voice, the voice of I-330, tense, metallic — and another one, almost inﬂexible, like a wooden ruler, the voice of U-. Then the door burst open with a crack and both of them shot into the room. Shot is the right word.
I-330 put her hand on the back of my armchair and smiled over her shoulder, but only with her teeth, at U-. I should not care to stand before such a smile.
“Listen,” she said to me, “this woman seems to have made it her business to guard you from me like a little child. Is it with your permission?”
“But he is a child. Yes! That is why he does not notice that you . . . that it is only in order . . . That all this is only a foul game! Yes! And it is my duty . . .”
For a second (in the mirror) the broken, trembling line of brows. I leaped, controlling with difﬁculty the other self within me, the one with the hairy ﬁsts. With difﬁculty, pushing every word through my teeth, I cried straight into her face, into her very gills:
“Get out of here at once! Out! At once!”
The gills swelled at ﬁrst into brick-red lumps, then fell and became gray. She opened her mouth to say something, but without a word she slammed it shut and went out.
I threw myself toward I-330.
“Never, never will I forgive myself! She dared! You . . . But you don’t think, do you, that you, that she . . . This is all because she wants to register on me, but I . . .”
“Fortunately she will not have time for that now. Besides, even a thousand like her . . . I don’t care . . . I know you will not believe that thousand, but only me. For after all that happened yesterday, I am all yours, all, to the very end, as you wanted it. I am in your hands; you can now at any moment . . .”
“What, ‘at any moment’?” (But immediately I understood what. The blood rushed to my ears and cheeks.) “Don’t speak about that, you must never speak about that! The other I, my former self . . . but now . . .”
“How do I know? Man is like a novel: up to the last page one does not know what the end will be. It would not be worth reading otherwise.”
She was stroking my head. I could not see her face, but I could tell by her voice that she was looking somewhere far into the distance; she had booked herself on to that cloud which was ﬂoating silently, slowly, no one knows where to.
Suddenly she pushed me away with her hand, ﬁrmly but tenderly.
“Listen. I came to tell you that perhaps we are now . . . Our last days . . . You know, don’t you, that all Auditoriums are to be closed after tonight?”
“Yes. I passed by and saw that in all Auditoriums preparations are going on: tables, medics all in white . . .”
“But what does it all mean?”
“I don’t know. Nobody knows as yet. That’s the worst of it I feel only that the current is on, the spark is jumping, and if not today, then tomorrow. . . . Yet perhaps they will not have time. . . .”
It has been a long while since I ceased to understand who they are and who we are. I do not understand what I want; do I want them to have or not to have enough time? One thing is clear to me: I-330 is now on the very edge, on the very edge, and in one second more . . .
“But it is folly,” I said. “You, versus the United State! It’s the same as if you were to cover the muzzle of a gun with your hands and expect that way to prevent the shot. . . . It is absolute folly!”
“ ‘We must all go insane — as soon as possible go insane.’ It was yesterday, do you remember?”
Yes, she was right; I had even written it down. Consequently, it really had taken place. In silence I looked into her face. At that moment the dark cross was especially distinct.
“I-, dear, before it is too late . . . If you want . . . I’ll leave ! everything, I’ll forget everything, and we’ll go there beyond the Wall, to them. . . . I do not even know who they are. . . .” ‘
She shook her head. Through the dark windows of her eyes I saw within her a ﬂaming oven, sparks, tongues of ﬂame, and above them a heap of dry wood. It was clear to me that it was too late, my words could be of no avail.
She stood up. She would soon leave. Perhaps these were the last days, or the last minutes. . . . I grasped her hand.
“No, stay a little while longer . . . for the sake . . . for the sake . . .” ‘
She slowly lifted my hand toward the light, my hairy paw which I detest. I wanted to withdraw it, but she held it tightly.
“Your hand . . . You undoubtedly don’t know, and very few do know, that women from here occasionally used to fall in love with them. Probably there are in you a few drops of that blood of the sun and the woods. Perhaps that is why I . . .”
Silence. It was so strange that because of that silence, because of an emptiness, because of a nothing, my heart should beat so wildly. I cried:
“Ah, you shall not go yet! You shall not go until you tell me about them, for you love . . . them, and I don’t even know who they are, nor where they come from.”
“Where are they? The half we have lost. H2 and O, two halves, but in order to get water — H20, creeks, seas, waterfalls, storms — those two halves must be united.”
I distinctly remember every movement of hers. I remember she picked up a glass triangle from my table, and while talking she pressed its sharp edge against her cheek; a white scar would appear, then it would ﬁll again and become pink and disappear. And it is strange that I cannot remember her words, especially the beginning of the story. I remember only different images and colors. At ﬁrst, I remember, she told me about the Two Hundred Years’ War. Red color. . . . On the green of the grass, on the dark clay, on the pale blue of the snow — everywhere red ditches that would not become dry. Then, yellow; yellow grass burned by the sun, yellow, naked wild men and wild dogs side by side near swollen cadavers of dogs or perhaps of men. All this certainly beyond the Walls, for the City was already the Victor, and it already possessed our present-day petroleum food. And at night . . . down from the sky . . . heavy black folds. The folds would swing over the woods, the villages — blackish — red, slow columns of smoke. A dull moaning; endless strings of people driven into the City to be saved by force and to be whipped into happiness.
“. . . You knew almost all this.”
“But you did not know, and only a few did, that a small part of them remained together and stayed to live beyond the Wall. Being naked, they went into the woods. They learned there from the trees, beasts, birds, ﬂowers, and sun. Hair soon grew over their bodies, but under that hair they preserved their warm red blood. With you it was worse; numbers covered your bodies; numbers crawled over you like lice. One ought to strip you of everything, and naked you ought to be driven into the woods. You ought to learn how to tremble with fear, with joy, with. wild anger, with cold; you should pray to ﬁre! And we Mephi, we want . . .”
“Wait a minute! ‘Mephi,’ what does it mean?”
“Mephi? It is from Mephisto. You remember, there on the rock, the ﬁgure of the youth? Or, no. I shall explain it to you in your own language, and you will understand better. There are two forces in the world, entropy and energy. One leads into blessed quietude, to happy equilibrium, the other to the destruction of equilibrium, to torturingly perpetual motion. Our, or rather your ancestors, the Christians, worshiped entropy like a God. But we are not Christians, we . . .”
At that moment a slight whisper was suddenly heard, a knock at the door, and in rushed that ﬂattened man with the forehead low over his eyes, who several times had brought me notes from I-330. He ran straight to us, stopped, panting like an air pump, and could say not a word, as he must have been running at top speed.
“But tell me! What has happened?” I-330 grasped him by the hand. .
“They are coming here,” panted the air pump, “with guards. . . . And with them that what’s-his-name, the hunchback . . .” .
“Yes. They are in the house by this time. They’ll soon be here. Quick, quick!”
“Nonsense, we have time!” I-330 was laughing, cheerful sparks in her eyes. It was either absurd, senseless courage, or else there was something I did not understand.
“I-, dear, for the sake of the Well-Doer! You must understand that this . .
“For the sake of the Well-Doer!” The sharp, triangle smile. .
“Well . . . well, for my sake, I implore you!”
“Oh, yes, I wanted to talk to you about. some other matters. . . . Well, never mind. . We’ll talk about them tomorrow.”
And cheerfully (yes, cheerfully) she nodded to me; the other came out for a second from under his forehead’s awning and nodded also. I was alone.
Quick! To my desk! I opened this manuscript and took up my pen so that they should ﬁnd me at this work, which is for the beneﬁt of the United State. Suddenly I felt every hair on my head living, separated, moving. “What if they should read even one page of these most recently written?”
Motionless I sat at the table, but everything around me seemed to be moving, as if the less than microscopic movements of the atoms had suddenly been magniﬁed millions of times; I saw the walls trembling, my pen trembling, and the letters swinging and fusing together. “To hide them! But where?” Glass all around. “To burn them?” But they would notice the ﬁre through the corridor and in the neighboring room. Besides, I felt unable, I felt too weak, to destroy this torturing and perhaps dearest piece of my own self. . . .
Voices from a distance (from the corridor), and steps. I had time only to snatch a handful of pages and put them under me and then, as if soldered to the armchair — every atom of which was quivering — I remained sitting, while the floor under my feet rolled like the deck of a ship, up and down. . .
All shrunk together and hidden under the awning of my own forehead, like that messenger, I watched them stealthily; they were going from room to room, beginning at the right end of the corridor. Nearer . . . nearer. . . . I saw that some sat in their rooms, torpid like me; others would jump up and open their doors wide — lucky ones! If only I, too, could . . .
“The Well-Doer is the most perfect fumigation humanity needs; consequently, no peristalsis in the organism of the United State could . . I was writing this nonsense, pressing my trembling pen hard, and lower and lower my head bent over the table, and within me some sort of crazy forge . . . With my back I was listening . . . and I heard the click of the doorknob. . . ..A current of fresh air. . . . My armchair was dancing a mad dance. . . . Only then, and even then with difﬁculty, I tore myself away from the page and turned my head in the direction of the newcomers (how difficult it is to play a foul game!). In front of all was S-, morose, silent, his eyes swiftly drilling deep shafts within me, within my armchair, and within the pages which were twitching in my hands. Then for a second — familiar, everyday faces at the door; one of them separated itself from the rest with its bulging, pinkish- brown gills. . . .
At once I recalled everything that had happened in the same room half an hour ago, and it was clear to me that they would presently . . .
All my being was shriveling and pulsating in that fortunately opaque part of my body with which I was covering the manuscript. U- came up to S-, gently plucked his sleeve, and said in a low voice:
“This is D-503, the builder of the Integral. You have probably heard of him. He is always like that, at his desk — does not spare himself at all!”
. . . And I thought . . . What a dear, wonderful woman! . . .
S- slid up to me, bent over my shoulder toward the table. I covered the lines I had written with my elbow, but he shouted severely:
“Show us at once what you have there, please!”
Dying with shame, I held out the sheet of paper. He read it over, and I noticed a tiny smile jump out of his eyes, scamper down his face, and, slightly wagging its tail, perch upon the right angle of his mouth. . . .
“Somewhat ambiguous, yet. . . . Well, you may continue; we shall not disturb you any further.”
He went splashing toward the door as if in a ditch of water. And with every step of his I felt coming back to me my legs, my arms, my ﬁngers — my soul again distributed itself evenly throughout my whole body; I breathed . . . .
The last thing: U- lingered in my room to come back to me and say right in my ear, in a whisper; “It is lucky for you that I . . .”
I did not understand. What did she mean by that? The same evening I learned that they had led away three Numbers, although nobody speaks aloud about it, or about anything that happened. This ostensible silence is due to the educational inﬂuence of the Guardians who are ever present among us. Conversations deal chieﬂy with the quick fall of the barometer and the forthcoming change in the weather.