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Record Thirty-Four

The Forgiven Ones
A Sunny Night

A Radio-Valkyrie

Oh, if only I had actually broken myself to pieces! If only I had actually found myself with her in some place beyond the Wall, among beasts showing their yellow tusks. If only I had never actually returned here! It would be a thousand, a million times easier! But now — what? Now to go and choke that—! But would it help? No, no, no! Take yourself in hand, D-503! Set into yourself the firm hub of logic; at least for a short while weigh heavily with all your might on the lever and, like the ancient slave, turn the millstones of syllogisms until you have written down and understood everything that happened . . . .

When I boarded the Integral, everyone was already there and in his place; all the cells of the gigantic hive were filled. Through the decks of glass — tiny, antlike people below, at the telegraph, dynamo, transformers, altimeters, ventilators, indicators, motor, pumps, tubes. . . . In the saloon people were sitting over tables and instruments, probably those commissioned by the Scientific Bureau; near them the Second Builder and his two aides. All three had their heads down between their shoulders like turtles, their faces gray, autumnal, rayless.

“Well?” I asked.

“Well, somewhat uncanny,” one of them replied, smiling a gray, rayless smile. “Perhaps we shall have to land in some unknown place. And, generally speaking, nobody knows . . .”

I could hardly bear to look at them, when in an how or so I was to throw them out with my own hands, to cast them out from the cozy figures of our Table of Hours, to tear them away forever from the mother’s breast of the United State. They reminded me of the tragic figures of “The Three Forgiven Ones” — a story known to all of our school children. It tells about three Numbers, who by way of experiment were exempted for a whole month from any work. [1] “Go wherever you will, do what you will,” they were told. The unhappy three spent their whole time wandering around their usual place of work and gazing within with hungry eyes. They would stop on the plazas and busy themselves for hours repeating the motions which they had been used to making during certain hours of the day; it became a bodily necessity for them to do so. They would saw and plane the air; with unseen sledge hammers they would bang upon unseen stakes. Finally, on the tenth day, they could bear it no longer; they took one another by the hand, entered the river, and to the accompaniment of the March they waded deeper and deeper until the water ended their sufferings forever.

I repeat, it was hard for me to look at them, and I was anxious to leave them.

“I just want to take a glance into the engine room, and then off!” I said.

They were asking me questions: “What voltage should be used for the initial spark, how much ballast water was needed in the tank aft?” As if a phonograph were somewhere within me, I was giving quick and precise answers, but I, my inner self, was busy with my own thoughts.

In the narrow passage gray unifs were passing, gray faces, and, for a second, one face with its hair low over the forehead, eyes gazing from deep beneath it — it was that same man. I understood: they had come, and there was no escape from it for me; only minutes remained, a few dozen minutes. . . . An infinitesimal, molecular quiver of my whole body. This quivering did not stop to the very end — it was as if an enormous motor had been placed under the very foundation of my body, which was so light that the walls, partitions, cables, beams, lights — everything was quivering. . . .

I did not yet know whether she was there. But I had no time . . . They were calling me: quick! To the commander’s bridge; time to go . . . where?

Gray, rayless faces. Below in the water — tense blue veins. Heavy, cast-iron patches of sky. It was so difficult to lift my cast-iron hand and take up the receiver of the commander’s telephone! . . . “Up! Forty-five degrees!”

A heavy explosion — a jerk — a rabid, greenish-white mountain of water aft — the deck beneath my feet began to move, soft as rubber; and everything below, my whole life, forever . . . For a second, falling deeper and deeper into a sort of funnel, becoming more and more compressed — the icy-blue relief map of the City, the round bubbles of cupolas, the lonely leaden finger of the Accumulating Tower. . . . Then, instantaneously, a cotton curtain of cloud . . . We pierced it, and there was the sun and the blue sky! Seconds, minutes, miles — the blue was hardening, fast filling with darkness; like drops of cold, silver sweat the stars appeared. . . .

A sad, unbearably bright, black, starry, sunny night. . . . As if one had become deaf, one still saw that the pipes were roaring, but one only saw; dead silence all about. The sun was mute. It was natural, of course. One mightm have expected it; we were beyond the terrestrial atmosphere. The transition was so quick, so sudden, that everyone became timid and silent. Yet I . . . I thought I felt easier under that fantastic, mute sun. I had bounded over the inevitable border, having left my body somewhere there below, and I was soaring bodiless to a new world, where everything was to be different, upside down.

“Keep the same course!” I shouted into the engine room, or perhaps it was not I but a phonograph in me, and the same machine that I was, with a mechanical, hinge-like movement, handed the commander’s trumpet to the Second Builder. Permeated by that most delicate, molecular quiver known only to me, I ran down the companionway, to seek . . .

The door of the saloon. . . . An hour later it was to latch and lock itself. . . . At the door stood an unfamiliar Number. He was small, with a face like a hundred or a thousand others which are usually lost in a crowd, but his arms were exceptionally long — they reached down to his knees, as if they had been taken by mistake from another set of human organs and fastened to his shoulders.

The long arm stretched out and barred the way.

“Where do you want to go?”

It was obvious that he was not aware that I knew everything. All right! Perhaps it had to be that way. From above him, in a deliberately significant tone, I said:

“I am the Builder of the Integral, and I am directing the test flight. Do you understand?”

The arm drew away.

The saloon. Heads covered with bristles, gray iron bristles, and yellow heads, and bald, ripe heads were bent over the instruments and maps. Swiftly, with a glance, I gathered them in with my eyes; off I ran, back down the long passage, then through the hatch into the engine room. It was but there from the red tubes, overheated by the explosions: a constant roar— the levers were dancing their desperate, drunken dance, moving ceaselessly with a barely noticeable quiver; the arrows on the dials . . . There! At last! Near the tachometer, a notebook in his hand, was that man with the low forehead.

“Listen,” I shouted straight into his ear (because of the roar). “Is she here? Where is she?”

“She? There, at the radio.”

I dashed over. There were three of them, all with receiving helmets on. And she seemed a head taller than usual, wingy, sparkling, flying like an ancient Valkyrie; the bluish sparks from the radio seemed ‘to emanate from her — from her also that ethereal, lightning-like odor of ozone.

“Someone — well, you, for instance,” I said to her, panting from having run, “I must send a message down to earth, to the docks. Come, I shall dictate it to you.” ‘

Close to the apparatus there was a small, box-like cabin. We sat at the table side by side. I found her hand and pressed it hard.

“Well, what is going to happen?”

“I don’t know. Do you realize how wonderful it is? To fly without knowing where . . . no matter where? It will soon be twelve o’clock and, nobody knows what . . . And when night . . . Where shall you and I be tonight? Perhaps somewhere on the grass, on dry leaves . . .”

Blue sparks emanated from her, and the odor of lightning, and (the vibration within me became more and more frequent.

“Write down,” I said loudly, panting (from having run). “Time: eleven-twenty; speed, 5,800 . . .”

“Last night she came to me with your note. I know . . . I know everything; don’t talk. . . . But the child is yours. I sent her over; she is already beyond the Wall. She will live. . . .” ‘

I was back on the commander’s bridge, back in the delirious night with its black starry sky and its dazzling sun. The hands of the clock on the table were slowly moving from minute to minute. Everything was permeated by a thin, hardly perceptible quivering (only I noticed it). For some reason a thought passed through my head: it would be better if all this took place not here but somewhere below, nearer to earth.

“Stop!” I commanded.

We kept moving by inertia, but more and more slowly. Now the Integral was caught for a second by an imperceptible little hair, for a second it hung motionless, then the little hair broke and the Integral, like a stone, dashed downward with increasing speed. That way minutes, tens of minutes passed in silence. My pulse was audible; the hand of the clock before my eyes came closer and closer to twelve. It was clear to me that I was a stone, I-330 the earth, and the stone was under irresistible compulsion to fall downward, to strike the earth and break into small particles. What if . . .? Already the hard, blue smoke of clouds appeared below. . . . What if . . .? But the phonograph within me, with a hinge-like motion and precision, took the telephone and commanded: “Low speed!” The stone ceased falling. Now only the four lower tubes were growling, two ahead and two aft, only enough to hold the Integral motionless; and the Integral, only slightly trembling, stopped in the air as if anchored, about one kilometer from the earth.

Everybody came out on deck (it was shortly before twelve, before the sounding of the dinner gong) and leaned over the glass railing; hastily, in huge gulps, they devoured the unknown world which lay below, beyond the Green Wall. Amber, blue, green, the autumnal woods, prairies, a lake. At the edge of a little blue saucer some lone yellow debris, a threatening, dried-out yellow finger — it must have been the tower of an ancient “church” saved by a miracle. . . .

“Look, there! Look! There to the right!”

There — over the green desert — a brown blot was rapidly moving. I held a telescope in my hands and automatically I brought it to my eyes: the grass reaching their chests, a herd of brown horses was galloping, and on their backs — they, black, white, and dark . . .

Behind me:

“I assure you, I saw a face!”

“Go away! Tell it to someone else!”

“Well, look for yourself! Here is the telescope.”

They had already disappeared. Endless green desert — and in that desert, dominating it completely and dominating me, and everybody, the piercing vibrations of the gong; dinnertime, one minute to twelve.

For a second the little world around me became incoherent, dispersed. Someone’s brass badge fell to the floor. It mattered little. Soon it was under my heel. A voice: “And I tell you, it was a face!” A black square, the open door of the main saloon. White teeth pressed together, smiling . . . And at that moment, when the clock began slowly to strike, holding its breath between beats, and when the front rows began to move toward the dining saloon, the rectangle of the door was suddenly crossed by the two familiar, unnaturally long arms.

“STOP!”

Someone’s fingers sank piercing into my palm. It was I-330. She was beside me.

“Who is it? Do you know him?”

“Is he not? . . . Is he not? . . .”

He was already lifted upon somebody’s shoulders. Above a hundred other faces, his face like hundreds, like thousands of other faces, yet unique among them all. . . .

“In the name of the Guardians! You, to whom I talk, they hear me, every one of them hears me. I talk to you: we know! We don’t know your numbers yet, but we know everything else. The Integral shall not be yours! The test flight will be carried out to the end and you, you will not dare to make another move! You, with your own hands, will help to go on with the test and afterward . . . well, I have finished!”

Silence. The glass plates under my feet seemed soft, cotton-like. My feet, too — soft, cotton-like. Beside me — she with a dead-white smile, angry blue sparks. Through her teeth to me:

“Ah! It is your work! You did your ‘duty’! Well . . .” She tore her hand from mine; the Valkyrie helmet with indignant wings was soon to be seen some distance in front of me. I was alone, torpid, silent. Like everyone else I followed into the dining saloon.

But it was not I, not I! I told nobody, save these white, mute pages. . . I cried this to her within me, inaudibly, desperately, loudly. She was across the table, directly opposite me, and not once did she even touch me with her gaze. Beside her someone’s ripe, yellow, bald head. I heard (it was I-330’s voice):

“ ‘Nobility’ of character! But my dear professor, even a superficial etymological analysis of the word shows that it is a superstition, a remnant of the ancient feudal epoch. We . . .”

I felt I was growing pale, and that they would soon notice it. But the phonograph within me performed the prescribed fifty chewing movements for every bite. I locked myself into myself as though into an opaque house; I threw up a heap of rocks before my door and lowered the window blinds. . . .

Afterward, the telephone of the commander was again in my hands, and again we made the flight through the clouds with icy, supreme anxiety into the icy, starry, sunny night. Minutes, hours passed. . . . Apparently all that time the motor of logic within me was working feverishly at full speed. For suddenly somewhere, at a distant point of the dark blue space, I saw my desk, and the gill-like cheeks of U- bent over it, and the forgotten pages of my records! It became clear to me; nobody but her . . . everything was clear to me!

If only I could reach the radio room soon . . . wing-like helmets, the odor of blue lightning . . . I remember telling her something in a low voice, and I remember how she looked through me, and how her voice seemed to come from a distance:

“I am busy. I am receiving a message from below. You may dictate yours to her.”

The small, box-like little cabin . . . I thought for a second and then dictated in a firm voice:

“Time fourteen-forty. Going down. Motors stopped. The end of all.”

The commander’s bridge. The machine heart of the Integral stopped; we were falling; my heart could not catch up and would remain behind and rise higher and higher into my throat. . . . Clouds. . . . And then a distant green spot — everything green, more and more distinct, running like a storm toward us. “Soon the end.”

The porcelain-like distorted white face of the Second Builder! It was he who struck me with all his strength; I hurt my head on something; and through the approaching darkness, I heard while falling:

“Full speed — aft!”

A brusque jolt upward. . .