The Great Operation
I Forgave Everything
The Collision of Trains
Saved! At the very last moment, when it seemed that there was nothing to hold on to, that it was the end! . . .
It was as if you already ascended the steps toward the threatening machine of the Well-Doer, or as if the great glass Bell with a heavy thud had already covered you, and for the last time in life you looked at the blue sky to devour it with your eyes . . . when suddenly, it was only a dream! The sun is pink and cheerful and the wall . . . What happiness to be able to touch the cold wall! And the pillow! To delight endlessly in the little cavity formed by your own head in the white pillow! . . . This is approximately what I felt, when I read the State Journal this morning. It has all been a terrible dream, and the dream is over. And I was so feeble, so unfaithful, that I thought of selﬁsh, voluntary death! I am ashamed now to reread yesterday’s last lines. But let them remain as a memory of that incredible what-might-have-happened, which will not happen! On the front page of the State Journal the following gleamed:
For from now on we are perfect!
Until today your own creation, engines, were more perfect than you.
For every spark from a dynamo is a spark of pure reason; each motion of a piston, a pure syllogism. Is it not true that the same faultless reason is within you?
The philosophy of the cranes, presses, and pumps is complete and clear like a circle. But is your philosophy less circular? The beauty of a mechanism lies in its immutable, precise rhythm, like that of a pendulum. But have you not become as precise as a pendulum, you who are brought up on the system of Taylor?
Yes, but there is one difference:
MECHANISMS HAVE NO FANCY.
Did you ever notice a pump cylinder with a wide, distant, sensuously dreaming smile upon its face while it was working? Did you ever hear cranes that were restless, tossing about and sighing at night during the hours designed for rest?
Yet on your faces (you may well blush with shame!) the Guardians have more and more frequently seen those smiles, and they have heard your sighs. And (you should hide your eyes for shame!) the historians of the United State have all tendered their resignations so as to be relieved from having to record such shameful occurrences.
It is not your fault; you are ill. And the name of, your illness is:
It is a worm that gnaws black wrinkles on one’s forehead. It is a fever that drives one to run further and further, even though “further” may begin where happiness ends. It is the last barricade on our road to happiness.
Rejoice! This Barricade Has Been Blasted at Last! The Road is Open!
The latest discovery of our State science is that there is a center for fancy — a miserable little nervous knot in the lower region of the frontal lobe of the brain. A triple treatment of this knot with X-rays will cure you of fancy,
You are perfect; you are mechanized; the road to one-hundred-per-cent happiness is open! Hasten then all of you, young and old, hasten to undergo the Great Operation! Hasten to the auditoriums where the Great Operation is being performed! Long live the Great Operation! Long live the United State! Long live the Well-Doer!
You, had you not read all this in my records — which look like an ancient, strange novel — had you, like me, held in your trembling hands the newspaper, smelling of typographic ink . . . if you knew, as I do, that all this is a most certain reality — if not the reality of today, then that of tomorrow — would you not feel the very things I feel? Would your head not whirl as mine does? Would there not run over your back and arms those strange, sweet, icy needles? Would you not feel that you were a giant, an Atlas? — that if you only stood up and straightened out you would reach the ceiling with your head?
I snatched the telephone receiver.
“I-330. Yes . . . Yes. Yes . . . 330!” And then, swallowing my own words, I shouted, “Are you at home? Yes? Have you read? You are reading now? Isn’t it, isn’t it stupendous?”
“Yes. . . .” A long, dark silence. The wires buzzed almost imperceptibly, She was thinking.
“I must see you today without fail. Yes, in my room, after sixteen, without fail!”
Dear . . . she is such a dear! . . . “Without fail!” I was smiling, and I could not stop! I felt I would carry that smile with me into the street like a light above my head.
Outside the wind ran over me, whirling, whistling, whipping, but I felt even more cheerful. “All right, go on, go on moaning and groaning! The Walls cannot be torn down.” Flying leaden clouds broke over my head . . . well, let them! They could not eclipse the sun! We chained it to the zenith like so many Joshuas, sons of Nun!
At the corner a group of such Joshuas, sons of Nun, were standing with their foreheads pasted to the glass of the wall. Inside, an a dazzling white table, a Number already lay. You could see two naked soles emerging from under the sheet in a yellow angle. . . . White medics bent over his head — a white hand, a stretched-out hand holding a syringe ﬁlled with something. . . .
“And you, what are you waiting for?” I asked nobody in particular, or rather all of them.
“And you?” Someone’s round head turned to me.
“I? Oh, afterward! I must ﬁrst . . .” Somewhat confused, I left the place. I really had to see I-330 ﬁrst. But why ﬁrst? I could not explain to myself. . . .
The docks. The Integral, bluish like ice, was glistening and sparkling. The engine was caressingly grumbling, repeating some one word, as if it were my word, a familiar one. I bent down and stroked the long, cold tube of the motor. “Dear! What a dear tube! Tomorrow it will come to life, tomorrow for the ﬁrst time it will tremble with burning, ﬂaming streams in its bowels.”
With what eyes would I have looked at the glass monster had everything remained as it was yesterday? If I knew that tomorrow at twelve I should betray it, yes, betray. . . . Someone behind cautiously touched my elbow. I turned around. The plate-like, flat face of the Second Builder.
“Do you know already?” he asked.
“What? About the Operation? Yes. How everything, everything . . . suddenly . . .”
“No, not that. The trial ﬂight is put off until day after tomorrow, on account of that Operation. They rushed us for nothing; we hurried . . .”
“On account of that Operation!” Funny, limited man. He could see no further than his own platter! If only he knew that, but for the Operation, tomorrow at twelve he would have been locked up in a glass cage, tossing about, trying to climb the walls!
At twelve-thirty when I came into my room I saw U-. She was sitting at my table, ﬁrm, straight, bone-like, resting her right cheek on her hand. She must have been waiting for a long while, because when she rose brusquely to meet me the ﬁve white imprints of her ﬁngers remained on her cheek.
For a second that terrible morning came back to me: she beside I-330, indignant. But for a second only. All that was at once washed away by today’s sun — as happens sometimes when you enter your room on a bright day and absent-mindedly turn on the light, and the bulb shines but is out of place, comical, unnecessary.
Without hesitation I held out my hand to her; I forgave her everything. She ﬁrmly grasped both my hands and pressed them till they hurt. Her cheeks quivering and hanging down like ancient precious ornaments, she said with emotion:
“I was waiting. . . . I want only one moment. . . . I only wanted to say . . . how happy, how joyous I am for you! You realize, of course, that tomorrow or day after tomorrow you will be healthy again, as if born anew.”
I noticed my papers on the table; the last two pages of my record of yesterday were in the place where I had left them the night before. If only she knew what I had written there! But I didn’t really care. Now it was only history; it was a ridiculously far-off distance, like an image seen through a reversed opera glass.
“Yes,” I said. “A while ago, while passing along the avenue, I saw a man walking ahead of me. His shadow stretched along the pavement — and think of it! His shadow was luminous! I think — more than that, I am absolutely certain — that tomorrow all shadows will disappear. Not a shadow from any person or any thing! The sun will be shining through everything.”
She, gently and earnestly:
“You are a dreamer! I would not allow my children in school to talk that way.”
She told me something about the children: that they were all led in one herd to the Operation; that it was necessary to bind them afterward with ropes; that one must love pitilessly, “yes, pitilessly,” and that she thought she might ﬁnally decide to . . .
She smoothed out the grayish-blue fold of the unif that fell between her knees, swiftly pasted her smiles all over me, and went out.
Fortunately the sun did not stop today. The sun was running. It was already sixteen o’clock. . . . I was knocking at the door, my heart was knocking. . . . ,
I threw myself upon the floor near her chair, to embrace her limbs, to lift my head upward and look into her eyes, ﬁrst into one, then into the other, and in each of them to see the reflection of myself in wonderful captivity. . . .
There beyond the wall it looked stormy, there the clouds were leaden — let them be! My head was overcrowded with impetuous words, and I was speaking aloud, and flying with the sun I knew not where. . . . No, new we knew where we were flying; planets were following me, planets sparkling with ﬂame and populated with ﬁery, singing ﬂowers, and mute planets, blue ones where rational stones were uniﬁed into one organized society, and planets which like our own earth had already reached the apex of one-hundred-per-cent happiness.
Suddenly, from above:
“And don’t you think that at the apex are, precisely, stones uniﬁed into an organized society?” The triangle grew sharper and sharper, darker and darker.
“Happiness . . . well? . . . Desires are tortures, aren’t they? It is clear, therefore, that happiness is when there are no longer any desires, not a single desire any more. What an error, what an absurd prejudice it was, that we used to mark happiness with the sign ‘plus’! No, absolute happiness must be marked ‘minus’ — divine minus!”
I remember I stammered unintelligibly:
“Absolute zero!—minus 273° C.”
“Minus 273° — exactly! A somewhat cool temperature. But doesn’t it prove that we are at the summit?”
As before she seemed somehow to speak for me and through me, developing my own thoughts to the end. But there was something so morbid in her tone that I could not refrain . . . with an effort I drew out a “No.”
“No,” I said. “You, you are mocking. . . .”
She burst out laughing loudly, too loudly. Swiftly, in a second, she laughed herself to some unseen edge, stumbled, and fell over. . . . Silence.
She stood up, put her hands upon my shoulders, and looked into me for a long while. Then she pulled me to- ward her and everything seemed to have disappeared save her sharp, hot lips. . . .
The words came from afar, from above, and reached me not at once but only after a minute, perhaps two minutes later.
“Why . . . Why ‘good-by’?”
“You have been ill, have you not? Because of me you have committed crimes. Hasn’t all this tormented you? And now you have the Operation to look forward to. You will be cured of me. And that means — good-by.”
“No!” I cried.
A pitilessly sharp black triangle on a white background.
“What? Do you mean that you don’t want happiness?”
My head was breaking into pieces; two logical trains collided and crawled upon each other, rattling and smothering. . . .
“Well, I am waiting. You must choose; the Operation and one-hundred-per-cent happiness, or . . .”
“I cannot . . . without you. . . . I must not . . . without you . . .” I said, or perhaps I only thought — I am not sure which — but I-330 heard.
“Yes, I know,” she said. Then, her hands still on my shoulders and her eyes not letting my eyes go, “Then . . . until tomorrow. Tomorrow at twelve. You remember?”
“No, it was postponed for a day. Day after tomorrow!”
“So much the better for us. At twelve, day after tomorrow!”
I walked alone in the dusky street. The wind was whirling, carrying, driving me like a piece of paper; fragments of the leaden sky were soaring, soaring — they had to soar through the inﬁnite for another day or two. . . .
Unifs of Numbers were brushing my sides — yet I was walking alone. It was clear to me that all were being saved but that there was no salvation for me. For I do not want salvation. . . .