Ocenite etot tekst:

 © Copyright Arkady and Boris Strugatsky "Stazhery"
 © Copyright english translation by Boris Pogoriller borisp(a)unite.com.au
 WWW: http://rusf.ru/abs/
 Date: 19 Jun 2004

     Arkadij i Boris Strugackie "Stazhery"

     A massive red and white coach arrived. Departure was announced.
     - Alright, off you go, - said Daugeh.
     Bykov grumbled:
     - We'll make it. By the time they all board...
     He  watched sullenly  how  the  other  passengers  entered the  bus  at
leisure, one by one. About a hundred people were boarding.
     -  This  will  take  fifteen  minutes,  at  least,  -  Grisha  remarked
     Bykov gave him a strict look.
     - Button up your shirt, - he said.
     - Dad, I'm hot, - Grisha said.
     -  Do up  your shirt,  -  Bykov repeated.  -  Don't walk  around like a
     - Don't look at me, - said Yurkovski. - I am allowed, whilst you aren't
     Daugeh looked at him and shifted his eyes.  Didn't feel like looking at
Yurkovski -  seeing his self-assured flabby face with a surly drooping lower
lip,  his  heavy  monogrammed  satchel,  his  stylish  suit made  from  rare
stereosynthetics.  Rather  felt like looking up  above  into the transparent
sky, clear, blue,  with not one cloud, not  even birds - above  the airfield
they were dispersed with ultrasound sirens.
     Bykov-junior watched closely  by  Bykov-senior  was  buttoning  up  his
collar. Yurkovski languidly declared:
     -  In  the  stratoplane  I will order a bottle  of  mineral  water  and
     Bykov-senior suspiciously inquired:
     - The liver?
     - Why necessarily 'the liver'? - said Yurkovski. - I am simply hot. And
it's about time you knew that mineral fizz doesn't help liver bouts.
     - Have you at least packed your pills? - asked Bykov.
     - Why are you bothering him? - said Daugeh.
     Everyone looked  at  him.  Daugeh  lowered  his eyes and  said  through
clenched teeth:
     -  So  don't  forget, Vladimir.  The packet must  be handed to Arnautov
directly, immediately after you arrive on Syrt.
     - If Arnautov is on Mars, - said Yurkovski
     - Yes, naturally. I just don't want you to forget.
     - I will remind him, - promised Bykov.
     They fell silent. The queue at the coach shrunk.
     - You know what, please go now, - said Daugeh.
     - Yes, its time, - Bykov sighed. He approached Daugeh and hugged him. -
Don't feel sad, Johannovich, - he said softly. - Good-bye. Don't be sad.
     He firmly gripped Daugeh  with his long bony  hands.  Daugeh gave him a
weak push.
     - Calm plasma to you, - he said.
     He  shook Yurkovski's hand. Yurkovski's  eyes  fluttered repeatedly, he
wanted to say something, but  only licked his lips. He reached over,  lifted
his  magnificent satchel off the grass, shuffled it in his hands and lowered
it back on the grass.  Daugeh  wasn't looking his way. Yurkovski lifted  the
satchel again.
     - Ah, don't look so sour, Gregory, - he said with a pained voice.
     - I'll try, - Daugeh replied dryly.
     On the side, Bykov was quietly admonishing his son.
     -  Whilst  I  am on  a voyage,  stay  close  to mother.  None  of those
subaquatic stunts.
     - Ok, Dad.
     - No record setting.
     - Yes Dad. Don't worry.
     - Pay less attention to girls, think more about mother.
     - Ok, alright Dad.
     Daugeh quietly said:
     - I am off.
     He turned and plodded towards the terminal. Yurkovski followed him with
his eyes. Daugeh looked shrunk, humped, greatly aged.
     - Good-bye, Uncle Volodya, - said Grisha.
     - Good-bye,  old  chap, -  said  Yurkovski.  He  was still  looking  in
Daugeh's direction. -  Will you  visit  him or  something... Just like that,
come in, for a cup of tea - and that's all. He is fond of you, I know...
     Grisha nodded.  Yurkovski  offered him  his cheek, patted  him  on  the
shoulder  and walked after Bykov to the bus. With  some  effort, he ascended
the stairs, sat next to Bykov and said:
     - It would be good if the flight was cancelled.
     Bykov stared at him with amazement.
     - What flight? Ours?
     - Yes, ours. Would  be easier  for Daugeh. Or if we were  discharged by
the medics.
     Bykov  breathed  heavily but  remained  quiet.  When  the coach started
moving, Yurkovski said:
     - He did  not even want to hug me. And rightly so. No reason for us  to
fly without him. Its wrong. Unfair.
     - Cut it out, - said Bykov.
     Daugeh went up the  granite stairs and looked back. The red dot of  the
coach  was dragging  slowly  somewhere on the  horizon.  There, in a crimson
haze, the  conical silhouettes  of  vertical launch  liners  could  be seen.
Grisha asked:
     - Where should I drop you off, Uncle Grisha? At the institute?
     - One can go to the institute, - replied Daugeh.
     I don't feel like going anywhere, he thought.  Absolutely nowhere  that
I'd  like to go. How  difficult...  I never  imagine it'd  be so  difficult.
Indeed nothing new  or  unexpected happened.  Everything is acknowledged and
determined. And settled quietly, ahead of time, since no one likes to appear
infirm. All  in all, everything is fair and just. Fifty  years  of age. Four
radiation attacks. A worn-out heart. Nerves that aren't worth anything. Even
the blood  -  not his own. Therefore rejection,  he isn't accepted anywhere.
Whilst Volodya Yurkovski  gets  accepted. As for  you, Gregory  Johannovich,
it's enough to eat  whatever  you are  given and sleep wherever  we put you.
It's time,  Gregory  Johannovich, to teach the youngsters. What's the use of
teaching them? Daugeh glanced sideways at  Grisha. Look at  him, he's robust
and sharp-toothed. Teach  him courage? Or  fitness?  Indeed, besides  these,
nothing  else  is needed.  That's how one  becomes isolated.  Plus a hundred
articles, now archaic. Plus a few books that are quickly becoming  obsolete.
Plus fame, that's quickest to turn obsolete.
     He turned and entered an echoing cool foyer. Grisha Bykov walked along.
His shirt was unbuttoned. The foyer was filled with quiet  conversations and
the rustling  of  newspapers. Some  film  was being  projected onto a  large
concave screen mounted on the wall; a few people sunken in their chairs were
watching it, holding the shiny phonodemonstrator boxes  at the ear. A chubby
eastern-looking foreigner was fumbling at the automated buffet.
     At the bar entrance Daugeh suddenly stopped.
     - Come on, my namesake buddy, let's go in and have a drink, - he said.
     Grisha looked at him with surprise and sympathy.
     - What for, Uncle Grisha? - he asked pleadingly. - What for? No need.
     - You think, there is no need? - Daugeh asked musingly.
     - Of course, there's no need. It's pointless, honestly.
     Daugeh, tilting his head and squinting, looked at him.
     - Have  you, by any chance,  imagined, - he said venomously,  - that  I
turned sour, because  I was  put  in reserve?  What,  that I cannot  survive
without all those mysterious abysses in space? I beg your pardon, old pal! I
couldn't care  less about those  abysses! But  the fact that I am  now  left
alone... Understand? Alone! For the first time in life I am alone!
     Grisha looked around in  confusion. The chubby foreigner was looking at
them. Daugeh was soft-spoken, but Grisha felt as though everyone in the hall
heard him.
     -  Why am I now alone? What have  I done? Why me,  individually...  why
should  I, specifically, be  alone?  Indeed I  am not the  oldest one,  dear
namesake. Michael is older, and your father also...
     - Uncle  Misha  is  also  taking his last voyage, - Grisha reminded him
     - True,  - conceded  Daugeh. - Our Misha has aged too... Alright, let's
go get a drink.
     They entered the bar.  The bar was empty,  except  for  a table  by the
window where some attractive woman sat. She was sitting over an empty glass,
resting the  chin on  her interlocked fingers, looking at  the bitumen field
outside the window.
     Daugeh stopped and leaned heavily on the closest table. He had not seen
her in  twenty years, but  recognised instantly. His  throat became dry  and
     - What is it, Uncle Grisha? - alarmed, asked Bykov-junior.
     Daugeh stood straight.
     - This is my wife, - he said calmly. - Come.
     "What wife?" - thought Grisha with some fear.
     - Perhaps I should wait for you in the car? - he asked.
     - Nonsense, rubbish, - said Daugeh. - Come.
     They approached the table.
     - Good day, Masha, - spoke Daugeh.
     The woman raised her head. Her eyes widened. She reclined slowly in the
     - You... didn't leave? - she said.
     - No.
     - Are you leaving later?
     - No. I am staying.
     She kept  looking at  him with widely opened  eyes. Her eyelashes  were
heavily made  up. A lattice  of  wrinkles  under  the  eyes.  And  plenty of
wrinkles on the neck.
     - What does it mean - 'I am staying'? - she asked with distrust.
     He grabbed the back of the chair.
     - Can we join you? - he asked. - This is Grisha Bykov. Bykov's son.
     Then she  smiled  at  Grisha  with  that habitually-promising  gleaming
smile, which Daugeh hated so much.
     - Pleased to meet you, - she said. - Sit down, boys.
     Grisha and Daugeh sat.
     -  I  am Maria Sergeyevna, -  said she,  examining Grisha. -  I  am the
sister of Vladimir Sergeyevich Yurkovski.
     Grisha lowered his eyes and bowed slightly.
     - I know your father, - she continued. She stopped smiling. - I owe him
much, Gregory... Alexeyevich.
     Grisha stayed  quiet.  He felt awkward. He understood  nothing.  Daugeh
said in a strained voice:
     - What will you drink, Masha?
     - Jaymou, - she replied, with a dazzling smile.
     - Is that strong? - asked Daugeh. - However, its all the  same. Grisha,
can you please bring two Jaymou's.
     He was looking at her, the smooth tanned hands,  smooth open shoulders,
a light thin dress with  cut a little too  low. She kept amazingly  well for
her years,  even her braids  stayed exactly the same, bulky  and  thick, the
sort that nobody wears  any more, bronze, without  one grey  strand, layered
around her head. He chuckled, slowly unzipped his thick warm coat and pulled
off a thick layered helmet with earflaps. Her face twitched when she saw his
bare scalp with sparse silver coloured bristles around the ears. He chuckled
     - At last we have met, - said he. - And why are you  here? Waiting  for
     - No, - she said. - I am not waiting for anyone.
     She looked out the window, and he suddenly realised.
     - You were seeing someone off, - he said quietly.
     She nodded.
     - Whom? Us, really?
     - Yes.
     His heart froze.
     -  Was  it  me?  - he asked. Grisha came and placed two  chilled  misty
glasses on the table.
     - No, - she answered.
     - Volodya then? - he said bitterly.
     Grisha left discreetly.
     - Such a nice boy, - she said. - How old is he?
     - Eighteen.
     - Really  eighteen? How funny! You know, he  looks nothing  like Bykov.
Not even red-haired.
     - Yes, time flies, - said Daugeh. - And I stopped flying already.
     - How come? - she inquired nonchalantly.
     - It's health.
     She glanced at him quickly.
     -  Yes, you don't look too well. Tell me... - she paused.  - Bykov will
soon quit flying, too?
     - What? - he asked with surprise.
     - I don't like when Volodya goes on a voyage without Bykov, - she said,
looking out the window. She  fell silent again. -  I fear for him. You  know
what he is like, don't you.
     -  And what  does  this have to  do  with  Bykov? -  Daugeh asked  with
     -  It's safe with Bykov, - she said simply.  - And how  are things with
you, Gregory? Somehow it's unusual, you - and no longer flying.
     - I will be working at the institute, - said Daugeh.
     - Working... - she shook her head. - Working... Look at what you are.
     Daugeh smiled crookedly.
     - You, on the other side, did not change at all. Married?
     - What for? - she remarked.
     - I stayed a bachelor as well.
     - Not surprisingly.
     - How so?
     - You don't fit for a husband.
     Daugeh gave an awkward laugh.
     - No need to attack me, - he said. - I just wanted to talk.
     - Before you were fascinating to talk to.
     - What, are  you  bored already? We  have  only been speaking  for five
     -  No, what gave  you that  thought? - she said politely. - I am always
glad to hear you out.
     The stayed silent. Daugeh was stirring his drink with a straw.
     - And  I always see Volodya off, -  she  said.  - I have friends at the
command  centre, and I always  know  when you depart. And where from.  And I
always come to see him off. - She removed the straw from her glass, crumpled
it and threw it into the ashtray. -  He alone is the closest person to me. -
She lifted her glass and took a few sips. - A crazy  world. Idiotic times, -
she  said  wearily. - People have forgotten how to have  a life. Work, work,
work...  All meaning of life is  within work. Always  looking for something.
Always  building something.  What for? I can understand, this  was necessary
previously,  when  we  lacked  everything.  When  there  was  this  economic
struggle. When we still had to prove, that we can do  not  just as well, but
better than they can.  We proved it. But the struggle remained. Some hidden,
unclear struggle. I can't understand it. Perhaps you can, Gregory?
     - I understand, - said Daugeh.
     - You always understood. You always understood  the  world in which you
live. Both you, and Volodya, and this dull Bykov. Sometimes I think that all
of you are  simply narrow-minded. You simply cannot  pose a question - "what
for?" -  She  took another  sip. -  You know,  recently I  met  this  school
teacher. He teaches kids these awful things. He tells  them, that to work is
a lot more interesting then to find entertainment. And they all believe him.
Do you understand? But this is scary!  I talked to his students. They seemed
to shun me. Why? Because I want to live my individual life how I wish?
     Daugeh  clearly imagined  the conversation  of Maria  Yurkovskaya  with
fifteen-year old lads and girls from the local school. Indeed, how would you
understand, he thought. How would you understand, when for weeks, for months
you  desperately  smash  against a dead end wall, scribble away mountains of
paper, cover tens of kilometres walking around your cabinet or a desert, and
it seems, that there never was a solution and that you are a brainless blind
worm, and you no longer believe, that it has been like this before, and then
this wonderful  moment  arrives, when you open, at last, a gate in the wall,
and another dead end is  behind you, and you are god again, and the universe
is in your palm. However, this ought not be understood. It must be  felt. He
     -  They also wish to live  their  lives the way they wish. But you want
different things.
     She retorted abruptly:
     - But what if I happen to be right?
     -  No, -  said Daugeh.  -  They are the right ones.  The never ask this
question "what for?"
     - And what if they simply cannot think objectively?
     Daugeh chuckled. What do you know about objective thinking, he thought.
     - You  drink cold  water on a  hot day, -  he said patiently. - And you
never ask - "what for?". You simply drink it, and feel good...
     She interrupted him:
     - Yes,  I feel good. So let's have me drinking my cold water,  and they
can drink theirs!
     - Let's, - Daugeh  agreed calmly. He felt, with surprise and  gladness,
how the loathsome pressing  anxiety is disappearing somewhere.  - That's not
what we are talking about. You want to know  who is right. Well  then. Human
beings - they  are already not animals.  Nature gave them intelligence. This
intelligence  must  inevitably  develop.  And  you   are  extinguishing  the
intelligence within  you.  Extinguishing it  artificially. You have  devoted
your  entire life to  this. And there are many more people  on  this planet,
extinguishing  their  intelligence.  They  are  called   philistines,  petty
     - Thanks.
     - I  didn't  wish to offend you, -  said Daugeh. - But it seemed to me,
that you wanted to offend us. Objectivity of thought... What objectivity  of
thought could you hold?
     She finished her drink.
     -  You  speak  very  nicely  today,  dear,  -  she  remarked,  laughing
unsympathetically, - explaining everything so well. Then, please be so kind,
explain to  me one more thing. You worked your entire life.  Throughout your
whole  life  you  developed  your intellect,  stepping  over  simple worldly
     - I  never  denounced worldly  pleasures,  - said Daugeh. - I was quite
naughty, even.
     - Let's not argue, - she said. - As I see it, you have been. And I have
been extinguishing  intelligence  my  whole  life.  All my  life I was  busy
nurturing my  lowly instincts. And which one of us is more fortunate r i g h
t n o w?
     - Me, naturally, - said Daugeh.
     She gave him a candid look and laughed.
     - No, - she said. - I am! At  worst both of us are equally unfortunate.
A talentless cuckoo bird - I  believe that's what Volodya calls  me?  - or a
hard-working ant -  the  end  is the same: old age,  isolation, emptiness. I
gained nothing but you lost everything. What, then, is the difference?
     - Ask Grisha Bykov, - Daugeh said calmly.
     - Ah,  t  h e s e o n e's! - She  scornfully waived her hand. -  I know
what they  shall say. No, I  am interested  what  you will say! And not now,
when its sunny and  people all around, but at night, when  there's insomnia,
and the volumes that you are  sick  of looking at, and useless minerals from
useless planets, and a silent phone, and nothing, nothing ahead of you.
     - True, that happens, - said Daugeh. - It happens to everyone.
     He  suddenly imagined all this - both  the  silent  phone  and  nothing
waiting  ahead  - but  not the  written volumes and  minerals, but flasks of
perfume, dead glow of golden  jewellery and a merciless mirror. I am  swine,
he  thought with repentance.  A  self-assured indifferent  swine. Indeed she
asking for help!
     - Will you let me see you tonight? - he said.
     - No. - She got up. Tonight I am having guests over.
     Daugeh set aside his untouched glass and also stood up. She took him by
the elbow  and they walked out into the foyer. Daugeh was trying his hardest
not to limp.
     - Where are you off to now? - he asked.
     She  stopped in  front of a mirror and straightened her hair, which did
not require straightening.
     - Where to?  -  she asked. - Somewhere. Still,  I  am  not fifty and my
world belongs to me for now.
     They came down the white staircase onto a sun-lit square.
     - I could give you a lift, - said Daugeh.
     - Thank you, I have my own car.
     Unhurriedly,  he pulled on  his helmet, checked  whether  his  ears are
covered and buttoned up his coat.
     - Farewell, oldster, - she said.
     - Farewell, - he replied,  smiling tenderly. -  Forgive  me if  I spoke
harshly... You really helped me today.
     She gave him a baffled look, shrugged her  shoulders, smiled and walked
to  her car. Daugeh  watched  as  she walked,  swaying her hips,  remarkably
slender, proud and  pitiful.  She had  a splendid  step  and  she was  still
attractive,  amazingly  attractive.  People  followed  her with their  eyes.
Daugeh  thought  with dreary spite:  "Here. Here is all  her life. Drape the
flesh with something expensive and pretty and draw attention. And so many of
them, and how tenacious are they."
     When he came to  the  car, Grisha Bykov was sitting, knees  against the
stirring wheel, reading a  thick  book. The car stereo was on at full blast:
Grisha loved loud music.
     Daugeh  got in,  turned off  the stereo and sat  quietly for some time.
Grisha put the book aside and started the engine. Daugeh said, looking ahead
of him:
     - Life gives a person three joys, namesake. Friends, love and work. But
how seldom do they come together!
     - One can, naturally, do without love, - said Grisha thoughtfully.
     Daugeh gave him a quick look.
     - True,  one can, - he agreed. - But that means one joy less, and there
are just three.
     Grisha said  nothing.  He  believed  it would be  unfair  to  start  an
argument hopeless for his opponent.
     - To the institute, - said Daugeh,  -  and try  to  make  it by one. We
won't be late?
     - Nope, I will be quick.
     The car came onto the highway.
     - Uncle Grisha, are you cold? - asked Grisha Bykov.
     Daugeh moved his nose and said:
     - Yes, buddy. Let's close the windows.

     The  duty  officer  at  passenger  communications was  very sympathetic
towards  Yura  Borodin. She could  not  help him at  all.  Regular passenger
commuting with the Saturn system did not exist. There wasn't yet any regular
cargo  commuting. Automated cargo  vessels were sent there two-three times a
year, and  piloted ships even  less  frequently.  The officer  twice  sent a
request to the electronic dispatch, shuffled through some weighty directory,
rang somebody a  few times,  but all in vain. Probably  because  Yura looked
really miserable she said afterwards, with sympathy:
     - Cheer up  a little, dear. It's such a distant planet. Besides, why do
you need to travel so far?
     - I fell behind after others  left, -  Yura said with distress. - Thank
you greatly. I will go now. Perhaps somewhere else...
     He  turned and  walked  to the exit, head down, looking at the worn out
plastic floor under his feet.
     - Wait, dear, - the officer called out to him. Yura  immediately turned
around and walked back. - You see, dear, - said the duty officer hesitantly,
- sometimes special flights turn up.
     - Really? - said Yura with hope.
     - Yes. But our centre does not receive information about these.
     - And will they take me along on a special flight? - asked Yura.
     - I don't know, dear.  I don't even know, where you can  find out about
them.  Possibly, with  the director of the cosmodrome? - She  looked at Yura
     - It's probably impossible  to get through to the director, - said Yura
     - Why don't you try anyhow.
     - Thanks, - said Yura. - All the best. I will try to.
     He left the space commuter centre and looked around. On the right, over
the green arches  of  the  trees the  hotel  building  was raised into a hot
whitish  sky. On the  left a colossal glass dome glittered intolerably under
the sun. Yura saw that dome  already at  the aerodrome. From  the aerodrome,
only  that  dome  and the  golden  spike  of the hotel  could be seen. Yura,
naturally, asked what it was and was laconically  told: "EMCS". What  "EMCS"
meant, Yura did not know.
     Right  in  front of the  command centre lay a wide  road,  covered with
large-size red sand granules.  On either side of the road passed  irrigation
channels,  alongside the  channels  acacia trees grew  closely. About twenty
paces from the  entrance  to the centre, in the shade of the acacias stood a
small white  squarish atomocar. Above the  windshield motionlessly  extended
two   big  blue   helmets   with   white  writing   "International   Police.
     For two minutes or so Yura stood  in complete indecisiveness. At  first
there  wasn't  anyone  on the  road.  Then, from some  place on  the  right,
appeared, walking broadly, a tall, red-tanned man wearing a white suit. Upon
approaching Yura  he  stopped,  took  off a giant white beret and fanned his
face. Yura looked at him with curiosity.
     - Ho-at! - said the man in a white suit. - And how  are you? - He spoke
with a strong accent.
     - Very hot, - said Yura.
     The man in a white suit plonked  the beret on his  burned  out hair and
produced a flat glass flask from his pocket.
     - A dre-enk? - he said, stretching his mouth to the ears.
     Yura shook his head.
     - I don't drink, - he said.
     - I alsho don't dreenk, - announced the man in a white suit and plunged
the flask back into his pocket. - But I always keep whiskey, in case someone
does drink.
     Yura laughed. He liked the man.
     -  Ho-at,  - once  more  said  the  man in a  white suit. -  That's our
disaster.  Inta-nashional  cosmodrome  in Greenland  -  and  I freeze there.
Inta-nashional cosmodrome in Mirza-Charlie - me soaked, sweaty. Ay?
     - Awfully hot, - said Yura.
     - And where are we flying to? - inquired the man in a white suit.
     - I need to be on Saturn.
     - O-o! -  said the  man in a white suit. - Ve-eary young and already to
Saturn. Zh-hat meansh we will meet and meet!
     He patted Yura on the shoulder and suddenly noticed the police car.
     - Inter-nashional police, - he said solemnly.  -  Zhey musht  have  all
honours. He  nodded off with dignity and walked  on. When he came level with
the  police atomocar,  he  braced himself and placed an index finger  to the
temple. The blue helmets  behind the  windshield tilted slowly in unison and
became motionless again.
     Yura  sighed and  leisurely  walked to  the  hotel. He had  to find the
cosmodrome  director somewhere. The road  was empty,  and he  could not  ask
anyone. Sure,  he could ask the police officers,  but Yura  did  not wish to
approach them.  She did  not like the way they sat, motionless. Yura briefly
regretted that he did  not ask the man in the white suit about the director,
but  then suddenly realised that the friendly  duty officer would definitely
know  everything about Mirza-Charlie.  He even stoped for a second, but then
walked  further. Ultimately,  it's not  polite  to  take so  much  of  these
people's time. Never mind, I will find out somewhere, he thought  and walked
     He was walking along the very edge of the irrigation  ditch, trying not
to  walk  in the sun, past the brightly coloured vending machines  with soda
and juices,  past  the empty benches and  recliners,  past the  small  white
houses,  hidden in the shade of the  acacias, past the  roomy  bitumen yards
filled with empty atomocars. One  of the yards did not have a tent above it,
and  ripples of  hot air rose from the shiny polished roofs of the vehicles.
It was a pitiful sight, seeing all  these cars, possibly  left  standing for
hours under the  merciless  sun.  Past  the giant billboards,  promising, in
three  languages, herculean health to all  those  who drink vitamised  goats
milk  "Golden Horns", past some  really strange dishevelled people, sleeping
right on  the grass, having placed packages, backpacks and  suitcases  under
their  heads, past the automated  street cleaners frozen at the  kerb,  past
tanned  kids,  splashing around in the irrigation ditch. A few times he  was
overtaken  by empty buses. He  walked beneath a poster, stretched above  the
road:  "Mirza-Charlie  welcomes disciplined drivers."  The sign  was done in
English. He passed the blue booth of  the traffic controller and came out on
to the Friendship walk - the main street in Mirza-Charlie.
     The  main  walk was also  empty. Shops, cinemas, bars, cafes were shut.
Siesta, thought Yura. It was unbearably hot on the street. Yura stopped by a
vendomat  and  drank a glass of hot  orange  juice. Raising his eyebrows  he
walked to the  next vendomat and  drank  a glass  of hot soda water. Yep, he
thought. Siesta. Wouldn't it be nice to crawl inside a refrigerator.
     The sun scorched the  street - white, as  if enveloped by a haze. There
was no shade. At the end  of the main walk,  in  a hot mist the bulk  of the
hotel was radiating  crimson and blue. Yura started on his way, feeling  the
blistering  pavement  through  the  shoes. At first he walked  fast,  but he
couldn't walk fast - he was running out of breath and sweat was pouring down
his face, leaving itchy trails.
     A long narrow  vehicle  with outstretched top  panels  rolled up to the
kerb. The Driver wearing big dark glasses opened the door.
     - Listen, pal, where is the hotel around here?
     - Straight ahead, at the end of the main walk, - said Yura.
     The driver looked, nodded and asked:
     - Aren't you going there?
     - I am, - Yura answered with a sigh.
     - Jump in, - said the driver.
     Yura climbed in with gratitude.
     - One can tell straight  away, that you are a newcomer, like me, - said
the  driver.  He drove  the  vehicle  very slowly. - All locals  stay in the
shade. I was warned, that I must come by night time, but that's me - did not
feel like waiting. And I was wrong to hurry. It's a dreamy kingdom.
     The cabin was full of cool clean air.
     - I think, - said Yura, - it's  a  very curious town. I have never been
in  international cities before.  Everything  is so amusingly mixed up here.
Kara-kumas  desert  and  the  international police. Did  you see them -  all
wearing blue helmets?
     - Saw them, - said the driver gloomily. - Over there  on the highway. -
He tilted his head, - about thirty men. The trucks collided.
     - How do you mean - collided? - said Yura. - What trucks? Automatics?
     -  Not  at all, not  automatics,  -  grumbled  the  driver.  - These...
'Varangian' visitors. Got their hands on it... Drunk scoundrels.
     He stopped the vehicle in front of the hotel and said:
     - Here we are. I am turning into the first street on the right.
     Yura climbed out.
     - Thank you so much, - he said.
     - It's nothing, really, - said the driver. - See you later.
     Yura walked up  into the  hall and went up to  the hotel administrator.
The administrator  was speaking on the  phone and Yura,  sitting  down  in a
chair, began staring  at the paintings  on the  walls.  Here, everything has
also  been  mixed up  quite  amusingly. Next to  the  traditional Shishkin's
"Three  bears" a large canvas was hanging, covered with fluorescent dye  and
not  exhibiting  anything in  particular.  For a  while, Yura  compared  the
paintings with quiet joy. It was very amusing.
     - How can assist you,  mister, - said the  administrator,  folding  her
hands on the desk.
     Yura laughed.
     -  You  see, I  am not a 'mister', - said  he.  -  I am a simple soviet
     The administrator laughed as well.
     - Frankly speaking, I thought so too. But I did  not  want to  risk it.
Here we get foreigners, who become upset when they are called 'comrades'.
     - Such odd fellows, - said Yura.
     - Oh yes, - said the administrator. - Now, how can I help you, comrade?
     -  You  know, -  said Yura,  - I  really  need to  see  the  cosmodrome
director. Could you suggest anything?
     -  What's there  to  suggest? - the  administrator  was  surprised. She
lifted the receiver and  dialled a number. - Valya? - she asked. - Oh, Zoya?
Listen, Zoya dear, this  is Kruglova speaking.  When  is  your  boss  taking
appointments today? Ah, ok...  I  understand... No,  just this  young man...
Yep... Ok, well, thank you, sorry to bother you.
     The videophone screen stayed blank throughout the conversation and Yura
counted that as a bad omen. "Bad luck" - he thought.
     - Well then, this is the deal, - said the administrator. - The director
is very busy and you could only see him after six o'clock. I will write down
the address and the phone number... - she hastily scribbled on a hotel form.
- Here. Call around six or just go straight there. It's nearby.
     Yura stood up, took the paper and thanked her.
     - And where are you staying? - asked the administrator.
     - You see,  - said Yura,  - I  haven't  checked in anywhere  yet. And I
don't wish to. I must leave today.
     - Ah, - said the administrator, - well, bon voyage. Calm plazma, as our
interplanetary pilots say.
     Yura thanked her again and went out on the street.
     In  a shady  side street, close to the hotel,  he saw a cafe where  the
siesta has either ended or has not yet begun. Under a broad flowery marquee,
right on  the grass  stood the tables and the roast  pork smell was present.
Over the marquee a sign was hanging:  "Your old Mickey Mouse" with the image
of  the famous Disney  character. Yura  hesitantly walked  into the marquee.
Naturally,  such cafes only exist in foreign  cities. Behind a long metallic
stand  with colourful bottles  in the  background  stood  a bold red-cheeked
barman in a white  jacket with rolled up  sleeves. His large hairy arms were
lazily resting amongst silver lids, covering the dishes with free snacks. On
barman's left stood an  bizarre  silver  device,  from which  aromatic steam
puffs rose.  On the right, under a glass cover, various sandwiches  stood in
splendour  on cardboard plates.  Above the  barman's head  two posters  were
affixed. One, written in English, informed patrons, that "The first drink is
free, second one - twenty four cents, all others - eighteen cents each". The
other poster, in Russian, announced: "Your old Mickey Mouse is competing for
the superior service award".
     The cafe only had two patrons. One of them was sleeping at the table in
the  corner, his uncombed head resting on his arms. Next to him on the grass
lay a shrivelled greasy backpack.
     The other  visitor, a bulky man in a chequered shirt was  eating a stew
with gusto,  unhurriedly,  and talking to the  barman  across  two  rows  of
tables. When Yura walked in, the barman was saying:
     -  I  am not mentioning photon powered rockets  and  atomic reactors. I
want to talk about cafes and bars. That's where I know a thing or two. Take,
for   instance,  your  soviet   cafes   and  our  western   cafes  here,  in
Mirza-Charlie. I know  the turnover of each place in town. Who goes to  your
soviet cafes? And, above all,  why? Women  come to your soviet  cafes to eat
ice-cream and to dance with non-drinking pilots at night...
     Then the barman noticed Yura and paused.
     - Her is a lad, - said he. - This is a Russian lad. He came  to "Mickey
Mouse" during the day. Consequently, he is a newcomer. He wants to eat.
     The man in a chequered shirt looked at Yura with curiosity.
     -  Good afternoon, - said Yura  to the barman. - I am, in fact, hungry.
How is it done here with you?
     Barman gave an echoing laugh.
     -  Here, with us, it is done precisely how it is done with you, -  said
he. -  Expediently, tastily and  politely. What  would you  like to have, my
     - Joyce, bring him the okroshka and a pork schnitzel. And you, comrade,
take  a sit next to  me. First of  all,  there is a  nice unexplained  fresh
draft, and  secondly  it  would be easier for us to continue an  ideological
campaign against old Joyce.
     The  barman  laughed again and disappeared under the bar. Yura, smiling
with embarrassment, sat next to the chequered shirt.
     - I  am perpetuating  this ideological struggle with "Mickey  Mouse", -
explained  the  man in a chequered shirt. - It has been five years of trying
to prove to him, that things exist in  the solar system, other than drinking
     The barman appeared from behind the stand, carrying a tray with  a deep
cardboard plate full of okroshka and a serving of bread.
     - I am not even offering  you a drink, -  said he and  skilfully placed
the tray on  the table. - I understood immediately, that you - are a Russian
lad.  All of you  have  this peculiar facial expression. I can't say,  Ivan,
that I  like it, but  the sight of it extinguishes  thirst.  And I feel like
competing for some kind of award, even against own profit.
     - Conscience speaking inside a free entrepreneur, - said Ivan. - Only a
year ago I was able to convince him,  that selling liquor to innocent people
is immoral.
     -  Especially  if  it  is done without  charge,  - said  the barman and
laughed. Evidently, he was hinting at the first free drink offer.
     Yura was listening, enjoying the chilled, amazingly delicious okroshka.
On the edge of the plate a line was printed, and Yura translated it as: "Eat
to the bottom, find a surprise".
     - The  point, Joyce, is not even that due to your  clientele there is a
need to keep  international police in  Mirza- Charlie, - Ivan said lazily. -
And, for the time  being,  I am ignoring the issue  that, exactly because of
the advantages  of the western  cafes  over the  soviet ones  people get  an
amazingly  easy  opportunity  to  lose their regular  human  features.  It's
unfortunate to witness you, Joyce. Not as a barman, but as  a human being. A
man  full of life, hairy  hands of  gold, by  far not a mediocre person. And
what  does he do? He hangs around the bar, like an  old commercial vendomat,
and every night, spitting on his fingers, he counts dirty notes.
     - You won't understand this, Ivan, - majestically said the barman.
     - Such concept as  prestige and turnover of a venue are foreign to you.
Who doesn't  know "Mickey Mouse" and Joyce? In every corner of  the universe
my bar is known.  Where do pilots go after returning from some  Jupiter?  To
"Mickey Mouse"! Where do our enlisted tramps spend their  last day on Earth?
At "Mickey Mouse"! Right here! At this very bar stand! Where does come go to
drown their sorrows  or spruce  up their success? To me! And  where  do  you
dine, Ivan? - He laughed.
     - You come to old Joyce! Naturally, you would never visit me  at night.
Perhaps as a civil watch patrol member. And I know, that deep in your heart,
you prefer your soviet  cafes.  But somehow, you still come here! To "Mickey
Mouse" and  old Joyce, - you  must like something, right?  That's  why I  am
proud of my establishment.
     The barman caught his breath and raised his fat thumb.
     -  And another thing, - he said. - This very dirty notes, that you were
speaking about. In your crazy country everyone knows, that money -  is dirt.
But in my country everyone knows that dirt - is, regrettably, not  the  same
as  money.  Money must  be procured! For this  our  pilots fly, for this our
workers  enlist. I  am an  old  man, and, perhaps, because of that I  cannot
understand  at all, how  success and prosperity is  measured  on  your side.
Indeed  on your side everything is upside down. And with  us,  everything is
clear and  understandable. Where is the conqueror of Hannimex, captain Upton
now? The  director of a company "Minerals Ltd". Who is  the famous navigator
Cyrus Campbell? The  owner  of  two  largest restaurants  in New  York city.
Naturally, once the entire world knew them, and  now  they are in the shade,
but before they were servants and went wherever they got sent,  and now they
have servants of their own and send these wherever they  like. I also do not
wish to be a servant. I also want to be a master.
     Ivan said pensively:
     - You have achieved  something already,  Joyce. You do not wish to be a
servant. Now the least bit is left - to cease wanting to be a master.
     Yura finished his okroshka and saw the  surprise. On the bottom  of the
plate  was a  line: "This dish was  cooked by an electronic kitchen  machine
"Orpehus"  made  by "Cybernetics  Ltd". Yura  pushed  the  plate  aside  and
     -  I  believe it is really  boring  to  spend your  whole life standing
behind the bar.
     The barman adjusted an English  sign on the wall saying: "Possession of
firearms in Mirza-Charlie is punishable by death" and said:
     - What do you  mean - boring? What is boring work and what is fun work?
Work is work.
     - Work must be interesting, - said Yura.
     The barman shrugged his shoulders:
     - What for?
     -  What  do you  mean  "what  for"?  -  wondered  Yura.  -  If work  is
interesting, one must... must... But who needs it, boring work? What purpose
do you achieve, if you work without taking an interest in it?
     - You tell this old fella, - said Ivan.
     The barman stood up with an effort and announced:
     - This is unfair. You are recruiting allies, Ivan. And I am alone.
     -  There are two of you, - said Ivan. He pointed at  the  sleeping  man
with his finger.
     The  barman looked, shook his head, and after  collecting dirty plates,
went behind the bar.
     - What a  tough  nut, - said Ivan  in a low  voice. - How  did he speak
about the  prestige of the establishment,  hey? Now you should  try  arguing
with him. You would never understand each other. I am still trying to find a
common language with him. All in all, he is really a swell bloke.
     Yura shook his head obstinately.
     - No, - he said. -  He is not at all  swell. He  is  self-satisfied and
dull. And I pity him. Well, what does  a person live for? He will eventually
save money and return home. And then what?
     - Joyce! - bellowed Ivan. - We have one more question for you!
     - Coming! - shouted the barman.
     He appeared from behind the bar stand and placed before Yura the  plate
with a shnitzel and a misty bottle of grape juice.
     - On the house, - said he, pointing to bottle, and sat down.
     Yura said:
     - Thank you, you shouldn't have.
     - Listen,  Joyce, - said Ivan. - The Russian  boy  is asking, what will
you do when you become rich?
     Joyce watched Yura closely for some time.
     - Fair enough, - said he. - I know what  answer the boy is waiting for.
Therefore I will ask. The boy will  grow up and become a mature man. All his
life  he will engage in... how do  you say  it... interesting work.  But one
day, he will become old and won't be able to  work any more. What will he do
then, this boy?
     Ivan leaned  on the back  of the chair and  looked at  the  barman with
pleasure. His  face read: "What  a tough nut, this one,  hey!" Yura felt how
his ears became hot. He lowered the fork and said in confusion:
     - I...  I don't know,  somehow I never thought  about it...  - he  grew
silent. The  barman  was looking at  Yura  seriously and sombrely. The awful
moments dragged slowly. Yura said with despair: - I will try to die before I
will cease being useful... - The barman's eyebrows rose to  his forehead, he
looked  at  Ivan with apprehension. Totally  dumbfounded, Yura announced:  -
Anyway, I believe  that its most  important  in  life for  a  man  to die  a
beautiful death!
     The barman silently  stood up, patted  Yura  on the back with his broad
hand and retreated behind the bar. Ivan said:
     - Well, buddy, thanks a lot. What a  help you were. This  way  you will
collapse all my ideological work.
     - Come  on now -  mumbled Yura. - Old  age...  Stop working... A person
must struggle all their life. Isn't that true?
     - It is all true, -  said the  barman.  - I, for instance, struggle  to
avoid taxes all my life.
     - Yeah, but that's not what I meant, - said Yura,  waived  his hand and
buried his face in the plate.
     Ivan took a sip of the grape juice that was  on the house and leisurely
     - By the way, Joyce. One very interesting detail. Although my ally said
nothing intelligent, given his  tender age, take notice, he  prefers  to die
rather than to live in the old age like you.  It  simply never  entered  his
head, what he will do when he turns old.  And you, Joyce, have been thinking
about it  all your life. And all  your  life you are preparing  for old age.
That's how it is, Joyce buddy.
     The barman scratched his bald patch in reflection.
     - Possibly, - said he.
     - That's what the difference is,  - said Ivan. - And the difference,  I
think, is not in your favour.
     The barman thought about it for a while, scratched his bald spot again,
and, without saying a word, disappeared through the door behind the bar.
     - Well then, - said Ivan with satisfaction. - Today I got the better of
him. By the way, where are you from, fair child?
     - From Vyaz'ma, - Yura said melancholically. He was acutely feeling the
unsoundness of his life experience.
     - And what for?
     - I need  to get to  Rhea. - He looked at Ivan and clarified: -  Rhea -
it's one of Saturn's satellites.
     - Oh, that's what it is, - said Ivan.  - Fascinating. And  what did you
miss on Rhea?
     -  There is a new construction, and I  am  a vacuum-welder. There  were
eleven of us and I fell behind the group, because  I... Well, basically, for
family reasons. Now  I don't know  how to get  there. I shall go and see the
cosmodrome director at six.
     - To see Maikov?
     -  N-no,  - said Yura. -  That is, I don't know his  name. To  see  the
cosmodrome director, in general.
     Ivan watched him with interest.
     - What is your name?
     - Yura... Yura Borodin.
     - Well then, Yura Borodin, -  said Ivan and sorrowfully shook his head.
- I am  afraid, you will have to die a beautiful death. Trouble is, that the
cosmodrome director  comrade Maikov, as I am personally informed,  has flown
out to Moscow... - he looked at his watch, - twelve minutes ago.
     This was a terrifying blow. Yura's heart sunk instantly.
     - How so... - he mumbled. - But I was told...
     -  Come on now, -  said Ivan. - Cheer  up a little. Your old age hasn't
yet arrived. Every director, when going to Moscow, leaves a deputy behind.
     - That's right! - said Yura and exalted. -  Please forgive me: I got to
make a phone call immediately.
     - Go and make the call, - said Ivan. - The payphone is right around the
     Yura jumped up and ran to the phone booth.

     When Yura returned, Ivan was standing on the path in front of the cafe.
     - Well? - he asked.
     -  No  luck, -  Yura  said mournfully.  - The  director has really left
whilst his deputy can only see me after seven tomorrow night.
     - Tomorrow night? - Ivan asked again.
     - Yes, after seven tomorrow night.
     Ivan pensively stared somewhere at the acacia crowns.
     - At night, - he repeated. - Yes, that is too late.
     - I have to now spend the night at the hotel,  - said Yura with a sigh.
- I will go and book a room.
     Down the path approached, busily shuffling his shirt feet, a chubby man
dressed with chic wearing  a  colonial  helmet. His face  was swollen,  with
distended eyes. Under his  left  eye  a dark,  thickly powdered abrasion was
protruding. Within ten meters of approaching Ivan, the man ripped the helmet
off his head,  and bending  his body almost in half, hurriedly  sneaked into
the cafe. Ivan bowed back gallantly.
     - What's with him? - said Yura in astonishment
     - Come on, let's go, - said Ivan. - It's on the way.
     - One minute, - said Yura. - I will just go and pay.
     - I paid already, - said Ivan, - Let's go.
     - No,  what for, - said Yura with  dignity. - I  have money... We  were
each handed money...
     Ivan looked across the shoulder at the cafe.
     - And this ass-licker, - said he, - is my good friend. Pride and joy of
the international cosmoport  Mirza-Charlie.  -  Yura  also looked  back. The
"pride and joy of Mirza-Charlie" has already climbed onto the  highest stool
at  the bar. -  The  king  of stinkers.  An underground  recruiter. The most
prosperous bastard in town. Two  days ago he got drunk like a  swine and was
stalking a girl in the street. That's when I  gave him  a few knocks. Now he
is very amicable with me.
     They  were  leisurely walking  down a  shady green side street.  It got
cooler. Disorderly engine hum was reaching them from the Friendship street.
     - But whom does he recruit? - asked Yura.
     - Workers, - replied Ivan. - By the way, who recommended you to work on
     -  Our plant  has  recommended  us,  - said  Yura. - And who  are  this
workers? Do our own really enlist?
     Ivan was surprised.
     -  Why  would they  be ours?  The  folk  from the  West.  All  kind  of
unfortunate ones, who  since childhood keep thinking about old age and dream
of becoming some kind  of proprietors.  There are plenty over there. Listen,
Yura, - said he, - and what if you won't get to Rhea? What then?
     - Now, don't say that, - said Yura. - I will definitely get to Rhea. It
will be really unfair to  all the  guys  if I won't make it.  There were one
hundred and fifty volunteers and only  eleven of  us were chosen. How  can I
not make it? I must get there.
     They walked in silence for some time.
     - Ok, so they get recruited, - said Yura. - And then where to?
     - Then they  get  put on ships and  sent to  asteroids.  The recruiters
receive commission per head placed in ship's hold. That's  why, disguised as
sales  agents,  they  hang  around  Mirza-Charlie.  And other  international
     They  came on  to the Friendship walk  and  turned  to  the hotel. Ivan
stopped next to a large white building.
     - That's where I have to go, - he said. - Good bye, Yura Borodin.
     - Good bye, - said  Yura. - Thanks so much.  And I am sorry for talking
rubbish back there, in the cafe.
     - It's nothing, - said Ivan. - The main thing is, you were earnest.
     They shook hands.
     - Listen, Yura, - said Ivan and paused.
     - Yes? - said Yura.
     -  About Rhea, - said Ivan.  He paused again, looking to the side. Yura
was  waiting.  -  Yes,  about Rhea. Why don't  you, buddy,  come in sometime
around nine o'clock tonight into hotel room three hundred and six.
     - And what then? - asked Yura.
     - What will come out  of that, I don't  know, - said  Ivan.  -  In that
suite you will see a man who looks quite ferocious. Try to convince him that
you must really get to Rhea.
     - And who is he? - asked Yura.
     -  Good bye, - said Ivan. - Don't forget: number three hundred and six,
after nine o'clock.
     He turned and disappeared inside the white building. Above the entrance
to the building a black plastic board was hanging with white writing:
     "The public order patrol headquarters. Mirza-Charlie".
     - Number three hundred and six, - repeated Yura. - After nine.

     Yura was killing  time.  In a few  hours he covered  almost  the entire
city.  He really enjoyed walking around unfamiliar cities and find out  what
there  is.  In  Mirza-Charlie there was EACS. No one was  allowed under  the
giant transparent  dome but now Yura  knew  that EACS -  is  the  Electronic
Administration and Control System, the electronic brain  of the  cosmodrome.
Walking north from EACS, you  would get to  a  large  park with an open  sky
cinema, two  shooting galleries, a  big  stadium,  the ride  "Man  inside  a
rocket", music cabins, swings, dancing areas and a  great clear lake, around
which araucarias and pyramid poplars grew and in which Yura enjoyed  a swim.
On  the southern outskirts of the  city Yura  discovered a low red building,
immediately past which the desert began. Next  to the building were parked a
few red  squarish  atomocars and a blue policeman was walking around  with a
gun. The policeman announced to Yura that the red building is the prison and
that  the  Russian  lad shouldn't  go  there.  To the west  of  EACS lay the
residential  suburbs. There were lots of  small and large, pretty and not so
pretty houses. The  streets were  narrow, unsealed.  Living there  must have
been, as it looked, not  bad at  all - cool, shady and close  to the centre.
Yura really liked  the city library building but did not  go  inside. On the
western city  border the  administrative buildings were situated, and behind
them the industrial area began, a huge territory occupied by warehouses.
     The warehouses were endlessly long, grey-coloured, made from corrugated
plastic, with giant white numbers painted on the walls. Here Yura discovered
such an abundance of  trucks and cargo helicopters that he had never seen in
his life. His ears were becoming blocked  from the  continuous steady hum of
engines. Yura  had barely walked ten paces,  when behind him  a siren wailed
nastily and  he jumped to the side,  to some wall, but then the  wall opened
and through the  gates,  as wide as the Arch of Triumph, right towards Yura,
crawled a huge  red and white beast on wheels the size of two human heights,
and from the two-storey height  the driver wearing a beanie shouted at Yura.
The  humongous  truck slowly  reversed  in  a  narrow  passage  between  the
warehouses and right behind it another  one was  crawling out already, and a
third one following the  second. Yura  carefully manoeuvred along the walls,
radiating heat, deafened by the roar, the rumbling and heavy clink of unseen
     Then he saw a low  platform, onto which familiar cylindrical containers
with vacuum  welding  mix were  being loaded. He walked closer, and  smiling
cheerfully, stood next  to the man conducting the loading with the help of a
remote control on his neck. He stood and watched  for  some time as the arms
of  the crane accurately placed the packed container stacks on  top of  each
other. Then he said knowingly:
     - No, this won't do.
     - What won't do? - asked the man with interest and looked at Yura.
     - This very container won't do.
     - Why?
     - You can see that. The valve is crooked.
     The man wavered for a few seconds.
     - It's nothing, - he said. - They will work it out there.
     - Not quite, - disagreed Yura. - We won't be working it out over there.
Remove this stack.
     The man took his hands  off the remote and  stared at Yura.  The arm of
the crane stopped, the next stack, rocking quietly, hung in mid-air.
     - It's a mere trifle, - said the man.
     - It's a trifle here, - Yura rebutted again.
     The  man shrugged  his shoulders  and  placed his  hands on  the remote
again. Yura  incessantly  watched the unloading of the  defective container,
thanked the man politely and walked on. Very  soon  he discovered that he is
lost.  The warehouse  territory  was like  a  whole city,  with  streets and
side-streets ending  in the desert.  At the  end of such side-streets  stood
huge  signs  with  warnings: "Go  back! Hazardous radiation  zone!".  It was
getting dark quickly and  Yura followed some  column of  vehicles  riding on
broad elastic tracks and without realising ended up on a highway.
     Yura knew that  the city is on  his right, but to  the left,  where the
column had  gone, multicoloured lights were flashing nearby, and Yura turned
left. Dessert  lay on  either  side of the highway. There were no  trees, no
irrigation ditches, just an  even black horizon. The sun had set a long time
ago, but the air was still hot and dry.
     The multicoloured lights were flashing above  the crossing arms. On the
side of the crossing stood a small  mushroom-like  house. Next to the house,
beneath a street light a policeman was sitting, holding his  blue  helmet in
his lap. Another policeman was walking in front of the crossing. Upon seeing
Yura, he  stopped and walked towards him. Yura's heart jumped. The policeman
came close and stretched out his hand.
     - Papers, - he said in a barking voice.
     I think I am stuck now, thought Yura. If  I get detained... By the time
they will work it out... Why did I only walk here!.. He hastily reached into
his  pocket. The policeman was waiting with his hand outstretched. The other
policeman put on his helmet and stood up.
     - Weit a minut, -  mumbled Yura. - Hang  on. Right this minute... Damn,
oh no, just where could it be...
     The policeman lowered his hand.
     - Are you Russian? - he asked.
     - Yes, - said Yura. - Hang  on... You see,  all I have is  a  workplace
reference... The  steelworks  plant in V'yazma...  he  finally  produced the
     - No need, - said the policeman suddenly in a kind tone.
     The second policeman approached and asked:
     - What's the matter? The chap hasn't got his papers?
     - Nope, - said the first policeman. - He is Russian.
     - Oh, - said the other one with indifference. He turned and walked back
to his bench.
     - I just wanted to have a look at what's here, - said Yura.
     -  Here we have the  cosmodrome, - the  policeman  explained readily. -
Over there, - he pointed beyond the crossing with his hand. - But you cannot
go there.
     - No, no, - Yura said hastily. - Just to have a look.
     - You can have a look, - said the policeman. He walked to the crossing.
Yura followed him. - This is the cosmodrome, - the policeman repeated.
     Under the bright middle-eastern starts a flat, almost glaciered plateau
shimmered. Far ahead, where the highway was leading,  clouded glares flashed
up  and searchlight rays scurried, displacing gigantic hazy silhouettes from
the dark.  From  time  to time  a  weak  thundering blare rolled across  the
     "Space ships", -  Yura thought with  pleasure. Of course, he knew, that
Mirza-Charlie,  like  all other  cosmodromes  on  Earth,  was used only  for
intra-planetary  communication,  that  real  planetary  vessels,  the photon
rockets types such as "Cheous", "John Brown", "Yang-Tze" are too immense and
powerful to take  off directly from Earth, but these dark  contours over the
horizon also seemed quite formidable.
     - Rockets,  rockets, - the policeman spoke leisurely. - How many people
fly out there, -  he raised a  blue  fluorescent  baton to  the dark  sky. -
Everyone  with  their dreams.  And  how  many of them return in  sealed zinc
coffins! Right here, by this  very crossing, we assemble the honorary guard.
Their  determination takes  your breath away.  And nevertheless, over  there
must be, - he raised the  baton  again, - there must be  someone, who really
dislikes this determination...
     The horizon suddenly lit  up with a blinding flash, a long fiery stream
hit the sky and dispersed into a fountain of sparks. The bitumen under their
feet trembled. The policeman brought the watch to his eyes.
     - Twelve past twenty, - he said. - The nightly lunar.
     There was thunder in the sky. The booming  peals weakened as they faded
away and finally died altogether.
     - I got to go, - said Yura. - What's the quickest way to get into town?
     - Keep walking, - replied the policeman. - At the turn to the warehouse
hail down any car.

     When  at  ten-thirty  Yura  reached   the  hotel,  he  looked  somewhat
dishevelled  and  bewildered.  Mirza-Charlie  at  night  was totally  unlike
Mirza-Charlie during the  day.  Down  the  streets,  bisected  by sharp dark
shadows, the  cars moved in a solid tide. The flashing billboards lit up the
crowds on the side walk. The doors of all cafes  and  bars  were  wide open.
Inside the music  roared  and  the  air was bluish with tobacco smoke. Drunk
foreigners  were trudging down  the  street, hugging,  in  threes or  fours,
bawling unfamiliar songs.  Across every twenty-thirty steps the police stood
with stony  faces  under the helmets worn  low. Through  the  pulsing crowd,
trios  of solid young lads wearing red armbands moved calmly  and leisurely.
Yura  saw  how one  such  patrol walked inside a bar,  and  immediately  the
silence fell and even the music stopped playing. The patrolmen had bored and
squeamish faces. From another  bar, much closer  to the hotel, the two  with
tiny moustaches threw out onto  the street some unfortunate soul  and  began
kicking him. The  poor fellow was screaming loudly in French: "Patrol! Help!
Murder!" Yura,  clenching his teeth  with loathing, already took  aim for  a
punch  into the  ear of a whiskered man, when he was  unceremoniously shoved
aside and a long strapping arm with a red  band grabbed one of the whiskered
men by the collar. The other  whiskered fellow  crouched  and jumped  into a
bar.  The patrol negligently passed the catch  into the arms  of approaching
police, and they, twisting the men's arms behind his back, almost in a rush,
dragged him into the nearest side-street. Yura managed to notice, how one of
the policemen, looking around  stealthily, hit the whiskered  fellow hard on
the head with a  fluorescent baton. Pity I didn't give it  to  him,  thought
Yura. For  a moment he even lost the  desire to  fly  to  Rhea. He wished he
could put on a red band and join these firm, confident young guys.
     - Some customs you have here! - upon returning to the hotel,  Yura told
the adminstratrix with agitation. - Some nest of bloodsuckers!..
     - What are you on about? - asked the adminstratrix with fear. Yura came
to his senses.
     - Well, you see, on the street, - he said, - such a dump!..
     - An  international port, we must put  up with this for now, - said the
adminstratrix with a smile. - And how are things with you?
     - Don't know yet, - said  Yura. - Tell  me please, how do I get to room
three hundred and six?
     - Go up in a lift, third floor, turn right.
     - Thanks, - said Yura and walked to the lift.
     He  came up to the third floor and found the door to three  hundred and
six straight away. In  front  of the door  he stopped and for the first time
thought how,  what, and most importantly,  to whom he  will  be talking.  He
recalled what Ivan said about a fierce-looking man. He thoroughly combed his
hair and looked himself over. Then he knocked.
     - Come in, - said a low husky voice behind the door. Yura walked in.
     In the room, behind a round table covered with a white  tablecloth, sat
two mature men. Yura was dumbfounded: he  recognised them both, and this was
so unexpected that  for a moment he imagined he must be in the  wrong suite.
Ahead of him, staring directly  in his face with small hostile eyes, sat the
well-known  Bykov, the captain  of the legendary  "Takhmaseeb",  sombre  and
ruddy - the  way he looked on a  stereophoto  above the desk of Yura's older
brother. The face of  the other man,  sprawled out in  a light straw  chair,
genteel, long, with a squeamish fold beside his full lips was also amazingly
familiar.  Yura just couldn't remember his name, but was absolutely certain,
that he had seen him once or perhaps even a few times. On the  table stood a
long dark bottle and one glass.
     - What do you want? - Bykov asked in a muffled voice.
     - Is this room three hundred and six? - Yura asked with hesitation.
     -  Ye-es, - the man  with a genteel face answered in a velvety  rolling
voice. - Who are you after, young man?
     This must be Yurkovski, remembered Yura.  The  interplanetary  explorer
from Venus. There was a film about them...
     I... I  don't  know...  - he  spoke. - You see,  I really must  get  to
Rhea... Today this one comrade...
     - Surname? - said Bykov.
     - Whose? - Yura couldn't understand.
     - Your surname!
     - Borodin... Yuri Mikhailovich Borodin.
     - Occupation?
     - Vacuum-welder.
     - Documents.
     For the second time that day  (and in his entire life) Yura reached for
his documents. Bykov was staring  at him, waiting. Yurkovski lazily held the
bottle and poured himself some wine.
     - Here  you are, please,  - said Yura. He placed  his  reference on the
table and moved a few steps away.
     Bykov produced from his shirt-pocket great  old-fashioned  glassed and,
holding them up to his eyes, very attentively and, as Yura decided, twice in
a row, read the document after which it was handed to Yurkovski.
     -  How  did it  happen, that you fell  behind  your  group? -  he asked
     - I... You see, it's a family matter...
     - In more  detail, young man, - thundered Yurkovski. He was reading the
professional reference, holding  it  in an outstretched hand and taking sips
from the glass.
     -  You  see, my mum suddenly became  ill,  - said Yura. An appendicitis
attack.  You  see, there  was no way I  could  leave.  My brother  is  in an
expedition... Dad is at the North Pole at the moment... I couldn't...
     - Does your mum know, that you volunteered to  go into  space? -  asked
     - Yes, of course.
     - She agreed?
     - Y-yes...
     - Are you engaged?
     Yura shook his head. Yurkovski carefully folded the  recommendation and
laid it on the edge of the table.
     - Tell me, young man, - he asked, - why weren't you... er... replaced?
     Yura blushed.
     - I really pleaded with them, - he said quietly. - And everyone thought
that I will catch up. I came just one day late...
     Silence  set  in  and  one  could  here,  how  on  Friendship  walk the
'Varangian guests' yelled  discordantly.  Either  drowning  their sorrows or
sprucing up their fortune. Possibly, at Old Joyce's.
     -  Do  you  have... err...  acquaintances at Mirza-Charlie? - Yurkovski
asked cautiously.
     - No, - said Yura. - I only arrived today.  I just met this one comrade
in a cafe. His name is Ivan and he...
     - And where did you go for inquiries?
     -  To  the  duty  officer  at  passenger communications  and the  hotel
     Bykov and Yurkovski swapped glances.  It seemed to Yura, that Yurkovski
shook his head with slight negation.
     - Well, this is not such a big deal, - grumbled Bykov.
     Yurkovski suddenly spoke sharply:
     - I really cannot understand, why we need a passenger.
     Bykov was thinking.
     -  Honestly,  I  will  not  get in  anyone's  way,  -  said  Yura  with
conviction. - And I am ready to do anything.
     - Even ready to die a beautiful death, - muttered Bykov.
     Yura bit  his  lip. My chances  are  crap,  he thought. God,  how badly
stuffed I am. Oh, how badly...
     -  I  really need to get to  Rhea, - he said. He suddenly realised with
perfect  lucidity, that  this  is  his  final chance and  he cannot count on
tomorrows meeting with the director's deputy.
     -  Hmm? -  said Bykov and looked at  Yurkovski. Yurkovski shrugged  his
shoulders and, lifting his glass,  began staring  at  it through  the light.
Then Bykov got up from the table -  Yura even stepped back, for he seemed so
huge and bulky - and, dragging his feet in slippers, headed for  the corner,
where on  the back of a chair hung a worn leather jacket. From its pocket he
produced  a  flat  shiny  radiophone  case.  Yura,  holding his  breath, was
watching his back.
     - Charles? - Bykov inquired in muffed voice. He was pressing a flexible
cord with a metallic ball to his ear. - This is Bykov. Do you still have the
"Takhmaseeb" log?  Insert into the crew list for special voyage 17... Yes, I
am taking  a  probationer... Yes,  the  head of the mission does not object.
(Yurkovski  grimaced  strongly, but  said nothing.) What?  Hang on, -  Bykov
turned to Yura, held out his hand and clicked his fingers  impatiently. Yura
rushed  to  the table, grabbed  the  reference  and  placed  it between  the
fingers. - Now... Right... Signed by the  collective of steelworks  plant in
V'yazma...  God,  Charles, this  is absolutely none of your business!  After
all,  this  is a special voyage!..  Yes. Here: Borodin  Yuri Mikhailovich...
Eighteen   years  of   age.   Yes,   precisely   eighteen.  Vacuum-welder...
Probationer...  Included  under  my  order  from  yesterday's  date.  Please
Charles, prepare his documents  immediately. No,  he won't,  I will get them
myself... Tomorrow morning. Good bye Charles, thanks.
     Bykov slowly wound  up the cord and shoved the radiophone back into the
jacket's pocket.
     - This is illegal, Alexey, - Yurkovski said  quietly. Bykov returned to
the table and sat down.
     - If you only knew, Vladimir,  - said he, - how  many regulations I can
do without in space.  And  how  many regulations we shall do without on this
flight. Probationer, you may sit, - he told Yura.  Yura sat down hastily and
very uncomfortably.  Bykov lifted the receiver. - Zhilin, come see me now. -
He  hung up  the phone. -  Take  your papers, probationer.  You will  answer
immediately  to  myself. The  ship's engineer Zhilin, who will come shortly,
will outline your duties to you.
     - Alexey, -  Yurkovski  said  majestically. - Our... err... cadet still
does not know, who he is dealing with.
     - Nope, I know, - said Yura. - I recognised you straight away.
     - Oh! - Yurkovski was surprised. - We are still recognisable?
     Yura  had  no  time  to  answer.  The door opened and on the  threshold
appeared Ivan in that same chequered shirt.
     - Here I am, Alexey Petrovich, - he announced cheerfully.
     - Collect your god-son, - grouched Bykov. - This is our probationer. He
is now your responsibility.  Make a note in the log. And  now take  him with
you and don't leave him out of sight until we take off tomorrow.
     - Understood, - said Zhilin, took Yura off  the chair and lead him into
the corridor. Yura was slowly realising what has happened.
     - This is you - Zhilin? - he asked. - Ship's engineer?
     - Zhilin did not answer. He placed Yura before him, stepped a foot back
and said in a menacing voice:
     - Do you drink vodka?
     - No, - Yura answered fearfully.
     - Do you believe in God?
     - No.
     - A truly interplanetary soul! -  Zhilin  said with  content. - When we
get on "Takhmaseeb", I will let you kiss the ignition key.

     Matti,  covering his  eyes from  the blinding sun,  was looking  at the
dunes.  The  crawler was nowhere to  be seen. Above the  dunes hung  a large
cloud of reddish dust, a weak wind was slowly  shifting it sideways. All was
quiet, only at the five meter height the  anemometer propeller was rustling.
Then Matti heard the shots - "pok, pok, pok, pok" - four shots in a row.
     - Missed, of course, - he said.
     The observatory was standing on a tall flat hill. In summer the air was
always  very clear and  from the hilltop the white domes and parallelepipeds
of Warm Syrt five kilometres to the South and grey  ruins of the Old Base on
an identical flat high hill  three kilometres to the West  could be  clearly
seen.  But right now the Old Base  was hidden by a cloud of dust. "Pok, pok,
pok", - was heard again there.
     - Sharp-shooters, - Matti lamented. He examined the watch  post. - What
a rotten beast, - he said.
     The wide-angle camera was overturned. The meteo-box was leaning  on the
side. The  wall  of the telescopy  pavilion was  smothered with  some yellow
crap. Above the pavilion door  shone a fresh hole from  an explosive bullet.
The light above the entrance was shattered.
     - Sharp-shooters, - Matty reiterated.
     He walked to the pavilion  and palpated the edges  of the tear with his
fingers in a fur-lined glove. He thought about what mess an explosive bullet
can invoke in a pavilion and he quivered.  In the pavilion stood a very nice
telescope with  a  beautifully  repaired  lens, the  scintillation recorder,
blink-autoshutters  -   all   rare,   capricious  and   complex   apparatus.
Blink-autoshutters are harmed  even  by  dust, and must  be covered  with  a
hermetic core. But what can the core do against an explosive bullet?
     Matti did not go into the pavilion. "They should see  it themselves, he
thought.  -  They were the  ones shooting, let them be the ones to see  it".
Frankly  speaking,  he  was  simply too scared to go  inside. He placed  the
carabine on the sand and,  with some effort, lifted the  camera. One foot of
the tripod was bent and the camera was standing unevenly.
     -  Rotten scoundrel! -  said Matti with hatred.  He was  conducting the
meteorite filming  and the camera  was his sole instrument. He walked across
the entire  ground to the meteo-box. The dust over the  ground was dug over.
Matti was stomping with disdain  upon  the characteristic rounded craters  -
the traces  of the  "flying leech". "Why does  she  always  barge  in on the
observation ground? -  he  was thinking.  -  Fine, she could at least  crawl
around the house. At  least break into  the garage.  But no, she must  climb
onto the ground. Does it smell of human flesh or something?"
     The door of the meteo-box was bent and would not open. Matti hopelessly
waived his hand and returned to the camera. He swivelled the camera  off the
base, removed it with an effort and laid it upon the outstretched tarpaulin,
groaning. Then he lifted the tripod and carried it into the house.  He stood
the tripod in the workshop and peeked  inside the  dining  hall. Natasha was
sitting by the radio.
     - Reported it already? - asked Matti.
     -  You know, I  get  so  discouraged by this, - she  said grudgingly. -
Honestly, it would have been easier to run over there
     - And what is it? - asked Matti.
     Natasha abruptly turned  the volume  regulator.  A low and weary  voice
hummed inside  the room: "Number seven, number  seven, this is  Syrt. Why is
there no summary? Hear me, number seven? Send the summary now!" Number seven
started muttering numbers.
     - Syrt! - said Natasha. - Syrt! This is number one!
     - Number  one,  don't interfere,  - said  the weary voice. - Have  some
     - Here you are, then, - said Natasha and turned the  volume control the
other way.
     - And what exactly are you going to tell them? - asked Matti.
     - About what has happened, - Natasha replied. - This is an emergency.
     - Can't call it  an emergency, - disagreed Matti. - Every night we have
such an emergency.
     Natasha pensively rested her cheek on a fist.
     - You  know,  Matti, -  she said, - indeed this is the first  time  the
leech came during the day.
     Matti placed his entire hand over his face. It was true. Previously the
leeches came either late at night or right before dawn.
     - Right, - he said. - R-r-right. This is how I see it: total insolence.
     - That's how I  see it as well, - Natasha remarked. - What's out there,
on the ground?
     - You better see for yourself, - said Matti. - My camera was wrecked. I
won't be observing tonight.
     - Are the guys there? - Natasha asked.
     Matti stumbled.
     - Yes, basically there, - said Matti and waived his hand vaguely.
     He suddenly imagined, what Natasha would  say, when she sees the bullet
hole above the pavilion door.
     Natasha  turned to  the radio again  and Matti closed the door  quietly
behind him. He left the house and saw the crawler. The crawler was flying at
maximum speed, skipping boldly from dune to dune. Behind it, a solid wall of
dust shot up to the  very stars  and against this red and yellow  background
the  mighty figure of  Pen'kov, standing  at  full  height with  a  carabine
resting against his waist  was outlined very effectively. Naturally,  Sergey
was driving the crawler. He directed the vehicle right onto Matti and locked
the brakes at five feet. A thick dust cloud wrapped the observation ground.
     -  Centauri, -  said Matti, cleaning his glasses. - An equine face on a
human torso.
     - What of it? - said Sergey, jumping off. Behind him, Pen'kov descended
     - Escaped, - he said.
     - I think you got it, - said Sergey.
     Pen'kov nodded pompously.
     - I think so, too, - he said.
     Matti  approached  him and strongly  grabbed the  right  sleeve of  his
fur-lined coat.
     - Let's take a walk, - he said.
     - Where to? - Pen'kov inquired, resisting him.
     - Come on, come on,  sniper, - said Matty. - I will show you, where you
definitely struck.
     They approached the pavilion and stopped in front of the door.
     - Holy cow, - said Pen'kov.
     Sergey, saying nothing, rushed inside.
     - Natashka saw all this? - Pen'kov asked quickly.
     - Not yet, - said Matty.
     Pen'kov was feeling the edges of the hole with a cogitative expression.
     - This can't be readily sealed, - he said.
     - Yep, there is no spare pavilion on Syrt, - Matti said venomously.
     A month  ago,  Pen'kov, whilst shooting  leeches  at night, pierced the
meteo-box.  At that time he headed to Syrt and found a spare  one somewhere.
He hid the meteo-box he'd shot in the garage.
     Sergey shouted from the pavilion:
     - I think it's alright.
     - Is there an exit opening? - asked Pen'kov.
     - There is...
     A soft  hum  was heard, the roof of  the  pavilion separated and sealed
     -  I  think,  we  are  lucky,  - Sergey announced  and got  out of  the
     -  My tripod was also bent, -  said Matti. - And the  meteo-box was  so
badly wrecked that we will need to get a new one.
     Pen'kov quickly glanced at the  box and continued looking at the gaping
hole. Sergey was standing beside him and was staring at it as well.
     - I will fix the meteo-box, - Pen'kov said dolefully. - But what can be
done about this...
     - Natasha is coming, - Matti warned quietly.
     Pen'kov made a movement as though he was  about to disappear somewhere,
but only pulled his head in between the shoulders. Sergey spoke quickly:
     -  This is  a tiny  gash, Natashen'ka, but this is not  significant, we
will quickly patch it up today, and everything is safe inside...
     Natasha came close to them, looked at the gash.
     - Guys, you are swines, - she said quietly.
     Now  everyone  felt  like vanishing somewhere,  even Matti, who  wasn't
guilty of anything and was the last one to run out onto the flat when it was
all  over. Natasha entered the pavilion and turned on the light. Through the
open  door  they  could  see  how  she  is  removing  the  covers  from  the
blink-autoshutters. Pen'kov sighed, melancholically and protractedly. Sergey
said quietly:
     - I am going to park the car.
     No one answered him, he climbed into the crawler and started the motor.
Matti silently returned to his camera and,  bent in half, dragged it towards
the house. In front of the pavilion remained only Pen'kov's sombre, absurdly
cumbersome figure.
     Matti pulled the camera inside the  workshop, took off the oxygen mask,
the hood and fumbled for a long time with his  loose parka. Then, not taking
of his  snow  steppers, he sat on the table next to the camera.  Through the
window he could see, how unusually slowly,  almost on  toe-tips, the crawler
rolled inside the garage.
     Natasha left the pavilion and shut the door tight behind her. Then  she
walked  across  the ground, stopping in front  of  the  devices. Pen'kov was
trudging behind her, and, judging by all signs, was sighing, melancholically
and protractedly. The dust clouds have already settled, the tiny reddish sun
was  sitting  above  the black,  as  if  gnawed at, ruins of  the Old  Base,
overgrown by the prickly Martian haloxylon. Matti looked at  the low sun, at
the quickly darkening sky, realised that he  is  on duty tonight, and headed
for the kitchen.
     During supper Sergey said:
     -  Our  Natashen'ka is very  serious  tonight, - and gave her a peering
     - Shame on you, really, - said Natasha. She ate, not looking at anyone,
very upset and frowning.
     - Our Natashen'ka is really cross, - said Sergey.
     Pen'kov let out a melancholic and protracted sigh. Matti shook his head
     -  She  doesn't  like  us  tonight,  our Natashen'ka,  -  Sergey  added
     - I mean, really, what is all this, - Natasha spoke. - Indeed we agreed
not  to  go on  shooting  at  the observation ground. This  isn't a shooting
gallery,  after all. There  are appliances...  Had  you smashed  the  blinks
tonight, where would you go? Where would we get them?
     Pen'kov was looked at her with devout eyes.
     - How can you, Natashen'ka, - said Sergey. - How can one shoot a blink
     - We only shoot at streetlights, - Matti grumbled.
     - And you have punctured the pavilion, - said Natasha.
     - Natashen'ka! -  Serezha shouted. - We  shall bring another  pavilion.
Pen'kov will run over to Syrt and bring one. He is so robust!
     - Ah, forget you, - said Natasha. She was no longer angry.
     Pen'kov livened up.
     - Where can we shoot at her, other than on the observation ground?..  -
he began, but Matti stepped on his foot under the table, and he shut up.
     - You, Volodya, are so cumbersome, it's scary, - said Natasha. - A huge
beast the size of a cupboard, and you keep missing it for a whole month.
     -  I  am  surprised,  too,  - frankly admitted Pen'kov  and  forcefully
scratched his head. - Perhaps, the cross-sight has been dislodged?
     - Bending of the barrel, - Matti said venomously.
     - Doesn't matter guys, all these games are now over. Everyone looked at
her.  -  I  spoke to  Syrt. Today the  leeches attacked  the group  lead  by
Azizbekov, the geologists, a new construction  section and us here. All this
in broad daylight.
     - And all this to the West of and North of Syrt, - said Sergey.
     -  Yes, indeed, - said Natasha. -  I  didn't even think of that.  Well,
however it is, it has been decided we conduct a hunt.
     - That's excellent, - said Pen'kov. - Finally.
     -  Tomorrow morning  there  will be  a meeting, they are recalling  the
heads  of all groups. I shall go, and  you  will be in charge, Serezha. Yes,
and  one  more thing.  We  won't  be  conducting  observations tonight.  The
administration issued orders to postpone all night-time works.
     Pen'kov quit eating and looked sadly at Natasha. Matti said:
     - I don't care, my camera is stuffed. But for Pen'kov, his program will
be ruined, if he misses a couple of nights.
     - I know, - said Natasha. - Everyone's program is being ruined.
     - What if I do it somehow, very slowly, - said Pen'kov, - out of sight.
     Natasha shook her head.
     - Don't even want to hear it, - she said.
     - And what if... - Pen'kov  started saying,  and Matti stepped  on  his
foot once more.
     Pen'kov  thought:  "Indeed,  why  waste  my  breath. Everyone  will  be
observing anyway".
     - What day is it today? - asked Sergey. He meant the day of the decade.
     - The  eighth, - said Matti. Natasha  blushed and started  looking into
everyone's eyes in succession.
     - Somehow Rybkin has taken long to come, - said Sergey,  pouring coffee
for himself.
     - Yes, that's right, - Pen'kov stated profoundly.
     - And the  hour  is a  late one, - Matti added. - The night is  drawing
close, yet Rybkin's missing still...
     - Ah! - said  Sergey and lifted his finger. The  partition door clinked
in the lobby. - It's him! - Sergey announced in solemn whisper.
     - You are silly, so silly, - said Natasha and laughed timidly.
     - Leave Natashen'ka alone, - Sergey insisted. - Don't you dare laugh at
     - Just wait till he comes, he will be laughing himself, - said Pen'kov.
     There was a knock on the  door of the  dining  room. Sergey, Matti  and
Pen'kov simultaneously placed their fingers on their lips and gave Natasha a
significant glance.
     - Well, what is it with  you? - Natasha whispered.  -  Please, somebody
     Matti, Sergey and Pen'kov shook their heads in unison.
     - Come in! - Natasha said in despair.
     Rybkin walked  in,  accurately dressed and sharp as  always,  in  clean
overalls,  a  snow-white  shirt  with  a  turn-down  collar,  shaven  beyond
reproach. His  face,  like  all  Pathfinders, created a strange  impression:
cheek-bones and forehead with pitch black  sunburn, white spots  around  the
eyes and the  lower portion of  the face, where the skin was  covered by the
goggles and the oxygen mask.
     - May I? - he said in a low voice. He always spoke in a low voice.
     - Sit down, Felix, - Natasha invited him.
     - Will you have supper? - Matti asked.
     - No, thank you, - said Rybkin. - Rather a cup of coffee.
     -  Somehow  you were late  today, -  said the straightforward  Pen'kov,
pouring  him the  coffee. Sergey  pulled a ghastly face,  and  Matti  kicked
Pen'kov under the table.
     Rybkin calmly accepted the coffee.
     -  I came half an  hour ago, -  he said, - and took a stroll around the
house. I see, you have also been visited by the leech.
     - Today we had a battle here, - said Natasha.
     - Yes, - said Rybkin. - I saw the gash in the pavilion.
     - Our  carabines suffer from  the  bending of the  barrel, -  explained
     Rybkin laughed. He had small even white teeth.
     - And have  you ever had a chance to shoot at least one leech? - Sergey
     - Most likely, no, - said Felix. - They are really hard to shoot.
     - That much I know myself, - Pen'kov muttered.
     Natasha, with her eyes to the table, was crumbing the bread.
     - Today one was shot in Azizbekov's sector, - Rybkin said.
     - You serious? - Pen'kov was amazed. - By whom?
     Rybkin laughed again.
     -  No one, in fact, - he said. He quickly glanced at Natasha. - A funny
thing - the excavator's arm came loose and squashed it.  Perhaps someone had
shot the cord.
     - Now that is a shot, - said Sergey.
     - We can do that too, - Matti said. - Whilst running, thirty paces away
straight into the light above the door.
     -  You know, guys, -  Sergey said,  - I get the impression that on Mars
all carabines suffer from the bending of the barrel.
     - No,  -  Felix  said.  - Afterwards they discovered, that  Azizbekov's
leech had taken six bullets.
     - Indeed there will be a hunt soon, -  Pen'kov said, - and  then  we'll
get them in the neck.
     - And I am not  the least happy about this hunt, -  said Matti. - Since
the beginning  of time we had it  like  that:  bang-shoot-bang,  destroy all
living creatures, and then start setting up sanctuaries.
     - What are you on about? - said Sergey. - They are a nuisance.
     - Indeed everything is a nuisance to us, - said Matti. - Lack of oxygen
is  a nuisance, excess oxygen -  a nuisance, too many  forests - a nuisance,
cut it down... Who are we, after all, that everything is a nuisance to us?
     - Was  the salad that bad? - Pen'kov said pensively. - But you were the
one who made it...
     - Now, now, don't get caught  Pen'kov, - Sergey said. - He simply wants
to start a general conversation. To get Natasha talking.
     Felix  looked  at Sergey with  attention. He had  large bright eyes and
seldom blinked. Matti laughed.
     - What if, perhaps, they are not in our way, - he said, - but we are in
     - Huh? - Pen'kov grouched.
     -  I  am  offering  a working hypothesis,  -  said  Matti. - The flying
leeches are the  indigenous intelligent  inhabitants of Mars, regardless  of
being at a low developmental  stage still.  We occupied  the regions,  where
water exists and they are inclined to expel us.
     Pen'kov looked at him with astonishment.
     - Well, then, - he said, - Possibly.
     - Everything supports my  hypothesis,  - Matti went on. - They live  in
underground cities. They  always  attack from the right - because it's their
taboo. And... umm... they always collect their wounded...
     - Well, brother... - Pen'kov said with disappointment.
     - Felix, - said Sergey, - demolish this elegant speculation.
     Felix said:
     - Such  a  hypothesis  had  already  been  advanced.  (Matti raised his
eyebrows in astonishment). Long ago. Before the first leech had been killed.
Nowadays more fascinating hypotheses are being advanced.
     - Well? - asked Pen'kov.
     -  To date, no one had explained, why leeches attack people. One cannot
exclude  the possibility, that  this  is  a  very ancient  habit. A  thought
suggests itself, what if a race of erect bipeds, in fact, inhabits Mars.
     -  Inhabit  it does,  -  said Sergey.  - Inhabits  it  for thirty years
     Felix smiled politely.
     - One can hope, that the leeches will direct us to that race.
     For a while, everyone stayed quiet. Matti looked at Felix with envy. He
always  envied people, who are faced  with  such tasks. To track the  flying
leeches -  a task captivating in itself, but when such a mission is added to
     ...Matti examined,  in his head, all interesting tasks  he had to solve
by  himself during  the  last five years. The most interesting  one was  the
construction  of a  discreet  hunter-detective  based  on  chemostaders. The
patrol camera would become a giant inquisitive eye, detecting the appearance
and  movement  of  "extraneous"  light spots in the  night  sky. Sergey  was
running across the  dunes,  flashing  his  torch from time to  time, and the
camera  would, silently and creepily, reverse behind him,  watching over his
every step... "Oh well, - Matti thought, - that was interesting, too."
     Sergey suddenly said with disdain:
     - How much do  we not know still!  (Pen'kov  stopped sipping the coffee
noisily from  his  cup and looked at him.)  And how  strongly  do resist the
endeavours  to  know! Day by  day,  decade  after  decade we walk, in dreary
trivialities  up to our necks... Messing  with electronics, plotting graphs,
writing petty  articles, reports... Disgusting! - He grabbed his cheeks  and
rubbed his  face with force. -  Right  outside the  perimeter, an absolutely
unfamiliar, foreign  world has stretched  for  thousands of kilometres.  And
it's so tempting to give this all up, and walk on, without direction, across
the desert, to look for real things... Shame on us, guys. This is a joke and
a shame,  to  sit on Mars and  see  nothing  for twenty four hours each day,
except blink's registrogrammes and Pen'kov's sad physiognomy...
     Pen'kov said mildly:
     - Why  don't  you  give it  all up, Serega.  And  off  you go.  Ask the
builders to take you in. Or, even, join  Felix. - He turned to Felix. - Will
you take him, no?
     Felix shrugged his shoulders.
     - Oh  no, Pen'kov, mate, this won't help. - Sergey, tight-lipped, waved
his light fringe. - One must be able to do something. And what can I do? Fix
blinks...  Count to  two and integrate on minor  computers. I can  drive the
crawler, but not even professionally... What else am I good at?
     - You  can  whine professionally, -  said  Matti.  He  felt awkward for
Sergey in front of Felix.
     - I am not  whining. I am angry. How self-satisfied and self-limited we
are! Just where does it come  from?  Why is it  established, that to find  a
spot  for an observatory  is  more significant than to cross the planet down
the meridian,  from pole to pole? Why is it more significant  to search  for
oil, than for mysteries? What - don't we have enough oil?
     - What -  don't you have enough mysteries? - said Matti. - I wish you'd
sit down and solve a constrained T-problem...
     - But I  don't want to solve it at all! It is boring  to  solve  it, my
poor little Matti! Boring!  I am a healthy, robust bloke,  I bend iron nails
with my fingers... Why must I peer over paper?
     He stopped talking.  The silence was heavy, and Matti thought it'd help
to change the topic, but had no idea how.
     Natasha said:
     - I don't really agree with Serezhka, but this is true - we have become
somewhat bogged down in the routine. And it gets so frustrating sometimes...
Ok, let it not  be us, let someone finally  get to work  on Mars  as  a  new
territory.  After all, this isn't an island,  not  even a  continent - terra
incognita, - this  is indeed  a planet! And we sit  here quietly  for thirty
years  and timidly  cling to water and cosmodromes. And there are so  few of
us, it's ridiculous. It is, indeed, annoying. Somewhere in the directorate a
grey-maned senior  with  a wartime past probably  sits and  keeps grumbling:
"Too early, too early".
     Having  heard the  word  "early",  Pen'kov  shivered and looked at  his
     -  Oh, far out, - he  muttered, standing up  from the  table. - I  have
already sat through  two stars here with you. -  Here he  looked at Natasha,
opened his mouth and hastily sat down again. His face  was so amusing,  that
everyone, even Sergey, laughed out loud.
     Matti jumped up and went to the window.
     -  And what a  night it is! - he said. - The image quality tonight will
probably astonish you. - He glanced at Natasha across the shoulder.
     Felix livened up.
     - Natasha,  - he said. - If you want, I can stand guard whilst you will
be working.
     - But how will you... Don't you need to go soon... - Natasha blushed. -
I meant to say, that usually you leave us around this time...
     - What's  the use  of guarding  us? -  said  Matti. - I can stand guard
myself. My camera has been wrecked anyway.
     - I'll go get dressed then, - said Pen'kov.
     - Alright then, - Natasha gave in. -  As an amendment to  my order from
seven pm tonight.
     Pen'kov left already. Sergey also got up and without looking at anyone,
walked out. Matti started clearing the table.
     - Let me  help you,  -  Felix  offered  and accurately  rolled  up  his
     -  What's  there  to help with, - objected Matti.  -  Five  cups,  five
     He looked at Felix and stopped short.
     -  And  what's that for? -  he asked with surprise. On each of  Felix's
right and left wrists were two sets of watches. Felix said seriously:
     - This is also a hypothesis. So you will wash up by yourself?
     - By myself, - said Matti.  "Still, that Felix is a weird fellow", - he
     - Then I shall go, - said Felix and left.
     The radio  in the corner of the room  suddenly hissed, clicked,  and  a
thick tired voice said:
     - Number One, this is Syrt. Syrt calling Number One.
     Matti yelled:
     - Natasha! Syrt is calling.
     He came to the microphone and said:
     - Number one listening!
     - Call the head of the group, - said the voice from the speaker.
     - One minute.
     Natasha ran in, her parka undone, with an oxygen mask on her chest.
     - This is the group leader, - she said.
     -  Confirming the  directive once more, - said the  voice, -  the night
works are called off. The Warm Syrt is surrounded by leeches. I repeat...
     Matti was listening and  drying the plates. Pen'kov and  Sergey  walked
in. Matti observed with interest, how their faces grew long.
     - ...Warm Syrt is surrounded by leeches. Is that clear?
     - Loud  and  clear,  -  said Natasha with  disappointment.  -  Syrt  is
surrounded by leeches, all night works are called off.
     - Good night, - the voice said, and the speaker stopped hissing.
     - Good night, Pen'kov, - said Sergey and began unbuttoning his parka.
     Pen'kov  did  not respond. He was  standing in  the door, small, solid,
with a disproportionately big carabine at his foot.
     - How will you go? - said Matti.
     Felix made a gesture with his fingers, showing how he'd walk.
     - You are nuts, - said Matti.
     Felix smiled with surprise.
     - What is it with you, really?
     - Did you listen to the radio? - Natasha said quickly.
     -  Yes,  I have,  -  said Felix.  - But I  am not  subordinate  to  the
commander of Syrt. After all, I am a Pathfinder.
     He pulled the mask over his face,  lowered the goggles, waived his hand
in a glove and walked out. Everyone looked at the door, dumbfounded.
     - How can this be? - Natasha said, perplexed. - Truly, he will be eaten
     Sergey suddenly jumped from his spot, and doing up his parka, ran after
     - Where to?! - shouted Natasha.
     - I will give him a ride! - Sergey  responded, running, and slammed the
     Natasha ran after him. Matti caught her hand.
     - Where are  you going, what for? - he  said calmly. - Serezha made the
right decision.
     - And  who let him?  - Natasha asked in a heated tone. - Why doesn't he
     - Somebody had to help the fellow, - Matti reasoned.
     They felt a minor vibration of the floor. Sergey drove the crawler out.
Natasha sank onto a chair, clasped her hands.
     - It's alright, - said Matti. - He'll be back in ten-fifteen minutes.
     - And what if they lunge at Serezha, when he'll be coming back?
     - There was never  a time when a leech would attack a vehicle,  -  said
Matti. - Anyhow, Serezha was only too happy to go...
     They sat and waited. Matti suddenly thought, that Felix Rybkin had come
to  visit them at the observatory at night  about ten times already  and had
always left this late.  And the  leeches are  found at  Syrt every night.  A
brave guy, that Felix, Matti thought. A weird guy. However, not at  all that
weird. Matti looked at  Natasha. The means of courting,  perhaps,  are a tad
strange: a timid siege...
     Matti looked out the window. In black emptiness only sharp non-blinking
stars could be seen. Pen'kov entered, carrying a stack of papers, announced,
not looking at anyone:
     - Well, who shall help me plot the graphs?
     - I can, - said Matti.
     Pen'kov  began  settling  noisily  at  the  table.  Natasha  sat,  back
straight, listening  intently.  Pen'kov, having laid  out his  papers, spoke
with agitation:
     - This turns out to be a really interesting moment, guys! Do you recall
Degas' law?
     - We recall, - said Matti. - Secant to the power of two thirds.
     -  No  such secant  to the power of two thirds  on Mars! - Pen'kov said
triumphantly - Natash', check this out... Natasha!
     - Leave her alone, - said Matti.
     - How come? - Pen'kov asked in a whisper.
     Natasha jumped up.
     - Coming! - she said.
     - Who? - asked Pen'kov.
     The  floor  under their  feet trembled,  then  all  became  quiet;  the
partition door clinked. Sergey came in,  peeling  the  frosted  mask off his
     - Such a freeze - it's horrible! - he said cheerfully.
     - Where were you? - Pen'kov asked, bewildered.
     - Driving Rybkin to Syrt, - Sergey said.
     - What  a champ, - said Natasha. - You  are such a  champion, Serezhka!
Now I can sleep easy.
     - Good night, Natashenka, - the boys said discordantly. Natasha left.
     - Why didn't you take me with you? - Pen'kov said grudgingly.
     The smile vanished from Sergey's face.  He came to the  table, sat down
and shifted the papers aside.
     - Listen, guys,  - he said in a low voice. - I couldn't, in fact,  find
Rybkin  anywhere. Drove all the way  to Syrt, beeped,  flashed the lights  -
didn't see him at all. As if he dropped through the ground.
     Everyone kept quiet. Matti came to the window  again. It seemed to him,
that somewhere around the Old Base  a faint  light is  moving slowly,  as if
somebody is carrying a torch.

     At seven o'clock in the morning  heads of all groups and sectors in the
Warm Syrt system gathered in the cabinet of the system's director, Alexander
Fillipovich Lyamin. Altogether, around twenty-five people came, and everyone
sat around a long low  table used  at meetings. The fans and  ozonators were
set at full  power.  Natasha  was  the only female in the  cabinet. She  was
seldom invited to general meetings and many of  those attending did not know
her. She was looked upon  with well-wished  interest. Natasha heard  someone
saying to another in a hoarse whisper: "I'd have shaved, had I known".
     Lyamin asked, without getting up:
     - First question, comrades, outside today's schedule.  Had everyone had
breakfast? I can ask for preserves and hot chocolate to be brought here.
     -  Isn't there anything  nice,  Alexander  Fillipovich?  -  inquired  a
full-bodied crimson-cheeked man with bandaged hands.
     The room rumbled noisily.
     - There isn't anything special,  - Lyamin replied and sorrowfully shook
his head. - Unless you care for processed chicken...
     Voice were heard:
     - You are right,  Alexander Fillipovich! Let  them bring it! We had  no
chance to eat!
     Lyamin waived to someone.
     -  It will  be  brought  in a  moment, - he said and  stood  up.  - Has
everyone come?  - He  looked around  those present. - Azizbekov...  Gorin...
Barabanov...   Nakamura...   Malumyan...   Natasha...   Van...   Can't   see
Jefferson...  Oh, here, sorry... And where is  Opanasenko?.. Is there anyone
from the Pathfinders?
     - Opanasenko is in a raid, - a low voice said, and Natasha  saw Rybkin.
For the first time she was seeing him unshaven.
     -  In a  raid?  -  said Lyamin,  -  Alright  then, let's begin  without
Opanasenko. Comrades, as you know, during the  last weeks the flying leeches
have become active. In the last two days, an absolute outrage had begun. The
leeches started attacking during the day. Luckily, we had no casualties, but
a number of heads of  groups  and sectors  requested decisive measures to be
applied. I want to  stress, comrades, that leeches - are an old problem. All
of us here are fed up with them. We argue about them too much unnecessarily,
sometimes  we  even  fight  about  them,  the field  groups, evidently,  are
hindered greatly  by these beasts, and generally, it is time to come to some
final decision about them, leeches that is.  Basically, we have come up with
two points of view on this matter. The first one - an immediate round-up and
destruction  of  leeches  as  far  as  it  is  feasible.  The  second one  -
continuation of the passive defence policy as a palliative measure, up until
such time when the colony gains sufficient strength. Comrades, - he held his
arm  to  his chest, -  I ask  you  now  to  speak  out individually,  in  no
particular order. However, please, try to avoid personal comments. We really
don't need them. I know, that all of us are tired, irritated and everyone is
frustrated  with something. But I cogently ask you  now to forget everything
besides  the importance of today's business. - His eyes  narrowed.  -  Those
particularly hotheaded will be removed from the meeting regardless  of their
     He sat down. Immediately  a tall, extremely  thin man, his face spotted
from sunburn,  unshaven,  with inflamed eyes, stood  up. This was director's
deputy in the construction area, Victor Kiryllovich Gaidadymov.
     - I do not know, - he began, - how long your hunt will last - a decade,
a  month, perhaps half a year. I do not know, how many people  you will need
for the hunt - evidently, this will be the best people, perhaps all of them.
I do not know, finally, if  anything useful will result from  this hunt. But
this is what I know well  and believe it  to be my duty to bring it  to your
attention. Firstly,  due  to the hunt, we will have to postpone the erection
of residential quarters. And, by the way, in two months  time we are getting
reinforcements, whilst the  settlement crisis can be felt already.  On  Warm
Syrt I  have no opportunity to allocate rooms even to those who are married.
Incidentally, whilst this won't  make  our foreign friends  proud, they  are
overly concerned with this matter. But this is irrelevant. Secondly, because
of the  hunt  the  construction  of  the  building materials  plant  will be
delayed. What the building materials plant means  in our situation, you must
understand already. I won't even mention the greenhouses and conservatories,
that we will not get even this summer, because of the hunt. Thirdly, this is
the most  significant  thing. The hunt will mistime the construction  of the
regenerative  plant.  In a month  the  autumn storms  will  begin  and  this
construction will have to be abandoned. -  He clenched his teeth, closed and
then opened his eyes. -  You  know, comrades, we  are all hanging on  a fine
thread here. Perhaps I am revealing some  administrative secrets, but forget
that,  after  all: we  are  all  mature  and  experienced people. The  water
resources underneath  Warm Syrt are expiring. They  have, in  fact, expired.
Already we are  delivering water from twenty-six kilometres away, using sand
tanks.  (At the table there was noise and movement,  someone shouted: "Where
were you looking before?!") If we don't finish the regeneration plant by the
end  of the month, then this autumn we will end up on starvation rations and
during winter we will have to shift Warm Syrt two hundred kilometres away. I
have finished.
     He sat down  and downed a glass  of cold chocolate  in  one go. After a
minute's pause Lyamin said:
     - Who is next?
     - I am, - someone said. A small bearded man in dark glasses stood  up -
the head  of  the repair  workshops,  Zakhar  Josefovich  Puchko. -  I agree
totally with Victor Kiryllovich, - he removed his glasses and looked  around
the table weak-sightedly. - Somehow everything we do comes out so childishly
-  a  hunt,  bang-bang-oh-ah-oh... And  I am going to  ask you:  using what,
exactly, are  you going to  chase the leeches? Perhaps,  atop a  magic wand,
hey? Just now Victor Kiryllovich had  very well explained: we  use the  sand
tanks to carry water over. And what tanks they are? They are a disaster, not
tanks. A quarter of  our vehicle inventory is standing at our workshops with
no one to repair them. Those, who know how to fix them don't wreck them, and
those able  to wreck them, cannot fix them. Treating tanks as if they  are a
fountain pen  - chucked  one out and bought a new one. Natasha, I had a look
at your crawler. One must try hard  to bring the vehicle  into such a state!
One could think, you run through the walls on it...
     - Zakhar, Zakhar, closer to the topic, - said Lyamin
     - I just want to say this. I know these hunts, know them well. Half the
vehicles will remain in the desert,  the other half  will, perhaps, crawl to
me, and I will be told: fix  them. And what will I be fixing them - my feet?
I  don't have enough hands. And  so  it will begin. Puchko  this and  Puchko
that. Puchko  imagines, that it's not the workshops for the benefit of Syrt,
but Syrt for  the  benefit  of the workshops. I  will  begin  asking comrade
Azizbekov for people,  and he won't give them to me. I will start asking for
people from comrade Nakamura -  forgive  me,  from mister Nakamura, - and he
shall say, that his program is being ruined as it is...
     - Closer to business, Zakhar, - Lyamin said impatiently.
     - Closer to business will  begin, when we  shall have no vehicles left.
Then we  will  be  carrying  food and water  on  our humps over  one hundred
kilometres, and then I will be asked: "Puchko, where  were you when the hunt
took place?"
     Puchko put his glasses on and sat down.
     - Things are crap, - someone muttered.
     Natasha was sitting, dumbstruck. Gosh, what sort of a foreman am I, she
thought. Indeed  I knew none of this, and  could not even suppose, and  even
criticised them for being bureaucratic...
     - Allow me, - a soft voice was heard.
     - Senior areologist of our system, Livanov, - said Lyamin.
     Livanov's  face was also covered by  spotty sunburn, a  broad  squarish
face with dark, closely positioned eyes.
     - The objections towards the hunt, expressed here, - he spoke, - appear
quite meaningful and  significant to  me.  (Natasha  looked  at  Gaidadymov.
Gaidadymov was sleeping, his  head  slumbered infirmly  on  his  arms.)  And
nevertheless, the hunt must be conducted. Here are some statistical figures.
During  the thirty years  of  human  presence  on  Mars  the  flying leeches
committed  over fifteen hundred registered attacks  on people. Three persons
were killed, twelve were  disfigured. The population of the Warm Syrt system
combines a thousand two hundred people, out of whom eight hundred people are
constantly engaged in the field and,  consequentially, are permanently under
threat  of attack. Up  to a quarter of  scientists are compelled  to perform
security tasks  causing detriment  to  government  and individual scientific
plans. But  that's not all. Beside moral  damages,  the  leeches are causing
quite significant  property  damage. During  the last five  weeks alone, and
only  with  areologists,  they  have   irreparably  destroyed  five   unique
installations and damaged twenty-eight valuable devices. It is evident, that
this cannot continue. The leeches are placing the entire scientific progress
of the  Warm  Syrt system under threat.  My  intentions do not, in  any way,
include the desire for diminishing the importance of considerations advanced
here by  comrades Gaidadymov and Puchko. These considerations were addressed
during the production of round-up plan, which I have here to be presented to
the meeting on behalf of areologists and Pathfinders.
     Everyone roused and became still again. Gaidadymov shuddered and opened
his eyes. Livanov continued in a well-paced tone:
     - Observations have shown, that the apex of leeches distribution in the
area around Warm  Syrt happens to  be the zone of the so-called "Old Base" -
marked point 211 on the map.  The operation  begins one hour before  dawn. A
group of forty  well-trained shooters in  four sand  tanks with  a three-day
food  supply  occupies the "Old  Base". Two groups of beaters, approximately
two  hundred  men in  each  one, -  in tanks  and  crawlers disperse into  a
skirmish line from the following areas: first group - one hundred kilometres
west  of Syrt, the second group -  one hundred kilometres north of Syrt.  At
one hundred  hours both groups  commence slow advance towards northeast  and
south, respectively,  in  transit causing  as  much noise  as  possible  and
exterminating the  leeches trying  to break through the line. Moving  slowly
and  methodically, both groups  join flanks,  displacing the leeches  to the
"Old  Base" sector. In  this  manner,  the entire  mass of  leeches  will be
localised in the sector of the "Old Base" and destroyed. That is part one of
the plan. I would like to hear possible queries and objections.
     - Gradually and  methodically  - that's  all well, - said Puchko. - But
still, how many vehicles will be required?
     - And people, - said Gaidadymov. - And days.
     -  Fifty vehicles, four  hundred and  fifty  people  and a  maximum  of
seventy-two hours.
     - How do you intend to exterminate the leeches? - Jefferson asked.
     - We  know very little about the  leeches,  -  Livanov  said.  - At the
moment we can rely on two means only: toxic bullets and flamethrowers.
     - And where shall you get these?
     -  The bullets can be easily  toxinized, whilst with the flamethrowers,
we are building them based on pulp-monitors.
     - Building already?
     - Yes.
     - A good plan, - said Lyamin. - What do you think, comrades?
     Gaidadymov stood up.
     - I do not  object to such a plan, -  he said.  - Just try not to  take
away my builders. And please excuse me now.
     There was a shuffle around the  table. "A great plan, no doubt!" - "And
where will you get sharp-shooters?" - "They will turn up! It's the  builders
we are short of, the shooters we will have plenty!" - "Hey, we will have fun
     -  I  have not yet finished, comrades,  -  Livanov  said. - There is  a
second part of  the plan.  Evidently, the Old Base territory is hollowed out
by cracks and caverns, through which the leeches come up to the surface. And
there, no doubt, must be a heap of subterranean  hollows. When the loop will
close and we finish off all the leeches, we can either cement these caverns,
cracks and tunnels,  or continue pursuit  below the ground. In both cases we
are in dire need of the Old Base blueprint.
     -  No, we shouldn't  give any thought to underground pursuit, - someone
said. - It is way too dangerous.
     - Well, it would have been interesting, - mutter a pink chubby man with
bandaged hands.
     -  Comrades, we will finalise that question after the conclusion of the
round-up, - said Livanov. - At the  moment we need the blueprint of the  Old
Base. We have contacted the  archives, but the  blueprint  was not there for
some reason. Perhaps one of the old-timers has a plan.
     A lot of people at the table were exchanging puzzled looks.
     - I cannot understand, - an old bony areo-surveyor said with annoyance.
- What blueprint are we talking about?
     - About the plan of the Old Base.
     - The Old  Base was built fifteen  years  ago, right before my eyes. It
was a cement dome, and it had none of the caverns and cracks. However, I had
to fly to Earth, perhaps it was built in my absence.
     Another areo-surveyor said:
     - By the way, the Old Base is  not  located at point 211, but at  point
     - Why 205? - Natasha said. - It's point 211! This is to the west of the
     -  What  does  this  have  to  do with  the  observatory?  -  The  bony
areo-surveyor  became  absolutely  furious. - The Old Base is located eleven
kilometres south of Warm Syrt...
     - Wait, wait! - Livanov shouted. - We are  contemplating  the Old Base,
located at point 211, three kilometres to the west of the observatory.
     - Ah! - the bony areo-surveyor said. - Then, what you have in mind, are
the Grey Ruins - the remains of the original settlement. Norton try  to  set
up over there, I think.
     A commotion went up.
     - Quiet, quiet! - Lyamin said and tapped his hand on  the table. - Stop
arguing. We  must clarify, does anyone  know anything about the  Old Base or
the Grey Ruins, whichever you  like, in  other  words, the elevation  marked
     Everyone  stayed  quiet.  No  one  liked  to  visit  the  ruins of  old
settlements, plus there wasn't time.
     -  In  other  words,  no  one knows, - Lyamin said. -  And  we have  no
     - I can provide  a reference, - said the director's secretary, also his
deputy. Also the archivist for the  scientific section. - This "Old Base" is
some  sort  of  nonsense.  This  base  isn't  marked  on  Norton's  reported
sketch-maps, then  it  appears  at  point  211, and two  years  later on  an
official report  memo  signed by Vel'yaminov, who was seeking  permission to
investigate  the ruins of the "Old  Base",  the then head  of the expedition
Yurkovski  personally deigned to inscribe, - the secretary raised a yellowed
sheet of paper above his head: - "Couldn't understand anything. Learn how to
read the  map  properly. The  mark is not 211, but 205. Permission  granted.
     Everyone laughed in surprise.
     - May I suggest, - Rybkin said in a low voice.  Everyone looked at him.
- We can go to point 211 right now and draw sketches of the "Old Base".
     -  Why, that's right, - Lyamin said. - Whoever has  the time  - can  go
there.  Comrade Livanov is appointed as  the senior. The meeting will resume
at eleven o'clock.

     It  was around six kilometres on the straight between Warm Syrt and the
Old Base. They departed there in two sand tanks. There  were many volunteers
- more than came  to the meeting - and Natasha decided to  take her crawler.
The tanks, roaring and clattering, rolled to the outskirts of Syrt. To avoid
the  dust,  Natasha turned the crawler  around.  Driving  past  the  central
meteo-tower, she  suddenly  saw  Rybkin.  The  tiny  Pathfinder walked  at a
habitual fast pace,  his hands resting  on  a long carabine,  hanging on his
neck. Natasha pressed the breaks.
     - Felix! - she yelled. - Where are you off to?
     He stopped and came to the crawler.
     - I decided to walk, -  he said,  looking calmly at her from  below.  -
There was no space for me.
     - Jump in, - Natasha said. She suddenly felt  at ease with Felix, quite
unlike at night, in the observatory. Felix  effortlessly climbed onto a seat
next to her,  removed  the carabine off  his neck and  placed it between his
knees. The crawler took off.
     - I  was really scared yesterday night, when you left alone, -  Natasha
admitted. - Did Sergey find you quickly?
     - Sergey? - He looked at her. -  Yeah... reasonably quickly. That was a
smart idea.
     They  stayed  quiet. Half a kilometre  to  the left  the  tanks  moved,
leaving in their wake a thick motionless cloud of dust above the desert.
     - It was an interesting meeting, right? - Natasha said.
     - Very  interesting, -  Rybkin said.  -  And there is something strange
with the Old Base.
     - I have gone there  with  the guys, - Natasha  said. - When  they were
still building our observatory. Nothing special. Cement blocks,  all cracked
up, grown over by haloxylon.  You also think, that the  leeches  crawl  from
under there?
     - I am  certain of it, - Rybkin  said. - There is a huge leeches' nest,
Natasha.  Right under the  hill there is  a giant  cavern. And, possibly, it
connects  to  other  underground  hollows.  Although  I  never  found  these
     Natasha looked at  him, terrified. The  crawler swerved. On the  right,
from behind  the dunes,  the observatory appeared.  On the  observation deck
stood Matti, tall like a mast, waiving his  hand. Felix waved back politely.
The domes and buildings of Old Syrt disappeared behind the near horizon.
     - Aren't you afraid of them? - Natasha asked.
     - I am, - Felix said. - Sometimes, Natasha, I get scared to  death. You
should  see,  what  size jaws they have. But, they  are  even bigger cowards
     - You know  what, Felix, - Natasha said, staring straight ahead of her,
- Matti says, that  you are  a strange person. I  also think, that you are a
very strange person.
     Felix laughed.
     -  You  are flattering me, - he  said. -  To  you,  naturally, it seems
strange, that I always come to you at the observatory late at night, just to
drink coffee. But I cannot come during the  day. I  am busy during  the day.
And I am almost always  busy in  the evening. And when I have spare  time, I
always come to you.
     Natasha felt that she is starting to blush. But the crawler was already
at the  foot of a  flat  hill, the  same one which was displayed as a curved
oval marked 211 on areographic maps. On top of the hill, amongst uneven grey
boulders people where rummaging already.
     Natasha parked  the  crawler away  from the  sand tanks  and turned the
engine  off. Felix was  standing below,  looking at  her  seriously with  an
outstretched hand.
     - No need, thanks, - Natasha muttered, but leaned on his hand anyway.
     They walked amongst the ruins of the Old Base. Strange ruins they were:
looking at  them,  it  was  impossible  to  understand,  what  the  original
appearance, or at least, the structural layout looked like. Fractured  domes
supported by hexagonal  foundations, collapsed galleries, stacks of  cracked
cement blocks. All this was thickly covered by  Martian burr and lay sunk in
sand and  dust. In a few spots  under the  grey arches  shadowy clefts gaped
open. A few lead down somewhere, into deep, impenetrable darkness.
     Above the ruins rose a flurry of voices.
     - Yet another cavern! No amount of cement will ever be enough!
     - What an idiotic layout!
     - And what do you expect from the Old Base?
     - Burrs, so many prickly burrs! As if we are in a salt-marsh...
     - Willy, don't go there!
     - It's empty, nobody there...
     - Comrades, let's start the filming, finally!
     - Good morning there, Volodya! We started a while ago...
     - Look, here are footprints from boots!
     - Yes, someone must visit here... Over there, too...
     - Pathfinders, probably...
     Natasha looked at Felix. Felix nodded.
     - It was me, - he said.
     He suddenly stopped, squatted and began examining something.
     - Here, - he said. - Have a look, Natasha.
     Natasha leaned over. Out of a crack in the cement hung  a fat haloxylon
stem with a tiny flower on the tip.
     - So  cute! -  she said. - And I didn't even know  that the  burr plant
bears flowers. It is so pretty - red with blue...
     -  The burr plant flowers very rarely,  - Felix  said slowly. -  It  is
known, that it flowers once every five Martian years.
     - We are lucky, - Natasha said.
     - Every time, when a flower drops, in its spot a new shoot sprouts, and
where the flower used to be, a shiny ring is formed. Like this one, see?
     - Interesting, -  Natasha said. - This means, it can be calculated, how
old this haloxylon is... One... Two... Three... Four...
     She stopped and glanced at Felix.
     - It has eight rings, - she said hesitantly.
     - Yes, - said Felix. - Eight.  The flower - is the ninth. This crack in
the cement is eighty Earth years old.
     - I don't understand, - Natasha said and suddenly realised. - Does this
mean, that this base is not one of ours? - she spoke in a whisper.
     - Not ours, - Felix said and stood straight.
     - You knew about this! - Natasha said.
     - Yes, we know about this,  - Felix said. - This building was not built
by  people. This isn't  cement. This  isn't simply a  hill. And leeches  are
attacking erect bipeds for a reason.
     Natasha looked at him for  several seconds, and then turned and shouted
out loud:
     - Comrades! Over here! Quickly!  Everyone come  here! Look!  Look, what
there is! Here!

     The  Warm  Syrt  system director's office  was filled to capacity.  The
director was drying his bald patch with a  handkerchief and waiving his head
in a daze. Areologist  Livanov,  having lost composure and correctness,  was
shouting, at the top of his lungs, trying to speak above the noise:
     -  This is simply mind-boggling! Warm Syrt exists for six years. During
these six years no one figured out, what here is and isn't ours. Nobody even
cared to take any interest in the Old Base!
     - What is there to be interested in? - Azizbekov was  yelling. - I have
passed it twenty times.  Ruins like any other  ruins.  Haven't  the original
settlers left enough ruins behind?
     - But I was  there two years ago! I had look - and I saw a rusted track
from a crawler. I looked at it and went on my way.
     - Is it laying there still?
     - What's there  to even talk about? In  the  centre of the Base,  since
time immemorial, stands a trigonometrical sign. Perhaps, the Martians placed
it there too?
     - The Pathfinders have simply embarrassed  themselves, it's shameful to
look at them now!
     - How come, now? After all, they discovered it!
     The head of the Pathfinders group, Opanasenko, who arrived only  a  few
minutes ago, massive, broad-shouldered, grinning, was  fanning his face with
a folded map and saying something to  the director. The director was shaking
his head.
     Puchko, stepping on everyone's feet,  was  making his way to the table.
His beard was messed up, he was holding his glasses high above his head.
     - Because there is quiet bedlam happening in this system! - he screamed
in a high-pitched voice. - Soon the Martians will  come to me  and ask for a
tank or a crawler to be fixed, and will go  and fix it! I already had cases,
when unfamiliar people come and ask for  repairs! Because I can  see - there
are some unfamiliar people walking around the city! I don't know, where they
come from, and I  don't know where they go off to! And,  what  if, they come
from the Old Base and go away to the Old Base!
     The commotion inside the office suddenly died.
     -  Perhaps, you would like an example  - my  pleasure! One such comrade
has  been  sitting  here  with us since  morning! I  am  talking about  you,
     Puchko pointed at Felix Rybkin with  his glasses. The office burst  out
laughing. Opanasenko said in an echoing bass voice:
     - Come on, Zakhar, this is our Rybkin.
     Felix shook his  head, scratched it at the back and  looked at  Natasha
     - And so what, that this  is  Rybkin? - Puchko shouted.  - And how do I
know, that he is Rybkin? That's what I am talking about, its necessary, that
everyone be known... - he waived his hand and started climbing to his seat.
     The director stood up and loudly banged a pencil on the desk.
     - Enough now, enough, comrades, - he said sternly. - We had our fun and
that's it.  The discovery, which  the Pathfinders have  made,  represents an
enormous interest, but that's not why we have assembled. The plan of the Old
Base  is available now. We shall begin the round-up in three days. The order
regarding the round-up  will be issued this evening.  I  am informing you in
advance, that  the head of the round-up group is Opanasenko, with Livanov  -
as his deputy. And now  I urge  everyone, besides my deputies, to leave this
office and proceed to your workplaces.
     There was only one door in  the office and it emptied out slowly. A jam
occurred in the doorway.
     - A radiogram for the director! - someone shouted.
     - Pass it along!
     A folded sheet  floated  above the  heads. The director,  arguing about
something  with Opanasenko, received it and spread it open. Natasha  saw him
grow pale, and then blush.
     - What happened? - Opanasenko said deeply.
     -  This is insane, - the  director  said with despair. -  Yurkovski  is
arriving here tomorrow.
     - Volodya? - Opanasenko said. - That's good!
     - Volodya to some, -  the director  said  with quiet  despair, -  and a
chief  inspector  of  the   International  board  of  cosmic  communications
<IBCC> to others.
     The director read the radiogram once more and sighed.

     A  soft whistle of the  alarm  woke  up  Yura at  exactly eight in  the
morning ship's time. Yura raised himself on an elbow and looked at the alarm
angrily. The  alarm waited a little and  whistled again. Yura moaned and sat
up on the bunk.  No, I won't read at  night  any more, he thought. Why is it
that at night one never feels  sleepy,  and in the  morning one  experiences
such torment?
     It was cool, even cold inside a cabin. Yura clutched his bare shoulders
and cluttered his teeth. Then  he put his  feet  on the floor and walked out
into  the corridor. The  corridor was  even colder, but there stood  Zhilin,
mighty, muscular, wearing only briefs. Zhilin was exercising. For some time,
Yura stood,  clutching  his  shoulders,  and  watched  how  Zhilin  did  his
exercises.  In  each  hand Zhilin  held a ten-kilogram dumbbell. Zhilin  was
conducting  a  fight  with his shadow.  His  shadow  was in  trouble. A wind
rustled around the corridor, stirred by awesome blows.
     - Good morning, Vanya, - Yura said.
     Zhilin turned immediately and soundlessly and with sliding steps  moved
towards Yura, rhythmically swaying his  whole body. His face was serious and
composed. Yura assumed a fighting stance. Then Zhilin lowered the  dumbbells
to the floor and jumped into the fight. Yura jumped at  him, and grew hot in
a few  minutes. Zhilin was  beating him with  painful  snaps of  a semi-open
palm.  Yura hit him on the forehead three times, and  every time a smile  of
content  appeared  on Zhilin's  face. When Yura became  soaked,  Zhilin said
"Break!" - and they stopped.
     - Good morning, probationer, - Zhilin said. - How did you sleep?
     - T-th... a-ank... you, - Yura said. - A-all... right.
     - In the shower! - Zhilin ordered.
     The shower  room was small, fitted out for one person,  and beside  the
door Yurkovski was already standing with  a squeamish  grin, in a superb red
and gold robe, with a  colossal  fluffy  towel  across the  shoulder. He was
speaking through the door:
     - In any case... err... I remember very well, that Krayukhin refused to
ratify that project back then... What?
     From  behind  the  door,  sounds  of water  streams,  splashing  and an
undiscernible high tenor were barely audible.
     - I cannot hear anything, - Yurkovski said with indignation. He  raised
his voice. - I was saying, that Krayukhin sidelined this project, and if you
are  going  to write,  that  this was a  historical error,  then you will be
right... What?
     The shower room  door unclosed and from within, still continuing to dry
himself,  came  out  the  navigator  of  "Takhmaseeb",   Michael  Antonovich
Krutikov, pink and energetic.
     -  You  were  saying  something  just  then,  Voloden'ka,   -  he  said
kind-heartedly. - But I couldn't hear anything. The water is very noisy.
     Yurkovski looked at him with  regret, walked into the shower and closed
the door behind him.
     - Lads, he didn't  get  cross, did  he? - Michael  Antonovich  inquired
anxiously. - Somehow, it seemed to me that he became cross.
     Zhilin shrugged his shoulders, and Yura said hesitantly:
     - I reckon, it's nothing.
     Michael Antonovich suddenly yelled:
     - Oh, oh! The porridge will be boiled to pulp!  - and ran quickly  down
the corridor to the galley.
     - I hear, we are arriving on Mars today? - Yura said.
     - Such a rumour  had passed, - Zhilin  said. - However, at thirty-three
ahead  on  course a ship  had been detected, flying a Gay Roger  flag, but I
suppose  we will dodge them. - He suddenly stopped and listened attentively.
Yura  also  listened  in. The  water  was  flowing abundantly in  the shower
cubicle. Zhilin's nostrils fluttered. - I sense it, - he said.
     Yura focused on the scent as well.
     - It's the porridge, no? - he asked, unsure.
     - No, - Zhilin said. - The unpaired phasal cyclotron is playing pranks.
Awfully naughty, that unpaired phasal cyclotron.  I sense, that I shall have
to tune it today.
     Yura  looked at him with doubt.  It could  be a joke, but could also be
true. Zhilin possessed an amazing ability for sensing mechanical faults.
     Yurkovski vacated the shower  room.  He glanced  majestically at Zhilin
and even more majestically at Yura.
     - Er.. - he said, -  cadet and lieutenant.  And  who is on galley  duty
     - Michael Antonovich, - Yura said bashfully.
     -  This means porridge,  again, - Yurkovski said with a grand  air  and
walked to his cabin.
     Yura followed  him with a  glance full of  rapture. Yurkovski astounded
his imagination.
     - Ah? - Zhilin said. - The thunderer! Zeus! Ah? Go on and wash.
     - No, - said Yura. - You first, Vanya.
     - Let's go together, then. What are you  going to hang around here for,
by yourself? We'll squeeze in somehow.
     After  the shower  they  got  dressed  and  appeared at  the ward-room.
Everyone was  sitting at  the  table  already, and  Michael  Antonovich  was
distributing  the porridge on the  plates. Upon seeing Yura, Bykov looked at
his watch and then back at Yura. He  did it each morning. Today no reprimand
     - Sit down, - said Bykov.
     Yura sat at his place  - next to  Zhilin and across from the captain, -
and Michael  Antonovich,  with  a kind  look, presented  Yura with porridge.
Yurkovski was eating  porridge  with visible distaste  and was reading  some
thick bound typewritten report, having laid it on a bread basket in front of
     - Ivan,  -  Bykov  said,  -  the unpaired  phasal  cyclotron is  losing
calibration. Take care of it.
     - Alexey Petrovich, I will  take care of it,  - Ivan said. - During the
last few voyages all I do is taking care  of it. Either  the  design must be
changed or a duplicate cyclotron must be installed.
     -  The design needs to  be  changed, Aleshen'ka,  - Michael  Antonovich
said. - All  this had become obsolete - the phasal cyclotrons, and  vertical
reaming,  and  tele-pacers...  Now,  I remember,  we travelled to  Uranus on
"Khius-8"... in two thousand and one...
     -  Not in two thousand and one, but  in  ninety-nine, - Yurkovski said,
engrossed in the report. - Some memoirist...
     - And I think... - said Michael Antonovich and stopped to think.
     - Don't you listen to him,  Michael, - Bykov said.  - Whose business is
it anyway, when this all happened?  The main thing is  - who navigated. What
they navigated in. How they navigated.
     Yura stirred in his seat  slightly. A traditional  morning conversation
was initiating. The  warriors recalled the days  of old. Michael Antonovich,
in preparation for his retirement, was writing memoirs.
     - What do  you  mean? - Yurkovski said, lifting his eyes away from  the
typescript. - And the priority?
     - What priority, exactly?
     - My priority.
     - Why do you all of a sudden require priority?
     - I think, that it is very enjoyable to be ... err... the first one.
     - But what use being the first holds for you? - Bykov wondered.
     Yurkovski thought for a while.
     - Honestly, I do  not know, - he said.  - It's  just a nice feeling for
     - Personally, I am totally indifferent to it.
     Yurkovski, smiling condescendingly, waived an index finger in the air.
     - Is that so, Alexey?
     - Perhaps it  is not such a  bad  thing, to  be  the first one, - Bykov
said,  -  but  to bend  over backwards to be  the first one - is an immodest
task. For scientists, at least.
     Zhilin winked at Yura. Yura  interpreted it as follows: "Take a note of
     - I don't know, I don't know, - Yurkovski said, making a  demonstrative
return  to his  report.  - In  any  event,  Michael  is  bound to  adhere to
historical facts.  In  the  year ninety-nine,  an expeditionary group  under
Daugeh  and Yurkovski  for the first time  in  the  history  of  science had
discovered and explored with detonating  probes a so called  amorphous field
at the northern pole  of Uranus. The successive exploration of the field was
conducted a year later.
     - By whom? - Zhilin asked with great interest.
     - I cannot recall, - Yurkovski said  absent-mindedly. - Perhaps, it was
Lecrois.  Michael...  can we  perhaps... er... vacate  the table?  I need to
     The  sacred  hours  when  Yurkovski  was  working  were about to begin.
Yurkovski always  worked in  the  ward-room.  He  was  used to  it.  Michael
Antonovich and Zhilin went to the command post. Yura wanted to follow  them,
it was fascinating to watch  them tune the  unpaired phasal cyclotron, - but
Yurkovski stopped him.
     - Err... cadet, - he said,  - I hope you won't  find it too difficult -
please bring me the organiser from my cabin. It's lying on the bunk.
     Yura  went to get the organiser. When he returned, Yurkovski was typing
something on  a portable  electronic  typewriter,  carelessly  flinging  the
fingers of his left hand  across the keys. Bykov  was already sitting at the
usual spot, in a large personal chair; next to him on a table heaved a large
stack of  newspapers and  magazines.  On Bykov's nose  sat  a  pair  of  big
old-fashioned glasses. At first, Yura was confounded when looking at  Bykov.
On  board the  ship  everybody worked. Zhilin  was fine-tuning the drive and
control systems daily, Michael Antonovich  was computing and recomputing the
course,  feeding  additional  commands into  the  cyberpilot,  completing  a
comprehensive textbook and somehow managing  to leave time  for his memoirs.
Yurkovski  kept reading some  kind of  bulky reports, receiving and  sending
countless  radiograms, deciphering and  encoding  something on an electronic
typewriter,  late  into  the  night.  And the  captain of the  ship,  Alexey
Petrovich Bykov was reading  newspapers and magazines.  Once a day, however,
he kept a regular watch. But all the other time he would spend in his cabin,
or  in  the ward-room. This shocked  Yura. After three days he couldn't hold
back  and  asked Zhilin, what  is the captain needed for on  their ship. "To
preserve  responsibility, - Zhilin  said. - If,  say,  someone  gets  lost".
Yura's face grew long. Zhilin laughed and said: "the captain answers for the
entire organisation of the  flight. Prior to the voyage he  doesn't  have  a
single spare  minute. Have you noticed what  he is reading? These newspapers
and magazines  date  two months  back". - "And during  the  flight?"  - Yura
asked. They were standing in the corridor and have not noticed how Yurkovski
came  to  them. "During  the flight  the  captain is  only required  when  a
catastrophe occurs, - said Yurkovski with a strange smirk. - And  then he is
needed more, than anyone else is".
     Yura,  walking  on tiptoes,  laid the  organiser beside  Yurkovski. The
organiser looked  splendid, as  did  everything  Yurkovski possessed. In the
corner of  the organiser a golden plaque  reading "IV International Congress
of Planetologists. 20.HII.02. Conakry." was inserted.
     -  Thank  you,  cadet,  - Yurkovski said, leaned back in  his chair and
looked reflectively at Yura. - Why  don't you sit down and have a small chat
with me, an old man,  - he said softly. - Because in  ten minutes  they will
bring  radiograms and the daily carousel will begin. - Yura sat down. He was
immeasurably happy.  - Right before I talked about  priority, and, I  think,
flew into passion a  little. Indeed, what  does one name mean in an ocean of
human efforts, amongst the storms of human thought,  in grand ebbs and  lows
of  human  intellect?  Just  think,  Yura, hundreds of people  in  different
corners of the universe collected the necessary information for us, the duty
officer at  Sat-five,  weary,  with  eyes  red  from  insomnia, received and
encoded it, other assistants programmed the transmission equipment, and then
someone else yet will push the start button, the giant reflectors will stir,
searching for  our vessel  in space, and  a powerful quantum, saturated with
information, will leap off the tip of the antenna and head into space in our
     Yura was listening, his gaze fixed. Yurkovski continued:
     -  Captain Bykov is, undoubtedly, right. One's own name on a map should
not  mean a great deal to a genuine man. One must relish their  success with
modesty, when one is alone. And with friends one  must share only the joy of
exploration,  the joy of a chase and a deadly struggle. You know, Yura,  how
many people there are on Earth? Four  billion! And each  one of  them has  a
job. Or is chasing something. Or searching. Or fighting to death. Sometimes,
I  try  to imagine these four billion all at once.  Captain Fred Dolittle is
piloting a  passenger liner, and one  hundred megametres  before landing the
main supply  reactor fails, and  Fred Dollittle's head  turns grey  in  five
minutes, but he puts on a big black beret, goes to the  ward-room and laughs
together with his passengers, the  same  passengers, who will never know any
of this  and shall depart from the cosmodrome the next day and will once and
for  all  forget the very name of Fred Dolittle. Professor Kanayama  devotes
his entire life  to  the  creation  of stereosynthetics,  and on one hot and
humid  morning  he is found dead in a chair at the laboratory desk, and  who
out of the hundreds of millions, that shall wear the amazingly beautiful and
durable clothes  made from  stereosynthetics  of  professor  Kanayama,  will
remember his name. And Yuri  Borodin, working in extremely tough conditions,
will  be erecting the  residential domes on small rocky Rhea, and one can be
sure,  that none of the future occupants of  these domes shall ever hear the
name of Yuri Borodin. And you know what, Yura, it is really fair. Since Fred
Dolittle has also forgotten the names of his passengers, whilst they are now
preparing to for a  deadly storm landing on  an  alien planet. And professor
Kanayama has never seen those, who wear the clothes made with his fabrics, -
but these  people fed him  and clothed  him whilst he  was working. And you,
Yura, will probably never find out about the heroism of scientists, who will
settle  in the domes, that you shall build. Such  is the world we are living
in. A very fair world.
     Yurkovski  finished talking and looked at Yura with such an expression,
as if  waiting for Yura  to undergo a change  for the best immediately. Yura
stayed quiet. This was called "chatting with an old man". Both of them liked
these chats. There  wasn't  anything  new  for Yura in  these conversations,
naturally, but  he was always left  with an impression of something enormous
and  bright.  Probably, the  source  lay  in  the  very  image of the  great
planetologist - somehow he was all scarlet and gold.
     Zhilin  walked into the ward-room, placed the radiogram reels in  front
of Yurkovski.
     - The morning mail, - he said.
     -  Thanks, Vanya, - in  a relaxed  voice said  Yurkovski.  He picked  a
random  reel, inserted it into the machine and  switched on the decoder. The
machine rapped feverishly.
     -  Here  we are, - Yurkovski  said in the same relaxed voice, pulling a
sheet  of  paper out  of  the  machine. - The program on Ceres has not  been
completed again.
     Zhilin  grabbed Yura firmly on the  wrist and lead  him to the  command
room. Behind them Yurkovski's voice was gaining amplification:
     - He must  be  removed, for hell's  sake,  and  be  given a position on
Earth, let him become a museum tour guide...
     Yura  was  standing behind  Zhilin's  back  and watched  how the phasal
cyclotron was being tuned. I cannot understand  any of this, he thought with
gloom. And I shall  never understand.  The phasal  cyclotron was part of the
combined  reflector  controls  and  served to  measure  the  density of  the
radiation stream  of the  reflector's  functional  scope. The  tuning of the
phasal cyclotron  was monitored via  two  displays.  One each screen  bluish
sparks and  curved  lines  flashed and  slowly extinguished. Sometimes  they
merged into  a single luminescent cloud,  and  Yura would  think that all is
lost  and the tuning must be  started from scratch,  but Zhilin  kept saying
"Excellent.  And  now another  half  of  a degree".  Then  everything really
started again.
     Two steps  behind  Yura, Michael  Antonovich  was  sitting on  a stand,
writing  memoirs.  Sweat poured in  beads down his face. Yura  knew already,
that the archive section of the International Board of Cosmic Communications
compelled  Michael  Antonovich  to  write  his  memoirs. Michael  Antonovich
diligently scraped  the  paper with  a  stylus,  rolled  his  eyes,  counted
something on his fingers and, from time to time, launched into singing happy
songs in a  sad voice. Michael Antonovich was a kind soul,  rare to find. On
the very first day  he gave Yura a bar of chocolate and asked him to  read a
part of the composed memoirs. He accepted the criticism of candid youth with
great anguish,  but ever  since  Yura was  considered  to be an undisputable
authority in the sphere of memoirical literature.
     - Listen to  this, Yurik, - he called out. - And  you, Vanyusha, listen
as well.
     Michael Antonovich coughed to clear his voice and began reading:
     "I  met captain Stepan  Afanasievich Varshavski  on the sunny and azure
shores of  Tahiti for the first time. Bright stars shimmered above the great
boundless, or  pacific, ocean.  He  approached me  and  asked  for  a smoke,
calling  to  witness  the  fact  that  he  forgot  his  pipe at  the  hotel.
Unfortunately, I  did not smoke, but this had not prevented us from striking
a conversation and find out more about  each other. Stepan Afanasievich made
the most delightful  impression on me. This  happened to be the nicest, most
charming person. He  was very kind, intelligent, with the broadest range  of
interests.  I  was amazed  at the  depth of  his knowledge. His  sympathetic
treatment of people, to me seemed extraordinary at times..."
     - Not bad, - said Zhilin, when Michael Antonovich stopped and looked at
them demurely.
     - I  was only attempting to present a portrait of that superb person, -
Michael Antonovich said.
     - Well, it isn't bad, - Zhilin repeated, watching the displays closely.
- How  does it go: "Above the  sunny and azure  shore stars  were shimmering
brightly". Very refreshing.
     -  Where? Where? - Michael Antonovich  asked hastily. - I mean, this is
only a typing error, Vanya. Come on, don't joke like this.
     Yura was stressing  his  brains, thinking of something  to pick  on. He
really wanted to uphold his reputation.
     - I  have read  your  script  before, Michael  Antonovich,  -  he  said
finally. - Right now I won't touch upon the literary side of the matter. But
why are they all so delightful and superb? I mean, they really  must be nice
folk, but it is impossible to discern them from one another.
     - That is  quite right,  - Zhilin said. -  Out of all  people,  captain
Varshavsky clearly  stands  out.  How  does he  usually  say it? "Dinosaurs,
scoundrels, sad lazy asses".
     - No, I am sorry Vanyusha, - Michael Antonovich said with dignity, - he
never said anything like this to me. A most polite and cultured person.
     -  Tell me, Michael Antonovich, - Zhilin said, - what  will be  written
about me?
     Michael  Antonovich  became confused.  Zhilin  turned his back  to  the
controls and looked at him with great interest.
     - Vanyusha, I wasn't  planning  to...  -  Michael  Antonovich  suddenly
livened up. - Hey, that's an idea, boys! Although, I will write one chapter.
It shall  be  the conclusive chapter. I will call  it accordingly: "The last
voyage". And in  it I  will write, how  we are  flying  together  now,  both
Alesha,  and  Volodya  and  you, boys. Yes,  that's a good idea - "The  last
     And Michael Antonovich returned to his memoirs again.
     Having  successfully  finished another  round of  tuning  the  unpaired
phasal cyclotron, Zhilin invited Yura  to go down into the engine pit of the
vessel - to the base of the photon reactor. The base  turned out  to be cold
and uncomfortable.  Zhilin unhurriedly began his  daily  check-up. Yura  was
walking slowly  behind  him,  hands deep inside  his pockets, trying not  to
touch the frosty surfaces.
     - This is so cool, - he said enviously.
     - What exactly? - Zhilin asked.
     He  was  throwing  open  and  banging shut some clinking  lids, shifted
translucent  covers,  behind  which a tangle of  microchips  was  glittering
cabalistically,  activated  tiny  screens,  on  which  bright  impulse  dots
appeared, skipping across the web of  coordinates, thrust his  strong nimble
fingers into  something  unimaginably complex, multicoloured,  flashing, and
did it all so casually  and smoothly, without  thinking,  and so deliciously
well, that Yura  immediately wished  he could change professions and  govern
the giant  organism  of this imagination-sweeping  photon  wonder,  just  as
     - It's mouth-watering, - Yura said.
     Zhilin laughed.
     - Seriously, - said Yura.  I don't know,  perhaps for you all  this is,
surely, routine and habitual, perhaps you are even sick of it, but it's cool
anyway. I like it  when there is a huge complex mechanism - and just one man
next to it... The master. It's fantastic when man is master.
     Zhilin clicked  something, and on the rugged wall six screens lit up in
a rainbow.
     - Man is master for a long time already, - he said, looking closely  at
the screens.
     - You probably must be proud, that you are so...
     Zhilin deactivated the screens.
     Perhaps, - he said. - I  am glad,  proud  and so on and so  forth. - He
proceeded further along the frosted control panels. - I, Yurochka, have been
a master for ten years already, - he said in a somewhat strange tone.
     - And you are... - Yura wanted to say "sick of it", but kept quiet.
     Zhilin was unscrewing a heavy lid, immersed in thought.
     - The main thing! - he said all of a sudden. - In any life, like in any
undertaking, the main  element is -  to  determine the  main  element.  - He
looked at Yura. - Let's not talk about it today, ok?
     Yura  nodded quietly. "Oh-oh-oh, - he thought. - Is Ivan really sick of
it?  It must probably be awfully  hard, when you  have been  doing something
that you love for ten years  and then, suddenly, it turns out  that you have
lost the passion for it. It must feel so miserable, I guess. But somehow  it
doesn't look like Ivan is miserable..."
     He looked around and said, to change the topic:
     - There must be ghosts around this place...
     -  Shhh! - said Zhilin fearfully  and also  looked around. - There  are
heaps  of them.  Right here,  -  he pointed at the  dark passage between two
panels, - I have found... just don't tell anyone... a little baby bonnet!
     Yura started laughing.
     - You ought to  know, - Zhilin continued, - that our "Takhmaseeb" -  is
quite an old ship. It had been on many planets, and on each planet the local
ghosts came on board. In droves. They hang around the ship, moan, groan, get
stuck in the  controls, and  disturb the  phasal  cyclotron operation... You
see,  they  are  really  annoyed by the spirits of bacteria,  killed  during
disinfective sessions... And we have no way to get rid of them.
     - You should try holy water on them.
     - I've  tried, - Zhilin  waved  his  hand,  opened  a large  cover  and
descended his lower body into it. - I have tried everything, - he  said with
an echo from inside the shaft. - Both the regular holy water, and deuterium,
and tritium water.  Doesn't impress them. But  I have an idea how to do away
with  them. - He climbed out of the shaft, sealed the membrane and looked at
Yura with serious  eyes. - "Takhmaseeb" must  jump through  the  Sun. Do you
understand?  There  was never a  case  of a ghost that could  withstand  the
temperature of  a thermonuclear reaction. Jokes aside, haven't you seriously
heard about my intersolar craft project?
     Yura shook his head. He could  never determine  the moment, when Zhilin
quit joking and began talking seriously.
     - Come on, -  said Zhilin, taking him by the hand. - Let's go upstairs,
I will tell you in detail.
     At the top of the stairs, however, Bykov had caught Yura.
     - Probationer Borodin, - he said, - follow me.
     Yura  sighed dolefully and  looked  at  Zhilin. Zhilin made a  slightly
noticeable helpless gesture. Bykov lead Yura into the  ward-room and sat him
at the table opposite Yurkovski. The most unpleasant lay ahead: two hours of
compulsory  studies in metal physics. Bykov resolved that a probationer must
use his flight time wisely and set Yura to study the theory  of welding from
day  one.  Frankly  speaking, it was not  altogether  tedious, but  Yura was
besieged by the  thought of himself, an experienced worker, being forced  to
study  like a school novice.  He did not dare protest, but studied with much
     It was much more interesting to observe Yurkovski work.
     Bykov  returned  to his chair and for a few  minutes watched,  how Yura
turns  the  pages  without enthusiasm,  and  then  opened another newspaper.
Yurkovski suddenly stopped  tapping on his electric typewriter and turned to
     -  Have  you heard  anything about  the statistics  on  outrageous work
     - What outrages?
     -  I meant, the outrages... err.. in  space.  The number of disgraceful
conduct and unlawful acts rises sharply  when  moving away from Earth, peaks
around the asteroid belt and then declines at the outer limits of...  err...
the solar system.
     - It's not surprising, - Bykov  grumbled, without lowering the paper. -
You yourselves  have permitted  all  kinds of  cheapskates,  such  as "Space
Pearl" to rummage around asteroids, so what exactly do you expect now?
     - We have permitted? - Yurkovski became irritated.  - Not us, but these
London dimwits. And now they don't know themselves, what is to be done...
     - You are the chief inspector, you are calling the shots, - Bykov said.
     Yurkovski peered silently over the papers for some time.
     - I am going to  get these b-bastards! - he said suddenly  and went  on
generating typewriter noises.
     Yura knew already, what the special  voyage  17 was about. Around  some
parts  of  the giant network of outer space settlements, spanning the entire
solar  system,  things were going  astray, and the  International  Board  of
Cosmic Communications decided to end this at once  and, where possible, once
and for  all.  Yurkovski was the  chief  IBCC  inspector  and had  seemingly
unlimited authority. He  had the right to  demote, issue warnings, chastise,
dismiss, make appointments, even use force, apparently, and judging by every
sign, was inclined to do it all. From shreds of conversations  and from that
which  Yurkovski  read  out  loud,  it  followed,  that  the  photon-powered
spacecraft "Takhmaseeb",  following a brief stop-over on Mars shall continue
through the  asteroid  belt,  stay  in  the  Saturn system, fly over-sun  to
Jupiter, and travelling  through the  asteroid belt  again, shall  return to
Earth. Exactly  over which heavenly bodies the menacing shadow of  the chief
inspector was  hanging, Yura still have  not understood.  Zhilin  only  told
Yura, that "Takhmaseeb" will land Yura on Iapetus,  and from there the local
communication vessels will transport him, that is, Yura, onto Rhea.
     Yurkovski stopped making typewriter noises once again.
     - I am really concerned by the scientists around Saturn.
     - Uh-uh, - was heard from behind the newspaper.
     - Can you  imagine, they  still haven't managed to get  going... err...
and, at last, initiate their program.
     - Uh-uh.
     Yurkovski said angrily:
     - Please do not imagine, that I am concerned  over this program because
it is mine...
     - I am imagining nothing.
     -  I think, I  will  have  to  give  them  a  push-start,  -  Yurkovski
     - Well then, we are off to a good start, - said Bykov and turned over a
newspaper sheet.
     Yura  felt,  that  this  whole  conversation  -  both  Yurkovski's  odd
nervousness  and  Bykov's  deliberate indifference  -  carries  some  double
meaning. It seemed,  that  chief  inspector's boundless authority  still had
limits somewhere. And that Bykov  and Yurkovski knew  these limits perfectly
     Yurkovski said:
     - I say,  isn't it time  for  dinner? Cadet,  could  you  possibly cook
dinner using the vacuum method?
     Bykov said from behind the paper.
     - Stop interfering with our work.
     - But I want to eat! - Yurkovski said.
     - You will survive, - said Bykov.

     At four  o'clock in  the morning Felix Rybkin said:  "It's  time",  and
everyone started getting ready. Yura  pulled two pairs of downy socks on his
feet,  lent to him by  Natasha,  heavy fur-lined pants,  which Matti gave to
him, clipped the battery belt above the pants and stepped into the high  fur
boots. Felix's Pathfinders, gloomy and sleepy,  drank hot coffee in a hurry.
Natasha was running to the kitchen and back, carrying sandwiches, hot coffee
and thermal flasks.  Someone asked for hot chicken soup - Natasha rushed  to
the kitchen and brought the soup.  Rybkin and  Zhilin were squatting in  the
corner  of  the room  over a flat  open case, from which the  shiny tails of
rocket grenades  were  protruding. The rocket launchers were brought to Mars
by  Yurkovski. Matti, for the  final time,  was checking the heating element
inside a jacket intended for Yura.
     The  Pathfinders drank their  fill of coffee  and silently proceeded to
the exit, pulling the oxygen masks over their faces with habitual movements.
Felix and Zhilin lifted the case with grenades and also headed out.
     - Yura, are you ready? - Zhilin asked.
     - Hang on, wait, - replied Yura.
     Matti  helped  Yura  array  himself  into  the  jacket  and  personally
connected the heating elements to the batteries.
     - Now run outside, - he said. - Or you will start sweating.
     Yura shoved his hands into mittens and ran after Zhilin.
     It  was completely dark  outside. Yura crossed the observation deck and
went down to the  tank. Here, in  the dark, people were talking quietly, the
clinking of  metal against metal could  be  heard. Yura bumped into someone,
From the darkness advice  came to put  his on the specs. Yura advised not to
get in the way.
     - You are funny fellow, - he was told from the darkness. -  Put on your
heat sensor goggles.
     Yura remembered about the infrared  goggles  and  pulled them over  his
eyes. It didn't improve  things a great deal,  but  now Yura  could  vaguely
distinguish the silhouettes of people and the wide stern of the tank, heated
by the nuclear  reactor. At first  Yura was handing boxes  over, but then he
resolved, that there might not be enough space in the tank, and then he will
be  left at the observatory for sure. He quietly moved close to the tank and
climbed onto the stern. There, two  people in  hoods pulled over  their very
noses were taking the boxes in.
     - Who the devil is this? - one of them asked kindly.
     - 'Tis me, - Yura responded.
     - Ah,  the capital-city boy? - the other said. - Go in  the back, start
pushing the boxes under the seats.
     "The  capital-city  boy" was the  name given to  Yura by local welders,
whom he helped last night  to install the  rocket launcher turrets in  tanks
and demonstrated the latest vacuum-welding methods in rarefied atmospheres.
     In the back  of  the  tank the  temperature  remained  at  eighty-three
degrees  below  zero,  and the  heat sensor goggles didn't  help.  Yura  was
enthusiastically  dragging the boxes across  the  thudding floor and  groped
around to shove  them  under the seats. Then there was  nothing to haul. The
reticent Pathfinders started climbing over tall starboard and began settling
down, clanking  their  carabines. Yura's  feet were painfully stomped over a
few times and somebody  pulled the hood right over his eyes. From the  front
of the  cabin shocking  creaking was heard - it appeared,  Felix was testing
the turret. Then someone said:
     - Here they come.
     Yura peeked  over the starboard with care.  He saw the grey wall of the
observatory and projector beams, gliding across the observation deck.  These
were the  three approaching tanks  of the central group.  Felix's voice said
     - Malinin!
     - Here, - called out the Pathfinder, sitting next to Yura.
     - Petrovsky!
     - Here.
     - Homeriki!
     Having finished the roll call  (Yura's  and Zhilin's  surnames  weren't
called out for some reason), Felix said:
     - Let's go.
     The sand tank "Mimicrodont"  grumbled  its engine, clanked, and listing
heavily, started to climb uphill maintaining its speed. Yura was looking up.
The stars were invisible - shrouded by dust. There was absolutely nothing to
look at. The tank was jolting mercilessly. Yura was being  constantly thrown
off  his coarse seat, bumping  against the same sharp rough  parts. Finally,
the Pathfinder sitting next to him asked:
     - Hey, why are you jumping around all the time?
     - How would I know? - Yura said grumpily.
     He grabbed onto some rod, sticking out of the wall, and things became a
little  easier. From  time to time, amongst the clouds of  dust hanging over
the tank, the  projector lights flashed, and then against the lit background
Yura would  see  the  black turret  ring  and a  long  barrel  of the rocket
launcher, craned up into the  sky.  The Pathfinders were  conferring amongst
     - I visited those ruins yesterday.
     - And how was it?
     - I was disappointed, frankly speaking.
     - Yes, the architecture appears strange only  at first glance, and then
you get the feeling that you have already seen it somewhere.
     - Domes, parallelepipeds...
     - Exactly. Just like Warm Syrt.
     - Because it never occurred to anyone, that it isn't ours.
     - Not surprising... After the wonders of Phoebus and Demos...
     - Personally, I find this particular similarity quite odd.
     - Has the data been analysed?
     Yura  felt uncomfortable, bumpy  and  somewhat  isolated.  Nobody  paid
attention  to  him.  The  people seemed alien, indifferent.  A  savage frost
blistered his  face. Into the tanks bottom  below his feet fountains of sand
from under the tracks were  pounding with brutal force. Zhilin was somewhere
close by, but he could neither be seen nor heard. Yura even felt some grudge
against him. He wished the sun would rise sooner, and it would become bright
and warm. And that the jarring would stop.
     Bykov let  Yura off on Mars with great reluctance,  and  under Zhilin's
personal  supervision.  Bykov  himself  stayed  on  the  ship  with  Michael
Antonovich  and  was now circling along with Phoebus at a distance  of  nine
thousand  kilometres above Mars. Where Yurkovski was at the moment, Yura had
no idea. Perhaps, he was also taking part in the round-up.
     They  could  have  at  least  given  be a carabine,  Yura  thought with
dejection. I have, in fact, welded the turrets for them.
     Everyone around  him carried carabines, and probably  felt so calm  and
relaxed because of that.
     Indeed, it's part of human nature to be thankless and indifferent, Yura
thought  bitterly. And more  so with age. If  only  our fellows  were  here,
everything  would  be the other way. I would have a carabine,  I would  know
where we are going and why. And I would know what I need to do.
     The  tank stopped completely. The projector lights,  rushing across the
clouds, lit everything up.  Everyone  became  silent in the cabin, and  Yura
heard an unfamiliar voice:
     -  Rybkin, proceed to  the  western  slope. Kuzmin  -  to  the eastern.
Jefferson, stay on the southern.
     The tank started moving again.  The projector beam fell into the cabin,
and Yura saw Felix, standing at the turret with a radiophone in his hand.
     - Move into position with  the starboard facing west, - Rybkin told the
     The tank  tilted heavily, and  Yura spread  his elbows, in order not to
slide to the bottom.
     - Now, that's good, - Felix said. - Move her forward  a bit. The ground
is more even there.
     The tank stopped again. Rybkin spoke into the radiophone:
     - Rybkin is in position, comrade Livanov.
     - Good, - Livanov said.
     All  Pathfinders were standing,  looking over  the  sides.  Yura looked
also. Nothing could be seen, except thick dust  clouds, descending gradually
in the lights of the projectors.
     - Kuzmin is in position. However, there is some tower adjacent to us.
     - Go lower.
     - Understood.
     - Attention!  - Livanov said. This time he spoke through a loudspeaker,
and his voice rolled in a thunder  across the desert.  - The round  up  will
begin in a few minutes. There is  one hour before sunrise. The  beaters will
arrive here in half an hour. Turn on the howlers in thirty minutes. Shooting
is permitted. I have finished.
     The Pathfinders stirred. The appalling  grind  of the  turret was heard
anew.  The  sides of the  tank  bristled  up  with carabines.  The  dust was
receding, and people's  silhouettes  waned slowly, blending  into the  night
darkness. The stars became visible again.
     - Yura! - Zhilin called softly.
     - What? - Yura said grumpily.
     - Where are you?
     - Here.
     - Come here, now, - Zhilin said sternly.
     - Where? - Yura asked and climbed towards the voice.
     - Here, to the turret.
     In the back  lay  a great  abundance of boxes. Just where did they come
from?  -  Yura  thought.  Zhilin's  powerful  hand gripped his  shoulder and
dragged him underneath the turret.
     - Sit here, - Zhilin said strictly. - You will be helping Felix.
     - But how?  -  Yura  asked.  He was still upset,  but  getting over  it
     Felix Rybkin said quietly:
     - Here are the boxes with grenades, - he  flashed his torch. - Lift the
grenades one by one, remove the cap from the tail section  and  pass them to
     The Pathfinders were talking amongst themselves.
     - Can't see a thing.
     - It is very cold tonight, everything has cooled down.
     - Yes, the autumn is coming soon. The temperature is low each day...
     -  I, for instance, can see some dome up there against the stars, and I
am aiming at it.
     - What for?
     - It's the only thing that I can see.
     - Can we sleep also?
     Above Yura's head Felix said quietly:
     - Guys, I am watching the  east side.  Don't shoot just yet,  I want to
test the weapons.
     Yura  immediately picked  up  a  grenade and took  off  the cap. A dead
silence fell for a few minutes.
     - Natasha is a really great girl, don't you think? - someone whispered.
     Felix made a motion. The turret squeaked.
     -  She shouldn't cut her hair that short, - someone responded  from the
western side.
     - What do you know...
     - She looks like my wife. Except her hair is shorter and lighter.
     - I wonder, why is Serezhka so  slow? Such a dashing fellow, this isn't
like him.
     - What Serezhka?
     - Serezhka Belyi, the astronomer.
     - Married, I guess.
     - No.
     - They all like her a lot. Just as  friends. She is exceptionally nice.
And smart. I know her from Earth a bit.
     - No wonder you made her run around to get you chicken soup.
     - And what's the big deal?
     -  It  simply  wasn't nice. She  worked  the whole  night, then  cooked
breakfast for us.  And then, all of a  sudden, it  hits you to  ask  her for
chicken soup...
     - Sh-h-h!
     In an instantly formed silence, Felix said quietly:
     - Yura, would you like to see a leech? Look!
     Yura  stuck his  head out immediately. At  first he only saw the  black
jagged  silhouettes  of the  ruins.  Then  something moved  soundlessly over
there.  A long limber  shadow rose above the towers  and  undulated  slowly,
covering and exposing  the bright stars. The  turret  squeaked again and the
shadow froze. Yura held his breath. Now, he thought. Now. The  shadow coiled
up, as if folding in, and at the same moment the rocket launcher fired.
     A long  hissing sound was heard, sparks gushed, a fiery trail stretched
to  the hilltop, something  burst  with a boom,  flashed radiantly,  and the
silence set in again.
     - Who made the shot? - the loudspeaker roared.
     - Rybkin, - Felix said.
     - Got it?
     - Yes.
     - Alright, good luck, - the loudspeaker boomed.
     - The grenade, -  Felix  said quietly. Yura hastily shoved a grenade in
his hand.
     -  This is cool, -  one  of the Pathfinders  said with envy. - Right in
     - Yeah, this is no carabine.
     - Felix, and how come they didn't give them to all of us?
     Felix replied:
     - Yurkovski only brought twenty-five units.
     - Pity. It's a sound weapon.
     All of a sudden there was shooting on the eastern side. Yura was waving
his head with excitement, but couldn't see anything. Above the ruins, hissed
and  burst a rocket, launched  from some other tank.  Felix fired  one  more
     - The grenade, - he said loudly.
     The cannonade, with short intervals, lasted  about twenty minutes. Yura
couldn't  see  anything. He was handing up one grenade after another.  There
was now shooting from each side of the tank. Felix was swinging the launcher
on the turret with  a horrible grinding noise. Then the  howlers came  on. A
harsh dreary wail floated  across the desert. Yura's  teeth  ached and heels
itched. The shooting stopped, but it was impossible to talk.
     It was rapidly  getting  sunnier. Yura could now  see  the Pathfinders.
Almost  all  of them were sitting; backs against the wall, ruffled up,  with
hoods  pulled  down  tightly. On the bottom  stood  open plastic crates with
shreds of  torn  colourful  cellophane, discarded  bullet shells  and  empty
magazines lay  in abundance.  Before Yura,  on a crate, Zhilin was  sitting,
holding a carabine between his knees. On his exposed cheeks a layer of frost
silvered delicately. Yura stood up and looked at the Old Base. Grey corroded
walls, prickly bushes, rocks. Yura was  disappointed.  He  expected  to  see
piles  of smoking  corpses.  Only after looking  more closely, he noticed  a
yellowish  wrinkled  body,  stuck in  a  gorge amongst  the burr,  and  also
something shining wetly and obscenely on one of the domes.
     Yura  turned and looked into  the desert. The desert  was grey  under a
dark purple sky, covered by grey ripples of dunes, dull and barren. But high
above an  even  horizon Yura  saw  a  bright  yellow streak, tufted, jagged,
stretching  across the whole of the  western edge of the sky. The streak was
spreading rapidly, growing, turning brighter.
     - The beaters are  coming! - someone yelled, barely audible in the wail
of sirens.
     Yura realised, that the bright  yellow  streak above  the horizon is  a
dust cloud, stirred by the chase. The sun was rising toward the beaters, red
stains of  light fell  upon the  desert, and then suddenly the  massive  red
cloud cloaking the horizon lit up.
     - The beaters, the beaters! - Yura yelled out.
     All of the horizon - straight ahead, to the right, to the left - became
covered  with  black  dots.  The  dots  were  appearing  and  vanishing, and
appearing again  on crests of distant dunes. One could see already, that the
tanks  and crawlers were advancing at maximum speed  and each was dragging a
long puffing  dust  train.  Along  the entire  horizon  glared  bright rapid
flashes, and it  was  not clear  - were they  the gun shot  flashes, grenade
explosions, or just simply the sun sparkling off the windscreens.
     Yura was kicked in the side, and he sat down, stumbling, on top of  the
crates.  Felix Rybkin was dashingly turning his long grenade launcher on the
turret.  A  few  Pathfinders  rushed to the  left  plank. The  beaters  were
approaching swiftly. Now they were just five-seven kilometres away, at most.
The horizon became completely shrouded, and one could  see, that in front of
the beaters, a smoky line full of flashes is  rolling down  the  desert. The
loudspeaker roared, drowning the sirens wail:
     - Fire into the desert! All firepower into the desert!
     People began shooting from the tank.  Yura watched, how Zhilin's  broad
shoulders shudder  after each  shot,  watched  the white  flashes  above the
starboard,  and still couldn't figure out, where they are  shooting, and who
they  are shooting at.  Felix smacked him  on the  hood, Yura quickly handed
over a grenade and ripped the cap  off  the next one. The sirens wailed with
stolid determination, the shots blasted, and everyone was very busy,  and no
one could be asked,  what is going on. Then Yura  saw, how a long red jet of
fire,  resembling a  spit,  leaped off one tank  and plunged into the  dusty
streak in front of the beaters. Then he understood. Everyone was shooting at
that dusty streak: the leeches were there. And the streak was approaching.
     From  behind the hill,  stern afront, Kuzmin's  tank rolled out slowly.
The tank has not yet  stopped, when its  hatch flew open,  and a giant black
tube drew out. The tube began tilting toward the sky, and when it froze at a
forty-five  degree  angle, Kuzmin's Pathfinders scattered  across the sides,
like peas from a pod, and climbed under the tracks. Thick black fumes poured
from  the  cabin,  the pipe expelled  a colossal  tongue  of  flame  with  a
drawn-out  wheeze,  after which  clouds  of  dust  enveloped  the  tank. The
shooting stopped for a minute. On  a dune  crest, about three hundred metres
away, not  making great sense, billowed a bushy mushroom cloud  of smoke and
     Felix smacked Yura over the hood again. Yura  handed up two grenades in
straight  succession and turned to look at Kuzmin's  tank. Through the dust,
he could  see how the Pathfinders were straining  to pull  the pipe from the
cabin. It even seemed to Yura, that he  can hear  muffled curses through the
roar and cracking of the explosions.
     The  smoky streak, inside which lights  of explosions glared,  advanced
closer  and  closer. Then finally,  Yura could see.  Leeches resembled giant
greyish-yellow tadpoles.  Nimble, incredibly agile  despite their size,  and
probably, ample weight, they rapidly leaped out of  the dust cloud, soared a
few  tens  of metres through the air, and disappeared into  the dust  again.
Right behind them, almost on their tail, skipping across  the dunes, charged
square  tanks and  tiny crawlers, sparkling with flashes of explosions. Yura
bent over for more grenades, and when he straightened out,  the leeches were
quite close already, flashes  of volleys disappeared, the tanks slowed down,
people were jumping  out onto cabin  roofs and waving their hands,  and then
from somewhere  on the  left, double  passing  Kuzmin's vehicle, a sand tank
leaped out  at an insane  speed and shuffled through and through  the  thick
pack of leeches. Its passenger bay was empty. Right down its  path a  second
empty tank leaped out of the dust, a third one followed it, and then nothing
could be made out in the yellow, impenetrably thick dust.
     - Stop the fire! - the loudspeaker roared.
     - Crush  them! Crush them! -  the loudspeakers  echoed on the  beaters'
     The dust obscured everything. Twilight fell.
     - Watch out! - Felix yelled and bent down.
     A  long  dark  body  flew over the  tank.  Felix  straightened out  and
abruptly  swung  the  rocket  launcher  in the  direction  of the Old  Base.
Suddenly the sirens  went  out, and  immediately  the  rumbling  of tens  of
engines, clanking  of  tracks  and shouting became  audible.  Felix was  not
shooting any  more. He was slowly shifting the launcher, first to the  left,
then to  the right.  From  the dust  appeared a  small number of people with
carabines. They ran to the tank, and hastily climbed aboard.
     - What happened? - Zhilin asked.
     - Our crawler flipped, - someone answered quickly.
     Another said, after a nervous laugh:
     - Slow and methodic movement.
     - Total mess, - the third one said. - We have no idea how to wage war.
     The rumbling of engines grew close, past them two tanks crawled, slowly
and unsurely. Behind the tracks of the last one, something formless, covered
with dust, was being dragged.
     An surprised voice suddenly said:
     - Fellows, the sirens have actually stopped!
     Everyone started laughing and talking amongst themselves.
     - Such horrible dust.
     - As if an autumn storm has begun.
     - What shall we do, Felix? Hey, commander!
     - We'll wait, - Felix said softly. - The dust will settle soon.
     - Did we really get rid of them?
     - Hey you, the beaters, have you shot down a few?
     - Plenty for one supper, - one of the beaters replied.
     - The scoundrels, they escaped into caverns.
     - Over here only one had passed. They are afraid of sirens.
     The  dust  was  settling  gradually.  A dull  circle  of the sun became
visible, the purple sky appeared. Then Yura saw a dead leech - probably, the
same one which jumped  over the cabin. It lay  on  the  slope of  the  hill,
straight like  a stick, covered  by coarse reddish  bristles. From the  tail
towards  the head, it  distended like a funnel and Yura was  looking at  its
maw, feeling a chill down his spine. The maw was  completely round,  half  a
metre in diameter, spiked with large flat triangular teeth. One got nauseous
looking at  it. Yura  looked around  him and  saw that the dust  has  almost
settled and  there  were lots  of  tanks  and crawlers around.  People  were
jumping overboard and were walking slowly up the slope  to the  ruins of the
Old Base. The  engine noise died.  Over the hill hung a hubbub of voices and
the haloxylon, inexplicably set on fire was crackling weakly.
     - Let's go, - Felix said.
     He lifted the launcher  off the turret and climbed over the  side. Yura
was about to follow him, when Zhilin caught his sleeve.
     - Slow down, slow now, - he said. - You are coming with me, buddy.
     They got out of the tank and  started  climbing after  Felix. Felix was
heading towards a large group of people, crowding some five metres away from
the  ruins. The people stood around a cavern - a deep dark  cave, descending
steeply  beneath the ruins. At the entrance, hands placed on his hips, stood
a man with a carabine on his neck.
     - And did many... err... penetrate through, - he was asking.
     - Two leeches for sure,  - replies came from the  crowd.  -  Maybe even
     - Yurkovski! - Zhilin said.
     -  How, then, did you fail to ... err... detain them? - Yurkovski asked
with reproach.
     - Well,  they  did  not...  err... elect to  be  detained,  - the crowd
     Yurkovski said disdainfully:
     -  You  ought to  have...  err... detained  them!  -  he  took  off the
carabine. - I'll go have a look, - he said.
     No one managed to say a word, as he stooped and dived into the darkness
with  unexpected  agility.  Felix followed  him like  a  shadow.  Yura  quit
hesitating. He said: "Excuse me, comrade", - and  seized a carabine from his
neighbour. An astounded neighbour did not resist.
     - Where are you off to? - surprised Zhilin asked, looking back from the
threshold  of the cave. Yura  moved decidedly towards the cavern. - No-no, -
Zhilin pattered,  - you can't go there. - Yura, head lowered, walked at him.
- You  can't,  I  said! - Zhilin  growled and  pushed  into his  chest. Yura
flopped with  all his might,  raising plenty of dust. There was  laughing in
the crowd. Past him ran the Pathfinders, disappearing inside the cave one by
     Yura jumped up, he was enraged.
     - Let me through! - he yelled.  He jumped forward and ran  into Zhilin,
as if he were a wall. Zhilin asked in a pleading tone:
     - Yurik, forgive me, but you really shouldn't go there.
     Yura was trying to burst through in silence.
     - Well,  what  are you pushing in for? You can  see, I stayed behind as
     Hollow shooting sounds thudded in the cave.
     - See, they did fine without you and me.
     Yura  clenched  his  teeth  and  stepped  back.  He shoved the carabine
silently  to  a  freshly   recovered  beater  and  stepped  into  the  crowd
dejectedly. He felt,  that  everybody was looking at him. What a shame, what
horrible shame, he  thought. Just  short of getting  his ears tweaked.  Fair
enough, had it been one on  one  - after all, Zhilin is - Zhilin. But not in
front of everyone... He remembered, how ten years ago, he got into his older
brother's room and coloured in his prints with crayons... He wanted but  the
best. And how his older brother lead him out onto the street by the ear, and
what a disgrace it was!
     - Don't get  flustered,  Yurka,  - Zhilin said.  -  I didn't mean to. I
totally forgot, that gravity here is less.
     Yura kept obstinately quiet.
     - Come  on, stop worrying, - Zhilin said kindly, fixing up his  hood. -
Nothing  will  happen to him.  You know, Felix  is  there next to  him,  and
Pathfinders... And  I also rushed, thinking that the old fellow will perish,
but then, thanks to you, I came to my senses...
     Zhilin  was saying something  else now, but  Yura  didn't  hear another
word. I wish he'd have tweaked my ears,  he thought with desolation. Slapped
me in public, instead. A kid, snotty-faced, a disgraceful egoist! Ivan acted
rightly,  when  he  smacked me. He should have smacked me harder still. Yura
even hissed through his teeth,  feeling utterly ashamed. Ivan cared about me
and about Yurkovski, and he hasn't got any  doubt, that I was also concerned
about Yurkovski and  about him... And  I?.. When  Yurkovski  jumped into the
cave, I merely took it as permission for heroic  deeds. Not for a second did
I  think, that Yurkovski is under  threat... Idiot, I was keen to combat the
leeches and gain fame... Thankfully, Ivan doesn't know...
     - Wa-atch it! - someone yelled from behind.
     Yura stepped aside unconsciously. A crawler  climbed through the  crowd
to  the cave,  dragging  along a  trailer  with  a huge  silvery  cistern. A
metallic hose  with a strange  long tip  extended  from  the cistern.  A man
sitting in the front seat held the tip.
     - Here?  -  the  man  inquired in a  business-like manner,  and without
waiting for reply, directed  the tip of  the hose  at the cave. - Bring  her
closer, - he said to the driver. - Come on guys, move off, - he spoke to the
crowd.  - Further, further, go  further.  Come on, move it, I  am talking to
you! - he yelled out to Yura.
     He aimed the tip of the hose at the dark crevasse of the cave, but then
one of the Pathfinders appeared at the cave's threshold.
     - And what is this now? - he asked.
     The man with the hose plonked down.
     - Holy cow, - he said. - What are you doing there?
     - Hey guys, this is a flamethrower! - guessed somebody among the crowd.
     The bewildered flame thrower man scratched under his hood.
     - You shouldn't do this, - he said. - We must really be warned.
     There was such fierce  shooting  underground, that Yura  thought he saw
shreds flying out of the cave.
     - Why did you start all this? - the flamethrower officer asked.
     - It was Yurkovski, - an answer came from the crowd.
     - Which Yurkovski? - the officer asked. - Not the son, really?
     - No, peer [de France].
     One after another three more Pathfinders walked out of the cave. One of
them, upon seeing the flamethrower said:
     - This is  good. The rest  of us are coming out now and we shall really
give it to them.
     People were walking out of the cave. The last  to come out  were  Felix
and Yurkovski. Yurkovski was talking, out of breath:
     - Ok then, this tower here above us must be something akin to... err...
water tower. Quite... err... possible!  You are a champion, Felix.  - He saw
the flamethrower and stopped. - A-ah, the flamethrower! Well, then... err...
it's  possible. Permission to  work  given. - He nodded  benevolently at the
flamethrower man.
     The flamethrower man livened up, jumped of  his seat and walked  to the
threshold  of the cave.  The crowd  drew back.  Yurkovski was left  standing
alone next it to the flamethrower man, with his hands on the hips.
     - Isn't he the Thunderer, ey? - Zhilin said over Yura's ear.
     The flamethrower man took aim. Yurkovski suddenly seized his hand.
     - Hold on. Why actually...  err... is all this necessary? The surviving
leeches are long since... err... dead, and the dead ones...  errr... will be
needed by biologists. Isn't that so?
     -  Zeus,  -   Zhilin  said.  Yura  just  moved  his  shoulder.  He  was

     Pen'kov downed his  cup in one gulp, caught his  breath  and spoke with
     - Should I, perhaps, drink another cup of coffee?
     - Let me pour you one, - said Matti.
     - But I want Natasha to, - Pen'kov said.
     Natasha  poured  the  coffee for him. Outside  the window was  a  dark,
crystal clear night, the kind that often occur in  the end  of summer, ahead
of  autumn storms.  In  the dining  room corner fur jackets,  battery belts,
boots,  carabines heaved in a disorderly pile. The electric  clock above the
workshop door clicked cosily. Matti said:
     - I still cannot understand, have we exterminated the leeches or not?
     Serezha tore himself away from a book.
     -  The communique from headquarters, - he  said.  - On the  battlefield
remained  sixteen  leeches,  one  tank  and  three  crawlers.  According  to
unconfirmed facts, one more tank became  stranded in the salt-marches in the
very beginning of the pursuit, and at present could not be extracted.
     - That I know, - Matti announced. - What I am interested in, is whether
I can now walk to Warm Syrt at night?
     - You can, - Pen'kov said, puffing out the  air.  - But a carabine must
be taken, - he added, after some thought.
     - I see, - Matti said with unusual sarcasm.
     - And why, in fact,  do you need to be at Warm  Syrt at night? - Sergey
     Matti looked at him.
     - This is why, - he said ingratiatingly. - For instance, the time comes
for comrade Sergey Alexandrovich Belyi to go out for observation. It's three
a.m. and comrade Belyi, as you understand, is not at the observatory. Then I
walk  over to  Warm Syrt  to  the  Central meteostation, go up to the second
     - Laboratory Eight, - Pen'kov put in.
     - I get it, - Sergey said.
     - But how come I don't know anything? - Natasha asked grudgingly. - How
come no one ever tells me anything?
     - Somehow Rybkin hasn't come for a while, - Sergey spoke pensively.
     - Yes, indeed, - Pen'kov said with a thoughtful air.
     - The night is drawing close, - Matti announced, - yet Rybkin's missing
     Natasha sighed.
     - I am so fed up with all of you, - she said.
     In the lobby the partition door clinked.
     - When he gets here now, he will laugh for us, - Pen'kov.
     There was knocking on the dining room door.
     - Come in, - said Natasha and looked angrily at the guys.
     Rybkin  entered,   accurate  and  sharp,   wearing  clean  overalls,  a
snow-white shirt, impeccably shaven.
     - May I? - he asked in a low voice.
     -  Come in, Felix, - Matti said and poured coffee into a cup he put out
     - I came  a little late today, - Felix said. - There was a meeting held
by the director.
     Everyone looked anxiously at him.
     -  They talked about  the regeneration plant  for most part.  Yurkovski
ordered to stop all scientific works for two months. All scientists shall be
mobilised to the workshops and the construction sites.
     - Everyone?
     - Everyone. Even the Pathfinders. The order comes out tomorrow.
     - Stuffed is my program, - Pen'kov said gloomily. - Just why can't this
administration of ours ever co-ordinate the work properly?
     Natasha remarked earnestly:
     - Be quiet, Volodya! You don't even know anything!..
     - Yes,  - Sergey spoke reflectively. - I heard, that  we are not  doing
too well with water. So what else was there at the meeting?
     - Yurkovski gave a long speech. He said,  that we became lost in  daily
routine. That  we like living under a  schedule too  much,  that we love our
comfortable  spots, and over thirty years we managed to erect...  how did he
put   it...   "boring  and  complex  traditions".  That  our  brain  curves,
responsible for  curiosity,  have smoothed  out,  which is the  only  way to
explain the anecdote over the Old Base. In general, he talked about the same
things, as you Sergey, remember, last decade? That mysteries are all around,
and we are dawdling...  A very heated speech  -  I think, impromptu. Then he
complimented us for the round-up,  said that he came to give us a push,  and
is very glad, that we  have ventured to  carry it out  ourselves... And then
Puchko made a speech, and demanded Livanov's  head.  He was yelling, that he
will show to him, what it means "slowly and methodically"...
     - But what is the matter?
     - The tanks were damaged quite  seriously. And in two  months our group
is being transferred to the Old Base, so we'll become neighbours.
     - And is Yurkovski leaving? - Matti asked.
     - Yes, tonight.
     - It's  interesting, - Pen'kov said pensively, - why does  he haul that
welder around?
     - To weld  the turrets, - Matti said.  - People say, that he intends to
carry out a few more round-ups - on asteroids.
     - With Yurkovski  I  had  one incident, -  Sergey  said. - Back in  the
institute,  still.  I  was   once  sitting  an  examination  on  theoretical
planetology, and he kicked me out via really original means.
     "Give me, -  he says, - comrade Belyi,  your  record book, and open the
door, please".  I walk over and open the door, with great amazement. Then he
chucks my record-book out into the corridor and says: "Go and come back in a
     - Well? - said Pen'kov.
     - Well, so I went.
     - And why was he so rough? - Pen'kov asked with displeasure.
     - Well, I was young back then, - Sergey said. - Audacious.
     - You are quite refined now, still, - Natasha suggested.
     - So have we, in fact, killed the leeches or not? - Matti asked.
     Everyone looked at Felix.
     -  Hard to  say, -  Felix said. - Sixteen  were killed,  and  we  never
expected that there will be more than ten. Practically speaking, we probably
killed them.
     - And did you come with a carabine? - Matti asked.
     Felix nodded.
     - Understandable, - Matti said.
     -  And is it  true,  that  Yurkovski  was  almost  incinerated  with  a
flamethrower? - Natasha asked.
     - And me along with him, - Felix said. -  We descended into the cavern,
and  the flamethrowers  did not know,  that we are there. In  two months  we
shall  begin working from that  cavern. There, I think,  the remnants of the
water main have been preserved. The water  main is quite strange - the pipes
are not round, but oval.
     - You are still hoping you will find erect bipeds? - Sergey asked.
     Felix shook his head.
     - No, we won't find them here, of course.
     - Where 'here'?
     - Around water.
     - I don't get  it, - Pen'kov said. - On the contrary!  If  they are not
here, here at the water, that means they don't exist at all.
     - No-no-no, - said Natasha. - I think,  I understand. On our Earth, the
Martians would be looking  for  people in the desert.  It really is natural.
Far away from poisonous greens, away from regions, shrouded  by clouds. They
would look somewhere in Gobi. Right, Felix? I mean, I also think so.
     - Then, we must look for  Martians  in deserts?  - Pen'kov said. - Nice
one! Then why do they need water-mains?
     - Perhaps these are not water-mains, -  Felix said, - but water drains.
Like our drainage ditches.
     - Well,  you  are going too far,  I think, - Sergey said. - Rather they
do, in fact, live  in underground hollows. However, I don't know myself, why
they  rather would, but still - what you say, it is way too bold. Abnormally
     - It cannot be done otherwise, - Felix said quietly.
     - Mother dear! - said  Pen'kov and got up from the table. - I got to go
     He walked across the room to the pile of fur clothing.
     - Time for me to go as well, - Natasha said.
     - And me, - Sergey said.
     Matti  started cleaning  up  the table. Felix accurately rolled up  his
sleeves and started helping him.
     - So why do you have so many watches? - Matti asked, looking askance at
Felix's wrists.
     -  Forgot  to  take  them off,  -  Felix mumbled. - Now, it's  probably
     He was washing the dishes expertly.
     - And when were they useful?
     - I was testing one hypothesis, - Felix said quietly. - Why the leeches
always attack from the right. There was only one case, when a leech attacked
from the left - with Kreitzer,  who was left-handed and wore a watch  on his
right hand.
     Matty stared at Felix with astonishment.
     - You think, the leeches are afraid of clocks ticking?
     - That's is what I wanted to determine. Personally, the leeches did not
attack me once, and I was walking in really dangerous places.
     - Strange  guy you are, Felix,  - Matti  said and started  washing  the
dishes again.
     Natasha walked into the dining room and asked merrily:
     - Felix, are you coming? Let's go together.
     - I am coming, - said Felix  and headed to the lobby, rolling down  his
sleeves as he walked.

     Zhilin was reading, seated  behind  the  desk. His  eyes skimmed across
pages, glimmering wetly, from time to time, in the bluish light of  the desk
lamp.  For  a  while,  Yura  watched  Zhilin,  and  suddenly  caught himself
realising, that he is enjoying looking at him. Ivan had a heavy, brown face,
clear-cut like an engraving. Such a truly manly face of a genuine person.
     A nice guy, Vanya Zhilin. You can come to  him  at any time and sit and
chat, about whatever comes  into  your mind, and  you will never bother him.
Such people exist in the world, and it's great. Zhen'ka Segal, for instance.
With him, one can  go into any enterprise, take any risk, and know for sure,
that  he won't have to  be  hurried, for he can  hurry anyone  himself. Yura
imagined  Zhen'ka  on  Rhea,  where  he  and the guys are welding  fricative
constructions in dark  vacuum. White  oxitian flame is  flickering  over the
siliquet visor, and  he is shouting songs all  over the  airways, holding up
the  mixer tank, which is hanging on his chest, and  not on the back, as the
instructions specify. It is easier for him,  and there is no way to convince
him of the opposite, until someone wearing  the tank on their back overtakes
him  on  a momentum seam,  a  longitudinal  juncture  or even  on  a  simple
oblique-angled strut without a hawser. That's  when he will take notice, and
possibly,  will throw  the  tank over  onto his back, but  not  even that is
definite. "Instructions - it is for  those,  who do not yet  know how".  But
musical hearing, this he doesn't have. His  singing is just awful.  And that
is good, even,  since  what is the  use of a  person, who has no  faults?  A
decent person must always have  an aptitude gap, better even have a few, and
then he becomes truly pleasant. Then you know for sure,  that  he isn't some
kind of  'pearl'.  Take Zhen'ka - once he starts singing, it's clear to all,
that he is no 'pearl', but a nice guy.
     - Vanya, - said Yura, - do you have musical hearing?
     - Come on now,  buddy, - said Zhilin, without lifting his head from the
book. - Who do you take me for?
     - That's what I thought, -  Yura said with contentment. - And what book
do you have there?
     Zhilin lifted  his  head,  looked at  Yura for some time, then  uttered
     "The  rules  of  sanitary discipline  for  life-guards of  Their  Royal
     Yura  snorted. It  was, however, clear, that Ivan does not wish to say,
what book it is. Well, there's nothing special in this...
     - Today,  I have finally conquered  the "Metal Physics", - said Yura. -
What a bore. How can one write such books? Alexey Petrovich gave  me a quick
examination,  -  Yura pronounced  the last  word with great  disgust, -  and
picked at things all the time. Why does  he always pick  on me, do you know,
     Zhilin closed the book and put it away inside the desk.
     - It only seems this way to you, - he said. - Captain Bykov never looks
for  faults. He just demands that, which ought to be demanded. He is  a very
just person, our captain.
     For a few minutes Yura  pondered, whether  it would be fitting and fair
to say, what he feels like saying. Telling this to Bykov's  face,  he  could
not risk it. Talking behind his  back  is wrong.  But he really wants to say
     - Vanya, and what kind of people don't you like the most?
     Zhilin answered immediately:
     - People, who never ask questions. They exist - self-assured ones...
     He screwed up an eye, looked at Yura, grabbed a pencil and quickly drew
his  portrait.  Probationer  Borodin,  rather like  him, with such  a  nose,
sitting, face twisted, peering over a corpulent "Metal Physics" textbook.
     - And I really dislike the  boring ones, - Yura announced, looking over
the drawing.  - May I take  it? Thanks... I personally, Vanya,  really don't
like the  boring  ones.  They have such a boring, tedious life. At work they
write up  petty documents  or  calculate  on  computers,  that they  haven't
invented, and to invent something themselves - they never even try. It never
enters their  head to invent  something.  They do  everything "like others".
Then  they  start  reasoning: these boots  are nice  and  strong,  and these
aren't, and they  can  never manufacture  nice furniture in Vyaz'ma, now  we
have to order it from Moscow, and about this book, people  say that it ought
to be read, and how about we go mushrooming tomorrow, rumour has it that the
mushrooms are really good this year...  Holy cow,  nobody in the world could
ever make me go look for those mushrooms!
     Zhilin was listening, immersed in  thought,  assiduously  depicting  an
enormous integral number from zero to infinity on paper.
     -  They always have loads of free time,  - Yura  continued,  - and they
never know  what  to do  with that time.  Driving around  in  cars  in  huge
ridiculous  groups and its revolting to  watch how they  do  it like idiots.
First they go mushrooming,  then  they  go  to  a cafe  and  eat  - by  mere
idleness,  then  they  start  racing  on highways,  only on  the finest  and
best-equipped ones, where,  it appears, it's safe  and the repair robots are
at hand, and  motels  and whatever you  want. Then  the get together at some
holiday  house, and do nothing still, won't even talk  to each other.  Let's
say,  they sort through their miserable mushrooms and  argue, which one's  a
brown-cap and  which one's an` orange-cap boletus. And when they  do come to
having  an  argument  about something worthwhile, then it's time to  run for
your life. How  come, just  imagine this,  they are  still  not allowed into
space.  But go and  ask, what use  it is  to  them, -  they  cannot tell you
anything sensible,  just grumble  something about their rights.  They  enjoy
terribly talking  about their rights. But  the most  detestable thing  about
them is that they always have loads of time, and they kill  this  time. Here
on  "Takhmaseeb"  I don't know  where to  run from idleness, I can't wait to
start working, but they would be here like fish in water...
     Yura lost  the train of thought  and lapsed into  silence.  Zhilin kept
putting ornaments  over  his integral;  his face  became  wistful  for  some
reason. Then he said:
     - And what does this have to do with captain Bykov?
     Yura recalled where he had begun from.
     - Alexey Petrovich, - he mumbled unsure of himself, - he is... somewhat
     Zhilin nodded.
     -  That's  what I thought, -  he said. - But you  are making a mistake,
buddy, if you  are  piling  everything into one heap  -  both Bykov  and the
lovers of safe highways...
     - I meant something completely different...
     - I understand you.  Well, then.  Bykov  loves  his job  - number  one.
Cannot  see himself in any other capacity  - number two. And then, you know,
Alexey Petrovich keeps working even when he is reading magazines or snoozing
in his chair. Have you ever given it any thought?
     - N-no...
     - You should have.  Do you  know, what Bykov's  job consists of? Always
being ready.  It is a  very complex task.  Arduous, exhausting. One must  be
Bykov, to withstand all this. To adapt  to constant strain,  to  a state  of
constant uninterrupted readiness. You don't follow?
     - Don't know... If it is really so...
     -  But  it  is  really  so! He is a soldier  of space. One  can only be
envious  of him,  Yurochka,  since he found the paramount within himself and
the world. He is needed, essential and difficult to replace. You understand?
     Yura nodded hesitantly. In front of him appeared the abominable picture
- the glorified captain wearing slippers and striped  socks in his favourite
     - I  know,  Vladimir  Sergeevich  has  won  your  heart.  Well,  that's
understandable. On one hand there is Yurkovski, who reckons that life - is a
fairly dull racket with rather dull affairs and  one must seize every chance
to  unload  in a magnificent burst. On  the other  hand, there's  Bykov, who
believes the true  life exists within unrelenting  strain, doesn't recognise
any chances, since he is ready  for any chance, and no chance will ever be a
surprise  to him... But then there is a  third side. Imagine, Yura, - Zhilin
laid his palms on the table and reclined in the chair, - a colossal building
of human culture:  everything  that  man  had created himself, snatched from
nature, re-evaluated and created anew in such a way, that nature could never
have. Such a splendid building! Built by people, who know their job well and
love their job greatly. For instance, Yurkovski, Bykov... So far, there  are
fewer  of  these people than there are others.  Simply  honest  people,  who
perhaps, don't even know what they do and do not like. They do not know, had
no chance to  find out, what they can and cannot do. They simply work there,
where life had placed them. And these people, by and large, support on their
shoulders the  palace of thought  and  spirit. From  nine  till  three  they
support it, and  then  they go  mushrooming... - Zhilin  kept  quiet  for  a
moment. - Naturally,  it's desirable  for everyone  to support and to build.
But  that  takes  time.  And  strength.  This  state of affairs must also be
created, you know.
     Yura  was  thinking.  There  was  something  in Ivan's words. Something
unwonted. This had to be thought over yet.
     Zhilin put his hands behind his head.
     - I keep  remembering one story, - he spoke. He was looking straight at
the light; his  pupils became like  dots. - I  had a friend called Tolya. We
went to  school together.  He was  always so inconspicuous,  always stuck to
trivial  things.  Assembling  some  notebooks,  gluing  boxes  together.  He
especially enjoyed binding old  worn-out books.  He was a real kind soul, so
kind  that would not understand hurtful jokes.  Took them somehow strangely,
and  in  our view at  that time,  quite outrageously. It happened,  we would
sometimes stick a triton in his bed, and he would pull it out, lay it on his
palm and look it over for a long time. We are ogling all round him,  because
it is funny, and he'd say quietly: "Poor thing"  - and would carry it to the
pond. Then he grew up and became a  statistician somewhere. Everyone  knows,
this job is quiet and unnoticeable, and we all thought, that this is what he
deserves  and  that our Tolya  isn't  fit  to do  anything  else.  He worked
honestly, without  any  interest,  but earnestly. We would fly  to  Jupiter,
uncover  the  permafrost,  build   new  factories,  whilst  he  sat  in  his
institution and calculated on computers, which he did not invent himself. An
exemplary little man. You could even cover him with cotton wool and place in
a  museum  under  a  glass  lid  with  a  corresponding  label:  "A  typical
self-sufficing  man around the end of the twentieth century".  Then he died.
Neglected  an insignificant medical disorder, because  he  was afraid of the
operation, and died. It happens to small people, though  no  one ever writes
about it in newspapers.
     Zhilin became quiet, as if listening in to something. Yura waited.
     - This was in  Karelia, on the banks of a forest lake. His bed stood on
a glassed verandah,  and I  sat  next  to him, and saw at once both his dark
unshaven face... dead face...  and a huge blue cloud over the forest  on the
other side of the lake. The physician said: "He is dead". And straight away,
thunder struck with force unseen, and the storm that broke out was such that
are rare even in the southern seas. The wind was crushing trees and throwing
them against wet crimson rocks,  where  they burst into  splinters, but  not
even their crackle could  be heard in  the roaring of the wind. The lake was
advancing  in  a  wall onto  the shore,  and into this wall battered  bright
lightning  bolts,  so  unusual for  the  North. Roofs  were being  torn from
houses. Clocks had stopped  everywhere - no one knows why. It was a fuirous,
brutal storm, as if  the  entire  still world pranced  up. And he lay there,
quiet, ordinary, and, as always,  it  did not concern him. - Zhilin listened
in  again. - Yurik,  I  am a man who is not timid, relaxed [even], but I was
scared then. I suddenly  thought:  "So that's what you were like, our little
boring Tolik. Quietly and inconspicuously,  not suspecting a thing yourself,
you held  on  your  shoulders  the equilibrium of the World. You  died,  the
equilibrium crashed and the World pranced up". If, back then, someone yelled
into my ear, that  Earth ran off its  orbit and headed for the  Sun, I would
only nod  my head.  And  I also thought  then... - Zhilin  kept  quiet for a
moment. - I thought:  why was  he so small and so boring? You know, he was a
very boring man,  Yura. Very. If  this  storm  happened before his  eyes, he
would most likely yell: "Oh! Slippers! My slippers are drying on the porch!"
And he would run to rescue his slippers. But why, how did he turn that way?
     Zhilin fell silent, and looked at Yura strictly.
     - But it was his own fault... - Yura said bashfully.
     - Wrong. No one can ever  be at  fault  entirely  by themselves. People
shape us into  that, which we become. That's what it is. And we... How often
do  we fail to pay this debt... Almost  always.  Yet there  is nothing  more
important than  that. That's the main thing. Before, the chief priority  was
to give people their  freedom, to become  what one wishes to be. And now the
main priority - is to show people, who  they should become, in order to find
regular  human happiness. That alone is  now the main thing, - Zhilin looked
at Yura and asked suddenly: - Right?
     - Probably, - said Yura. It  was all right, but somehow foreign to him.
Somehow it didn't move him. The whole affair seemed hopeless. Or boring...
     Zhilin sat, listening in wakefully. His eyes stopped moving altogether.
     - What happened? - Yura asked.
     -  Quiet! - Zhilin got  up. -  This  is strange,  - he  said.  He  kept
listening to something. Yura suddenly  felt  the floor shudder quietly under
his  feet, and at  that same moment a siren wailed piercingly. He  jumped up
and rushed to the door. Zhilin caught him by the shoulder.
     - Easy, - he said. - You know your post according to the schedule?
     - Yes! - said Yura and choked.
     - Your responsibilities also? - Zhilin let him go. - March!
     Yura rushed into the corridor.
     He  was  running  down the circular corridor  into  the vacuum-chamber,
where his place was under the emergency schedule, running quickly, but still
holding  his composure, so as not to rush with all his speed.  A probationer
ought to be "calm, composed and constantly prepared", however, when a dreary
ominous wail sweeps across the  ship, when the ship trembles in convulsions,
like a man hurt, when his wound is being touched by clumsy fingers, when you
don't understand too  well, what  you must do, and don't understand at  all,
what is happening... At the end of  the corridor the red lamps flashed. Yura
couldn't help it and ran at full speed.
     Leaning with all his weight, he rolled open a heavy  door and flew into
a grey room,  where  along the walls the dark screens  of vacuum-suit  boxes
were visible. He had to raise all screens, check the complete set up of each
suit, pressure in the tanks, energy supply, shift the fastening of each suit
into the emergency position and do  something else... Then  he had to put on
his suit with the visor open and await further instructions.
     Yura  carried  all of  this  out quite fast,  and as  it seemed to him,
sensibly, though  his fingers shook greatly and he  felt a strain throughout
his entire body, strong and  unpleasant, resembling a  prolonged  spasm. The
siren became quiet, an inauspicious silence fell. Yura finished off the last
space suit and  looked around.  Inside  boxes with  raised  screens shone  a
strong  blue  light, the  huge suits with  outstretched arms were  gleaming,
resembling ugly  decapitated statues. Yura  pulled his  suit out and climbed
into  it.  The  suit  was  a  little to  large  for  him,  it felt rough and
uncomfortable inside, nothing  like the welder's suit, snug, flexible, cosy.
And  this  one  made  him hot  straight away.  Yura  switched  on  the sweat
detector,  then, heavily shuffling his feet, clinking  steel against  steel,
walked to the door.
     The ship kept  shuddering, everything was quiet, along the corridor red
emergency  signals were  shining under  the  ceiling.  Yura leaned his  back
against one side of the doorframe and rested his body against the other. (It
was  odd reading this part of the instructions, where it prescribed to guard
the vacuum-chamber  during periods of  emergency.  Guard against  whom? What
for?)  Entry into the chamber during the alert was  permitted only  to those
persons - crewmembers  or  passengers  -  in  relation  to whom the  captain
personally  announced "Let them through." For that  purpose a radiophone was
installed into the  doorframe, always  tuned to the  wavelength of captain's
radiophone. Yura looked at  the radiophone and  remembered  what he  has not
done yet. He poked his wiry finger into the call button.
     - I  am  listening,  -  Bykov's  voice said. The voice was, as  always,
rasping and nonchalant.
     - Probationer Borodin has secured the post according to schedule.
     - Very well, - said Bykov and switched off the connection immediately.
     Yura  looked  at the radiophone angrily and spoke  in  a rasping voice:
"Very well". "Wood plank", - he thought and pulled a  face,  poking  out his
tongue. The  spaceship shook and he almost bit  his tongue. He looked around
with  embarrassment,  and  then  a thought came  into  his head: what if the
omniscient and all-foreseeing Bykov shook their  vessel on purpose, to pinch
the  tongue of an audacious probationer.  It was easy to imagine Bykov doing
just that.  "Probably,  his  life  wasn't  an  easy  one, -  Yura thought. -
Probably, life scoured him and ground him  until  it ripped off  the husk of
every  emotion,  which  aren't,  generally speaking, that  necessary, but in
their absence a man is no longer a man but a wooden plank. Zhilin once said,
that  over  the years people change in only one  respect  - they become more
tolerant. To Bykov, this possibly doesn't apply..."
     The spaceship shuddered  again and Yura  set himself more  securely. It
was unclear, what was  going on. Doesn't look like a  meteorite attack, even
less like a collision of some kind. Misha Ushakov said that  danger in space
is like  a rapier  strike,  it  either causes  you to  die straight away  or
never... This was announced by Mishka Ushakov, who was in space  only during
the construction  welding practice  and makes  judgements  about space using
terminology of musketeer novels.
     Yura's calf became cramped and he changed  to the other foot. Along the
corridor red lights  were  shining.  Yura kept trying  to  recall,  what  it
resembles to him, and could not, but there was some unpleasant recollection,
he knew that  definitely. Wish someone would  come, he thought. Wish I could
ask, what happened,  what I  must  wait for. Perhaps I should speak to Bykov
directly:  "Comrade  the captain, please explain  to  me my mission..." Then
Yura suddenly  imagined, how many probationers before him stood  over  here,
sweaty from stress, foot set against  the frame;  worried awfully, trying to
understand, what is going  on, and kept guessing: "Will I have time to close
the visor or won't I?" These were first-rate guys, with whom  one can play a
splendid game of back-up-stay or have a yack about the meaning of life.  Now
they are all  experienced  and sagacious, now they  are all at command-posts
and their ships roam across the space... and sometimes they also tremble and
shudder... From these thoughts, out of the  blue,  he imagined Bykov's face,
flooded  with sweat and blood, expressing  positively human anxiety, looking
with motionless eyes at  something, that  could not have been accounted for,
and which is now looming with absolute inevitability...
     Everything  floated  in  Yura's  eyes; he  lost  his balance and  found
himself on the floor. There was clanking and rumbling under the low ceiling.
Yura, hastily scraping  his  boots against the metallic floor, flipped  onto
his stomach, stood up and rushed in the door. He stood in  his old  position
and set himself against the sides of the doorframe, as firmly as he could.
     Now  the  "Takhmaseeb"  was vibrating constantly,  as if it,  too, were
afraid. Yura  tensed up, trying to contain the shiver. I wish somebody would
come,  I  wish I'd  understand what is going on, wish that Bykov would order
something  to be done... Mum would grieve terribly - how will they tell her?
Who could be found to  tell her? She  can die,  even, she was  operated upon
just recently, her heart,  its no good at all,  she cannot  be told  any  of
this...  Yura bit  his lip  and clenched his teeth tightly. It hurt, but the
jitters would not  stop. Well,  what is this,  really... No, I must go there
immediately and have a look. Stick my head inside the deck chamber and fling
a casual remark: "Well, how  much longer?"  - and leave... And what  if they
have all been killed? Yura looked into the corridor, terrified, waiting that
any moment now  Zhilin will crawl from around the corner, take a look at him
with extinguished eyes and drop his head onto stiff hands...
     Yura lowered  his  head, pushed  away from the  frame  and  made  a few
hesitant  steps along the corridor. Down the quivering  floor, past the  red
lights, towards the lift, towards the one, who is crawling... He stopped and
returned  to the door.  "Stay  calm,  - he said  and coughed,  to  stop  the
croaking in his throat. Imagination  likes  to play jokes, but it plays them
meanly and unfairly. Not one's friend -  imagination." He set himself firmly
against the doorframe once more. So that's what it  is like, he  thought all
of a  sudden. That's what it's like  - to wait and always  be ready, wearing
slippers and striped little socks, with yesteryear's  paper, so that  no one
would ever notice and never think... To know nothing definitely,  and always
stay ready...
     Vibrations amplified and  faded and increased again. Yura envisaged the
"Takhmaseeb",  a  kilometre  construction of titanium  alloys, resembling  a
giant wineglass. Right now, across the ships entire body, from the cargo bay
to the  edge of the  reflector, vibration spasms are travelling in one wave.
Intensifying one moment, dropping off at another... Here one doesn't have to
be extra sensitive, to figure out, what  is  going on. If, let's say, it was
the  oxitian sensor  vibrating  like this,  everything would be clear -  the
compressor  needs tuning or, at  least, the extinguisher must be replaced...
Yura  distinctly  felt  how the ship  is  sloping on its  side -  it  became
noticeable through the pressure against his foot. With  every jerk  his head
would shake, and  everything within it, too... What  is this, Yura pondered,
pushing against  the  doorframe with  all his might. What's  going  on  over
there, with all  of them,  eh?..  And  then in the  terrifying  dull silence
someone's steps sounded. Unhurried, confident, unfamiliar steps,  or perhaps
Yura simply failed to recognise them.  He was looking down the corridor, and
the steps were drawing nearer  all the  time, and then from  behind the turn
Zhilin appeared, wearing industrial overalls, with  the  flat tester box  on
his chest.  His face was serious, and, seemingly, displeased, a light fringe
hanged  over his  eyes. Zhilin came up  close, and patting Yura on the knee,
said quietly:
     - Come on...
     He  wanted  to enter  the  vacuum-chamber.  Yura opened and closed  his
mouth, but  did not remove  his foot.  This was  Zhilin,  dear,  swell  guy,
long-awaited Zhilin, but Yura did not take his foot away, and asked instead:
     - What have you got there?
     He wanted to  say it casually, but at the last  syllable he  swallowed,
and the impression was ruined.
     - Ah, what  can we have there... - Zhilin said reluctantly.  - Come on,
let me through, - he said. - I need to get something there...
     Yura's  head was muddled,  and  in  this muddle  out of Yura's personal
principles and notions only the instructions remained intact.
     - Hold on, Vanya, - he mumbled and pressed the call button.
     The captain wouldn't answer.
     - Yurka,  - Zhilin said, - just  what is it with you, brother? Come on,
let me through, inside the space suit I've left...
     - I cannot, - said Yura and licked his lips. - How can I?.. The captain
will respond now...
     Zhilin was looking at him intently.
     - And what if he won't respond?
     - Why wouldn't he  respond? - Yura stared at Zhilin with round eyes and
then suddenly grabbed him by the sleeve. - What happened?
     - Ah, nothing happened. - Zhilin suddenly began smiling. - So you won't
let me through?
     Yura shook his head in desperation.
     -  You know I can't, Vanya...  You  must  understand  this!  - he  even
addressed  him as "You" from  excessive emotion, he really felt like crying,
and at the same time good and calm for no reason, and he knew, that he would
not  allow Zhilin to pass, no  matter  what. - You were  a probationer  once
     - R-right... - Zhilin drawled  vaguely, examining him. - Complying with
the letter and spirit of the instructions?
     - I don't know...  - mumbled Yura. He was really embarrassed and at the
same time he  knew,  that he wouldn't lower his foot. "If you really need to
enter, then don't stand like this, - he was calling out mentally  to Zhilin.
- Punch me in the jaw and take what you need here..."
     - Captain Bykov speaking, - came from the radiophone.
     Yura was still unable to gather his thoughts.
     - Alexey  Petrovich, - Zhilin  spoke into the radiophone - I want to go
into the vacuum-chamber, but the probationer wouldn't let me pass.
     - Why do you need to go into the vacuum-chamber? - Bykov inquired.
     -  I left behind  a "sirius" there the  last time...  left it  inside a
space suit.
     - Right, - said Bykov. - Probationer Borodin, allow the ship's engineer
Zhilin to pass.
     Bykov disconnected. Yura removed his foot  with enormous  relief.  Only
now he noticed,  that the  ship is no longer vibrating. Zhilin looked at him
kindly and patted him on the shoulder.
     - Vanya, please don't be angry... - Yura mumbled.
     -  On  the  contrary! - said  Zhilin. - Watching you was  exceptionally
     - I have such a muddle in my head...
     - Exactly right...  - Zhilin stopped in front  of his space suit. - For
this one instance instructions are being written. It's a good idea, right?
     -  Don't know. Now, I somewhat  can't understand, what's going on. What
has, in fact, happened?
     Zhilin grew dull again.
     - What can happen to  us? - he said through gritted teeth. - Artificial
nutrition.  Pills instead of thrills. A practice drill, probationer Borodin,
that's all. A routine exercise,  no less than once or twice during a voyage.
Aimed at auditing knowledge of instructions. A  grand matter - instructions!
- He pulled a white cylinder as thick as a thumb out of the space  suit  and
banged the screen shut with anger.  - Time for  me to escape from here Yura.
To run as fast as I can, before I am sick of it.
     Yura sighed deeply and looked inside the corridor. The  red lights were
no  longer  on. The floor  did  not vibrate any more. Yura saw how Yurkovski
came out  of a  cabin,  looked at Yura,  nodded majestically and disappeared
behind a corner in no hurry.
     Zhilin grumbled:
     - A  fish seeks deeper water, and a man -  where life's  worse. Did you
understand, Yurka? Here,  everything's  well. All drills are practices,  all
accidents are pretend ones. But in some  places - it's  a tad  worse. That's
where one must go, and not wait, until he's taken there... Are you listening
to me, probationer? According to the instructions, you must listen to me...
     - Vanya, wait, - Yura said, knitting his brow. - I feel, that I haven't
yet recovered...

     - Probationer Borodin, - said Bykov, folding  up  the newspaper, - time
to  go  to  sleep  probationer.  Yura  stood up, closed the book, and  after
faltering for a bit, put it  into the book cabinet. I won't read tonight, he
thought. I must, finally, get some sleep.
     - Good night, - he said.
     - Good night, - replied Bykov, and opened another newspaper.
     Yurkovski,  without  looking  up  from  his  papers,  waved   his  hand
nonchalantly. When Yura walked out, Yurkovski asked:
     - What do you think, Alexey, what else must he like?
     - Who?
     - Our cadet. I  know that he  enjoys and is  capable  of  welding  in a
vacuum. I have seen it on Mars. But what else does he like?
     - Girls, - said Bykov.
     - Not girls, but a girl. He has a photo of a girl.
     - I didn't know.
     - One  could guess. Twenty years of age, leaving on  a distant mission,
everyone takes  with them  photographs, and then they don't know what  to do
with  them. In books it is written, that  one must look at these photographs
stealthily, and that your eyes must be full of tears at that instance, or at
the  very least, grow dimmed.  But  there is never enough time  for that. Or
never enough of something else, that's more significant. But let's return to
our probationer.
     Bykov set the paper aside, removed his glasses and looked at Yurkovski.
     - Have you finished work for today? - he asked.
     - No, - said  Yurkovski with annoyance. -  Haven't finished,  and don't
wish to talk about it. All this idiotic red tape makes my head swell. I wish
to unwind. Can you answer my question?
     - The best person to answer this question for you, would be Ivan - said
Bykov. - He spends every spare moment time with him.
     -  But since Ivan  isn't here, I am asking you. It  seems very clear to
     -  Don't  worry  so  much,  Volodya,  or  your  liver  will  hurt.  Our
probationer is still just a boy.  Skilled hands, but as far as liking  goes,
he  doesn't like  anything in particular, since  he doesn't  know  anything.
Alexey Tolstoy he likes. And Wells. But Galsworthy  is  boring for him,  and
the "Road of  all roads" is boring.  Also  he likes Zhilin and does not like
one barman from Mirza-Charlie. He's still a boy. A sprout.
     - At his age, - Yurkovski said,  - I really enjoyed composing  poems. I
dreamed of  becoming a  writer.  And then  I  read  somewhere,  that writers
somehow resemble the deceased: they  like when people talk positively  about
them, or say nothing at all... Yep. Why am I talking about it?
     -  Don't  know, - said Bykov. - I  think, you  are just  shirking  your
     - No-no, I  beg yours... Yes! I am interested in the inner world of our
     - A probationer's a probationer, - said Bykov.
     - No two  probationers  are  alike, - Yurkovski  argued.  -  You are  a
probationer too, and I am a probationer. We are all probationer  in future's
service.  Old  probationers  and  young  probationers.  We  spend our entire
lifetime on probation, each in our own way. And when we die, our descendants
appraise our work and hand out a diploma of eternal existence.
     -  Or  don't hand  out  one, -  said  Bykov  pensively, looking  at the
ceiling. - As a rule, unfortunately, they don't hand one out.
     - Well then, it's our fault, and not our misfortune. By the way, do you
know whom the diploma always goes to?
     - Yes?
     - To  those,  who bring up  a  successive  generation.  The  ones  like
     - Perhaps, - said Bykov. - And what is interesting: these people, as an
exception  to  great many  others, are  not  in  the  least concerned  about
     - And incorrectly so. For  instance, a question has  always  interested
me: are  we really  becoming better from one generation to the next?  That's
why I began talking about the cadet. Old people always say: "Such youngsters
we have nowadays! And how we used to be!"
     - That's what very  silly oldsters say,  Vladimir. Krayuhin never spoke
like this.
     - Krayuhin simply didn't like theory. He took the  young  ones, chucked
them into a furnace and watched, what'd come out of it. If they  didn't burn
out, he'd recognise them as equals.
     - And if they did burn?
     - As a rule, we never burned.
     - Well then, you have just answered your own question, - said Bykov and
grabbed the  newspaper again. - Probationer Borodin is now on his way to the
furnace, in the furnace he is unlikely to burn out, ten years down the track
you shall meet him, he  will  call you  an old  sandpit,  and you,  being an
honest man, shall agree with him.
     - Hold on, - Yurkovski objected, - but some responsibility also lies on
our shoulders. The boy must be taught something!
     Into the lounge walked Michael Antonovich, wearing pyjamas, slippers on
bare feet, with a big thermal flask in his hand.
     - Good evening, boys, - he said. - I just felt like having some tea.
     - Tea - that's not bad, - Bykov livened up.
     - Tea it is, - Yurkovski said and started gathering his papers.
     The  captain and the  navigator  set  up the  table, Michael Antonovich
poured the jam into rosettes, and Bykov poured tea for everyone.
     - And where is Yurik? - Michael Antonovich asked.
     - Sleeping, - replied Bykov.
     - And Vanyusha?
     - On duty, - Bykov answered patiently.
     - Very well then, - said Michael Antonovich. He gulped some tea, closed
his eyes and added: -  Boys, never  agree to write  memoirs. Such a  tedious
chore, so tedious!
     - Why don't you fantasise a bit more, - Bykov offered.
     - How is that?
     -  Like in novels.  "A young Martian  girl closed her eyes and  reached
towards me with semi-opened lips. I embraced her passionately lengthwise."
     - "Entirely", - Yurkovski added.
     Michael Antonovich blushed.
     - How'd you  like  that, ya old fogey, -  Yurkovski said. - Been there,
     Bykov laughed loudly and choked on his tea.
     -  Fie! - said Michael Antonovich. - Shame  on you! - He  pondered  and
announced suddenly: - You know what, boys? Stuff those memoirs. I mean, what
can they do to me?
     - You better explain this to us, - said  Bykov. - How can we positively
influence Yura?
     Michael Antonovich became startled.
     - But what has happened? Has he done some mischief or something?
     - Not yet. But Vladimir here thinks, that he must be influenced.
     - I think, we are having an influence on him as it  is. He never leaves
Vanyusha's side, and he simply worships you, Voloden'ka. He had spoken about
twenty times, how you went after the leeches inside the cave.
     Bykov raised his head.
     - After what leeches exactly? - he asked.
     Michael Antonovich squirmed compunctiously.
     - Ah, these are legends, - Yurkovski said, without batting an eyelid. -
That  was still back... err... a long time ago. So this is the question: how
do  we effect a  positive  influence upon Yura? The boy received a  one of a
kind  chance to witness  the world  of  better  people. To us that would  be
simply... err...
     - Voloden'ka, you see, - said Michael  Antonovich.  - Yura  is a really
great boy. He was very well cultured at school. Into him have been placed...
How can I put it... The foundations of a decent  person.  Try to understand,
Voloden'ka, Yura will never more confound good with bad...
     -  A  genuine  person,  -  Yurkovski  spoke  with   authority,   -   is
distinguished by a broad range of interests.
     - That's right, Voloden'ka, - said Michael Antonovich. - Yurik, too...
     - A genuine person  is moulded only by genuine people, workers and only
by a real life, accomplished and hard.
     - But our Yurik also...
     - We  must  seize the  chance and  show Yura the real people leading  a
real, uneasy life.
     - That's right, Voloden'ka, and I am certain, that Yurik...
     - I  am sorry  Michael, but  am  have  not finished yet. Tomorrow,  for
instance, we  will  pass ridiculously  close  to Eunomia.  Do you know, what
Eunomia is?
     - How wouldn't  we?  - said  Michael Antonovich. - An asteroid, greater
semi-axis - two and sixty four astronomical units, eccentricity...
     - I am not talking about that, - Yurkovski said impetuously. - Are  you
aware, that for three years now, a physics  gravitational  research station,
the only one in the world, has been functioning on Eunomia?
     - How wouldn't we, - said Michael Antonovich, - that's where...
     - People are working in exceptionally difficult conditions, - Yurkovski
continued with  enthusiasm. Bykov  eyed him intently. - twenty-five  people,
tough as diamonds, smart, courageous, I'd even say - awfully courageous! The
pick of humanity!  Now that's  a  perfect opportunity  to acquaint Yura with
real life!
     Bykov remained silent. Michael Antonovich kept quiet, too.
     -  To  see  real people in the  process  of authentic  work, isn't that
     Bykov remained silent.
     -  I think, it would be  very beneficial  for  our  probationer, - said
Yurkovski and added in a lower voice: - Even I wouldn't mind to have a look.
I have been interested in the death-planeters working conditions for  a long
     Finally, Bykov spoke:
     - Well then, - he said. - Indeed, not altogether without interest.
     -  I assure you, Alexey! - Yurkovski exclaimed. - I think, we will make
a stop there, won't we?
     - Hmm-ok, - Bykov muttered ambiguously.
     - Well, that's  perfect then,  - said Yurkovski. He looked at Bykov and
asked: - Is something bothering you, Alexey?
     - This is what's bothering me,  - said Bykov.  - On my course  map Mars
exists. On the course  map is Bamberga with these wretched mines.  There are
some Saturn satellites. There is the Jupiter system. And a few other things.
One thing's not there. Eunomia is not there.
     -  W-well, how shall I put it... -  Yurkovski said, having  lowered his
eyes and tapping on the table. - Let's presume, that this is an oversight by
the board, Alesha.
     - You will have to visit Eunomia on another occasion, Vladimir.
     -  Hold on,  hold  on, Alesha...  err...  After  all, I  am  the  chief
inspector, I could give an order,  proclaim... err... for the  alteration of
the course...
     - Well, you should have given it straight away. Instead he is polluting
my head with pedagogical objectives.
     - W-well, pedagogical issues also, naturally... yeah.
     - Navigator,  - said  Bykov, - the general inspector is ordering  us to
change course. Plot a course to Eunomia.
     - Understood, - said  Michael  Antonovich and looked at  Yurkovski with
concern.  - You know,  Voloden'ka, we  have little fuel.  Eunomia -  it's  a
loop... We'll have  to decelerate twice, you know. And accelerate once. Wish
you'd have told us about this a week ago.
     Yurkovski drew himself up proudly.
     - Err... ok then, Michael. Are there autofuellers nearby?
     - There are, how could there not be, - said Michael Antonovich.
     - We will have fuel, - Yurkovski said.
     -  We  will have fuel - we will have Eunomia, - Bykov said, got up  and
walked to his chair. - Well, Michael and  I have  set up the table, and you,
chief inspector, can tidy it up.
     - Voltairians, - said Yurkovski and began cleaning up the table. He was
very pleased with his little victory.  Bykov could have refused to obey. The
captain  of the  ship carrying  the chief inspector had very broad powers as

     The physics observatory "Eunomia" moved around the sun in approximately
the same place, where the asteroid Eunomia once used to exist. A giant rock,
some two hundred kilometres  in  diameter had been, in  the last few  years,
almost fully annihilated in the process of experiments. All that remained of
the  asteroid was  just a  meagre swarm  of relatively small fragments and a
seven hundred  kilometre long cloud of  cosmic dust, a great silvery sphere,
already stretched slightly by the tide force. The  actual physics laboratory
differed slightly from  the  heavy artificial  Earth  satellites:  it  was a
system  of torus's,  cylinders  and  spheres,  connected  by  shiny  cables,
rotating  around  a  common  axis.  In  the laboratory  worked  twenty-seven
physicists and  astrophysicists,  "tough as diamonds, smart, courageous" and
often "awfully courageous". The youngest of them was twenty-five  years old,
the oldest - thirty-four.
     The crew  of  "Eunomia"  was engaged  in  the research of cosmic  rays,
experimental   analysis  of  unitary  field   theories,   vacuum,  ultra-low
temperatures,  and  experimental  cosmogony. All  minor asteroids  within  a
twenty-megametre radius of "Eunomia" have  been declared death-planets: they
had  either  been destroyed  or  subject  to  destruction.  In  general, the
cosmogonists and relativists. The eradication of  small planets  was carried
out  in different ways. They  were  transformed  into a swarm of shale, or a
cloud  of  dust,  or  a  burst  of  light. They  were destroyed  in  natural
conditions and  in  a  powerful  magnetic  field, instantly  and  gradually,
stretching the process to decades or months. This was the only  cosmogonical
ground in  the solar  system, and  now  when  the  near-earth  observatories
discovered a newly flared  up  star  with  odd  spectral lines, the question
would initially  arise: where "Eunomia" was at that moment and  had  the new
star flared  up in  "Eunomia's"  region?  The International board  of cosmic
communications had declared  the area around  "Eunomia"  restricted  to  all
regular-route spacecraft.
     "Takhmaseeb"  slowed down near "Eunomia"  two hours prior  a  scheduled
experiment.  The  relativists  were  going to convert to  radiation  a  rock
fragment the size of Everest and  with a mass, calculated to the nearest few
grams. Another death-planet was moving on the  periphery of the ground. Over
there  ten cosmoscaphes with  observers and apparatus had already been sent,
and at the observatory only two people  remained - the head  of the  station
and a duty control officer.
     The control officer  met Yurkovski  and Yura at  the caisson. He  was a
lanky, very pale, freckled man. His eyes were pale-blue and indifferent.
     -  Err...  hello,  - said Yurkovski.  - I'm  Yurkovski, the IBCC  chief
     By the look of things, the  blue-eyed man had met chief inspectors more
than once. Gradually, without hurrying, he looked Yurkovski over and said:
     - Well then, come in.
     The blue-eyed man calmly turned his back to  Yurkovski and,  clattering
his magnetic soles, walked down the corridor.
     -  Hold  on!  -  Yurkovski  yelled  out.  -  Where  is  your...  err...
     The blue-eyed man said, without turning:
     - I am taking you there.
     Yurkovski and Yura hurried after him. Yurkovski kept saying:
     - Such odd... er... customs. Astonishing...
     The blue-eyed  man opened a round hatch at  the end of the corridor and
climbed into it. Yurkovski and Yura then heard:
     - Kostya, you have visitors...
     One could hear, how somebody was shouting in a clear cheerful voice:
     - Number  six! Sashka! Where are  you going, nutcase?  Don't  you  feel
sorry  for  your kids?! Move  one  hundred kilometres  back,  it's dangerous
there, you know! Number three! Number three! I am talking in Russian to you!
Stay in alignment with me! Number  six, stop grumbling at your command! Your
command has shown concern, and you are bored already!...
     Yurkovski and Yura  climbed  into  a  small  room,  tightly lined  with
equipment. In front of a concave screen sat a  lean, very swarthy lad, about
thirty, wearing blue trousers with creases and  a  white shirt with a  black
     - Kostya, - called out the blue-eyed man and became silent.
     Kostya turned a cheerful good-looking face with an aquiline nose to the
newly arrived,  examined them for a few minutes, greeted them daintily,  and
then turned back to the screen. On the screen a few multi-coloured dots were
transiting slowly along the lines of the coordinates grid.
     - Number nine, why have you stopped? Have you lost the enthusiasm? Come
on, take a walk  a bit further ahead... Number six, you are making progress.
I  have  a headache  already  from you. Are  you  flying back  to  Earth, or
     Yurkovski coughed significantly. The  cheerful  Kostya  pulled  a shiny
ball out of his right ear and, turning to Yurkovski, asked:
     - Guests, who are you?
     - I am Yurkovski, - Yurkovski said with much authority.
     - What Yurkovski?  -  Kostya asked cheerfully and impatiently. - I knew
one, he was called Vladimir Sergeevich.
     - That is I, - said Yurkovski.
     Kostya rejoiced tremendously.
     - How appropriate! - he exclaimed. - Then go and stand at that console.
You will be  turning the fourth regulator - it  has an Arabic "four" written
on it, - so that a star over there would not leave that little circle...
     - But hold on, now...
     - Just don't tell me that  you did not understand!  - Kostya shouted. -
Or I will become disappointed in you.
     - The blue-eyed man floated over to him and began whispering something.
Kostya heard him out, and plugged his ear with a shiny ball.
     - So let  him  feel good about it,  - he  said  and yelled in a chiming
voice:  - Observers,  listen  to  me, I  am  commanding  again!  Everyone is
positioned well now, like the Zaporozhian Cossacks on Repin's painting! Just
don't  touch your controls any more!  Over  and  out for two  minutes!  - He
pulled  the shiny  ball out again. -  So you have  become a chief inspector,
Vladimir Sergeevich? - he asked.
     - Yes, I have, - said Yurkovski. - And I...
     - And who is this young man? Is he a chief  inspector also?  Ezra, - he
turned to the blue-eyed man, - let Vladimir Sergeevich hold the axis, whilst
the boy can have a practical play with something. Best of all, put  him next
to your screen and let him watch...
     -  Perhaps  I  will  be allowed to say a couple of  words, after all? -
Yurkovski asked into space.
     -  Of course, speak, -  said Kostya. - You  still have  a whole  ninety
     - I wanted to...  err... get onto one of the cosmoscaphes, -  Yurkovski
     - Whoa! -  said  Kostya. - Why didn't you ask for a trolley  bus  wheel
instead? Or even better,  if you would like to rotate regulator number four.
Even I cannot  go  on the cosmoscaphes. It's all packed there, like  at  the
Bloomberg's  concert.  And by turning the regulator with precision, you will
improve the precision of the experiment by one and a half percent.
     Yurkovski shrugged his shoulders majestically.
     -  W-well, all right, - he  said. - I see, that I shall have to...  But
why... err... isn't it automated here?
     Kostya was  already putting the shiny ball in his  ear. The lanky  Ezra
hooted, as if into a keg:
     - Equipment. Crap. Obsolete.
     He switched on a large screen and motioned Yura  to come over  with his
finger.  Yura  came  up  to  the screen and  turned  to look  at  Yurkovski.
Yurkovski,  with  sorrowfully  distorted  eyebrows,  was  holding  onto  the
regulator  and looking  at the  screen, in front of which Yura was standing.
Yura  started looking at  the screen as well.  On  the screen glowed  a  few
bright circular spots, resembling either inkblots or burdock. Ezra poked his
bony finger at one of the spots.
     - A cosmoscaphe, - he said.
     Kostya began giving orders again:
     - Observers, you  haven't fallen asleep yet? What is moving slowly? Oh,
the time is? Shame and shame on you, Sasha, you know that only three minutes
are  left.  Washtub?  Oh,  the  photon-powered  washtub?  That's  the  chief
inspector,  which  had arrived. Attention,  I  am  all serious  now.  Thirty
remaining... twenty nine... twenty eight... twenty seven...
     Ezra poked his finger into the centre of the screen.
     - Over here, - he said.
     -  ...fifteen...  fourteen...  Vladimir  Sergeevich,  hold the  axis...
ten... nine...
     Yura  was watching  with  wide-open  eyes.  Ezra  was also  rotating  a
regulator, he must have been holding some axis, too.
     - ...three... two... one... Zero!
     In the centre of the screen a bright white dot flared. Then  the screen
turned  white,  then  became  blinding  and  then dark. Somewhere above  the
ceiling shrill alarms chirped briefly.  Red lights  flashed  and went out on
the console beside the screen. And again, circular dots  resembling  burdock
appeared on the screen.
     - That's it, - said Ezra and switched off the screen.
     Kostya descended to the floor skilfully.
     - The axis doesn't need to be held  any more, - he said. -  You can get
undressed, I am starting with the treatment.
     - What is? - Yurkovski asked.
     Kostya produced a box of pills from under the console.
     - Feel free to take, - he said. - This, of course, is no chocolate, but
much more wholesome.
     Ezra came over  and took two pills in silence.  One he handed  to Yura.
Yura looked at Yurkovski with hesitation.
     - I am asking, what is it? - Yurkovski repeated.
     -  Gamma-radiophagus,  - Kostya  explained. He glanced back at Yura.  -
Please, please have some, young man, - he  said.  -  You have just  received
four roentgen, and this must be reckoned with.
     - Yes, - said Yurkovski. - True.
     He reached for the box his  hand. Yura put the pill in  his  mouth. The
pill was very bitter.
     -  So  now, now  can we  help  the chief inspector? -  Kostya inquired,
hiding the box back under the console.
     - As  a  matter  of fact, I wanted  to... err... be  present during  an
experiment,  - said Yurkovski, - and,  whilst I am  at it, also... err... to
clarify the state of affairs at the  station... staff  needs...  complaints,
finally...  What?  Now  I  see,  the  laboratory  is  poorly  sheltered from
radiation... It's cramped. Poor automation, obsolete equipment... What?
     Kostya said with a sigh:
     -  Yes, that's  the truth, the truth,  bitter as the gamma-radiophagus.
But  if you were  to ask me, what  do I have to complain  about, I  would be
compelled to tell you, that I  have nothing to complain about. Of course, we
have  complaints. How can it be without  complaints in this world? But these
aren't our complaints, these are complaints against us. And you  must agree,
it  would be funny, if I would begin telling you,  the chief inspector,  why
they are complaining about us. By the way, are you hungry? It's really good,
that  you  are  not.  Try  and find  something  edible  in our pantry... The
earliest  supplies tanker will arrive only  tonight or tomorrow morning, and
that, believe you  me, is really sad, since the physicists  have become used
to eating daily,  and no  logistical mistakes can break  this habit. And, if
you  really want to know my  opinion on  the  complaints, I shall  tell  you
everything  terse  and  clear,  like  talking  to   a   girl  I  love:  this
diploma-holding  haphazarders  from  IBCC   are  always   complaining  about
something.  If we work fast they complain that we quickly wear out precious,
a.k.a. unique, equipment, that work melts in our hands, and they cannot keep
up with us. And if we work slowly... Though, what am I saying? There has not
yet been anyone original enough, who would complain of us working slowly. By
the way, Vladimir Sergeevich, you once were a decent planetary scientist, we
all used to learn  from  your fabulous books and  all kinds of  reports! Why
have  you joined IBCC and  then became involved with  general inspections on
top of that?
     Yurkovski  was  looking   at   Kostya,   astounded.  Yura  tensed   up,
anticipating an imminent storm. Ezra stood there, blinking his yellow bovine
eyelashes with total indifference.
     -  Er-rr... - Yurkovski dragged  out, frowning, - as a matter  of fact,
why not?
     - I  shall explain to you, why not, - said Kostya, pushing his  fingers
into Yurkovski's  chest. - You are such a good scientist, you are indeed the
father of  contemporary planetology! From  birth,  there  was a fountain  of
ideas  gushing out  of  you!  That  gigantic planets  must have  rings, that
planets may condense without a central luminary star, that Saturn's ring has
an artificial origin, - go and ask Ezra, who came up with all of these? Ezra
will tell you  straight away: Yurkovski! And you have left  all those  tasty
morsels  to be torn to pieces  by  all kinds of  odd  mackerel, and chose to
become a haphazarder instead!
     - Well, come on now! - Yurkovski said good-naturedly.  - I am just a...
err... an ordinary scientist...
     - You  were  an ordinary scientist!  Now you are, forgive me for saying
this, an ordinary chief inspector. Now, tell me seriously: why have you come
here? You can neither ask about anything properly, nor advise anything, I am
not  even  talking of  being able to  assist. Ok,  let's say, I will, out of
courtesy, take you around all laboratories, and we shall be walking like two
lunatics,  and letting each other go first through the hatches. And we shall
stay cordially silent,  since you don't know how  to ask, and I have no idea
how  to answer. I mean, we must  assemble all twenty seven  people  here, to
explain  what is happening at the station, and  twenty  seven  people  could
never fit here, despite all their respect for the chief inspector, since the
place is jam-packed and one of us here is actually living in an elevator...
     -  You  are  wrong  to  think that...  err...  this makes  me happy,  -
Yurkovski interrupted him  in an official  tone.  - By this I  mean  such...
err...  overcrowding of  the  station. As far I am  aware,  the  station  is
designed for  a  crew  of  five  gravity surveyors.  And  if you,  being the
station's  director,  would comply with  the existing procedure, ratified by
     - But it's true, Vladimir Sergeevich! - the mirthful Kostya  exclaimed.
- Comrade  chief  inspector! The  people really want to work! Do the gravity
surveyors want to  work? They  do. Do  the relativists  want to? They  do as
well.  I am not  even talking about the cosmogonists, who  squeezed in  here
right over my dead  body. And on  Earth, another hundred and fifty are eager
as  anything... Big  deal, sleeping in a lift! What  else, should  they wait
till IBCC  finishes the construction  of a new  station?  No,  Yurkovski the
planetologist  would reason altogether differently.  He wouldn't tell me off
for  overcrowding.  And  he would not insist on me explaining everything  to
him. Especially because, he is not Heisenberg, and would not understand more
than half of it, anyway. No, Yurkovski the planetologist would say: "Kostya!
What I  need, is for you  to  provide an experimental basis for my new grand
idea. Let's  do it, Kostya!" And  then I would give up my  bunk for you, and
sleep  in  the emergency elevator myself. And  we would work together  until
such time, when everything would be as clear as  Sunday morning! Instead you
come  to collect complaints. What complaints  can a man with an  interesting
job have?
     Yura  sighed  with  relief. The  thunder  has  not  struck, after  all.
Yurkovski's face was becoming more and more pensive, even gloomy.
     - Yes, -  he said. - I guess, you are right... err... Kostya. I  really
should  not  have come  here in this... err... capacity.  And I am... err...
jealous of you. With you I would  be delighted  to work. But... err..  there
are stations  and there  are...  err...  stations.  You can't even  imagine,
Kostya, how many  disgraceful  goings-on  exist  in our  system.  And  hence
Yurkovski  the  planetologist  was  compelled  to...  err... become a  chief
     - Disgraceful  goings-on,  - Kostya  said quickly, -  are  matters  for
cosmic police...
     - Not always, - said Yurkovski, - unfortunately, not always.
     Something clanked and rattled in the corridor. Disorderly clattering of
magnetic soles could be heard. Someone yelled out:
     - Kostya-a! We have a forestalling! Of three milliseconds!...
     -  Ah!  -  said Kostya. - Here come my workmen, they will be  demanding
food now. Ezra, - he said, - what's the gentlest way of informing them  that
the tanker is only coming tomorrow?
     - Kostya, - said Yurkovski, - I will give you a case of tinned rations.
     - You're joking! -  Kostya rejoiced. -  You  are  god. One who gives in
time, gives two-fold. Consider that I owe you two cases of rations!
     Into  the hatch, one after  another squeezed four  people, and the room
immediately became crammed. Yura was jammed into a corner and fenced off  by
broad backs. The only thing he could  see well was the  lean  shaggy back of
Ezra's  head, someone's  mirror-smooth  scalp and one  more  muscular  neck.
Besides that,  Yura could see feet - they were arranged above the heads, and
giant boots  with  shiny  worn-out plates that  were  moving cautiously  two
centimetres away from the shaved scalp. In the gap  between  back and necks,
Yura  could  occasionally see Kostya's aquiline profile and  a thick-bearded
face of the fourth  operative. Yurkovski could not be seen,  most likely  he
had also been jammed. Everyone was speaking at once.
     - The dispersion of coordinates is really small. I was calculating in a
hurry, but three milliseconds, I think, go without any question...
     - But it's still only three, and not six!
     - That's not the point! The point is, it lies outside the error margin!
     - Wish we could blow up Mars, now that would give us precision.
     - Yep, buddy, then we could remove half the graviscopes.
     - What a hateful device - the graviscope. Just who had come up with it!
     - Be  grateful, that we even have these. Do you know, how we used to do
it before?
     - Get this, he doesn't like graviscopes!
     - Are we getting food?
     - Yes, about food. Kostya, we have finished all our radiophagus.
     -  Right, right, it's  good that you have remembered. Kostya,  give  us
some pills.
     -  Guys,  I think I just lied  to you. It's not three milliseconds, but
     - Total boloney. Give it to Ezra, Ezra will calculate properly.
     - That's  a good idea... Ezra,  here, take this, sweetie,  you  are the
most cold-blooded of us, because my hands are already shaking from greed.
     - The flash  today was  of amazing  beauty. I almost went blind. I just
love  annihilative  detonations!  You feel a kind of  creator,  the  man  of
     -  Listen, Kostya, why is Pagava saying, that we will now be conducting
only localised explosions? And what about us?
     - And do you have a conscience? What, have  you imagined that this is a
gravitational observatory? And the cosmogonists, they are just mere boys?
     - Oh,  Panas,  don't  you  get  involved  in  that row.  Kostya  is our
director, after all. And why does a director  exist. To make sure everything
is fair.
     - Then what is the point of having your buddy as the director?
     - Whoa! I am no longer good enough as a director? What's  this, mutiny?
Fetch my jack boots, laced cuffs and pistols!
     - By the way, I wouldn't mind eating something.
     - I have computed, - said Ezra.
     - Well?
     - Don't you rush him, he can't go that fast.
     - Three and eight.
     - Ezra! Your every word is gold!
     - Error margin is plus or minus two and two.
     - How loquacious is our Ezra today!
     Yura couldn't take  it any  longer  and  whispered straight into Ezra's
     - What happened? Why is everyone so happy?
     Ezra, turning his head slightly, muttered:
     -  Got a forestalling.  Proved.  That gravitation  spreads. Faster than
light. Proved for the first time.
     - Three and eight tenths, guys, - the man with a shaved head announced,
- this  means that  we  have  stuck one up this haphazarder from  Leningrad.
What's his name...
     -  An  excellent start.  All we  have  to  do  now  is eat, thrash  the
cosmogonists and start working seriously on this thing.
     - Listen, scientists, why isn't Kramer here?
     - He had been lying, that he has two tins of preserves. Right now he is
looking  for them  amongst the  old  documents. Let's  throw a  feast of the
scrawny with one tin for fourteen people.
     - A feast of scrawny-bodied, and poor in spirit.
     - Quiet, scientists, and I shall make you happy!
     - What preserves had Valerka been lying about?
     - Rumour has it, he's got a tin of canned peaches and a tin of zucchini
     - Some sausage would be nice now...
     -  Are  you  going  to  listen  to  me  here or  not?  Attention,  you,
scientists! That's better. I can inform  you, that amongst us  we  have  one
general inspector  - Yurkovski Vladimir Sergeevich.  He is granting us a box
of tinned rations from his own table!
     - Yeah? - someone said.
     - Nah, this is not even amusing. Who would joke like this?
     From the corner somewhere they heard:
     - Err... hello.
     - Bah! Vladimir Sergeevich? How did we miss you?
     - How boorish have we become, brothers, death-planeters!
     - Vladimir Sergeevich! Is it true about the preserves?
     - Absolutely true, - said Yurkovski.
     - Hooray!
     - And one more time...
     - Hooray!
     - And one more time...
     - Ho-o-ra-ay!
     - The preserves are with meat, - said Yurkovski.
     A hungry groan carried through the room.
     - Oh,  why do  we only have  weightlessness  here? Such  a man must  be
chaired up! Carried around in a stretcher!
     Yet another beard peered through the open hatch.
     -  Why  are  you  all screaming here? - it asked  gloomily. -  Got  the
forestalling, but that there is no grub - did you know that? The tanker will
shuffle here only tomorrow.
     For a  while everyone observed the beard. Then the man  with a muscular
neck said reflectively:
     - I recognise a cosmogonist by his eloquent expression.
     - Hey guys, he must be hungry, don't you reckon.
     - No wonder! Cosmogonists are always hungry!
     - Do you think we should send him to deliver the preserves?
     - Paul, my dear friend, - said Kostya, - right now you will be going to
get the preserves. Go and put on the vacuum-suit.
     -  Yura,  -  said   Yurkovski,  -  please  accompany  this  comrade  to
"Takhmaseeb". Or, never mind, I will go myself.
     - Good day,  Vladimir Sergeevich, - said the bearded man, breaking into
a smile. - How did you make it to us?
     He stepped away from the hatch, letting Yurkovski pass. They left.
     - A good man, Yurkovski. A kind man.
     - Then why inspect us.
     -  He hasn't come  to inspect. As  far as I  understood,  he is  simply
     - Then let him.
     - Is it possible for him to negotiate the expansion of our program?
     -  Expansion of the  program  -  that's one thing. I hope  he won't  be
cutting staff. I'd better go and get my sleeping gear from the elevator.
     - Yeah, inspectors don't like it when people live in elevators.
     - Scientists,  don't be afraid! I  have already told him everything. He
is not like that. This is Yurkovski!
     - Guys, let's go find a dining room. The library, perhaps?
     - Cosmogonists have cramped up the library.
     Everyone began climbing in turn through the hatch. Then the man  with a
muscular neck came up to Kostya and said quietly:
     - Can you give me another pill, Kostya. I feel somewhat dizzy.

     Eunomia  lay  far  behind.  "Takhmaseeb"  set  its course for  asteroid
Bamberga - into the realm of the mysterious "Space Pearl Limited". Yura woke
up  late at night - the injection  under  the shoulder blade  was aching and
itching, he  had an awful  thirst. Yura heard  heavy  erratic  steps in  the
corridor.  It  even seemed he had  heard  a constrained moan. "Ghosts,  - he
thought with frustration. - That's all we need now". Without getting off his
bunk, he opened the door slightly and looked out. In the  corridor Yurkovski
stood in his splendid bathrobe, strangely  lopsided. His face  was  flaccid,
eyes closed. His breathing was fast and heavy, his mouth distorted.
     - Vladimir  Sergeevich! -  Yura  called out, frightened. - What's wrong
with you?
     Yurkovski  opened his eyes  quickly and  tried  to straighten out,  but
folded up again.
     - Si-lence! - he said quickly in a menacing tone and twisting all over,
walked to Yura. Yura moved  aside  and  let him  inside the cabin. Yurkovski
shut the door tightly and carefully sat next to Yura.
     - Why aren't you sleeping? - he asked in a whisper.
     - What is it with  you, Vladimir Sergeevich?  - Yura mumbled. - Are you
feeling ill?...
     -  It's rubbish, just my  liver. - Yura  was looking  in horror at  his
hands, spasmodically clasped to the sides, as if frozen. - A mean thing, she
is  always like  that after a  radiation  attack... But  still, our  stop at
Eunomia  hadn't been  in vain.  These  are the people, Yura! Genuine people!
Workers.  Pure.  And  no  haphazarders  will ever  get  in their  way, -  he
carefully leaned his back against  the wall, and  Yura  hastily put a pillow
under  it. - A funny word "haphazarders" - isn't it, Yura? But  soon we will
see a different sort  of people... Altogether different... Rotters, trash...
Worse than the Martian leeches... You, of course, won't see them, however, I
will have to... - He  closed his eyes. - Yura... I am sorry... I might  fall
asleep  here...  I took...  some  medicine... If  I  fall  asleep...  go and
sleep... in my room...

     Bela Barabash stepped over the coaming and shut the door tightly behind
him.  On the door  a black plastic sign  hung  in  splendour: " The  General
Manager of Bamberga Mines. Space  Pearl Limited".  The sign was cracked.  It
was in one piece only yesterday. The bullet hit the lower left corner of the
sign, and  the  crack passed through the capital  "B". Rotten sluggard, Bela
thought. "I can assure you, there are no weapons at the mines. Only you have
it, Mr Barabash, and the policemen also. Even I don't have any". Scoundrel.
     The corridor was  empty. Right in front of  the  door a cheerful poster
was hanging:  "Remember - you are a stakeholder. Company's  interests -  are
your interests". Bela clasped his head, closed his eyes and stood  like that
for some time, swaying a little. My God, he thought. When will all this end?
When will they take me away  from here? I mean, what sort  of a commissioner
am I? Indeed, I can't get anything done. I don't have the energy  any  more.
Can you  understand  me?  I  have no strength  left. Take me away from here,
please. Yes, I am ashamed and all that. But I can't take it any longer...
     Somewhere  a  hatch  shut with  a clang. Bela  lowered  his  hands  and
shuffled  his  feet down  the  corridor.  Past the  loathsome  advertisement
posters on the walls. Past  the locked cabins  of engineers. Past  the  tall
narrow  door of the police station. I wonder, whom could they be shooting at
on the administration's floor? Of course, they won't tell me who the shooter
was. But, perhaps,  I will be able to find out, whom they were  shooting at?
Bela walked  into the police room. At  the table, holding up  his cheek with
his hand, sergeant Higgins, the police chief, one of the  three policemen on
Bamberga  mines, was dozing.  In  front  of Higgins  on the  table  stood  a
microphone, on his  right - the  radio, on the left  lay a  magazine with  a
bright cover.
     - Hello, Higgins, - said Bela
     Higgins opened his eyes.
     - Good day, mister Barabash.
     A manly voice, a little husky.
     - What's news, Higgins?
     - "Geya" arrived, - said Higgins. - Brought the  mail. My wife  writes,
that she misses me a lot. As if don't miss her. There are also four packages
for you. I said that they should deliver them to you. I thought, you were in
your cabin.
     -  Thank you,  Higgins. Do  you  know,  who was shooting today  on this
     Higgins thought about it.
     - I just can't remember that there was any shooting today, - he said.
     - What about yesterday evening? Or during the night?
     Higgins said reluctantly:
     - Someone shot at engineer Meyer at night.
     - Did Meyer tell you that? - Barabash asked.
     - I wasn't there. I was on duty at the saloon.
     - You see, Higgins, - Barabash said. - I have just gone to see the head
manager. The head manager  had assured  me for the tenth time, that only you
have weapons here. The policemen.
     - That may very well be.
     - Then, one of your subordinates was shooting at Meyer?
     - I don't think so, - said Higgins. - Tom  was  with  me at the saloon,
and Konrad... Why would Konrad shoot the engineer?
     - Therefore, somebody else has got a weapon?
     - I haven't seen it, that weapon, Mr  Barabash. If  I saw  it - I would
confiscate it. Because all weapons are forbidden. But I didn't see it.
     All of a sudden Bela felt totally indifferent about the whole thing.
     - Alright, - he said  listlessly. - After  all, upholding the law -  is
your business, not  mine. My  business is to  inform IBCC how you carry  out
your duties.
     He turned around  and  walked out. He took the  lift down to the second
floor  and walked across  the saloon.  No one was in the  saloon.  Along the
walls vending machines blinked  with  yellow lights. Should  I get drunk, or
something, Bela thought. Get pissed as  a  swine, get into bed and sleep for
two days. And  then get up  and get loaded again. He  passed the saloon  and
walked down  a long wide corridor. The  corridor was called  "broadway"  and
stretched  from the saloon to the  toilets. Here posters hung too, reminding
passers-by  that  "company's interests - are your interests", movie programs
for the current decade  were hanging, stockmarket  reports, lottery results,
tables of baseball and basketball matches  conducted on Earth  were hanging,
and also the  tables of boxing  and freestyle wrestling competitions, taking
place here, on Bamberga. The doors of both  movie theatres and library doors
all faced "broadway".  The gymnasium and the  church  were located one floor
below.  At night, "broadway" was  jam-packed,  and  multi-coloured lights of
absurd  advertisements  blinded the eyes. On the other  hand, not so absurd,
after all - they reminded workers nightly, what awaits  them on Earth,  when
they return to their homes with a full wallet.
     Right now "broadway" was empty and  semi-dark. Bela turned into one  of
the corridors. On the right and  on the  left identical doors stretched. The
dorms were  situated here. Smells of  tobacco  and  eau  de  cologne reached
through  the doors. In one of the rooms Bela saw a man lying on  a  bunk and
walked  in. The lying man's  face was covered with plaster patches. A lonely
eyed looked dolefully up into the ceiling.
     - What's wrong, Joshua? - Bela asked, coming closer.
     Joshua's forlorn eye turned to him.
     - I am lying down, - said Joshua. - I ought to be in a mineshaft, and I
am lying down. And  losing  a heap  of money every hour. I am even afraid to
count, how much I am losing.
     - Who bashed you up?
     - How would I know? - Joshua answered. - I got so drunk yesterday, that
I  don't  remember a thing.  What the hell made  me  do it...  I was bracing
myself for a whole month. And now I have drunk through a whole day's  wages,
I am lying down  and I will keep lying down. - He resumed staring  dolefully
into the ceiling.
     - Yeah, - said Bela.
     Well,  what  would you do  with him,  he thought.  Convincing him, that
drinking is harmful - he knows that himself. When he gets up, he will sit in
a mineshaft for fourteen hours each day, to catch up on lost hours. And then
he will return to Earth and he will get  black radiation paralysis and won't
have any kids or will produce mutants
     - Do  you know,  that working longer than six hours in a  mineshaft  is
dangerous? - Bela asked.
     -  Go and...,  -  Joshua said  quietly. - This ain't your business. You
ain't the one working.
     Bela said with a sigh:
     - Well, then, I hope you'll get better.
     - Thank  you, mister  commissioner,  -  Joshua  grumbled.  - You  ain't
worrying about  the right stuff.  Why don't  you  make sure, that the saloon
gets closed down. And that the boot-leggers be tracked down.
     - Alright, - Bela said. - I'll try.
     Here  we are,  he  was thinking, heading  back to his  room. If we just
tried to close the saloon, you will be the first  one to  yell at a meeting,
that all sorts of communists are sticking their noses into others' business.
There is no way out of this circle. None.
     He walked  into  his  room and saw  engineer  Samuel  Livington sitting
there. The engineer was  reading an old newspaper  and eating sandwiches. In
front of him  on  the table lay a chessboard with the figures  set up.  Bela
greeted him and wearily sat at the table.
     - Shall we play? - engineer suggested.
     - In a moment, I'll just have a look at what they sent me.
     Bela unsealed the  packets.  In three packets were books, in the fourth
one - a  letter from  his mother  and some postcards  with the  views of New
Pest. On the  table  also lay  a small pink envelope. Bela knew what  was in
that envelope,  but opened  it nevertheless.  "Mister  commissioner! Get the
hell  out  of here.  Stop stirring up  trouble, whilst you are  still in one
piece. Well-wishers". Bela sighed and set the note aside.
     - Your move, - he said.
     The engineer moved a pawn.
     - Trouble again? - he asked.
     - Yes.
     He emulated  the  Karo-Kann  defence.  The  engineer  received a  small
positional advantage. Bela  took  a  sandwich and began  chewing  pensively,
looking at the board.
     - You know, Bela, - the engineer said, - when I shall see you happy for
the first time, I will declare, that I have lost an ideological war.
     - You will see it still, - Bela said without any great hope.
     - No, - said the engineer. - You are  doomed. Look around, you can  see
yourself, that you are doomed.
     - I? - Bela asked. - Or us?
     - All  of  you with your communism. People  can't be idealists  in  our
     - Come on, we  were told  that  twenty  times  in the last one  hundred
     - Check, - the  engineer  said. - They told you right. A few things, of
course, they have underestimated and hence often talked rubbish. It would be
a  joke  to say,  that  you  will  yield  to military force  or will lose in
economic competition. Every strong government and every sufficiently wealthy
nation in our times is unbeatable in miliary and  economic terms. Yep,  yep,
communism, as an economic system, has taken over, it's clear. Where are they
now, glorious empires of Morgans, Rokefellers, Krupps,  all those Mitsui and
Mitsubishi? All  blown up,  and forgotten  already. What remains are pitiful
fragments,  like  our  "Space  Pearl",  respectable  enterprises  engaged in
production of luxury  mattresses for a niche market...  And even  those ones
are compelled to cover up with slogans of  universal prosperity. Check, once
more.  And  a  few million of  stubborn  hotel  owners, real estate  agents,
despondent craftsmen. All these  are  doomed as well. All of this is holding
together  only  by  the  fact,  that in  both  Americas  currency  is  still
circulating. But here you have  hit a  dead end. There is a force which even
you  cannot overcome. What  I  mean is petty bourgeoisie. Inertness of small
people. Petty bourgeois cannot be overcome  with  force, because,  for that,
you would have to  exterminate them  physically. And they cannot be overcome
with an idea, since petty  bourgeois  are narrow minded and won't accept any
new ideas.
     - Have you ever been to a communist country, Sam?
     - I have. And have seen petty bourgeois there.
     - You are right, Sam. We, too, have them still. We have them still, and
that you have noticed. But you  haven't noticed, that we have a lot fewer of
them than you  do,  and that ours are the quiet ones. We don't  have warrior
bourgeois. One generation will pass, another one will and we  won't have any
at all.
     - So I am taking your bishop, - the engineer said.
     - Please try, - said Bela.
     For a while the engineer was thinking it over, then took the bishop.
     -  Two generations  later, you  are  saying? Or  perhaps,  two  hundred
thousand generations later? Take a reality check for once,  Bela. There they
are  all  around you, these  little  people. I  am  not  taking into account
adventurers and milksops, who  pretend to be adventurers. Take  people  like
Joshua,   Smith,  Blackwater.   Those,  whom  you  call  "conscientious"  or
"peaceful", depending on your mood. But they  have so  few desires, that you
cannot  offer  anything  to  them.  And that, which  they  desire, they will
achieve without any communism. They will become the owners of cafes, acquire
a  wife,  kids  and  will  live  quietly,  enjoying  their life.  Communism,
capitalism - what  do they care? Capitalism is even better, since capitalism
encourages this  mode of being. A man is just  a working beast according  to
his nature.  Give him a full manger,  no worse than what his neighbour  has,
let  him fill his  gut and let him giggle  at  some simple show. Now you are
going to tell me: we  can offer him something greater. But what does he need
anything greater for? He  will tell you:  this is  none of  your business. A
little indifferent beast.
     -  You  are slandering people, Sam. Joshua and the  company  look  like
working beasts to you, only because you have put a lot of effort into making
them  what they are. Who convinced them from birth, that  the most important
thing in life  - is  money?  Who  taught them to be envious of millionaires,
property owners,  the next door  milk bar owner? You crammed their head with
ridiculous  films  and ridiculous books and told them, that one cannot  jump
above god. And  drummed  into their heads, that there is a god, a home and a
business and nothing  more in the  entire world.  That's how you turn people
into  working beasts. But  a man  is  not  a beast, Sam.  Tell him from  the
cradle, that  the most  important things in life  -  -  are  friendship  and
knowledge,  that, besides his cradle,  there is a great big world,  which he
and  his friends are going to win over - only then  you will  have a genuine
person. Here we are, I let the rook slip.
     - You can take another turn, - the  engineer said. - I won't argue with
you. Perhaps, the role of education is really as great as you say. Although,
even  despite your way  of education, despite  the  national intolerance  of
petty bourgeoisie, they  still manage  to spring up, those... how do you say
it in Russian... thistles. And  over on our side, with our  education, those
whom  you call  genuine people, somehow contrive to grow up.  Naturally, you
have far less  Philistines than we  do... Check... Anyway,  I still  have no
idea, what you are going to do with the two  billion  of Philistines of  the
capitalist world. We don't intend  to re-educate them. True, capitalism - is
a corpse. But it is a dangerous corpse.  And  on top of that you have opened
the borders.  And whilst borders stay open, petty bourgeoisie  in all guises
shall  flow  through these borders. I hope you  won't  choke on  it... Check
     - I don't recommend it, - said Bela.
     - And what is the matter?
     - I will retreat to G-eight, and your queen is under attack.
     The engineer pondered over it for a while.
     - Yes, you may be right, - he said. - There won't be a check.
     - It would be foolish  to deny the danger of Philistinism, - Bela said.
-  One of  your political leaders had  rightly said that ideology of a petty
proprietor, presents a greater danger to  communism, than  the now forgotten
hydrogen  bomb.  But  he  had addressed  that  danger  incorrectly.  Not  to
communism, but to the entire  humanity is Philistinism a danger.  Because in
your musings, Sam, there is one mistake. A Philistine -  is still a  person,
after all, and he always wants something greater. But since he is a beast at
the  same time,  this  urge for something greater assumes the most  horrific
form,  out of necessity. The craving for power, for example. The craving for
worship. The craving for popularity. When two such people come head to head,
they tear each other  to shreds, like dogs. And when two such people come to
an agreement, they tear others around them to  shreds. And then  funny stuff
begins, such as  fascism,  segregation, genocide.  And primarily  because of
that, we are conducting a  war against  Philistinism. And  soon  you will be
compelled to start a similar war simply to being stifled by your own manure.
Do you remember the teachers' march to Washington two years ago?
     - I remember, - Livington said. - But I think, that  struggling against
Philistinism - is as good as chopping water with a knife.
     -  My  engineer, - Bela  said,  mockingly,  -  this  contention  is  as
unsubstantiated, as apocalypse. You  are simply  a  pessimist. How  does  it
go?..  "The  miscreants shall rise above the heroes,  the  sages  shall stay
silent, and  the fools  shall be saying: none of  that  which  people think,
shall come to be".
     - Oh well, - said Livington. - There were such times, too. And I am, of
course, a pessimist. Why would I exactly be an optimist? And you, too.
     - I am not a pessimist, - said  Bela. - I am just a bad worker. But the
time of poor in spirit had passed, Sam. It  had passed long  ago, as it says
in those same apocalyptic writings.
     The door flung open and on the threshold stood a tall  man  with a high
forehead and a pale, slightly flabby  face.  Bela froze,  looking closely at
him. A  second later, he recognised  him. Well, that is  it, he thought with
anguish and  relief. That  is the end. The man  briefly looked  the engineer
over, and stepped inside the room. Now he was looking only at Bela.
     - I am the chief inspector of IBCC, - he said. - My name is Yurkovski.
     Bela stood up.  The  engineer  also  stood up  respectfully.  Following
Yurkovski  a huge tanned  man  wearing loose blue overalls  walked into  the
room. He briefly looked Bela over and began staring at the engineer.
     - Please excuse me, - said the engineer and walked out. After walking a
few  paces down the corridor, he stopped  and whistled pensively.  Right, he
thought. The  ideological  struggle  on Bamberga  is entering  a new  phase.
Urgent measures must be taken.
     Engrossed  in thought,  he walked down  the corridor, accelerating  his
pace constantly. When he got to the lift, he was almost running. Having come
to the top floor, he headed for the radio room. The radio operator looked at
him with surprise.
     - Anything's the matter, mister Livington? - he asked.
     Livington ran his hand across a damp forehead.
     -  I got bad news from home, -  he said abruptly. - When is the nearest
session with Earth?
     - In half an hour, - the radio operator said.
     Livington sat at the nearest table, ripped a sheet out of a notepad and
quickly wrote down a radiogram.
     - Send  this urgently,  Michael, -  he  said,  handing the sheet to the
operator. - This is very important.
     The radio operator looked at the sheet and whistled in surprise.
     - What do you need that for? - he asked. - Who would sell "Space Pearl"
at the end of the year?
     - I need cash urgently, - said the engineer and walked out.
     The radio  operator  put  the  paper  down  in  front of him and became
engrossed in thought.

     Yurkovski sat  down and pushed  the  chessboard  to the  side with  his
elbow. Zhilin sat away from them.
     -  You have covered yourself with shame, comrade Barabash,  - Yurkovski
said in a low voice.
     - Yes, - said Bela and swallowed.
     - How do spirits get onto Bamberga, have you worked that out?
     - No. Most likely spirits get distilled right here.
     - During  last year,  the company had sent to Bamberga  four transports
with pressed fibre. What works on Bamberga require such amount of fibre?
     - I don't know, - said Bela. - I don't know any such works.
     - I  don't  know  either.  They  distil  spirits  from  fibre,  comrade
Barabash. That would be clear even to a hedgehog.
     Bela stayed silent.
     - Who has weapons on Bamberga? - Yurkovski asked.
     - Don't know, - said Bela. - I could not find out.
     - But weapons still exist?
     - Yes.
     - Who sanctions the over-time works?
     - No one prohibits them.
     - Have you addressed an appeal to the general manager?
     Bela clenched his hands.
     - I have addressed an appeal to that scoundrel twenty times. He doesn't
want to  hear  anything. He  sees nothing,  hears  nothing  and  understands
nothing. He is deeply sorry, that I have poor information  sources. You know
what,  Vladimir Sergeevich, either you  transfer me the hell out of  here or
give me  an authority  to shoot the bastards. I  can't  do  anything. I have
talked sense  into them.  I begged  them. I threatened them. This is a wall.
For all  workers, the  IBCC  commissioner is  a red scarecrow.  Nobody would
speak to me. "I don't know nothing and it's not any damn business of yours".
They don't  give  a hoot about the international  trade laws. I  can't go on
like this any more. Have you seen the posters on the walls?
     Yurkovski  looked at him pensively, rotating a  white queen between his
     - I have nobody I can rely on here, - Bela continue. - These are either
bandits,  or  quiet scum,  who only  dream  about stuffing their pockets and
don't give a damn if they will crank over after it or not. Real people don't
come here,  you know. Garbage, failures. Lumpen-proletarians. My hands shake
at night after all of  this. I cannot sleep. Two days ago they invited me to
sign  an accident  report. I  refused:  it was  clear as  day,  that a man's
vacuum-suit  was cut open with autogenous welding  gear. Then this  bastard,
the union  secretary, said that  he will complain about me.  A month ago, on
Bamberga, three girls appear and vanish in one morning. I go to  the general
manager,  and  this  prick laughs  me in the face:  "You are  hallucinating,
mister  commissioner, you  must go back  to your  wife, you are seeing girls
already". After all, I was shot at  three times. Yes, yes, I know that not a
single  idiot was aiming at me. But it doesn't make my life any easier. Just
think about it,  I was put  in here to protect the  lives  and well being of
these blockheads! They can all go to...
     Bela stopped talking and cracked his fingers.
     - Come on now, easy, Bela, - Yurkovski said strictly.
     - Allow me to leave, - said  Bela. -  This  comrade,  -  he  pointed at
Zhilin, - he, I presume, is the new commissioner...
     - This isn't  the new commissioner,  - said  Yurkovski.  - Please, meet
"Takhmaseeb's" engineer, Zhilin.
     Zhilin bowed slightly.
     - Of what "Tahkmaseeb"?
     -  It's  my ship, - said Yurkovski.  - This is what we  are going to do
now. We'll go to the general manager, and I will say a few words to him. And
then we'll talk to the workers.  - He got up. - It's alright, Bela, don't be
disappointed.  You  are  not the first one. I have had this  Bamberga  up to
     Bela said worriedly:
     -  We really need to take a few of our  men. There  can be a fight. The
manager here keeps a gang of thugs at hand.
     - What 'our men'?  - Yurkovski asked. - You have just  told me that you
cannot rely on anyone here.
     - So you have come alone? - Bela asked in horror.
     Yurkovski shrugged his shoulders.
     - Yeah, naturally, - he  said. - I  am  not your  general  manager, you
     - Alright, - said Bela.
     He  unlocked  the  safe  and  took  a handgun. His  face was  pale  and
decisive.  The first  bullet I  will  plant into that  slug, he thought with
acute  joy.  Let anyone shoot at me then,  but Mr Richardson is  getting the
first bullet. Into his fat, smooth, foul mug.
     Yurkovski looked at him closely.
     - You know  what, Bela, - he spoke in a sincere voice, - I'd leave  the
gun here if I were you. Or give it to comrade Zhilin. I am afraid, you won't
be able to resist.
     - And do you think, he will resist?
     - Resist I will, - said Zhilin, smiling.
     Bela gave him the gun with regret.
     Yurkovski opened the door and stopped. Before him appeared the swagging
sergeant  Higgins  wearing  full clean-pressed  uniform and a  blue  helmet.
Higgins saluted him distinctly.
     -  Sir, - he said, -  the chief of police of  Bamberga  mines  sergeant
Higgins has arrived under your command.
     -  Glad  to  see  you,  sergeant Higgins,  please  follow  us,  -  said
Yurkovski. They passed a short corridor and walked out  onto the "broadway".
The clock has  not yet struck six,  but  "broadway"  was flooded with bright
light  and  tightly  packed  with  workers. "Broadway" hummed  with  worried
voices. Yurkovski was walking  leisurely,  smiling  courteously and  looking
closely into the workers faces. He could see these faces well under the even
fluorescent light - sunken cheeks, with sickly sallow  skin, with bags under
their  eyes,  apathetically nonchalant, angry,  curious, spiteful,  full  of
hate. The  workers parted, letting him pass, and  behind Higgins'  back drew
closer again and followed them. Sergeant Higgins kept yelling out:
     - Make way  for the chief inspector! Don't push, guys! Make way for the
chief inspector!
     Walking  like  this  they  came   to  the  lift  and  went  up  to  the
administration floor. Here  the crowd was even denser. And no one would give
way here. Amongst the tired faces of the workers flickered some cheerful and
audacious mugs. Now sergeant Higgins walked ahead, pushing through the crowd
with a blue baton.
     - Move aside, - he was saying in a low voice, -  let  us  pass...  Move
     The back  of his head between  the edge of  the  helmet  and the collar
became  engorged  with  blood  and  glistened with sweat. Zhilin closed  the
procession. The audacious mugs pushed towards the front rows, calling to one
     - Hey guys, which one of them is the inspector?
     - Can't tell, they are all red, like tomato juice...
     - They are red throughout, inside and outside...
     - I don't believe it, wanna see...
     - Have a look, I won't stop you...
     - Hey sergeant! Higgins! What a company have you landed yourself into!
     Zhilin was  tripped.  He  did  not  turn  around, but  started  looking
carefully at his feet.  Upon noticing another boot  made from  soft cord, he
stepped on it assiduously, with all his weight. Someone wailed next  to him.
Zhilin looked  into  a twisted  face with whiskers that  had gone  white and
     - Please forgive me, I am so clumsy!
     He was wearing huge, unusually heavy boots with rifled magnetic soles.
     The noise was rising. By now everyone was yelling.
     - Who called them here?
     - Hey, you! Don't stick your nose in other people's business!
     - Let us work the way we want to! We aren't meddling in your affairs!
     - Go back home and give orders there!
     Sergeant Higgins, wet as a mouse, finally made it to  the door with the
cracked sign and flung it open before Yurkovski.
     - In here, sir, - breathing heavily, he said.
     Yurkovski  and  Bela walked  in.  Zhilin  stepped over  the coaming and
looked  back.  He  saw a lot of audacious mugs and only  behind them, in the
tobacco smoke, the workers' hardened gloomy faces. Higgins also stepped over
the coaming and shut the door.
     The office of Mr Richardson, the mine manager, was spacious.  Along the
walls  stood large soft  chairs and  glass cabinets with mineral samples and
imitations of the  largest "cosmic pearls",  found on Bamberga. From  behind
the table, a pleasant noble-looking man wearing a  black suit got up to meet
     - Ah, mister  Yurkovski,  - he thundered, and having  circled the table
walked to Yurkovski, stretching his hands out. - I am infinitely glad...
     - Don't  bother, - said  Yurkovski, circling  the table  from the other
side. - I won't shake your hand anyway.
     The general  manager stopped, smiling pleasantly. Yurkovski sat  behind
the desk and turned to Bela.
     - Is this the general manager? - he asked.
     - Yes!  - said Bela with delight. - This  is the  chief mine manager Mr
     The manager shook his head.
     - Oh, Mr  Barabash,  - he said  with reproach, - do I really owe to you
such unfriendliness on behalf of mister inspector?
     - Who  issued the patent  for the  management of this mine? - Yurkovski
     - As it is done in the western world, mister Yurkovski, by the board of
     - Present it to me.
     -  Please, - the  manager said quite courteously. He slowly crossed the
room, unlocked a  large safe,  built into the wall, produced a large  folder
made from brown leather and extracted from the folder a sheet of thick paper
with  golden  edges. -  Please,  -  he repeated and laid  the  sheet  before
     - Lock the safe, - said Yurkovski, - and hand the keys to the sergeant.
     Sergeant Higgins  accepted  the  keys,  stone-faced.  Yurkovski  looked
through the  patent, folded it in four, and shoved  it in his pocket. Mister
Richardson kept smiling. Zhilin  thought, that never in his life had he seen
a man  of such pleasant appearance. Yurkovski placed his elbows on the table
and looked at Richardson with reflection. Richardson thundered:
     - I would be pleased to know, mister Yurkovski, what the meaning of all
these strange actions is.
     - You are  charged with a  number  of offences under  the international
law,  -  Yurkovski  said  casually.  Mister  Richardson  raised  his  hands,
exceptionally surprised. - You  are  charged with breaching  the  prescribed
legal rights  within cosmic  space. - There was  no bound to Mr Richardson's
astonishment.  - You  are  charged  with the  murder  - at  this stage,  not
premeditated - of sixteen workers and three women.
     - Me? - Mr Richardson cried out, insulted. - I am charged with murder?
     - Inter alia, murder,  too,  - said Yurkovski. - I am relieving  you of
your  post, and shortly you will be arrested  and  sent to Earth,  where you
will front the international  tribunal. But  right now don't let me hold you
any longer.
     - I give in to brute force, - said Mr Richardson with dignity.
     -  And you  are  doing  the  right thing,  - said Yurkovski. -  Present
yourself here in an hour to transfer all current matters to your successor.
     Richardson turned abruptly, walked to the door and flung it open.
     - My friends!  - he spoke out  loud.  - These people have  detained me!
They don't like your high  earnings! They want you to work  for  six hours a
day and remain destitute!
     Yurkovski  was  looking  at him with curiosity.  Higgins,  undoing  his
holster,  retreated to the  desk. Richardson was swept aside. Into  the door
burst screaming  hoodlum,  but they were  immediately pushed  aside and  the
office  became filled  with workers.  A  dense  wall  of grey  overalls  and
malicious,  gloomy faces stopped before  the table. Yurkovski  looked around
and  saw, that  Zhilin is standing  on  his  right,  hands shoved  into  his
pockets, and  Bela, curved  up, clutching  the  back of  the  chair, without
pulling his gaze away, is staring at Mr Richardson.
     - No unlawful actions, guys, easy now, guys, take it easy...
     Joshua, covered with plaster, pushed through the crowd.
     - We don't  wish  to quarrel  with anyone, mister inspector, - he spoke
hoarsely, staring at Yurkovski with a spiteful eye. - But we won't have  any
of your tricks around here.
     - What tricks? - Yurkovski inquired.
     - We have come here, in order to earn money...
     - And we have come here, in order to stop you from rotting alive...
     -  And I  am  telling you, that  it's none of your  business!  - Joshua
shouted. He turned to the crowd and asked: - Right, guys?
     - Oo-o-o! - the crowd roared, and at this moment someone fired.
     Behind  Yurkovski  the  glass  display  clinked,  falling  apart.  Bela
groaned, lifted a chair with an effort, and brought it down onto the head of
Mr Richardson, who was standing in the front row, with eyes raised and hands
folded  in a prayer.  Zhilin took his hands  out of pockets  and prepared to
jump at someone. Joshua  drew  back, scared. Yurkovski  stood  up  and  said
     - Who was  that idiot shooting? He almost got me. Sergeant, why are you
standing still like a chair? Seize that idiot's weapon!
     Higgins dutifully climbed into the crowd. Zhilin shoved his  hands into
pockets again  and sat  on the  corner of  the desk.  He  looked at Bela and
laughed.  Bela's face gleamed  with bliss. He  was watching  Richardson with
delight. Two  thugs  were  raising Richardson up,  looking  with  spite  and
confusion  at Bela, at Yurkovski, and at the workers. Richardson's eyes were
shut; a dark bruise was spreading over his high smooth forehead.
     - By  the way, - said Yurkovski,  - all of you, surrender  all  weapons
that  you have here.  I  am telling you  this now, you  spongers!  From this
moment  on, anyone  who  is  found  in possession  of a weapon is subject to
summary  execution. I am investing commissioner Barabash with  the requisite
     Zhilin  slowly walked around the table, took out his gun and  handed it
to Barabash.  Barabash, staring  closely  at  the  closest gangster,  slowly
pulled back the lock. In a silence that  set in the lock made a loud  clink.
An  empty space immediately formed around the gangster. He grew pale, took a
gun out of his  back pocket, and threw it on the floor. Bela  kicked the gun
into the corner and turned to the thug holding Richardson up.
     - You!
     The thug let go of Richardson and, smiling crookedly, shook his head.
     - I haven't got any, - he said.
     - Well,  then,  - said  Yurkovski. - Sergeant,  help  these  characters
disarm. Let's get back to our conversation. We  were interrupted here,  - he
said, addressing Joshua.  -  I  believe, you were  saying  that  I shouldn't
meddle in your affairs, right?
     -  Right,  - said Joshua. - We are free people and came here ourselves,
for earnings. And you should stop getting in our way.  We aren't getting  in
your way and you shouldn't stop us, too.
     - The question of who  is getting in  whose  way, we'll leave aside for
now, - said  Yurkovski. -  And now I would  like to tell you something. - He
produced  from his pocket and threw on the desk  a few  dazzlingly sparkling
multicoloured stones. - Here  are the so-called  space pearls, - he  said. -
You all  know them very well. These  are ordinary precious and semi-precious
stones,  which  have  been,  for  long  periods  of  time here on  Bamberga,
subjected to the force of cosmic radiation and low temperatures.  They don't
bear any particular  character, except for their really pretty glitter. Rich
dames  pay  insane money  for them, and  from  this  double-dyed idiocy your
company  has sprung up. Enjoying high  demand for these stones, your company
collects lofty profits.
     - And so do we, - someone shouted from the crowd.
     - And  so do  you, - Yurkovski agreed.  - But this is the thing. During
the eight years  of company's existence, around two thousand men have worked
on Bamberga under a three-year contract. But did you know, how many of those
who  had returned, are  still alive?  Less  than five  hundred.  An  average
workers lifespan after their return does not exceed two years. You bust your
gut  here on Bamberga for three  years, only to rot alive  for  two years on
Earth.  First and foremost,  this  happens  because  nobody  sticks  to  the
resolution of  the international commission, forbidding  work in  your mines
for more  than six hours  a day. Back on Earth all  you do is get treatment,
suffer because you cannot  have children,  or give birth to deformed babies.
This is the corporation's crime, but we aren't talking about the corporation
right now.
     - Hold on, - said Joshua and raised his hand. - Let me have a say, too.
We have heard this all already.  Mister commissioner has  dinned it into our
ears. I dunno about  others, but I don't care  about those  who died. I am a
healthy man and don't intend to die.
     - Right-o, - the crowd hummed. - Let the milksops die.
     -  Kids or no kids  - that's my business. And getting medical treatment
is not for you, but me. Thank god, I am long since an adult and I answer for
my  actions. I don't wish to hear any speeches. Here  you  have  confiscated
gangsters' weapons, I  say: well done. Find the distillers, shut the saloon.
Right?  - He turned to the  crowd. The crowd began  murmuring ambiguously. -
What are  you mumbling about? I am talking sense  here.  Where have you seen
this - one drink for two dollars? Take care of some bribe-takers. That would
be right as well. But don't interfere with my work. I have come here to earn
money, and I will earn them. Once I  decide to open my business  - I will do
that. But I have no use for your speeches. Words alone won't buy a house...
     - That's right, Joe! - people shouted in the crowd.
     - Not  right  at  all,  - said  Yurkovski.  His  eyes  suddenly  became
bloodshot  and he yelled: - What  do  you think, we will let you croak  just
like  this? My  dear  fellows,  this  is not  the  nineteenth  century! Your
business,  our business, - he  started talking in a  normal voice  again.  -
There are at best four hundred of you, fools, over here. And four billion  -
of us. And we don't want you to die. And you will not die. Fair enough, I am
not going to talk to you about your spiritual poverty.  As far as I can see,
you  aren't capable  of  understanding this. Only  your kids will understand
this, if you will ever have them. I will talk to  you in a  language you can
understand. The language  of the law. Humanity had passed legislation, which
forbids  running yourself into the grave. A law,  do you  understand? A law!
The company will be held accountable under this law, and you should remember
the following. Humanity doesn't need your  mines. Mining  on Bamberga can be
shut  at any moment, and everyone  will only sigh with relief. And keep this
in mind: if the IBCC commissioner will report just one more instance of some
violation, no matter what  kind - overtime, bribes, spirits, shooting, - the
mines will  be shut down, and  Bamberga will be fused with cosmic dust. This
is the law, and I am telling this to you on behalf of humanity.
     Yurkovski sat down.
     - We can kiss our money good-bye, - someone said loudly.
     The crowd became noisy. Someone shouted:
     - So that means, shut the mines, and we are out the street?
     Yurkovski got up.
     - Don't  talk rubbish, - he said.  - What  kind of absurd impression of
life do you have? There is so much work on Earth and in space! Genuine work,
really  urgent, needed by everybody, can you understand? Not by a handful of
satisfied  dames, but by everybody!  By  the way, I have  a proposition from
IBCC to  you: volunteers  can settle  up with  the company  and  transfer to
building  and  technical works on other  asteroids  and satellites of  large
planets.  You know, if  you would  here all  together  vote  to  shut  these
stinking mines, I would do it immediately today. And there will be more work
than you can imagine.
     - And what are the rates? - someone shouted.
     -  The  rates  are, of  course,  about  five times  less,  -  Yurkovski
answered.  - But  you will  have  work for the  rest of  your life, and good
friends, genuine people, who will  make genuine  people out of  you as well.
You  will both stay healthy  and will  be  the participants  of the greatest
development in the world.
     - What's  the  point  of  working for  someone else's business? -  said
     - Yeah, it's no good to us, - the crowd began talking.
     - What kind of business is this?
     - Everyone will be telling you what you can and can't do...
     - Spend your whole life a labourer this way...
     - Businessmen! - with ineffable contempt said Yurkovski. - Well,  it is
time  to wind  up.  Bear in  mind,  this gentleman,  -  he pointed to mister
Richardson, - I have arrested this  gentleman, he  will go on trial. Elect a
temporary manager and let me know. I will be with commissioner Barabash.
     Joshua told Yurkovski gloomily:
     - This is a  wrong  law,  mister inspector. How  is it fair not  to let
workers  earn  money?  And  you,  communists,  keep  bragging  that you  are
     -  My  friend,  -  Yurkovski  said  gently,  -  communists  support  an
altogether different kind of workers. Workers, and not petty proprietors.

     In Barabash's room Yurkovski suddenly slapped himself on the forehead
     - Bonehead, - he said. - I left the stones on general manager's desk.
     Bela laughed.
     - Well, you won't see them any more, - he said. - Someone will become a
petty proprietor.
     -  Stuff them,  - said Yurkovski. - But your nerves... err... Bela, are
really... not that great.
     Zhilin laughed.
     - How did he get him with the chair!..
     - A really nasty face, isn't it? - Bela asked
     - Why, no, - Zhilin said. - A very cultured and urbane man.
     Yurkovski noted with disgust:
     - A courteous brute.  And  look  at the facilities here, comrades? They
have built such a palace here, whilst death-planeters live in elevators. No,
I am going to take care of this, I am not letting this drop.
     - Want to have dinner? - Bela asked.
     -  No,  we'll  go  have dinner  on  "Takhmaseeb".  Soon all  these long
proceedings will end...
     - My god, -  Bela said dreamily. - To sit at a table with good ordinary
people, not to hear about dollars, or shares, or that all people are scum...
Vladimir Sergeevich, - he  said in a  pleading  tone, - could  you just send
someone else to be here with me.
     - Just bear it a little longer, Bela, - Yurkovski said. - This business
will soon stop.
     - By the way, about shares, - Zhilin said. - There must be total bedlam
in the radio-room right now...
     - Most likely, -  Bela  said. - Selling and  buying spots in a queue to
the radio operator. Eyes bulged, faces in foam... Oh, when will I get out of
     -  Come on, come  on,  - said Yurkovski. - Let me  have a look at  your
records. - Bela walked to  the  safe. -  Buy the  way Bela, will anyone here
make a more or less decent manager, at least?
     Bela was rummaging in the safe.
     - Why not, - he said. - Someone can be, of course. Engineers here - are
decent people, after all. Petty businessmen.
     There was a knock on the  door.  A gloomy Joshua, covered with plaster,
walked in.
     - Let's go, mister inspector, -  he said dismally. Yurkovski, groaning,
got up.
     - Let's go, - he said.
     Joshua stretched out an open palm to him.
     - You forgot your stones there, - he said in a sullen voice. - I picked
them up. 'Cause we have all kind of folk here.

     It was the hour of pre-dinner study. Yura was tormented by the  "Metals
theory  course".  Dishevelled,  sleepy Yurkovski  was  indolently  shuffling
through  another  report.  From  time  to time  he would yawn  voluptuously,
delicately covering his mouth with his hand. Bykov was sitting in his chair,
finishing the last magazines. It  was the twenty-fourth day of  the journey,
somewhere between the Jupiter's orbit and Saturn.
     "The  transformation of cadmium  type crystal  lattice in  relation  to
temperature in  regions  of  low  temperatures  is  determined,  as  we  had
observed, by the correlation..." - read  Yura. He  thought:  "I wonder, what
would happen  when  Alexey Petrovich runs  out  of  journals?" He remembered
Caldwell's story, where a boy was paring a tiny stick with  a knife on a hot
afternoon, and how  everyone  waited,  for what would happen, when the stick
runs out. He chuckled,  and at  the same moment Yurkovski abruptly turned to
     - If you only knew, how sick I am of all this, Alexey, - he said, - how
much do I want to stretch out...
     - Take Zhilin's dumbbells, - Bykov advised.
     - You know perfectly well, what I am talking about, - Yurkovski said.
     - I suspect it, - Bykov grumbled. - I've been suspecting it for a while
     - And what do you think... err... about this?
     - You restless old man, - said Bykov and closed his magazine. - You are
not twenty-five any more. Why do you always look for trouble?
     Yura began listening with enjoyment.
     - Why for... err... trouble? - Yurkovski was  surprised. - It will be a
small-scale, totally safe search...
     - And  perhaps, enough is enough? - said Bykov. - First  a totally safe
search  into a cave with leeches, then  a safe search with death-planeters -
by the way,  how  is your liver?  - then  a completely fanfaronade run-in at
     - Excuse me, but that was my duty, - said Yurkovski.
     - Your duty was to summon the general manager to "Takhmaseeb", we would
jointly  give him a dressing-down here, threaten to burn the  mines with our
reactor, ask the workers to  give up the gangsters and alcohol distillers  -
and  everything  would  work out without any foolish shooting. What is  this
manner of yours to choose the most dangerous variant out of all others?
     - What  do  you  mean - dangerous? -  said  Yurkovski. -  Danger  is  a
subjective concept. To you it seems dangerous, and to me - not in the least.
     -  Ok, very  well then, - said Bykov. - I find  the  search in Saturn's
Ring dangerous. And then I will not allow you to conduct that search.
     - Well,  all right, fine,  - said Yurkovski. - We'll have another  talk
about it, - he flipped a few pages of the report with frustration and turned
to  Bykov again. - Sometimes you simply amaze me, Alexey!  - he announced. -
If  I  came  across a man, who would  call  you a coward, I would spread the
impudent bastard across  the wall, but sometimes I  look at you  and... - he
shook his head and flipped a few more report pages.
     - There is foolish  bravery, - Bykov said admonishingly, - and there is
also rational bravery!
     -  Rational bravery - it's a  catachresis! "The serenity  of a mountain
spring, the cool of a summer sun", - as Kipling would say. To the madness of
valiant we sing this song!..
     - Enough  singing, - said Bykov. - In our  times we ought to work,  and
not sing. I don't know what a catachresis is, but sensible bravery - this is
the only kind of bravery, acceptable in our times. Without  any of  those...
deceased. Who needs deceased Yurkovski?
     - What utilitarianism! - Yurkovski exclaimed. -  I  don't wish  to say,
that  I am  the  only one  right! But please don't forget, that people exist
with different  temperaments.  I,  for instance,  simply draw enjoyment from
risky situations. I am  bored  living  just plainly! And thank God, I am not
the only one...
     - You know what, Volodya, - said Bykov. - Next time take Bagrat as your
captain - if he'll still  be alive by then - and fly with him to the Sun, if
you wish. And I do not intend to indulge in your amusements.
     They both  fell  quiet  angrily.  Yura  started  reading  again: "  The
transformation   of   cadmium   type   crystal  lattice   in   relation   to
temperature...". Can Bykov be right, he  thought. How boring would it be, if
he were  right. It's true then, what they say - the most sensible things are
the most boring ones...
     Zhilin  came  out  of the deck-cabin.  He  came up  to  Bykov and  said
     - Here, Alexey Petrovich, this is from Michael Antonovich...
     - What's this? - Bykov asked.
     - The program for cyber-pilot for the voyage from Japheth.
     - Fine, leave it here, I will have a look, - said Bykov.
     "There  already is  a  program  for the  voyage  past  Japheth,  - Yura
thought. -  They will  fly somewhere  else still, but I  won't be here".  He
looked  at Zhilin sombrely. Zhilin was wearing the same chequered shirt with
rolled up sleeves.
     Yurkovski suddenly said:
     - Try to understand this, Alexey.  I am already old. In a year, or two,
I  will stay on Earth forever, like Daugeh, like Misha... And,  perhaps, the
current  voyage - it's my last  opportunity. Why don't you want  to  let  me
     Zhilin tiptoed across the cabin and sat on the sofa.
     - I don't wish  to  let you  go, not so much because it is dangerous, -
Bykov  spoke slowly, -  but more because this is senselessly dangerous. Come
on, Vladimir, what an insane idea - the artificial origin of Saturn's rings.
This is geriatric senility, honestly...
     -  You  were  always devoid  of  imagination, Alexey, - Yurkovski  said
dryly.  The  cosmogony of  Saturn's rings  isn't clear,  and I think that my
hypothesis has no less of a right to existence, than any  other, more, so to
speak, rational one. A hypothesis  must  also  have moral  significance - it
must rouse imagination and compel people to think...
     - What does this have to do with imagination? - said Bykov. - This is a
clear calculation. The probability of aliens arriving exactly  in our  solar
system is tiny.  The probability, that they will, all of a sudden, decide to
demolish  satellites  and construct a  ring  from  them  is,  I think, lower
     - What do we know of probability? - Yurkovski declared.
     - All right, fine, let's say  you are right, - said Bykov. - Let's say,
that indeed, in times immemorial aliens had come to the solar system and for
some  reason built an artificial  Ring around Saturn. Made their mark, so to
speak. But do you expect to find the confirmation of your hypothesis in this
first and only search in the Ring?
     - What do we know of probability? - Yurkovski repeated.
     - I know one thing, - Bykov said angrily, - that you have absolutely no
chance, and this entire idea is insane.
     They fell silent  again and Yurkovski went back to the report. His face
looked really sad and very  aged. Yura felt unbearably sorry for him, but he
did not know how  to help.  He  looked at  Zhilin. Zhilin  was thinking with
concentration. Yura looked at Bykov. Bykov  was pretending  to be  reading a
journal. It was obvious, that he also feels very sorry for Yurkovski.
     Zhilin said suddenly:
     - Alexey Petrovich, why do you think that, if the chances are low, then
one should have no hope?
     Bykov lowered the journal.
     - And you think otherwise?
     -  The  world is  vast,  -  said  Zhilin.  -  I  really liked  Vladimir
Sergeevich's words: "What do we know of probability?"
     - Well, and what don't we know of probability? - Bykov asked.
     Yurkovski, without lifting his eyes from the report, became alert.
     -  I remembered  one man,  - said  Zhilin. - He  had  a  really curious
fate...  - Zhilin paused hesitantly. - Perhaps I am disturbing you, Vladimir
     - Tell us, - Yurkovski demanded and shut the report decisively.
     - This will take some time, - Zhilin warned.
     - Even better, - said Yurkovski. - Tell us.
     And Zhilin began telling.

     Back then I was still a kid and did not understand many things then and
had forgotten a lot, perhaps the most interesting  things. It was night, and
I did not manage to look  closely  at this  man's face. And  his  voice  was
really  ordinary, a  little sad and  husky,  and he would cough from time to
time, as if from confusion. In other words, if I will see him  once  more in
the  street  somewhere, or, say,  at  a  party somewhere,  I probably  won't
recognise him.
     We met on the beach. I have just had  a swim and was sitting on a rock.
Then I heard pebbles sliding behind me -  that was him coming down from  the
embankment, - I  could smell tobacco smoke, and he stopped next to me. As  I
already  told you, it was  night  time. The sky was covered in clouds, and a
severe storm  was gathering at sea. Along the beach  a  strong warm wind was
blowing. The stranger was smoking. The  wind was striking long orange sparks
from his cigarette, that would  float and disappear over the deserted beach.
It was very  beautiful, and I  remember that very well. I was  only sixteen,
and I did  not even think, that he would  talk to me. But he spoke. He began
in a strange way.
     - The world is full of amazing things, - he said.
     I decided, that he  is simply  thinking out loud,  and  stayed quiet. I
turned around and looked at him, but  saw nothing, it was too dark.  And  he
     - The world is full of amazing things, - and then took a puff, spraying
me with a shower of sparks.
     I said nothing  again:  back then I  was  shy. He finished smoking  his
cigarette, lit up a  new one and sat on the stones  next to me. From time to
time he would mumble something, but the water noise concealed his words, and
I would only hear incomprehensible hum. Then he announced out loud:
     - No, this is too much. I must tell this to someone.
     And he addressed  me directly, for the first  time  since the moment of
his appearance.
     - Please don't refuse to hear me out.
     Naturally, I did not refuse. He said:
     - Only I will have  to start in a roundabout way, because, if I were to
tell you, what it is, you won't understand and you won't  believe me. No one
believes me, and now this has gone so far...
     He kept quiet for a bit and informed me:
     -  This began during my childhood. I was learning how to play  a violin
and broke four glasses and one saucer.
     - How do you mean? - I asked. I immediately remembered some joke, where
one woman tells her friend: "Can you believe this, yesterday the dvornik was
throwing  firewood over  to us, and broke the crystal  chandelier". There is
this old joke.
     The stranger chuckled somewhat sadly and said:
     -  Just imagine  this.  During  the first  month of learning  to  play.
Already back then my teacher said that he had not seen anything like this in
his life.
     I  kept  quiet,  but also  thought,  that it must look quite strange. I
imagined, how he is waving the bow  around and, from time to  time, hits the
cupboard. This could really lead him very far.
     - This is a common law of  physics, -  he explained unexpectedly. - The
notion  of  resonance.  -  And,  without  stopping,  he  outlined  to  me  a
corresponding  anecdote  from  school physics,  about  a column  of soldiers
walking across a bridge,  keeping their step, and then the bridge collapsed.
Then he explained to me, that glasses and  saucers can also be shattered  by
resonance, if one can pick  the sound vibrations of appropriate frequencies.
I  must say, that exactly from that day I began to understand clearly,  that
sound - is also a vibration.
     The  stranger explained to me, that in daily life (in the household, as
he would  put it) resonance is an unusually rare thing,  and  was  delighted
with  the fact,  that some  ancient  code of laws  covered  such a  trifling
possibility and provided a penalty for the owner of a rooster who shatters a
neighbour's jug with its crowing.
     I  agreed, that this must be,  indeed, a rare phenomenon. Personally, I
have never heard of anything of this sort.
     - Very,  very rare, -  he said. -  Whilst I have shattered four glasses
and a saucer in one month with my violin. But it was only the beginning.
     He lit up another cigarette and informed me:
     - Very soon, my parents and friends noted, that  I  am breaking the law
of the sandwich.
     Here I did not want to lose face and said:
     - A strange last name.
     - What last name? - he asked. - Oh, the law? No, that is not a surname.
This is... how can I put it... something jocular. You know, there is a whole
bunch of sayings:  got what  you deserved... the sandwich  always falls face
down on the floor... In  the sense that the negative happens more often than
the positive. Or,  expressed  scientifically:  the probability of a  desired
event is always less than half.
     - Half of what? - I asked and  immediately realised that I made  a fool
of myself. He was really surprised at my question.
     - Aren't you familiar with the theory of probability? - he asked.
     I told him we have not yet covered that in school.
     - Then you won't understand anything, - he said with disappointment.
     - Why don't you  explain, -  I  said  grumpily, and he obediently began
explaining.  He   announced,  that   probability   -   is   a   quantitative
characteristic of the likelihood of some event taking place.
     - And what does this have to do with sandwiches? - I asked.
     -  The sandwich may fall either face  down or face  up, - he said. - So
then, generally speaking, if you are going to throw the  sandwich by chance,
it will fall  down either this or that  way. In half the cases  it will land
face up, in another half - face down. Is that clear?
     -  Clear, - I said. All of a sudden I remembered that I haven't yet had
     -  In  these situations,  it is  said that the probability of a desired
outcome equals is half - or one second.
     Later he told me, that  if  you  throw the sandwich, for  instance, one
hundred times, that it may not  fall  face up fifty times, but fifty five or
twenty times, and that  only if  you throw it  for  a while  and a lot, then
butter  will stay on top in approximately  half of all cases. I  imagined to
myself  this poor sandwich  with  butter  (and, possibly, even  with caviar)
after it had been thrown on the floor  a thousand  times, even if the  floor
wasn't too dirty, and asked, whether there really were people who did it. He
began telling, that  for this purpose people chiefly used not sandwiches but
coins, as in a game of heads and tales, and began explaining how it is done,
getting  even  more  bogged  down  in  explanations,  and  soon  I   stopped
understanding him  and sat there, looking  at the gloomy  sky, and  thought,
that, probably, it  will  rain soon. All that I remembered from  this  first
lecture  on   the   theory  of  probability   was   the  semi-familiar  term
"mathematical expectancy".  The  stranger  applied this term more than once,
and each time I imagined a large room, something like a transit lounge, with
a tiled floor, where people sit with briefcases and  folders,  and, throwing
coins and sandwiches up to ceiling from time to time, are awaiting something
with  concentration. To this day I often  see it in my dreams. But then  the
stranger   stunned  me   with   a   resounding  term   "maximum  theory   of
Mouavre-Laplais" and said that none of this is relevant.
     -  You  know, I  wanted to  talk  to  you  about  something  altogether
different, - he said in a voice devoid of former vivacity.
     - Forgive me, you probably are a mathematician? - I asked.
     -  No, - he replied  dismally. - What kind  of a  mathematician would I
make? I am a fluctuation.
     I stayed silent to be polite.
     - Oh yes, I think I still haven't told you my story, - he remembered.
     - You were talking about sandwiches, - I said.
     - You know,  my uncle was the first one to note this, - he continued. -
You know,  I  was absent-minded  and would  drop  sandwiches often.  And  my
sandwiches always landed with the butter up.
     - Well, so that's good, - I said.
     He sighed dolefully.
     -  It  is  good,  if  it's  occasional...  But  when it's  always!  You
understand - always!
     I did not understand anything and told him that.
     - My  uncle  knew maths a  little  and was interested in  the theory of
probability. He  suggested that I should throw a  coin. We were  throwing it
together. Back then, I did not immediately understand that I am a lost case,
but  my  uncle understood that.  He  even told me so  then: "You are a  lost
     I still could not understand a thing.
     - The first time I flipped a coin a hundred times, and my uncle flipped
it  a hundred  times,  too.  He  got  heads fifty-three times, and I got  it
ninety-eight  times. You know, my uncle's eyes bulged to  his  forehead. And
mine, too. Then I threw the  coin  another  two hundred times, and  can  you
imagine, the  heads came up  one hundred ninety-six times for me. I ought to
have realised back then, what these things finally lead to. I ought to  have
understood, that a night like this one will come eventually, too! -  Here, I
think,  he sobbed. -  But, you see, at that time, I was  very young, younger
than  you.  It all seemed  really interesting to me.  I thought it was  very
amusing to feel myself the convergence point of all wonders in the world.
     - To feel what? - I was dumbfounded.
     - Err... convergence  point of wonders.  I  cannot  pick another  word,
though I tried.
     Gradually,  he calmed  down  and began  telling  everything  in  order,
continuously smoking  and coughing  from time to time. He told  his story in
detail, assiduously describing all parts  and  invariably supporting all the
narrated events with a scientific basis.  He amazed  me,  if  not  with  the
depth, then with the versatility of his knowledge. He showered me with terms
from physics, mathematics, thermodynamics and kinetic theory  of gases, such
that  later, having grown up, I often wondered, why this or that term seemed
so familiar to me. Often, he would launch into  philosophical discourse, and
sometimes  he  would  seem  plainly  incapable  of self-criticism. Thus,  he
repeatedly  branded  himself a "phenomenon",  a  "wonder  of  nature"  and a
"gigantic fluctuation". Then I understood, that it was not a profession.  He
announced to me,  that wonders don't exist, and  only low-probability events
take place.
     -  In  nature, - he  spoke  with admonition,  - the most likely  events
materialize most  often,  whilst  the least likely  events  occur  much more
     He meant the  law of constant entropy, but at that  time for  me it all
sounded impressive. Then he made an attempt  at explaining to me the concept
of the most probable  state and fluctuation. My imagination was  shaken then
by this famous  example of air, which concentrated fully in  one half of the
     - In this case, - he was saying, - everyone, who sat in the other half,
would asphyxiate, and the rest would consider it  to  be a miracle. And this
is far from a miracle, this is one  quite  real, though unusually improbable
fact. This would be a giant fluctuation, an insignificant deviation from the
most probable state of things.
     According to  his  words, he was  that kind of deviation from the  most
probable state of being. He was surrounded by miracles. For instance, seeing
a twelve-time magnified rainbow was a trifle for him - he had seen it six or
seven times.
     - I can  beat any  amateur synopticist, - he boasted despondently. -  I
witnessed  the northern  lights in Alma-Ata, the  Brocken  phantom in Kavkaz
Mountains, observed the  famous green ray or "the sword of famine", as it is
called,  twenty times. I arrived in  Batumi  and drought began there. Then I
went  to travel in  the Gobi  dessert, and got caught by tropical rain three
     During his studies  at school and  university  he passed many exams and
would always draw the examination question number five. Once he was  sitting
an examination for a special subject, and it was known for a fact that there
will only be four  questions - according to the number of students, - and he
still  drew question number  five,  because  one hour  before the  exam  the
lecturer  suddenly  decided  to  add  another question. His  sandwiches kept
falling with the butter  up. ("I guess, I am doomed to  experience this till
the end of  my days,  - he  said. - It will always remind me, that I  am not
some  ordinary person, but a gigantic fluctuation"). Twice he happened to be
present  at  the formation  of  large  air lens  ("these  are  macroscopical
fluctuations  of air density",  -  he explained ambiguously), and both these
times the lens would light a match in his hand.
     All wonders, which  he came across, he divided into three  groups. Into
pleasant,  unpleasant and neutral ones. The  sandwiches with  the butter up,
for  instance, fell  into the first group.  An invariable  cold, regular and
independent of the weather that began and ended on the first of every  month
fell  into the  second group. To  the third  group  belonged  various rarest
natural phenomena that had the honour of occurring in his presence. Once, in
his presence, the  transgression of the  second  law of  thermodynamics took
place: water in  a vessel  containing flowers suddenly started  to draw heat
from the surrounding atmosphere and brought itself to  boiling point, whilst
frost fell in the  room. ("After that,  I walked around totally  dumbstruck,
and, you know, to this day, I test water with my finger prior to, let's say,
drinking it...") Repeatedly, into his tent - he travelled  a lot - lightning
globes  would  fly  in and hang under the  ceiling for hours.  Eventually he
became used  to  it, and used the  lightning  globe as  electric lamps:  for
     -  Do you  know,  what  a meteorite is? -  he asked  suddenly. Youth is
inclined to make crass jokes,  and I replied that meteorites -  are  falling
stars, that have nothing whatsoever in common with stars that do not fall.
     -  Meteorites  sometimes  strike houses, -  he said reflectively. - But
that is a very rare  event. And there is only one registered case, you know,
when a meteorite struck a person. A single case of its kind, you see...
     - So what? - I asked.
     He leaned over to me and whispered:
     - So that person - is me!
     - You are kidding, - I said, with a shudder.
     - Not at all, - he said gloomily.
     It turned out, that all this happened in Ural Mountains. He was walking
across the  highlands,  stopped for  a minute, to tie  a lace on his boot. A
sharp  rustling trill  was heard and he felt a  nudge against his, you know,
rear part of the body and pain from the burn.
     - On my  pants there was a hole about that big, - he  was telling me. -
Blood was  flowing, you know, but not  much. Pity that it's  dark now, or  I
would show you the scar.
     He picked up a few suspicious stones  there and kept them in his desk -
perhaps, one of them, is indeed that meteorite.
     Things  absolutely  inexplicable  from the  scientific  viewpoint  also
happened  to him.  At least  for now, with the current  level of  scientific
progress. Thus, one time  he became a powerful magnetic field emitter all of
a sudden. This  manifested itself when all ferromagnetic objects, present in
the room, leaped from their places and dashed towards him along the lines of
force. A  steel fountain pen pierced his cheek, something hit him  painfully
on the  head  and  the back.  He  covered himself with his hands, shaking in
horror, covered from head  to toe with knives, forks, scissors, and suddenly
it all finished. The phenomenon lasted no more  than ten seconds, and he had
absolutely no idea how to explain it.
     Another time, having received  a letter from  a friend,  after the very
first line, to  his amazement he discovered, that he had already received an
identical letter a few years ago. He even  recalled, that on the back of the
page, next to the signature, was supposed to be a big inkblot. Having turned
the letter over, he really saw an inkblot.
     - All these things never repeated, - he informed me sadly. - I regarded
them  as the most  remarkable  in my collection.  But,  you see, only  until
     Generally, he often cut himself off, just to announce:  "All  this, you
see, would have been very good, but today... It is really too much, I assure
     - But don't  you think, - I  asked, - that you  present an interest  to
     - I had thought  about  it, - he said. - I wrote  away.  I offered, you
know. Nobody believes me. Even my family doesn't. Only my uncle believed me,
but  now  he  had died.  Everyone  finds me  original  and an  irrepressible
comedian.  I  cannot  even  imagine,  what  they will  think  after  today's
incident. - He sighed and threw down the cigarette butt. - Yes, perhaps it's
even better this way, that  no  one believes me.  Let's presume that someone
did  believe me. They would  form a commission,  they  would walk behind  me
everywhere  waiting for miracles.  And I'm naturally a reclusive person, and
on  top of everything I have lost my good disposition  totally.  Sometimes I
don't sleep at night - I am afraid.
     On the topic of the commission I did not agree with him. Because, after
all, he  could not produce miracles by his will. He was only the convergence
of miracles, a point in space, as he said, where improbable events occur. It
could not be done without a commission and without observation.
     - I wrote a  letter to one  well-known scientist, -  he continued. - In
general, to tell the truth, it was about the  meteorite and the water in the
vase. But you  see,  he  treated  this  with  humour. He replied,  that  the
meteorite fell not on me at all, but on some  driver,  Japanese, I think  he
was.  I  became really interested in this  driver. I  thought that he  could
perhaps  also be  a  giant fluctuation - you  understand it  yourself, it is
possible. But it turned out that he had died many years ago. Yes, you see...
- He became lost in thought. - So  I went to see a  doctor anyway. It turned
out, that from medicine's viewpoint, I represent nothing extraordinary.  But
he  did find some imbalance of  the nervous system  and sent me here, to the
sea resort. And I went. How could I have known, what will happen here?
     He suddenly grasped my shoulder and whispered:
     - An hour ago my girlfriend flew away!
     I did not understand.
     - We were walking,  up there, in the park. After all, I am human and  I
had the most serious intentions. We met in the cafe, went  for a walk in the
park, and she flew away.
     - Where? - I yelled.
     -  I don't know.  We were walking, suddenly she cried out "oh oh", took
off and rose up in the air. I had no time to  think, just grabbed her by the
foot, and here...
     He shoved  some hard object into my hand. It  was a sandal, an ordinary
light-coloured sandal medium-sized.
     -  You  see, this  is  absolutely  impossible,  -  the  phenomenon  was
mumbling. - Chaotic movement of gas molecules, Brown's movement of particles
in a live colloid became ordered, she was  torn away  from earth and carried
somewhere I cannot even imagine. Very, very improbable... Just tell  me now,
please, should I consider myself a murderer?
     I was shattered and stayed silent. For the first time a thought entered
into my head, that perhaps he had made it all up. And he said with anguish:
     - And  you  know,  that is not even  it. After  all, she could have got
stuck in a tree somewhere. You know, I never went looking for her, because I
was afraid that  I wouldn't find her. But this,  you see... Before all these
miracles only affected me. I really disliked fluctuations, but fluctuations,
you see, really liked me. And now? If such things will start happening to my
friends, too?.. Today a girl flies away, tomorrow  a colleague drops through
the ground, the next day... Take you even, for instance. Indeed, you are not
secure against anything right now.
     That I already understood myself,  and I felt wondrously intrigued  and
creepy. How cool, I thought. Wish it  were sooner! It suddenly seemed to me,
that I am taking off, and I clutched the stone under me with both hands. The
stranger suddenly got up.
     - You  know,  I  better  go,  - he said  sorrowfully.  -  I  don't like
meaningless casualties.  You sit here, and I will go. How did I not think of
it before!
     He hurriedly walked along the  shore, slipping on  the stones,  and the
suddenly shouted from a distance:
     -  Please forgive me, if  something  happens to  you! You  know, it all
depends on me!
     He was  walking further and further away and  soon  turned into a small
dark figure  against  the  background  of  barely  phosphorescent waves.  It
appeared to  me that he took  a  swing and threw  something  white  into the
waves. Perhaps it was the sandal. That is how we parted.
     Unfortunately,  I could  never recognise him  in  a crowd.  Unless some
miracle  would  happen  then. I  never heard anything more about him, and  I
think, nothing special happened at the seaside that summer. Perhaps his girl
did, in  fact, catch onto some tree branch, and they got married afterwards.
Because he always had the most serious intentions. All I know is this. If at
any time, when I am shaking a  hand of a new acquaintance, I suddenly  feel,
that  I  am becoming a source  of a  powerful magnetic  field and would also
notice that my new friend smokes a lot, keeps coughing repeatedly, just like
- ahem, ahem, that means that he is a phenomenon, you see,  a convergence of
miracles, a giant fluctuation.

     Zhilin  concluded his  story and  looked  victoriously at his audience.
Yura liked the  story,  but as always, he  still did not understand, whether
Zhilin had  made it all up or told the truth. Just in  case, he kept smiling
sceptically throughout the whole story.
     - Marvellous, - said Yurkovski. - But most of all I liked the moral.
     - So what is this moral? - said Bykov.
     -  The  moral is such, - Yurkovski explained. -  Nothing is impossible,
only the improbable exists.
     - And besides that, - Zhilin said, -  the world  is full  of  wonderful
things - first of all. And secondly. What do we know of probability?
     - Don't try  to get round me,  - said Bykov  and stood up. - I see that
you, Ivan, are made uneasy by Michael Antonovich's literary laurels. You can
include this story into your own memoirs.
     - I  will definitely include it, - said Zhilin. - A  good story, wasn't
     - Thank you, Vanyusha, -  said  Yurkovski. - You have dispersed my mood
perfectly. I  am curious, how  he  could have acquired  an  electro-magnetic
     -  Magnetic,  -  Zhilin corrected him. - He told  me about the magnetic
     - Mm-yes, - said Yurkovski and became engrossed in thought.

     After  dinner the  three  of  them  stayed  in  the ward-room.  Michael
Antonovich, who had just come off his watch, climbed into Bykov's chair with
enjoyment to read "The  Tale of Prince Genji" before  bedtime, and  Yura and
Zhilin settled in front of the magnetivisor screen to watch something light.
The lights were  dimmed  in the ward-room and only the ghastly jungle played
with  gloomy colours, along which the  pioneers walked, and  the navigator's
shiny bald spot gleamed under the bracket lamp. And it was totally quiet.
     Zhilin had  seen  "The Pioneers" already,  it was much more interesting
for him to observe Yura and  the navigator.  Yura was looking at the screen,
without shifting his eyes, and would only adjust  the thin photodemonstrator
band on his head occasionally. He really liked the pioneers,  and Zhilin was
chuckling to himself  and was  thinking,  how absurd and primitive this film
is, especially  if  you are not  watching it for the first time  and you are
well past thirty. These exploits, resembling enraptured self-torture, absurd
from beginning to end, and this  commander Sanders,  who ought to be removed
immediately, given  a dressing down and sent back  to Earth as an archivist,
to stop him  from becoming insane and destroying innocent  people without  a
right  of  contradicting  him. And  in the  first  place,  finish  off  that
hysterical Praskovina,  I think that's her  name, - send her  alone into the
jungle, if she is  so dead bent  on going.  What  a crew did they  assemble!
Sheer suicides with infantile intellect. The doctor wasn't too bad,  but the
author finished him off  at the very start, seemingly so that  no  one would
counter the idiotic plot of an insane commander.
     The most  amusing  part is that Yura  obviously cannot refuse to notice
any of this, but just try pulling him  away from the screen now and sit  him
down with, let's say, the same old  prince Genji!.. Long since this has been
the  way and perhaps  it will remain  forever, that  every normal  youngster
before a certain age  will prefer the  drama  of  chasing, pursuit, selfless
destruction of one's  self  to  the  drama of the  human  soul, to the  most
delicate emotions,  when  nothing  more  complex, fascinating  and  tragical
exists in the  world... Oh, of  course  he  will concede that Lev Tolstoi is
great as  a  testimony to the human  soul, that Galsworthy is monumental and
outstanding as  a sociologist, and Dimitry  Stroganov knows  no equal in the
exploration of the inner world of the new man. But all these would be words,
derived from  without. The  time  will,  of  course, come,  when  he will be
stunned, upon seeing count Andrew, alive among the  living,  when his breath
will be  taken  away with horror and compassion, having understood Sommes to
the end, when  he  will  experience  enormous  pride,  upon  perceiving  the
dazzling sun, that shines within the soul  of Strogov's Tokmakov... But this
will happen later, after he will  acquire experience in  the workings of his
own soul.
     Another story - is Michael Antonovich. At this moment he had lifted his
head  and began staring into the darkness of the  room,  and in front of him
right now is, of  course, a distant handsome man  wearing odd clothes and an
odd  hairdo, with a useless  sword behind his sash, a delicate and sarcastic
sinner, Japanese Don Juan -  just the way he was  when  he leaped from under
the quill of a brilliant Japanese  woman  inside  a  lavish and filthy Hejan
palace and went off  to wander  the world invisible, until equally brilliant
translators were  found for  him, too. And Michael Antonovich perceives  him
now in such  a way as though the nine  centuries and one and a  half billion
kilometres don't lay between them,  and only  he alone sees him, and Yura is
not capable of  it yet,  and will only become capable in  about five  years,
when into Yura's  life will enter both Tokmakov, and the Forsyths, Katya and
Dasha, and many, many others... 
     The last pioneer died beneath a hoisted flag and the screen went blank.
Yura pulled the photodemonstrator off his head and spoke reflectively:
     - Yeah, the movie is superbly produced.
     - Delightful, - Zhilin replied seriously.
     -  Such people, hey?  - Yura tugged a tuft  of  hair  at the top of his
head. -  Like  a steel blade... Heroes till their last step. Only Praskovina
is somewhat artificial.
     - Mm-yes, perhaps...
     - But then Sanders! How much does he resemble Vladimir Sergeevich!
     - To me they all resemble Vladimir Sergeevich, - said Zhilin.
     - Oh,  come on now! - Yura turned  to look, saw Michael Antonovich  and
switched to a whisper: - Of course, they are all genuine, pure, but...
     - Why don't we go to my quarters instead, - Zhilin suggested.
     Yura was saying:
     -  They  are all  good,  I  am not arguing  against that, but  Vladimir
Sergeevich - that, of  course, is something totally different, he is somehow
more powerful than they are, more significant...
     They walked into the room. Zhilin sat down and started looking at Yura.
Yura was saying:
     - And what a swamp! How amazingly it  was all  done  - brown slush with
gigantic  white  flowers,  and  someone's  shiny slippery skin covered  with
mire... And the cries of the jungle...
     He became silent.
     - Vanya, - he said cautiously, - I see, you found the movie not too..?
     -  No, what are you on about! - Zhilin  said. -  I  have simply seen it
already,  plus I  am also  a  bit  old for all these swamps,  Yurik.  I  had
wandered across them and I know, what there, in fact, is...
     Yura shrugged his shoulders. He wasn't pleased.
     - Come on now, buddy,  this is not about swamps. - Zhilin leaned on the
back  of  his  chair and assumed his favourite pose: tilted  his  head back,
locked  his fingers under it and spread his elbows wide. - And please  don't
think, that I am hinting at the difference between our age. No. You know, it
is  not  true  that  there  are  kids and  there are  adults. In  real  life
everything is much more complicated. There are adults and there are  adults.
For instance,  you, me and Michael Antonovich. Would you now, being of sound
mind and clear memory  read "The Tale of Genji"?  I read the answer on  your
face.  And  Michael Antonovich is re-reading  "Genji" for almost  the  fifth
time, whilst  I had  fully perceived  his charm only  this  year... - Zhilin
stayed quiet awhile  and  explained: -  The book's charm,  naturally.  I had
perceived Michael Antonovich's charm much earlier.
     Yura was looking at him with hesitation.
     - Of course, I know, that it's a classic and all that, - he declared. -
But  I  would  not  be  reading "Genji"  five times.  In  it  everything  is
intertwined,  complicated... Whilst life is, essentially,  simple, much more
simple than it portrayed in such books.
     -  And life is, essentially,  complicated,  - said Zhilin. - Much  more
complicated than  described by movies such  as "The Pioneers".  If you wish,
let's try and look into it.  Here is commander Sanders. He has a wife  and a
son. He has friends. And yet, how easily does he go off to his death. He has
a conscience. How easily does he lead his people towards death...
     - He had forgotten about all of that, because...
     - All  of  that, Yurik,  is never forgotten. And  most important in the
film should not be the part where Sanders  had died a hero, but the part how
he managed to make himself  forget. Because his death was  indeed  imminent,
buddy. That is not in the  film, and so everything seems simple.  And  if it
were there, you would find the film boring...
     Yura was silent.
     - W-Well? - said Zhilin.
     - It may be so, -  Yura uttered reluctantly. - But I  still think, that
one must treat life more simply.
     -  It  will pass,  - Zhilin promised. They  stayed quiet.  Zhilin,  was
looking at the light, squinting. Yura said:
     -  There  is cowardice, there are exploits, there is work - interesting
and  uninteresting. Must  it all be  confused and then  pass cowardice for a
heroic feat and vice versa?
     - And who is confusing it, who is that bastard? - Zhilin cried out.
     Yura began laughing.
     - I have just pictured schematically, how it can be in some books. They
will take some character, drool all over him and then you get what is called
"an elegant paradox" or "a contradictory  figure".  And he  is a character's
character. Same as Genji.
     -  We are all horses  a bit, -  Zhilin said with heartfelt sincerity. -
Each one of us is a horse in our own way. Its life that mixes it all up. Her
majesty life.  That  blessed  scamp. Life compels  proud  Yurkovski  to  beg
implacable Bykov. Life compels Bykov to refuse his best friend. So which one
of them  is a  horse,  that is,  a  character? Life  forces Zhilin,  who  is
entirely in agreement  with Bykov's iron policy, to  conjure up a fairy tale
about  a giant  fluctuation, so  that  he can  somehow  express his  protest
against the  very  immutability of this policy. Zhilin is  also a character.
All drool and no firm convictions. And the famous vacuum-welder Borodin? Did
he not perceive the meaning of life in laying his life at  a suitable altar?
And  who  made  him  doubt it  -  not with logic,  but simply  with a facial
expression? A  rotting tavernkeeper  from the  Wild West.  He made you doubt
things, ey?
     - W-well... in some sort of sense...
     - Now,  isn't that  Borodin  a character? Now1, isn't life  simple? You
have chosen a principle for yourself - and off you go.  But the only good in
principles  is  that they grow  obsolete.  They become obsolete faster  than
people do, and people are only left with the ones dictated by history alone.
For instance, in our age history  had bluntly  announced to all Yurkovski's:
enough! No discoveries  are worth a single human life. Risking one's life is
only  allowed for the  sake of life.  People  didn't  make this  up. History
dictated this, and  people only made this history. But  there, where general
principles clash with  individual principles - there simple  life ends and a
complex one begins. Such is life.
     - Yes, - said Yura. - Perhaps.
     They  became quiet, and again Zhilin experience  an  agonising sense of
split  personality,  that wouldn't  leave  him  for a  few years already. As
though  each  time,  when he  leaves on  a  voyage,  on  Earth remains  some
incredibly  important  business,  a  thing  most  important  to all  people,
incredibly  important, more  important than  the rest of the Universe,  more
important than the most wonderful creations at the hands of the humanity.
     Back  on  Earth  remained  people,  youngsters,  kids.  There  remained
millions and  millions of these  Yurik's, and Zhilin felt that he can really
help them. No matter where. In a boarding school. Or in a community club. Or
in  a Youth  centre.  Help them  enter  life,  help  them  find  themselves,
determine their  place in  the world, teach them a desire for many things at
once, teach them to want to work without obstacles.
     Teach them not to bow down to  authority,  but to study  it and compare
its teachings with life.
     Teach them to treat the experience of wise people with caution, because
life changes remarkably quickly.
     Teach them to despise the wisdom of petty bourgeois.
     Teach them, that to love and to cry because of love is not shameful.
     Teach them, that scepticism and cynicism in  life both cost cheap, that
this is  much easier and much more boring than  to wonder at and find joy in
     Teach them to trust the movements of the soul of those closest to them.
     Teach them, that it's better to  be  disappointed  twenty times  in one
person, than to treat everyone with suspicion.
     Teach them, that the point is not in what  influence others may have on
you, but in how you influence other people.
     And teach them, that one person is worth nothing alone.
     Yura sighed and said:
     - Vanya, let's play a game of chess.
     Let's, - said Zhilin.

     Yurkovski had known the observatory  director on Diona for a long time,
back when the director was still a post-graduate student in the Institute of
planetology.  Vladislav  Kimovich Shershen was  then  attending  Yurkovski's
special  course  "Giant  planets". Yurkovski remembered him and admired  his
audacious intellect and exceptional sense of purpose.
     Shershen walked out to meet his old former mentor at the caisson.
     - Really now, didn't expect seeing you here, -  he was saying,  leading
Vladimir Sergeevich under the arm to his office.
     Shershen was  no longer  the  same.  There  no  longer  existed a  tall
dark-haired lad, always tanned and a little melancholic. Shershen had turned
pale; he became bold, obese and kept smiling all the time.
     - Really I didn't expect you! - he  kept  saying with delight. - How is
it that you have decided to visit us, Vladimir Sergeevich?  And no  one ever
informed us...
     In the office he sat Yurkovski  behind  his desk, moving aside a spring
press with  a pile of  photocorrections,  and sat  himself at the low  chair
opposite him.  Yurkovski was gazing  around, nodding favourably. The  office
was  small  and  bare. A true  scientist's  work  post at an  interplanetary
station. And  Vladislav  himself  matched  the  place well.  He  was wearing
worn-out,  but well-pressed overalls with  rolled sleeves, his full face was
thoroughly  shaven,  and a limp semi-grey tuft on top  of his head was  well
     - Indeed you have  aged,  Vladislav,  - Yurkovski said  with  regret. -
And... er... your form  is  not  the same. I remember you  were an  athlete,
     - Six years here, almost without leave, Vladimir Sergeevich, - Shershen
said. - Gravity pull here is fifty times less than on the planet, exhausting
myself  with expanders, like  our youngsters do, I cannot afford to for lack
of time, plus my heart is playing up also, so I grow fat. And what use would
I have for slenderness, Vladimir  Sergeevich?  My wife  doesn't  care what I
look like, and to  lose weight for the sake of girls - I don't have the same
temperament, and my position precludes me, as well...
     They laughed together.
     - But you, Vladimir Sergeevich, have changed little.
     - Yes, - said Yurkovski. - Less hair, more sense.
     - What's new  at  the  institute? - Shershen  asked.  -  How  is Gabdul
Kadyrovich doing?
     - Gabdul is stuck, - said Yurkovski. - Waiting keenly for your results,
Vladislav. In fact, the entire  Saturn  planetology  rests on you. You  have
spoiled them, Vladislav... er... really spoiled.
     - Well, then, - said Shershen,  - we won't hold things up. Next year we
will begin deep launches... I only wish  you  would boost me up with people,
Vladimir Sergeevich, with specialists. Experienced, solid specialists...
     -  Specialists,  -  Yurkovski  said,   chuckling.   -  Everybody  needs
specialists.  Only that, incidentally, is  your task, Vladislav, to  prepare
specialists. You, you must supply  them to the  institute, not the institute
to you. And I have  heard that Muller had left you to go to Tefia. Even what
we had given you, you have squandered.
     Shershen shook his head.
     - Dear Vladimir Sergeevich,  - he said, -  I need to work here, not  to
raise specialists. Big deal, Muller. Ok,  he is an all right atmosphericist,
with two tens of O.K. papers.  But then we have  to carry out the program on
Diona, not go around  chasing crafty-minded Mullers.  And  let the institute
keep people like this Muller to itself. Nobody will fall for them.  And here
we need young, disciplined people... Who  is now  running  the  coordination
department? Is it still Barkan?
     - Yes, - said Yurkovski.
     - That's what it looks like.
     - Come on,  now, Vladislav, Barkan is a good worker. But right now five
new observatories have opened in Space. And they all need people.
     - Well, come on then, comrades! - said Shershen. -  One must use  sense
when planning!  We have extra  observatories, and no additional specialists?
This can't go on!
     - Alright, - said Yurkovski  cheerfully, - your...  err... displeasure,
Vladislav,  I  will  most  certainly  pass  onto  Barkan.  And  in  general,
Vladislav,  get your complaints and objections  ready.  About people,  about
equipment.  Seize  the moment, Vladislav,  since for  the  time being  I  am
invested with power to sanction and to  arrest, under the highest authority,
Vladislav.  - Shershen raised his eyebrows  in wonder. - Yes, Vladislav, you
are talking to IBCC's chief inspector.
     Shershen jerked his head up.
     -  Oh...  so that's how  it is?  -  he said slowly.  - I really  didn't
expect! - He suddenly started smiling again.  - And I am twisting my brains,
like an idiot: how did it happen, that the head of global planetology had so
suddenly, without warning... I am interested, what aspersions have  cost our
little Diona the honour of the chief's visit?
     They laughed again.
     - Look...  err... Vladislav, - said  Yurkovski. - We are happy with the
observatory's work, you know that. I  am really pleased with you, Vladislav.
You work... err... with  distinction. And I was not at all going to  trouble
you in my, how shall I put it... err... official capacity. But then there is
that same question over people. You see, Vladislav, a certain - I would even
call it  legitimate - doubt is raised by  the  fact that you have...  err...
say,  here you  have finished  twenty projects during  the last  year.  Good
projects. Some of them simply superb. For instance... err... this one, about
the   determination  of   exospheric  sections   depth   according  to   the
configuration of ring shadows. Yes. Good  works. But there's  not  a  single
independent  one among  them. Shershen  and Shatrova... A question crops up:
where do you have  just  Averin  and Shatrova? Where is simply Svirski? That
is, one gets the impression, that you are leading your youngsters on a  pair
of  braces.  Naturally,  results  are  most  important,  nobody  judges  the
victors...  err...  but with all your workload you have no  right to neglect
the  training of specialists. Because,  sooner or later,  they will  have to
work independently. And, in turn, teach other people. How  does it work with
     -  It's a legitimate  question, Vladimir  Sergeevich, - said  Shershen,
after a moment  of silence. - But how do I answer it - I can't  imagine. And
it  looks suspicious. I would even say, nasty.  You  know, I  have tried  to
refuse co-authorship a number of times already, simply to save face. And can
you  imagine, the  guys  won't let  me. And I  understand them!  Take  Tolya
Kravetz. - He  tapped  his hand on photocorrections.  - A superb observer. A
master  of precision measurement.  A wonderful engineer. But...  - he made a
helpless  gesture,  -  he  doesn't  have  enough  practical  experience,  or
something, I don't know... Enormous, most fascinating observations' material
- and  a virtually complete lack of ability to conduct a quality analysis of
the results. You see, Vladimir Sergeevich, I am a scientist,  it hurts me to
see  this  material  going to waste, and  to publish it in raw  form, to let
Gabdul Kadyrovich  draw  the conclusions, is  also,  not the best idea,  you
know. I can't help it, I sit down and begin interpreting  it personally. And
then...  the  boy also has  his  pride... That's  how you  get Shershen  and
     - Mm-yeah, - said Yurkovski. - It happens. Don't you worry,  Vladislav,
no one is contemplating anything  grave... We know you perfectly  well. Yes,
Anatoly Kravetz. I think  I do... err... remember him. Such  a solid fellow.
Very well  mannered. Yes-yes,  I  remember.  He  was a  really  hard-working
student, as I  recall. Somehow I imagined he is on Earth, at  Abastumaine...
Er...  yeah. You know what, Vladislav, tell me  about your  staff, please. I
have already forgotten all of them.
     - Well, - said Shershen. - That is not difficult.  There are only eight
of  us here on entire Diona. Now, we can exclude Ditz and Oleneva,  they are
control engineers. Great, talented guys, not one accident in three years. We
also  won't talk  about  me, so  in  we are  left  with  only five in total,
astronomers, in fact. Now, there is Averin.  An astrophysicist. I anticipate
he  will become a really valuable contributor, but  he still squanders a lot
of his efforts. Personally I've never appreciated that in others. That's why
it never worked out between Muller and  me. Right. Svirski, Vitaly.  Also an
     - Hold on,  hold on, - said Yurkovski,  his face brightening. -  Averin
and Svirski! Yes, how can I... They were a  wonderful pair! I recall, once I
was  in a cranky  mood and failed Averin, and Svirski refused to be examined
by me. It was a really touching rebellion, I recall... Yes,  they were great
     - Now things have cooled down between them, - Shershen said ruefully.
     - But what... err... had happened?
     - A girl, - Shershen said crossly. - They both fell head over heels for
Zina Shatrova...
     - I remember! - Yurkovski exclaimed. - This tiny one, lively, eyes blue
like... err...  forget-me-nots.  Everyone  courted  her and she  would  keep
dismissing it with jokes. A really cheery girl, that one.
     - Now she no longer cheery, - Shershen said. -  I am lost in all  these
matters of  the  heart,  Vladimir  Sergeevich. No,  it is your  call. I have
always spoken out  against you on  this matter, and will keep speaking  out.
There is no place for young girls on remote bases, Vladimir Sergeevich.
     - Leave it, Vladislav, - said Yurkovski, frowning.
     - That's not the point, after all.  Though I also expected a great deal
from this pair - Averin and Svirski. But they requested unconnected research
subjects. Now their old theme is being  developed by Averin and myself,  and
Svirski  is working on his own.  So, about Svirski. Calm, composed, though a
little  phlegmatic. I intend  to leave him as my deputy  when I go on leave.
Not fully confident yet, must  be assisted. Now, I have told you about Tolya
Kravetz. Zina Shatrova... - Shershen  became quiet and scratched the back of
his head vigorously - A girl!  - he said. - Knowledgeable, of course, but...
She  has this, you  know, vagueness  over  everything. Emotions. However,  I
don't  have any  specific issues  with her work. I  guess  she justifies her
being on Diona. And, finally, Bazanov.
     Shershen fell silent and  became absorbed in thought. Yurkovski threw a
quick glance at the photocorrections, then he couldn't resist  and moved the
lid off the press, covering  the  title page. "Shershen and  Kravetz,  -  he
read. - The dust composite  of Saturn's bands". He sighed  and began staring
at Shershen .
     - So what is it then? - he asked. - What about... err... Bazanov?
     - Bazanov - is a great worker, - Shershen said decisively. -  A  little
impulsive, but has an able, clear mind. Though, it  is somewhat hard to deal
with him.
     - Bazanov... Somehow I can't recall... What does he do?
     -   An  atmosphericist.  You   know,  Vladimir  Sergeevich,  he  is  so
punctilious. The project is ready, Muller was helping  him as well, and it's
time  to publish it - but no! He is still unhappy with something,  something
seems unfounded to him... You  know, there are such...  Really self-critical
people. Self-critical and stubborn.  We have  been using his findings  for a
long time already... It becomes a silly situation, we have no opportunity to
make references. But, frankly speaking, I am not worried too much. And he is
also awfully stubborn and irritable.
     - Yes, - said Yurkovski. - Such a... err...  really independent student
he was.  Yes... really. - He stretched his hand out to the photocorrections,
as if by  accident, and began shuffling through them, as though his mind was
absent.  - Yes... err... interesting. And this particular project I have not
yet seen, Vladislav, - he said.
     - This is  my latest one, -  Shershen said with a smile. - I will, most
likely, deliver the corrections  to Earth  myself,  when I  take  my  leave.
Paradoxical  results  have   been  obtained,  Vladimir  Sergeevich.   Simply
marvellous! Just look here...
     Shershen rounded  the table and  bent  down to Yurkovski.  There  was a
knock on the door.
     -  Excuse  me,  Vladimir  Sergeevich,  -  said  Shershen  and  stood up
straight. - Come in!
     A pale  bony  fellow, bent in  two, crouched through a  low oval-shaped
hatch. Yurkovski recognised him - this was Petya Bazanov, good-natured, very
even-handed boy, smart and kind. Yurkovski already began smiling favourably,
but  Bazanov only  gave him  a cold nod,  walked to  the table and laid  the
folder before Shershen.
     - The calculations, - he said. - Coefficients of absorption.
     Yurkovski said calmly:
     -  What is it Peter...  err... forgot  your patronymic, you  don't even
wish to say good day to me?
     Bazanov slowly  turned his  lean  face  towards him and, squinting  his
eyes, looked in his direction.
     -  I beg your pardon,  Vladimir Sergeevich, - he said. - How are you? I
am afraid, I was a bit out of line.
     - I am afraid, you have really stepped a little out of line, Bazanov, -
Shershen said in a low voice.
     Bazanov  shrugged his shoulders  and  walked  out,  slamming  the hatch
behind him.  Yurkovski stood up sharply,  and he was  carried up from behind
the desk. Shershen caught him by the hand.
     - Magnetic  boots here  are  supposed to be kept on the floor,  comrade
chief inspector, - he said, laughing. - This isn't your "Takhmaseeb".
     Yurkovski  was looking at the closed  hatch. Is this really Bazanov, he
thought with amazement.
     Shershen's look became serious.
     - Don't be  amazed by Bazanov's  behaviour, - he said.  - We have had a
squabble  with  him over this coefficients of  absorption. He finds it below
his dignity to calculate  these  coefficients and  has been  terrorising the
observatory for two days now.
     Yurkovski narrowed his eyebrows, trying to remember.  Then he waved his
     -  Let's  forget  it,  - he said.  - Alright, Vladislav, show  us  your

     From "Takhmaseeb's"  reactor coil a  thin cord was stretched across the
rocky plain to the cylindrical elevator tower. Yura was moving gradually and
cautiously along the line, feeling content, that his weightlessness training
did  not  go  to  waste. Ahead of  him,  about  fifty paces  ahead,  Michael
Antonovich's space suit was gleaming in Saturn's yellow light.
     The giant  crescent of Saturn peeked from behind his shoulder. Ahead of
them, above  the near horizon a greenish  waning moon shone  brightly - this
was Titan, the largest  satellite of Saturn and the  biggest  in  the entire
solar system. Yura  turned  to look at Saturn.  The  rings could not be seen
from  Diona, Yura  only saw a thin silvery  ray, dissecting the crescent  in
half.  The  unlit part  of Saturn's  disk was  weakly  shimmering with green
light. Somewhere behind Saturn Rhea was moving now.
     Michael Antonovich waited for  Yura,  and together they  pushed through
the low semi-circular trap door. The observatory was located underground, on
the surface remained  only the meshed  interferometer  towers  and  antennae
parabolas, which resembled colossal saucers. In the caisson, whilst  getting
out of the space suit, Michael Antonovich said:
     - Yurik, I'll  to the library, and you might  want to go for a  wander,
see things  around here, the  crew here are all young, you will make friends
quickly...  And then I  will meet  you in about  two  hours... Or you can go
straight back to ship...
     He  patted  Yura on  the  shoulder  and clanking  his magnetic bootcaps
walked down the corridor to the left. The corridor was spherical, lined with
matted plastic,  with just a narrow steel pathway under his  feet, scratched
by bootcaps everywhere. Pipes  stretched along  the corridor, something  was
bubbling and gurgling in them. The  air smelled of  pine  forest  and heated
     Yura  walked  past  an  open  hatch.  There  was  nobody  inside,  only
multi-coloured  lights  flashed on control  panels. So  quiet, thought Yura.
Nobody to be seen or heard.  He turned into  an adjacent corridor  and heard
music.  Somewhere, someone  was playing a guitar,  drawing out a sad melody,
confidently and unhurriedly. Is it like this on Rhea as well? - Yura thought
all of a  sudden. He liked when it was noisy, when everyone stayed together,
and laughed, and made  jokes, and sang. He felt  blue. Then he thought, that
everyone here is, probably, working but still could  not manage to shrug off
the  impression  that  people cannot avoid  being bored inside  empty  round
corridors  -  whether  here or on other distant planets. Most likely, it was
the guitar's fault.
     Then  right above his ear someone said  in a spiteful  voice: "Now this
has nothing to do with you any more! Do you understand? Nothing whatsoever!"
Yura  stopped.  The  corridor  was still  empty. Another voice,  gentle  and
pleading, said:
     - I did not mean any harm, Vitaly. You know, no one needs this, neither
you, nor her, nor Vladislav Kimovich. Nobody at  all. I just wanted  to tell
     A spiteful voice interrupted him:
     - I have heard it before and I am sick of it! Just leave me  alone, you
and your Averin, don't poke into my affairs! I am only asking one thing: let
me finish my three years - and you can all go to hell...
     On Yura's left a  hatch  flipped open and a light-haired fellow  jumped
into the corridor. His pale hair was messed up, his flushed face in a twist.
He  shut the hatch noisily  with satisfaction and stopped in front  of Yura.
They were looking at each other for about a minute.
     - Who are you? - the light-haired fellow asked.
     - I am... - said Yura, - I am from "Takhmaseeb".
     - Oh, - said the light-haired fellow with disgust. - Another  favourite
     He walked  around Yura  and started  fast down the corridor, repeatedly
flying  up to the ceiling and mumbling: "Why don't you  all  go  to hell! To
hell,  all of you..." Yura followed  him with a cold:  "Have you jammed your
finger or something, young man?" The light-haired one did not even turn.
     Well, well, thought Yura. This place is not so boring, after all.
     He turned to the  hatch and discovered another  person standing  before
him,  most likely  the one  who  talked  in a pleading voice. He was solidly
built,  broad-shouldered  and  dressed not without  elegance. He had a  nice
haircut and a sad pink-cheeked face.
     - Are you from the "Takhmaseeb"? - he asked quietly, nodding amicably.
     - Yes, - said Yura.
     - With Vladimir Sergeevich Yurkovski? How are you, -  the man stretched
out his hand. - My name is Kravetz. Anatoly. Will you be working with us?
     - No, - said Yura. - I am just passing through.
     - Oh,  just passing? - said Kravetz. He was still holding  Yura's hand.
His hand was dry and cool.
     - Yuri Borodin, - said Yura.
     - Nice to meet you, - said Kravetz and released Yura's hand.  - So  you
are passing through. Tell me, Yura, has Vladimir Sergeevich really come here
for an inspection?
     - Don't know, - said Yura.
     Kravetz's pink face became totally dismal.
     - Yes, well of  course, you  wouldn't know...  Over here, you see, this
obscure rumour has spread... How long have you known Vladimir Sergeevich?
     - A month, - Yura said with reluctance. He already understood, that  he
doesn't like Kravetz.  Perhaps, because he talked to the light-haired fellow
in  a  pleading voice. Or maybe, because he kept  asking questions  all  the
     - Well, I know him better, - said Kravetz. - I studied under him.  - He
suddenly realised something. - Why are we standing here? Come on in!
     Yura stepped into the hatch. This seemed to be the computer laboratory.
Transparent sections of  computer processors stretched  along the walls.  In
the centre  was  a matted white control  panel and a  large desk piled  with
documents and diagrams. On the  desk  stood  a few smaller electric machines
for manual calculations.
     - This is our brain, - said Kravetz. - Have a seat.
     Yura remained standing. The silence became protracted.
     - We have the same machine on "Takhmaseeb", - Yura informed him.
     - Right now everyone is  on observations, - said Kravetz. - You see, no
one is here. We, generally, do a lot of  observation work. Doing really long
hours. Time just flies by without anyone noticing.  Sometimes we  have  such
fights  over  our  work...  -  he   waved  his  hand  and  laughed.  -   Our
astrophysicists have had a total falling out. Each one has his own idea, and
each one considers the other to be a fool. They communicate through me. And,
in turn, I must cope with the flak.
     Kravetz stopped talking and looked at Yura with anticipation.
     - Oh well, - said Yura, looking down. - It happens.
     Of course, he thought, no one wants to wash others dirty linen.
     - There  are only a few of us here, - said Kravetz, - we are all really
busy, our director, Vladislav Kimovich,  is a really nice person, but he  is
also busy.  So at first it  might seem,  that everything  is  really  boring
around  here. But  the truth  is, we all sit here with  our  work around the
     He looked at Yura with anticipation once more. Yura said politely:
     -  Yes, of course, what else  would one  do here. Cosmos is  really for
work,  and  not  for amusements. Though  it is really  somewhat empty around
here. Just one guitar playing somewhere.
     - Ah, -  said  Kravetz, with a smile,  - this is our Ditz  immersed  in
     The  hatch opened and a small  girl with a great  pile of papers pushed
awkwardly  into the laboratory. She  closed the hatch with her  shoulder and
looked  at  Yura. Perhaps  she  had just woken  up  - her eyes were a little
     - Good day, - said Yura.
     The girl  moved  her lips  soundlessly and quietly walked to the table.
Kravetz said:
     -  This  is  Zina  Shatrova.  And this,  Zinochka, is  Yuri Borodin, he
arrived together with Vladimir Sergeevich Yurkovski.
     The girl nodded,  without lifting her  eyes. Yura was  trying to grasp,
are all of those people who had come with  Yurkovski  on "Takhmaseeb"  being
treated so oddly.  He looked at Kravetz. Kravetz was looking at Zina and, it
seemed, was  calculating something.  Zina  was  quietly  going  through  the
papers. When she moved an electric calculator towards her and began clicking
loudly on the number keys, Kravetz turned to Yura and said:
     - Well, Yura, would you like to...
     The soft  singing of  a  radiophone  call  interrupted  him. He excused
himself and hastily pulled a radiophone from his pocket.
     - Anatoly? - a dense voice asked.
     - Yes, this is me, Vladislav Kimovich.
     - Anatoly, please go and visit Bazanov. He is in the library.
     Kravetz looked at Yura.
     - I have here... - he began saying.
     The voice in the radiophone suddenly grew distant.
     -  Welcome,  Vladimir  Sergeevich...   Yes-yes,  I  have  prepared  the
schematic diagrams...
     Rapid busy signals came through.  Kravetz shoved the telephone into his
pocket and looked hesitantly at Zina and at Yura.
     - I  must  leave,  - he  said. - The director has asked me to help  our
atmosphericist... Zina, be so kind, show the observatory to our guest. Don't
forget, he is Vladimir  Sergeevich's good friend, we must accommodate him as
well as we can.
     Zina made no reply. It seemed she did not hear Kravetz and only lowered
her face closer to the machine. Kravetz grinned a sad smile  at Yura, raised
his eyebrows, lifted his hands slightly and left.
     Yura walked to  the control panel and looked furtively at the girl. She
had a pretty and somewhat hopelessly weary face. What does it all mean: "has
Vladimir Sergeevich really  come here for an inspection?" "Don't  forget, he
is  Vladimir  Sergeevich's good  friend". "Go to  hell,  all  of  you!" Yura
sensed, that  all this means something nasty. He felt a pressing urge to get
involved  in something. It was  decidedly impossible  to  go away  and leave
everything the way it was. He looked at Zina again. The girl was  diligently
doing her  work. Never before did he see such a pretty girl being so sad and
quiet. Surely someone must have hurt her, he thought suddenly. It's clear as
day,  that someone had hurt her. A person is hurt before your eyes - and  it
is your fault, - he remembered unconsciously. Alright, then...
     - What's this? - Yura asked  in a  loud voice and poked  his  finger at
random at one of the blinking lamps. Zina shuddered and lifted her head.
     - That? - she said. She lifted her eyes to him for the first time. Here
eyes were incredibly blue and big. Yura said bravely:
     - Exactly, that one.
     Zina was still looking at him.
     - Tell me, - she asked, - will you be working here with us?
     - No, - said  Yura  and walked close to the  table. - I am not going to
work here with  you.  I  am  just  passing. And I  am no friend of  Vladimir
Sergeevich, we are only slightly acquainted. And I am no favourite pet. I am
a vacuum-welder.
     She brushed her hand over her face.
     - Hold on, - she mumbled. - A vacuum-welder? Why a vacuum-welder?
     - And why not? -  said Yura. He  sensed, that in some inconceivable way
this  is  of outmost importance, and for this pretty sad  girl it is  really
good, that he is precisely a vacuum-welder, and not someone different. Never
before had he been so glad that he is a vacuum-welder.
     - I am sorry, - said the girl. - I confused you with someone else.
     - With whom?
     - Don't know. I was thinking... I don't know. It doesn't matter.
     Yura walked around the table and stood at her side, looking at her from
     - Tell me, please, - he demanded.
     - What?
     - Everything. Everything that goes on here.
     And suddenly Yura saw, how quick  droplets began falling onto the shiny
polished desktop. He felt a lump at his throat.
     - Come on, not this, - he said grumpily.
     Zina shook her head. He looked at the hatch with alarm and said firmly:
     - Stop bawling! What a shame!
     She lifted her head.  Her  face was damp and pitiful, eyes swelled even
     -  Try...  like  this...  yourself,  -  she  uttered.   He  produced  a
handkerchief and placed it on her wet palm. She began wiping her cheeks.
     - Who did this to you? - Yura asked quietly. - Kravetz? Then I will now
go and smash his face in, do you want me to?
     She folded the handkerchief and tried to smile. The she asked:
     - Listen, are you really a vacuum-welder?
     - Really.  But please,  just don't  cry.  It's my first  meeting with a
person, who cries when they see a vacuum-welder.
     -  And  is  true   that  Yurkovski  had  brought  his  protege  to  the
     - What protege? - Yura was amazed.
     - They  have been  talking  here,  that  Yurkovski wants to  place some
favourite astrophysicist of his at Diona...
     - What sort of garbage is this? - said Yura. - On board  there  is only
the crew, Yurkovski and I. No astrophysicists.
     - Is it true?
     - Of course it is true! And just to think - Yurkovski's favourites! One
must really think hard for this! Who had told you this? Kravetz?
     She shook her head again.
     -  Alright, - Yura found a chair with his foot and sat  on it.  - Go on
and tell me anyway. Tell me everything. Did someone hurt you?
     -  No  one,  - she said quietly. - I am  simply a  poor achiever.  With
unbalanced psyche  as  well, - she  smiled gloomily. -  Our director doesn't
like women at the observatory, in general. I am thankful he did not reassign
me back on the Planet. I would die from shame if that had happened. On Earth
I would have had to change  professions. And I really do not want to.  Here,
although I cannot get anything finished, at least  I am  at the observatory,
with a prominent scientist.  You  know, I really  love all this work, -  she
swallowed spasmodically. - You know, I used to think this was my calling...
     Yura said through clenched teeth:
     - I  have  never seen a person  who enjoys their  work  and  who cannot
accomplish anything.
     Her shoulder twitched.
     - You like your work, don't you?
     - Yes.
     - And you cannot get anything done?
     - I am giftless, - she said.
     - How can this be?
     - Don't know.
     Yura bit his lip and began thinking.
     - Listen, - he  said. -  Listen, Zina, and what about the  rest  of you
     - Who?
     - Other guys...
     Zina sighed convulsively.
     - Here they have become totally  different from what they  were like on
Earth.  Bazanov hates everyone, and  these two fools have imagined god knows
what, had a complete falling out and now won't talk neither to  me nor  with
each other...
     - And Kravetz?
     - Kravetz -  is a lackey,  -  she said with indifference. - He  doesn't
give a damn about anything. - She suddenly looked at him in confusion. - But
please don't  tell  anyone what I had  told you now. Otherwise  my life here
will  be absolute hell. There  will  be all kinds  of reproachful  comments,
general discussions about the essence of female nature...
     Yura looked at her with narrowed eyes.
     - How can this be? - he said. - And nobody knows about this?
     - And who would be interested? - She smiled miserably. - You know,  the
best of all distant observatories...
     The hatch  flipped  open.  The recently seen light-haired fellow pushed
his torso into the  room, gazed at Yura, wrinkling his  nose in displeasure,
then glanced at Zina and began gazing at Yura again. Zina stood up.
     -  Let me introduce you,  -  she said  in a trembling voice. - This  is
Svirski, Vitaly Svirski, an astrophysicist. And this is Yuri Borodin...
     - Turning over your duties? - Svirski inquired in an ill-tempered tone.
- Alright, do not let me disturb you.
     He started closing the hatch, but Yura raised his hand.
     - One minute, - he said.
     - You  can  have five, -  Svirski grinned obligingly.  - But on another
occasion. And right  now I do not  wish to  disrupt  your tete-e-tete,  dear
     Zina sighed quietly and covered her face with one hand.
     - I am not your colleague, idiot, - Yura uttered quietly  and walked at
Svirski. Svirski  was looking at him  with frenzied  eyes. -  And we'll talk
right now,  do  you  understand? But first  of all you will apologise to the
girl, for being a swine.
     Yura was five steps away from the hatch, when Svirski, with a bestially
jutted jaw began climbing into the room towards him.

     Bykov  was  pacing along the ward-room, hands behind his back and  head
lowered. Zhilin was leaning against  the door leading  to  the command post.
Yurkovski, with  his  fingers clenched, was sitting  behind  the table.  All
three of  them were listening to Michael Antonovich.  Michael Antonovich was
talking passionately  and excitedly, pressing his  short hand  into the left
side of his chest.
     -  ...And  believe me,  Voloden'ka, never in  my life have I heard that
much  dirt about  anyone. Everybody is nasty and stupid, only Bazanov is the
good  one.  You see, Shershen  is a tyrant  and a  dictator, he'd  exhausted
everyone, boldly  dictating his will. Everyone is afraid of  him. There  was
one courageous man on Diona, Muller, and even he was ousted by Shershen, you
see.  No-no,  Bazanov  does not denounce Shershen's scientific achievements,
you see, he even admires them, and the fact that the observatory enjoys such
fame is precisely Shershen's merit, but at the same time, you see, inside it
reigns absolute decadence. Shershen has a special informer  and provocateur,
this  talentless Kravetz.  This Kravetz, you see, eavesdrops on everyone and
then  peaches against them, and then,  on director's  orders spreads rumours
and  causes quarrels  between  everyone.  Divide  and  reign,  so  to speak.
Incidentally,  whilst we were talking, this poor fellow Kravetz  walked into
the  library to get  some book. How  did Bazanov yell at him! "Get  the hell
out!" - he screamed. Poor Kravtez, such a nice sympathetic young man, didn't
even  have  a chance  to  introduce  himself. He blushed  all over and left,
didn't  even take his book. Naturally, I could not hold back and reprimanded
Bazanov thoroughly. I told him straight: "What are you doing, Petya? How can
you be like this?"
     Michael  Antonovich caught  his  breath  and  wiped  his  face  with  a
     - Well, so, - he continued.  -  You see, Bazanov is incredibly  morally
upright. He  cannot bear, when someone is courting someone  else. There is a
young  crewmember here, Zina, an astrophysicist,  so he endowed her with two
simultaneous suitors  and then imagined that  they had a fight over of  her.
And she, you see, makes advances on this and that one, whilst  they are like
fighting cocks... Although he himself, keep this in mind, admits  that these
are mere rumours, he maintains that  a fact remains a fact and all three had
had a falling out. Moreover, Bazanov  doesn't just have  squabbles with  all
the astronomers, he had drawn the control engineers into his squabbles, too.
Everyone is a moron, milksop, no one knows how to work, half-educated lot...
My  hair  stood  on  end,  when I  was hearing  this!  Just  think about it,
Voloden'ka... Do you know whom he sees as the chief culprit behind all this?
     Michael Antonovich drew an effectual pause. Bykov stopped and looked at
him. Yurkovski, squinting heavily, was twisting his flabby cheeks.
     - You!  -  said Michael  Antonovich in a  broken  voice. -  I could not
believe my ears! The chief inspector of IBCC covers up all these disgraceful
things, more so, he hauls some mysterious protege's around the laboratories,
finds  places for them, whilst the  ordinary workers he fires for some petty
mistake  and  sends them back  to Earth. That everywhere  he  had fixed  his
puppets,  ones  like Shershen!  That I  could  no  longer bear.  I told him:
"Excuse me, - I said, - my dear boy, kindly mind what you are saying".
     Michael  Antonovich  drew another  breath and fell quiet.  Bykov  began
pacing across the ward-room.
     - Right, - said Yurkovski. - How did your conversation end?
     Michael Antonovich said proudly:
     - I could not stand to listen to him any more. I couldn't listen to all
the dirt poured over  you, Voloden'ka, and over the crew of the best distant
observatory. I got  up, bid him an acrimonious farewell and left. I hope  he
was ashamed of himself.
     Yurkovski was sitting with his eyes lowered. Bykov said with a smirk:
     - You have got them living a fine  life on your bases, chief inspector.
In peace and harmony.
     - If I  were in your place, Voloden'ka, I would take measures,  -  said
Michael Antonovich.  - Bazanov must  be returned to Earth removing his right
to work  on distant  stations.  Such  people  are indeed  really  dangerous,
Voloden'ka, you know that yourself...
     Yurkovski spoke, without lifting his eyes:
     - Very well. Thank you, Michael. Measures will have to be taken.
     Zhilin said quietly:
     - Perhaps, he is simply worn out?
     - Does it make anyone's life easier? - said Bykov.
     - Yes, - said Yurkovski  and sighed heavily. - Bazanov will have to  be
     From the corridor a hurried tapping of magnetic soles could be heard.
     - Yura is coming back, - said Zhilin.
     -  Well then, let's have dinner, - said Bykov. -  Are you eating dinner
with us, Vladimir?
     - No. I am having dinner with Shershen. I still  have a lot  of matters
to arrange with him.
     Zhilin was standing at the entrance to the command  post  and saw  Yura
first. His eyes bulged and he lifted his eyebrows. Then everyone else turned
to Yura.
     - What is the meaning of this, probationer? - Bykov inquired.
     - What's with you, Yurik? - exclaimed Michael Antonovich?
     Yura  looked blameworthy. A red and  blue  bruise covered his left eye,
nose was deformed, lips swollen and gone black. He was holding his left hand
suspended,  the  fingers  of his right  hand  were stuck round with plaster.
Dark, hastily washed stains could be seen on the front of his jacket.
     - I had a fight, - Yura said gloomily.
     - Who did you have a fight with, probationer?
     - I fought with Svirski.
     - Who is that?
     - It's a young astrophysicist at the observatory, - Yurkovski explained
impetuously. - Why did you have a fight, cadet?
     - He  insulted  a  girl, -  said  Yura. He was  looking  straight  into
Zhilin's eyes. - I demanded that he apologised.
     - Well?
     - Well, and we had a fight.
     Zhilin  gave a barely  noticeable nod  of approval. Yurkovski stood up,
walked around the cabin and stopped in front of Yura, hands shoved deep into
his pockets.
     - This is how I see it, cadet, - he said coldly, - that you have caused
a reprehensible debauch at the observatory.
     - No, - said Yura.
     - You have bashed up an observatory crewmember.
     -  Yes, - said Yura. - But I couldn't do otherwise. I had  to make  him
     - Did you? - Zhilin asked quickly.
     Yura wavered a bit, then said evasively:
     - Basically, he made an apology. Later.
     Yurkovski said with irritation:
     - Hell, Ivan, what does this have to do with anything?
     - Forgive me, Vladimir Sergeevich, - Ivan said humbly.
     Yurkovski turned to Yura again.
     - Anyway,  that was a  debauch,  - he said. - It looks that way, in any
event.  Listen,  cadet, I  quite  readily  believe that you acted  with best
intention, but you will have to apologise.
     - To whom? - Yura asked immediately.
     - First of all, to Svirski, of course.
     - And secondly?
     -  Secondly,  you  will  have  to  apologise  to  the director  of  the
     - No! - said Yura.
     - You will have to.
     - No.
     - What does it mean -  no? You have started a fight in his observatory.
That is despicable. And you are refusing to apologise?
     - I won't apologise to a scumbag, - Yura said in an even voice.
     - Quiet, probationer! - roared Bykov.
     Silence set in. Michael Antonovich was sighing lamentfully  and shaking
his head. Yurkovski was staring at Yura in amazement.
     Zhilin suddenly pushed away from the wall, came  up  to Yura and laid a
hand on his shoulder.
     - Forgive me, Alexey Petrovich,  - he said. - I think, we  ought to let
probationer Borodin tell us everything as it happened, in order.
     -  And who is  stopping him? - Bykov said annoyed. It was obvious, that
he is really displeased with the entire situation.
     - Tell us, Yura, - said Zhilin.
     - What is there to tell? - Yura began quietly. Then he started to yell:
- This  must be seen! And  heard! These idiots must  be rescued immediately!
You keep  saying - observatory,  observatory! But this is a  brothel! People
cry here, do you understand? They cry!
     - Easy, cadet, - said Yurkovski.
     - I can't take  it easy! You  are telling me to  apologise... I am  not
going to apologise  to an inquisitor! To a bastard, who sets dummies against
each  other and against a girl! Where  are your  eyes, chief inspector? This
entire establishment is long overdue  for an evacuation to Earth,  they will
soon get on all fours, and they will start biting each other!
     - Calm down and tell us what happened, in order, - said Zhilin.
     And Yura did tell. How he met Zina Shatrova, and how she cried, and how
he understood,  that  he must get involved  immediately, and  he  began with
Svirski, who had  grown so primitive with  fur,  that believed all kinds  of
foul things  about  a girl he  loved. How he made Averin and  Svirski have a
"heart-to-heart" talk with one another, and how they discovered that Svirski
never called Averin giftless and a  sucker up, and  that Averin did not even
suspect being repeatedly expelled from Zina's room  late at night. How  they
took the guitar away from controller Ditz and  found  out  that he had never
spread any rumours about  Bazanov and Tanya  Oleneva... And how it instantly
became  apparent, that  it was all the  doing of Kravetz, and  that Shershen
cannot be unaware of it, and that he is, in fact, the biggest scoundrel...
     - The guys have sent me to you,  Vladimir Sergeevich, so that you would
do  something.  And  you'd  better  do  something, otherwise  they will  act
themselves... They are ready to.
     Yurkovski was sitting in his chair behind the desk, and his face was so
old and pitiful,  that Yura stopped  and looked at Zhilin  in confusion. But
Zhilin gave him another barely noticeable nod.

     - You will answer  for these  words also, - Shershen  muttered  through
clenched teeth.
     - Shut  up! - yelled  the little dark-skinned Averin,  sitting next  to
Yura. - Don't you dare interrupt us! Comrades, how dares he interrupt us all
the time?
     Yurkovski waited for the commotion to settle and continued:
     -  All  this is  so  sickening,  that I have  altogether  excluded  any
possibility of such a phenomenon, and it took  an involvement  by a complete
stranger, a young boy, just to... Yeah. Disgusting. I did not expect that of
you, my young ones. How easy was it - to restore you to  the primeval state,
place you on all fours: three years, one ambitious maniac and one provincial
intriguer. And you yielded to it, grew feral, lost your human face... Young,
cheerful, decent guys... Such a shame!
     Yurkovski made  a  pause  and looked the  astronomers over. All this is
useless now, he thought. They don't have time for me now. They  were sitting
in a pack and looking at Shershen and Kravetz with hatred.
     - Alright. A new director will be sent to you from Titan.  For two days
you  may  hold meetings and think. Do  think. You, poor and weak  ones, I am
telling you: think! And now leave.
     They got  up and, heads  sunken, went out of the cabinet. Shershen also
stood up  and,  balancing ridiculously on magnetic  soles, came up  close to
     -  This  is autocracy, -  he  said hoarsely. -  You are  disrupting the
observatory's schedule.
     Yurkovski distanced him with repulse.
     - Listen, Shershen, - he said. - I would shoot myself if I were you.

     - You know, - said Bykov, - looking at Yurkovski above  his glasses and
above  the  "Metal  Physics",  -  come  to think of  it,  Shershen  actually
considers  himself to be  undeservedly insulted. After all,  it's  the  best
observatory and so on...
     - Shershen doesn't interest me, - said Yurkovski. He slammed his folder
shut  and stretched out. - What I am interested in, is how  could these guys
come to such an existence... And Shershen - he is dust, a small fry.
     Bykov kept thinking for a few minutes.
     - And what would it be according to you? - he asked, finally.
     - I have one theory... Rather, a hypothesis. I  believe, that they have
already forfeited immunity against socially harmful behaviour, needed in the
past, but their individual anti-social tendencies have not yet disappeared.
     - Make it simpler, - said Bykov.
     - With pleasure. Let us take you. What would you do, if a gossip bearer
came to you  and said that... err...  let's say, Michael Krutikov steals and
trades  food  supplies? You  have seen many gossipers in your time, you know
their worth, and you would tell him to... err... depart. Now let us take our
cadet. What would he do,  if he was told... err... um,  let's  say, the same
thing? He would take everything at face value and would immediately run over
to Michael for an explanation.  And would momentarily understand, that  this
is all rubbish, he would come back and... err... thrash the bastard.
     - Uh-uh, - said Bykov with satisfaction.
     - Well, so it is then.  And our friends on Diona - that's no longer you
but  not quite our cadet, still. They take  filth for face value,  but their
unutilised superficial pride halts them from working everything out.
     - Oh well, - said Bykov. - Perhaps, that's the way it is.
     Yura  came  in, squatted before an open  engineering bookcase and began
choosing a book to read  for the night.  The events  on  Diona have  totally
shaken him over  and  he still could not  recover from it. His farewell with
Zina  Shatrova was silent and very moving. Zina had not so much as recovered
at  all. True, she was smiling already. Yura really wanted to stay  on Diona
until Zina will start to laugh. He  was confident, that he  could manage  to
cheer  her  up,  to  help  her forget, in some way, the  terrifying  days of
Shershen's reign. He really regretted that he could not stay. However in the
corridor  he  caught  the light-haired  Svirski  and demanded, that they  be
especially attentive to Zina. Svirski gave him a  frenzied look and answered
astray: "We are still going to smash his face".
     - Er... Alexey, -  said Yurkovski. - Am  I going to be  a  nuisance  to
anyone at the command post?
     -  You  are  the  chief inspector, -  said  Bykov. - Who can you  be  a
nuisance to?
     - I wish to establish communication with Titan, - said Yurkovski. - And
to listen to the airways in general.
     - Go ahead, - said Bykov.
     - And can I be allowed, too? - asked Yura.
     -  And  you  can be allowed, too,  - said  Bykov. - Everyone is allowed
     In the morning Bykov finished reading  the last magazine,  examined the
cover long  and hard, and  it seemed, even checked  out the price.  Then  he
sighed,  carried  the magazine  to  his cabin, and  when  he  returned, Yura
understood that "the boy had peeled the stick  to the  end".  Bykov was  now
very kind, outspoken and allowed everything to everybody.
     - I guess I will come with you, - said Bykov.
     All three  of them barged inside  the command post. Michael  Antonovich
looked at them in amazement from his podium, beamed  a smile and  waved  his
little hand.
     - We won't get in your way, - said Bykov. - We want the radio.
     - Just remember, boys,  -  warned Michael Antonovich, - we are going to
have weightlessness in half an hour.
     At  Yurkovski's  directions  "Takhmaseeb"  was  proceeding  to  station
"Ring-1", an artificial satellite of Saturn, moving adjacent to its Ring.
     -  And  why  can't we  go without  weightlessness?  -  Yurkovski  asked
     -  You see, Voloden'ka, - Michael Antonovich said with a guilty look, -
it's really  cramped here  for our "Takhmaseeb".  We must manoeuvre all  the
     They  moved  past  Zhilin,  who   was  rummaging  in   the   controller
combinations, and sat in  front of the radio. Bykov began  manipulating  the
regulators. The speaker wailed and shrieked.
     - The music  of  celestial spheres, - Zhilin commented from the rear. -
Connect the decoder, Alexey Petrovich.
     - Yes,  that's right, - said Bykov.  - I  somehow thought, that this is
     - Some radio operator, - Yurkovski said with contempt.
     The speaker suddenly roared in an abnormal tone:
     - ...  minutes listen to Alexander Bloomberg, retranslation from Earth.
I repeat...
     The voice  sailed  away  and was  replaced  by  drowsy  wheezing.  Then
somebody said: "...thing I  can do. You will have to wait, comrades". - "And
what if send  our shuttle over?" - "Then you won't have to wait as long, but
you'll still have to wait". Bykov turned on auto-seek and the marker crawled
along the  dial,  temporarily stopping at  each  working station, "...eighty
hectares of  selenium batteries for the  green-houses, forty  kilometres  of
copper wire six hundredths, twenty kilometres...", "...no  butter, no sugar,
we  have  one  hundred packets  of "Hercules" porridge  left,  crackers  and
coffee.  Yeah, and  also  we  are out of cigarettes ...", "...and
hear me?  I am not going to stand  this impudence... Hear me? I'm...". "Q-2,
Q-2, we did  not  understand anything... What kind of radio receiver does he
have?.. Q-2, here are my  coordinates for calibration.  One, two, three...",
"...really miss you. When  will you  come  back at  last? And  how come  you
stopped  writing? Kisses, your Anna. Period", "...Chan, don't worry, this is
really basic. You  take  a three-dimensional integral  across  the hyperbola
until H...", "Number seven,  number seven, sector three has been cleared for
you...",  "...Sasha,  there  are  rumours,  that  some chief  inspector  has
arrived. Almost seems it is Yurkovski himself..."
     - Enough, - said Yurkovski. - Find me Titan. Scoundrels, - he grumbled.
- They know already.
     - It's interesting, -  Bykov  said with a  thoughtful  air. - There are
only about one hundred and fifty  people  in Saturn's system,  but how  much
     The radio  was croaking and wailing.  Bykov  optimised the channel  and
began talking into a microphone:
     - Titan, Titan. This is "Takhmaseeb". Titan. Titan.
     - Titan listening, - said a woman's voice.
     - Chief inspector Yurkovski requests a session with the director of the
system.  - Bykov looked cheerfully at Yurkovski. - Am I saying  this  right,
Volodya? - he asked into the microphone. Yurkovski gave a favourable nod.
     -  Hello, hello, "Takhmaseeb"!  -  the  woman's  voice  became slightly
anxious. - Hold on a minute, I will connect you to the director.
     - Waiting, - said Bykov and moved the microphone over to Yurkovski.
     Yurkovski cleared his throat.
     -  Lisa, darling! - somebody shouted from  the speaker. - Please get me
the director, sweetheart! Quickly!
     - Clear the frequency, - the woman's voice  said sternly. - Director is
     - How is this - busy? - the  voice said in  outrage. - Ferentz, is that
you? Out of turn, again?
     - Clear the frequency, - Yurkovski said firmly.
     -  Everyone clear  the  frequency  now,  -  a drawn out  squeaky  voice
sounded. - The director is listening to chief inspector Yurkovski.
     - Wow, guys... - someone said in awe. Yurkovski gave Bykov a smug look.
     - Zaitzev, - he said. - Hello, Zaitzev.
     - Hello, Volodya, - squeaked the director. - What brings you here?
     - I... err...  am conducting a  slight inspection.  Arrived  yesterday.
Straight on Diona. I have dismissed Shershen. Details later. So, we'll... do
this. Send  Muller to replace  Shershen. Endeavour to send Shershen to Earth
as soon as  possible. Send  back Shershen and  another one there. Kravetz is
his  surname.  Young,  but  an   early  beginner.  Oversee  their  departure
personally. And keep in mind, that I am not pleased with you. This matter...
err... you could  have dealt with personally, and much earlier. Further... -
Yurkovski became quiet. An astounding silence  reigned the airways. - I have
set  the following  route  for  myself.  At  the moment I  am  proceeding to
"Ring-1". I will be delayed there for two-three  days, and then I will visit
you on  Titan. Order that the fuel for "Takhmaseeb" be  made available. And,
finally, this. -  Yurkovski became silent  again. -  I  have a young man  on
board.  He  is a vacuum-welder. One from the group  of  volunteers, that are
working with you on Rhea. Be so kind, let me know where I can  set him down,
so  that  he  can be immediately sent to Rhea. - Yurkovski fell  silent once
more. The airways were quiet. - So now I am all yours, - said Yurkovski.
     -  One  minute,  - said the director. - They are making inquiries  now.
What, are you on "Takhmaseeb"?
     - Yes, - said Yurkovski. - I've got Alexey right here with me.
     Michael Antonovich shouted from the navigator's compartment:
     - Send my regards to Feden'ka, say hello!
     - Here, Misha is sending his greetings to you.
     - And is Gregory there with you?
     - No, - said Yurkovski. - Don't you know?
     The airways stayed silent .Then a squeaky voice asked cautiously:
     - Had something happened?
     - No-no, - said Yurkovski. - He was simply restricted from flying. It's
been a year already.
     There was a sigh in the airways.
     - Yep..., - said the director. - Soon we'll be just like that.
     - Not too soon, I hope, - Yurkovski said dryly. - Well, what's going on
with your inquiries?
     - Alright, - the voice said.  - One minute. Listen. Your welder doesn't
need  to  go  to Rhea. We have transferred the volunteers to  "Ring-2". They
need them more over there.  If  you are  lucky, you can send him to "Ring-2"
straight from "Ring-1". And if you  are not - we'll  send him  from here  on
     - What is this - if I am lucky?
     - Twice a  decade the  Swiss travel  to  the Ring, delivering supplies.
Perhaps you will catch the Swiss shuttle on "Ring-1".
     - Got you, - said Yurkovski. - Well, alright then.  I have nothing more
for you. See you.
     - Calm plasma to you, Volodya, - said the director. - Careful you don't
drop down into Saturn.
     - Stuff you, - Bykov grumbled and turned off the radio.
     - All clear, cadet? - asked Yurkovski.
     - All clear, - said Yura and sighed.
     - Are you unhappy, or something?
     - Not at all, it doesn't matter where I work, - said Yura. - That's not
the matter.

     The "Ring-1" observatory was moving  within  the plane of Saturn's Ring
along a circular orbit and completed a full rotation  in fourteen and a half
hours. The station was new-sprung, its construction was finished only a year
ago. Its crew  consisted of  ten planetologists, engaged in the study of the
Ring, and four  control  engineers. Control engineers  had much to  do: some
units and systems at the observatory - heaters, oxygen regenerators, and the
hydrosystem - were  still not  calibrated completely.  Associated discomfort
did not concern the planetologists in the least, the more so as  the greater
part of their time was spent  in cosmoscaphes, floating  above the Ring. The
work of  planetologists in  the  Ring carried great significance in Saturn's
system. Planetologists hoped  to find water, iron, and rare materials inside
the  Ring  - which  would  provide the system with autonomy  over  fuel  and
material supplies. However, even  if these searches were successful,  making
full use of such findings did not appear quite possible yet. No missile  has
ever been created,  capable  of entering the gleaming bulk of Saturn's rings
and making a safe return.
     Alexey Petrovich Bykov guided "Takhmaseeb" to the exterior docking line
and moored carefully.  Approaching  artificial satellites  - is  a  delicate
matter,  requiring  master  skills  and  jeweller-like  intricacy.  On  such
occasions Alexey  Petrovich would get  up from his chair  and  go up  to the
command post. At the exterior docks some shuttle  stood already,  judging by
the hull lines - a food supplies tanker.
     - Probationer, - said Bykov. - You are in luck. Pack your suitcase.
     Yura said nothing.
     - The crew is  allowed ashore, - Bykov announced. - If you  get invited
for  supper - don't get  too  excited.  This is not a hotel for you. Best of
all, carry conserves and mineral water.
     - Increase its natural cycle, - Zhilin said in an undertone.
     Squeaking and grinding  was heard from  the  outside - it  was the duty
inspector adjusting  a hermetic bridge to "Takhmaseeb's"  outer hatch.  Five
minutes  later he announced over the radio: "You can  come  out. Just  dress
warm". -  "And  why  is  that?" -  Bykov  inquired. "We  are regulating  the
conditioning", - the duty dispatcher said and rang off.
     - What does it mean - warm? - Yurkovski was full of indignation. - What
should  I wear? Flannels? Or  how was  it  called  -  valenki? Stitched wool
coats? Quilted jackets?
     Bykov said:
     - Wear a  jumper. Put on  warm socks. A fur-lined jacket would be nice.
With electric heating.
     - I will wear a jumper, - said Michael Antonovich. -  I've got a really
nice jumper. With a sail on it.
     - And I  have  nothing,  - Yura said sadly. - I  guess I can wear a few
     - This is a disgrace, - said Yurkovski. - I've got nothing as well.
     - Put on your bathrobe, - Bykov advised him, and headed for his cabin.
     They  all stepped  down  together  on  the observatory,  dressed  quite
diversely  and warmly.  Bykov  wore  a Greenland fur-lined  jacket.  Michael
Antonovich also put on a jacket  and pulled fur boots onto his feet. The fur
boots were devoid of magnetic  soles, and Michael Antonovich was towed, like
an anchored  blimp. Zhilin put  on a  jumper  and gave  one  jumper to Yura.
Besides that, Yura wore Bykov's fur-lined pants, which he fastened under his
armpits. Yurkovski wore  Zhilin's fur-lined boots. And also, Yurkovski  wore
Michael Antonovich's jumper with a sail and a really pretty white blazer.
     At  the  caisson  the duty dispatcher  met them wearing  a singlet  and
shorts. Inside the caisson stood suffocating heat, like a Swedish sauna.
     -  Good day, -  said the  dispatcher.  He  looked the  guests over  and
frowned. -  Didn't  I  tell  you: dress  warmly. You are going to freeze  in
     Yurkovski said in a sinister voice:
     - I beg your pardon, young man, are you going to pull jokes on me?
     The dispatcher gave him a baffled look.
     - Pulling what jokes? It's minus fifteen inside the ward-room.
     Bykov wiped the sweat from his forehead and grumbled:
     - Let's go.
     From the corridor blew a freezing chill, puffs  of steam rushed in. The
dispatcher, clutching his shoulders with his hands, yelled:
     - Hurry up, please!
     Interior  lining  of the corridor  was removed in some places,  and the
yellow  lattice of  thermal elements  was gleaming shamelessly in the bluish
light. Near the  ward-room they bumped into a control engineer. The engineer
wore  an  incredibly  long  fur  coat,  with a blue  singlet  sticking  from
underneath. On the engineer's  head a fur hat with raised flaps was standing
in full splendour.
     Yurkovski moved his shoulders  under the chill  and opened the door  to
the ward-room.
     Inside the ward-room  behind  the table  sat,  buckled to their chairs,
five  men in fur  coats with raised collars.  They  looked  like  the  early
policemen from the times of Tsar Alexey  the Peaceful and  were sucking  hot
coffee  from transparent thermal flasks. Upon  seeing Yurkovski, one of them
pulled down the collar and, releasing a cloud of steam, said:
     -  Good  day,  Vladimir Sergeevich.  I  see you  have  dressed somewhat
lightly. Have a seat. Coffee?
     - What is going here? - asked Yurkovski.
     - We are regulating, - said someone.
     - And where is Markushin?
     - Markushin is waiting for you in a cosmoscaphe. It's warm there.
     One  of the  planetologists got up and floated into  the corridor  with
Yurkovski. Another one, a lanky, mop-headed fellow, said:
     - Tell me, are there any more chief inspectors among you?
     - No, - said Bykov.
     - Then I'll tell you straight: we have a dog's life here. Yesterday the
temperature across the entire observatory  was  plus thirty, and inside  the
ward-room even thirty-three. During the night the temperature suddenly fell.
I, personally, got a frost-bitten foot, nobody feels like working under such
temperature  fluctuations,  so we take  turns  working in cosmoscaphes. They
have autonomous air-conditioning. Does it happen to you as well?
     - It happens, - said Bykov. - During accidents.
     - And you live  a whole year like this? - Michael Antonovich asked with
pity and dismay.
     -  No, not at  all! Only for about  a  month. Earlier,  the temperature
fluctuations were not  so significant.  But we have organised a team to help
the engineers, and now... You can see for yourself.
     Yura was diligently sucking up hot coffee.  He  felt  he is starting to
     - Br-r-r,  -  said Zhilin. - Tell me, do you have some sort of an oasis
     The planetologists looked at each other.
     - Perhaps inside the caisson, - one said.
     - Or in the bathroom, - said another. - But its muggy in there.
     - It's really uncomfortable, - Michael Antonovich complained.
     - Well, then, - said Bykov. - Let's all go with us.
     - Ooh, - said the lanky planetologist. - And then coming back here?
     - Come on, let's go, - said Michael Antonovich. - We can talk  there as
     - This  isn't  really  in the order  of hospitality, - the lanky fellow
said hesitantly.
     Silence ensued. Yura said:
     - We are sitting  so funny  - four against  four. Almost  like a  chess
     Everyone looked at him.
     - Come on, let's go with us, - said Bykov, getting up decisively.
     - This  is somehow awkward, - said  one  of the planetologists. - Let's
sit here. Maybe we can still have a proper conversation.
     Zhilin said:
     - It's  warm there. One slight turn of the regulator - and we can  make
it hot. We shall sit in beautiful light garments. We won't sniffle.
     A gloomy man in a fur coat worn over a naked body stuck his head inside
the ward-room. Looking at the ceiling he said inhospitably:
     -  I beg your pardon, but why don't you all  go to your cabins, really.
We are going to shut off the air here in five minutes.
     The man disappeared. Bykov,  not saying a word, moved towards the exit.
Everyone followed him.
     In grave silence they crossed the corridor, choked on hot air inside an
empty caisson and stepped on board the "Takhmaseeb". The lanky planetologist
hastily  pulled off his fur coat  and blazer and began rolling the scarf off
his neck. The  warm ammunition was  shoved inside  a wall wardrobe. Then the
introductions and mutual  handshakes took place. The lanky planetologist was
called  Raphael Gorchakov.  The  other three,  as it  became  apparent, were
Joseph Vlchek,  Eugene Sadovski and  Pavel  Shemyakin.  Having thawed,  they
turned  out to  be  cheerful  talkative  guys.  Soon  it became  known, that
Gorchakov and  Sadovsky are investigating turbulent motions inside the Ring,
are not married,  like Graham Greene and Strogov, prefer cinema  to theatre,
at  the present  moment  are  reading  Montaigne  in  the  original,  do not
understand  neorealistic  painting, but do  not exclude the possibility that
there is  something  in it;  that Joseph  Vlchek is  searching for  iron ore
inside the Ring using the neutron reflection method and flash-bombs, that he
is a professional violinist, was Europe's champion in the four-hundred metre
hurdle  races,  and  ended  up  in  Saturn's  system as  a  revenge  on  his
girlfriend's  cold  and insensitive treatment  of  him; finally, that  Pavel
Shemyakin  is, on the contrary, married, has kids, works as  an assistant in
the institute  of  planetology,  vehemently  defends  the hypothesis  of the
artificial origin  of the  Ring and intends to "lay his life at transforming
the hypothesis to theory".
     -  The biggest  trouble, - he was  saying passionately,  - is  that our
cosmoscaphes  do not stand up  to any scrutiny as the  explorer's  missiles.
They are extremely slow and really fragile. When I sit  inside a cosmoscaphe
above the  Ring, I really feel like crying with  grief.  It's a  stone throw
away... And to  go down  into the Ring we are expressly forbidden.  And I am
absolutely confident, that the very first search inside the Rng would  yield
something interesting. Some sort of clue, at the very least...
     - What sort, for instance? - asked Bykov.
     - W-well, I don't know!..
     -  I know, -  said Gorchakov. - He hopes to find a print of a bare foot
on  some boulder.  Do you  know, how  he operates?  Descends  as  closely as
possible  to the  ring  and  inspects fragments  through  a  forty-time zoom
binoctar. Pasha winds his eyes onto the binoctar, and while he winds off it,
another asteroid...
     -  Well,  that is stupid, - Shemyakin said crossly. -  If  it  could be
shown, that the  Ring -  is the product of fission of some body,  that would
mean a great deal  already,  but in  the meantime,  we  are restricted  from
catching the fragments.
     - It's easy  to say - catching  a fragment, - said Bykov. - I know that
job. You get all sweaty and never know to the very end, who caught whom, and
then  it turns out  that you  have knocked  off an  emergency rocket and you
don't have  enough fuel  to make it to base. Nah, they are  right to  forbid
this nonsense.
     Michael Antonovich suddenly said, rolling his eyes in reverie:
     - But then, boys, how fascinating it is! What a lively, delicate task!
     Planetologists  looked at him  reverent  surprise. Yura,  too. It never
entered his mind, that the kind chubby Michael Antonovich conducted asteroid
hunts  once upon a  time.  Bykov gave Michael  Antonovich a  cold  look  and
coughed loudly. Michael Antonovich looked at him in fright and said hastily:
     - But that, of course, is really dangerous... Unjustified  risk...  And
one shouldn't anyway...
     - By the way, about footprints, - Zhilin said pensively. - You here are
detached  from information sources,  - he looked the planetologists  over. -
And, perhaps, don't know...
     - And what is  it? - Sadovski asked. From his face it was obvious, that
he was thoroughly starved of information.
     - On the  island of Honshu, - said Zhilin, - not far from the Danno-ura
harbour,  in the gorge between  the mountains Siramine and Titigatake, in an
impenetrable  forest, archaeologists  have  discovered  a system  of  caves.
Inside  these caves they found various primeval utensils and -  what is most
interesting -  many  fossilised traces  of  primeval people.  Archaeologists
think,  that inside the caves two  hundred  centuries ago dwelled the  early
Japanese, whose descendants were later slaughtered by the Yamato tribes lead
by imperator Jimmu-tenno, the divine grandson of heaven-radiant Amaterasu.
     Bykov grunted and held onto his chin.
     - This finding agitated the whole world, - said  Zhilin, - perhaps, you
have heard about it.
     -  We  wish...  - Sadovski said  despondently.  - We are  torn off from
everyone here...
     - And in the meantime  there was a lot said and written about  it,  but
that's not  the point. The  most fascinating finding  was made comparatively
recently, when  the central  cave was properly cleared. Imagine this: in the
fossilised clay stood over twenty pairs of naked  footprints  with big  toes
shifted far to the side,  and among  them...  - Zhilin  looked his listeners
round with wide open eyes. It was all clear to Yura, but the effective pause
made a great impression on him nevertheless. - A boot print... - Zhilin said
in a regular voice. Bykov got up and started walking out of the ward-room.
     - Aleshen'ka! - Michael Antonovich called out. - Where are you going so
     - I know this story already, - said Bykov, without turning around. -  I
have read. I will be back soon.
     - A boot trace? - Sadovski repeated. - From what boot?
     -  Approximately size  forty-five,  -  said Zhilin. -  Rifled sole, low
heel, a blunt square toe.
     - This is crazy, - Vlchek said decisively. - A hoax.
     Gorchakov laughed and asked:
     - Was there an imprint of "Skorohod" company brand name, by any chance?
     - No, - said Zhilin. He shook  his head.  - If there was just some kind
of writing!  Simply  a  boot  print...  slightly traced across  by  a  naked
footprint - somebody stepped on it later.
     - Come on, this is a hoax! - said Vlchek. - It's so obvious. Mass-scale
poaching of mermaids on the  island of  Man, Buonaparte's  spirit possessing
the Massachusetts super-computer...
     - "Solar  spots are positioned as a sketch of  Pythagorean theorem!"  -
Sadovski announced. - "The Solar Population are seeking to make contact with
     - Vanyusha, I  think that you  are a  little...  You  know... - Michael
Antonovich said with distrust.
     Shemyakin stayed quiet. Yura, too.
     - I read a re-print from the scientific appendix  to "Asahi-shinbun", -
said Zhilin. - At first, I also thought that  this was  a hoax. This  report
did  not appear in our news media. But the article  was signed  by professor
Usodzuki - a prominent man, I  have heard about him from the Japanese  guys.
There,  he actually writes,  that wishes  to put an end  to  the  stream  of
misinformation with his article, but is not  going to give any commentaries.
To me it seems that they don't know how to explain it themselves.
     - "A fearless  European  in the paws  of mad  synantropes!" - announced
Sadovski.  -  "Eaten  alive,  all  that remains is an  imprint  of a  "Shoes
Majestic"  boot"!  Get yourselves "Shoes Majestic" products, if you wish  to
leave some kind of trace".
     - These weren't synantropes, - Zhilin said patiently. - The big toe can
be   distinguished  with  a  naked  eye.   Professor  Usodzuki   calls  them
     Finally, Shemyakin could not take it any longer.
     - And why, in fact, does it have to be  a hoax? - he asked. - Why do we
always choose the most probable of all hypotheses?
     -  Really, why? - said Sadovski.  - Traces were, of course,  left by an
Alien, and the first contact ended tragically.
     -  And why not? -  said Shemyakin.  - Who could be  wearing  a boot two
hundred years ago?
     - Holy  cow,  - said Sadovski. - If we are to talk seriously, then this
is the footprint of one of the archaeologists.
     Zhilin shook his head.
     -  First  of all, the clay had completely fossilised  there. The age of
the imprint  leaves no doubts.  Do you  really  think, that Usodzuki did not
consider such a possibility?
     - Then it's a hoax, - Sadovski said obstinately.
     - Tell us, Ivan,  - said  Shemyakin, - did they by any chance include a
photo of the imprint?
     - Of course, - said Zhilin.  - Both  the photo of the  imprint, and the
photo of the cave, and Usodzuki's  photo...  By the  way, don't forget, that
the biggest size for Japanese is forty-two. At best, forty-three.
     - Let's put it this way, - said Gorchakov. - Let's think that we have a
task  of constructing  a logically consistent hypothesis that explains  this
Japanese finding.
     - Please, go ahead, - said Shemyakin. - I suggest - an Alien. Now  find
inconsistency in this hypothesis.
     Sadovski waved his hand.
     - Aliens again, - he said. - Simply some kind of brontosaurus.
     -  It's easier  to  assume, -  said Gorchakov,  -  that  it is still  a
footprint of some European. Some tourist.
     - Yes, it's  either some unknown animal, or a tourist, - said Vlchek. -
Animal footprints sometimes have really curious form.
     - The age, the age... - Zhilin said quietly.
     - Then simply an unknown animal.
     - A duck, for instance.
     Bykov returned, made himself comfortable  in the chair  with  an air of
dignity and asked:
     - Well, what have you got here?
     - Here the comrades are  trying  to  explain  the Japanese  boot  print
somehow, -  said Zhilin. -  Suggested  items: an Alien,  a  European, and an
unknown animal.
     - And what about them? - said Bykov.
     - All these hypotheses, - said Zhilin, - even the  hypothesis about  an
Alien, comprise one horrendous inconsistency.
     - Which one? - asked Shemyakin.
     - I forgot to tell you, - said Zhilin. - The floor area of the  cave is
forty square metres.  The boot print  is  located in the  very middle of the
     - And, so what? - asked Shemyakin.
     - And it's a solitary one, - said Zhilin.
     For a while everyone stayed quiet.
     - Mm-yeah, - said Sadovski. - The ballad about a one-legged Alien.
     - Perhaps, other traces have rubbed out? - Vlchek proposed.
     - Absolutely  impossible, - said Zhilin. - Twenty  pairs  of absolutely
distinct footprints of naked feet over an  entire cave and one distinct boot
print in the middle.
     - Ok, this is how it is, - said  Bykov. - The Alien was  one-legged. He
was brought into the cave, stood upright, and, after things were worked out,
was eaten alive.
     -  And  why not?  - said  Michael  Antonovich.  -  I  think, that  it's
logically consistent. Why not?
     - The down part is that he is one-legged, - Shemyakin said pensively. -
It's difficult to imagine a one-legged intellectual being.
     - Perhaps, he was an invalid? - Gorchakov suggested.
     - One foot could have been eaten immediately, - said Sadovski.
     - God knows, what rubbish we are talking about  here, - said Shemyakin.
- Let's go and do some work.
     - No, I am sorry, hold on, - said Vlchek. - We must investigate. I have
this hypothesis: the Alien had a really  wide step.  They are all abnormally
long-legged over there.
     -  He  would have  cracked his  head against  the  dome of the cave,  -
Sadovski objected. - Most likely  he had wings - flew inside  a cave, saw an
unfriendly welcome ready for him, pushed off and flew  away. And what do you
think, Ivan?
     Zhilin opened his  mouth to answer,  but instead raised  his finger and
     - Attention! The chief inspector!
     Into the ward-room walked a red and sweltering Yurkovski.
     -  Ph-hew!  -  he  said.  -  How  nice  and  cool! Planetologists,  the
supervisors are  calling  you.  And remember, that it's  about forty degrees
there right now. - He turned to Yura. - Get ready, cadet. I have arranged it
with the  captain of  the  tanker, he will drop  you off at "Ring-2". - Yura
shuddered and stopped smiling. - The tanker leaves in a few  hours, but it's
best  to  go there  before  launch.  Vanya,  you  will  see  him  off.  Yes!
Planetologists!  Where are the  planetologists?  - He  looked  out  into the
corridor. - Shemyakin! Pasha! Get me the photos that you have made above the
Ring. I need to have  a  look. Michael, don't go, wait a minute.  Stay here,
Alexey, drop your book, I need to talk to you.
     Bykov set the book aside. In the ward-room remained only him, Yurkovski
and Michael Antonovich. Yurkovski, balancing  awkwardly, ran from one corner
to another.
     -  What  is  it  with  you? -  Bykov  inquired, watching his evolutions
     Yurkovski stopped suddenly.
     -  This  is  the  deal,  Alexey,  -  he  said. - I have  arranged  with
Markushin, he will  let me have  his  cosmoscaphe.  I want to fly above  the
Ring.   An  absolutely   safe  trip,  Alexey.   -   Yurkovski  became  angry
unexpectedly. -  Well,  why do you look at me like that?  The guys have been
making such trips twice a day for a whole year now. Yes, I know that you are
obstinate. But I do not intend  to get  inside the Ring. I want to fly above
the Ring. I obey your instructions. Please respect for my request, too. I am
begging you in earnest, bloody hell. After all, are we friends or not?
     - What, exactly, is the matter? - Bykov said calmly.
     Yurkovski ran across the room again.
     - Give me Michael, - he said abruptly.
     - Wha-a-at? - said Bykov, rising slowly.
     - Or I will  fly solo, - Yurkovski said immediately. - And I don't know
cosmoscaphes well.
     Bykov stayed silent. Michael Antonovich  was turning his eyes  from one
to the other in confusion.
     -  Boys, - he said.  - I mean, I would love to...  What's there to talk
     - I could have taken another pilot at the  station, - said Yurkovski. -
But  I  am  asking  for  Michael, because  Michael  is a hundred times  more
experienced and careful, than all of  them put together. Do you get it? He's
more careful!
     Bykov stayed silent. His face turned dark and sullen.
     - We'll be extremely  careful, - said Yurkovski. - We'll proceed at the
altitude of twenty or thirty kilometres above the median plane, no closer. I
will make a few large-scale shots, make some visual observations, and in two
hours we'll come back.
     - Aleshen'ka, -  Michael Antonovich said timidly. - You know, the stray
fragments above the Ring are very rare. And they are not all that harmful. A
little bit of concentration...
     Bykov was  quietly  looking at Yurkovski. "Well, what am I  to do  with
him? - he thought.  -  What am I to do with this old  maniac?  Michael has a
sick  heart. It's his last voyage. His  reaction  has  become  dull  and all
cosmoscaphes have manual  controls.  And I  cannot fly  a  cosmoscaphe.  And
Zhilin can't. And I can't  let a young pilot  go with him. They'll  convince
each other to dive inside the Ring. Why have I, an old idiot, not learned to
fly a cosmoscaphe?"
     - Alesha,  - said Yurkovski.  - I really beg of you. You know,  I  will
probably never see Saturn's rings again. I am old, Alesha.
     Bykov got up and, not looking at anyone, walked out of the ward-room in
silence. Yurkovski covered his face with his hands.
     -  Oh no, what a disaster! - he  said with  vexation. - Why, how come I
have such a horrible reputation? Why, Michael?
     - So reckless you are, Voloden'ka, - said Michael Antonovich. - Really,
you are the culprit.
     -  And why be careful?  - asked Yurkovski. - Come on,  tell  me please,
why? To reach an age of total spiritual and physical infirmity? To  wait for
the moment, when life will become loathsome, and die  from  boredom  in bed?
Come  on  Michael,  after  all,  trembling  over  one's  life  like this  is
     Michael Antonovich shook his head.
     -  What a character you are, Voloden'ka, - he said  quietly. - How  can
you  not see,  my dear,  you alone will die - and that's that. But, you see,
people will remain  after you, friends. Do you know, how painful  it will be
for them? And you just go on about yourself, all about yourself.
     - Ahh, Michael, - said Yurkovski, - I don't feel like arguing with you.
You better tell me, is Alexey going to agree or not?
     -  I think, he'd already agreed  to it, - said  Michael  Antonovich.  -
Can't you tell? Because I know him well, fifteen years on the same ship.
     Yurkovski ran across the room again.
     - And what about you,  Michael, do you, at least, want to fly or not? -
he shouted. - Or are you also... "agreeing to it"?
     - I really  want to, - said  Michael Antonovich and blushed all over. -
Just once before we go.

     Yura was packing a suitcase. He never managed to pack up well, and  now
he  was also rushing, so that no one could tell, how much he doesn't want to
leave  the  "Takhmaseeb". Ivan was standing  by, and it  was  awfully sad to
think, that  now they will have to say goodbye and that they will never meet
again. Yura was carelessly shoving  into  the  suitcase  his clothes,  study
notes,  books - among them "The  road  of  all roads", of  which Bykov said:
"When you will begin to like this book, you can consider yourself an adult".
Ivan,  whistling, was watching  Yura  with cheerful eyes. Finally, Yura shut
the suitcase, sadly looked around the cabin and said:
     - That's it, I think.
     - Well, if that's it, let's go say good-bye, - said Zhilin.
     He  took the  weightless  suitcase from Yura and they  walked down  the
circular corridor, past  the ten-kilogram  dumbbells floating up in the air,
past  the shower-room, past  the kitchen, from which  the aroma  of  oatmeal
spread, into the ward-room. Yurkovski was alone inside the ward-room. He sat
behind an empty table, clutching  a balding head with his palms,  and before
him lay a lonesome clean sheet of paper, fastened with clamps to the table.
     - Vladimir Sergeevich, - said Yura. Yurkovski lifted his head.
     -  Ah, the cadet,  -  he said,  smiling sadly.  - Well  then, let's say
     They shook each other's hands.
     - I am really thankful to you, - said Yura.
     - Come on, - said Yurkovski. - What are you on about, really. You know,
that  I didn't want  to take you along. And was wrong about it. What to wish
you before you  leave?  Always  keep  working more,  Yura. Working with your
hands,  working with your head. Especially,  don't forget  to work with your
head. And  remember, that real people - are  those who  think a  great  deal
about  many things. Don't let  your brain go mouldy. -  Yurkovski  looked at
Yura  with a familiar expression:  as  if  he was  expecting, that Yura will
right now, immediately, change for the better. - Alright, off you go.
     Yura bowed awkwardly  and walked out of the ward-room.  At  the door to
the command post he looked back. Yurkovski followed  him  pensively with his
eyes, but, seemingly,  did not see him already. Yura  went up to the command
post. Michael Antonovich and Bykov were  talking next to the control  panel.
When Yura walked in, they became quiet and looked at him.
     - Right, - said  Bykov. -  You are ready,  Yuri. Ivan, in that case you
will see him off.
     - Good-bye, - said Yura. - Thank you.
     Bykov silently stretched out his huge palm.
     - A big thank you to you, Alexey Petrovich, -  Yura repeated. -  And to
you, Michael Antonovich.
     - It's alright, it's really alright, Yurik, - spoke Michael Antonovich.
- Good luck with your job. Make sure you write me a letter. You haven't lost
the address yet?
     Yura silently patted his shirt pocket.
     -  Well, that's good, that's wonderful. Write to us, and if you want to
- come  over. Really,  once you  get  back to Earth, come straight  away. We
always have fun. Lots of young people. You can read my memoirs.
     Yura smiled weakly.
     - Good-bye, he said.
     Michael Antonovich waved his hand, whilst Bykov thundered:
     - Calm plasma to you, probationer.
     Yura and  Zhilin walked out of the command post.  For the last time the
caisson door opened and closed behind Yura.
     - Good-bye, "Takhmaseeb", - said Yura.
     They walked down an endless observatory corridor,  where  it  was  hot,
like  in a sauna, and walked out onto the second docking deck. At the opened
tanker hatch on a  small bamboo  footstool  sat a long-legged red-haired man
wearing an  unbuttoned uniform  jacket  with  golden buttons  and  a pair of
striped  shorts.  Looking  into  a  small  mirror,  he was  combing his  red
sideburns with his palm, and, jutting his jaw, played some Tirole motif on a
pipe.  Upon seeing Yura  and  Zhilin, he put the mirror into  his pocket and
stood up.
     - Captain Korf? - said Zhilin.
     - Ya, - said the red-haired man.
     -  Onto "Ring-2",  - said Zhilin, - you  will deliver  this  particular
comrade. The chief inspector had talked to you, didn't he?
     - Ya, - said the red-haired captain Korf. - Viery gut. Baggage?
     Zhilin handed him the suitcase.
     - Ya, - said captain Korf for the third time.
     - Bye, Yurka, - said Zhilin. -  Don't look so unhappy, please. Come on,
what sort of a habit is it?
     - I don't look unhappy at all, - said Yura sorrowfully.
     -  I know very  well, why you look unhappy,  - said Zhilin. -  You have
imagined, that we will never meet again,  and  were quick to  make a tragedy
out of it. And  there  is  no  tragedy. You  have  another  hundred years of
meeting all kinds of  good and bad people. And can you answer this question:
how does one good person differ from another good person?
     - Don't know, - said Yura with a sigh.
     - I will tell you, - said Zhilin. - There is no substantial difference.
For instance, tomorrow you will be with your guys. Tomorrow everyone will be
jealous of  you, and  you will be bragging to  them. Like, me and  inspector
Yurkovski... You will tell them, how you shot  the leeches on Mars, how  you
have brought down mister Richardson on Bamberga with a chair just  like this
one,  how  you rescued  a blue-eyed  girl  from the evil Shershen. About the
death-planeters, you will make up something, too.
     - Come on, Vanya, - said Yura, smiling feebly.
     - Well, and why not? You  have a lively imagination. I can imagine, how
you will sing to them the  ballad about a  one-legged  Alien. But  remember.
Frankly speaking, there were  two boot  prints.  I did not have time to talk
about the  second boot print.  The second boot print  was up on the ceiling,
precisely above the first one. Don't forget. Well, good-bye.
     - Tee-la-la-la ee-a! - captain Korf sang quietly from behind.
     - Good-bye, Vanya, - said Yura. He shook Zhilin's hand with both hands.
Zhilin  patted him on  the  shoulder,  turned  around  and  walked into  the
corridor. Yura could hear shouting from the corridor:
     - Ivan! There is one more  hypothesis!  There  was no Alien inside that
cave. Only his boot was there.
     Yura smiled meekly.
     - Tee-la-la-la  ee-a!  - captain Korf kept singing behind him,  combing
his red sideburns.

     - Voloden'ka, move over a little,  - said Michael Antonovich. - Because
I am pushing right into you with my elbow. If, for instance, we were to make
a steep turn...
     - Sure, sure, - said Yurkovski. -  Only, I have no room, actually. It's
amazingly cramped in here. Who, indeed, built these... err... machines.
     - Ok, this way now... And it's fine, really fine, Voloden'ka...
     It was really cramped inside a cosmoscaphe.  A  small  round rocket was
designed for only one person, but generally two people would climb in. As if
that  was not enough,  under the work  safety rules above the Ring the  crew
were obliged to wear space suits with an open head piece. Being together, as
well as wearing space suits, and with headpieces hanging behind their backs,
there was no room to make a turn in  the cosmoscaphe. Michael Antonovich got
the comfortable  navigator chair with  soft  seat belts, and he  was  really
upset,  that  his  dear friend  Voloden'ka is  compelled  to twist somewhere
between the regenerator cover and the charge-release controls.
     Yurkovski,  pushing his face  into the binoctar frame, was clicking the
photocamera trigger from time to time.
     -  Slow down a little,  Misha,  - he kept repeating. - Right... stop...
Sheesh, how unwieldy is this device...
     Michael  Antonovich,  spinning  the control  wheel with enjoyment,  was
looking,  without  turning  his  gaze,  at  the  teleprojector  screen.  The
cosmoscaphe  was  slowly floating  twenty five  kilometres  above the median
plane of the  Ring. Below  them, to the  right  and  left, across the entire
screen, a giant flat  glittering field stretched across the whole screen. In
the distance it was  cloaked with a greenish  haze and it seemed,  that  the
giant planet is dissected into  two.  And beneath  the cosmoscaphe creeped a
rocky hash.  Iridescent  scatterings  of angular  fragments,  tiny  pebbles,
sparkling glittering dust.  Occasionally strange  whirlpool motions appeared
in this  hash  and then  Yurkovski would say: "Slow  down, Michael... That's
it..." - and snap the shutter a few times. These inexplicable and unfamiliar
motions  drew Yurkovski's special attention. The Ring  was  not a handful of
rocks, thrown into terminal inactive movement  around Saturn; it  lived  its
own strange unfathomable life,  and there  still lay a  task of  sorting out
this life's natural laws.
     Michael  Antonovich was elated.  He  squeezed  tenderly  the  receptive
control  handles,  savouring  with delight  how smoothly  and obediently the
rocket  responds to each finger movement. How fantastic was it - to navigate
a  ship  without  the  cyberpilot, without any old electronics,  bionics and
cybernetics, to  rely  solely  upon  yourself,  to revel  in one's  full and
boundless confidence in oneself and to know, that between you and the ship -
is  only  this  soft  and comfortable  control wheel and you  don't have  to
habitually force out the  thought, that beneath your feet  bubbles, although
suppressed  but fierce energy, capable of blowing an entire planet to  bits.
Michael  Antonovich possessed  a rich imagination, deep inside he was always
slightly retrograde,  and the  sluggish cosmoscaphe  with  its meagre engine
seemed  to  him  cosy  and  homely  compared with the  photon  monster  that
"Takhmaseeb" was and with other similar monsters that Michael Antonovich had
to deal with in his twenty-five year career as a navigator.
     Beside that, the iridescent glitter  of  the diamond scatterings in the
Ring, as always, stirred quiet  admiration in him. Michael Antonovich always
had a  weakness  for  Saturn and for  its rings.  The Ring was astonishingly
beautiful.  It  was  much more  beautiful,  than  Michael  Antonovich  could
describe it, and still, every time when he saw  the Ring,  he wanted to tell
others about it.
     - It's so nice, - he said, finally. - Look how it shimmers. I, perhaps,
     - Slow down now, Misha, - said Yurkovski.
     Michael Antonovich decelerated.
     -  There  are  sleep-walkers, for instance, - he said. - And I have the
same weakness...
     - Slow down more, - said Yurkovski.
     Michael Antonovich  became quiet and  decelerated more.  Yurkovski  was
snapping the shutter. Michael  Antonovich stayed silent for a bit and called
into the microphone:
     - Aleshen'ka, are you listening to us?
     - I am listening, - Bykov responded in a bass voice.
     - Aleshen'ka,  we are all  fine here, - Michael Antonovich informed him
hastily. -  I just wanted to  share this with you. It's so  beautiful  here,
Aleshen'ka.  The sun glitters so on the rocks... and the dust shimmers so...
What a champion you are, Aleshen'ka, for letting us go. At least  to  have a
glimpse  one  last time...  Oh, if only  you could see,  how  this  one rock
glitters! - Overwhelmed by emotion, he fell silent again.
     Bykov waited a while and then asked:
     - Do you intend advancing towards Saturn for long?
     -  A  long, long time! - Yurkovski  said with irritation. -  I wish you
would go, Alexey, and find something to do. Nothing will happen to us.
     Bykov said:
     - Ivan is running prophylactic maintenance. - He stayed silent for some
time. - So am I.
     - Please don't worry, Aleshen'ka, - said Michael Antonovich. - No freak
boulders here, everything is really calm and safe.
     - It's good that there aren't any freak boulders,  -  said Bykov. - But
please pay a touch more attention, still.
     - Slow down, Michael, - Yurkovski ordered.
     - What have you got there? - Bykov asked.
     - Turbulence, - replied Michael Antonovich.
     - Oh, - said Bykov and stayed quiet.
     About  fifteen minutes  passed in  silence.  The  cosmoscaphe  ventured
already  three hundred kilometres away from  the edge of the  Ring.  Michael
Antonovich was turning the wheel and suppressing the desire to accelerate as
fast as he could,  so that the glittering fragments below would  flow as one
whole  sparkling  strip. It would  be very pretty. Michael  Antonovich liked
doing these things, when he was a little younger.
     Yurkovski suddenly said in a whisper:
     - Stop.
     Michael Antonovich slowed down.
     - Stop, I am telling you! - said Yurkovski. - Well?
     The  cosmoscaphe hovered motionless. Michael Antonovich looked back  at
Yurkovski. Yurkovski had pushed his face into the binoctar frame so hard, as
though he wished to puncture the cosmoscaphe's body and peer outside.
     - What's there? - asked Michael Antonovich.
     Yurkovski did not answer.
     - Michael! - he yelled suddenly. - Alongside the Ring's orbit... Do you
see a long black fragment below us? Cruise right above it... precisely above
it, without overtaking...
     Michael Antonovich turned to the screen, found the long black  fragment
below and guided the cosmoscaphe, trying  not  to lose the fragment from the
optical marker.
     - What have you got there? - Bykov asked again.
     - Some fragment, - said Michael Antonovich. - Long and black.
     - Escaping, - Yurkovski said through clenched teeth. - Slow down by one
meter! - he shouted.
     Michael Antonovich reduced the speed.
     -  No,  this  won't work,  -  said Yurkovski. - Misha, look, the  black
splinter, do you see? - He was talking very fast and whispering.
     - I see.
     - Right on course, two degrees away from it is a cluster of rocks...
     -  I see,  -  said  Michael Antonovich.  -  There  is  something pretty
glittering there.
     - That's right...  head  for  that  glitter... Just don't lose it... Or
have I got something in my eye?
     Michael Antonovich moved the glittering dot  inside the  optical marker
and  put its maximal magnification  up on  the teleprojector.  He  saw  five
rounded,  strangely  identical  white rocks,  and between  them -  something
shiny,  unclear, resembling  a  silvery shadow of  a spider  spread out.  As
though  the stones  were undulating, whilst the spider clung onto them  with
bare spread legs.
     - How funny! - cried out Michael Antonovich.
     - What the hell have you got there? - Bykov hollered.
     -  Hold  on, hold on,  Alexey, - Yurkovski muttered.  - We must descend
     - Here we go, - said Bykov. - Michael! Not one meter lower!
     The agitated Michael Antonovich, without realising, was already guiding
the  cosmoscaphe down.  It was so amazing and bizarre, five identical  round
boulders and a shadow with totally unfamiliar contours between them.
     - Michael! - Bykov roared and stayed silent.
     Michael Antonovich came to his senses and slowed down sharply.
     - Well, what are you doing? -  Yurkovski shouted in a frenzied voice. -
You are letting it go!
     Slowly, barely perceptible to the  naked  eye, the long  black splinter
was drawing over the strange rocks.
     -  Aleshen'ka!  -  Michael  Antonovich  called out. -  There  is really
something strange here! Can I go a little lower? We can't see very well!
     Bykov stayed silent.
     - You are, you are letting it get away, - Yurkovski was roaring.
     -  Aleshen'ka!  - Michael  Antonovich  screamed desperately.  - I'll go
lower! Five kilometres down, alright?
     He was  clutching  the  control  handles spasmodically, trying  not  to
release the shiny object from the  markers. The black splinter was advancing
slowly and implacably. Bykov would not answer.
     -  Come  on now, go  lower, -  Yurkovski said in an  unexpectedly  calm
     Michael Antonovich looked  in desperation at  the peacefully shimmering
screen of the meteorite locator and guided the cosmoscaphe down.
     - Aleshen'ka, - he kept mumbling. -  Just a tiny bit,  just so I  won't
lose it from sight. It's all quiet and empty around here.
     Yurkovski  was hastily  clicking the photocamera's shutters.  The  long
black splinter  was  crawling  and  crawling across,  and finally moved  up,
covering the white rocks and the glittering spider among them.
     - Ahh, - said Yurkovski. - With your Bykov...
     Michael Antonovich slowed down.
     - Aleshen'ka! - he said. - It's all over.
     Bykov kept  quiet, and then Michael Antonovich looked at the radio. The
reception was turned off.
     - Oh-oh-oh! - cried Michael Antonovich. - How could I... With my elbow,
     He turned on the reception.
     - ...chael,  get  back! Michael, get back! Michael, get back!.. - Bykov
repeated monotonously.
     - I  hear,  I  hear you, Aleshen'ka!  I  have accidentally switched off
reception here.
     - Come back immediately, - said Bykov.
     -  Now, now, Aleshen'ka! - said Michael  Antonovich. - We have finished
everything and everything's fine...  - he became silent again. The elongated
black splinter  was gradually floating off, revealing  the  cluster of white
stones again. The silvery spider glittered once more in the light.
     -  What  is happening down there?  -  asked  Bykov. - Can you give me a
proper explanation or not?
     Yurkovski,  shoving  Michael  Antonovich  aside,  leaned  down  to  the
     - Alexey!  - he shouted. - Do you remember  the tale about the gigantic
fluctuation? I think, we got our one in a billion chance after all!
     - What chance?
     - It looks like we have found...
     - Look, look, Voloden'ka! - Michael Antonovich muttered, looking at the
screen in panic. A mass of dense grey dust was advancing  from the side, and
above  it tens of shiny angular boulders  floated  across. Yurkovski groaned
even:  in a moment  it will pull  away, conceal, crumple and drag  those odd
white rocks and this silvery spider god  knows where, and  no one will  ever
know, that it happened...
     - Down! - he screamed. - Michael, down!..
     The cosmoscaphe budged.
     - Get back! - shouted Bykov. - Michael, I am ordering you: get back!
     Yurkovski stretched out his hand and switched off the reception.
     - Down, Misha, down... Only down... And hurry!
     - What are you  saying, Voloden'ka!  I can't - it's  an order! What are
you doing! - Michael Antonovich turned towards the  radio. Yurkovski  caught
his hand.
     - Look at the screen,  Michael,  - he said. - In twenty minutes it will
be  too  late... -  Michael Antonovich  was  pushing towards  the  radio  in
silence. - Michael, don't be an  idiot... We  got one chance in a billion...
They'll never forgive us... Why can't you understand it, you old fool!
     Michael Antonovich finally reached the  radio  and turned the reception
on. They heard Bykov's heavy breathing.
     - No, they can't hear us, - he said to someone.
     - Misha, - Yurkovski  whispered hoarsely. - I will never forgive you in
my entire life, Misha... I'll forget, that you ever were my friend, Misha...
I'll  forget, that  we were at Golconda together...  Misha, this is the very
meaning of my  life, please understand...  I waited for  it all my life... I
believed in it... These are Aliens, Misha... - Michael Antonovich looked him
in the face and shut  his eyes: he did not recognise Yurkovski. - Misha, the
dust is getting closer... Get us under the dust, Misha, please, I beg you...
We'll be quick, we'll just set up a  radio buoy and come back straight away.
This is perfectly simple and safe, and no one is going to know...
     -  Here  we go, how  in the world  can  you deal  with  them?  -  Bykov
     - They found something, - Zhilin's voice said.
     - You  know we can't. Don't ask, We can't.  You know I  promised. He is
going to lose his mind from stress. Don't ask...
     The grey dust shroud moved up close.
     - Let me, - said Yurkovski. - I'll navigate myself.
     He started to pull Michael Antonovich from his chair in silence. It was
so bizarre and awful that Michael Antonovich became totally lost.
     - Alright, fine, - he mumbled. - Sure, ok...  Just  wait...  - He still
could  not  recognise  Yurkovski's face,  it  all  seemed like a nightmarish
     - Michael Antonovich, - Zhilin called out.
     - Here, - Michael Antonovich said  weakly,  and  Yurkovski smashed  the
regulator with all his might. The metallic  glove severed the handle like  a
     - Down! - roared Yurkovski.
     Horrified,  Michael Antonovich  plunged  the  cosmoscaphe down  into  a
twenty kilometre abyss.  He was  shuddering all over with pity and  terrible
premonition. A minute had passed, then another...
     Yurkovski suddenly said in a clear voice:
     - Misha, Misha, I really get it now...
     The porous  stone  blocks on the screen were  growing,  turning slowly.
Yurkovski  pushed the transparent  space suit  helmet  over  his  head in  a
habitual movement.
     - Misha, Misha, I really get it now, - Zhilin heard Yurkovski's voice.
     Bykov was sitting hunched up in front of the radio, clutching the stand
of a useless  microphone with both hands. He could only  listen, and  try to
understand,  what is  happening, and wait, and hope. They  come back -  I'll
beat them up  without mercy, he thought. Both this goody-goody navigator and
this  brilliant  bastard. No. I won't  beat them. Just pray  they come back.
Nearby - hands in his pockets - the gloomy Zhilin stayed silent.
     - The rocks, - Michael Antonovich said plaintively, - the rocks...
     Bykov closed  his eyes.  Rocks  inside the Ring. Sharp,  heavy. Flying,
crawling,   swivelling.  Surrounding  you.  Nudging,  squeaking  revoltingly
against the metal. A thrust. Then a harder  thrust.  This is still a trifle,
no big deal, the crawling fragments pouring like peas over the plating,  and
this is also no big deal, but somewhere from behind that very fast and heavy
one,  as  though propelled  from  a  giant catapult, is  closing in, and the
radars cannot see  it yet behind the shroud of dust, and  when they will, it
will be  too  late  anyway...  The hull bursts, all bulkheads  fold  up like
pleats, for one  moment the sky swarming  with  rocks will flash through the
crack,  and people turn white and fragile like ice... They are wearing space
suits, though. Bykov opened his eyes.
     Zhilin,  - he said. -  Go to Markushin and find out,  where  the second
cosmoscaphe is. Ask him to get a pilot ready for me.
     Zhilin disappeared.
     - Misha, - Bykov said soundlessly. - Somehow, Misha... Somehow...
     - There he is, - said Yurkovski.
     - Oh-oh-oh-oh, - said Michael Antonovich.
     - About five kiolmetres?
     - What are you talking about, Voloden'ka! Much less... Isn't  it really
nice when there are no rocks?
     - Slow  down  gradually. I will start  getting the buoy  ready.  What a
moron I was to break the radio, I am such an idiot...
     - What could it this be, Voloden'ka? Look, what a monster!..
     - He is holding them, see? That's  where they are, the  aliens. And you
were nagging before!
     - How can you, Voloden'ka? Did I really nag you? I was just...
     - Park it somehow, so that god forbid, you don't brush against it...
     Silence set in. Bykov was listening  intently. Perhaps somehow, it will
work out, he thought.
     - Well, why are you pulling a face?
     - I  don't  know,  really.  Somehow  it  all seems so strange  to me...
Something doesn't feel right...
     - Go out under the shank and drop down the magnetic drag.
     - Alright, Voloden'ka...
     What have they  found there, Bykov  was thinking. What the hell is that
shank? Why are they wasting time? Can't they hurry up?
     - Missed it, - said Yurkovski.
     - Hold on, Voloden'ka, you don't know how to. Let me.
     - Look,  it's as if  it had  rooted itself  in the rock... And  did you
notice, that they are all identical?
     - Yes, all five. I found it odd from the beginning...
     Zhilin returned.
     - There is no cosmoscaphe, - he said.
     Bykov wouldn't even  ask, what that means - no cosmoscaphe. He left the
microphone, got up and said:
     - Let's go over to the Swiss.
     - It won't work this way, - said the voice of Michael Antonovich. Bykov
     - Yes, indeed... What other means have we got?
     - Hold on, Voloden'ka. Let me get out now and do it all manually.
     - That's right, - said Yurkovski. - Let's get out.
     - Oh  no, Voloden'ka, you sit here. You are not a huge help... Anything
could happen...
     Yurkovski said, after some silence:
     - Alright. I'll make a few more shots.
     Bykov hurried towards the  exit. Zhilin walked out of  the command post
after him and locked the hatch with a key. Bykov said whilst walking:
     -  We'll  take the tanker, find the bearing  of that place and wait for
them there.
     -  That's right, Alexey  Petrovich, - said Zhilin. -  So  what did they
find there?
     - Don't know, - Bykov said through  clenched teeth. - And don't want to
know. Go to  the command post and  work on the bearing, while  I talk to the
     In the observatory's corridor Bykov caught the sweltering duty  officer
and ordered:
     - We  are going out in  the tanker  now. You will remove the bridge and
seal the hatch.
     The duty officer nodded.
     - The  second cosmoscaphe is coming  back, -  he said. Bykov stopped. -
No-no, - the officer said with regret. - It will be a while yet, about three
     Bykov  moved  on silently.  They  passed the caisson,  walked  past the
bamboo footstool and  climbed up into  the tanker's command post  through  a
cramped narrow  shaft.  Captain Korf and  his navigator were standing over a
low desk and inspecting a blueprint.
     - Good day, - said Bykov.
     Zhilin,  without saying a word, walked to the radio and began tuning it
to the cosmoscaphe's frequency. The  captain and navigator stared at  him in
astonishment. Bykov came up to them.
     - Who's the captain? - he asked.
     - Captain Korf, - said the red-headed captain. - Who aur yew? Hau kome?
     - I am Bykov, "Takhmaseeb's" captain. I am asking you to help me.
     -  I  happy,  -  said captain Korf.  He  looked  at Zhilin.  Zhilin was
tampering with the radio.
     - Two of our comrades have gone inside the Ring, - said Bykov.
     - O! - perplexity showed on captain's face. - How reckless!!!
     - I need a ship. I am asking for your ship.
     - My ship, - Korf repeated confusedly. - Go inside the Ring?
     - No,  - said Bykov. - Inside  the  Ring  only as a last  resort. If  a
disaster happens.
     - And where is your ship? - Korf asked suspiciously.
     - Mine's a photon freighter, - answered Bykov.
     - Ah, - said Korf. - Yes, zhat impossible.
     Yurkovski's voice came from the control room:
     - Hold on, I'll get out in now.
     -  And  I  am  telling  you,  stay  put,  Voloden'ka,  -  said  Michael
     - You are taking forever.
     Michael said nothing back.
     - Is it them in the Ring? - Korf asked, pointing at the radio.
     - Yes, - said Bykov. - Are you willing?
     Zhilin came and stood next to him.
     - Yes, - Korf said reflectively. - Need to help.
     Suddenly the navigator  began  speaking  so fast and incoherently, that
Bykov could only understand isolated words. Korf was listening  and nodding.
Then, blushing severely, he told Bykov:
     - The navigator doesn't want to fly. It's not his duty.
     - He can go, - said Bykov. - Thank you, captain Korf.
     The navigator repeated a few more phrases.
     -  He  is  saying,  that  we  are heading  for  certain  death,  - Korf
     - Tell him to go, - said Bykov. - We must hurry.
     -  Perhaps, it would be  better  for mister  Korf  to disembark, too? -
Zhilin asked cautiously.
     - Ho-ho-ho! - said Korf. - I am captain!
     He  waved to the navigator and  walked to the controls.  The  navigator
left, not looking at anyone. One minute later the outer hatch boomed with an
     -  Girls, -  said captain Korf, without  turning, - they  make us weak.
Weak, like them. But one must resist. Let's get ready.
     He reached into his side pocket, pulled out a photo and fixed it on the
panel in front of him.
     - Like this, - he  said. - And it  can't be otherwise, if the voyage is
dangerous. Take your seats, gentlemen.
     Bykov sat  at the controls next  to the captain. Zhilin buckled up in a
chair in front of the radio.
     - Dispatcher! - said the captain.
     - Dispatcher here, - the duty officer at the observatory responded.
     - Requesting take-off!
     - Clear to take off!
     Captain  Korf  pushed  the starter,  and  everything shifted.  And then
Zhilin suddenly remembered: "Yurka!" For a few seconds he was looking at the
radio that was moaning Michael Antonovich's rueful sighs.  He simply did not
know what to do. The tanker already left the observatory's zone, and captain
Korf, manoeuvring the rudders, was  putting the ship onto the bearing. Let's
not  panic, Zhilin  thought.  Things aren't  all  that bad.  So far  nothing
terrible has happened.
     - Michael, - Yurkovski's voice called. - Will you be done soon?
     -  Now,  Voloden'ka, - responded Michael Antonovich. His voice  sounded
somewhat strange - either weary or confused.
     - Ho! - Yura's voice said behind them. Zhilin turned  around. Yura  was
walking into the command post, sleepy-eyed and very excited. - You are going
to "Ring-2" as well? - he asked.
     Bykov looked at him in frenzy.
     -  Himmeldonnerwetter!  - captain  Korf whispered. He  had  also  fully
forgotten about Yura. -  Passenger!  In-nn yor cabin! -  he  shouted  with a
threat. His ruddy sideburns stood out menacingly.
     Michael Antonovich suddenly said in a loud voice:
     - Volodya... Be so kind, move the cosmoscaphe about thirty meters away?
Will you manage?
     Yurkovski grumbled with annoyance.
     - Well, I'll try, - he said. - And why is this necessary?
     - I'll be more comfortable like this, Volodya. Please.
     Bykov suddenly got up  and  pulled harshly on  his jacket's fastenings.
Yura  was looking at  him in with  horror. Bykov's face,  always  brick-red,
turned a whitish blue. Yurkovski suddenly screamed:
     - A rock! Misha, there's a rock! Get back! Drop everything!
     A faint moan could be heard, and Michael Antonovich said in a trembling
     - Voloden'ka, go away. Go quickly. I can't.
     - The speed, - Bykov said hoarsely.
     -  What  does  it mean  -  I can't? -  Yurkovski  squealed.  His  heavy
breathing could be heard.
     - Go away, go, don't come here... - Michael Antonovich was muttering. -
Nothing will come out of it... Don't do it, don't...
     - So  that's what  it is, -  said Yurkovski. - Why did you  keep quiet?
Well, that's no big deal. We'll  get you right now... Right now... Gee,  how
did you get so messy...
     - The speed, the speed... - Bykov kept roaring.
     Captain Korf,  twisting  his freckled  face, hovered  above the control
buttons. Gravity overload intensified.
     -  Right  now,  Mishen'ka,   right  now...  -   Yurkovski  kept  saying
cheerfully. - Like this... Damn, I wish I had a crow bar...
     - Too late, - Michael Antonovich said with sudden calmness.
     In the silence that set in their heavy, wheezing breath could be heard.
     - Yes, - said Yurkovski. - It's too late.
     - Leave me, - said Michael Antonovich.
     - No.
     - It's pointless.
     - No matter, - said Yurkovski, - it'll be quick.
     A dry laugh was heard.
     - We won't even notice it. Close your eyes, Misha.
     And after a brief silence someone -  not clear who it was, - called out
softly and wistfully:
     - Alesha... Alexey...
     In silence, Bykov threw captain Korf away, like a kitten,  and  dug his
fingers into  the buttons.  The tanker jumped.  Pushed into  his chair by  a
tremendous overload, Zhilin just  managed to realise  "Forced acceleration!"
He lost consciousness for  a second. Then  through  the noise in his ears he
heard a short  scream that was cut off, as though from  tremendous pain, and
through  the red  fog covering  his  eyes, saw  that the  arrow on  the auto
bearing finder twitched and swung feebly from side to side.
     - Misha! - Bykov screamed. - Guys!
     He  fell  head  down on  the  controls  and  began crying,  loudly  and

     Yura  felt  sick.  He  was nauseous, his  head hurt  terribly.  He  was
tormented by some  obscure  twofold delirium. He was lying on  his bed  in a
cramped,  dark cabin  on  "Takhmaseeb", and at the same time it  was his big
bright room  at  home on Earth. His mother would walk into the room, place a
cool  pleasant hand  on  his  cheek  and say  in  Zhilin's voice: "No, still
sleeping". Yura  felt like saying, that he is not  sleeping, but somehow  it
was  impossible to do it.  Some people, familiar and  unfamiliar, and  among
them  - one wearing white  overalls - leaned over and knocked Yura hard over
his  smashed  head,  and  immediately  Michael   Antonovich  said  ruefully:
"Alesha... Alexey...", and Bykov, terrifying,  pale as  a ghost, grabbed the
controls, and Yura was thrown down the corridor head against something sharp
and hard. Tearfully  sad music was playing and someone's voice was  talking:
"...During  exploration  of   Saturn's  Ring  the  chief  inspector  of  the
international board of cosmic  communications Vladimir  Sergeevich Yurkovski
and the oldest navigator-astronaut Michael  Antonovich Krutikov perished..."
And  Yura cried, like even the adult people  cry in  their sleep, when  they
dream of something sad...
     When Yura  came  round, he  saw  that he  is really  inside a  cabin on
"Takhmaseeb", and next to him a doctor is standing, wearing white overalls.
     - Here we are, it's about time, - said Zhilin, smiling plaintively.
     - Were they really killed? - Yura asked. Zhilin nodded silently. -  And
Alexey Petrovich? - Zhilin didn't say anything.
     The doctor asked:
     - Does your head hurt much?
     Yura concentrated for a moment.
     - No, - he said. - Not too much.
     - That's good,  - said the doctor.  - Stay  in bed for about five days,
and you'll be well.
     - I  won't  be sent back  to  Earth? -  Yura asked. Suddenly  he became
really scared that he would be sent back to Earth.
     - No, why,  - the doctor was surprised,  and Zhilin cheerfully informed
     - They  already  asked  about  you at "Ring-2", they  want  to come and
     - Let them, - said Yura.
     The doctor told Zhilin, that Yura must be given the mixture every three
hours,  warned  them that he will come in one day, and left. Yura closed his
eyes again. Perished, he thought. No one will ever call me a cadet and won't
ask  me to sit down  and have a small chat  with an old man,  and no one  is
going to read his memoirs about  the nicest, most charming people. This will
never happen. The most  awful is - that it will never happen.  You can smash
your head against the wall, you can tear your shirt - still, you could never
see Vladimir  Sergeevich again, the  way  he is standing outside  the shower
room  in his  splendid robe and a giant  towel  across the  shoulder and how
Michael Antonovich  is  scooping the inevitable porridge into the  bowls and
smiling  kindly.  Never, never, never...  Why - never?  How can this  be so,
never again? Some stupid  stone in some  stupid Ring of the stupid Saturn...
And the people,  who must stay, simply have to stay, because the  world will
become worse without them,  - these people are no  longer and will no longer
     Yura remembered vaguely, that they  had found something down there. But
that was irrelevant, that wasn't the main thing, though they did think, that
that was the main thing... And, of course, everyone, who doesn't know  them,
will  also think, that that was the  main thing. It is always like that.  If
you don't know the one who accomplished a feat, the  main thing for you - is
the feat.  And  if you do know - what  is that feat to you then? A feat - is
all very well, but the person must live on.
     Yura thought that  he  will meet his  mates  in a few  days. They will,
naturally, start asking what  and how straight away.  They  will ask neither
about Yurkovski nor about Krutikov, they  will be asking what  Yurkovski and
Krutikov found.  They will be literally burning with curiosity. They will be
interested the most in what Yurkovski and Krutikov  managed to report  about
their findings. They will marvel at Yurkovski and Krutikov's valour and will
exclaim with  envy: "Now these were  real men!" And  most remarkable to them
will  be  the  fact  that they both  died  on  active duty.  Yura even  felt
nauseated with resentment and anger. But he already knew what he will say to
them.  So as not to yell at them "Snotty faced  idiots!", so as not to start
crying,  not to start  a  fight, I  will tell  them:  "Hold on.  There  is a
story...", and I will begin it  like this: "On the island of Honshu, in  the
Titigatake mountain gorge, in an impenetrable forest, a cave was found..."
     Zhilin walked  in, sat at the foot of Yura's bed and  patted him on the
knee.  Zhilin was  wearing a chequered shirt with the sleeves rolled up. His
face was sunken and weary. He was unshaven. And  how is Bykov, Yura wondered
suddenly and asked:
     - Vanya, so how is Alexey Petrovich?
     Zhilin didn't say anything.

     The bus rolled  noiselessly  to the  low  white barrier  and stopped in
front of  a large motley crowd  of people waiting. Zhilin was sitting at the
window and looking at  the cheerful  faces, reddened with frost, at the snow
mounts glistening in  the sun  before the  aero-terminal building. The doors
opened,  chilled air rushed  inside  the bus.  The passengers  followed each
other to the exit, cracking final jokes with the stewardess. A lively hubbub
came  from  the  crowd -  at the  door  people  were hugging, shaking hands,
kissing. Zhilin searched for familiar faces, did not find anyone, and sighed
with relief. He looked at  Bykov. Bykov was sitting motionless, face lowered
into the furry collar of his Greenland jacket.
     The  stewardess  took  her  bag  from  the  baggage   locker  and  said
     - Well, what are you waiting for, comrades? We are here! This bus won't
go any further.
     Bykov  got up with  an effort  and, without  taking his  hands  out  of
pockets,  walked across an empty  bus to the exit. Zhilin followed  him with
Yurkovski's satchel. The crowd had already dispersed. People were heading to
the terminal in groups, laughing and talking among themselves. Bykov stepped
into the  snow, stood  for a while, squinting  gloomily at the Sun, and also
walked to the terminal. Snow was squeaking intensely under the boots. At the
side a long bluish shadow scurried. Then Zhilin saw Daugeh.
     Daugeh  was  hurriedly  hobbling  towards  him,  leaning  heavily  on a
polished  walking stick, tiny, muffled up, with a dark wrinkled  visage.  In
his hand, in  a  warm  furry mitt, he clutched a pitiful little  bouquet  of
forget-me-nots. Looking straight in front  of him,  he walked  up to  Bykov,
shoved  the bouquet to him and pressed his face into the  Greenland  jacket.
Bykov hugged him and grumbled:
     -  Come on  now, you should have stayed at home, you see  how chilly it
     He held  Daugeh under the arm, and they walked slowly to the terminal -
a huge stooped Bykov and a tiny  humped-up Daugeh. Zhilin was walking behind
     - How are the lungs? - Bykov asked.
     - So-so... - said Daugeh, - neither better nor worse...
     - You must go to the mountains. You are not a little boy, you must look
after yourself.
     -  Don't have time, - said Daugeh.  - There  is  much to be finished. A
great many things have been started, Alesha.
     - Well,  and so what? You  must get treatment. Or you won't even have a
chance to finish.
     - The main thing is - to begin.
     - All the more so.
     Daugeh said:
     -  The  question  of  sending  an  expedition  to  Transpluto has  been
finalised.  They insist  on you going. I asked  them to wait until you  come
     - Well, then, - said Bykov. - I'll go home, get some rest... Sure.
     - They appointed Arnautov as the chief.
     - Doesn't matter, - said Bykov.
     They  started  climbing  up  the  stairs of  the  terminal.  Daugeh was
uncomfortable;  it seemed that  he  still had not gotten used to his walking
stick. Bykov was holding him under the elbow. Daugeh said quietly:
     - You know, I did not even hug them, Alesha... I hugged you, Vanya, and
them I didn't hug...
     Bykov stayed silent  and they walked into the  lobby. Zhilin walked  up
the stairs and suddenly saw in the shadows  behind the column  a  woman, who
was  looking at him. She  turned  away immediately, but he still managed  to
notice her face under a fur hat -  once upon a time, probably a very  pretty
face, and now an old, drooping one, almost hideous. Where have I seen her? -
Zhilin  thought.  I know  I  have seen her many times. Or  does she resemble
     He pushed the door and walked into the lobby. So, then, Transpluto now,
also known as Cerberus. Ever  so faraway. Far away from everything. Far away
from Earth, far away from people, far away  from the main things. Once more,
a steel box, once more the alien, glaciered, and such unimportant rocks. The
main  things remain on Earth.  As the  always  have, however. But this isn't
right, it's unfair.  Time to decide, Ivan Zhilin, it's time! Of course, some
people will  say  -  with  regret  or tauntingly: "His  nerves  gave  in. It
happens". Alexey Petrovich may think that. Zhilin stopped even. Yes,  that's
exactly  what he'll think: "His nerves  gave in. And what a  solid fellow he
was".  But  this is  splendid!  At  least  he  won't feel as bad,  that I am
deserting him now, when he is left all alone... Of course, it will be easier
for him to think that  my nerves gave in, than seeing, that  I  don't give a
damn about all these transpluto's. I  know he is stubborn and extremely firm
in his convictions... and deceptions. Stone-firm deceptions...
     The main  things are on Earth. The main  things always remain on Earth,
and I will stay on Earth. I have decided, he thought. It's decided. The main
things are - on Earth...

     Okroshka (rus.) - cold kvass soup with chopped vegetables and meat
     Here: a ten day period

     A.S.Pushkin, the poem " Queen of Spades", rephrased.

     Areologist - specialising in Martian geology

     Original - (fr.) renome [rus. renome]

     Verbal play: cook - 1. Prepare a meal; 2. weld [metal] [rus. varit']

     Lit. - to get a hiding, to be punished like a child [rus. nadrat' ushi]

     Verbal play altered: orig. - rus. tabletki [pills] consonant  with rus.
kotletki [rissoles]

     Verbal play orig: [rus. Ryba ishchet, gde glubzhe, a chelovek - gde huzhe]

     Alexey Tolstoy, a Soviet writer, author of popular children's tales and
science fiction novels

     Torus (lat.) -  a three-dimensional  cylindrical ring-shaped figure,  a
doughnut shape

     Relativists - physicists developing the theory of relativity

     Ilya Repin's classical painting  "Zaporozhian Cossacks writing a letter
of reply to the Turkish Sultan"

     Katakhresis (gr.) - semantically incorrect combination; an oxymoron

     Dvornik  (rus.)  - Worker who  takes care of  the yard and pavement  in
front of the house [rus. dvornik]

     Originally an English phrase in text

     Valenki  (rus.) -  Loose fitting thick  felt boots designed  for  snowy
conditions [rus. valenki]

     "Skorohod" - formerly a popular footwear brand in USSR

     Untranslatable  verbal  play: [rus. utka] means  1) duck;  2) newspaper

     Arkadij i Boris Strugackie. Stazhery

     Arkady and Boris Strugatsky. Probationers

Last-modified: Tue, 22 Jun 2004 16:52:11 GMT
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