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©Jane H.

Buckingham 2011
jhbuckingham@yahoo.ca
http://emets.olmer.ru/
HDive
Pegasus, Lion, and Centaur

Dmitrii Emets

Translated from Russian

by

Jane H. Buckingham

Translation edited by

Shona Brandt and Ivan Rodionov

Cover designed by

Georgiy Lebedev

©Jane H. Buckingham 2011


jhbuckingham@yahoo.ca
http://emets.olmer.ru/
Titles in the Series
HDive – Pegasus, Lion and Centaur

©Jane H. Buckingham 2011


jhbuckingham@yahoo.ca
http://emets.olmer.ru/
1

ANNOTATION

HDive – this is not a name, not a last name, not a nickname. HDive – this is
the guildhall, where hdivers gather and which can be found on the map in the
neighbourhood of Moscow. Outwardly this building is the most ordinary and
every hundred years it is demolished and rebuilt in order not to draw attention.
Hdivers do not need popularity; in fact the bulk of HDive is not even above
ground.
Hdivers are not magicians, although their abilities far exceed any human
understanding. If something significant or inexplicable happens somewhere in
the world, it means the matter is not managed without hdivers. It is impossible
for an outsider to enter the grounds of HDive. Anyone who has betrayed the
Charter of HDive just once also can never return.
Hdivers are not by birth. No supernatural talent or affinity with magicians is
necessary. The golden bees choose hdivers and the only beehive is in HDive. No
one, not even the hdivers themselves, knows whom a bee will choose next and,
most importantly, why.

CHARTER OF HDIVE

When you hurt, do not pose as a suffering hero. You need to either cry out or
put up with it. You can give everything to others, but nothing to yourself. Because
you are a hdiver!
You will rip a pillow with your teeth, hit your fist against a wall, but you will
smile at people. Because you are a hdiver!
Any dive is paid by the victim.
The smaller the victim and the less aptitude for sacrifice, the less chance a
diver can extract a marker. The sacrifice cannot be more than a person can bear.
A repeat dive is impossible for one who has used a marker for himself.
A non-diving hdiver or one who gives up diving can remain in HDive, but not
one who uses a marker for oneself.
The hardest dive is always the first. A hdiver is always tested by maximum pain
with the first marker.
Not a single person, definitively firmly convinced of evil and its values, or
perceiving himself as clearly good, can penetrate the grounds of HDive. We did
not decide this. It is simply so, it was, and it will be.
New hdivers are not chosen by people but by golden bees, whose only beehive
is in HDive. We do not know why the bees chose precisely you, because once in
exactly the same manner they chose us. Although in some cases we can surmise.
But surmising does not mean knowing.
It is impossible to crush a golden bee accidentally, but one can betray it. In this
case it dies.

©Jane H. Buckingham 2011


jhbuckingham@yahoo.ca
http://emets.olmer.ru/
2

Chapter 1

Work – the Best Pill for the Love Virus

The principle of any advance: reach its absolute


ceiling and make one sm-a-all step forward.
From the diary of a non-returning hdiver

On the fifth of December, snow began to fall heavily in Moscow. Earlier it was
falling with selective timidity: on the roofs of cars, park benches, garages, and
transformers. Now the snow got seriously down to work and fell so densely, as if
somewhere in the sky hyeons – winged half-hyena-half-lions – simultaneously
emptied out ten thousand pillows. Large snowflakes did not flutter, but solid like
middle-aged hens, each sitting in its own place.
Movements stopped. Traffic lights winked independently, conducting a white
symphony. There was nowhere to go. Roads had disappeared. Automobiles,
waving the windshield wipers, turned into snowdrifts in the blink of an eye. As it
often happens, in the herd of cars there turned out to be a hysteric, repeatedly
pressing on the horn and honking long and angrily: it was incomprehensible what
he was demanding and from whom.
On the construction site searchlights from below hit the crane, and three
pillars of light, piercing snowfall and closing in, showed its absolute infinity.
When the snowfall began, two young men and a girl were standing in an area
near the subway flooded by electric light and laughing at the mysterious
inscription “Chickn meat in pita.” These were Ul, his girl Yara, wide-mouthed
and smiling, and his best friend Athanasius.
Ul was standing, thumbs in his pockets. His favourite pose. Medium build, not
muscular, but as if hewn from an oak stump. Nearly twenty years old, short scar
on the upper lip (the result of an attack by a bicycle chain let go in Max Gorky
Park), Russian blood with a touch of Kalmyk, two hundred and forty-two roubles
in the pocket, wide shoulders, and size forty-three boots. Here is everything about
our hero. Get acquainted, reader!
Athanasius is half a head taller and half a year younger. They often call those
like him good-looking. Lean, with narrow shoulders, and long legs like a foal. His
hair is flaxen as a German prince’s, whose kingdom is so small that now and then
he has to dart off his throne and catch the chickens so that they do not cross the
border.
Athanasius was laughing, but he was feeling sick at heart. He regretted coming
into the city at all today. As a rule, Athanasius avoids Yara; but today everything
was going against his will. Together they reached the city, together they sat in the
subway. The station was the terminus and it is impossible to pretend that you
have to go in the other direction. While they were travelling, Athanasius looked at
his double in the window of the train. On the face of the double crawled infinite
wires braided in black, and written on the chest: “Places for women with
children and for the handicapped.”

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3

Athanasius tried not to listen to what Ul and Yara were talking about, but the
more he tried, the sharper his hearing became. They were arguing complete
nonsense, nevertheless Athanasius felt like scum, eavesdropping by a crack. To
him, each of their words seemed significant, containing secret tenderness
concealed from everybody.
Once in a while one of them remembered Athanasius, turned to him and asked
him a question. Athanasius answered with unnecessary attention, although he
also knew that the question was posed in order not to exclude him from contact.
You know, if the three of us are together, then we three should talk together and
not otherwise. Athanasius did everything that a self-respecting third wheel
should: he smiled, joked in return, but felt that it was tearing him apart. He
wanted to yell and yank the emergency brake. Let everyone fall on one another,
then he would feel better for a moment.
The consciousness of Athanasius hastily searched for a loophole. Suddenly he
recalled that he should buy a cover for the lens. For two years the camera – a
reliable thirty-year-old Zenith, which he placed above any digital camera – had
lived excellently without a cover, but now Athanasius suddenly realized that this
was fundamentally wrong. One must take care of technology. He jumped out at
Pushkin Station and the other two jumped out after him. Probably, they reacted
to the closing doors. “We didn’t want to lose you!” Ul declared.
Athanasius almost growled. Ul was so radiant with camaraderie that
Athanasius knew if he would stumble now and fly in front of the train, then Ul,
not missing a beat, would rush after him and try to drag him away. And
Athanasius felt wretched because of this. True, he had not yet become a traitor,
but it seemed to him that falling in love with Yara, he had stabbed their
friendship in the back. One must never be unfaithful or betray even in jest. This is
more dangerous than getting up on a stool, putting a noose around one’s neck,
and then asking someone to kick out the stool and run to the kitchen for a chair
because it is more comfortable to stand on a chair.
Before Ul and Yara got together, Athanasius treated her casually. If he liked
her, then no more than three or four other girls. In his internal list, Yara was not
even on top. Then Ul, with a determination normal for him, not wavering and not
comparing, chose Yara for himself, to love “till death do us part.” And Yara
somehow immediately felt this and reciprocated, although Ul never uttered
ardent speeches. And then for the first time the inexpressible inner truth, which
needs no words, breathed on Athanasius – smart, sensible, respecting himself,
his own eloquence, and his own mind. If it, this truth, exists, then every girl will
feel it.
At first, Athanasius, in the capacity of the best friend, was critical of Yara. He
was not pleased that Ul dragged her everywhere with him, but she would go and
keep quiet as a timid mouse, which would transform into a cat at any minute.
This was still that period, when she was the third wheel. Then, although nothing
had changed outwardly, and Ul still rushed to him every time so joyfully,
Athanasius began to feel that he was gradually becoming a part of the scenery.
Then everything picked up and Athanasius got stuck like a wasp in jam. At the
same time, as an attentive man and not missing a chance to introspect, he

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http://emets.olmer.ru/
4

vaguely sensed that his love was not real, i.e., born independently, but viral –
emerged from a feeling of competition. It is very complicated for love to grow. It
is like creating a new influenza virus from nothing, when all around everyone is
healthy. Yet, it is possible to catch the love of others after a sneeze.
But while love was in many respects viral, he was unlucky for real. Moreover,
he was doubly unlucky because together with a girl who loved not him, he could
lose a friend. “If Ul only knew…” thought Athanasius gloomily. “And what would
he do if he knew? Would he throw Yara in a bag into the sea for the sake of our
friendship?”
Yara, not yet thrown into the sea, displayed enormous activity. She dragged
poor Athanasius through tonnes of stores and found a lid after all that would fit
the diameter of the lens. After forcing Athanasius to be glad of it to the max, the
happy couple pulled him into a cafe, where he drank coffee and from melancholy
chewed the rim of the paper cup.
Then they proposed to Athanasius to stroll along the boulevards, and he
agreed, although the pleasure for a walk in winter along the boulevards is two
percent from average. With his toe Athanasius kicked a cap from a plastic bottle
and, his eyes following the jumping red point with a white belly, he berated
himself. Where did he go wrong? Perhaps he and Ul paced their friendship too
fast? When you reach white heat too soon, then it is difficult to maintain it.
However, never sell a friendship short. It does not forgive. For two hours,
Athanasius trailed along beside them, sometimes ahead, sometimes behind.
“So I told her parents, ‘She’s absolutely undeveloped, although a beauty!
Nearly twenty, and still spends the evenings gluing her brain to garbage on TV!’
Her papa, the secret service colonel, said to me, ‘First you get married, and then
re-educate!’ he said, waving his hands.”
“Let’s go to her right now! We’ll dash off somewhere as a foursome!” Ul
cheerful proposed. Athanasius became silent for a second. “Easily!” He took out
his phone, but the next moment with regret took it away from his ear. “Ah, forgot!
Can’t today! She has classes,” he said. “She always has classes. Either the
Institute, or the University, or some academies,” remarked Ul. “What do you
want! Well, maybe, although these will be the last. Then we’ll meet,” Athanasius
expressed hope.
Here he was being sly, because he knew that his girl’s classes would continue
forever. Or at least until the girl herself appeared in nature. For the time being,
there existed only a name (Victoria), a last name (prudently not revealed), an
apartment on Bolshaya Nikitskaya, important parents, and a photograph of a
stunning beauty. Victoria came to his head somehow accidentally, surfaced from
parts cut from non-existence, and now the entire HDive knew that somewhere in
the city Athanasius has a girl, who was ready to walk to Siberia for his sake and
was only waiting for the moment when the well-known firm would release its new
line of winter footwear. At times Athanasius felt that he was beginning to be
inconsistent in the details, and, suddenly remembering, started to reason out the
circumstances of the break-up with Victoria. A tragic death? Fatal treason?
Departure to Honduras of the intelligence officer papa with the cryptographer
daughter and sniper wife?

©Jane H. Buckingham 2011


jhbuckingham@yahoo.ca
http://emets.olmer.ru/
5

Meanwhile the happy beloved of the cryptographer from Honduras was


strolling pensively behind his friend’s girl and trying to convince himself that he
did not like her legs. And generally he was glad that she was almost always in
camouflage pants, which automatically transform every girl into a combat
comrade.
All through the fall, during any free hour, Ul and Yara wandered along the
Moscow River and, looking at the water taxis with pop music thundering, called
them music boxes. Somehow, Ul shot apple cores at them. As the third core in
succession struck against the side, the water taxi discharged dark and smelly
diesel exhaust at the same time. “Yay! I beaned it!” Ul began to shout, and for a
long time they ran after it until, tired, they fell onto the grass.
It was cold. Wet leaves stuck to their backs. “Dragons” escaped from their
mouths on forceful exhalations. They lay on the lawn and imagined the sea of
those quiet off-season Crimean towns, where at eight in the evening life stops,
already inconvenient to phone, and only timid bicycle thieves dart along the
narrow stone courtyards, reeking of the long-standing presence of cats.
This imaginary sea was better than the real one, because it was born of their
love. In their Moscow sea rusty teeth of old moorings jutted out of the foamy
water. Waves ran along the jagged steps of the embankment. At night, the
searchlight burnt on the old customs quarantine pier. Well-fed seagulls, like
chickens, were sauntering along the parapet. Insolent sparrows somersaulted in
the surf, where small flies swarmed above the rotting algae and a dolphin tail cut
by a screw stuck out.
Then Yara became Yara. In all documents and registers, it goes without saying,
it remained “Yaroslava” as before. “Yara” was like the mark of Ul’s property.
Economizing the sounds of his own speech, Ul eternally shortened everything,
beginning with himself. It would seem that the name “Oleg” was too long. Why
not make himself Ul?
Ul hardly talked about love. When it is there, it is not necessary to speak of it.
Perhaps he blurted out something in the style of: “tell this to our grandson!” But
then he adored life-asserting stories. Well, for example, one fellow went into the
drugstore for a thermometer. On the way back two guys attacked him. He began
to struggle and during the fight it turned out that the thermometer was shoved
into the mouth of one guy and was broken there. “Precisely with all the mercury!
Get it?” Yara did. “But how did it get shoved into his mouth?” “Anything can
happen in a fight. Maybe, there weren’t any teeth. Maybe, even somehow… And
there’re much dumber incidents!” Ul said, and Yara believed that so it was.
The dumber the incident, the closer to the truth. On the contrary, the more
romantic, the further from the truth. Not without reason the experienced
librarians most often placed books about princes on white horses in the division:
“developing literature about animals.”
Occasionally they went to Yara’s sister, who had a son a bit over two. The sister
would instantly flutter off somewhere and Yara would serve her duty as an aunt.
“Once upon a time there lived a mousey-scouty and a froggy-crocy!” she said
solemnly. The diathetic chubby little boy did not care for fairy tales. He
immediately lost focus and began to throw a potato. “Come, let’s listen! To whom

©Jane H. Buckingham 2011


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6

is the most beautiful girl in the world telling a story about mousey-scouty and
froggy-crocy?” Ul said in a dismal voice. The child froze. The mouth began to pull
down dangerously. “And hoppy-bunny!” Yara continued to coo. “And money-
bunny!” Ul made a correction. “In short, this entire brotherhood lived in a certain
kingdom – a certain state, namely at the Savelovskaya subway station, not far
from the computer market, and fed on talking cockroaches with no musical ear.”
So flowed the days of this exquisite fall. At times, a silly mood came over the
formerly serious, almost stern Yara. “Will you do everything for me? And will you
let me touch your eye with my hand?” she asked slyly. Ul was happy and was
secretly afraid of his own happiness, understanding that he was absurd in
happiness like an enamoured pit bull.

***

In that walk before the snowfall, everything was wildly hilarious to Yara and
Ul. Goofy people were strolling along comical streets and with an intense look
doing amusing things: shopping, answering the phone, looking fearfully at the
sky, and pulling up their collars. Nearby a freezing woman with a handcart was
stomping and selling snakes for cleaning clogged drains. Established couples
politely hissed at each other or squabbled in tired voices.
And here suddenly snow came pouring down and everything was hidden
somewhere. The square, the subway, the “chickn meat” in pita, and the woman
with the handcart. Only car horns, short lost rays of headlights, and the two of
them. And at that minute, when the whole world was only made of snow, Ul
kissed Yara. After the kiss, he rubbed his own nose against hers. Yara liked this.
They stood and rubbed noses like horses. And snow tried to get between their
noses.
“Well, I’m going!” Athanasius’ voice reached them through the snowy shroud.
“Where to?” Athanasius wanted to say that he was leaving altogether, but instead
growled, “To buy water!” and went away to the kiosk. Ul heard an annoyed
exclamation: either someone bumped into him or he against someone.
“He’s strange today! Something’s eating him. He’s probably jealous,” said Yara
seriously. “Of whom?” Ul was puzzled. “Of you. Yesterday you were his, but today
mine.” Ul was inclined to consider that he was his own man. “Perhaps because of
the dive? I can’t stand being the guide. If anything happens, I’ll never forgive
myself,” he proposed.
“Who’s he going to guide?” Yara asked, and with a movement showing
ownership swept snow from Ul’s shoulder. “Dennis.” “Athanasius can’t be a
guide. He has to be completely calm. In this state he won’t be able to make his
way through the swamp!” Yara said decisively. Ul looked at her for a long time,
then nodded. Better to teleport alive into the meat grinder at the sausage plant
than to get stuck in the swamp. Certainly, Athanasius would brag, but must not
let him. Yara was right.
“I’ll guide Dennis myself!” Ul proposed. Yara clicked her tongue. “You can’t.
You have a different speed of passage.” It was useless for Ul to object. Passage
depends neither on age nor on sex. An iron and a feather bed will not sink with

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7

the same speed even if they are of equal weights. “Who then?” Ul asked
perplexedly. “Athanasius shouldn’t. Me neither. Kavaleria generally plunges like a
needle. Maybe we’ll ask Max or Rodion?” “No need to ask anyone,” said Yara. “I’ll
be the guide.” Ul was worried. “You’ve never been a guide! It’s not the same as
diving yourself! I’m against it.” “Have to start some time. I’ll have a talk with
Kavaleria, and you with Athanasius. Okay?” Yara said pleadingly.
Ul threw back his head, opened his mouth and began to catch snowflakes. Yara
imagined that a snowdrift was growing in his stomach. “Say it!” she demanded.
“That I agree? I don’t agree!” “Well, say it!” Ul swallowed some snow. “Don’t
interfere! Don’t you see: the man is feeding.” “Please!” “Well, fine: I say it,” he
yielded unwillingly. “Satisfied?”
“No. Say also that you love me!” Ul frowned. “Don’t blackmail!” “Say it!” Yara
insisted. He stopped catching snowflakes. His face was wet. Only the snowflakes
on his eyebrows did not melt. “I don’t know how to say it! My tongue is frozen.”
“Don’t weasel out! Repeat: ‘I love you’” “You love me.” “OLEG!” Yara tried to
strangle him but his neck was too muscular. With her pitiful vain attempts, she
only delivered pleasure to Ul. Ul always uttered the words “I love” under the
greatest pressure, asserting that the less often you utter them, the more they are
worth.
“And why did you hide roses all over town and stealthily plant the coordinates?
I found one rose in an old pigeon loft on Savelovskaya, another on the garret of a
two-storey house on Polianka! Answer!” Ul leaned over and scooped up some
snow. “Didn’t find it at Voikovskaya? I thought so.” “Confessed! Aha!” “Not aha. I
simply saw how he put it there,” Ul extricated himself. “Who?” “An unknown in a
black mask. I pursued him, drove him into a corner, but he drank acid. Only
smoking laces remained,”
Ul quickly looked at Yara’s indignant face and suddenly proposed, “Fine.
Come, I’ll shout this at the top of my lungs!” Before Yara could stop him, he
jumped on a box and, holding onto a post, shouted through the snow, “Humanity,
hey! This is my girl! Here she is, in the green cap! She’s not visible because she’s
hiding behind the post!” “I’m not!” Yara was outraged and, making use of the fact
that he was standing on one leg, pulled him by the ankle.
Ul flew sideways. In the air, he dodged like a cat, rolled over and jumped. It
could seem to someone that he had broken all his bones. But only if the person
does not know what a hdiver and such a hdiver jacket are capable of. “Must think
first! It’s asphalt after all!” he was indignant. “I’d visit you in the hospital. Would
bring rolled oats and oatmeal!” Yara encouraged him. “Wait!” Ul quickly asked.
“Do you actually consider that rolled oats and oatmeal are different things? Some
good mother I picked for my poor children!” “Wh-at???” Yara was mad. “What
children?”
Athanasius approached with the mineral water. The water was icy, and snow
had settled on top of the bottle. “Anybody want any?” he asked with hope. No one
wanted any. Then Athanasius, feeling unhappy, gulped down the water, and his
gums immediately froze.
On recalling something, Ul unbuttoned his sleeve and looked anxiously at the
laced-up leather buckler on his left arm. Similar to a medieval vambrace and

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8

continued from the wrist to the elbow, the buckler was decorated with small cast
figures. A bird with a female head; a suspiciously short-legged centaur; a goggle-
eyed lady with a forked fish tail; a lion resembling a
chubby sneering cat. Someone who has never seen
a live lion could imagine one like this, but then
would beat off the goggle-eyed fish-tailed lady with
a harpoon. The figures were interwoven and,
alternating with grape clusters, formed a guard
plate rigidly fixed on rough skin. The only surprising thing was the difference in
the colour of the metal. The goggle-eyed lady was dim, but the sneering lion, the
centaur, and the bird blazed, as if they were cast a minute ago.
“Why has the mermaid faded? Ah, yes! We stole the herring from the
hypermarket and released it into the Moscow River!” Ul recollected. “A mirror
carp! Your idea, by the way!” Yara corrected him. After seeing how it opened its
mouth in the aquarium, Ul assumed that it was shouting, “Oooh! Bro, I’m in
ambush!” He touched the mermaid, and there was one less fish in the
hypermarket but one more in the Moscow River. Ul blew snow away from Yara’s
cheek. “Well, let’s go, snow grandma, to charge the clms!”1 he said pertly. “And
you’re snow grandpa!” Yara snapped.
They quickly went to the underpass. A large shaggy dog emerged from
somewhere, ran after them, and started to bark at them furiously. Ul stopped and
the dog stopped. “HOLY! Dang! So what’s next? No way, huh?” Ul was interested.
The dog also did not know what was next. Its life’s plans disintegrated. It was
confused, but could not stop barking immediately and, after several loud yelps,
leisurely retreated. Athanasius attempted to treat the dog with water, but it only
sniffed the neck in passing.
The underpass was full of people. Many were standing on the stairs and
apprehensively stuck their heads out. “Has it stopped? It hasn’t stopped?” they
asked every second. It was funny to Yara: they were sitting in a pit dug under the
road, pushing and getting angry that they could not force their way to their multi-
apartment burrows. Ul stepped in front like an icebreaker, breaking through the
crowd with his wide shoulders. “Please allow us through!” he politely asked.
Athanasius settled behind Ul and used the path opened up by him. Yara had a
different tactic – where Ul was squeezing through, she glided like a snake.
Nearer to the centre of the underpass, Ul was inexplicably filled with
politeness and began to make way for the counter-flow. To do this he had to press
against the wall lined with a greyish tile. Ul got hold of the tile with his sleeve and
proceeded further. Several seconds later Athanasius turned up in the same place
of the underpass. He did not begin to complicate matters especially: tossed the
bottle from his left hand to the right, touched the wall, and quickly proceeded
forward. After touching the tile as Ul and Athanasius did, Yara felt a tingling in
her wrist and light heat rising from her fingers to the elbow. Having ascertained
that the clms was charged, she wanted to tear her hand away immediately, but
here the crowd caught her and she delayed slightly.

1
Clms (c.l.m.s.) is pronounced “clams”.

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9

On the street, a little girl of about eight flew over to Yara. She bounced off like
a ball, but immediately hopped back and stared inquisitively at Yara’s sleeve. The
sleeve was shining as if engulfed in fire. “The snow!” said the little girl. The snow
falling on Yara’s sleeve up to the elbow instantly disappeared. On the other parts
of her coat, it was lying like firm white cereal grains. Yara in a hurry hid her arm
behind her back. The obstinate little girl kept stomping beside her and did not
intend to leave. A returning Ul saved Yara from the girl. Approaching from
behind, he patted the curious child on the back of her head. “Did you see the
maniac? Come, I’ll show you!” he proposed in a nice voice. The child sped away in
short spurts, frequently glancing back and whimpering. “Am I really not some
gadget? Scared the child!” Ul stated smugly.
He took Athanasius aside and told him about tomorrow’s dive. Athanasius
became pigheaded, especially when he found out who would be guide instead of
him. Usually reasonable, here he simply showed asinine stubbornness. “Holy,
dang!!!!” said Ul, grabbing him by the neck like a bear. “Now you listen to me!
You’re not in shape. You’ll get stuck and ruin the newbie too! I have a girl and a
friend! And I need you both!”
The subway station emerged unexpectedly. It had the external appearance of a
red letter S on the side of the passage. Beside it stood a frozen old lady in a downy
shawl, already almost transformed into a snowdrift, and who was selling violets
sprouting in mayo jars. There were four. Yara purchased all from her, in order to
keep Ul’s hands busy and deprive him of the possibility of hugging her in the
subway. True, Ul got himself out of it and loaded Athanasius down with the
violets. “All the same for you!” he said.
On top of the escalator, they launched beer bottles. Yara was pondering
something and her face was temporarily in stillness. The green ski cap did not
suit her. Her face seemed boyish, rather rude. Athanasius thought that she was
plain and started to cultivate this thought in every way. Like any person fighting
the love virus, he had in his heart a special box, where Yara’s shortcomings were
carefully gathered. When love heated up, he would usually blow on some of her
deficiencies like on coal, until it began to seem unbearable. Approximately, at the
middle of the escalator, Athanasius finally conquered love and complacently drew
himself up, perceiving himself free. However, here Yara revived, started to talk,
smiled. Athanasius, confident that nothing would break him already, haughtily
looked at her and… he wanted to howl.
The railroad car was the new type, trimmed with white plastic. Without the
delightful corners for standing by the door. Because of the violets, there was no
way Athanasius could hang on. He was swaying from side to side and Ul caught
him by the collar. “You see how lucky you are that I’m beside you?” he asked, and
then suddenly shouted to the entire car, “Hey, people! I’m happy! This is my
friend, and this is my girl!” The superstitious Yara tugged at his sleeve. “Shh!
Keep quiet! You’ll frighten off happiness!” It would be better if she had kept
quiet. Ul immediately wanted to be contradictory. “Hey! Happiness! Hello!” he
began to yell.

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10

“Cuc-koo! I’m leaving already!” a person passing by commented in an


intoxicated voice. His back was striped like a zebra with clearly marked steps. The
railroad car started and like a sluggish caterpillar crawled into the tunnel.

Chapter 2

The Wings of a Friend

When a man does not deny himself pleasures but gets


too many of them, he becomes accustomed to them
and ceases to feel anything. He needs increasingly
more ingenious and artificial pleasures, and
everything ends with inevitable degradation. But if
pleasures, on the contrary, are limited by degrees,
then each day everything will be new. Real. Even just
a drop of water, the sun, or a five-minute rest on a
hike will make you incredibly happy.
From the diary of a non-returning hdiver

At five in the morning Ul got up to guide Yara. He climbed up, then again
descended and, taking a shortcut, went through the gallery. His steps resounded
far along the long empty corridors of HDive. In the dining room there was not a
soul – not even the angry old lady Supovna, who, unceasingly grumbling and
complaining that no one helped her, allowed no one to approach within ten
metres of the stove. However, even without Supovna in person, her presence was
felt. The infallible remedy for sleep stood on the centre table: three mugs of
strong tea, pickles, and a plate with heavily salted black bread. One mug was
empty.
“It means Dennis is already in the stable,” said Yara, appearing soon after Ul.
She was eternally late, but late in a civilized manner: about five minutes. Ul
nodded and salted a pickle. “I love everything salted!” he said to himself.
“Although what can one think about the man who salts pickles? Lacking some
mineral!” Sitting in the semi-darkness, Yara bit off black bread in large
mouthfuls, sipped her tea, and examined a thick stack of photographs, small and
hard as playing cards. The photographs were taken in part with a hidden camera,
in part with the help of a telescopic lens.
“This is only in the last week. What do a system administrator, a gym teacher,
a theatre lighting technician, a student, a boiler room attendant, and a deaf
fellow, a former musician, have in common?” she asked, hiding the photographs
from Ul. “The same as the elderly astrologer, the gloomy unsociable person with
an umbrella, and the respected-by-law criminal with fingers like sausages. But
earlier we didn’t deal with these. It means they’re recruiting new warlocks.
Expanding the reserves of the forts,” Ul instantly answered. Yara stopped
chewing. “What? You knew?” “It was simple to guess. Athanasius took the picture

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11

of the lighting guy. Then showed me the scratch on his jacket. He maintains: they
fired at him from a schnepper,”2 said Ul.
“I wish they were vampires,” Yara sighed. “In your dreams. If they were
vampires, the problem would be solved in a week with the strength of forty-fifty
people. Or could appeal to the Vends.3 But they aren’t vampires, and there’s
nothing more to say,” Ul cut her off.
He went out first and stopped on the porch to wait for Yara. Suddenly huge
hands grabbed him and lifted him up off the floor. Ul was dangling with his head
down and contemplating the wide-mouthed essence in an unbuttoned sheepskin
coat. By the porch, a giant of three-and-a-half meters in height was standing
unsteadily. This was a living attraction, an incident, animated by one of the
founding fathers of HDive. In the daytime it hid in the Green Labyrinth, at night
it trampled around HDive. Several times girls that had disappeared were found in
its stomach, once even Kuzepych himself.
“I am Gorshenya, clay head, hungry belly! I’ll eat you!” the giant informed
him. He pronounced the words slowly and thoughtfully. “You’ll choke! Let me
run up and jump!” proposed Ul. Gorshenya chewed on this thought for a while
and then unclenched its hands. Ul’s head stuck in a snowdrift. Gorshenya took a
step back and trustingly opened its enormous mouth. Four hundred years in a
row it had fallen for one and the same trick.
The snow thawed in the night and shaped well. Ul rolled a snowball and threw
it into Gorshenya’s mouth. When Gorshenya was standing with mouth open it
saw nothing, because the two amber buttons, which served as its eyes, were
thrown back together with the upper half of the head. Gorshenya slammed shut
its mouth. “Perhaps I did not eat you?” “You ate my brother. And you’re not
supposed to eat two brothers in one day.” said Ul. Gorshenya was saddened.
Yara came out onto the porch. Gorshenya stretched its hand out to her, but Ul
slapped it on the fingers. “She doesn’t taste good,” he whispered, “but she has a
tasty sister. She went that a way!” Gorshenya, waddling, limped off to search for
the sister. “Poor dear! It believes everything,” Ul leniently said. “We’re the poor
ones, believing nothing,” remarked Yara. “They say it buried treasure somewhere,
and now it’s guarding it,” recalled Ul. The body warmed in the night was lazy. Ul
generously scooped up snow and, snorting, washed himself. Melted water flowed
down his collar. After understanding that whining would only make it worse, his
body put up with it and agreed to be cheerful.
The scattering of stars drew a path to Moscow. From here, the vicinities of
Moscow, the city was not discernible, but on a clear day it was possible to climb
up the high pine tree and, from the “robber’s lookout” hammered together from
boards, see a bright flat spot. That was Moscow. The path was covered. It could
only be surmised by the lantern posts and the long snowdrifts, from which
projected the humps of park benches. In the huge hdiver jacket, Yara seemed
deceptively plump. Ul teasingly called her Winnie the Pooh. Staying on the main
path, they reached the place where old oaks outlined a proper oval shape. Yara
extracted a boot from the snowdrift and… placed it already on green grass.
2
A pistol crossbow.
3
“Vend” is an abbreviation and will be explained in Chapter 6.

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12

Edged with stones, slender straight cypresses stretched to the sky. A climbing
rose weaved itself around the iron arches. The lower part of its stem was the
thickness of a kid’s hand. Stripping the petals, the wind carried them beyond the
invisible boundary and dropped them onto the snow. It seemed to Ul that the
snow was stained by blood, but to Yara the snow had been kissed. Yara looked
around. The boundary of snow and grass was designated very clearly. Two distant
oaks dozed in the snow, but a third, finding itself inside the boundary, did not
even know that winter was somewhere beside it.
This oak was Yara’s favourite. She embraced the warm tree and pressed her
cheek to it. Ul had noticed long ago how much skin and hands could tell Yara.
Now she caressed the bark. Felt it not only with her palms, but also the back of
her hand, her nails, and her wrists. She took in the tree with all its bends with the
greediness of the blind, gaining a new sense instead of sight. Somehow she
acknowledged to Ul that she would want to scratch her hand down to the nerves
so that the sensations would intensify. “It happens,” said Ul.
Now he was standing beside her, chewing on a blade of grass and admiring
Yara like a technician admiring a female humanist who does not remember what
an integral is but willingly discusses the historical fates of peoples. The difference
between Yara and Ul was approximately the same as that between a two-handed
sword and a nervous foil. He respected her mind and sensitivity; she respected
his determination and the ability to grasp the essence of anything without being
distracted by details.
“You want to hide the newest tank from the female spy, place a nest with
chickens on its motor,” remarked Ul. Practical things interested Ul greatly. He
knew that somewhere here the most powerful marker was hidden from the day of
the founding of HDive. This was what warmed the earth thoroughly and gave
trees the life force. Now Ul for the umpteenth time gauged where the marker was
hidden and what would be its size. Its power was colossal. Not a single one of
those markers that Ul himself extracted could melt snow for more than five-six
steps.
In front of Ul, creaking slightly from time to time, a huge pine tree, similar to a
sail and with a flat top, was swinging from the wind. Among its roots was a blue
beehive, along the roof of which lazily crept morning bees yet not thoroughly
warmed by the sun. From the pine tree began the extensive Green Labyrinth – a
carefully pruned mix of acacia, laurel, juniper, and boxwood. In the centre of the
Labyrinth was the fountain – an enormous split stone with a whimsical crack,
along which water flowed.
All around chrysanthemums grew wildly. Yara usually fell on her knees and
felt the flowers with impatient fingers. Ul, though, was amused by the names.
“How many rounds of hookah must one smoke in order to name
chrysanthemums ‘Ping pong pink’? And ‘A spring dawn on the dam of essence’?”
he was interested. Yara would visit the chrysanthemums even now, but this was
impossible. After going around the Labyrinth, they crossed one more invisible
boundary and again snow began to creak under their feet.

***

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13

Dennis was waiting for them by the winged-horse stable. He sat on the
planted-in tire and reproachfully froze. Frail, his face was pale. His nose was
similar to a radish. He looked a year or two younger than his sixteen years of age.
His hdiver jacket was zipped all the way to the top. His eyes were like that of a
hamster: like beads. His right shoulder was lower than the left.
“He’s nervous!” said Ul. “And you weren’t nervous before your first dive?”
“Four hundred times more… Well, I lied: three hundred and ninety-nine!” Ul
corrected himself. Yara laughed. It is a miracle what a person can now and then
fit into some infinitesimal thing: a short phrase, an action, a look. Here Yara also
by mysterious means fit into her two-second laughter: energy, spontaneity,
affection without coyness. “I remember how you swaggered into the dining room
after your first dive. Turned up at breakfast in the jacket. Everybody’s jacket was
new but yours was chafed. And so mysterious! Simply a super hdiver!” she said,
still splashing her delightful laughter. “I was pretending,” Ul explained,
embarrassed. “I scratched the jacket with a brick. Later I really got it from
Kuzepych.”
After seeing Yara and Ul, Dennis jumped from the tire. He moved like a lizard.
Quick fits and jerks. “Why Delta for me? It’s unfair! I’m best in the subgroup. I
held my ground in flight on Caesar!” he shouted. “Flight is a different matter. For
the first dive a steady horse is better,” Yara patiently explained. Dennis outright
called Delta a stool. “Now that’s wonderful. You won’t fall off a stool,” Yara
praised and, having left Dennis in the company of Ul and Delta, dived into the
stable.
Everybody’s mama Delta was bored. It shifted from foot to foot and snorted
into the snowdrift. An elderly, somewhat short-legged mare, ash-grey, “mousy”
coloured, with a black stripe on the back and a thick tail to the ground. Wing
feathers the size of a human arm. The feathers themselves were brownish with
dark ends. There were no foals beside it, and there was nobody for Delta “to
cheresh,” according to Ul’s expression.
After noticing Ul, Delta made off in a business-like manner towards him to
beg. “You’ll manage without! I’m a cruel and greedy animal hater!” warned Ul. It
did not move away. Ul’s action now and then did not match his words. Moreover,
it was well-known to clever Delta that the pockets of his jacket were never empty.
After feeding it half a rusk, Ul appraisingly shook the saddle and loosened the
girths a little. The saddle was slight, stretched forward. The front pommel was
turned down, girding the muscular bases of the wings in those parts where the
feathers had not yet begun.
Ul approached Dennis and in a friendly way slapped him on the shoulder.
“Checked the pockets? Combs, ball-point pens, cosmetic fillings on the teeth?”
Dennis shook his head. “Well, look, otherwise will think of something,” promised
Ul.
“More briefing. First of all, understandably, is your ride. When you’ve gained
height, you take the horse into the dive. It happens, a novice is nervous, pulls on
the rein, and attempts to turn it around. You’ll only confuse the horse with this.
At the moment before the dive, the speed is such that it can no longer take off.

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14

But if it foolishly stretches them out, all its bones will turn into corkscrews. In
short, you panic, you’ll destroy yourself and the horse.”
“Dispersion?” Dennis prompted. Ul clicked his tongue. “Nuh-uh! Way off base,
as the saying goes… Dispersion is when the horse crosses over but you don’t.
Usually this happens when a hdiver doesn’t trust the horse. Then the horse
disappears and the hdiver is pressed into the asphalt.” Dennis turned pale and Ul
was sorry that he said too much. “In short, trust Delta. It has already been diving
for ten years. The main thing, you don’t interfere with it: it’ll do everything itself,”
he said in haste. Dennis looked with doubt at Delta, which, after dropping its
lower lip, was begging for another rusk.
“Next, the crossing! Here everything is so instant that you don’t have time to
be aware of anything. A hundredth of a second and you’re in the swamp. This is
the most unpleasant phase. What’s the main principle of passing the swamp?”
“The principle of the three little monkeys,” Dennis’ answer was learnt by heart.
“Correct. ‘Hear nothing, see nothing, and say nothing.’ The most important rules,
the first two. Don’t listen to anything excessive, keep eyes closed or look at the
horse’s mane.”
“But if…” Dennis began carefully. “No ‘ifs’!” Ul cut him off. “Can never believe
anything in the swamp, however plausible it may seem. I personally knew an
outstanding fellow who, after the swamp, tried to wave my head off with the
trowel.” Dennis cautiously looked at Ul’s head. It was on the spot. “Why?” “It
seemed to him that I stole his head and replaced it with mine. Here he decided to
put things right,” Ul willingly explained.
“And why am I not diving with Athanasius?” Dennis asked suddenly. Ul tensed
up, because the fellow who attempted to change heads with him was Athanasius.
And now Ul was considering: whether Dennis surmised something or this was an
accidental shot. “Yaroslava is an experienced hdiver. She has more than a
hundred dives,” Ul said, accentuated with his on-duty voice, and removed a straw
stuck on Dennis’ shoulder. “Well, break a leg! Pass the swamp, and in Duoka
your guide will show you everything.”

***

Yara went along the stable. In the semi-darkness a snorting was heard, a
friendly puffing. Icarus was playing with a plastic bottle. Ficus was chewing
something. Minic, a calm old gelding with a white-yellow stripe on its head, was
licking the grid. Its tongue was frozen to the metal, and Minic was surprised by
the new sensation.
But here was also Eric, a powerful, broad-chested stallion, so high in the
withers that once Yara was scared of it. Yara slid attentive fingers along Eric’s
wings, beginning from the base and ending with the feathers. She had to
ascertain that everything was in order. It happened that the horses got frightened
at night, began to thrash about in the tight stalls, and incurred injuries. Eric
watchfully squinted and pressed down its ears. Winged horses do not love having
their wings touched. “So, I can’t touch you but it’s okay for you to roll around?”
Yara asked, pulling out hay stuck between the feathers.

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15

Yesterday Eric was taken out till snowfall and now, having stuck its snout out
of the stable and scared by the prickly whiteness everywhere, it snorted, started,
and attempted to take off. Its wings were the shade of straw. Each was about four
metres. Huge, of oppressively perfect shape. Yara held it with difficulty. She let it
study and smell the snow, and little by little Eric calmed down.
Dennis was fighting with Delta, persuading it to straighten its wings.
Otherwise he could not sit down on the horse. Sly Delta was being obstinate. The
stable was just fine for it.
“The mission!” Ul reminded them in an undertone. Yara, having completely
forgotten about this, looked gratefully at him and touched Dennis’ clms with her
own. Bluish smoky letters flowed out into the air. After waiting until they faded,
Yara scattered them with a hand. “A three-month-old girl’s heart is developing
incorrectly. The operation is today. Chances are small. Need a marker. The girl’s
name is Lyuba,” she said.
Dennis loosened Delta’s cheek strap. “This isn’t a training legend?” “Training
jump to Duoka?” Ul evaded the question, and Dennis, confused, began to pull the
strap again. “And if we get a marker, the operation will still take place?” he asked
after a time. “Most likely. But then who knows? A marker creates development…”
Yara said honestly.
She took Eric’s left wing aside and jumped into the saddle. Eric itself had
already raised the right wing, saving it from a foot. The steadiness, with which
Yara, timid and shy in everyday things, steered a horse, always amazed Ul. It
seemed that an entirely different person was sitting in the saddle. She sat down,
tossed back her hair, and became a hdiver. Here and now precisely this
transformation took place in front of his eyes. “Eric first, Delta behind!” Yara
shouted to Dennis. Ul hemmed, appreciating how craftily she said this. Not “After
me!” but “Eric first.” Female management has its special features.
Ul walked beside her and led Eric. There were yellowish circles under his eyes.
“You promised yesterday that you would sleep!” Yara with reproach reminded
him. “Well, somehow…” Ul said guilty, and it was not clear what formidable
Somehow prevented him from lying down. “Go lie down now.” Ul looked at the
snow, expressing by the look that it was impossible to lie down right here and
now. “Can’t. I’ll hang around the stable and wait for you. Aza’s foot must be
looked at. Bunt kicked her. HOLY! Dang! Call themselves gentlemen! Really
kicked a mare? Although Bunt, of course, knows nothing on the subject.” “Who’s
dearer to you: Aza or me?” Yara asked jealously.
Ul looked cautiously at Dennis. That one was sitting like a statue on Delta.
Occasionally, he jerked his hand and with such energy seized the red nose as if he
wanted to tear it off. “Last night our people saw warlocks… You’ll take this?” Ul
thrust his hand inside his jacket and pulled out a small crossbow with a pistol
handle: a schnepper. Yara shook her head. “I rely on Eric,” she said, in order not
to say something else. A single-shot crossbow is not all-powerful.

***

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16

Yara and Dennis walked the horses in a circle and then two more in a light trot.
Only then did Yara permit Eric to get into a gallop. It was only waiting for this. It
rushed, out of mischievousness dashed off to the fence, flapped its wings
dangerously, and took off from the ground. Yara heard a quiet hit: kicked with a
hoof after all, snake! Already in the sky she turned in the saddle in order to see
Ul. A small, beloved point next to the brick quadrangle of the stable.
Delta attempted to be sly and slowed down, but Dennis raised his voice at it,
pushed it on with his legs, and made it take off. Having swung the lazy mare
around – it was striving unnoticeably to turn in the direction of the stable – he
sent it after Eric. Eric wanted to gain height sharply, but for the time being Yara
held it back, forcing it to do this gradually. It would be spent, it would be covered
with sweat, but its strength must last a long time.
The horse’s back under her shook slightly. The sensations of flight and gallop
were different. She could distinguish them even with eyes closed. Yara bent down
to the horse’s neck. When the wings were flapping and, slowly scooping up air,
swept back, she saw a sparse forest. Further were warehouses and a large field
connected to the highway by a winding road.
Yara muffled her face with a scarf. The head wind burned her cheekbones,
brought tears to her eyes. Yara knew that a little longer and she would feel like a
piece of ice, which was set crookedly on the horse. Everything would fuse into a
frozen mass: thoughts, happiness, love for Ul, and even fear. Only the desire for
warmth would remain. Dennis overtook and flew beside her. Delta’s “mousy” fur
began to turn white, covered with hoar frost. The hair below the snout iced up, as
if the old mare had grown a rare white beard.
The sky in the east was crimson-striped like a treacherously killed zebra. Yara
kept the course directly to these stripes, anxiously examining them. Suddenly
something changed in the sky, and above them hung a large cloud, dazzling-white
on the edges and rather soiled in the centre. Wisps separated from the cloud.
Imagine a cat hidden inside ripping it up with its paws. Yara looked down and
estimated. Still low. Must get higher for the dive. She waved to Dennis and
directed Eric into the cloud. About ten seconds later it shot up out of the other
side. Now the cloud was lying below, more like a loose pile of snow. Above, as far
as the eyes could see, more clouds were drifting. One overhead, fiery, resembling
a hippopotamus, swallowed the sun and slowly digested it.
Dennis appeared only after a minute. He pointed at Delta with indignation and
threatened it with the whip. The mare had a devious look. Yara understood: Delta
pretended that the cloud scared it, using this as a pretext in order to return. Its
tricks were well known to Yara. In her time she also started with Delta.
Knowing how much energy a horse needed to gain altitude, Yara let Eric fly to
the south, keeping it along the dark edge of the lower cloud. The sky here had no
clear boundaries. A large cloud dropped off like a mountain. At the base of the
mountain smaller clouds were joined by limp beards. From where the sun’s rays
got tangled in the beards, four points, like hay in the horse’s wings, suddenly
appeared. With each second the points became larger. Soon Yara distinguished
dense, leathery wings exactly like that of a dragon. These were hyeons. Tiny
figures pressed onto their backs. “Hell! Trouble!” thought Yara.

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17

At this moment four winged points broke apart into two teams of two. One
team stayed circling below, the other dived for the cloud. “Look! Warlocks!” she
shouted to Dennis, pulling down the scarf. He started to toss about and began to
jerk the rein, confusing Delta. “Don’t! We have the advantage up high! They can’t
gain height fast! Will be more dangerous on the way back!”
Yara did not pack much power into this second shout, knowing that the wind
would nevertheless carry away three quarters of it. After ascertaining that Dennis
no longer tried to turn Delta around, she gathered her fingers into a duck beak
and poked downward. This was the signal to dive.
She hardly touched its neck with the reins and Eric responded. It leaned
forward, pointed its snout to the ground and, accelerating, flapped its wings
vigorously several times. After the fifth or sixth stroke it folded up its wings;
however, because of Yara and the saddle it could not do this as in the stable. It
turned out that it held her with the base of its wings at their widest part. Yara
found herself between two shields protecting her all the way to her chest. Now
and then it came to her mind that only this makes it possible to dive. Just have to
understand: either by chance or deep thought-out regularity.
The horse gained speed. Gravitational force drew it to the ground. Yara leaned
down, trying to take cover behind the horse’s neck. The wind was whistling
keener and shriller all the time. The free end of the scarf whipped the back of her
head painfully.
Yara attempted to look around in order to determine where Dennis was now.
He turned out to be unexpectedly close. Frightened but not panicking. He seized
Delta’s mane so as not to pull the reins. Also a variant. His face was white-red
with clearly marked spots. The eyebrows were like two iced caterpillars. His ski
cap had been torn away. The hair was standing on end like white peaks. “It means
I also have the same eyebrows! That’s why it’s so painful to pucker up! Clever
Delta! Didn’t lag behind Eric!” Two different thoughts collided in Yara’s
consciousness.
Making use of the fact that Yara carelessly turned her body and removed it
from under the protection of the wings, the wind hit her chest and cheek, almost
knocking her off the saddle. Yara clung to the front pommel, perceiving herself
not simply as a pitiful teapot but also a grotesque samovar. Likely trivial, but she
lost several valuable seconds. When Yara again saw the ground, it was abruptly
close. The silvery box of a trailer crawled on the grey loops of the highway. Yara
understood that Eric could no longer lift up with its wings: the speed was too
great. But Eric also did not intend to do so.
For a brief moment next to her flickered a dark side in stripes, a flat snout with
protruding lower jaw, and closely planted eyes. The person pressed himself so
close to the hyeon that they seemed like a two-headed essence. Yara understood
that she had run into one of those two warlocks that dived for the cloud. The rider
did not manage to turn the hyeon around: the speed of a taking-off hyeon was too
incomparable to that of a winged horse almost going into a dive. Understanding
this very well, the warlock on the off chance jerked up a hand with the dim half-
moon of a crossbow. Eric twitched from the pain. Its elongated neck oozed a long
ribbon of blood, as if the horse had been cut by a razor. “He thought that he

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18

couldn’t hit me and fired at the horse so that we would crash together,” Yara
determined.
The horse rushed towards the ground, acquiring impossible strength with each
instant. It was impossible to look at its wings. They did not become white or
radiant, but they were blinding all the same and stinging the eyes, becoming too
bright for them.
As Eric was transforming, everything around it paled. The hills, the pine trees,
the highway were covered by a haze, watered down. At the same time Yara
realized that the world remained the same as it was: completely substantial and
not spectral. Simply Eric no longer belonged to this world, in which it was
nevertheless a guest, although it was old and born here. Repeatedly Yara and
other hdivers tried to describe the crossing to novices, but words were
insufficient to explain how it was possible to become more real than reality itself
despite that it would remain unchanged also.
Yara looked askance at her own hands. This was the dispersion test well-
known to hdivers. Next to Eric’s mane the hands seemed flat, cardboard-like.
Much less real than Eric. Because of this annoying attack of the wind Yara had
remained a part of her own world, whereas the horse no longer belonged to it. In
a second or two Eric would pierce right through her world, and Yara, if she were
unable to merge with it, would be stuck somewhere between the highway and a
brush of pine trees on the small hill.
Yara acted instinctively. After realizing that it would be hopeless if left behind,
she leaned down and clung to Eric’s neck as tightly as she could. Her cheek was
buried in the stiff brush of mane. “Don’t leave me behind! All the same I won’t let
go of you!” she whispered soundlessly, knowing that even if Eric heard, it would
not be in words nevertheless.
And it did not leave her behind. It closed up base and changed the incline,
after wrapping Yara up with its wings like dense sails. Time stopped. The small
hill, no more than fifty metres away from Yara, blurred, as if water was splashed
from a jar onto fresh watercolour. It did not make room, did not disappear,
remained where it was, but Eric and Yara pierced it like a soap bubble, which
closed up after them. Yara felt the tension of her own world sliding down along
the horse’s wings shielding her. She took a risk and again looked around. Her
world slowly floated back, screened off by invisible glass. Somewhere there the
trailer was moving and birches grew. Ul also remained there. “Thank you!” Yara
whispered. It became clear to her that at the last minute Eric dragged her, the
perpetual latecomer, through to become the same as it.
But in front something messy, the colour of meat scum, was already moving up
to Yara. A disgusting formless mass. It was impossible to pass over it or fly
around it, only right through it. There was neither sky nor earth nor
constellations here, only this mass. Swiftly revolving in the centre, it was lying
motionless along the edges and forming a quiet little stagnant mass. Most of all it
very much resembled dirty water with food scraps pulled into the drain with a
squelch. And there, in this terrible centre, everything was boiling and seething.
Something flickered on Yara’s left hand side. After a hard look, she understood
that this was Delta. Dropping behind a little bit in the dive, the mare quickly

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19

caught up. Yara did not immediately realize whether Dennis was on its back and
experienced several unpleasant seconds. “But indeed he dived! Didn’t break up!
Now if only he doesn’t start panicking in the swamp!” she decided.
Yara was shaken in the saddle. A wing, pulling back, touched her shoulder.
Eric accelerated. Instead of flying into the calm and outwardly safe foam, it, after
extending the snout, rushed straight into the revolving centre of “the sink.” Delta
followed it. The spiral of the drain now thickened and calmed down, now coiled
up into a thread, and then began to toss her from side to side. Yara knew,
according to her own experience, that this was more terrible for a novice than
falling together with the horse’s folded wings and waiting to hit the ground.
Before throwing itself into the seething volcano, Eric folded its wings. The
wind plucked Yara off the saddle. The scum on her hdiver jacket broke off, hung
on it, and ran off as if alive. Yara lost orientation for several seconds and thought
only of one thing – not to lose the stirrup, not to let go of the rein.
Sensing that the hurricane was losing strength, Yara hurriedly sucked in air.
She sucked in fiercely till it hurt in her chest, knowing that soon any breath would
be a luxury. And indeed: Yara breathed out already in the swamp.
As in “the drain,” everything here was the colour of meat scum. A compressed,
disgusting, still space supporting neither hope nor happiness nor motion. A world
locked in itself and starting to reek as a nestling dead in an egg. Yara breathed out
slowly, in small portions, with regret, trying to keep from pulling in what
substituted as air here. The air in the swamp was inconceivably musty. It stuck to
the cheeks like slush. It crawled into the nostrils and stung the eyes. The filthy
toilet in a station would seem in comparison like the dream of an epicure. But all
the same it was necessary to breathe. Yara opened her mouth and felt how she
pulled into herself all this trash together with the air. Recently Yara had been hit
by the wind. Here the wind was absent altogether. She flew and pushed with her
tongue the prickly scarf climbing into her mouth.
Eric no longer kept its wings folded. It was flying but incredibly slowly. The
wing feathers began to break off from the stress. It seemed it was forcing its way
through glue. Each stroke of the wings moved them forward, but monstrously
slowly. It seemed to Yara that they were not flying but crawling. Without a
winged horse she could not cover even a centimetre here, though she would be
raking up the sticky air with her palms over the centuries.
Eric and Delta made their way along a narrow tunnel. It was drilled by the
hurricane and had clear sticky walls, which sucked in everything but let nothing
out. Yara was amazed by the wisdom compelling the horses to rush to the centre
of the hurricane. It would be unrealistic to fly through the quagmire in all the
other places. Here the hurricane opened a breach.
Something brightened hazily in front, although it was a dense, sucking
darkness to the right and left. Yara stubbornly tried to look only at the horse’s
mane, knowing that it was mortally dangerous to avert her eyes from it. She
understood the melancholy of those who once got stuck in the swamp. To sit
eternally in the sticky scum, which held on such that you would be unable to blink
or stir a finger. And all this time guessing at the something close by, something
completely different – bright, real, flamboyant.

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20

In the dense darkness drifted sluggish grey shadows, similar to clay-covered


dwarfs with googly eyes. These were elbes. The shadows were shifting and
approaching the walls of the tunnel. When the dwarfs touched the walls, they
fired off something not unlike gossamers. A piece of gossamer touched Yara’s
jacket and immediately burst.
Yara felt the short probing twinges almost continuously and surmised that
there were lots more elbes than she was capable of discerning in those two-three
seconds that she had the courage to look. At the moment of the touch of prickly
little gossamers Yara experienced sometimes a wolf hunger, annoyance,
greediness, sometimes sluggish sleepiness and indifference. But again and again
Eric’s wings traced a semicircle and tore up the gossamer.
After ascertaining that their attacks were futile, the elbes changed tactics. They
upped the stakes. Now instead of hunger and melancholy they proposed
pleasures of the most different kinds to Yara. All this time they were probing
Yara, attempting to find a flaw in her. So, you do not want to put your arms up to
your elbows in the gold coins of an Indian rajah or stroke the fur of a tame tiger?
How about running with cheetahs or standing under the rainbow jet of a
waterfall? Shashlik with hot mulled wine? Again no? Maybe, sinorita prefers furs,
a long car and a taciturn chauffeur, who will slowly transport her along the streets
at night to the sound of cocaine jazz?
The imageries were so distinct, so visible that Yara no longer distinguished
them from reality. She could scarcely determine where she was in reality – under
the waterfall, at a noisy eastern market, or in the thick swamp shaking like a
jellied dish. Dreams, hardening, were transformed into reality. She wanted to
doze off, to relax, and to give herself up to their lulling power.
Say “yes,” little one! My little, beloved, warm little one!
Say “yes,” essence!
Say “yes,” trash!
Yara knew: all these juiced up imageries, which they stuffed her consciousness
with, were nothing to the elbes themselves. Elbes were cold as ice. They did not
sleep and did not grieve. Their enjoyment was in another realm, which was
impossible for her to comprehend. Gold, food, romance had no greater value to
them than a fat worm moving on a hook did to a fisherman.
Yara knew that if she would be friendly now and give internal agreement, it
would be impossible to break the fetters later. She would be stuck here and would
remain forever in the swamp. It had happened many times that hdivers, even the
most experienced and hardened, indifferent to pain and easily putting off hunger,
jumped off the saddle, after becoming prisoners of a cherished mirage. And they
would hardly find their mountain streams, their smile of a beauty, or fantastic
cities there, in the thick fumes of the swamp.
Wanting to warm herself with something warm and important, Yara began to
think about Ul, but suddenly realized that she completely did not love him. A
boor, a brute, a barbarian! Hid flowers in attics and she chased after them only to
get dirty all over in pigeon crap! If he would at least be a handsome man, but his
teeth are uneven, his legs short! Neither apartment nor distinct future. And even

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21

counts each kopeck in a cafe! Minor little offences crawled like agile cockroaches
along all the cracks in her mind.
Yara understood that Ul never needed her. He simply wanted a girl, any who
would agree to endure his tricks. The other girls do not give a hoot about him of
course, and likely, the whole HDive is laughing at her! If Ul would turn out to be
here now, Yara would pounce on him as a cat would, begin to scratch and bite.
She wanted to turn the horse around in order to sort it out finally with this freak.
The hatred was so strong that Yara even saw black spots with her open eyes. She
no longer kept her eyes closed. Why? Damn the swamp! Her chief enemy is Ul!!!
Eric started to neigh sorrowfully. She did not hear its neigh, but guessed it
from the impatient movement of the head and the snout covered with a cap of
foam by the nostrils. After a second, the horse began to heel over and tip
sideways. They were no longer advancing but hovering over one spot. Something
that could not be broken off caught Eric’s right wing. The left wing was
convulsively scooping up the sticky air. Yara saw that the horse would now
overturn, and she herself would hit against the wall of the tunnel. The grey dwarfs
also considered this and, pressing against each other, they quickly crawled
together into one place.
Not understanding what was happening to Eric and why he was falling, Yara
lowered her eyes and saw how above her boots, a gossamer, thickened into a fat
white root, had quickly entered her leg. Small beads rolled along the gossamer
from an elbe to Yara. At the moment when the beads touched her leg, she
experienced new jabs of hatred towards Ul. True, now it was technically
complicated to hate. Her knees slid along the saddle, the left stirrup was
dangling, the saddle girth loosened, and any minute now the saddle itself must
turn out to be under the horse’s belly. Good that the bent front pommel held on
behind the base of the wings.
“I… love… Ul. It’s… all… the elbe!” Yara thought, forcing her way through the
quagmire of hatred. The next bead could not infiltrate under the skin. It rolled
away and collided with the one following. The gossamer swelled, could not
maintain the tension and broke. Its strength turned out to be deceptive. Eric
scooped the thick stinky air with the freed wing. The elastic bones bent. The
stallion neighed from the pain and, wing feathers almost broken, straightened
itself. Yara managed to reach the muscular base of its wing and returned to the
saddle. “Relaxed! Believed that I can do anything! Called myself a guide!” Yara
berated herself. Delta had long since passed ahead and Yara even could not
imagine approximately where and when she would meet up with Dennis.
Eric gained speed slowly, with effort. For the first twenty-thirty strokes it
barely advanced. Now and then it needed several jolts with the wings in order to
remain simply on the spot. Then it jerked its head and briefly neighed
reproachfully. Yara touched its back. It was slick and sweaty. The fur shone like it
was greased with fat. It was not possible to stop in the swamp. It mattered not
that Eric was an enormous, strong stallion, it would get stuck here forever.
Everything blunted in Yara: her love for Ul, pity for the horse, uneasiness
about the tiny girl. She remembered only one thing: never let new roots enter her,

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22

because this would be death. The hatred for Ul had drained her spirit. She even
did not feel the jabs. She dully looked at the mane and tried not to open her eyes.
Yara did not know how much time had passed here. Time in the swamp flew
according to its own laws. With the utmost internal concentration on a good
horse it would be possible to cross the swamp in ten minutes. Possible in half-an-
hour, an hour, and also possible not to break through at all. The number of divers
stuck in the swamp was in the dozens and hundreds. More often it was not even
known whether a diver got stuck on the way there or was intercepted on the way
back. And intercepted by whom. The elbes? The warlocks? Maybe his horse broke
a wing, he flew off the saddle or, listening to the whisperings of the swamp, he
was unable to break the gossamer and is still languishing somewhere in the
sucking gloom, where a lie is like the truth and where you believe in hatred more
than love. Twice in the history of HDive it happened that a diver, solidly
convinced that he had spent no more than twenty-four hours in the swamp, dived
back into the human world after several decades.
Now Yara was also not thinking about this. She chased all thoughts away
without exception, including the most innocent, knowing with what ease the
swamp would distort, substitute, and secretly connect them, using any thought as
a bridge to itself.
Suddenly Yara felt a light push. An unknown elastic force touched her entire
body at one go and then parted, after recognizing and letting her through. She felt
heat warming her face frozen in the dive. Something showed pink beyond the
closed eyelids. She pulled back the scarf and then even tore it off completely. The
dull stench had disappeared. Yara opened her eyes. Eric was flying above the
ground easily, without the least effort. The remains of the swamp melted on its
sides sunken from fatigue. Above ground and not in the narrow tunnel in the
swamp.
It was much brighter here; however, the light seemed pale, as if predawn. A
forest was discernible below. Beyond the forest began a field with a sluggish and
frequently looping creek. “DUOKA!” exclaimed Yara, although this was only its
beginning.
Something burned her forehead. This was a big melted plastic hairpin, which
Yara had forgotten about. Yara quickly got rid of the soft mass sticking to her
fingers, until it no longer spread over her head. This was what Ul warned Dennis
about. Here, on Duoka, nothing secondary or derived could exist. No synthetics
or polymers. Only skin, cotton, iron. Everybody remembered the story of the new
girl, who attempted unnoticed to use plastic girths. Crossing the swamp on her
return she had to break through without a saddle, after tying herself to the
horse’s neck. Yara recalled how often she got caught by this and wondered that
she did not become more careful. Several successful dives and you automatically
become arrogant. You stop checking pockets, thinking about hairpins, and boldly
open your eyes in the swamp. The only way to regain the sense of reality is to get
it on the forehead.
The further Eric flew, the brighter it became. If earlier Yara only discerned a
forest below, now she distinguished separate trees. If in her first minutes here
Duoka was almost colourless, dark, and only somewhat outlined, now, with each

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23

new stroke of Eric’s wings, it became more detailed. An invisible hand


unhurriedly threw paint on the trees and generously poured out sounds and
smells from a warm palm.
Yara’s forehead was covered with sweat. She wiped it with the back of a hand
and thought that today everything began somewhat early. The delay in the
swamp had affected her. She had swallowed too much filth there.
Eric listened and took off more to the left. Yara trusted it, although it seemed
to her that they were not flying there. Soon, after taking a good look, she
distinguished on the meadow a spot, which turned out to be Delta grazing. She
saw Dennis only when Eric had descended beside him. He was lying in the
shadow of the bushes, in his unbuttoned hdiver jacket, and seemed barely alive.
His face was soaked and streaked. Yara had never seen people sweating in stripes.
Sections of the skin were red, white, red, white. And all with clear boundaries.
Only the nose had no boundaries and jutted out like the usual pierced radish.
Dennis was pulling air in slowly, and breathing out just as carefully. “It’s
always so at first. Suffer. Soon it’ll be easier,” said Yara. Dennis opened his eyes
and attempted to smile. “I saw how Eric got stuck… But didn’t notice you at all. It
seemed the saddle was empty. I pulled the rein, fat chance! It didn’t listen! And
later I clung to the mane altogether, such nonsense crawled into my head. That I
was always a burden to mother, and sister stole money from the piggy bank. And
I was thinking: where have they disappeared to? Then I understood I was only in
the swamp.” This did not surprise Yara. The swamp was the eternal place of such
insights.
“Did you try to stop Delta in the swamp???” she asked again. “Of course!
You’re my guide. I thought: it must be so. But the cursed stool wouldn’t obey! It
misinterpreted me!” Continuing to lie on his back, Dennis folded up his hands
like a scoop and passed them along his face from top to bottom. It seemed he was
not wiping off sweat but washing. “You’re the stool! If Delta had stopped…” Yara
did not finish talking.
Dennis looked at his hands. The sweat was flowing from his fingers even now.
His wrists were covered with indecent beads. “It pinches. Gets into the wounds
and pinches…” he complained. “Strange!” “What?” “Huh? The burning heat, but
the water in the stream is cold. But what’s killing me more is the dew. Why didn’t
it evaporate?” Yara laughed. Every hdiver poses this question during his first
dive.
“It isn’t hot here.” He looked at her with bewilderment. “How isn’t it hot? Do
you see me?” “I see you, but all the same it isn’t hot. Look at Eric, look at Delta.
Look at me, although today I’m a poor example.” Dennis sat up on the grass,
distrustfully looking at her face closely. “Didn’t even unbutton the jacket,” he said
with envy. “Everyone goes through this. The main thing, Duoka let you in. It
happens that a novice passes the entire way through the swamp and is forced to
turn the horse around. And the heat… It seems to me filth comes out of us.”
“Cursed swamp! It was the end of me!”
Dennis staggered forward and got up. A branch got him in the eyes. He
brushed it aside. “Likely no longer so scabby… Let’s search for markers! Where
are they?” he said decisively. Yara glanced over at the meadow. She was holding

©Jane H. Buckingham 2011


jhbuckingham@yahoo.ca
http://emets.olmer.ru/
24

Eric by the rein, afraid that it would enter the stream and, excited, would begin to
drink. “No markers here. Too close to the swamp. Must fly further.”
“Perhaps we can wait till dawn?” Dennis with hope proposed. “Nothing to wait
for.” “How nothing? Already any minute now!” “Here ‘any minute now’ stretches
to eternity,” said Yara and, feeling that Dennis understood nothing, added, “It’s
always cloudy dawn in this meadow and nothing else. In order for it to become
brighter, we must fly further. Or remain and be satisfied by what is. But then, no
markers.”
“It’s illogical,” objected Dennis. “Illogical for us but logical for Duoka. We have
a world of cyclic variations. Morning, day, evening, night. Spring, summer, fall,
winter. Sit by the window, pick your nose, and life will revolve around you. The
Duoka world though is three-dimensionally constant. Here everything has
unfolded.”
“How’s this?” Dennis did not understand. “Like this. The source of light and
heat is somewhere in the centre of Duoka; it nevertheless must exist, although
none of us has seen it. You haven’t noticed that all the trees lean a little to one
side? On the edge, nearer to the swamp, it’s always night and cold. Here it’s
always early dawn. Further is morning. They don’t come by themselves. In order
to change something, one must move constantly.”
Dennis pulled his jacket zipper. “But if indeed so, then it’ll be hotter nearer to
the centre!” Yara nodded, not seeing any sense to deny this. “Here everything is
this way. When it’s difficult and painful, it means you’re moving in the right
direction. But today we won’t find ourselves in the centre really.” “And you?” “Me
neither. Each hdiver has his personal boundary. It moves back a little with each
successful dive. Not so much that they wouldn’t let us in. Simply doesn’t turn out
otherwise.”
Dennis again began to torture the zipper. “And if I’m unable to dive to a
marker at all?” he asked suspiciously. “Possible to dive to some, but you’ll do it on
your own. It’s not too deep. Otherwise you wouldn’t have gotten this job.” “And if
we force ourselves and whip off to the centre? Simple drive the horse and all?”
Dennis obstinately asked. Yara thought that what happened with her hairpin
would happen to him then; however, she kept the thought to herself and only
muttered, “It’s impossible. An icicle can’t fly to the sun and remain an icicle.”
Dennis walked the five metres to Delta as if they were five metres to the
gallows. Having seen out of the corner of an eye where he was heading, sly Delta
moved aside several steps. It did not run away, but moved away imperceptibly,
each time managing to maintain the same distance. “Look at what I have!”
Dennis shouted plaintively, trying to pretend that he had a piece of rusk in his
pocket. Delta looked around and at his pocket with an explicit sneer.
Yara knew that Delta was capable of pushing him around this way till eternity.
Horses, of course, are good essences, but not enough to pity a tired rider. Without
letting go of Eric’s rein, Yara overtook Delta in several leaps, jumped with her
stomach onto its back and, after slapping its rump with her hand, drove the mare
to Dennis. “Don’t let go of horses on Duoka. If you really must leave them, then
tie or hobble them,” she reminded him.

©Jane H. Buckingham 2011


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25

At this point the horses were not getting up high but racing above the ground.
Eric was considerably ahead of Delta and Yara had to hold it back so that it would
not rush off completely. The plain over which they were flying became stony.
Chains of boulders similar to the spikes on the back of a petrified dragon looked
out of the earth. Yara clearly distinguished in front a long rocky ridge resembling
a horseshoe.
It was already light here, but somehow inconclusive, as if early in the morning.
The air became dryer. It seemed to Yara that she was bouncing towards a fiery
wind; however, to her, weakened and drained by the swamp, this thought was
not scary but cheerful. Now she already had to wipe off sweat continually. Dennis
sat in the saddle only because it was not clear to him in which direction to fall.
Yara slowed Eric down, letting it cool down. After recalling that they had shot
at it from a schnepper, she looked over the wound and with relief discovered that
it was not dangerous. The blood had dried and here, on Duoka, the scratch would
skin over in an hour or two.
After flying up closer to the rocks, Yara hobbled the horse’s front legs and with
a short belt bound the base of its wings. Eric was Eric. The pine tree, to which she
tied it, was young. Yara did not trust it too much. “Rest! You already worked.
Now it’s my turn!” she said and, after loosening the girths, unfastened the trowel
from the saddle. A sandy slope began in front of Yara. Gradually becoming
steeper, it abutted against a cliff with many cracks.
Delta appeared to have fallen behind. The sly old mare did not fly but dragged
itself along the last length. It knew from experience that they would now tie it up.
“The first ridge. The Horseshoe Cliff. This is our mine. There are others here,
but we would have to cross the ridge,” Yara shouted to Dennis. Dennis slipped
down from Delta. His face covered with sweat became less streaky. The
boundaries blurred, the red spots were changing to pink. “Don’t fall asleep, else
can’t even rouse yourself with kicks later!” she warned.
Dennis reached for his trowel. His turned out to be collapsible, with initials,
which he, as the malicious owner, had burnt on the handle. He attempted to pull
the retainer ring down from it, but dropped it. He leaned over, grabbed it with the
other hand, and clutched it between his knees, hoping to finish the struggle with
the ring. The ring was mocking him. It willingly turned over but remained in
place.
“What happened?” Yara was surprised. Dennis raised his right hand. She saw
that two knuckles on the edge were broken and the fingers were shuddering
continuously. “How did you manage that?” she was amazed. It turned out,
against the front pommel. Dennis was leaning back carelessly and when Delta
abruptly touched the cliff with its hooves, his pelvis was thrown onto his own
hand. “I’ll dig with the left,” he said, convincing himself. Yara silently took his
trowel, unfolded it and began to walk along the slope.
Their clmses were radiant, sensing the proximity of markers. The reddish sand
did not sink under her feet, but produced a narrow crack in the shape of a toe.
Occasionally there were areas with white sand, which drifted in front of large
stones. Yara and Dennis got up quickly along the gentle slope; however, soon the
incline became noticeably steeper. It was necessary to climb, using their hands.

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26

Yara was clambering, looking out for hdiver signs on the rocks and the stones.
She met few signs today. Only scratches on a piece of bark cut with a trowel,
warning, “Do not tie horses!” Maybe, the ground is slipping away? Who knows?
An experienced hdiver always trusts a warning and will not tempt fate.
Dennis frequently stopped, squatted down and rested. He was no longer
pulling air in through his nose but swallowing it with his mouth like a fish. “How
are you doing? Quite poorly?” asked Yara. Dennis wheezed that he had never felt
better and she understood that it was worthwhile to restrain from further
questions. It is better not to pity people in this state. There are moments when
even a friendly hand, sympathetically placed on a shoulder, is capable of breaking
one’s back. “The overhang in five minutes. Almost there!” she said to the side, as
if to herself. Dennis nodded, pretending that it was unimportant to him.
“The overhang” turned out to be a narrow, about twenty steps, ledge under the
vertical cliff. Detached rocks and formations sliding down whole spoke of
frequent landslides. The cliff was fragile, heterogeneous. Compressed sand and
cockleshells were discernible in it. Many pieces broke off easily and crumbled in
the fingers.
After estimating where best to begin, Yara walked several steps along the
ledge. She stopped and, showing that they had reached it, dropped the trowel.
The blade went in, but shallowly, and, having splashed sand, tumbled down.
Dennis slid wistful eyes along the endless ledge. “And where are the markers
here?” “Everywhere. Sometimes directly under your feet. But most of them are
waist deep, chest deep. Don’t know why. Maybe, the cliff crumbled more at that
time?”
Yara wiped her nose with a boyish gesture and, after getting down on her
knees, stuck the trowel into the sand. They dug for a long time. The sand was
revealed as layers, but under it began caked clay. Every now and then the trowels
caught something and tinkled, producing dry sparks. It was necessary to stop and
look, after clearing the clay. In the majority of cases this turned out to be a stone.
It had to be harder for Dennis than for Yara. He had to dig with one hand. “Let
me dig and you drive the trowel in the cracks and enlarge them!” she proposed,
having forgotten whom she was dealing with. “Leave me alone! I’m not tired!”
Demonstrating that he was managing very well, Dennis struck the trowel with
such force that a splintered off stone cut his upper lip, almost knocking out a
tooth.
In the first hour Dennis attacked the clay with impatience, rejoicing with each
tinkling of the blade. However, the happiness of expectation was dulled after
many failures. He was short of breath. Instead of a heart, a stone with sharp
edges was turning in his chest. Now he was rather annoyed when he heard the
next tinkling sound. His back had gone numb. He often stopped and jerked up his
head. His gaze was lost in the endless vertical cliff, either rather rusty, or yellow,
or almost white. How much he thought about Duoka! What he had not imagined
when he was going through preparation in HDive! But here only clay, sand, and
stone.
Yara was standing chest-deep in the pit, which she had dug out in the past two
hours and, not going deeper, enlarged it with short strokes. There were no

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27

blisters on her palms yet, but a special sensation and redness were detected on
the skin, which would only go away with the white bubbles.
Dennis drove in the trowel at random about three steps from the base pit and
dragged it towards himself. In the peeled-off layer of earth something was
scattering light. He leaned over and picked up a hand-sized piece of rock covered
with clay. One side was cleaned by the impact of the trowel. He swung his arm,
intending on throwing the stone down along the slope. “Stop!” Yara yelled,
crawling out of the pit on her stomach. She took the stone away from a confused
Dennis and started to scrape the clay off carefully. He fussed around first on one
side, then on the other. He squatted, got in the way, and caught the handle of her
trowel with his forehead. “Get out of here! You wanted to throw it away!” she
shouted merrily to him. “Don’t fuss around a hdiver when he’s holding a marker!”
The radiance became bright, persistent. Yara squinted. She shaded her eyes. A
dark-blue flower, woven from a live, timid fire, blazed up inside the rock. Small,
like a bluebell. How it had fallen into the rock and grown there was a riddle. Yara
no longer scraped off the clay. She held the stone in her hand and was
continuously tossing it up, as if it was very hot.
“A good marker. Strong… Only it’s blue,” added Yara with regret. “And what’s
so bad about blue?” Dennis tensed up. “Nothing. But today we need another one.
Blue markers are for talent and ability. For example, the owner of this will be
busy with his favourite work for twenty-four hours right through without getting
tired. And he’ll never be disappointed, never droop, never let down, although
there will only be obstacles around.” “How do you know?” Dennis asked
suspiciously. “It told me.” “With words?” “Of course not. But while you’re holding
a marker, you feel that it is so.”
Yara leaned over and lowered the marker onto a flat fragment of rock etched
with brown cracks. Dennis looked at her interrogatively. “I put it down so it
wouldn’t begin the merge. And tossing it up for the same reason. I don’t want to
tease myself. If I keep it, Duoka will never let me in again.” “Why?” “One can
never take for oneself. Only for the job,” she explained. Dennis’ questions did not
surprise her. Earlier he knew everything in theory. But what is theory? A
cardboard folder with training inside. “And if you for me, and I for you?”
proposed Dennis. “No go. Either you’re a hdiver or you’re not,” she said with
confidence.
Dennis squatted, lovingly looking at the marker. The flower had piped down. It
was burning, but no longer as vividly as in Yara’s hands. It was resting. “Are you
going to leave it here?” “Let’s say this: it’s in reserve. If we don’t find what they
sent us here for, we’ll take it with us so as not to return empty-handed,” said
Yara, wavering. She was wavering because she was trying to recall the
regulations: does the guide have the right to take a marker when accompanied by
a beginner? She had had several dives, but till now, she had always acted strictly
on the job.
“But two of us today!” said Dennis. “Finding a marker is a little thing. Still have
to smuggle it through the swamp. The most failsafe is to leave with the marker
you’re sent for. It’ll give you strength. If a marker is more than your performance
capabilities, better not ask for it,” Yara explained seriously. “Do you mean to say

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28

that the elbes know which marker I’ll be carrying?” Dennis asked suspiciously.
Yara did not answer. She only looked at him.
“How many years before this flower formed?” Dennis suddenly asked. Yara
shrugged her shoulders. Such a thing never occupied her. “Many.” “To what
degree, at least?” he tried to find out. “A hundred million… A billion. I don’t
know,” she answered carelessly. Dennis became round-eyed. Yara had forgotten
what significance numbers have in a man’s mind. “It’s not exactly a flower. Well,
that is, not like pine trees, grass. They disappear, they replace each other, but this
is eternal,” she added, as if justifying herself.
The marker, which no one was touching, almost faded. But Yara knew that if
she would take the stone and, not letting go, hold it, then the flower would burn
so vividly it would melt the rock. Then the marker would merge with her and
would hand over its gift to her.
“Is it always a flower in a marker?” asked Dennis. “Depends. A blue one is
most often a plant: a mushroom, moss, a branch. Sometimes a hardened fruit. I
found a peach, a plum. A scarlet marker, and we’re searching for it now, has
something like wild strawberries inside the stone. I like the scarlet ones more.
They always fit. For a blue one though, you have to dive ten times to find a
suitable one…” With her need to feel everything, Yara ran her hand upwards
along the cliff. The cliff was rough as a tree, but no life could be perceived in it.
“Markers – they’re like a separate world flowing independently inside Duoka.
Once Ul saw an ant,” said Yara. “And what did it do?” “The ant? What all ants do.
It was crawling.” “Crawling?” Dennis again asked suspiciously. “Simply crawling
along the stone. Throughout. Very simply and businesslike. Maybe, already five
thousand years. Or a hundred thousand years. Or more. And sometimes it’ll crawl
out of it. A real live ant, shining like a small sun.” “Did Ul take it?” “He had
another job. And when he returned for the ant after several days, he no longer
found it.” “But what could this ant be?” “Anything you like. A live marker is
always a riddle.”
Yara picked up her trowel and, having climbed down into the pit, started to
enlarge it with short strokes. She knew from experience that it would progress
faster this way. When she came across stones, she cleaned them, quickly
inspected and rejected them. She tried to move in the same direction, where
Dennis had found the nugget.
Hoping for a repetition of his success with the flower, Dennis stuck the trowel
in wherever. Yara shook her head. Dennis reminded her of a person biting off
bread in different places from a loaf. “Why is it mandatory to dig? If we fly along
the cliff and look out for markers directly in the thick layer? What if they’re
somewhere on the outside?” he suddenly proposed. Yara smiled. Novice hdivers
loved to generate ideas. And she did too. Dynamite, a shaft, a mine. Only what
bright thoughts have not visited a person tired of working with a trowel! Up on
her knees, she swung the trowel evenly, controlling the narrow flow of earth
escaping from the crack and clay. “Can’t see in the thick layer. A marker has to
answer. And it answers to touch. Otherwise, a rock is just a rock,” she muttered.
Dennis turned away.

©Jane H. Buckingham 2011


jhbuckingham@yahoo.ca
http://emets.olmer.ru/
29

For a long time they worked in silence. To the right of the pit a whole pile of
rejected stones was already scattered around. Yara managed to drive a fragment
of one of them in under her nail. She tied up the finger with a handkerchief and,
listening to the pulsation of pain, continued the search. The pain disrupted her
rhythm. A jab of the trowel gave a shot of pain. She remembered Dennis none too
soon. That one was moving like a sleep-walker. He had dropped the trowel and
was groping for it on the ground. Yara started to pity him.
“I hurt a nail. Let’s rest a little,” Yara proposed, knowing that he would not
agree otherwise. Dennis stopped groping for the trowel and turned his head to
her. She felt like saying to him, “I have flattened fingers, but you some nail!” She
crawled out of the pit and lay on her back. A rock lumped over her. From below it
was similar to a crumpled piece of paper with watercolour. A small stone ran
along the rock and fell onto the overhang.
“There beyond the ridge is a huge valley. Transparent trees of live glass grow
on the water. A flying fern. It attaches itself onto a horse’s tail and drifts together
with it,” Yara said dreamily. “Have you seen it yourself?” Dennis echoed
suspiciously. He was not lying down but sitting, nursing a hurt hand. “Ul
described it. I haven’t dived there. The eyes water, the ears begin to feel pressure.
Too much light there. Both smells and sounds, everything is solid, tangible. It
seems that both sound and smell can be felt. Imagine: touching sound with your
hands! And the colours! Such red that it burns the eyes. Or such green that you
can’t tear yourself away at all. And the blue indeed knocks you over… And in the
distance, mountains – white with snowy caps.” “More mountains? And has
anyone been beyond those mountains?” asked Dennis.
Yara got up and jumped into the pit. Now the pain was gnawing her finger
slowly, with enjoyment. Dennis, tardily trying to start his own pit, quickly wore
himself out and, after jumping down, worked beside her. He held the trowel like a
sword and was swinging it in such a way that Yara feared for her head.
After four hours Yara felt a metallic aftertaste in her throat. She touched her
nose with the back of a hand and saw a speck of blood. “Time to go! The time of a
dive is over,” she wanted to say, but at this moment Dennis yelled. At first Yara
decided that he had hit his hand, which he had put far in front for equilibrium,
with the trowel. With his adroitness this would have been the logical outcome.
But no. After dropping the trowel, Dennis, shaking it loose, freed an average sized
stone. Half cleaned by slanting strokes of the trowel, the stone was burning so
that its crimson flashes were everywhere: both on Yara’s trowel polished to a
shine and on Dennis’ sweaty face. It was hard to believe that these flashes
originated from just three small berries inside. “Three ‘strawberries’! You’re lucky
today! First dive and two markers!” Yara was happy for him. That she had dug
out the enormous pit and, in essence, done all the preparatory work, had no
importance for her. The main thing was to deliver the marker to HDive.
Dennis greedily felt the stone with his good hand. He looked stunned. The
marker was talking to him in the nonverbal language of being. “Hide the marker
in the knapsack!” ordered Yara. He looked at her without understanding. “Huh?
What?” he echoed. She understood that he had not even heard her. “Don’t hold

©Jane H. Buckingham 2011


jhbuckingham@yahoo.ca
http://emets.olmer.ru/
30

the marker! We’re returning! Job’s done,” she pulled him by the sleeve. “Yes!
That’s it! Already!” As if coming to, he said.
Entangled in the straps, Dennis hastily pulled a small leather knapsack off his
shoulder and thrust his hand inside. Yara, from her own experience knowing how
difficult it was to part with the first marker, took a breath with relief. She began
to crawl out of the pit, but here he took his hand out of the knapsack and… she
again saw the stone. The three red berries could not be made out. Now it seemed
that the entire stone was one enormous blazing berry. “Okay. I’ll put it in the
knapsack. Then what?” asked Dennis. Yara froze, anxiously looking at him.
“You’ll save the girl,” she reminded him. “Yes, I know,” he said impatiently. “But
describe in greater detail!”
“Duoka is a world of deeper bedding,”4 Yara was speaking hastily. “Do you
remember that before the dive we seemed to ourselves less real than the horses?
It’s because the pressure of our world is less. Our world still hasn’t hardened,
hasn’t taken shape. It’s seething, there’re waves, but here everything has calmed
down in the depth. What happens when you get down to the bottom and disturb
an air bubble?” “It floats.” “And a marker will float, though not alone, but
together with you. You’ll guide it through the swamp. There, in the dead world,
they’ll try to take it away from you. If the marker doesn’t give you strength, you
pass the swamp slowly. The elbes report to the warlocks your exit point, and
those wait on hyeons for you. But, I hope, everything will be managed. In HDive
you’ll give the marker to Kavaleria. And… honestly speaking, I don’t know what
then. I know that the marker itself will arrange everything.”
The crimson flashes were reflected in Dennis’ pupils. They irritated Yara’s eyes
and she could not understand how the novice could look at the marker without
blinking.
“And what about me?” Dennis asked brusquely. “You’ll become a hdiver.
Possibly, for several hours you’ll have a headache. Nausea, sharp pain in the eyes,
a cough. For bringing the marker and not keeping it for yourself, you have to pay.
But this is also part of the path of a hdiver,” Yara was talking rapidly, choking
with words. Each second was precious. Dennis looked first at the stone, then at
Yara. His fingers began to unclench, but suddenly they closed again.
“Give it to me!” asked Yara. “It’ll be easier for you. The first time is always hard
and painful.” Dennis started to laugh nervously. “I’ll give it. Certainly, I will! Do
you think I’ll keep it?”“I don’t think so,” she assured him in a hurry. She was
feeling sorry already that she had begun to talk about this. “Why did you say it at
all?” muttered Dennis. “You think I’m only saying that I’ll give it but I won’t? In
your opinion, I don’t want the girl to be healthy?” “Yes, I believe, I believe. Only
unclench your fingers!” Yara rushed him. “I can put it in the knapsack myself.”
Dennis licked his lips. His fingers were shaking. He almost let go, but
suspicion flickered on his face in the last second. “Why do you want to take away
my marker? How do I know that you’ll return it to HDive? Maybe there isn’t even
a girl? I broke my fingers, they nearly finished me off in the swamp!” his voice
broke. “What guarantees that Kavaleria won’t keep my marker for herself? That

4
In geology, bedding is the arrangement of sedimentary rocks in strata.

©Jane H. Buckingham 2011


jhbuckingham@yahoo.ca
http://emets.olmer.ru/
31

she hasn’t kept all the markers for herself?” Yara kept silent. It was pointless to
answer.
Dennis’ face was distorted. He jerked a hand up and decisively, as if trying to
tear off his own face, ran it over the skin. “I don’t know what I’m saying. I don’t
want to be someone evil! I’ll give it, but a little later,” he said in a sick voice. “Give
it now! Please!” Yara repeated persistently. “Business isn’t decided in a few
minutes, is it? Do you think I can’t deliver the marker to HDive myself? You all
can, but I alone can’t?” he again began to get irritated. “Of course you can. But
the longer it remains with you, the…” “Nonsense! This was my job! They sent me
for it! ME! Naturally it’s easy for you, but not for me! How do you know that it’s
so? You have a heart like a young mare!”
Yara realized that this would go on forever. And the longer, the worse it would
be. She no longer looked at Dennis’ face, which sometimes brightened up,
sometimes became obstinate, but at his fingers. The stone gradually faded. The
scarlet radiance was creeping over onto his wrist. His nails were glowing as if
enveloped in fire. Pretending to tie her laces, she squatted and then jumped him
like a cat would. She succeeded in grabbing Dennis by the hand, but he hit her
chin with the base of his right palm. Yara fell.
“Did you want to cheat me? YES? YES???” Yara sat on the sand and looked at
the marker in his hand. “Excuse me for hitting you… Earlier I never raised a hand
to… Why did you jump me?” Dennis, coming to his senses, muttered guilty. Yara
got up silently and, reeling, walked to the horses. He overtook her, pushed her in
the shoulder, and easily brought her down to the ground. She felt that he had
become much stronger. The awkwardness and chaos of movements had
disappeared. “Wait! I’ll give it! But why, say why?” shouted Dennis. “We must,”
Yara responded frigidly. After the hit she was in a fog. “Whom do we owe this?
We’re the ones who dived here! By our own efforts! Like condemned men!”
Yara stood up and again walked to her horses. Dennis did not upend her again,
he only barred her path. The radiance enveloped his entire hand and rose in thin
streams to his elbow. His chicken-like chest was filled with strength. The right
sagging shoulder rose. He even became taller, a little bit but nevertheless
perceptible. Yara understood that she could not take away the marker by force. It
was too late.
“You stop! I only want to understand!” Dennis shouted with desperation. “This
marker will only help…” “Lyuba,” Yara cut him off. “What Lyuba?” “What, you’ve
forgotten? The girl has a name.” He stumbled over the name and grimaced. “Ah,
yes! Clear. Only her and no one else?” “Yes.” “But that’s not enough! How many
sick children are in the world? And we’ll help only one! It’s unfair! It’s settled! I’ll
quickly dive deeper, for rocks! There I’ll find another marker, ten times stronger
than this! I’ll cure dozens of people of heart disease, hundreds!” He was talking
feverishly, with passion, all the time believing more in his own words.
“Listen,” Yara said tiredly. “We mustn’t heal all of mankind! I don’t know why,
but we mustn’t. It’s not in our power. Our job is a specific girl, who is now three
months… If you keep the marker for yourself, you’ll never end up in Duoka
anymore. Not just for the rocks, but not even here.” Dennis both believed and
disbelieved her.

©Jane H. Buckingham 2011


jhbuckingham@yahoo.ca
http://emets.olmer.ru/
32

“Lots you don’t know!” he continued, justifying himself. “I never told anyone
this… I had three heart surgeries in childhood. Three! Loads of things are never
for me. If you would only know how much it cost me to learn to ride! I cover ten
metres and I’m already gasping for breath… And here as if taunting me, they send
me for a marker for the heart!” “Clear,” Yara said quietly. “What’s clear to you?
What?” Dennis exploded. “Why they charged precisely you to get this marker.
The first time a hdiver is always tested for maximum pain. It was so with Ul, also
with me.”
“It’s unfair!” Dennis obstinately repeated. “I could dive doubly better, if I were
healthy. But if we do this… I’ll give this to the girl and keep another for myself?
Which I’ll find next time? Eh?” “There won’t be a next time,” said Yara, at once
cutting off all his hopes. “But if…” Dennis began carefully. “No ‘ifs’,” Yara said
bitterly. “What don’t you understand? There are no ‘ifs’. This is Duoka.”
Dennis took a step towards her, hoping to explain something, but suddenly
stopped and, after inclining his head, stared at himself. “Indeed I’m now
agitated? But when I’m agitated, I gasp for breath,” he recalled belatedly. Having
bent his arm at the elbow, Dennis with surprise clenched and unclenched his
right hand. The pain from the bones had left. Ready coordinated strength filled
his fingers. He rushed to the small puddle, got down on all fours and began to
look. “You’ll never gasp for breath anymore,” said Yara. Dennis rose. Clay stains
remained on his knees. “They always looked at me like at a freak! Everybody and
always! Girls, whom I would like to meet, smiled at me like they were smiling at
old men or sick cats!” he muttered, justifying himself.
Yara touched her nose with a closed hand. A red ball trembled on the back of
the hand. “Excuse me! I must get to the horses,” she said. Dennis did not detain
her. He ran beside her. He passed her, stopped, and turned around. “Is this
marker indeed in me now, huh?” he repeated. “It turns out I now possess a gift!
I’ll finish medical school, become a surgeon! And I’ll return this marker, I will!
Don’t look at me this way!” Yara was also not looking at him. Only once in
passing did she look at the hand with the marker. The stone was dim. It was
possible to drop it safely. But Dennis certainly would not believe her and would
drag this useless cobblestone with him.
Yara reached the horses. Eric neighed impatiently and caught the sleeve of her
jacket with its teeth. She climbed into the saddle with difficulty, feeling her legs
turning into cotton. Dennis, on the contrary, jumped onto Delta easily, like a
grasshopper. He did not even recall the existence of stirrups. Now he again
argued that there was no Lyuba and he simply would not let himself be fooled.
Yara heard this already. Self-justifications always go in a circle until they stop at
some argument, which seems maximally convincing to the one defending himself.
In a day Dennis would even believe himself. He simply had no other way out.
Yara turned Eric around towards the Horseshoe Cliff. “Where are you going?”
Dennis was surprised. “To that side. I’ll try to find a red marker. Ul says there are
many more of them there. They won’t send another hdiver. The operation is
today.” “Of course there isn’t any little idiot! Don’t you understand? They use us!”
“Good-bye!”

©Jane H. Buckingham 2011


jhbuckingham@yahoo.ca
http://emets.olmer.ru/
33

Yara picked up the trowel and, scraping off a piece of bark the size of her palm
from the pine tree, with the sharp edge of the shovel drew the hdiver sign: a circle
and a cross. The circle came out uneven, only an outline, but this was
unimportant. Whoever needs it would understand.
“Are you abandoning me? You’re my guide!” Dennis was alarmed. “You no
longer need a guide. Delta knows the way back, and you’ll pass through the
swamp easily. It’s only possible to take away a marker not merged with the
person. The elbes know this and they won’t report your point of exit to the
warlocks.”
Another red drop fell onto Yara’s jacket. It was time to hurry. No one knew
when strength would finally leave her. She shouted at the grown-lazy Eric and
immediately urged it to a gallop. After galloping about thirty metres along the
increasingly steep slope, Eric took to its wings. It gained altitude slowly. Yara sat
in the saddle unsteadily, jolting from one wing to the other. She was in pain,
suffocating, miserable, but already through the weariness appeared something
new, for the time being unclear to her.
She heard how behind her Dennis was shouting at Delta, kicking it with his
heels, beating it with the whip. The old mare strained, attempted to skip;
however, it could not move even a metre to the rocks. Something invisible
retained the horse by the pine tree. “Good,” thought Yara. “The blue marker,
which we found first, is no longer for him to take. And that, perhaps, would do.”
Yara looked around no more. She knew that neither on a horse nor on foot nor
crawling would Duoka allow Dennis to the rocks. Possibly, it would still be a
considerable time before Dennis finally realized that there was only one direction
of motion for him now – to the swamp. And he understood this. He lowered the
whip and, after turning the tormented Delta around, flew to where dawn, in spite
of the customary flow of things, switched over to the cold dull twilight. He flew
and, cursing everything in the world, recalled against his will the small figure
moving away in the direction of the Horseshoe Cliff.

Five months later

Chapter 3

“Gomorrah” Receives Guests

The harder the nut of a soul, the harder one must hit
it against a stone in order to reach the meat.
Henri Alphonse Babu, Kenyan thinker

Can never go upwards rolling down.


Law of universal gravitation

©Jane H. Buckingham 2011


jhbuckingham@yahoo.ca
http://emets.olmer.ru/
34

On an April evening of 201*, the well-known floating restaurant with the


flirtatious name of Gomorrah,5 situated in a quiet park by the Moscow River, was
not receiving strangers from five in the evening. The extensive parking lot in front
of Gomorrah was cordoned off. Brawny men in austere suits not hampering
movements approached vehicles driving up and politely requested them not to
park. Automobiles made U-turns and drove off. Someone had time to notice that
a small truck with the sides lowered was occupying the centre of the area. In its
body was something bulky, covered.
However, they did not chase away all automobiles. They let some through,
those who sat inside did not show a permit, only lowered the glass slightly. Far
from all of the cars “approved” by security were luxury class. Among them were
old foreign brands, beat-up Zhigulis,6 and neutral microbuses. At close to seven
in the evening, eight motorcycles in a single group drove up.
Another curious detail was that exactly four people always got out of the
dashing right-hand-drive Toyota with cracks on the windshield, the insanely
expensive Porsche, the obscurely tinted SUV, and the microbuses. Each team of
four kept together and as a single organism went up the clattering metallic
gangway leading into Gomorrah. The teams of four were mixed. There were not
so many muscular guys in good shape. There were enough women, old men, girls,
and young people looking like students.
In the parking lot – a stretched-out field of asphalt divided into blocks by twin
round bushes – the vehicles that arrived made up large groups. In each were
thirty automobiles with one more in front. In the middle group, eight motorcycles
replaced two cars.
After destroying the precise geometry, a powerful Hummer rushed past the
astonished guard pointing out to it the parking spot at the head of the central
herd of automobiles and, having flown about a hundred metres, rammed the side
of a new Bentley. From the blow, the Bentley turned over twice on the spot. The
front wheels flew off the bank, but the car did not fall off, instead it was hanging
steadily on its bottom.
A girl of sixteen, pert and pretty, got out from the driver’s side of the Hummer.
The better look you had of her, the more puzzled you would be, although, it
seemed, all of her was in sight. In order to form an initial and completely lasting
impression of a man, one needs ten minutes. That of a girl is two seconds. And
two more, because it will surely appear that you understood everything
incorrectly. And two more… And again… With the last two seconds invariably
stretching to infinity.
The girl approached the Bentley, pushed it appraisingly with a foot, then again
returned to the Hummer and began to back up, intending on toppling the Bentley
into the river. “Anya, stop!” a displeased voice demanded from the Hummer. “But
Dad!” protested the girl. “It’s the Tills’ car! And they’ve attached themselves to

5
In the Old Testament, Gomorrah was one of the two ancient cities, the other being Sodom, destroyed by
God because of the wickedness of its people.
6
A 4-door sedan produced in the Soviet Union between 1970 and 1988, the compact is known as Zhiguli
domestically and as Lada outside of Russia.

©Jane H. Buckingham 2011


jhbuckingham@yahoo.ca
http://emets.olmer.ru/
35

me, by the way!” “All the same, stop! I forbid it!” “But Dad! I’ll only finish it and
immediately stop!” “ANYA!”
The Hummer stopped angrily. The girl jumped out in annoyance and turned
her back to the car, showing that she was extremely offended. Another girl,
somewhat three years older, got out from the Hummer after her. She approached
Anya from behind and, after first lowering a hand onto her shoulder, said
something quietly. Anya shrugged her shoulders. Without paying this any
attention, the older girl continued to talk. A little later Anya started to laugh,
grabbed her by the wrist, and impatiently pulled her towards Gomorrah. “Run!
You’ll have a great time!” she promised. “We’ll see,” answered the older one. It
was noticed that she had doubts about this.
From the back of the Hummer stepped out a rather dry, tall, and round-
shouldered man in a black suit, holding a large old-fashioned umbrella with a
bent handle. The rather prominent shoulder blades of the man and the shape of
the umbrella’s handle amazingly echoed each other. They echoed in such a way
that in the wrong evening light it could seem that this umbrella was carrying the
man, or two umbrellas were carrying each other… On the whole, one never knows
what will appear in the wrong evening light.
The head of security, a stout man with catlike movements and bulldog eyes,
ran up to him. “Albert Fedorovich!” Bulldog eyes attempted to smile, but lost the
smile in his cheeks. “Everyone’s here! Both Beldo and (an embarrassed look at
the Bentley)… eh-eh… the Tills. They’re only waiting for you!” The man with the
umbrella stopped. He turned. Colourless and flat fish eyes met dog eyes. The
bulldog became ill at ease. There are no cowardly piranhas. Cowardly bulldogs
are rare but possible. “And Guy’s only waiting for me?” he asked with suspicion.
“Guy’s not here yet.” “Had to start with this! Get to work, Vtorov! Showing
friendliness isn’t part of your direct responsibilities! Anya, let’s go!”
The man with the umbrella glanced around at the girls and made his way to
the boat. The iron bridge resting on high buoys began to make a chomping sound.
An empty plastic bottle floated out from under the bridge and, hitting against the
side, was dragged away slowly by the current. The extensible doors of Gomorrah
opened and closed.
A young guard from the new recruits ran up to bulldog eyes. “Who was it in the
Hummer? Dolbushin himself?” he asked excitedly. The head of security looked at
him suspiciously, checking if he had heard how they shouted at him. No, he did
not. Or was pretending that he had not. “Dolbushin, head of fort two!” he said
unwillingly. “And who rammed the Tills’ car? His daughter?” “He seldom brings
her,” Vtorov screwed up his face, as if all his teeth started to ache at the same
time. He imagined that he had to explain to Till Sr. what he was busy with when
the Hummer knocked his car into the river.
“Ah-h…” the young one drawled. “The girl’s not bad. I wouldn’t mind her.”
“Her father also wouldn’t mind shooting you,” Vtorov clarified. The young one
pertly evaded. “And who’s the second one?” “First time I’ve seen her,” Vtorov said
dryly. “Maybe a friend of the daughter. Maybe a new recruit.” “Ah-h…” again the
young one drawled. “And why is Dolbushin with an umbrella? Afraid to get wet?”
“Somehow you meet him in the alley. You with a crossbow and he with the

©Jane H. Buckingham 2011


jhbuckingham@yahoo.ca
http://emets.olmer.ru/
36

umbrella,” bulldog eyes advised irritably and, as a sign that the conversation was
over, took a step towards the river.
Dolbushin and his daughter disappeared into Gomorrah at around seven
thirty. At quarter to eight Vtorov with uneasiness pressed his headset with a
finger, answered something curtly, and gave the sign to his people. Security
began to bustle. Two ran up to the jeep and, having jumped into the body, pulled
off the tarpaulin. Under the tarpaulin turned out to be a combat arbalest of an
intimidating size.
One of the men – swarthy, with a healthy bald spot similar to the rind of a
watermelon – having jumped into the jeep, took aim and looked uninterruptedly
at the bright red dot. The tip of his tongue, stuck out, with bluish veins on the
underside, slid along his lips. His partner – with a crew cut and a complex spider
tattoo from the wrists up to the elbows – set in motion the pneumatic windlass
and put into the trench an arrow with a three-edged tip. According to its shape,
this was precisely an arrow and not a shorter and more massive bolt.
“Estimated time: thirty… twenty-five… twenty…” he muttered, continuously
looking at his wrist. The watch intertwined with the tattoo, disrupting its intricate
figure. The red dot of the reflex sight poked into the breaks of the endless violet
cloud like crumbled cotton, unhurriedly creeping in the direction of Pechatnikov.
The forefinger with the phalanx blue from pressure froze on the trigger. Broth-
like drops of sweat on the melon-like bald spot flowed together into islands and
continents.
Suddenly a voice, like many splinters glued together, began to rattle in the
headset of the shooter. The voice squeezed into the ears, cut into the brain. “Yes,
Guy!” not taking his eyes off the sight, the arbalester reported. “An observer at
Strogino spotted him fifty seconds ago. He’s probably flying in our direction. Yes,
looks like the same screwy one, which… Ooph!!! Here he is!” The steel “arms” of
the arbalest straightened. The tattooed fellow was working like a robot. The
pneumatics barely had time to cock the bowstring and a new arrow was already
lying in the trench. The cat-and-dog-like chief of security flew to the jeep, “Well?
Got it?” “Something flickered… Seems it shouldn’t have missed the mark!” the
arbalester answered doubtfully and suddenly bent down, saving his head.
A column of water shot up the Moscow River about fifty metres from
Gomorrah. Terrible, soundless, glassy black. It seemed the river had grown a
terrible finger piercing the clouds. The glass finger stopped in the clouds and,
shattered, came down onto Gomorrah shuddering from the impact. It swept the
security along the parking lot. It plucked the shooter and his assistant off the
jeep, flipped them over, and almost drowned them in the shallow, furiously
seething water running off into the river.
The chief of security got up, holding onto the side of the jeep. Water was
flowing from him. There was blood on his right cheek. A siren howled. Ten cars
on the edge, on which most of the weight of the water had come down, had their
roofs crushed. Contrary to expectation, Gomorrah suffered little damage. Several
hatches were knocked out, the dome of the winter garden sagged, and the
gangway was torn off. The Moscow River had already licked clean its wound and
was running as if nothing was the matter.

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37

The tattooed fellow, limping, approached Vtorov. “Something splashed!” he


said uncertainly. There were bags under the bulldog eyes. The upper lip began to
tremble like a dog baring its teeth. “Splashed?!” “Already after the explosion,”
Tattoo hurriedly added and drew with a finger from top to bottom, as if tracking
someone’s path. Vtorov squinted. “Verify!” he ordered. Tattoo did not want to
climb into the water. “Such a current there! Even if something fell, already
carried away!” “Verify, you’re told!” The fellow went, uncomfortably looking
around. It was heard how he yelled and demanded a boat. A motor began to
clatter somewhere behind Gomorrah.
Vtorov coughed for bravery and turned on the microphone, “They dropped an
attack marker on us… It passed. You can go, Guy! They won’t reach a new marker
today!” said Vtorov into the microphone. “Sure?” “I guarantee it! The arbalesters
think that they could bring it down.” “Stake your life on it?” a voice tinkled in the
headset. The chief of security swallowed. His Adam’s apple rolled like a small
apple and again emerged above the collar.
After about ten minutes, two automobiles crept out of the park, dodging along
the twisting road. A massive SUV with blue flashing lights blinking silently, and
immediately behind it, glued to its bumper, a long armoured Mercedes. Both cars
easily broke the security chain and drove up to the gangway of Gomorrah. The
doors of the SUV opened while still in motion. Four men with Chinese army-
model crossbows with cartridges sprung out onto the asphalt. In some ways, they
resembled wooden boxes and evoked a questioning
smile, but only to those who had not seen them in
action. Bolts with recessed plumage slid into the
trench under their own weight. The crossbow was
cocked with the movement of a lever. The
arbalesters moved to the Mercedes and surrounded
it. Two squatted down to their knees. Those who
remained standing took aim at the sky. The other two aimed at the bushes.
Vtorov, blue from diligence, courteously opened the rear door.
From the automobile, a sinewy, lithe man of medium height slipped more than
walked out. He raised his hands above his head. He snapped his fingers. The
jumping reflection of a blinker picked up his face at random from the
semidarkness. It was similar to a deflated ball, having lain in a room at night.
There were bags and bumps. It was swollen in one place and it sunk in
unpredictably in another. The mouth was small, capricious, feminine. The lips
were chubby. It seemed a teaspoon could not even push through, but with a
smile, the mouth suddenly widened, extended. And it became clear, not only an
apple but also a whole person could swallow dive in there and disappear without
a trace. The teeth were bluish, close together. The hair was curly, to the
shoulders. The eyes were not visible: dark glasses like round saucers. And this
was Guy.

***

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38

Gomorrah (formerly the triple-decker cruiser Dmitrii Ulyanov, retired by the


Volga Steamship Line at the end of the last century) was eternally docked at one
of the picturesque places of the Moscow River. Since then it had changed hands
many times. It had been a casino, a nightclub, and a floating hotel, until the next
owner with the last name Zhora opened a restaurant here. His business did not
go badly, but then he became gloomy and nervous. Either he laughed for four
hours straight so that they were afraid to visit him in the cabin, or sobbed, then
before the very eyes of everybody cut his own veins and shouted for them to save
him because he did not do this. It all ended when Zhora stumbled here on the
deck, hit his head and died, they say, even before he fell into the river.
Soon after Zhora’s funeral (for some reason everyone was embarrassed to
place a cross, and they also only briefly wrote “Zhora” on the headstone without a
last name or dates), it turned out that Gomorrah had a new owner, who
purchased it almost on the very day of the old owner’s death. The new owner was
a man wearing scent, with a pleasant voice, wore tight suits, ridiculous ties, and
was constantly smiling. His last name was in its own way more striking than
Zhora – Nekalaev, with an “e”.7 He brought very beautiful chrysanthemums to
Zhora’s grave and stood for a long time, wiping his eyes with a handkerchief.
Despite his never shouting at anyone and even extremely politely calling the mute
seventeen-year-old maid Faride Ayazovna, waiters and cooks feared him to the
point of trembling. At the same time, Gomorrah became Gomorrah. Prior to this,
it was called something in Italian, with a hint of the southern sun and languid
women in hats with a wide brim.
Waving off Nekalaev, who was about to climb up to him with a handshake, Guy
quickly went to the elevator. Since its pseudo-Italian days, the inside of
Gomorrah had been greatly overhauled. Now on the lower deck were a kitchen
and two-three cabins for personnel and technical accommodations. On the
second was the restaurant proper. The third, the upper deck, was re-equipped for
holding VIP presentations and private parties. Guy made his way there, to the
third. Nekalaev, not even allowed by the arbalesters into the elevator, remained
outside. In the glazed doors of the closed elevator was reflected his polite smiling
face, not getting tired for a second.
The third deck buzzed like a cluster of wasps. The motliest set of people filled
it. Next to the outrageous suits from Sir Zalmon Batrushka and the evening
gowns from Laura Bzykko were red jackets of road workers, lady’s lacy knitted
jackets, sweaters smelling of tobacco…
In a corner far from the elevator, screened off from the rest of the hall by smart
half-height walls with teeth, from which spouted illuminated streams of small
fountains, rather strange people were crowding around. Some were pale with
sunken cheeks, slowly dancing in one spot. They would raise and lower a hand,
raise and lower. On their faces was frozen rubbery bliss. Others, on the contrary,
were blotchily rosy, excited. These, however, were moving so swiftly that it was
incomprehensible how a person could maintain such a pace. They were laughing,
continuously touching each other, and heatedly talking about something. One
7
“Nekalaev” is very similar to the common last name “Nikolaev” and the pronunciations of both are
almost the same. “Nekalaev” can even be “Nikolaev” misspelled.

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39

fellow was laughing, laughing, and then at equal intervals suddenly started to yell
briefly and terribly. On a sign from Dolbushin they led him away, firmly and
adroitly holding him by the elbows.
Dolbushin himself walked with the umbrella, greeted some people, grinned at
some in the simulation of a smile, and simply rewarded some with a flat look.
Usually something is reflected in the eyes of a man as in a mirror. Dolbushin’s
eyes reflected exactly nothing. They were like black holes. Light was pulled into
them and disappeared somewhere. He only looked once in the direction of the
“enclosure” and spoke through clenched teeth, “Herd mentality! They’ve no idea
how to behave at all! Only why give them psyose?8 I don’t understand Guy!”
Anya was chattering non-stop. She enjoyed having the older friend beside her.
She was sincerely proud of her friend like being proud of expensive accessories or
friendship with a celebrity. Although her friend was not a celebrity and was
dressed in things from Anya’s own wardrobe. At least here on Gomorrah, no one
looked particularly at the clothing. Here they would even treat a naked person in
a fire helmet calmly.
Anya knew little about her friend. Only that her name was Paulina and that
Father had brought her home a while back. Thin, weak, complaining about a
headache, with a burn on her right cheek. Paulina recovered slowly but behaved
independently and simply. She managed to stay as herself in an environment
where everyone wanted to look like someone else. Accustomed to solitude since
childhood, home-schooled, and rarely seeing others of her own age, Anya was
immediately drawn to her. Dolbushin was not too pleased about this, but he was
hardly home after all.
“In my dad’s fort are solid eccentrics,” chattered Anya, pulling Paulina by the
sleeve. “Look over there! Do you see that modestly dressed old man, who is
shoving pastries into his pockets and thinking that no one sees this? The largest
diamond in the world belongs to him!” “Really not to the English queen?” Paulina
was astonished. “No, she has the second or the third. Papa says this old man has
the largest. And Dad also says that he hasn’t seen his diamond for about fifteen
years. He’s afraid they would shadow him. Interesting, where does he hide it?”
Paulina looked thoughtfully at the old man who soiled his pockets with cream
and was now wiping his hand clean in a hurry. “But if he’s so rich, why is he so
shabby?” she asked. “Who told you that he’s rich?” Anya was surprised. “He’s
practically a pauper. He hangs around forever as a guest. Yes, he has the largest
diamond, but he has no money.” “But if he can’t even see his diamond, why
doesn’t he sell it? At least to your father?” Paulina did not understand. “Really so
hard to understand? Then he wouldn’t have the largest diamond in the world!”
Anya laughed, dragging Paulina further.
“And there, that uncle with the goblet…” Anya whispered, pushing Paulina to
the side, “smells the smell of money. Roubles, dollars, Euros, any paper money
rustling. He can distinguish the smell of a hundred from the smell of a thousand.
A one-rouble coin from a two-rouble coin! And all this, mind you, through a
concrete wall! But only money! He can’t distinguish a fish from a rose by the
smell! Well, to him they have no smell!”
8
Psyose will be explained in Chapter 7.

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40

Paulina looked with interest at the man who could not distinguish the smell of
a rose from a fish. He smiled at her and dashingly, like a hussar, drank up the
champagne. His Adam’s apple rolled along his neck. The goblet was empty. “Two
hundred and two roubles and four kopecks! One of the notes is slightly torn.
Should be more careful, girl!” he shouted to Paulina, nodding towards her right
pocket.
Anya laughed and dragged Paulina further. “And do you see that tall woman
there?” she continued to chatter. “Ask her what will be the value of any stock for
next Friday, and if she makes a mistake even down to a kopeck, I’ll give you my
shoes with rhinestones. Well, the ones you called ‘Turkish slippers’.”
Manoeuvring among the guests, the friends by chance turned up by the
“enclosure.” “Anya!!! How are you!!! Come to us!” someone shouted. A quite
young girl with rosy patches on her cheeks jumped out of the “enclosure” and
with happy exclamation threw herself at Dolbushin’s daughter. With a speed
difficult to expect from a man so solid, Dolbushin cracked from the waist up,
roughly caught the girl by the neck with the handle of the umbrella, and threw
her back inside the enclosure. “Tries to sneak up to my daughter again, shoot
her!” he ordered the bodyguard. That one, not surprised, thrust his hand under
his coat and extracted a small, toy-like and not-scary-looking crossbow. Anya
gripped her father’s hand. “Only try! What’s the matter, Dad? It’s Ella!” “Was
Ella! It’s such a good Russian verb: was!” Dolbushin persistently looked at the
guard, showing him that the order stood, and, as if nothing was the matter,
proceeded further.
Anya turned around to her friend. Paulina, having squatted down, was
pressing her temples with her hands and swaying. “What’s with you?” “My head…
hurts!” Paulina said slowly. “Why?” “Don’t know. Sit me down somewhere. I can’t
see a thing… Doesn’t matter, it’ll soon pass.” Anya sat Paulina down on the steps,
and indeed, she soon became better.
“Cursed emergency! I really cracked my head then,” Paulina said, smiling
weakly. “Do you have a Kleenex?” With her usual impatience, Anya began to pull
a package of Kleenex from her pocket, and something fell out together with it.
“Why do you have this thing? It’s totally childish! Here, I’ll throw it out!” Paulina
was surprised, picking up the object lying by her boots. “Give it back!” Anya
hurriedly shouted. After taking away this small object from her friend, she
jumped and pulled the friend by the wrist into the crowd.
The elder Till – a chubby man, carelessly dressed, smoking continuously and
dropping ashes onto his own tummy – was strolling among the guests. He
seemed drowsy, almost falling asleep, only the eyes from under the bull-like
eyelids were sparkling sharply and penetratingly. If Dolbushin had the eyes of a
piranha, then the elder Till had the eyes of a polecat. From a short chain around
Till’s neck hung a massive ornament, the head of a wild boar made of some dull
metal.
Both his twin sons – Kesha and Pasha – true, although not chubby like their
father but boxy, appeared together beside Anya and Paulina. Anya immediately
began to yell at them, because they talked improbable banalities and would not
keep their hands to themselves. Kesha and Pasha grinned. They did not even

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41

seem hostile, but it was clear to everyone: let loose from the leash, they would
break anything. Real pit bulls. But later they would wag their tails perplexedly.
What has gotten into us?
Attentive waiters were gliding around with trays. A massive young man, bald
but with sideburns, immediately after taking possession of several plates,
devoured cartilaginous fish using his hands. Beside him on the floor lay a poleaxe
with a steel handle covered with foam rubber. When the next plate became
empty, the giant wiped his lips with the back of his hand and with a finger, as to a
little dog, beckoned the next waiter to himself.

***

Guy stepped out of the elevator. Security decisively parted the crowd. Someone
first noticed him and issued an involuntary exclamation. Silence spread in waves
along the hall, beginning from that point, where the one who first saw him stood.
Guy picked his way through the crowd carefully, perhaps even with distaste. He
did not look to the sides. He had a tired and aloof face. An enormous,
insurmountable distance was perceivable between him and all who gathered
here. He held all of his guests in contempt, so predictable, so drearily mercenary.
Guy got up onto the low stage. Without looking, he held out his hand and
immediately a goblet appeared in it. Four taciturn guards stood spread out like a
chain in front of the stage. Arbalests with cartridges unobtrusively lay on half-
bent arms. Every time Guy addressed someone, the arbalesters’ eyes turned in
the same direction. Guy’s voice sounded on the verge between a high male voice
and the hoarse voice of a female smoker.
“I greet you, ladies and gentlemen! I raise this glass to you and to our friendly
get together! First fort – Beldo! No need for introduction! Magic, occultism,
honourable ancient sorcery! The most experienced witches, the kindest healers…
One hundred and twenty people – thirty teams of four! Full loyalty on terms of
timely payment!” Guy bowed to an emaciated old man, smartly dressed, like a
bird continuously preening. The old man was sitting with a half-open mouth, as if
suffering from a persistent head cold. A red, dazzlingly bright handkerchief jutted
out of the pocket of his jacket. When Guy addressed him, the old man opened his
mouth even wider and started to giggle with a jingling sound.
“Second fort – Dolbushin! Everything having to do with finances. A hundred
and twenty more people. Also, in their own style, the nicest people, when you owe
them nothing! My respects!” Guy’s head once again jerked like a float.
“Third fort – Till… Thirty more teams of four. I don’t want to say that I
consider you a brutish outlaw, dear Ingvar Borislavovich. You are more Robin
Hood!” The chubby Robin Hood Till smiled for the first time and affectionately
waved his fat hand, dropping ashes onto his stomach. You know, it’s nothing
really… how can we stand on ceremony among our own?
“Glad you understand humour, Ingvar Borislavovich! Our mutual friend Albert
Fedorych, by the way, doesn’t appreciate my jokes.” Dolbushin muttered
something. The happy old man Beldo again started to rattle the small change in
an invisible coffee jar.

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42

“And you giggle all the time, Dionysus Tigranovich! How I know you,
everything is a big joke to you. Perhaps the right word is to laugh at me? The
latter, eh?” And Guy actually turned out to be laughing in solitude, because the
old man suddenly became quite depressed, although on inertia he continued to
show the most excellent china teeth. Such remarkable teeth, beside which any
real ones would simply appear like cheap forgery. “And now you’re already not
laughing!” Guy stated. “And this is wonderful, Dionysus Tigranovich, because I
want to ask you to tell everyone what you so politely communicated to me in
private three days ago.”
The old man began to nod. He stood up and, limping, briskly got up onto the
stage. After finding himself on the stage, he began to bow, move his hands,
straighten his jacket, and smile. His voice turned out to be surprisingly rich, like a
lecturer, with a flirtatious little trill on the “r”. True, Beldo had the annoying habit
of pausing after every few sentences, like a comedian who obtrusively prompts
with this pause to the hall geared up for uninterrupted witticism that a joke was
just heard.
“My heart to you, mon ami!” The old man kissed his palm and tenderly blew
on it, sending the kiss to the heads of the remaining two forts. Brutish Robin
Hood Till crushed his cigarette butt in the ashtray. Dolbushin threw the handle of
his umbrella over his forearm. Beldo’s heart turned out to be unclaimed.
“The stars,” continued Beldo, “eternally present surprises to us, as my student
Nadenka Kuf loved to repeat. She fell under a bus on the day she predicted the
pleasant surprise for herself (pause for laughter)… But now, mon ami, when we
smiled, let’s be scared! Natal Jupiter is located in Leo in the twelfth house and in
a multiple-signed combination with Mercury in Virgo, moreover has only one
aspect with Venus in Libra… half-quintile, not entering… m-n-eh… into locked
configurations… The boundaries of interval of uncertainty: from 12:13 of the
tenth of May to 14:34 of the eighth of September of this year. Well you
understand me, mon ami, we’re no fools! (A modest pause proving that there was
only one clever person here.) Localization of the described phenomenon in the
geographical, so to speak, plan is… m-n-eh… Moscow and… m-n-eh… the
Moskovitskaya region…”
Ingratiatingly, like a puma, crouching to his knees, Guy approached Beldo and
half embraced the old man. Guy’s deflated cheek was filled with air and acquired
elasticity. Beldo recalled that when he came to the first fort as a twenty-year-old,
Guy was already the same then. The same yellowish hands, ageless face, and
broken nails fringed with dirt.
“Aren’t you tired of this? We aren’t lonely widows at a fortune-teller’s
reception! Why wouldn’t you distinctly pass on the words of your guardian?” Guy
breathed into Beldo’s ear overgrown with dense hair. The old man fidgeted in
alarm. “Mustn’t do that! You’re taking a monstrous risk! He’s extremely touchy!”
he whispered reproachfully but also quickly. “Your guardian? And what is he? At
most an elbe of the third level! Therefore he knows so little!” Guy dropped this
with disdain.
Beldo became patchy, his nose and chin reddening more than his cheeks. “So,
indeed everything is also not known to your guardian!” he could not maintain

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43

himself. Guy’s hand lying on the old man’s shoulder became heavy as a weight.
“You forget yourself, Beldo! Maybe it’s time to arrange a one-on-one for you?” he
asked, parting his endless mouth. Red like a kid’s heel, Beldo’s chin became
white-yellow. He quickly shook his head pleadingly.
“You’re a strange man, Beldo! Be rude, but be afraid! Although, on the whole,
you’re doing fine!” Guy slapped Beldo on the shoulder and loudly said to the
entire hall, “Simpler, Dionysus! Let’s do it without the constellations! The Till
kids have lost the thread of the conversation!” The old man nodded in a hurry,
roused himself, and began to approach from the other direction.
“Agreed, my friends! I’ll be brief! We all love William Shakespeare, mon ami!
Some love him day in and day out, others are only just starting. Dear William
correctly noted in one of his immortal creations, ‘For never was a story of more
woe than this of Juliet and her Romeo.’ For my part, I want to argue with the
classicist. A story of more woe is nevertheless possible! It’ll be our life story, mon
cher, if these two nevertheless meet.” A muscular berserker gaped and in
astonishment let go of a waiter’s collar. Apparently, he rated himself among the
group of people only starting to love Will Shakespeare and was struck by the
extent of Mr. Beldo’s insight.
“Dear William told us about the love of a youth and a girl,” continued Beldo.
“Following his footsteps, I also want to tell you about the future love of a youth
and a girl and their unborn child, who will pose an obvious threat to us.” “What
love, Dionysus? Why the elbe did you drag in Shakespeare?” Dolbushin, tired by
the chatter, groaned. Beldo paid him no attention.
“For the time being the hdivers have dived no further than the Horseshoe Cliff,
with the exception of a very few. From there, beyond the mountain range, they
extract strong charge markers and install them in the most unexpected places.
Consequently, serious problems in control crop up for the specialists of my fort.
Warlocks can hardly put a commonplace hex. Astrologers get tangled in their lies.
Two weeks in a row, the mediums cannot reach out to insipid Hitler, whom they
earlier had to beat off with a broom! Please imagine, mon cher! The brilliant
poison expert Boris Chizante was poisoned by the miserable honey fungi bought
from a retail chain! Many other things are also happening, which are well known
to our respected Guy!” The respected Guy quivered his eyebrows briefly, hinting
that not everything known to the respected Guy and by chance not a secret to the
no less respected Beldo should be voiced out.
“Don’t start a panic! All this drags on for centuries. Search for charge markers
and destroy them!” Guy said quietly. “We do. But I lose people on this! You know
what happens to them, when they show up closer than three steps from a marker.
The brain flows out through the ears!” “Search more actively!” ordered Guy.
“Involve the berserkers! This isn’t dangerous to them, it seems?” Dionysus
Tigranovich, dreaming of hearing precisely this, began to nod, very satisfied.
Considering that the basic workload of combing the sky on hyeons and patrolling
the city had fallen onto the berserkers, Till would not be too eager to be occupied
by the charge markers of the hdivers. All the more for the harm they had done in
general to Beldo’s and Dolbushin’s forts.

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44

“I’ll not test the patience of my dear Till’s guys!” The old man checked himself.
“They can start a brawl, and, unfortunately, our magic in close combat is
somewhat inferior to their axes! But we’ll indeed willingly send our charming
workers to strengthen the combat capabilities of several of their… eh-m-eh…
simple teams of four!”
It would have been better for him to refrain from the clarification. Some
members of Beldo’s fort allowed themselves a smile. This did not remain
unnoticed. A berserker, eating a pig’s foot, suddenly blew his top and flung it at
the head of the honourable elderly occultist in slender glasses. Launched by his
powerful hand, the pig’s foot whistled as from a catapult. After pressing the
glasses into the polite face, it galloped through the air and disappeared under the
adjacent table. Magicians from Beldo’s fort became agitated and started to ask
Till about the interference.
“Motya!” Till said reproachfully. “Don’t start, Motya!” “But why does he look at
me, cobra in glasses, and laugh? He’s a smart character but I’m meat? And why
are you grinning?” After yanking the heavy poleaxe up with his left hand, the
berserker grabbed it with his right. He not so much chopped as sped up a drop.
Without the least effort the poleaxe pulled down a table, where sat a respectable
medium and a travelling guru. The experienced medium removed her hands in
time, but the guru, as a man little familiar with the disposition of Till’s guys, was
inadvertently deprived of three fingers at once.
“Ingvar Borislavovich! How much more can there be?” Guy exclaimed with
mild reproach. “We agreed that your guys wouldn’t offend Mr. Beldo’s
specialists!” Till’s heavy eyelids went up higher than usual. “Motya!” he uttered
hoarsely. “You distress me! You promised that you would control yourself! It
turns out that I can’t keep my promise… You’re no longer a member of our fort
and not under its protection! Do you understand, Motya?” A vein on the temple
of the sturdy fellow began to jump. He slowly, till the end not believing what he
heard, began to free the poleaxe tangled up in the tablecloth. “Are you giving him
to me, Ingvar Boislavovich? Do I understand correctly?” Guy was pleasantly
surprised. “He’s yours,” Till confirmed briefly.
Guy raised a finger. With a short burst, two arbalests made staccato sounds.
The berserker turned out to have excellent reflexes. He deflected the first bolt by
turning the flat wide blade of the poleaxe. He darted away from the second one
aimed at his neck. The triangular tip only burned his neck, leaving a red mark.
Catching the poleaxe closer to the hilt, Motya rushed to close in on the
arbalesters. They began to bustle. Two pulled back and, having reloaded, pulled
the levers. Another two quickly got down on their right knees and with noticeable
nervousness aimed at Motya.
That day Anya understood for the first time that an attack berserker was not
simply a bloodthirsty psycho with an axe. Motya flew without yelling, only his
chest droned with an indistinct sound of escaping momentum. He did not go
around anything that fell on his path but pulled it down. Tables upended like ice
floes. The legs of wine glasses of falling waiters broke even before contact with the
floor. He was about eight metres away when a third arbalest made the staccato
sound, and in a moment even a fourth. Not having run so many steps towards

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45

Guy, Motya suddenly stumbled and fell face down. It seemed to everyone that it
was an accident and he would now jump up. But Motya remained down. Then the
arbalesters turned him over and it turned out that the last, the fourth bolt, caught
the berserker in the eye, while the third altogether only got him in the arm.
Conscientious clerks from Dolbushin’s fort, whose table Motya had knocked
down last, picked up the body and, mincing and leaning on each other, dragged
him towards the doors. Anya buried her face in Paulina’s shoulder. One of the Till
twins, either Kesha or Pasha, quietly approached, picked up the poleaxe, and in a
business-like manner touched the edge with a nail.
“Wait a minute! You forgot something!” Guy ordered. He easily jumped off the
stage, overtook the clerks carrying out the body, and touched the giant’s forehead
with a finger immediately above the bolt entering the eye socket. He stood still,
closed his eyes for a second, and, as if nothing was the matter, returned to his
previous place.
“The psyose must not disappear! Don’t worry, Ingvar Borislavovich! I surmise
what’s troubling you! I promise: his psyose will be handed over to you personally.
Possibly, I’ll even add a little from myself to lessen the bitterness of your loss.”
Till sighed and looked sad like a woman. “Motya had been with us for a long
time!” “Perhaps. But he understood poorly what discipline is. I hope you’ll find
someone to fill his team of four?” The distrust insulted Till. With his thumb, he
slowly pressed his cigarette butt into the ashtray and turned it as if it was a screw.
“I’ll find someone!” he promised.
“Ahem-hem!” The old man Beldo, distracted by the annoying incident, wiped
his forehead with a scented handkerchief and intended on continuing his
babbling. “Better let me! Else you’ll get carried away again!” Guy cut him off.
“To sum up! Dionysus Tigranovich, with reference to the authoritative source,
reported that soon the hdivers will take in a youth and a girl for training. They
will meet and in time it will lead to the birth of a child capable of passing beyond
the second mountain range, which, up to this moment, has been unattainable.
And if this happens, no one knows what markers he’ll reach there and how this
will affect our small creative union.” Guy’s voice no longer rang like broken glass.
Each word became a nail, which he drove into the brain of his listeners. “Have I
correctly communicated the essence, Dionysus Tigranovich?” he finished. The old
man nodded so carefully, as if his head was simply jammed on and he was afraid
of losing it.
Till warded off the wrist of the waiter attempting to change the ashtray. “And
can Tigranych’s source be trusted?” he asked loudly. Beldo jerked up his chin. “I
would ask you!!!” he pronounced in the tone of an offended school teacher. Till
conciliatorily made a helpless gesture. “No argument, Tigranych!” he said good-
naturedly. “Give me the addresses of your lovebirds, Beldo, and quietly finish
drinking your cleansing tea! Only I don’t understand all the same: you have so
many different people in your fort! I personally know many of them and respect
their qualities for doing business. You’re really not capable of solving the
problem? Mop up these greenhorns before they get to HDive!”
The old man looked at Guy, begging him to protect him from the stupid boar.
“Ingvar Borislavovich!” Guy’s chubby lips stretched out, threatening to swallow

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the concert piano darkening on the stage. “The complication, as far as I


understand, is that Dionysus Tigranovich has no more information! Neither
appearance nor names nor addresses, nothing at all. And mopping up all of
Moscow is rather difficult even for your energetic lumberjacks.”
Dolbushin held up a glass with champagne and, stirring the champagne with a
rusk, sucked on it. “Let Beldo ask his source again!” he demanded. “Already did,”
said the old man delicately. “Do you actually consider that I wouldn’t hit on the
idea?” “And?” The old man, after lingering, shook his head. “Doesn’t know or
wouldn’t say?” Beldo looked pleadingly at Guy. “Albert! Let’s not torment
Dionysus Tigranovich!” Guy turned good-naturedly to Dolbushin. “If we can’t
eliminate or separate these two before HDive, it means we’ll do this in HDive.”
Dolbushin looked into his glass, observing how the champagne bubbles
surrounded the rusk. “Of course I understand that you’re a genius, Guy, but how
do you intend to get into HDive?” he asked. “You know full well that none of us
can penetrate into their territory. Neither from the air nor through a tunnel, no
way. Do you remember I mused about the chance launching of a rocket from one
of the Moscow military bases? But even it wouldn’t break through the defence.”
Guy’s bluish eyelids lowered tiredly. “There’s always a way out. It’s simply
disguised with the inscription ‘entrance’ sometimes,” he said and suddenly jerked
up his head.
Outside someone was knocking persistently on the panoramic windows. A
hand in a white shirt, wet to the elbow with algae hanging loose on it, flickered,
sliding along the glass. And immediately an agitated berserker from Till’s fort ran
in through the open door. “Found it!” he shouted. “Come quick!”
Everybody poured out onto the deck, with Gomorrah leaning perceptibly to the
left. Below the Yamaha motor of a rubber boat rumbled smoothly and briskly.
The boat’s rounded nose went deeply into the water. It was visible from above
how a blue jumpsuit with orange shoulders, leaning with his chest on the nose,
was pulling up with effort a rope with a noose thrown around something. And
they were already bustling on the second deck, turning and lowering a winch. But
it could be seen even without it how the light-coloured snout of a horse, with
slime stuck on, was slowly surfacing out of the brownish depth. And from the
rope a neck was distinctly coming out of the river, a neck with the tip of an arrow
passing right through detected slightly below the ear. And all this was splashing,
turning, stretching by the slow current of the Moscow River.
“Guy! Your arbalesters are effective as always!” Beldo flatteringly threw up his
hands. Guy turned around and looked at the old man with empty eyes. “Who was
in the saddle? Found anyone?” he shouted into the river. Having stopped pulling
the rope, which he almost connected with the hook of the winch, the blue
jumpsuit lifted his wet face. “Empty! Perhaps the current, eh?” “Search!” Guy
ordered. “If necessary, call the divers! Let them comb the river at least till the
Southern port!”
A young man resembling a fox ingratiatingly approached Till. “What’s with
you?” Till screwed up his face. The fox whispered something. Till listened to him,
breathed heavily and frowned. “How do you know?” They handed him the phone.
Till brought it up to his flattened fighter’s ear. He did not talk for long. After

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giving the phone back to the man-fox, Till, squeezing is fat tummy into the
handrail, made his way to Guy. “We have a problem! My observer has
disappeared from Scarlet Sails. They discovered his discharged schnepper on the
roof of the last house. His hyeon is tied up. He didn’t come down on the elevator.”
Guy nodded. “That’s right. There were two hdivers! When they brought down the
first, the second considered where they spotted them and returned the favour,”
he said.
“Divers?” the jumpsuit shouted from below. “Perhaps I cancelled something?
Summon and comb!!!”

Chapter 4

RINA

A king is one who so loves his realm that he is ready


to sacrifice and die for it. On a rainy night he would
set off, tired and hungry, on a gallop through the
forest, because he heard that somewhere an old
beggar woman was harmed. And all the rest are just
little princes.
From the diary of a non-returning hdiver

“She worked in the publishing house in Tomsk, he – in an auto dealership in


Moscow. He was tall, loud and lively, always overturning chairs and getting
into a mess. She always talked quietly, her movements agile, and when she
appeared in a room, it seemed that a cat had entered it.
He loved beer, she sincerely considered that she loved wine, although drank it
twice a year at friends’. She listened to Berlioz, he – the normal radio. But then
she was stuck on detective stories; while he now and then read Lewis, thus
disrupting the usual view that it is possible to understand a man quickly on just
a few traits.
He was married; she had never been, although there was a certain middle-
aged man, worn down to a bald spot, from whom she had waited in vain for a
proposal for eight years.
However, all through their entire lives, unconsciously and chaotically, they
were searching for each other.
Several times it happened that they turned out to be very close by. Once, in
the month of summer vacations, somewhere between Tula and Orel, their trains
rumbled towards each other, and, having found themselves for a moment
beside each other, separated only by the iron caterpillars that had swallowed
them, they both sensed incomprehensible disquiet.
Another time in Moscow she visited by chance the dealership where he
worked, although the only thing she knew about cars was that one could fall
under them. And for some reason she even looked around when she walked past

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his computer. But it was a quite different person sitting at his computer that
day. Besides, he also never visited Tomsk, although his own uncle lived two
streets away from her.
The long and short of it was that they never met. And, possibly, this is even
for the better, because their love would blow up the sun…”

Someone’s hand taps with a nail on the monitor. “What nonsense are you
writing? Always love and always unhappiness! They search, they don’t find, they
weep, they hang themselves. How old are you indeed???” Rina clicks on the
computer calculator. She also wonders. “If in minutes, then it’s approximately…
well, slightly less than 8 million,” she says.
Mamasia knits her brows. She is a humanist. Her entire arithmetic usually
exists within the limits of how to extend a fee so that it would be enough till an
advance. “I congratulate you for that!!!” she declares. “Don’t hang around in front
of the computer! Go somewhere with your classmates!” Rina screws up her face.
“Oh, them! They got to me! They sit till midnight in Contact and discuss where
they’ll go for a bike ride. But when they’re on the bike, they’ll gather after a
hundred metres and discuss how they’ll sit in Contact.” “All the same, you drop
this!” Mamasia in concern warns her. “At your age, should write about pirates,
fantasy, after all! And all the rest… at least wait till a full eight million!”
Rina looks at her, quickly dives under the table, and appears with a page that
had been lying there for a long time. Possible that she was too lazy to pick it up
precisely for such an occasion. “Even in one owl pellet an inquisitive researcher
will discover a mass of interesting things: the iliac bone of a starling, the
remains of two field mice, a rusty railroad bolt, and part of the skull of a young
rabbit,” she reads. “Brrr! Don’t you feel sick? Having an editor-mama, it’s a
nightmare!” “Having a scribbler-daughter, double nightmare!” Mamasia would
not give in. “At least they pay me for this!” “And you sold out? At your age, Mom,
should correct texts about pirates, fantasy, after all!” Rina takes revenge.
“Enough fantasies,” Mamasia says and again with melancholy glances at the
laptop. “Aren’t you going to bed?” “I already am,” Rina acknowledges and, after
turning off the computer, dives under the blanket. All the evening brushing of
teeth and changing into pyjamas, all these activities have long been completed. It
is always so with Rina. She would brush her teeth, and then eat a couple more
times and sit at the computer for about three hours.
Mamasia turns off the light. It can be heard how she dawdles by the door but
still has not left. “Do you know what’s the flaw of your logic?” she suddenly asks.
“It seems to you that something good can’t happen. If they don’t go in that door,
or be slightly detained, or say ‘Hi!’ to the wrong person. It’s a mistake. Events run
away from us. The train of destiny is never late.” “But it’s possible to derail it.”
“Easily. But all the same it’s never late. Indeed your two blockheads simply
wanted to be unhappy,” says Mamasia. The door closes behind her.

***

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49

A gust of wind. A birch branch is beating on the glass. Beyond the window the
white trunk with the birdhouse tied with a wire is swaying. Papa hung it up,
before Arturych came. The birdhouse is very sturdy, with narrow openings, and
sparrows are living in it. But a starling flew here once, the year before last, at the
end of March. It sat, thought for a bit, turned its head, listened to the hysterics of
the sparrows, serious, melancholy, stayed by itself, and flew away in search of a
peaceful place.
Rina has been feeling eternal guilt about the sparrows for three months
already. Since Arturych purchased an air pistol for her and demanded a promise
that she would not shoot in the apartment. Rina immediately caught on that this
was a hidden adult surrender from the series: “Do what you want, only don’t bug
me! Or even better: sit in your room.”
After getting the pistol, Rina first of all shot with it a photograph of the same
Arturych, on which he was next to Mamasia. The first bullet hit Arturych’s cheek,
the second pressed an eye into the skull, but Rina accidentally wounded Mamasia
with the third and, scared, hid the photograph in the chemistry encyclopaedia,
where Mamasia would never glance at in her life. But still, in approximately a
day, when she was finally tired of piercing the walls, Rina took a piece of
plasticine, rolled it up into a ball, and kept it in the freezer overnight, in order
that it would not stick to the barrel.
She climbed onto the window-sill and took aim at a sparrow jumping on the
branch by the birdhouse. The wind was shaking the birch, and the sparrow then
disappeared from sight, but again appeared. Rina experienced a strange heat,
which always appears when you step over the “must not.” It seemed to her that
she was stuck in a hot, pulsating, evil cloud urging her to do something. “The
plasticine won’t harm anything!” Rina calmed herself and, not trying to hit
anything, pulled the trigger.
The barrel twitched. Rina simply did not understand where the sparrow had
disappeared to. She decided that it had flown away, but all the same went down
just in case. The sparrow was lying by the roots on the grass. She searched where
it was hit by the modelling clay bullet, but just could not find it. Simply a dead
sparrow with a wing tugged in and a blood clot on the lower part of the beak. In
addition, she saw from the colouring that she had killed a female sparrow. Rina
hurriedly covered it up with last year’s leaves. The sparrow was gone, and
together with it the act also disappeared.
Rina tried to throw it out of her head, but already the next day, having opened
the window by chance, she heard how the nestlings were chirping in the
birdhouse. The surviving sparrow-father was rushing hither and thither, but, it
seemed, he was managing poorly. By evening, after becoming torpid from its own
bustling, it sat on the roof of the birdhouse with a worn and puzzled look. It
clearly did not understand such things as “death of the wife” and “single father,”
but nevertheless felt some incompleteness and irregularity. Something was not
quite right, exceeding the limits of a bird’s consciousness.
The curtains swayed from a draft. Someone had opened the door. “Katerina!
Get up!” Mamasia shouted, looking into the room. “Yes-yes! Already!” Rina said
in a cheerful voice. “Please switch off the dream! I’ll watch it tomorrow!” So that

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they would believe you, the voice must be confident and, as much as possible,
responsible. But you will not fool Mamasia. She has been caught enough times
already.
“Katerina, the eyes!!!” Morning Mamasia and evening Mamasia are two
different persons. Possibly even different in the documents. Will have to verify
somehow. Rina opens her eyes. Mamasia is standing by the door and waiting
patiently, leaning her shoulder against the doorpost. And she calls her Katerina in
order to show that she is displeased. Evening Mamasia calls the daughter Rina,
Trina, and once in a while Tyusha.
“Katerina, lower your feet from the bed! And no need to drop a hand on the
rug! According to the dictionary, feet are the lower pair of the extremities.” Rina
obediently lowers the lower pair of extremities onto the floor. When Papa was
living with them, he solved the problem much simpler: just took her by the
hands, carried her into the kitchen, and there lowered her onto the table. It is
painful to feign sleep on the kitchen table, especially when you feel a spoon or a
saltshaker under you.
“Now get up and take three steps to the door!” Mamasia commands. Instead of
three steps Rina tries to take two. After two steps it is still possible to turn around
and again tumble onto the blanket. But here you can no longer play this trick with
three steps. You risk hitting your head and spoiling the almost new bed, which
Grandpa Grisha bought with his first pay check. “Three steps!” Mamasia repeats.
“There was no need to marry the little gremlins till two in the morning!!!”
“Gremlins??? What’s this, revenge?” Rina is annoyed. She takes another step. The
invisible umbilical cord connecting her with the bed breaks.
“I’m waiting for you with breakfast! By the way, have you fed the fly?”
Mamasia asks maliciously. Rina’s fly lives in a three-litre jar. The neck of the jar
is covered with gauze. Rina shakes her head. “The fly suffers. It also wants
freedom from parental supervision,” she says. “What freedom from parental
supervision can there be, when you can’t even feed a fly? Do you remember the
cockroach? You even killed it!!!” Mamasia quietly turns and leaves.
Rina recalls that before the fly in the same jar lived a cockroach, to which
Mamasia regularly threw soaked bread, at the same time not hiding her disgust
and asserting that a cockroach was filth. Behind her Rina makes grimace number
eight, which differs from grimace number seven with raising the eyebrows higher
and “a trick of the cheeks,” as Papa said.
Rina drags herself into the bathroom and stands for a long time, swaying and
pondering about wetting the toothbrush before squeezing out toothpaste, or it is
okay as is. There are only two options, but Rina takes about five minutes to
choose between them. And in ten more seconds the teeth are brushed.
In the kitchen shells are cracked and eggs are sizzling. Rina follows the sound.
She is still on autopilot. Mama Asya (hence Mamasia) is standing by the stove
and eats standing. She eternally maintains that there is no time for her to sit
down, but in reality she simply cannot sit still.
Mamasia’s eyebrows are beautiful, thick, but here the braid is no longer a braid
but a rat’s tail. It is dangerous when your best friend is a self-taught hairdresser,
learnt to cut hair from a book and, for lack of practice, has yet to play with

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scissors. Rina still remembers a time when Mamasia’s braid was so long and thick
that she attached a small doll to it and Mamasia did not even notice.
Rina goes up to Mama from behind and cuddles up to her. Their hair is of the
same colour, light-brown, and for any small insect observing them from the
ceiling, the heads probably merge into one. “Warm me up! You’re warm!” she
says. “That’s right. I’m STILL warm!” Mamasia agrees gloomily.
She has two states, and both extreme. North and South Pole. Or even this:
North Pole and Sahara Desert. One state is haste and quick hands darting. The
other is a long and sudden fading. Now she runs and bustles about, else she
suddenly freezes, looking at a wall, and then it is impossible to understand what
she is thinking about.
Arturych is not here. Generally he is even never here. He eternally travels
about in a new truck, pleasantly smelling of warm oil. He sells shampoos, lotions,
and other hygiene products. He buys them at a factory near Vologda, brings them
to Moscow, and pushes them at different small stores. And he goes somewhere to
Kazan for Q-tips or liquid soap.
Arturych resembles a walrus. The same moustache, stout, sluggish. Never falls
asleep behind the wheel. And generally it is unclear when he sleeps. In the
daytime he drives, at night he drives. Rina suspects that Arturych manages
without sleep for so long because he never completely wakes up. He is always half
asleep or half awake. Arturych’s face is so wide that the temples of the glasses,
which he wears, bend out. Mamasia calls his face “a mug.” Arturych does
everything unhurriedly, and talks so slowly that everybody loses patience and
starts to guess the endings of words.
Rina has not yet figured out if Arturych is good or evil. But she knows one
thing for sure: he is not Papa. Papa is nervous, Papa is quick, Papa is swift. He
fires ten words per second. He can grab five objects and drop four of them in one
minute. During this time, Arturych barely brings his hand to his nose. But, true,
he drops nothing. This is so. Here you cannot argue. Generally Arturych is
something diametrically opposite to Papa. Likely, when Mamasia was searching
for him, she was not looking for a living person but an anti-Papa. Simply as a
collection of qualities from the “Do it yourself!” construction set.
Now everything is fine with them. Peace. It was worse in the first year. Now
and then Rina and Mamasia did not talk for three days. Sometimes it happened
that both were sitting in the kitchen with their backs to each other and writing, in
impatience tearing the paper. Then one, without looking, threw the paper to the
other. The other read, snorted, and also wrote:

“Daughter! I know that you won’t listen to me, but nevertheless I’ll try!
Trust cannot exist between people lying to each other. Earlier I believed that
I could trust you.
BUT: a) you lied, saying that you did not let strangers use my computer. b) I
know that a man whom I categorically don’t find acceptable was at the
computer! c) it is possible that he read my personal mail. d) But again: this isn’t
the matter. In essence, you lied to me!!!”

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“By the way, this ‘person’ is your husband and my papa!”

“At this moment, it doesn’t matter who this creature is!”

“You hit me with a wet towel! I won’t talk to you till you apologize!”

“ME! NO! I’M NOT GOING TO! You don’t pay attention to the speech. There
cannot exist any mutual understanding in people lying to each other.”

So flew paper from one end of the table to the other, until everything ended in
tears and reconciliation. Now it is okay. They do not rip up paper, do not fight
with towels. Everything is decided with words.
Rina sits at the table and begins to saw off the egg white with the edge of the
fork. It seems a pity to her to prick out the yellow eye of the fried egg. “Is it too
much to use a knife?” Mamasia asks with annoyance. She cannot bear it when
someone dawdles. Arturych, of course, does not count. But Arturych does not
dawdle. He simply lives in the rhythm of an industrious, persistent, but
somewhat slow, bug.
Instead of taking a kitchen knife, although it lies next to her, Rina lowers her
hand under the tablecloth. Snap! And in her hand is a narrow predatory
switchblade. Rina always fastens it to her leg, slightly higher than the sock.
Mamasia looks at it unfavourably, but says nothing. She knows that Rina
nevertheless will not part with the knife. Rina is Rina. She does not know the
right time to stop this. If she picks up speed, she can only apply the brakes with
her head against a brick fence.
All this Mamasia knows and attacks elsewhere. Relatively safely, “Perhaps
you’ll wear a skirt? At least for variety?” Rina snorts contemptuously. She hates
skirts. First, the fastened switchblade will become visible, which will make
teachers nervous, and secondly, she always has skinned knees. “Perhaps you have
a complex that you have crooked legs? Someone sometime blurts out in the heat
of the moment and you have a scar in your soul?” Mamasia continues to reflect
aloud. She eternally searches for hidden complexes, childhood shocks, hidden
tendencies of psychoses, and others in everything. “I have your legs! You’ve said
so a hundred times,” Rina says quietly. “In that case, they’re straight,” Mamasia
changes her mind.
Mother and daughter continue eating in silence. Everything is normal, but
then Mamasia’s eyes fall on the clock and, it goes without saying, her thought
begins to work in the rather dreary direction, “Don’t you have class in ten
minutes?” “Not my fault that we don’t have class for the first period!” says Rina.
“You never do!”
Mamasia sets off for the hallway, returns with the knapsack, fishes out the
record book, and begins to leaf through it impatiently. Rina waits mockingly. She
knows better than Mama what can be seen in it. Homework, written down
frivolously, and occasionally, before the written grade appears: “lit.” “chem.” or
“hist.” The most remarkable is that the grade is almost always either five or two.
Often even for one subject. It turns out something like this: “5,5,5,2,5,2.”

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Practically no fours or threes wander into this record book. Mamasia does not go
after Rina for the twos. This is as useless as for the knife. She knows very well
that this is not so much a two as a knuckle on the forehead, which the teachers
are forced to give so that Rina does not relax and fall into the bad habit of doing
English during literature, or algebra during physics.
Finally Mamasia finds what she is looking for. “Here! Wednesday! There’s a
first class!” she says with triumph. Caught red-handed, Rina bites her lip.
“Where? But this is in February, and it’s May now… The last quarter!” “What,
couldn’t find time in two months to fill in the timetable?” “What’s the point?
Vacations in two weeks!”
Mamasia huffs and puffs and searches for something to pick on. And when you
seek, you always find. “What’s this?” she says with triumph. “Pulled out the
stuffed bird!!! Parents, take measures!” Rina reads. “What does this mean???”
“It means: you must take measures so that I do not pull out the stuffed bird!”
Rina craftily explained. Mamasia ponders. She does not know how to take
measures for pulling out the stuffed bird, but does not wish to confess this.
“And here?” Mamasia’s finger stops at the curlicue. “Faked my signature
again?” Rina shrugs her shoulders. “So what? You yourself let me!” This is a
strong reason. Mamasia thinks it over. “I allowed it once and as an exception!
And not under remarks! And not so crooked! You didn’t even try!” she says
helplessly and flings the book into the knapsack. Rina triumphs. This is complete
victory.
Mamasia sits down beside her and lowers her head onto Rina’s shoulder. For a
second, the evening Mamasia peeps out from the morning one. “You’re
insufferable! You’re sure that they didn’t switch you in the maternity ward?” she
moans. “I did it myself. Crawled over into the next bed, tied on the name tag and
pretended to be your daughter,” acknowledges Rina. “And the nurse on duty?”
Mamasia asks. “What nurse? Ah-h, this one, perhaps? In such a robe?” recalls
Rina. “Deafened her with a cry.” Mamasia tolerates this completely. “Well,” she
mutters. “Completely logical. Defence reaction to shock… Well, and where’s my
kid now? The real one?” “Everything is fine with him. It was a boy. I put him in a
baby tub for the millionaire Vrushkin. He’s now studying in England to become
an honourable Chinese, gobbles oatmeal for breakfast, and cries at night,
dreaming of pickles and decent kielbasa.”
After mentioning sausages, Rina immediately feels sorry. Mamasia’s
consciousness resembles a billiards table. If you want to deal with her rationally,
you have to know the system. One ball hits another, that one rolls away, hits a
third. If by chance you hit it in the wrong place, it will roll to the wrong place.
Mamasia quickly removes her head from Rina’s shoulder. She knits her brow.
The ball has already started rolling.
“Kielbasa… sausage… Ah, yes! Do you know what happened to the wieners?”
“No,” Rina lies mechanically, but it is uncomfortable for her to cheat. She does
not like lying at all. This is rotten somehow. “Well fine, I took them!” “Don’t think
that I mind, but… You ate them? The entire kilo?” Rina keeps quiet. “Alright.
Everything is as always!” Mamasia sadly nods but does not demand to have the

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wieners back. She knows that happiness is not that, although feels sorry for them,
certainly.
Rina goes into the hallway and begins to put on her shoes. She puts on her
shoes monstrously slowly, even slower than Arturych. She waits until Mamasia’s
patience runs out. When Mamasia returns to the kitchen, Rina grabs the
knapsack, opens the entrance door, waits for an instant, and loudly slams it. She
listens. Everything is quiet. To Mamasia she has now left.
Rina sneaks to the balcony. She squats down, pulls to herself a wooden,
military-style green box with the inscription “PPE”9 through the stencil (Merci to
thrifty Arturych, who drags everything home like a hamster), and begins to dig,
impatiently throwing out periodicals, disks, old speakers. The box is almost
empty, the bottom is already visible, but Rina is still digging all the time.
Someone is drumming with nails on the glass. She turns around. Mamasia.
The naive trick with the door did not deceive her. “Searching for something?”
“Nothing,” Rina says in a hurry. “Well, since it’s ‘nothing’, it means you’ve already
found it!” Rina snorts. “A rope and any carabiners, right?” continues Mamasia.
Rina cannot control herself. “I knew it! Where did you hide it?” “I don’t want to
be the mother of a corpse!” “Just think: a miserable fourth floor! I can’t go
around the building every time! All of five entrances!” Rina blew up. Mamasia
twirls a finger by her temple. “It’s a mountaineering rope, not some stinky lace! I
get down in a harness! It’s not dangerous!” Rina yells. “If the rope isn’t broken!”
“Did you see it? It’s possible to hang up an empty Kamaz10 truck with it and it
won’t be a bloody problem!” “Exactly: it won’t bloody be!” Mamasia agrees
caustically.
It does not bother her what bogus tourists who have never had a Kamaz truck,
empty or full, write in forums on the Internet. And even then: an abstract truck is
one thing, but a sick-in-the-head fifteen-year-old girl is quite another! Let Rina
wait till she is of age and then does anything she wants. This Mamasia also voices.
“Do you know the difference between an adult and a child?” she asks. “An
adult lies more!” Rina says darkly. “Not quite. A child sees an apple on the table,
pulls the tablecloth to himself, and doesn’t understand why the teapot with
boiling water tips over on him. An adult sees it coming! Consequences! His own!
Actions!” When Mamasia is angry, she always cuts up a sentence and speaks with
a pile of exclamation marks.
“What about you and Arturych? Do we see it coming?” Rina cannot control
herself. This is almost mean. The conversation on this topic is taboo for them.
“It’s Papa’s problem! He left us first!” Mamasia answers stiffly. “He later
returned!!!” says Rina. “That’s already his problem. Do you want me to run back
and forth?!” Mamasia cuts her off. Rina takes the knapsack and leaves silently,
trying with stiff shoulder blades to show how strongly she is insulted.

***

9
PPE stands for Personal Protective Equipment such as a biohazard suit, personal armour, and fire
proximity suit, includes clothing, helmet, goggles, or other garments like mask and gloves, designed to
protect the body from injury.
10
KAMAZ stands for KAMaskii Avtomobilnii Zavod, a Russian truck manufacturer located in Tatarstan.

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55

Two roads lead from home to school. The first is the normal city road, paved.
The second is the alternative: past the dumpster, then a turn behind the garages
and along the railway tracks covered with peeling rust. The behind-the-garage
road is around two hundred metres shorter and a hundred times dirtier. But, it
goes without saying, Rina takes only it.
Nearer to the school the behind-the-garage road branches off to homes. Two
buildings. The first one has twenty-six floors, inhabited, but the entrance is on
the other side, from the street. The other, its twin, is not finished. It reminds Rina
of a dinosaur skeleton. Behind rusty iron gates is the trailer of the guard, but Rina
saw him there only twice. The first time he was drinking kefir, and the second
time standing barefoot in the snow, swaying and thinking about something sad.
Rina loves to wander along the empty floors and perceive herself the mistress
of a huge home. Occasionally she takes the rope, the harness, and gets down, say,
from the twenty-first floor to the thirteenth. She would go even lower but the
rope is not long enough. If Mamasia knew about this, the fourth floor would seem
to her like innocent child’s play.
Between the twin houses a thick central heating pipe crawls out from
underground. In the fall Rina personally upholstered it with boards, lined it with
insulation, and put a tarp on top. It turned out to be a safe haven for local beasts.
“Hey, who’s there? Well, come out one at a time! Paws behind the head, tail
forward!” Rina waved the wieners. The last one in the bunch brushed against her
ear painfully, proving that even wieners in experienced hands can become a
weapon. From the shelter emerged four cats, a dozen grown kittens, and the
small but gluttonous mongrel Boba with quarrelsome nature.
The whole horde surrounded Rina and started to hiss and growl at each other,
discharging envy and competition. The mongrel Boba suddenly recalled that it
was a dog, although a minute ago it did not matter. It knocked down one of the
cats, packed its own mouth with its fur, and started to choke and gurgle. “Sold a
friend for a wiener? Well, shoo!” Rina decisively dragged the mongrel Boba away
by its tail and poured the wieners out onto the grass. The cats closed in on them.
Boba with a hysterical screech jumped into the middle, and the wieners stolen
from Mamasia turned into nothing in six seconds flat.
Rina was going to leave but mechanically recounted the cats and discovered
there was one kitten short. She did not like this. When they feed, no self-
respecting kitten should have other important business. Having squatted down,
Rina called and it seemed to her that she heard meowing. It became clear that
something had happened to the kitten. The other cats, among which was its
mother, did not rush to help. Especially Boba had no time for the kitten. It sniffed
Rina’s boots and sneezed, hoping to beg for more.
“Do you really seriously think that I’ll crawl into your flea-infested burrow?”
Rina asked the kitten. The kitten was thinking nothing, only howling. Rina
sighed, removed her knapsack, pulled down the cardboard, and crawled. The
smell, however strange, was not so disgusting. In any case, until that reeking-of-
a-dumpster Boba crawled into the same hole and, making use of the tightness,
started to lick her face.

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Rina tried to move the head of this victim of unsuccessful crossbreeding, but it
was too tight in the crawl space. She could not even shield herself with an elbow.
She only cursed, shook her head and attempted to butt the mongrel Boba at least
with her forehead. Boba took this as a special form of tenderness, was moved,
and its tongue reeking of fish moved from side to side like a windshield wiper
along Rina’s face.
Nevertheless Rina finally managed to successfully butt the mongrel Boba and
reach the kitten. It turned out its claw was caught in one of those rags that she
scattered about in the fall for warmth. Over the winter the rags had become
musty, and now it was unclear whether the cats smelt of rags or the rags of cats.
After freeing the kitten, which greatly hindered her with its panic and flexing its
claws instead of retracting them, Rina began to crawl out.
On her way out, the thought came to her that it would not be bad to take the
rags away. Well, at least part… Earlier screwing up her face because of this “very
promising” stink, she seized an old jacket lying on the edge by its pocket and
dragged it after her. And here she suddenly felt that there was something in this
pocket. Rina did not try looking here. It was dark, and the mongrel Boba was
even hovering about, panting, and generously sharing its fleas. It was not so often
that it saw a person on the same horizontal plane with itself.
Having carefully struggled out of the crawl space, Rina first of all looked at the
knees of her jeans, then at her hands, sighed, and spread the jacket out on the
grass. The jacket was made of very thick and rough skin. On the chest and the
back were narrow metallic plates. Rina traced them with a finger, wondering why
they were necessary. If as an armour, the space between the plates was too wide.
If as decorations, they looked badly scratched. Although the jacket had been lying
all winter together with musty rags, it had not become musty and did not stink.
“I’ll say! Such skin!” Rina thought, having sized it up that it could only be pierced
with an awl, and even then must try first.
Rina was seeing the jacket for the first time, although it should be the second.
In the fall she had dragged it from the dumpster among a pile of rags, but did not
examine it in detail. So she dragged, after averting her face and worrying about
which of her acquaintances would see how she was dumpster diving. That is, on
the one hand, she did not care. Let them think what they want. On the other
hand, sort of like she did not entirely care. It turned out to be hypocritical
indifference to others’ opinion, her duality dealt Rina the final blow.
She felt the pocket on the outside and, not knowing what was in it, thrust her
hand inside. A collection of small change was discovered in the pocket. Rina was
disappointed. Such a romantic jacket, almost jumped out of the time of chivalry,
and suddenly ordinary trifle. Boring, gentlemen!
In the other pocket Rina found a small stone. The most ordinary in looks,
except it was not cold but slightly warm. She wanted to put it back, but at this
moment the mongrel Boba thought that it was getting too little attention. It
jumped and with its snout gave her hand a shove. The stone fell onto the asphalt
and, although the height was small, it was instantly covered with cracks. Rina
leaned over, intending on picking it up, but suddenly found herself on the

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ground. She did not remember the very moment of the fall. She sat up and looked
back.
There was a rumble in her ears. It seemed to her that a single strike of a bell
had deafened her. It was so close that the sound stopped being a sound but
became a physical push. Something had also happened with her eyes. The usual
Moscow world consisting of grey houses, wet ground, and long fence, had lit up
from within. Outwardly there were not more colours, but those fine details, which
earlier had no significance, came out. Bright candy wrapper trampled into the
mud. The yellow eye of a dandelion. A mischievous bright strip of sky above the
houses, teasing the spring city. A white cat, with disgust lifting up its paws, was
walking through a small puddle. Below, in the puddle, scandalously repeating its
movements, another same, parallel cat was gliding along. Rina felt light and
good. Nothing had changed, but it seemed to her that a star had blazed up inside
her chest. Why do they say that a man is small? The entire universe can be placed
inside him if we pack it in the correct order.
A black stump, sawn down slantwise, fell onto Rina’s eyes. She recalled that
last summer an old lilac grew here, but someone hit upon the idea of drenching it
with gasoline and setting it on fire. The leaves curled up from the heat and the
stem became a live candle. Now Rina looked at the stump and saw the lilac, with
buds, blooming, shedding its leaves, covered with snow, and sat on by sparrows.
In one instant her eyes took in everything that made up the lilac, from the first
timid sprout to the full-grown plant. Rina blinked fearfully from this
uncustomary sensation, and the internal unity of the object yielded the spot of its
fractional moments spread along time.
Not meeting any resistance, the mongrel Boba licked her cheek with a tongue
reeking of damp fish. Rina pushed its snout away. The cracked stone was lying
near her knees. Rina easily cracked it open. Inside turned out to be a butterfly
pupa. Dark, seemingly fragile, irregular shaped, thinning towards the edge. “How
do you do, Uncle Trip!11 Time for school!” said Rina, forcing herself into the tight
stall of everyday life. She shoved the pupa into her pocket, threw the jacket over
her arm, and started to look back, considering where to hide it in order to grab it
on the way back. Not discovering any place hereabout evoking confidence, Rina
moved along the concrete fence of the building.
The weather swiftly changed, though not throughout the city, but at some
point over the block. A wormhole appeared in the light white clouds. The wind
was blowing in short furious gusts. In the unfinished twin building a sheet of
metal banged and howled. Rina touched her nose with the back of her hand and
saw a speck of blood. Unbelievable! The last time blood flowed from her nose was
in fifth grade, when a ball hit her on the bridge of her nose.
Suddenly the bushes to the right of her began to crackle. Rina looked around
and saw a ruddy fellow covered with sweat and in a camouflage jacket. With his
knees up high, the fellow was rushing to her. Not tall, short-legged, but incredibly
powerful, he broke through the bushes like a young moose. Rina immediately
forgot that blood was flowing from her nose. She was a Moscow girl, with phobias
and prejudices. She did not like it when someone jumped out of the bushes, on
11
“Trip” as in hallucination.

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58

top of that from the side of the railroad. She began to squeal and broke into a run,
taking the advantage that the fellow had not yet gotten out of the bushes.
At first Rina rushed back towards the garages, but realized that it would be too
simple to catch her there and ran in the other direction, along the fence. The
mongrel Boba, chronically dissatisfied with life, rushed after her, overtook her,
got under her feet, and snarled offensively, when Rina bumped into it. The only
real help, which Boba could show, was to serve as a casual obstacle to the one
pursuing Rina.
Despite that the fellow was forced to run along the diagonal and the bushes
were hindering him, he moved much faster than Rina. He was not simply
rushing. He was tearing along like a soldier who has to run along a chain
scorching him. The bushes cracked, knees flew up to the chest. Rina saw his
ruddy, contorted, but at the same time terribly focused face. Ten metres
separated them at first, then five, then two. Rina already saw the end of the
concrete fence. Ten more seconds and she would escape to the wide road, where
there were always people walking. And it would make sense to yell there.
The fellow in camouflage struggled out of the bushes and overtook her. Rina
was certain that he would bring her down, but he grabbed her by the neck instead
and ran further, pushing her in front of him. Rina did not know whether she was
running by herself or being dragged by the head. And where is he dragging her?
Onto the road, where there are people? She was barely able to drag her legs along.
Behind their backs something with no name intensified. Rina felt pressing
heat. She wanted to look around, but the huge hand squeezed her neck. “Don’t!
You look around and it’s the end!” Rina wanted to yell, bite him, or be scared, but
suddenly understood that it was already absolutely all the same to her: beat her
up, cut strips of her skin, or force her to run.
The incomprehensible heat strengthened. Now it was everywhere: even inside
her body. It seemed to Rina that it had no source. It did not burn as much as it
weakened. Despondency, apathy. Rina wanted nothing. Neither to drag her legs
along, nor look, nor breathe. Simply to lie down and expire. Specifically to expire,
because “to die” nonetheless assumed the minimum mobilization of will.
The fellow understood very well what was happening to her, because he
continually pulled Rina towards him and glanced at her face. “Didn’t manage!
Almost!” his distressed voice forced its way to her as if through sand. “Who
cares!” Rina wanted to answer, but she suddenly understood that she did not
even know what this “Who cares!” was. The phrase had lost all meaning. She was
almost on autopilot. The maximum that she was capable of was keeping her eyes
open and advancing her feet.
Suddenly the fellow stopped. Rina was carried forward by inertia, but he did
not let go of her neck! Therefore she only stuck her feet out into space and fell
back. “Get ready! Have to fly a little!” he pulled his sleeve and in passing touched
some piece. While Rina was sluggishly pondering what this “to fly” was, she was
seized by the belt and unceremoniously thrown over the concrete fence. Whether
on that side turned out to be flagstones, broken brick, or glass did not bother the
fellow.

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59

Rina plopped down onto her stomach. Her cheek brushed along the loose
earth and her forehead knocked against a car tire. “Almost fell!” Rina explained
to the tire. At times it happened with her: when there is the need to cry, she
laughs, when there is the need to panic, she jokes. Now Rina tried to giggle, but
felt that her head was aching terribly, excruciatingly. It was simply splitting. She
squeezed her temples with her hands until there was the real sensation that her
skull would now shatter into smithereens.
Rina turned over onto her back and saw how the fellow flew over the fence.
Likely he would tumble over like a bag, head first, but at the last moment he
managed with apelike dexterity to hang with his fingers onto the edge of the
fence, rolled over, and in a second was already squatting beside her. Rina saw
large drops of sweat on his face. For some reason this calmed her: she felt that he
was also not a bit less nervous.
“If you want to live, you must suffer! Warlocks nailed you from heyons and
launched a bun!” he explained to her. “What bun?” Rina asked dully. “A good
small bun. It can’t roll over the fence, but if it finds a passage somewhere, you’re
dead meat! But we’ll cheat it.” “How?” “Very simple. We’ll bury you!” the fellow
good-naturedly explained. In his hands appeared a field-engineer shovel. Well
worn, with patches of rust, but so sharp that it was possible to shave with it. After
forcefully sticking it in, the fellow leaned heavily on the handle, and with the
speed of a mole covered Rina with dirt. After every three-four strokes, he jerked
up his head, froze, and tensely listened to something, after which he began to dig
even faster.
Something was moving on the other side of the fence. At first to the road, then
back. And again excruciating pain in the temples. Rina still did not have time to
consider what was happening and this mole had already buried her legs. Now she
rushed and only wanted to jump. The fellow dropped the shovel and, grabbing
her by the shoulders, literally pressed her into the ground. “Don’t jump up! I beg
you! Blink twice so that I can be sure that you understand me!” She blinked twice,
trying to pretend to be of sound mind.
Little by little the pain subsided. Rina again understood the meaning of words.
“Why shouldn’t I jump up?” she asked. “Because I hate to stun girls with a
trowel!” “Feel pity?” “And you think I shouldn’t? What if the handle cracks?” he
remarked. While Rina tried to convince herself that this was uttered with
humour, the fellow showered her chest and arms with earth. And still a moment
later she understood that earth was being poured onto her face and a finger was
thoughtfully clearing her mouth and nose. “Feel free to breathe deeply!” she was
ordered, and Rina heard a sound, such as when, having finished, the shovel was
inserted into the ground.
Something slammed beyond the fence. A sickening smell of ammonia. The
fellow waited a bit longer, and then his hand decisively grabbed Rina by the collar
and pulled her out like a carrot from the ground. “Smell the stink? Now there’s no
‘bun’! We buried you in time… Cancel the command ‘don’t jump up!’ Now you
can even scream!” he allowed her. That she was officially permitted to scream
stopped Rina: she wanted to do exactly the forbidden. She started to shake
herself down, to spit with disgust, to wipe her face. Clay fell from her hair and

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clothing. Sand crunched on her teeth. Rina looked at her jeans, at the once beige
sweater and, having stopped rubbing off the dirt, helplessly lowered her hands.
“I’m Ul! If you don’t like Ul, can be Oleg. But better Ul,” the fellow said
merrily. “Ul, vanish, I beg you!” Rina kicked the shovel. It was sticking out beside
her, only leaning over a bit. Ul clearly did not fear that Rina would grab it and
start swinging.
She examined him. Broad-faced like Arturych. Only Arturych’s face is evenly
rounded like a pancake. Ul’s face is pear-shaped. Narrow temple but powerful jaw
like a horse. On the whole, a handsome man. The teeth are strong, all functional,
but far from being a snowy wall. One of the side teeth is jagged. “He also likes to
bite through fishing lines, threads, and loosen a rope with teeth!” Rina thought,
mechanically licking her own with her tongue. “Save on scissors, save on dentist
fees!” Mamasia always says.
“And you often have fun running around and with shovels?” Rina asked acidly.
“Didn’t play with sand in childhood,” Ul answered calmly. Rina despondently
nodded. She would not be going to school today. Must sit in the building and wait
until Mamasia leaves for the publisher’s, then make her way home and wash.
Even better if she meets no one at the entrance.
“The knapsack!” Rina recollected suddenly. “What knapsack?” “I lost it!
Dropped it when you went after me!” “Ah… of course! Watch my shovel and blow
flies away from it! Back in a minute!” Ul bounced, rolled over on his stomach, and
disappeared on the other side. Rina thought that he was like an elastic drop. Like
a water-sprite from an old cartoon about a flying ship.12 Soon her knapsack flew
over the fence, and then Ul himself also jumped down. He picked up the shovel
beside Rina and silently jumped over to the other side again.
He returned after about two minutes. “Where did you go?” “Well, on the
whole, nowhere. A doggie ran after you there…” he answered, averting his eyes.
“Boba?” “Well, don’t know what it was called.” “Was???” “My fault. What would it
cost to throw it over the fence too? At least by the tail, easily,” said Ul with
annoyance. Rina rushed to the fence, but he caught her by the wrist. “Don’t! You
won’t see anything already! It was unlucky: got under a ‘bun’,” Ul persistently
said, and Rina understood everything, recalling the trowel and his ability to dig
faster than a mole.
Rina saw that Ul was holding in his hands the leather jacket, which she had
found in the home for the cats. He must have picked it up together with the
knapsack. His wide palm slid first into one pocket and then into the other. He
took out a pencil stub and noticeably trembled, squeezing it. But still it could be
seen that he was not searching for the pencil. “Where?” he asked Rina. “Where
what?” she was thinking about the foolish mongrel Boba, which was always
barking at her like at a stranger, rushing along as if it wanted to bite, and then
began to wag its tail and leap. Ul frowned. “Hand it over! Quit fooling around! I
get that all the time!” he ordered. Rina unmistakeably sensed that she had to give
it back. Or she would again be dropped somewhere or covered with dirt
somewhere. She pulled out the pupa and dropped it in Ul’s palm. “Keep it!”

12
The Flying Ship (Letuchii Korabl’) is a 1979 Soviet musical animated film based on Russian folktales.

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61

Mamasia frequently said with annoyance that doing favours is her vocation.
Even if Rina simply hands over a fork, she manages to turn that into a favour.
Most of all Rina was surprised by Ul’s reaction. His face softened. It became like
that of a man who is listening to the sea. Rina saw that he was smiling and his
eyes were moist. “I knew it…” he said quietly. Ul did not keep the pupa long in his
palm, but carefully put it in a pocket in the sleeve. Then he blinked and
energetically, as if wanting to crush it, ran a hand along his nose.
“There was nothing more?” he asked. “Little things,” answered Rina. “In our
work there are no little things!” Ul said severely. Rina unclenched her hand. “Ah,
this! Should have said there’re coins! Keep them for yourself!” “No way! I don’t
beg in the morning!” and, not understanding what made her angry, Rina poured
the coins onto the ground.
Ul squatted down. Rina briefly triumphed, but suddenly realized that together
with the little things she also poured out Monkey. “What’s this monkey?” Ul
asked. “Give it back!” turning red, Rina ordered and, after kicking his hand,
knocked Monkey off. Rubbing his hand, Ul leaned over and looked at it with
amazement. A kopeck toy of transparent plastic, into which they put candies.
Such dangle at checkouts in any supermarket, where they persistently try to foist
them instead of change on people.
“What’s with you?” “Nothing!” Rina put Monkey away in a pocket. Ul smiled.
He was not offended that he had gotten a foot on the hand. “Are you always so
prickly?” “Hedgehogs are prickly.” “And you’re not a hedgehog?” “Fancy that: no.
Can’t we tell a boy from a girl? At a minimum, a girl hedgehog!!!” Ul took the
distinction into consideration.
“What’s your name?” “Ekaterina… Rina…” “I even don’t know what to do with
you now, Rina-Katerina! Yes, you’ve screwed all kinds of screws into the brain!”
he muttered thoughtfully. “You held the marker in your hands, but didn’t take it
for yourself. So, it turns out you’re now a hdiver. But once a hdiver, you’ll have to
come with me.” “I’m not going anywhere!” Rina decisively stated. Ul grinned,
building an entire wall of teeth that were far from white. Then he looked at the
jacket and his smile faded. “Did I really say: immediately? Go home, wash up. In
a couple of days I’ll hop over for you. When did you find it? Today?” Rina told
him.
Ul listened, examining his own clay-smudged high boots. “It couldn’t be in the
fall the first time,” he said, when Rina stopped talking. “Why? Somewhere at the
end of November… It was already cold.” “The sixth of December. Immediately
after a snowfall. Exactly then Eric returned. Burnt, with an eye knocked out by an
arrow.” “Eric, a dog?” “Not a dog,” Ul answered briefly. Rina understood that she
would not get an answer about Eric.
“Is this a jacket of your lost friend?” Ul looked at her without understanding,
“Did I really say something about a friend?” he leaned over and, after pulling out
the trowel, thoroughly cleaned the earth off it. “What region am I in
approximately? What subway station?” “Preobrazhenskaya Square,” Rina showed
the approximate direction. “Well, that’s it, Rina-Katerina! Happy washing!” Ul
slipped the trowel under his armpit and walked away. This turned out to be

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62

unexpected for Rina. She did not assume that the conversation would break off
like this. “Well, let him!” Rina thought.
Suddenly she noticed that he had left the jacket lying on the tire, which had
already been introduced to her forehead. “Wait! And this?” Rina shouted in
confusion. Ul returned. He squatted down and ran his palm along the jacket. It
seemed to Rina that he was stroking a dying dog, which must be lulled to sleep.
“Well, since it had already happened… Let it remain with you! I’m, of course, not
a great specialist in all these matters, but our jackets aren’t found for no good
reason at all… On the whole, it’s yours now!” he said firmly. Rina also leaned over
the jacket. Now they were both touching its thick skin in the folds. “But why the
plate?” Rina asked. “Protective reinforcement. See you!” Ul got up and walked
away. “Perhaps you’ll take my phone number?” Rina shouted, after
understanding that he would now leave. And, possibly, forever. Ul waved it off.
“Why? I have lots,” he refused.
Ul took a couple of steps toward the fence, then turned around, and said, “You
just asked: was the one who died my friend?” “And…?” “She was my girl,” Ul
unbuttoned the camouflage. Under it Rina noticed the same jacket.

Chapter 5

The Talkative Visit of the Taciturn Old Man

If a man must explain something, then nothing needs


to be explained. Often the inability to understand is
tied to the unwillingness to understand. When and if
the hour strikes, a man will understand everything
by himself. But if you have stopped suffering, then it
is already your fault.
From the diary of a non-returning hdiver

When the light flared up in the room, Dolbushin sat up in bed and yanked the
umbrella towards himself. Paulina did not laugh, although this looked funny. A
sleepy grown man in pyjamas and with an umbrella, as if the ceiling in the room
was leaking. “They’re asking for you!” said Paulina. “What are you doing here?
And where’s Andrei?” Dolbushin asked hoarsely. “Trying not to let them in.”
“Who?” “Whoever is asking for you,” Paulina patiently explained.
Dolbushin scratched his cheek. His skin was dry, with prickly light stubble.
The stubble was barely visible, but when the head of the second fort scratched it,
it clattered like needles. “It seems you’ve an understanding with my bodyguard.
He’s supposed to shoot anyone who comes in when I’m sleeping. How did you
bribe him?” he said unhappily. “Showed him what mistake he was making when
he cut out the pants for the Lilliputians,” answered Paulina. Dolbushin finished
scratching his cheek and grinned. “Then it’s clear,” he said.

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63

Andrei, Dolbushin’s bodyguard, was an enigmatic person. He had neither


home nor family nor a past, which he would talk about. He lived in Dolbushin’s
enormous apartment, in his own room, more like a gymnasium or a shooting
range. Gloomy and unsociable, he had three weaknesses. The first was arbalests.
The second was to watch the one and the same boxing match from thirty years
ago. The third was to sew clothing for dolls. He had two dolls, a boy and a girl.
Andrei called them Lilliputians, argued with them, and occasionally, when he
happened to be out of sorts, made threatening faces at them.
Dolbushin and Paulina walked for a long time from one room to the next until
they turned up at the door. There Dolbushin’s bodyguard was courageously
fighting with a noisy old man and his two colourfully dressed female companions.
One called herself an Assyrian and the other a Turk. The Assyrian was from
Central Asia and the Turk was from Kostroma. The Central-Asian was called
Mlada and the one from Kostroma Vlada. From the point of view of the clever
Beldo, both were dilettantes. They dabbled in astrology, hypnosis, and had a
show on TV. However, it amused Beldo most of all that on their passports they
were both Semenovna Voronova, although not related.
“Dionysus Tigranovich?” Dolbushin was surprised. “It’s night time, three
o’clock!” “Five to four! And four, it’s morning. It means, I came to you in the
morning!” the old man corrected him delicately. “Will you let us in, Albert? It’s
bad enough that I already spent ten minutes explaining to security at the
entrance. These narrow people refused to put me through to you, assuring me
that you’re sleeping.” Dolbushin nodded to the bodyguard and silently proceeded
into the depths of the apartment. Beldo and his flock of crows13 flew after him.
In the fifth, according to count, room the head of the financial fort stopped and
lowered himself onto a sofa. He sat on the sofa, leaning on the umbrella, and
managed to look majestic even in grey pyjamas. “You… eh-eh… settled down here
in vain!” Beldo said maliciously. “Be prepared, Albert! I must show you
something!” “Do I have to go?” “I think so. This concerns an object well-known to
us…”
The old man shifted an interrogative gaze onto Paulina. “Does she have to
listen?” “She’s a relative. From paramedic Utochkin’s side,” Dolbushin said
sharply. The old man lowered his sweet eyes. His companions, like grazing sheep,
were wandering around the room and, gasping delightedly, touching trinkets.
Vlada reached for the thick leather album, but the icy handle of an umbrella
stayed her wrist. “Nothing entertaining there. Only children and the deceased.
Such is uninteresting to you,” Dolbushin said in a flat voice.
Beldo flittered like a budgie from a chair to the sofa next to Dolbushin.
“Nevertheless I think it’s worthwhile for you to look at it. Not far from here,” he
said. “What about during the day? I want to sleep.” Beldo sighed and lifted his
eyes up from the floor to the ceiling. “You know, sir, some things are better before
first cock-crow,” he said with reproach, like a person forced to explain the
obvious. “I believe you even without a demo,” Dolbushin remarked. The smart
old man grinned. “Better say that you won’t believe me even with a demo,” he
13
The name “Voronova” is derived from the Russian word voron – raven, the large-bodied member of the
genus Corvus, which includes the small-bodied crow.

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corrected. “No, Albert! You must see this with your own eyes. Otherwise, you’ll
forgive neither yourself nor me. It may be okay for you, but I’m worried about
myself. Humour my grey hair!”
Dolbushin unwillingly nodded, got up, and made his way to the next room.
Mlada and Vlada reached out for him. “Back off, girls! Sir Albert will dress
himself! Do you, my dear friend, know why the artist Modigliani 14 did not paint
eyes on a woman but only black slits?” Beldo began, flitting around the room.
“Was he a member of your fort?” Dolbushin conjectured and shut the door with a
clear sound before his nose. The old man related to this with understanding.
“We have a woman-hater in Albert Fedorovich,” he said, sniggering. “Why,
girls? Indeed a good catch! If not for innate modesty, he would have bought the
Kremlin. He would have taken off his shoes at Red Square and left his boots on
Lobnoye Mesto.”15 Mlada rolled her blue eyelids. “No money is worth a life! This
magnificent man has the aura of death! He brings death to all who love him!” she
said in a sepulchral voice. “And it’s whoever loves him…” Vlada insinuatingly
added, and both Voronovas croaked at once.
Dolbushin dressed slowly, meticulously. He carefully picked a tie and carefully
tied it in front of the mirror. He attached a delicate thin little dagger to the back
of the tie, passing its handle through the slit so that it looked like an ornament.
Paulina, who loved to read until the morning, had still not yet gone to bed that
night; therefore she was already dressed. At first Dolbushin wanted to leave her
at home, but Beldo unexpectedly showed persistence. “Interesting combinations
can happen!” he said and opened his moist mouth slightly, like a nestling
dreaming about a worm. “Perhaps also bring Anya?” Paulina, who was
uncomfortable without her friend, proposed. For half a year they had only gone
out together. “No way!” Beldo said a second sooner than the same “No way!”
uttered by Dolbushin. Surprised by such a coincidence of opinions, the chiefs of
the forts looked at each other with distrust.
Beldo’s car was waiting for them at the entrance. This was a long tinted
microbus, colourfully painted in the African style. A panting black-bearded
person with a hot ruddy face and a gold gipsy earring looked out of the window.
This was Ptah, Beldo’s famous driver. To him day and night had long since
merged into an even existence and were only distinguished by switching the
headlights on or off. If there was no necessity to go anywhere, Ptah would throw
the seat back, pull a pillow out of the trunk, and immediately drop off to sleep.
Ptah possessed the gift of anticipating a traffic jam before its existence and
correctly detecting the moment of its dissolution. Furthermore, he could violate
any rules, since he knew exactly which segments of roads traffic cops directed
their eyes to at any given moment. The unwieldy bus cut through clogged up
Moscow streets like a knife through butter and was only inferior to a hyeon,
which the cowardly Beldo would never in his life sit on from fear of turning up in
the three-metre zone above one of the hdiver markers.

14
Amedeo Clemente Modigliani (1884-1920), an Italian artist whose works are characterized by mask-like
faces and elongation of form.
15
This is a 13-metre stone platform in Red Square, primarily used for announcing the tsar’s proclamation
and for religious ceremonies in tsarist Russia.

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65

Guy would have taken such a gem away long ago, but Beldo started whining
and sending Guy bundles of fortune-telling crones and “knowledgeable gramps.”
They muttered, acted as shamans, cut out footprints, gathered hair in a box, and
annoyed Guy so much that, after shooting about five of the “gramps” and a
number of crones, he left Ptah to Tigranych.
Beldo himself flitted into the bus first, followed by his two crow-hens.
Dolbushin and Paulina sat opposite. Andrei squeezed himself in last and caringly
placed a schnepper on his knees. “Brought the dolls?” Paulina maliciously asked
him. Andrei opened his eyes terribly wide and she bit her tongue, after deciding
not to risk a good relation.
They drove for about ten minutes. They manoeuvred through alleys, crossed
Garden Ring Road, and stopped at a dark street. Paulina did not guess that such
damp Petersburg courtyards with infinite walls and narrow arches could be in the
centre of Moscow.
Here a certain evasive person in a bright raincoat was waiting for Beldo. She
quickly babbled something and grabbed his sleeve. At first Paulina thought that it
was a girl, then a fellow. Then, about two minutes later, she again thought that it
was a girl and again began to doubt. “One of the psyouses,” Dolbushin instantly
assessed. Muttering something, the person unlocked a padlock and went down
the steps. A rusty door – and they found themselves in a narrow room. It smelled
of damp cardboard and rats. “Have you muddled up something, Beldo? What the
elbe did you bring me to this yard keeper’s hole for?” Dolbushin asked with
disgust. “You’ll understand right away,” the old man promised.
The psyous person opened one more door and let Paulina through first, after
whom, crowding each other, both of Beldo’s crows rushed in. They went into a
small, dimly lit room, where there were only a round table, a screen, and a bed
overloaded with multi-coloured pillows of different sizes. A pencil cracked loudly
like a shot under Dolbushin’s feet. Crumpled paper was lying around everywhere
on the floor. On the wall hung a photograph of an exceptionally beautiful young
woman.
Suddenly one of the pillows – the largest and most colourful – stirred. Paulina
realized that it was not a pillow but a fat dwarf with an enormous head and a
knobbly forehead and dressed in a colourful robe. On the dwarf’s face was a black
ribbon with two large precious stones inserted against each eye. She was holding
a thick notebook and a pencil in her hands. She furiously drew something, tore
off the sheets, crumpled and flung them onto the floor.
“This is Krunya! A well-known clairvoyant,” Beldo whispered deferentially. “In
recent days she has been sketching faces. Ten faces. She finishes and again begins
the cycle.” He leaned over, picked up a sheet of paper from the floor, and handed
it to Dolbushin. That one glanced at it, saw a hook-nosed young man of sixteen,
and, after shrugging his shoulders, returned the sheet to Beldo. “Who is it?” “We
can’t say exactly. One of the ten…” answered the old man.
“Possible to recognize anyone?” “The pictures are very sketchy. In some places
even exaggerated. A feeling that Krunya doesn’t… eh-eh… like them very much,”
Beldo said evasively. “You didn’t answer the question,” the head of the second
fort interrupted him. “Is it possible to recognize anyone?” “Possible to recognize

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one girl,” the old man raised his index finger, as if the most successful financier in
the world could forget how much “one” was. Dolbushin looked quizzically at
Paulina. “Her?” The old man half closed his eyes, not agreeing but also not
refuting.
“Show me the picture, Dionysus!” Dolbushin impatiently demanded. Beldo,
with the greatest readiness, began to turn upside down the paper carpet covering
the floor. “Where is it?” he muttered. “Never in life complained about absent-
mindedness, but recently…” Dolbushin silently stretched out his hand. The clever
old man instantly finished his mother-hen fussing and put the sheet, found in his
own pocket, into Dolbushin’s hand. The picture greatly resembled a malicious
caricature. The features were harsh, sharpened.
Dolbushin looked at the picture, and Beldo at Dolbushin. What the old man
expected was unknown, but the face of the head of the second fort barely
changed. Perhaps his voice was choking slightly. “This is my daughter Anya. Why
are the eyes pricked out?” he asked. “Not only hers, Albert! All ten,” Beldo
explained in a hurry. “I already said that Krunya for some reason doesn’t like
them.” “So be it,” answered Dolbushin coldly. “Then, perhaps you’ll explain why
your cursed witch sketches them?” “Albert!” The old man exclaimed with
reproach.
“These ten are connected with the new marker, which is stronger than all
existing in our world. A marker, which will destroy the present balance of power
and give absolute power to the one who will be able to handle it. It is still in
Duoka, but has already touched them all, shaped their fates through
circumstances. They will reach it: only these ten and no one else!” the dwarf
announced in an unexpectedly loud and squeaky voice.
Beldo stared at Krunya with amazement, and the strange psyous person even
sat on the floor. Must be, the clairvoyant only opened her mouth in exceptional
cases. “What should we do?” Beldo asked, in haste swallowing the syllables. “Find
them! Take away everything except life from these ten! Especially that, which
they don’t know is the dearest of all to them! Let they themselves renounce it!
Don’t try to kill them! Only they can reach the marker!” hissed Krunya. “Nine!
Don’t touch the tenth!” Dolbushin corrected.
Krunya did not answer. She was swaying. Suddenly she raised her head and
turned her face to Paulina. “A girl is here in the room! I hear her breathing! She’s
a stranger! Kill her!” the clairvoyant crackled softly. “Give me her heart, brain,
and fingers! She touched that great marker, although she couldn’t take it. She
held it in her hands! I want at least a part of this marker, at least its echo, let it
warm me! I want to feel again the joy that I experienced when I touched my first
marker! Hand it over! Why did you bring back another? I would never unclench
my hands after touching that marker!”
Paulina stepped back. She knocked over the screen with her back. The fat
dwarf stretched out twisted fingers to her. The precious stones blazed on the dark
bandage. Beldo began to approach Paulina. “Well, my dear! Why so pale?” he
whispered. “Don’t think that we’ll follow all Krunya’s advice. She’s a creative
person, tends to exaggerate.” “Don’t touch me!” Paulina squealed and, after
pushing Beldo away, hid behind the back of Dolbushin’s bodyguard. He alone

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67

seemed safe to her now. The clairvoyant continued to shout and shake the back of
the bed. Then strangely and suddenly she calmed down. Only the stones on the
bandage continued to shine, and the head turned keenly, tracking Paulina’s every
movement.
“Why must we believe the old witch?” Dolbushin asked unexpectedly. “Who?
Krunya? She never makes mistakes!” Beldo was surprised. “If she said that your
daughter is one of the ten, it means that it is so.” “Prove it!” “Krunya will do this
herself. Give her something of yours, Albert!” the old man proposed. “Why?”
“Give her!” the old man insisted. Smirking distrustfully, the head of a fort thrust
his hand into a pocket and dropped a coin onto the clairvoyant’s palm.
“A very good coin!” Krunya crackled softly, greedily tracing it with her fingers.
“At different times it was held in the hands of two killers, a liar and one who beats
his own mother. The one who held it a year ago died last night. Still not buried.”
Dolbushin frowned. “Cheap trick! Any second-rate elbe knows the past. Let her
describe my future!” Krunya again clutched the coin. “The coin’s present owner is
too well protected, and the coin is too general an object. I need something else,
much closer, belonging to him alone,” she demanded.
“Such as this?” Dolbushin asked coldly and stretched the handle of his
umbrella to the clairvoyant. Having barely touched it, the dwarf began to squeal
wildly and, after hitting against the wall, rolled down onto the bed as a bag of
rags. Beldo and the incomprehensible psyous person rushed to Krunya, in vain
trying to raise her. She was beating the bed, biting and hissing like a cat. “Keep
your mad witch far away from my daughter, Beldo!” Dolbushin said and, after
bumping into the table, left the room. Paulina rushed after him. Andrei,
Dolbushin’s bodyguard, reproachfully threatened the evasive person, who was
trying to hold onto Paulina’s hand, with the schnepper.
The three of them walked along the damp street. Dolbushin’s bodyguard
walked slightly in front, watchfully examining cars and dark arches. Dolbushin
was continuously muttering something. Paulina made out: “old fox,” “Guy for
sure already knows,” and “Nina warned me…” Who this Nina was and what she
could have warned the head of the financial fort, Paulina did not know.
“What is this ‘marker’?” Paulina suddenly asked. Dolbushin looked at her
briefly but intently. “Must think it’s something for marking somewhere,” he said.
The explanation seemed unconvincing to Paulina; however, she accepted it. “And
whose photograph was on the wall?” “What photograph? Where?” “Above
Krunya’s bed! A very beautiful woman.” The head of the second fort smirked.
“She herself.” “Krunya?” Paulina could not believe it. “It’s dangerous to merge
with markers, which are above your power,” Dolbushin said obscurely.

Chapter 6

Warlocks

In order for ice to melt, it is necessary to breathe on it


for a long time. So it is also necessary to pump

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68

unlimited love into each person. Generously and


expecting nothing in return. When you wait for
something in return, your hands become icy and no
longer melt the ice, but only try to warm it.
Joseph Emets

Ul did not have time to take several steps when something distinctly crackled
in the air. Once, and then twice more. Ul flew to the fence and, after dropping
onto the ground on his stomach, carefully put his head through. “One team of
four… a second… a third! Da-ang! Deep shit!” Rina heard his mumbling. He
rushed over to Rina, grabbed her by the hand and dashed off. Everything
happened so quickly that Rina only realized she was being dragged after crawling
behind him for about three metres.
“I’m an idiot! Lost twenty minutes! Believed that once a ‘bun’ has been
dropped, they would relax! And can’t call our people, clms is discharged! Listen,
could you stomp your feet a little? I’m not a tractor at all!” Ul growled on the run.
“Who’s there?” Rina shouted. “Warlocks!” “People?” “People are human! But
warlocks are shamans sensitive to cold!” Ul answered with such irritation that
Rina lost all desire to question further.
Pulling their feet out of the clay, they ran around the building. Bricks were
already laid for the walls of the lower floors. Further up the building existed
solely in the form of a monolithic skeleton. After touching Ul’s arm, Rina showed
him a window on the second floor, from which hung a ripped hose for the
discharge of debris. “Perhaps we’ll hide in the building? This is the only entrance.
Can’t climb in through the ground floor, all sealed up.”
This idea did not seem bright to Ul. “Three teams of four warlocks can’t find
one hdiver and one… hmm-mm… half-hdiver in a pitiful unfinished tower? A
joke! And they’ll demolish any seal, have no doubt about that!” “But there’re a
whole two hundred apartments!” Rina objected. Ul spat onto the clay. “You think
they’ll stomp after you along the floors?” “Will they drop a ‘bun’?” “No. ‘Buns’ are
only from hyeon and only onto flat places. And they have much more besides
‘buns’. They would surround the building like a chain, dance the northern dances
of southern peoples, and everything inside would completely perish!”
“But how would they know that we’re inside?” Rina would not give up. Ul
pointed a finger at their feet. The tracks remained on the dug-up soil. “Perhaps
they won’t notice?” Rina asked with hope. “Gees! Hey, if only there were two of
our five here!” “You can’t manage alone?” Rina asked naively. “Three teams of
four warlocks? On the whole, no problem, but today I’m good.”
Ul froze, looking suspiciously at the part of the fence that bordered the five-
storey building standing at an angle. It seemed to Rina that a blue sweater
flickered between the stones. “They spread out, the skunks! They’re combing
competently!” Ul sullenly admitted. “Okay, you won! No choice!” And he quickly
climbed up the construction hose. “Didn’t you say they would surround,
mumble?” Rina reminded him, clambering after him.

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Ul tumbled over the window-sill on his stomach, looked around, “Move it!
They’re already here!” Rina, still dangling on the hose, turned her head and saw
an elderly sweating man in a striped shirt. Well-groomed, with a small bald spot.
He climbed over the fence, moreover quite clumsily, not like Ul. Rina on the
debris hose and he on the fence were at the same height. “Is this really a
warlock?” Rina was surprised. The “uncle’s” eyes stopped at the jacket with the
metallic plates, which Rina had time to slip on below. Tenaciously keeping the
jacket in sight, he straddled the fence and climbed with a hand under his belt.
“Don’t dawdle!” Ul grabbed Rina’s wrist and dragged her in through the
window. Rina naively turned around in order to see what the “uncle” was busy
with. It turned out that he managed to jump onto the dug-up pile of clay and got
stuck. Not trying to climb out, he extended his hand and, as it seemed to Rina,
pointed a finger at her.
Ul forcefully pulled her leg and brought her down onto the floor. “What’s the
matter with you? Gone nuts?” Rina yelled. Ul was lying next to her, leaning on his
elbows. Every time Rina wanted to jump up, he grabbed her by the neck and
pulled her down. “Let me go! Why do you have to do that?” Ul silently pointed
with a finger. Rina saw that where her head had just been, a small flattened ball
was stuck into the brick wall.
“Ninja technique? We catch bullets with our eyes and store them in the
cheek?” he asked. “What was that? A pistol with a
muffler?” Ul shook his head. “A schnepper. A
personal crossbow, shooting bullets and any junk.
You don’t drag along a serious arbalest around the
city, and can’t teleport with firearms. Nor with any
explosive pieces. They’ll blow up without a trace
and you together with them. Let’s get to the
window! Safer there!”
Ul quickly crawled on all fours, managing to give Rina a slap every time she
lifted her head too high. “Ambush, dang! They made low window-sills! In my
understanding a self-respecting window-sill should be sandbags, reinforced
concrete, machine gun… Head down, cream puff!”
After reaching the window opening, Ul turned around, unbuttoned his jacket,
and extracted a steel arc the size of a hand. Almost immediately short, small
metallic tubes with openings appeared in his other hand. He deftly connected
everything together, popped in the rounded handle, and gradually moved the
lever, located on top. Rina heard one flick, then another. “Also a schnepper?”
Rina asked. “Yes. But ours, hdiver’s. Though on the whole, I have the only copy!”
Ul explained with pride. He was holding a small composite double-barrel. The
barrels were one above the other, and to each its own bowstring.
Rina did not argue. She knew that men always have only copies in everything.
They do not like to be similar to someone else. Her papa was like that too. He
would buy a pen for a rouble on the train, gnaw around the cap, and make sure
that the pen would be an only copy. And, exactly: each teeth mark is unique.
After pulling with his teeth the flap of the pocket located on the level of his
biceps, Ul extracted a plastic box. In it turned out to be two small balls, similar to

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burs, with firm and sharp bone-like spikes. Ul rolled them into the opening in the
upper part of each barrel and put on top the charge lever, simultaneously serving
as the sight. “Pneupfs for forced teleportation,” he explained, with regret shaking
the empty box.
“Wouldn’t it be simpler to charge with bearings?” It came into Rina’s head that
the principle of operation of a schnepper was much the same as that of a powerful
combat slingshot with support. Ul tenderly blew on the bowstring stretched to
ringing, rolled over, and leaned his back on the wall by the window. The trowel
was down beside him, by his foot. “Kavaleria forbade… A hdiver can’t be a killer,
or be stuck in the swamp. But pneupfs, it’s the way out. There’s a remarkable
deserted little hut in the Arctic. Seven hundred kilometres to the nearest
dwelling. There’s a supply of fuel, there’s canned food. Live, think.”
“Who’s this Kavaleria?” Rina asked. “Director of HDive. Although our director
is more like a keeper of traditions. HDive traditions are inviolable, as is the
charter,” Ul explained. Rina’s vivid imagination instantly pictured a fat
moustached woman with a sabre in one hand and the criminal code in the other.
“Kavaleria is very… even I don’t know what,” Ul added, groping for words. “She
has endured a lot: lost her husband, then her son. Her son was also a hdiver. But
she never complained. Didn’t even become very sad, but somehow, in her eyes…
She’s like a mother to all of us, though doesn’t give us a break, of course.”
Below someone was swearing and rumbling with iron. “I thought warlocks
work with magic!” Rina said. Ul blew on the shiny barrels of his personal ballista.
“Warlocks work with everything in succession! Just imagine! For a decent fatal
curse they must gather, at a minimum, a team of four, and even better with two
or three teams. But it’s also possible to hit one with a schnepper. The dead body,
I’ll say in confidence, turns out approximately identical… Again, much depends
on the power. Whatever an elbe feeds, he’ll have that power. There are even those
who can cut with a look like a welding torch. But not many, of course…”
Ul pulled out of his pocket a shatterproof mirror on a handle and, without
sticking his head out, carefully raised it above the edge of the window. “Real
competent! One team watches over us, but the rest are still fumbling. Don’t know
how many of us there are and don’t want to run into trouble,” Ul handed Rina the
mirror.
Not having any experience, she at first scooped with the mirror a piece of the
sky and the roof of a distant house. She changed the angle and began to turn the
mirror along the fence. She saw a girl with green bangs and in a blue fishnet
sweater; a young man with a beard like a cutlet glued to his chin; and a woman in
a red vest, the kind cashiers in supermarkets wear. The red vest took cover
behind some huge cement slabs and kept her eyes intently on the building. The
fellow with the round beard squatted down and finished assembling a one-sided
poleaxe: screwing the sharpened bluish half-moon onto the metallic handle. He
assembled the poleaxe skilfully, quickly, but without hurry.
“Listen, they’re ordinary people!” Rina said with bewilderment. “This is bad.
You always expect definite abnormality from evil, but it isn’t so. At first this
confuses many! Everyone thinks, ‘What’s this evil, you know, if it looks every bit
like me? And I, holy-moly, am solidly good!’” Ul answered unhappily. The fellow

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with the beard had finished assembling the poleaxe and turned it over in his
hand. He did not do it to show off, only for testing.
“Look: berserker from Till, gunners from Dolbushin, witch from Beldo…
Haven’t seen such a composite team for a long time. In a composite team the last
is usually the strongest. All spells are relayed through him and he’s the one in
contact with the elbes. Seems like it’s the auntie in the vest among these… Well,
give me the mirror!” Returning the mirror, Rina carelessly raised it too high.
Something dinged. The mirror twitched in her hand and Rina understood that
she was holding only the handle.
Ul leaped up and, after putting his own double-barrel out the window, took
aim. The girl in the fishnet sweater lowered a discharged schnepper. The cutlet
beard was standing in sight, playing with the poleaxe. The bloated woman took
cover behind the slabs. Ul’s manual ballista was aimed at the girl in the fishnet
sweater, but he moved it and shot at the berserker. He had lost nearly a second
for continual aiming. During this time, the cashier vest had time to run her hand
from top to bottom, and the pneupf flew by three centimetres from the
berserker’s right ear. It hit the concrete fence. Where it hit, there was a blinding
white flash, not spreading, but existing inside a rigid outline, as if cut with a
hobby knife. Ul angrily dived under the protection of the window-sill. “Well. Sent
a section of the fence to the Arctic,” he muttered.
“Hey, Ul! Again sorry for our girls? Next time you’ll have to shoot at someone!”
they shouted tauntingly from the street. “By all means!” Ul promised, not raising
his voice. For some reason he was so confident that they would hear him. “Ul! We
don’t need you! Give us the girl and her marker. And off with you!” The girl in the
sweater shouted. The gloomy bloated female warlock kept herself away from the
conversation. Apparently, while green bang was sweet-talking, she was busy with
something serious. “I’ll give it some thought about the girl!” Ul promised. “What
guarantee do I have?” “Word of a warlock!” “Solid. And won’t you throw a receipt
into the window?” “Drop the jacket with the marker! We’ll put a receipt in the
pocket.” “I’m already taking it off…” said Ul. The trading ended on this. It was
noticed that neither the warlock nor Ul attached any meaning to it.
“They know you?” Rina was surprised. Ul looked at her like an aquatic
unicellular organism could look at a wisent or a molecule of ethyl alcohol at a
Beethoven sonata. “I’m a popular person in our little circle! One can’t fail to know
me!” he patiently explained.
It was heard how the berserker was walking under the windows and
attempting to smash the welded rods with the poleaxe. He, apparently, managed
one rod, but then the edge of the poleaxe hit the edge of the iron frame.
Something tinkled mournfully.
“Bad business,” said Ul. “They’ll join forces and smoke us out of here. There’s
no getting away from the building for us. We don’t have a connection. ‘Centaur’ is
discharged.” “My cell phone?” “Don’t even look. Complete block,” said Ul. Rina
nevertheless checked and ascertained that he was right. She closed her eyes and
before her floated the black keys with dual letters. Qwerty=itsuken.16 And she is
16
This refers to the layout of both the English and the Russian keyboards: q=i, w=ts, e=u, r=k, t=e, y=n.
Rina on the Russian layout becomes Hbyf on the English layout.

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72

Hbyf. “Well, Hbyf, you’re stuck!” she said to herself and, seeing that Ul was
sitting motionlessly, started to scribble mentally to calm herself.

The door fell to the ground. Marquis du Grätz was standing at the threshold.
Louisa pulled the blanket with both hands to herself, simultaneously picking up
the dagger. Her firm bosom was heaving with agitation.
“Don’t come near! Or I’ll kill myself!”
The black tops of the cypresses were swinging in the blue lakes of his eyes.
“Wake up, Countess! It’s not safe in the tower! Your enemies cannot accept
that you’re under my protection. They know that my castle is unassailable and
rolled up the most ridiculous Chinese invention. The scout reported: they call it
the ‘howitzer’. An iron tube on wheels, into which they pour grey powder!”
An ironic, deeply contemptuous smile touched the hard lips of Marquis du
Grätz. Their looks collided with a crystal ring. The dagger shook in her fingers.
Her heart was beating in such a way that the blanket quivered.
The nightmarish Chinese invention roared in the forest. An infernal projectile
flew over the fortress wall and smashed to smithereens the coach together with
the horse and the coachman Paul, smoking his morning pipe.
Everyday concerns always helped Louisa to gather her thoughts.
“Call my maid, nasty person!” she demanded, lowering the dagger.
Marquis du Grätz looked behind the door.
“I’m afraid it’s impossible. She’s been blown to bits together with your
favourite dress!” he said dully.
The heart froze in Louisa’s chest.
“Poor Gloria! She had been with me since birth!”
A beautiful white foot poked out from under the blanket and slid into a white
satin slipper embroidered with mother-of-pearl. Louisa realized too late that all
this took place within sight of her kidnapper. His nostrils flared.
“In my opinion you’re more disturbed by the loss of the dress!” Marquis du
Grätz said and mockingly burst out laughing.
His armour was shaking continuously: this was the nasty person’s
passionate heart beating.

Rina involuntarily looked at Ul’s jacket to see whether it was shaking. It was
not. “Hey! Hdivers! Why don’t you teleport? Clms are discharged or afraid of the
block?” the girl in the fishnet sweater shouted provocatively. Extraordinary falsity
was heard in the girl’s voice. Rina unmistakably sensed that her schnepper was
recharged and pointing at the opening of the window. And possibly something
else. But what?
Rina got up. To her right was a blind wall and she did not fear that they would
shoot her down. After sliding her shoulders along the brick, Rina almost slipped
into the adjacent room, but suddenly saw that a dim convex arc appeared
noiselessly towards her from the door aperture. It only stopped at the level of Ul’s
forehead. Without a moment’s hesitation, Rina began to yell and pushed it away
with both hands.

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The flick of a plucked bowstring was heard and a bullet, having bounced off the
window opening, sped away complaining about the miss. It was still complaining,
but Rina had already clamped her teeth down on someone’s moist wrist. She did
not even recall that she had a knife fastened to her leg. Someone began to yell
from pain and grabbed her hair. Rina recognized him: that same rather bald
person.
In the next moment Ul leaped up, hopped, rolled along the floor on his chest,
and, exactly like a bowling ball, knocked both Rina and her enemy off their feet.
Ul and the warlock rolled into the adjacent room. Rina remained on the floor,
squeezing the stranger’s schnepper in her hand.
Belatedly realizing that Ul could require her help, Rina rushed to him, but he
was already walking towards her. “Your old friend! Turned out to be pushy: found
a hole somewhere,” Ul licked the blood off the knuckle of the ring finger. “In
general normal people do not hit with this knuckle! But not my fault that I’m
abnormal,” he explained. Rina looked over his shoulder in alarm. Not counting
the empty kefir packet, having had time to fade from the sun, there was nothing
in the adjacent room. Nothing and no one. “But where…” she began. Ul looked
around at the window. “Who, the uncle? He has mastered the flight spell. I hope,
for a soft landing he had time to draw all necessary figures in the air and to dance
all the dances… Oho! Congratulations for the trophy!” Ul took the schnepper
from Rina. “Nice piece! I can roughly guess which catalogue he ordered it from.
Pity, discharged!”
Ul tried to toss the schnepper on his hand but dropped it. He leaned down and
right there and then, a steel ball flew into the window, screeched, and hit where
he had been standing just a second ago. The girl in the fishnet sweater went to the
trouble of running from the building and, after seeing a head appearing, took a
shot. Before she could recharge the schnepper, Ul rushed to the window, leaned
over, and, using the trowel, cut the debris chute into two.
Seeing that no one was shooting at him, Rina also took a risk and looked.
Somewhere behind the fence, quite close by, voices were heard. Rina understood
that the second team of four was here, and possibly even a third was on the way.
After noticing Rina, the bloated female warlock squealed and started to scratch
the air with crooked fingers like a cat. Rina felt how the nails was tearing up her
face and reaching her eyes. She yelled and hastily squatted down, covering her
face.
“Time we make off from here. The girl with the green bang rarely misses. This
is her enormous human drawback!” she heard Ul’s voice. He had already made
short work of the debris chute and was now standing by the wall, having inserted
a finger into the hollow in the brick, inside which, glittering like silver, lived a
steel ball. It was living not badly there but was lonely. It would be more
interesting in Ul’s skull among the diverse thoughts.
Rina moaned. She was afraid to touch her cheeks. Besides the cheeks, which,
as it seemed to her, were one continuous wound, the right eyelid, the side of the
nose, and the edge of the mouth were hurting. Everything that the claws of “the
vest” had time to tear apart.

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“What do I have on my face?” Ul looked it over cursorily. “Too many freckles


but possible to get used to… Hey, whom are you attacking? Classical female
approach: find someone who treats you well and make his life intolerable!” “This
witch almost ripped off my head!” “Exactly,” Ul began to nod “But she didn’t.
This is hdiver interpretation and is information. We don’t consider ‘almost’. And
pay less attention to what it seems. Warlocks always lie.” Rina suspiciously ran
her fingers along her face and ascertained that it was the simple truth. The
wounds existed solely in her imagination.
“Let’s go!” Ul said. They found themselves on the landing. Straight ahead was
the elevator shaft. On the left were steps. Ul listened. It is a delusion that it is
quiet in an empty building. Somewhere something is swinging, clanking, rubbing
against something, dripping, and droning monotonically. The sounds merge into
something integral, regular, having neither beginning nor end. And from all this
emerges what we mistakenly call silence.
“Up or down?” Rina asked. She wanted up more. All the same twenty-four
floors in reserve. And let the warlocks search for them in the units of two hundred
empty apartments. But Ul’s finger poked “down.” Rina obediently moved to the
stairs, but her fellow traveller had already dived into the shaft and began to rattle
the brackets. Rina started to go down after him, hoping to step on his head when
he lingered below.
It was light at first, but then the shaft went into the basement. A splash was
heard. “Aha! Water! Excellent!” Rina heard Ul’s resonant voice booming in the
shaft. Rina, having had time to jump into the water already, found little
excellence in this. “If you need to get wet, it’s even wetter straight ahead!” she
answered with irritation, trying to moisten her feet evenly so that the right would
not be offended that the left was slightly drier. It would have been better if she
had not mentioned this. “Where? Show me!” Ul asked. Rina nodded into the
darkness.
Ul pulled out a flashlight from his pocket and turned it on. It did not light. He
took out the batteries, knocked them against each other and again put them back
in. This time it lit up, but somehow without conscious necessity – solely out of
pity for the owner. Behind their backs something flared up. Rina looked around.
A reddish radiance flowed out from the elevator shaft. It came over in waves and
only faded at the turn of the corridor. The glass of the flashlight in Ul’s hand
cracked and crumbled. He dropped it and reached for the lighter. It was grand,
made of shell casing.
All the time Rina looked over at the shaft. The reddish radiance became
brighter. “This we call ‘pancake’. It bakes. Those it covers, the eyes are like boiled
eggs afterwards,” Ul explained, stepping quickly along the corridor. “And if we
hadn’t come from above? What then?” Rina asked. “If your papa fell under a
streetcar the day before the wedding? Then what?” Ul answered reasonably. “He
fell under a bicycle,” Rina acknowledged, without being offended. This was
simple truth. Papa was always falling under something. First under a fellow on
roller-skates, then under a cart in a supermarket. Understandable, of course, that
it was not a tractor, but the regularity of the occurrence put one on guard.

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Ul turned the little wheel of the lighter. “Aha! Here’s our water!” he stated
cheerfully. Before them spread a small pool the size of the room. Once, preparing
the foundation for the underground garages, the excavator fell upon the
underground creek Gnilushka. They did their best to cover it, cemented over it,
drained the river bed, but water nevertheless seeped in. Especially now, when
they had suspended the construction.
“Well look, what a trick,” said Ul “The warlocks know that we can’t teleport.
They’ll rummage our pockets only after they finish us off. Logical?” Rina became
ill at ease from this “logic.” “Why after?” “Because it is simpler to find a body
lying motionless than to catch one continuously on the run,” Ul explained
calmly.He let the lighter cool a little and again turned the little wheel.
A second before this the building shook. Rina’s right temple started to ache. “It
has begun! Our friends have traced their figures and posed as artists!” Ul said,
massaging his forehead with the knuckle of his thumb. Apparently, his head was
also aching.
He leaned down and pulled out a piece of rubber hose from the construction
garbage. He bent the hose in two, cut it with the trowel and thrust half at Rina.
She took it perplexedly. White flakes of lime or plastering fell from the hose.
“Have no fear, it’s sterile. All microbes had died off from the mud!” Ul calmed
her. “What must I do with this?” Rina asked. “Breathe! Stick your head out of the
water only if there’s a spare one at home. Their magic won’t break through
water.” Rina’s temples were hurting so much now that it seemed to her as if a
red-hot rope was running between her ears. “Let me help!” Ul offered
sympathetically. And, before Rina had time to consider precisely what help was
being offered, she had flown into the icy water.
The pool of water turned out to be approximately knee high. Ul, not letting her
drag her feet, immediately knocked Rina off her feet and submerged her head.
Rina already had to use the hose here. Choking, she stuck one end out and
snorted water. It was inconvenient to breathe through the hose. Water flowed
into the edge of her mouth. Rina had to swallow the water, otherwise she would
choke. Moreover, Ul’s hand was hindering her terribly. If not for this hand, she
would not be able to stay down nevertheless but would stick out in order to sort
out the twisted hose at least. Rina felt sludge under her feet and tried once again
not to move in order not to rise up. She had no idea how long she had spent
under water. If time was counted by exhalation, then somewhere around two
hundred. If counted by the amount of water taken in, then not less than a glass.
Finally Ul’s hand let go of her neck and pulled up, showing that she could float.
Spitting out with disgust, Rina started to splash to get out, but Ul pulled her back.
“Too soon. ‘Acid breeze’ is usually launched with a ‘doggie’. Already no ‘breeze’,
but the ‘doggie’ is still running.” “What kind of doggie?” “Direction magic. But
while you’re in the water, the ‘doggie’ can’t sniff you out. The warlocks have
already danced as much as they want. Now they’ll run along the floors, but
quickly. If we hear steps, we’ll have to dive and sit quietly.” “But why will they run
quickly?” “Because they’re serious guys, experienced. Do you really think that it’s
possible to arrange such a thing in Moscow that ours wouldn’t find out? And once

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they’ve found out, they’ll be here in a quarter of an hour!” Ul said with


satisfaction.
Nevertheless he held her in the water not for fifteen minutes but a good half-
hour. And this despite that the warlocks had not reached here yet. They were
heard shouting on the stairs. Then someone ran above their heads. Rina felt how
the floor shook. Rina sneezed, unmistakably sensing almost a cold rising in her
nostrils. She again climbed out of the water. This time Ul no longer stopped her.
On dry land Rina felt even more unpleasant, because there were at least no drafts
in the water.
She heard how Ul was breathing on the lighter and shaking it. Then he leaned
over and sniffed the little wheel. “I love to smell everything! Especially books and
any new electronics. In Moscow there’s even a chocolate factory, at Sokolniki, at
the Third Ring Road… We loved going for a walk there. Such a smell of vanilla,
possible to fly away,” Ul, listening, explained. “You’re a huffer,” said Rina. “No
need for labels! I’m not a suitcase!” Ul answered good-naturedly.
Something was happening in the depths of the building and perhaps even on
the street. Now and then Rina began to hear scurrying and howling. She wanted
to stick her head out into the corridor, but Ul without any special ceremony
pressed her nose into the wall. He again pulled out his schnepper with the last
pneupf and kept it in readiness. “Don’t! Can run into trouble!” “You won’t go?”
Rina was surprised. Ul did not give the impression of a coward. “Not even moving
from the spot!” he answered with not the least bit of guilty conscience. “Are you
afraid?” “I have to protect you. What’s the point of running around the building
searching for warlocks, and then returning and discovering that without me a
berserker was here?”
“What if some of your people find me?” Rina asked, wanting to understand
what she was risking. “They won’t kill, but they can cut your head open with the
handle of a schnepper. Nothing personal, normal reaction to an unknown person
in a suspicious place. We work in teams of five. Each team has its own sector. If a
lone person appears in the sector, he’s immediately knocked down onto the
floor.” “But I’m in one of your jackets!” “All the more so!” Ul said with
satisfaction. “Pay attention to what you’re saying! An unknown person and in our
unique jacket! They’ll pack you precisely in our jacket and you’ll lie for about two
hours until someone by chance recalls that the team leader should be called. And
the team leader, such a skunk, won’t come immediately. He’ll first buy for himself
a grilled chicken in pita, scratch his head, and only then, perhaps, will look into
you.” “How would you know?” “I know everything about myself!” Ul said so
modestly that this smelled of explicit immodesty.
Something began to rattle by the elevators. A milky radiance filtered through
the wall. A nonhuman cry was heard. Rina covered up her ears and squatted
down, but the howl even managed to squeeze into her brain. It first rose into a
shout, then a screech, then to such sounds as if someone was choking but could
not scoop in air. The only thing that Rina could come up with was to shove her
little fingers into her ears and move them quickly. A kid’s method but reliable
when you want to hear absolutely nothing. For a while Ul squatted next to Rina

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and supportively slapped her on the back. She carefully took her little fingers
away from her ears.
“What was that?” “The berserker lost his own team. A light frost was set on
him for ten seconds, but it seemed much more to him! He went at them with the
axe and they got worked up. Even four seconds with the ears would be enough for
him! Seems like Rodion. At ours, he always acts tough,” Ul explained, wincing.
“Light frost, how’s that?” “Well, through the lion on the clms… Did you see the
flash?” “The milky one?” “So, you did. Was it painful to you?” “No.” “That’s
because you’re not a warlock. And indeed once we saw the flash, then we also got
a ten-second frost,” Ul stated. Rina understood nothing. “Don’t know how to
explain it!” Ul said with melancholy. “In short, if you’re a warlock, the reek of the
swamp is constantly passing through you. But here we – snip! – plugged the tap
with our fingers. But the rage pushes forward with such force and it literally tears
apart the wretch.”
The patch of light of Ul’s lighter jumped along his uneven nail. It seemed the
finger was lit from within. Suddenly Ul turned, and Rina sprung back, falling into
the water onto her knees. Someone was stirring in the darkness, bickering and
puffing. Ul took a step to the sound and leaned over, quickly lowering the flame
of the lighter. Rina saw a man in a familiar looking jacket of thick skin struggling
with a rather stout bumpkin. The second the light fell on them, the hdiver jumped
on the stout bumpkin and, like a woodpecker, deftly pecked him twice with his
fist. The hick hissed, banged his feet on the ground, and attempted to bite the
hand.
“Nasta?! Why are you here? Out of here quick!” Ul shouted angrily, after
looking intently at the hdiver. He hurriedly leaned over, grabbed the stout
bumpkin, and deftly put something into his open mouth. “Only try to spit it out!
These are my spare socks! Although, alas, also wet! They can also not be spares.
But also not dry!” he warned. After ascertaining that the man’s teeth were
neutralized, Ul put him on his feet. The man did not resist.
A flashlight flared up. With it Rina could examine clearly the one whom Ul
called Nasta. This turned out to be a girl of about eighteen, close-cropped, very
decisive, in a hdiver jacket. Her right ear lobe was extended and into the lobe was
inserted the casing of an automatic with the primer on the outside. It seemed as if
someone had fired at Nasta and the bullet found the target and then got stuck in
the ear.
“Why are you here? Tired of living?” Ul asked her with displeasure. “Max and
Rodion took the berserker up!” Nasta answered excitedly. “I was too lazy to go up
with them, came, and here this one hung onto me like a tick! Breathed in my face
and muttered something! ‘Kill yourself u-up the wall! Kill yourself u-up the
wall!!!’”
Nasta pointed the light at Rina. “Where did she get that jacket?” she asked.
Rina sensed that Ul tensed up. “I gave it to her.” “Ah-h-h! Well-well,” Nasta
drawled; in her voice Rina detected reproach and offence at the same time.
Nasta moved the light onto the prisoner. He was in a ridiculous insulated vest.
Barefoot. Lop-eared. Pant legs rolled up above the knees. On his neck were bulky
beads consisting of many small wooden figures. On his temple was a tattoo of a

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snake crawling out of his ear. “Listen: this isn’t a warlock! This is a shaman! How
did he worm his way here?” Ul said in amazement. The man was about to spit out
the sock, but beheld Ul’s sinewy fist by his nose and reconsidered.
“How do you distinguish which is a warlock and which is a shaman?” asked
Rina. “What’s there to distinguish? Shamans have one pair of boots for eighty
people!” Nasta stated irreconcilably. Ul was inclined to be more congenial. “Well,
the warlocks, they’re so… ordered. They have a clear structure, transport, forts.
They love to discuss the development of abilities and the universal database, from
which each takes what he wants. But the crown for them is neither good nor evil,
but something in the middle,” he explained.
The bumpkin with the new socks in his mouth turned his eyes away from the
bright light and blinked at the lighter in Ul’s hands. Its flame cast a spell on him.
Ul thoughtfully straightened his vest. “But a shaman, here’s a fruit for you! Well,
what can you expect from him? What teams of four there, dang?! If he had to
count to four, his head would explode! Gather en masse, jump, dance – lo and
behold: rain from the clouds. Wow, cool! Boil a toad, bury bones: rain stops!
Wow, cool!”
The shaman heard something inside himself and giggled. One could tell that
he and his surrounding world existed somewhere in parallel. After discovering
Nasta beside him, he managed to forget about the scuffle with her and tried to
place his head on her shoulder. Nasta moved him with an elbow. “You fall on me,
I’ll send you to the Vends!” she threatened. The shaman stopped hanging on her
and recoiled in fear, putting his hands in front of him.
“Who are these ‘Vends’?” Rina asked with pity. “Vend is short for ‘Vendetta’.
They’re ‘avengers’, ‘anti-magicians’, ‘anti-everything’ and ‘kickers’. But these are
offshoots, and the ‘Vendettas’ were first. They sprang up on the basis of Zhenka
Shmyaka’s gang, which robbed Brink’s trucks and wrote on them mutinous verses
using a marker. When they routed the gang, Zhenka Shmyaka turned out to be
Evgenia Shemyakina, a student at the Institute of Physical Culture and the
mother a two-year-old daughter Allochka,” Ul echoed a prepared answer. “And
who are they for?” Rina asked. “The Vends? Nobody. Their principle is to be
against everybody. They beat up whomever they catch. The Vends have the
slogan: ‘A spell takes two seconds, evil eye three, but the fist – three hits per
second.’” “Do the Vends bother you guys?” “Anything can happen. It happens
that some are bothered. Try to get acquainted,” Ul answered merrily. Nasta
smiled, but recalled that she was mortally offended and put on a poker face.
“How to recognize a Vend?” Rina asked. “Easy,” said Ul. “The Vends, they’re
such strong guys, sharp, often close-cropped, but also long-haired ones. They
look so… hmm-mm… relaxed, like fighters do. They don’t look at the face but at
the chin in order to see the whole body. Well-packed knuckles. Wear clothing
convenient to fight in, not showing dirt, sporty, often in two different coloured
things in order to cover their tracks after a fight. The police are directed to search
for a fellow in a yellow long-sleeved hoodie, but he has already pulled it off and
turned up in a blue turtleneck. We still call them ‘cabbage worms’.” “But in
general the Vends are not too bad. Some move over to us later. Max, for example,

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is a former Vend. But a large potion goes nowhere and runs around in groups
until they marry,” Nasta again giggled.
Ul took the shaman by the shoulder and turned him over to a fellow entering
the basement. The new fellow did not take him by the elbow but put an arm
around him like an old friend. The guy with the beads looked around sadly. Ul
waved to him. Then caught up with him and removed the socks. “What will they
do with him?” Rina asked, when Ul returned. “Well, nothing. Take away his beads
– won’t be able to teleport without them! – and a knee to the rear.” “Where do
they come from?” “Shamans? The elbes feed them! He lives as a man and one day
realizes that he can move a stool with a look. Clear thing, a full load of
enthusiasm: ‘Wow, I have a gift! You’re all nobodies here but I’m the kingpin!
Mum, take your soup away! I’ll create a new universe right away!’”
Ul listened to something. A ray of light slid along the corridor. Strong and
narrow, it seemed solid. Two fellows in hdiver jackets appeared. The first one was
huge like a cabinet, with immense, completely cartoonish shoulders. The other
was harsh, red-faced, angry, with a nose broken at some point and grown back
together incorrectly. To Rina he seemed mocking and troublesome. “Max!
Rodion! Why so long?” Ul greeted them cheerfully. “And where would you order
us to search for you?” Red-faced muttered. “Y-you at least ch-charge the c-
centaur! No c…connection!” the behemoth added, moving his shoulders and
stuttering. “Agreed, Max!” Ul promised.
His companion looked guardedly at Rina. “Who’s this?” he asked darkly. “She’s
with us, Rodion! She found the marker, didn’t keep it for herself and now she’s a
hdiver,” said Ul. Rodion squinted. “Knew nothing about the laws of HDive, and
didn’t keep it? She could merge with it.” “And her b… bee?” Max added. “She’s a
hdiver without a bee,” Ul answered somewhat embarrassed. “Th-that doesn’t h-
happen.” “Already did. Look!” Ul said with emphasis. He shoved his hand into his
pocket. His hand froze in amazement, as if discovering something unexpected.
Very carefully Ul pulled out his pocket and, after glancing there, reached for
something with great care.
On the edge of a cracked cocoon sat a small butterfly with emerald-green
wings. Neither dirty water nor the rough skin of the jacket nor Ul’s fingers had
injured them a bit. The butterfly did not seem to be anything special. However,
Rina felt that she could look at it for all eternity. To draw it in with her pupils, to
drink it in greedily, like a person drinking cool water after passing through a
desert. That happiness of renewal, which she had when she saw the upside-down
white cat in the puddle, again spread over Rina. The butterfly moved its whiskers,
fluttered its wings, and darted off straight for the ceiling flagstone. It touched it,
effortlessly flew right through it, and disappeared.

Chapter 7

A Protégé of “Eveel”

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The soldiers went past the city, peacefully returning to


their own camp. From the city walls they began to shoot
arrows and throw stones at them. The soldiers captured
the city and began to put its inhabitants to death. And the
inhabitants yelled, “Why? We did not shoot the arrows but
our enemy’s spies and scouts, who live in our city and well-
known to us!”
The soldiers answered them, “So be it, but why did you
allow enemy scouts to live in your city? Why not drive
them away when they were known to you? Where were
you looking when they got up onto the walls, shot arrows
at us, and wounded us? Are they really so strong that you
with your whole city could not overcome a few?”
“The Charter of a Diver” (the Latin version 1503.)

The main headquarters of the warlocks, located not far from Kubinka,
outwardly resembled a restricted military unit. Concrete fence with barbed wire.
Many video cameras. High iron gates. Calm, confident security. Already having
been admitted inside, Dolbushin drove for a long time along a narrow asphalt
road through a forest near Moscow. It was the end of April. The snow in the city
and on the highway had long since melted, but here in the forest darkened
snowdrifts were still lying in places.
Today Dolbushin was not in the Hummer but the inconspicuous grey Ford.
With him was Anya, whose presence Guy himself unexpectedly insisted on.
Dolbushin did not like this, but he knew that Guy could not be contradicted. The
road brought them to one more fence. Outwardly it made little impression.
Rather low, almost decorative. Dolbushin, however, would not envy anyone who
would attempt to penetrate it without an invitation. Immediately after the barrier
they left the automobile and, after nodding to the silent arbalester on duty here,
went further on foot.
Anya continually ran in front. She was glad, looked around with interest. It
was her first time in the warlocks’ headquarters. Her father was stepping and
severely tapping with the umbrella along the reddish, tightly placed stones. It was
not far to go. From there they already saw the long, plain, massive building
solidly dug into the earth. “It’s so great here!” Anya said. Dolbushin shrugged his
shoulders. He would prefer that his daughter be kept far from this “great.” “Guy
could build something better. Must think the hdivers don’t know where to find
him,” he said through his teeth.
Guy was waiting for them in the office. He was lounging on the sofa and
amusing himself by enlarging the hole in his old sailcloth pants. Beside him,
attentive like Dobermans, his four guards stood still with levered arbalests. “You
say the hdivers know where to find me? My dear, the value of this structure is
under it. If this were otherwise, they would have dropped an attack marker here
long ago,” Guy mockingly stated. Dolbushin heard nothing new for him. He was
not even surprised that Guy could hear him 300 metres away. Guy is Guy.

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The ceiling began to tremble. A short half-squeal-half-roar was heard.


Dolbushin raised his head. He knew that the hyeon cages were above them. The
smell of hyeons, sharp and unpleasant, forced its way even through the concrete.
There were about fifty cages in all; however, eight of them were empty at the
given moment. One team of four arbalesters were “combing” the sky around
HDive. Another was in a three-minute departure order on the first signal from
the swamp.
Guy let down his feet. He even did not take the trouble to put on shoes. His
toes were swarthy, long. Guy moved them, and then leaned over and fished out a
shoe from under the sofa. He held it in his hands; however, he did not begin to
put it on but offered it to Anya. “Do me a favour! Knock the heel on that wall
there!” he asked. Anya looked interrogatively over at her father and, after taking
the shoe, knocked it. “Don’t be shy! Your father is fully capable of paying for
repairs!” Guy encouraged her.
The wall seemed indifferent; however, after the second hit a wood panel fell
into the floor. A sufficiently large library turned out to be behind it. Beldo,
cheerfully rubbing his hands, sailed into Guy’s office. “Ah!” he exclaimed. “Ah! I
was examining the parchments here! How pretty you are, young lass! You’re not a
mirage by any chance?” The old man twittered like a canary; however, Anya
backed away from him. This offended the old man. He joked all the more
importunately, laughed even louder. Anya stepped closer to her father, especially
as a stout person with bullish eyebrows, driving away cigarette smoke with his
hands, was forcing his way from the library into the room. “I greet everyone
whom I didn’t see!” he said hoarsely.
Guy’s cheeks puffed up and sunk in. “Till! Dolbushin! Beldo! I called you in
order to talk about our agent in HDive,” he said. Dolbushin shifted his gaze onto
Guy’s bare feet. “We don’t have an agent in HDive!” he reminded politely. “Goes
without saying, Albert Fedorovich! As yet none. But soon one will appear,” Guy
assured him. Dolbushin stopped being interested in the soles and was interested
in Guy’s sailcloth pants. “And who is your agent? Do I know him?” “And very
well, my dear! Even better than me. We’ll send your daughter into HDive!” Guy
said ingratiatingly. “You’ve an excellent daughter! I’ve always secretly admired
her, as I’m deprived of the dubious fortune of having biological offspring!”
If they jabbed Dolbushin with a cigarette, he would not have twitched more.
“Krunya!” flickered in his thoughts. “They won’t take Anya into HDive! She’s
ours!” he quickly objected. Guy began to click his tongue reproachfully. “Minor
detail. So far she’s yours, Albert! Not ours, but yours! Not assigned to a team of
fours! She doesn’t share the… eh-eh… sentiments in our mission. Steers clear of
our modest parties.”
“It doesn’t automatically mean that they’ll take her into HDive! The bee will
never pick her!” “But why? Won’t you, dearest Ingvar Borislavovich, remind us
what’s there in their regulations?” Guy looked at Till. Till made a helpless gesture.
“Then I’ll do it myself. ‘Not a single person, definitively firmly convinced of evil,
can penetrate the grounds of HDive!’” Guy’s mouth trembled with loathing. “Pray
tell, Ingvar Borislavovich, are you definitively firmly convinced of so-called

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‘eveel’?” Till bit the filter with his yellowish teeth and dangled the tip of the
smouldering cigarette horizontally.
“Convinced, Dolbushin? Even Ingvar Borislavovich, known to many as Butcher
Till, has the right to apply to HDive! But, unfortunately, these narrow people
won’t value such a treasure. As a result our Ingvar was left out and from
disappointment headed the fort of thugs!” Till burst out laughing, his multiple
chins shuddering consecutively. Flakes of ashes fell onto his stomach.
“Interesting,” Guy continued with irritation, “according to what sign do these
snobs determine who was definitively firmly convinced of ‘eveel’? If tomorrow I
transfer a good sum to the shelter for the homeless? Eh, Dionysus Tigranovich?
Will I remain ‘eveel’ after this?”
The old man looked guardedly at him with the eyes of a fox. “Good, evil, all
this, in essence, is so conditional on the scales of the infinite universe,” he began
to babble. “One person lost a wallet, to him it’s evil. Another found it, to him this
is good… Nevertheless, in your place I wouldn’t take a risk. What if they don’t
understand you and… in general there are all kinds of possible chances.” Guy
playfully threatened him with his hand. “I wouldn’t have guessed that you’re such
a bore, cheerless old man! Well, so be it, you’ve dissuaded me. Well, Albert
Fedorovich, be prepared, we’ll try to direct the circumstances in such a way that
the hdivers will notice your daughter!”
Anya squinted at her father. He was standing straight as a pole, and his eyes
were sad even though he did not stoop. The last time she saw him like this was on
the day of Mama’s death. Anya knew her father. His brain was like a calculator.
He had already considered everything. At the moment when he twitched as if
from a cigarette burn. Guy never said anything without reason. If the answer was
“no,” she would not be allowed out of there alive. Butcher Till, her father, and
even the sweet Beldo, all hated Guy, but they understood perfectly well that
psyose came through him. Guy could not be touched. To replace any of them was
possible, but not Guy.
Psyose cannot be touched by hand and cannot be stolen. It does not have
shape, weight, or size. Psyose is both enjoyment and means of exchange. It is
possible to feel immediately such pleasure that the brain will seize up like those
poor devils in the “enclosure,” or fuzzily and for a long time like that quiet woman
who has smiled at the same joke already for eight years. It is possible to
accumulate it, to exchange it for authority, for supernatural ability, for fulfilment
of a wish, for any object. In short, psyose is psyose. And elbes send it exclusively
through Guy.
“It’s impossible. A girl with my name in HDive?” Dolbushin said, drawling.
This seemed to him a strong argument. “Don’t worry!” Guy calmed him. “A name,
that’ll come in time, especially for a girl. Dionysus Tigranovich’s fort will see to
everything. Isn’t that so?” Beldo, wiping his wet forehead with a hanky, hurriedly
lowered his hand. Anya’s eyes involuntarily slid along the bright spot.
“We’ll do our best!” Beldo promised clownishly. “Everything will be newer
than new for our princess! Different parents, suspecting nothing. Different
memory, different name… Of course, all this is superficial. The basic personality
will remain as before. And the model of perception of life, and… hmm-n-eh…

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habits. This, alas, is safely protected from us. Possible to suggest by hypnosis to a
dog that it’s a hen, but, please excuse the naturalism, it won’t lay eggs.”
“And I see you’re a notable expert on poultry, Beldo!” Guy was moved. “First
time I meet a man who so deftly dodged the word ‘soul’! Model of perception of
life, eh?” The old man bowed with dignity. “Besides, we’ll increase the probability
of Anya’s chance into HDive! And in a year’s time, when the girl has taken root in
HDive, the block will come off without a hitch, and she’ll recall everything!”
“You guarantee her safety?” Dolbushin asked threateningly. “Absolutely!”
Beldo assured him. “Trust my experience of many years! No more than a fifth…
eh-eh… of the patients loses their minds. Approximately another third may start
having small visions, nightmares, delirium, schizophrenia, but that’s mere
details. In your case we’ll get the risk down to the minimum. We’ll get the best
specialists involved! Everything will be done in the best private Moscow clinic.
For consultations notables are invited: academicians, professors! Even test tubes
will be sterilized by no less than Candidates of Sciences. However, if you trust me,
I’ll drive them all away and recommend the paramedic Utochkin from Syzran
provincial psychiatric hospital! Here’s a true natural genius! Only need to clarify
whether he’s off the juice.”
Anya saw how her father licked his lips. “Are you mocking me, Beldo?” he
asked threateningly. “Not at all,” the old man clicked his tongue. “I only said: if
you trust me. If not, let the Freudians poke around in your daughter’s head!
They’ll ask her what she likes more: a beautiful ravine or a plain pine tree, and
independent of the answer they’ll state that all her problems began, when in
childhood she persistently dreamt of a square oval pestering a round triangle.”
Dolbushin’s umbrella came down onto the floor. It would seem not so hard,
but the sound came out clear, sharp. “I need neither your academicians nor your
Utochkin!!! I gave my word to her mother…” he shouted in the heat of the
moment and stopped short. “Since when do the deceased poke their noses into
the affairs of the living? My dear, are you sure that the weight of running the fort
isn’t too heavy for your shoulders? Especially now, when your dear wife isn’t
helping you?” Guy’s voice rang like glass.
With his index finger Dolbushin pulled the collar pressing on him. Guy was a
master of deceitful jumps. Indeed it was well-known to him that Dolbushin never
involved his wife in his affairs. She even did not know how he occupied himself.
Well, the husband got up in the morning, took bread in a rag, hid a phone in a
sock, harnessed the motorized donkey, and leisurely made his way little by little
to sweat his guts out in the financial field of investments. It was only in her time
of sickness that the wife began to surmise something.
“I’ll find you another girl! A hundred times better!” Dolbushin carelessly
blurted out and was immediately sorry for his words. A wave of fat rolled along
the chubby Till from his chin to his stomach. Guy smiled maliciously, “You’re a
good father, Albert, if you admit to the existence of a girl a hundred times better
than your daughter! I found the girl, Albert! I did! And not only me! You know
where my choice has been approved.”
Dolbushin’s fingers squeezed the umbrella handle. “What, Albert? Afraid the
umbrella wouldn’t be good and you won’t fly away above Mary Poppins?” Guy

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joked, winking. “Well, enough… Bring the girl here!” Guy gave no sign, but Anya
felt how Till’s persistent hands politely but firmly nudged her towards Guy.
“Papa!” she desperately shouted. Clever Till stepped back in time, after leaving
Anya in the hands of Guy’s bodyguards.
Dolbushin took a full step. Exactly how much was needed to close the
necessary distance and abruptly thrust his arm out. Anya heard a dull sound. The
tall bodyguard, holding her under the right elbow, collapsed face down, not even
putting his hand in front. His partner had time to shoulder the arbalest, but the
cast handle of the umbrella had already touched his shoulder. Anya saw how,
after leaning back a little, her father lifted the umbrella handle. Repeating his
motion, the arbalester did the same. His face was contorted. Fear was beating in
his eyes. Resisting but being inferior to the invisible force, Guy’s bodyguard
swung the arbalest around, directing the tip of the bolt at his own forehead.
“Poof!” Dolbushin ordered through lips turned white.
After understanding what would happen now, Anya yelled. Her father was
slightly distracted by her and at the last instant, Guy’s bodyguard managed to
jerk his head back. The bolt with recessed feather burned his cheek. A pink scar
slowly began to fill with blood. The two surviving guards kept the sight on
Dolbushin. He looked at their arbalests and calmly swung the umbrella.
“Stop, papa dear, or your daughter will become an orphan! And you guys don’t
shoot! Back off!” Guy shouted. His security unwillingly obeyed, not taking
distrustful eyes off Dolbushin. The bodyguard whom he had struck first
continued to lie motionless. The second one was sitting on the floor and swaying,
pressing a hand against his face. The blood flowed from under his palm. In horror
he abandoned the arbalest.
“You’ll recall about psyose, Dolbushin!” Guy said much calmer. “Or you no
longer need it? I’m able to make it so that your friends of yesterday will crush
you. Want to test their loyalty?” Dolbushin kept silent. Anya knew what would
happen with her father if he stopped receiving psyose. He never spends any on
himself: not for pleasure or any stunning ability like travelling out of the body
while asleep. Indeed only for power. But will the rest of his fort be able to do
without psyose? Even the newly recruited timid students, generally using it up on
success with girls, will grumble. However, the rest are capable of dipping a live
father into a bath of molten gold, since no amount of money can replace psyose.
Guy approached Anya and stopped quite close. They turned out to be of the
same height. The wings of his nose were pink-yellow, shuddering. He smelled of
something sharp, stuffy, intoxicating. But this was nothing; the most frightening
of all was that Guy’s pupils were uneven, colourless. They shuddered and
enlarged like a jellyfish discarded on the shore.
“They won’t take her into HDive,” Dolbushin obstinately repeated. “Krunya
believes otherwise. Don’t deceive yourself, dear papa! I’ve been watching her
closely for a long time! She’s an obstinate, capricious girl, but no more! This so-
called ‘eveel’, as these half-wits nicely call it, is sufficiently episodic in her.
Conscience, this vile rudiment, this analog of moral tailbone, is still persistently
getting under her feet! I can prove this to you! Hey, somebody!” Guy raised his

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voice. One of the guards – dark-complexioned like an Assyrian – handed Anya


his arbalest. He pulled back his hand and rested it against her stomach.
Anya had to shoot on many occasions, but earlier she only dealt with
contemporary models. Light, elegant arbalests, made to fit her hand, shoulder,
and eyes. This was boxy, heavy, and uncomfortable. “Shoot whom you want!
Nothing will happen to you, I give you my word! If you wound him and he attacks
you, they’ll finish him off!” Guy ordered, after looking at his own guards. The
guards had their arbalests ready. Anya looked at father. “Get it over with!”
Dolbushin impatiently shouted. “Come on, Anya! Simply take aim, squeeze, and
that’s it!”
Holding the arbalest, Anya began to turn slowly in a circle. For a second she
stopped at the sleepy Till, breathing smoke out from the corner of his mouth; at
the half-smiling-half-grinning Beldo; and then – partly unexpectedly even for
herself – directed the arbalest firmly at Guy’s chest. “I quote, ‘If you wound him
and he attacks you, they’ll finish him off!’” she reminded him with a trembling
voice. Guy’s guards began to bustle, taking aim at Anya, but Guy shook his head.
“Don’t touch her!” he ordered. “Well, choose fast! Prove to Papa that you’re one
of us!”
Anya’s finger lay on the release and carefully pulled it. Guy’s face did not
change, only the right eyelid trembled. At the last moment when the release lever
almost freed the catch, Anya, unexpectedly for herself, pulled the arbalest up. A
crack was heard. Guy examined the bolt stuck deeply into the wood panel. “A
miss! And this from one-and-a-half steps!” Guy rang out sympathetically.
“Convinced, Dolbushin? The Sixth Commandment,17 how it fits like a glove! Why
did you neglect your daughter so?”
Anya did not turn to her father. Even without this she almost saw how his
brows were frowning, how his mouth was drawn out like a thread. She knew his
face to the smallest detail, like a guitarist his guitar or a young artist his wife
drawn a thousand times already. “Now Paulina… she, perhaps, would shoot Guy,”
Anya suddenly thought.
“So, Albert! I’m waiting for your decision! Do you let your daughter into
HDive? Yes or…?” “I do,” Dolbushin announced through his teeth. Guy stretched
out a hand and stroked Anya’s cheek. His palm was not moist, not dry, not warm,
not cold… but so… as if you are touching rough wallpaper. “You’re my passage to
eternity! Not the substitute but true eternity,” Guy whispered voicelessly with his
lips.

Chapter 8

HDive

Everything that happens to us is either a plus or a


minus. Any thought, half thought, word, motive,
conversation, any encounter. A man is such that even
17
The 6th of the Ten Commandments from the Bible says: Thou shall not kill.

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86

a fly cannot sit down on him without influencing him a


little bit.
From the diary of a non-returning hdiver

They went out onto the street. Sunlight cut into their unaccustomed eyes. On
the loose dirt were tracks of many feet. Rina saw a large group of hdivers, who
were easily recognized by their jackets, on the side. Max approached them and,
stuttering, said something. Rina made out only a fragment of the phrase:
“newbie, for w-which they send three teams of four war…warlocks. Didn’t take
the m-marker.” After these words somewhat special looks immediately began to
come her way.
Max communicated with someone on the clms and returned to Rina. “K-
Kavaleria gave the g-go ahead,” he reported. “Excellent! You’re coming with us!”
Ul said to Rina. Rina tried to feel happy, but at the present moment she wanted a
shower more. “Listen, can I hop on home at least for five minutes? Grab some
things!” she asked dully. Ul looked at Max, Max at Rodion, and Rodion again at
Ul. “The l-less the warlocks know about your parents, the b-better. We can’t
appoint guards to th-them,” Max said guiltily. Ul grunted and scratched the back
of his head. Rina did not immediately understand why he was embarrassed, but
then grasped it. Last time he did not think about her mama when he let her go
home. True, it was only a “bun” then. They had not yet sent warlocks after her.
Rina gave in. It is clear about home. Cannot go there.
“And school? I have one grade left!” she asked, after nudging with a foot her
infinitely wet knapsack. Now Rodion looked at Max, Max at Ul, and Ul at Rodion.
This was beginning to annoy Rina already. “Well, what can one say here? Hmm…
I congratulate you on completing high school a little ahead of schedule! So it
turned out,” said Ul and, not letting Rina recover her wits, shouted, “Hey,
Vityara!”
The young fellow running up was small, skinny, with a scattering of acne on
the forehead and cheeks, not crimson or terrible, but nice, tame, and homey.
Vityara seemed unfinished without the acne. Even more amusing were his ears.
Small but with very thick lobes, as if bitten by a wasp. It seemed they had taken a
normal ear as a base and glued the side of a bagel to it.
“Vityara, you have the reserve clms?” Ul asked. The young fellow stuck his
hand under his jacket, dug for a long time, accompanying his search with terrible
grimaces, and finally pulled out a leather guard. Railing slightly at Vityara for the
jumbled laces, Ul helped Rina tie on the clms. His own by that time had already
become golden and was shining. Its power had been restored by a mobile marker,
which the punctilious Max had brought along.
“I don’t know how to teleport,” said Rina. “Just imagine, me neither. The
sirin18 does everything,” said Ul, after clicking a nail on the woman-bird. “Your
task is to imagine clearly the place where you’re going and that’s it.” “Ul, she c-
can’t imagine the p-place. She has never been to HDive,” Max reminded him. Ul
was puzzled, but only for a second. “Then visualize grass and that I’m standing on
18
Sirin is the half-woman half-bird creature of Slavic mythology.

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your right and Max on your left! Can you do that?” Rina carefully nodded. “I
think so.” “So, agreed. Only don’t try to grasp me at the moment of the flash. I
don’t need a Siamese twin. I’m a very light sleeper and toss and turn at night!” Ul
warned. “We’ll get it from K… You know who. According to the r…rules, supposed
to h-have an orientation!” Max said sadly. Ul was embarrassed, but only for a
second. “And who said that I didn’t? I communicated basic information,” he
stated and touched his sirin.
Rina mechanically repeated his movement. Nothing happened, and she
already wanted to remove her hand when suddenly it seemed to her that beetles,
like rolled oats, were running along her jacket. She tried to shake them off but the
same beetles were already sitting on her palms. Rina belatedly realized that these
were not beetles but her body and clothing broken up first into large pieces and
those in turn to small ones. She had broken up into many small parts, which did
not fall off but hung in the air like powdered sugar, repeating the shape of the
body and the extremities. And through this powder the sun rays easily made their
way and the moist earth was visible.
Rina in panic attempted to grasp Ul, who was also such a sandy cluster, but did
not manage. The experienced Ul had foresightedly fallen back about five steps
from her. Max had done the same. “Ul on your right! Max on your left! Grass
under the feet! UNDER the feet, not IN the feet and not ABOVE the feet!”
Rodion, lingering to teleport, shouted loudly, until Rina did this. He shouted this
just in time, because Rina already did not remember anything, watching how her
body finally lost its outlines and flew away in different directions as hundreds of
thousands of tiny balls, already occupying almost the space of a room.
Rina also did not understand whether she had imagined anything. It seemed a
picture nevertheless flickered, because in the next moment she was already
sitting on grass. Beside her stood Ul and Max and they were looking attentively at
her. Then they exchanged glances and Ul squatted down beside her. “Please don’t
be frightened! You’re alive and that’s the main thing. It could be much worse!” he
said. “What happened?” Rina asked, getting nervous. Ul sympathetically touched
her shoulder. “You still don’t understand? We’ve exchanged legs. Such happens
sometimes. It’ll be inconvenient at first, of course, but you’ll get used to it later. I
warned you: don’t grasp me!” he explained.
Rina began to squeal wildly right into his pitiful eyes. Then she pulled up her
knees and hurriedly began to roll up the jeans. The jeans were seemingly hers,
but who knew what was under them? Even when she had figured out that they
were her own legs, she nevertheless continued to squeal by inertia.
“Can’t you be a little quieter? I’m going deaf!” someone asked behind her back.
Rina saw a woman of small build. She also did not notice when she had walked
up. Middle-aged but looked young. Carried herself like a dancer. A long fine
braid. The chin up high, as if she was trying to become taller through this. On the
lady’s nose were small glasses. Not round, but half-glasses, similar to a cut-up
oval. In her hands she was holding a small, bald, slim-legged, trembling Italian
greyhound. On the dog was a wide harness with a handle. Apparently, when
desired, the dog could be carried like a handbag.

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“Good day!” Rina timidly said. The lady looked at her with a severe look, in
which it was read that the goodness of the present day was a fact already
established and did not need repeated proof. “Ul, please visit me in the office!
Octavius wants to have a talk with you about your sense of humour. And at the
same time about the teleportation of an unprepared novice,” she asked quietly. Ul
drew his head into his shoulders, instantly becoming a guilty schoolboy. “She’s
prepared!” he said hurriedly. The lady raised her eyebrows. “So quickly?” “We
explained everything to her. She catches on real fast,” Ul muttered and squinted
pleadingly at Max. “Here he’ll confirm it! Do!” The giant hurriedly nodded.
“Exceptional ta… t-tt… ta-a-alent!” he began to sing.
Max’s singing did not interest the decisive woman. She looked at Rina, who
was still feeling her legs the whole time, with scepticism. “Get up!” she ordered.
Rina jumped up in a hurry. She was taller than the small lady by half a head, but
for some reason she felt like a dwarf next to her. There are such small people,
next to whom even giants shrink. “Do you know who I am?” the woman asked,
straightening her glasses. “Yes.” This alerted the lady. “Who?” she asked
introductorily. “You’re Kavaleria!” Rina blurted out. The lady pulled a long face.
However, she was not looking at Rina but again at Ul. If earlier his head was
simply pulled in, now it had almost disappeared entirely. However, he managed
to throw a dark look at Rina and move his thumb along his neck. “Kavaleria is
cavalry!19” the small lady announced with emphasis. “Tell me, do I resemble
cavalry or nevertheless the director of HDive?” Rina hurried to declare in favour
of the second option.
Kaleria Valerevna examined Rina intently, not hiding her feelings. And Rina
was also examining her in return, only not so openly. She remembered what Ul
had told her about the husband and the son; however, so far no melancholy was
observed in Kavaleria. Or possibly, it was deeper than could be taken in during
the first seconds.
“Have you met any unusual bees lately?” Kavaleria asked. Rina shook her
head. “I didn’t pay any attention,” she said. “You would have!” Kavaleria
answered with confidence and immediately posed a new question, “Why didn’t
you take the marker for yourself?” Rina wanted to lie but sensed that it would be
better not to. “I didn’t know that it was a marker and that it was possible to take it
for myself,” she said courageously.
The small woman hesitated in encouragement and straightened Rina’s jacket.
“Five marks! But just in case remember: it isn’t necessary to know this. I don’t
want to impose my view on anything, but a lot of people get drunk not having any
understanding of what the formula of alcohol is… Ul! Max! Rodion! Find
Kuzepych and ask him to settle the novice!” “Kuzepych will grumble. He’ll say
that he had to be warned in advance,” answered Rodion. He alone talked to
Kaleria without timidity. Kaleria Valerevna lowered her head, and then jerked up
her chin so sharply that the fine braid twitched like a cat’s tail. “Logically – and I
have everything in order with logic! – can’t warn about everything in advance.
Tell Kuzepych so!” she cut him off.

19
Kavaleriya is Russian for “cavalry.”

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89

***

“Well, I’ll get it today! Why did you blurt out about Kavaleria?” Ul said when
the director had left. “Sorry,” Rina said guilty. Ul considered. “I’ll forgive in the
evening. So far I’m not offended yet,” he stated and, together with Max and
Rodion, went searching for Kuzepych.
Rina looked around. Along the path stretched a chain of young trees, similar to
a comb planted with the teeth sticking out. The fence was pretty, iron, with drops
of drying paint, which was so pleasant to scratch off with a nail. Each drop
contained a brief, infinitely quiet “puff!” Lilac bushes, broken off in parts, pressed
onto the fence. All around countless adolescent-lilacs and baby-lilacs hurried to
move apart the earth. Behind the lilac was an asphalt area, on which an old car of
bright red was standing. Sporty, a predatory contour, but with new wheels and
tires. The lane led to a two-story building in the shape of an enormous H. A sharp
roof with rust at the joints and dilapidated wooden stairs. A coquettish pipe with
a metal shield. Windows into the basement with the grid taken off. An additional
fire escape ran along the wall to the second floor.
Rina approached the porch. Small, without rails, five steps. On the double
wood doors hung a normal 8x11 sheet of paper under plexiglass, but which
nevertheless managed to get slightly wet on the edges and faded in the centre.

SEVERAL FACTS about HDive:

1. There is HDive and there are hdivers. Well, you will figure this
out quickly.
2. Guests, parents, and friends cannot be invited here if they are not
hdivers, of course.
3. Everything except a bad mood is shared by everyone here.
4. Duels, fights, idle talks, and showdowns in the Green Labyrinth
are strictly forbidden.
5. Do not lose the clms! Administration is not responsible for
charging, breakdown, malfunction, stuck in masonry, problems with
fight magic, etc.

Rina did not have time to read further. A door opened. Max looked out. “Come.
We found K… k-k… k…” he said and, dropping his battle with the word, beckoned
Rina with a finger to follow him.
The longest corridor stretched out. Walls with inlaid wooden panels gleamed;
a low couch of imitation leather; the “exit” and “entrance” signs in green light; an
iron hinge from a nonexistent door embedded into a wall; an old repoussé with
highlanders; a fire extinguisher in a red box. Beyond the window was an iron
overhang, similar to a tub with the drain outside. A round patio with four fir
trees. One enormous with large bumps and a bald top like the head of a vulture.
Next to it were a small one and two more medium ones, recoiling from each other
and as if dancing an Argentinean tango.

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HDive, seemingly arranged simply and logically at first – two parallel


buildings and a gallery connecting them – in reality turned out not to be so
simple, because to one of the crosspieces of “H” adjoined other extensions in the
shape of a rather crooked “D.” “H and D, almost like HDive. Amusing!” Rina
thought. “C-corrudors,” Max called them. It smelled of polish. Under the feet lay
parquet with pieces missing.
Rina came across an old group photo in a wood frame on the wall. She could
not help herself and stopped. Here was Max, so huge but with a funny kid face;
here was Rodion, not so seasoned and unshaven but the same distrustful and a
little sullen; and here was also Kaleria Valerevna, brisk and alarmingly invariable.
It seemed to Rina that among the adolescent faces surrounding the instructors
flickered Ul’s face. Was this really him? Unkempt, bug-eyed, funny. Everyone was
standing but he was stretched out in the front row in front of everybody and
propped a cheek up with a hand. “Interesting, is Ul’s girl also here?” Rina
thought, trying to guess the right one among the several dozen faces. But, of
course, she could not. Max impatiently gave a cough, reminding her that it was
necessary to hurry.
On the stairs they met a dark-haired likable fellow. His left hand was in a cast.
He was not much bothered and managed to scribble all over it with a marker.
“Hello, V-vovchik! How are you?” Max shouted to him. “Fine!” Vovchik answered
in a bass, efficiently looking over Rina’s figure. “And the hand?” “Fine!” Vovchik
also said, shifting his gaze onto the face attached to those legs. “Everything is f-
fine with you!” Max remarked. “No, not everything!” Vovchik complained not so
much to Max as to Rina. “I don’t have a girl. That’s not fine.” At this instant a girl
with a plastic pipe jumped out of an adjacent corridor, overtook Vovchik, and hit
him over the head. On noticing Max and Rina, she thrust the pipe under her arm
and tried to make a thoughtful face. “I sympathize! Let’s ask her to find someone
for you!” Rina proposed insidiously. Vovchik gave a hacking cough and swept
past further along the corridor.
The girl approached. She had a strange scratch on her cheekbone. A small
piece of skin had simply been pulled off, although the wound had already skinned
over. This did not prevent the girl from being merry. She was always smiling and
ohing, because the skin of her face stretched with the smile. “Hello, Oksa!” Max
waved at her. “Been to Ficus? Rubbed its belly with s… strips of straw?” “Oh!
Yes.” “How is it? D-doesn’t bite anymore?” “Behaving badly, so unlike it. Oh!”
Oksa covered her cheekbone. “And y-you don’t smile!” Max advised her
sympathetically. “I can’t not smile. Well, I’m going! I still have to nail someone!”
Oksa left, holding her cheek and showing Vovchik the pipe from a distance.
Rina again met Ul on the second floor by the stairs. With him was a stout
round-faced man with eyebrows like brushes and a fleshy chin like a heel. Wide
like an oak stump, he towered in the passage. Rina surmised that this was
Kuzepych. “How do you do!” Rina timidly greeted him. Kuzepych looked her over
with doubt. “This is the one without the bees?” he sternly asked Ul. Rina saw that
“KULAK”20 was tattooed on his paw. Beginning from the little finger, one letter
on each finger. “Aha in the sense uh-huh!” Ul confirmed cheerfully. Kuzepych
20
The Russian word kulak has multiple meanings, one of which is “fist.”

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again looked at Rina and scratched his cheek. “I won’t give her a separate room!”
he stated decisively. “I’ll give her a cot in a five-bunk.” He turned and began to
stomp heavily along the hallway. Kuzepych walked clumsily like a bear; however,
it was not simple to keep up with him. Rina looked over at Ul. He waved at her to
indicate that she should follow Kuzepych and not to worry. For some reason he
remained on the spot, and Max too.
About Kuzepych it was possible to say that he did not so much proceed as
made the rounds of his possessions. In how he touched a wooden frame, how he
picked up a loose nail and put it into his pocket without a moment’s hesitation,
natural thrift, almost love was perceived. Now, groaning, he would lean over and
turn the valve on the heater, now he would sternly pull the latch hanging on a
screw and move his bushy eyebrows. Must be, an old crab with cockleshells
overgrown on its shell crawls on the sea bottom this way, half sideways, with
caution.
At the next-to-last door Kuzepych stopped and pushed it. It was stuffy in the
room. There were no beds. Mattresses were rolled up. And there was nothing
else, only an old toothbrush lying on the window. “Make yourself comfortable
however you want. Everything is free,” Kuzepych growled. “And really no one
here…” Rina started. “Not yet. The bees usually gather novices closer to fall.”
Kuzepych went to the window and tugged at the frame. The window opened
out onto an enormous lilac bush. Growing beside it was an old pine tree with a
bisected trunk. One of its thick branches, warmed by the sun, the bark in reddish
scales, came quite close to the window. Rina estimated: even if you fall, the
second floor is not the tenth. Not long to put the ribs back together and not much
breaking of bones.
Kuzepych’s bushy eyebrows moved sternly. “I’ll grind you into dust if I find
out!” he said threateningly. “For what?” Rina was surprised. Kuzepych breathed
out through his nose, which stood for a shortened chuckle from him. “On the
other hand, if no tracks are left on the lawn, how would I find out?” he added
musingly. Rina immediately stopped pretending. She was able to appreciate
human relation. “What, didn’t the old ones, those who lived here earlier, leave
any tracks?” she took a risk and asked. “They dropped a blanket. When you jump
onto the blanket, no tracks remain on the lawn. They remain on the blanket!”
Kuzepych started to wheeze. He was beginning to choke again. Rina could
imagine it very well. A very strong green frog the height of a man is standing on
its hind legs and pressing on him with its membranous paws.21

Chapter 9

Ears for Bugging

Selling a friend urgently!


A pet store ad
21
Kuzepych, being very frugal, was choking over the expense of the blanket. The Russian idiom for
something being too expensive is “being choked by a frog.”

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Several weeks later Dolbushin again drove to Guy’s. Not counting the guards,
there were just the two of them. The eyes of the head of the financial fort slid
along the stitches on the bodyguard’s cheek-bone.
“How’s your daughter, Albert?” Guy asked instead of a greeting. Dolbushin
looked at the square on the floor under his feet. “I saw her this morning,” he said.
“You went to the building where she lives with ‘the parents’?” Guy was moved.
Dolbushin understood that they had already reported to him. “And…?” “She
didn’t recognize me, though we went down in the same elevator. Paramedic
Utochkin did an excellent job. He’s a real genius, but when it’s all over, I’ll kill
him,” Dolbushin said in a very businesslike manner, without any threat. Guy
moved his eyebrows, weighing the degree of loss for the organization. “Alright
then… An untimely death – the lot of all geniuses,” he sighed. “What about the
hdivers? So far they haven’t come in contact with your daughter?” “You know that
they haven’t.” “Well… We’ll be patient.”
Guy sat down on the edge of the table. On Guy’s table there was neither paper,
nor computer, nor ball-point pen. Only a chess set made of stone. Each piece –
black and white – resembled a specific person. Dolbushin surmised himself to be
one of the round-shouldered knights. Massive Till was a rook. Chatty Beldo was a
bishop. The hyeons were pawns. The stones, which the pieces were made of, were
uneven, porous. Any experienced engraver would wonder: why use this
inappropriate material for the pieces? However, this would be due to the fact that
he did not know where the stones came from.
“Now about the other girl. How’s she doing?” Guy asked. Smiling with his
narrow mouth, he took knight-Dolbushin, compared it with the original, and
moved it to another square. “Paulina? Fine,” the original answered cautiously
and, not being able to hold back, added, “Are you going to send her as a spy to
HDive too?” Guy only liked his own jokes. “Didn’t manage to find out anything
new?” he asked, yawning. “She has forgotten everything.” “Even who she is?”
“Absolutely. Told her that she’s our distant relative, gotten herself into an
emergency. And I know for sure she doesn’t have the marker.” “They
communicated from the swamp that she did. So we immediately alerted three
teams of four. We succeeded in intercepting the girl, but where’s what she was
carrying?” “Don’t know.”
Guy squinted with suspicion. “Beldo assures that Krunya spoke of two
markers. The girl couldn’t extract the main one, though she also touched it. Only
those ten can take it, and your daughter is among them. Nevertheless she
smuggled out the other one. Interesting, how did she manage to dive so deeply? I
had my eyes on her. The girl’s ordinary. Presents nothing special,” said Guy.
Dolbushin raised his head unnoticeably and tried to meet Guy’s eyes, but they
were elusive.
“Even that marker, which she hauled out, turned out to be too powerful for
her. She broke the rule of HDive, venturing something that’s too much for her to
handle, and nearly got stuck in the swamp on the way back. Escaped from there

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barely alive, without memory, on an injured horse,” Guy continued, dropping


words exactly like coins onto the glass table.
“Therefore berserkers intercepted her.” “Yes. Nevertheless, she somehow
carried it through the swamp, although she inevitably had to get stuck there. Do
you understand what the girl pulled out into our world? How could she drag it
past the elbes at all? You know, Dolbushin, a hdiver with a marker more powerful
than himself can come off unhurt only if he keeps it for himself.” “A merge didn’t
happen. We would have sensed this,” Dolbushin remarked.
“Let’s assume so. But for some reason the marker gave her strength. Otherwise
the girl wouldn’t survive after everything that she had been through. Maybe she
did keep it by her nevertheless?” Guy asked insinuatingly. “Ruled out. We
checked everything thoroughly. I’m not talking about her clothing. She didn’t
have a single thread on her. Perhaps the marker is already in HDive?” “No,
Albert. If a marker of such power turned up in HDive, we would know about it.
Possibly the marker remained with the horse, which we let slip away, possibly…”
Dolbushin waited for the continuation, but Guy kept silent. He examined the
marble pieces, occasionally moving them. Chess laws did not bother him. Pawns
in his game moved backwards with no problem, and bishops moved like queens.
He had almost forgotten his collocutor.
“It seems you still wanted to ask something, Albert?” Guy asked when
Dolbushin had already decided that not another word would be gotten from him
today. “About Romeo and Juliet…” he said with effort. “Who will be Juliet? Did
your guardian say nothing?” Guy grinned with understanding. “You’re afraid to
become a grandpa, Albert? Relax! Aside from your daughter, Krunya drew four
more girls. Your chances of pushing the stroller aren’t so great.” The head of the
second fort sighed with relief.
“Any business has two prognoses: near and far,” Guy continued to ring out.
“Until they meet, until the child is born, until he grows up… Today’s concerns are
enough for us. I kept Beldo in the library not without reason. He found an
interesting seventeenth century manuscript. It firmly establishes that there is
only one situation in which a weak hdiver can carry a powerful marker: if it helps
him. Especially if it’s a CONTRMARKER. A live marker, eh, Albert?!”
Dolbushin chuckled with suspicion. “Even so, it can’t be used.” “Why?” “It’s
too slow. The only live marker, which I’ve seen personally, was a beetle, which
crawled along no more than a centimetre in a week.” “Till?” Guy asked with
understanding. “Yes. You remember that he shot down a hdiver, whose horse had
broken a wing? True, that beetle crawled also through rocks, and air, and under
water, but it was monstrously slow. Till quickly understood that it couldn’t be
used and sold it to me. What I haven’t done with it! Even threw it into the
furnace. The beetle was fused to the side of the furnace, but not even a paw was
singed! I doubt that it suspected the existence of the furnace at all. It just crawled
and crawled. Everything ended with me forgetting it in my safe. In a month it
crept through four centimetres of steel and disappeared somewhere.”
“Didn’t you think about why it happened this way, Albert?” Guy asked. “I did.”
“And…?” “It’s different,” Dolbushin answered gloomily. Guy closed his eyes and
started to massage his eyelids with his fingers. “That’s the case. Your beetle was…

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like a three-dimensional fly that runs along a flat two-dimensional picture. Here
this fly runs, through fire, water, nuclear explosion, the sun, and nothing can stop
it. The fly doesn’t even notice them, because flies aren’t interested in pictures.
This is the essence of a CONTRMARKER! It doesn’t belong to any world.”
“I remember the theory,” answered Dolbushin. “The one who masters a
contrmarker can: a) go unnoticed into any place of our world; b) take and carry
out any object; c) if the contrmarker is fast, which I find hard to believe, since
there isn’t any proof of that, it’ll let its owner penetrate the Green Labyrinth to
the most powerful of markers existing in our world. For the time being, as is
known, it’s split up, but if at some point all its three parts…” Guy waved his hand,
interrupting him. “Enough! Your brain, Albert, reminds me of a lined sheet of
paper. Everything is clear, everything on the shelves. Tell me, did you sometimes
cry?” “That’s personal information,” answered Dolbushin.

***

When Dolbushin was leaving, Guy listened to his footsteps moving away, and
then, having approached the wooden panel, knocked on it twice. Into Guy’s office
slid Till, waddling. Smiling good-naturedly, he collapsed onto the sofa and
uttered a relieved “Gosh!” “Finally! Couldn’t smoke for half-an-hour! Almost
climbed the walls!” he said and reached into his pocket.
“You heard our conversation, Ingvar Borislavovich?” asked Guy, after waiting
patiently till the flame came back to life at the end of the cigarette. “Normally
they bring me wiretapping in printouts. But here, agreed, the case is special,”
answered Till. “And what from our conversation sticks in your mind?” Till raised
his heavy eyelids and glanced quickly at Guy. There was a second’s pause. Till
fought his way to the head of a fort from rank and file “axemen,” as berserkers
were sometimes called. An axeman can make his way up on one condition: he
carries out all orders, maintains loyalty, and keeps his mouth shut. And an
important addition: to read the desire of the boss in his eyes. Till took three puffs
of his cigarette and only then unglued his lips. He never hurried. Better to be a
little late for his own bus than to sit down in a stranger’s. “The existence of a
contrmarker,” he said with perfect calm, tearing the cigarette away from his
chubby lips.
Guy breathed on the bishop. “The hdiver who found it will always be in a
steady bond with it. True, the contrmarker would only help at the moment of
fatal danger, since the girl didn’t merge with it,” he remarked. “The contrmarker
didn’t help the hdiver I shot down,” said Till, smiling with the geniality of
Grandfather Frost, to whom they brought the head of his rival of the West –
Santa Claus. “She was very sluggish. I hope it’ll help. The problem is that fatal
danger doesn’t threaten us every second. Especially in Albert’s building, where
there’re many wealthy folks with guards,” Guy said in distress. Till’s eyelids
trembled, but they did not begin to lift. “Grandpa Vii has fallen asleep,” Beldo
said in such cases. “We’ll think of something,” he promised sleepily.
“Only don’t think of a bullet in the head or a bomb in the car, as always!” Guy
anxiously warned. “I need the marker, and the girl’s corpse is poor bait! For all

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that, Albert won’t understand. Ingvar, didn’t you feel that there’s no one for the
poor thing to experience parental feelings? He rode the elevator with his own
daughter and she must still be thinking whether the maniac got into it with her?”
Till listened and dropped ashes onto his own stomach. Wheezing, friendly
butcher Till. “I don’t understand. I have sons,” he said sadly and as if by chance
added, “Guy, if something happens to Dolbushin, can I have his umbrella?” Guy
clicked his tongue. After listening attentively to his clicking, Till did not catch
either agreement or opposition.
“How often have you been shot at, Ingvar?” Guy asked. The question turned
out to be unexpected for Till. “Ten. And blasted three times… The guys were evil,
nervous. Earlier many had influence, authority, and now they’re again rank and
file axemen. They have to acquire everything anew. Not everyone likes that,” he
said without being offended, with complete understanding. “Thirteen attempts
and you’re whole?” “A couple of small scars from auto glass. Several dead guards
and a sea of damaged clothing,” he said. “You’re a lucky fellow, Ingvar! I envy
you,” said Guy.
Till pulled the collar of his sweater back slightly and superstitiously touched
the boar on a chain. “With my work I couldn’t have picked a more appropriate
marker. Hunted for it for a year. Its previous owner loved Russian baths very
much. Once it dawned on me that metal in the steam room must get hot… The
thought came to me on Thursday and on Saturday it was already mine. I don’t
part with it day or night!” All his secrets were well-known to Guy, who hummed
absent-mindedly and looked sideways at the boar without much interest.
“Nevertheless you wouldn’t begin to pit your invincibility against Albert’s
umbrella? Let him quietly mutilate my guards,” Guy reminded him with irony.
Till never posed as a hero. Specifically for this reason he had outlived numerous
heroes. “These markers are like cards. You never know what you’re up against.
Now and then even small trash hides monstrous power,” he muttered. Guy
touched the boar and coquettishly blew on his fingers. “Let’s take a closer look!”
he asked. Till was confused. Guy chuckled and waved his hand, showing that it
was a joke and he did not expect a different reaction.
“Please tell me, Ingvar, doesn’t it offend you that one can only merge with the
first marker? What injustice! Have to drag around the rest, like you with the wild
boar head or Albert and his umbrella…” Till emitted an indistinct sound, which,
perhaps, could be evidence of surprise. A man of business, he did not consider
abstract situations. Guy understood this. “Just for mutual understanding, Ingvar!
It’s your business with the umbrella, but don’t try to appropriate the contrmarker
for yourself!” he said, and as usual glass tinkled with metal. The stream of smoke
from the corner of Till’s mouth came out longer than normal. “It’ll finish you off,”
continued Guy. “Can’t hold fire with paper hands. And this marker is more than
fire! It came from those cliffs, where you would never force your way though even
if the entrance to Duoka was freer than a park in the city.”
“And why is that?” Till asked jealously. Guy drew himself up. His soft face was
awash with expressions, violating all laws of facial expression like coastal waters
violating without exception all laws of physics. “You would get stuck much
sooner, at the first range, where red markers lie,” he said emotionally. “The ones

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that give you a muscular body capable of charming buxom brown-haired women,
a smooth stomach, a comely face, and other wretched delights. But let us assume
a miracle would happen and you would jump over this range. But then you would
get stuck on the gift to see underground treasures, win at roulette, or write poetry
with vers libre…” Till did not know what vers libre was; therefore just in case he
moved his neck slightly. “And you, Guy?” he wheezed, getting up, because Guy
was already standing by the exit from the office, showing that the meeting was
coming to an end. “I’m a different matter. Once I was already at the second
mountain range,” he said quite quietly, when the door was already closed behind
Till.

***

After waiting until the bodyguard, sent to see Till to the car, had returned, Guy
did a sufficiently strange thing. He sent all the guards packing from the office
and, exerting no small effort, leaned with his chest on the massive cabinet.
Behind the cabinet hung a tapestry, and behind the tapestry was a niche so
narrow that even such a slight old man as the head of the first fort Dionysus
Beldo could only fit standing in it.
“Please sit down on the sofa, Dionysus Tigranovich! Rest! I didn’t think that it
would drag on so.” The old man sank onto the sofa, not where it was pressed
down by the heavy Till but somewhat more to the right. He sat on the sofa
timidly, putting his hands on his knees and with a very straight back like a
modest girl just arrived to be hired as a governess.
“Did you listen attentively, Beldo?” Guy asked him. The old man with a nice
smile touched first his pink ears and then the top of his head. “Till has dawdled
for long. For sure he’ll try to take down Dolbushin on the sly, and this will require
extra preparation,” remarked Guy. “Until the moment Till starts moving, I want
to know as much as possible about contrmarker. How it looks, how it moves.
Everything!” Beldo listened politely, straightening and fluffing out a crimson
hanky. “Don’t you pity Albert?” he asked with the condoling voice of a funeral
director. Guy did not even begin to pretend that he did not catch it.
“Bring Krunya to me!” he ordered. The old man blinked guiltily. “She wouldn’t
go to anyone.” Guy raised his eyebrows. “Even if I ask?” “Krunya is very attached
to that place, where her basement is. She won’t be able to in any other.” “What’s
the place?” “Oh, the most excellent! There you hear the guardians clearly, better
than in the swamp. Both your own and other people’s, just like an echo. Once
there was a tower there, in which Peter22 interrogated the archers. Under the
foundation of the tower is a pestilent burial place, and before that, a pagan
temple. Rich, yielding energy!” Beldo said with enthusiasm.
When the notable poultry expert had left, after promising to drop in on Krunya
personally, Guy left the office and went down to the basement. Air conditioners
buzzed. The corridor here was spotless, with artificial palms in tubs, well, simply
the subbasement of a provincial hotel. Its banality wearied and amused Guy at

22
Peter the Great of Russia (1672-1725).

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the same time. Nevertheless, it was better this way than red bricks pockmarked
with lead and an aspen floor with tin grooves for draining blood.
Guy went along the long corridor and stopped at the last door. The door was
shrouded in a delicate pink radiance. Nearby still lay a heel of the clerk from
Dolbushin’s fort, who had imagined himself a hunter of markers. Guy stopped
one step before reaching the two-layered radiance and stretched out his left hand.
The radiance changed shape, sniffed his hand like a keen-nosed dog, suspiciously
touched his face, and again pulled back. Guy pushed the door and entered the
narrow room. Its walls, ceiling, and floor shone weakly, exactly like the door.
There was not even a stool in the room. Right on the floor, in a circle outlined
with chalk, was a massive cube of darkened silver, in which was fused the
triangular splinter of a mirror.

Chapter 10

Don Winged Horse

Animals frequently perish from elementary wounds,


because they bite the veterinarian’s hands, lick open
the sutures, and tear off the bandages. The same
happens with people who begin to pick at previous
offences instead of forgiving and letting them be
blotted out.
Joseph Emets

Rina settled quickly. She spent much more time in the shower. She had to wear
the wet clothes, which she later blew dry directly on her body with the hairdryer
found in the cabinet. A stupid method, of course, but effective.
Ul came to her again before dinner. “You smell horribly of soap!” he said. Rina
was embarrassed. “I only found the laundry soap,” she said. “Which, the ‘seventy-
two’ percentage? Kuzepych adores it. Bracing and cheap. By the way, you’re well
informed that it’s made of road-kill cats?” Ul clarified and, not letting Rina come
to her senses, beckoned her to follow him. “Where to?” asked Rina who,
according to Murphy’s Law, managed to dry everything except her hair. “You’ll
see,” promised Ul and, after opening the window, jumped onto the flower bed.
“Everybody does it this way here! Too few exits from the building but many
windows,” he explained to Rina, when she followed his example. “Kuzepych…”
she began. “It was a joke about the blanket. He has already made that joke several
years in a row,” Ul instantly guessed. “Strange joke. Not funny,” Rina was
surprised. “Jokes aren’t obligated to be funny. It’s a practical joke in the style of
‘Fire at the exchange. Please put the handset in a basin of cold water!’ There’s
always someone who actually jumps onto a blanket and then doesn’t know what
to do with it. So he has to drag the blanket around,” explained Ul. “How do you
know?” asked Rina. “I myself once lived in this room. And once dropped a

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blanket. I was green, believed everything,” Ul chuckled and quickly went along
the lane.
Ul moved like an abrupt motor. It was perceived that the distance was too
short for his vital force, should be thrice more and on top of that with something
bulky on his shoulders. “If you want me to slow down, try to exhaust me!” his
speed said.
A white gravel path decisively outlined a young grove. The HDive domain was
impressive. Even before the path had ended, it became clear that it could only
lead to one place – a one-storey, extensive structure of red brick under a slate
roof. Having passed the Green Labyrinth, about which Ul said vaguely, “Better
not pick these flowers,” they went out onto an open section adjoining the gates of
the red structure.
A splash was heard and Ul in front became shorter. “Careful! Here’s my
personal puddle! I don’t let strangers in it!” he warned. At the entrance into the
stable spread a huge puddle, smug and secretly imagining itself a lake. Stones
were lying about and boards were floating like chains in different places of the
puddle, unsuccessfully trying to limit its might. Ul squelched through the puddle.
He was walking quickly, treading with knowledge of the matter.
Rina, with her passion for experiments harmful to herself, decided to climb
onto a board. The board, luring her, let her take two steps, after which Rina with
a howl went into the water up to the middle of her shin. Ul caught her by the
elbow. “You’re the eighth one this week! Athanasius and I keep count. Kuzepych
was first! Or perhaps the ninth? Something in me went the wrong way with
addition!” he said despondently. It became clear to Rina, dragging her overfilled
boots along the bottom, why a board was allowed to float here. So that overgrown
pranksters Ul and Athanasius could practice “addition.”
Ul stopped in the centre of the puddle. It was drizzling. He barely noticed, but
spots appeared in Ul’s personal puddle. “I was at Kavaleria’s…” he said and
choked. “Valerevna’s… We deal with novices in the fall, but now it’s May and
what to do with you is such a big question. On the whole, Kalerochka-Valerochka
asked me to tell you about HDive and to brief you. Don’t strain yourself too much
memorizing what I’ll say. What’s necessary will get put aside in the brain all the
same. What’s not saved means it’s not important. The head is like a sieve, the
trifle falls through, but the important gets held up.”
“I’m standing in a puddle!” Rina reminded him. “I’ll be brief,” Ul took pity.
“The Scythians23 founded HDive, although they had no idea what they established
there. They caught several winged horses, as recorded in Greek chronicles. The
Scythians didn’t much bother with where they came from. Pulled feathers off the
winged horses and started to breed them. Didn’t sell the horses to strangers,
although they were offered piles of gold and more. At first they bred, of course,
for reconnaissance and communication between distant settlements, because it’s
utopia for a sniper to shoot with a bow from the back of a flying horse. We
experimented with Max – after half a year of training, we started to hit a wooden
circle of a metre maximum. And if, let’s suppose, they’re still pecking at you from
23
The Scythians were ancient Iranian horse-riding nomadic tribes that dominated the vast Eurasian Steppes
c. 600BC – 600AD.

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the ground…” Ul poked himself in the chest with a finger and twitched, as if hit by
an arrow.
“Soon the Scythians had problems with the Sarmatians24 and the Goths.25 The
small winged cavalry didn’t save them from numerous angry infantry. No further
historical information about winged horses was preserved. Only echoes of
legends about Tugarin on a horse with paper wings. In the Middle Ages, several
pairs of winged horses turned up in the Don and Kuban Steppes. No one knows
where they came from. Maybe they were always there, only people didn’t catch
sight of them. The horses were wild and shy. Only – they have wings and let’s go
catch them! Here perhaps a mare broke a wing and the stallion wouldn’t abandon
it.”
The stable gates opened. Ul looked around. Round-faced Oksa was standing in
the passageway and holding in bent arms a long-legged foal with a short body.
The foal, not sensing the usual support, lowered its face and tried to look at itself
from below. On the back of the foal were wings, naturally extended from the
blades. Occasionally it straightened them and made one or two uncertain strokes.
The feathers had barely grown in and the wings seemed absurdly small, as if they
had come from a hen and been glued on. “Well, let’s go in!” Ul said, not too
distressed that his lecture was interrupted.
Rina entered and timidly stopped at the right of two long aisles. It was not so
silent here. Continuous sounds reached them from everywhere. Someone sighed,
stirred, snorted, ate, although thus far Rina had not yet seen the winged horses
themselves. Only disappearing snouts flickered quickly behind the fences. Each of
two teams of five on duty was working nimbly in its own aisle. Bucket handles
clanged. A girl with her head clean-shaven asked very loudly throughout the
entire stable for a file. No file was given to her. The girl was not embarrassed and
asked for it even more loudly. “Nasta, wake up and sing!!!” Ul shouted to her.
“What, you’ve signed up with Kuzepych?” Nasta turned to him. “Caesar’s
horseshoes are a mess again! Nothing stays on!” she complained in a hoarse
voice.
A big sorrel stallion came out of the stall. It neighed and straightened its wings,
instantly filling both the stable and Rina’s stunned imagination. With each stroke
of its wings a strong wave of air rolled along the aisle. From the opposite edge of
the stable another answered the neigh of the stallion. And another grey three-
year-old also answered, but was embarrassed and “sulked,” after considering that
it was still rather early for it to interfere in a showdown between grown-ups.
Feeling that the stallion, worked up by freedom, would rush and set off at a
gallop any minute now, Ul ran to meet it. “Hey, who didn’t close the stall? Caesar
could break its wings!” From behind Ul’s wide back a puny young fellow in a red
soccer shirt dashed towards Caesar and hung onto the bridle. Rina recognized
him. It was that Vityara who had given her the spare clms. “Me, but only for a
second! I wanted flight!” he shouted, justifying. “But who leaves one that’s
saddled? It could pinch the soft tissues! You’ll get one more duty shift, Vityara!”

24
The Sarmatians were closely related to the Scythians and shared the Eurasian Steppes with the Scythians.
25
The Goths were an East Germanic tribe believed to have migrated from Scandinavia to the coast of the
Black Sea and eventually settled near the lower Danube in the third century.

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Ul warned. Small Vityara fearlessly swung Caesar around and, lecturing it, pulled
it into the stall. Caesar went unwillingly, continuing to have a discussion with the
stallion in the distance.
“If they beg, don’t give anything! A winged horse is not a doggie. Doesn’t wag
its tail for a piece of sugar,” Ul warned. “But then give for what reason?” asked
Rina, who had nothing in her pockets. “For encouragement. But to suck up to a
horse with sugar, all sorts of carrots and apples, no dice. Some think that it’s
possible to bribe a horse with this junk! No way! This mare, that stallion, they
quickly figure out a rookie from any old hand! If it doesn’t respect you as the
rider, doesn’t matter what you feed it, it won’t work. Bread it’ll gorge, but see a
bridle in the hands, it’ll start to bare its teeth and press down its ears.”
Ul walked along, in a friendly way pushing away first one, then another horse
snout stretching out to him from the stalls. “Cut it out! Not the bar!” he shouted
cheerfully. “The aisle on the left is all yours, for training! We clip their flight
feathers so that they don’t hurt the students! But many don’t need to be clipped.
Icarus there has only one wing. The gates slammed down on its second one when
it was a foal… The poor devil!” Ul stopped and slipped a rusk to the sad face of a
horse with a wistful eye (Rina was standing on the side and saw only one eye).
The face gently touched Ul’s palm with its lips and the rusk disappeared without
any accompanying crunch. Only the lower jaw wobbled.
“And here that big fellow – Ficus – has never flown at all. See its wings?
Undersized! To take off on these and then dive from the top, no need for
bombing! A working wingspan is seven-eight metres, and this is two… But what a
rascal! I can come into the stable thirty times and it won’t even budge. It’ll stick
out in the aisle this way. Have to give it a kick. But if I’m with a brush or a saddle,
here it’s already on the run.”
It was not interesting for shaven-headed Nasta, who followed them with a
bucket, to listen about stout Ficus – the laziest and sliest horse in the entire
stable, always circling, lying down, or pretending to be lame. She looked with pity
at Icarus. This was a beautiful, nervous, shy gelding of all. When other horses
flew, it sadly lifted its face and looked at them from the ground. Occasionally
Icarus opened up the second wing – huge, white, it waved it with strength and
fell, unable to keep its balance. In place of the absent wing it had a short stump,
approximately half a metre. “Really no new wings…” Rina began. “New feathers
grow back!” Ul interrupted. “The wings of a winged horse are flexible bone tubes.
Continues here to the bend…” he boldly slapped the base of Ficus’ wing, “it’s
powerful. Closer to its edge and it can pull down a child.”
Ul slid into the aisle between the stalls of the middle row and turned up in
another part of the stable. “And here’s no longer for training! This here is Aza!
Ugh, the most insidious mare! Surliness climbs out of its ears and curls into
ringlets!” Rina saw a medium-sized mare with a clever expressive face. A bay with
a white star above the right eye. A quite small star, such a random smear of
whitewash. Rina saw no obvious insidiousness in it. The quiet filly with folded
dark wings was standing by itself and chewing something, continuously twitching
its ears. A fly was crawling along its face to the corner of a bulging eye. The mare

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blinked patiently; the fly took off and sat down nearer to the nose in order to
crawl to the eye again. This was its pleasure trip.
“Why insidious? A normal mare.” “You’ll soon find out why!” Ul promised. “It
loves being cleaned, at least a hundred times a day, but here to saddle it, a real
bummer! Sees a saddle in your hands, it gets sly, doesn’t let you into the stall!
Nothing in flight, it walks briskly, but when it sees narrow or wicket gates, it
strives to whack you with a knee! Squeezes at doors too! When you lead it out,
steady with the left shoulder, and hand on the bridle under the jaw! So, jog-
trot!!!”
Ul decisively entered the stall. Aza lifted up its face, looked at him, and, not
seeing a saddle in his hand, calmed down. Rina carefully slid into the stall after
Ul. “Talk to it!” Ul proposed. “Talk, talk! They trust more with the ears than the
eyes! No need to keep quite with a horse! Let it hear you!” “Hello! How are you?”
Rina said in a fawning voice and carefully ran her fingers along the horse’s neck,
directly under the mane. The dark rigid fur stuck to her fingers.
Ul chuckled and encouragingly slapped Aza with a palm along the steep side.
The wings on Aza were as on all winged horses, first forward, and then, folded,
with a curve at the back. The longest flight feathers were the length of a human
arm. They almost covered up the rump and ended approximately near the tail.
“Why do you crawl along it like a gnat?” Ul asked cheerfully. “For a horse to know
you, slap it! Do they know how to scratch each other’s withers with their teeth?
They would strip a person’s scalp!”
The mare stepped over. Its chest muscles tensed, began to ripple. After turning
to Ul, with its rump the mare started to grind Rina to the wall. Rina decided that
Aza simply did not detect her. “Smart, nice horsie!” Rina tried to move Aza aside
politely, but not a chance. The mare did not budge even a centimetre. The mind
of the “nice horsie” was a few hundred kilos. “Listen, you’re full of surprises!
Where do you see a nice horsie here? You see it, show me, and we’ll take a look
together! Jog-trot! Hey, mug! Look at that, squeezing! See a new person!” Ul
threatened Aza with a fist. Aza sadly sighed. Its round sides puffed up and sunk.
The mare moved aside, lowered its face and buried it in the feeding trough. It ate
fastidiously, separating the fodder with its upper lip.
“Good boy, horsie! Good horsie! Nice, good horsie!” Rina began to babble. Ul
stared at her anxiously. “Careful!” he warned. “Don’t! I beg you! I simply truly
beg you!” “Don’t? What are you talking about?” Rina was lost. “We had one here.
She lisped, she was so moved, moved horsies aside with a finger. And then she
stood with a full bucket of water and waited for two hours until Ficus’ conscience
woke up and freed up the aisle. On the whole, a real soft touch! And in a month
we said goodbye to her.” “Why?” “For everything. She ran after the horses with
the shovel. Hurled a pitchfork at Ficus. When Max dragged her away, she almost
bit off his pinkie. Since then I don’t trust affectionate people. Better not be
particularly polite but flat, in order not to become a real bitch in a month. They
waste all the patience in the first week and then even dive into a drinking
fountain to get away from them!”
Rina carefully ran her fingers along Aza’s rigid flight feather. “So, greatness
doesn’t threaten any of us?” she specified. “What doesn’t threaten?” Ul was

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puzzled. “Well, a winged horse? The symbol of creation?” Rina prompted. “A


winged horse is a horse. So it has wings, but still a horse! One must fall back on
something. At least on talent. On the whole, if someone soiled the paper early,
he’s in the risk group. If not, then sleep in the stable if you like. At most you’ll
begin to scribble ‘sms’ to all your acquaintances,” Ul explained.
Rina uttered a short exclamation. Something was leaning against her back. She
saw a sly face with droopy lips, a funny brow, and two huge ears: one protruding
and one slightly broken, similar to a question mark. The mysterious hoofed one
was of sandy colour, fading and obstinate. “And here’s also an exception to the
rule! Our unique winged donkey Phantom!” Ul said with pride. “Whoever pets it
will begin to scribble with furious speed. True, it lasts only ten minutes. Then
inspiration fails and the person comes back to normal… And… don’t touch it!”
Too late. Rina had already run a palm along the donkey’s neck. In the
following second she already grabbed a gnawed pencil and began to scribble right
on the plastered wall:

This morning Louisa was charmingly beautiful. The mirrors went blind, the
maids poisoned themselves with phosphoric matches. She felt like playing
pranks. With a hand in a white glove she touched the powerful shoulder of the
terrible person.
“Marquis du Grätz! You promised to teach me how to dodge a fist!”
“Yes, madam! I borrowed this skill from the American Indian. He was strong
as Goliath and quick as Hermes. Two years he served me and died of a real
misunderstanding. He dropped in the gunpowder warehouse with a peace
pipe… So, Louisa, when I tell you, hit me in the nose! Damn! What have you
done, enchantress!”
Louisa took a lace kerchief and considerately put it up to his nose, once
Roman. The proximity of her hand partly reconciled the terrible person with his
loss.
“You should hit me when I tell you! And not with the scarf!!! Don’t you
understand Russian?” Marquis du Grätz uttered with reproach.
In his eyes was reflected an intense passion, and at the same time the
scheduled stagecoach № 14 Mytishchi – Paris.

The pencil in Rina’s hand broke. She wiped off the sweat. Her fingers were
shaking. “I warned you!” said Ul. Those ten-fifteen minutes that Rina was
scribbling, he quietly sat beside her and waited. He knew that it was useless to
stop her.
“Hey, people! Whoever approaches Eric from the blind side, I’ll sneak up at
night and hit him on the head with the night table!” Someone shouted loudly and
hoarsely. Along the aisle, nudging the stallion with her heels, shaven-headed
Nasta was riding one-eyed Eric. It seemed to Rina that Nasta generally started to
shout when near Ul. “Why never from the blind side?” Rina asked. Moreover she
prudently asked Ul and not Nasta. “It’ll get startled and break away ‘on wings’.
And she simply has to work Eric without flight,” he unwillingly explained. Rina
unmistakably sensed that Ul was trying not to look at Eric. He was ashamed of

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103

his hostility towards the horse, but so far could not suppress it. If the heart would
agree to understand everything that the head already does, how much simpler it
would be to live.
“Can I fly?” Rina asked impatiently. “Kavaleria won’t allow it. In the first
months only training with non-flying horses. Icarus, Ficus, the old lady Lana…”
Ul stated. When the name “Lana” was sounded, Rina heard a friendly snort. A
large grey mare lifted up its face. Its eyes were rather dim. The face was sad, with
greyish hair, and on the lower jaw was the sparse beard of an old woman. “The
cleverest horse here. After me!” Ul, smiling, presented it.
“But why not flight?” Rina was disappointed. “Winged horses are nervous
essences! They don’t like it when something incomprehensible sits on their backs
and does something vague. And when a winged horse is afraid, it begins to panic,
buck, rear, and play all sorts of tricks. And it all ends with a broadcast in the
news: ‘A person has been found in the Dubninskaya Street area with his head in
the asphalt. The person was wearing a leather jacket, boots, and plastic leggings.
The cause of death has not been established. In the medical examiner’s opinion,
he had to have fallen from a height of approximately 1.5-2 kilometres. Our film
crew is phoning the airfields around Moscow in the hope of finding out details of
this extraordinary accident.’”
Ul stopped next to a sliding door, on which was a piece of paper turned yellow
under plexiglass:

“Gelding Bunt
Don winged horse.”

“You want to take a ride, let’s go to Bunt! He’s saddled just in time,” Ul
proposed. Looking through the grating of the stall, Rina saw a melancholy grey
gelding, which was holding in its teeth an old broom, like a cigar for Superman.
“It’s its favourite broom. It doesn’t part from it. When it loses it, it suffers,”
explained Ul.
Rina estimated that Bunt’s wings were in place. “Bunt flies?” she asked. “A cow
also flies! Push it into a helicopter and kick it from there!” Nasta, appearing next
to Ul, said loudly. Rina just did not understand where she had gotten rid of Eric.
Obviously she had handed it over to someone. Ul threatened Nasta with a fist.
“It’s lazy,” he said. “Not so much for flight, you won’t get it into a gallop. But then
good and reliable. Makes you laugh! Collects all kinds of junk on the way: rags,
tin cans. Loves plastic bottles. Crushes with the teeth, crunches… Bring it out!”
Rina pulled at the rein. Bunt remained standing, with all its appearance showing
that it had no meeting scheduled for today. “Horse, come! Come on! She’s not
listening to me!” Rina complained. “Since when did the gelding Bunt become a
‘she’?” Nasta mockingly butted in. “Why doesn’t it come? Frightened by a blue
rag over there. Someone hung it on the grate.”
Bunt went along the aisle, snorting in a friendly way and sniffing the horse
heads sticking out from the stalls. Icarus turned out to be the only one Bunt had
no liking for. Bunt tried to snap off Icarus’ ear with its teeth. Ul, already prepared
for such a state of affairs, slapped Bunt on the rump, forcing it to speed up.

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“These two goody-goodies are always sharing something!” Ul complained. “All


the same like an entire entrance of drunks and among them two quiet librarians.
It would seem to be on friendly terms but they’re ready to rip each other into
shreds… Given the occasion!”
After going around the puddle along the edge, Ul led Bunt out onto the
meadow. Not far from the stable there were two circles trampled down. The small
one had car tires planted in the centre. Here Bunt usually stopped. Brushing off
gadflies with its tail, it patiently marked time and squinted.
“Come on! Foot in the stirrup! Wait, give it time to lift up its wings! Don’t grab
the rump, it’ll bite! Don’t interfere with the wings! It’s not flying now, but if it
does, will you flap them for it?” Bunt straightened its wings, bright as if sprinkled
with atomized silver. The wind was buzzing in the elastic feathers. The saddle
touching the base of the wings was shaking, and Rina was shaking together with
it. It seemed to her that Bunt would be torn away and carried off. In order not to
fly away together with it, Rina hung onto Ul’s shoulder. Ul with interest looked at
her fingers. “Do aircrafts get blown away from the airfield by the wind?” he asked.
However, this argument was too male and logical to calm Rina. After ascertaining
that words would not work, Ul decisively freed himself. “Further, by yourself!
Remember: the rein is control and brake. The foot to the knee, the leg of the rider
is the gas pedal. The voice is the beep beep. All clear? Go!” Ul slapped Bunt on the
neck and, after leaping aside, suddenly whistled.
The frightened Bunt dashed away from the spot and hopped, clumsily helping
itself with its wings like a hen intending on jumping up onto a fence. Rina, from
surprise lost the rein, flew up on the saddle, and did not fall only because first on
her right, then on her left the ascending elastic wings were flapping. It seemed to
her that any minute now Bunt would take off from the ground and be carried
along the air. But precisely at this moment, when in her opinion she should
already be sticking her head into the low clouds, the gelding finally switched over
to pacing, stopped, and began to nibble the grass, hiding its snout between the
planted tires. Now and then it shoved its lips into a tire, checking whether the
grass growing in the sun was different from that pushing through inside.
Unhappy Rina jutted out like a groundhog riding Bunt; she gave it a push with
her heels and shouted “Giddy-up!” Every time “Giddy-up!” sounded, Bunt waved
its tail in a strictly horizontal plane; however, its participation in races amounted
to nothing more than this. Ul took an apple out of his pocket and whistled a call.
Bunt jerked up its head, looked at the apple distrustfully, and took a step toward
Ul. “Come on!” Ul encouraged it. Bunt began to approach carefully, towing Rina
on itself. When it was near Ul, he quietly carried the apple past its nose, and took
a large bite. The gelding looked disappointed as Ul chewed the piece of apple with
a crunch, and it sadly tucked in its ears. After eating half of the apple, Ul thrust
the second half at Bunt. “If you wouldn’t fool me, I wouldn’t make a fool of you
either!” he said edifyingly.
Suddenly the centaur on Ul’s clms flared up. “Ul, it’s me, Platosha!” an
unknown voice said in haste. “I’m on Sparrow Hills! Six teams of four from Till’s
fort are ‘combing’ the observation below! In the sky are hyeons.” Other voices
also came through the “centaur.” It was perceived that Platosha was standing by

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the rails of the observation deck and talking directly into his clms, after pulling
back his sleeve. And more, that he was awfully nervous. Ul, understanding that
the words “Don’t panic!” could become a direct signal to panic, prudently did not
begin to utter them.
“Six teams? On Sparrows?” Ul asked again with suspicion, and Rina sensed
that this was very unusual. “The charge marker is there! Are they far from the
downhill slope?” “Almost there already!” answered Platosha. “Is Till with them?”
“Don’t know. But I definitely saw Beldo here!” “Dang! The old man in Till’s fort!!!
Have they changed, perhaps? But his own fort?” Ul specified in a businesslike
manner. “Likely without it…” Platosha answered without much confidence. “And
here he is!”
From the centaur came off hanging in air the 3-D image of an old man in a silk
shirt with the two top buttons unbuttoned. A blood-red kerchief was tied
coquettishly around his neck. With half-opened lips continuously and absent-
mindedly smiling slightly, the old man went along the damp grass and lifted his
feet high in order not to get his shoes wet. Having unmistakably sensed that he
was being observed, he turned around and half angrily threatened with a finger in
the direction of the observation deck. “Here’s a dog! Blood’s running from my
nose!” Platosha said dejectedly.
“Platosha! Dang!” Ul became agitated. “How many of you are there? All five?”
The centaur flickered. It was felt that the fellow wanted very much not to confess.
“Only the girl and me! She’s here at Moscow State, lives in the dorm.” “The girl’s
not ours, not a hdiver?” “Well… eh-eh… not yet,” Platosha admitted. “But they
didn’t see her. She’s here by the tables, looking at the nesting dolls.” “That’s
good,” Ul approved. “Get rid of the girl.” “‘Get rid’ in what sense? Shoot her,
perhaps?” Platosha asked tensely. Ul realized too late that people in a state of
stress do not understand jokes. Beldo waved and two berserkers turned towards
Platosha. They were not moving too quickly. They had to get up along the steep
slope. “Let the girl return to the dorm,” ordered Ul. “Your sirin is discharged, of
course?” Platosha began to explain something heatedly. “So I thought!” Ul
interrupted. “Have to take the subway! When you send the girl off, keep to
crowded places. They won’t touch you in a crowd. I’ll be there soon.” The
“centaur” went off.
Ul pensively looked at Bunt’s neck. “We’ve never used the marker on
Sparrows. It’s a reserve. I would like to understand how…” Not finishing, Ul
turned and quickly went in the direction of HDive. “Hey someone! People on
duty! Take the child from the fence, unsaddle Bunt and into the stall!” he shouted
to the stable gates. Ul looked around, moved from walking to running and,
putting his forehead in front, dashed to the stable wall. When there remained a
little more than a metre to the stable, Ul jumped. Rina blinked. She was certain
that Ul would now break his head against the wall; however, before this
happened, he touched the clms with his hand and disappeared.

Chapter 11

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106

Dionysus Beldo’s Paper Ship

Love is fire. A test is water. If we pour a bucket of


water onto a weak fire, it will go out. But if onto a
fierce one, it will only hiss, and the water will become
steam.
From the diary of a non-returning hdiver

The apartment of any person reflects and echoes his internal world. Beldo’s
apartment, consisting of three, clearly delimiting parts, only confirmed this rule.
The first part was official – here Beldo received wizards from his fort (the word
“warlock” was used, it goes without saying, only by hdivers) and important out-
of-town guests. Leather sofas stood between four velvet curtains in a long
windowless tunnel. Between the sofas, stuffy lamps emitted fumes and two
toothless skulls lay on black tables with goat legs. Beldo claimed that one of the
skulls belonged to Voltaire and the other to Nostradamus, and that once a year,
with the special arrangement of the stars, the skulls would begin to squabble and
quarrel all night. Here, on comfortable sofas, Beldo joked nicely with guests,
solved “production” problems, spouted predictions, smiled, and charmed, but it
was extremely rare for any guests of the first room to move to the second.
The second part of the apartment was a large bedroom with enormous
windows and many colours. Here Beldo cried and danced. Here his closest
friends dropped in, and here Mlada and Vlada reigned. Beldo’s bedroom
resembled a delicate bird cage, in which dwelled a parrot and two crows.
And finally, in the third small room, almost a closet, Beldo never let in even
Mlada or Vlada. The door to it was carefully locked with a key and in normal
times was hidden under a rug.
On June 1 the old man Beldo was sitting in bed and capriciously stretching his
thin arms up. He perceived himself as Don Quixote, demanding the attention of
his Sancho. Mlada and Vlada had only just pulled a long nightshirt off him and
were now robing him in a white silk shirt.
“Your disease stability today is minus one hundred. Please take care of your
health!” warned Mlada, leaning down in order to put a sock on her master’s bony
foot. Beldo always wore only white socks, considering black as death. Each pair
was put on only once, after which it was burned in a special furnace in the
presence of the owner. The same fate befell shirts and handkerchiefs. Beldo knew
his colleagues and feared the evil eye. “But then attractiveness is plus a hundred
and ten! The day heralds a friendly meeting and the evening a romantic
rendezvous!” twittered Vlada. Beldo looked at her and began to move his upper
lip angrily. As an experienced leader, he kept his favourites in constant stress.
Mlada finished straightening the sock. Beldo raised his foot slightly and
coquettishly moved his toes. But then he flung away the ruby-coloured kerchief,
which Vlada had put into his pocket, and demanded another. “Burn it
immediately! An unlucky person with poor energy held it!” he ordered. Vlada
began to tremble, since the kerchief was completely new. After looking sideways

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107

triumphantly at her competitor, Mlada dashed to the dresser and brought


another to her master. Beldo looked it over, remained satisfied, but carelessly
dropped it. “Darling, why are you standing there? Please take the trouble to pick
it up! At my age any movement is agonizing!” he reproachfully said to the
delaying Vlada.
Ride of the Valkyries26 began to sound from the desk covered with papers.
Beldo’s face fell. His telephone played Wagner only on one occasion. “And here’s
your romantic rendezvous, damn you! Be off with you!” Beldo hurriedly ordered,
pushing Vlada with a knee. Mlada and Vlada rushed to the doors, flapping their
arms like wings.
“What are you busy with, Dionysus Tigranovich? Being wicked?” a voice like
glass began to ring in the phone. Beldo hastily started to giggle. “As much as
possible,” he said coquettishly. “As much as possible.” “What did the night patrol
produce?” Beldo continued to giggle by inertia, and pondered quickly. Guy was
clearly not talking about those hyeons that were “combing” the sky above HDive.
They reported only to him. It meant the discussion was about the magicians from
the first fort, who together with Till’s berserkers were searching for a marker. No
one had interrupted Beldo’s sleep. So, the search thus far had produced nothing.
“Nothing!” said Beldo, after adding the appropriate portion of depression into his
voice. “You’re working poorly! I’ll be waiting at my place in an hour!” Guy said
imperiously and the old man remained with the silent phone by a rather moist
ear.
Beldo had to manage without morning coffee. Upset by forced asceticism, he
twice pinched Vlada’s hand and once silently spat at Mlada for disturbing his
gout. They dressed the old man in a hurry and, supporting him under the elbows,
carried him down the stairs. The building, in which Beldo lived, was old, two-
storey and without an elevator. Beldo was acting erratically and cursing April 21
– the day forty-two years ago he was expelled from ballet school. In his opinion,
precisely then began all his misfortunes.
Having found himself on the street, Dionysus Tigranovich looked at the sun
with familiarization. At the same time he threw his head back too high and his
beret fell off. The disgraced Vlada rushed to pick it up, but he angrily pushed her
away. “Darling! I’m perfectly capable of picking it up myself!!! I’m not yet so old!
But now you have to bring another one!” Bumping shoulders, Mlada and Vlada
rushed into the entrance.
Left in solitude, Beldo surveyed the long empty courtyard to the children’s
playground, where two expensive nurses were wheeling on a toy motorcycle the
frail child of a thriving official. The child was dreaming and tracking a pigeon
with his eyes. The nurses were tiresomely cheerful. One was watching the wheel
of the motorcycle and the other was loudly reading English verses, trying so that
the child, together with oxygen molecules, would also swallow the basics of
education.
Beldo let his eyes linger on the child, for some reason looked around and
began to dig in his pockets. He took out a notebook, tore off a double sheet from
26
Ride of the Valkyries is the beginning of Act II of The Valkyrie, the second of the 4-opera cycle The Ring
of the Nibelung by Wilhelm Richard Wagner (1813-83).

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108

the binding and, after deftly making a boat, quickly made his way to the boy. He
walked, having on his face a persistent, important thought disturbing him. “Ooh,
what a big guy!” he praised, hunching down. “Do you like steamships?” The “big
guy” looked indifferently at the boat, then along the hand he reached the elbow,
the arm, the forehead, and finally, looked Beldo in the eyes. The notable poultry
expert smiled – with porcelain teeth, all the wrinkles, eyebrows – and became
incredibly sweet and nice. The nurses looked at him and, yielding to his charm,
did not wag their tails only for their absence. With the child the matter proceeded
somewhat differently. He looked attentively at the old man for about three
seconds, like all small children trying to determine something important,
essential, then he turned away, and his mouth began to get catastrophically
crooked, preparing for a howl. The nurses in a hurry closed in and screened off
the child from Beldo.
The smile hardened on the old man’s face. Any tender emotion flew away from
him and was replaced by strong irritation. He tore up the boat into shreds, made
his way to his microbus, and began to knock angrily on the driver’s door. Inside
something began to turn and pant. Ptah’s tousled head stuck out. Beldo saw a
sleepy face with chubby cheeks, matted gipsy beard, and two red bird eyes. It was
noticeable that in the past twenty-four hours Ptah did not leave his roost. On his
knees was a thick layer of crumbs, above which piled up crumpled plastic cups
and fast food packaging. “To Guy! Lively!” Beldo gave the order. When Mlada and
Vlada ran out with the beret, the only trace left of their wise leader was in the
form of a trail of benzine smoke. The red fires of the bus, after blinking, were
hidden behind the turn.
In less than an hour, crackling his ballet knees, Beldo was already climbing the
stairs of the residence of the warlocks. Security communicated to him that Guy
was at the very top, at the hyeons’.
Guy, with his hands behind his back, was strolling past the cages. A black flat
electric shock was swinging on his wrist. On the side four of Till’s berserkers were
saddling a hyeon. Two were pulling its head on a chain, simultaneously pressing
the hyeon to the ground so that it could not hit with its front paws. One, on his
knees, was tightening the girths. The hyeon hissed and tried to lash his face with
a leathery wing. Still one more was carefully smoothing out the snaffle bit on his
hands, preparing to put it in the hyeon’s mouth. The snaffle was a thin metallic
plate with sharp edges. Even with a small pull of the rein it would cause the beast
severe pain. Furthermore, on the edges of the snaffle projected small antennae
touching the chin of the hyeon. These were the contacts for electric shock.
Guy stopped by a narrow cage, from which a young hyeon with closely placed
eyes bared its teeth at him. “My favourite! A beauty, isn’t it?” he shouted to Beldo
from a distance. The old man smiled politely. Only Guy could call a hyeon
beautiful. A flat face. A dock-tailed striped back
with a short tail. Sharp crooked teeth. That is, if we
do not recall the smell and the pathological passion
for carrion. Several times it happened that hyeons
dropped their riders and flew off, and every time
they were found hovering above a highway and

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collecting from the curb dogs and cats killed by cars. Guy, not looking, stretched
out his hand. A smiling young person, similar to a fox, put a piece of damp meat
on his palm. Guy threw it to the hyeon, but was unsuccessful. The meat hit the
grating. The hyeon, grinning and yelping, stretched towards it through the
grating. Guy poked it in the nose with the electric shock. The flat face jerked back.
A warlock in a breastplate vest climbed into the saddle. A small schnepper was
fastened on his left side. A narrow hatchet inserted into a ring was attached to his
right. The usual flight weapons of berserkers. On the ground they preferred more
powerful arbalests and massive axes. A warning cry was heard. A rectangular
hatchway opened in the roof. The warlocks holding the chain disengaged it and
bounced to the sides at the same time. The hyeon pushed off with its short paws,
attacked with the leathery wings, and jumped. It was heard how, growling and
screeching, it ran above their heads and its claws scratched the flat roof. The
scratching shifted to the edge. The berserker yelled at the hyeon, its claws again
scratched the roof and it took off. Those two warlocks that had recently dropped
the chain set off efficiently to the next cage. On the roof the wings of a tired patrol
hyeon, flying in for feeding and rest, were already flapping.
Guy touched Beldo’s elbow and beckoned him to follow. The smiling young
person, similar to a fox, followed them, but Guy sent him to the berserkers to play
with the hyeons.
After settling himself in an armchair, Guy comfortably tucked in his legs in
white canvas pants. “Did you see him? My new assistant! He defected from Till to
me. A quick youth, but too unprincipled. I feel shy even to accept mail in his
presence. I suspect that he can read letters even through my back.” Beldo closed
his eyelids for a second, after memorizing the foxy young person. His brain was
tenacious like a trap. He instantly considered everything to the very depth of its
essence, while his lips continued to giggle, the elegant hands to flutter, and the
long almond-shaped eyes to gleam touchingly. “Now there’re many such people.
Earlier a person did nasty things by necessity and suffered for a long time. Now
he does it completely for nothing,” the old man said with conviction. “My opinion
is, if you betray, then discriminately and do it once so that at least someone could
rely on you.”
Guy burst out laughing. “You’re a typical hdiver, Dionysus! That’s why I made
you the head of a fort!” he said. Beldo with dignity arched his flexible back. “Yes
sir! I was a hdiver for two years. Ninety-four dives! Found sixty-nine markers!
Moscow is full of people I did much good for! And was one pig thankful at least?
No! Never!” he said with reproach. Guy nodded with understanding. “I remember
which marker you couldn’t resist, Beldo!” The old man stamped a foot. “I wished
love for everyone, whose love I wish for myself! I wanted to make people happy,”
he said heatedly. “An excellent noble intention, but Duoka stopped letting me in!
I gave myself completely! Without reserve! I was absurd, but I didn’t care! I
pulled out my soul like strings!” Guy listened, biting his nails in a circle.
“Terrible!” he said with eluding expression.
“A smile, a half-smile, and everyone followed me! Man, woman, child, without
exception!” Beldo continued, getting angry. “But now not so! Following me are
either those who would follow anyone or those who want something from me!

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The marker lied! I bare my soul as before, but in return I get only a pathetic puff!”
“Now-now, Dionysus!” Guy cooled him down. “What were you waiting for?
Appreciation? A second chance? You know the principle of the hdivers: if a
hammer did not manage the role of a hammer, unlikely they will entrust him the
role of a file.”
The sharp shoulders of the old man drooped. “Duoka is closed to me forever!”
“Not forever!” Guy suddenly said. “Find me a contrmarker and I’ll break a trail
for you into the very heart of Duoka. Beyond the second range! To that mountain
with the snowy cap, which one can never touch with an ear, because the
mountain sings and shakes. And even further, beyond this mountain!”
Beldo’s lower jaw began to tremble. “It’s impossible!” he said, agitated. “Not
one hdiver will dive so deeply.” “He won’t because he won’t dare! Dolbushin says
that a contrmarker makes it possible to travel only on our world. Naiveté! A
contrmarker came from the second range! There, beyond the first cliff, where the
girl found it, she turned up by chance. The one who merges with it will have a
pass not only to the Labyrinth of HDive, but also to Duoka!” Beldo gushed.
“You’re not tricking me, Guy? It would be too mean!” Guy kept silent. The old
man, squinting, looked intently at Guy’s face, with his fingers pinching his shirt
sleeve. “How do you know? Who can know this for sure?” he muttered. “Ah-h, I
understand, your guardian!”
With teasing sluggishness Guy thrust a hand into his pocket and pulled out a
crumpled sheet. On the sheet a butterfly was drawn with sharp lines. Extreme
agitation was perceived in the figure. In several places the paper was torn. Beldo
understood that Guy had broken a pencil and greedily grabbed a new one.
“Ah-h! That’s what it is!” Beldo said excitedly. “I thought so, only wasn’t sure!
It seemed to me then on Sparrows I was going insane: it was immediately
everywhere. I was dizzy. Then this blockhead Till jumped with his fat belly. I
didn’t manage to make out anything clearly. As it turned out, neither did he.
Later he said something flickered in the grass.” “Didn’t Krunya tell you then?”
“She isn’t herself. Has completely stopped receiving visitors. She only sketches
those ten! Races through, pricks out the eyes. Papers in the room up to her
knees,” said Beldo with vexation.
Guy’s narrow mouth was moving in waves. His cheeks were swollen.
Inexplicable asymmetry appeared in his cheekbones. “Why the elbe were you
dragging yourself on Sparrows then?” he asked. “I didn’t know,” Beldo said,
hurriedly starting to justify himself. “It was the usual routine on a search for their
charge markers. The hyeons combed Moscow along the squares. Suddenly one of
the hyeons began to fall. The rider miraculously held onto its wing. Till
established contact with me. They didn’t know the square, only that it’s above
Sparrows. I went to him and we began to comb Sparrows. I thought: there’s a
simple charge marker!” “It was there,” Guy said in an undertone. “You won’t
confuse charge (aka guard) markers with anything. They’re large, bright like
flowers, something like enormous pink buds, which any minute now will bloom
inside the stone.” The old man began to click his tongue in protest. “I felt that
marker almost immediately. They were digging for it under the concrete base of a
post…”

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Beldo recalled how he walked along the tall grass and how his temple ached.
His head was not just hurting. It seemed it was being pumped like a ball and any
minute now it would burst. Somewhere in front – he accurately guessed the
direction – there was a small space hostile to him. “Three square meters, free
from evil! Next to a guard marker not one guardian elbe can be found. Freaks!
Foul up all of Moscow!” Beldo muttered, recalling the principles of HDive and
blinking from the pain. He knew that this was not his pain but the reflected pain
of his elbe, however, he had no relief from this.
The notable poultry expert did not risk approaching this marker and, after
stopping about five metres away, sent berserkers to rummage all around the post
and, if necessary, dig up the earth. The berserkers could be close to guard
markers for a sufficiently long time without special harm to themselves. Possibly
because the elbes were not their guardians. And here, roughly pushing the old
man away, Till suddenly jumped at something. “Never saw anything like it! It
disappeared instantly! I’m not even talking about the merge! How will we be able
to take something we’re even incapable of touching?” said Beldo.
“Anything is possible with wishes,” Guy answered mysteriously. He
temporarily absented himself and returned with an object wrapped in a shawl.
Under the shawl something rectangular could be surmised. Where the shawl was
loosely joined, Beldo saw slightly scratched copper corners pressing down on
green cloth.
“Gift of your predecessor. Do you see how I value it?” “A terrible death!” Beldo
answered, shuddering. “But you can’t deny him courage: tried to force his way on
a hyeon to Duoka…” continued Guy. “A terrible death!” the old man repeated like
a parrot, not taking his eyes off the shawl. Guy pulled it off. Under the shawl was
revealed a box with a wooden lid and a handle of fine smithery. “Ah-ah! Really
this…” Beldo began, instantly guessing everything but flirting out of habit in
order to deliver pleasure to his collocutor. “An interceptor of markers! It’ll draw
in any marker, which turns up nearby!” Guy dryly confirmed.
He clicked with a nail on the lid and handed the box to Beldo, who seized it,
feeling how the lid was shuddering under his fingers. Icy, it was simultaneously
burning. First it was weightless, then it became heavy, and then Beldo could
barely hold it.
“Never open the box unnecessarily, Dionysus!” warned Guy. “If there doesn’t
turn out to be a live marker nearby, your heart will be inside the box. A modest
fee for a false alarm.” “So there’s…” the old man began fearfully. “An elbe chained
forever,” confirmed Guy. “Your predecessor, the not quite deceased Claudius,
loved experiments. I think he also takes part in them now. In one capacity or
another.”
Beldo placed the box on the table and again took it. His movement had bird-
like fussiness. “And how do we turn up near the butterfly?” he asked. “Use your
imagination, Beldo! What do all butterflies do?” The old man extended his lips
like a small tube. “Well? They fly,” he said tenderly and timidly. “They fly, yes!
But where? To you as guests?” said Guy. “To flowers,” Beldo said still more
timidly. Guy’s mouth slipped into his cheek, which happened when he was
especially satisfied. “Getting warm,” he answered. “Even hot! You’re a thinker,

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Dionysus!” “But lots of flowers in Moscow! Unrealistic to place a berserker near


each one!” the old man answered wearily. “No need to. This butterfly requires
special flowers – live markers from Duoka. It flies to them first of all… What do
you think it was doing on Sparrows? Now for sure it’s sitting on another of their
charge markers! Only need to know which!” Guy’s mouth again crawled
somewhere, and his face sagged.
“And if we use the one we found on the ski slope? Set it up, hide it next to the
box and wait?” Beldo proposed. Guy stroked the box. “I also propose something
similar. Only I think that the probability should be maximized. Give the marker
from Sparrows to Dolbushin’s ward. And let Till hurry. If the butterfly doesn’t
come flying to the marker, it’ll come to the girl, when she’s taken in hand… And
keep yourself somewhere nearby.” “But if she…” Beldo began in a cowardly
manner. “Can never merge with a charge marker like one can’t merge with a
phone charger! The rest doesn’t bother me!” Guy cut him off.
All the way back the head of the second fort kept silent. At times a perturbed
Ptah glanced into the mirror and saw his boss like a ruffled sick bird. Next to him
on the seat something was wrapped in a shawl. Doubts gnawed Beldo and spat
out bloody pieces of his soul. The opportunity to get to Duoka agitated the old
man.
At home, Beldo with one long inartistic hiss drove off Mlada and Vlada rushing
towards him and went into the far room. All night in Beldo’s small room a
violoncello suffered torments and cried. It wanted to say something that its
owner never said.

Chapter 12

The Fountain of the Green Labyrinth

If you will be light, then light will spread around you


and warm others. Even without your will. If it seems
light to you but people scatter away from you and it is
cold for them next to you, then, obviously, current was
not delivered to the socket.
Kaleria Valerevna.
Introductory lecture for novices.

“You’ll think: a wall! It’s Ul putting on a show! Normal teleportation is four


seconds and a speed-up one is half a second. True, it’s dangerous,” someone
explained gloomily. Rina turned around. The shaven-headed Nasta was standing
beside her and tugging the automatic casing in her ear. “We also had a dude who
made up his mind to show off in front of the girl. He went up to the twenty-third
floor, took a run, and grabbed the clms while in flight…” she continued. “And the
clms was discharged?” Rina tried to guess. “No, why? It was charged! But he also
shifted to a level of the twenty-third floor!” Nasta cynically finished.

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Holding back Bunt, Nasta unceremoniously pulled Rina off the saddle. “Don’t
grab the rump! It’ll bite! Why are you clutching the wings? They’re not subway
handrails! If Rodion saw it, he’d take the whip to you!” Nasta was already leading
Bunt away when Rina caught her by the shoulder. Nasta stopped and looked
meaningfully at her hand. ‘Someone’s fingers got stuck here!” she said. “Why do
you get worked up?” Rina asked perplexedly. “Cars get worked up! I’m
indignant!” Nasta cut her off and disappeared into the stable.
Rina remained on the spot, not knowing what to make of her. “Don’t get upset
by her! She always yells at everybody!” someone said, drawling. Rina saw a stout
indifferent fellow in a red ski cap. The fellow was sitting by the puddle and
listlessly dangling a shovel in it. Evidently, he had an internal setting for
maintaining a tool in cleanliness. “Why?” Rina asked, not knowing what to ask.
“No idea,” the stout fellow answered and lapsed into a vertical coma. Rina waited
for about ten seconds, even waved a hand in front of his eyes; however, the fellow
did not stir. Even the pupils did not shrink. She turned and walked to HDive.
“What a braid she had! Thick like a rope,” was dreamily uttered behind her
back. Rina turned. “Whose braid? Nasta’s??? Then why did she…” “No idea,” the
stout fellow got up unwillingly and, dragging the shovel after him, walked slowly
into the stable, from which someone had already been yelling for two minutes in
a bad voice, “Ruzya-a-a-a!!! Ruzya-a-a-a!!! Where are you stuck to?!!”
Ul returned in the evening. Alive, only hobbling and covered with scratches.
Rina decided that he was injured, but everything turned out to be much less
romantic. Teleporting to Sparrows Hill, Ul somehow forgot that there was a
slope, and a slope has natural differences in height. As a result, for a while he had
to smooth over the differences with his own jacket. Beldo and Till had already left
by that time. They carried off the charge marker. Only the hyeons were circling in
the sky. So high that they seemed like dots from the ground. Now, when the
marker was no more, nothing could hinder them.
While Ul was absent, Rina bumped into Athanasius in HDive. The young
person, like a prince travelling with a rose in his pocket and a starling in a cage,
cheerfully looked her over. “And who do we have here? The three-wish fairy?27 A
mermaid after surgery? Doesn’t matter… the legs are done quite tolerably! They
usually bungle it!” he said merrily, but somehow not… on the whole, Rina
grasped that she was not being complimented, but she perked up.
Rina did not have time to gather her thoughts and counter, when someone
mockingly said from the direction of the stairs, “My dear, I don’t want to impose
my opinion on you, but read the literature! There’re only three dozen mermaids
left on the entire earthly globe. And the last three-wish fairy died of boredom
fulfilling stereotype desires.” A stupefied Athanasius turned around, saw Kaleria
Valerevna, and his desire to joke passed away in terrible spasms. He clearly
would not have tried to get somewhere with Rina, if he had hit upon turning his
head in time.
“Athanasius, recall what you were when the bee brought you in?” Kavaleria
continued reproachfully. “The most modest young person, reddening like a beet!

27
A fairy that grants three wishes.

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‘In the context of hypertext’, short moustache in three strands climbing into the
mouth and an underdeveloped megalomania!”
Athanasius turned crimson. It was noticed that he was not flattered by the
comparison. “Kaleria Valerevna! I asked you a hundred times!” he said, leaping
up. “But there’s no need! According to the logic of things, the best way to get
someone to do something is to beg him regularly not to do it!” she said without
pity. The look was full of reproach. The recent aggressor became a rabbit.
“Kaleria Valerevna!!! We were all like that in high school! Must an artsy be
something different from a techie? And in general the one who matures earlier
becomes an alcoholic sooner,” he said sorrowfully. Kavaleria smiled victoriously,
accepting surrender. “Well, fine! You convinced me. Take her into the dining
room. Three-wish fairies must also be fed!”
Athanasius sighed and pulled Rina by the sleeve. “Well, let’s hit the road…” he
said. Rina obediently went with him. It was easy for her with Athanasius. She
somehow immediately sensed that he could not sulk for long, and in general he
was what he was.
“What stereotype desires?” asked Rina. Athanasius looked at her without
understanding. “Ah, those! For women it’s usually some romance, which at best
ends with a stroller and at worst doesn’t end at all.” “And for men?” “For men
there’re two: ‘I want a lot of money!’ and ‘Ah-h! Drag me out of the truck of small
change!” Rina laughed. Athanasius also laughed. “How she gave it to me?! This
we call the attack of Kavaleria!”28 he said.
They went down the stairs from the second floor to the first. Here the stairs
ended, but for some reason there were still three steps going down. Beyond them
was a blind wall. “What’s there?” Rina asked. Athanasius pinched his upper lip.
Rina recalled Kavaleria’s joke about the artsy moustaches “in three strands.” “In
general, one comes here only after the first dive,” he said guiltily. “Please!” Rina
said in a voice intended for the melting of snow and male hearts.
Athanasius yielded, although without enthusiasm. He went up to the wall and
touched it with his clms. Worn down steps were revealed, little like the standard
stairs of HDive. “Move fast, or you’ll get stuck in the wall!” Athanasius warned.
Rina slipped past fearfully. “I didn’t know that HDive has a basement!” “It’s not a
basement in HDive. It’s HDive in the basement!” Athanasius answered
mysteriously.
What he had in mind, Rina understood only in a minute. All this time they
were going down non-stop. The stairs became tight. Now they were walking, bent
down, one after another. Rina was frozen. Dampness filtered into her sleeves.
There was no landing where one could rest: the steps swallowed by time were
screwed into the earth like a spiral.
Athanasius gossiped about Kuzepych, who, in order to save money, refused to
install electricity here, counting on smoky torches, with the magic faltering at
times. Rina had already noticed that cursing Kuzepych was common practice in
the guild. When two acquaintances met, not knowing what to talk about, there
would usually be an awkward silence. They could chat about the weather but it

28
Here is a play on word in Russian, as the word kavaleriya means cavalry.

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would be too dull, and after a short pause the collocutors would recall the
existence of Kuzepych.
Suddenly the stairs ended, and Rina realized that they were standing in a wide
and high tunnel. She felt the unevenness of massive stones under her feet. It was
strange in the basement relative to the contemporary building. “Where are these
stones from?” “You understand, if a man changes his fur hat for a baseball cap, it
still doesn’t mean that two different people are in front of you,” Athanasius
interrupted merrily. “That means HDive has been here for a long time and was
underground, and the two-storey block above is the cap?” Rina understood.
Athanasius uttered a sound in the darkness. “Exactly! Once every century the
‘cap’ is taken down and something newer is put up so as not to attract special
attention. After all, it’s more pleasant to live under the sun and not in a cave… We
treat historical monuments badly, isn’t that true?”
“And here? Below?” “Everything here remains as it was.” “And the large
basements?” Rina asked. A large drop fell behind Athanasius’ collar. He did not
like it and raised the collar of his jacket. “Depends on what you compare them
with. Once Ul and I were down for four hours. We couldn’t last any longer.
Rodion was once down for almost twenty-four hours, also couldn’t stand it and
turned back. He said there was almost no oxygen – matches wouldn’t burn, and
terribly cold … Well, here we are!” Athanasius again touched the wall with his
clms. A light struck Rina’s face so brightly that she, having gotten accustomed to
the semi-darkness, was forced to close her eyes.
After opening her eyes, she understood that she was standing in a cave once
carved out of solid rock. Along the wall on dozens of steps stretched out wooden
mannequins, on which were hung jackets. There was a collection of them, often
chopped up, charred, or shot through with arbalests. Almost all had flowers, but
most of them were by a bare mannequin on the edge. Here was an entire sea of
them and the majority was fresh. “So many for whom?” Rina was astonished.
Athanasius coughed. “For a good person. Didn’t return from a dive,” he
explained, turning away. “But why without a jacket?” Athanasius silently looked
at the jacket that was on Rina. She felt that her tongue should be cut out.
“This is the hall of memory,” said Athanasius. “The first jackets were here
about four hundred years ago. If a mannequin is bare, it means the fate of the
hdiver is unknown.” Rina went along the infinite rows of jackets. It was
noticeable that someone looked after them regularly, although the smell of damp
skin was perceived nevertheless.
“What’s there?” she asked, stopping in front of a low stone door embedded in a
niche. On the door among fine ornate lettering was a unicorn. Athanasius
lingered with the answer. Rina sensed that, bringing her here, he had completely
forgotten about this door. “You won’t pass through even with the clms! Perhaps
only Kavaleria, even that I’m not certain,” he quickly explained and, to prove this,
touched the door with his clms. His hand passed right through the door, but
Athanasius remained on this side. The stone slab would not let him through
further than the elbow, where the clms ended.
“Why?” asked Rina. “Here is the ‘depository of untimely markers’,” said
Athanasius. “This was still before the charter, when they dragged all sorts of

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markers in succession. They didn’t understand that it’s dangerous to take one
that’s above your power. Over time people got stuck in the swamp. Only one out
of ten lived through three dives.”
“How is it ‘untimely’?” “Well, various dangerous markers, from which there
can be more harm than good. For example, a burning branch, which will
incinerate any person who has committed at least one bad act. Even at the level of
a bad thought. Can’t even look at it.” “So? An outstanding weapon against
warlocks,” Rina remarked. “You think so?” Athanasius hesitated. “Have you
committed at least one bad act? And you didn’t have bad thoughts? So how will
you take it?” Rina grew quiet, quickly playing the different options in her head.
“Or a marker, which fulfills true desires,” getting carried away, Athanasius
continued. “Not those, which seem to you that you have, but the true ones. You,
for example, think that you want good for all humanity, but in reality you want to
dine and everybody should leave you alone. And here you turn up on a lonely rock
in the Arctic Ocean with a sausage in your hand… Or it seems to you that your
love is somehow special, unique, that all the other poor saps couldn’t even dream
about, but in reality it’s petty egoism and you want the same that any dog of the
masculine sex wants. And here you become this dog with hind legs tied together
somewhere in a Chinese restaurant.” Athanasius talked about the dog with some
painful irony, as if addressing this partly to himself.
Rina looked around at the bare mannequin surrounded by flowers. “Then why
didn’t Ul…” she began. “No, it wouldn’t be able to revive,” Athanasius
unmistakably guessed. “Markers also have limitations.” Rina nodded.
About three steps from the stone slab in the niche she noticed sackcloth
draped over a mirror. Large, in an ancient frame. Wondering why a mirror was
covered, she took a step towards it, stretching out her hand. “Don’t!” Athanasius
began to yell, but Rina had already lifted the sackcloth. The upper quarter of the
mirror was broken off at an angle, with the grip of the top right corner. Under the
sackcloth lay a thick tangled fog. In the fog something was stirring sluggishly and
slowly. Rina more guessed than saw a human silhouette. Lumbering, as if covered
all over with clay, it was making its way through the quagmire of fog towards her.
All this continued at the very most for two-three seconds. Athanasius pulled
the sackcloth and, grabbing Rina by the shoulder, turned her face to him. “What,
are you, deaf? I shouted at you! Did you see anything?” “No,” said Rina. “Really
nothing?” he was surprised. “Well, a figure.” “Who?” Athanasius quickly asked.
“Don’t know. Simply a figure.” Athanasius with suspicion looked intently at her
and sighed with relief. “Okay… Tell no one that you looked into the mirror.
Perhaps they won’t kill you, but definitely me.” “But what was I supposed to see?”
“Since you saw nothing, it means nothing!” Athanasius finally straightened the
sackcloth. Now even the lower frame was hidden under it. Rina was thinking in a
hurry. Some details were already filled in, but all the same there remained gaps in
that system, which she had built for herself.
“What is this swamp?” she asked. Athanasius tensed up. “How do you know
about the swamp?” “You yourself said: ‘over time people got stuck in the
swamp.’” “Ah, clear! The choked world between Duoka and us. The elbes live in
the swamp,” Athanasius briefly explained. “That’s all! Let’s go!” He touched the

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wall with his clms, and the infinite stairs stretched out. Rina counted three
hundred and ten steps, after which the clms again flared up, and, after passing
through the wall, they turned up on the ground floor of HDive.

***

Athanasius brought Rina into a low hall with brick columns and long tables in
several rows. When they appeared, dinner was in full swing. Rina saw not one
vacant spot. “Probably can’t put you in with the hdivers. Sit with the staff for the
time being! And in the fall, when the other novices come, we’ll think of
something,” Athanasius promised and stuck Rina onto a separate table next to
some fellow.
There did not seem to be an unoccupied chair for her and Athanasius deftly
pinched one from the half-raised Vovchik. “Hey! What’s this, standard? This is
my chair!” Vovchik began to yell. Athanasius raised his eyebrows. “Yours? Any
proof? You kept a receipt from the store?” he asked. Vovchik, muttering, went
away. He preferred not to argue with Athanasius. The senior hdivers – Max,
Rodion, Ul, Athanasius – stuck together and always helped each other. And the
middle hdivers, which included Vovchik, understood this only too well.
A person, having offended a senior hdiver, always walked looking around and
waited for trouble later. There was a sea of ways for senior hdivers to take
vengeance. For example, they could place into a jacket or a boot an offending
needle, smeared with glue, from Duoka, a needle that weighed about five kilos
here on Earth. Moreover, the weight was not immediate, but increased gradually.
It was not easy to find this needle, whereas Kaleria demanded the jacket be worn
without fail for each duty shift. Or they could add into one’s tea a couple of drops
of water from the small lake before the first range. After that, the teeth would
change colour up to seven times a day, except only white. Or they could leave a
comb made from the oak grown on Duoka. A person who used it at least once, the
hair would start to grow to a metre a day, winding around any solid support that
turned up beside it.
“In vain you took this chair. Vovchik has taken a dislike to you! Now he’ll add
ashes into your tea,” someone said to Rina, when Athanasius left. She turned
around and saw that it was her neighbour. On his white soccer shirt was an
inscription with a red marker: Here beats the heart of Gosha! Do not
touch with dirty hands! “What ashes?” Rina did not understand. “From
horse hair,” Gosha explained, as a matter of course. “For a week you’ll jabber in
hexameters or stanzas from Onegin.29 Or you’ll blurt out to Kuzepych, ‘Oh cover
your pale legs!’”30 Rina wanted to jump up in order to return the chair, but Gosha
waved with a sausage, showing that it was no longer timely.
“Okay, Relax! Maybe he’ll even do nothing. Let me introduce myself! The bee
picked me on merit. My great-grandpa was the first killed in the Second World
War. Great-great-grandpa was the first killed in the First World War. The father

29
Onegin – Eugene Onegin, the classic novel in verse by Alexander Sergeyevich Pushkin (1799-1837).
30
Oh cover your pale legs is the famous one-line poem of Valery Yakovlevich Bryusov (1893-1905).

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of that grandfather was shot down in the Balkans, 31 and the great-grandfather of
that grandfather had his head blown off by a shot from the French at Borodino. 32
So we have a historical mission – to be the first killed.” Rina was puzzled, not
knowing whether to believe him. “And…” she prompted carefully. “And therefore
I’m not even allowed to go on patrol! On even days I wash pots, and on odd, help
in the stable!” Gosha answered, maintaining the look of winking with a complete
absence of winking.
From the kitchen, holding her lower back, came out a wide-cheeked old
woman, strong as a grenadier and with a short crew-cut. The old woman’s face
was as if composed of different vegetables and fruits. The nose was a beet. The
eyes were ripe cherries. The chin and cheeks were three adjoining tomatoes, with
the chin being the most overripe of them. It immediately became so quiet in the
dining room, as if an entire platoon of police had sprung up somewhere nearby.
“I’m leaving! My strength is no more! No one helps, everyone only gorges!” the
old woman yelled loudly, not forcefully going anywhere but remaining on the
spot.
Behind the old woman like her tail walked today’s person on duty – a very tall
girl. Long-haired, in a bright turtleneck. It seemed to her that her height was not
enough and she was even wearing enormous heels. “What’s the matter, Nadia?”
Gosha whispered to her, at the proper time bent down under the tablecloth. “She
won’t let me do anything! Not even clean the potatoes!” the girl complained. She
had the doe-eyed look of a person who turned her own helplessness into a
weapon of mass destruction. “Who cleans like this? May the same eyes appear in
you, crooked-armed beanpole! May you be placed in the coffin in seven-league
boots!”33 the old woman pounced on her and, after lifting a hand as if throwing a
grenade, disappeared into the kitchen, where everything was seething, sizzling,
and fuming like in the underworld. Nadia issued a heart-rending moan.
“Who’s this?” asked Rina. “You don’t know?” Gosha was surprised. “The
legendary Supovna, a niece of the Nibelungs34 and our wet nurse! She knew
Kuzepych and Kaleria as babies, although there is no documentary evidence of
this.”
The girl in heels suffered for a while on the threshold of the kitchen, and then
sadly and agonizingly, like a bewitched spectre, dragged herself after Supovna.
“Interesting, who will be her husband? Some basketball player, perhaps?” Rina
could not help herself. “Unlikely!” Gosha answered. “Rather a leaping gnome. He
jumped, kissed her on the cheek, jumped again, straightened the cap, took her
hand, and led her to the marriage bureau.” Rina inhaled buckwheat and coughed.

***

31
The Balkan Wars (1912 and 1913).
32
The Battle of Borodino, September 7, 1812, the bloodiest single-day action of Napoleon’s invasion of
Russia.
33
In European folklore, after putting on the seven-league boots, each step taken spans seven leagues, each
league being 3 miles.
34
In German mythology, the Nibelungs are a race of subterranean dwarfs possessing a treasure hoard that
has been stolen.

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After dinner Rina did not want to return to her room. She wandered along the
Green Labyrinth, but just could not find the way into the centre section. And here
somewhere nearby a squeaking sound was heard. She saw an enormous figure,
which, swaying, was slowly plodding along the Labyrinth in her direction. Having
noticed Rina, the figure extended the toothless mouth into a smile and stretched
an endless arm through the bushes towards her. The fingers, and there were only
three of them, short and thick, almost touched her hair.
Rina began to squeal, bent down and dashed off running, indiscriminate about
her way. The bushes lashed her face. Several times she flew into intertwining
spikes, turned somewhere, and again stopped in a blind alley. Decorative arches
flickered; stone benches became white under weeping willows. Boxwood shaped
into cats, poodles, and miniature towers huddled up to the ground.
The figure moved slowly, with sweeping stilted steps, but for some reason did
not fall behind. Whichever direction Rina ran in, the potbellied giant would
appear somewhere close-by every time. After understanding that while he saw the
top of her, she could not run away from him, Rina got down on all fours and
crawled along the bushes, frequently changing direction. She heard how the
figure turned in a cumbersome way and was continuously growling something.
“Belly… belly… hungry…” she made out.
At some instant the giant turned up very near, separated from Rina by only
one bush. He turned and was looking around, occasionally leaning down and
resting on his long arms. Rina pressed her stomach down onto the ground. Her
heart was beating in such a way that it seemed to her the heartbeats were
transferred to the stones. When the giant moved away, she jumped and darted off
as fast as she could.
Barely alive from fear, Rina escaped from the Labyrinth, swept past the
clearing, and flew on her stomach into the blue beehive. She dived for it, squatted
down, and carefully looked out. No one was chasing her. Rina calmed down and
risked standing up. The flat roof of the beehive was burning in the sun like a new
copper samovar. Heavy bees, as if splashed with gold spray, were cleaning their
wings and lazily crawling over each other. Occasionally first one, then another
broke loose and flew away, and its place was occupied by another.
Someone gave a cough behind Rina’s back. Having decided that it was the
giant again, Rina yelped and, after stumbling against the beehive, flew over it.
Pine needles cushioned her under her shoulder blades. Rina lay there and,
already knowing that she was caught, cast her eyes over something endlessly
chequered. She needed almost a minute in order to understand that this was only
a skirt. Kaleria Valerevna was leaning over her. With reproach she contemplated
Rina for some time, after which she transferred Octavius from one hand to the
other, grasping it by the handle on the harness. “Never thought that my cough
knocks people off their feet! However, it’s a fact! Keep it in mind and be scared!”
she said to the dog. “Auuum!” Octavius answered and began to wag its tail. It
wagged its tail rhythmically and reasonably, like an automobile wiper.
Noticing that the beehive had fallen, Kaleria Valerevna picked it up. The
golden bees instantly sprung up and densely covered her face, clothing, and
hands. It seemed that the director of HDive had slipped on a live mat. There was

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a feeling that she was completely comfortable under the shawl of bees, although
only the eyes and the stuck-out tail of the pert plait were visible. She brushed off
only those bees that climbed into her mouth.
“Someone was chasing after me. Just now!” said Rina. Kaleria Valerevna
moved the glasses on the tip of her nose. “At HDive? There can’t be strangers
here!” Rina looked at the Labyrinth. “A huge person! Mouth like a toad’s.
Narrow-shouldered. Thin arms, terribly long. Stomach enormous,” she started
talking hurriedly. “Ah! ‘Head of clay, belly hungry’?” Kavaleria smiled. “Then it
was Gorshenya. You upset him very much, not letting him eat you. His external
life is too uneventful.” “Where did he come from?” The answer for Rina was a
magnificent shrug of the shoulders. “Now I really can’t say. I think one of the first
hdivers was amusing himself. They reached a marker with off-the-scale reserves
of magic and… The charter was only just taking shape then.”
“May I ask something?” Rina ventured, looking at the beehive. “May try to
ask!” Kaleria corrected her. “How can it be: the golden bee invited a person into
HDive but he didn’t remain here? It turns out it invited him by mistake?” asked
Rina. Kavaleria’s thin plait swished like a tiger’s tail. Rina hurriedly smiled her
best, most disarming smile. Every girl has such arsenal. True, in essence it acts on
men. Kavaleria was not a man, and Rina’s smile suffered the fate of the Titanic.
“According to the logic of things – and the logic of things is all right with me in
everything! – the bee invites those necessary to HDive,” Kavaleria said distinctly.
“But it doesn’t get into the other important concept.” “Like what?” “Whether he
wants to or not. In other words: if you turn your back on HDive, HDive won’t run
ahead on trembling legs to look you in the face.” If Rina could not comprehend
this thought, then she at least tried to memorize it.
“And why doesn’t a bee come to me?” she asked. Kavaleria precisely picked a
bee off the stirring mat covering her and sat it on Rina’s shoulder. She felt a
sturdy weight inexplicable for an insect. True, this lasted only a second. The bee
lifted off with difficulty and returned to its previous place. “It doesn’t want me,”
said Rina. “But why? What’s wrong with me?” Kavaleria touched her disobedient
hair. “I would like to know this too. But nevertheless you were able to pass
through the fence into HDive, and this is already quite something. Come, while I
have time, I’ll show you the fountain!”
Rina was afraid that they would meet Gorshenya in the Labyrinth, but the
giant had disappeared somewhere. Beginning from the Labyrinth, tracks leading
to the forest left a deep imprint on the moist ground. “So here unwholesome
legends are born,” Kavaleria said in an undertone and with pleasure touched the
small bright leaves of the boxwood. She stroked the boxwood in a friendly way,
like stroking a large dog or a horse.
Then, still all covered in bees, Kavaleria rapidly went between the tightly
intertwining laurel, acacia, and juniper. At first Rina attempted to memorize the
turns, but then realized that it was useless. Three or four steps in a straight line,
and a loop began again. Most often the Labyrinth twisted along the shell of a snail
like a circular intersection, and one had to choose not one of two options, but
three out of five. “Strange that Gorshenya didn’t step over the bushes. Only
stretched out his arm,” Rina suddenly understood. “Can’t step over. Nor shorten

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the way. All the same, protection of the Labyrinth isn’t in these loops,” said
Kavaleria, without turning around.
A sudden passage in a dense growth of acacia, an arch entwined with thorny
dog rose, and a flower bed with blazing chrysanthemums appeared before Rina.
In the centre of the flower bed was an enormous old stone. Water oozing from a
hole in its upper part slowly flowed along carved grooves of the stone. Still at a
distance, Rina felt that the stone was not hot but evenly warm. Like a cooling
granite embankment when you walk along it in the twilight after a hot day. After
looking intently at the stone with the sharp eyes of a person expelled from art
school in fourth grade for throwing a jar of water at the local gossip, Rina
perceived the incompleteness of the stone. Even and curved on one side, it was
jagged on the other two. The edges had turned black, with a special smell. It was
noticed that once the block was much bigger, but then lightning or a powerful
blow split it into three unequal parts. “One’s here. But where are the other two?”
asked Rina. Kaleria looked attentively at her. “Don’t want to impose my opinion
on things, but happiness isn’t so much knowledge in many respects, but in a
timely manner,” she remarked.
Rina took a step to the fountain, but it remained at the previous distance. She
took another step… and three more… and five more. In the end, she ran to the
fountain as fast as she could. Nothing seemed to retain her, but the distance
between them did not decrease. It seemed an eternity was needed to overcome
these two wretched metres. Kavaleria was standing by the stone itself, touching it
with her hand, and looking sadly at her. “It doesn’t let me approach…” said Rina
dumbfounded. “And what did you do so that it would let you approach?”
Kavaleria quietly answered. “Nothing.”
“That’s the point. Every time I’m here, I recall a legend,” continued Kavaleria.
“In this legend, the mission of the divers consists of recreating here, in our world,
a one-of-a-kind house. Such a house from a child’s dream – with a squeaky
porch, a rocking chair, flowers on the terrace, and long straight stairs to the
second floor. And around the house is a garden, flooded with sunlight. With apple
trees, with hawthorn by the fence, with an old cracked birdhouse on a pole.”
“Why?” Rina asked, involuntarily remembering the birdhouse beyond her
window. “Because this house is genuine, not infected by gloom in any way. Quite
small, but if it’s recreated, it’ll contain absolutely everything, and everything will
be comfortable and spacious, because size, magnitude, space, these are all
relative. The only thing is that to put together this house takes centuries and
centuries, because its individual parts are scattered around all of Duoka.” “Is this
true?” Rina asked with excitement. “I think it’s a legend nevertheless. There are
no artificial objects on Duoka. Not even a nail has been seen there …” Kavaleria
said, after lingering.
Before saying good-bye to the fountain, Rina turned around. The enormous
stone became white in the darkness. The water was murmuring. The
chrysanthemums were ablaze in the gloom, and their light seemed diffused,
indistinct, bothering the eyes.
Rina settled not too badly in the empty room for five. She took all the blankets
from the free beds, and, using a wire found in the closet, built a canopy on the

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upper bunk by the window. She pulled inside the canopy a lamp on a wire, having
carefully unfastened it from the ceiling. A room turned up inside the room.
Wanting to settle more comfortably, she found a sofa covered with wooden
panels in a nook on the ground floor. Assuming that no one needed it, Rina
started to search for muscle power necessary for carrying the sofa. The first one
Rina thought of was Max. However Ul only laughed when Rina shared her plan
with him.
Max was a true beefcake. Even before HDive, in the State Technical University
dormitory, he dragged only beams and only in a technically correct incline. When
it was necessary to move a cabinet, you just could not get any sense out of him.
Either the stairs were too narrow for his back, or his lower back was wrecked, or
the right group of muscles was not working. “Nowhere to hold onto!” he droned
guiltily, and as a result the cabinet was dragged by compact sinewy fellers,
burdened by harmful habits. When, resting on the landing, the compact fellers
were blowing out air, Max was discussing in a whisper what would happen if a
match was brought to them, whether a jet of fire would shoot out or not.
“I better transfer the sofa to you through the mermaid. Although no, it’ll sit
between floors. Better through the lion,” Ul promised.
At night Rina was woken by a powerful knock, which shook the door. She
climbed down and looked out fearfully. A sleepless Supovna was standing in the
hallway. Her grenadier shadow was stamped on the opposite wall. Supovna was
dragging behind her a striped bag, in which something was rumbling. “Plates,
spoons?” Supovna asked gloomily and, not waiting for an answer, went further,
with a stick drumming on all the doors in turn.

Chapter 13

The Theory and Practice of Nightly Strolls

The keywords are patience and love. Patience


precedes love. Patience without love is possible, but
love without patience is not.
From the diary of a non-returning hdiver

Days passed. Curious as a cat, Rina investigated the entire territory of HDive
and disappeared for whole days to the stable. At first the people on duty
screamed and threw buckets, but afterward they got used to her and now more
often dumped on her the cleaning of stalls or sent her to rake the sandy path.
Rina became accustomed to the internal schedule of HDive and even learned to
carry plates from the table under the intent gaze of Supovna, watching at the
doors.
She talked on the phone with Mamasia every day, occasionally catching
Arturych. Rina did not greet Arturych, only fired at him, “Get Mamasia!”

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Arturych would. He tried not to be upset by Rina, because it would require


emotional effort. Arturych did not want to strain himself.
At first Rina thought that Mama would hit the ceiling, but she was as calm as a
boa constrictor. That her daughter was not living at home and had dropped out of
school did not seem to bother her at all. Somehow as an experiment Rina several
times said in succession to her, “I’m in HDive! In HDive! There are winged horses
here, winged horses, winged horses!” And so many times Mamasia repeated like a
parrot, “Yes, yes! Government program, it’s good. Must use the freebie. Only I
beg you, when the President decorates you, unfasten your nightmarish knife from
your leg. Security will shoot you.” Rina felt that her brain was like a hard-boiled
egg. What’s with Mamasia? Why would they decorate her? What does she hear at
all, when Rina repeats “in HDive, in HDive”?
However, obviously HDive had its own internal secrets, which it was better to
assume as long standing. After all, if it was possible to prattle about HDive at
every turn, everything about it would already have been known long ago.
Rina rarely saw Ul. He had either gone on dives or disappeared somewhere
again. He even appeared rarely at dinner, although Rina looked for him in the
dining room. It could not be said that Ul was specially avoiding her. Rina leaned
more to the thought that he had no time for her. And even in general Ul gave one
the impression of a man for which friendship was not the standard observance of
the customs of phoning one another, smiles, and polite wagging of the tail, but in
mutual assistance during difficult times.
Rina sensed the strange duality of her own position. On one hand, she was not
a stranger in HDive. On the other hand, they were still looking hard at her, as if
finding one marker was not enough to make her one of them. “It’s because I
haven’t yet dived to Duoka,” thought Rina.
Besides Ul and Athanasius, she more or less became friends only with her
neighbours at the table – the sharp-tongued Gosha, the owner of a pile of soccer
shirts signed with a marker, and with the dreamy stout person Ruzya. Every time
on seeing her, Gosha had the habit of grinning and saying, “Good, Katenka,
morning!” Exactly in this sequence. Periodically, Rina wanted to kill him.
She was gradually disappointed in Gosha. He was easy in communication, but
with a small wormhole. He always spoke with enthusiasm and had the peculiarity
of falling in love with any new person, whom he started to associate with.
Moreover he sincerely fell in love, with rapture, like a girl. Went with his tail
behind him. On the contrary, he did not believe in old acquaintances, and behind
their backs he now and then talked about their unfair mean tricks.
With Ruzya everything was exactly the opposite. If Gosha went from
favourable impression to the unfavourable, then Ruzya, on the contrary, moved
strictly in the opposite direction. Very sensible, he pretended successfully to be a
lump and on collision with any difficult question instantly turned up with “no
idea.” In particular he often came up with “no idea” when the discussion turned
to Nasta, whom he eternally followed with sad eyes. Usually Ruzya kept tightly
quiet, but sometimes he began talking quickly, choking. Usually this happened
when any word, which was important to him and overlapped with his own
thoughts, was uttered in his presence. In this case the word could be just about

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anything, like “locomotive” or “sunset.” “People are like strings. Each responds to
its own sound,” thought Rina.
Kuzepych usually appeared in the dining room close to the end of dinner. In
recent days he was always walking around smeared, since he was repairing some
boiler in the attic. Usually Kuzepych was in a bad mood. “When you’re given an
iron in good working order, it’s hoped to be in good working order on return also!
What a consumer!” he shouted at a pale minor, who tried to sneak past him
unnoticed. “Kuzepych, not ‘consumer’ but ‘user’!” Vovchik, who adored blowing
up scandals, corrected him. “What a utilizer! He even decided to teach me! Why
did the saddle crack?” Kuzepych attacked Vovchik. “I dried it!” he defended
himself. “Who dries skin on fire? So that there would be a new one tomorrow!”
Vovchik shut up in a hurry.
“Kuzepych, the champion of warning screams. There are none equal to him
here,” Gosha said somehow. “How’s this?” Rina asked. “Like this… you go
somewhere, where they can ask you something, and you issue a warning scream
right away so that everybody leaves you alone.” “But in reality he’s soft and
downy?” asked Rina. “Well, you know, I didn’t poke so deeply into Kuzepych,”
Gosha said and despondently scratched his stomach, where on the soccer shirt
was written: “Here live intestinal bacteria. Don’t enter without
knocking!”

***

Somehow in the evening, after returning from the stable, in the darkness Rina
heard chomping and puffing, as if someone was gnawing on a bone. Turning on
the light, she discovered Max in her room. Max was lying on the frame of the
lower bed and gnawing bread, which Rina was drying for the horses. When the
light flared up, Max covered his eyes with his hand; evidently, he had been lying
in the darkness for a long time already. “Well, you’re s-settled! Dragged all the
mattresses to one p-place. Strictly the princess on a p-pea!” Max began, glancing
sideways in the direction of the canopy arranged on the top bunk. “Precisely! It’s
my idol!” Rina said, for the sake of experiment dropping down onto five
mattresses at once. When you live alone in such a large room, you have to make
use of all its advantages. With his powerful teeth Max bit one more crust into two.
Rina listened as he chewed loudly and swallowed noisily, and thought that horse
habits influence a person more than human habits on a horse.
“I’m on business! Kaleria ordered me to p-pass it onto you!” Max suddenly
recalled, nodding at the glass, in which, overlapping the moon, the electric light
was reflected. Rina looked slightly lower than the moon and saw on the window-
sill a cardboard box. In the box lay a pistol-crossbow, a clms, and a sapper blade.
“It’s now y-yours! Not yet for you to dive s-soon, but we so assume. Besides, you
already have the j-jacket,” Max explained in a voice expecting appreciation. He
did not wait for appreciation and, comforting himself, bit yet into a rusk.
Up to this moment Rina did not have her own clms. They immediately took the
reserve away from her as soon as she arrived at HDive. Examining the clms given
to her, Rina saw a deep dent, cut from the edge to the metal and skin. The blade

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was newer than Ul’s, but not as sharp, with the letters “D.M.” branded on the
handle. “And what became of who…?” she began. “Long s-s-story,” Max stuttered,
and on how he rushed the word “story,” Rina understood that it would actually be
long. “But at least he’s alive?” “S-sometimes it’s not the r-result!” Max answered
with conviction, helping her to lace up the clms.
“You do remember how to u-use it?” he asked, as if Rina could forget what she
never learned. “The sirin is for teleportation,” said Rina, after recalling how she
turned up in HDive. “R-Right. The mermaid is any small magic. To take
something through glass, f-for example. Centaur is communication. Lion is fight
magic. Enough for twenty seconds of active battle. If the f-fight is less than twenty
seconds, then possible to split it up, but not more than t-two parts.” Rina issued a
polite-interrogative mumble. “I’ll ex-ex…explain! If you’ve used three seconds,
and then one, the lion will go out all the same. And it m-matters not that three
plus one is less than t-twenty,” Max explained.
“What’s this ‘active battle’? Pulling out the armour of a tank using teeth?” Rina
specified. “Didn’t try the a… armour of a tank, but I once detached the door of a
m-minibus,” Max reported modestly. “Besides, the ‘lion’ makes it possible to
withstand a hit from a sch-schnepper into any part of the jacket. The head, it goes
without saying, doesn’t count. Again, if the hit isn’t from a schnepper but from a
h-heavy arbalest, it’ll j-just deflect it.”
Rina was slightly disappointed. She expected more. Max felt this and said, “B-
believe my hefty experience: don’t rely too much on magic. If somewhere on a
vacant lot a serious fellow with a bat meets a warlock from Beldo’s fort, I’ll bet on
the fellow with the bat!” “The fellow with a bat and a berserker?” Rina changed
the conditions. “Then the b-berserker,” Max admitted unwillingly.
With a wide apologizing smile he took with him a handful of rusks and began
to stomp to the exit. “Don’t take it into your head to use the m-mermaid often!
And don’t even think of ch-charging it in the Labyrinth, because no one has l-
learned this!” he said already from the corridor, sticking his head in the door.
Rina stood, pressing the box against her stomach. She took Max’s advice into
consideration.
When he finally left, she dumped the trowel and the schnepper onto the bed.
She immediately wanted to shoot with the schnepper. She figured out quickly
enough how to charge it. She put in a lead ball, after some hesitation took aim at
the back of the chair, and carefully pulled the trigger. Nothing happened. Rina
turned the arbalest over and saw a bevelled silver strip in the firing mechanism.
Without releasing the cock, she pulled it down. In the next second something
strummed. The steel “arms” of the arbalest straightened, and Rina heard the
ringing of glass. The shot through moon looked reproachfully in the window.
Zigzag cracks scattered all over the moon. Rina visualized Kuzepych’s stubborn
eyebrows, which moved like brushes in the apparatus for cleaning boots, and she
became depressed.
Remembering the mermaid, she attempted to fix the glass with the help of
small magic. “Make it so that nothing was here!” she thought, hesitantly touching
a finger on the tail of the mermaid. The mermaid flared up. Her wrist became
hot. Having stopped swinging her hand, Rina saw that the window had been filled

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in with bricks. Generous slaps of drying mortar lay between the bricks. “Mission
accomplished. Now there’s truly nothing here!” Rina thought sullenly. She tried
to give the clms a new order, more precise this time, but the mermaid had already
dimmed.
Rina sighed. Now she had to go to the Labyrinth, moreover she could no longer
use the window. She did not want to drag herself on foot through the entire
HDive, risking bumping into Kavaleria or Kuzepych. She touched the sirin and
imagined clearly the fountain of the Green Labyrinth. The familiar beetles,
similar to oat flakes, ran along her skin. After a second Rina perceived herself as a
cloud of rice powder hanging in the air. The powder stretched out like a stream,
slid to a slot between the bricks, and disappeared.

***

Rina was lying on the ground, with her nose buried into it. The earth was
loose. It smelled of rain worms. Rina spit out the boggy fall leaves and tried to
understand what had happened. She remembered only a powerful push, a quick
spin, the crack of branches and… nothing more.
After pulling up the hands from under herself, Rina turned over. Something
was swinging like a pendulum before her eyes. Rina understood that it was her
boot with laces tangled and hanging from the bushes. For a while she was afraid
to touch it, because it did not exclude a foot, with a smiley drawn with marker on
the big toe, turning up in it. “The cleverer the girl, the simpler her amusement!
High intelligence consoles itself with deep lows,” twirling a finger at her temple,
Mamasia said to her in such situations. But no, the foot was nevertheless in place,
and even the little face did not disappear anywhere, although a sock was hiding
somewhere. Possibly it was now lying in the fragrant boxwood shrubs. A lonely
black sock with a thread sticking out.
Rina raised herself on an elbow. To the right the night was lined by white
strips of birches. A gently sloping ravine overgrown with grass went below.
Where it ended, a potato field began. “This isn’t the Labyrinth. And not even
HDive,” she realized. “I tried to teleport to the fountain, and it rejected me.”
Rina also did not recall whether she had seen the stone or not. It seemed she
had nevertheless, because her eyes were smarting so, as if burnt by something
very bright. Rina shifted her gaze onto her clms, understanding that it had to
have received part of the radiance from the stone. So it was. The clms was shining
brighter than the midday sun, including the sirin, although it should go out after
teleportation. “The fountain kicked me out like a soccer ball, but at the same time
politely loaded my clms. Arturych’s style, who, pushing me out the door, always
slipped me some money!” Rina thought.
She got up, put on her shoes and attempted to orient herself so as to reach
HDive. She did not want to get involved repeatedly with teleportation. It was
damp and cold. Rina raised her collar. She stuck her hands into the sleeves.
Moscow summer exists exclusively for accountability. At night, when they switch
off the sun, it is replaced by a cold spring. Rina went up along the ravine and saw
the familiar fence between the small birches. She strained her imagination and

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understood that she was outside the distant part of HDive, beyond that large
meadow, which began immediately from the stable. This is still tolerable. It could
be worse.
She walked to the fence, but suddenly to her left something dark flickered, like
a human figure. Rina wanted to call out but did not, instead she pressed her side
against the birch, carefully looking out and hiding the shining clms behind her
back. She saw how a tall man with a strangely reflecting chest was silently kicking
someone, taking a step back before each new kick. Whom he was kicking, Rina
did not know. She heard only wheezing. Something was stirring under the tall
guy’s feet. Something dark, broken, and hunched up, rose, growing almost to the
chest of the man, and immediately fell down.
The moon looked from behind the cloud. The reflecting chest turned out to be
armour. At the man’s feet, falling down to the ground, a large animal with a flat
face was baring its teeth. A metallic muzzle prevented it from protecting itself
with its teeth. The right leathery wing lifted up after each strike. However, the left
was pressed against the ground, as if the animal was protecting someone from
somebody.
Rina could not know that one of the hyeons, patrolling the sky around HDive,
suddenly became disobedient and descended by the fence. The berserker in his
fury kicked the hyeon, attempting to get it to take off. He was doing all this
silently, afraid to make a noise so close to HDive. But it was not necessary for her
to know anything. She saw an animal being beaten up and it was enough. It was
not possible for Rina not to interfere. She had left the arbalest in her room, but
on her arm a charged clms was shining. She remembered the fight magic, only
how to summon it? How to put a light to frost? Rina shook her clms, touched the
lion; however, absolutely nothing happened. No balls of lightning, no bluish
patch, no flashes, nothing at all. So far the tall one had not noticed her,
continuing to beat the weakened hyeon in a business-like manner.
“Max ripped out the door. It means, the lion does nothing by itself. It only
amplifies my efforts!” Rina thought. Trying not to imagine what would happen if
she had not guessed correctly, Rina rushed to the warlock. Jumping out from
behind the birch, she could not keep herself from an exclamation. The berserker
turned. She did not grasp the moment of aiming. Something struck her in the
centre of her chest, and only then she saw a small schnepper in his half-folded
hand. She ran another step and only then fell down. She had a very sore rib
directly opposite the heart. Rina was lying on her stomach and thinking: how
strange, a man dies and it seems to him that his rib aches.
The berserker, limping, approached Rina. He leaned over her and, after
clicking a cigarette lighter, turned her over by the shoulder. The berserker’s face
was white, flat with a bruise on the right cheek. The cigarette lighter cast a
reddish speck of light on her face. Rina saw a thick fold of skin of concentration
on his forehead. The look was calm, business-like, in no way reckless, but
somehow wrong and terrible. A normal look contains emotion: interest,
sympathy, indifference, vexation. And, whatever the emotion, it builds a bridge.
The one looking acknowledges a person as a person, at least worthy, in his
opinion, for unscrewing his head. But there was no emotion here at all. Rina saw

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how the berserker reached out for his thigh. In his hand appeared a narrow
hatchet on a long handle. He swung, but suddenly stopped, squatted, and again
lit up Rina’s face with the cigarette lighter.
Beyond the fence of HDive a mounting sound was heard. Someone was
running to them. The narrow beam of a lamp jumped in the darkness. The
berserker grabbed his schnepper, but, recalling that it was discharged, rushed to
the hyeon. Rina saw how he jumped up onto the saddle. Heard the dry crack of
discharge. This time the electric shock was set to ultimate capacity. The hyeon
yelled sorrowfully like a child. Rina never thought that sounds in animals and
people could be so similar. Leathery wings flapped, and, stupefied from the pain,
the hyeon flew at a low altitude between the birches, catching branches with its
wings.

***

Several seconds later someone jumped from the fence and, after illuminating
Rina with a flashlight, squatted down beside her. The hard face of Rodion with
the broken nose was leaning over Rina. “Are you whole?” he asked. “I’m injured.”
“Where?” She pointed, feeling deep injustice. He touched her jacket with his little
finger and made a sound. Then he carefully unstuck something with his fingers
and dropped it onto Rina’s palm. “Beautifully flattened. Directly against the
protective belt. Make a pendant!” he advised. Rina was embarrassed. She felt
almost guilty that she had not been killed. “For some reason my lion didn’t work,”
she muttered. Rodion distrustfully looked at her clms. Rina raised her hand and
saw that the lion had managed to go out. “Everything went for the block,” Rodion
dropped the words.
He got up, went over to where recently the warlock had kicked the hyeon, and
illuminated something with the flashlight. Rina again heard a peep. Unpleasant,
demanding. She ran up and saw a lump stirring. On the ground lay a baby hyeon.
Smaller than a cat. Naked, slippery, not covered with fur. The leathery wings had
not yet straightened or darkened. The membranes were pinkish, transparent. The
unopened eyelids shuddered when the light of the flashlight fell on them. “Only a
warlock would fly on a hyeon giving birth. Although he probably didn’t know,
they fly on whatever was saddled for them!” Rodion said through clenched teeth.
The baby hyeon attempted to crawl. The skin on the flat face was gathered in
folds. The lower jaw came forcefully forward, and the long canine teeth – upper
and lower – formed a vampire bite. “This is why the mother didn’t want to fly
away … Here’s also a critter, take pity!” Rodion grumbles.
He shoved his hand under his jacket and pulled out a schnepper. “Turn away!”
he ordered Rina, with one movement of the lever setting the bowstring. “Why?”
“It’ll perish all the same. Or are you thinking the berserker will return?” Rodion
repeated, beginning to be irritated. “I won’t turn away!” Sharp eyebrows moved.
“Well, if you need impressions…” Rodion said with a threat. The schnepper rose
to the level of the small hyeon’s head.
Rina with a screech pushed his hand away and, leaning down in a hurry,
picked up the baby hyeon. “You’re out of your mind! Put it down! Don’t touch it

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with your hands!” Rodion shouted in a strained voice. Rina looked around at him
with distrust. “You’re going to shoot it!” “Fine, I won’t! Only put it down on the
ground and go away. Quickly!” Drops of perspiration ran from Rodion’s forehead
along the broken nose and made a turn to the eye. He had already lowered the
schnepper. “Why?” “What, don’t you know? A hyeon’s bite is fatal! At first the
fingers swell up, then the wrist, the elbow, the arm.” Rina stroked the newborn
hyeon on the head. “But it’s still quite young! Not yet an hour old!” she said. “It’s
a hyeon! They are poisonous even in the womb! You don’t know how many horses
they have ruined! The bite is like nothing else, it seals and is forgotten, and in
three minutes the horse is already a corpse! Put it down!” “So that you’ll kill it?”
Seeing that the small hyeon did not touch Rina, Rodion carelessly poked it
with the flashlight. The blind baby hyeon hissed. Rina saw the small upper teeth.
Snap, and they slid along the glass of the flashlight. Rina was stunned, she in no
way expected this quick and well-thought-out movement from a baby hyeon with
sprawling paws and trembling head. “Now do you see? It’s a miracle it didn’t get a
hand. Don’t understand one thing: why doesn’t it bite you?” Rodion muttered,
observing how the hyeon consecutively nuzzled up with its nose into Rina’s wrist
in turn, in explicit search for something. “It wants to eat…” Rina said with pity.
Rodion burst out laughing. “At the drop of a hat, blame it on hunger! Female
explanation!”
From the direction of the potato field furious sounds of squabbling broken by a
high screech reached them. Rodion listened. “Wait here!” he ordered Rina and,
picking up the schnepper, broke into a run. He moved very much in unison, like
plastic, not so much running across than flowing from one birch to another. For
someone aiming at him in the dark, it would be difficult to get Rodion. He
returned in about five minutes. “Dogs were fighting…” he explained, as if growing
out of the trunk of a birch. “Hey, where are you?” Rina was no longer by the
fence. Neither was the baby hyeon, it goes without saying.

***

Making use of Rodion’s absence, Rina made an attempt to drag the young
hyeon over the fence of HDive, but nothing turned out for her. She herself
climbed over easily, but an elastic force retained the small hyeon. The hyeon
started to whimper at the moment of contact with the invisible obstacle, and Rina
understood that it was painful for it.
After the unsuccessful attempt to muffle the baby hyeon into her hdiver jacket
and drag it through like contraband, Rina gave in and, pressing the cub against
her chest, she ran along the fence. She ran and considered the different options:
hide it in the forest, negotiate with some old lady in the village, find a train and
leave for Moscow. All options had their pluses, but these pluses were as prickly as
Czech hedgehogs.35 “Nothing to be done: it’s a plus because it’s made up of two
minuses,” Mamasia said in such situations.

35
A Czech hedgehog is an obstacle made of angled iron, oringinally a fortification system built by
Czechoslovakia on the eve of WWII. They were widely used by the Soviet Union during WWII in anti-tank
defence.

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A way out presented itself. Half a kilometre from the fence of HDive, where the
birch forest ended and an offshoot of the road curved to the village, Rina
discovered a mysterious construction concealed in a narrow ditch. About thirty
years ago the watchman of the potato field welded a box from iron of uneven
shape in order to keep a motorcycle in it. The watchman was a man of experience,
knew Moscow customs, and understood that he could not manage to watch the
potatoes and the motorcycle simultaneously. Now the watchman had long been
taken away by the wave of time, and the bearded Moscow biker Plushch rode on
his motorcycle, having miraculously identified the rusting monster in the motor
depot as a captured German rarity. Even now on the garage door still hung a
deterring narcissistic lock, which, incidentally, was fully possible to be reconciled
with, since the door itself had been dragged about five metres from the garage.
In the shed Rina discovered a pile of all sorts of rubbish, which even the local
boozers had not encroached upon, and among other things – two torn potato
sacks. “Lie here and wait!” said Rina, spreading one sack under the cub and
covering it with the other. The baby hyeon, recently squeaking demandingly in
her arms, immediately lapsed into silence, Rina only had to put it down and took
a step back. It even did not stir: lying and preserving strength. Rina did not know
that hyeons, flying away on a hunt, leave their young for a long time, and so that
they will not be found, the young have to hold their tongue. After standing beside
it for a minute and not having heard even one careless peep, Rina ran to HDive.
She had to find out as much as possible about hyeons and return again before the
coming of the morning. “Ul or Ruzya?” thought Rina. “Okay, I’ll start with Ul!”

***

A quarter of an hour later Rina was stealing her way along the corridors of
HDive. This time she chose the darker corridors, afraid of bumping into Rodion.
Instead of Rodion she met Vovchik, who was dragging himself with a guilty look
after Oksa, catching her by the sleeve and continuously growling, “Sorry! Well, I
said sorry! How would I know whose foot it was? It’s dark!” Oksa shook off his
hand and turned away; however, Rina sensed unmistakeably that forgiveness was
not far off. Rina found out from Oksa that the senior hdivers – Ul, Rodion, Max,
and Athanasius – were living in the attic, where they had arranged a bachelor den
for themselves. “Only girls are not welcomed there,” said Oksa. “Can easily get a
knee on your behind. Especially from Rodion. His girl dropped him, even before
HDive, and he… On the whole, Rodion doesn’t like girls very much now.”
Having gone up along the clattering iron stairs, Rina found the door open and
carefully pushed her head through into the attic. “Hey!” she called out. No one
answered. Rina entered. Inside was semi-darkness. The HDive attic stretched
above the entire building. Only in the centre under the ridge was it possible to
straighten to full height. Rina began to make her way through, occasionally
bumping into traces of human presence manifested in a punching bag, a wooden
panel stuck with knives, and a horse skeleton with individual bones thoughtfully
connected with wires.

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In about twenty steps she saw an empty hammock. A quadrilateral photograph


was gleaming on a beam next to the hammock. Rina in the darkness could not
make out who was on it. She touched the photograph and it unexpectedly turned
up in her hand. Rina was still groping for the lost thumbtack when she suddenly
heard the voices of Ul and Athanasius. Rina was afraid that they would catch her
in the attic, on top of that with someone else’s photograph in her hand. As
Arturych said in such situations, “unpleasance” could appear. Rina quickly placed
the photograph into the square of moonlight as if it had fallen by itself and, after
stepping back into the darkness, lurked behind the horse skeleton.
“Stop diving at dawn! They know this and patrol with two teams of four!” said
Athanasius. Rina saw the familiar smile and understood that Ul waited for these
meetings more than the warlocks themselves. “Yara loved the dawn. I do this in
memory of her. And who cares that they know when I dive.” “You’re asking for
it!” “Doesn’t matter,” Ul answered flippantly. “You and Max will shield me.”
“There, yes, but back?” “Back I’ll sort out myself. Already ran up against one of
Till’s berserkers.” Athanasius hesitated with suspicion, “That the time when they
shot through your thigh?” “Only flesh there. And let bookkeeping count the
scars,” Ul answered indifferently. “You don’t know your anatomy. Two large
vessels in the thigh. Three centimetres more to the left and you would bleed to
death,” said Athanasius. Ul laughed. “Hdivers don’t consider ‘ifs’. Did you
sometimes wash your head in the sink of a public washroom, where any Uncle
Venya sleeps on a newspaper by the heater? Or wrap your leg in a plastic bag so
that the blood wouldn’t drip?” he asked. “No.” “You’re not romantic. More
precisely, not urban romantic!” said Ul. “Then you become all the more
romantic!” Athanasius said angrily.
“Is Kavaleria in the know that you only get attack markers?” Ul frowned. They
were standing very close to the hammock, about three steps away. “I found a
place where they’re piled up. Only pull. Pity can’t take more than one.” “You
didn’t answer about Kavaleria…” Athanasius reminded him. “Kavaleria can’t
forgive me for Konung. What a stallion it was! Reliable. Always squeezed out the
last bit of strength! She always dived on it. Her favourite,” said Ul with effort.
“But you can?” Ul shook his head. “Better they hit me then. I’ll never forget…
Arrow in the neck, and it spread its wings and glided to the river! It could have
folded its wings, and I would have smashed to smithereens!”
“Perhaps leave all this?” Athanasius asked sadly. “And forgive the warlocks for
Yara? For Konung? For everything?” Ul raised his voice. “Careful!” Athanasius
interrupted him. “You know the charter! How many experienced hdivers got
stuck in the swamp only because they hated too strongly!” “They had a reason?”
asked Ul. “It’s unimportant to the swamp. The main thing is for the elbes to hook
onto something. Hatred, a lie, self-pity, anything will do! By the way, how do you
extricate yourself?” “I try to visualize something good,” said Ul quietly. “For
example, her smile. I drag an attack marker, which will blow them up to kingdom
come, and I think about her. You haven’t forgotten Yara?” “No,” Athanasius
answered with a slight delay.
“At least you have Victoria…” said Ul with melancholy. “Look, take care of her,
because it’ll be very painful later.” “I will,” Athanasius muttered. “Well look!

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Don’t pack it in!” said Ul, knowing how to be happy when someone nearby was
happy. “I won’t!” Athanasius assured him. He thought agonizingly to himself,
“She has to go to Honduras! Urgently to Honduras!”
Suddenly Ul issued a short exclamation, and Rina understood that he had
discovered the photograph in the moonlight. Having waited until Ul squatted
down, Rina loudly stomped her feet, pretending that she had just walked in.
“Max?” Athanasius directed a light toward her. “Oh, hi! What are you doing
here?” “What do hyeons eat?” Rina fired. “Winged horses,” answered Ul, showing
not the least curiosity for the reason to find this out at midnight. “And a small
hyeon?” asked Rina. “Small winged horses!” said Athanasius and laughed,
expecting an official approval of his joke. Rina smiled out of politeness.
“I need to know what to feed a newborn hyeon, which the mother has
abandoned,” she said. Ul squatted and pressed the photograph to his knees. “It
seems someone said condensed milk with ground pepper!” he answered. Rina
sighed, considering this the next witty remark, but Ul was serious. “Hyeon milk is
very fatty. Of our products condensed milk is the closest. Well, perhaps, slightly
diluted… Possible even to put a dead cat through the grinder. But this is already
from the region of delicacies.” “Why pepper?” “It’s a hyeon! Its blood is the
periodic table!”
Rina tensely waited for the question “but why does this interest you so?” and it
came, not from Ul but from Athanasius. True, she did not answer, because,
stomping, Rodion climbed up to the attic. Before his eyes became accustomed to
the semi-darkness, Rina slipped past him to the stairs.

Chapter 14

A Butterfly on the Umbrella

If there is no light and there is no gloom, then we are


all spontaneously thinking mould.
Joseph Emets, Hungarian philosopher

Andrei, Dolbushin’s bodyguard, made the last stitch and dashingly, like an
experienced seamstress, cut the thread. These were his favourite moments.
“Well?” he asked Paulina, who was entrusted with the most valuable: holding the
dolls. The boy on the right knee, the girl on the left. Specifically, in this sequence.
A tiny blouse was lying on Andrei’s palm. He was still gripping the needle with
the fingers of the other hand. The fingers were short and rough, with joints
turned into bony calluses long ago from constant training. Now and then Paulina
did not understand how it would be possible to sew at all with such fingers.
“So?” Andrei repeated impatiently. Paulina took the blouse and looked it over
with knowledge of the matter. She knew if she said that the blouse had turned out
crooked and the right arm was hopelessly botched, then Andrei would gloomily
withdraw into himself and watch the one and the same boxing match for the five

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thousandth time. And when he switched it off, the wall would begin to shudder
from the impacts of his arbalests. Therefore Paulina chose the neutral option
between the truth and a lie. “Very unusual!” she said. Andrei brightened, and
Paulina understood that there would not be boxing matches today. Nor the firing
of arbalests.
Dolbushin’s bodyguard was the only one with whom Paulina could have a
heart-to-heart talk now. Anya had disappeared suddenly, even without saying
goodbye to her friend. Did not even take her toothbrush with her. Dolbushin
declared that his daughter had left to study in England. He himself was going
around looking yellow and evil. He answered questions abruptly and hardly
noticed her at all. At first the head of the financial fort would not even let Paulina
go to his daughter’s closet, but locked the room with a key. Then he gradually
relented, returned the room key to Paulina, and now for something to do she
changed clothes four times a day. She was not allowed to go out onto the street.
They claimed that she had not yet recovered from the accident and could easily
lose her memory.
Three times a middle-aged lopsided little fellow in a stale medical gown, whom
Dolbushin, somehow especially ironically stretching out his lips, called “Doctor
Utochkin” and “our solar star,” came to them. He was probably joking, but when
he saw Utochkin, his eyes faded and the pupils almost disappeared. The little
fellow was very polite and attentive. He touched Paulina’s head at different
places, pricked her ears with needles, squeezed her hand for a long time, and
looked sharply into her eyes. And sighed. He sighed continuously. Now and then,
when the sigh was especially deep, from the inside, it began to smell strongly of a
wine store in the room. After Utochkin Paulina’s head would always hurt for a
long time, but she would sleep well at night, without dreams, as if she had
jumped into a black well.
Andrei had not yet put the blouse on the doll when an indistinct noise was
heard on the landing. The bodyguard jumped and, after grabbing the schnepper,
slipped into the hallway. After some time Paulina heard how the lock clicked, and
he was talking with somebody. Soon Andrei appeared again. Already without the
schnepper but with a package in his hands. “A gift from Beldo. Sent via his driver.
What on earth? Did you make eyes at grandpa?” he asked maliciously. “Hand it
over!” Paulina snatched the package from him and went to Anya’s room.
In the package she discovered a box of thick cardboard, coquettishly adorned
with ribbons. A note was inserted under the ribbons. It began with the words
“Dear young lady,” and further contained such a quantity of flowery compliments
that it seemed to Paulina as if they had locked her up at night in a perfume store.
She did not have enough patience to read it to the end. She found that it was too
wordy. “What’s in this?” she thought with bewilderment. The notable poultry
expert was as little like a lady’s man as a stump to a blooming cherry tree. After
cutting open the coquettishly done up box with manicure scissors, Paulina found
inside a medium size stone stained with clay. A so-so gift!
Attempting to understand what this meant, Paulina touched it with her
fingers, and a flower flared up inside the stone. It was small but very bright.
Paulina screamed. For a second she felt really dizzy, but the dizziness soon

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passed. She felt the sides of the stone with attentive fingers, and the flower
answered every one of her touches. Forgetting everything, she stroked the stone
with her fingers, touched it with her wrists and nails, and played with the flower
like playing with a kitten. The flower shone, shimmered, faded, and again flared
up. Paulina looked at it, and it seemed to her that her present life is something
fake, temporary and that if she makes an effort, then… But here again her head
began to explode. Paulina’s memory was held back by the lopsidedly smiling,
polite face of the paramedic Utochkin, and she began to sense the smell of cheap
wine.
“What are you doing here in the dark?” she suddenly heard Dolbushin’s voice.
Paulina jerked up her head and stared with bewilderment at his long face pushing
through the crack, turned yellow by light, of the half-open door. Paulina was at a
loss. She was certain that Dolbushin was not home and would return only in the
evening. But beyond the window was twilight and, obviously, this meant that the
evening had already come. Where the second-half of the day had disappeared to
and how she had spent it, Paulina just did not understand. She only remembered
that she had not slept a minute but was stroking the warm stone the entire time.
“Get out of here!” Dolbushin said tiredly, not even waiting for an answer.
Dolbushin displayed jealousy with regard to his daughter’s room and, although
Paulina was allowed in it, she constantly felt like a person going around the Anya
Dolbushina Museum. And this despite that in the rest of the entire apartment
Paulina could build a fire, dump in a pile of antique furniture, and pour kerosene
on it. Dolbushin would frown, but would say nothing.
Intending on turning her out, Dolbushin took a step into the room; however,
the umbrella, from which he was inseparable, for some reason remained in the
hallway. Thinking that it had gotten stuck in the door, the head of the second fort
turned and impatiently pulled it. Nothing changed. No matter how Dolbushin
pulled it, there was no possibility whatever of bringing the umbrella into the
room. At some point, when Dolbushin pulled the umbrella especially forcefully
and angrily, it seemed to Paulina as if the handle of the umbrella at that instant
twisted around his wrist like it was alive. Dolbushin cursed voicelessly and let go
of the umbrella. The ball of his thumb was split. The head of the second fort flung
away the umbrella and, like a dog, began to lick the wound clean.
Paulina jumped from the sofa. The stone, which she had completely forgotten
about, slid down from her knees and dully hit the floor. Dolbushin stared at it
wildly and lowered his hand. There was blood on his lips and chin, like a vampire
that had just dined. “Where… did… you… get… this?” he wheezed. “A gift!” said
Paulina. “Whose?” “Beldo’s.” “Can’t be.” “Ask Andrei!” “What, did Beldo bring it
himself? I don’t believe it!” Dolbushin shouted distrustfully. After turning his
head to the side, as if the stone could singe his eyelashes, he took a step towards
it; however, not even having touched it, he jerked back his hand. It looked as if
molten metal was before him.
“Andrei!” he shouted into the depth of the apartment. “Come here! Remove
this!” Paulina recalled that Beldo’s chauffeur had delivered that box and
transferred it to Andrei’s hands to her. So, Beldo’s chauffeur could touch the
stone and Dolbushin’s bodyguard also. “Where were you? Didn’t you see what

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they brought into the house?” Dolbushin began to yell at Andrei when he ran into
the room.
Andrei stared at the stone. Happiness was still reflected on his face. Evidently,
when they pulled him away, the bodyguard was continuing in secret to play with
his “Lilliputians.” Now happiness was rapidly washing away, being replaced by
preoccupation. “There was packaging… I thought…” began Andrei. On noticing
that Dolbushin was without the umbrella and had blood on his lips, he was
surprised and lapsed into silence. Dolbushin licked his lips. “I’ll sort it out with
you afterwards! Take it away! And there’s nothing to stare at!” he ordered,
collecting himself.
Andrei leaned over, took the stone, and carried it. He carried it normally,
without any expression, clearly experiencing neither happiness nor pain. He did
not feel the heat originating from the stone, and did not notice the flower inside
the shone. “Wait!” Dolbushin shouted, realizing that, leaving the room, Andrei
would have to step over the threshold. Having rushed to the umbrella, he grabbed
it and ran aside with it. “Now go!”
Andrei had passed through almost the entire apartment when near
Dolbushin’s feet fell Beldo’s letter still not read to the end. He picked it up, slid
his eyes along it, and at the very end of the page a short three-letter word
scratched his pupils.
“Guy insists that this stone remain with you for the time being. It is his dear
whim, and whims are more than orders, because orders are forgotten, but
whims are not. If this thing dismays Albert, I will give him all necessary
explanations.
Sincerely kissing your locks, your soul, and your brain,
Dionysus Beldo.”
“Stop!” shouted Dolbushin. In the depth of the apartment the floor stopped
shuddering. “Phone Beldo! Live-ly!”
It was not necessary to wait for long for the head of the first fort. Beldo arrived
so soon to give the necessary explanations that Dolbushin had the persistent
feeling that the entire time he was sticking around somewhere close by in his bus.
Next to the poultry expert flew both his “crows” flapping their sleeves. However,
even on the threshold of the apartment, after feeling the marker, the “crows”
began to rush about and, smiling restlessly, went back to the elevator.
Beldo, hardier than his girlfriends, also did not put himself out as a hero. He
kept a respectful distance from the marker and went into Dolbushin’s office via
distant rooms. He did not remain long in the office, not more than an hour. On
the way back Dolbushin saw him to the doors. His face was pensive and
perturbed. Andrei, observant as all of his profession, noticed that Beldo had
entered the apartment with a small square bag over his shoulder but left already
without the bag.

***

The whole time Dolbushin was waiting for Beldo, Paulina remained in his
daughter’s room. She placed the stone, which Andrei had returned to her, on

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Anya’s bed, right on the cover, and lay beside it, almost touching the stone with
her forehead but not her hands. The smell of the stone – slightly ferrous, tickling
– reminded her of the smell of flint when hit with another flint. Paulina inhaled it
and did not think about anything. The flower no longer flared up. It was enough
for Paulina that it was living inside.
Unexpectedly she felt closed in. After leaving the stone on the cover, she went
out onto the balcony, where doors led immediately to several rooms and
Dolbushin’s office. Directly across from the office was an enormous armchair or
chaise lounge. Paulina, having inherited from Anya also the love for this
armchair, lowered herself into it a minute before the notable poultry expert
secluded himself in the office with his host.
On hearing voices muted by glass behind her back, Paulina froze in the chaise
lounge, afraid to move. She knew that it was not visible from the office whether
there was someone in the chaise lounge, but if she got up now, then for sure she
would give herself away. She had no desire to meet Beldo. And she was even
rather afraid of Dolbushin. It turned out to be a mess: if she does not want to
eavesdrop, they will decide that she is. If she keeps a low profile like a mouse,
possibly, just possibly, she would manage nevertheless. Almost without exception
she heard Beldo’s high lecturing voice. Dolbushin’s rather muffled voice
disappeared at times.

DOLBUSHIN: Why the elbe did you send her the stone?
BELDO: Ah-ah! You’re not the girl, Albert, and this is the enormous gap in
your biography.
DOLBUSHIN: Wh-at?
BELDO: Once I saw how a winged horse with a broken wing looks at the sky.
This was her look, Albert! Please open the window, it’s stuffy in here!
DOLBUSHIN: (the words were not audible)
BELDO: Not very long. We increased probability so much that each instant can
turn out to be the very one… And Albert, so that you understand how good I am
to you: I’m warning you about Till!
DOLBUSHIN: (opened the window) Do you know something concrete or do
you simply want to play us off each other, because his berserkers kill your witches
and, as a whole, find a common language with my people?
BELDO: No such thing! I respect Ingvar as a business partner and I’ve known
him for a long time, but he was looking at your umbrella with such eyes…
DOLBUSHIN: Again the umbrella! How can it be! Do you want me to present
it to you, Beldo? Only don’t complain later: I’ll take it back only with your death.
BELDO: Pah-pah! You have a dangerous tongue, Albert! Not without reason
that when Vlada tells your fortune, she always burns the deck afterwards.
DOLBUSHIN: Very polite on her part. When I shoot her, I’ll also throw away
the schnepper…
BELDO: (laughs) Albert, we’ve known each other for eighteen years! I haven’t
forgotten the shivering student, whom I found sleeping on the bench across from
the Gogol monument. A real pigeon! You couldn’t even drink coffee. Dropped the

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cup on your own knees. But it’s also understandable, early March! Not the month
of March, as the saying goes!36 Did you hear what I said? (laughs)
DOLBUSHIN: I also remember that day! A student in a hdiver jacket and with
a marker in the pocket, with which he hadn’t merged!
BELDO: (clicks his tongue) But you also weren’t in any hurry to take it to
HDive! Hanging around the city, hiding from everyone in succession, from our
men, from yours, and stole the bread for feeding ducks at Clean Ponds!
DOLBUSHIN: The girl, whom I loved, was blind, and my marker could give
her sight. But I was obligated to give it to another! Some old woman who had
been blind her entire life and had long gotten used to it! And she had not more
than a month to live! Why did she need to see? Was that really fair?
BELDO: (sympathetically) And why did you delay? Should have given it to
your girl!
DOLBUSHIN: Something stopped me. Possibly, the stupid hdiver charter…
And I finally decided only after meeting you. While I was hauling the marker
around in my pocket, it didn’t merge with me, although I touched it hundreds of
times a day and warmed my fingers. But the moment I had already extended it to
my girl, something stirred in me. Self-longing perhaps, the unwillingness to part
from it! Why give it away when it’s possible to keep it? Only for one second! But
this turned out to be enough. The marker merged with me. She remained blind as
a mole!
BELDO: You nevertheless loved her, Albert, and a beautiful daughter was born
to you… Moreover, now you can identify the thoughts and true desires of any
person who looks you in the eye! Please let me look into your eyes and I’ll think
about Till. Do you want that?
DOLBUSHIN: Keep your Till with you! The Butcher thinks that my umbrella is
an extra marker like his wild boar collar. It’s nonsense! My umbrella was never in
Duoka at all.
BELDO: (uneasily) Do you mean to say that it’s from…?
DOLBUSHIN: Remember the theory, Beldo! Idea precedes embodiment.
There was a time people didn’t know about the wheel. But once some blockhead
saw how a tree struck down by lightning rolled down a mountain. And then
inspiration came to him like a flash and the first wheel made by him became a
null object. In a null object is the force of all objects resulting from it. If I destroy
the first wheel – absurd, crooked, but having absorbed the idea into itself, those
seven hundred billion wheels, which exist now on Earth, will be destroyed
together with it. And all cars, bicycles, clocks, power stations, basically the entire
technical side of civilization. Because precisely in this wheel is the force.
BELDO: (maliciously) And your umbrella, correspondingly, is the null object
of all umbrellas and overhangs?
DOLBUSHIN: I suspect that the null object of umbrellas was the common
burdock.
BELDO: But what then?

36
The normal saying is “Not the month of May,” meaning it is too cold for May.

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DOLBUSHIN: (quietly) Do you remember the stone, with which Cain killed his
brother Abel? Didn’t this stone absorb into itself the idea that once it had ripened
in the swamp?
A long pause. Paulina heard how the chair squeaked under Beldo.
BELDO: (excitedly) And they gave it to you? To YOU and not to GUY? Why?
DOLBUSHIN: It turned out to be a small surprise. Smaller than a fist, but with
a sharp projection… It fit wonderfully in the handle of the umbrella and even
partly revived it… This umbrella lets me do a lot, but – damn it! – can’t even lose
it! When a murder is committed in the world, unimportant with what – a bullet, a
knife, bare hands – a nagging pain echoes in me. Especially vile at night. Trust
me, Beldo, if Till gets my umbrella, in a week he’ll bring it back.
BELDO: (with envy) So be it, but the possibility, the possibility…
DOLBUSHIN: Sometimes I ponder: and let’s assume the first drop of the first
rain after the creation of Earth? What is it? Or the first of the specks of light of
fire sprung up from the first lightning hit? What monstrous authority in these
null objects!
BELDO: That’s not a null object. First existence. It’s more than a null object.
For first existences one has to penetrate beyond the second rock range, to that
central cliff without a peak! It’s beyond the abilities of any hdiver.
DOLBUSHIN: How can we be so certain of this? The girl didn’t penetrate
beyond the first range.
BELDO: But she was in the valley between the first and the second. And there
she found the strongest marker, next to which was the contrmarker. Possibly, this
was the cliff, next to which the butterfly laid an egg, which became a caterpillar
and then a pupa… And possibly, the valley beyond the first rock range is a mirror
reflection of the valley beyond the second! Or even more: it exists simultaneously
in two dimensions! (getting excited) After penetrating to this cliff with the
contrmarker in hand, there is a chance of turning up immediately in the heart of
Duoka, in eternity, where everything is primary! There each word and any
unexpressed thought resound with an echo in all the worlds!
DOLBUSHIN: (coldly) Calm down, Dionysus! Your cries are also already
audible in all the worlds!
Beldo was breathing heavily and nosily. It was heard how he opened a zipper
and put something on the table.
BELDO: This must be hidden! Don’t touch the lid! I suspect it’ll open by itself
when necessary … Put it closer to… well, you know…
DOLBUSHIN: Fine. That’s all?
BELDO: Not quite. Will you find me a small room, almost a closet? I want to
impose on you as a guest.
DOLBUSHIN: The neighbours flooded your place?
BELDO: I’m begging you, Albert. I want to be here when Guy touches it!
DOLBUSHIN: You’ll have a room. But your mother hens will have to find
other shelter for themselves. They touch everything. Have to wash the apartment
with bleach afterwards.
BELDO: (laughs) You’re a real man, Albert! You really give it to them! I’ll tell
Mlada and Vlada: they’ll be delighted!

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He accidentally met Dolbushin’s eyes.


DOLBUSHIN: You intend to give the contrmarker to Guy. Is that so?
BELDO: Yes.
DOLBUSHIN: Why? Doesn’t the possibility of getting to Duoka attract you?
BELDO: I thought a lot, but… First, I won’t risk going.
DOLBUSHIN: Why?
BELDO: I don’t know how to explain. I’m simply afraid and as time goes on,
the more… Besides, Guy, in essence, risks nothing. We can only catch the
contrmarker with his box. However, the only one who can get it from the box is
the one the elbe incarcerated in the interceptor will give it to. Do you understand
how everything is thought out?
DOLBUSHIN: And your guardian won’t fight for you?
BELDO: (embarrassed) It definitely will, but… Nothing is known for sure with
these elbes. They extremely quickly negotiate between themselves. Besides, it’s
only third grade. And if the one incarcerated is second grade, let’s assume, then…

Paulina closed her eyes. The words she heard were familiar, stirring, but every
time the reproachful paramedic Utochkin showed up between a word and its
meaning and threatened her with a finger. Soon it already seemed to Paulina that
the words were falling into her memory like stones and, shattering into
fragments, causing her pain. Not wanting to hear or know anymore, she covered
up her ears with her hands, and sunk into blindness and silence. She woke up an
hour later from the cold and sat for a long time with open eyes, not
understanding how she turned out to be in the chaise lounge.

Chapter 15

The Green Bear in a Polka Dot Beret

It is bad that we want to choose what is worthy of


our love and what is not. There is a pair of enormous
scissors between “we are” and “we want to be,” which
cut the soul into pieces. And perhaps when we die, in
the other, better world, we will only be entrusted with
one lame dog. Because we can extend our defective
love to it alone. So, we must not complicate things,
not feel ourselves deprived, but give all our love
precisely to this lame dog.
From the diary of a non-returning hdiver

When Yara did not return, in two weeks Ul disappeared from HDive. Some
thought that he was on the watch for Dennis. That one also did not appear in
HDive, only sent Delta with the schnepper, the sapper blade, and a short note
tagged to the saddle. The note said that he was breaking off with HDive forever

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and taking the marker himself “for work,” but will not go to the warlocks. He will
be by himself. He needs no one anymore – neither hypocrites nor killers, and he
wants all of them to leave him alone. At the end of the note Dennis transparently
hinted that it would be useless to search for him, since he now possesses a
“certain gift,” which makes him invulnerable. After becoming acquainted with it,
Kaleria Valerevna shove the note into the drawer, where she had stored hundreds
of similar notes and letters – different in style and size but extremely similar in
content.
Others explained Ul’s disappearance as that he had decided to give up diving.
The third group, among which were Max, Rodion, and Athanasius, was busy
trying to connect with him on the clms, but Ul did not answer. His friends
surmised that Ul was knocking about Moscow, not knowing where fatigue would
catch him, and in what basement or what attic he would collapse in order to catch
up on his sleep, get up, and go further.
Here only Athanasius sensed the difference between true and imaginary love.
In the imaginary love version a man thinks of himself from the direction: here I
am, such and such, suffering! Why such tortures for me, a wretch? In the true
love version he simply suffers, not pondering what to call the feeling, which he
experiences. And in general he hardly thinks of anything. Athanasius climbed all
over train stations, got to meet a wild bunch of pickpockets and other shady
characters, was deprived of his cell phone, and almost lost his clms, but still had
not found Ul.
Ul returned in the second-half of December, caught a cold, and lost weight.
Flu-like languor lived in his muscles, while melancholy tossed and turned in his
heart. His wild Kalmyk eyes were a little swollen and looked like that of a tired
Kirghiz. He sat in the dining room with two hands closed around a cup of hot tea.
Around him bustled Supovna, flinging into a bowl such pieces of meat that it
almost tipped over. “And eat up before you die! Was a normal guy, but a wasted
away skeleton came crawling back!” she shouted in her usual manner.
Ul’s friends hardly waited until Supovna left for the kitchen. “Where were you?
Searching for D-Dennis?” Max asked, stuttering in a friendly manner. “And him
too,” answered Ul indifferently. “Did y-you do anything to him?” Ul shook his
head and looked at the battered knuckles of his left hand. “Nothing. Only just…
cleared up where he had left her.” “He’s not at the warlocks yet? But what about
his gift?” asked Rodion. “Ah-h! Nothing. Faster movement. Saw me in the
subway, in panic jumped into a car, but where will you disappear to from the car
when it’s already in the tunnel? There the gopher was caught,” he said
contemptuously.
Ul went up to their attic, lay down in his hammock and asked to be left alone
for twenty-four hours; however, Max already found his hammock empty the next
morning. Ul had left for his first dive after Yara’s disappearance, for attack
markers. Grief, when it is so strong, cannot remain for long in a person. It is
either transformed into action or destroys the person completely. Ul intuitively
chose the first option. He returned from the dives half alive, and lay down for a
long time, hardly dragging himself out to dinner. Especially at first.

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***

One day in early June Athanasius dropped in at the hypermarket. He bought


some little things and unexpectedly saw the barrel for charity lottery. Out of
curiosity Athanasius dropped money into the mug and reached for a ticket. “Not
that one!” someone suddenly whispered beside him. “The next one!” A pink nail
with a white semicircle scratched on the barrel, suggesting which one to take.
Athanasius obeyed and won a flash drive, which was immediately handed over to
him.
Overjoyed, he wanted to buy five more tickets, but the same hand restrained
his wrist. “Why so many? Only one win left in them! Take the one at the end!” he
again heard a whisper. Athanasius turned and saw a girl of small build with short
hair the colour of ripe wheat. The semicircles of her eyebrows were so precise that
if one of the eyebrows was turned over and joined the other, it would turn out to
be an ideal circle. Athanasius obediently pulled the ticket at the end and, after
winning a green bear in a polka dot beret and a bow on the neck, gave it to the
girl.
“But why don’t you yourself …?” he asked. “I’m trying not to give myself away,”
she explained in embarrassment. “They’re keeping an eye on me since the day I
won a trip to New Zealand and two cars. I was green, grabbed everything in
succession. But in general all these running the lotteries are the terrible mob…”
“What do I have here, do you see?” asked Athanasius, slapping his pocket.
Although at that moment he was also without the hdiver jacket, there was still a
lot in his pockets in no way intended for an outsider’s eyes. “As long as you don’t
have a lottery in your pockets: they’re under lock and key for me. Here if you, for
example, bet me a kopeck that I don’t know what’s in your pockets…” the girl said
simply. “No-no,” said Athanasius in a hurry. “Take care of the kopecks... 37 I
believe you.”
“Look over there!” his companion said, laughing, when they passed the
checkout. Athanasius looked around. The woman who handed out prizes was
hanging over the barrel and, after sticking herself in almost up to the head, was
hurriedly slightly tearing one ticket after another.
They left the store together. The girl’s name was Gulia. She answered questions
simply and naturally. At times she buried her nose into the bear with such
appreciation as if this was the first gift in her life. Athanasius even became
uncomfortable. He remembered who had won the bear in reality. And even the
flash drive in his pocket.
Athanasius’ new friend turned out to be from the young recruits of Dolbushin’s
fort. Long enough ago the warlocks already brought to themselves not only
former hdivers but also generally everyone who seemed promising to them. Gulia
was nineteen. Last year she messed up at the institute, out of curiosity poked her
head into courses of mental development, and at a session of group hypnosis, her
“gift” was “awakened.”

37
The full sentence here is “Take care of the small change (kopecks) and the bills (roubles) will take care
of themselves.”

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The warlocks always “woke a gift” with one method: they unnoticeably
attached an elbe to the person, an elbe larva that gradually drew force from the
donor. It usually continued this way for several years until the day the elbe
changed into an adult. Now it is better not to think about what would happen to
the incubator afterwards, when it was no longer required by the elbe. In its first
months, this elbe pulled out from the swamp was like a blind puppy. It could do
nothing else but suck the donor, giving him in return keen psyous excitation at
the moment of gain.
They strolled around Moscow for about four hours. Gulia twittered like a
canary. She was happy and trusting. She liked Athanasius. He quickly figured out
that Gulia did not have the slightest idea about the existence of HDive. For the
time being the warlocks had not taken her to their gatherings on Gomorrah.
Apparently, Gulia was in reserve and waiting for the hour when one of the
hundred and twenty people of Dolbushin’s fort moved to the other world and
freed up a place for her.
Gulia was at Dolbushin’s only once, carried some lists from the courses and did
not even remember his last name. He was known to her as “the important bigwig
with the umbrella.” But then she described clearly the home where he lived,
although she remembered neither the street nor the number. Only that it was by
some alleys near the Arbat subway station. Athanasius nearly jumped from joy.
This was the most valuable information.
Then they dropped into a pelmeni38 place. Gulia turned out to be terribly
funny. She counted the pelmeni and, after discovering that there were thirteen,
began to feed the thirteenth one to Athanasius. “But where’s the guarantee that
this is the thirteenth one? What if I ate the first or the seventh, and the thirteenth
still remained with you?” he asked.
At the end of the stroll it turned out that they were on Vavilov Street, by the old
fire engine on a stone pedestal. Athanasius once personally hid a powerful charge
marker under the driver seat of this vehicle. Athanasius knew that if he brought
Gulia close to the marker, then her elbe larva would perish. For Gulia herself this
would be accompanied by severe pain and, it goes without saying, the complete
loss of her gift.
“But would you want to lose it?” Athanasius asked, when Gulia recently
complained that she was tired of winning all the time. “Lose what?” she did not
understand. “Well, guessing tickets, numerical combinations, and so on?” “Bite
your tongue! Keep away from me! What will I have then?” Gulia said in fright and
spat three times over her shoulder.
Still fifty metres from the fire engine she began to fell very dizzy. Gulia looked
around in alarm, became nervous, and finally sunk onto the upper cross-beam of
the low fence, declaring that she could not go any further. Her face was wet with
sweat. Athanasius’ clms flared up in warning. Athanasius almost visibly perceived
how somewhere very close the elbe was writhing, like a worm being seared by a
scorching needle.
Gulia was swaying and pressing the green bear against her stomach.
Athanasius looked at its polka dot beret and understood that he would not drag
38
Pelmeni are Russian meat dumplings, similar in shape to tortellini.

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Gulia by force to the marker. If he did this, then he would simply kill her together
with the elbe. Now their desires had merged together. In order for the elbe to die
alone, she had to mentally separate it from herself.
Gulia was already quite poorly. She was literally slipping down from the fence
onto the lawn. A compassionate woman was running up to them with
Valocordin.39 Athanasius in a hurry hailed a taxi and transported Gulia home. She
lived in Maryino, in a yellow five-storey building, together with Mama and
younger brother.
Gulia became much better even in the taxi. She again laughed and twittered
like a canary. As if it had not been her lying on the grass recently, grasping air
with her mouth. They exchanged cell phone numbers and parted, after agreeing
to meet some time.
At the moment of farewell Gulia looked at Athanasius with melancholy. He
belatedly realized that translated into Moscow tongue, “some time” means
“never.” “Well, let’s meet next Tuesday!” he said unexpectedly for himself. He
experienced sympathy and pity for Gulia, but so far he did not quite like her as a
girl. “Okay!” said Gulia happily. “Well then, bye! So, on Tuesday!” After opening
the heavy entrance door slightly, she slipped in sideways and disappeared. “If
your important bigwig with the umbrella hasn’t shot me!” Athanasius added in an
undertone.

***

In childhood Athanasius perceived himself as being terribly lonely. When he


caught a cold, his parents could not take him to kindergarten and left him alone
at home for a long time. So that it would not feel so terrible, he simultaneously
turned on the radio, the TV, and the computer. They would be drowning each
other out and he would understand not a word, but it was scary for him
nevertheless. Then he arranged carrots and potatoes on the table and talked with
them. For some reason they seemed to him more reliable than soldiers.
In grade school no one in particular was friends with him except one boy,
whose grandmother was always smearing Brilliant Green40 on him. Athanasius
differed from everyone too much in terms of his erudition and impracticality.
Many mocked him. Mama forced him to have long hair and until May tied a scarf
on him.
In junior high and high school Athanasius started being sly, decisively broke
with the “Green” boy (who for a week walked around sad and huffy), and learned
to adapt. He filled his memory with the phone numbers of dozens of contacts, ran
about visiting and spent time in social networking sites, but all this did not work.
Athanasius caught himself adjusting to each new friend, tried to talk about things
interesting to the friend and make jokes intelligible for the friend, while inside he
remained lonely and disinterested.
39
Valocordin is a heart medicine and mild tranquilizer popular in Eastern Europe and manufactured in
Germany.
40
Brilliant Green is a green dye and in a dilute alcoholic solution, is used as a topical antiseptic in Eastern
Europe and Russia.

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And… again he began to be friends with the “Green” boy, whose grandmother
was not embarrassed by her grandson growing up, and as before sneaked up with
cotton wool to him as he slept. She was convinced that if a lump of Brilliant
Green the size of a five-rouble coin was not placed on each appearing pimple,
there would then be blood poisoning for sure.
So it continued, until one morning Athanasius woke up with the persistent
sensation that something was crawling on his cheek. He whisked it away. In a
second he felt it again. Now the obstinate insect was clambering along his neck.
Athanasius deftly grabbed it with his fingers and… yelled, after understanding
that he was holding an enormous bee. He flung it onto the floor and hit it twice
with a slipper. Then he covered himself up to the head with the blanket and again
fell asleep.
Dawn was already clawing at the blinds. Good morning, dear boy! Sweet
morning dreams to you! He woke up in approximately an hour and, tearing his
head away from the pillow, discovered the same bee under his cheek. Its wings
were flattened, but it straightened them and took off. And then… then it was
already HDive.
Right now Athanasius keenly felt loneliness. That unique connection with Ul,
which they had had until Yara, had disappeared. Friendship remained, but it was
limping like a wounded duck: on Ul’s side it was darkened by melancholy,
whereas on Athanasius’ it was poisoned by a feeling of guilt.
The day after meeting Gulia he dived and found an attack marker after four
hours of searching. Ul asserted that they were in abundance on Duoka, but
Athanasius obviously did not search in the right place and was afraid to ask Ul
the precise spot, vaguely but correctly sensing that it was not worthwhile to do
this. When you say “a,” it is necessary to say “b.” But if you are not ready to say
“b,” it is better to mumble an abstract “mm” and keep quiet.
The attack marker looked quite unattractive. It resembled simultaneously a
wrinkled chaga mushroom41 and a water-soaked boot. It was difficult to believe
that this incomprehensible object would raise a column of water to hundreds of
metres from the Moscow River and bring it down on the warlocks. Nevertheless
an attack marker is not a bomb. A bomb destroys the innocent and the guilty
indiscriminately; an attack marker presents threat only to warlocks and, alas,
hdivers themselves.
With internal sinking of his heart Athanasius flew through the swamp. This
was the first time he had displayed independence and dived without being given a
job by Kavaleria. Sensing this, the elbes stirred more than normal. The stings of
their sharp gossamer were almost continuous. Athanasius was glad that he was
flying on Arap, a malicious and quick black stallion with a white spot on the
forehead. Its shiny wings easily cut the gossamer.
At first Athanasius wanted to set off alone for the head of the second fort of
warlocks, but later decided to take Rodion with him as backup. Rodion listened to
Athanasius without any emotion. He had only returned from a dive an hour ago
and, although he did not find the marker that he had been sent for, he looked
41
The chaga mushroom is a parasitic fungus on birch and other trees. It is irregularly formed with the
appearance of burnt charcoal.

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completely drained. His face was chapped. His lips were inflamed. Looking out of
his sunken eyes was a stern and tired goodness, already deprived of illusions but
had still not acquired the fullness of love. “Clear,” said Rodion, running his hand
over his face. “You found Dolbushin. That’s good. Let’s meet tomorrow at three.
Today I promised to drop in on Mother. She’s at my place in Tushino. Haven’t
forgotten the building?”
Athanasius teleported to Tushino a few minutes ahead of time. Rodion’s
mother, short, quiet, but a somewhat reproachful woman, opened the door for
him after the first ring. “You want Rod?” she asked, looking at Athanasius with
such adoration, as if every friend of her son’s was for her if not a Turkish sultan,
then his deputy. “Yes, Rod!” For the first time in all the years at HDive,
Athanasius realized that Rodion and Rod were one and the same. Earlier this
somehow had not entered his head. Now a lean Petersburg student holding
something with his sharp elbow under a silvery overcoat immediately introduced
himself.
Rod’s mother lived in an inexplicably long apartment with an enormous
hallway and small rooms. She lived alone for the sake of her son, because
Athanasius did not discover any tracks of her presence in the apartment. Well,
perhaps some clothing, saucepans, vacuum cleaner, and an epileptic mumbling
TV in the kitchen. In other respects she hovered here like a spirit.
Everything else bore the imprint of Rodion, not the one at present, who spent
more time in HDive, but the museum of Rod, who once lived here. Here is his
baby carriage. Here is the sled with high back! Here are his three bicycles – kid’s,
youth’s, and adult’s. In the course of time they were all covered with clothing and
became drying racks for linen. When the exhibition of bicycles ended, Athanasius
stumbled upon a horizontal bar with a poster of a black athlete hanging opposite
it. The terrible hdiver of today, in the old days dangling on the bar like a sausage,
probably drew hope from this yellowed poster. The current Rodion had long since
lost interest in the bar. He valued more the abruptness of movement and the
ability to recharge a schnepper quickly.
Rod’s room resembled a concentration camp, not for people but for electronic
devices. On the walls plaintively wiggling the wires were dead computer mice and
broken keyboards with keys missing. On the table was a box packed to the brim
with old cell phones and their separate parts. Athanasius heard that during the
upper grades Rodion had dealt with their repair and resale. One of the large – not
yet flat – monitors was converted into a cage for gerbils, which were detected
rather by the smell, since they sat buried in the sawdust. Athanasius did not even
find a sofa in Rod’s room. Nor a bed. A ground pad with a sleeping bag on top
served as a bed. “Ah, bro, you’re not only Raskolnikov!42 You’re even
Rakhmetov!”43 Athanasius thought merrily.
Rodion was sitting by the computer. “You’re late by twelve hours!” without
turning around, he said angrily. Athanasius looked suspiciously at his watch. If he

42
Rodion Raskolnikov is the protagonist in Crime and Punishment (1866), a classic by Feodor
Mikhaylovich Dostoevsky (1821-81).
43
Rakhmetov is the hero of What is to Be Done? (1863), an ideological vision of radicalism by Nikolai
Gavrilovich Chernyshevsky (1828-89).

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was late, then only about ten minutes when he was making treads at the entrance
because he had forgotten the code, and it seemed pathetic to him to use the magic
of the mermaid for the code to open the door. “We agreed on three!” he said.
“Precisely, on ‘three’! If I want to meet at ‘fifteen hundred’, I’d say ‘fifteen
hundred’,” Rodion stated and turned the monitor to Athanasius.
“Look here!” he said, turning the little wheel of the mouse. “Here’s a photo of
Dolbushin’s building.” “But why all that distance?” “I didn’t try to get any closer.
They’re creating something muddy all around. Too many busy people. All the
time painting something, building, digging up asphalt.” “Summer. Moscow is
sprucing itself up,” Athanasius suggested. Rod nodded graciously, “Let it spruce
itself up. I allow that. But tell me: does the fellow putting up satellite dishes have
to have an axe in his van?”“Well, you never know. To ram something in,”
Athanasius allowed. “With a fourteenth-century axe with silver embossing it’s
only possible to ram someone in! In short, we won’t poke our noses into the
entrance. No way.”
“What if we land on the roof?” “The roof drops off. I checked. Some boss
Karlsson44 lives there, and his security is armed not even with schneppers,” said
Rodion. “Not a warlock?” “More a mobster and Vends fight with them. No need
for us to poke our noses into their affairs! Could be a conflict of interest.”
“Then how?” Rod shrugged his shoulders. “Ideally, of course, is to teleport
immediately into Dolbushin’s apartment, but he would have foreseen this for
sure. To send the attack marker via the mermaid? Also a flop. Markers can’t be
moved with the mermaid.” “If we assemble ten teams of five hdivers, summon a
hundred Vends and… Although it’s difficult to negotiate with the Vends, of
course,” Athanasius sighed. Rod smiled. “The Vends for him… Kavaleria will
never allow it. We don’t have the war, which needs a little bigger field and people
gathered wall to wall to fight. Let it be the two of us. Even better not to drag Ul
along. He’ll be too quick-moving, and then it’ll all fall through.”
Rod isolated a section on the wall of the building and enlarged it. “What do we
have here?” he asked with interest. “A long balcony. Are you thinking: there?”
“No. The balcony is too predictable. Dolbushin, for sure, would protect it
somehow. I had in mind this window.” Rodion’s finger poked at a window
situated where the building gave a small bend. “The most convenient thing is that
the tenants above have an A/C over it. Possible to hook onto it. Two metres down
and you’re in place.”
“Do you propose to teleport to it?” Athanasius, examining the air-conditioner,
asked without enthusiasm. “Ruled out. You’ll miss the mark by about ten
centimetres and decorate the asphalt with yourself. Safer to land you with a
horse. True, the wing span will interfere with flying up to the building, but it’ll
already be close there.”
“What if the A/C won’t hold?” “Don’t program yourself for failure!” Rod said
briskly. “Tell the A/C, ‘I know you’ll hold!’ and it will… Okay, a joke! These
thingamajigs are usually installed solidly. The attack marker is in HDive?” “In

44
The name Karlsson came from Karlsson-on-the-Roof (1955), the first of 3 Karlsson books by Swedish
author Astrid Lindgren (1907-2002). The cartoon adaptation is very popular in Russia.

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HDive!” said Athanasius. “Well, so, tonight!” Rod said in the voice of a man who
cannot wait to muffle an old lady.

Chapter 16

I Love You, Wind!

Vespasian then set the engines for throwing stones and darts
round about the city. The number of the engines was in all a
hundred and sixty, and bid them fall to work, and dislodge
those that were upon the wall. At the same time such engines as
were intended for that purpose threw at once lances upon them
with a great noise, and stones of the weight of a talent [~26 kg]
were thrown by the engines that were prepared for that
purpose, together with fire, and a vast multitude of arrows,
which made the wall so dangerous, that the Jews durst not only
not come upon it, but durst not come to those parts within the
walls which were reached by the engines; […] For the force with
which these engines threw stones and darts made them hurt
several at a time, and the violent noise of the stones that were
cast by the engines was so great, that they carried away the
pinnacles of the wall, and broke off the corners of the towers;
[…] And any one may learn the force of the engines by what
happened this very night; for as one of those that stood round
about Josephus was near the wall, his head was carried away
by such a stone, and his skull was flung as far as three stadia.
[~540m] […] So great was the force of that engine.
Josephus Flavius.45
The Jewish War

They flew in the darkness, slightly higher than the electric posts. To the right
like a pencil lay the highway flooded with light. If somewhere above them a
warlock was gliding on a hyeon, then the bright highway diverted his sight and he
would not make out the mousy mare and its two riders in the darkness. It was
unusual for Athanasius to sit in front of Rodion. He automatically tried to grab
the rein and it resulted in a situation of two drivers wresting control from each
other. The hot-tempered Rodion already thrice gave him one in the ribs from
behind and twice got one in return: once an elbow, the other time – more
effective – the back of the head.

45
Josephus (37-c.100AD), also known as Yoseph Ben Mattithyahu (Joseph son of Matthias) and Titus
Flavius Josephus, was a Romano-Jewish historian and hagiographer. His most important works were The
Jewish War (c.75AD), which recounts the Jewish revolt against Roman occupation (66-70), and Antiquities
of the Jews (c.94AD), which recounts the history of the world from a Jewish perspective for a Roman
audience.

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They were not flying on the beauty Caesar, which would have lifted them
effortlessly, but on Delta. Under the weight of two equipped hdivers the old lady
barely managed to lift off. It was terrible to think what would happen if they
bumped into hyeons. The overloaded mare flying lower than the hyeons would
not get away from them. “All the same Delta is the best option for night attacks.
Try to make it out,” said Rodion, when at two in the morning they went along the
stable, illuminated by a flashlight. “Arap is also not particularly noticeable,” said
Athanasius, who loved this nervous stallion. But Rod decisively turned to Delta,
which, after seeing his flashlight, sighed noisily and sadly. “It may be so, but Arap
has never flown above Moscow. It’ll even become hysterical, catch a wire with a
wing, and ‘Bye-bye, saddle! Hello, asphalt!’” he stated.
They swept over the outskirts of Moscow without adventure. The night was
moonless. A lantern light huddled up to the ground. Complications began nearer
to the centre, which was illuminated much better than the outskirts. Dolbushin’s
building was visible from a distance. Licked by searchlights, it seemed blinding
with a column of light.
“Forgotten anything? Repeat!” Rodion demanded. “I hook onto the A/C, get
down to the window. If it’s not armoured glass, I penetrate the apartment, search
for Dolbushin’s office, and seize the system block and papers. Return to the
window, establish contact with you through the centaur, and you take me away.
Throw the marker afterwards from the saddle,” Athanasius gave the answer
learnt by heart. “And if it’s armoured glass?” asked Rod. “If so, I break a hole with
the lion, fling the attack marker, and try not to get caught in the act,” Athanasius
briskly answered.
The old lady Delta began the descent. Dolbushin’s building was directly under
them. Athanasius saw its stylish roof with a whole lot of structures, along which a
black fly was crawling. When they descended lower, the fly became a man. This
was one of the guards of Boss Karlsson. He threw back his head, and Athanasius
made out the white spot of his face. It seemed to him that the guard would now
begin to hustle, but he quietly turned away and continued to walk along the roof.
“He doesn’t see us. The searchlights blind him and we’re in the dark,” explained
Rod. After waiting until the guard had turned up at the far end of the roof, he
abruptly sent Delta down. The mare neighed, slightly bewildered. What do they
want from it? If it has to go into a dive, then the height is not enough. But if it is
simply to descend, why are they forcing it to fall and even with such a burden on
its back? But it obeyed nevertheless, Rod’s hand was firm.
A second later they found themselves in the column of light surrounding the
building. Windows flickered, blurring. Athanasius did not have any idea how
Rodion found his bearings. Convinced that they were going to land, Delta headed
for the round parking lot below, but for some reason they turned its snout around
and forced it to stay dangerously close to the building. It did not like this at all.
“Pardon, old lady!” Rodion suddenly muttered and began to pull the horse’s head
up sharply. Delta responsively spread out its wings. Athanasius saw how its
feathers sagged, resisting the wind. The left wing almost touched the building. It
was slightly more than three metres from the saddle to the wall.

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“Come on! A horse isn’t a helicopter, it doesn’t hover at one place!” Rodion
furiously shouted. Athanasius leaped up on the saddle and, after ascertaining that
the noose was hooked onto the air-conditioner and tightened, jumped. Next
began continuous setbacks. First, Delta touched him with a wing. Secondly,
Athanasius was late with his leap. Good that he did not keep the rope in his hands
but on the harness. Instead of noiselessly jumping down bouncily with his feet on
the window-sill, Athanasius rammed his shoulder into the window. The glass did
not shatter. Did not even crack. The impact turned out to be so powerful that
Athanasius lost the sensation of reality for several instants. It seemed his memory
was hurriedly clicking like a camera in order to rejoice and wonder some time
later.
Athanasius saw how Delta, whose wing he had hindered, fell back into the air
but straightened out with effort, and Rodion, pressing against the saddle, small
and adroit as a Mongolian horseman, led it away into the shadow of the adjacent
building. Athanasius again swung around and pressed his nose to the glass.
Behind the glass someone was standing and looking at him attentively.
Athanasius could not make out who this was: the light was not on but the outline
of a figure was discernible.
“Why don’t they shoot? Ah, yes! Armoured glass!” Athanasius understood and
in a hurry jerked up his clms, intending on attacking it with the lion and throwing
the marker in. However, the agitated rope turned out to have its own plans. It
again dragged him somewhere, scratching against the building. Athanasius in
desperation put a hand out and, after hooking the window with his fingers, began
to pull himself slowly to it. This was terribly inconvenient, because the other hand
could only push off from the building. Athanasius belatedly grasped what the
mistake was. The air-conditioner was not hanging over the window itself but
somewhere a metre to the left. It goes without saying that the rope wanted to take
a vertical position and separate him from the window forever. In order to use the
lion, Athanasius had to touch the glass with his clms, but how could he do this
when the clms was on his left arm and he just barely hooked onto the window
with the fingers of the right?
The white figure behind the window began to move. The window opened. “Well,
this is the end!” thought Athanasius. He unclenched his hand and hung on the
harness, uncomfortably threatening with the attack marker. “Take this, bastard!
This is for Yara!” he started to yell. The person who opened the window looked at
Athanasius in bewilderment. It was Yara.

***

With the appearance of the stone life had changed for Paulina. Outwardly she
remained the same, but her internal content was different. She perceived herself
as the frail city flower, which had been standing by a dark window for a long time
but was finally remembered by someone and moved into the sun. And here,
woken up by its rays, the flower still understands nothing, but has already come
to its senses and with its leaves absorbs something new, disturbing, joyful. Her

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memory as before was dozing, protected by the paramedic Utochkin, but her
heart had begun to move.
Paulina stopped sewing pants for the “Lilliputians” and, having begged Andrei
for an arbalest, hollowed the target until the showman living on the upper floor
sent a daughter to ask that “they stop the repairs because his head was splitting.”
“The nose falls off!” Andrei added in a whisper, because the showman’s nose was
the third for the year. His systematic migration from a duck into an eagle was
highly entertaining to the tenants of the building.
Dolbushin barely visited the former room of his daughter. Now there dwelled
the hateful marker, and the handle of the umbrella scorched his hand every time
he passed along the hallway. Dolbushin disappeared somewhere and returned
home late.
Beldo, while settling with them, chose the kitchen for himself, although there
was a sea of empty rooms. The poultry expert slept in the day and came to life at
night. He summoned spirits and danced with them. The spirits, frightened by the
proximity of the marker, appeared unwillingly, danced without fervour, and
broke all of Dolbushin’s dishes. Everything usually concluded with a gloomy
Andrei coming into the kitchen around four, threatening with a fist and saying to
Beldo dancing with the spirits, “Tigranych! Give it up! Already no strength!”
Tigranych “gave up” and began to complain that he was lonely and no one
understood him. It was dull for the old man without Mlada and Vlada: nobody to
play off, no one to lose his temper at. The notable poultry expert tried to adjust
Andrei for these purposes, but that one was always angry and in addition armed
to the teeth.
Then Beldo hit upon summoning Ptah. Pulled out from the customary vehicle,
Ptah felt uncomfortable in the apartment. Here was nothing to steer, nowhere to
drive to, and on top of everything else there was no glove compartment near at
hand filled with all possible things. And Beldo even grumbled unceasingly and
demanded emotional reaction from Ptah, which the poor wretch was quite bad at
showing. All the emotions he had, he in essence used on the road, hitting the
horn with his hand.
At times Ptah approached the kitchen window and with melancholy looked at
his bus parked below. Nevertheless Paulina stood much more often by the
window of her own room. She spent long hours by it, as if some inexpressible
secret was hidden in this frame with the moon hanging from a string, two roofs,
and a segment of the avenue.
Dolbushin forbade her to go out onto the street, but she prevailed upon Andrei
and he dragged himself after her along the boulevards, scaring passers-by, since
Andrei’s profession was written in large letters on his forehead. Beldo usually
sneaked behind them and was fiercely jealous. For some reason it seemed to him
that everyone was obligated to be interested not in the pretty and simultaneously
mysterious girl with a personal bodyguard, but the elderly dried fruit with the
scarlet kerchief in his pocket.
But here the sensation of the proximity of love even started to haunt Paulina
persistently. Moreover not the potential of love, which was once capable of taking
shape there under certain circumstances, but love already realized. She knew that

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she was loved and – the main thing – that she herself loved. Almost choking with
this sensation, she looked around but saw only Andrei and Beldo. Andrei scowled
and looked at passers-by as potential targets, even suspecting a bundle of
grenades in the stomach of a pregnant woman. Beldo was making dance
movements and scaring children with continuous smiles.
“No, they’re not it! And, understandably not Dolbushin!” Paulina thought and,
returning home, again froze by the window. It was a strange feeling, intolerable in
its stirring. She knew that she loved but did not know whom. “I love you!” she
told the wind, after throwing open the window. But the wind played with the
blinds, overturned perfumes bottles on the vanity, and kept silent.
That night when Athanasius jumped from the saddle of Delta and hung by her
window, Paulina was hopelessly awake. She was roaming the infinite rooms of
Dolbushin’s apartment and strayed into the kitchen, where Grandpa Beldo was
tyrannizing the puffy Ptah with fault finding. It became intolerable to Paulina.
She passed by Dolbushin’s office: under the door a yellow strip of light made its
way through. She did not know what Dolbushin was doing in the office but felt
that he was sitting at the desk and looking at one point.
Finally at about three, Paulina returned to Anya’s room, stopped at the window,
and was ready to go to bed dressed, when suddenly an enormous wing flickered
beside her. The next second something hit the glass twice and she saw a fellow in
a leather jacket, swinging on a rope, attempting to catch hold of the frame.
Paulina’s first thought was to call for help but, after looking at his fingers white
from stress, felt sorry for him and opened the window. On seeing her, the fellow
was scared, threatened with something and… suddenly froze, dangling
ridiculously on a rope fastened to a harness. “Only don’t lie that you’re the
window washer!” said Paulina. Not reaching the fellow, she threw him the cord
from the hairdryer and, when he caught it, towed him by the cable to the window-
sill. He climbed over and in a hurry unfastened the harness. This was done
extremely in time. The air-conditioner was already hanging on a wing and a
prayer.

***

Athanasius stood and looked at Yara. He recognized and at the same time did
not recognize her. That Yara, whom he now and then saw in dreams, in essence
wore camouflage pants and a hdiver jacket. This girl was in expensive designer
clothing with the Laura Bzykko label. One such dress would be enough to equip
and arm a team of five hdivers. That Yara was even referred to as “one of the
guys” and once gave Vovchik one in the jaw. This one could not even make a fist
and risk breaking the long crimson nails. But what bewildered him most of all
was that crystal clear, slightly polite sincerity of lack of recognition in her eyes,
which could not be faked.
“Yara?” Athanasius hesitantly greeted her. The girl blinked. “Paulina. And who
are you?” she asked, examining him. “Athanasius. A hdiver.” With this word it
was as if Athanasius had pulled the ring off a grenade. Paulina had heard about
hdivers from Anya and Andrei. So far she also had not forgotten the huge column

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of water almost drowning Gomorrah. She screamed and rushed to the door.
Athanasius did not try to stop her. He only stretched out a hand to her and
sorrowfully moved his fingers in the air. This gesture was so helpless, so openly
hopeless that, without letting go of the door knob, Paulina stopped.
“Don’t leave!” said Athanasius. Paulina frowned. “Fine. Sit down there!” she
ordered, pointing at a distant chair. He obediently sat down. On the very edge.
Like a poor relative. “And don’t try to leap! I’ll immediately scream!” Paulina
carefully shut the door, but prudently remained nearby.
“So, you’re a hdiver? Those freaks that blow up everything?” Athanasius wanted
to be indignant, but his sight stumbled upon the attack marker, which was still in
his hand. “To a certain degree you’re right,” he acknowledged.
Paulina examined him watchfully. Showing that he had no intention of leaping,
Athanasius crossed his legs. In order that the attack marker would not become an
eyesore, he shoved it into the hood of his hoodie, worn under the hdiver jacket for
warmth. Since childhood Athanasius loved to drag everything in the hood.
Especially when he was sent for bread. You shove the long loaf into the hood and
your hands are free.
“Come on! Say something!” Paulina demanded. “Like what?” “Justify yourself!
Say why you climbed up into the window. So you’ll sit in the chair and keep
quiet?” “I will,” Athanasius assured her. “Until you’re ready to believe, there is no
sense in proving anything.” “Then I’ll scream now!” “If you want…!” he agreed.
Paulina seized the knob and… let go of it. “I still have time,” she muttered.
Meanwhile, Athanasius was finally convinced that it was Yara in front of him.
Her voice, her gestures, the small birth mark lost in the right eyebrow – you
cannot fake all this. But why is she at Dolbushin’s and behaving like a mistress
here? Did the worst really happen: she merged with the marker and became one
of the warlocks? But why does she think her name is Paulina and has forgotten
him, Athanasius?
Suddenly Athanasius felt the heat spreading from his left hand to his elbow. A
golden radiance flowed from the sleeve of his jacket. So persistent and bright, as
if he had hidden a lamp there. Not understanding anything, he half-rose and
looked around. Some steps from him, the charge marker lay openly on the
bedspread. He stretched out to it but did not have time. Paulina threw herself
belly-first onto the bed and grabbed it first. “Only try! It’s mine!” she shouted.
After seeing how she fearlessly pressed the marker against her chest, Athanasius
was finally convinced that Yara had not betrayed the hdivers. “This is the marker
from Sparrows. Ul didn’t manage to guard it,” said Athanasius, vigilantly looking
intently at Paulina: whether she would shudder on hearing the familiar name.
She did not. Only lifted her face.
Athanasius felt a burning sting like in a dive through the swamp. At first every
temptation is always candid. Self-deception does not grow hair immediately.
Here Athanasius understood at once what he wanted: to hide Yara from Ul. To
direct history through another channel. He knew that Yara had liked him once.
Not so strongly as Ul, but nevertheless some rudiments of feeling existed. And so,
assuming that Yara would never recognize Ul, then possibly… Having understood
where such reasoning could lead to, Athanasius hastily slammed the door of his

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soul, chopping off the tail of the snake of thought. But even cut, it nevertheless
writhed and attempted to creep along.
Steps were heard behind the door. Paulina recognized Andrei. Only he stomped
this way. “Hey! Everything okay with you?” Athanasius looked pleadingly at
Paulina. After a slight hesitation she rushed to the already slightly opened door
and pressed on it with her shoulder. “Don’t come in! I’m changing!” The door
stopped in expectation, moving neither forward nor back. “And you often yell
when you’re changing? I thought only Beldo is so confused!” Andrei muttered
finally and left.
Paulina carefully let go of the door knob. As before she held the marker further
away from Athanasius. “It’s mine! Beldo gave it to me,” she obstinately said.
“Since when does Beldo give away hdiver markers? Your Beldo is a warlock! He
dances attendance on the elbes, receiving psyose from them,” Athanasius
answered contemptuously.
“What are these elbes?” Paulina vaguely recalled how Guy had touched with a
finger the forehead of the killed berserker. And also, it seemed, the discussion
then dealt with psyose. “Too long to explain. Quite simply: have you had wild
thoughts suddenly visiting you sometimes? Overturn a stroller with a kick, play a
trick on your best friend for no reason, steal someone else’s thing completely
unnecessary to you? It’s an elbe on the hunt attacking you.”
Athanasius recalled that Rodion was waiting for him. Each second was valuable.
He must get out of here together with Yara. But how? Will she agree voluntarily
or will he have to take her away by force, using the lion? But old lady Delta cannot
carry three. So, someone has to teleport. Better Yara. Then he would have time to
throw the attack marker.
Athanasius quickly rolled up his sleeve. Paulina saw something of leather,
shiny. “Unlace it!” “Why?” “Unlace it!” he repeated impatiently. After a short
wavering Paulina shoved the charge marker into her pocket and unlaced the
clms. For the first time in his life Athanasius was not annoyed that the lacing in
the clms was so long and needed so much fussing with. It was very pleasant to
feel Yara’s fingers on his arm.
“There! What now?” she asked, dropping the clms onto his knees. “Now it’s
yours!” Athanasius hurriedly laced the clms on her arm, through two holes out of
every three. Paulina did not know that instead of her arm he imagined a slippery
frozen fish in order not to play back this moment infinitely in memory later.
“Can’t be more exact?” “It’s okay! It won’t fly off even this way,” he said, tying the
lace with double knots and tightening it with his teeth. “What about you without
it?” “I’ll figure out something!” Athanasius briskly promised.
“Do you trust me that you need to leave here?” Paulina hesitated. Athanasius no
longer summoned fear in her, but here, at Dolbushin’s, everything was so secure,
familiar. This fellow suggested to her a leap into uncertainty. “Well, let’s assume I
do,” she said carefully. “Excellent! Go to the window! Touch the sirin and imagine
yourself… well at least by that chimney at the next building!” “And what shall I do
at the chimney?” asked Yara. “Nothing. Simply safest to teleport in the zone of
direct visibility. The clms will recharge there – as you have the marker in your

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pocket – and you’ll be able to jump from roof to roof at least along all of
Moscow,” said Athanasius.
“Only before the first jump, please look at the window-sill! Possibly, this small
burnt sign will draw your attention. It’s a warning! The girl will be smeared if not
over all of Moscow, then precisely the Central District,” someone advised. By the
thrown-open doors of the room, swinging the umbrella, Dolbushin was standing.
He was in an austere dark-blue suit. The pointed-toe shoes shone smartly. He
prudently did not go into the room, remembering that the umbrella could not
tolerate the charge marker. On one side of Dolbushin, down on one knee, Andrei
was still. His schnepper was aimed precisely at the bridge of Athanasius’ nose.
“Don’t twitch or my finger will also twitch! I get nervous when they try to steal
the friend of my dolls!” he warned. “But how did you…” Yara was puzzled. “The
mirror!” Andrei prompted. “When I opened the door slightly, it turned out to be
directly opposite. And you, hands behind your head! Lively!”

Chapter 17

The Attack Marker

Heroes! The enemy is trembling with you; and there is


an enemy bigger than an almshouse. The cursed “I do
not know,” hint, guess, lie, guile, witticism, short
rumour, duplicity, politeness, lack of knowledge! A lot
of trouble from “I do not know”!
The Science of Victory.
Count Suvorov46

Slowly raising his hands, Athanasius’ eyes slid down. The schnepper was lying
on the carpet, where he had placed it when he began to lace up the clms on Yara.
So, all hope is now on the attack marker. Now his hand will find itself next to the
hood and… His fingers were already touching the marker. Now only the cloth of
the hood separated them. Athanasius felt the marker and the little prickly balls of
pneupfs beside it.
“Stop! But what will happen to Yara?” thought Athanasius. He did not fear for
himself, but Yara… That means the attack marker is out. Cannot use it now. That
leaves the reserve pneupfs. Only have to throw strongly and quickly by the
handful – a pneupf must touch the skin. If its spikes do not pierce clothing,
nothing will happen.
“Ah wel-ll, just turn around, sonny!” Andrei ordered sharply. “Why?” “What
are you touching there? Turn around, I said! Well!” Athanasius stalled. It hurt
him that not only did he not use the marker, but he also did not throw the
pneupfs, and on top of that he gave himself away.
46
Count Aleksandr Vasilevich Suvorov (1729-1800), one of the few great generals in history who had
never lost a battle, was famed for his military manual The Science of Victory.

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“Don’t kill him! I should feed the umbrella!” Dolbushin said in an undertone.
He raised his umbrella and, after making a short, jabbing motion, pulled the
handle towards himself. In the first second Athanasius experienced nothing
except bewilderment. In the second, he felt a dull pain filling his entire body. He
fell to his knees. His heart froze in his chest, it was cold, it stopped. He not only
could not throw the pneupfs, even his eyeballs no longer obeyed him. Something
pitiless, empty, and cold was weighing him down.
Athanasius only heard Paulina’s protesting shout and more understood than
saw that she was threatening with something. The pain receded. He could
breathe again. He blinked. He sat up with difficulty. Dolbushin sat on the floor
and shook his head. Blood was flowing from one of his nostrils, and the umbrella
was no longer in his hands. Yara’s hand was still stretched out after the lunge.
Everything became clear to Athanasius. She had flung the charge marker at
Dolbushin. Though he was not hit, when the marker swept past him, the umbrella
was wrested from him.
Paulina covered her face with her hands. She was reeling. Something crimson
flared up under her eyelids. A reproachful paramedic Utochkin was drifting in the
void, intercepting her thoughts, and maliciously baring his decaying teeth. The
movements of the paramedic became all the more panicky. Thin hands were
darting by like those of a cardsharp.
Dolbushin got up on all fours and, exactly like a zombie, crawled to the
umbrella. “Kill her!” he ordered Andrei. Andrei with clear hesitation took aim at
Paulina, however, he did not begin to shoot but moved the schnepper towards
Athanasius. Paulina rushed to shield him. Paramedic Utochkin no longer
tolerated this. He waved his hands like a mill fallen into a hurricane and
disappeared, surfacing only somewhere on the fringes like Figaro 47 in the
provincial scene. “This is foolish!” muttered Andrei. “I’ll count to two! One…”
Something was knocking above their heads. Athanasius, having already groped
for a handful of pneupfs, and Andrei, the cocking piece almost stretched,
simultaneously threw back their heads. It seemed a large crow had settled down
on the roof and was persistently pecking at a tin plate. Soon the large crow was
joined by two more. The first pecked loudly but rarely, the other two quickly and
hastily. The impacts of the beaks continued for less than a minute. First the large
crow became silent and then the two smaller ones too.
They were still looking into the window, when a man in a black suit, whom
Athanasius recognized as the guard of Boss Karlsson, flew silently past it towards
the searchlights. The handle of a light hatchet was sticking sideways out of his
back. Yara screamed. “Don’t yell! Or are you changing clothes again?” Andrei
asked.
After warning Athanasius with a look so that he would not try anything, Andrei
picked up the schnepper from the floor, approached the window, and started to
look down. It was visible how along the illuminated parking lot first one small
figure was running at an angle, then two, and then immediately many. And again
something was pounding, as if a woodpecker was pecking on iron. One of the
47
Figaro is the central character of the three Figaro plays by Pierre-Augustin Caron de Beaumarchais
(1732-99).

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figures fell, but immediately jumped up and, shuddering like a float, began to
move away. “Two groups of them. One landed on the roof. The other took the
entrance. We’re cut off from the elevators,” Andrei reported briefly to Dolbushin.
Holding the umbrella under his arm, Dolbushin entered the room and stopped
at the window. After Yara’s lunge the charge marker had rolled into the hallway
and no longer interfered with him. In Dolbushin’s right hand was a cell phone.
With his left, he pressed a hanky against his nose. He was trying to contact
someone of his fort, but the phone was silent. It only crackled. “What a night!
First a hdiver visited. Now Butcher Till has dragged himself after the umbrella,”
Dolbushin said sullenly.
“Where’s Rodion? If he now butts in on Delta, it’ll be the end of him,” thought
Athanasius. Remembering the hdiver, the umbrella interrogatively stretched out
to him. Dolbushin looked at Athanasius and took the hanky away from his nose.
The blood had already stopped. “I’ve reconsidered killing you. Let the berserkers
do this,” he said pensively. “Besides Andrei and me, there are no more sensible
fighters here. Every shot of the arbalest counts.” “Swallows, going to rain!” 48
Andrei said through clenched teeth.
Four hyeons glided past the window. They were in a tight formation almost
without gaps – one-two-one. Two hyeons in the centre, and, on standby, one
above and one below. Not as fast as winged horses and much less hardy in
prolonged flight, hyeons surpassed winged horses in their manoeuvrability.
Athanasius estimated that a team of four winged horses would never be so
organized in the close space between the buildings. At best they would have to fly
in a chain, one after another.
One of the berserkers threw up his hand. A steel ball stuck to the glass directly
opposite Dolbushin’s face. Another berserker flew up so closely that a wing of his
hyeon scratched the wall of the building. With force he hit the glass with a
hatchet and immediately shot from a schnepper at the formed crack. Athanasius
stopped feeling his hand. The biceps higher than the elbow was ripped open by
the ball passing right through. He did not see blood, but felt it flowing along the
skin inside the sleeve.
“Strange that they didn’t shoot them down,” muttered Athanasius, considering
where he could get a knife to cut his sleeve. Dolbushin looked around at him.
“Whom? And who?” “The berserkers. Security on the roof was shooting at them!
And not from schneppers. At least one might have been winged.” “A powerful
magician was covering them. Only where they got him…” Dolbushin started and
suddenly, turning sharply, went out into the hallway.
After enlarging the hole in the window with several powerful hits, Andrei
remained on duty by the improvised loophole. Some time later the berserkers
tried to repeat the raid and the surviving part of the glass was again covered with
spots from their schneppers. Andrei answered four shots with two, once with his
schnepper, the other with Athanasius’ schnepper. The flash of bursting pneupf
nearby blinded Yara. When she opened her eyes, the saddle of one of the hyeons
was already empty, and the hyeon, losing its head from the unexpected lightness,
48
Swallows depend on flying insects, thus generating the saying that “Swallows fly high, good weather.
Swallows fly low, rain comes.” Here Athanasius is using it as an analogy to Delta and the hyeons.

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had already taken off in the direction of the avenue. “A good piece, but I prefer a
heavy arbalest. There you see at once when it hit. And none of your flashes,
everything is clear,” Andrei muttered.
Athanasius found manicure scissors on the table and tried to cut the sleeve
where the steel ball had hit him. The scissors were small, inconvenient, and the
thick skin of the jacket yielded poorly. “Let me!” Yara ordered and began to help
him. The bone turned out to be unaffected, but the flesh of the arm was deeply
cut. Blood was flowing abundantly. Either from the blood loss or seeing his own
wound, Athanasius started to feel dizzy. He began to feel sick. He sunk onto the
carpet.
Yara squatted down beside him. The paramedic Utochkin inside her had
shrunk so much that it was possible to cover him with a palm. The artificially
created personality of Paulina shrivelled quickly and the former Yara showed
more clearly from under it. “Do you remember HDive?” asked Athanasius. “Yes,”
she answered quite quietly. “And… Ul?” She nodded barely noticeably.
Athanasius again felt dizzy. “That’s okay!” Athanasius got up with a push, swayed,
restoring his balance, and looked out into the hallway.
Lively work was going on there. At the entrance doors Andrei was building a
barricade with the furniture and dragged out numerous arbalests from his room.
After seeing how many there were, Athanasius understood that the assault of
Dolbushin’s apartment would cost Till’s fort dearly.
Beldo was dancing in alarm behind Dolbushin’s back. Only now it dawned on
the notable poultry expert that when steel wasps began to fly, they would sting
whomever they chose. “You’re the host! You’re obligated to provide me safe
shelter!” he stated to Dolbushin. That one leisurely turned to him and, having
suddenly raised the umbrella, rested its end on the old man’s chin, preventing
Beldo from dropping his head. “You knew, Beldo! Your magicians were covering
the berserkers when they landed on the roof,” said Dolbushin rigidly.
The old man shed a few tears. “Till cheated me ruthlessly!” he said, wiping his
eyes. “And how did he cheat you, my dear? Kissed and didn’t marry you?” Andrei,
appearing in the hallway with the next armful of arbalests, asked. Beldo stuck out
his emaciated chest. Under the cock feathers turned out not to be a hen’s soul.
“And I would ask you, young man, not to meddle!” he shouted, turning crimson.
He glanced back at Andrei, who suddenly slipped on level ground and fell with
his stomach onto the arbalests. One of them fired a shot. A heavy bolt ploughed
up the parquet.
“Till promised that nothing will happen until tomorrow! He very transparently
hinted to me that tomorrow at two I must leave after kefir,” complained Beldo.
“Here’s to the love of kefir!” said Dolbushin. “How many magicians did you give
Till for reinforcement?” “Six. The most intelligent,” the old man admitted bitterly.
“And your magicians will attack the apartment, knowing that you’re here?” The
old man began to fidget in alarm. “You see, a man is a continuously operating
nuclear plant. As soon as energy stops transferring to a useful channel, it
becomes destructive,” he muttered.
Dolbushin in a business-like manner examined Beldo from his sneakers to his
hair. His gaze stopped at the ring on the old man’s hand. The ring was sufficiently

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imperceptible, but a large precious stone was turned not out but in, as if the
owner wanted very much not to show it. “What do you have on your finger,
Beldo? Are you engaged?” The old man fearfully hid his hand behind his back.
“Altogether only the combat ring of ancient Lotharingian 49 kings!” Dolbushin
continued with the documentary irony characteristic of him. “Absorbs the light of
the sun and issues such a ray that on a bright day it’s possible to sign with it on
the wing of a flying aircraft. True, it’s useless at night. And did you consider,
Dionysus, that Till with his passion for strong markers would leave you in peace?
He’ll kill even for a reusable toothpick if it’s an artefact from the swamp!” Beldo
turned away. “It’s unpleasant for me to talk with you! You vulgarize everything!”
Andrei had finished the first barricade and had started the second. Dolbushin
and Ptah helped him. Even Athanasius, and he was working with one hand. After
ten minutes three barricades already towered in the wide and long as a hall
corridor of Dolbushin’s apartment. The first was the lowest, to the waist; the
second was approximately to the chest, and the third was the main one. They
were constructed this way so that the enemy, after breaching the first barricade,
would not get the advantage of firing on them from above. Each of the barricades
had at least ten arbalests. Andrei cocked them in a hurry, knowing that later there
would already not be time for recharge. Occasionally he galloped into the room
and shot at warlocks on hyeons, more as a warning, however. After the first
failure the berserkers kept themselves up high and were inaccessible.
After considering that they would not be attacking through the window for the
time being, Andrei handed Yara an arbalest and tens bolts, ordering her to fire if
they were to try entering. “But it’s unlikely,” he calmed her. “But then they can
launch a bun!” said Yara. The knowledge, once obtained in HDive during tedious
trainings, now surfaced in her like divers covered with depth charges. Andrei
glanced back stealthily at the door and leaned towards her ear. “Unlikely they’ll
go for it. After a bun neither umbrella nor ring would usually remain,” he
whispered and left.
When Andrei again turned up in the hallway, Dolbushin was standing by the
second barricade. Athanasius, whose wound Ptah had finished tying up, was
sitting on the floor next to him. “For some reason everyone thinks, gosh… that I
was a chauffeur in the army. But I was a doctor at the motor depot. I stood at the
passageway and everybody all the way up including the major breathed on me.
Order of the colonel! It’s a great honour when the major breathes on you!” he
said, panting.
After tightening the bandage, Ptah straightened and, looking at the massive
entrance door, muttered that he hoped it would hold. This was said at the most
inappropriate moment, because ten seconds later the door no longer existed. An
unknown force squeezed past it into the apartment and brought down the first
barricade. Fortunately, no one turned out to be there, but seven of the ten
arbalests were crushed. “Kiss of the fairy,” whispered Beldo.
The silhouette of a man in a Turkish robe flickered by the elevators. The robed
one tried to take cover, but Dolbushin from a distance hacked his foot with a
49
Lotharingia was a region in northwest Europe consisting of the Low Countries, the western Rhineland,
the border lands between Germany and France, and western Switzerland.

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short motion of the umbrella, and Andrei shot from the heavy siege arbalest, so
bulky that he was standing on supports and already resembled a scorpion with
something. Having straightened the steel arms, the arbalest issued a sigh of relief.
“The genie-fighter division of Old Man Hottabych50 has arrived at the western
front!” Andrei purred contentedly. “How many magicians did you have, Beldo?
Six? Now five of them.” The notable poultry expert was saddened. “Poor Joseph!
He had no equal in attack magic. Imagine though, he didn’t like how I dance!” he
said.
The next minute everyone had to hide in haste behind the barricade.
Berserkers, emerging from behind the bend of the corridor, began to fire at them
from arbalests. These were serious heavy arbalests, not schneppers. The tips of
their bolts broke right through the top of Dolbushin’s oak table, although its
thickness was that of half a finger.
In the time they were fired at, Andrei contrived to shoot from three arbalests
and twice got a hit. Ptah shot four times but not a single hit. He was very excited,
pulling the trigger, yelled, and the entire time asked in a weeping voice, “And you
at least wait a second!” Athanasius, although only one of his hands was working,
shot twice. When he leaned out from the shelter with a third arbalest, a bolt
stripped off a piece of skin above his ear.
Dolbushin swung the umbrella. The power of his umbrella was considerably
weakened because of the great distance, but nevertheless he knocked them off
their feet and partially deflected the bolts flying at them. Beldo smiled pitifully
and put a brief spirit-steam spell on any berserkers, whose name or nickname he
recalled by chance. “Bald… Cucumber… Matvei… Athanasius! You will fall
through the earth under the white hot stone Alatyr!51 There lies a copper skeleton
and it holds a wooden cup. On whom it breathes, that one down from his feet!”
the old man muttered.
“Hey, hdiver, what’s the matter with you? I’m after the berserkers!” Athanasius
was sitting, blood dripping to the floor, and giggling, examining the smart shoes
of the notable poultry expert. His consciousness had shorted. “Beldy… Beldoi…
with Beldou… from Beldy…52 Oh, I can’t! Hee-hee!” he muttered. “With Beldou –
from Beldy” snapped his fingers resentfully, and Athanasius felt that he had
bitten through his lower lip.
The firing ceased as suddenly as it had begun. It was heard how several voices
came mournfully from the elevators,

Here the shot hit the side!!!


Ammo just about blows up!

Beldo’s spirit-steam spell already had time to work on some. Bald and
Cucumber even intended to go into the stall, but felt threatened by Till and
changed their minds. Only one small, red-faced berserker could not be stopped.

50
The Old Man Hottabych (1938) by Lazar Lagin (pen name of Lazar Yosifovych Ginzburg, 1903-79) is a
fantasy about the genie Hottabych in Moscow during Soviet times.
51
Alatyr is the magic stone in Russian folklore and possesses healing powers.
52
Athanasius is going through the nominal declension of “Beldo”.

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He came out, fired, and hid before they managed to take aim at him properly.
Even Dolbushin’s umbrella did not get him. “Beldo! Do something! Curse him
off-the-cuff!” The head of the financial fort asked, when the next bolt discharged
by the smart berserker almost scalped him. “I would! But I can’t recall his name!
I remember only ‘Petrovich’! Perhaps all the Petrovichs, eh?” the old man
whined. “I’m also a Petrovich!” Andrei said with a threat. Athanasius again
giggled. He had a strange split of personality. On one hand he understood the
seriousness of the moment, while on the other he wanted terribly to pull
Dolbushin’s nose. Well, he just wanted to.
The pushy berserker appeared again. Ptah shot at him and missed. Then shot
again and missed again. “Stop shooting! I know this berserker, he’s too smart for
you. Have to get closer to bring him down and better with an axe,” Andrei looked
around the barricade.
The huge table top, being the main protection, broke into chips. No hope for
the inverted cabinets. They were of thin wood. “Gather the arbalests! Go behind
the third barricade! One moves, two cover!” Andrei gave the order.
They were still behind the second barricade when suddenly strange sounds
began to reach them from the elevator shaft, where the berserkers were crowding.
The sensation was as if someone switched on and immediately switched off a
circular saw. They could not figure out right away what this person was squealing.
A dark-haired woman with wolf tails hanging all over jumped out onto the
landing and, continuously yelling, began to turn quickly. The wolf tails turned
together with her.
Dolbushin attempted to attack her with the umbrella but could not even aim
accurately. The rotations of the witch baffled the umbrella. “Andrei, you do it!” “I
don’t shoot at women … with a small calibre!” his bodyguard droned and began to
choose a larger arbalest. The bolt released by it, without reaching the witch, was
deflected and tinkled against the wall.
Now Beldo was the only hope, but in this situation he was behaving
mysteriously. He quickly got down on all fours and, pushing with his forehead,
efficiently ran to the rooms. Dolbushin caught him by the shoulder, “Where are
you going, young hero? Now is not the time to play sheep!” “Let go immediately!”
the old man squeaked. “Must leave! Lyubava launched the snow queen! Safe in
the rooms. The queen only works within sight of the magician.” “So block it!” “I
can’t!” “But you’re stronger than this Lyubava of yours!” “Well, so? You’re also
stronger than a ten-year-old child. But if he throws a brick, will you be able to
catch it with your teeth?” Beldo answered and crawled away efficiently. “The
third barricade?” Andrei shouted after him. “No more barricades!” the enigmatic
answer from the room reached him.
White hoar frost crept rapidly in their direction from the elevator shaft. It
covered the wall, the ceiling, and the floor. The hoar frost did not seem
dangerous, but Beldo obviously knew what he was talking about. The sofa with
sides flared-out was instantly wrapped by it as by mould. For a while the sofa was
still standing, but then it swayed and crumbled. Meanwhile the hoar frost had
crept up to the second barricade and began to climb it. Andrei almost howled,
after understanding that his best arbalests would now perish. He barely had time

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to scoop up three of his most favourites and slid together with them into the
room. Athanasius, having had time to sober up already, picked up the charge
marker, which someone had kicked to the far end of the hallway, and at the very
last moment joined the rest, having galloped through the broad band of hoar
frost.
The witch was no longer revolving. Weakened, she leaned against the wall and
breathed heavily. Sweat was flowing like streams. Her face was pale. The
berserkers already began to line up behind her back. They lined up silently,
sternly. Athanasius understood that this time the berserkers would go for the axe
and were now waiting for the moment when the snow queen would not be
dangerous for them. Somewhere at the doors where the tired witch was
breathing, the hoar frost had already turned yellow and melted.
The appearance of Athanasius with the marker did not gladden Beldo or
Dolbushin. The poultry expert immediately shrank into a far corner, and
Dolbushin, after taking a step back, put the umbrella out like a horn.
Yara hid by the window, and with student-like diligence aimed the arbalest at
the hyeon flying by. A warlock grinned on the saddle and swung his schnepper.
Dolbushin rushed to the window and threw it open. On seeing him, the warlock
shot from the schnepper, tore the muzzle off the hyeon and, after applying an
electric shock to it, sent the hyeon crazy from the pain into the window. His
intention was clear. He wanted the hyeon, after folding its wings, to force its way
into the room and launch claws and teeth.
Yara fired in a hurry. Her bolt slashed the thin leathery skin of the hyeon’s
wing and sped away in the direction of the building next door. Running off, Yara
saw Dolbushin’s face quite closely. The skin had yellowed. The pupils narrowed.
Without moving away from the window, he shot out an arm and drove the
umbrella into the hyeon’s open mouth. Just for an instant. Then he bounced off
and hid behind the brick partition. When the hyeon stuck its snout into the
window, its eyes were flat and boiling. It did not even have time to fold up its
wings. And now on hitting the window, they thrust it back.
A berserker fell soundlessly, without letting go of the rein. All that he did was
get rid of the discharged schnepper and close his fingers around the handle of the
axe. He fell and with his head thrown back was still looking the entire time at
Yara standing by the window, and in his gaze was a fixed hatred, the same as in
the eyes of the dead hyeon. “A beautiful death. Died with an axe in hand,”
someone beside her uttered without a hint of irony. Yara turned and saw Andrei.
He stood for a second and looked down with a solemn face, and then turned
away.
The floor under her feet began to tremble, rhythmically, terribly. The spoon in
the tea cup on the table began to jump. Sticking a mirror outside, Yara saw how
the berserkers, with foreheads touching, were growling at each other and
delivering hits by the axe handles. The stomping became increasingly louder with
each passing second and the impacts with the handles were stronger. “Why is
this?” she asked. “They’re getting themselves into a fury. Soon they’ll begin…”
explained Andrei. He also did not have to look into the hallway. With one stomp
he already understood everything.

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162

After moving the bed to the door so that it would serve as an obstacle to
anyone running into the room, Andrei hid behind it and, resting on his knees, put
a heavy arbalest in front. He put down another arbalest beside him. Normally he
kept in his teeth a backup bolt for recharge but now he did not do this, and with
this simple detail Yara had determined how serious everything was. Andrei knew
that he would have time to shoot once for sure. A second time with some luck.
But he would not be able to make a third shot.
With the handle of the umbrella Dolbushin caught Yara by the arm and turned
her around to face him. She sensed weakness and pain. Their eyes met. A
suffering long face with sharp features looked straight at her. “You have blood on
your forehead,” Dolbushin said hoarsely and ran a finger along her forehead.
“Glass splinter,” said Yara. “It’s not glass. Caught by a schnepper… Don’t twitch!
You indeed recalled everything?” Yara nodded carefully. The paramedic Utochkin
remained only a puddle trying to ripple reproachfully in her consciousness.
With a kick of a foot Dolbushin shattered the windowsill, ripped it out, and
flung it down. “I see you already have a clms. The way is clear… teleport! Better
not to the roof. Could be arbalests there. Better immediately to your HDive.” Yara
could not believe her ears. “You’re letting me go?” “I’m not letting anyone go! But
if some time you meet…” he stopped short and lowered his eyes, “Anyway, tell…”
“Meet whom? Kavaleria?” Yara assumed. Dolbushin became silent. Yara
understood that there would be no continuation. She had put him out, butting in
at the wrong time.
“I will not teleport! You cannot force me!” she shouted pertly. The head of the
second fort smiled. Then he leaned down abruptly, picked her up, and put her on
the window. The stomping from the hallway increased. The snow queen at the
doors was already grey and limp like May ice behind garages somewhere. “You
have ten seconds to make a decision. Then I’ll drop you. Better the asphalt than
berserkers…” Dolbushin said quietly. “Nine… eight…” “You can’t do this!”
shouted Yara. “My daughter loved you,” said Dolbushin. “Personally I don’t care
about you… I’m doing this for her… six… five…”
“Athanasius! Andrei! Stop him!” shouted Yara, but she already understood
from their faces that they would not begin to interfere. Athanasius came up, put
the charge marker into her hand, and supportively squeezed her fingers. His eyes
sparkled. “Come on!” he said. “Don’t be stubborn! Come on!”
The only one who perhaps would agree to keep her here was grandpa-danseur.
Beldo was jumping in alarm around the room, listening to the stomping of the
berserkers. “Stop!” he shouted, grabbing Dolbushin by the sleeve. “Look!”
Something was happening beyond the window. A small bright point
unexpectedly penetrated the dull falsity of an electric Moscow night. The point
approached the window not in a straight line but quivering and shuddering. It
seemed someone was drawing with a gold feather along the sky, making daring
flourishes. One of the hyeon stared at the point, but at the last moment turned
sharply away, simply not destroying the clearness of the flourish.
“Birds don’t fly this way. To fly this way can only be… Get it, get it quick!
Where is it?” Beldo whispered, continuing to pull Dolbushin. The head of the
second fort rushed to the dresser and began to fling things out impatiently.

©Jane H. Buckingham 2011


jhbuckingham@yahoo.ca
http://emets.olmer.ru/
163

“Rags… how many rags…” he muttered. Finally, what he was searching for was in
his hands. Yara and Athanasius saw a wooden box.
Suddenly, the stomping and the rumbling outside by the elevator shafts
became quiet. A strange, nagging silence was hanging. Andrei was the first to
understand what this meant. He grabbed Ptah by the shoulder and pushed him
behind the bed. “Well, here it is! Don’t hurry to shoot, doctor! Hit point blank
once!” he said through his teeth.
No longer hiding, Athanasius reached for the attack marker and placed it on
his knee. “Warlocks die with an axe in hand, and a hdiver… a hdiver will die with
an attack marker,” he thought. But a steady rumble was already swelling in the
hallway, this time no longer rhythmic but staccato. It seemed an enormous wave
was approaching them. Having waited until the first axes had squandered the
brittle door like a wafer, Athanasius swung around and threw the attack marker.
He expected a terrible explosion frightening with its silence, one that would
swallow up everyone that was on the floor leaving only the home whole, but
heard only a low click, almost a clap and nothing more. Moreover, both the clap
and the click reached him not from the direction of the door but in here from the
bed, on which Dolbushin had placed the box. A butterfly that flew into the room a
second later was already sitting on its lid that clicked and folded its wings.
Emerald-green inside, they were the color of wood bark outside.
It seemed Andrei and Ptah even had time to shoot once. And the bustler Ptah,
true to himself, here even missed the mark from four steps away and drove the
bolt into the door post. Dolbushin rushed with the umbrella into the very thick of
the berserkers, hacking legs, demolishing breastplates, and smashing heads like
cardboard boxes. Moreover he delivered the last hits already without looking.
That the berserkers were also swinging axes without looking undoubtedly saved
Dolbushin’s life.
The box was pulsing with light like an enormous heart. Inside something
shuddered, moaned, flooding all in the room with pain. The copper corners were
red-hot. A fiery radiance emerged from the cracks between the wood laths.
Straight solid rays spattered the window and night became day. The incarcerated
elbe, in a hurry greedily seizing the wrong marker, tried at any price to get rid of
it, but it was impossible because the attack marker no longer existed. There
existed only the devouring flame, which any minute now must destroy the box.
Everyone was blinded except the hdivers, whose eyes accustomed to Duoka,
were spared by the radiance nevertheless. The battle had already stopped by
itself. Fighting is impossible when you are in the centre of a flame and you see
nothing except the radiance spilling out all the time.
The entire time the butterfly was sitting on the lid of the box – motionless with
wings folded reproachfully. Cries, people, the walls of the building, the city itself
– all this did not exist for it. To it, the contrmarker, like a needle penetrating the
cloth of the worlds, Moscow was no more than a flat picture in an illustrated
book. It did not even stir when the box wrapped it in a ring of dense white fire the
size of a soccer ball, and inside something cracked indistinctly, like an electric
lamp bursting.

©Jane H. Buckingham 2011


jhbuckingham@yahoo.ca
http://emets.olmer.ru/
164

Athanasius grabbed hold of Yara and dragged her to the open window. She
resisted, not understanding what he wanted. And only after flying to the open
window, she saw outside something she had not seen for a long time. “Prince on a
white horse!” Yara thought crazily but in all seriousness, and later they laughed
loudly for a long time over how such a wild thought could come to her, because it
was Ul on Aza.
With its white wings Aza could show itself only for a moment because a
searchlight hit them from below. And Ul with his reinforced schnepper – a hybrid
of an arbalest and Grandpa Mazai’s53 double-barrel – little resembled a prince.
Behind Ul rushed Max with a small lead on one-eyed Eric, and last was Rodion
on the foaming Delta. Rod had had to fly to Sokolniki and summon reinforcement
from there because the entire centre was magically blocked and the centaur
would not operate.
The surviving two berserkers on hyeons did not try to get to them,
understanding that the odds were against them. Moreover, one of their hyeon
was injured and behaving nervously. The third, from which Andrei had brought
down the rider already at the very beginning of the battle, had long since flown
away.
Not giving a moment’s thought to how many floors were under her, Yara
jumped onto Aza’s saddle, and the slightly late Athanasius, dangling with one
hand hanging onto Eric’s stirrup, was hoping that Max would stretch a hand out
to him sooner than he realized that the flexure of biceps in an incline was
dangerous for the spine.
After resting on the box, the butterfly took off and fluttered to Yara’s pocket,
where the charge marker was. Its sweeping-open wings were splashed with an
emerald radiance. It did not sit for long on the pocket – at most several seconds,
after which like a rainbow of light it flew right through the buildings without
noticing them. A butterfly strengthening the will. A live marker, which, in winter
and summer, in wind and frost, not knowing leisure, will flutter above the world,
and where it flies by, a person weakened and enslaved by personal spinelessness
will sense the desire to change something.
At some point everything froze, and a still, complete, and bright happiness
breathed on Yara. As if an invisible voice said to them: “Don’t fear! I’m here!” She
took in and sensed the fullness of the stationary instant, an instant when time
and sequence of events would be no more, and everything would merge into an
absolute and universal completeness.

***

53
Grandpa Mazai and the Rabbits is one of the most popular poems by Nikolai Alexeyevich Nekrasov
(1821-78).

©Jane H. Buckingham 2011


jhbuckingham@yahoo.ca
http://emets.olmer.ru/