ALEXANDER ABRAMOV, SERGEI ABRAMOV. JOURNEY ACROSS THREE WORLDS
PART ONE. THE STRANGE STORY OF DR. JEKYLL AND MR. HYDE, TOLD ANEW ...
No, this was a different
Mr. Golyadkin, absolutely
different, but at the same
time absolutely similar
to the former...
F. Dostoevsky, The Double
Nil admirari! Be astonished at nothing!
A proposition borrowed from the philosophy of Pythagoras
WHO AM I?
I was returning home by way of Tverskoi Boulevard, walking up from the Nikitskie Vorota. It was somewhere around five o'clock in the afternoon, but the Saturday crowds usually teeming the streets at this hour by-passed the boulevard, and the side-alleys were as deserted and quiet as they are in the morning. The September sky, utterly cloudless of a sudden, gave no hint of the nearness of autumn. Not one yellow leaf rustled underfoot and, after last night's rain, even the faded late-summer grass between the trees seemed as luxuriantly green as in May.
I strolled leisurely along an alley, hesitating at every bench with the vague idea of sitting down. Finally I did, stretching out my legs; and the very same second I felt as if everything around me was slipping off somewhere, fading out and spinning in circles. I don't usually have dizzy spells, but now I gripped the bench so as not to fall. Everything opposite me on the boulevard - trees and passers-by - vanished in a lilac-tinted mist. Exactly like in the mountains when clouds creep to your feet and everything around disintegrates and melts into the thick, wet, cottony flakes. But this was no rain: a pure dry mist swooped down, lapped all the green from the boulevard, and then vanished.
Literally vanished. In the blink of an eye, the trees and bushes were back again, like a repeated sequence in a colour cinerama film. The bench opposite, with its deep seat, was again in place and the girl in the blue coat - so almost listed missing - sat there with her book. Everything looked, ostensibly, as before; but only ostensibly - some inner voice instantly doubted it. I even looked around me to check my impressions and contentedly reflected: "Nonsense, it's all the way it was. Exactly...."
"No, not exactly," reflected that other inner voice.
Was it another voice? I was arguing with myself, but my conscious mind seemed to be split in half for the argument was more like a dialogue between two utterly unidentical and dissimilar egos. Any thought that arose was at once countered by another which intruded from somewhere or from somebody by suggestion, but was aggressive and masterful.
"The benches are the same."
"They are not. On Pushkin Boulevard they're green, not yellow."
"The alley walks are the same."
"These are narrower. And where's the granite kerb?"
"And there's no lawn."
"Beside the court. There used to be a tennis-court here."
By now I was looking around with a feeling of growing alarm. The double-ego feeling disappeared. I suddenly found myself in a new and strangely altered world. When you walk along a street where everything is dear to you and familiar to the eye, you do not notice the little things, the details. But let them suddenly disappear, and you stop, caught by a feeling of confusion and alarm. The surroundings were only similar to, but not exactly the same as those I knew - I, who had strolled along the boulevard walks a thousand times or more. Even the trees, apparently, were somewhat different; the bushes weren't the same; and for some reason I called the boulevard Pushkin instead of Tverskoi.
From habit I looked at my watch, arid my arm froze in mid-air. Even my jacket was different from the one I'd put on that morning. As a matter of fact, it wasn't my jacket, nor was the watch mine, and a scar curved out from beneath the band, yet only about a minute ago no scar had been there at all. But this was an old scar, healed long ago, the track of a bullet or shell splinter. I looked down at my feet - even the shoes weren't mine but a stranger's, with ridiculous buckles on the side.
"What if my appearance has changed, and my age is not the same? What if I'm not ... me, at all?" came the burning thought. I jumped to my feet and ran, rather than walked, along the alley toward the theatre.
The theatre stood in the same place, but it was a different one, with an altered entrance and other billings. I did not find one title I knew on the list of its repertoire. But in the dark glass doors, unlit from inside, a familiar face was reflected. It was my face. So far, it was the only thing in this world that was mine.
I was only now aware that my head ached. I rubbed my temples - it still ached. I remembered that somewhere near by, on the square I believed, there should be a chemist's shop. Perhaps it had been spared, if I were lucky. The square was already visible through the flashing interstices between the line of cars passing by, and I hurried ahead, continuing to glance behind me in confusion and alarm. I could not exactly recall the buildings that lined Pushkin Boulevard, though these did not appear to be different - except the lamps over the doorways weren't the same eye-smacking ones and, what's more, the street numbers were changed.
Where the green river of the boulevard flowed into the square, I was literally turned to stone: its mouth was empty. Pushkin was gone. For a moment, I thought my heart stopped beating. The naked stone bald-spot in place of the monument frightened me now, rather than alarmed. I closed my eyes, hoping the delusion would pass. At that moment, somebody passing by bumped into me, perhaps accidentally, but so hard that I was spun round on my heels. The delusion really did disappear. I saw the monument.
It stood far back in the square. Pushkin looked just as thoughtful and severe as ever, his winged cloak negligently thrown over his shoulders - an image dear to me from childhood. Even if it were in a different spot, it was Pushkin! I began to breathe more freely, though behind the monument I could see an utterly unknown building, quite modern, with the huge letters ROSSIYA across its facade. Hotel or cinema? Only yesterday, there had been a six-teen-storey building here, with the Cosmos restaurant on the ground floor, and flats above. Everything was similar, yet dissimilar, familiar down to the smallest detail, yet it was the details most of all that altered the familiar look. For instance, I found the chemist's shop in the same spot, the salesgirls stood behind the counters wearing the same white smocks, identical queues crowded round the cashier's booth, and in the optical section they were still selling eyeglasses with the same ugly, uncomfortable frames. But when I asked a girl for some pyrabutan for a headache, she gave me a puzzled grimace.
"Never heard of it."
"Well, for a headache."
"No," I muttered vaguely. "Pyrabutan."
"There's no such thing."
My stupidly foolish look drew a pitying smile.
"Take these 3-in-one tablets." And she threw a small packet on the counter - a box I'd never seen before.
In my trouser pocket I found a handful of silver coins - the money could hardly be told from ours. Later, sitting on a bench by the Pushkin monument, I made a thorough search of all the pockets in the suit bestowed on me by a whim of fate. The contents would have stumped any detective. Besides some change I found a few one- and three-rouble notes that were quite different from ours, a crumpled tram ticket, an excellent fountain pen, and an almost new pocket-notebook with only a few pages torn out. There were no documents or identification cards to give me a hint as to what or who my double was.
I no longer felt any fear: there remained only a sharp, nervous curiosity. I tried not to dwell on how long my intrusion into this world would last, or how it would end - all kinds of conjectures, even the most terrifying, could be made on the subject. But what was I to do while I was on this free trip into the unknown? I wouldn't be let into a hotel. Where could I spend the night, if my sojourn was a long one? Perhaps at home, or with friends - after all, the owner of the suit must live somewhere, and he probably had friends. The cream of the joke would be if they turned out to be my friends. What if the whole thing were a dream? I slapped the bench as hard as I could - it hurt! So it wasn't a dream.
For a brief moment I thought I saw a face I knew. Sauntering past went a broad-shouldered, brawny fellow carrying a cine-camera. I recognized the tuft of hair falling over the forehead, the massive shoulders and iron neck. Could it be my neighbour, Zhenka Evstafyev, from flat 5? But why did he have a cine-camera? He had never snapped a picture with any kind of camera in his life.
I jumped up and ran after him.
"Excuse me," I stopped him, staring at the familiar face. "Aren't you Zhenka? ... Evgeny Grigoryevich?"
"I'm afraid you're mistaken."
I blinked my eyes in perplexity: the likeness was perfect. Even the timbre of the voice matched.
"Well, am I like him?" laughed the stranger.
"It happens," and he shrugged and went his way, leaving me in a turmoil of confusion.
It still seemed to me that all this was some kind of game, or a trick of fate. In a moment Zhenka would come back and we should have a good laugh over it. But he didn't.
Later, when I recalled this day, what came to mind first of all was the feeling of perplexity and confusion. And one thing more - the unbearable loneliness of being in a city where I'd known every stone from childhood, yet which had wholly changed during a few seconds of dizziness. I gazed at the faces of the passers-by in the vain hope of seeing one I knew. What for? Probably he wouldn't have recognized me any more than Evstafyev had ... besides, what could I say to anyone who did?
And exactly that happened.
"Sergei! Sergei Nikolaevich!" A medium-tall, grey-haired man hailed me. He was wearing a suede zippered jacket. (I had never seen this man before.) "Come here a minute."
I got up. My name really was Sergei, and even Sergei Nikolaevich.
"Just listen to the latest." He took me confidentially by the arm and said softly: "Hang on to yourself. Sichuk stayed behind."
"What Sichuk?" I asked, surprised. "Mikhail?"
"Who else? We've only one Sichuk. All the worse for us."
I had known Mikhail Sichuk during the war at the front. Now he worked either as a photographer or as a news cameraman. We weren't friendly, and never got together.
"What do you mean - stayed behind?"
"What do I mean? He was touring Europe on the Ukraine. You get it, don't you...?"
I didn't get it at all. But, sensing the circumstances, I acted surprised.
"At the last foreign port he stayed behind, skipped - the scum! Either in Turkey or West Germany: don't know which way they were heading, to or from Odessa."
"The scoundrel," I said.
"There'll be trouble."
"Well, those who vouched for him, and so on," laughed the man in the suede coat. "Fomich is fit to be tied; he made a beeline for head office. It has nothing to do with you, of course."
"I should hope not," I said.
The unknown released my arm and gave me a friendly jab on the back.
"You look a bit sour, Sergei. Or maybe I'm butting in?"
"In what way?"
"Are you in throes of composition ... or waiting for somebody? Why aren't you at the editorial office?"
I was not attached to any editorial office. I had to break off the conversation somehow - it was getting a bit too hot to handle.
"Business," I said vaguely.
"You're up to something, old fellow," he said with a wink. "Well, so long."
He vanished from my life as quickly as he had come into it. And like a man thrown for the first time into deep water begins to learn the motions of a swimmer, I also began to find my bearings in the unknown. Curiosity got the better of fear and alarm. What had I found out so far? That here my appearance was the same, and my name too. That Moscow was Moscow, only different in detail. That there existed an Odessa, Turkey and a Germany. That the S.S. Ukraine, as in our world, made runs around Europe. That I was connected with a certain editorial office, and that in this world Mikhail Sichuk was also a rotten bit of scum.
So I was not much surprised when, going down the steps towards the Rossiya cinema - as I had already guessed, the building was a cinema - I ran into Lena. I was bound to meet somebody who knew me, both here and from whence I came.
Elegant as ever, Lena was walking along in her usual absent way, but she knew me at once and was even a bit embarrassed, or so I thought.
"Is that you? Where are you coming from?"
"Just off a camel. Well, how are things over there?"
"Where?" she asked, surprised.
"At the hospital, of course. Did you just get off?"
She was even more surprised.
"I don't understand, Sergei. What are you talking about? I've only been in Moscow three days."
I had seen her this morning in the office of the Head Doctor when I was telephoning the Brain Institute. Before that, we met every day or almost every day when I happened to be in the therapeutic department. So I was silent, painfully seeking a way out of what was a clearly critical situation. The road into the unknown certainly teemed with pit-falls.
"Sorry, Lena, I'm getting awfully absent-minded. And besides ... it's so unexpected, meeting you...."
"How are you getting along?" she asked, with what seemed to me a metallic note.
"So-so," I answered cheerfully. "I manage to get by."
She was silent a long time, taking a good look at me. Finally, she said dryly: "What an odd conversation. Very odd."
I realized she would leave me in a minute, and my only chance of finding a place to put down anchor here, for at least twenty-four hours, would disappear with her. My incursion into the unknown could scarcely last longer than that. I had to take a stab at it. And I did.
"Look, I've got to talk to you, Lena. I really have to. Something's happened, you see...."
"What, exactly?" Her eyes narrowed suspiciously.
"I can't talk about it on the street." I hurriedly searched for words. "Where are you ... living now?"
She was slow in answering, apparently weighing something or other.
"At present I'm at Galya's."
"As if you didn't know."
I certainly did not know. I didn't even ask what Galya she meant. But I had to make her agree. It was my last chance!
"It's awkward, Sergei,"
"My God, what nonsense!" I cried, thinking of the Lena I knew.
But this was an utterly different Lena, who watched me guardedly, not at all like a friend.
"Well then ... come on," she said at last.
THE NEXT MOVE INTO THE UNKNOWN
We walked in silence, hardly exchanging a word. Apparently, she was nervous but tried not to show it; and withdrawn, perhaps even regretting her bargain. From time to time I caught her giving me a searching, suspicious glance. What was she suspicious or afraid of?
I immediately recognized the house in Staro-Pimenovsky Alley. My wife had lived here once, before we became acquainted. Incidentally, her name is Galya too.
To my disgust, my knees began trembling.
"What are you looking like that for?" she asked.
I continued to look silently around the room. Like everything else in this unknown world, it was both like and unlike. Or maybe I had simply forgotten.
"Whose room is it, Lena?"
"Galya's, of course. What strange questions you ask, Sergei. Haven't you been here before?"
I had difficulty swallowing. Now I would give her another strange question.
"But hasn't she ... moved?"
Lena gave me a somewhat frightened glance; she moved a bit away as if I had said some monstrous absurdity.
"Have you never met?"
"Why do you ask?" I countered, uncertainly. "Of course we have."
"When did you see her last?"
I burst out laughing and blurted out: "This morning. At breakfast."
But I immediately regretted saying it.
"Don't lie. What are you lying for? She's been at the institute from yesterday afternoon. Worked all night. And she's still not back."
"Can't a fellow joke?" I replied, foolishly, realizing I was getting in more and more of a muddle.
"Strange way of joking, I'd say."
"Maybe we're not talking about the same person?" I put in, trying to improve matters.
She wasn't even angry, she merely frowned like a doctor who sees, without quite understanding, the symptoms of a disease under observation.
"I'm talking about Galya Novoseltseva."
"Why 'Novoseltseva'?" I asked, genuinely surprised.
The cold eyes of a doctor now looked at me with professional interest.
"You've lost your memory, Sergei. They were already registered to marry when war broke out."
"Never mind," I muttered, wiping a perspiring brow. "I only wondered...."
"What I'm doing here with the woman who stole my chap, right?" she laughed, losing for a moment the curiosity of a professional doctor. "Even then, I didn't feel hurt, Sergei. Imagine the luck - my chap left me. But now ... why, it's even funny. It was so long ago.... And my next after that - you know..." she sighed. "I'm not lucky in love, Sergei."
It is hard to map out every step you take in an unknown world. And I put my foot in it again, forgetting where I was and who I was.
"Who's in your way now, with Oleg?"
There was so much horror in that cry, I involuntarily shut my eyes.
"Something's wrong with your memory, Sergei. One doesn't forget things like that. Galya received the official death notice as far back as forty-four. You couldn't help but know that."
What did I know, and what didn't I? Dare I really tell her?
"You're either pretending," she said, "or you're sick. And I think you're sick."
"Then go ahead and ask me what day of the month it is, and the year, and so on."
"I still don't know what I should ask you."
"So tell me the diagnosis," I shot back, getting angry. "Gone crazy, that's all!"
"That's not the medical term for it. There are various kinds of psychic disorders.... What did you want to talk to me about?"
By now I had no desire to. If I told her the truth, she would send me off to the lunatic asylum at once. I had to wriggle out of this somehow.
"You see, the thing is..." I began a hurried improvisation. "A simply deplorable thing happened.... The most deplorable...."
"You've already said that. But what?"
"As a matter of fact, I've left home. Left my wife. I shan't go into the reason. But I need shelter. Just for the night. Nox lodgus, vulgaris, to put it coarsely...."
I fell silent. She said nothing either, only examined her fingertips.
"Haven't you any friends to go to?"
"To some I can't, and with others it's inconvenient. You know how it is, sometimes...." I tried not to look at her.
"What if you hadn't met me?"
"But I did."
She was still wavering. "It's awkward, Sergei."
"Can't you see that for yourself?"
"You know what?" I was getting angry again. "Call a psychiatrist. At any rate, I'll get put up for the night."
I looked into her eyes: the professional-doctor look had disappeared. Now there was only a frightened woman. The incomprehensible is always a bit terrifying.
"The room isn't mine," she spoke gently. "We'll wait for Galya."
"And what if she spends the night at the institute again?"
"I'll phone her. The telephone's in the hall. Take a seat while you're waiting."
She went out, leaving me alone in a room where everything seemed familiar, down to the least detail. I had left this room to go to the Registry Office to be married. From this room? No, not this one. The whole thing was something like in similar triangles: certain lines coincide, others don't.
I picked up a pencil from the table and wrote in my notebook:
If anything happens to me, advise my wife, Galina Gromova, 43 Griboyedov Street. Also inform Professors Zargaryan and Nikodimov at the Brain Institute. Very important.
I underlined the words 'very important' three times, pressing so hard that the pencil broke.
So whatever else I intended to write remained unwritten.
After putting the notebook away in my pocket, I realized I had flubbed again. My Zargaryan and Nikodimov would never get this letter. And here, in this world, Galya Gromova bore a different surname.
A ring sounded from the front hall, and through the half-open door I heard the click of a lock. Then Lena cried: "At last. I was just ringing you up."
"What's the matter?" asked a voice - agonizingly familiar.
"Sergei Gromov's here."
"Well, that's fine. We'll have tea."
"But look, Galya ... he's sort of strange...." Lena lowered her voice to an inaudible whisper.
"What's wrong, is he crazy?" were the words that reached me.
"I don't know. He says he's left his wife."
"Lord, what nonsense. He's playing a joke on you, Lena, and you fall for it. I saw her only half an hour ago."
The door was flung open. I leaped to my feet, but couldn't move. My wife stood in the doorway.
The same face, the same age, even the hairdo was the same. Only the ear-rings were unfamiliar, and I'd never seen her wear that kind of suit before. I stood speechless, repressing my excitement by sheer force of will.
"What did you make up all this for?" asked Galya.
I was silent.
"I just saw Olga. She's gone home and expects you for supper. She said you were going to take her to see the Leningrad Ballet."
I was silent.
"What kind of joke is this? And to play it on Lena. What for?"
I could find no words to answer her. Everything was ruined. What explanation would satisfy them? The truth? Who, in my position, would dare to tell the truth?"
"Lena says you're sick," Galya continued, giving me a searching look. "Maybe you are really sick?"
"Maybe I am," I repeated.
I did not know my own voice: it seemed alien and far away.
"Well then," I added, "you must excuse me. I guess I'll just run along."
"Where?" asked Galya, with a start. "We won't let you go alone. I'll take you home." She looked out the window. "My cab's still there. Run after it, Lena. Maybe you'll manage to hold it."
Now we were alone.
"What does all this mean, Sergei? I don't understand it," said Galya.
"I don't either," I replied.
"But even so?"
"You're a physicist, I believe, aren't you, Galya?" I threw out at random.
She was sharply alert. "So what?"
"Can you picture the notion of a plurality of worlds? Worlds existing side by side? Being at the same moment both mysteriously remote and yet amazingly close?"
"Let's suppose that. Such hypotheses do exist."
"Then just suppose that one of these worlds right next door is similar to ours. That it also has a Moscow, only a wee bit different. Perhaps even the same streets, but with other ornamentation. Sometimes, the very same house but with a different street number. And that you are there, and I, and Lena - only our relationships differ...."
She still didn't get it. But I had got fed up with the spiritual masquerade long before. So I dared to open up.
"Let's suppose that in that other Moscow your name isn't Galya Novoseltseva, but Galya Gromova. That six years ago you and I left this room to be married at the Registry. And today a miracle happened: I broke through the membrane barrier ... and looked into your world. There you have a devil of a problem for our limited brains."
Now she looked at me with real fright. Probably she was thinking along the lines of Lena: a sudden madness, raving.
"All right, let's leave it lie," I said wryly. "Take me wherever you wish, I don't care. And don't be scared - I won't choke you or kiss you. There's Lena waving at us. Come on."
WHO IS JEKYLL AND WHO HYDE?
Even in this world, Galya must have possessed her usual control. A minute later she was quite calm and collected.
"I hope we won't start in on science fiction in front of the cabby?" she asked, on the way to the taxi.
"So you consider it scientific?" I couldn't resist saying.
I could not read anything special on her face. Her behaviour was ordinary, that of a clever woman - Galya's way with people who were strangers and yet whom she found interesting. Attentive eyes, respectful attention to a companion, unconsciously coquettish, mocking.
"Why do you have Pushkin's monument in the middle of the square?" I asked, as we drove past.
"Where do you have it?"
"On the boulevard."
"You're lying about everything. Just as you lied about our going to the Registry. And why did you say six years ago?"
"Fate," I laughed.
"Where was I six years ago?" she wondered, thoughtfully. "In the spring I was in Odessa."
"So was I."
"Why do you lie? You never even came with us."
"In your world I didn't, but in ours - on the contrary."
"That's funny," she said, pronouncing every syllable. And added with a critical look at me: "But you don't give the impression of being a lunatic."
"Nice to hear it," I wanted to say, but I didn't. A dark squall hit me right in the face. Everything went black.
"What's wrong?" I heard Galya's frightened cry, and then her hurried, excited words: "Driver, driver, pull up somewhere by the pavement. He feels bad...."
I opened my eyes. The mist of bewitchment was still swirling round inside the car. And through this fog a woman's face was staring at me.
"Who is it?" I asked hoarsely.
"Do you feel bad, Sergei?"
"Galya?" I said, surprised. "How did you get here?"
She did not answer.
"Did something happen to me there ... on the boulevard?" I asked, looking around me.
"Yes, it did," said Galya. "We'll talk about it later. Can you go home, or do you need a doctor?"
I stretched, shook my head, and sat up straight. Clearly I could do without a doctor. While we rode, I told Galya about walking along Tverskoi Boulevard, about my dizzy spell, and how I tried to talk to myself in the midst of a lilac fog.
"And afterwards," Galya asked, with sudden interest - before that she had been listening now with distrust, now with indifference. "What happened afterwards?"
I shrugged in bewilderment.
"Don't you remember?"
"I don't remember."
I really didn't remember, and only on returning home did I find out from Galya what had happened at her place.
"It was delirium," I said.
With her love for expressing things precisely, Galya now corrected me: "For delirium, it's very consistent. Like playing a well-rehearsed role. People don't rave like that. Besides, delirium is a symptom of illness, yet you don't give mo that impression."
"But the fainting spell on the boulevard?" broke in my wife, Olga. "And in the taxi?"
As a doctor she searched for a medical explanation. But Galya was as doubtful as before.
"Then what happened between the fainting spells?"
"Some kind of somnambulistic state."
"What do you think I am - a lunatic?" I told her, offended.
"If it was a dream, then it must have been a day-dream," put in Galya with amusement, insistent on accuracy. "Besides, we saw the dream and not Sergei. Speaking of dreams, do you still have them?"
"What have dreams got to do with it?" I burst out. "I fainted, and I didn't see any dreams."
I realized only too well that Galya never played jokes on anyone. So her story about my wandering around like a sleepwalker - the only way my behaviour could be described - seriously alarmed me. Before, I had never fainted or walked along the edge of a roof in the moonlight, nor had loss of memory. However, I could find no explanation of the event that answered to common sense.
"Maybe it was the result of hypnosis?" I suggested.
"Then who hypnotized you?" Olga frowned. "And where? At the office? On the boulevard? Nonsense!"
"Right. Nonsense it is," I agreed.
"Are you, by any chance, writing a science-fiction story?" Galya asked suddenly. "Your very intelligible observation about the plurality of worlds even aroused my interest.... Can you imagine, Olga?" she laughed. "Two adjacent worlds in space, like similar triangles. Both there and here - Moscow; there and here, a Sergei Gromov. But you weren't there- - instead, he was married to me."
"So the secret's out," joked Olga. "And the sleepwalker, of course, is a visitor from another world in Sergei's likeness."
"He explained it to me like this. Moscow, he said, was the same, only a little bit different. Pushkin's monument is on the square in our world, but on the boulevard in theirs. I almost burst out laughing."
Olga, apparently, was thinking hard. "And you know what might explain things?" she asked, suddenly animated, still seeking a rational explanation even as I was. "Look here, didn't Sergei know that the monument had once been moved? He did. So perhaps this information, stored away in his memory, became fixed in his delirium? Some stimulation triggered the signal - and there you are: the myth about an adjacent, similar world."
These arguments only annoyed me.
"It makes me sick listening to you. Some kind of new variant of Stevenson's tale. A regular Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. Only which is Jekyll and which is Hyde?"
"It's perfectly clear who," parried Galya. "You wouldn't hurt yourself in choosing between them."
Olga did not understand, and asked: "Who are you talking about?"
"About international imperialist spies, Olga," I said jocularly. "Parachuted here from an unidentified plane."
"So am I. Look, there is a certain English writer, Stevenson by name. Usually, you read his stuff when you're a teenager. However, even doctors do. For them, by the way, his story is almost like a course in psychiatry, for Jekyll and Hyde, in reality, are the same man. To be more exact, a quintessence of the good and evil inherent in one person. By drinking an elixir that he discovered - medically speaking, a particular combination of sulphanilamide and antibiotics - the noble Dr. Jekyll turned himself into the scoundrel Hyde. Is that precise enough for you?" I asked Galya.
"Quite. Search your pockets, maybe Hyde left some clues behind during his temporary transmutation."
I dug into my pockets and threw on the table a packet of headache tablets.
"That must be one clue. I certainly never bought them."
"Perhaps you put them there?" Galya asked Olga.
"No. More than likely he bought them on the way home."
"I didn't buy anything," I put in angrily. "And, for the record, I didn't go into the chemist's."
"That means Hyde did. Is there anything else he left?"
I mechanically felt the inside pocket of my jacket.
"Wait. This notebook doesn't belong here." I pulled it out and opened it. "Something's written here. Where are my glasses?"
"Give it here." Galya grabbed the notebook and read aloud: 'If anything happens to me, advise my wife, Galina Gromova, 43 Griboyedov Street. Also inform Professors Zargaryan and Nikodimov at the Brain Institute. Very important.' "The 'very important' is even underlined," she laughed. "And Galina Gromova, that's me, of course. I already told you his delirium was consistent. Only why Griboyedov Street? There's Staro-Pimenovsky, and now it's Medvedev Street."
"But have we a Griboyedov Street?" asked Olga. "Somehow, I never heard of it."
"There is," I interrupted. "It used to be Maly Kharitonevsky. Only there's no building on it with that number. Apparently, Hyde had in mind some avenue, rather than street."
"But who's this Zargaryan?" Galya said, full of curiosity. "I know of a Nikodimov. He's a physicist, a rather famous one, by the way. Only he's not at the Brain Institute, but at the Institute of New Problems in Physics. But who this Zargaryan is, I really don't know."
"But Sergei didn't write this!" cried Olga suddenly. "It's not his handwriting ... though the 'v' has the same flourish and the down stroke in the 't' is the same. Look for yourself!"
I found my glasses and read the note.
"The handwriting's similar. I wrote that way as a student. Working on the paper spoiled my writing. I don't write like that now."
I rewrote the lines in the notebook. They differed greatly from the first.
"Ri-ight," drawled Galya. "No need for a handwriting expert. But perhaps the handwriting changes when you're in a somnambulistic state."
"I wouldn't know," said Olga. "Somnambulism's in the field of psychiatry. It's a sort of psychic upset that comes like lightning. I can't explain it any other way. And I don't like all this, not at all."
"Nor do I," Galya conceded.
She read and reread both memorandums in the notebook. Her face reflected not only concentrated thinking but repressed anxiety. Galya's clear, logical mind did not want to give in to the inexplicable.
"I simply can't explain it. Either scientifically or logically, from the standpoint of common sense, so to say. A person of absolutely sound mind - and suddenly he turns sleepwalker. Of course, a fainting fit is understandable: a doctor could find an explanation. But this raving about a plurality of worlds - that's more like something out of a science-fiction story. And then his asking for a night's lodging, for a roof over his head, when the man has his own private flat."
"Apparently my Hyde was looking for shelter," I laughed. "He couldn't go to a hotel, d'you see."
"Here's what I don't like. The hypothesis about Hyde explains it all. But I prefer dealing with pure science, rather than science fiction. Though everything about it is fantastic. Now why, Sergei, did you ask to go to Lena's? You didn't know she lives with me."
"That's new to me, even now. I've not seen Lena for ten years. I can't even imagine what she looks like."
My adventure in Galya's story surprised me more than anything else. Lena and I never met, never corresponded. We'd probably even forgotten each other's existence.
"Is she an old flame?" asked Olga.
"All of us went to school together before the war," replied Galya. "We were all going to enter the medical faculty. But nothing came of it: Sergei and Oleg went to the front, and I got a yen for physics. Only Lena went in for medicine. By the way, she really was in love with you, Sergei."
"With Oleg," I said.
"All the girls ran after him," sighed Galya. "But I had the worst fate: I won and lost." She stood up. "Peace be to thy house, but it's high time I left. The council of detectives is closed and Sherlock Holmes proposes to make an excursion into the realm of physics."
"Psychology, you mean to say."
"No, I mean physics. I'm interested in Zargaryan and Nikodimov, and what they're doing in the Institute of New Problems in Physics."
"Whatever for?" asked Olga in surprise. "I should apply to a psychiatrist."
"And I would choose Zargaryan. Who is he? What is he engaged in? Is he connected with Nikodimov? And if he is, then in what field?" Galya turned to me: "Did you ever hear of either name?"
"Maybe you read about them somewhere and have merely forgotten?"
"I've never seen the names anywhere, nor have I forgotten."
"And that's the most interesting point in all your somnambulistic story. Physics, my dear, physics. The Institute of New Problems in Physics. New, remember!" And Galya turned to Olga. "You know what? Call Zoya and find out about Zargaryan. She knows everybody."
We decided to call Zoya in the morning.
THE SHEET FROM THE NOTEBOOK
I fell asleep at once, and slept soundly right through till morning.
Dreams, I might say, are a peculiarity of mine that sets me apart from other mortals. It wasn't by accident that Galya asked if I still had dreams. I have them. They repeat themselves, persistently, and are almost unchanged in content, oddly like fragments of travelogue films.
Naturally I also have ordinary dreams in which everything is confused and foggy, both as to proportion and distortion, like in a Fun House mirror. My recall of such dreams is so vacillating and short-lived that they are hard to recapture and describe. But the dreams I'm talking about I shall remember all my life, and I can describe them just as precisely as I can my flat.
They are always in colour, and the colours are as true and harmonious as in nature. In one I see a spring-time meadow appearing out of the night mist, flowering as profusely as in real life. Arid I even remember the designs on a girl's cotton-print dress that flashes for a moment through the sunny dream. Nothing special happens in these dreams: they do not frighten or alarm me, but have something alluring about them, like getting a tiny peep into somebody else's life.
The one I see most frequently shows a corner in a strange city, the view of a street which I've never actually seen though I can remember all the details: the balconies, shop windows, the lindens along the pavement, the iron grilles. I can call them all to mind as clearly as if I had seen them but yesterday. I can even recall the passers-by, for they are always the same, even the black cat with white spots that runs across the road. It always crosses at one and the same corner, near one and the same house.
Sometimes I see myself in an arcade surrounded by shops off galleries like in Moscow's GUM department store. But the arcade has only one storey and branches off into numerous side alleys that run lengthwise and crosswise. For some reason I am always waiting by a stationery shop, or slowly strolling past a shop-window displaying draperies and miraculously lit by a sort of odd iridescent lighting. I have never seen this arcade in real life, yet I not only remember the windows but even the shape of the goods, the tall glass archways and the coloured mosaic on the pavement.
Sometimes the dream carries me into the interior of a town flat which I have never been in, or else into an idyllic village landscape. Often there is a road running between naked earthen slopes sparsely scattered here and there with patches of dusty grass. The road runs down to a blue strip of water, gay with golden water-lilies. Sometimes a woman in white walks ahead of me, sometimes an old man with a fishing-rod; but neither of them ever turns round and I never overtake them. I see only a strip of water, embroidered with duckweed and water-lilies; but for some reason I know it is a pond and that the road will now turn right along the bank, and that I ran here as a small boy - though neither the pond nor the road belongs to my real childhood.
It was these dreams that awoke Olga's doubts of my psychic balance and made her so insistent that I consult a psychiatrist. But I was more inclined to follow Galya's advice. The ill-starred sheet from the notebook with the names of Zargaryan and Nikodimov gave me no peace, because I was absolutely sure I had never, under any circumstances, hoard of these particular names. As for subconsciously absorbing them from talk overheard in the underground or on the street, naturally I didn't believe that. A normal memory preserves what is overheard in the conscious mind, not in the subconscious.
"All right, I'll call Zoya," Olga agreed.
Zoya worked in the Institute of Scientific Information and, according to her, knew all the 'big shots'. If Nikodimov and Zargaryan belonged to this highly-attested category, in one minute I should get an earful of a good dozen anecdotes about their way of life. However, I didn't need anecdotes, but precise information as to their particular fields arid latest activities. I had to make sure that they wore my Nikodimov and Zargaryan.
I decided to ring up Klenov first of all. He is head of the science department at our editorial offices. I'd known Klenov from the time we were at the front together.
"I need some dope, old man. The exact whereabouts of two giants: Nikodimov and Zargaryan."
Laughter came from the receiver.
"Even yesterday I thought you were a bit off your rocker."
"When was that?" I asked, surprised.
"When I bumped into you in Pushkin square. About six o'clock. When I told you about Mikhail.."
I licked my overdry lips. So Klenov had seen Hyde and talked with him. And had noticed nothing. Very interesting.
"I don't remember," I said.
"Don't play games. About Mikhail stopping behind, don't you remember?"
"Where did he stop off?"
"In Istanbul. I already told you once. He asked for political shelter at the American Embassy. "
"He must be crazy!"
"He's got all his buttons, the snake. They should have kept an eye on him. They say 'the human heart is a mystery'. They should have guessed his little plan before it was too late. Now we're writing a collective letter not to let him come back when he comes crawling to us on his belly. What's up with you? You honestly don't remember?"
"Honestly. My mind is a complete blank about yesterday from around five in the afternoon to ten in the evening. First I fainted, and I don't remember a thing about what happened afterwards - what I did or what I said. I came to when I was being brought home. Must be a souvenir of that concussion I got near Dunafoldvar, remember?"
As if Klenov didn't remember the time we forced the Danube. Oleg was with us. And Mikhail Sichuk, incidentally, was there too. Only he was foresighted enough to get into the rear: headed the editorial office of a front-line newspaper. For about a minute we were both silent. What we went through at the Danube wasn't to be forgotten. Then Klenov spoke.
"You should get some advice from a professor. I can arrange a consultation, if you like. I know a few good specialists."
"No need of that," I sighed. "Better if you can tell me what Nikodimov and Zargaryan are doing in science."
"You hoping for a feature? You won't get anywhere. Nikodimov answers such attempts with the method of Conan Doyle's Professor Challenger. He dropped one reporter from Science and Life down the waste chute."
"Don't worry yourself about my nearest future. Just give me all you know. Who is this Nikodimov? And no jokes, if you don't mind. I need it bad."
"Look, he's a physicist, with a very wide range of interests. Puts out works on the physics of fields of attraction. Interested in electric magnetism in complex media. At one time, working with Zemlicka, he brought out the concept of a neutrino generator."
"With Zemlicka. A Czech bio-physicist."
"And the general idea - can you tell me?"
"I'm an ignoramus here, of course, and I heard it from ignoramuses - but, in a general sense, it's something like a neutrino laser, which cuts a window into anti-worlds."
"Are you serious?"
"What do you think? That it looks a bit shady? That's how it was regarded, by the way."
"What about Zargaryan?"
"Is he tied up with Nikodimov right now?"
"You already know that? Congratulations."
"Is he a physicist too?"
"No, a neurophysiologist or something like that. As a matter of fact, his field is telepathy."
"What, what?" I screamed.
"Te-le-pa-thy," repeated Klenov didactically. "There is such a science: mental telepathy."
"I doubt it. They gave that up in the Middle Ages. No such science."
"You're behind the times. It's al-read-y a science. Condensers of biological currents, and all that kind of thing. Satisfied?"
"Almost," I sighed.
"If you're going into the attack, I'll back you body and soul. We'll print anything you can get hold of. And I'd advise you to start off with Zargaryan. He's easier, more approachable. Just the fellow you want...."
I thanked him and hung up the receiver. The information wasn't beyond Zoya's level. An anti-world, telepathy.... Should phone Galya for more accurate information.
"Hello, this is me - the sleepwalker. Are you up already?"
"I get up at six in the morning," Galya cut me off. "I'm interested in one little detail of your Odyssey. Why did you tell Lena you'd left your wife?"
"I can't answer for Hyde's doings. I want to explain them. Listen hard, Galya. What's the essence of the idea of a neutrino generator, and how is it connected with the condensing of biological currents?"
"Nikodimov and Zargaryan?" laughed Galya.
"As you see, I found something out, at least."
"You found out rubbish, and you're talking rubbish. Nikodimov renounced the idea of the neutrino generator long ago, that is, the way it was formulated by Zemlicka. Now he's working on the fixation of the power field set up by the activity of the brain ... something like a single complex of the electro-magnetic field that arises in the brain cells. You see, I also discovered something."
"Zargaryan is a physiologist. What's his tie-up with Nikodimov?"
"Their work is top secret. I don't know the inside story, nor if there's any future in what they're doing," admitted Galya. "But one way or another, it's connected with codifying the physiological neuronal state of the brain."
"What?" I asked blankly.
"The brain," Galya stressed, "the brain, my dear. Your Hyde connected these names with the Brain Institute, and not by chance. Though ... from what aspect to view all this.... Perhaps, it's even a problem of pure physics."
She was thinking hard: the membrane in the receiver carried her heavy breathing.
"The key is here, Sergei," she concluded. "The more I think about it, the surer I am. Find the scientists, and you'll find the key."
The scientific research over, there was still the ordinary search. We began it with Zoya.
She answered the call at once. Yes, she knew both Zargaryan and Nikodimov. The latter only by name: he was like a ground-hog who never came near receptions. But she was personally acquainted with Zargaryan. Had even danced with him at an evening social. He was very interested in dreams.
"He's interested in dreams," repeated Olga to me, putting her hand over the mouthpiece.
"What??" I cried, and reached for the telephone. "Zoya darling. It's me. Right you are, in person, your secret worshipper. What were you saying just now about dreams? Who's interested? It's very important."
"I told Zargaryan about a strange dream I had," responded Zoya, "and he was terribly interested, asked all about the details. And what details - frightful, but utterly. And he listened, and told me I should come to him every week and be sure to relate all my dreams. He needed it for his work. But you know yourself, I'm no fool. I know what kind of work he meant."
"Zoya," I groaned, "beg him to give me an appointment."
"Are you mad?" cried Zoya, terrified. "He can't stand reporters."
"But you won't tell him I'm from a paper. Simply say that a man who sees strange dreams wants to see him. And the strangest thing of all is that these dreams are repeated, as if tape-recorded. Repeated year after year. Zoya, try to tell him all that. If you fail, I'll try to contact him myself."
She rang back in ten minutes.
"Just imagine, it worked. He'll see you today after nine o'clock. Don't be late. He doesn't like it," she chattered on without a break, just as she usually did in her office at the institute. "He was interested right away, and immediately asked how clear the dreams were, what was the degree of recall, and so on. I said you would tell him about the clarity yourself. I also told him you worked with me. Don't give me away."
Zargaryan lived in the south-west of town in a new apartment building. He opened the door himself, silently listened to my explanation, and just as silently led the way into his office. Tall and lithe, black hair bristling in a crew-cut, he reminded me of the hero in an Italian neo-realistic novel. To look at, he wasn't more than thirty.
"Do you mind my asking what led you to me?" His eyes pierced right through me. "Yes, of course, I know it was strange dreams and so on ... but why did you particularly ask for a consultation with me?"
"When I tell you everything, the answer to that won't be necessary," I said.
"Do you know anything about me?"
"Until last night, I'd no idea you existed."
He thought a moment and asked: "Exactly what happened last night?"
"I'm sincerely glad that we begin our talk with that," I said decisively. "I did not come to you because I was worried by dreams, nor because you are a Martin Zadeka as, for instance, you are regarded by Zoya at the Institute of Information. By the way, I don't work there, I'm a journalist."
I immediately noticed a grimace of dissatisfaction on Agrarian's face, and continued.
"But I didn't come to you for an interview. I'm not interested in your work. To be more exact, I wasn't interested. And I repeat once more that until last night I had never even heard your name, but none the less I wrote it down in my small notebook while in a state of unconsciousness. "
"What do you mean by a state of unconsciousness?" interrupted Zargaryan.
"That's not exactly the right term. I was fully conscious, yet I remember nothing - what I did or what I said. I simply wasn't there, somebody else acted in my place. It was he who wrote this in my notebook."
I opened the notebook and passed it to Zargaryan. He read it and looked at me rather strangely, peering from frowning brows.
"Why is it written twice?"
"I wrote it the second time, to compare the handwriting. As you see, the first was not written by me, that is, it's not my handwriting. And it's not the handwriting of a sleepwalker, or a lunatic, or of somebody with amnesia."
"Does your wife live on Griboyedov street?"
"My wife lives with me on Kutuzovsky Prospekt. And there is no house on Griboyedov street with that number. And the woman mentioned in the note is not my wife, but simply an acquaintance, a school friend. Besides, she doesn't live on Griboyedov."
Once more he read the note and pondered.
"And did you never hear of Professor Nikodimov either?"
"No more than I heard of you. Even now I only know that he's a physicist, something like a ground-hog who is never to be found at receptions. That detail, I'll have you note, is from the Institute of Information."
Zargaryan smiled, and I immediately noticed that he wasn't a severe man at all, but a good-hearted and perhaps even a gay fellow.
"Along general lines the portrait bears a certain resemblance," he said. "Keep shooting."
And I talked. I can tell a good story, even with a dash of humour, but he listened without any outward show of interest. However, when I reached the place about the plurality of worlds, he raised his brows.
"Did you read that anywhere?" he asked quickly.
"I don't remember. In passing, somewhere."
"Go on, if you don't mind."
I concluded my story by reminding him of Stevenson's Jekyll and Hyde.
"The queerest thing is that this mystical-phantom business explains everything, and I can find nothing else that makes sense."
"You think that's the queerest?" he asked vaguely, once again reading the lines in the notebook. "They refused to let us bring up this problem at the Brain Institute, but it was raised all the same."
I looked at him blankly.
"Have you been precise in everything you have told me?" he suddenly asked, with another piercing glance. "Two worlds like similar triangles, right? With a Moscow in both, differing only in ornamentation. And hero and there you and your friends. Is that it?"
"There you are married to a different woman, live on a different street, and in some way or other are connected with a Zargaryan and a Nikodimov, of whose existence here you were completely unaware. Right?"
He stood up and walked around the room, as if to hide his excitement. But I saw how wrought up he was.
"Now tell me about your dreams. I think there's a connection between all this."
I described my dreams. This time he stared with unconcealed interest.
"That means another life, eh? A certain street, a road down to a river, a shopping arcade. And all very clear-cut, like in a photograph?" He spoke slowly, weighing every word, as if thinking aloud. "And you remember everything afterwards. Clearly, including all details?"
"I even remember the mosaic on the pavement."
"And it is all uncannily familiar, even to trivial things? It seems you've been there a hundred times and probably lived there, but in real life there was nothing of the kind?"
"In real life, nothing of the kind," I repeated.
"What do the doctors say? You must have sought advice."
It seemed to me that he said this with a shade of cunning.
"What do the doctors say..." I spoke scornfully. "Stimulation ... inhibition. Any fool knows that. In the daytime the cortex is in a state of excitation, at night an inhibition process sets in. Irregular, with islands. These islands keep working, paste together dreams from day-time impressions, like in a cutting room." Zargaryan laughed.
"Or staging a series of attractions, like in the circus."
"But I don't believe it!" I grew angry. "The devil they are! There's no staging about it, everything is unchangeably fixed down to minute trifles, to the leaf on a certain tree, to the screw in a window-frame. And all this is repeated, like showings in a cinema. Once a week I'm sure to see something I dreamed before. Yet they still insist that you dream only of what you've seen or experienced during your waking hours. And nothing else!"
"Even Sechenov wrote about that. He even examined the blind, and it turned out that they dream only of what they saw when they had their sight."
"But I never saw them," I repeated stubbornly. "Not in real life, nor in the cinema or in paintings. Nowhere! Is that clear? I never saw them!"
"But what if you did?" laughed Zargaryan.
"Where?" I cried.
He did not answer. He silently took out a cigarette, lit it, and suddenly recollected me.
"Oh, excuse me. I didn't offer one to you. Do you smoke?"
"You haven't answered me," I said.
"I will answer you. We have ahead of us a long, interesting talk. You can't even imagine what a find this meeting is for Nikodimov and me. Scientists wait for years for such moments. But I'm lucky: I only waited four years. Can you give me another couple of hours?"
"Of course," I agreed, confused and still in the dark.
A sudden change came over Zargaryan. His excited, undisguised interest slightly embarrassed me. What was there special in what I had told him? Perhaps Galya was right, and the key to the puzzle of all that had happened was right here?
But Zargaryan was already telephoning somebody.
"Pavel Nikitich? It's me. Do you intend staying much longer at the institute? Wonderful. I'm going to bring a certain person over, right away. He's with me now. Who? You'd never guess. The one we've been dreaming about all these years. What he's told me confirms all our ideas. And I stress that. Everything! And even more. It's hard to take it all in - my head spins. No, I'm not drunk, but a drink is called for. Later on. We're on our way, so wait for us."
He hung up and turned to me.
"D'you realize what a refractor is for an astronomer? Or an electronic microscope for a virologist? And for me, that's the kind of valuable instrument you are. For Nikodimov and me. I'll give Zoya a royal present for this.... After all, it was she who gave you to me. Let's go."
I was as much in the dark as before.
"I hope you're not going to give mo injections or cut me up? Will it hurt?" I asked, sounding like a patient on his way to see a surgeon.
Zargaryan burst into laughter, as pleased as punch.
"Why should it hurt, my dear man?" ho said, adopting the accent of an oriental trader. "You'll sit in a chair, fall asleep for half an hour or so, look at dreams. Like in the cinema." Dropping the accent, he added: "Come, Sergei Nikolaevich, I'll drive you to the institute."
The institute was off the highway in an oak grove which, in the dark of this starless night, looked to me like an enchanted wood out of a fairy tale. The gnome-like hushes, trees with clawing branches, black tree-stumps peering out of the grass like wild animals from across the roadside ditch - all seemed to be luring me into a romantic yet sinister gloom. But in place of the tumbledown hut perched on chicken-legs - the typical witch's abode in Russian fairy tales - there rose at the end of the alley a round ten-storey building with the occasional lighted window. Some of them blinked, flashing in spurts as if gigantic Jupiter lights in a film studio were being switched on and off.
"Valery Mlechin casting spells over wireless light-transmission," said Zargaryan, catching my glance. "You think that's us up there? No. Our labs are up under the very roof on the opposite side."
An express lift whisked us to the tenth floor, and we stepped out into a circular corridor with a moving passage that carried us with it. It moved softly, soundlessly, at about escalator-speed.
"It works automatically as soon as you step on it," explained Zargaryan, "and is stopped by putting your foot on one of these frosted, illuminated regulators."
Slightly convex milky-white transparent tiles were set every two metres, one after another, along the plastic ribbon of the corridor. We floated past white, sliding doors bearing large numbers. Opposite room 220, Zargaryan stepped on the regulator.
We stopped, and the door slid open instantly revealing the entrance to a large, brightly lit room. Zargaryan nudged me towards a chair.
"Amuse yourself for ten minutes while I talk with Nikodimov. First, it will save you from repeating your story; second, I can put it more professionally."
He approached the opposite wall: it slid open and immediately closed behind him. "Photoelectric cell," I thought to myself. The equipment in this institute answered the most up-to-date demands of scientific design for working comfort. A description of the corridor alone would have sent Klenov into ecstasy: it wasn't for nothing he had promised to back me 'soul and body'.
However, except for the sliding walls, the room where I waited held nothing very remarkable. A modern desk of clear plexiglas on nickel-plated steel legs; an open wall safe resembling an electric oven; concealed lighting, and a foam-rubber sofa-bed with cushions. Here you could spend the night in comfort if you were delayed. Along one wall I saw a monstrous pile of yellow, semi-transparent tape-ribbons along which thick, jagged lines ran: something like those on cardiograms. The coloured plastic floor, with its extravagant designs, made the room seem elegant, but the ascetic book-stands and the wall diagrams, also of plastic, returned it to the realm of the strictly serious. There was one diagram of the cortex of both cerebral hemispheres, marked with metal arrows crowned with coded inscriptions in Greek and Latin letters. Another that hit the eye had only a mass of strange metallic lines flanked by a handwritten inscription: Biocurrents of Sleeping Brain. Sheets of paper were pinned up bearing the typed text: Length and Depth of Sleep - laboratory observations at Chicago University.
The books on the stands were in complete disorder, piled on top of one another, lying open on telescopic shelves. These, apparently, were in constant use. I picked one up: it was a work by Sorokhtin on the atony of the nerve centre. There were piles of books and brochures in foreign languages and, it seemed to me, they all dealt with some kind of irradiation following stimulation or inhibition. I found one book by Nikodimov, in an English edition, whose title was The Principles of Codifying Impulses Distributed Through the Cortex and Subcortex of the Brain. Whether I got it right or not, I don't know, but I immediately regretted that we journalists lacked the training necessary to at least come close to understanding the processes taking place on the peaks of modern science.
At this moment the wall slid open, and Zargaryan called me: "You can come in now."
The room I found myself in was the acme of laboratories, gleaming with stainless steel and nickel plating. But I had no chance to get a good look at it. Zargaryan was already introducing me to an elderly man with a chestnut-coloured beard touched with silver, and hair to match worn longer than was usual among scientists - more suitable for a professor of music. His aquiline nose related him to the hawk, but somehow he reminded me of the Faust I had seen during my youth in an opera staged by a company on tour from some remote country district.
"Nikodimov," he said, smiling as he caught my roving eye. "There's no use looking. You won't understand anything in any case, and explanations would be lengthy. Besides, there's nothing very remarkable here - anything of interest is in the floor beneath us: the condenser and operational controls. And here is a screen by which we fixate the fields, in various phases, of course. As you see, an elementary jumble of electric plugs, switches and levers. Like something out of Mayakovsky, right?"
I cast a sidelong glance at the chair behind the screen, over which hung a helmet resembling an astronaut's but with coloured wires attached to it.
"He's scared," said Nikodimov, winking at Zargaryan. "What's so terrifying about it? Surely a chair...."
"Wait," interrupted Zargaryan cheerfully. "Don't explain: let him guess for himself. See, old fellow, it's like a barber's chair, but no mirror. Or maybe a dentist's chair? But no drill. Where can you find such a chair? In the theatre, the cinema? No again. Perhaps in the pilot's cabin of an aeroplane? Then where's the joystick or wheel?"
"Looks more like an electric chair," I said.
"Naturally. An exact copy."
"And you'll put the helmet on me, too?"
"What do you think? Death in two minutes!" His eyes twinkled. "Clinical death. Then we resurrect you."
"Don't frighten him," laughed Nikodimov, and turned to me. "You're a journalist?"
"Then I beg you ... no write-ups. Everything you'll find out here is not ripe for printing yet. Besides, the experiment might prove a failure. You might see nothing and we'll have to write it off as a loss. Well ... but when it is ready, the story will certainly be yours. I promise you that."
Poor Klenov. His hopes for an article vanished like a dream.
"Do your experiments have a direct relation to my story?" I dared to ask.
"Geometrically direct," interrupted Zargaryan. "That's only Pavel Nikodimov's cautiousness, but I tell you straight: there's no possibility of failure. The proofs are too clear."
"Ye-es," drawled Nikodimov, thoughtfully. "Pretty good proofs. So Stevenson's story happened to you? Is that how you explain it? Jekyll and Hyde?"
"Of course not. I don't believe in reincarnation, or transformed bodies."
"But even so?"
"I don't know. I'm looking for an explanation. From you."
"Wise of you."
"So there is an explanation?"
I jumped to my feet.
"Sit down," said Zargaryan. "No, go and sit in the chair you're so scared of. Believe me, it's much more comfortable than Voltaire's."
To put it mildly, I was rather hesitant. That devilish chair positively terrified me.
"All explanations only after the experiment," continued Zargaryan. "Sit here. Come, where's your nerve gone? We won't pull any teeth."
I sank deep into the chair, as if in a feather bed. A feeling of special lightness came over me, almost like weightlessness.
"Put out your feet," said Zargaryan. Apparently he was the one directing the experiment.
The soles of my feet rested on rubber clamps. On my head I felt the soundlessly lowered helmet. It gripped my forehead lightly, and was unexpectedly comfortable, like a soft, felt hat.
"Is it too loose?"
"Yes, a bit."
"Make yourself comfortable. We shall now regulate it."
The helmet became tighter. But I felt no pressure: its supple lining seemed to fuse with my skin. I had the feeling that an evening breeze had stolen through the window and was pleasantly cooling my forehead and ruffling my hair. Yet I knew the window was closed and my head was enveloped in the helmet.
Suddenly the light went out. I was surrounded by a warm, impenetrable darkness.
"What's up?" I asked.
"It's all right. We are isolating you from light."
How were they isolating me? With a wall, a cowling, a hood of some kind? I touched my eyelids: the helmet did not cover my eyes. Stretching out my hand, I could feel nothing.
"Drop your arm. Sit still. You will sleep now."
I settled more easily in the chair, relaxed my muscles. And truly, I felt sleep coming over me, an imminent Nirvana drowning all my thoughts, recollections, intruding words. For some reason, I remembered a four-line stanza:
But sleep is only a shadow-creation,
An unstable dissimulation,
Illusion of live animation -
Yet not a bad prevarication.
What kind of illusory dreams would sleep bring me this time, good ones or evil? The thought flashed and died away. There was a slight ringing in my ears, as if a mosquito were buzzing on a very high note somewhere close by.
Now voices, very clear, reached my ears, though I could not place their whereabouts.
"Is anything coming through?"
"There's some interference."
"Try the second scale."
"I'll turn it on full power."
The voices disappeared. I fell into a soundless, untroubled state of non-existence, pregnant with unusual expectancy.
THE DREAM WITH A MIRACLE
I half opened my eyes and blinked. Everything swirled round in a rosy mist. The lights of the chandelier on the ceiling were arched out in a shining parabola. I was surrounded by a circle of women all in matching black dresses, all with matching washed-out faces. They cried out to me in Olga's voice.
"What's the matter? Are you ill?"
I forced open my eyelids as wide as I could. The mist melted away. The chandelier was at first tripled, then doubled, and finally became its normal self. The women shrank into a single figure with Olga's voice and smile.
"Where are we?" I asked.
"At the reception."
"Can you have forgotten? At the Hungarian Embassy's reception. At the Metropole Hotel."
"What are we doing here?"
"Good lord, the tickets were sent to us this morning! I just managed to get my dress from the dressmaker. You seem to have forgotten everything! "
I was certain no tickets had been sent to us that morning. Perhaps they'd come the evening before, on my return from Nikodimov? Did this mean I'd lost my memory again?
"But what happened to me?"
"The reception room was terribly stuffy and you suggested we go out for some fresh air. When we got to the foyer here, you suddenly felt bad."
"Nothing strange about it. It was impossible to breathe in there, and your heart isn't too good. Would you like something to drink?"
"I really don't know."
Olga seemed almost like a stranger to me in the new dress she had mentioned. It was the first time I'd heard about it. When did she go to the dressmaker's if I'd been home all day?
"Wait a minute, I'll go and bring you some Narzan mineral water."
She disappeared into the reception room, and I continued to look vaguely about at the familiar foyer of the restaurant. I recognized it, but that didn't ease my position. I couldn't at all understand when the Hungarians had sent the tickets, arid why they'd sent them. I had no title of honour, I wasn't an academician or a master of sport. Yet Olga accepted it as a matter of course, as something quite usual in our way of life.
I was still standing there motionless when Olga returned with the Narzan. I got the impression that she wanted to return to the reception.
"Have you met anyone you know?"
"All the chiefs are there," said Olga, brightening. "Fedor Ivanovich and Raisa, even the deputy minister."
I was not acquainted with either a Fedor Ivanovich or a Raisa, let alone a deputy minister. But I didn't want to risk admitting it, and merely asked: "Why the deputy minister?"
"It was he who fixed it so we could all come. After all, our clinic is attached to the ministry. He gave the tickets to Fedor, who passed some on to Raisa. Probably there were a few extra tickets."
Olga did not work at a ministerial clinic, but at a very ordinary district polyclinic. I knew that for a fact. Once she had actually been invited to work at the clinic for the Ministry of Communications, but she had refused.
"You go on back," I said. "I'll take a little stroll for a breath of fresh air."
I went outside, stood at the entrance and lit a cigarette. The yellow light from the street lamps was swimming in the wet asphalt pavement. Two-decker buses, as red as those in London, splashed by me. I had never seen such buses before. Between the upper and lower deck windows ran an advertising strip with the painted sign:
SEE THE NEW FRENCH FILM CHILD OF MONTPARNASSE.
I'd never heard of it. What was wrong with my memory? It was full of gaps. In the distance, to the left of the Bolshoi Theatre, a gigantic neon oblong burned against the sky.
Flickering letters raced round it: 'Earthquake in Delhi.... Soviet doctors flew to India.' The latest news in lights. I couldn't recall when it was put up.
"Getting some air?"
I heard a well-known voice, turned, and saw Klenov. He had just come out of the restaurant.
"I'm leaving," he said. "There's lots of liquor, but I don't drink. Ulcers. I've paid my respects, and now for home."
"Between ourselves, how come you're paying respects?"
"Well, d'you see, Kemenes invited us. He's press-attache now."
Tibor Kemenes, a Russian-speaking Hungarian student, had been our guide in Budapest. I was just out of hospital, and we had wandered for hours around the city, so new to us. But when had Kemenes become press-attache at their embassy in Moscow? And how was it I only found out now?
"Yes, people go up the ladder. But you and I got stuck somehow, old fellow. We are the ones who keep the wheels turning."
"Speaking of turning the wheels, there won't be any article, incidentally," I told him.
"What article?" asked Klenov in surprise.
"About Zargaryan and Nikodimov."
He laughed so hard, passers-by turned back to stare.
"You certainly picked an eccentric for a subject. That Nikodimov keeps a panther on a chain at his cottage instead of a dog. And in Moscow he drops reporters down the waste chute."
"You already told me that."
Klenov gripped my shoulders and looked me in the eye.
"What have you been drinking, Tokay or palinka?"
"I've not taken a drop."
"That's easy to see. Why, Saturday night I went to my cottage at Zhavoronki, and only returned today at five in the afternoon. You must have been talking with me in your dreams."
Klenov waved good-bye and went off, but I stood there, deeply shaken by his last words: 'talking with me in your dreams'. No, it was now I was talking with him in a dream. In a dream too real to be true.
Immediately I recalled the conversation in Faust's laboratory, the chair with the various lead-in wires. And Zargaryan's warning from the darkness: 'Sit still. You will sleep now.' Some kind of electronic sleep with artificially aroused dreams. It all seemed as if I were awake, only this real life for some reason was turned upside down. Then why should I be surprised? It was as plain as day.
I went back inside. A turbid haze of smoke hung over the tables, like steam, mixing with the electric light. People were dancing. I searched in vain for Olga, then entered the adjoining room. The long tables, littered with half-demolished food and drink, were witnesses that the guests had recently been feasting here. They had been served European buffet style, and ate standing holding their plates, or sat on the window-sills covered with folds of the draperies. Now only the latecomers remained, searching the tables for drinks and snacks still untouched. Somebody, who was playing a lone hand at the end of a large table, turned and called out to me.
"Over here, Sergei. Tuck in. Palinka, just like in Budapest."
It was Mikhail Sichuk who, according to another version I knew, had already managed to skip the country. Perhaps in this dream he'd managed to return. Through a hole in space or on a flying-carpet. I didn't bother my head over it, nor did I react to the miracle. I simply poured myself a glass of palinka from Mikhail's bottle, and drank. I was beginning to like dreams that contained even real sensations of taste.
"To our friends and comrades," toasted Mikhail, also drinking.
"How did you get here?" I asked, diplomatically.
"The same as you. As a hero of the liberation of Hungary."
"Oh, you're a hero?"
"We're all heroes." Mikhail drained his glass and grunted. "It's heroism to have survived such a war!"
I grew angry. "Only to be a traitor, afterwards?"
Mikhail put his glass down and pricked up his ears.
"What are you getting at?"
I realized, of course, that I wasn't being logical, that it was senseless to accuse under the circumstances, but I got carried away.
"You went off on the Ukraine in real style. On a Soviet excursion-voucher, you scum!"
"How did you guess?" asked Mikhail in a whisper.
"That you skipped?"
"That I wanted to travel, and went to a lot of trouble to get a voucher...."
"If they'd known, you wouldn't have got it."
"But they didn't give it to me."
As chairman of the trade-union committee, I myself had arranged for Mikhail's voucher. But in this dream everything was topsy-turvy. Perhaps I had gone in his place? I had also wanted to go, but there hadn't been an extra voucher. But what if there had been? My dream tossed me around like a chip of wood in the ocean.
"Sit down, Sergei. Are you avoiding me?"
Somebody caught my arm as I was threading my way between the tables in the banquet room. I looked into his face and was frozen dumb. And I was really scared.
"Sit down, won't you? Let's drink Tokay. After all, it's the best in Europe."
My legs gave way and I fell, rather than sat, in a chair by the table. Sad eyes that I knew so well stared at me. The last time I'd seen them - not both, but one - was in '44 on the Danube highway. Oleg lay on his back, his face covered with blood trickling down from where his right eye had been a moment earlier. Fright and grief had frozen in the other.
Now they both looked at me. A curved, reddish scar stretched from the right eye up across the temple.
"What are you staring like that for, Sergei? Do I look so much older?"
"I was remembering forty-four. When you ... you...."
"When I what?"
"When you were killed, Oleg." He smiled. "Bullet was a bit off. Only the scar's left. Had it hit a fraction more to the right - curtains. Neither my eyes nor I would be here." He sighed. "Funny. I wasn't afraid then, but I am now."
"The operation. A splinter was left somewhere in my chest, memorial of one other wound. So far I've lived with that splinter all right, but now they say I mustn't any longer. Have to have an operation."
His familiar eyes with the long, almost feminine lashes were smiling. The forehead angled back into the receding hairline at the temples, so that it looked higher than before. Deep lines nestled close to the corners of his lips. And yet there was something about this dear and familiar face that struck me as strange. The imprint of time, perhaps. So Oleg would have looked, if he had lived. But in this artificial world of dreams be was alive. If Faust had created this model, then he was a god, and I was already beginning to doubt which of the two worlds was real. A treacherous thought struck me: what if something broke down in Faust's laboratory and I was stuck here for good! Should I be sorry? I didn't know.
I pinched my arm hard.
"What for?" Oleg looked his surprise.
"For a minute I thought this was a dream."
Oleg laughed, and suddenly faded away into a lilac mist. That familiar mist. It lapped up everything, and went black. Zargaryan's voice asked me out of the dark: "Are you alive?"
"Of course, I am."
"Raise your arm. Can you move it freely?"
I moved my arm in the dark.
"Roll up your sleeve and loosen your collar."
He pressed something cold to my chest, then to my wrist.
"Don't be frightened. It's only a stethoscope. We'll check your heart. Don't talk."
How could he see in the dark through which not one speck of light penetrated? But he saw.
"All right," he pronounced in a satisfied voice. "Only the pulse is a bit fast."
"Maybe we'll break off the test?" The voice of an invisible Nikodimov came from somewhere.
"Whatever for? Sergei Nikolaevich has the nerves of an athlete. Now we'll show him another dream."
"So it was a dream?" I asked, feeling relief.
"Who knows?" Zargaryan slyly called out of the dark. "And if not?"
I didn't have time to answer. The darkness swallowed me up like the sea.
A DREAM CULMINATING IN HYSTERICS
Out of the darkness burst a stream of light, flooding a white operating theatre. On the table lay a prostrate body covered to the waist with a white sheet. The dissected chest exposed to view the scarlet, bleeding inner tissues and the pearly whiteness of ribs. The patient's eyes were closed, his face bloodless and still. There was something familiar about the face: it seemed I'd seen only recently those deep lines at the lips and the curving, rosy scar on the right temple.
My hands were holding a probe buried in the open chest. I was in an operating gown and white linen cap, my nose and mouth covered with a surgical mask. The people opposite me were dressed as I was. I knew none of them, but seemed to recognize the eyes of a woman standing at the patient's head. Her eyes were riveted to my hands, and were so full of alarming tension that it seemed as if a taut string were stretched between us. It rang thinly the deeper the probe went into the opening.
Suddenly I remembered all that had occurred up to this moment. The squeal of brakes from the car stopping at the entrance, the granite steps wet with rain, the well-known vista of a street I had often dreamed about, and then the respectful smile of the cloakroom attendant catching my coat on the fly as I went by, the slow rise of the lift and the shining whiteness of the operating theatre where I put on my gown and scrubbed hands and arms a dreadfully long time. I remembered perfectly that it was I - yes, I - who began the operation, opening the chest with a scalpel along the line of the scar while my hands with professional, habitual skill cut, split and probed. All this flashed into my conscious mind with the speed of sound, and disappeared. I had forgotten everything. The habitual skill of my hands turned into a frightened tremble and with sudden terror I realized that I didn't know what to do next, or how to do it. Any further delay would mean murder.
Without realizing what I did or why, I withdrew the probe from the wound and dropped it. It gave out a hollow tinkle. In the eyes above the muslin masks, I read one and the same question: 'What's happened?'
"I can't," I almost groaned. "I'm ill."
Walking on strangely cottony legs, I went to the door. Half turning round, I saw somebody's back bent over the patient in my place, and a quiet bass voice gave a command to the head nurse: "Probe!"
"Run!" my thoughts raced. So that nobody would see, so that I would see nobody. No longer to read what I had managed to read in all those wide-open, surprised and accusing eyes. I could not feel my legs under me. I ran like a storm through the scrubbing surgery and into the hallway between two right-angled corridors, flinging myself down on white, shining enamelled seat.
"Just now, with these very hands, I killed Oleg," I told myself. I gripped my temples with icy hands, groaned and perhaps even cried aloud.
"What's wrong ... Sergei Nikolaevich?" I heard a frightened voice.
The man who addressed me wore an operating gown like myself, but without the cap, revealing a bald, naked skull and he asked uneasily: "What's wrong? How did the operation go?"
"I don't know," I said.
"I threw it up ... left...." I scarcely opened my mouth. "I came over ill."
"Who's operating then? Asafyev?"
"That's not possible!"
"I know nothing. I don't even know who you are! Who are you, what's your name, where am I, for heaven's sake?" I screamed.
He shuffled from foot to foot, staring at me with amazed eyes, empty of comprehension. Then he ran to the door through which I had just stormed.
I looked after him and stood up. I tore off my gown, ripping the ties, wiped my hands and threw the gown on the floor. The cap followed. In the depths of the corridor stretching before me I saw a flash of white - a doctor or nurse-in high heels that tapped on the parquetry. She disappeared in one of the rooms. I mechanically headed in her direction, passing identically white doors. They led into consulting rooms of doctors, whose names were printed on cards framed in white plastic. 'Dr. Gromov, S. N.' I read. My office. Well then, in you go!
Klenov sat by a wide Italian window behind my desk, reading a newspaper.
"So soon?" he asked with restraint, but a restraint that rang with alarm and fear.
I was silent.
"Why are you here?" I countered.
"You told me to wait here, yourself!" burst out Klenov. "What's happened to Oleg?"
"I don't know."
He leaped up. "Why not?"
"I felt bad ... almost lost consciousness."
"During the operation?"
"Who is operating then?"
"Don't know." I tried not to look at him.
"But why are you here now? Why aren't you in the operating room at least?" screamed Klenov.
"Because I'm not a surgeon, Klenov."
He didn't push me aside, he charged me with his shoulder like a hockey-player and ran into the corridor. And I sat inanely on a chair in the middle of the room, couldn't even drag myself as far as my desk. "I'm not a surgeon," I had told Klenov. Then how could I have started the operation and conducted it to the critical moment without arousing anybody's doubts? So that was possible in dreams. Then where did the fear come from, this near terror of what had occurred? You see, Oleg, the operation, Klenov and I myself were only shades in a world of dreams, and I knew it. "And if not?" Zargaryan had asked. And if we're not!
Then the desk telephone rang, but I turned away. It went on ringing. Finally I grew tired of it.
"Sergei, is that, you?" came a voice. "How was it?"
"Who's speaking?" I barked.
"Don't yell. As if you didn't know me."
"I don't. Who is this?"
"But it's me, Galya! Who else?"
Galya is excited, and quite rightly so, I thought. But why is she phoning? If anyone should be waiting here, she should be. Instead of Klenov.
"Why are you silent?" she asked, surprised. "Was it a failure?"
"Look...." I faltered. "I can't tell you anything definite. I felt bad during the operation. An assistant is finishing...."
Again that Asafyev, I thought. How do I know whether it's him or not? And does it matter, since this is only a dream?
"Probably," I said aloud. "I couldn't tell. They're all in masks."
"But you don't trust Asafyev. Even this morning you said he's a surgeon for convalescents."
"When did I say that?"
"When we were having breakfast. Before the car came for you."
I knew perfectly well that I hadn't had breakfast with Galya. I had been at home. I had no car. But why argue, if it was all a dream?
"And what happened to you?" she continued. "What do you mean ... you felt bad?"
"Weakness. Dizziness. Loss of memory."
"What about now? Are you asking about Oleg?"
"No, about you!"
I even marvelled. Where did Galya get such callousness from? Oleg lying on the operating table, and she asks what's wrong with me!
"Complete atrophy of the memory," I said angrily. "I've forgotten everything. Where I was this morning and where I am now, who you are, who I am, and why I'm a surgeon if one look at a scalpel makes my flesh creep."
Silence from the receiver.
"Are you listening?"
"I'll come to the hospital at once," said Galya, and hung up.
Let her come. Did it matter when, where or why? Dreams are always illogical, yet for some reason I was able to think logically even in dreams. The resolve to run away, ripening from the moment I left the operating room, was finally taken. "I'll leave a note of some kind for decency's sake, and go away," I thought.
On the top sheet of the pad lying on the desk above some papers I read the heading: 'Professor Sergei Nikolaevich Groinov, D. Sc. (Med.)'. This brought to mind my sheet from the notebook on which my hypothetical Mr. Hyde had scribbled the mysterious, cluo-like inscription. It had turned out to be the key to the puzzle. True, I hadn't yet solved the puzzle itself, but the key was in the lock. 'And if not?' Zargaryan had answered in reply to my query whether it was a dream. What if I were just as much of an unseen aggressor to Prof. Sergei Gromov as my Hyde of yesterday had been to me? Shouldn't I follow his example and leave a similar kind of clue or explanatory note?
I was already writing on the professor's pad:
You and I are doubles, though we live in different worlds, and perhaps even in different times. Unluckily, our 'meeting' happened during an operation. I couldn't finish it: in my world I have a different profession. Find the scientists in Moscow: Nikodimov and Zargaryan. They, probably, can explain to you what happened at the hospital.
Without reading over what I had written, I went to the door, caught by a single impulse - to go anywhere at all, so long as it was out of this Hoffman-like devilry. Too late: the devilry was already at the door.
Before I could open it, Lena entered. She was still wearing the cap and gown she had worn in the operating room, but no mask. I retreated a step and asked in the trembling tone others had applied to me: "Well, how was it?"
She had scarcely aged at all since the last time I saw her after the war: that must have been ten years ago. But I was more tightly connected with the Lena of this dream, for our professions joined us.
"We removed the splinter," she said, barely moving her lips.
"He'll live." After a moment's silence, she added: "You counted on something different?"
"Why did you do it?"
"Because a terrible thing happened. Loss of memory. I suddenly forgot all I knew, everything I had learned. And even professional skills that were part of me. I couldn't, I didn't have the right to continue the operation."
"You're lying!" Her lips were clamped together so tightly they were white.
"You're lying. Are you improvising this on the spot or did you think it up earlier? Do you think anybody will believe your story? I shall demand a special commission of experts."
"Go ahead," I answered with a sigh.
"I've already talked with Klenov. We'll write a letter to the papers."
"You won't. I'm not lying to anybody."
"To anybody? But I know why you did it. From jealousy."
I even laughed.
"Jealous of whom?"
"And he even laughs, the scum!" she screamed.
Before I could catch her arm, she hit me in the face so hard that I almost lost balance.
"You scum!" she repeated, choking with tears, and close to hysterics. "Murderer! ... If it wasn't for Volodya Asafyev, Oleg would now be dead on the operating table. Lying there dead, dead!"
A sudden darkness cut short her screams.
A DREAM FULL OF ANGER
I seemed to be blind and deaf, and my body was pressed to the parquet floor as if paralysed. I could not even stir, and felt nothing except the coolness of the waxed floor against my temple. How many hours, or minutes, perhaps seconds, this feeling lasted I don't know. I had lost all sense of time.
Suddenly the blackness before my eyes faded like Indian ink does on Whatman paper when you use it to spread a dull grey wash over an outlined space. The space here was outlined by the walls of a narrow corridor lit by a few dim electric bulbs and terminating in a steep stairway loading up to a rectangle of daylight. I was standing now, pressing my face against the waxed wall-panels, holding on to the handrail that ran the whole length of the corridor.
As before, Lena was looking at me, but her expression had changed into deep sympathy.
"Are you sea-sick?" she asked. "Nauseous?"
I certainly felt a bit under the weather, especially when the floor, swaying like a swing, suddenly slipped from under my feet and my stomach twisted in spasms.
"It's the pitching of the ship," she explained. "We're turning into the harbour."
"Whereabouts are we?" I said, failing to grasp what she meant.
"We've already reached Istanbul, Professor. Come and take a look."
I still could not catch on to what was happening.
A new devilish metamorphosis. Out of one dream into another. A Technicolor scene from a fairy tale.
"Come up on deck. You'll feel better where there's a breeze," and she pulled me after her. "Incidentally, let's see what Istanbul looks like. Though one can hardly make anything out - it's raining."
The rain did not actually fall, but hung around us like a lustreless, hazy netting. Through this net, the shoreline panorama seemed made of shapeless, abstract patches with the outlines here and there of murkily gleaming minarets and cupolas, some blue and others green. Clouds teemed above it all, bunting and overtaking each other.
"We'll need our raincoats," frowned Lena, with a hand above her eyes to ward off the fine wet spray. "Can't go ashore like this. What cabin are you in, seven? Wait for me by the ship's ladder or on shore. All right?"
Now I knew the number of my cabin. Well then, let's go for a mackintosh. A trip through foreign seas and countries is always interesting. Even in the rain, even in a dream.
Entering my cabin, I found Mikhail Sichuk busy by his bunk. He was hurriedly pocketing some papers and packets, and did not seem at all pleased with my appearance.
"Is it raining?" he asked.
"It is," I answered mechanically, trying to puzzle out why my dreams persistently confronted me with the very same personages. "What are you stuffing in your pockets?"
This seemed to embarrass Mikhail.
"Oh, that ... just souvenirs to exchange. So it's raining..." he mumbled, avoiding my eyes.
"That's bad. We'll all be bunched in a group, holding on to each other. Otherwise we'll get lost...."
Then I remembered what Mikhail had done in real life. In this very same Istanbul. In reality, and not in a dream.
"What's the name of our ship?" I asked.
"What? You've forgotten?" grinned Mikhail.
"Sclerosis. Can't remember, somehow."
"The Ukraine. What of it?" He looked at me with suspicion.
Everything fell into place. This dream, in time, was a month ago. All the better. I could change the course of events.
"Nothing special," and I even yawned to put him off the track. "It's raining. Suppose we don't go."
"Not go where?"
"Ashore. They'll make us walk half the day in the rain: mosques, museums.... Wishing we were home. Let's settle down in the bar over a glass of beer."
"Isn't that the limit!" laughed Mikhail. "The last foreign port and we go to the bar."
"Why the last? We still have Varna and Constanta to see. Very beautiful cities, by the way."
"Socialist," drawled Mikhail scornfully.
"And you, of course, must have capitalist towns? "
"I paid good money out. I want my money's worth."
"Thirty pieces of silver," I said. "Judas money."
Incidentally in that other dream in the Metropole, I'd already put this to Mikhail. And all for nothing. The shot had misfired. He never got his excursion-voucher, and so never took the trip. But now I'd caught him in time.
"Look, I know what you're planning," I went on. "Two words to a policeman at the first bus stop, and off in a taxi to the American Embassy. Quiet, don't deny it! And at the embassy you'll beg for political shelter."
For a moment Mikhail was turned into a pillar of salt, like Lot's wife immortalized in the Bible. But only for a moment. Realizing that somebody had looked into his soul, into its secret depths, a quiet terror came and went in his eyes. He was a damned good actor.
"Rubbish," he said, with a show of good-heartedness, and reached out to take his raincoat off the hanger.
"I am not joking, Sichuk," I said.
"What does that mean?"
"It means I know the dirty thing you intended to do, and I'm going to stop it."
"That's interesting, but how?" he burst out.
"It's all very simple. Till we leave port, you don't go out of this cabin."
"Might as well warn you, I'm not a good subject for hypnosis. So get out of my way," he declared insolently, and began putting his coat on.
I sat on the edge of the bunk nearest the door. Then I wrapped my handkerchief round my left hand. I'm left-handed, and punch with my left. There's no curve to the punch, and it has all the power of my arm and shoulder muscles behind it, and the whole weight of my body. I learned this from Sazhin, the USSR boxing champion in the light-heavyweight class. That was in the late forties. I was younger then and glad of his help. I would go to him at the training gym after work, right from the editorial office. There, in a sheltered corner, I would correct his notes - he was going to turn journalist. Then I would ask him to show me a few tricks.
And he did. "You'll never make a boxer, of course," he told me. "Too old, and no talent.... But if you ever get in a fight, you'll be able to take care of yourself. Only see you don't break your knuckles. Wrap your hand up."
Mikhail at once noticed my manipulation and became curious.
"What's that for?"
"So I don't skin my knuckles."
"What? You're joking?"
"I've already told once I'm not joking."
"One yell from me...."
"You won't yell," I interrupted him. "Or it'll be the worse for you. I'll tell everything you plan doing and ... curtains, as they say."
"Who's going to believe it?"
"They'll believe it. Once they're tipped off, they'll start thinking out the how's and wherefore's. You won't be let ashore."
"But I can accuse you of the same thing."
"Then they won't let either of us go. And when we get home, it'll all be straightened out."
Dressed in his hat and coat, Mikhail sat opposite me on his bunk.
"You're crazy. What gave you the idea I was going to skip?"
"I saw it in a dream."
"I'm asking you straight."
"What difference does it make? The important thing is, I'm not mistaken. I can read it in your eyes."
"I'm a Soviet citizen, Sergei."
"You're not. You're the scum of the earth. I found that out even at the front. Knew you were a coward, a bad lot. Only I never managed to expose you in time."
Red spots came up on Mikhail's cheeks. His fingers played nervously with his coat buttons, doing them up and undoing them. He must have finally realized that his well-worked-out plan could fail.
"I won't yell, of course. I don't want a row." His voice took on a tearful note. "But, honestly, this is all nonsense. Sheer nonsense."
"What's in your pockets?"
"I told you. All kinds of stuff: pins, badges, photos."
"Why should I?"
"Then don't. Lie down on your bunk, and stay there."
He got up and walked to the door. I put my back against it.
"Let me out," he said through his teeth, grabbing my shoulders.
He was stronger than I, but out of cowardice didn't realize it. However, without any manifest hesitation, he came straight for me.
"Let me out," he repeated, pulling me toward him.
I gave him the knee, and he flew back. Then, crouching, he tore at me trying to smash his head under my chin.
But it didn't connect, and I let fly at his face with a straight left, landing right on his mouth. He swayed and crashed to the floor between his bunk and the wash-basin. A red trickle ran from his cut lip. He touched it with his fingers, saw blood, and screamed: "He-elp...." And broke off.
"Go ahead, yell," I told him. "Yell louder. You don't scare me."
His eyes narrowed, radiating spite alone.
"All the same, I'll skip," he hissed. "Next time."
"You be man enough to announce that at home. Officially, so that all can hear. Say it plainly, that you don't like our system, our society. Beg for a visa from some embassy or other. You think you'll be held? Oh no. We'll be glad to chuck you out. We don't need human scum like you."
"So why don't you let me go now?"
"Because you're crawling out quietly. By a fraud. Because you're letting everybody down who trusted you."
Mikhail jumped up and rushed me again, his mouth stretched in an ugly grin. He wasn't thinking now of getting out of the cabin at any cost; he was gripped by blind anger and lost his head.
I knocked him off his feet again. Sazhin's lessons came in handy after all. This time he fell on his bunk, but so hard that his head hit the wall. It looked to me as if he had lost consciousness. But he stirred and groaned. I folded a towel, wet it under the tap, and laid it on his face.
There was a knock at the door. I slid a glance at Mikhail. He did not even turn round. I released the catch on the door. In came a perfect stranger wearing a wet raincoat; apparently it was raining harder.
"You coming, Sergei Nikolaevich?"
"No," I answered. "I'm not. My friend isn't feeling well. Sea-sick, I guess. I'll stay with him."
Mikhail still did not move, nor even raise his head. I waited till the footsteps died away down the corridor.
"I'm going to the bar," I warned Mikhail. "But, if you'll excuse me, I'm locking the door."
I locked the door, but did not get to the bar. Again the sudden darkness, that I was so used to, returned me to the familiar chair with the helmet and pick-ups.
The first thing I heard was the tail end of a conversation which clearly was not meant for my ears.
"A traveller in time - that's stale. I should call it a 'walk in the fifth dimension'."
"Maybe in the seventh?"
"We'll formulate it. How is he?"
"Unconscious, so far."
"Consciousness has already returned."
"And the encephalogram?"
"Recorded in full."
"I told you before he's a real find."
"Shall I turn on the isolator?"
"Turn it off, you meant to say? Give it zero three, and then zero ten. Let his eyes get used to light gradually."
The blackness lifted a bit. As if a crack had opened somewhere letting in a tiny ray of light. Though invisible, it made the objects around me visible. With each passing second they grew more clear-cut, and soon I saw Zargaryan's face before me, as if on a cinema screen.
"Ave, homo, amici te salutant. ( Greetings, man, friends salute you.- tr.) Do I need to translate?"
"No," I answered.
There was now full light. The astronaut's helmet lightly slipped from my head and lifted up. The chair-back gave me a push as if suggesting that I get up. I did. Nikodimov was already in his place at the desk, inviting me to join them both.
"Did you have many experiences?"
"Many. Shall I relate them?"
"Not in any case. You are tired. You will tell us tomorrow. What you need now is rest, and a proper sleep. Without dreams."
"But what I saw ... were they dreams?" I asked.
"We'll put oft all exchange of information till tomorrow," he smiled. "Today, don't relate a thing, not even at home. The main thing is sleep, and more sleep."
"But shall I fall asleep?" I doubted.
"Without a doubt. After supper, take this tablet. And tomorrow we'll meet again here. Let's say at two o'clock. Ruben Zargaryan will come for you."
"Now I'll have him homo in a jiffy. Swift as the wind," said Zargaryan.
"And don't think about anything. Don't try to recollect anything. Don't live it over again," added Nikodimov. Urbi ot orbi, not a word. Need I translate?"
"I guess not," I said.
PROGRESS TOWARD THE SOLUTION
I kept my word, and gave Olga only a general outline about what had taken place. I myself did not want to relive all I had seen in my artificial dreams, even in my thoughts. Nor did I ask Olga about anything that had the slightest connection with my dreams. But late at night, in bed, I could not restrain myself.
"Did we ever get an invitation from the Hungarian Embassy?"
"No," said Olga in surprise. "Why do you ask?"
"Which of your acquaintances is called Fedor Ivanovich, and who is Raisa?"
"I haven't the faintest," she answered, more surprised than ever. "I don't know any people with those names. No wait ... I remember. You know who Fedor Ivanovich is? The head of a polyclinic. Not ours, but the one I was asked to work in, the one attached to the ministry. And Raisa - that's his wife. It was she who made mo the offer. When did you get to know them?"
"I'll tell you tomorrow. Right now, my mind is a muddle. Forgive me," I muttered, and fell asleep.
I woke up late, after Olga had already gone leaving my breakfast on the table and coffee in the thermos. I didn't want to get up. I lay in bed, unhurriedly going over the events of yesterday. I remembered with particular clarity the dreams I had seen in Faust's laboratory - not dreams, but living, concrete reality. I remembered them in detail, down to the little things you usually don't notice in real life. And immediately I recalled even the paper pad in the hospital consulting room, the colour of the buttons on Mikhail's raincoat, the sound of the probe falling on the floor, and the taste of the apricot palinka or brandy. I recalled all the Hoffman-style confusion, compared the conversations, actions and interrelations, finally coming to strange conclusions. Very strange, though their strangeness hardly lessened their cogency.
A telephone call got me out of bed. It was Klenov, who had already found out from Zoya about my meeting Zargaryan. I would have to take a hard line.
"Do you know what 'taboo' means?"
"Suppose I do?"
"Then get this: Zargaryan is taboo, Nikodimov is also taboo, telepathy's taboo. That's the works."
"I'll tear my clothes to ribbons."
"Tear away! By the way, have you got a cottage in Zhavoronki?"
"A garden plot, you mean to say? Only it's not in Zhavoronki. We were offered two choices: Zhavoronki or Kupavna. I chose the last."
"But you could have chosen Zhavoronki?"
"Naturally. Why are you interested?"
"I'm interested in a lot of things. For instance, who is press-attache now at the Hungarian Embassy? Kemenes?"
"You haven't got encephalitis, by any chance?"
"I'm asking in all seriousness."
"Kemenes is press-attache in Hungary. He hasn't been sent to Moscow."
"But he might have been?"
"I get it. You're writing a thesis on the subjunctive mood."
In a way, Klenov almost guessed it. In my attempts to figure out the secret hovering around me, I tripped over the subjunctive mood time and again that morning. What might have happened if.... If Oleg hadn't been killed at Dunafoldvar? If it hadn't been Oleg that married Galya, but I? If I had gone in for medicine after the war instead of entering the faculty of journalism? If Olga had agreed to work at the ministry's clinic? If Tibor Kemenes hadn't gone to work in Belgrade, but had come to Moscow? If, if.... Over the subjunctive mood, this Hoffman devilry burst into rich bloom. I might have gone to a reception in the Hungarian Embassy. I might have gone on the Ukraine around Europe. I might have been a Doctor of Medical Sciences, a surgeon operating on a living Oleg. All of these things might have been in real life, if....
And another if. What if I had seen not dreams at Zargaryan's, but a hypnotic stream of life, altered here and there according to circumstances? Then the fantastic Jekyll and Hyde story would have received a lawful vote. If Gromov the journalist could be turned into a surgeon for a certain time, then why shouldn't Gromov the surgeon become journalist Gromov for a time? He had that day on Tverskoi Boulevard. In a flash, flooded with Indian ink and lilac mist. In a flash, like Hyde jumping into Jekyll's body from the foam-rubber chair in Faust's laboratory. You see, Dr. Gromov had his Nikodimov and Zargaryan who controlled the same mysterious forces.
That meant that Zargaryan, Nikodimov and I, the three of us equally, had taken part in the simultaneous current of certain parallel non-intersecting lives. How many parallel lives were there? Two, five, six, a hundred, a thousand of them? What course were they following, and in what space or time? I remembered Galya's talk with Hyde about the plurality of worlds. What if it wasn't a fantastic hypothesis, but a scientific discovery - one more mystery solved about matter?
But my mind refused to accept this explanation. All the more so because my mind was untrained in the exact sciences. I could only bewail the limited knowledge of our education in the humanities. I did not have enough brains to think over, to ponder upon, the problem I had brought to light,
That was the state of mind I was in when Galya dropped in on her way to work. She had learned from Olga last night that I'd gone to see Zargaryan, and she was literally burning with curiosity to know if I'd found the key to the puzzle.
"I found it," I said. "Only I can't turn the key in the lock: I haven't the strength."
I told her about the chair in Faust's laboratory, and about my three 'dreams'. She was silent for a long time before she gave me a question. "Had he grown old?"
"What did you expect? Twenty years have gone by."
She fell silent again, lost in thought. I was afraid that her personal curiosity overshadowed that of a scientist. But I was mistaken.
"Something else interests me," she said, breaking the silence. "The fact that you saw him grown older. With wrinkles. With a scar that never existed. It's impossible!" "Why?"
"Because you've never read Pavlov. You cannot see in a dream what you've never seen in real life. The blind from birth do not see dreams. And what was Oleg like when you knew him? A boy, a youth. Where did the wrinkles of a forty-year-old man come from, and the scar on the temple?"
"But if it's not a dream?"
"You've already got an explanation?" Galya shot back.
I got the idea that she had guessed exactly what explanation I thought the most likely, and the most frightening.
"So far it's only an attempt at an explanation," I reminded her hesitantly. "I keep trying to compare my adventure with these dreams.... If Hyde could play such a joke on Jekyll, then why couldn't they both exchange roles?"
"But don't you remember your talk with Hyde about the plurality of worlds? Parallel worlds, parallel lives?"
"Rubbish," objected Galya.
"You simply don't want to take it seriously," I reproached her. "It's easy enough to say 'rubbish'. They said the same thing about the Copernicus hypothesis."
I didn't make her give in by this remark but at least forced her to think about my own thesis.
"Parallel worlds? Why parallel?"
"Because they don't intersect anywhere."
Galya laughed, openly scornful.
"Don't try writing science fiction: that's my advice. You wouldn't get anywhere. Non-intersecting worlds?" She snorted. "So Nikodimov and Zargaryan have found a point of intersection? A window into an anti-world?"
"Who knows?" I said.
I found out the answer to that two hours later in Faust's laboratory.
To tell the truth, I went there as if to an examination, with the same inner trepidation and fear before the unknown. Again and again I ran over the dreams I recalled, the visions I'd seen during the experiment. I called them 'dreams' from habit, though I had come to the final conclusion that they weren't dreams at all. I compared all details suggesting such a comparison, and systematized my conclusions.
"Have you got it well rehearsed?" asked Zargaryan merrily when he met me.
"Rehearsed what?" I muttered, embarrassed.
"Your story, of course."
He saw through me. But rising anger made me overcome my embarrassment. "I don't much like your attitude."
He only laughed in answer.
"Do all the complaining you like. The tape-recorder isn't turned on yet."
"The 'Yauza-10'. For purity of sound, it's wonderful."
I hadn't expected to make a tape-recording. It's one thing to tell a story, bat quite another to tape-record. I shook my head, almost refusing.
"Sit down and begin," Nikodimov encouraged me. "You'll make your mark in science. Pretend you're dictating to a pretty stenographer."
"Only no hunter's tales," added Zargaryan with sly humour. "The tape's supersensitive, with Munchausen tuning.... I'm switching on."
Childishly, I stuck my tongue out at him, and my shyness disappeared at once. I began my story without any prologue, quite freely, and the more I talked the more colourful it became. I did not simply relate it: I explained and compared, looking into the past; compared the vision with reality and my experiences with my subsequent views. All Zargaryan's irony disappeared like smoke: he listened greedily, stopping me only to reverse the tape. I resurrected for them all the impressions I had in the lab chair: Lena's anger in the hospital, Sichuk's face convulsed with evil, and the lifeless smile of Oleg on the operating table, everything that I recalled and that had staggered me, that even shocked me now while I tape-recorded my still vivid recollections.
The tape reel was still turning when I finished: Zargaryan did not immediately turn it off, and it recorded the whole minute of silence that reigned in the room.
"So you didn't see the department store arcade," he observed bitterly. "Nor the road to the lake. A pity."
"Wait, Ruben," Nikodimov stopped him. "That's not the point. You see. the phases are almost identical. The same time, the same people."
"Only infinitesimal deviations."
"But they are there," said Zargaryan,
"And the difference in the signs?"
"Does such a difference change a man? Time changes, perhaps. If it's a minus phase, then it's possibly time coining from an opposite direction - counter-time."
"Don't be so sure. Perhaps it's only a different system of counting time," said Zargaryan.
"All the same, everybody will call it fantasy! And reason?"
"If you don't violate reason, you won't get anywhere in general. Who said that? Einstein."
The conversation didn't get any clearer. And I coughed.
"Excuse me," said Nikodimov, embarrassed. "We got carried away. Your dreams don't give us any peace."
"But are they dreams?" I expressed my doubts.
"You doubt it? So you've been thinking, have you? Maybe we'll start off the explanations with yours?"
I remembered all Galya's sneers, but I was not afraid of hearing the same again. So I stubbornly repeated the myth of Jekyll and Hyde, who met on the crossroads of space and time. If this was an anti-world, plurality, mysticism, the ravings of a mad dog - so be it! But I had no other theories to explain it with.
However, Nikodimov did not even smile.
"Have you studied physics?" he asked suddenly.
"Through a school textbook," I admitted, and thought: 'Now he'll start!'
But Nikodimov did not mock me, he merely stroked his beard.
"A rich training. But how, with the help of a school textbook can you define a plurality of worlds? Let's say, in Cartesian co-ordinates?"
Searching my memory, I found the Wellsian Utopia that Mr. Barnstaple got into, without turning off an ordinary highway.
"Excellent," agreed Nikodimov. "We'll begin with that. What did Wells compare our three-dimensional world to? To a book whose every page was a two-dimensional world. So, one might suppose that in multi-dimensional space there might also be neighbouring three-dimensional worlds, moving in time along nearly parallel routes. That's according to Wells. When he wrote his novel after the First World War, the genius Dirac was still a youth, and his theory received popular acclaim only in the thirties. You can, of course, picture up what Dirac's 'vacuum' is?"
"Approximately," I said carefully. "Generally speaking, it is not a void, but something like a neutrino-antineutrino pulp. Like plankton in the ocean."
"Picturesque, but not lacking sense," agreed Nikodimov again. "And this very same plankton from elementary particles, the neutrino-antineutrino gas, constitutes a border between worlds with a plus sign and those with a minus sign. There are scientists who look for anti-worlds in other galaxies, but I prefer seeking them right next door. And not only a symmetrical system - world and anti-world, but the infinity of this symmetry. As we have an infinite number of combinations in a game of chess, so even here there are infinite combinations of worlds and anti-worlds, adjacent to each other. You ask how I picture this adjacency? As a stable, geometrically isolated existence? No, on the contrary. In a simplified form this is the idea of the inexhaustibility of matter, of its perpetual motion generating these worlds along certain new, still unknown co-ordinates. To be more exact, along certain phase-like trajectories.
"Well, but what about ordinary motion then?" I interrupted, perplexed. "I'm also a particle of matter, but I move through space independent of your quasi-motion."
"Why 'quasi'? One is simply independent of the other. You are moving through space independent of your moving through time. Whether you sit at home or travel somewhere - you get equally older. So it is here: in one world you might, let's say, be travelling by sea; in the other, at the very same time, you are playing chess or having dinner at home. More than that: in the infinite repetition of worlds you may travel, be ill, or work; while in other infinite plurality of similar worlds, you don't actually exist, perhaps through an unfortunate accident or suicide, or you were simply never born at all because your parents never met. I hope I make myself clear?"
"He's shamming," said Zargaryan. "What he needs right now is a vivid example - that's clear at a glance. Look here, imagine an unusual reel of film. In one frame you are flying in an aeroplane, in another you are shooting, in a third you are killed. In one frame a tree is growing, in another it is cut down. In one, the Pushkin monument stands on Tverskoi Boulevard, in another in the centre of the square. In a word, life shown in separate frames, moving, let us say, vertically from below upward or from above downward. And now picture the same life in separate frames, but moving horizontally from every frame, from left to right or vice versa. There you have an approximate model of matter in multi-dimensional space. Now what do you think is the most essential difference between this model and the simulated object?"
I didn't answer. What was the use of guessing?
"The difference is that there are no identical frames, but identical worlds exist."
"Similar," I countered.
"Not only," Nikodimov interrupted. "We still don't know the law by which matter moves in these dimensions. Take the simplest law: the sinusoidal. With the ordinary sinusoid, the slightest change in the argument brings about a corresponding change of function, and that means another world. But in a period, we get the same value of the sine and consequently the same world. And so on into eternity."
"That means I might also find myself in a world like ours? Exactly the same?"
"You wouldn't even notice any difference," said Zargaryan.
"And how do you explain what happened to me on the boulevard?"
"The same as you do. Jekyll and Hyde."
"A Gromov from another world who looks the same as me?"
"Precisely. A certain Nikodimov and a Zargaryan in that world transferred the conscious mind of your double. This did not occur momentarily, not all at once. Your own mind protested, argued: that explains the dualism during the first few minutes. But afterwards it gave in to the aggressor."
I suggested the proposition that my trying episode in the hospital was an exchange visit, but Nikodimov doubted it.
"It's possible, of course, but scarcely likely. It would be closer to the truth to suppose that it was a Gromov more or less like your aggressor. The same profession, the same circle of acquaintances, the same family situation. But I've already told you of the possibility of an almost complete, and even utterly complete, identity...."
"To put it more vividly," interrupted Zargaryan, "we have visited worlds whose borders fit into the borders of ours, touching the interior. We call them adjacent worlds, conditionally of course. And there are even more interesting worlds intersecting ours or, shall we say, perhaps in general not having points of contact with ours. There, time is either in advance of our time, or it lags behind. And who knows by how much?" He was silent, then added almost dreamily:
Far beyond a certain birch-tree,
So long, so very dear to me,
In sudden silence is revealed
The unknown - strange and most unreal.
"You didn't finish," I laughed, remembering the same verses. "It's different farther on!"
To reach an unknown world we strive,
'It's sad, not all who go arrive.
The desk telephone rang.
"Not all who go," repeated Nikodimov thoughtfully. "Our chief wouldn't arrive."
The telephone kept ringing.
"Talk of the devil, and.... Don't answer."
"All the same, he'll find us."
The trip into the unknown was put off till the evening when we were to meet in the Sofia Restaurant, where freedom from the top brass was fully guaranteed.
NOSCE TE IPSUM (KNOW THYSELF)
I did not see Olga until supper time: she was delayed at the polyclinic. There was nobody to talk with, about what had happened. Galya didn't ring up, and I was careful to avoid Klenov because of his insufferable instructive manner; because of it I even slipped away from an editorial meeting.
I wandered the streets for about an hour, so as not to arrive at the restaurant too early and have to hang around the entrance looking foolish. Trying to collect my thoughts, I sat by Pushkin's monument, but everything I'd heard that morning was so new and surprising that I couldn't even think it all out. Finally, all the flow of my thoughts led to the question of how to evaluate my meeting the two scientists. As an unusual success, 'reporters' luck', or as a menace that always lies hidden in something the mind cannot grasp. I was inclined to think it was 'reporters' luck'. If a lab guinea-pig could reason, it would probably be proud of its association with scientists. And I was proud of mine. Another sign of reporters' luck was the type of scientists my friends belonged to. I read somewhere that scientists are divided into classic and romantic types. The classic typo is he who develops something new on the basis of the old, on what is firmly established in science. But the romanticists are dreamers. They are interested in fields of knowledge close to their own or remotely connected with them. They not only produce something new founded on the old: more often they do it by using utterly unlooked-for associations. I had even expressed my admiration of this type in an article I wrote. Now 'reporters' luck' had thrown us together. Only romantics can so bravely and recklessly sin against reason. And, apparently, I was very anxious to continue my part in this sinning.
Such were my thoughts as I went to keep my appointment, arriving not earlier but even later than my new friends. They already awaited me at the entrance: Zargaryan all in smiles and Nikodimov, dressed in an old-fashioned stiff jacket, modestly effacing himself in the rear. The stand-up starched collar, popular around the turn of the century, would have suited him perfectly - he looked as severe as a prophet out of the Old Testament. The irresistible Zargaryan more than made up for it. Wearing a strict dark suit, with just enough of his tie showing to display a gold pin linked to a rounded shirt-collar, he so impressed the stout, bald maitre d'hotel that Nikodimov and I went unnoticed. We walked behind, half-smiling at the waiter bustling ahead of our tall Ruben and captiously selecting the secluded table we ordered.
When dinner was served, Zargaryan poured the cognac.
"The first toast is mine ... to chance meetings."
"You can't possibly imagine how great a role chance plays in my life. By chance I met Zoya and through her, by chance, you. I even met Pavel Nikodimov by chance. Five years ago I read his article on the concentration of the sub-quantum biofield in the Bulletin of the Academy of Sciences. I went to him at once. It turned out that we were approaching one and the same problem along different paths."
He was silent. I remembered Klenov telling me that they worked in absolutely different fields of science, but before I could utter my question Zargaryan read my mind.
"A strange union, eh? Physics and neurophysiology," he laughed.
"What are you, a mind-reader?"
"And why not? I must be according to my staff position. After all I'm a telepathist. I'm engaged in many things in this field, but most of all I'm interested in dreams. Why do we so often dream of what we never saw in our conscious lives? How is this connected with Pavlov's teaching that the essence of dreams is a reflection of reality. What stimulations, in such cases, act on the brain cells? Perhaps things one is accustomed to - light, sounds, contacts, smells? But if not? Then there must be certain new stimulations we are not aware of...."
I remembered why my dreams drew his attention: they were not reflections of reality. But, apparently, many people have seen such dreams. Only these dreams weren't stable, as Zargaryan had explained. They were easily forgotten, hazy in the conscious mind, but the main thing was they did not repeat themselves.
"I figured it this way," he continued. "If, according to Pavlov, dreams reflect what is seen in our waking hours, yet the one experiencing them never actually saw the things he dreamed of, then it means somebody else did. But who? And how can what he sees be imprinted on the conscious mind of another?"
I interrupted him.
"Then my department store, street scene, the road to the lake or pond - they are some stranger's dreams?"
"Without any doubt."
"I still didn't know at the time. There arose a supposition that it was hypnotic transmission. But suggestion does not occur by chance, suggestion out of nowhere. It is always sent from the hypnotizer to the hypnotized. Not one of the cases I observed showed any evidence of suggestion. I put forward the idea of mental telepathy. In parapsychology, we call the brain sending the signal the inductor, and the brain receiving it the percipient. And again, not in one case investigated did we manage to discover the inductor. Characteristic examples are your more stable dreams. Who transmits them to you? From where? You wore lost in conjectures. I was, too, though I inclined to the supposition that it is some other living person existing in another form and perhaps in another world. However, that would he almost mysticism.... I stood before a closed door. It was Pavel Nikodimov who opened it for me, or rather his paper did. Then I said: 'Open, Sesame!' Isn't that the way it was, Pavel?"
"Just about," affirmed Nikodimov good-heartedly. "But you skipped the most picturesque details: Sesame did not open so easily. You see, I'm a crabby fellow ... get along rather badly with people. My assistant ... well, he ran away when they began to put pressure on us. Took you for a lunatic, Ruben. I can even remember the district psychiatrist he phoned to. But even that didn't stop you. But you're right, our collaboration began from a chance meeting. So I back your toast. Let's drink to it."
"And afterwards?" I asked. "It's a big jump from an idea to experimental tests."
"We didn't jump, we crawled. The mathematical idea led to the physical state of the field. We started off with biocurrents. You see, the biocurrents of the brain are actually electro-magnetic fields originating in its nerve cells. Through their radiation they generate a sort of single energy-field - the so-called conscious and subconscious of a person's mind. Take your analogy. The fields of Jekyll and Hyde are only similar: they are incompatible or, as we say, antipathetic.
While you are awake, while your brain is active, the antipathy of the fields is constant and invariable. But when you fall asleep, the picture changes. The antipathy is now weakened, so the fields of the 'doubles' are superposed, so to say, and your dreams automatically repeat what the other has seen. But for Jekyll to become Hyde a complete compatibility of fields is necessary, which is possible only during exceptional activity on the part of the inductor's field. And we've discovered that you possess this exceptional gift of activity."
I listened eagerly to Nikodimov, but not all of it sank in, some of it escaped me. It was as if I had spells of deafness and from time to time lost the guiding thread in this devilish labyrinth of fields, doubles, frequencies and rhythms; but with sheer force of will I would catch it again. It looked like a speech interrupted by dots to indicate omissions.
"... through our experiments," Nikodimov was saying, "we came to the conclusion that under reciprocal transmission the fields activate waves with a frequency much higher than the usual alpha-rhythm. We called this new type of frequency kappa-rhythm. And the higher the frequency of the kappa waves, the more vivid are the dreams received by the sleeping receptor. Further on it wasn't so difficult to establish the regularities as well. Complete compatibility of fields is connected with a sharp rise in frequency. So we got the idea of making a concentrator, or a transformer of biocurrents. By establishing the directed current of radiation we apparently transfer your conscious mind, locating an identical mind for it beyond the borders of our three-dimensional world. Of course, we are still at the very beginning of the road - the movement of the field along a phase trajectory is somewhat chaotic for the time being, because we cannot yet control it. We cannot say exactly where you will regain consciousness - in the present, past or in the future, going by our time. Dozens of experiments must still be made...."
"I'm ready," I interrupted him.
Nikodimov did not answer.
A husky, boyish voice drifted down to us from the stage where a juke-box stood that a young pop-music fan had turned on. The voice floated over the noisy dining-hall, over the short- or long-haired or bald heads, over the wine-darkened crystal goblets, floated invisibly and powerfully with a strength and purity of feeling unexpected in a restaurant almost blue with cigarette smoke.
"A song with an undercurrent," said Zargaryan.
I listened. "You are my destiny," sang the boy, "you are my happiness...."
"And you are our destiny," Zargaryan picked up the words with a serious and even triumphant note. "And maybe our happiness. You alone."
I averted my eyes, embarrassed. Whatever you say, there is something good about being somebody's destiny and happiness. Nikodimov at once caught my movements and the rather vain idea behind it.
"But perhaps we are your destiny, too," he said. "You will know a lot more, and particularly about yourself. You see, you are only a particle of that living matter which is 'you' in an endlessly complicated vastness - time. In a word, as the ancient Romans said: Nosce te ipsum - know thyself."
THE LAST SUPPER
I was ready to know myself in all the sum total of dimensions, phases and co-ordinates, but I didn't tell Olga about it that night. I gave her a vague sketch of my talk with the scientists and promised to relate it in greater detail the following day, which was her birthday. We usually celebrated it alone, but this time I invited Galya and Klenov to be our guests. I wanted very much to include Zargaryan and Nikodimov, the guilty parties in this unexpected - I could even say wonderful - event in my life. I had mentioned it in passing when we left the restaurant, but Nikodimov either wasn't listening attentively or missed it through absent-mindedness.
"Best leave it," Zargaryan had whispered confidentially. "He won't come anyway - he's a hermit, as he admitted himself. But I'll come when I can get away, perhaps a bit late though. We haven't finished our talk yet," and he slyly stressed it, "about self-knowledge, have we?"
He certainly came later than the rest of our company, arriving when the table-talk had already turned into argument, so hot an argument that there was shouting, an argument stubborn to the point of rudeness when you forget all formalities in an effort to get your word in.
My story of what I experienced during the test and of my later talk with the scientists had made the impression of maniacal raving.
"We-ell..." Klenov muttered uncertainly, and was silent.
"I don't believe it," cried out Galya excitedly, red in the face and with sparks in her eyes.
"It's nonsense! And it's sensation-hunting, as my lab colleagues say. A shady business. They're pulling the wool over your eyes."
"But why should they?" snapped Klenov. "What's their game? Nikodimov and Zargaryan aren't glory-hunters or schemers. It would be all very well if they wanted publicity, but they demand silence, d'you see. With their names, they don't want to arouse even a shadow of doubt that it's a truly scientific venture."
"Everything new in science, all discoveries, are built on past experiments," said Galya heatedly. "And where can you see that in this experiment?"
"The new often refutes the old."
"There are different kinds of refutations."
"Exactly. Einstein wasn't believed either, at first, for it was Newton he refuted!"
Olga kept stubbornly silent and out of it all, until it drew Galya's attention.
"W7hy don't you say something?"
"I'm afraid to."
"You people are only arguing about certain abstract ideas, but Sergei is taking a direct part in the experiment. And, as I understand it, it won't stop here. If everything he says is true, why, the brain of an average person can scarcely sustain it."
"And are you so sure that I'm an average person?" I joked.
But she did not take it as a joke, nor did she answer me. Galya and Klenov again ruled the conversation. I had to answer dozens of questions and again repeat my story of the dreams I'd had in Faust's laboratory.
"If Nikodimov can prove his hypothesis," Galya finally admitted, "then it will turn physics upside down. It will be the greatest upset that ever occurred in our knowledge of the world. If he proves it, of course," she added stubbornly. "The experiment on Sergei is still not proof."
"But I'm interested in something else," said Klenov thoughtfully. "If you accept the truth of the hypothesis a priori, another question arises that's of no less importance: how did life develop on every space phase? Why are they so similar? I'm not referring to the physical but their social aspect. Why is it that each transformed Moscow of Sergei's is a present-day, post-war Moscow which is capital of the Soviet Union and not tsarist Russia? Look, if Nikodimov's hypothesis is proved, do you realize what they will ask about in the West, before anything else? Politicians, historians, church dignitaries and journalists will ask: is it obligatory that all worlds have a similar social structure? Is it absolutely certain that their historical development has been identical?"
"Nikodimov spoke of still other worlds from different currents of time, perhaps even with counter-times. In that case, one might hit on Neanderthal man or on the first of Earth's stellar flights."
"That isn't my point," Klenov said impatiently. "However brilliant Nikodimov and Zargaryan's discovery may be, it does not reduce the importance of the question of social systems in every world. According to Marxism, all is clear: the physical similarity presupposes a social similarity. Everywhere the development of productive forces determines the character of production relations. But can you imagine the song that will be sung by those adherents of the cults of personality and chance? The barbarians might not have reached Rome, and the Tatars, Kalka. Washington might have lost the war of American independence, and Napoleon might have won at Waterloo. Luther might not have become head of the Reformation, and Einstein might not have discovered the theory of relativity. Bradbury carried this dependence of historical development on blind chance to the absurd. A traveller in time accidentally kills a butterfly in the Jurassic period, and it leads to a change in the American presidential election campaign: in place of a progressive and radical candidate, they elect a fascist and obscurantist as President. We know, of course, that Gold-water wouldn't have been elected any way even if all the dinosaurs of the Jurassic period had been killed. And we know that if Napoleon had won at Waterloo, he would probably have been defeated somewhere near Liege. And somebody else would have headed the Reformation instead of Luther; and if Einstein hadn't discovered the theory of relativity, someone else would have done so. Even not rising to the heights of historical materialism, Belinsky wrote more than a hundred years ago that blind chance did not rule either in nature or in history, but strict, irrevocable, inner necessity did."
Klenov spoke with that professional erudition of a lecturer, which so annoyed me at editorial meetings, and I cut in purely in the spirit of contradiction.
"Well, but just imagine if there had never been a Hitler in some neighbouring world? He was never born. Would there have been war or not?"
"Can't you answer that yourself? And Goering, Hess, Goebbels, Rommel, and lastly Strasser? The Krupps would have passed the conductor's baton to somebody. And I visualize you as a great delegate with a mission, Sergei. Don't laugh - truly great. Not only in helping to prove Nikodimov's hypothesis, but in the fact that you will be strengthening the position of the Marxist conception of history. That everywhere and always, under similar conditions of life on our planet, no matter what changes, phases or whatever you call them take place, the class struggle always determined and still determines social development until it becomes a classless society."
At this moment Zargaryan appeared with a bouquet of chrysanthemums. In ten minutes he won over Olga and Galya, and Klenov's professional erudition changed into the respectful attention of a college freshman.
Zargaryan gathered up all the threads of the talk at once, spoke of the proposed Nobel prize winners, of his recent trip to London, interchanged remarks with Galya about the future of laser technology. With Olga he discussed the role of hypnosis in paediatrics. Then he praised Klenov's article in the journal Science and Life. But he purposely, or so it seemed to me, diverted the conversation from my part in the scientific experiment.
However, when it struck eleven he caught my perplexed glance and said with his characteristic smile: "I know, d'you see, what you're thinking. Why is Zargaryan silent about the experiment? Am I right? Actually, old chap, I didn't want to leave right away, because further conversation will be impossible after I've said my say. Intriguing?" he laughed. "It's simple enough, really. You see, tomorrow we intend making a new experiment, and we are asking you to take part."
"I'm ready," I said, repeating what I had already told him in the restaurant.
"Don't be in a hurry," Zargaryan stopped me, and now there was a note of seriousness in his voice which I had noticed once before, and agitation as well. "First, the new experiment is to be much longer than the previous one. Maybe it will last several hours, perhaps even twenty-four.... Second, the test will cover more remote phases. I say 'remote' only to keep it within the bounds of comprehension. The point is hardly a matter of distances, the more so that we cannot determine them; and besides, what we mean by distances is of no importance for the activities of the biocurrents. The diffusion of the radiation is practically instantaneous and does not depend either on the spatial arrangement of the phase or on the sign of the field. But I must honestly warn you that we do not know the degree of risk involved."
"So it's dangerous?" asked Galya.
Olga asked no questions, though the pupils of her eyes seemed a shade larger.
"I cannot answer that definitely." Apparently Zargaryan had no desire to conceal anything from me. "If the aiming is not accurate enough, our converter might lose control of the superposed biofield. What the results would be to the test-subject, we don't know. Now imagine something else: in this world he is unconscious, in the other his conscious mind has been imparted to a certain person ... let's say somebody travelling by plane. What would happen to Sergei's conscious mind if there were a crash, we don't know. Would the converter manage to switch over the biofield in time, or would two people die, one in that world and one in this?"
Zargaryan was answered with silence. He stood up, and resumed.
"I've already told you that after my explanation the small talk would end. You are free, Sergei, to make your decision. I'll come for you in the morning and hear it with full respect even if it is a refusal."
We saw him out in silence, returned to the table in silence, and the conversation was not resumed for a long time.
Finally, Galya asked me point-blank: "You're waiting for my advice, I suppose?"
I silently shrugged my shoulders. What did it matter whether she advised me or not?
"I already started believing in this delirium," she continued. "Just imagine - I believed it. And if I were suitable for the test and had received the offer you have... I should not think twice about my answer. But as to advice.... Well, that's Olga's job."
"I won't talk you out of it, Sergei," said Olga. "Decide for yourself."
I still kept silent, not taking my eyes off my empty glass. I waited to hear what Klenov would say.
"You know, it would be interesting to know..." he suddenly began, not speaking to anyone in particular. "That is, I wonder if Gagarin thought it over when they offered him the chance to make the first flight into space?"
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ALEXANDER ABRAMOV, SERGEI ABRAMOV. JOURNEY ACROSS THREE WORLDS
PART TWO. JOURNEY ACROSS THREE WORLDS