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©Jane H.

Buckingham 2012
jhbuckingham@yahoo.ca https://twitter.com/translator_frog
http://emets.olmer.ru/
http://www.goodreads.com/author/show/3463868.Dmitrii_Aleksandrovich_Emets
HDive
No Way Out at the Entrance

Dmitrii Emets

Translated from Russian

by

Jane H. Buckingham

Translation edited by

Shona Brandt

Cover designed by

Georgiy Lebedev

©Jane H. Buckingham 2012


jhbuckingham@yahoo.ca https://twitter.com/translator_frog
http://emets.olmer.ru/
http://www.goodreads.com/author/show/3463868.Dmitrii_Aleksandrovich_Emets
Titles in the HDive Series
Pegasus, Lion and Centaur
No Way Out at the Entrance

©Jane H. Buckingham 2012


jhbuckingham@yahoo.ca https://twitter.com/translator_frog
http://emets.olmer.ru/
http://www.goodreads.com/author/show/3463868.Dmitrii_Aleksandrovich_Emets
1

One should put together with the greatest effort a reserve of


strands, since onagers,1 ballistae, and other missile weapons are
of no use, if they cannot be drawn with ropes or strands. The hair
from the manes and tails of horses is also very well suited to
ballistae.
There is no doubt that women’s hair is also very good for
similar types of machinery; that has been proven by experience at
the moment of the plight of Rome. When the Capitol was besieged,
as a result of constant and long use the missile machines
deteriorated, but there was not a reserve of strands, then Roman
matrons cut off their hair and gave it to their husbands in battle;
the machines were repaired, and the enemy attack repelled.
Vegetius2

1
An onager was a siege engine of the Roman Empire, basically an ancient military catapult for throwing
stones.
2
Publius Flavius Vegetius Renatus, commonly known as Vegetius, was a writer of the Roman Empire. One
of his two surviving works is Epitoma rei militaris or De Re Militari, a Roman military treatise.

©Jane H. Buckingham 2012


jhbuckingham@yahoo.ca https://twitter.com/translator_frog
http://emets.olmer.ru/
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2

Chapter 1

The D Route Minibus

Four brothers go to the oldest.


“How do you do, Tommy Thumb!” they say.
“Hello, Peter Pointer,
Toby Tall,
Ruby Ring,
And Baby Small!”
Finger game

Rina was sitting on a bollard swinging her legs and waiting. The subway next
to her was spitting out people. Rina counted nine hundred people. Among them
five hundred and ten were women. Leaving the five-hundred-and-eleventh
woman uncounted, Rina jumped off the bollard and went to buy ice cream. She
had enough money for either one good ice cream or to two so-so ones. After
wavering for a while, she asked for two. “Who said that they’re bad? They’re
underrated!” she said to herself and relaxed.
A drunk tumbled out of the rear door of a stopped car. He started to shove
his passport under her nose and said that there was no kid in it. This did not
surprise Rina too much: she always got into some mess.
Instead of quickly walking away, she took the passport and shook it. Not even
one smallest kid fell out of the passport. “True!” she said. “No kid! Well, doesn’t
matter: when you do, come quickly for teaching tips!” The drunk was offended
and started to grab her sleeve.
Rina ran to the stern guard, who had risked his life catching an old hag
illegally selling mushrooms on a string, and slipped him the passport. “Here, I
found a document! Will you please have a look whose?” she asked and dived
behind the pavilion.
Thirty minutes left for her to wait. In any case, so Kuzepych said. When she
saw that nine people had gathered at the appointed place, she should press the
centaur. Once. And that was all.

***

“Cool! Third generation Muscovite and was never on Planernaya!” Sashka


realized, after walking up to the city. He always pronounced his favourite “cool”
with a stress at the end. Something bright flew high above the buildings. At first
Sashka thought it was a ball, but looking closely he figured out that it was an
ordinary plastic bag. It was flying by itself and was not bothered at all that under
it was twenty floors of emptiness.
Sashka took a step to the post and looked around with interest. Amusing
region. Cramped, toy-like. The buildings come right up to the subway shelter.

©Jane H. Buckingham 2012


jhbuckingham@yahoo.ca https://twitter.com/translator_frog
http://emets.olmer.ru/
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3

One can go out to the balcony and stare at the crowd. At night, when you are lying
in silence, you listen as the floor shudders and trains rush past somewhere under
you. Sashka focused to determine where he was now. Before him stretched an
asphalt area with islands, where buses and minibuses docked. As always there
were many of them at subway stations.
“Please, do you know where the Route D minibus is?” he asked a woman in a
red windbreaker. The woman was playing with a child. She absent-mindedly
lifted her eyes and part of the tenderness addressed to the child accidentally
splashed onto Sashka. Almost immediately on the face that came to the
tenderness waned, fell somewhere inside, and Sashka was sorry that he had torn
a person away from a pleasant occupation. “Don’t know!” the woman said and
again dived into her child as into a pond.
“Excuse me, please? Route D minibus?” Sashka turned to a stooping back
emerging from behind the post. The back wobbled, and Sashka realized that he
had missed the mark with the respect. A person of his age was looking at him.
True, in order to determine this, Sashka had to lift up his head infinitely. The
fellow was not simply two metres tall but somewhere close to two-ten. Narrow-
shouldered, long-armed. The teeth were big. Two front ones like a beaver’s. The
eyes were green, mocking. The arms dangled like ropes while walking, and the
chin was making “snap-snap,” right-left. On the stranger’s forehead Sashka saw a
long abrasion, badly overgrown, exiting under the hair.
“Didn’t fit into the elevator. Moscow is a town of dwarfs,” tracking his look,
lanky explained talkatively. “And I'm powerless to help on the subject of the
minibus. I’m searching for it myself! ”
Sashka continued to roam along the area. No one knew about the route D
minibus. Sashka reached the last asphalt island and was prepared to return to the
subway, when he suddenly saw a sheet with the bold letter “D” on the post. After
surveying the queue, Sashka was convinced that they would completely fit into
one vehicle.
Turning, his knapsack hit the fellow standing in front of him. That one
looked around, gave Sashka the once-over, and not so much spat but hissed at the
asphalt. Sashka thought that they call such a fellow “a lad” or “a young lad.” Not
tall, thickset, in a turtleneck. He was moving unhurriedly, ingratiatingly, like a
cat.
“Makar!” He put out a hand, solid as a stump, to Sashka. Just in case Sashka
pressed it strongly, expecting his hand would be in a vice now, and was mistaken,
because “the young lad” did not even bother to close his fingers. It was nonsense.
On one hand, for some reason they wanted to get acquainted with you. On the
other hand, they treated your hand like a dead fish. The voice of “the young lad”
was appropriate. Cracked. With a little twang.
“How are you? Not bad?” he asked without the least embarrassment. Makar
talked slowly. From word to word it was possible to stretch a rope and dry towels.
When people talk this way, it is hard on the brain. A desire emerged in Sashka to
describe to Makar his entire life from the moment of birth, in order to see at what

©Jane H. Buckingham 2012


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http://emets.olmer.ru/
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4

place he would fall asleep. But he restrained himself and answered briefly that he
had never felt better.
“Eh, real never?” Makar clearly attempted to back Sashka into a corner,
posing questions, which could not be answered properly. And Sashka did not
answer at all. He was no longer looking at Makar but at a girl who grabbed her
purse every time someone’s cell phone rang. To her, a melody did not play any
special role.
Makar was not pleased that someone could be distracted from contact with
him. He took Sashka’s button and began to twist it off. “Local?” he asked sullenly.
Sashka shook off his hand. Such impudence surprised Makar. “You know anyone
here?”
“Aunt Claude from the flower kiosk!” Sashka unmistakably sensed that
Makar would not fight. Such types like to work on empty chatter, looking for the
collocutor’s weakness. They prefer to take an automatic casing from their pocket
and twirl it in their fingers. Or to open and close a switchblade. Or to work such a
thing into their speech that it would be clear to all with whom they are dealing.
“Eh, bold?” Makar finally caught on.
“You guessed it.”
“Ah-h! Well, got it! Come on: take care, brother!” Makar again for some
reason put his hand out to Sashka, who, remembering the last time, simply
touched it with two fingers and turned away. Sashka understood that the “take
care!” was not a threat but simply a last attempt to spoil his mood.
A white minibus appeared out of nowhere. In the lower left corner of the
glass on the driver’s side was a sheet of paper with the same letter “D” as on the
post. Sashka was experienced in riding minibuses and did not sit down right
behind the driver. Too much trouble: someone is always getting out, changing
seats. He wanted to hide in the corner and look out the window, watching how
Moscow steamed by the sun slowly wound around the wheels of the minibus.
After flopping down onto the second single seat, Sashka placed his knapsack on
his knees. A trembling reverberated in his shoulder: the door was slammed shut.
The minibus started to signal a turn. It squeezed into the flow of cars.
No one noticed how the smiling girl with freckles in the last row of seats as if
by chance pulled up her sleeve and, after touching the beaming centaur, said in a
whisper, “Full load!” Without waiting for an answer, she put the sleeve back in
place and leaned back onto the seat.
Looking from the tall minibus at the compact cars passing them, Sashka
observed closely those sitting inside and thought with amazement: so many
people and all different. Not a single person is repeated, everyone is distinguished
by something. Each has his own look, his own unique turn of tiny events, and all
this inimitably stamped in the thoughts, the fates, the feelings. For several
seconds Sashka’s head began to spin. “Again!” he thought. Memory diligently
unwound the tangle.

©Jane H. Buckingham 2012


jhbuckingham@yahoo.ca https://twitter.com/translator_frog
http://emets.olmer.ru/
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5

Yellow tank top, green trunks, black helmet, red nose, blue gloves. Sashka
mockingly watched as his opponent rushed to the ring, using the thumb of the
glove to drive the mouth guard hurriedly into his mouth.
“Dudnik, Bychkov! Two for two!3 Lively! Dudnik, special invitation?” The
coach’s name was Paul Paulych. He consisted of experience, paunch, and a
whistle. Roughly in this order. Although there were days when the whistle
advanced into first place and experience and the spare tire trailed behind.
Sashka (the very same Dudnik) ducked under the ropes and climbed into
the ring. He did this very lazily. He showed that it offended him that they sicked
a newbie on him, an oldbie, third year there. Bychkov was already shifting his
feet in the ring. One felt that he was nervous. Certainly. First battle. Bychkov
had attended the section for all of four months, skipped rope and diligently
worked out in front of the mirror double jabs, bobs, delivery of a right punch,
and other basics. On the whole, a typical piece of meat, though powerful,
certainly.
“Ready? Go!” After tapping gloves with Bychkov, Sashka began to dance
around lazily. Open, only the right glove was raised somewhere at the level of
the chest. Bychkov, on the contrary, was keeping down. He kept his gloves by
his nose, and the chin almost squeezed into his chest. He kept down, and then –
wham-wham – a double hit. He learned the ropes hitting the bag. But one can
be a champ with the bag all the time: it does not hit back.
“Bychkov, don’t lean forward! More active! The feet! Show this clown!
Bolder!” Paul Paulych began to yell. Sashka resented clown and, being offended,
began to wriggle even more. He was completely open and only took some jabs
with the glove, and just either broke off at a distance or let a hit pass over the
ear. He had decided to himself that the entire fight would go this way. Clown, so
clown!
Bychkov was huffing and puffing and, having grown bolder, worked like a
hammerer. On the rare occasion when he pressed too hard, Sashka stabbed
with his left. At the end of the first two-minute Bychkov was entirely soaked.
The grinning mouth guard was making a hoarse sound. He pushed it back with
a glove. Sashka was even sympathetic. When you are gasping for air, the mouth
guard seems like terrible trash. Like something so bloody-rubbery and sweet-
tasting.
“Ten more seconds! More active!” Paul Paulych bellowed. Sashka, long
waiting for this moment, lowered his right hand and now stretched out only
with the body, occasionally moving the shoulder up. Simutaneously he was
counting the remaining seconds and thinking about any outside things. The
Russian dictation tomorrow… Must get something for Father for his birthday,
but he has not decided on the price… Seven… Eight… Nine…
Sashka counted ten, then eleven, then twelve, and, surprised that the fight
had not been stopped, looked over at Paul Paulych. That one was talking with
someone who had put his head through into the hall. Realizing that the fight

3
Two rounds, two minutes each.

©Jane H. Buckingham 2012


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6

was over, Sashka completely forgot about Bychkov and remembered only when
the first of two hits cut into his cheekbone. Sashka was thrown back. He,
protecting himself, jerked up his hands, but managed only to scratch the bottom
of Bychkov’s right glove just enough to direct it to his own chin. The words “go,
lights out!” became a reality not only for girls with the name Sveta. 4
After some time the smell of ammonium chloride broke through to Sashka
in the dark room. You do not want to, but you come to. Simply out of disgust.
“What a clown! Wriggled, eh? Leave now! Rest for two weeks!” Coach said
without sympathy. Sashka looked at him and smiled. Thoughts in him were
very few and everything was kind of strange. And people seemed to him
surprised: this was probably because he had “slowed down” a little. Somewhere
on the horizon loomed Bychkov – confused, feeling sorry for him, and
simultaneously being proud of himself. He still did not know that in the next
training session he would be paired with one of the stricter guys so that it would
be made distinctly clear to him that you do not hit someone who had turned
away or knock out the dazed.5 Paul Paulych spat out the whistle, with which he
had called up to himself two older fellows in order to send them into the
deserted ring.
Out on the street Sashka sat on a tire for a long time, examining the thick
poplar trunks. They were sawn off, waste oil was poured under them, but all the
time shoots were sprouting and sprouting. Along the edge of the poplar, the
bark of which was stripped off for the most part such that it turned out white
almost like human skin, flowed a stream of ants. Occasionally first one, then
another turned slightly to the side and tried to crawl into a deep crack in the
poplar trunk. It moved its whiskers and stepped back.
Sashka attempted to glance into the crack but saw only a head with two
large eyes and moving whiskers. He drummed on the trunk with his nails and a
large golden bee suddenly crept out of the crack. It fearlessly passed through
the stream of ants and, after flying so closely that its wings touched his cheek,
disappeared. Sashka plodded to the road. His head was clear and it only
slightly resembled a rumbling bucket. Although, of course, with any attempt
even to look around, Sashka would begin to sway.

His head was spinning no longer. Sashka as usual pulled back the upper
pocket of the camouflage jacket and, considering whom to give the money to,
glanced all around. “I’ll be darned! Everybody here is about fifteen! Well,
maximum sixteen!” he thought. Not so often you meet your contemporaries in
this quantity. Sashka even looked around in order to ascertain that those behind
also fit in this range. Improbable, but they did!
Sashka came up with the option that they had finished classes somewhere or,
let us suppose, everyone here except him were classmates going somewhere
together. But no. No one in the minibus knew anyone else. Otherwise, they would

4
A play on words in Russian: the Russian word for light is svet while Sveta is a girl’s name.
5
In boxing training, there is no necessity for a knockout if the opponent is dazed.

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7

not drop curious glances at each other. There would also not be careful, waiting
tension.
Immediately behind Sashka sat a girl, the same one that grabbed her cell
phone when someone else’s rang. Small, frail, with a thin neck, which could be
encompassed with two fingers. How the head could be held up on such a flower
stalk was incomprehensible but it was solidly supported. The face was rather
sharp, clever, agitated. Thick eyebrows, lips nibbled at. The hair was not simply
cut short but ultra short – to one joint of the little finger. Bulging, obstinate
forehead. She wanted to be first in everything for sure. Wrote letters to
politicians, directors, and singers. Ready to sweat her guts out like an electric
broom for twenty-five hours a day.
In the next row by the window was a skinny fellow in a blue suit and tie, a
cream shirt. Brushed, well-pressed. Amazing, all these trappings looked organic
on him. One had the feeling that he was always in a suit and not just once a year
on occasion. It was stuffy here in the minibus but he was like an idol. Not a drop
of sweat on his face, the collar was completely done up, and even the tie was not
loosened. He was sitting and moving alarmingly away from his neighbour who
was dropping powder from donuts onto her knees and at the same time onto his
as well.
The neighbour was his complete opposite. Large, plump but not fat, with a
chest like a sofa. From her face fluttered absolute, unaffected calm. Whether “the
suit” moved away from her or not bothered her little. Most likely, the girl did not
even turn her head in order to find out if someone was sitting beside her. She was
in a contemplative half-sleep all the time. She was dressed in a spacious hand-
knitted top. Any crumbs would fall through such a top and cat fur would not be
visible on it. Her hair was long like a mermaid’s and carelessly braided. And she
did not have such hair because she let it grow specially, but simply did not
prevent the hair from doing what it thought fit. If you want to get into the life of
such a girl, do not attempt to flicker before her eyes. This is too tiresome for her.
Simply come and settle down beside her. Possibly, in a year or two she will
discover that some stranger is sitting near her in the kitchen, and finally it will
come home to her where her pancakes have been disappearing to.
To the right of “sleeping beauty” was a young fellow in a bright T-shirt
rhythmically twitching his head. Small, hook-nosed, continuously moving his feet
restlessly even while sitting. Teeth uneven, crowding each other. Over the left eye
was a black plastic patch tied with two fabric strips. Sashka was pondering for
some time whether he actually did not have an eye or this was the final stroke of a
romantic portrait. Sashka was still at a loss why on earth the young fellow was
twitching when he noticed the small headphone.
Suddenly the young fellow in the tee turned to his neighbour and loudly
(immediately evident that music was roaring in his ears) uttered, “A bet on your
phone number, your name’s Lena!” The calm girl looked thoughtfully at him.
It seemed to her one-eyed neighbour that there would not be an answer. He
managed to take off and put on the headset four times when he finally heard,
“Should be: a bet on your phone number, your name ISN’T Lena!”

©Jane H. Buckingham 2012


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http://emets.olmer.ru/
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8

One-eyed was happy. There was contact! “A bet on your phone number, your
name isn’t Lena!” he obediently repeated.
“You lose. I’m Lena!” the girl sympathized and continued indifferently to
sprinkle powder from donuts onto the knees of the neighbour on her left.
Sashka almost slipped down under the seat. He saw that one-eyed had made
a guess for the first time in his life and was confused now, not knowing how to
move on further.
“Serious, Lena? Or are you pulling my leg?”
“Leave me alone, eh?” the girl dully requested.
“How ’bout showing some document?”
“Fat chance!”
“Here I can show mine! I don’t mind!” one-eyed proposed and with the
motion of a conjurer extracted two passes and a calling card. “Don’t look here! I
turned out like a dork here!” he imparted and showed precisely this photo with
pleasure. Sashka noticed that on the photo one-eyed was presented with two
eyes. And even saw the name: Cyril.
Across the seat from Sashka a girl in a black tank top breathed on the glass
and drew gallows. On her neck were two army dog tags tied together, in standard
military style. On her face were delicate pink pimples. “Interesting, does she
know that you need a second dog tag for hanging on the left big toe of the dead
body?” Sashka gauged. Sensing that she was being looked at, the girl with the dog
tags stopped sketching and turned around interrogatively. Sashka hurried to put
a wooden expression on his face.
Staring, he disturbed not only the girl with the dog tags but also the big-
forehead person with the flower-stalk neck. She jerked up her face with
annoyance, at the same time covering the cell phone screen with her palm.
Sashka perceived that he was to her a kind of additional seat of the minibus.
“For one!” Sashka heard and did not understand how he found himself with
money in his hands. She did not ask, even did not demand, but would give a
target designation. Since you are staring and not busy with anything, do
something useful.
“Also for one!” The girl with the death dog tags woke up.
“Interesting, why to me? Could give to Makar. Or only to him at night in the
park and together with a purse?” Sashka was being mentally malicious. The
precisionist in the suit also charged Sashka to pay for the fare and immediately
demanded change. His bill was so smooth, as if he kept it in a dictionary all night.
The girl with the donuts could not be bothered and, not even making an attempt
to count, poured out a handful of change into Sashka’s hand.
While Sashka was sorting out the money, someone gave him a friendly nudge
in the shoulder. The fellow sitting diagonally grinned at him like an old friend.
This turned out to be that same fellow with the abrasion. “Hello!” said Sashka.
“Hello to you too! I said that I would go search! You nodded and bolted!” the
fellow said reproachfully and added, “Danny!” Leaning towards Sashka, Danny
pushed him with a sharp knee and simultaneously scratched his cheekbone with
the forehead. Not a person but a walking injury for the surrounding people.

©Jane H. Buckingham 2012


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http://emets.olmer.ru/
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9

“Noticed?” he whispered.
“That everyone is of the same age?” guessed Sashka.
“Well, that’s not too bad!” Danny dismissed it. “More: we don’t stop at traffic
lights. One. No one gets on or off along the way. Two. Several times people raised
a hand but we didn’t even stop, although lots of free seats.”
“Strange,” agreed Sashka. “Usually they take everybody.”
“Hey, you two! Stop whispering! Can’t move?” the bossy girl impatiently
tugged at Sashka’s sleeve. Her voice sounded fearless. It was felt that she not only
spoke the plain truth but also brandished it like a shaft. Sashka discovered in his
own hand a bundle of money and, remembering that it was time to get rid of it,
passed it forward.
“Hey! Pass it on!” he hailed and shook the shoulder of the person sitting
directly in front of him. The person turned around. Out of surprise, Sashka jerked
his hand back. He thought it was a guy there but “hey!” turned out to be a girl.
The beauty of the girl was so obvious that even a catty sharp-tongued old hag
would not call it into question. True, she would feel obligated to add that there
are signs of dystrophy from the long legs and there cannot be a brain in such a
pretty head. However, there is no getting away from envy: you cannot climb up to
the fence at least to spit on one who sits on it.
Noticing what impression she had made on Sashka, the corner of the girl’s
mouth twitched and this spoiled seventy percent of the impression. Roosters are
not the only smug ones. Simply one can more readily forgive hens.
“May I ask an improper question? What camouflage is this? English?
Bundeswehr?”6 she asked. Sashka answered that for the time being the
camouflage was Russian. Three more improper questions were posed to him in
the next forty seconds: “Why the hanky on the neck?” (Cool.) “Why a smell of
burning from him?” (A fire.) “What does Sashka want to express with his military
pants?” (Simply comfortable.)
It turned out Sashka was not the only one who saw the beauty. The young
fellow with the patch on his eye also gave her the once-over. “A bet on your phone
number, your name’s… eh-eh… Natasha!” he plunged in, not wasting time on
display of fantasy. His calm neighbour raised her eyebrows and with defiance
shook the crumbs off her skirt onto his knees.
“Nevertheless, well done!” Sashka mentally approved. “He has no fear of a
snub. He flies through life as a woodpecker. Knocks, doesn’t open, flies further.”
Sashka himself was unable to be this way. For Sashka the world was too detailed,
and the people too. He could not talk in phrases prepared ahead of time. He
vaguely caught that for each person there exists special words, which reach him
like a key and unlock his soul. But he did not know these words. Therefore, when
he talked to a girl, he would carry on with the usual stock nonsense. What music
she likes, what sites she visits, and so on.

6
Bundeswehr is the Federal Defence Force of Germany.

©Jane H. Buckingham 2012


jhbuckingham@yahoo.ca https://twitter.com/translator_frog
http://emets.olmer.ru/
http://www.goodreads.com/author/show/3463868.Dmitrii_Aleksandrovich_Emets
10

The beauty looked dully at Cyril. Likely he scored even less points than
Sashka. Still, Sashka was passable. Light-brown hair, grey eyes, an open face. “So
what’s your name?” Cyril repeated.
“Don’t remember,” the beauty answered with defiance.
“What? Really they didn’t write it down in the passport?” Cyril was amazed.
“Cool!”
The girl gave in. “Oh, fine. I’m Lara! Anything else?”
“Yea, smile!” Lara smiled, obediently and tiredly.
“Got a bite!” Sashka praised.
Vlad Ganich – the name of the precisionist in the suit – suddenly got up with
a pressed knee on the seat and glanced back with suspicion at the last row. “Ah-h!
Well then, yes!” he mysteriously drawled and sat down.
Sashka also half-rose in order to figure out what had attracted Ganich’s
attention. He looked behind the high back hiding this spot from him earlier and
lost his way in simple feelings and words, like a baby among table legs. The
beauty Lara was instantly forgotten and simply faded into the background.
In the last row by the window sat a girl. Her face was cheerful like a person
waiting for a gift of life, although also catching some bumps. Many small freckles
added character to the skin. There were even freckles on the earlobes. The short,
slightly pulled-up nose was similar to a sparrow’s beak. It seemed that the nose
was not quite right at first – absurd, as if it had strayed from another’s face and
got stuck. Only later you feel that there cannot be another nose here. After
sculpting this girl from clay, life looked over its work, remained contented, as a
last stroke merrily flicked the nose with its forefinger, and whispered, “Well, why
are you standing? Go! Breathe! Live!”
“What are you?” Sashka foolishly asked, trying to comprehend how he could
have missed her. Then he understood: the high back had been blocking the girl.
“Me? A person!”
“Pardon?”
“A person by the name of Rina!” a mocking answer followed.
“And what are you doing here?”
Rina slammed shut her book. She was reading a textbook on horse breeding.
Sashka made out something on her wrist like a massive leather shield going into
her sleeve. “Riding the bus!” she said capaciously.
Someone pulled out the money from Sashka’s fingers. “Give it here!” Makar
again. Of course, “brotello” had long since changed seat and had settled himself
next to Lara. Interesting, did he find out if the girl is local? Did he advise her to
take care?
Makar leaped up with a knee on the seat and, jumping together with the
rushing minibus, called out to the driver, “Hey, man! Hello! Are we taking the
money?” No answer. The driver did not even attempt to stretch out a hand. They
saw only a blue sport jacket with the collar raised high and a baseball cap.
“Hello, garage! Deaf?” Makar began to yell quite insolently. He obviously
considered that to humble someone in the girl’s eyes was an additional way to
earn points.

©Jane H. Buckingham 2012


jhbuckingham@yahoo.ca https://twitter.com/translator_frog
http://emets.olmer.ru/
http://www.goodreads.com/author/show/3463868.Dmitrii_Aleksandrovich_Emets
11

“Now the driver will stop, and he’ll fly out like a cork, given a send-off with
tender strokes of the crowbar!” Sashka gauged and was mistaken. No one even
turned to Makar. For such as he, this was a challenge. Yet, the great person
fidgeted on the seat with his precious knee, dog-eared the money in his sweaty
palm, and was ignored.
“I’m left with the money! Did you all see, people? We ride for free!” Makar
announced for everyone to hear.
“He’s simply deaf! Someone, shake him!” the bossy girl with the flower-stalk
neck demanded. She had just been introduced to the fan of gallows and army dog
tags, and Sashka heard how she presented herself, “Freda.” Interesting, is that
her real name? It does happen that a person disagrees with his own name and
runs around his whole life as someone obscure.
Sashka put down his knapsack, jumped over to the empty seat next to Makar,
and tried to touch the driver’s shoulder. Specifically, he tried, because the
minibus made a sharp turn, passing a bus. Sashka, not holding his ground, tipped
back, and in an incredible way pulled the driver off with himself.
He yelled, expecting a crash; the minibus continued to rush along. A second
later he realized that he only had the blue sport jacket in his hands. Having
decided that he had torn it off the driver’s shoulders, he leaped up and saw that
there was no one at the wheel. Only a baseball cap was dangling in the air. Now,
when Sashka had the jacket, it could not be kept secret that there was nothing
under it.

Chapter 2

Coming from Nowhere to Going Nowhere

In any good the keyword is “regularity.” Irregular good


is evil, which decides to amuse itself.
A warlock will discuss global laws on the eradication of
hunger on a universal scale, but a hdiver will simply
silently hand someone an apple or a pie and move on.
The stronger one loves, the more one forbids. If you for
sure want to destroy the one you love, allow him
everything.
Two ways lead to wisdom: grief or voluntary self-
restraint, i.e., in general the same grief, only conscious. If
you do not choose the second path, the first one chooses you.
Better to take less but carry it all the way than to take a
lot and drop some halfway.
The power of a person is manifested in how well he will
be able to restrain himself.
Yara’s summary.
From Kavaleria’s introductory lecture

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12

Freda melancholically contemplated the empty driver seat. “But where???


What did you do with the driver?” she asked in the voice of a person who did not
get the joke.
Sashka sensed that she thought him guilty. “Here! Catch!” He threw her the
jacket by the sleeve. Freda in horror pushed it away immediately with both
hands. The jacket fell. Now, when it was exposed, it did not pretend to be alive
anymore.
“No! You did something to him!!! Aagh!” Freda closed her eyes and gave a
short shriek, giving a signal to universal panic.
Lara began to squeal in the same second, demonstrating excellent vocal
training. Makar in a businesslike manner advised her to cut it out. At the same
time he leaned heavily with his stomach on the back of the seat, touching the
mirror with his forehead. Incredulously, as if suspecting an invisible man, he ran
his hand all over. “Wow, damn! Really no driver! Anyone knows how to drive?”
Showing that it was managing quite well by itself, the minibus dashingly
dived between two trailers and went onto the outer lane. The clipped truck
groaned like an offended bull.
“Me!” Sashka, recently in his grandpa’s Niva7 demolishing the neighbouring
fence at the cottage, said.
“Well, so get busy!” Makar encouraged him.
Sashka wanted to climb over, but Freda caught hold of him, “Only try to
touch it! I understand! We’re moving by computer control!”
Danny looked doubtfully at the pressed-down seat, the jingling door. He saw
a kefir carton and a crumpled magazine. “By satellite!” he said skeptically,
observing how the minibus honked angrily at a dog that had jumped out onto the
road and made a dashing turn, dousing it with dirty water from a puddle. “Wow!
The satellite surmised biological activity and set a course correction, taking into
account the direction for splashing the liquid!”
Sashka tried to free himself, but doing this without being rude was
impossible. Freda was hanging onto him like a tick. Not letting go for dear life for
sure. At the same time, Sashka would not say that she panicked. She was simply
such a person. Not a single action could be executed in her presence without her
approval.
“What if it’s a show? Put us on some kind of stage and unnoticeably shoot our
reaction? And broadcast live? Huh?” Freda put forward a different option.
After hearing that they could be filming her, Lara instantly settled down and
fixed her hair. “Can I ask an improper question? Who is the studio decoy here?”
“Me! Really not obvious?” Cyril stated but backtracked on discovering how
people were instantly staring at him. “Really! No need to kill me! I’ve already
gone to seed! What show, people? Do you see at least one camera?”

7
The original Lada Niva was the first Russian/Soviet built off-road vehicle. The present Chevrolet Niva is
a mini SUV.

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13

“What if it’s hidden?” the precisionist in the suit proposed in a businesslike


manner.
Cyril twirled a finger by his temple. “In this heap of junk? Even if they shove
some web cam here, it’ll show like the eyes of a dead cockroach! Won’t work for
TV!” he said with knowledge of the matter.
Lara tapped her knee with the phone. “I understand nothing! Should be all
sticks here!” she complained.
Freda looked at her with an incinerating look. “Sticks are in the forest,” she
said and, after letting go of Sashka, sat down.
The minibus finally broke away beyond the limits of the Ring Road and
dashed between colourful new constructions. The region here was spacious, new,
and the roads wide, free. The minibus swiftly made a turn. As Sashka was not
being careful, he butted the glass with his forehead.
“We’ll not get out of here! We’re doomed!” the girl with the death dog tags
uttered quietly.
“Don’t be a killjoy!” Freda pounced on her.
“Dog tags” shrugged her shoulders and with a long nail traced a final
crossbeam on the gallows. “I’m not! I know!”
Even Rina was starting to be spooked. She was sorry that she had given
Kuzepych the promise to keep quiet. But even if she had not, what would she say?
“We’re going to HDive!” “Where, where?” “HDive! It’s this guildhall of divers,
where they fly on horses through a dead world to get markers from Duoka!”
The minibus turned into a long straight road and it stopped rocking. Passing
ahead of Sashka, Danny quickly half-rose. “Miss! May I ask you as an enormous
favour to remove your skull?” he turned to Lara.
“Where?”
She was at a loss and immediately received the comprehensive answer, “Not
strictly perpendicular to the back, but in such a way that the level of the crown
would turn out to be below the level of the upper section of the seat!”
“Huh?”
“Off with the head!!!” Danny simplified to the extreme and unexpectedly
deftly, making use of his beanpole frame, immediately tumbled over two seats on
his stomach. The endless legs flickered. Escaping from them, Lara with a squeak
bent down. It finally dawned on her why the level of the crown had to be lower
than the back of the seat. The soles knocked on the back of the seat and Danny
already emerged on the other side. He slid into the driver seat, grabbed the
wheel, and slammed on the brake. Sashka watched as the pedal pressed down.
“Stop, my beautiful! Whooa!” Danny ordered. The minibus began to brake at
the horse word, but it kicked up and continued to fly forward. Danny hung onto
the wheel and attempted to switch over to the outermost lane. The wheel obeyed
but this again in no way affected the behaviour of the minibus.
“Try braking with the clutch!” Sashka advised. Danny looked mildly around
at him as if asking: do you think I do not know? He pressed on the clutch and,
switching over serially, began lowering gears. When he reached the first, the

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14

minibus zipped out onto the oncoming lane and, after fearlessly cutting the flow,
turned into a perpendicular street.
“This is useless, gentlemen! I quit!” Danny announced melodramatically and
climbed back into the cabin. He sat down there like an idol and arranged his
hands with palms up on his knees. Something that in no way could be grasped
stirred in his memory. Something important, elusive.

Cigarette butts were floating in a glass jar a third full of water. Through the
paint-spattered glass – cracked, with a whistling draft living in the crack – the
Moscow courtyard well-defined by paint looked stingy to Danny. A golden bee
was sitting in a sunny spot and cleaning its wings with its legs. Danny blew on
it. The bee took off and, angrily hitting against the glass, bounced like a ball to
the edge of the frame.

“I said: we’ll all die!” the girl in the black tank top said with deep satisfaction.
Frost dripped from her voice.
Cyril touched the dog tags with a finger. “Listen, sunshine!”
“I hate sunshine!” Dog tags” cut him off.
“And don’t you be mad! Canna ask somethin’?”
“NO!”
“Were you ever smothered by a pillow earlier? Eh, sunshine?”
The girl pushed his hand away. “What are you, stupid? I’m not sunshine! I’m
Alice, idiot!”
It was not possible to offend Cyril. “Idiot!” he said, turning to himself. “Get
acquainted! This is Alice, who has never been smothered by a pillow!”
“Ass!”
“And who actively learns the names of animals!” Cyril looked around
triumphantly.
Alice turned away, lapsing into silence. Cyril clearly considered himself the
victor; however, Sashka doubted this. A guy must not fight with a girl on the same
level and with her weapon: the tongue. They deliberately exist in different
dimensions. Well, what does an eagle brag to a dolphin? That it knows how to fly?
But a dolphin knows how to swim. Cyril behaved like the bearded philosophy
professor, who, after putting on a skirt, set off for the earthen bench and said,
rubbing his hands, “Well, grannies, hold on! Now I can argue with all of you!!!”
“I’ll try to jump out! Since the phones don’t connect here, perhaps they will
outside!” Sashka shouted and tugged at the door. Asphalt with small puddles
gleamed. Sashka stepped back. He did not imagine that they would be going so
fast. Freda, with the idea of recording everything, directed the round eye of the
cell phone at Sashka.
“Don’t!” Rina shouted, unable to control herself.
“Why not? Must! Jump! What are you waiting for?” Freda demanded
impatiently.
Sashka estimated the distance to the lawn. Grass is tempting, of course, but
you could miss the mark and splatter all over the tall barrier. Asphalt would be

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http://emets.olmer.ru/
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15

better. He put his head out. The wind cut his cheek. It hit his eyes, blinded him
for an instant. “When it’s thirty kilometres, shout!” he ordered Danny.
Danny rolled over on his stomach to the driver seat and stared at the
speedometer. “Ninety! Damn! Why no traffic jams? Aha! Traffic light soon!
Maybe it’ll brake slightly at least… Yes! Going down! Seventy! Sixty!”
“Jump!” Makar pushed Sashka slightly from behind.
“Tough guy first!” Sashka turned and grabbed his turtleneck. He was so fed
up with Makar that he was actually capable of throwing him off the minibus.
“Let go of me!” Makar ordered quietly.
“But why?”
Makar slapped his own pocket with a threat. “Bluff!” thought Sashka. “He
puts his hand in the pocket and will fly from the minibus together with me!”
“Forty!” shouted Danny. “Thirty-five!” Sashka pushed Makar away and
returned to the door. The speed no longer seemed so great. He will run several
metres and then roll. The main thing is that no driver behind decides to pass
them on the right.
“Come on!” Danny yelled. Sashka rushed forcefully into the opening and…
here something incomprehensible happened. An elastic force caught him and
threw him back like a kitten. Sashka realized that he was sitting on the floor of
the minibus, clutching Makar’s leg like a lifesaver.
“Full protection, pity! Even if you yank the wheels off, you’ll end up on the
bottom!” Rina recalled Kuzepych’s words.
Freda tore herself away from the cell phone screen. “Shot it!” she shouted
excitedly. “You were separated from the minibus for about half a metre and then
it pulled you back! Did you feel anything?”
“The joy of flight!” Sashka answered in annoyance. The minibus again picked
up speed.
“Let’s lean out and yell! Someone will hear for sure! Only better from the
other side! More cars there!” Cyril in the heat of the moment wanted to hit the
glass with his fist, but Makar held him back.
“No, why? Must take care of the hands!” Makar said peacefully. Leaning over,
he pulled out a fire extinguisher from under the seat and competently knocked
with one end on the glass four times. The glass was covered with a tangle of
cracks, but it held. Makar, not embarrassed, continued to peck persistently. On
the tenth blow, the glass collapsed, after hanging onto the rubber retaining it.
“And now we yell! All together! With feeling!” Makar ordered the girls. He
himself did not begin to yell. He did not want to compete.
The girls shouted, waving their arms. Lara, whom Sashka was holding by her
legs, finally leaned out of the window up to her waist and found herself by the
open window on the side of a car unhurriedly passing them. Sashka was
convinced that the driver did not see such girls often, but he did not even turn his
head.
“Drove past like a robot! Could at least move a little!” Lara said with
annoyance, when Sashka and Cyril pulled her back into the minibus.

©Jane H. Buckingham 2012


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http://emets.olmer.ru/
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16

“You’re too noisy for him. He likes quiet dames with slippers in their teeth!”
Cyril butted in.
“Okay, gophers! Don’t want to notice in a friendly way, notice in a bad way!”
Makar warned with a threat. Before anyone had time to understand what this
“bad way” was, Makar had already rested a foot against the back of the seat and
kicked it off. Sashka had never seen anyone stripped down a minibus with this
composure.
Makar leaned out the window. The seat back hit the windshield of the Toyota
moving in the adjacent lane and flew away to the curb. A crack appeared on the
glass. The driver twisted the wheel. Sashka, very near, saw a puzzled fat face and
trembling cheeks.
Sashka could not control himself. He leaned out, yelled, and waved the hanky
torn from his neck. He was convinced that it would be impossible not to notice
him. He could even describe the ballpoint pen sticking out of the stout person’s
pocket. Someone pulled his sleeve. Pushed him down into a seat. Danny.
“Calm down! He doesn’t see us! And you calm down! Put the extinguisher
back!” Danny took the fire extinguisher from Makar, who intended on finally
finishing the Toyota with it.
“He even twitched!” Sashka said dejectedly.
“He twitched because he heard a bang!” explained Danny. “We don’t exist for
him.”
“And those people who tried to stop the minibus at the stops? They were
doing what, waving their hands at a void?” Sashka had his doubts.
“I suspect that they see the minibus itself. But us and what we throw, no!”
Danny followed with his eyes the fire extinguisher, which the agitated hands of
Makar nevertheless flung out of the minibus. “Sit down and place your paws on
your knees!” he peacefully advised Makar.
“I understand why it’s route D minibus! D for devious!” Alice said suddenly.
Danny snorted with suspicion. It is rare to meet mystics taller than two
metres. Otherworldly things usually do not stray into a head placed so high. This
is a height of practical things. “Well, ‘devious’, so ‘devious’! Gentlemen! Let’s stop
running and howling, and try to figure this out! Has anyone been on the route D
minibus before?” Silence. “Then something must exist that ties all of us together.
If we understand this, then let’s also understand why we’re gathered here. Let’s
determine what we have in common.”
“Besides me, everyone here is a freak,” Alice muttered under her breath.
“Age,” Freda voted. “Who here is older than sixteen, raise your hand.”
Cyril immediately jerked up his hand. “You’re all small fry!!! I’m seventeen!”
he stated.
“Cyril! Well-a show that pass again!” Lena asked softly.
“Certainly!” Cyril’s hand eagerly dived into one pocket, then another, and a
third. The search was carried out with exceptional determination, but the pass
did not appear. Lena waited mockingly.
Danny lost patience first. “Fine, age!” he nodded. “But age is too obvious.
There are 300 thousands like us in Moscow.”

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17

“Why so quick about Moscow? What if I’m not from Moscow? Who’s also not
from Moscow?” Freda was offended. There turned out to be many “non-
Muscovites.” Lena was even from Kiev.
“Fine. It means not only Moscow,” yielded Danny. “For that matter I’m from
Novosibirsk. A year ago we dragged ourselves here and now we regularly feel
sorry… Let’s think a bit more! Appearance, height, sports training, psych profile,
gender sign, all different for us. Useless to search for similarities here.”
“Gender what?” Makar frowned. Sashka noticed that the term “psych profile”
also seemed suspicious to him, but he did not risk asking about it.
“You’re a dude or a dame,” Rina explained from the last row. Makar squinted
at her, checking if she was serious, and made an understanding face.
“Let’s analyze further. Any geniuses among us?” Danny continued to find out.
Cyril again put up his hand.
“Cyril, precious! Lower your paw and continue to search for the pass!” Lena
asked with southern softness in her voice.
“Any others besides Cyril,?” Besides Cyril and the modestly blushing Danny,
there turned out to be no other candidates. Danny played with the crease on his
forehead. “Of course, it would be tempting to acknowledge that if we’re not
geniuses, then at least talented in our own way,” he with melancholy raised his
eyes and immediately lowered them, “nevertheless I fear that this is the deciding
factor here.”
“But wha did you look at me? You, beanpole!” Makar exploded.
“I didn’t look at you!”
“Did too! You eyeballed me and started to talk all sorts of nonsense! Are you
hinting that I’m stupid?”
Sashka felt that the showdown could stretch on for a long time. Bad enough
that they were travelling from Moscow at one-and-a-half kilometres a minute.
“He didn’t look at you. He looked at me!” he said and caught Danny’s grateful
glance.
“I looked at him,” confirmed Danny.
Forced to be satisfied with the answer, Makar made a disapproving sound
into the broken window. “In sync? This long leader cramps and you bring him a
stool? OK! Take care of yourself, guys!”
Freda was tired of filming. She lowered her hand with the phone. “Let’s take
it from another side!” she stated. “How did we turn up in the route D minibus at
all? Each specifically? Here, you?” she poked Lara.
It turned out Lara was going to try out as a model in a summer collection ad.
“I was given a piece of paper in the subway! For screen tests!”
“Rush along on a piece of paper handed out at the subway… In the city,
alone! Heavens!” Lena delivered tunefully.
“Do you want to say something?” Lara raised her eyebrows.
“I said, ‘Heavens!’”
The suited precisionist Vlad Ganich was on his way to collect a monitor and
speakers from a guy who had phoned him last night. Vlad did not get who he was.
Some friend of a friend.

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18

“I immediately sensed that you’re a fan of freebies!” stated Makar. Vlad with
indignation straightened his tie.
Cyril informed them that he found himself by chance in the route D minibus.
He liked someone and, out of natural shyness, was too timid to approach the
person on the street. However, when they asked him whom he liked precisely,
Cyril began to beat around the bush. It was clear that he was choosing between a
pie in the sky and a bird in the hand.
“Well, everything is clear with this… Will lie to the last! And what are you
doing here? Hey you, boy!” Freda fearlessly poked Makar. Makar choked. The last
time a female inspector had called him “boy” was in matters of minors.
By chance dropping his line of vision onto Makar’s wrist, Sashka saw three
small round bluish scars on the outside of the palm. Clearly tracks of cigarette
butts put out against the skin. “Who did this to you?” asked Sashka.
Makar looked at his hand. He clenched and unclenched his fist. The bluish
burns were filled with blood and became violet. “None of your business!” he said
sharply and, after hiding his hand behind his back, moved to the window.
“He did it himself,” Cyril whispered to Sashka.
“Why himself?”
“Side by side and regular. If it were someone else, he would fidget. Likely, he
punished himself for something. Who knows!” Cyril said cautiously.
Freda herself was going to find out about the new humanities-theatrical
college, which she by chance had heard about on the radio. Moreover, she had
heard it in such a way that she understood neither the name nor the precise
address, but only to get on the route D minibus from the Planernaya subway
station. And on the whole, it turned out Freda flew into Moscow only the day
before yesterday, settled at her coach’s former wife’s, and after a day and a half,
had time to go around to seven institutes and three universities.
“On the whole, everything here is vague. Nothing in common,” Danny
summed up.
The minibus kept going for a long time. Calm Kievan Lena even managed to
snooze, moreover, of the two nearby shoulders, on Vlad Ganich’s. It was
unrealistic to sleep on Cyril’s shoulder, because every three seconds he leaped up
to meet someone. Vlad did not shake off Lena’s head, but it was noticeable that
he was suffering and perceived her as a contaminated object threatening his suit.
Makar leaned out the window with distrust. “Just in case! Seems we’re
driving up!” he reported.

***

The minibus slowed down. They had turned from the highway long ago.
Monotonous concrete fences occasionally with graffiti stretched out. Reaching
the end of the last one, Route D unwillingly rolled onto a broken unpaved road.
To the right was a field. To the left was a colourful show of Moscow groves of
different sizes, often small birches and maples covered with caps turning yellow
and almost supported by nothing. The minibus went along slowly, swaying on the

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19

way. After about fifteen minutes, it stopped at some gates. The gates opened.
They again set off, drove for about twenty metres, and finally stopped.
Sashka pulled the door and carefully got out. He took a step, expecting the
elastic force to catch him and throw him back into the minibus. The bus was
standing on an asphalt area surrounded by lilac bushes. Before them was an
ordinary two-storey building. Two structures and a gallery connecting them. Low
stairs, wide porch, and black double doors. Next to them was a blue doorplate, on
which crawled cockroaches of indistinguishable letters.
“What’s written there? Can anyone see?” asked Sashka.
“It says HDive,” someone beside him answered. Sashka turned. Standing
next to him was the person by the name of Rina, squinting in the sun.
“You can see the letters from here? What eyesight!”
“Well no, I can’t. I read them earlier,” she admitted with a sigh.
“How?”
“Well, on the whole, I came from here. I was ordered to meet, accompany,
and explain nothing. That kind of thing,” Rina shrugged her shoulders slightly,
and Sashka understood that she did not particularly like this task. Sashka
belatedly realized that she sat more quietly than everybody in the minibus and
did not panic.
“So it’s you who dragged us here? I’ll strangle you!” Makar began to yell and
rushed at Rina.
Sashka caught him in a chokehold and discovered at the same time that
everyone had already got out of the minibus. “Stop!” he ordered and asked Rina,
“What next? Where are we going now?”
Rina looked first at the sun, and then at her phone, checking if the sun was
slower than the clock on her phone. “Well, come on! They’re waiting for us!” she
said and, having turned around, made her way to HDive. Exchanging glances, the
rest followed her.
“Only not me! I’m not going!” Freda said and, after passing everyone, went
first.
Alice stepped with pleasure on the heads of the yellow flowers shooting out
between the flagstones. If somewhere there were no flowers, she specially made a
zigzag in order to crush some flowers elsewhere. “If this decoy also counts, then
ten of us,” she stated.
“Well, so wha?” Makar was puzzled.
“No wha!” Alice mimicked and tinkled the death dog tags with a challenge.

END OF AUGUST – BEGINNING OF SEPTEMBER

Chapter 3

Three Wishes

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20

It is very difficult to love one who is near. It is simple to


love one who is far. Let us assume I love the writer Chekhov
but we live together in one place; how he laughs, gurgles
with tea, or drops a wet spoon on a polished surface would
irritate me. That is, until I learn to tolerate someone near,
there is no point in saying that I love someone.
From the diary of a non-returning hdiver

The chubby middle-aged person waiting for Guy on board the Gomorrah was
so cheerful and efficient that Guy, dressed in a stretched sweater and canvas
pants, momentarily wanted to confine himself in a pinstriped suit and be shaved.
“Oh, Guy!” he said, leaping up. “No, no! I know that you’re monstrously busy!
Several minutes for me will be enough!”
Guy, not looking, sat down. He knew that Nekalaev would manage to move a
chair. Moreover, not only for him but also for the stout Till. Thirty paces from the
elevator, five steps, and Till was already gasping for breath.
“Your call surprised me,” said Guy. “And the foolish mysteriousness irritates
me. Why did you decide that I’m sure to buy from you what you’re offering? And,
by the way, what is it exactly?”
The cheerful person started to smile soothingly and lifted his hands, showing
that all the answers would be given in their time. Then he took out a hard
rectangular business card and tapped the table with it.
“I’m… hmm… a little of everything. Broker? Antique dealer? Bibliophile?
Now and then the most interesting people die. Writers, artists, academicians. The
heirs remain. Quite often not particularly competent.”
“I find this hard to believe,” Guy remarked absent-mindedly. “They cannot
but know what their ancestor killed his whole life for.”
Chubby began to nod hurriedly. “Goes without saying! It’s well known to
them that there’s quite a lot in grandpa’s and father’s library. But that’s all they
know! Almost no one suspects that 95 percent of collected works in luxurious
bindings have very little value, but some tiny unpretentious little book is
priceless. The first limited edition Akhmatova 8 collection with her autograph, or a
well-preserved bundle of Satyricon,9 or something similar. I politely buy dozens
of beautiful books, paying three times their value for them, and out of courtesy I
take the tiny booklet in an overall pile of all sorts of unnecessary things.”
“In other words, your task is to find this five percent and get it for nothing,
after leaving the rest to the fool of an heir?” Till, wheezing, spelt it out. The round
face of his collocutor strayed somewhere between the sun and a pancake.
“Each business has its special quirks. Can’t teach them. Can only learn them.
In the spring, a decrepit old lady on Ostozhenka passed away, the widow of an

8
Anna Akhmatova (1889-1966), pen name of Anna Andreevna Gorenko, one of the most acclaimed
modernist poets of the Silver Age.
9
Satyricon was a Russian weekly satirical magazine (1908-14).

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21

artist of battle scenes. Her niece couldn’t wait to get rid of the junk. She was
simply happy when I bought from her two trunks of all sorts of old stuff.”
“Soiled palettes? Drying tubes of paint?” Guy asked.
The cheerful person started to laugh with exaggerated energy. He had a habit
of overstating the worth of mediocre jokes like that of book collections. “Not
quite. The artist drew historical paintings, and for that, reliable historical things
were necessary. Weapons, cloth, goblets. The entire second trunk turned out to
be crammed with ancient horse harness. Bridles, belts, stirrups, adornment.”
“Do you want a bridle?” Guy asked Till.
Till shook his head and started to crumble bread with his thick fingers. “I
now rarely sit behind the wheel. Gotten old, clumsy,” he complained.
These jokes did not fool the cheerful person. Once such people have heard
you out up to this point, they will listen some more. Then they will pay, there is
no getting away from it.
“The lid of the trunk interested me most of all. It was suspiciously heavy. I
tapped it and found a secret compartment, which even the owners themselves
clearly didn’t know about. An hourglass in a copper case lay there.” After
mentioning the hourglass, the antique dealer stopped talking and quickly looked
at Guy. “A very interesting hourglass. That and something else belonged to some
first-hdiver Mityai Zheltoglazyi,” he sweetly added.
Guy stopped cleaning his nails with a corner of the business card and looked
attentively for the first time at his collocutor. “What do you know about hdivers,
Sergey Ilich?” he asked sharply.
Pancake-face grinned and stroked the napkin lying in front of him as if
stroking a dead rabbit. “A little. You see, the hourglass was wrapped with a scrap
of skin. On the skin was text. Very brief, but I examined it… For example, I
understood that hdivers would hardly pay me. But you here are a different story.”
“What, me personally?” Guy doubted.
Sergey Ilich lowered his eyes so shyly that one wanted to give him some
money. “No, of course not. I spent three months in order to come to you. Several
times the thought flickered in me that there exist neither hdivers nor warlocks. So
many centuries have gone by. I despaired, and here’s a piece of luck! I discovered
on the Net the description of a strange anomaly – an enormous column of water
on the Moscow River. Someone shot it with his cell phone. Immense! Such could
only be done by a hdiver marker, the description of which was on the reverse side
of the skin. And you yourself know only who could drop it… hee-hee… So I came
to Gomorrah. The rest is a technical matter.”
“Not bad!” Guy showed approval. “I see you’ve done some good work. Can I
have a look at the hourglass and the skin?”
The antique dealer looked cautiously at Till. Till was calmly chewing a piece
of dill, which was hanging from the right corner of his mouth as from a horse’s
mouth. “They’re at my place. No, no, it goes without saying, not with me! First we
agree on a price!”
“What will the price be?” asked Guy.

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22

“High. Transactions of this grade happen once in a lifetime,” the antique


dealer said firmly. “I’ll ask three things, quite normal.”
“What are these three things?”
“Money. Health. And I want to know always what threatens me!”
Guy drew a circle with a wet finger on the polishing. “Why the last one? With
money and health?” he asked.
The cheerful person looked tritely downcast. “I don’t like to move blindly!
You can see that my work is also tricky. I’m always meeting people I don’t know.
All or nothing. That’s my motto.”
“Great,” Guy approved. “Are you sure that I’m capable of supplying you all
this?”
“Sure, I could demand even more. Three wishes is quite modest, taking into
account that the sand in the hourglass has almost trickled through.”
Guy stopped examining the chin of his collocutor and looked him in the eyes
for the first time. “Sand? Do you mean to say it has been flowing all this time? All
these decades?”
“Yes,” touching the napkin, Sergey Ilyich confirmed. “It’s a strange hourglass.
The sand runs only in one direction. And very slowly. One grain of sand a day at
dawn. Must admit, I tried to cheat. Turned the hourglass over. And then the grain
of sand – I swear! – fell from the bottom to the top!” Sergey Ilyich looked sharply
at Guy, checking what impression his words would make.
“You’re observant. Difficult to notice one grain of sand a day. You probably
have a lot of free time,” Guy acknowledged.
“I used a web cam and examined slowly at high magnification.”
Guy stretched, getting up. Overtaking the waiter, Nekalaev dashed to move
aside the chair. The antique dealer also jumped. “Well, fine, my dear!” said Guy
after a long pause. “We’ll fulfil your wishes if the hourglass actually belongs to…
what did you call him?”
“Mityai Zheltoglazyi,” smiling with understanding, the antique dealer
prompted. “When will you be ready?”
“I’m always ready,” said Guy, listening to something going on inside him. “At
least health and the knowledge of the future I’m ready to give you now. As for the
money… possibly we’ll have to make a couple of calls!” He looked at Till.
Looking sombrely, Till promised that he would find the money even without
Dolbushin. From his small personal reserve. “And we still haven’t settled our
misunderstanding with Albert,” he acknowledged.
“Soon?”
“Yes, perhaps I’ll manage in an hour. You need so much,” Till said
complacently. “Bring the hourglass!”
Sergey Ilyich anxiously turned pink. He thought for several seconds, knitted
his brows, and made a decision. “I’m quick! I had the feeling that everything
would be decided today.”
“So the thing is with you?” Guy was surprised.
“No, no, not at all! A friend is waiting for me not far from here,” he
acknowledged.

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Guy smiled. “Ingvar! The money!” Guy reminded Till, who got up reluctantly
and began to get down tottering. He returned quickly. The berserkers
accompanying him unloaded from the trunk an enormous TV box glued together
with Scotch tape.
Their recent guest emerged from the parking lot simultaneously with Till.
Apparently, he had been watching from the bushes. His boots were wet. He was
holding in his hands a briefcase stained with soil.
“Saw your friend?” Guy asked with irony. “Let’s have a look!”
The antique dealer nervously looked sideways at the box. “This is ridiculous!
You’re a serious person. Of course you won’t cheat me!” he said, having
convinced himself, and handed the briefcase to Guy.
Guy wiped with his sleeve the soil from the lock. He took out a bulky, thick
hourglass with a copper stand. The sand inside the hourglass was bluish. “No
doubt. The work is truly his,” Guy acknowledged in an undertone. “Look, Ingvar!
What do the numbers 300 and 1 mean?”
Till took the hourglass from Guy, looked at it, and poked at the stand with a
rigid finger. “I don’t know about the numbers. Doesn’t this clay idol remind you
of anyone?” he asked, wheezing.
Sergey Ilyich gave a cough, drawing attention to himself. Guy turned to him.
“It seems you said something about some skin!” he reminded him. The antique
dealer hurriedly shoved a hand into the briefcase and with readiness handed Guy
a ripped leather rag covered with writing. The other half was missing.
“This is all? I hope you don’t have the other half? And then it’ll surface in a
month for an additional three wishes,” Guy asked severely. The antique dealer
hastily shook his head. He held before himself the briefcase, clutching it with
both hands.
“Ah yes! The wishes!” Guy recalled and with disgust nudged the box with his
foot to the antique dealer. Then he stretched out his hands and simultaneously
touched the right and left temple of his guest. Sergey Ilyich took a sip of air. For a
moment, it even seemed to him that Guy’s hands met inside his head. At the
same time, the fingers of one hand were icy while those of the other were almost
white hot.
“Well, that’s it!” Guy said tiredly, taking away his hands. “Ingvar! As usual!”
With great care Nekalaev and Till took the trader by the arms and led him
onto the gangway for Gomorrah. A well-fed berserker solemnly carried the
enormous box behind them. His wide face like a samovar panted with
importance.
Sergey Ilyich took a dozen steps and, coming to his senses, stopped. “Why
there? Perhaps I came from there?” he asked suspiciously. Nekalaev let go of his
arm and courteously moved aside, yielding his place to the sturdy fellow with the
neck of a bull.
The water babbled. Sergey Ilyich sat and laughed hysterically. Guy did not
cheat. He actually obtained all that he wanted. The open box stood by his feet.
Occasionally he took out a bundle, took off the seal, and tossed it up. Money flew
away like a fan. They fell into the water and floated on it. The cough torturing him

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24

since winter had disappeared somewhere. He felt in himself such health as he had
never felt for twenty years. And, most importantly, with his new gift, the antique
dealer knew what would happen to him. He knew so precisely and unmistakably
that he even did not jump up to beat on the thick door tightly pressed into the
partition.
It was useless even to shout. No one would hear. He was in a ship’s hold
lower than the Moscow River. Above it were two more empty decks. The pump
outside hummed monotonically. The tight cabin deprived of windows in the hold
of Gomorrah slowly filled up with water…
In the same minute two decks above, foreheads touching, Till and Guy were
examining the parchment cut slantwise:

Its demise is clever


Only true to the
Mysterious verd
On golden wings to it wi
Given three hundred
And that same time
When day has
Will break the jug an
Will open hissing
Traitor on
In that the lie
Truth

Guy again picked up the hourglass. He began to look closely. Earlier it


seemed to him that all the sand had trickled through. Now he made out bluish
grains of sand sticking to the upper flask. How much? Two dozens? Less? It was
not simple to count them.
“Mityai Zheltoglazyi disappeared three centuries ago. He didn’t return from a
dive. Before the dive, he wrote a little poem, made the hourglass, and drew
Gorshenya on them. Purpose?” he asked. Till, starting to snuffle, tugged at his
wild boar head on a short choker chain. “A real watchdog!” thought Guy.

Chapter 4

At Volokolamskaya Station

Between Shchukinskaya and Tushinskaya stations,


passengers following the Krasnopresnenskii radius can see
Volokolamskaya Station in the window of the subway car.
This station was intended for the residents of a housing
estate on the Tushino airfield site but was never
constructed. Exit to the surface and any external
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25

decorations are absent at the station, only several lamps


illuminate the deserted platform and two rows of pillars.
It is a station of standard design, with pillars, shallow
placement.10
Subway reference site

Only subconscious suicides, tunnel explorers, and hdivers risk riding


between subway cars. A young person belonging at once to all three groups
jumped at the last second between the last and next-to-last subway car of a train
starting at Tushinskaya Station. He was twenty percent suicide, sixty percent
tunnel explorer, and hundred percent hdiver. Although today he had replaced the
hdiver jacket with a hoodie.
The train caterpillar slowly pushed its way into the tunnel. It crawled lazily at
first, but after getting excited, began to twitch its sides, desiring to scratch them
against the thick wires sheathed in rubber. Each jerk could turn out to be the last
for the person in the sweatshirt. The foothold was poor and there was even
nothing really for the hands to hold onto properly. Soon he would have to touch
his clms, and how to hang on then was incomprehensible.
Light cut through the windows of the subway car. He saw how the yellow
quadrangle, shaking, slid along the sheathing. All of a metre separated him from
the people in the car, daydreaming, reading, listening to music, texting.
Interesting, will someone hear his scream if he flies under the wheels? He began
to feel sorry that he had gotten involved in all this when the caterpillar slowed
down. The rumble of the train spread and ceased to deafen. The light from the
windows no longer reflected off the walls but stumbled against vertical white
pillars appearing out of nowhere.
A light flickered for a second between the third or fourth pillar. Someone
switched on and immediately switched off a lamp. This served as the signal for
the young person in the sweatshirt. He pulled up his sleeve using his teeth,
gauged the distance, and, after seizing the lion on the blazing clms, pushed off
with a foot from the unreliable foothold. He was flying a second later into the
darkness and only at the moment before landing recalled that today he did not
have the jacket to cushion the shocks. Protecting his head, he fell flat as a rag. No
rolling across, no somersault. No sense in ending up with a piece of railing in his
back for the sake of a beautiful landing. Better to wipe the flagstones with his
belly. Let the dear city become somewhat cleaner.
Lying on his stomach, the hdiver turned his head. The caterpillar wagged
farewell and, after giving an electrical buzz, was hidden in the tunnel. The youth
leaned on scraped palms and got up. He was standing in a preserved unfinished
underground station without escalators and exits to the outside. Iron flakes of a
large city were lying all around.

10
The distinctive characteristic of a shallow placement subway station in Moscow is its depth underground
– just below the frost line.

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“Hey! I’m here!” he hailed hesitantly. “And we’re here!” the answer was quite
near. The young person turned around, stretching his lips into a smile without
any eagerness like stretching wet socks. A ray of someone’s flashlight struck him
in the face. He tried to screen himself but he was not allowed to bring his hand to
his face. In the next second, he was pinned in such a way that it seemed to him as
if he was pressed in a vise. The light continued to hit him in the face. He more
guessed than saw the three large figures.
Rough hands thoroughly felt his jacket pockets, underarms, and back, and
slapped around the pant legs to his shin. After cutting the laces, they quickly and
expertly unfastened the clms. They removed keys, cell phone, and a penknife, the
existence of which even he himself hardly remembered, with a blade the length of
a little finger. “It’s dull,” the young person said timidly. They advised him to keep
his mouth shut.
One of those holding him was moustached, nervous, and rough. The other
was round-faced, with thick eyebrows, and outwardly good-natured. Simply a
shaven Grandfather Frost11 who had decided to take a break from the beard till
winter.
“A schnepper? An attack marker?” asked Grandfather Frost.
“Yep, a hundred,” the youth answered carelessly and got the back of a hand
on his lips. Strangely enough, precisely from Grandfather Frost. His face was
compassionate at the same time, like a man who was forced to carry out his task.
“Of course he has nothing,” the one going through his pant legs answered.
“Good boy! Move!” The powerful figures closed in and half-led half-carried
him somewhere. Stepping, the young person in the sweatshirt thought that if he
tucked in his feet, no one would notice.
Unexpectedly the berserker walking behind issued a short exclamation and
directed the ray of the flashlight near his feet. A heavy bee got out of the hdiver’s
pant leg and crawled in a businesslike manner along the floor of the platform.
The bee crawled and shone like a newly forged nail.
The berserker struck it with a heel. The bee was flattened under the heel but
immediately straightened itself. The berserker struck it a second time, a third. In
the end, he was already turning his heel screwing the obstinate insect into the
concrete. When the bee should have become one moist pulp, he lifted his boot
from the floor. The bee, alive and unharmed, was sitting and cleaning itself,
moving its antennae and bending its wings with its legs. It displayed no hostility
to the person who had jumped on it recently.
The berserker squatted down and started to singe the bee’s antennae with a
cigarette lighter. “Tenacious trash! Look, jerks away!” he said triumphantly.
“Don’t touch it!” the youth in the sweatshirt rushed and again got the back of
a hand. It hurt more this time because the hit came with the signet ring.
“Leave the insect alone!” moustached said, frowning. “You won’t do anything
to it this way! It’ll perish by itself as mine once did.” The youth in the sweatshirt

11
Grandfather Frost is the Slavic equivalent of Santa Claus, bringing gifts to children at New Year's Eve
parties and New Year celebrations.

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quickly looked at him and lowered his eyes. The bee took off and, after landing on
his hood, trustingly crawled under the collar. He with melancholy felt how heavy
it was, as if cast.
They started to come across lamps more often in the centre of the platform.
The berserker who had trampled on the bee switched off his flashlight. A chair
with the back to them was already very visible even without the light. Antique,
with decadent curved legs. It would look much more appropriate in the out-of-
town palace of a palm-tree dictator but not here in a deserted Moscow subway
station. Guy was sitting in the chair, elbows on the back. His security did not
form the usual chain but a spacious quadrangle.
Occasionally someone with a flashlight gave a sign into the depths of the
station and he was answered in the same way, with the brief winking of a
flashlight. Moreover, each time the flash was from a new place. “Eight teams of
four here!” the youth in the sweatshirt estimated.
They led him to the chair. The cloth of the back was brighter than Guy’s face
and the youth continually shifted his gaze involuntarily to it. Of Guy, he saw only
sharp elbows and a soft face lowered a little. Guy waited.
“The bees became agitated. They’re swarming, flying everywhere. Sometimes
you’re simply wrapped in a cloud – they’re everywhere,” the youth said
indecisively.
“It means, already soon,” Guy commented indifferently.
“Within the next few days,” the youth began to nod in a hurry.
Guy, gnawing his fingers, listened to him. “If that’s all, you’ve wasted my
time! The bees always fly for novices in September. It wasn’t worthwhile to drag
me to Volokolamskaya for this.”
One of the guards, dark-complexioned with a fresh pink scar on the
cheekbone, raised his arbalest. The berserkers holding the fellow in the
sweatshirt moved aside. They did not want to be splattered.
The youth began to fret. “DON’T! I forgot! Four bees departed!”
Guy stopped the arbalesters with a look. “To whom? Managed to trace?” he
asked quickly.
“Seems so to me,” the youth began.
“I need names, not hallucinations!” Guy cut him off.
The youth froze. To betray straight away was difficult. He wanted to do it
piece by piece, choosing the least disloyal of them. But there was no turning back.
After lingering, the youth squatted down, unlaced a boot, and took out from the
top of the boot a folded sheet of notepaper.
“Pity it’s only four, but also good!” muttered Guy. “Where did you get this?”
“Kavaleria’s office. I copied while she searched for books on horse breeding,”
the hdiver said dejectedly.
Guy narrowed his eyes. “But why didn’t you say so immediately? Ah yes!
Always it, the unquelled inner voice!” The youth turned away.
“Now about something else. Did you do what I asked?” Guy asked
insinuatingly.

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“Sweatshirt” began to nod in a hurry. “I tried! At night with a crowbar I tore


the roof off the beehive and tried to steal the queen bee. It was difficult because
Gorshenya was stomping beside me. It tried to hamper me. It mumbled,
muttered, pushed me away, shielded the beehive! I was risking my life!”
Guy yawned. “You were risking nothing. Gorshenya swallows only those it
likes. It’s absolutely harmless to others! Did you do everything I ordered?”
“Yes. I fumigated the bees with that gunk you gave me so that they wouldn’t
protect the queen. I almost puked!”
Guy frowned. “Now-now, young man! Choose your words more carefully!
What gunk can there be in the hair of a witch buried alive exactly ninety-nine
years and nine months ago? Well, possibly Beldo mixed it in too much hydrogen
sulphide. But he wanted it better!”
“Please forgive me!”
“To forgive is not my department. The bees did not protect it?”
The youth shook his head. “No. But I couldn’t take the queen! Radiance
surrounds it. I touched it and it burnt my hand. I was barely able to discard the
crowbar. It melted.”
Guy was saddened. “This is bad. Although I assumed something similar… So,
my dear, today you came with empty hands. Didn’t reach the queen bee. You can
only steal up a few steps to the marker in the Green Labyrinth… On the whole,
either you’ll make me happy with something special right away or you’ll be left
without a reward.”
The youth was frightened. “In June… or at the end May… a newbie appeared
in the guild. Without a bee!” the youth blurted out and looked pleadingly at him.
“This is interesting,” Guy generously admitted. “And who’s the newbie? Got a
name?”
“Rina… She brought a hyeon!”
The corner of Guy’s mouth trembled. “Good start! Can’t bring a bee, bring a
hyeon… Where did she get it?”
“They say an adult hyeon whelped right by the fence of HDive, and the
warlo… oh…” the youth stopped short, after feeling how the hands of those
holding him hardened. The word “warlock” is exclusively hdiver. It was necessary
to find another urgently as a replacement, but his thoughts got tangled up from
fear.
“The courageous rider of the hyeon. This is what you wanted to say?” Guy
prompted with understanding. “He was obligated to either shoot the young or
take it with him. But not to discard it… Arnaud, tell Till! Let him sort it out.”
The secretary made a note. An ideal secretary. Obliging, forgetting nothing,
surprised by nothing. Ordered to kiss, he will kiss. Ordered to cut the throat, he
will cut the throat. Ordered to kiss and cut the throat as well, he will do even this,
moreover without a reminder and in the time indicated. Smoothed-over
forelocks, a timely smile. He was a person surprising even for Guy, who was a
good judge of scoundrels.
Once, not being able to resist and having taken the marker at his first dive,
Arnaud cut heaven off himself, and so successfully that not even a scar remained.

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Now everything outside of the scope of his own body, his safety, comfort, and
pleasures, was for Arnaud nonexistent. To obtain the maximum happiness,
including happiness from juggling the fates of others, and to become clay. But he
considered this period non-essential.
Where is Queen Cleopatra now? Did her beautiful body not become brick in
some Egyptian cow shed? Is the French king Louis not eaten by worms, pecked
by a bird, eaten by a fox, into which flies lay their larvae? On the whole, live in
style, and your fly will come flying after you… Only one thing did not give Arnaud
peace – Duoka. Why is this world empty? For whom?
“Bring the berserker’s head?” Arnaud clarified.
“Why?”
“Well, what do you mean why? Till for sure will propose it.”
“Work situation. Let Till sort it out himself,” Guy made a face.
“It’s still not grown, a pup. But lets itself be held. True, only by the owner.
The others, no,” the young person in the sweatshirt continued ingratiatingly.
Guy frowned. “You yourself saw this? That it allows being held? Without a
muzzle? Without something attached to the neck? Without electric shock?”
“Haven’t seen it myself. Our people described it. Unable to bring the hyeon
onto the grounds of HDive. They hide it somewhere.”
“Who are they?”
“Rina, Athanasius, Ul, well and all the others with them,” the hdiver instantly
responded.
Guy winked at him with a deathly pale eye, in which the reflection of a lamp
was floating like the moon in a puddle. “Others with them? Broadly said. So,
you’re not with them?” he said merrily.
“Well, they trust me, but I…” the youth began uneasily.
“I don’t care about your ‘I’. Kill her!” Guy interrupted.
The fellow in the sweatshirt was uneasy. “Who? Rina?” he asked, startled.
“For the time being, the hyeon,” Guy politely set him straight. “Find it and
finish it off! I advise you to hurry. It’s approximately three months old. That’s the
age when a hyeon usually takes wing. This one’s growing without a mother;
therefore, possibly, it’ll take wing a little later. But all the same must hurry.”
The youth moved his eyes frantically. He did not intend to go so far. “Why?
Perhaps I’ll simply find a place, and you’ll… well on the whole… take it away? Let
it serve you,” he began to babble.
“It’s of no use to us. A hyeon that trusts someone is a freak. And freaks must
be destroyed. Do you agree with me?” Guy’s voice tinkled slightly.
“Y-yes,” hurrying, the youth said.
“Let him go!” ordered Guy. The hands holding the hdiver unclenched.
The berserker looking like Grandfather Frost mockingly straightened his
sweatshirt. “Don’t forget to clean up! And here, you’ll have to find a new lace for
your trinket,” he said, returning the clms.
“One more thing!” recalled Guy. “About the hmm-m… Gorshenya. You said it
interfered with you at the beehive. What does it generally do in the Labyrinth?”

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“Don’t know. It often hangs around there. Especially if the moon is out,” said
the hdiver.
“And when there’s no moon?”
“When there’s no moon it goes off to the park and disappears there till
morning.”
“Strange,” Guy drawled. “Why go to the shady park on moonless nights,
where you’ll see little even with the moon? If it wants to frighten or catch
someone, enough to stand up by the path, which leads to the stable.” “Sweatshirt”
looked at him with surprise, not understanding how the geography of HDive was
so well known to him.
“Follow Gorshenya! Where it goes, why!” ordered Guy. “I want to know what
it does each second of a moonless night. And try this with the bees!” He, not
looking, stretched out his hand and immediately the attentive secretary put in his
hand a small glass jar. Something similar to milk separated by water was
splashing about inside. “Grease the roof of the beehive with this. Well, and other
places where the bees rest. Only a thin layer. And use gloves. The poison is very
dangerous,” said Guy.
The youth stretched out his hand and, having touched Guy’s dry finger for a
moment, fearfully took the jar. “Bees are immortal. What have our novices not
done with their bees!” he warned almost joyfully.
The corner of Guy’s mouth sagged with annoyance. “Bees are constantly
cleaning their queen. When this passes to it through their legs, it will become
barren and perish. There won’t be new bees, sooner or later there won’t be
HDive.” The youth shuddered and straightened up. It seemed for a second that he
would now fling the jar at Guy, but then he stooped and hid it in his pocket.
“What are you waiting for? Move!” ordered Guy. The youth did not leave.
Even when they grabbed his shoulder and nudged slightly, he remained on the
spot. Pressing the clms against his chest, he was looking around with uneasiness
at Guy. “Well, what’s the matter?” Guy asked impatiently but with secret teasing
encouragement in his voice.
“You promised!” the youth said anxiously.
“Ah, well yes… So be it!” Guy stretched lazily and, making his face a rubber
mask, with a bitten nail touched the youth’s forehead.
The young fellow in the sweatshirt shuddered. A wave of pleasure passed
throughout his body. He tried to hide it but his face gave him away. His mouth
smiled weakly. His eyelids grew heavy. Droplets of sweat came out on his
forehead. When Guy took his finger away from the forehead, the youth did not
even notice. Then, losing his balance, he took a step and bumped his tummy into
the chair. The berserkers guffawed with understanding.
“Only don’t abuse it!” advised Guy.
“I can stop any time!” the youth said obstinately.
“I know you can,” Guy agreed willingly, lovingly shaking down the shoulders
of his dusty sweatshirt. “But all the same don’t spend it all immediately. I’m
begging you!”

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The youth pulled his collar with a finger and, having nonchalantly pushed
aside a berserker in his way, went to the edge of the platform. He was stepping
lightly, getting up on his toes, and felt an unaccustomed ease in his body. He
wanted to push off and fly, but here was the trouble – a low ceiling.
At the edge of the platform, the youth felt something rolling in the sleeve of
his sweatshirt and scratching his skin. He pulled up the sleeve. A dead bee with
folded wings fell out. He leaned over it. Then he straightened. Something buzzed
in the tunnel, approaching. The youth in the sweatshirt looked around. A yellow
cyclopean eye was hitting his face. The young man burst out laughing, slipped the
unlaced clms onto his arm, took a run and, after jumping directly towards the
eye, teleported the moment before collision with the train.
Guy and his secretary Arnaud exchanged glances. “If our young friend knows
about the hyeon, it means so does Kaleria. And she hasn’t interfered. Thereby,
she sets up the whole situation…” Guy said slowly.
“One hyeon is no big deal. Won’t even leave descendents,” Arnaud remarked.
Guy clicked his tongue. “The trend is important. I don’t want hdivers to have
tame hyeons.”
The secretary nodded and made a note in the notebook, where there was a
note about today’s meeting. “Useful fellow,” he said.
Guy massaged heavy eyelids. “Must warn him to give up diving. For the time
being he’ll be able to enter the grounds of HDive, since he hasn’t appropriated
markers, but already can’t dive,” Guy answered in a preoccupied manner.
“But if we come to an agreement with the elbes so that they don’t touch
him…?”
“What do elbes have to do with it? The matter is Duoka. It won’t accept him.
Besides, he devours such doses of psyose that the crazy house will be waiting for
him in half a year. But in this half year we must extract from him as much as
possible.”
Guy smoothed out the notebook page:

Makar Goroshko Tukhachevsky Street, #, Apt. 9


Daniel Kuznetsov B. Cherkizovo Street, #, Apt. 155
Alice Fedina Sobolevsky Proezd, #, Apt. 99
Alexander Dudnik Vernadsky Ave, #, Apt. 301

“Telling handwriting! A lot of curlicues on the ‘M’, but the end of words are
broken up, and the ‘y’ has a flabby tail. The fellow shows off but not enough
confidence,” he remarked.
A pencil scratched twisting, nasty, curved outlines in the notebook. Only
Arnaud knew how to decipher his own signs. “Dispose of them ourselves or
saddle Till with them?” the secretary asked quietly.
“Dispose?” Guy was surprised. “Forgotten Krunya’s prophecy? Sooner or
later these ten will deliver into our world the most powerful marker.” The shadow
from a swaying lamp lost its way in the folds of his face. The face sucked in gloom
like a sponge soaks up water.

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32

A train swept past through the eternal night of Volokolamskaya. Light lived
inside its cars. Darkness rushed toothlessly to it from the corners but could not
swallow it and, champing, crawled away into the tunnels.

Chapter 5

Purely Voluntary with a Minimum of Violence

A king had a daughter Princess Sombra 12 and another


Princess Braya. The king promised one half of his kingdom
to the one who would make Sombra laugh, and the other
half to the one who would quiet Braya down.
Ul’s fairy tale

Fall in HDive – especially in the Green Labyrinth and all around – the
colours were always in full swing, so diversely and dauntingly bright that one had
to squint. But colours began to kick up a fuss only in October. It was the fifth of
September at present, and fall had just started to unscrew with its teeth the lids of
tubes of oil paint. For Ul and Yara this was the happiest time. It was not like the
previous terrible year, when it seemed to Ul that life had ended. They took off
from HDive on any free evening and roamed around Moscow.
“Let’s conquer the world!” Ul once proposed. Yara thought and agreed. She
adored large-scale villainies. “World, you’re conquered!” she said in a whisper, so
that the next table would not hear. Quietly and peacefully in a small subbasement
cafe, they finished celebrating the capture of the world.
Having the appropriate questioning look on his face, the fat waiter
approached with a plate. He fancied that they had hailed him.
“You won, but it’s not about that. Keep the change!” Ul generously told him.
The waiter blinked. “What change? Only sixteen roubles from you!” he said.
The next day Ul and Yara taught Rina how to fall from a horse. They tied a
cord to her belt and yanked her off while chasing Icarus in a circle. Right after the
fall, Yara had to overtake Icarus and jump onto the horse’s back while on the run.
“Don’t grab the stump! Soft fall, don’t resist!” Ul howled.
Rina was all covered in mud. Sand crunched in her mouth. Jacket, pants, and
boots were all the same colour – grey. So was Icarus’ foaming back. Rina slid
down. Ten falls. Twenty. Twenty five. “Not enough!” shouted Rina. “Not enough!
Again!” Yara began to worry and looked questioningly at Ul. She did not
remember such energy in any novice.

12
The Unsmiling Princess is a well-known Slavic fairy tale about a princess who does not find anything to
smile about or laugh at, so her father promises that whoever can make his daughter smile will be able to
marry her.

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33

Finally, either Ul overdid it or Icarus, running smoothly till now, pulled too
zealously. After drawing an arc, Rina fell into the puddle and could not get up.
“You’re sadists!” she shouted in a ringing voice.
“We’re hdivers. Get up!” Ul again pulled the cord.
Rina burst into quick, short tears, like rain with the sun. Yara took the cord
away from Ul and went to Rina. To console. To change tears into laughter. Over
the summer, Yara and Rina had become very close. Each saw in the other her
own solution, her missing part: Rina, explosive, boyish, quick to flare up but
simmer down at the same instant, and Yara, calm, slightly cool emotionally, very
consistent.
Rina was still lying in the puddle. “Great!” she said in a suspiciously cheerful
and clear voice, turning over onto her back. She slapped the puddle. “‘We’re
hdivers.’ Great! Super!”
“What’s super?” Yara did not understand.
“The principle itself. Simplification of truth to its essence, without any
disguising coquetry! Well, can say that it’s to writing like processing coffee in
letters. Or to fighting, that this one fella beats another on the head using his
extremities, until by chance he gets to the switch… We’re hdivers! Ha! Hdivers!”
She scooped mud from the puddle and began to dribble it onto her forehead.
“You’re getting hysterical!” Yara quietly warned her.
“And you only just noticed?”
Someone whistled like a robber, with two fingers. Vityara appeared by the
stable. “Ul, Yara! To Kavaleria!”
“Why?”
“You said it, dude! I have no idea… I was sent for the senior hdivers.”
Gaining strength with the lion, Yara pulled Rina like a carrot out of the
puddle. “We’ll be there soon. You’re okay? You’ll take Icarus in?”
“Aha.” Rina caught up with Icarus and sprung stomach first onto its back.
She rode along this way – head on one side, feet on the other – slapping the
horse’s rump. Gentle Icarus, they could get away with such things with it.
Ul and Yara had already rushed to Kavaleria.

***

The office of the director of HDive somewhat resembled Beldo’s apartment.


Not by the presence of sofas swallowing like quicksand and chatty skulls, but by
the rigidity of the clearly defined zones. A tub with a dwarf pine tree, a seedling
Kavaleria brought back from Duoka, divided the office into two clear poles.
The garden bloomed in the south. The seedlings spread over multi-tier glass
stands: violet leaves in little glass jars, young boxwood, newborn eucalyptus, and
yellow roses. Between them lay shovels, pruning shears, watering cans of
different sizes, and other miniature equipment. Countless china figurines of
ducklings, kittens, and human children were also crowded there.
The northern part of Kavaleria’s office began from the palm tree. Even an
ordinary pencil had the right to be here, only based on necessity. The minute this

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34

necessity disappeared, the pencil also vanished into thin air together with it. If a
chance violet strayed into here, Kavaleria would personally send it a steel ball
from a schnepper. She had no time for violets here, because now, in the northern
part of the office, Kavaleria was raging. Detecting the approach of dangerous
minutes in the barely noticeable vibration of her voice, clever Octavius tucked in
its tail in advance and hid behind the bushy liana.
“May we?” Appearing in Kavaleria’s office, Athanasius, Ul, and Yara, as
experienced hdivers, first of all found out in what part of the office its mistress
was. It turned out to be in the business section. Octavius hid behind the tub,
solely the tail was spied outside. Kuzepych was sitting at Kavaleria’s. His
eyebrows like brushes were moving angrily. He was like a boatswain flying into a
rage. After exchanging a couple of words with Kavaleria, Kuzepych left.
“Someone wrecked the beehive at night. Boards scattered, honeycombs
trampled. Now Kuzepych is knocking everything together anew. But honeycombs,
it goes without saying, are beyond his abilities,” said Kavaleria, not looking at
anyone.
“And the bees?” Ul began to fret.
“The bees didn’t suffer,” Kavaleria interrupted. “Nevertheless, the beehive is
destroyed. Nowhere for them to live and nothing to eat. That the bees are golden
doesn’t mean that they feed on diamonds.”
Octavius began to growl agreement behind the tub. “Don’t echo, emperor!”
Kavaleria told it. The emperor subsided.
“Kuzepych is sure that it’s Gorshenya. Its tracks were around the beehive.
One can see that it was trampling there all night… And as ill luck would have it,
the bees only recently began to depart for novices! Now they’re worked up, angry,
and it’s also incomprehensible how it’ll be. Possible they’ll gather much fewer
than the usual four teams of five.”
“You think that Gorshenya…” Yara began.
“I think nothing!” Kavaleria dryly cut her off. “Gorshenya has been in HDive
for three centuries. It chases lovers, creates the necessary extreme sports for the
novices, and prevents them from trampling the flowers! In general, Gorshenya is
Gorshenya. It’s the symbol of HDive. No other like it.”
“What do we do now with Gorshenya?”
Kavaleria began to snuffle. “For the time being… I emphasize, for the time
being… nothing. But if it continues to go on doing such things, we’ll have to part
company with it.”
Athanasius became agitated. “Has Gorshenya explained anything?”
“I killed an entire hour in conversation with it,” said Kavaleria with
annoyance. “Babbles something incomprehensible, ‘Walked, walked, touched,
touched! Belly hungry does not eat!’ Likely we should be grateful that it didn’t
guzzle the hive! A bow to the ground to him!” Kavaleria said with irritation and,
after opening the upper drawer of the desk, handed an envelope to Athanasius.
“Hold this! You’re the best of all to take care of this. Here’s the name of the girl
chosen by the golden bee. She left yesterday, before all these events. Find her and
establish the circumstances… Ul and Yara, you get busy with the beehive! Help

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35

Kuzepych! I don’t worry about the hive itself; the honeycombs trouble me. Also
protection. If Gorshenya comes again at night, where is the guarantee that it
won’t ruin the new one too?”
“And if…” Ul began.
“Let’s do without the ‘if’! You’re not a spartan!” Kavaleria cut him short. “Set
up a spatial trap by the beehive! Only don’t get carried away. I still haven’t
forgotten how Kuzepych was left high and dry for a week on the island in the
White Sea.”
“Rodion set it up then,” Ul gave it away. “I was only in charge. But then he
himself asked to protect the cases of condensed milk.” Yara grabbed his sleeve
and pulled him to the door.
Athanasius turned the envelope in his hands, an ordinary envelope with the
hydroelectric power plant on the printed stamp. And not sealed. “What to do with
the new girl?” asked Athanasius.
“As usual. Purely voluntary with a minimum of violence. And especially don’t
get tangled in a lie: you yourself know, any lie will echo when you pass the
swamp,” answered Kavaleria.
Octavius began to growl behind the tub, made a timid sudden move, and
tried to attack the leaving Athanasius with a nip at his heel.

* * *

Athanasius carried out Kaleria Valerevna’s commission the very same day.
He had to dash off to the university for this, about which he was only glad. Trips
to the city did not happen to him particularly frequently, not counting the
evenings when he arranged fake meetings with the cryptographer from
Honduras.
Moscow was humming in a businesslike manner, like the hive of the golden
bees. The cars recently gathered from the spaciousness of cottage country
bellowed restlessly and, interfering with each other, crawled along the gas
station. Everyone was hurrying somewhere, everyone’s eyes were clustered
together. Even babies in strollers looked surly. Only the sun tried to cheer
everyone up, but did not manage and was sad, wiping the damp-looking clouds.
Officials sat quietly on the Internet. The prisoners of offices smiled
appropriately at their bosses and chose a country for the next two-week vacation.
Schoolboys had their eyes on the new teachers, groped their weak sides, and
mentally composed a list of tasks, which would not need to be done, and topics,
which would not need to be studied. The same spirit reigned also at the
university. The euphoria of beginning-of-school-year meetings had already died
down, and now the students, spitting out marble aggregate, gnawed on the
foundation of science.
Athanasius went out of the first humanities building of Moscow State
University and stopped at the front entrance, not recognizing Moscow. It turned
out that while he was walking, outside had time to have a downpour. The most
surprising was that it was already not raining now. The sky had cleared. The

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horizon had teethed with precise rectangles of high-rises. It seemed the capital
was smiling with that uncertain, freshly washed smile, the kind that appears on
the face of a person just finished crying.
Along the asphalt flowed streams of water, in low places reaching halfway up
the shin. The storm drains became seething pools. A stalled car stood in a pit.
Water reached midway up its headlights. Other cars carefully travelled around it,
scrambling onto the curb. Exactly like a herd going around a cow killed by
lightning.
Athanasius continually met victims of the rain. Umbrellas, damaged by the
downpour, did not save them. Many, despairing, went around barefoot, after
throwing over the shoulder shoes with laces tied together.
After picking a long skirt up above her knees, a girl with a bag on her head
walked towards Athanasius. The handles of the bag were dashingly tucked behind
her ears. He moved aside, passing her, raised his head, and was immediately
hailed. Athanasius looked around. He recognized the geometrical half-circle
eyebrows and wheaten hair. It was Gulia. She grabbed his sleeve and, twittering,
dragged him through the puddles. The sensation emerged in Athanasius that they
had parted not three months ago but only yesterday.
“Where did you come from?” asked Gulia, trying to shove his head into the
bag with hers.
Athanasius resisted, partly from dignity, partly because the rain had stopped.
“From the university!” he said.
“You study here?”
“No.”
“And rightly so!” approved Gulia. “Suspicious place! Here friends speak well
of each other. It’s unnatural.”
In the middle of the road full of cars splashing water, it came into Gulia’s
head to stop and, arms akimbo, pose the question, “Where did you disappear to
then? I waited for your call!”
Knowing that he would not be believed nevertheless, Athanasius craftily lied
with the truth. “Was injured. Lying in the clinic. Supovna cursed me ninety-two
times. Fed me regularly as much as… That’s because I never finished eating. Dealt
her a blow.”
“Everything is clear, reindeer!” said Gulia in the magnanimous voice of a
person willing to be taken in.
A car swept past. A canopy of water appeared above it. Athanasius hurriedly
shut his mouth and eyes. It was already useless to cover the rest.
“Jerk!” Gulia yelled, jumping like a sparrow. “A natural jerk! Look where
you’re going! People are walking here!”
Athanasius carefully grabbed Gulia with both arms and moved her onto the
grass. But even on the grass Gulia continued to jump and threaten the cars. Her
howls were laughable and silly. Like that of a child who beats the table for hitting
him with a corner.
She finally calmed down. “I thought about you,” said Gulia, not making an
acknowledgement but simply informatively.

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37

Athanasius began to feel uneasy. He was not used to someone thinking about
him. “How is your bear doing? Is it still so green?” he asked in a hurry.
They agreed to meet the next day. This time without excuses.
“I’ll bring a friend. And you’ll also bring one of yours!” ordered Gulia. “I’ve
now adapted myself to finding in supermarkets bottles with winning codes! Felt
one yesterday, but a woman already had it in her cart.”
“And your friend is also…” Athanasius carefully asked.
“Also what?”
Athanasius hesitated. His tongue was not in a hurry to utter “incubator for
elbes.” “Well, does she possess abilities?”
Gulia looked around suspiciously at the elderly man with a professorial
beard, who squatted across the street and examined an apple floating in the
puddle. “Nina can find any object,” she said.
“She finds treasures?”
“Well, if she sees the one who buried it. Also any lost inanimate object… She’s
unhappy. Introduce her to someone!”
Athanasius hesitated. “In order to make two unhappy at once? Certainly!”
“And your friend has abilities?”
“Only one. He ties construction nails into little bows,” answered Athanasius.
He imagined that he would bring Max with him.

***

Athanasius showed up quickly in HDive. There were terribly long lines for
the buses to the outlying regions and it seemed to Athanasius a good reason for
teleportation. After turning up on the concrete area outside the gates, Athanasius
wanted to take a step but realized that, having missed the mark by a centimetre,
his soles were stuck. There was no chance of removing the shoes and nothing else
to do. He had to take them off and go barefoot into HDive, leaving the boots
sticking out in front of the bumper of Kuzepych’s bus.
Athanasius approached Max in the evening, when that one was busy with an
important practical matter: pick out from the tangled mess a pair of socks of
more or less similar colour. There were six washers for the entire HDive. They
were all in the room next to the shower and, since there were many people in
HDive, things were always mixed up. What they had not tried. Basins signed with
markers, labels on things, ribbons sewn on, and allowing only several people to
wash at the same time – nothing helped.
Max stated at first that he did not care. He was not going anywhere. Then he
said that, so be it, he would go for the company, although he knew ahead of time
that the girl would turn out to be this woofer.
“Why is that?”
“Law of the j-jungle! Pretty g-girls always have dogs as friends. Is your G-
Gulia pretty?” he asked.

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38

Athanasius wisely kept quiet. He would not rush to call Gulia “his.” It seemed
to him that love at first sight is a TV cliché. It was totally different with Yara.
Virus love is outside of the rules. Moreover, he had already recovered.
Max pulled a sock onto his enormous foot and wriggled his toes. “Forbidden
to meet with w-warlocks!” he said.
“Nothing in the HDive charter says so. I checked. Besides, they’re not
warlocks!” Athanasius stood up for them. It was unpleasant for him that Gulia
was called this.
“Then what?”
“Well… eh-eh… simply going astray a little.”
Max neighed. “And what will y-you give me, if I g-go?” he asked.
Athanasius punched him in the back and hurt his own fist. Max liked this. He
adored it when they hurt themselves against him. But Max liked to pretend to be
a dull bodybuilder more. Moreover, he pretended with such perseverance that
increasingly he was actually becoming one.
“Okay, I’ll go for free. Only t-take this! I…I’ll not talk with your woofer. And if
she tries to come near me, I’ll un… un…unscrew her head!”
“Of course, not a problem!” Athanasius hurriedly agreed.
Max’s subsequent behaviour surprised him. The giant, allegedly not
attaching any special importance to the meeting, began nervously to choose a pair
of jeans and fling out turtlenecks from the dresser.
“This will k-kill me! And this is s-small!” he swore and again declared that he
was not going anywhere, because there was nothing for him to wear and could in
no way go in the hdiver jacket. Athanasius wanted to propose his own sweater to
Max but understood that for such a moose it would only be fit to be carried in the
pocket as a talisman.
Max kicked the dresser and dejectedly sat down on the floor. “I hate S-
Supovna! She fattened me so that now I can’t get into anything!”
“What’s the difference to you? You’re going for the company,” Athanasius
consoled him.
“I don’t want them to th…think that I’m a d…dolt!” Max declared.
Finally, he succeeded in finding decent clothing and calmed down. True, not
for long, because he was concerned about what to do with his hair. Max did not
have hair lying on top. He did not want to comb straight back. One obstinate
strand always fell down with a comb-over to the left, while one to the right would
show an unfortunate pimple.
Athanasius wisely kept away. The best way to enrage someone is to start to
calm him down. The words “Calm down!” have a clearly expressed psychopathic
effect. However, it was useless to explain to Max that he would look seven times
better if he would not stare or try to walk with tense muscles.
Ul was lying around on the hammock and watching Max blowing hot and
cold. “Take an example from me! The last time I looked into the mirror was when
I helped drag it along the stairs!” he bragged.
“It’s b…because you’re an i…invalid!”
“I’m not an invalid! I’m a user of my own appearance!” Ul objected.

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39

“Then clean up your own m-mess, loser of your own appearance! I’m
stumbling all over!” Max bellowed and, after pulling the rope, catapulted Ul from
the hammock.
Ul cackled. He was a slob not even squared but to some degree off the chart.
So, if an object of his fell, he would not try to pick it up but simply began to
consider that where it fell would be its new place. “I wouldn’t dream of it! I can
live both in cleanliness and in a den. But you only in cleanliness. It means I’m the
more advanced model of man.”
Here Ul belittled Max slightly. By and large, Max was also a slob, just that he
was convinced that outside spreaders prevented him from living in tidiness.
Max made preparations till four in the morning and so tired all the
inhabitants of the attic that Ul left to sleep in the stable and the quick-tempered
Rodion began to throw heavy objects at Max. Sometimes he even got a hit.

***

The meeting was set at Belorusskaya at six in the evening, in the centre hall.
Here at the place, Athanasius stopped and belatedly recalled that there are
altogether two Belorusskaya.13 However, Gulia answered rather strangely in the
text message.
What station are we meeting at: Koltsevaya or Radialnaya?
Athanasius hurriedly texted and obtained an answer in the style, Hee-hee!
Green bear kisses you!
I am serious!
Hee-hee! It too!
Athanasius tortured the phone with one hand, and caught the fleeing Max
with the other. Along the way Max managed to change his mind three times, and
at the very last moment Athanasius almost had to pull the emergency stop,
because Max tried to remain in the subway car.
They arrived at six oh one. There were no girls. They ran off to Koltsevaya,
but they were not there either. Athanasius argued at length about which centre
hall. Max psyched out. He stood and cursed Gulia’s friend. Athanasius was a
hundred times sorry that he had gotten Max involved. Although who else to
bring? Ul has Yara, and useless to ask Rodion.
A beautiful woman emerged from the passageway and began to shout into
her phone, “The weather here is disgusting! No sun! The tap in the shower is
broken!” There was triumph in her voice that she could not be made happy again.
“I bet she was talking to her husband. Her voice has a domestic intonation!”
said Athanasius, when the woman had left.
“Ah! Would kill all of them broads! Indeed, where does the sun come from in
the subway?” answered Max.

13
Both the Koltsevaya (Ring) Line and Zamoskvoretskaya (the other side of the Moscow River) Line have
a Belorusskaya (Belarus) Station, with a passageway linking them. This is where passengers transfer from
one line to the other. The station on the Zamoskvoretskaya is called Belorusskaya-Radialnaya (Radial).

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Probably, in order not to let Max kill all women, a puny policeman with a big
stick approached him and checked his documents. Two minutes later, another
policeman without a baton also approached and checked the documents. Again
they turned out to be in order. Athanasius hoped that someone would also look at
his passport but no one was interested. He was even offended that he appeared so
exemplary.
Athanasius again wanted to go down to Koltsevaya but was afraid that while
he ran about, Max would skip off. He started to phone. The first time the line was
out of range, and the second time Gulia picked it up but only the rumble of a train
was heard.
Gulia and friend phoned back about fifteen minutes later, but from the city,
not from Belorusskaya. It turned out they were sitting in a little cafe at
Mayakovskaya14 and had no intention of going down to the subway. After
speculating a little about the working principles of a girl’s brain and even about
its location, they went to Mayakovskaya.
“Oh, I live not particularly f-far from here! Can drop in at mine later!” Max
came to life.
“With the girls?”
Max was even frightened, “What, are you m-mocking me? You don’t kn-know
my mama! And g-grandma,” he added after twenty seconds. “And a-aunt,” he
said as well a minute later.
This might sound funny, but the big guy Max grew up in strictly female
surroundings. Papa, once available, did not last longer than the mother-in-law’s
first bout of greediness, the aunt’s first spring aggravation, and the first timid
attempt to explain to grandmother that a latch is structurally provided in the
john.
Max lived in the centre of Moscow, in a seven-storied building, with ceilings
so high that in childhood he lured friends into the apartment and proposed to
spit to the ceiling. Over the years there turned out only one, not so much a
spitting but jumping comrade, and the saliva, with a good mix of chocolate, was
still visible about six years later.
The apartment was old, poorly planned, with bricked-up doors leading
nowhere, and a huge built-in closet, in which one could spend the night if
necessary. True, to do this one had to sort out the mess of hundreds of jars of
preserves so ancient that no one resolved to try or lifted a hand to throw them
out.
The windows looked out onto the Garden Ring. When cerebral laziness
attacked Max (and for some strange reason it always coincided with the need to
get something ready), he would sit on the windowsill and watch as the cars
crawled along the Ring.
Cars were always crawling along it and it worried small Max whether they
could end sometimes. In the middle of the night, woken up by the roar of
14
The Mayakovskaya Station is one of the most famous subway stations in the world. Opened in 1938, it
was the world’s first deep column station and its Art Deco design won the Grand Prix at the 1939
International Exhibition in New York.

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41

motorcycles, he would approach a window barefoot and check if there were cars.
Convinced that they were still moving and, meaning they did not end, reassured,
he would lie down in bed.
The little cafe turned out to be in the courtyard. “The place’s o-out of the way.
Am…ambush!” Max stated confidently.
“Why?”
“Simpler to ar…arrange it in a cafe! You have the schnepper?” It turned out
that Athanasius did not have his schnepper. Only his clms, and even that was in
the knapsack.
“Let’s do this! I’ll drop in and if I don’t appear in sixty seconds, run to save
me!” Athanasius said and pushed the door.
When he came out ten minutes later, Max, huffing and puffing, was breaking
off an iron rod from the fence. “Why so l-long?”
“They’re right at the entrance. Chatting!” Athanasius, embarrassed, started
to justify himself.
Gulia and Nina were sitting at the second table from the door. Max was
presented by Athanasius as “my friend Maximilian.” He himself did not know
why he blurted out “Maximilian.” When he was nervous, his tongue accomplished
unthinkable tricks.
“Athanasius showed us in the window how you broke the fence! It was so
amusing! Nina even thought that your turtleneck would burst!” Gulia chirped.
On this remark “the friend Maximilian” sorted out which was which girl, and
began to examine Nina unnoticeably. To his amazement, she turned out to be not
bad. The horse lover Max would describe the colour of her hair as “rose grey”
blond.
Athanasius was also surprised. Yesterday, when Gulia said that Nina was
unhappy, he imagined to himself a rather skinny girl, whom they would support
under the elbow. The “rose grey” blonde turned out to be rosy, excellently
proportioned, but somewhat in the style of “Why did you lose my bow?”
The lost-bow style was manifested in that she batted her eyelashes, pouted
her lips, and constantly uttered, “Why did you drag me here? And coffee without
cognac here? You just watch, I’ll kick up a fuss. You’ll have to answer for
everything!”
She liked the strong Max. Soon she began to throw little bread balls at him,
nudged him with an elbow, and repeated, “You have terrible eyes! I’m certain
you’re a terrible person!” The “terrible person” listened and was delighted. He
reminded Athanasius of a large dog, which no one ever patted, but now suddenly
they decided to be nice to.
The cafe was comfortable, with cheerful figures on the walls and the ceiling.
An amusing family sat at the first table. The father was chewing with such
caricature importance, as if eating up the chocolate cake was doing an enormous
favour to the cake, the institution, and to humanity as a whole. The son huddled
up to the mother and was an exact copy of her.

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“A child looks like the one who loves him,” Athanasius summed it up and
began to gauge whether this was so. This was his internal game. He brought forth
a thesis, and then chose arguments “for” and “against.”
“Hey!” Gulia hailed him. “You’ve been stirring the tea for ten minutes
already! Maybe you’ll stop?”
Athanasius came to. “Don’t pay any attention! I have a fit of contentment!”
he explained.
Gulia had a short argument with the waiter that she would guess all the
numbers of his student card and they would not have to pay for coffee. “It’s
nothing!” Gulia said modestly. “But then I lose things all the time! Here Nina just
finds things!”
Athanasius unnoticeably sent two roubles through a hole in his pocket into
his boots and proposed to Nina to say where they were. She found them, slightly
screwing up her face like a math professor whose multiplication table was being
checked.
Max thought for a long time what to ask, then recalled that in school they
stole his phys ed form from the locker room, and asked who needed it. The rose-
grey blonde smiled coquettishly. Her face was unbelievably flexible and
expressive, with dimples. These pits, like shots from mortar, appeared at a new
place every time.
“No one. They simply dropped it out the window. But here the little soldier in
the crack behind the heater, this is interesting. Do you remember, you cried all
night?” It turned out Max remembered. He also began to stutter then, although
they had a popular story in the family that the neighbour’s dog frightened him.
Then they went to stroll around the centre. Max, timid at first and holding
Nina fearfully like a doorknob in a public sanitary facility, gradually grew bolder
and proposed to show her how to break the sentry’s neck correctly so that he
would not let out a squeak.
“Look, I’m squeaking! Squeak-squeak-squeak!” Nina immediately gave voice.
A happy Max grabbed her by the neck.
Gulia and Athanasius were walking behind, not too close so that the violent
pair would not bump into them.
“Why did you say that she’s unhappy? I think she’s cheerful,” asked
Athanasius.
“They all abandoned her. Mlada – this is our acquaintance – says that she
has an aura of celibacy and can only wash it off with elephant blood!” said Gulia
in complete seriousness. She pronounced with awe the name of Beldo’s servant.
“With what blood?”
“You mock in vain. We even went to the zoo, but really, how do you get to an
elephant?”
Athanasius mumbled something.
Nina was talking animatedly about something, whereas Max was largely
limited to gestures. Not wanting to stutter once more, he substituted words with
movements of the head. He had the richest mimicry. He knew how to pucker his
forehead in twenty ways. As for his nose – like the tuber of a jolly tractor driver –

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in general it skilfully conveyed expressions of every kind. It became a harmonica,


fidgeted, or merrily breathed heavily and noisily.
At the end of Tverskaya, the hdivers had a charge marker under one of the
numerous memorial boards. Athanasius recalled it when fifty steps away Nina
suddenly sprained her ankle and Gulia in the same second dashed onto the road.
He had noticed earlier that the concept of roadway did not exist for her.
Athanasius caught her a second before she was smeared on the side of a van
sweeping past. Cars squealed with their brakes. Max and Nina, having pulled off
her shoes, rushed from behind. The traffic cop, this herdsman of cars, with his
stomach sticking out, stood in his booth. When they crossed the road, he whistled
angrily but did not try to catch them. Pedestrians, even clearly mad, were small
game to him.
“Well, and where were you rushing to?” Athanasius asked on the other side of
Tverskaya.
Gulia thought for a bit, obviously trying to figure out why. “I forgot to buy
napkins… Yes, napkins!” she said uncertainly.
Athanasius was surprised by the speed of reaction of the newborn ele. About
five seconds later Gulia was finally convinced that she needed napkins and it was
for them that she hardly remained on the sidewalk.
After mending Nina’s heel, they strolled for about another two hours and
before parting they started to negotiate another date.
“Let’s meet F-Friday!” said Max.
Nina and Gulia exchanged glances. “We can’t on Friday.”
“Why?”
They did not get a clear answer. The girls hesitated. Nevertheless, Athanasius
knew how to sum up from the scraps of answers that on Friday the warlocks were
up to something. And it would be in the psychology school at Bolotnaya Square,
on the next admission day.
They said goodbye at the subway. Nina offered her cheek to Max and outlined
the place with a long nail. “I hope you don’t intend to kiss me? It’s so disgusting!”
she prompted.
Max smooched her with athletic honesty, holding her head with his hands.
Athanasius waited for some time to see whether Nina’s skull would crunch, but
Nina turned out to be durable.
“Well now! Not enough that this terrible person meanly dragged me to a
date! He even attacked me!” Nina was outraged, taking out a mirror in order to
check the damage inflicted on her face.
While Athanasius was pondering whether he was obligated to kiss Gulia for
the reason that Max kissed Nina and whether this would be plagiarism, Gulia got
up on tiptoe – the difference in their height was large – and kissed Athanasius on
the eyebrow. “Till we meet!”
Max neighed so abominably that Athanasius again gave him a fist. The train
approached. They hopped into a car.
“Well, how do you like her?” Athanasius asked in the tunnel.

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Max looked suspiciously at him. He, like that lady on the phone, did not like
to admit being happy. Dissatisfaction, if you examine it, is universal currency,
with which everything can be purchased, if we bargain long enough. “Who?”
“You know who.”
“N-not bad. Okay,” answered Max.
“For some reason it seems to me that this is for a long time,” said Athanasius.
“Well, with Gulia. Not that intuition… Simply the more confused a situation, the
more real it is, perhaps.” Max understood nothing and chuckled. The train slowed
down, stopped, and again set off. “Now I’ll not calm down until I nail her ele. I
know myself…” said Athanasius.
“Watch you don’t n-nail her together with it!” Max advised quietly. They were
silent again. Max swayed peacefully, holding onto the handrail. Athanasius was
bouncing like a sparrow.
“Did you understand everything?” he yelled into Max’s ear.
“Yes,” Max winced. “What did I un-understand?”
“Think!”
Max thought till the next station. “Ah! That my Nina, most likely, is from
Beldo’s fort but not from D-Dolbushin’s? She’s a pr-practical student,” he
stuttered.
“Oho!” thought Athanasius. “My Nina! He labelled her quickly! And several
hours ago called her a dog.”
“I’m not on about that,” he said. “The warlocks are having a new recruitment!
Would be nice to see how all this progress with them? Eh?”

***

Athanasius met Ul in HDive. Ul was standing with his schnepper similar to a


double-barrel and aiming at a food can from fifteen steps away. He shot. The can
remained standing. “Here I’m thinking about female whims. When it seems to
someone that more time is spent with a horse and all that…” he said.
“Is it true?” asked Athanasius.
“It’s not about that. What forces them to behave like that at all? Maybe, a
woman is capricious because it’s important for her to check if a man will stand
the whims of a possible child? Some kind of test?”
“There are girls who aren’t capricious,” Athanasius said carelessly.
Ul again took a shot. “Who? Your telegrapher from Honduras? Holy! Dang! I
suppose they learn to sleep on nails, eat with the head down, and open tanks with
a finger.”
“They learned,” said Athanasius.
“What learned?”
“She perished,” Athanasius lowered his eyes. “Didn’t make contact. In the
mountains, where there was the hidden transmitter, they found the safety pin
from a grenade trampled into the ground.”
Ul grabbed his hand. “And you kept quiet?”

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“I was joking. She’s alive. Sits at home. Bought a cookbook,” said Athanasius
half-heartedly.
Ul pushed him away. “Some jokes!!! You’re simply a blockhead!”
“Aha,” admitted Athanasius. “I know.”
The can, which Ul aimed at, fell by itself.
Athanasius found Kaleria Valerevna in the teachers’ room, long and narrow.
There was an argument: whether Kuzepych blocked up part of the corridor or it
was stretched as a result of an unsuccessful dance of the shamans, who wanted to
crush the teaching staff of HDive with the walls but did not manage and only
stretched out the room.
Kavaleria was standing by the board with the timetable and considering how
to make four instructors out of one free one in order to fill all the “windows.”
“Nothing pans out! People will again hang around with nothing to do! Looks
like you have to be busy with the novices,” she complained.
“With the novices? Really the bees…?”
Kavaleria’s plait bobbed like a fishing float. “The last departed today. The
bees calmed down, it means fall recruitment is finished. This fall we will recruit
nine. Plus ‘beeless’ Rina.”
“You hand them over to Kuzepych. He knows how to keep everyone busy,”
advised Athanasius.
Kavaleria smiled. “Well, what can I do for you?”
Athanasius told her, supplying the details. In his version, they met with the
girls exclusively in the interests of HDive. “Certainly, can blast an attack marker,
but there won’t just be some warlocks. Pity the ‘incubators’,” he finished.
For a long time Kavaleria twirled the pencil in her fingers. “Risk must be
justified. Unjustified risk is folly. For the time being, I see no justification for the
risk. We can lose a man, but what will we get in exchange?”
“Well… we’ll see how it’s there and what.”
“And see what? Walls?”
“Not… Well, warlocks at least…” Athanasius was lost.
“And you haven’t seen them before? Or do you think that the heads of the
forts will share their plans with a crowd of people assembled from all over
Moscow?” Kavaleria asked mockingly.
Yielding, Athanasius let air out through lips elongated like a small tube. “So,
you’re against it?”
“I need to think.”

Chapter 6

Boys to the Left, Girls to the Right!

Nice to meet you. My name is Philomena Ms Ann pacco,


I saw you today in profile (www.***.ru) and become
interested in you, please, send me email to my email

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address for me to give you my beautiful pictures and tell


you more about me. I will wait for your email today,
(please remember that distance and/or skin colour nor
language doesn, T matter, but love does) Philomena Ann
Hunting letter of an elbe

Vlad Ganich stopped by the porch, quickly looked around at Rina gone off in
front and outlined with his eyes a semicircle through the lilac bushes. “Why are
we following her? If we slip away? Through the fence and…” he, proposed. Cyril
wanted to say something maliciously on the theme of cleanliness of the suit, but
Vlad had already gotten a move on through the lawn and tore quickly like a young
moose through the thick lilac.
“He shouldn’t have! If we’re to get the hell out of here, then all together! He’ll
climb over, and the girls will slow down! Have to let them go first!” Sashka
condemned him, after noticing how a slightly opened window on the second floor
wobbled.
Vlad reached the iron fence. No thorns, no sharp peaks, a very convenient
fence. Stepping on the embellishments, he scrambled up in a second and jumped.
Sashka heard a crack, and yet a second later Vlad came out of the lilac from this
side. The lilac indignantly shook its leaves. Vlad shook his head like a stunned
heifer and again persistently climbed the fence. Sashka decided that Vlad had
gotten away. Anything can happen when a man is under heavy strain.
Vlad again scrambled along the fence, for some reason stood up on his feet,
and only then jumped. This time Sashka definitely saw that Vlad jumped off onto
THAT side, but again turned out to be on THIS side. Only this time he did not fall
down into the lilac but flew through it. Vlad did not dare to jump a third time
and, limping, returned to the others. Sashka raised his head. The window on the
second floor was closed.
Rina was standing next to Sashka and sympathetically watched Vlad. “Keep
in mind, I got really badly scratched by this lilac. It seems, I think, the leaves…”
she said and began to climb the stairs.
Makar overtook her, ran up to the plaque and the white cockroach letters
finally formed into the inscription “Guildhall of Divers.” “And whatsa here?
They teach diving?” he asked, trying to beak off the plaque.
“Drowning!” Cyril joked.
“H-h-hands! Both!” someone ordered in a resounding voice. Makar and Cyril
fidgeted in a startled way. “P-ut in the po-o-ockets! Don’t touch the inventory!”
the voice finished cheerfully. The door was open. A thickset fellow in a jacket of
rough skin examined them with interest. He looked to be twenty-twenty-five
years old. The worldly Makar began to worry. He had gotten it in the neck most
often precisely from this age range.
“I’m Ul! Can be Oleg. All questions afterwards! For the present, if anyone
gets anything into his head, digest three things. First: this isn’t a school of
witchcraft and other magic. Whoever maintains the opposite, I’ll cast a spell on

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him! This is neither school nor institute nor college at all, but simply the modest
and only one of its kind HDive. Second: from this moment on you’re divided
into teams of fives. For convenience in tasks, duty, and patrol. One team: Makar,
Sashka, Alice, Danny, Rina! The other: Cyril, Lena, Vlad, Lara, Freda… And
third: no one keeps you here by force.”
Burning with indignation, Freda jerked up her hand.
“Well?” Ul generously allowed her.
“And the fence??? If no one keeps us by force, why couldn’t Vlad climb over?”
“He could climb over. He couldn’t jump over there!” Ul willingly explained.
“You jump to that side, you jump down on this side. You jump to this side, you
turn up outside. Usually people quickly figure out the chips.”
“But why is this at all?” Freda asked with suspicion.
“So that cats don’t work their way to us. Otherwise they’ll settle here, you
understand, showdowns with howls!” said Ul. “This way the fence is even very
passable. Inconspicuous but reliable. No stranger will penetrate into our
territory. Not even the riot police.”
Makar grinned. “Wow! I like this fence!” he said. He looked at Vlad with
mockery. Quite something: fell into a cat trap and did not hit upon how to get out
of it.
“And the minibus you can’t escape from?” Freda continued pushing.
Ul stopped smiling. “We ask you to excuse us for the minibus. We could, of
course, catch you one by one, schnepper to the head and with a wicked whisper,
‘Want to go to HDive? The bee picked you!’ But practice has shown that the
minibus is the best method.”

***

Ul opened the doors of HDive, when Lara issued a warning howl. Gorshenya
was bashfully crossing the lawn in front of the hdivers. It was waddling, holding
its stomach, and looked sheepish.
Rina was the first to figure out what the matter was. “Ul! It gorged someone!”
she shouted.
Having touched the lion on his clms, Ul rushed to Gorshenya. Rodion hurried
to help him. A sheepish Gorshenya was caught in the bushes. They forced open its
mouth.
That they opened Gorshenya’s jaws with a shovel produced a strong
impression on the nervous Lara. Especially when a dishevelled small hdiver
rolled onto the grass. He looked at the sky, squinted, and yawned. His pimples
were crimson in the sun.
“Vityara? What are you doing here?” Ul asked aghast.
Vityara pulled the rim of the bagel, which someone considered his ear. “You
said it, dude! Isn’t it obvious?” he said unhappily and, stretching, wandered off to
HDive. Vityara walked in a very amusing manner, dragging his feet and with
hands in his pockets.
“Are you all so strange here?” Danny asked when Vityara had walked away.

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“What do you have in mind? We’re the most normal here,” Ul asked and bit
himself on the arm. Danny’s jaw dropped. He had not noticed that Ul’s mermaid
had dimmed at the same time. “In general we have the original Vityara. Once he
lived only on beetles for a week. Another time he pulled a huge sweater over the
knapsack, socks over shoes, and roamed around the city,” said Ul.
“Why?”
“Why is not a hdiver word. Hdiver words are either ‘must’ or ‘for fun’.”
They crossed a hall with brick columns and went along a long corridor.
Makar, not being able to resist, kicked the trashcan and, according to Ul’s
expression, became stronger with fifty push-ups. Makar thought for a bit and did
them. He always sensed when he could be beaten. His nose always itched before
this. When Makar finished puffing, they passed along a narrow gallery with glass
walls. Ul turned to the stairs and climbed to the second floor.
“Oh!” Lara exclaimed, after seeing the young man coming towards them. “He
invited me to the screen tests!”
“Hello, Athanasius!” Ul shout. “So what’s up with the screen tests?”
“Easy! I’ll just buy a cover for the lens!” Athanasius said cheerfully and
dashed further down the corridor.
“We usually send him after the girls. His tongue is hung properly. Whom
didn’t he bring here? One came to learn macramé, a second for secretary school,
but the coolest one of all was the hand-glider management course with the secret
guild of divers!” explained Ul.
They came across several hdivers along the stairs. Some were approximately
their age. Others were about two or three years older. They looked leniently at the
novices. Sashka recognized this look. He himself also looked this way at those
who came to boxing for the first time. Benevolent but aloof. There was no sense
exerting oneself especially and memorizing someone, because you knew
beforehand that four out of ten would skip off after the first training fight.
Ul stopped on the second floor. “We wait for Kuzepych. He’ll settle you,” he
said and hopped onto the windowsill, not touching it with his hands. Sashka tried
to repeat the same trick and miraculously did not break the glass with his back.
The trick indeed turned out not to be so simple.
“We live here,” continued Ul. “In that part of the corridor (he nodded to the
right) are rooms for the fair sex. In the other are the not so fair ones. Possible and
necessary to visit. But anyone who mixes up the rooms by chance after lights out
will have to wash the stairs. We hang out in the daytime, sleep at night.”
Freda threw up a hand. “Then why have mixed fives? Just pile up all the
girls!” she blurted out.
“Now I’ll pile someone up!” Makar, secretly afraid that Ul would do that,
promised in a whisper.
With a wide nail Ul picked off a piece of clay stuck on his military T-shirt,
saw that no spot remained, and smiled contentedly. He did not notice that there
were a dozen and a half such spots on the back of his shirt, so it could not poison
his pleasure from the sensation of a clean shirt.

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“Mixed fives are more effective. Fellows more often settle a matter with
schneppers or a marker, but girls are peaceful, without dust and noise. On the
whole, more options,” answered Ul.
Lara again screamed, pointing a finger at something. A screech was her
method of primary mastery of all new things in life. Rina looked around. A lone
mattress was climbing up the stairs. After ten seconds, the mattress had finally
gotten up and it turned out to be Kuzepych, who was dragging it on his head.
Kuzepych’s face was sullen.
“Frog’s choking!”15 thought Rina. And she still recalled that Yara called
Kuzepych’s frog “indududual.”16
“Fellows after me! Others wait!” Kuzepych, recovering his breath, ordered
and, not stopping, dragged the mattress through the corridor of the residence of
the not-so-fair sex.
Cyril looked around at Lena. Somehow, it turned out that several minutes
ago he had accidentally given her his own bag to hold and then forgot to take it
back.
“Behave well, Cyril! If they treat you badly, cry out loudly so that I would
hear!” Lena gave him words of encouragement, handing him his bag.
“And you go!” Cyril was confused.
“It’s you go! I’m ordered to wait,” Lena quietly parried.

***

Danny walked along and counted the rooms. They were on both sides of the
corridor. Ordinary wooden doors smelled of fresh paint. Kuzepych looked at
them and puffed up with pleasure. The corridor ended with a small hall. A
horizontal bar was attached to the wall. There were also a table-tennis table and a
bench for bench pressing. While Sashka was searching with his eyes for weights,
something began to rattle. Hearing the tinkling of disks, a whistle, and Sashka
understood that Vlad Ganich had found the weight before he did.
In a friendly way, like a rural peasant treating an annoying dog, Kuzepych
pushed the weight with a foot and it, ringing grumpily, rolled into a corner.
Kuzepych was already standing at the last door and trying to find the necessary
key.
“Lucky for you: the room is next to the hall. You can always see when the
table is free. True, a far run to the shower and the little ball will knock on the
brain. For each of the pluses there is one of the minuses.”
The lock clicked, and Kuzepych, leaning a shoulder on the door at the wrong
time, fell into the room. Sashka saw three wooden bunk beds and a large table.
“Settle in!” Kuzepych, panting, threw the mattress onto one of the beds.

15
Kuzepych, being very frugal, was always choking over the expense of something. The Russian idiom for
something being too expensive is “being choked by a frog.”
16
This is a play on words, combining the words ‘individual’ and induk – Russian for a turkey cock, slang
for a pompous, conceited man.

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A huge bag flew over Sashka’s head. “I’m on top, by the window! Reserved!”
Makar bellowed.
Danny, checking, lay down on a bed and stretched out his legs. “Indeed!” he
said with reproach. “Another procrustean bed in the reign of the Lilliputians!”
Kuzepych thought over the expression “procrustean bed,” sternly moved his
eyebrows, and reminded them that there was no swearing in HDive.
Makar, having the habit of checking all new people for “the weak spot,”
jumped down from the top bunk. “Listen, pop! Where does one smoke?” he asked
Kuzepych in a familiar way, slapping his pocket.
“Pop” looked at Makar and suddenly pushed him into the wall with his belly.
“Hey, wha sa you? Will kill a man!” Makar squeaked, trying to escape from
Kuzepych’s rock-hard belly. “Sorry for my health?”
Kuzepych looked at Makar with a look, from which it was clearly read that to
him, Makar’s health certainly had value, but not as much as two kilos of wood
screws.
“Supper in an hour! Nice to meet you; that’s all!” Kuzepych made a chopping
motion with his claw. He left the room.
Vlad Ganich with great care removed his jacket and agonizingly searched
with his eyes where to place it. “And how’s he to you?” he insinuatingly asked
Makar, desiring to provoke him to criticism.
Strange, but Makar’s opinion turned out to be surprisingly loyal. He loved
those who knew how to put him in his place. “Wha, a normal bloke! This one at
least doesn’t force me to do push-ups!” he said.
There was panting in the corridor and Kuzepych’s round face again pushed
through into the room. “Forgot to warn you! In your shoes I would close the door
tonight! And move the bed!”
“Why?” asked Vlad.
Kuzepych sternly pushed forward the red heel standing in for his chin and,
explaining nothing, disappeared.

***

Kuzepych settled the girls instantly. It was felt that even the shortest
presence in female company stressed him. “Figure out… umph! yourself! umph!
where things are!” he snorted like a walrus.
They figured things out in record time, since no one had anything. However,
even with this minimum some managed to arrange themselves rather well. Lena
straightened the pillow, pinned a photograph with a thumb tack onto the wall.
Touched up something, added somewhere. Likely, she had not done anything, but
it immediately became homey.
Alice took an upper bunk. She discovered three sets of seven notches on the
back of the bed. Evidently, someone had been pining away and counting the days.
It was unclear why she had stopped making more notches. Either she had gotten
used to things, or she had left, or an angry Kuzepych, discovering the damage to
public furniture, had eaten her.

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Freda stared at an upper bed, on which someone had arranged a canopy for
herself. “Here dwells the local grouch! Swiped all the blankets!” she stated.
Rina silently pulled off the blankets and gave them back. The naked electric
bulb, sagging sorrowfully, dangled on the wire.
“The grouch will exercise her rights!” said Freda.
“She won’t,” promised Rina. “It’s a good grouch. True, now she wants to kill
everyone.”
The whole summer Rina had been the only mistress of the room, but now an
entire horde was here. It walked around, touched everything, drove things away
from their homes. This was intolerable for Rina. A restless-proprietary spirit had
always lived in her body. Once, returning from school, Rina, like a cat, visited all
the rooms in order to ascertain that no change had taken place anywhere.
Lara sat on the bed and energetically shook out the contents of her handbag
onto the blanket. A carload of cosmetics, different combs, keys with a little heart.
About two dozen crumpled papers with phone numbers and business cards,
which had been pushed onto her in the hope that she would phone. The most
endearing object turned out to be a child’s woollen sock with laces.
“Whose is this?” asked Lena.
“What? Ah-h! Evelyn’s!”
“Sister?”
“Younger.” Lena smiled.
“And you specially drag it along?”
“Nothing I can do! Lynn throws it from the stroller, and then I go along the
stairs to pick it up,” in Lara’s voice was mixed self-pity and family pride. There,
you know, we are so wilful and aggressive. Get to know us!
True, Lara’s sentimentality was sufficiently short-lived. When a person
shakes out his handbag, he is usually in a businesslike mood. His heart is on
standby. “Well now, not even nail polish!!! I can’t stick around here for a month!
I’ll die!” she moaned, performing breathtaking jumps from object to object. “Men
are so clueless! They yell! Make them do push-ups. And why didn’t I bring nail
polish? Ah, but I did after all! How it scared me! And what do they want from us?
Facilities in the corridor! The sink is cracked!”
“Put a lid on it!” Freda unexpectedly kicked the leg of the bed, on which Lara
was sitting.
Lara batted her eyelashes. “Not feeling well?”
“What, sick? So?” Freda admitted with a challenge. Lara irritated her greatly,
simply to the extreme, although they had only been acquainted all of several
hours. Lara was beautiful, looked after herself, loved her own body, hair, and
teeth. She carried herself in life like a china doll and received gifts that the plain
Freda had to wring and gnaw out of somebody.
One thing consoled Freda: some day Lara will become old and horrible. But
her, Freda’s, mind will remain, and then we will see who swims better in gasoline
with a cigar in the teeth. Yet fear nevertheless lived somewhere in the depth of
her heart. What if the foolish but natural Lara outstrips her? She will forget her
beauty in a store and be too lazy to return for it. She will drive on Saturdays to the

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cottage, cure her husband of sciatica, and suffer when the charlotte burns. She
will not care that lonely and evil Freda butts the pillow with a bulging forehead.
The brain inflamed with envy again found itself in flight with an unopened
parachute. Why are clever people so often unhappy? Perhaps because they are
evil? So what is cleverness worth, if it cannot force one to become kinder?
Suddenly Freda recalled the cell phone. She checked and discovered that
there was a connection. The “sticks” (thanks to Lara’s erudition!) here was bigger
than in the forest. It was soon discovered that one could phone anybody and say
anything, except where they were now. That is, it would be possible to say, of
course, no one would cover your mouth, but the conversational partner would
blurt out something in the spirit, “And you leave me alone with the vegetable oil!
I’ll buy it! Aren’t you tired of repeating the same thing two hundred times?”
Lara finished investigating the handbag and began to amuse herself with the
telephone as well, calling young people. Her friends were serious people, because
from the other end of the line a computer keyboard was clicking, somewhere cars
were honking nearby, or a commanding voice asked to focus attention on
diagram number four.
“Serezh, ah Serezh!” (Or “Vas, ah Vas!”, “Dim, ah Dim!”)” 17 Lara said, after
which her voice died insinuatingly for about three seconds. Obviously, dialling
the number, Lara still had no idea what to say. When she had gathered her
thoughts, she voiced approximately one and the same thing, “Did you call me?
Then whom did you call? What do I want? Nu-thin’! I’m sitting here and thinking
whom I should call still!”
After the fifth of such calls, it was necessary to calm Freda down again,
because she started to yell, “I’ll kill the hen!”
In the middle of her scream, there was a short knock on the door.
Immediately, without waiting while they pondered whether it was a knock and
not a random gust of draft, the face of an unknown girl poked in. It was red, but
not from embarrassment, rather simply someone spending too much time in the
sun. “Supper, move!” the face communicated concisely and disappeared.
Rina opened the window to air the room. It was rather dark, although not
indistinctly dark. The day had become rather bleak. Something nondescript was
grazing and sighing at the flower house. “Gotcha, Platosha! Later they’ll yell at me
that it was I who trampled everything!” Rina began to yell cheerfully.
Something came out into the light and it turned out to be a pale youth with
ash-grey locks. Pressing a bundle of cut gladioli against his chest, the youth
climbed over the fence and, skilfully jumping off in the opposite direction,
disappeared.
“Catch him!” Rina whistled, not making any attempts to catch anyone.
“Who’s this?” asked Alice.
“It’s our neoromantic. Platon. He’s Platosha!”
“Why a neoromantic?” Alice asked suspiciously.

17
Serezh is short of Sergey, Vas is short of Vasilii, and Dim is short for Dmitrii.

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“He’s strange. Night doesn’t exist for him. They say he picks flowers, jumps
out of bushes, silently gives them to an unknown girl, and runs away. And all this
after one in the morning, somewhere on the deserted road by the railway! Several
times he was even splashed by a spray can!”
“But it’s so remarkable!” Alice said pensively. For a special reason she was
won over by the extreme pallor of the young person, and even more by the word
“silently.” Alice connected this word with a very important event in her life.

***

He was eighteen and studying somewhere, escaping from the army. Alice was
three years younger. He was long, with hollow cheeks. Not enough for him that
he was emaciated, and, strengthening the impression, he walked around in a tee
with a skeleton on the back.
Alice did not even understand whether she was being courted or not. He
simply followed her as if stuck to her. It was even impossible to figure out if he
was smart or stupid, because he always kept silent. He smoked and kept silent.
He kept silent and smoked. And somewhere there under the tee smoke was
seeping through the endless ribs. So she called him Skeleton. He obviously liked
it, because he smiled, not immediately, but after a time, because it was proper to
slow down.
Alice thought, doubted, and fell in love. Girls are generally set up in such a
way that they fall in love with any object that follows them sufficiently diligently.
They wandered till twelve, till one in the morning. Alice usually walked in front,
and Skeleton continually bumped into her when she stopped. Now and then it
seemed to her that he, like a baby elephant, was searching for her tail in order to
grab it. Then she started giving Skeleton her hand. Let us at least hold hands.
Else it will be lost. Skeletons, they are like that, losable…
When they had disagreement, he did not beg pardon. To do so, one had to
learn to talk. Skeleton had another method: he persistently hung out on the
bench in front of the building, yellow and tired like a vampire. He sat for a day,
two…
Tender-hearted grannies from the ground floor brought him tea and soup in
jars. “Young man? Sit, sit, young man! This here’s for you!” they said in warm
voices, looking into their own past. Skeleton wondered at nothing. He did not
even thank them. He ate the soup and moved the jars under the bench.
Alice’s mama was a decisive woman, cheerful and efficient. She seriously did
not like Skeleton. Nor passion with turmoil. Mama amused herself by printing
out the criminal code of the Russian Federation and hanging it up in the hallway
and on the doors of her room. Alice tore the pages into shreds, but Mama at work
had a sea of free paper and a bundle of printers hot from zeal.
According to the wise law of nature, each new person came out of two used
ones. Alice also had Papa. He was taciturn, led an autonomous existence, and did
not interfere in anything. While Skeleton was hanging around under the
windows, Mama several times sent Papa out to have a man-to-man talk with

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Skeleton. For some reason Mama knew how men talk with men, and Papa
vaguely embodied this. Alice even went out to the balcony to watch as Papa and
Skeleton sat at different ends of the bench and kept quiet. At the same time, Papa
sometimes ate soup from a jar, because the tender-hearted old ladies brought
much more soup than would fill Skeleton’s ribs.
So it continued for about four months. Then Skeleton suddenly disappeared
and was around no longer. He did not answer his cell phone, did not answer
emails, and she did not have his home address. She did not at all know where he
lived.
Alice wailed, beat on the walls. She suspected the most terrible: stabbed in a
back alley, the long arm of the military. She again hated Mama furiously. It
seemed to her that Mama was smirking strangely. Maybe Mama was guilty? She
had hired gunmen who abducted Skeleton into the forest and chained him to an
oak, pasting him over with the laws of the Russian Federation.
Then came spring, the sun was rather hot, and… Alice suddenly saw Skeleton
in the park in his usual black tee. It seemed he had not even washed it since then.
Well, perhaps several times it was in the rain. Skeleton stood by the kiosk and
bought beer. He flicked the lid, greeted her, and wandered off. Alice saw slightly
to the side a tall girl with a sharp face. Skeleton again strolled pensively slightly
behind like a baby elephant, not grabbing a tail.
Alice returned home and lay in bed for three hours, evenly biting the corners
of the pillow as the rest became wet. Then she got up, went into the kitchen, and
ate a pot of cold soup. This was her return to life. That evening Alice realized a
surprising thing. The screaming, absurd, ridiculous Mama, who foolishly
smashed the TV remote against the windowsill and wasted twenty bundles of
paper, was right. He, so manly and loyal, turned out to be a bastard and shallow.
That is, it turns out that the shouts and spoiling of life can be love. Yet all these
overnight stays on a bench can also not be love.
Alice became like the inside of glass, hard and brittle. As if she was hovering
somewhere outside. Sometimes she found herself sitting on a chair, stooped, with
arms sagging to the floor, and thinking, “Who’s this? Me? Heavens!”
They dragged her to a psychologist. Psychology wearied her. She was shown
blots and was asked what she saw. Alice answered corpses and maniacs, although
she saw fishes, birds, and butterflies. At the same time out of habit a monotonic
chant emerged in her, “A fish doesn’t have a tooth. Fishes don’t have teeth.” She
could repeat this for hours like a self-lulling song.
However, Mama was again in her element. If before she played the game “my
daughter fell in love with a monster,” then now the game was “my daughter is a
mental patient and I’ll cure her.” In both cases one could be terrified, tell
everyone about this, buy clever books in clinical psychiatry, contact all new
doctors, and kill oneself with worry. Certainly, if someone said to Mama that she
was contented and such a life was to her liking, she would strangle him.
Once a wasp flew over and began to crawl on her. “Get lost, bug!” said Alice.
The wasp disappeared, but Alice saw it in the evening on the kitchen window and

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forever immured it in a half-litre jar. The next morning the jar turned out to be
empty. Alice swore at dear Papa.
She was in one of the last grades. She had to get a move on and start thinking
about the future. Until her acquaintance with Skeleton Alice found out that she
had signed up for the school of young philologists with Moscow State University.
“What the heck is this philology?” she was surprised and immediately
received from Mama the crushing answer, “Where else? You demand two roubles
in change from a rouble! Exact sciences are inadvisable for you!”
Alice gave a lot of thoughts and realized that other than the philology faculty,
there really was nowhere else. There, at preparatory courses, Athanasius, sent by
Kavaleria, found her. Alice did not find time to communicate with him properly.
Using a sandal, she whacked the wasp stuck to her.

Chapter 7

Eight Objects, Minus a Kangaroo

Each of us bears an invisible banner in life. How many


times it happened that I weakened internally, gave in,
lowered my hands, and threw it into the mud, suggesting to
myself that there was no banner and it was all nonsense.
But every time someone, infinitely tactful, found it, raised
my banner, and carried it further. And I suddenly
discovered that I could not be without it. Then I caught up
with him, seized my banner, and went further with it.
From the diary of a non-returning hdiver

It was noisy in the HDive dining room. The rather sour smell of cabbage soup
at dinner had given way to the appetizing one of hot buckwheat with canned stew.
Supovna was moving like a meteor. She had already communicated to everyone
that she was leaving, because she could not live among scoundrels that pig out
and do not help. In thirty minutes she managed to curse seven people, clonk two
with a ladle, and throw a kitchen rag at three. The team of five on duty tried to do
at least half of what one Supovna was doing.
Two new tables were set up for dinner. Vovchik and Ruzya dragged them out
from the pantry. True, they remained new only in the imagination of Kuzepych,
but then they were notable for extreme solidity and on occasion could serve as
supporting pedestals for elephants in the circus.
Oxa was twirling near Vovchik and nagging him about some middle hdiver,
whom he had gone to four mornings in a row for a ballpoint pen. “Couldn’t you
have come to me?”
“You were sleeping,” answered Vovchik.
“And she wasn’t?”

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“Her pen writes better!”


Oxa launched a saltshaker at him, having strengthened the throw with the
lion. After whistling as from a sling, the saltshaker sunk into the wall. The whole
HDive watched with approval as Vovchik bolted dodging.
“The liveliest couple,” said Yara.
Ul turned to her and stopped munching on a carrot. The jaw powerful as a
horse’s paused. He jealously asked, “Why is that? Better than us perhaps?”
“In any case more colourful. They supplement each other like legless and
armless. He can’t stay still, chatters like a bird, and she can’t go to bed until she
irons all her clothing. I lived in the same room with her, so naturally I had to hide
the iron.” Ul snorted. He started to munch on the carrot again.
When Supovna placed a saucepan on the table, Rina noticed the clms on her
wrist. It was shorter than normal but more massive and resembled more a
wristband. The cast figures seemed more three-dimensional and denser. Besides
the usual figures, there was one more on the clms – a falcon taking off. Rina
recalled that until now she had only seen this shortened clms on one person in all
of HDive. Kavaleria. Just that she had a hand with a sceptre instead of a falcon.
Rina involuntarily stretched out to the falcon. Supovna caught her wrist with
two fingers. Rina realized that she could not even stir. There was more strength in
the old lady’s two fingers than in her whole body.
“Don’t grab the bIRdie!” Supovna warned with the slanting smile of a
grenadier. She simply warned but Rina sensed that it would be better not to
argue.
“People! Stop dawdling! First team of five at that table, second – this!”
Athanasius shouted from the senior hdivers’ table. He was holding bread in one
hand and a potato in the other and was biting them in turn, by way of strict
fairness.
Close to the end of dinner a light hand came down on Makar’s shoulder. He
shook it off. The hand did not persist and came down on his crew cut. Makar
started to get up angrily but saw how Alice’s face fell and sat back down. He
quickly considered not shaking it off.
“Good day! My name is Kaleria Valerevna, I’m the director of HDive. And
you, of course, are Makar? Kuzepych said that someone was really dying to repair
the minibus. Do you know whom he had in mind?”
“Here he is!” Makar hurriedly said and, not choosing for long, poked at
Sashka, “He’s our regular Mr. Fix-it! Just give him a screwdriver, he’ll fix whater
you want!” Sashka thought with melancholy that he had to teach Makar
nevertheless when he had a chance. Simply for the prevention of mental
disorders.
“I know that you all have a lot of questions,” continued Kavaleria, adjusting
her glasses with her nose standing in for the emotional part. “Therefore I’ll
answer them when they’re asked. A) Regarding parents and friends. None of
them will be able to come here. Meetings are possible but only in the city. I don’t
need crowds of relatives roaming along the fence of HDive. B) Understandable
that many questions will emerge. But no one will worry. I guarantee you this.”

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“They will worry!” Alice said with emphasis.


“They won’t!”
“You don’t know my mom!”
“And you don’t know me!” Kavaleria said quietly.
Alice leniently tinkled her medals. “Well, look: it’s my business to warn you!
My mom will paste papers over the entire guildhall, depending on what article
and clause you all settle on here!”
Kaleria Valerevna reached for her other glasses and looked at Alice through
them, for verification of impression. “Let her,” she decided.
“Another obvious question: things. You all turned up here unexpectedly and,
naturally, will need something. Regarding things, go to Ul. He’ll help you deliver
the most necessary things into the guild. Clarification! Limit of eight objects per
person. Absolutely everything is counted. So, pants with a belt aren’t one object
but two. Pen with a notebook are two. These aren’t my whims but the ancient
tradition of HDive.”
“What if I want an elephant? Is an elephant also one object?” Danny got in
with curiosity and instantly received the exhaustive answer, “An elephant, first of
all, is a living being. Forced teleportation of living beings is not encouraged!”
Supper was raced through. Danny tracked down Ul and pestered him with
endless questions: how many objects are two socks, two or one? Kaleria
Valerevna was beating off Freda, who demanded for herself a separate room, the
rules of HDive, and the list of disciplines for learning. “I don’t promise a room.
Short list of rules is on the door. If you want the full one, it’s dated 1503 and in
Latin. There is even a later Greek translation,” answered the director.
“And Russian?” pressed Freda.
“Russian translation was entrusted to Ul three years ago as a lightweight
project for those physically gifted,” smiled Kaleria Valerevna. “Curious about
when he’ll deliver?”
Ul exerted himself. “Work is going at full speed. I’ve already created a
computer file!” he reported.
“And the miracles here, where are they from in general?” Freda asked
suspiciously.
“Where do you see miracles? Name one at least!” Kaleria demanded.
“Well, the fence with the reverse jump-off,” Freda began to put up her
fingers. “The minibus… A monster, swallowing people.”
Kaleria removed her glasses. Without them, her eyes seemed defenceless.
“Remember once and for all, my dear! A miracle is a deviation from the usual
order of things and which makes the world at least a drop more moral. But if the
world doesn’t become more moral, then it isn’t a miracle but a trick.”

***

The novices spent the whole evening doing tedious calculations. It turned out
eight objects for a person was monstrously little. Boots with socks, jeans with
belt, and a sweater – that is already five. If we add, let us assume, even a comb, a

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charger for the phone, and a toothbrush, then you will order nothing more. And
indeed one would also want something for the soul.
It was necessary to form complex alliances and exclude all duplicate objects.
“Let’s do this: one toothpaste for all, but the largest, okay?” Sashka tried to talk
Vlad Ganich into it.
Vlad persistently shook his head. “I need my own!”
“Well? Then shampoo. Communal, okay?”
“I need my own!”
“Your own toilet paper too?” Sashka could not control himself. Vlad grinned
wickedly. Finally, they gave up on him, and he was rocking himself on the chair,
in grief that he could not bring everything.
“You wouldn’t be able to confine yourself even to a hundred things!” said
Danny. He ordered for himself several books, and was now agonizingly oscillating
in the choice between house slippers and a dictionary.
Sashka was tired of tinkering with the list and set off for the “female half” to
clarify if it would be possible to join forces with them somehow. Cyril tagged
along. It was all the same to him that he was going somewhere, even just to the
girls.
“Let’s assign them!” he demanded along the way. “Lara for me and all the
rest for you!”
Sashka was moved by his generosity. “Are you sure, not Lena for you?” he
asked.
“What’s this with Lena! She’s not my type! Such are a dime a dozen. I pick
Lara.”
“But I think Lena picked you,” remarked Sashka.
“She can pick anybody! The hen! In order to distract a woman from universal
suffering, enough to tell her that she had soiled the back of her skirt!” Cyril
snorted, but blushed in delight nevertheless.
He pondered for about ten steps and then generously stated, “Well, fine. I
changed my mind. I take Lara, Lena, and… mm-m… well also… Rina.”
“Why Rina?” asked Sashka, beginning to examine his chin with interest.
“Well… She, of course, has freckles, but passable,” Cyril carelessly blurted
out. The next second his back was pressed into the timetable stand. Sashka
understood that he was furious only when announcements flew from the stand.
“What, are you crazy? A psycho? Get treatment!” said Cyril, disporting with
words. Sashka, having come to his senses, let go of him, turned and walked on.
Cyril overtook him near the girls’ room. One could already sense in the
hallway that an intense writing operation was taking place in the room. A piece of
paper was hanging on the door: ENORMOUS THANKS for not forgetting
to knock!
“Listen, cranky fellow, what do you want? I’ve already given you Alice! And
Freda!” Cyril shouted.
“Let me tell Freda that you’ve given her to me. Now she’ll be really pleased!”
proposed Sashka.

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Cyril’s sense of humour immediately evaporated. “Being brutal? Don’t you


understand a joke?” he got scared, grabbing his sleeve.
Sashka knocked and pushed open the door. They could not recognize the
room. The beds were rearranged. The lower bunks were covered with bedspreads.
The table was moved out to the middle of the room. Freda was sitting at the table
and scribbling: Anything lying around not in place will be thrown out
the window! ENORMOUS THANKS for understanding!
Sashka peered over his shoulder sideways at Freda and began to look for
Rina. He sensed that she seemed to be on the second bunk by the window. It is
interesting that each person generally chooses a place maximally suited to him.
One would even find an unnoticed corner in an absolutely empty room and settle
there comfortably and quietly. Another would sit by the door and stretch out his
legs so that everyone would trip over him.
Cyril and Sashka did not stay long with the girls. Alice and Freda
immediately began to yell and the guys found themselves in the hallway faster
than they could make up a common list.
“Cyril, the guys haven’t hurt your feelings?” asked Lena, looking out behind
them.
“Who? Me?” Cyril was indignant.
“Then why is it written on your back that the seminar for middle hdivers has
been moved?” Lena asked, removing from his back a piece of yellow sticky note
from the stand.
Cyril began to mumble something indistinct. His mumbling did not satisfy
Lena. “Keep your eyes open so that Cyril’s feelings aren’t hurt!” she ordered
Sashka and returned to the room.
There Lara was just suggesting to Rina, “Did you see how Sashka looked at
you? I have very sharp eyes!”
Rina shrugged her shoulders. “In the marquise’s eyes appeared feverish
lustre. He crushed her in an embrace. The crack of ribs was heard in the night,”
she said mentally, took a can of condensed milk and left to feed the hyeon.
Besides condensed milk, she had a very huge bag of chicken heads. One day,
still summer, after dinner Supovna held her back by the elbow and dragged her
into the kitchen. The people on duty and two permanent assistants, Nadia and
Gosha, were rushing about in pairs and splashing boiling water. Four huge sinks
were filled with dishes higher than the head.
“Your little monster hasn’t croaked yet?” shouted Supovna. Rina shrank. The
first weeks she hoped that only five people would know about the hyeon, but
apparently the best way to keep a secret in HDive was to try persistently to reveal
it to everyone. Moreover, not simply to reveal it but with lots of unnecessary
details.
“Ought to have destroyed it before the eyes open! What a thing!” Supovna
again yelled. Rina was ready to bolt sideways from the kitchen but here Supovna
dived under the sink. “Here give it these...! Let it choke itself, your little
monster!” and she thrust at Rina an enormous bag of terrible-looking chicken
heads with yellow beaks and bloody crests. Rina, having studied the habits of her

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baby hyeon, sized up that if “her little monster” choked, then it would be solely
from greediness.
Now, she went with the bag of chicken heads and feet down to the ground
floor and saw Platosha at the doors of HDive. The top romantic of HDive was
sitting on the windowsill and telling fortunes with a cactus, pulling out the
needles with pincers. His eyes were sunken. Under the eyes were dark-blue
pimply rims. Rina sympathized: indeed, running after cottage folks with bunches
of gladioli. He rushes about and in the daytime sleeps in the stable on a pile of
sawdust.
“Hello!” he said to Rina, waving weakly to her. “Where are you heading to,
pretty child?” Rina smiled.
Next to Platosha bounced Vityara, enthusiastic and fresh. Small, lop-eared,
dishevelled, he first yelled, cried, roared with laughter, then blurted out his
favourite “you said it, dude.” Platosha and Vityara formed an inseparable pair.
Vityara loved Platosha to distraction and repeated everything after him.
On noticing Rina, Vityara dashed toward her. “Did you see this lowlife?” he
began to yell.
“What lowlife?” Rina did not understand.
Platosha with a tired face poked a finger into his own chest. “He’s talking
about me,” he lazily explained.
Vityara hopped. “This rat blew me off the phone ICQ! True, I killed him first
but I just cleared off! Is there a difference? Tell me, is there?” he roared again.
“Aha,” Rina carefully agreed.
She left HDive and began to walk along the path that had become familiar. At
first along the main lane to the old birch with double trunks. A turn to the left
from the old birch and along the very bright and open park to the fence. The
further from the Green Labyrinth, the more it became a Moscow outskirts forest.
If it was easy to meet eucalyptus, cedar, or Japanese pine with a flat top in the
first three hundred metres, then nearer to the fence grew the usual birches and
pines, among which one occasionally came across an apple tree grown wild.
A crack was heard in the birch grove on Rina’s right hand side. Someone,
stomping, was walking in her direction. Without a moment’s hesitation, Rina
dived for a fallen trunk with a layer of soil turned inside out at the root, lay on her
stomach, and hid herself. Between the trunk and the soil there was a small space,
into which Rina could look, to whatever extent the tall grass allowed.
Rina lay there and waited patiently, examining her clms. She looked and
considered how many hdivers had worn the clms before her. She saw scratches
on the cast figures and cracks on the skin. Only the lace was new, but this was
understandable. Laces wore out the quickest of all.
“How old is my clms? A hundred years?” one day in the summer she asked
Yara, with whom she had managed to become friends.
“More. The last was sewn about two hundred and fifty years ago. Now no
dragon skin left. Well, perhaps a couple of scraps left somewhere. So that there
are less and less clms each year,” Yara answered worriedly.
“Do former hdivers return their clms?”

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“Often not. All the same no point for them. As soon as a hdiver appropriates
a marker, his clms no longer charges,” answered Yara.
The trembling of the soil intensified. Ten seconds later Rina saw enormous
feet, which could only belong to one creature in the entire HDive. “Gorshenya!”
she whispered. The giant was behaving mysteriously. After several steps it would
stop and, frozen, listen. Rina pressed her forehead against the birch, although she
knew even without doing this that the place she was hiding in was safe.
Gorshenya turned out to be so close that she could, pushing a hand through
from below, grab its foot. Having stood for a while by the birch, Gorshenya
stepped over the trunk and, without turning around, decisively made its way to
the old oak. By the oak it lay on its stomach and pressed an ear to the soil
between two thick roots. It lay motionless for a long time, for a very long time,
and only the enormous mouth was extended with pleasure.
Afraid that if she got up now it would see her in the grass, Rina began to
crawl carefully around the birch trunk. As she did not try to do everything quietly,
a branch nevertheless snapped under her. Gorshenya jerked up, looked around
quickly, and, after taking several big steps, disappeared into the grove.

***

Rina was very pensive going to the fence. Outwardly, this was expressed in that
she muttered monotonously under her breath the senseless, “Mad hedgehogs in
the batty forest tucked in and polished off a sausage!” After jumping from the
fence in the opposite direction, Rina reached the garage.
If there was no gate earlier, then recently, when it became clear that the
impressively grown hyeon would fly any minute now, she and Ul found a wooden
interior door and attached it haphazardly.
“It would be better not to hang it. Only teases the locals,” Rina said, after
estimating that the wooden door could be easily broken with a crowbar.
“HOLY! Dang! But there’ll be nothing! Only don’t forget to touch the door with
your clms,” said Ul.
“If I forget?”
“Then pardone, gal! You’ll turn up at a height of four metres above the Istra
Reservoir. Closer to the bottom than to the shore there.”
After taking a step into the shed, Rina stopped at the threshold. Immediately
something very big, the size of a considerable calf, forcefully pushed her in the
shoulders. Rina toppled over, dropping the chicken heads. A sticky tongue slid
from her chin to her eyebrows. It seemed to Rina that her head was plunged into
spoilt garbage sitting around for about three days. “I’ll kill you! I’ll finish you off!”
she began to yell, pushing away the insolent hulk with her knees.
The baby hyeon whimpered resentfully. Spitting with disgust, Rina wiped her
face with a sleeve. The young hyeon ate with greediness, growling, flapping its
wings, and with its back to Rina, as if not ruling out that Rina would take away
what she recently gave. Now and then it seemed to Rina that the hyeon did not
taste the food because it was swallowing without chewing. It ate everything it

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could. Once Rina saw how the month-old hyeon tore and gobbled up in two
minutes an artificial leather boot found here under the shelves.
For a long time the baby hyeon remained nameless. Rina could not determine
the sex of the pup and did not risk giving it a name without knowing the sex. The
sex was determined only when Supovna came to look at the hyeon. By that time
the baby hyeon was the size of a big bulldog and could crack a can of condensed
milk in one or two bites. The greyish sides had changed colour. Noticeable spots
had appeared on them. The separate islets merge in an adult hyeon and become
dark strips.
After seeing the hyeon, Supovna first of all leaned over and spat, carrying out
the age-old etiquette of an old woman. “Such a thing was born! Ought to have
given it the shovel! The shovel!”
The baby hyeon sneered and showed Supovna its teeth, sharp and small like a
saw. They did not frighten Supovna. “Snap your jaw at the missus! What are you
there? A lad or a lass?”
The baby hyeon began to roar, dripping saliva, for the description of which
Mendeleev’s entire table18 would not be enough. It flapped its wings and gurgled.
Something seethed and bubbled in its chest. Moist bubbles burst in its nostrils.
The skin on its snout was all bunched up.
“What’s this? And why have you gathered your beak into an accordion?”
Supovna shouted with indignation. “Well, turn over!”
Rina grabbed the hyeon firmly by the base of the right wing and with a jerk
turned it over onto its back. Supovna leaned down. The baby hyeon continued to
gurgle but somehow not maliciously. It smelled Supovna’s self-confidence,
kindness, and fish. Either that or both or all three were secretly pleasant to the
baby hyeon and compelled it to stay still.
“Good that it’s not a lass! A lad! Still a shovel would have been more fitting!”
Supovna stated and left, after throwing a half bag of herring heads to the baby
hyeon.
Then the baby hyeon rolled all over in these heads so that Rina would not touch
it for three days, knowing that otherwise they would bypass her along an adjacent
hallway in HDive. Partly because of the fish and partly because of the
nightmarish habit of the baby hyeon “not to watch its tongue.”
The smell of the tongue was fitting, especially after Rodion, becoming kinder,
began to drag dead cats to the baby hyeon.
“Where do you get so many dead cats? You haven’t shot them by any chance?”
Rina asked him one day.
“Fat chance! Only use up the charges!” Rodion answered not very convincingly,
after which the dead cats came to a stop, but then Rodion came across incredible
quantities of dead crows and jackdaws. “Here I walk along the street, I look, a
crow is lying around. About a hundred metres away, two more. Well I think,
already hauling one, what’s some more!”

18
The first version of the periodic table of chemical elements by Dmitrii Ivanovich Mendeleev (1834-
1907), Russian chemist and inventor.

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Ul, to whom Rina described everything, looked at Rodion with suspicion. He


had not forgotten how two years ago Rodion rescued a half-dead chicken from
the dogs in the settlement and, while everyone was waiting for the noble deed of
rendering first aid to the poor bird, he and Max together gobbled it up.
“I hate chickens! They frightened me to death in childhood!” Rodion said in his
own justification.
“Uh-huh. The book about the golden cockerel 19 fell from the cabinet onto him,”
confirmed Ul, giving everything his own interpretations.
Rina named the baby hyeon Gavr. “Gauuvrrr!” was the only human word,
which the hyeon uttered at the moment of maximum satiety and contentment.

Chapter 8

A Prehensile Weapon

Each person is a recurring musical motif. One is tram-


param! Another is ti-ti-ti! A third is kudah-tah-tah!
In addition every person thinks hard and thinks over
one and the same thought extended through life and time.
One has this, “I will endure anything! I will help everyone!”
Another, “All the same everything disappeared. I will
always be unhappy.” And a third, “You will not trick me! I
myself will dupe everyone!”
A person will not be convinced of anything. Any answer
that I will give him ought to sound inside him NO MORE
THAN my words.
From the diary of a non-returning hdiver

Close to midnight, the final list was ready. And, it goes without saying,
Sashka had to bring it. Cyril was lying in bed with the headsets on and managed
even lying to move his feet restlessly. Sashka was glad that he did not sleep under
Cyril, because the bed squeaked and threatened to collapse.
Makar closed his eyes, intending on doing so only for a second, but he was
out all night. Kind Danny took pity and removed his boots. At the same time, a
man’s watch with a heavy silver band fell out of the top of the right boot. “Look,
what a ridiculous habit! Carries his watch in a boot!” Danny said cheerfully.
Vlad Ganich clicked his tooth (he had a hollow tooth with a double root,
which he clicked very expressively) and shifted his wallet from under the pillow
into his pocket.

19
The Tale of the Golden Cockerel, a fairy tale in verse by Alexander Sergeevich Pushkin (1799-1837), the
greatest Russian poet and founder of modern Russian literature.

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Sashka found out from Ruzya, whom he ran into along the way, that Ul lived
in the attic. Ruzya was in sorrow, and the expression on his face had not so much
suffering as voluntary self-torment.
Sashka got up to the attic. Light broke through the slit under the door. He
knocked. Athanasius opened it. Max was sitting on a stool behind Athanasius’
back and picking at a schnepper with a screwdriver. Rodion was swinging in the
hammock and demanded that Max stop aiming at him.
“Le…leave me alone! It’s di-discharged!” stuttered Max.
“Your bowstring is drawn. Do you want to nail me with the screwdriver? I
don’t need much, I’m a small person… And what do you want?” Sashka answered
that he had come for Ul and brought the list.
“Ul’s over there!” Athanasius poked a finger into the darkness, where an
electric bulb was burning like a point.
Sashka went along the attic, continually bumping against something. The
skeleton of a winged horse hit him in the chest. After going around it, Sashka saw
Ul, who was hanging like a bat on a beam with his head down and looking at him.
“Brought it? Let’s see!” Ul stretched out his hand for the list and, without looking,
threw it onto the hammock. “One from everybody?”
“Well, besides the girls and Vlad Ganich. He’ll bring his own tomorrow,” said
Sashka. He was unaccustomed to speaking with a person whose face he saw
upside down. Obviously, Ul understood this. He swung on the beam and dropped
down with surprising adroitness, not safeguarding himself with his hands. He
rolled over and jumped up.
“So, he doesn’t trust anybody else?” Ul asked.
“Well, not that he doesn’t. He’s on the fourth page… so far…” said Sashka.
Ul smiled. “But you all kept within the limit?” Sashka started to answer
something. “In short, there’re so many of them that it’s as if there’s no limit!” Ul
guessed and, not pretending to be excessively polite, showed Sashka the door.
“Good night!” the latch snapped with the sound of a rifle lock.
Athanasius stood next to Ul and together they listened as Sashka clattered
down the iron stairs. “Likely not a bad fellow,” he said.
Ul nodded. “Possibly not bad. But we’ll know this only after the first dive.”
Rodion had taken off his clms and was stitching through its frayed edge with
coarse thread. He pushed the needle through with a five-rouble coin instead of a
thimble. Dragon skin was very thick. “For me it’s after the second,” he grunted.
“The first dive shows whether you resisted the marker. But the second is simply
the naked acid test. There’s already no novelty, nonsense has been knocked out,
the romance has died, everything aches, but still have to barge in on a horse and
dive.”
“By the way, heard the news: Vityara refused to dive,” recalled Ul.
“Who, Yousaiditdude refused? He d-dived not badly! Ex-extracted something
every time!” Max did not believe him.
“Kavaleria said he renounced and that’s all. By HDive rules this isn’t
forbidden. They won’t even ask him why. He made the decision,” Ul remarked.

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Rodion scratched his stubbly cheek. “For some reason many are giving up.
Platosha also refused recently. Some rotten hdivers these middle ones are,” he
said unhappily.
“Well, Platosha has another reason. Nosebleed with the difference in height…
What’s he going to do, plug up the nose with a pillow? But what will Vityara do
now?”
“Don’t know. Maybe in time he’ll rethink it and dive again. If not, in HDive
there’s loads of work even without that. At one point Kuzepych also turned down
diving and he doesn’t sit around doing nothing.”
“Ku…Kuzepych refused to d-dive? Y-you’re r-really s…s…s?” Max asked
again, stuttering even more than normal from agitation.
“Sing, Max! Sing!” advised Rodion. Max grew red. Once, without thinking, he
blurted out that in childhood his grandmother made him sing. And Rodion, it
goes without saying, memorized this.
“There’s something confusing with Kuzepych…” said Ul. “He turned down
diving. Then his bee perished. He wanted to leave HDive. He wasn’t being
childish… Kavaleria persuaded him to remain for a year, then another year… On
the whole, he has been here ever since.”
“But indeed the bee perishes only in those, who…” began Rodion.
Ul did not let him finish. “Since the Green Labyrinth marker let him through
the fence, it means there’s a chance. First, he loses the possibility of a passage to
Duoka; the bee then perishes. The HDive fence is the last bastion. In the case of
Kuzepych he stood up to the assault,” he interrupted.

***

Having handed in the list, Sashka roamed around HDive for a long time. He
saw nothing especially interesting if we did not consider the wall next to the
dining room, on which were hung a couple dozens of captured combat axes, two
bows, and a dozen arbalests. Unfortunately, everything was thoroughly secured
and the rampage of inquisitive hands subsided by itself. Slightly disappointed,
Sashka returned to the second floor.
When he left to search for Ul, the long hallway was illuminated. Now all the
lamps were off except one, a distant one. It was burning far away, by the little
area with the ping-pong table. The light of this single lamp was reflected off the
white walls, a seemingly tapered tunnel.
Feeling inexplicable anxiety, Sashka walked on for about ten metres. “You
will di-e! Your hour has str-uc-k!” he heard muffled hissing. He stopped. He
looked around nervously. Blind walls surrounded him. Sashka took several
careful steps. Again a sound was born in the void – barely distinguishable, similar
to the rustle of dead lips, “D-e-e-eath!”
Now Sashka caught the direction of the sound. He turned, threw up his
hands, but… there was only a wall. Plastered and white, bluish ripples went along
it, as if someone was trying to force his way through the bricks and plastering to
him. While Sashka was standing motionlessly, everything was quiet, but he only

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had to move as much as a centimetre and voices again spilled out. There were a
lot of them. They reached from everywhere, from the blind walls, “The brain for
me… The eyes for me… and the g-u-uts for me!”
Sashka recoiled and hit his shoulder against the cold wall. “Who are you?” he
shouted, panicking.
“Entombed h-hdivers! You talked to us, it means you’re ou-urs!” a voice
hissed and directly from the blind wall a figure with something white overhead
attacked Sashka. Sashka bounced back, screamed in terror, and, without a
moment’s hesitation, hit the entombed hdiver’s jaw. That one collapsed like being
chopped down.
Sashka did not manage to hit a second time. The walls around him exploded.
Several more figures rushed at him from different directions. One of them held in
his hand a terrible hooked automatic weapon. The bright crimson outline of the
lion flared up on the wrist of another. Sashka was knocked off his feet, and in
only a few seconds he was transformed into a mummy wrapped in white linen.
His arms and feet were bound so tightly that he could only move his fingers and
neck.
Sashka was lying on the floor, rolling his eyes and making all kinds of new
discoveries. That the hooked automatic weapon nearby turned out to be a
commonplace drill. That one of the attackers was a girl with a shaved head. The
“entombed hdiver” whom he had hit moved with difficulty and got up. This was
Vovchik.
Sashka understood belatedly what was going on. Some seven or eight
“middle” hdivers holding sheets with raised hands stood by the walls. The sheets
were white and the wall also. Even two steps away with the weak illumination
everything merged into one uniform background, and it seemed that the wall
itself was wailing and wheezing.
The shaven-headed girl squatted down next to Sashka. “No gold? Gose not
filled up?” she asked in a kind voice.
“No, why?” Sashka did not understand.
“Till you choke!” the girl said considerately and placed a taut rectangle of
plaster on Sashka’s mouth. He tried to push it off with his tongue – no good.
“Get up!” ordered the girl. They helped the “mummy” up.
The mumbling Sashka found himself directly in front of Vovchik. “Now you’ll
find out what ‘novice night’ is!” he warned with a threat and touched his jaw.
Swaying on the hands carrying him, Sashka glided to the end of the corridor.
A large-headed fellow, identified by Sashka as “kitchen Gosha,” squatted down in
front of the door and stuck his ear to it. “Asleep!” he whispered and pulled the
handle down. Eight shadows and one animated cocoon infiltrated the unlit room.
Sashka saw the blue square of the window crisscrossed with pine branches.
Makar’s powerful snore reached them from a top bunk. Sashka was lowered with
great care onto the empty bed and persuaded not to mumble.
Work was already humming noiselessly in the room. A small young fellow
squatted with the drill for several seconds in front of Makar’s boots. The drill

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buzzed quietly. The shaven-headed girl thoroughly sewed Vlad Ganich’s blanket
to the mattress, using a very thick upholstery needle.
Danny was attached to the bed with Scotch tape. They carefully placed a long
stick of sausage on his chest, put it in a fixed position with the same Scotch tape
along the ends, and covered him with the blanket. Beside him, touching in a
business-like manner the teeth of a saw with a nail, a middle hdiver stood still.
Not awake, Danny began to turn, said distinctly, “I hate slow Internet!” and made
a useless attempt to turn to the other side.
Vovchik, caringly like a loving mommy, got down on his knees at the foot of
the sleeping Cyril and put pieces of paper between the toes. After finishing with
the paper, he extracted a cigarette lighter from his pocket and began to turn the
little wheel, waiting for the others to finish.
“Attention! Ten seconds!” whispered the shaven-headed girl. Having moved
the bed from the wall, two people stood on the different sides. After taking a sheet
by the four corners, they raised it over Makar and held it approximately half a
metre above him. Now everyone was only waiting for the signal.
The signal was Vovchik clicking the cigarette lighter, and he in one long
movement of the hand set fire to eight pieces of paper at once. Sashka expected
an immediate howl, but Cyril continued to snuffle, uncomfortably tucking in his
toes in his sleep. The fire burnt quietly for several seconds. It already began to
seem to Sashka that he was feeling nothing, but here Cyril began to yell in a bad
voice and, after flinging away the blanket with his knees, began to rotate his feet
quickly, as if turning pedals. But the quicker he turned them, the better the fire
burnt. “Only the ‘rocket’ is better than the ‘bike’ but terribly difficult to get
saltpetre!” Vovchik muttered with regret.
Cyril’s cry alarmed everyone. Now there was no need to hide. The fellow with
the saw immediately took to sawing Danny in two. Shreds of blanket and scraps
of sausage flew in different directions. Danny roared like an injured camel.
Two middle hdivers helpfully shook Makar’s bed. “Landslide! Earthquake!
Run for your life!” Vovchik shouted at the top of his lungs. Understanding
nothing, Makar sat up on the shaking bed. In the room there was a haze
illuminated only by the burning “bike” Cyril. Makar was swaying from side to
side. Above him hung something white, rectangular.
The hdivers holding the sheet slowly lowered their hands. A second later the
sheet touched Makar’s forehead. “It’s coming down!” Vovchik yelled still more
grievously. “Hold the ceiling! The ceiling is falling! We’ll all die!” Makar threw
himself down on his back and in terror set his feet against the sheet. Ir probably
really seemed to him that the ceiling was collapsing. “Good job! Good holding! All
hope is on you! Help with the hands, the hands!” Vovchik bellowed. Makar
started to help with his hands.
Vovchik tugged at the planks under the mattress. They separated and Makar
dropped down onto Vlad Ganich. Vlad, sewn to the mattress, rolled down from
the bed and now together with the mattress crawled on the floor like a gigantic
slug. Danny, with the sausage sawn through to the middle, was shuddering
convulsively. The saw was sticking out of his chest.

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68

Light suddenly flared up, blinding everyone for several seconds, both the
older guys and the new collection of hdivers. A sleepy Kuzepych was standing still
at the door, naked to the waist, shaggy like an orangutan, in long shorts down
below the knees. He was barefoot, and the red toes of his feet spread wide seemed
like the same claws as the fingers on his hands.
“I warned you, lock the doors!” Kuzepych said, interrogatively examining
Cyril, who continued to “bike” with his feet, although the paper between the toes
had long gone out. Makar, blinking, distrustfully examined the ceiling. It was felt
that he had difficulty understanding how he had managed to stick it back.
“We… well this… visited purely to meet…” muttered Vovchik.
It was boring for Kuzepych to listen to justifications. He went up to Danny,
pulled the saw out of Danny’s chest and critically ran his thumb along the teeth.
The teeth were crammed with fur and sausage. “Ruined the tool! Would be better
with a circular saw! Mend the blanket! Unscrew the shoes! Drill to the shop! Two
hundred push-ups for everyone and march to your rooms!” he ordered.
“Push-ups for me too?” Vovchik asked insinuatingly. “My hand was recently
broken!”
“Persuaded. A hundred squats for you…” Kuzepych decided and, waiting
until Vovchik triumphantly smirked, added stiffly, “…on each leg!”
The consequences of the night assault only ended around two. The “sawn in
half” Danny just could not fall asleep anymore, although the always-hungry
Makar had eaten the sausage attached to him. Makar was the one who calmed
down faster than everybody, although he had howled louder than anyone.
“Here it is – the healthy psyche of a healthy psycho!” Cyril muttered with
envy.
Having eaten up the rest of the sausage, Makar took off his shoes, and,
picking his teeth with his little finger, climbed into bed. Up there he pulled off his
shirt and became white, hairless, and brawny, with a blue network of veins under
thin skin. A long scar passed over his right nipple.
Danny began to blink sorrowfully. Like many smart people, he was incredibly
impressionable. “Knife?” asked Danny.
“No! Which? Climbed over something there, caught by a spike,” said Makar
negligently.
“And where are such spikes?” Like a classical child prodigy, in a number of
everyday things Danny manifested a naiveté off the scale.
Makar did not begin to explain anything. “Nevertheless you’re afraid of me,
lanky! And those who tricked us, let them be afraid too!” he said and, after
yawning with a click of his jaws, instantly fell asleep.
Danny could not sleep. He went out onto the street and began to wander
around HDive. The sandy path seemed bluish in the moonlight. Dark curved
stones piled up at the turns. If a white wolf sat on one of them and howled at the
moon, Danny would not be surprised. He was in that pre-dawn nightly state
when a person is surprised by nothing at all.
Unexpectedly Danny became uneasy. He quickly stepped back into the
shadow and squatted down. Several seconds later he was blinded by a sharp

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flash. The inexperienced Danny did not know that it would be better not to look
at a strange teleportation, especially in the dark.
When he again had the ability to see, he discovered that a figure in a hdiver
jacket was moving along the sandy path in his direction. The person was
shivering with cold, stooping, and hiding his hands in his pockets. The collar
raised high hid his face. He did not see Danny, who sat in the shadow, and
moonlight was pouring onto the person under observation. When he turned out
to be very near, Danny noticed that he was swaying and his teeth were chattering.
And he immediately understood the reason. The person was wet right through.
Water was flowing from his jacket. It was also squelching in his boots.
The unknown person reached the porch of HDive, opened the door, and
disappeared inside. Danny waited a certain time and set off along the tracks. He
was interested in who this was. At first the wet tracks were distinctly discernable,
but then they became much sparser. Apparently, the person had taken off his
shoes. Nevertheless Danny managed to figure out that the unknown person went
up to the second floor, to the residence. Here the tracks were lost among many
other moist tracks, because the floor in the shower was eternally damp, and a lot
of hdivers in flip-flops were dragging water.
Danny sighed and returned to his room. The handle turned easily, but the
door only opened five centimetres and ran into an obstacle. Danny realized that
they had gone solidly to bed on that side and for security had moved a bed to the
door. For a while Danny shouted timidly, “Hey! Gentlemen, it’s me! If you don’t
mind, let me in please!” But the gentlemen did not intend to wake up. “Now isn’t
it sad, they don’t heed me!” Danny said to himself. He had so merged with his
special intonation that he could not be perceived without it. If Danny suddenly
became ordinary, everyone would sound the alarm.
After treading in pensiveness, Danny tried lying down on the table-tennis
table, but though it was larger, it was hard. An old bulky arbalest without
bowstring lay next to the table. In a childish impulse Danny grabbed it and
started to aim in different directions. Then he lay down on the bench for bench
press and, hoping that in the morning he would not bang against the bar with the
weights, fell into a deep sleep.

Chapter 9

Instructor of Practical Ass-Kicking

Do not feel sorry for yourself! Everyone that I feel sorry


for will become fodder for worms sooner or later. But what
is eternal is born precisely where self-pity ends. So that I
become better, I must kick continuously, not beating this to
death.
From the diary of a non-returning hdiver

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Rina lowered the hammer. She had just nailed Alice’s boots to the back of her
bed. Perhaps at least this way she will learn, having barged into the room, not to
toss footwear anywhere she happens to be? All the same, Alice does not
understand words. She is a humanist, and words have no value to humanists.
For all her contemplation, Rina was a person of momentary action. If she
read, then for twenty-four hours until her eyes became as red as a vampire’s. If
mad at Arturych, then she threw all his things out the window. If she broke a wall
in order to make an arch in her room, then in such a way that the neighbour
above came running in terror, squealing that the building was collapsing. “And
where did you get a sledge hammer at four in the morning?” Mamasia then
moaned.
After finishing with Alice’s boots, Rina opened the window and jumped onto
the lawn. Passing her window, Yara was dragging a military saddle somewhere.
The mermaid on her clms had gone out. “A gift for Ul! Only don’t ask where I got
this. All the same, it’s not needed in the Museum of Armed Forces. They only
stick orders on it,” said Yara.
The saddle was gorgeous, made of outstanding leather, and completely new.
The usual story. Some stout marshal had inspected a parade on it several times.
Then the marshal migrated under the Kremlin wall 20 and was decorated with a
monument, and the new marshal stated that he did not intend to sit on what the
pants of his predecessor had touched.
“Can I ask a question?” asked Rina. Yara showed with her fingers how small
the question must be. “Why do you love Ul?”
Yara stopped and dropped the saddle onto the grass. “Ul, who’s this? With
the paunch, always grinning?”
“YARA!”
“Well, I don’t know. He’s real. Not phony. Not cool. Not made up. He is what
he is. Yet he doesn’t notice himself. This bowled me over the first time.”
“Whom doesn’t he notice?” Rina did not understand.
“Well, it always catches the eye when a guy fusses over himself. How he
squints his eyes in front of the mirror, how he laughs, how he looks at himself in
photographs. But Ul in his own body is like riding a trolley bus. Be it new or old,
what’s the difference, it goes all the same.”
Yara laughed and poked Rina in the nose with her index finger. “Beep! Have
you fallen in love with someone? Although don’t answer. I know it’s a no.”
“How?”
“Well, you turn many heads. But when a person is in love, he’s like in a tank.
He sees a metre of the field in the view slit and that’s all.” Rina snorted. She had
no intention of sitting in a tank and seeing only a metre.
Yara went into the stable and Rina to Gavr. She herself did not understand
what attracted her to this hyeon. Now and then, it seemed to her that she loved it
20
During the Russian Revolution of 1917, 240 pro-Bolshevik victims were buried in mass graves next to
the Kremlin Wall in Moscow’s Red Square, where most of them were killed. From then until 1985,
deceased dignitaries were honoured by a burial in the Kremlin Wall Necropolis.

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even more than the winged horses. More precisely like this: she loved all winged
horses, not picking any concrete favourite, while she loved Gavr selectively.
She had hardly jumped over the fence, when Gavr rushed to her, sniffing her
hands. After squatting down, Rina kissed Gavr on the snout, having thoroughly
wiped the section of the nose with a tissue beforehand. Gavr related quietly to the
kiss, but it gobbled the tissue after sniffing it, swallowing laboriously for a long
time.
When Rina returned to HDive, they were banging spoons there. From the
kitchen reached the friendly curses of Supovna.
Near the end of breakfast Danny glanced into his cup, “I understand,
gentlemen, that some of my communication will summon degrading laughter,
but I had tea with vermicelli! Anyone wants to confess?”
No one began to confess, including Makar, whose face emitted off-the-scale
candour. Sashka in consolation described how once on a kayak trip they had rice,
flour, salt, and sugar turning up in one bag, and everything else simply sank in
the water. Freda contemptuously flirted with her eyebrows. She considered
Sashka an athlete. And athletes, in Freda’s opinion, were horrible people, who
write “truely” instead of “truly,” confuse “loose” and “lose,” and no need to talk
about the rest.
The door flew open. Alice looked up, saw something, and stopped sketching
gallows with her wet finger on the table. Ul stormed into the dining room. His
face was red, worked up, stiffened. A terrible face. Not noticing, he hit with his
thigh a table with a mountain of empty dishes. Plates flew. He shouted something
to Supovna, who had jumped out at the crash. The next minute, tearing off her
apron, Supovna was already running somewhere. Rina and Sashka rushed in her
tracks.
Aza was lying in its stall in the stable. Its entire body was spasmodic but the
legs straightened unnaturally. The lips and nostril were covered in pink foam.
However, Rina did not even look at the nostrils but at its beautiful wings.
Bespattered with mud, spread out, crammed with straw, they lay now like
something unnecessary, not having any relation to the horse. Someone, not
noticing, stepped on a wing feather. Aza convulsively sighed and that was all. The
wing even did not stir. Flies were crawling on the mare. They climbed into the
eyes, the ears, under the tail. Yara, squatting, shooed them away, but the flies did
not even try to pretend to fly away.
“Crawled into the stall! Well, get out of here!” shouted Supovna, throwing
Vovchik out like a kitten from the stall. Supovna’s power was immeasurable. They
said that the lion on her clms did not require recharging at all because of the
proximity of the falcon. Supovna and Kavaleria got down on their knees beside
Aza.
“I came to it in the morning, and this!” Ul said in a pitiful voice.
“Calm down! What did it eat yesterday? Where did it graze?”
“I led it out to the little brook. At night. Around two.”
“Behind HDive?” Kavaleria asked sternly. Ul nodded.

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The little brook Zarianka did not appear on any serious map. Narrow like a
stream, it cut through the meadow from the west side. The grass on the slope was
unique, a person’s height. To take winged horses beyond the grounds of HDive
was forbidden, but the temptation was great. As senior hdivers would not get
caught for this, they nevertheless led the horses there at night.
Kavaleria took a short breath but said nothing. Ul had been punished
enough. “Maybe it ate something? Doesn’t look like founder,” 21 she asked
Supovna.
Supovna, after shaking her head, leaned her weight on Aza. She felt the chest,
the stomach, the groin. She detected something on a hind leg, unravelled it, and
pulled. Aza blinked with pain, pressed down the ears. In Supovna’s hands was a
short piece of barbed wire about twenty centimetres. Rusty, all covered with soil
and clay. She shook it in front of Ul’s nose. “Didn’t see it? It had to be limping!”
Ul shook his head. He grabbed the wire, and from annoyance wanted to stick
the thorns into his own hand.
Supovna hit him on the forehead with a knuckle. She hit painfully. “Gone
completely nuts? Want to come down with something? Who will nurse Aza?” She
got up and, stepping over the horse’s legs, left the stall.
Yara overtook Supovna at the doors and asked something, disturbed. Rina
heard how Supovna answered her, “It has tetanus… How do I know? What am I,
a fortune-teller? The mare is young, dragging its feet for the time being… If it
were older, I wouldn’t even bother with it. Only torments the animal.” But Yara
ran after Supovna the entire time, catching her sleeve and hoping for a miracle.
“How does she know so much about horses?” whispered Rina, leaning
towards tall Nadia. She had never seen Supovna in a saddle. And rarely in the
stable.
“She came from the circus… Born in the tent… Travelled twenty years with
the circus,” the kitchen girl Nadia said with chagrin. In her sad eyes were always
saucepans.
The hours stretched on. Ul and Yara never left Aza for a minute. The mare
did not die, but also did not become better. Only flies crawled along the moist
sunken sides and the dirty straw tangled in the wings.

***

At the end of dinner Kavaleria decisively entered the dining room, however,
she did not make her way to her table but to the novices’. “Good evening!” she
said in a voice, with which the police staff usually says, “Come with me!”
“The period of adaptation has ended. Today the clms, jacket, and schnepper
will be given out to you. I’ll wait for you in Auditorium 101 in the morning. O nine
hundred sharp, as Kuzepych would say. Don’t bother to search for the previous

21
Laminitis, commonly called founder, is inflammation of the lamina, the connecting tissue between the
protective outer layer and the sensitive internal structures of a hoof. This condition affects the feet of
ungulates, especially horses and cattle.

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73

one hundred auditoriums. They don’t exist. 101 is the only large auditorium on
the first floor!”
“Who teaches here?” Freda instantly echoed.
“In HDive each teaches what he is best at,” Kavaleria said coldly. “Max –
shooting and hand-to-hand combat, Rodion – reconnaissance and survival, Ul
and Yara – riding, flight, and preparation for dives. In addition, you have one
more instructor… Right now he’s not in HDive. But about that later.”
Freda could not keep quiet in any way. “What do you teach?”
“I teach abstract blah-blah-blah!” Kavaleria said and looked around
vigilantly, checking whether someone in reality considered that all was well. This
reminded Rina of her geography teacher, who described all continents with this
reproachful and offended energy, as if she had discovered them the Friday before.
“And now listen to an old fool as she raves!” she began the geography lesson and
ended it at the bell with one and the same phrase, “But you, of course, don’t care
a thing about this!”
While Rina was thinking to herself, Kavaleria turned abruptly to her. “Do I
look like an instructor? Tell the truth so that I wouldn’t be offended!” She
screwed up her eyes.
“Is there an inoffensive truth?” doubted Rina.
“Probably not, but you try anyway!”
“Quite a bit,” said Rina and, imitating Yara, timidly showed with her fingers
this “bit.”
Kaleria Valerevna smiled, without opening her lips. She waved goodbye and,
after lifting her hand with her glasses over her head, began to make her way
purposefully through the crowd of people filling the dining room. Soon Kavaleria
herself was not visible – only a raised hand with glasses, similar to the periscope
of a submarine.
Unexpectedly Vlad Ganich darted off and overtook Kavaleria. No one heard
what they talked about, but a minute later Ganich returned extremely contented.
“She let me go!” he bragged.
“Where?”
“To the city. Home.”
“Forever?” Sashka was amazed.
Ganich shook his head. “No, for one evening. She won’t release others, she
warned.”
Lena moved over to the chair opposite Vlad. “You’ll be in the city, download
movies on the flash drive for me! I can’t do without movies!” she asked.
Ganich straightened his tie, placing the knot immediately under his Adams
apple. He always thought over any nonsense for so long that one wanted to howl
like a wolf. “Fine, give me the drive!” he said.
“Left mine in Kiev. Use yours.”
Ganich blinked. “Won’t it ruin mine?”
“How?”
“Well, somehow… Wear something out, become demagnetized? It only seems
that drives are immortal, in reality a number of re-recordings is not that great…”

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“Don’t be a skunk!” Lena implored.


“I’m not,” said Vlad Ganich. “Simply understand me. If I say ‘yes’ to you, then
tomorrow someone else will ask me the same and in a week my drive will
definitely fry.”
“You jerk! See if you ask me for anything!”
“This is completely ruled out! I’ll never ask you for anything!” Vlad
categorically stated.
He made the trip to Moscow very smartly, and towards midnight, having
managed the last train, he was in HDive.
Sashka was surprised. He was certain that Ganich would not return to HDive.
“What do you think, why did Kavaleria let him go but not us?” Sashka asked
Danny. This question greatly occupied him.
“Don’t know. Surely because he wanted to run away then,” answered Danny.

***

They gathered in 101 not even at o nine hundred but fifteen minutes before.
Even Freda and Alice were among those who arrived prior to the start.
Auditorium 101 resembled the conveyer-belt auditorium of any institute. The
same large windows, the same steps, and two entrances – one from the ground
floor, the other from the second. The upper entrance was closed. Makar tinkered
with a clip in the lock, but without success.
Somewhere five to nine an enormous shy fellow stepped into 101. Only Rina
of all the novices knew him. “H-hello to all! I’m Max! Your wise senior i-
instructor! Kavaleria left urgently for a d-dive. She’s searching for grass for Aza,
the kind that g-grows only on Duoka. I was asked to substitute.”
Lara, showing interest, fixed her hair. “Wow! May I ask an indecent question:
are your shoulders your own or are they padded?” she cooed.
Max with suspicion poked a finger into his shoulder. “Likely m-mine,” he
said.
Makar got jealous. “What, he stutters?” looking sideways at Lara, he asked in
a loud whisper. No one noticed the aiming. The apple, which he was crunching,
was nailed to the table by a short, finger-length, arbalest bolt.
Max pulled to recharge. Single-charge arbalests were hanging on his
crisscross straps. “Let’s b-begin. No n-need to copy anything!” he permitted, after
discovering the impatiently dancing pen in Freda’s fingers.
Danny’s tongue was beginning to itch, but the arbalest was lying near Max’s
hand, and he left the wise thoughts to himself. Instead, he asked neutrally when
they would shoot. If he was not mistaken, is Max not the instructor on shooting
and hand-to-hand combat?
“W-want practice? Come h-here!” Max beckoned Danny with a finger.
Danny, after hesitating, went over. Max turned out to be about half-a-head
shorter. But then in width they were like a bubble and a straw.
“Let’s talk about the clms and about the l-lion. Novices often don’t know how
to use them, although it’s s-simple. In order to use the lion, before the action you

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must imagine clearly to yourself what y-you want… Do you see the dowel?”
Danny threw back his head. A thick piece of steel fixture stuck out of the wall by
the ceiling. It was about three and a half metres to the dowel.
“And n-now I imagine how you fly and h-hang there. Already in the final ph-
phase,” continued Max and, on touching the lion, grabbed Danny by the belt.
A second later Danny was hanging from the ceiling, dangling his legs, and
managed to preserve a philosophical look even in this absurd position. “May I ask
who will get me down?” he asked.
Max pondered. It was noticeable that he had not thought this through. “A
slight complication. I-in order to get you down, I have to t-touch you again!” he
acknowledged with embarrassment.
In a blind attempt to scramble to the ceiling, Danny soiled the plastering with
his soles. “But I’m high up!”
“I’m a-aware of that,” Max said and scratched his neck in search of a solution.
“Well, f-fine! Let go! I’ll catch you!”
Danny carefully looked down. Having closed his eyes, he yelled loudly and let
go. He fell down onto something soft. The something soft turned out to be Max.
Max carefully got up from the floor, inspecting his own body for broken
parts. After quickly rounding up the theme of the lion, he began to describe the
degrees of protection of the hdiver jacket. Rina recalled how Ul, showing how
durable it was, jumped and hit his chest against the ground. Max though limited
himself to the general words, which sounded standard.
Freda listened to Max, cleaning under her nails with a pencil. She had the
habit of cleaning under her nails with whatever she had handy.
“Well, in short, everything’s clear with the j-jacket,” said Max briskly. “Any
qu…questions?”
“Why do you have so many sick people in HDive?” asked Cyril.
“W-what? You said this to wh-whom, huh?” The “wise senior instructor”
approached him threateningly.
Cyril shrunk, cowardly following with his eyes the handles of his arbalests
well polished with touching. “I’m not talking about that,” he hastened. “Well it’s…
you look at a guy in the dining room, and he’s so all, well, as if he’s beaten, pale,
eyes sunken, drags his feet, but the next day already nothing, fresh as a
cucumber.”
“Ah-h,” Max said with understanding. “Well, should have said so
immediately. S-sick people!!! It, it m-means, he extracted a marker and he has
burnout. It’s still f-fine, w-when after one day. Sometimes it’s worse, either
troubles or some other s-stuff.” (Max pronounced the word “stuff” a very
ridiculously “stiff!”)
“And when you return without a marker?”
“Well then n-no burnout,” said Max. “Any qu-questions?” Cyril hurriedly
shook his head.
Then it turned out Lara had a question, and, as always, in her style. “An
indecent one? Are you married?”

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Max was confused. “What does this have to d…d…do with the theme at
hand?”
“Clear. And Ul?” He shook his head.
“And Rodion?”
“And w-what’s the difference to you?”
“Clear. And Athanasius?”
“N-no. P-perhaps, you’ll even a-a-ask about Kuzepych?”
Lara did not ask about Kuzepych. She had already found out about everyone
that interested her, and had settled down into a lethargic dream.
Sashka asked when they would dive. Rina smiled. Now this one does not
want to chitchat. This one wants to dive. If Danny is a theorist, then Sashka is a
practitioner. Korolev22 invented the rocket and launched Gagarin 23 into space.
Gagarin knew less than Korolev but saw space first.
Max answered that they would not be diving soon and he had no idea at all
when. But now he could show two methods of quick charging of the arbalest and
teach the throwing of pneupfs without the assiatance of a schnepper. The main
thing here was not to prick oneself.
Lara stirred. “May I ask a question?” she asked.
“Not… indecent?” asked Max.
Lara dropped her eyes. “You want an indecent one? No, a decent one! The
winged horses obey only those with a clms?”
Max shook his head. “What’s with a clms here? Winged horses obey anyone
who lo… lo… lo…”
“Clear! I would also obey anyone who lo-lo me! But no one lo-lo me…” Lara
said languidly.
Cyril neighed loudly. From the distant stable Ficus, having finally met a
brother of like mind, responded to him.
A jingling sound rolled along the corridor. The bell in HDive was unique. Not
strongly automatic and not particularly electrical. When required, the person on
duty hit a piece of iron on a suspended piece of rail.
With his face lit up, Max turned to the door. “Oh! Here’s the eee...end of
class! I love it when they e…end!” he acknowledged honestly and slipped out the
door. This was the frankest acknowledgement that Rina had heard from an
instructor.
The auditorium was almost deserted when Sashka dived under the table and
showed up with a ruffled red notebook. “Max forgot his notes. I saw him entering
with this notebook. Return it?”
“Let’s look!” Rina poked an active nose into the notebook. Max’s handwriting
was childish like many bodybuilders’. Chubby letters lay tightly on the line.
“Look, here’s the history of HDive! The first-hdivers, dives, Duoka. Wait! We’ll
return it afterwards!” she said greedily.

22
Sergey Pavlovich Korolev (1907-66) was the lead Soviet rocket scientist during the Space Race between
the Soviet Union and the United States in the 1950s and 1960s.
23
Yuri Alekseevich Gagarin (1934-68), Soviet cosmonaut, was the first human to go up in space in 1961.

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Something resonantly knocked on the glass and shielded the sun. Rina saw
an enormous clay head. Gorshenya, after sticking its face to the glass, attentively
examined her with its round amber buttons. Then it turned and left.
“He was looking at you!” said Sashka.
“Maybe at you?” Rina muttered, knowing that Sashka was not mistaken.
Gorshenya stared precisely at her.

***

Kuzepych sent all the novices into the stable after lunch. The day was windy,
damp. The winged horses frolicked. Icarus carried Alice away into the stable, no
matter how much she screamed and kicked it with her heels. Bunt threw Lena
over its head. She flew off but did not let go of the reins. When she opened her
eyes, Bunt was leaning over her with an offended-puzzled look. The rump was
pulled up but the front legs were bent. All hardware was on one side of the
mouth. Freda, who was on Lana, had an upside-down saddle. Münnich pretended
that it was frightened by a dog barking and bolted. Lara could think of nothing
better than dropping the reins and rolling with a screech down onto the grass.
After his third unsuccessful attempt to sit down on a saddle, Danny was given
a shovel and sent to remove manure. Danny examined the shovel and suffered. It
would be simpler for him to write a nine-page report on The shovel as the first
breakthrough of scientific and technical revolution than to huff and puff for two
minutes with the real thing. He interfered with everybody. They pushed him.
Ficus left the stall with difficulty. It neighed, several times waved the wings
so powerfully that it seemed it would now break through the roof; it ruffled all the
straw and…remained on the spot.
Makar carelessly tousled the mane of the scribbling donkey Phantom. The
next minute he grabbed a rumpled piece of paper and the stub of a pencil, and
began to write something eagerly. Sashka heard how he muttered,

“Well, bro, I’m here!” Gloomy fired a long burst, taking out the rest of the
store. After smashing the glass with the butt, he gently rolled two grenades into
the window. Only one jumped outside, in a green uniform, sleepy,
understanding little. Gloomy removed his knife.
“You’re somewhat bad today! Have to do better!” Nikitos said, with a
crunch breaking the injured neck.

Kuzepych took away Makar’s pencil and, in order that he would come to
sooner, dipped his head into the drinking fountain. “Wow!” he said
encouragingly. “A fighter! It’s because he’s a chap. If he were a wench, I imagine
the subject there would turn into… ‘Gloomy, have you truly loved?’ asked Nikitos
and, rolling the glass of alcohol, smelled the rose.”
“Once I rode Phantom around the stable. While riding, it was like nothing.
But that night I filled a whole notebook with poetry. The person to whom all was
addressed read half of the first page and fell asleep on my shoulder. It was

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asserted later that the poems were simply super but we were caught on a slumber
bus,” Ul’s voice was heard. Having lost weight, sad, he smiled, but the smile was
as if borrowed from a stranger’s face. Passing by, he waved and led Caesar out of
the stable. Ul was dressed in a hdiver jacket. On his back was a small knapsack.
In his hands was a schnepper.
Rina looked in on Aza. Yara, on her knees, was combing out the mare’s mane.
Then, taking a basin, she began to wash it. If it did not blink occasionally, Rina
would have decided that the mare had died. “Did you see him? A true-to-life
scarecrow! The sixth dive in two days,” Yara commented unhappily. “I think he
passes the swamp because he falls asleep in it. The elbes show him pictures but
he simply conks out.”
“Did Kavaleria find the grass?” Rina asked, recalling Max’s words.
“No. She already dived three times for nothing.” Rina nodded and, after
squatting down, began to clean Aza’s dirty wings.
“It seemed to me that you can’t stand Aza. He always spent a long time with
it.”
Yara smiled. “I’m not sure now that I love it. He loves and I reflect.”
“Ah-h…” Rina drawled and, not being able to control herself, asked, “Is it true
about the bus? The poem? Someone fell asleep on someone’s shoulder?”
Yara looked at her sternly. “Twenty-two,” she said.
“What?”
“The bus. It leaves the Dinamo Station,” said Yara. Her thinking was
mathematical.
Rina and Sashka sat with Aza until late at night, substituting for Yara, who
had left to ride her pirate, as she called Eric, a little. She experienced a feeling of
guilt about Eric. Indeed, she was on it when it got this wound. It was complicated
with Eric. It always seemed to the stallion that someone was sneaking up on it
from the “blind side.” Any incomprehensible sound frightened it. It reared, shied,
and once squeezed Yara so with its side to the concrete wall that she spent a
month with a cracked rib.
When Sashka and Rina left the stable, the sun had long been hidden. Sashka
tugged at Rina’s sleeve. In the shadow of the stable Rina saw an enormous
shadow. Gorshenya was sitting on the ground, its infinite legs extended, and was
looking… yes, again at her.
“Let’s approach him!” Rina decided.
“Don’t.”
“You’re afraid?”
“For you.”
“I’ll be afraid for myself,” said Rina.
They carefully approached, ready to jump away. Sashka rolled up his sleeve
so that his clms would be ready. He may know boxing, but three kinds of hit
cannot be blocked: a crowbar, an axe, and the “paw” of Gorshenya.
“Hello!” hailed Rina. Gorshenya slowly lifted its head. Stars blurred in the
amber buttons.

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My words are empty foam.


In silence is the closeness of thoughts.

It uttered resonantly. Sashka and Rina exchanged glances.


“What-what?” Sashka asked again.
Gorshenya lowered its heavy head and stopped staring at the stars. “I
Gorshenya, clay head, hungry belly!” it said in its usual rather doltish voice of an
unfinished puppet.
“He simply repeats like a parrot! Only after whom?” whispered Sashka.
“Let’s try to find out. I saw a list somewhere,” said Rina.
From the inside pocket of her hdiver jacket – in the summer she had tried to
return it to Yara but that one generously said, “A gift!” – she took out Max’s red
notebook covered with childish handwriting. “Meshcherya Gubastyi! Gulk Razhii!
Ivashka Kudrevatyi!” Rina began to read distinctly.
Gorshenya listened to her without noticeable interest. It only came to life
several times. After hearing “Faddei Nogata,” Gorshenya, sitting up, began to rub
its stomach and repeat, “Fadyusha tasty! Fadyusha fat!” When Rina named
Melanie Pertseva, it tried to hide behind the bush and muttered mournfully, “No
Gorshenya! Gorshenya hid well!”
“Who’s that?” whispered Sashka.
“Quiet! First hdivers… Titus Mikhailov! Sergius Nemov! Guy Moksha!”
Gorshenya behaved aggressively with reference to Guy Moksha. It leaped up
highly and waved its hands with the energy of a windmill. Rina and Sashka
ducked behind a corner of the storehouse, allowing Gorshenya to relax.
“This Moksha did something to him!” Sashka remarked.
“Don’t interfere! Still a few names left! Mityai Zheltoglazyi!” Rina shouted,
watching.
Gorshenya stopped swinging its hands. “Gorshenya goes far away!” it
informed mysteriously and, moving its straight long legs stiffly, began to walk
away. Several steps and it disappeared in the darkness.
Rina rushed after Gorshenya. Sashka caught up with her. Afraid to lose
Gorshenya, they rushed through the park. The bushes rushed by under their feet.
Obscure shadows swung like a pendulum between the pine trees. A bench became
white. Lamps jumped like spots in the darkness.
When Gorshenya went past HDive, something compelled Sashka to look
around. Against the background of a wall illuminated by a searchlight, he saw a
sliding shadow. Light on light, white on white. Like glass sliding along paper.
They sped along till the end of the lane and, after flying into young mountain
ashes, stopped. The forest seemed monolithic. Only the nearest trunks were
distinguishable. Further, something was whispering, something uniform, moving
with the wind. The trees touched each other with their branches and scratched
each other like friendly horses. A cluster of heavy berries struck Sashka in the
face. He tore it off and mechanically began to chew. The ash berries were bitter.

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Rina recalled the oak and the fallen birch trunk. “I think I know where he is!”
she said and went along the path. The wet branches, which she caught with the
top of her head, splashed her with yesterday’s rain.
Sashka looked around. It again seemed to him that they were not alone here,
and a third person was sneaking around in the darkness behind them. Attentive,
vigilant, inconspicuous. He stopped. He caught Rina’s shoulder. He whispered
into her warm ear, after touching it with his nose. “Wait for me here! Make a little
more noise! Stomp, crunch some branches!” Sashka dived into the brushwood
and began to sneak off. After about twenty metres, having caught an obscure
sound, he stopped crawling and hid.
Rina honestly stomped and broke branches. She on inexperience exaggerated
the sounds. It seemed as if somewhere nearby two young moose were grappling.
The shadow did not quite emerge from where Sashka expected it. It emerged
much closer, from the bushes. “Hey!” hailed Sashka. “Stop!” The shadow froze
from surprise. The moon flooded a white face with light. The person turned and
jumped into the bushes.
Sashka returned to Rina. “Well?” she asked.
“It was Vityara! He followed us!”
Rina recalled the tamed domestic acne, the shy smile, and the donut ears. “A
madhouse!” she said and again dived into the wind-fallen trees.
Rina was honestly searching for the felled tree when Sashka suddenly
jumped like a cat on her and brought her down to the ground. Rina saw
Gorshenya quite near. The giant was lying on its stomach, pressing its ear to the
ground. It did not notice them. It was cold. Rina hid her hands in her sleeves and
raised the collar of her hdiver jacket.
Gorshenya was listening the entire time. Its look was aloof like that of a dove
hatching an egg. The trembling of the enormous, absurd body absorbed the
sounds of the earth. Something was happening there, in the depth, and
Gorshenya responded to this with its entire essence.
It was unknown what Gorshenya heard, but suddenly something in it
changed. The giant became agitated, abruptly got on its haunches, and began to
tear up the earth with its hands. Sashka never saw digging like this. These were
feverish, hasty, but simultaneously concentrated and loving motions. Three
hdivers with trowels would not keep up with one Gorshenya. Light deciduous soil
flew off like a fountain. Gorshenya literally sunk under the earth in front of their
eyes.
It was dawn. The birch trunks acquired a strange clearness and seemed like
posts of light supporting the low sky. Gorshenya was sitting on the soil and, after
tilting its head, was examining something. It was holding in its hands a moist box
covered with soil sticking to it. Inside turned out to be a rotten rag filled with
resin. Gorshenya pressed it with great care against its chest and began to unwrap
it impatiently.
“What’s there?” Rina whispered impatiently; the head of Gorshenya
prevented her from seeing.

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As quiet as her whisper was, Gorshenya made it out very well. It jumped,
swaying on its long legs, flew up to Rina, and effortlessly pulled out from the
ground the bush, under which she was hiding. Sashka rushed to protect her, but
Gorshenya negligently waved its hand and Sashka flew off to the felled birch.
Enormous, important, it leaned sternly over Rina. The convex buttons studied
her attentively. Rina saw her own inverted reflection in them. She stepped back
doomed, understanding that it was not for her to leave.
Here Gorshenya did something entirely incomprehensible. It lowered itself
cumbersomely, almost collapsed onto its knees, and stretched an open palm to
Rina. On the palm lay a shortened clms of the same type as Supovna’s. The silvery
figures on it were familiar to Rina: centaur, mermaid, lion, and sirin. Beside that,
on the side of the pulse, a half-animal-half-bird outline was pressed into the skin.
There was no figure.
“Yours!” Gorshenya said and with extraordinary adroitness slipped the clms
on Rina’s wrist. The new clms was much more massive. Rina felt warmth issuing
from it. The dampness had not harmed the clms. It was well preserved, if the lace,
which was hopelessly torn, and two greenish spots of mould on the outside were
not taken into consideration.
“Who asked you to give it to me? There’s no figure here! Where is it?” Rina
quickly asked.
Gorshenya threw open its enormous mouth. The upper part of the mouth
rose up to the eyes. Rina did not immediately understand that this was a smile.
The giant rose, shook clay off its sheepskin coat, and went into the thicket,
repeating, “I Gorshenya, clay head, hungry belly!”

Chapter 10

Dionysus Beldo’s New Admirer

In war, they put in front of the firing squad not the one
who killed a few enemies, or shot a rifle with eyes closed in
terror, or quietly shouted “hurray!” They shot the one who
deserted. He simply left his post and fled.
From the diary of a non-returning hdiver

Athanasius was sitting in Kavaleria’s office and, showing that he was his own
man here, stroked Octavius’ nose with his little finger. As a senior hdiver he could
already allow himself some liberties. Octavius graciously let him pet it, but it was
worthwhile for Athanasius to replace the little finger with any other finger as the
dog screwed up its face and started to growl.
“Emperor, you’re a victim of your own whims! With all my respects, I ought
to have called you Ace. A simple, safe, worthwhile name!” said Kavaleria and,
after taking Octavius by the handle on the harness, pulled it off the table. “Be off,
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82

animal! To the doghouse and be chained up!” she ordered. Octavius went away
under the little openwork table and with an insulted look settled down on the
pillow.
“Now the main thing!” continued Kavaleria. “Do you remember you talked
about the warlocks meeting at the psychology institute?”
Athanasius stopped teasing Octavius with a foot under the table. “You said:
we don’t have an objective to justify the risk,” he uttered in the sweet voice of a
school informer who with delight reports to the favourite teacher that she sat on a
bun.
Kavaleria looked at him wisely and tiredly. She leaned back on the armchair
and closed her eyes. Her eyelids were trembling, with bluish veins. “When did she
dive the last time? Probably today, for all that… Cheekbones like paper,” thought
Athanasius. Kavaleria fluttered her eyelids, not opening her eyes.
“Earlier everything was clear,” said the director of HDive. “Warlocks were
hdivers who couldn’t resist. All of their elite are former hdivers who still
remember these walls, the hallways of the guildhall, how the drinking troughs in
the stable make noise… This did not support so much the balance, but at least we
knew precisely that there were about three warlocks, considering one for each
fort, to one hdiver. They even retained specific awe of markers. Respect for them,
perhaps… Let there be hatred mixed in with this awe, but nevertheless the basic
feeling was precisely respect.”
“So, something changes this?” asked Athanasius.
“Young man, they change and exchange at the flea market! I’m talking about
something else!” Kavaleria said impatiently. “Guy, but such decisions aren’t made
independently without the swamp, boosted the reserves of the forts. His people
gather recruits. The young where possible, because they have a higher capability
for adaptation. In fact, for this new generation of warlocks Duoka isn’t a real
world, to which they themselves had been at least once, the grass of which they
had touched with their hands, but hogwash. They have another approach to life:
work, get psyose. They don’t care about the rest.”
“It’s their problem,” Athanasius screwed up his face.
“It’s our problem,” Kavaleria said with emphasis. “The new warlocks are
tougher than the previous ones. They have no ideals. Golden bees didn’t pick
them. They never cried. Were never in HDive. They need nothing except psyose.
They bite off the heads just so they would be noticed and encouraged in the
swamp. Alarming symptom!”
“Why?”
“Because it unmasks the intentions of the elbes. It says clearer than clear that
if there is success in breaking the security of HDive for the elbes, they will choose
the tactics of gradual enslavement. First the elite, and then also all people without
exception will be transformed into slave-manipulators, who will prepare our
world for merging with the swamp.”
With the tip of his sock, Athanasius carefully treaded on Octavius’ tail. After a
second, the tail disappeared and teeth were hanging onto his pant leg. Athanasius
issued a quiet pensive howl.

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“In recent years the eles have been generating massively. Thousands carry
the larva in themselves. Thousands of human incubators have already died. How
do the warlocks manage to imbue them?” said Kavaleria.
“But indeed earlier the eles also installed themselves!” Athanasius blurted
out.
“Earlier the elbes had to put in the effort. Many eles perished. Only a few
managed to get into a victim. Now the discussion already deals with artificial
breeding without any risk to the eles themselves. I’m convinced the warlocks have
an artefact or a transformed marker, which transfers the eles directly from the
swamp. Now I want to find out more about this marker.”
“Do I understand correctly that the reproduced eles settle close to warlocks
and that, furthermore, they exist in symbiosis with people?”
“And you were thinking that they return to the swamp?” Kavaleria answered
in irritation. “The bodies of the ele incubators decompose rapidly. The weaker the
resistance, the faster the decomposition. Then the ele is already an elbe. The
difference is colossal, like between a maggot and a fly. An ele is slow-witted,
blind, simply a gorging larva, however, giving any gift according to the power of
the person, which it gnaws through. The elbe sees everything that its host sees,
plus it has a connection with all the elbes of the swamp. It becomes the guardian
of a more valuable warlock of high rank. It advises him, helps him occupy a high
position in society. It no longer decomposes him. On the contrary, it takes care of
him like a good horse, which has learned the fine points but is high-strung.
Transferring to a new one is simply disadvantageous, the formation of the
delicate ties takes the elbes decades, otherwise it is necessary to stun the host
with dull instincts. Food, reproduction, and pain form a performance on three
chords. The elbes themselves despise it.”
“Immortality?” Athanasius quickly asked.
Kavaleria shook her head brusquely. “Please!!! In exceptional cases. And not
even immortality but very good conservation. So far I know of only one such
case!”
There was a knock on the door. Kavaleria looked at the clock. “Oh, here she
is! Late, of course. Only forty seconds, but still!” she said with satisfaction and
opened the door.
Nasta entered the office. Shaven-headed, with the automatic casing in her
ear, she walked solemnly past Athanasius, after treading on his outstretched foot.
“Hello to the widows! Removed the crutches!” she muttered and decisively
saddled a chair like a winged horse.
“Get acquainted!” Kavaleria said merrily. “A future student of the Dionysus
Beldo School of Mental Development, Practical Witchcraft, and Runic Magic,
Anastasia Fedorovna Nesmeyanova. Hometown – Tula. Age – 18. Weight – 59
kg. Height – one hundred seventy centimetres. I remember well the hair was light
brown. Quick tempered. First tattoo at ten. Injuries: broke collarbone at twelve,
broke right foot at thirteen, broke the nose at fourteen and a half. All acquired in
fights. Then gave up smoking for the first time. Passion: winged horses and

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everything connected with them. She plays the guitar well. Knows all the poets of
the Silver Age.24 Main interest: to seem worse than she is.”
Nasta shifted uncomfortably. It is quite unpleasant when you have been
figured out this way.
Although Athanasius had known Nasta for about two years and regularly
squabbled with her in the stable, he was finding out so much for the first time.
For example, about the poets of the Silver Age. Basically he knew about Nasta
only that she always smokes behind the stable and regularly uses words, which
ordinary people say when they pinch a finger at the iron gates. “You – want – to –
send – her?” asked Athanasius separately, with each pause poking a finger at
Nasta. She snapped her teeth. On recalling Octavius involuntarily, he quickly put
his hand behind his back.
“Quite right. Nasta, do you know how to sketch? You must memorize and
sketch one object afterwards… I’m sure it’ll be there, otherwise how do the
warlocks gather recruits to settle the eles?”
“How do I know what it is?” asked Nasta.
Kavaleria shrugged her shoulders. “Show imagination… You’re a hdiver. And,
it goes without saying, stay far away from it yourself.”
“And if they ‘awake her gift’?” asked Athanasius.
Kavaleria hesitated. “Well, how am I to know everything? I’m a woman in the
dark… I’m hoping it won’t come to that. Nasta, do you want to receive a
supernatural gift from the warlocks?”
“I dream! To pop a cork with my eyes,” she answered with a challenge.
Kavaleria, as an experienced leader, politely pretended that she found it funny.
“And if they recognize her? A warlock could have seen her at some outing!”
asked Athanasius.
“We’ll try to make sure that they don’t. Of course, have to get rid of some
flamboyant traits,” Kavaleria looked sideways at the automatic casing in Nasta’s
ear. “And we’ll supplement the rest with this!” She opened a desk drawer and
pulled out a string of bright, large, improbably tasteless beads.
Nasta looked at them and threw them back with such horror that she almost
flew off the chair. “Never! You better shoot me! So that they would decide that I
trade seeds at the Artic Circle?” she began to yell.
“I don’t want to force my view on things on anybody, but in your shoes I’d
give it some thought,” Kavaleria threw the beads around her own neck.
Octavius sadly whimpered. Its mistress had disappeared. On the chair sat a
girl of about twenty with a braid and killer looks. If not for the hdiver jacket,
there would be no possibility whatsoever to recognize Kavaleria in her.
“Outstanding disguise! It was even used by ancient hdivers. The problem is
that you can’t wear them for more than three hours in a 24-hour period,” said the
girl in a very familiar voice.
“If more?” asked Athanasius.

24
The Silver Age of Russian Poetry applies to the first two decades of the 20th century.

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“If longer, the camouflage appearance can be stuck,” Kavaleria removed the
beads without regret and handed them to Nasta. This time she did not reject
them.
“And me?” Athanasius asked plaintively.
“Do you also want to go to the warlocks?”
Athanasius tugged at his musketeer moustache. He had already grown it
three times this year. And twice shaved it off. With the moustache, he lost the
similarity to a prince and began to resemble Aramis. 25 “Well no, to protect Nasta!
Dangerous to send one: they could nail her and you wouldn’t even know where
the grave is,” he said sweetly.
Kavaleria thought it over for a short time. “The warlocks know how to throw
dust in one’s eyes. Should be someone close by capable of giving a friendly kick,”
she admitted.
“So it means I’m going after all?” Athanasius could not wait.
“No. Beldo saw you once and now recognizes you even with any disguise…
Someone not raising suspicion is needed here. I don’t have another artefact equal
in power to the beads. So, need novices who aren’t hdivers yet, in essence. The
security of the institute – if there is one – will assuredly let them through. Only
who…”
Rina’s head and immediately above, Sashka’s, appeared around the door.
Both were wet, covered with clay. Both were talking about something excitedly.
Rina showed her own wrist.
“No, no, and… yes! They are the last I would think of… But when people force
their company on you, one can see the finger of fate,” said Kavaleria in an
undertone.

***

Rina and Sashka reached a chair for two. They timidly sat on the edge.
Octavius gave thought to something strictly canine and, after getting under their
chair, began to growl in a proprietary way.
“Well, looks like this is your first assignment!” said Kavaleria five minutes
later. “The clms – one is quite enough – you’ll hide outside. Don’t carry it past
security. Your task is to keep an eye on Nasta. Don’t get ahead. If something non-
standard happens, one continues to watch Nasta. The other reaches the clms and
reports to me through the centaur. All clear? It goes without saying, also look out
for the artefact and try to memorize it. Afterward you will sketch it. And no heroic
photographs on cell phone, I beg you! Artefacts do not like cheap popularity.
They themselves will take vengeance, even without berserkers,” said Kavaleria.
Rina nodded.

25
René d'Aramis de Vannes is a fictional character from the Musketeers novels of French writer Alexandre
Dumas (1802-70).

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“Just a moment…” Kavaleria took out a chubby white mushroom and,


handling it carefully, handed it to Sashka. “This is a flash! Such are found on
Duoka, the north mine of the first ridge…”
“It won’t in the pocket?” Sashka asked cautiously.
“Not in the pocket, but I would advise not to drop it. Of course, this isn’t an
attack marker, but it deafens and dazzles capitally… You’ll have not less than a
minute. Now about the disguise.”
Kavaleria opened a desk drawer and, after rummaging, found two pins with
mother-of-pearl heads. “Better stick them in the collar so they won’t touch your
skin. Try to stay in the crowd of kindred spirits. I think there will be more than
enough of them.”
Rina carefully took the pins. They were very long with rust tracks. In the
presence of a sick fantasy, it was even possible to fence with them.
“And they won’t be recognized?” asked Athanasius.
“They will,” Kavaleria answered with a strange smile. “They’ll remind each
person of someone, with whom unpleasant recollections are connected. Nothing
you can do: the only artefact without side effect is an aspen stake.” 26
“So, on Friday?” asked Rina. “What’s today?”
“TOOSday since morning,” Nasta prompted mockingly. She said it this way:
“TOOSday.” Nasta and Athanasius left.
In the office remained Kavaleria, Sashka, and Rina. Kaleria picked up
Octavius, jumping from barking (it was not pleased that Nasta, departing, stuck
her tongue out at it).
“Well,” said Kavaleria. “I’m listening! Shoot!”
Rina silently pulled up her sleeve. Kavaleria attentively looked at her clms.
She closed her eyes for a second. Then opened them. Nothing changed on her
face. “Can you please find out if Kuzepych has shoed Arap?” She asked Sashka in
an even voice.
“Right now?” Sashka was surprised. “Okay!”
Kavaleria shut the door after Sashka. “Where did you get it?” Rina told her.
“And there was no figure?”
“No.”
“Well…” said Kavaleria. “Now this clms is yours. The previous one you’ll
return to Kuzepych. The rules of HDive forbid having two active clms.”
“But…”
“Don’t interrupt!” Kavaleria silenced her. “Whether you understood or not,
Gorshenya was the creation of Mityai Zheltoglazyi, the most mysterious hdiver of
all that ever existed. His friend, the imprint of his soul in clay – call it what you
like. All these years it preserved his clms, keeping this in secret from the entire
HDive, and now it gave it to you. We hope that Gorshenya isn’t mistaken. After
the incident with the beehive I’m somewhat scared of him.”
Kavaleria curtained off the window, approached the cabinet, and pulled out
from the third shelf the album Russian Wooden Architecture. Impatiently leafing

26
It is believed that an aspen stake driven into the heart of a vampire can kill it.

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through it, she stopped at one of the photographs depicting a wooden chest with
instructions. She stretched out a hand, threw back the lid and, after taking out
from the chest a thick worn book in leather binding, she returned Wooden
Architecture to its previous place. “I don’t like storing important things in plain
sight,” she said, opening the worn book to where a bookmark was placed.
Rina saw a picture drawn by hand. In it were seven shortened clms. On the
first clms – a hand with a sceptre. On the second – a bat. On the third – a
cheetah. On the fourth – the head of a wild boar. On the fifth – a falcon. On the
sixth – a saddle. On the seventh – a skull with an arrow in the teeth.
“Seven such clms were made. Each for a different figure. All seven are
smelted of one ore, delivered from the second mountain ridge, by Mityai
Zheltoglazyi. The warlocks have the wild boar head and the saddle. I have the
hand with a sceptre. Supovna has the falcon. The fate of the rest is unknown,
although I have some idea about one. A special gift is tied to each figure. The wild
boar head – invulnerability. The falcon – inexhaustible power reserve.”
“The hand with a sceptre?”
“The hand with a sceptre is this here…” Kavaleria stretched out her hand and
got a handful of broken snow from somewhere incomprehensible. The snow was
sticky. After muttering, “Thaw, in Greenland perhaps?” Kavaleria placed the
snow in a flowerpot to melt, sat down, and scooped up wet pebbles, also from
somewhere incomprehensible. The smell of algae and salt tickled Rina’s nostrils.
“Well, this is already the sea bottom… Understand what the hand with a sceptre
is?”
“The skull with an arrow?”
Kavaleria looked quickly and very sharply at her. “I hope you’ll never find
out.”
“And the cheetah?”
Kavaleria stroked the leather binding of the book like she would a dog or a
cat. Octavius started to growl jealously. “It’s written here that the cheetah makes
any animal, bird, fish, and even insect, an ally of its owner. It achieves this by
shifting any of your thought to the thought pattern of the animal, which has a
totally different logic. But only when the person actually loves the one he orders.
If he has evil intention in his soul, then the cheetah will only injure.”
“Why?”
“It strengthens and shifts precisely the innermost thought.”
“But I don’t have the cheetah,” Rina said sadly.
Kavaleria nodded. “Not yet, for the time being! But if you’re indeed the legal
owner of the clms, then the cheetah will still come to you, as did the clms… These
seven figures have the general name: uniqum. They are not repeated. If we
assemble all the uniqa and alloy them together, then for this ingot the elbes will
give all the knowledge of the dead world – the swamp.”
“Why?”
“So says the legend.”
“And for less?” asked Rina.

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“The elbes won’t agree to less. Either all or nothing. I don’t know why they
need the ingot whole. It goes without saying that hdivers aren’t interested in this
transaction, but it’s a different matter for the warlocks…”
“And Guy knows about this?”
“It’s difficult to say what Guy Moksha knows or doesn’t know. Together with
Mityai Zheltoglazyi he was one of the founders of HDive,” Kavaleria cut her off
dryly.

***

In the morning, Rina and Sashka again made their way to the stable. Along
the way, Rina mused that HDive, in essence, grew from the stable. But for winged
horses, what would all these clms, philosophy, even the knowledge about Duoka
be worth? In the stable, the racks were clanking. The doors of the stalls were
rattling. There they were tidying and cleaning. They were scrubbing and raking.
Only who would figure that every five minutes of flight must be paid for by an
entire hour of cleaning, feeding, medical care, fussing with horseshoes, repair of
falling-off doors, leaky roof, and such without end?
Outside by the gate, Danny was explaining at length to Bunt, with the
application of diagrams of aerodynamics, that a horse cannot fly. The winged
horse listened and was downcast, examining its reflection in the puddle.
“Don’t kill Bunt’s faith in itself!” Rina shouted merrily.
On seeing Rina and Sashka, Danny rushed to them. “Oh, here you are! My
counter compliments! They have no muscular strength! According to all layouts,
this hulk should crash down without fail!”
Oxa rushed around the stable like a comet, at times issuing enthusiastic
shouts. She had no special reason, but since when does a normal person need a
reason to yell joyfully?
“Work, widow, sweat!” Nasta, loading a wheelbarrow with dirty sawdust, said
gloomily to her. Next to her Ruzya was huffing and puffing with the rakes.
Ruzya and Nasta were known to the entire HDive. They were always sent
somewhere together so that they would balance each other. Ruzya did everything
slowly and thoroughly, and Nasta quickly and carelessly. In the time Ruzya
cleaned one-half of a horse, Nasta managed to clean a good ten winged horses.
But then half of a horse was cleaned ideally, which could not be said about the
ten.
Many in HDive knew that Ruzya was in love with Nasta. Alas, his attention
was the most awkward, gawky, with sad sighs from dark corners, with cutlets
slipped secretly onto the plate, and infinite conversations about nothing. Nasta
wanted something different – passion, flights to the moon, and the ringing of
blades. The penguin Ruzya felt like a burden to her.
Oxa worked for half a minute, after which with the greatest readiness she
stopped tidying up the stable and placed the rakes in the passageway so that
someone would have the incentive to trip over them. “Oh, did you see Aza? The

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poor thing! Ul has been with it for twenty-four hours and Yara is with it all the
time!” she whispered, sneaking up to Nasta.
Pink spots flared up on Nasta’s cheeks. Three spots merged into one on the
right cheek, but on the left, they remained separate. “Shut your trap!” she spoke
through clenched teeth.
Oxa tried to be offended, but to be offended meant to be silent. Oxa was
something similar to the universal mother Delta. If someone is not well, he must
be soothed, even if he bites in doing so. “Oh! Come on!” Oxa chirped peacefully.
“I’m not being wicked! Now smile! Nastochka dear, smile! What did you see in
him?”
With a hammer, Nasta was bending down a rusty nail sticking out like a spike
in the passageway. She straightened on hearing “what did you see in him?” and,
tapping her open palm with the hammer, said grimly, “IN WHOM?”
Oxa cautiously looked sideways at the hammer. She still had not forgotten
how once the same hammer flew along an arc into Gosha, who blurted out
something not quite right. Therefore, Oxa decided to change the topic. “Oh! I
can’t help it, girlfriend! We have different tastes! I like bad boys!” Nasta began to
moan mentally. Oxa’s favourite theme was: my great love. Or even as a guy would
say: my great luv.
“And who do we have is bad? Vovchik, perhaps?” she asked and stopped
crashing with the hammer.
Oxa tensed. It is always pleasant to mess around with a finger in someone
else’s wound, but someone only has to get into yours and the pleasure is
immediately reduced to zero. If you have a wound, hide it so that friends would
not begin to comfort you. Else there will be some among them who will stitch up
the usual cat scratch with a coarse thread. “Eh-eh… Well, at least…” she carefully
acknowledged. “Vovchik isn’t bad. Vovchik’s rotten. The real bad boys are the
maniacs in the area. Only something in them doesn’t attract you,” Nasta
answered lazily.
A splash of the familiar puddle outside was heard. The door in the gates of
the stable was opened. Kuzepych walked pigeon-toed towards them, Sashka and
Rina walked behind him. Having searched with his eyes for Nasta, Kuzepych
pointed a finger at her. “Let’s go! Kavaleria ordered me to deliver the three of you
to the subway! Ready in ten minutes! March into the shower, else the smell of the
stable will set any warlock on you in seven seconds!”

Chapter 11

Day of the Overt Beasts

The will is a small, evil, purposeful wasp. It stings and


chases in front of it the indiscreet, lazy, and narcissistic
mind.
From the diary of a non-returning hdiver
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Nasta jumped into her room, dropped the hdiver jacket, and quickly
changed. At the door she recalled something and took the casing from her ear.
The hole left empty seemed enormous. A thought even flickered in Nasta that
perhaps she should tape over it with something. After finding a bandage, she was
again at the mirror and, having looked up carelessly, met herself face to face.
Her face seemed terrible to her. Wide nose, red cheekbones like a rutabaga,
low forehead, stiff short bristle growing on a shaven head. Nasta froze in
melancholy. She was considered likable in school. But then somehow everything
started rolling. It seemed to Nasta now and then that she was searching especially
for something still to do to herself so that someone somewhere unknown would
notice her and pity her. Cut off her hair? Put a casing in her ear? Shave off her
eyebrows? Tattoo a scorpion on her neck? Challenging her own face as usual,
Nasta grimaced, smacked herself lightly on the jaw, and left the room.
Rina, Sashka and Kuzepych were waiting for her in the minibus beyond the
gates of HDive.
Kuzepych turned the wheel, went with disgust around the puddles, and
cursed Makar for smashing the bus simply to surprise. Then he began to sing
songs, jumping from Katyusha27 to Vysotsky.28 Kuzepych did not have a voice but
had the ear.
“Supovna sings better!” stated Nasta.
“When did you hear her?” Kuzepych asked jealously.
“When I had a problem with my ear. I was lying in sick bay and she sang to
me…” Imagination painted a picture for Rina: Nasta aching with pain in the
pillow and Supovna stroking her head and singing; the Moscow night with wind
and rain beyond the window.
Nasta sat next to Sashka and looked out the window. Kuzepych was driving
right past a school. She was amused watching the children going home. Students
of the lower grades haul enormous schoolbags, from which their spine crumbles
into their panties. The older the student, the smaller the knapsack, and finally
begins the day and the hour, when a person goes to school, after shoving under
the belt a single notebook for all subjects.
At the subway, Kuzepych stopped in the middle of the road, blocking
impatient drivers. Nasta wanted to climb out, feeling how Sashka and Rina were
breathing down her back, but Kuzepych, turning around, caught her by the
elbow. “You eh… well… take care of yourself there! Left the schnepper behind?
Took the beads?” he solicitously asked Nasta. Kuzepych’s chin reddened like a
wee one’s heel. In his bulging eyes was uneasiness. But Kuzepych did not allow

27
Katyusha is a very popular Soviet wartime song composed in 1938, about a girl pining for her beloved
away at war.
28
Vladimir Semyonovich Vysotsky (1938-80) was the iconic Soviet-Russian performer well known for his
unique singing style and lyrics of social and political commentary in humorous street jargon.

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her to get puffed up. “Don’t lose hdiver property! I have it in my inventory!” he
said, himself again.

***

Before allowing the subway worm to devour them, they temporarily stopped
in the square. Nasta threw the beads onto her neck, and Rina and Sashka put on
the pins. Remembering that the pin must not touch the neck, Sashka wrestled
with his collar for a long time. When he finally raised his head, directly in front of
him was his previous gym teacher from school by the name of Kurdyumov, who
pitilessly forced him to run five kilometres for each missed class. Sashka stepped
back in horror. On the gym teacher’s sweaty face appeared reciprocal stirring of
memory expressed in accordion-like creases on the forehead.
“What are you doing here? I’ll call Arturych!” Kurdyumov suddenly said,
taking a step back.
Sashka began to blink. Kurdyumov usually sorted out all problems by himself
and did not call Arturych. “Rina? It’s you?” he hailed uncertainly.
The gym teacher ran a hand along a red face. “Uh-huh, me! Excuse me! You
look so much like a neighbour, who for two months confused our door with a
washroom.”
“Doesn’t matter… Let’s shake hands!” Rina shook her head. She did not want
to shake hands with a boor who mixed up the doors, even though this was not
quite him.
Recalling Nasta, both turned to her. Sashka expected that Nasta would also
turn out to be any Kurdyumova, but she did not change so radically. Simply an
eighteen-year-old girl. Well, slightly taller, slightly narrower in the shoulders,
with short bright bangs and… to be frank, an order of magnitude more likable.
“Hair!” said Rina.
“What hair?” Nasta lifted a hand and touched the bangs with suspicion. Not
discovering anything to look into, she rushed to the nearest car. Turning the
mirror to herself, she stared at her own face. She looked and pulled the beads,
winding them around a finger.
“Pretty girl! Where to take you for free, pretty girl?” someone said beside her.
Nasta slowly turned her head. Looking at her from the driver’s side was a
young merry Azerbaijani, smiling not only with his teeth but also with pink gums.
Nasta gathered her wits and jumped away from the car.
Rina and Sashka waited for her, anxiously casting looks at each other. Both
had raised collars, into which they buried their noses with concentration.
“We inserted the pins too early,” Sashka complained.
“Why?”
“Three times already someone try to give us one in the snout. And each time
for a valid reason. It was even downright awkward to defend oneself… There
Sashka met his ex-wife! Why did you drop her thirty years ago, huh?” asked Rina.

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A quite elderly woman was standing beside them and holding Sashka by a
sleeve. Sashka was panting. He wanted to pull his sleeve away and was ill at ease
at the same time. He was sweating and behaving like a thief caught in the act.
“You haven’t aged at all! Just tell me: why? I’ll understand!” the woman
repeated.
“No need to pull him! He himself didn’t understand why he did it,” Nasta
butted in. The woman flinched as if she was hit, let go of the sleeve, and quickly
went into the crowd.
Sashka took a step after her, desiring to detain her, but stopped. “Only try to
be rude to my wife again!” he threatened Nasta and shook her beads with a
finger. “And do you remember at all that you have only three hours?”
Nasta shuddered like Cinderella, who was asked what she intended to do
after midnight. “Don’t go into the shower without soap!” she snapped.
“What?”
“I say, don’t worm into the soul! What’s up? Well, that’s all, widows, move!”
she said hoarsely and stepped towards the subway. She desperately wanted to
smoke.

***

They cheered up noticeably in the subway, especially when they passed the
tournstiles safely. Sashka completely averted his face so that the cop on duty on
the escalator would not identify him as the criminal from the morning briefing.
You never know if the pin might backfire. In the railroad car, feeling guilty for the
deserted wife, Sashka tried to give his spot to everybody and caught hold of
elderly ladies, who were afraid and refused to sit down, by their arms. They
reached Kitai-gorod Station this way and from there to Tretyakovskaya Station.
The escalator at Tretyakovskaya smelled persistently of new rubber. Nasta
suddenly realized that she was uneasy. She rode it and wanted it to go up forever.
“Are you sure that we’re here?” asked Rina.
“Uh-huh. Browsed this region a hundred times. They have a base here near
the monument to maniacs,”29 confirmed Nasta.
“Monument to whom?” Rina was in doubt.
“Unimportant what it’s called. Important that it’s a real monument to
maniacs. The warlocks love it. Not one of our clms works within a hundred
metres of it. What do you want: Bolotnaya Square! Sounds familiar?” 30
They reached Bolotnaya Square with adventures. Sashka met a redneck, who
called him “Rusty,” squinted nastily, and repeated, “Forgotten the Kolyma,
scum?”

29
The monument to maniacs refers to the group of sculptures The Children – Victims of Adult Vices by
Russian artist M. Chemiakine (1943 -).
30
Bolotnaya Square was originally a swampy meadow – bolotnaya, from boloto, a swamp. Here it refers to
the warlocks working with the elbes from the dead world the swamp.

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“Why don’t I meet anyone?” Rina blurted out and fate immediately punished
her. A car braked beside her. A guy jumped out and started to push her into the
car, yelling “Go have a look at your daughter! Such trash!” She had to flee to the
courtyards, but he was running behind, thin and unhappy, and shouting all the
time.
“Shouldn’t get mixed up with these pins at all! And generally always some
injured ones, no one who isn’t,” Rina said gloomily, kicking a drain pipe. The pipe
clattered, but not where it was kicked but higher. Garbage fell from it.
They crossed the bridge over the Moscow River, turned left, and found
themselves by an enormous old corner building. The entrance was from the
street, on the spot of a right angle rounded by the architect. The door, raised by
several steps, opened out to Bolotnaya Square. Above the entrance hung several
plaques, the most noticeable of which: Yakimanka District Board.
Sashka gave Nasta an imperceptible nudge. “This is the door?”
“Not this one yet,” Nasta answered mysteriously.
“Wh-why?”
“Later you’ll understand.”
Sashka nodded, agreeing to understand later.
They crossed the road and settled in the children’s playground not far from
the monument to maniacs. Sashka immediately started to perk up. Nasta
squeaked the rusty swings, and Rina listened to the squeaking and pondered the
possibility of writing music for the swings. Rina tired of listening to the
squeaking. She went onto the bridge and began to examine the locks, on which
enamoured pairs wrote their names.31 The locks were hung in clusters on the rails
and posts. Nasta stood on the bridge and, ignoring the locks, spat into the water,
confusing a young duck extremely. The duck could not figure out at all if it was
being fed. You throw, it swims up, grabs, and that is it.
After recalling Kavaleria’s order to hide the clms somewhere hereabout,
Sashka went down to the river and began to search for a place. Finally, he pushed
it under the bridge into a narrow crack where a piece of bottle glass gleamed
rather greenish.
“Someone will swipe it!” Nasta stated categorically. Sashka’s clms was the
only one the three of them had. Rina and Nasta had left theirs in HDive.
“No, they won’t. It went in deeply,” answered Sashka.
“You’re a true hdiver! You do everything sloppily, with moderate hit-and-
miss,” said Nasta. She so frequently quoted Ul that now and then she felt like a
shadow that had lost its owner and attached to all indiscriminately just to belong
to someone.
Nasta had only one close person in Moscow: an old security guard who lived
year round in a small trailer at the construction marketplace on Varshavka, in a
corner where non-standard boards are piled up. Nasta met him when, once at the
same marketplace, two clerks from Dolbushin’s fort half lazily, not with full force,

31
Love padlocks or love locks are padlocks affixed on public places, such as bridges or fences or gates, by
lovers to symbolise their love, especially after throwing away the key to the lock.

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beat her up and, generously not finishing her off, left her lying around. Then she
lay low in the trailer for two days, not answering the clms and not wanting to be a
hdiver at all. Later she nevertheless contacted Ul and he picked her up.
The security guard was quite old. Fifty… sixty… seventy… – for the time being
the difference was blurry to Nasta. Small, dried up, dark-complexioned, covered
with white bristle, he was made up of some bones and skin covering them.
Formerly he came to Moscow from Transnistria, where he had no one left, and,
completely lonely, he lived his life in a precarious existence.
The guard poured tea for her in a tin mug with broken enamel. He kept quiet
and Nasta kept quiet. She sat beside him and it seemed to her that the two heavy
hearts stretched out their hands towards each other. There was something
hopeless and irresolvable in melancholy. What was needed was one more
someone, accommodating Nasta, the old man, Ul, and the hot new tin roof of the
small construction trailer.

***

Dionysus Beldo appeared in Bolotnaya Square at quarter to five. His painted


minivan was parked closely to the rank and file. Ptah got out of the minivan.
Clumsily going around it, he knocked with the windshield wipers and again
climbed into the van. Mlada and Vlada fluttered out the rear door. The old man,
hissing, pushed Mlada away and politely stretched his fingers to Vlada. Then he
thought it over and, after pulling his fingers from Vlada, transferred them to the
forgiven Mlada, after muttering: “Here! Don’t sulk!”
Pulled by Mlada from the van, Beldo became hyperactive. He rushed to the
monument to maniacs and, after dancing around its perimeter, laid four
chrysanthemums on the corners. Then, after looking around and sending air
kisses, the frisky old man made his way to the corner building. A small crowd had
already gathered at the entrance and each second all new people joined in.
Apparently, they had been here for a long time and, having dispersed among the
passers-by, waited for the specified hour.
Sashka also wanted to join the crowd, but a group of rummies identified him
as Ted, who owed a small debt. Whispering to one another, they began to drive
Ted sidewise towards the Moscow River in order to beat the dust out of him on
the sly on the half-empty embankment.
Nasta shot off the cigarette butt with her index finger. It flew in an arc, hit
the grid of a fence, and bounced. “Let’s go! Ted! Give the guys what they want and
march after me!” she said in a commanding voice.
She approached the porch first. Rina and Sashka dropped back slightly,
making way for cars. The crowd was pulled into the door like soapy water into a
drain. The signboard Yakimanka District Board had mysteriously
disappeared. Now another: Institute of Psychological Development
occupied its place. Some characters managed to fade noticeably.
While Nasta was waiting for Sashka and Rina, the door closed. Rina went up
to the porch and pushed it away from herself. Sashka and Nasta went through

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behind her. They saw a grey dull foyer, reeking of a recently washed floor. An
alert old man with the “On Duty” band was looking bored in the security booth.
An aloof young policeman in a bullet-proof vest was playing on his phone beisde
the metal detector frame. The automatic weapon hanging on his belt hindered
him. He pushed it with his elbow.
“Closed!” he said to Rina, without lifting his head.
“What’s closed?” Rina did not understand.
“The board is closed for sanitary treatment. Exterminating insects since the
morning. Please come tomorrow.”
Rina looked around suspiciously. The foyer appeared empty. The recent
crowd had been sucked in without a trace. “But what about them?” she asked
stubbornly.
“Which them?” The policeman was distracted for a second from the screen,
and, while he moved his eyes, something irreparable happened on the phone.
Either a fellow was killed or a turret crumbled. His face was sad. “What do they
want? What?” he pleadingly asked the person on duty. The butt of the automatic
weapon knocked his elbow painfully.
The old man jumped out of the booth like a dog from a kennel. “You’re asked
nicely: not reception day!” he snapped, running his eyes down Sashka and Rina.
“Wait a minute! Isn’t it you who broke the glass here the day before yesterday?
Well, stop, you’re asked nicely!”
Rina jumped out in a hurry. She saw through the glass how the old man,
signalling with his right hand, explained something to the policeman. That one
got up and, hesitantly pulling out the automatic weapon, made his way in their
direction.
“Hey, what’s up?! Open the door!” Nasta yelled.
“How does it open? There’re these!” Sashka did not understand.
“Open in the other direction! Don’t brake!” Nasta jumped like a cat to the
door, and a second before the policeman got out onto the porch, pulled the
handle towards herself.

Chapter 12

Designer of Desires

In spite of the strangeness of this question, new and


diverting only for the excess in it, it must be said that it is
the very rare among men who love themselves. Most people
hate themselves; try to do to themselves as much evil as
possible. If we measure the evil done to a person in his life,
then we will find that the most brutal enemy would not do
to him as much evil as the person would to himself…

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St. Ignatius Brianchaninov32

This time everything was different. They found themselves in a hall with
parquet floor, which by its size could in no way fit in the building on Bolotnaya
Square, although it occupied a fifth of the block. The hall went on infinitely and
seemed even bigger because of many mirrors. In the centre was an islet – a small
one, at an elevation of one-and-a-half steps. Along the edges of the islet were
placed four glass tables, with greenhouse plants in tubs stretched out in a chain
between them.
The hall was so enormous, so hollow, so flooded by light, and the mirrors
reflected everything with such frightening detail that even the most daring person
involuntarily began to search for dark corners. He would quickly discover that
there were none, and would involuntarily go to a table.
Sashka and Rina did the same. Along the way, they several times came across
piles of people of different ages. It was noticeable that the majority were here for
the first time and no one was acquainted with anyone else. They animatedly
exchanged remarks on foolish themes and laughed with that amplified laughter,
with which people always laugh in an unknown place, when they want to show
that the contact provides enormous pleasure.
Into the hall slid Beldo, Mlada, and Vlada. Beldo fluttered like a butterfly,
successful in touching every flower. He had all of a couple of seconds for each
collocutor. He smiled at one, touched the hair of another, exchanged jokes with a
third, slapped in a familiar manner the stomach of a fourth.
Rina and Sashka knew the heads of forts only by photos. Yesterday Yara had a
briefing with them, forcing them to identify them on dozens of photographs,
including group ones. It is possible that a photograph and a man do not always
connect; therefore, Rina shuddered when Dolbushin emerged from the crowd
towards her.
The head of the second fort was walking, staring at the floor. If he was greeted,
he briefly nodded. Dolbushin was in an austere suit, in a blindingly white shirt
and a solid blue tie. He nonchalantly slipped the umbrella handle over his wrist.
Andrei moved behind and close to Dolbushin. When someone tried to overtake
his boss and start a conversation, he would involuntarily bump into Andrei and
start to double over his infinite back. By that time, Dolbushin had turned up far
in front.
“Look, there’s Till!” whispered Sashka.
The head of the fort of berserkers moved in a dense ring of bodyguards. If we
judge by the direction his security was looking, Till was mainly “bodyguarding”
from Dolbushin. This was their first meeting after the attack of berserkers on
Dolbushin’s home. Although according to Till himself it could not be said that he

32
From the Collected Works of St. Ignatius Brianchaninov, 4:38, On Love for the Neighbour. St. Ignatius
Brianchaninov (1807-67), a saint of the Russian Orthodox Church, was a prolific author with five volumes
of collected works.

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97

was afraid of anything. A cigarette was dangling carelessly from his moist lips,
while Kesha and Pasha accompanying their father were behaving insolently.
“My compliments, Albert! How’s life? How’s business?” Till shouted from a
distance. Dolbushin stopped, looked at him for a second, and then nodded dryly,
showing that he was satisfied with business and more so with life.
Between them Beldo was twirling like a top. As if noticing Dolbushin for the
first time, he was intensely glad to see him. He shrieked, hung onto the neck,
shrank back, threw up his hands, sat down, and sighed. Then he rushed to Till
and repeated the same, only changing the order: sighed before sitting down, and
kissed Till on the neck, whereas on Dolbushin’s ear.
Till and Dolbushin behaved identically – recoiled with wooden faces from the
old man and… turning up beside each other, belatedly realized that this was
craftiness of the insidious dancer. Voluntarily or involuntarily, he had merged
their hostility to himself.
Beldo, laughing, caught Dolbushin by the arm and dragged him from Till.
“How’s your little girl, Albert?” he whispered. “It’s not too bad for her in HDive?
After all the luxury surrounding her, now a common room and toilet!!! Ugh!
Although the erased memory is a reliable protection against disappointment! Guy
is bad to send her there, but, between us, it’s an outstanding school of life!”
Dolbushin turned away. The price of this babble was well known to him.
“Mlada, Vlada, and I worry so! Every night Mlada kisses a hundred stars for
her! And Vlada took her photograph and whispers happiness into her ear all day!”
“Tell her to take her happiness back or…” Dolbushin waved his umbrella.
Beldo giggled, but moved aside from the umbrella. “Now-now, Albert! I
understand you perfectly well! In your situation… I adore you nevertheless,
although you’re… hee-hee! so nasty!” he said, jumping aside like a sparrow.
Beldo clapped his hands loudly, attracting attention. The novices surrounded
him in a wide semicircle. Nasta turned out to be in the first rows. Sashka and
Rina stayed in the crowd.
“My friends! Dear, dear friends! I send you the bright energy of my soul! Absorb
it like flowers drinking the sun!” Beldo exclaimed resonantly, kissing his hands
and blowing onto open palms. A gold radiance came from his hands and like
waves flowed to the spectators. Dolbushin and Till foresightedly dived behind the
backs of their bodyguards. Beldo stopped bestowing the energy of his soul and
shook off his hands with distaste.
“Before we get acquainted, I want to tell you the main thing! I’m not asking you
to trust my word, but we’re all here in order to serve good! The absolute,
worldwide, universal good, which all world religions speak of! Each just a little bit
in its own way, but is it so important? This is it, good, that bring all of us here, on
Bolotnaya Square, in these bright, good, affectionate walls!”
The old man took an egg out of a pocket, breathed on it, and a young chick
appeared in his hand, still small, not yet dry. The hall breathed out
enthusiastically. Dionysus Tigranovich shrugged his shoulders modestly and
bowed.

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98

“Tricks!” Frowning, a dishevelled young person, standing closer than others to


Beldo, dropped the word.
“Not any trick! The egg from a poultry farm, stamped, is absolutely sterile!” The
old man was indignant. “But you’re fundamentally correct, young man! This isn’t
a miracle! Even the least talented of you will do this in the third lesson! Only I
beg you, not in the supermarket! Thousands of tiny chicks – it’s too much!” He
turned and thrust the chick at Mlada.
“But for a start let’s find out who’s with us and who’s against! If there are those
among you who want to serve evil, let them leave immediately!” The old man
stomped his foot. “I will not reveal this secret of the universe! Well, I’m waiting!
Who wants to serve evil?”
The dishevelled young person timidly raised a finger.
“Are you yearning to serve evil?” Beldo asked him in a half-hearted way.
“No… Nothing like that.” the young person answered in a hurry. “I simply
wanted to ask. Is it possible?” Beldo politely let him continue. “I don’t want to
serve evil, but not really sure I want to serve good either! What if it’ll only be talk
on my part? In short, I haven’t decided!” the young person said in confusion.
Beldo knitted his brows. “Is there anyone else who agrees with him?” he
announced loudly. After a bit of embarrassment three more hands went up, and
then, after that, one more.
Beldo surveyed the raised hands, rolled his eyes, and solemnly declared. “We’re
not on the same path with you, my friends! No! I ask you, Ingvar Borislavich!”
Till croaked something and tugged at the cigarette attached to his lips. Berserkers
closed around those five and took them away. People in the hall began to fret.
“No violence! They’re being taken strictly to the exit! We don’t need people with
a vague life agenda and who don’t care about universal good!” Beldo announced
soothingly. “And you, my friends, relax! The presentation will begin soon!”
Escaping from a suspicious lady who identified Sashka as her former boss,
Sashka and Rina started to manoeuvre in the crowd and bumped their stomachs
against a round table.
At the table sat a plump woman in round glasses and with hair combed back. A
notebook and a pen lay before her. “My name is Alevtina! It seems to me that I’ve
met you somewhere! This is your first time here?”
“Yes. Came with a friend,” Sashka said nervously.
“It’s okay. We’re happy with everybody!” the woman calmed him.
Sashka, smiling, began to step back, shielding Rina with his shoulder.
“A minute! Please stay!” the lady said sternly.
Rina looked around. She watched as a rather short, carelessly dressed man, so
flexible that he seemed to be arching back, entered the door. Four arbalesters
surrounded him. Guy and his security had barely moved forward as Till’s
berserkers formed a chain at the exit, pushing everybody standing nearby back
from the doors.
“What’s that for?” Sashka tensed up.

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99

“Oh, please don’t pay any attention! Important that no one leaves until the trial
lesson ends! Then, it goes without saying, they’ll let everyone go!” Alevtina said in
an apologetic tone. “So, what can we do for you?”
“Eh-eh…” Sashka mumbled. “Well, on the whole, nothing! We’re here as the
support group…”
The woman with the combed hair opened her notebook. “Doesn’t matter! In
fact, I deal with exchange.”
“Exchange of what?”
“Oh, exchange of everything! Each of us has something extra and not something
necessary. Perhaps this is correct? Here I help to correct this. A variety of
options!”
A neatly trimmed nail slid along the page from top to bottom, rarely stopping
on one or another line. “What do we have here? An unfinished philosophical
education (4 years, no defence of diploma) for the skills of a chef. A small neat
hump for gastritis. The gift of speech for the ability to become silent at the proper
time. Beautiful eyes (greyish-green, 2) for long hair.”
Alevtina suddenly looked up interrogatively at Rina’s hair. “But apparently it’s
also not for you. Other options! A truckload (the body of a GAZelle truck) 33 of
money for youth and health (certificate from Paramedic Utochkin on your psyose
independence). Pedagogical education for love of children. The gift of foresight
for everyday happiness (modification of Paradise in a Cabin).”34
“Ne-a, I’ll pass!” Sashka turned them down.
The woman nodded absent-mindedly. “The last secretarial courses (honours
diploma) for straight teeth. Wit for optimism. Good fighting skills for the ability
not to get stuck in a story… Also a number of unique proposals with regard to
psyose pleasures. But these, I beg forgiveness, are at that table!” The lady nodded
at the adjacent table, at which a yawning clerk was cleaning his nails with a ball-
point pen, exchanging the border of mud with tracks of ink.
Sashka promised to think about it. This did not deceive Alevtina. “We’ll be
frank! You don’t intend to! You don’t want to change, because you fear pain!
Please trust me, no one will cut off your ears or take a scalpel to your eyes. Our
goal is to unselfishly make people happy.”
“Ah! Well then! Excellent!” said Sashka, keeping track of Nasta with one eye
and Till’s berserkers with the other.
The lady with the combed hair apparently considered Sashka hopeless and
touched Rina’s hand. “Aren’t you tormented by nightmares? Terrible, repetitive
dreams, after which you wake up and can’t even breathe?”
Rina tensed up. “How do you know?”
“Experience. Not the first year I’ve been working!” said Alevtina, smiling. “I had
something interesting. Exactly for you!” She quickly began to leaf through the
notebook.

33
GAZelle is a series of light trucks, vans, and buses by Russian car manufacturer GAZ.
34
Paradise in a Cabin is a 1966 Soviet animated cartoon about upbringing of children, as well as a 1970
song by Vysotsky about life in an enchanted forest.

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100

“Aha, here! ‘Will exchange a complete set of excellent dreams (to 12 plots) for
the little toe of the right foot.’ A profitable offer! The owner of the dreams, as far
as I know, is crazy about her feet. She’s ready for anything, provided it would be
ideal mobility of the foot…”
“I’ll be without a little toe?” Rina asked.
“Why without?” Alevtina was surprised. “She’ll give you hers. I think having six
toes on her foot isn’t part of her plan.”
“And the toe is normal?” Rina asked with doubt.
“After the change, of course, but it doesn’t matter. I can arrange for a personal
meeting for inspection of the toe. Trust me, a really worthwhile offer. That girl is
a true beauty. I think it also applies to her toes.”
“If I, then…” Rina started to waver.
“No pain, operations, transplantations. I already said to your friend!” Alevtina
assured her. “Everything is instant. Complete merge! It’ll seem to you that it was
always so.”
Perceiving that an inclined-to-adventures Rina was ready to agree, Sashka
grabbed her elbow and dragged her away with him. “We’ll get in touch! Please
forgive us for wasting your time!” he shouted from a distance.
The plump woman treated the failure quietly. “Wasting time is my job!” she
said indifferently and was buried in her notebook.
Discovering a nook between the greenhouse tubs, Sashka pushed Rina in there.
“Why did you drag me away? Sorry for my little toe?” Rina was indignant.
“Perhaps.”
“What, it’s your property?”
“Perhaps also mine.”
Rina choked with this impudence. “Perhaps I’m also your property?”
“Perhaps,” Sashka answered with a challenge and looked out from behind a tub.
Beldo stood near Nasta and, hugging her shoulders, helped to retain in the air
an enormous soap bubble, inside which a diamond bird was lifting its wings.
Those standing around sighed enthusiastically. Nasta laughed.
“Listen! Indeed she’ll get caught!” Sashka said to Rina.
“Are you joking?” answered Rina. “Well, a ball… a bird… They’re trifles! I know
Nasta.” She was more worried that Nasta had only fifty minutes left. They got
involved with these beads too early. Should have put them on right here, on
Bolotnaya.
A whiny oldster, similar to a lamb, was glued to Dolbushin. The head of the
second fort turned away, but the geezer ran up from the other side. Here even
Andrei turned out to be powerless.
“Who’s that?” asked Rina.
“Ah-h! One of the psych faculty! An expert on blowing up filth. I don’t
remember from whose fort,” someone suddenly said.
Looking around in fright, Rina saw that on a step opposite the tub sat a small
funny girl, dressed colourfully like a parrot. Under an unbuttoned green jacket
was a yellow shirt, and it all ended with a red T-shirt, on which dangled a huge
pendant.

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“What does he do?” Rina asked, dumbfounded.


“Him? He examines how to fan gossip so that it doesn’t die in infancy. Suppose
I accidentally say something stupid about you. If everybody let it go in one ear
and out the other, there would be nothing. They must begin to discuss it, be
outraged and indignant about it. Then some will defend you, others me. A third
will argue whether this gossip has at least some bearing on facts. A fourth will
reason whether I had a right to my own opinion. Gradually the subject of the
initial dispute will be forgotten and the filth will appear to be endorsed officially.”
“What’s your name?” asked Rina.
“Gulya. And yours?”
“R… Rina,” she answered after hesitating, thinking that all the same her name
would say nothing to the girl. Well, who here knows the beginner hdiver who
does not even have a bee?
Gulya got up and with a polite grimace touched Rina’s collar. The pin burned
her hand. She jerked it back. “So here’s the problem! Funny! Imagine, the first
second I took you for the lady conductor who pushed Mama and me out of the
rail car. We forgot tickets… Well, I was so surprised that she’s here! But then I
started to look closer and some other thing showed through,” Gulya stretched her
eyes slightly, after touching the edges with her fingers.
Rina almost followed the footsteps of the hedgehog that forgot how to breathe
while walking and suffered some hardship on this occasion. 35 Is it really so simple
to unmask her? But indeed no one besides Gulya guessed!
“You’re funny! Walk around with such artefacts!” Gulya continued to chatter.
Rina did not manage to answer when, from somewhere unknown, a chubby
bouncy fellow in a striped suit rushed over to her. He grabbed her by the arm,
looking straight into her eyes, and muttered, “What’s with you, girl? You look like
hell!”
“Lousy mood!” Rina blurted out carelessly.
The bouncy fellow became triply sympathetic. “Ay-ay-ay! Oh, I understand!
You’re upset? Do you want to talk about it? We’ll be able to help! May I have your
phone number?”
Brusquely pushing the compassionate one away, the small girl dragged Rina to
the side. “Shh! Have to keep quiet! Ran into the envoy on penguin rights!” she
whispered.
“Who’s that?”
The girl squinted at the area, on which, greedily sizing up the crowd, bobbed
more than a dozen such “driblets” characterized only by the colour of their ties.
“Biovampires from Beldo’s fort! Terrible freaks! They search for cracks in
relationships and climb into them.”
“What cracks?”
“Any! For example, Dostoyevsky once threw a glass at his wife. If they turned
out to be beside such a penguin, he would immediately cackle, ‘Why do you let

35
A well-known Russian anecdote about a hedgehog goes like this: a hedgehog walked in the woods,
forgot how to breathe, and died. Then it remembered how to breathe and walked further.

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102

him treat you this way? Where’s your pride? Divorce, quick! We’ll help! We’ll
defend you! We’ll ban him from seeing the children!’ But she forgave, forgot, and
loved him her whole life… Well, that’s it! Time for me to go! Performing soon!”
Gulya said, winked, and dived into the crowd.
Beldo finally left Nasta in peace. Right away the whiny character from the psych
faculty started to hang around her. Poor Nasta manoeuvred between the tables,
but with zero result, because the crossbreed of sheep and thinker possessed
improbable nimbleness.
Rina saw how Nasta put her hand into a pocket and in passing touched with an
open palm the sweater of the academic. She stroked his shoulder so gently. Aha,
clear! She had unnoticeably stuck to the nap of the sweater a bit of fluff from
Duoka. It seemed like a trifle, but in an hour or two, the whiny oldie would
become extraordinarily light. Any weak breeze would be a hurricane for him.
Having decided that it made no sense to sit out behind the tubs, Sashka and
Rina wormed their way into the crowd of business papas preoccupied with the
silence of their cell phones and the young-looking mamas who, with the single-
mindedness of cats filling in holes, rummaged in their purses.
A redhead granny questioned a frail woman with eyes of a doe, “And how did
you end up here, love?”
“Well, my Lesha failed to get into management college; out of grief we wanted
him to get into economics college, but then a friend of a friend phoned and asked
whether I want my Lesha to become a successful leader?”
“What, did she say exactly that?”
“Well, I certainly had my doubts also, but decided that it’s worth looking into.”
Rina and Sashka forced their way closer to Nasta. Sashka anxiously kept track
of the time. Beldo, attentive like a hundred thousand loving relatives, was again
hovering next to Nasta who had shaken off the lamb. Sashka was finally
convinced that he was giving Nasta more time than the rest.
At first Beldo worked wonders alone. He first released snowy white doves from
his sleeves, read thought, and then forced a cup to somersault in the air. He grew
so bold near the end that, after breathing on a polished stool, he had it covered
with white flowers.
The recent graduates performed after Beldo. A lanky girl with a braid made a
wooden head speak in a human voice. The wooden head, a paste steadily coming
out of its ears, extended its lips and told all the volunteers their past, for some
reason stopping at the most humiliating and most bitter details. Then the girl
made a mistake somewhere and the head flared up, flames breaking out on all
sides. This produced an unfavourable impression on the spectators, since the
head writhed as if alive. The girl with the braid left in embarrassment.
“Please understand, so far this is the beginner’s level! We don’t intentionally
show you the work of asses! Soon each of you will be able to do this!” Beldo,
smiling, explained, giving a sign to someone.
A blocky fellow came out after the lanky girl. Two berserkers beat his stomach
for a long time with an ironbound battering ram, and afterwards fired bolts with

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103

the tips removed. The fellow held steady and smiled, although Rina saw how
large drops of sweat came out on his temples.
After the fellow appeared Gulya and her friend Nina. Gulya on a bet guessed the
cards in a closed box. Nina searched for hidden objects.
After Nina trudged in a chubby young fellow like a little penguin, who Beldo
said had learned the dictionary by heart. True, the little penguin immediately
started muttering and was stopped only halfway through the letter “V” 36 by the
efforts of sprightly clerks from Dolbushin’s fort, who dragged him away by the
arms.
The girl who had suffered failure with the wooden head jumped out again,
rousing the hall that had been lulled to sleep. This time she transformed torn
paper into butterflies, and, having filled the entire hall with thousands of
butterflies, she made the spectators forget about her failure with the head.
“My friends!” Beldo chattered, sliding between the guests. “There is nothing
inexplicable in what we show you! No magic, no mysticism, whether this word is
despicable or not! The skill to work with one’s own consciousness, one’s complete
liberation and deliverance from the routine rigidity of standards and ideas! All of
you, I’m sure, have heard that man uses only ten percent of his brain! Ten! But
how about the other ninety? It waits, until we rouse it!”
Guy was standing modestly between Till and Dolbushin and was nibbling a
cocktail straw with his tightly-packed bluish teeth. It was completely fine with
him that Beldo reigned today.
Till approached him from one side. “Our friend from HDive contacted me. He
phoned from the village, from a booth. He’s starting psyose withdrawal. He asks
for a new dose,” he said as if casually.
Guy stopped nibbling the straw. “What, so soon? Psyose must be earned. What
did our friend say?”
“Ten are already in HDive. They broke them into teams of fives. They’re at the
stable but so far there is no smell of flight. Usual training routine…”
“Likely Kaleria isn’t going to speed up development… And our little bees there?
Buzzing?”
“Our friend swears that he greased the walls of the beehive and the roof, but so
far no noticeable result,” answered Till.
Guy listened to the proceedings and, after taking a step, gave a sign. The chain
of berserkers parted. Bending over from the weight, a swarthy arbalester carried
in a cube of darkened silver with a splinter of mirror fused in.
In the centre of the hall was a low marble pedestal. Making his way to it, the
arbalester turned up next to Rina. When the distance between them decreased,
Rina felt hopeless despair, melancholy, and indifference flooding her whole
being. For a few seconds the boundary between “can” and “cannot” was blurred,
and Rina felt that it would be all the same to her if someone cut off Sashka’s head.
Or even her own. Fortunately, the arbalester already went past.

36
The letter “V” is the third letter in the Cyrillic alphabet.

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104

“What’s this he has?” a fat-cheeked girl from the beginners, who recently
together with Beldo forced wilted flowers to bloom, shouted briskly.
“A meteorite from the depths of the Milky Way!” Beldo responded with a
quivering in his voice. “Older than our galaxy, more ancient than the sun! In its
crystals are recorded the secrets of an extinct, eternal human civilization.
Perishing from a cataclysm, they didn’t take the knowledge away with them, but
gave it to whoever wants to take it! Touching the meteorite rouses the
subconscious!”
Nasta quickly looked around at Sashka and Rina. But even without this look it
was already clear to Rina that this stone was precisely their main goal. To see it,
memorize every fact, and sketch it later. Oh, pity one cannot destroy it! They have
one flash.
Proving to everyone that the fused ingot was harmless, the old man leaned over
and kissed it. The moment he touched it with his lips, everyone saw how his body
was shrouded in a silvery cocoon.
“Anyone wanting to be trained must repeat this after me! Of course, you can
refuse. But, before you make your decision, we want you to find your position
once and for all. It’s a misconception that history is created somewhere far away,
in the fields of grandiose battles! History is taking shape here and now! Take a
look!”
Beldo pulled a crimson hanky out of his pocket and waved it. The massive iron
door, which led not to the street but somewhere into the depths of the building,
clanked and opened. Eight strong berserkers led out on chains a half-naked, two-
and-a-half metre person in an iron muzzle and covered with reddish fur from
head to toe. The man was thin, with a narrow chest, but terrible strength was
detected in his huge body with knotty mounds. The skull was lopsided, the face
was disfigured. An empty eye socket sucked in the proud flesh like a boiled
sponge.
After seeing Beldo, the monster, stretching the chains, rushed to him. The old
man recoiled. Two berserkers could not stay on their feet; the rest brought the
giant down and piled on top of him. Even immobilized, the terrible person
continued to growl and tried to crawl to Beldo. The old man, grown bolder,
approached and squatted down.
“I think you’ve all heard about a series of brutal murders in a certain region. I
wouldn’t want to go into details, but the internal organs of the victims were eaten.
This continued not for a day or two but three years! And here’s the one who
committed these terrible crimes! The police turned out to be traditionally
powerless, and we nabbed him ourselves after a long pursuit through the
swamps. At the same time, three heroes from the fort of dear Till received terrible
mutilations. We thank your guys, Ingvar!”
Till lowered his head to his chest and looked downcast. A sigh of horror rolled
through the hall. Rushing back, the spectators formed around the cannibal a wide
ring, inside of which remained only the cannibal, the berserkers holding him, and
Beldo. The disfigured giant growled and tried to bite the old man through the
muzzle.

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105

“If this isn’t absolute evil, then where is evil? What is it at all?” Beldo asked in a
stage whisper and, after raising his voice, added, “Listen to me, creature! My
tongue can’t turn to call you a man, but, I swear by the light in my soul, I will give
you freedom!”

Chapter 13

Warlock Style

An interesting question. Let us suppose I could insert


into my ear a sensor, which would safely deliver to me
great pleasure exceeding any others, just simply by
touching it with a finger. Would I be able to resist the
temptation? Or, if this sensor were already in my ear,
would I be able not to tug at it constantly?
And if I did tug, could I then continue to consider that I
am my own boss?
From the diary of a non-returning hdiver

Protesting cries were heard. The berserkers piling on the giant’s back lifted
up their heads. Even Guy, it seemed, was disturbed that Beldo, getting carried
away, gave such promises. The mutilated giant stopped growling. The eyes
swollen with blood rose distrustfully to the bridge of the old man’s nose.
“Yes!” Beldo continued to torment the soul. “You’re unworthy of life, but
you’ll live if you’re able to win in a match against our fighter!” He got up and,
lifting up a hand, shouted, “Come in, please! Prince of beauty – Eugene Gamov!
Model, violinist, poet, gymnast! A graduate of our school last year! Keen on
parkour,37 translates Petrarch!38 Winner of the last three combat flight contests on
hyeons! A simple ordinary person, same as we all are! Only good and fearless!
And, on top of everything else, monogamous!” In Beldo’s voice was heard such
tragic anguish that Till stopped chewing on his cigarette and raised an eyebrow.
The pneumatic mechanism snapped into action. The mirror dome parted. An
albino hyeon with pink wings and throbbing veins flew into the hall. On the back
of the hyeon a youth with dark locks was torturing the strings of a violin with a
bow. The features of his face at first seemed sharp, but when one had become
accustomed to them, it was clear that they could not be otherwise. The youth’s
eyes were enthusiastically half-closed.
The hyeon descended in circles. By itself, without coercion. There was not
even a muzzle with the usual electric shock antennae on it. The rein was lying

37
Parkour is a training to move around obstacles speedily and efficiently, originally developed in France.
38
Francesco Petrarca (1304-74), known in English as Petrarch, was an Italian scholar and poet, often called
the “Father of Humanism.”

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freely on the neck. This so struck Rina, knowing the disposition of hyeons, that
she looked closely at it for a long time, trying to figure out if there was an electric
shock established somewhere else.
“No-no,” said Beldo, as if overhearing her. “No trick! The hyeon listens to
him simply because it loves him!”
After descending about two metres, the young man freed his foot from the
stirrup, threw his leg over the withers of the beast, and, without letting go of the
violin, slid down. Landing on half-bent knees, he took a step forward in order to
keep his balance. Only one, quite casually. In general, nonchalance (easy well-
thought-out casualness) permeated the whole being of Eugene Gamov. His silk
shirt unbuttoned down to only two buttons, slanting tiger eyes, and a straight,
thin, nervous mouth. Something flashed dazzlingly on his boots above the heels.
“Please pay attention to the spurs!” Beldo became animated. “You, of course,
are certain that the stones decorating them are fake! Not at all, they’re real
diamonds! Possibly someone doesn’t know, but Eugene’s papa invented the
socket with four holes, which protects against power surges. Everything brilliant
is simple, everything simple is brilliant! The patent has been sold to thirty
countries around the world… The other two hundred countries kick themselves in
envy and, not knowing the secret, they cripple their own sockets with a drill!
Eugene Gamov, ladies and gentlemen, the son of a multi-millionaire and a simply
good person not giving himself airs!”
The good-looking young man smiled with a good portion of self-irony and
handed the violin to Dolbushin.
Beldo flitted to the youth, “Eugene, I’ll dare to pose to you a question, which
is on the tip of everyone’s tongue: you’re not afraid? Before you is a maniac, a
killer, a cannibal! He has nothing to lose, he won’t pity you!”
Gamov, after lingering, shook his head. Dozens of people, leaning forward,
waited for his answer. “I worry a little, but you understand…just the sort of
thing…” he said.
“A sense of duty directs you!” prompted Beldo.
Eugene smiled politely, “Really? And where does it lead me?”
“You do this to prove that we’re against violence and cruelty!” prompted
Beldo.
“Are we?” Eugene teased the old man.
Beldo coquettishly hit the youth’s chest with a fist. “He’s even modest! So,
gentlemen, Eugene Gamov! A graduate of our school!”
One of the berserkers carelessly put a foot forward. The giant grabbed him by
the foot. The crunch of bones was heard. The berserker fell. The others pulled the
chains in a hurry.
“Don’t!” Beldo said tiredly. “What’s all this? You will free him!”
While the chains were being removed from the placated giant, Eugene
approached Nasta. “Throw me the aster, please!” he asked.
“What aster?” Nasta answered sullenly and suddenly discovered a blazing red
flower in a vase beside her. This was an obvious miracle, but Nasta managed to
remain Nasta even under these conditions. “Take it yourself, not a widow!”

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“It’s important that precisely you would give it to me!” Gamov said softly.
“Why?” Nasta asked with suspicion.
“For success. Girls who don’t need me inspire me.”
“Who told you that I don’t need you?”
“You can’t hide it. To everyone here, I’m the successful son of the socket with
four holes, but only to you I’m nothing.”
Nasta snorted. “Catch!”
Eugene caught the aster, turned, and shouted to the cannibal, “Memorize this
flower! This will be the last thing you see.”
The giant, roaring, rushed to Gamov, but the last chain was still holding him
by the foot and he fell. Eugene whistled. The albino hyeon came down. Gamov
hopped into the saddle.
Beldo whispered something into his fist and abruptly straightened his
fingers. A space opened up. An arena enclosed by an invisible barrier appeared in
the middle of the hall. Berserkers hurriedly dived into the passageway not yet
closed. The last berserker, after exchanging looks with Till, dropped a combat
poleaxe near the feet of the cannibal, and, having unfastened the chain, slipped
out after the others. The giant picked up the poleaxe, weighed it in his hand, and
rushed without warning into the passageway, behind which crowded the
spectators. After waiting for a public outcry, Beldo clenched his fist. The closed-
off protection pushed the cannibal back a metre.
The giant jerked up his head and discovered the hyeon hovering high under
the dome. The hyeon unhurriedly moved in a circle, anticipating something. The
cannibal got a better grip on the poleaxe with two hands and prepared himself.
After intercepting the aster with his right hand, Eugene Gamov extended it
like a sword before himself. He nudged the hyeon with his heels and hurled it into
a vertical dive. The cannibal waited, intending on jumping aside and hitting the
hyeon on the neck with the poleaxe.
Eugene shouted something, giving an order. A few metres from the ground,
the hyeon suddenly stretched out its wings. The spread-out wings of the hyeon
shielded its rider from the cannibal for a second. He was still considering the
hyeon his main enemy when, after flying over the head of the brute, a nimble
figure with knees pulled up to his chest fearlessly jumped onto him.
The poleaxe, with blade deployed towards the hyeon, was late. It only cut air.
The straightened out feet struck the cannibal in the chest. The power of the
impact, intensified by the acceleration of the hyeon, was so great that the giant
toppled over onto his back. The back of his head cut dully into the rock floor and,
a second later, the blazing aster touched his forehead, forever closing his single
eye. Veins swelled up on the giant’s temples; he started to get up, but twitched
and calmed down, motionless like a broken toy.
Eugene Gamov nonchalantly stepped over the poleaxe lying about. “Well
now…likely that’s all…” he dropped.
“Karmic good always conquers universal evil!” Beldo solemnly said.
“Eveel,” Guy corrected soundlessly with his lips.

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No one noticed when the barrier disappeared. Having run up to the dead
cannibal, the old man threw a crimson raincoat over him, then pulled it off, and
everyone saw that the body had disappeared. A delayed applause was heard,
which stopped abruptly after an impatient movement by Guy.
“Indeed only a few years ago Eugene was studying in an ordinary school!”
Beldo was being syrupy.
“Well, not entirely ordinary. With French immersion!” Gamov modestly
corrected him.
“Ah, goes without saying!” the old man instantly yielded. “By the way, do you
recall that you had a girl then?”
The gymnast, poet, and violinist in one package smiled in embarrassment
and shook his head.
Beldo issued a triumphant old-womanish peep. “I knew, I knew! I didn’t call
you monogamous for nothing! But now the main thing! Today, on his twenty-first
birthday, Eugene will meet the one whom he will love his entire life! If she rejects
him, his heart will break! So say the stars, and they don’t lie! It’s us, people, that
lie to the stars!”
Gamov turned to Beldo annoyed. “Was it necessary to open your mouth?” he
hissed.
Beldo touched his heart with both hands and then hit his forehead hard with
his fist, demonstrating how much he regretted his forgetfulness. “Ah-ah-ah! I’m
eternally so!”
Eugene looked at the floor for several seconds and then lifted up his head,
like a person with nothing to lose. A tanned hand squeezed the flower.
“I remembered!” someone whispered in Rina’s ear. Turning around, she saw
Gulya, who stole a fish sandwich from somewhere and was nibbling around it in
small bites like a mouse. “I remember this guy! He came to our class! He has the
gift of absolute adaptation!”
“What’s that?”
“Well, when several girls see one and the same person, but one describes him
as blond, another as a brown-haired narcissist with a cougar tattooed on his
shoulder, a third as an athlete solid as a board, a fourth as a romantic with long
hair… With one he’s gruff and brusque, with another timid and shy, with a third a
genius, with a fourth a thrifty hamster.”
“But what does he look like in reality?” asked Rina.
“Likely he looks that way. He’s nothing by himself,” Gulya said uncertainly.
While she was whispering, the handsome man with black curls sneaked into
the crowd with a catlike step, holding the aster in a lowered hand. The girls
giggled nervously. Youthful mamas became incomprehensibly excited. Without
stopping, Eugene passed all the girls. Now only Nasta was left before him.
“I bet she won’t fall for it!” whispered Rina.
“Consider it a bet,” Gulya answered quietly.
Her words resounded in complete silence, because precisely at this moment
the handsome man smoothly raised his hand and handed the flower to Nasta,
who hid her hands behind her back.

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“Please!” Eugene said softly. “Not for me! For the poor plant!”
Nasta did not know how to answer and took the aster.
Edging in between them, Beldo, after shedding a few tears, hugged them
both. “One thing I beg of you! Don’t deceive the stars!” he entreated.
Rina almost groaned from the stupidity of this scene, copied exactly from
pulp fiction, but here next to her someone emotionally blew his nose. This was a
portly lady who till now seemed to Rina dry as crust. Now it turned out Rina
herself was hard-hearted. “All others’ courtship is comical until you’re being
wooed. Here you already begin to swallow the hook without the bait,” thought
Rina.
Sashka tracked down Nasta in the crowd. The crowd was shifting all the time,
and where Nasta was a minute ago, a bored Till was already hanging around.
Occasionally he squinted at Guy, obviously checking if the chief had left so that he
could skip out. The twins Kesha and Pasha were pushing the girls away with their
shoulders, insolently looking them over from top to bottom and, apparently, also
searching for true love. The crowd began to change shape, became longer. After
tracking where it was headed, Sashka saw that it was to the silver cube.
Dolbushin stood by the cube; Beldo was bouncing like an imp next to him.
The future students of the psych college approached the cube in turn and
touched it with their forehead. Radiance enveloped them. They froze for several
seconds, trying to sense if anything had changed in them. They sensed nothing.
The ele was still too small and weak, not even an ele but the shadow of one. Now
it only depends on the person how soon it would germinate. For each service, gift,
or miracle accepted from the ele, something would be lost in the person and
something would be added to the elbe, until one day the host and guest change
places and the person finally becomes a marionette.
A woman with the eyes of an injured doe pushed forward an intimidated
youth in a sweater. The boy felt shy and was sad. Mama, though timid, was
persistent. “Please let Lesha through! We’re late! Lesha still has to study in the
evening,” she repeated. Having pushed Lesha to the cube, mama shoved his head
into the fused ingot and fell back, pleased that they did not have to stand in line.
Sashka managed to track down Nasta. The good-looking Eugene held her
hand and whispered something in her ear, touching her cheek with his hair.
Nasta turned away and shook her head, but it was perceived that she was also
listening to him greedily.
On noticing that Nasta was going to the ingot without much desire and
letting others pass in front, Beldo began to force his way through to her. “Sorry!
Excuse me! Sorry! Please allow me!” he repeated, wriggling like an eel.
The situation was critical. The handsome Eugene caught one of Nasta’s arms
and the old man Beldo the other. Seeing that Nasta would turn up by the rock any
minute now, Sashka snatched the flash from his pocket. He looked around at
Rina and forcefully threw it against the floor. The mushroom did not explode
immediately and the curious Rina had time to open her eyes slightly again. Just
barely, but it was also enough…

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Rina did not see the flash. She did not hear the rumble. It seemed to her that
she had dived into white-pink jelly, where there were neither sounds nor voices.
She had plunged into absolute nothingness. Understanding that Rina was
temporarily blinded, Sashka grabbed her by the arm. He pulled Nasta out from
under a Beldo with a frozen rubbery smile and began to tow both girls to the exit.
All around was a theatre of wax figures. Here was an elderly witch from
Beldo’s fort with a glass not reaching the mouth. Here a strapping berserker from
the cordoned-off area was frozen at the moment of yawning and an open mouth
with crowns on the back teeth was visible.
It was especially difficult with Nasta. Sashka was dragging her like a package.
He pushed the old door with the glass tinkling and…almost howled. In front of
him stretched the same hall with warlocks. Still hoping for something else,
Sashka again rushed to the door, jerked it in the other direction and…again the
chain of berserkers and Till’s round, fat-cheeked head appeared before him.
Damnation!
Rina had already come to and helped support Nasta. “Can you run?” shouted
Sashka. They lowered Nasta’s arms onto their shoulders and, straightening her
body into a vertical position, they dragged. Little by little, Nasta began to help
them. In the depth of the hall, behind the mirrors, Sashka saw the beginning of
stairs. If only they have time!
The berserkers began to stir. Guy, squatting, was rocking like a shaman.
Holding onto the leg of a stiff arbalester, he got up. The arbalester turned and,
looking at him with empty eyes, started to lift up the arbalest slowly. Guy
knocked the arbalest from him. He ran up to Till and sharply, like a cat with a
paw, boxed Till on the ear.
Till blinked like a loyal subject. The fat cheek trembled. “They won’t leave!
We have the place surrounded. Go to the street only with me or with berserkers,”
he said coolly. “Hdivers are here somewhere in the crowd! Search! Everybody to
the rock! Security!”
Berserkers from the cordoned-off area pitilessly cracked down on the hall,
dragging by force everyone in turn to the rock. For the time being, the flashes
were either silvery or bluish. If a hdiver turned up by the rock, the flash would be
green. In expectation of this, two of Guy’s arbalesters stood still nearby, keeping
the rock in sight.
“Albert, do you have a blueprint of the building?” shouted Guy.
“What blueprint? The newspaper kiosk on the ground floor belongs to us!
The rest is a deception with the fifth dimension inside this kiosk,” answered
Dolbushin, glancing around the hall, which would easily expand into a trailer
with another trailer.
“Could they leave through the second floor?”
“On the second floor are offices of the Board. We left a way there just in
case.”
“Any other exit from the building?”
“There isn’t,” Till broke his silence. “But, it seems I didn’t put berserkers on
the second floor!”

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Dolbushin looked at his powerful short legs. “Little use today from your hulk.
I’ll check it myself!” he said to Till’s knees and made his way to the stairs.
“There was no need to worry,” the old man Beldo shouted to him from
behind. “My Linda, a top tier militant witch, is guarding the second floor.”

***

The stairs were old, with high steps and gypsum rails, and with wide
landings. Once stone vases stood on them, then the heads of leaders; now the
landings resembled a shaven chin on a pudgy face. Having run up the stairs, they
found themselves in a typical hallway of a typical government institution at non-
reception time. Long benches, the empty table of the person on duty, several
engravings of Moscow sights, and offices, offices. The sweet stench of cockroach
poison hovered in the air.
Sashka heard muttering from the direction of the lobby. Someone, walking,
was talking to himself. In the heat of the moment, he wanted to rush off, but
Nasta stopped him. “Wait… need to look!” she put her hand in her pocket and
handed a pair of opera glasses to Sashka. “Hold these! You go instead of me! I’m
still reeling!”
“Why the binoculars?”
“You’ll understand later… And be careful!”
Sashka took the binoculars and crawled, imagining how foolish he would
look if someone walked out of an office. He reached the highest step separating
the hallway from the lobby. He looked out carefully. In the narrow foyer,
lengthwise with the austere stands of the officials’ work schedules, a pretty
woman in light-coloured pants was strolling and continuously muttering
something, smiling to herself. “Well, she talks… So let her!” Sashka thought and
was about to crawl away, but, remembering the binoculars, unwillingly looked
into them.
There was a pink flame inside the binoculars. It splashed, spread to the
edges, and Sashka saw that sitting on the woman, holding firmly onto her neck
with his legs, was a Lilliputian wound in dirty bandages.
Stop! What Lilliputian? What bandages? Sashka even closed his eyes, not
trusting himself. He then opened them again and again saw the Lilliputian. He
lowered the binoculars; the woman remained, the Lilliputian disappeared. He
brought the binoculars up again.
Sashka assumed that this was a doll made of grey rags smeared with glue.
However, the Lilliputian stirred and Sashka realized that this was not a doll. The
arms and legs were short, as if chopped off, but then the fingers and toes were
like roots many metres long. “The roots” of the feet stretched to the body, “the
roots” of the hands to the head.
The most terrible thing was that the dwarf was not a freak of a definite form.
He first changed into a beautiful butterfly and touched the woman with his wings,
then leaned down and whispered something to her, forcing her to smile. She
laughed and gave him a push with her hand (this was visible only in the

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binoculars, because her real hand remained in place). “Leave me alone!” she
whispered. “Well, go on! What did he say to her? And she?”
Then suddenly, without any warning, the recently chattering dwarf became
harsh, rough, and hit her. The woman shuddered. Her face became stupid, nasty.
“Pull yourself together! These nonentities must learn who the master is here! Put
them in their place!” the dwarf demanded.
The woman, who had recently been hit, was shaken. She touched her cheek
with suspicion, but the dwarf had already become a warm and thoughtful winter
scarf. He wound around her neck, warmed her, tickled her ear with mysterious
sweet words. She calmed down.
Then suddenly he gained momentum and, changing from a scarf into a drill,
drilled into her ear, “Think only about yourself! They use you! Your knowledge,
ability, ideas! Enough of letting them dance on your bones! Time to be selfish
finally! As it is, you’re doing everything for everyone!” The woman nodded,
obediently and sadly.
Then, after becoming a slender silver snake, the dwarf wound around her
neck, leaned back, and rushed into her ear, piercing right through the brain. It
seemed the woman should shout from the pain, instead, her face became
passionate, still. “Don’t!” she whispered. “What are you doing? Don’t! Not now!”
The snake stopped, after suspending its sliding, and began to lay down the
law, “Find a marker for me! It’s difficult for me to be with you without it,
although I love you so!”
“Please stay! You’re everything to me! You yourself know I haven’t been able
to enter Duoka for a long time,” the woman begged.
“Then find a marker! Take it from whomever you want, wherever you want!
Or I will leave!”
“He’ll leave, indeed!” Sashka thought correctly.
His thought, seemingly secret to him, was heard. The silver snake
disappeared. The bandaged Lilliputian on the woman’s shoulder lifted up his
head. His eyes blazed like the crimson tips of cigarettes. Sashka felt as if red-hot
needles wanted to pierce his pupils. The flame in the binoculars splashed, filling
space, and separating Sashka’s eyes from the eyes of the freak. The Lilliputian, as
if scorched, leaned back abruptly, having involuntary jerked his finger-roots. The
woman yelled, her body twitched, and she fell.
The bandaged Lilliputian came to first. After recollecting that he had almost
finished off his “horsie,” he pulled up his stumps. The woman got up. She wiped
with a sleeve the sweat off her face. It was felt that she did not even understand
what had happened to her. She was standing, then an awful pain, and she was on
the floor. Looking at Sashka without interruption, the dwarf lifted his right hand
slightly higher. The finger-roots stretched. The movements were precise, careful,
thought out. The doll ruled the marionette. The woman’s head rose slightly and
began to turn.
An astonished Sashka belatedly realized what the dwarf was doing: showing
him, the enemy, to the woman. He aimed her at the target. The witch “was
aimed” very well. She saw Sashka’s head and lifted her hand. Not the physical

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hand but the one visible only in the binoculars. Sashka bent down, hidden behind
the step, but did not have time. A jet of fire came off the witch’s palm and swiftly
rolled along the hallway. He fell. The fire singed his hair, poured dry heat over his
skin. Sashka lay on his back and saw how the fire licked the information stand,
blackening and rolling up the announcements.
The witch approached, gave him a shove with her foot, and casually took aim
with a finger. The nail on her index finger was long, yellowish. Sashka had not yet
comprehended how this would threaten him when two construction nails pierced
the parquet to the right and left of his neck. Sashka tried to get up but two dozen
more nails pierced his sweater and pants, literally sewing him to the floor. After
stepping on Sashka’s chest, the witch walked further along the hallway.
“Careful!” Sashka shouted, but too late. Sashka did not see the battle itself as
he did not squint. He understood only that it was brief. Something began to
rattle, exactly as if a sheet of iron was hit by a hammer. Sashka heard Nasta’s
pitiful cry, “Don’t! It hurts!” Rina also yelled, and a dead silence suddenly began.
Then a man’s voice, completely unknown to Sashka, said, “Something’s not
right here! Saw them twice, and they were different both times… Interrogate
them, Linda!”
“No need! I’ll ravage their brains through the eyes!” answered the witch.
“Well, war is war! No one asked them to butt in here!” said Dolbushin after a
pause. “Only search them first!”
Sashka tugged. The sweater stretched along the neck. He was able to lift his
head. He watched as the witch got down on her knees in front of Rina lying on the
floor and went through her clothing. Nasta was on all fours. She was throwing up
some lumps.
“Ah…here’s the problem! There!” Linda pulled the pin from Rina’s collar and
discarded it. “A girl hdiver! Strange, it seems I’ve seen her somewhere!”
Dolbushin leaned down and looked at Rina. Nothing on his face changed,
except that he closed his eyes for a second. The smooth, wrinkle-free eyelids
tightened. Then he raised the umbrella and, without apparent effort but abruptly,
with the sharp part of the umbrella struck the outside of his foot, where the smart
shoe ended. This was obviously monstrously painful because his face turned pale
and drops of sweat appeared on his temples.
“Linda! Give me the pin!” he asked quickly and hoarsely. The witch, slightly
surprised, leaned down. At the same moment, Dolbushin efficiently struck her
shoulder with the umbrella handle. Sashka was ready to swear that he did not
even touch the woman’s head, but she fell.
Nasta ran up to Sashka and freed him, pulling the clothing with both hands.
The nails remained so in the floor, clearly outlining Sashka’s silhouette. Sashka
picked up the binoculars. One glass was broken but the other survived. He looked
at the lying woman in the binoculars. The rag dwarf was shuddering like a
jellyfish. A stench was coming from him.
A decrepit old woman stirred feebly on the floor. She opened her eyes and sat
up. With empty eyes – neither memory nor hatred, only grief and fear – she
looked at Dolbushin, at Rina. “Who am I? Where am I? Who are you?” she asked

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toothlessly, indistinctly. She turned away, then again lay down, turned over onto
her stomach, and, biting her hand, wailed. It was terrible to look at her. Nasta,
feeling sorry, touched her shoulder. The old woman turned to her and sneered,
“Get away from me! Go away!”
Dolbushin turned Rina around by the shoulders. “Get out of here!” he
ordered. “At the end of the hallway will be a window, break it and jump! I’ll say
that you killed the elbe. And don’t thank me, I had a score to settle.”
“And her?” Rina looked at the witch.
“She’ll die in the next few hours. She’s more than a hundred and fifty years
old, but her age was frozen. Now everything will happen very quickly… Be off, I
said!” Dolbushin turned and quickly walked along the hallway, looking around
only once, by the stairs.
The window opened easily, only the glass of the transom crumbled. Sensors
hung on wires. Knowing that somewhere a light on a police console had begun to
blink, they hurriedly jumped into the courtyard and slipped through it to the
Sofia Embankment, near the barrier with a booth. A patrol car, blinking, rushed
past them.
Here Nasta angrily pulled the beads off her neck and shoved them into her
pocket. A solidly built girl with a hole from a casing in her ear again emerged. The
three quickly went along the embankment. Nasta angrily kicked a plastic bottle.
“I still have to get my clms,” said Sashka. No one heard him.
“Why did this person kill her?” asked Rina. She said “this person” with effort.
She could in no way forget the terrible and unhappy eyes riveted to her face.
“He killed not her but the elbe. His umbrella can kill elbes. Our weapon can’t.
Only attack markers,” Nasta answered aloofly.
“Why did she grow old?”
“You were told: the elbe took care of her. If a rotten fish is frozen, it looks
normal. But later it’ll disintegrate in a few hours.”
“But why did he help us?”
“I know nothing. I only know that I want to drag myself to HDive so that no
one will bother me!”
Rina looked suspiciously at her. For a person who had recently escaped
certain death, Nasta behaved exceptionally cheerlessly. “The monogamous with
the aster?” she asked.
“Shut your trap!” Nasta made a sharp movement with a foot. A bottle,
somersaulting, flew over through the parapet and splashed into the river.
“And don’t you mess with this! Forget him! He doesn’t recognize you without
the beads!” Sashka butted in.
Better if he had kept quiet, because the next minute, Nasta with her shoulder
cut into his chest with such force that he sat down on the asphalt. Sashka was still
rubbing his chest, but Nasta was already rushing across the road to the area
where in winter they bring snow to melt. She flickered by the lifted pipes, took off
on the steps, and disappeared on the bridge.

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115

Chapter 14

The Dead Bee

The basic enemy of good people is not evil people, but


the kind ones. In fact, who said that evil is not kind? It is
perhaps a kindness two hundred thousand times more
humane, like a maniac at a specific moment is better than a
father with a belt. Therefore, if evil comes to us within the
next few years, then it will be under the guise of this global,
non-national, unifying, and universal kindness such that
we will all reach out for it right away. In addition, we will
jostle in the queue to the scaffold.
From the diary of a non-returning hdiver

The whole night Rina was sketching the cube fused with the mirror. She
sketched diligently, on a piece of Whatman paper, trying so that the scale would
be one to one. Sashka was doing the same. Just that if Rina’s was an artistic work,
Sashka’s was a rather sloppy sketch with pointers.
“What do you have on the drawing?” Rina asked, in whom the high achiever
was awakened.
“I punched the bag a lot. My hand doesn’t make delicate movements,” said
Sashka. Rina did not know that this was his usual excuse when someone
criticized his drawing or handwriting.
They brought both sketches to Kavaleria. On her table was already one more,
from Nasta. Nevertheless, she compared all three.
“Well, how is it? Anything useful?” asked Rina.
“Yes. But better not to know anything at all than to know this!” answered
Kavaleria sullenly. And that was all. She explained nothing more.
Not able to keep it to herself, Rina told her what bothered her all night.
About the man with the umbrella who had spared them.
“Dolbushin,” Kavaleria instantly recognized him. “Strange that he let you go.
Although, if you think about it, are you a catch for an experienced beast of his
calibre? Two novices and a middle hdiver. This Linda probably did him a bad
turn on something. Warlocks are spiteful.”
“Yes, he said something like that… But why then…” Rina described how
Dolbushin had hit himself with the umbrella on the instep, and only then
attacked the militant witch.
Kavaleria leaned back on the chair. This insignificant episode amazed her
much more. “Strange… Very strange… Although, if you think about it, everything
is clear as day!” she concluded.
“What is clear?”
“Well, you see! Dolbushin, it goes without saying, has his guardian. The same
as Sashka saw in the witch. All elbe-guardians are connected together. What one

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sees, the others see. After hitting himself on the foot, and on top of that with the
umbrella fatal for elbes, he temporarily blinded and stunned his guardian with
intense pain through the roots in the toes. Because of these roots, the elbes felt
much more pain than people. This way, he hid from his elbe who killed that other
one… Everything thought through, the rat!”
“Why didn’t he hit himself with the umbrella handle but with its point?”
Sashka asked.
“Well, it’s understandable. Because he didn’t intend to kill his own elbe. He
needs it. The whole warlock thing is in it!” Kavaleria said mercilessly.
Breakfast took place in the hdiver style. Makar with an honest face carried off
Alice’s cutlet and cunningly spilled gravy on the table so that the tracks led to
Sashka. Danny put too much sugar in his tea and added salt so it would not be too
sweet.
“Why not dilute it with water?” Rina asked.
Danny raised his eyebrows. “I don’t search for easy paths! Gentlemen, it
would be simply pedestrian!”
Arms folded, a ladle in one hand, Supovna was walking between the tables
and watching that everyone ate. “Well, going where?” she yelled from time to
time, running up, for example, to the emaciated Cyril.
“Going where, the weight-watcher is unhappy? Well, look at me!” The ladle
smacked the table. Kasha flew in different directions. Cyril got scared and started
to tremble a little.
“Where did the spoon go? Get it back! Don’t like what I make? Worms would
choke on your bones in the coffin! Medical orderlies would pull your teeth as
souvenirs!” shouted Supovna.
Cyril became terrified. “L-like!” he stuttered.
“No, you’ll say that I cook badly! Say it! I won’t be mad!” proposed Supovna.
“You cook re-remarkably!”
“If it’s remarkable, then eat up!” Supovna cut him off. “WELL!”
Cyril grabbed the spoon from the table and started to shovel in the kasha
with the speed of an excavator. He had long discovered that it was useless to
argue with Supovna. The old woman was unstoppable. Even Kuzepych, whom
Supovna knew still as a fat-legged pioneer, was afraid of her. In the entire HDive
only Kavaleria did not fear Supovna, and now and then, when the old lady got too
carried away, she would remark in an undertone, “Righteous howls are a big
temptation!”
Thus flowed their hdiver life. Time turned the calendar pages. In the
beginning, Rina expected the novices to scatter right away. Some like Sashka,
Makar, Danny, and Lena got acclimatised quite fast. It was more difficult with the
others. They grumbled, whined, and slandered everyone, but for some reason no
one left HDive as a result. Even Freda, each evening saying that her legs would
not be there the next day, in the morning for some reason decided to grace
everyone with her presence for another day.
On that day according to the timetable was Kuzepych’s talk: Urban Survival,
or How to last a month in an unknown city, having two kilos of buckwheat and

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a blanket. Kaleria, sensitive to words, had thought up the word “talk” since the
concept of “lecture” would not do for Kuzepych. The young hdivers, bored
beforehand, gathered in the auditorium. Rina placed her cheek on the notebook,
preparing to doze. Accustomed to crazy school workloads, the lessons here
seemed like real mockery to her. Lectures were often broken off and one of the
senior hdivers or even a non-hdiver would be sent as replacement.
For example, kitchen Nadia, who asked them to call her Nadine. She has the
nightmarish pedagogical habit of posing obvious questions. It was not for nothing
that she came to HDive later than the rest – from third year teachers college,
where she was studying in the specialty of teacher of the lower grades.
Nadine arrived and with extraordinary importance put up on the board a
poster depicting a skinned winged horse. “Before us on the anatomical diagram…
what? A winged horse! Correct, Freda! And what’s this on it? Flight feathers! Now
let’s think together, why are they marked red in the diagram… indeed, in reality,
they are what? Correct, Cyril! Not red!”
Lena began to moan. “Nad!” she begged. “Stop, huh? Why do you always
ask?”
“Why do I ask? In order to stimulate in you… what? Independent thought!”
After the lecture about some muscles of the rump, Nadia began to remove the
poster stuck on with tape for safety. Alice plugged up her ears. She asserted that
she was allergic to rustling sounds.
The insidious Cyril randomly scattered about the page the word combination
“sad dummy,” “bright dummy,” “minutes in an hour,” “nil-nil,” “yaka-tyka-neon!”
and, satisfied, prepared to enter between the dummies all other valuable thoughts
on Kuzepych’s “little talk.” The door opened and Cyril dropped the pen.
Kavaleria entered the auditorium. She leisurely took off her coat and was in a
white blouse. Then, recalling something, pulled from the blind wall a notebook, a
pen, and a bottle of mineral water. “Kuzepych has gone to the vet pharmacy. I
didn’t manage to find the grass on Duoka and we decided to give in to traditional
medicine. So, today I’m your Kuzepych. You have an hour and twenty minutes to
find out from me what your apathy and lack of curiosity prevented you from
finding out for yourself.”
“Very glad to see you, Kaleria Valerevna!” Cyril said.
She looked at him coldly through her glasses. “Why very? And why glad?”
“Well…” hesitated Cyril. He was sorry that he had opened his mouth.
“While there is no ground for feelings, happiness doesn’t start!” Kavaleria cut
him off. “I’m waiting for questions actually!”
Freda bit her pencil. “Questions, so questions. Duoka, it’s…?” She instantly
demanded a definition.
“There’s our world. There’s the swamp, a dead world that destroyed itself.
And there’s Duoka, a healthy unchanging world, free from death, eternal. More
profound than all worlds is the light. An enormous loving sun, but no stars, no
material body, but something much more. It sustains our life, warms us, but we
can’t see it. In our best moments it only glimmers, and then hypothetically
manifests itself. We can’t dive into the sun.”

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“It’s beyond the second ridge?” asked Rina.


“This I don’t know,” answered Kavaleria. “I doubt that it has a three-
dimensional allocation. The mountain beyond the second ridge is our limit of
understanding.”
“And all these elbes? Where are they?” asked Lena.
“The elbes dwell between our world and Duoka. They’re jealous that Duoka is
closed to them and they harm divers. Taking markers away from us is the only
chance for them to get something from Duoka. Their goal is to infiltrate drop by
drop into our world and wipe out the boundary between the worlds.”
Kavaleria looked at the window. The sun was lying in the open window.
Looking at the sun, Kavaleria unexpectedly uttered a rebellious thought,
unexpected for a strict director of a serious establishment. “By and large, being a
warlock is more interesting. Hdivers have only winged horses and dives. Hard
daily work. All the rest are simply guesses for a very long time.”
Freda issued a throaty sound. “I want to go to Duoka!” she said in the tone of
a person who is doing Duoka a favour.
“You barely stay in the saddle… Too early, hopelessly early. None of you are
ready.”
“To the swamp?” asked Rina.
“Next to Duoka the swamp is simply the traffic jam blocking a trip to the sea.
The problem is us. We aren’t ready for Duoka and its gifts at all.”
Alice sniffed with distrust. She considered that she was ready for anything.
“Duoka gives itself wholly, without reserve, and you must give yourselves to
Duoka completely. We’re ready to offer only a tiny portion of our ‘I’ between
wilfulness and the first serious difficulties. Since we can give little, we can take
little. What can be given to us that we wouldn’t instantly abandon, trample,
spoil?” Kavaleria asked sadly.

***

Someone started to pant in the hallway. Ruzya’s fat face pushed through into
the classroom. His voice though sluggish, did not dawdle, which, for anyone
knowing Ruzya, was a sign of extreme agitation. “Please excuse me, but this is
urgent! Something baffling is happening to the bees there!”
Kavaleria darted off and, after jumping up with her feet on the chair, took a
step to the windowsill. The spectacle of the instructor running out the window so
shook Freda that she searched for a long time how to express her attitude
towards this. She discovered nothing and said, “Well, I expected nothing different
altogether!” After saying this, Freda also climbed out the window.
After Kavaleria rushed Rina, Sashka, and Makar. Not only did Danny manage
not to step on the chair, but, after throwing his leg over, he stepped over the
windowsill. Alice clumsily climbed out after Makar. On the clearing flooded with
sunlight, on which shadows of lithe birches were gliding, Alice had an attack of
distraction. She disturbed a pigeon with a ball and stretched her arms out short-

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sightedly, trying to catch it. Realizing her mistake, she smiled for the first time
this past year, and a short bright joy started to warm her.
Passing everyone, Sashka saw a dense ring of hdivers near the pine tree.
Gosha was standing on the outside of the ring and, with the appearance of an
experienced guide, explaining to everyone, “They killed their mumsy!” Later
someone else ran up, and Gosha, changing the words slightly, repeated, “Their
mumsy was killed!”
After going around the pine tree from the opposite direction, Sashka
discovered that the walls and the roof of the beehive were covered with a thick
carpet of bees. In the centre of the shifting carpet lay the large queen bee, which
the other bees, turning it over, were dragging somewhere. When Rina squeezed
her way to Sashka, the bees pushed the queen off the roof. Now it was lying on
the ground. At times, either one or another bee made a circle and, without
touching it, took off.
Kavaleria got down on her knees beside it and placed the dead queen bee on
her palm. She touched it with her finger. The bee turned over with that rustling
sound a long dead dried insect, of which only the shell remained, made turning
over. “This is the end of HDive!” said Kavaleria.
Gradually everybody went away. Only the beehive covered with the shifting
blanket of bees and the dead queen on the grass remained. The bees no longer
flew to it. Occasionally a hdiver approached, looked, and walked away with a
pensive face.
It turned out that no one wanted the dead bee. The mother of thousands of
golden bees was lying stuck in the grass, and ants ran around giving it the once
over like dogs getting used to the smell. They touched it with their antennae.
They had doubts. No, something was not right! They ran off. But others
immediately appeared, and everything began anew.
In the evening Rina appeared at the beehive again. She leaned down and,
after pulling the bee from the grass, hid it in a matchbox. Then she walked
towards HDive. The golden bee was rolling, hitting the box as if alive.

***

It was incomprehensible how, but the warlocks found out about the loss of
the queen bee that same night. Berserkers flew in twos up to the gates of HDive.
They shouted. They shook their axes. They excited the hyeons. They threw
Molotov cocktails.39 The bottles broke against emptiness, the splinters jumped on
something invisible. The air was ablaze, outlining the invisible protective dome.
Then one of the berserkers remained on the ground while the other gained
altitude and, showing off, began fancy riding. He dived under the neck of the
hyeon. He directed it up and then immediately down. The hyeon somersaulted

39
A Molotov cocktail is an improvised firebomb consisting of a breakable bottle with a flammable
substance and a source of ignition held in place by the stopper. The bottle is ignited, hurled at the target,
and breaks on impact, causing a fireball.

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over his head like a tumbler pigeon 40 and immediately, after turning around,
caught the wind with its wings.
Having splashed boiling water from the porch, Supovna set down the bucket
and wiped her hands with her apron. Her fingers were red, the joints twisted by
arthritis. After straightening her back, she squinted at the little figures in the sky.
The hyeon first dived towards the ground and then wiggled out like a grass snake.
Supovna could not stand it and spat out, “Look how it dances, pesky worm!
Purely amok!”
“But what do they want?” asked Rina. She was the person on duty in the
kitchen that day and carried buckets out together with Supovna.
“It’s clear what. To lure us out,” Supovna answered right away.
“Why the Molotov cocktails?”
“The bottles are for noise… They won’t damage the defence.”
“Why don’t ours go out?” Rina asked sadly. She did not think she said
anything wrong, but Supovna crumpled her apron. She did not know how to
argue something quietly.
“You want to, you go out! Where can a winged horse gather speed here?
Waste a horse!” she yelled. Rina bit her tongue. She knew that winged horses,
though they fly faster than a hyeon and ascend higher, are only so-so with
manoeuvrability. The wings are too huge.
“Been to the Hill?” Supovna finally calmed down.
“Yes,” Rina hurriedly answered. “Once.”
The gently sloping elevation from the side of the river was called the Hill.
Hdivers buried winged horses there. No monuments were placed. Horseshoes
gleamed in the grass. In time, the horseshoes stopped shining, covered with
flakes of rust, and disappeared. At the top of the hill was a stone with names cut
out. The lower ones had already grown into the soil. Rina and Sashka crawled
around the stone on their knees, picked at the moss, and read,

Albatross 04.07.1848 Portsigar 1916 Blizzard Jan 1971 Babaran


1999
Raven (like hell you go with your own dates!!!) Bully 12.03.2001 –
29.10.2010

The mermaid on the old-model shortened clms flashed coldly and


immediately faded. In Supovna’s hands appeared a pair of powerful army
binoculars. “Catch!” Rina caught the binoculars.
A berserker – slight, dry, with shaved head – rushed about in the air. He
shouted, straining his voice. The hyeon turned around close to the ground. Nearly
cut the grass with its wings. The shaven berserker ducked behind the trees, and
immediately, like on elastic, another climbed up. Young, the face was beardless.
Bluish enthusiastic cheeks jumped. He screamed out insulting words pertly, like a
rooster. The fresh hyeon somersaulted, excited. Barrel, hill, snake. An electric
40
A tumbler pigeon has the ability to roll over backwards in flight.

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shock crackled dryly. One more berserker, stout and bulky, descended towards
the first two. He was heavy for the hyeon. It experienced clear relief when its
paws touched the ground.
Unexpectedly the young berserker’s hyeon lowered its snout and, coughing
with a hiss, jumped like a cat. The ears were pressed back. The Adams apple
rolled like a sphere. At whom was it hissing? Whom was it attacking? Rina
impatiently turned the little wheel of the binoculars. Grass jumped in the lenses,
branches moved. Finally, she got the sneering snout of the hyeon. The stout
berserker was beating it with an electric current.
“Look at that, got a gut! Blast you!” Supovna said and deeply spat from the
porch. Stout or skinny, to her any berserker is bad.
Suddenly the window above began to shake. Sashka jumped down onto glass
shreds, leaped up, and, limping, bolted through the park. Rina looked at him with
surprise. After running about thirty metres, Sashka turned around and shouted
one word, “… avr!”
Rina belatedly realized at what the berserker’s hyeon was hissing. Gavr,
always hungry, gangly, bored, ran out of the shed and hung around HDive,
whining sorrowfully. It did not understand why it could not go to Rina, the
inexhaustible source of tenderness, dead cats, and chicken bones, everything that
personified paradise to the baby hyeon.
Rina shoved the binoculars past Supovna’s hand. She dashed off. The park
darted towards her, branches swinging, trees jumping out.
“Where to, little fool? Want an axe in the head?” Supovna hurled at her from
behind.
Rina rushed off. She ran for about a dozen steps. She was panting. The
headscarf flew off her head, cheeks bluish, blood filled. She turned and pressed
the centaur to call for help.
Sashka and Rina jumped over the fence simultaneously. Two hyeons were in
the air, one on the ground. All their snouts were turned to one direction, looking
at something. Rina saw Gavr then. It leaned out of the bushes and emitted a
sharp, inviting sound, resembling the gnashing of a rusty door. It broke loose and
awkwardly, like a wet leaf battered by the wind, fluttered for about fifty metres.
The rusty door began to creak again: Gavr was hailing the incomprehensible
winged essences stirring up mysterious feelings in it.
The young berserker jerked up his schnepper. He took aim at Gavr. Rina
stiffened. A cry froze in her. The shaven berserker nudged the young one’s
shoulder and shook his head. The young one unwillingly lowered his schnepper.
Rina understood that the reason was not pity. A hyeon is solidly built. It is
practically unrealistic to bring it down with one shot from a schnepper. It would
be much more probable that an injured Gavr would hide with heart-rending
howls in the bushes, where it could not be taken.
Gavr continued to approach inquisitively the strange beasts attracting it so at
the same time. The hyeons lifted up their snouts foaming for undigested food.
The shaven berserker raised his elbow and with his palm, barely moving his
hand, turned the axe around on his knee.

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“Gavr!” Rina began to yell. “Gavr! Come here!”


The baby hyeon did not obey. The adult hyeons were more interesting than
Rina.
The young berserker impatiently fired the schnepper over his shoulder. In
answer Sashka picked up a stone from the ground and, after strengthening the
throw with the lion, hurled it. The stone cut into the pine tree. The berserker
looked around at the broken-off piece of bark and as usual scooped up the axe
with his hand.
Max and Ul, stomping their very big feet, rushed from the main gates to the
rescue. A heavy arbalest in the hands of each. Much like schneppers, such can
smash right through both rider and hyeon. The berserkers, after evaluating the
danger, sent the hyeons up in the air. The shaven warlock shouted, calling back
his partner dashing to Sashka with the hatchet.
Gavr squeaked resentfully from the ground, upset that it was unable to meet
them. The young berserker heard this squeak. He zapped the hyeon with a
discharge and set it at Gavr from above. The hyeon dived, teeth ready. A hit by
the paws, an agonizing bite in the throat, and everything would end.
Gavr again squealed, opening its mouth wide. Somewhat unusually,
invitingly. The hyeon under the stout berserker disobeyed its rider and turned
around in the air, instantly bending a wing sharply. The speed with which this
was done staggered Rina. The next second its teeth snapped and ripped open the
leathery wing of the attacking hyeon. Fatty wheezed and gave up hopelessly.
This impudence maddened the first hyeon: this was a large male, but a
medium-size enraged female had attacked it. Nobleness is not a part of the
package of hyeon virtues. The male with the torn wing hissed, switched over to
the new enemy, and a ball of two tangled hyeon, screeching, spraying urine, and
belching fish eaten in the morning, somersaulted in the air in the direction of
Kopytovo.
The stout person fell off the saddle. He fell like a toad into the forest. The
frightened Gavr, which the fighting hyeons almost cut into, fled in a cowardly
manner into the forest, switching from a run to short flights. It continued to move
its paws absurdly during flights, trying also to run in the air.
The hyeons were tearing at each other. The warlock that had dropped from
the saddle ran limping up to them and, shouting, struck his mutinous hyeon
several times with the axe. Then he turned, looked at Ul, who was not far away,
and, bending down, dived into the forest. The bolt released by Ul pierced a birch.
The male hyeon flew away, carrying its rider with it. All the time Gavr was
gnashing in the depth of the woods.
Sashka ran up to Rina. Stones poured from his hands. “What happened?
Why did they fight?” he asked with bewilderment.
“The first hyeon wanted to kill the baby hyeon. The other protected it!”
answered Rina.
“Why?”
“Don’t know.”

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“I know. Probably, this was its mother,” Sashka blurted out without a
moment’s hesitation.
Rina ran up to the hyeon, which the berserker had struck with the axe. It was
still warm, but moving no longer. Ul stood with lowered arbalest next to it.
Gavr’s snout stuck out from the forest. It approached and, whimpering,
began to sniff the bleeding wounds on the neck of the dead hyeon. Rina hugged it.
“Now you’re an orphan!” she said to Gavr. It placed its snout on her knee.

***

The following three days were the worst in the history of HDive. On Monday,
Kavaleria did not leave her office the whole day, but saddled Caesar and flew
away in the evening. Contradictory rumours went around HDive the entire
Tuesday. Vovchik believed that in a day or two all of them would be sent home.
Gosha, dressed in a shirt Get lost nicely!, argued that there was no hurry and
HDive would exist a couple more years, since the fall recruit had taken place and
the bees all the same would not fly away before next year.
Vityara hung around near the beehive trying to look in, but the bees drove
him away. “You said it, dude! What’s with you! I only want to look!” he repeated
ruefully. Platosha roamed sullenly, annoyed by any silly pretext. His eyes rimmed
in blue sunk even deeper. Oxa walked around with red eyes, but when they talked
to her about this, she began to yell that it was an allergy.
The bees left without a queen behaved restlessly. Huddled in a swarm, they
flew blindly around the park and hit against moist trunks. The stunned swarm
broke up and again gathered. Even those bees that had found their hdivers were
crawling along the glass as if blinded. They circled in one spot and stung each
other. Some managed to fall into plates and floundered limply. They had to be
extracted with spoons onto the table. The wings had to be cleaned.
Summer lightning made a splash above HDive at night. It beat soundlessly in
the horizon, probing the ground. The sensation of rain hung in the air. A moist
fog clung to the soil, gathered in the hollows. It was bad, alarming.
However, this was still not all. On Wednesday, one of the middle hdivers,
Igor, perished. Rina and Sashka barely knew him. He was unsociable and
taciturn, outwardly nothing remarkable. About eighteen. Skinny, awkward,
narrow-shouldered. He rubbed down the horses in the stable, did not shirk any
job, loved solitude, and went for a walk in the park a lot. He was friendly to the
comrades, but not special friends with anyone. Precisely because no one – as it
turned out – knew Igor well, his death was absolutely unexpected.
Igor was diving on Arap, when the warlocks somehow worked out his exit
point from Duoka and fired at him. The shot ploughed into Arap’s rump. It
scurried from the pain and Igor could not stay in the saddle. He tumbled from a
height of approximately six floors. The height was not critical for the hdiver
jacket, but Igor fell on the back of his head.
All this happened in front of Nasta’s eyes. While she was going down, while
she was running to him, a small, compact warlock adroit as a cat descended from

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above on a hyeon. He jumped from the saddle, turned Igor over, rummaged in his
pockets, and took off before Nasta got close enough to fire a shot from the
schnepper. Arap returned to the stable after a few hours. Its wound was not
dangerous, but Arap feared pain…
The entire HDive buried Igor. Rina expected that the burial would be special,
hdiver style, and the cemetery would also be special, but she was mistaken. The
cemetery was ordinary, near Moscow, huge like a firing range. The Ritual bus 41
stood for a long time in a traffic jam at the exit from the city. It was unusually hot
for Moscow. The windows of the bus did not open. The middle hdivers managed
to run out of the bus, bought water, and then on foot overtook the bus at the next
crossroad.
Later there was a funeral service in a red brick church. Airplanes were flying
over the cemetery – the Domodedovo Airport was next door. There were tearful
relatives, there was an absurd fuss with papers at the glass window of the office,
there was a talkative uncle, who in the bus even managed to come to the
nephew’s funeral feast and now attached himself to everybody. Kuzepych was
more like a crab than usual, and Kavaleria did not remove her dark glasses. In a
grey dress, with a black headscarf, small built, she did not stand out in the crowd
of women surrounding the grave. Octavius was left in HDive.
The only distinction, of great surprise to those who stood near the coffin, was
the unexpected appearance next to the grave of a black stallion with a white spot
on the forehead. The stallion was covered with a horse-cloth, but even under the
horse-cloth, it was evident that something bristled on its back. It smelled the dug-
up earth and it seemed that it did not understand what it was doing here. Then it
began to nibble the grass growing by the fence of the adjacent graves.
“I’ve been thinking for a long time how such a thing could happen. All the
time something wasn’t adding up. He shouldn’t have crashed. Now I understand:
he let go of the rein himself!” Ul suddenly said.
“How do you know?” asked Rina.
“Igor dearly loved winged horses. When a hdiver, flying off the saddle, holds
onto the rein, he usually doesn’t suffer. But the horse always dislocates its
shoulders. It becomes a cripple, in short…”
They returned in the same bus. Oxa sat next to Rina and Sashka. She was
experiencing obvious relief that there was no coffin next to her anymore and
chattering merrily. “The fellow was good. He was a fantasizer,” she said.
“A what?” Rina asked to repeat.
“You don’t know? Fantasizers, they…hmm-m-m…well, how to explain? Now
you live, you talk, you walk along the streets. Everything is outwardly normal. For
example, you come to an agreement with a girl from a parallel group not to write
a crib sheet for economics, but it seems to you that you’re paying court to a
French princess. Or you drag potatoes from the store and think that it’s a bag of
silver coins. Or you fight with a fellow, after propping up the locker room door

41
The Russian funeral service “Ritual” provides the coffin and transportation, a funeral bus, to the
cemetery.

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with a mop, but in reality it’s the cruiser Varyag’s 42 last battle. In short, instead of
your life you live another. More or less parallel. And even ten lives. Got it?”
Rina recalled her own Marquis du Grätz and was sorry that she did not find
out about Igor earlier. “And a fantasizer, it’s normal?” she carefully asked.
“Don’t know. But he was one,” answered Oxa.
The Ritual bus delivered them to Kopytovo. Here it turned around and left,
jumping on the potholes of a bad road. They reached HDive on foot. The locals
gave them a puzzled look, obviously assuming them to be summer residents. In
HDive everyone still sat for a little while in the dining room. Rina expected a
speech from Kavaleria or Kuzepych about how remarkable Igor was, how bad to
be deprived of a comrade, and how they must now take vengeance on the
warlocks for him, but no one gave any speech. Soon everyone went off to his own
room.
Nasta also went to her room. Her roommates quickly settled down to sleep,
but Nasta was lonely, depressed. She tried smoking secretly, but they started
shouting at her. They drove her out into the hallway. Nasta went to the stairs,
squatted down in a corner, and began to breathe smoke out between her knees.
As often in a state of anguish and voluntary weakening, the elbes hurried to
dust Nasta’s consciousness with small bits and pieces of past offences. Nasta
recalled her friend in school. How they quarrelled and the friend began to yell
and demand money from her for all the years of friendship: for the cafe, for help
on written tests, for lost time, for birthday gifts. Nasta flung her purse at her. The
friend caught the open purse, counted thoroughly, got confused, counted again,
poured change into her pocket, and straightened out a crumpled ten. Her lips
trembled, she yelled and cried again. She did not need the money at all.
Then Nasta hugged her and they reconciled. However, this final recollection
was disadvantageous to the elbes and every time they did not let Nasta remember
to the end, freezing at the stage: “all are skunks, traitors, I am alone, no one loves
me, nothing good awaits me.”
Having paved the way, the mercenary friend left somewhere with her money-
and-things friendship and in her place was the handsome man Eugene. He
smiled and stretched his arms out to her. Thoughts about Eugene pained her and
intensified unease. Nasta displaced them with others, fresher. Before her eyes
emerged how the warlock rummaged Igor’s pockets, how, after cutting the laces
with an efficient movement of the knife, he pulled off the clms. Why did Igor pass
the swamp so slowly? What marker did the warlocks take away?
Having finished smoking, Nasta shoved the cigarette butt into the crack
between the windowsill and the wall, pressed it through with her little finger, and
set off for the stable. She liked to listen to the winged horses snorting in the dark
and butting the loose doors of the stalls.
She had not yet left HDive when suddenly her phone rang. The number was
unknown to her. “Hello!” she said nervously. “Hello! Who’s this?” No one
42
The Russian cruiser Varyag (1901-04) was a protected cruiser commissioned into the Imperial Russian
Navy in 1901. It became famous for its crew’s stoicism at the Battle of Chemulpo Bay in 1904, when the
crew decided to sink the ship instead of surrendering to the Japanese.

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answered. Nasta hung up. It rang again in a minute. From the same number. For
a second the thought flickered that this was Igor from the other world. “Yes!
Who’s this?” Again no answer.
She heard noises, the tinkling of dishes, laughter, human voices, and
surmised that someone had not put the handset back properly and now the
apparatus was calling her by itself, from accidental contacts with the buttons.
This time Nasta did not hang up. She simply sat on the cold step and listened to
the strange life not having anything to do with her.

Chapter 15

Night Flight

What differentiates a soldier of the first month of war


from a soldier of the fifth year of war? The first-month
soldier is dashing, well fed, dapper. He sings patriotic
songs, wears too many cartridge belts, and rushes to seize
the enemy’s throat. The fifth-year soldier is emaciated, lice-
ridden, chronically hoarse. He looks at the weapon tiredly,
and does not sing patriotic songs. But then it is better for
the enemy to keep away from him.
From the diary of a non-returning hdiver

Rina had the habit of setting the alarm of her phone to full volume and then
not hearing it. Now, at two in the morning, Sashka stood in front of the girls’ door
and heard how inside, by the door, hysterics was simmering. At first only the
alarm was in hysteria, after a minute Freda and Alice, and finally even the
unshakably calm Lena. It all ended with a half-asleep Rina, hastily dressed, being
pushed out into the hallway, followed by the ill-fated cell phone hurled at her.
“Remind me to poison them. The minxes have little kindness!” Rina
complained and walked along the hallway.
Sashka overtook her by the window. “Are you aware that you have a knife on
your leg?” he asked.
Rina stopped and looked inquisitively at the rode-up jeans leg. “Really? No
kidding! A knife!”
“Uncomfortable with it!”
“Uncomfortable without it!”
“Why do you need it?”
“To jab at people a metre away…” Rina yawned.
Soon another use was found for the knife. The window would not open. Rina
forced the blade into the gap and pulled the handle to herself. The wood
splintered with a squelch.
“Probably painted,” assumed Rina.
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“We forgot to open the upper latch. Kuzepych will kill us!” said Sashka.
Rina smiled. Today it would be possible to kill them for many things.
After jumping onto rustling leaves, they sneaked along the park at night to
the stable.
“In my opinion, it’s idiocy to ground novices for so long! Speed up, trot,
gallop, pull up the snout, give a kick, and the horse is in the air,” Rina said
heatedly and, suddenly remembering, added, “How did Yara take off on Eric
yesterday, you haven’t forgotten?”
Sashka nodded nonchalantly. He preferred not to expand on the fact that he
had ridden all of about four times, moreover on old hags like Bunt or Ficus. Love
requires illusions at the initial stage. It devours them with soup and washes them
down with dreams.
“Ten minutes!” Rina said merrily. “We go up, do a couple of circles and back!
We’ll not leave the grounds of HDive. Nor up too high. No risk at all.”
“Parachute into the studio!” Sashka said peevishly.
Rina let his words pass by. When a girl orates, her auditory centres are
usually blocked.
Having hung around winged horses without budging all summer, she had
picked up some experience. With the exception of Arap, dangerous for novices,
and Brute, the terrible legend of the stable, Rina had been on the saddle of all the
horses in HDive. Certainly, she was no match for senior hdivers, but she was
almost on par with some of the middle ones. Or so it seemed to her. Therefore, it
was terribly offensive that middle hdivers were allowed to fly and dive, but she
was not even permitted to get a metre off the ground. You worked the horse –
take the wheelbarrow, the pitchforks, and forward. Regular physical labour is the
best friend of a hdiver.
The stable gates were open slightly. Two lamps were burning – one for the
person on duty, dim, and the other in Aza’s stall. Rina glanced into the stall. Ul
was sleeping in the corner on a blanket and covered by his hdiver jacket. Lying
beside him was a shredded strip of straw twisted together. Evidently, Ul had
rubbed the sides and feet of the mare until he finally wore himself out.
“Poor thing!” said Rina. “The best mare in all of HDive! The middle hdivers
were already plotting who would get its foals. The most annoying is that this
wasn’t even the warlocks.”
“It won’t die?” asked Sashka.
“Supovna says have to wait for the crisis. The mare is healthy, it can hold
out.”
Rina carried in water and, after carefully stepping over the basin, in which
were scattered syringes and broken phials, wiped Aza’s eye and nostril with a
sponge. The mare tried to bite the sponge.
“Looks like it wants to drink!” Sashka said peevishly. With two hands, he
raised the mare’s snout slightly, and Rina put the bucket under it. This was
awfully awkward. The bucket had to be tilted. Water spilled. Nevertheless, Aza
drank a third of the water.

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“Hopeless! Simpler to stick the hose in its throat,” Sashka grumbled, placing
the mare’s head on the bedding.
“No second thoughts? Let’s go!” whispered Rina. Sashka slipped out after
her.
In the adjacent stall clattering the iron was the bay stallion Brute –
competitor of handsome Caesar. They did not dive on Brute – it was much too
unpredictable. Brute’s stall was lined on the inside with metal sheets, and even
thick rubber on the side of the door. It would be impossible otherwise.
It bit both people and horses. It kicked with both the hind and the front legs
and hated dogs exclusively – to the point of being ferocious. It took apart with its
hooves on the sand a large sheepdog that had forced its way into HDive one day,
continuing to trample down on it, even when all that was left was only skin.
Octavius gave a wide berth of two kilometres to Brute and, if it saw that
Brute’s stall in the stable was open, it hid in the crack between the brick walls –
so narrow that even a human hand could not wriggle through there.
The only person Brute allowed to approach it was not even Kavaleria but a
middle hdiver by the nickname of Darning. Not only did it allow her to approach,
but also let her do anything she wanted. Even pull out the hairs on its upper lip.
This Darning was an enigmatic girl. She was nineteen but looked thirty. She
swore like an army of common construction workers, went to Kopytovo to play
dominoes with the peasants, and only hung out with Nasta. She did not take good
care of Brute. She cleaned it carelessly, brought it nothing tasty, and drove it into
the stable by throwing sand at it. Once when Vovchik, imitating her, threw sand
at Brute, he needed six stitches.
“Just how did this Darning turn up in HDive?” Yara once asked, watching
how the screaming girl chased Brute with a pole, and it, threatening, thumped the
air with its front hooves.
“Different paths lead to HDive. No one knows which. In exactly the same
way, different paths also lead from HDive. So the main thing here is: take
everything as is and don’t butt in with one’s judgments,” answered Kavaleria.
In its own stall, Icarus quietly gnawed on a plastic bottle as if it was smoking
a cigar. Next to it in the long stall-enclosure, the foals recently taken away from
their dams were frolicking.
The donkey Phantom was always loose and poking its snout into the
passageway: it demanded attention. Night or not, it was all the same to it. Rina
hastily hid her hands behind her back. “Go away, scribbling force!” Phantom was
offended and left, twitching its ears.
“You need the calmest. Which do we have is the calmest in flight?” Rina
looked into the tack room. She pulled the bridles off the nails and Sashka dragged
the heavy saddles.
“Delta?” Sashka said uncertainly.
“Kavaleria forbids touching Delta until November. It’s with foal.”
“It’s an old lady!” Sashka was surprised.
“All questions to Caesar… Let’s do this then: Askold for you, Münnich for me.
Askold is still a three-year-old, and Münnich is a very calm gelding.”

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Rina dived into Münnich’s stall. The old gelding with the white-yellow stripe
down its forehead shoved its snout into the empty feeding trough, then abruptly
pulled it back and listened to the sound. Sashka watched for a while how Rina
saddled Münnich, and then dragged himself to Askold.
Three-year-old Askold was the foetus of the Delphian mare Roxelana – a
most elegant creature with enormous eyes – and a farm horse by the nickname
Locomotive, which was used at the Moscow horse-breeding farm for extending
the total number of work horses. The hdiver who had let the mare slip away
received a terrible reprimand and despondently raked out manure for three
months.
Kavaleria and Kuzepych were afraid that the foal would be born wingless;
however, the Delphian blood dominated. At first similar to stumps, Askold’s
wings were quickly covered with feathers and soon an energetic stroke from them
brought up a wave of air opening the stable gates. In other respects, it was the
spitting image of papa – slow, lethargic, and huge as an elephant. Very wide
rump. Tail like a broom. Hairy legs with huge hooves.
When Askold took off the first time, the entire HDive gathered to look at it.
The best of all the collective feelings was expressed by Kuzepych. “If only it
wouldn’t crash down onto the roof!” he said.
Rina quickly saddled Münnich and started helping Sashka. Having reached
the saddle, which he had dragged into the stall, Sashka jumped, trying to catch
Askold’s snout. The three-year-old did not want to be saddled. It was angry and
grunted with displeasure.
“Don’t go to a winged horse when it bares its teeth!” warned Rina.
“I thought it was smiling,” Sashka said, justifying himself.
“Now I’ll smile at you this way! Take that! ” Rina raised her voice at Askold,
catching its head with her right arm in a tight grip. “Take the bridle! Undo the
chin, straighten the snaffle! What are you poking into the teeth for? Many extra
fingers? Good it’s Askold! Try poking Eric this way!”
“You poke too!” Sashka said, justifying himself.
“I press on the toothless edge!” Rina enjoyed shouting at Sashka the way
senior and middle hdivers had been shouting at her all summer. Continuing to
grumble, she saddled Askold and ordered Sashka to lead it out of the stable.
Next to the farm-horse half-breed, the old man Münnich seemed like a flying
stuffed donkey, though a cocky one. On the third warm-up loop, the somewhat
mean granddad used the fact that Rina was distracted, sneaked up, and with
blunt teeth grasped the inner part of Askold’s thigh. This was awfully painful. The
three-year-old decided that it was being eaten alive. Instantly losing courage, it
pressed down its ears and began to flee.
Sashka, until then sitting on Askold comfortably as on a sofa, realized that a
gut-wrenching shaking had begun. It seemed someone invisible was continuously
shouting “la-la-la-la-la!” into his ears. He first lost the right stirrup, then the left.
He hung onto the reins, but this was all the same as grabbing the coupling of a
rushing electric train.

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The quiet Münnich, usually scared off by everything, was extremely satisfied
that it had succeeded in frightening this giant. A triumphant thought filled its
entire brain: “Since they run from me, it means I’m scary!” It neighed and dashed
after Askold. Rina shouted something but Sashka did not hear.
After galloping as far as the edge of the field, Askold burst into the
brushwood with its chest. It forced its way through the park like a raging
rhinoceros, demolishing everything possible. The only thing left for Rina to do
was to direct Münnich into the breach made by Askold. Although the clever
gelding considered even without her how to make use of the fruit of the other’s
work.
Sashka clung tightly to the neck of the three-year-old and buried his face into
the mane. This way he saved his eyes from the branches but finally lost any
control over the horse. A minute later, an excited Askold flew out to the clearing
in front of the fence of HDive. It dashed to one side, then the other. It began to
stop, but the bellicose granddad was already puffing behind its back. Then Askold
tore along to the fence, pushed off and… clumsily took off.
A light, imperceptible push and Sashka understood that they were in HDive
no more. The wild shaking immediately ceased. Sashka straightened hesitantly,
looked around, and could put his feet back into the stirrups.

***

Flying turned out to be much more pleasant than bouncing. No shaking, and
everything inside remained in place. If not for the strong wind lashing into the
mouth and interfering with breathing, it would be quite nice. The old gelding was
refreshed and bullied no more.
Sashka overtook Rina. Her face seemed white and flat in the moonlight. And
absolutely happy. Her dream had come true: she was flying, feeling the safe
elasticity of the air. Münnich moved against the wind so deceptively easily that
Rina, not resisting the temptation, scooped air with her hand. What if she too can
fly? You never know.
Happiness filled her like gas fills a balloon. And this happiness was so great
that Rina immediately forgot the never-ending cleaning, the tumbling
wheelbarrow with the swaying wheel, the manure, and that she had lived the
whole summer without her laptop and with all her things easily fitting into a
knapsack.
Rina was convinced that they were flying low, but the posts crossing the field
seemed no larger than a teaspoon. A settlement in the distance was stirring with
lights, one more beyond it, and Moscow quite far away turned golden with steady
radiance issuing from the ground. It seemed from here like something alive, not
unlike a jellyfish cast ashore. From all directions to the jellyfish gathered threads
of silvery roads sprinkled with headlights like live fireflies.
“How’re you doing? Managing?” she shouted to Sashka, feeling how the wind
pushed her words back into her mouth. Sashka waved his hand encouragingly,
showing that all was in order. The yellow moon like a scrambled egg was floating

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in egg-white clouds above his head. Rina poked a finger upward, then downward
and back. Sashka surmised that she proposed to go up higher, make a circle, and
return to HDive. Sashka nodded.
The restive horses had no objection to stretching their legs. The
inexperienced Askold at first started to pull steeply up, but ran out of steam and
now obediently trailed along behind the experienced, lazy Münnich. Münnich
gained altitude gradually. It was keeping its strength. Higher, even higher.
The romance was destroyed by frost. The fingers refused to obey at first, and
then the feet became numb. A frozen mask paralysed Sashka’s face. An icy
armour covered Münnich’s sides damp with perspiration. Rina understood that
her hair was also the same. On lifting a hand, she touched frozen spikes. Now it
became clear why Yara always dressed like a polar explorer before a dive, even in
the summer in the heat.
Torn clouds lay in layers like blankets hung flat. Having made their way
through the next cloud smelling like a wet padded jacket, they found themselves
in a moonlit clearing. The cloud under them was so milky-dense that any fear of
heights disappeared from Rina. It seemed one could jump down from the saddle
and run along the cloud. She could barely restrain herself from doing this for real.
Forgetting about the time and the cold, they rushed along the moonlit
clearing. They made circles, turned around, and plunged the horses’ legs into the
clouds. Sashka managed not badly – flying turned out to be much simpler than
trotting or galloping. As if you are gliding in a boat, scooping air with white oars.
A strange motion chafed Sashka’s eyes. Two very discernable points came out
from the side of the moon towards them. Two more points stuck slightly higher to
the sky and seemed like pixels flying out of the living sky. These points, in
contrast to the first ones, did not approach. They were holding onto the
advantageous height between the flying horses and remained somewhere far
behind HDive. “Crows! What are they doing here so high and at night?” Sashka
thought cheerfully.
Rina looked around at Sashka. Swinging his arms like a windmill, he pointed
up and grinned, happy as a young moose. Rina lifted up her face. A second later
Sashka saw how she started to rush about, pulling on the reins. Berserkers! It
came to Rina too late that they were dimwits. On a moonlit night, they were doing
circles along a moonlit meadow like two reckless moths. It goes without saying,
the warlocks patrolling the sky above had noticed the wings of the horses.
The situation was bad. It was not for them to fight their way to HDive.
Carried away, they had flown too far from it. The only trump card of winged
horses – the speed of horizontal flight – was lost. Hyeons were attacking them
from above, using natural acceleration. Light and quick, they would cut them
from above. To climb themselves? But the hyeons were diving at them, while the
other two, exactly fish scales stuck to the sky, were waiting for the time being,
ready to pounce if they returned to HDive nevertheless.
They were losing to the berserkers on height and combat experience. They
were unarmed. Rina’s knife clearly could not be taken into consideration. In ten
seconds they would be fired upon from schneppers. Then hyeons would use their

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poisonous teeth and claws. The strike of a light hatchet on a long handle would
finish everything. Rina wanted to yell loudly, “This is unfair! Let’s replay!”
The black dots were no longer points. Rina distinguished the ridges of the
tucked-in wings and, in the break between the ridges, the small heads of the
berserkers like twins with the hyeons. The winged horses themselves also scented
the hyeons. They neighed and, lifting up their snouts, looked unfavourably at the
black silhouettes. It was not possible to linger.
Shouting to Sashka to repeat her every move, Rina sent Münnich to the
ground. The gelding folded its wings and dived almost vertically. The well-fed
descendant of a farm horse dive-bombed after them. Sashka desperately clung to
the saddle with both hands. He could not hang on and toppled over onto the
horse’s neck, thrusting his hands into the mane. Tenaciously. In any case, as with
the mane, he could not be torn away now.
The wind plucked Rina from the saddle. She no longer steered Münnich: not
likely, if only to keep her seat! They cut into a cloud, then one more, after which
Rina suddenly saw the ground. It was much closer than she expected. Neither
Moscow nor HDive nor lights, only something greyish, uniform, with the winding
road of a dark river. Where had they flown? Where was Sashka? Where was
HDive? Where was Moscow?
Rina saw a compressed black spot more to the right and higher. A berserker?
If the speed were slightly less, he would fire at her. Rina did not turn around; she
would break away. She was holding on this way only because to fall from the
horse or together with the horse was approximately one and the same. The spot
continued to grow. Simultaneously the ground also grew with it. Rina more
guessed than saw that the hyeon had begun to slow down and pull out of the dive.
Why were they doing this? Had they really decided to leave them in peace?
Rina from inexperience tried to get Münnich to spread its wings, but the
clever horse did not pay any attention to her nudge. The experience of hundreds
of generations of ancestors prompted that the only way out of this acceleration
was to dive. Must not spread the wings: too late, and the wind would wrench the
wing feathers. It seemed to Rina that both Münnich and its wings became solid,
dense, but the ground, on the contrary, was washing away like a watercolour. “I
don’t know how to dive! Ah-h-h-h!”
Stretching out its neck, Münnich covered Rina with the dome of its folded
wings. Rina closed her eyes and pressed into Münnich’s back in such a way, as if
she wanted to hide under its skin, to duck under its ribs. She waited for the
terrible impact and feared pain more than death. In the following moment,
something pushed her with force, as if she cut into water. Rina opened her eyes in
surprise. Her world, whose boundaries she just had pierced through, flew away
from her and was revolving like an enormous soap bubble.

Chapter 16

Filled Outline

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It is necessary to be constantly prepared for the fading


of interest in ideals, work, occupation, a person, and not to
howl at the moon when this happens. Between the first and
the second breath are always disappointment, fatigue, and
depression. By late fall it is difficult to believe that some day
spring will come. If one does not know about the change of
seasons at all, then one cannot surmise spring. Logically it
in no way follows fall. Logically only winter follows fall.
From the diary of a non-returning hdiver

Rina straightened in the saddle and ascertained that the wind was no longer
plucking at her. Münnich flew steadily and calmly. It was not surprised that it
recently pierced the earth like a needle through lace curtains. The gelding looked
bored: it would clatter to the feeding trough with much greater pleasure.
Limpness poured out of the sluggish air between the worlds.
Ahead scum was sinking, swelling, seething. A hurricane was drilling in its
centre. Münnich was making its way precisely there. Even far from the scum Rina
perceived the stink, which became more persistent with each stroke of the wings.
A choked dead world. But indeed once, Ul said, it was beautiful. Not as beautiful
as Duoka, but quite a bit better than our world.
Rina, listening to stories of the others, knew everything about the swamp
that a novice could. On the outside, the scum did not impress her particularly.
She was expecting something Photoshop-like, ominous, with crimson shadows,
but here was scum the colour and smell of overcooked fish.
Everything was bearable, but uneasiness was gnawing at her. She was short
of something. Or someone. SASHKA!
Getting cold, Rina looked around, but did not see Sashka. Her own world
seemed like a lamp burning in the dark – small and distant. Her obliging
imagination instantly drew a picture of a field at night, Sashka badly hurt,
warlocks standing in a semicircle, and hungry hyeons squabbling over the carcass
of Askold. Rina began to turn the horse around. Understanding that it must not
do this nor slow down, Münnich tried to be sly. It brought a wing forward, but
afterward placed it such that air slid down along the feathers.
Unexpectedly Rina saw a point between the horse’s ears. Having looked
closely, she understood that the point had two wings. Askold? So, the three-year-
old took the lead over Münnich in the dive, but did it keep Sashka on its back? It
was not possible to make out and Rina lived through several unpleasant
moments. She started to urge Münnich on. It lifted its snout in offence.
Sometimes they rush you, sometimes they stop – just try to figure out what they
want from you.
Rina overtook Sashka before they reached the swamp. Although “overtook”
was not the word. Askold was not running away from anyone. The inexperienced
stallion was flying around in circles and still could not bring itself to rush into the
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seething “sink.” It was trying, but chickened out at the last moment and made a
turn, not sensing the rider’s confidence and not having its own experience. The
hurricane spat out shreds of foam hanging onto Sashka’s leather jacket and the
horse’s snout. Slipping down, the foam thickened into a white beard.
Askold looked tired. The air between the worlds was thin. The support for the
wings was poor and it was difficult to breathe. Therefore, the experienced
Münnich seriously took care of gathering speed. If you reduce speed, you will not
force your way through the swamp.
One look was enough for Rina to understand how Sashka was able to hold on.
The horse’s rein was wound around his biceps, and he himself hung onto the
mane like a tick. On Askold’s left side was a broken feather. Evidently, in the heat
of the moment Sashka had tried to grasp it.
“They’ll kill us for this at HDive! But for this we still have to return,” thought
Rina.
She turned in the saddle. Their world seemed flat like a label, distant and
dim. The tired Askold would not reach it going back. Whether it wanted to or not,
it must rest on Duoka, but would it force its way through the swamp? It seemed
that the horse perceived this: must decide on something. It rushed to where the
scum was seething, but every time it snorted and turned away. A little longer and
the weakened three-year-old would be lost with its rider in the swamp.
“Do anything! Force it to dive!” Rina yelled, but heard nothing. The voice
belongs to worlds. Between the worlds, it is locked up within the person.
While Rina was thinking about how to force the horse with cold feet to rush
into the scum, Münnich solved the problem for her. Difficult to say whether it
wanted to help or had decided to scare the frightened giant again. Extending its
snout, the crossbreed of a donkey and a sofa flew up to Askold and took out with
its teeth a piece of skin from the rump. The unhappy giant felt like a lamb
devoured alive.
The curved teeth of the old gelding turned out to be more terrible than the
swamp. Askold rushed, scooped air with its wings and, leaving Münnich behind
by two lengths, rushed into the swirling hurricane.

***

Sashka, who had not taken in air ahead of time, belatedly tried to inhale. He
doubled over with disgust. It was as if his mouth and throat were filled with dead
jellyfish. Somehow Father had brought back an enormous remainder of slightly
salted fish from a business trip to Astrakhan, dragged it onto the balcony, covered
it tightly with a lid, and forgot. When in a week Sashka by chance glanced into it,
the vile smell forced him back a metre. Now there was even nowhere to bounce
to…
Askold slowly drifted through the narrow tunnel, its wings touching the
sticky walls. Not knowing that it was possible only to look at the horse’s mane,
Sashka stared openly along the sides. In the dense darkness, beyond the walls of
the tunnel drilled by the hurricane, dim grey shadows, submerged in the infinite

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night, stirred faintly. Münnich caught up with Askold and flew behind it. It could
not be otherwise: the tunnel was narrow. The horses, grown quiet, did not
squabble.
The appearance of two riders in the swamp did not remain unnoticed by the
grey dwarfs. They swam up to the walls and stuck to them. Like a cobweb, thin
threads began to draw in the air before Sashka. There were so many that it was
not possible to manoeuvre between them. Askold flew right through, tearing
them up with its chest and wings. However, occasionally a cobweb also brushed
against Sashka. Then something pricked him, as if he touched his naked skin with
fibreglass. The hdiver jacket in no way helped here.
Then chaotic thoughts began to come to him like flashes. Suddenly he
understood that it was Father who was at fault in Mother’s death. He could have
sold the apartment. If they had operated on her in Germany, she could have lived
another year. Well so, why did Father cry then? Everybody cries. Even that
considerable bastard Paul Palych! His whole life the loser-boxer dreamed of
going to the Olympics. He spends time with them free of charge, yes, but at the
same time demands that they buy equipment for his team!
Any small offence inflicted on Sashka at some point and forgotten long ago
rose again, increased tenfold, and turned into a clot of spiritual pus. Sashka made
his way through the swamp, composing a list of enemies, enviers, and villains,
increasing with each second. Hatred alternated with agitation and happiness,
which finally muddled up Sashka.
The powerful horse chest broke the cobweb without the previous ease. Askold
slowed down, and Münnich, which could not fly around it from below or above,
slowed down together with it. The wings sagged. Feathers began to break from
stress.
Suddenly Sashka saw something familiar, inexplicable here, in the swamp.
The kitchen of their two-room apartment. Cracked Polish cabinets, the small TV
with antenna sticking out the window. A large Russian doll stands on the TV. In it
are threads, buttons, and the household money. But here is also Father! He is
sneaking around, ransacking the doll, and quickly moving something into his
pocket. This is probably that year when Mother started to be sick and Father,
instead of doing something, drank. He walked around dejected, guilty, and
breathed to the side. When he sat in a closed room for long, the glass misted over.
Sashka forgot about everything in the world. Anger blocked consciousness.
He yelled and rushed to Father. The kitchen stayed behind. Sashka turned back,
pulled the rein to himself. The stallion neighed, lifted its head, and scooped with
its wings the stinky slush of the swamp. The iron tore its mouth, but it continued
to work the wings. Must never stop here. The horse knew this from birth. Seeing
that it continued to fly, Sashka dropped the rein and began to free his feet from
the stirrups. He decided to jump off.
He had almost thrown his knee over the saddle when suddenly it was as if his
neck was poked with a red-hot needle. Sashka yelled. Hatred for Father
immediately disappeared. So did the doll with the money. Very close above him,

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separated by the wall of the tunnel, a thick layer of flabby dwarfs was stirring.
How many of them had crawled over!
Grasping his neck, Sashka tore off a luminous golden bee. The bee
immediately flitted into the sleeve of his jacket. Sashka did not know how to
extract it, it was already somewhere in the region of his elbow. It was settling in.
It no longer stung. Till the end of the tunnel Sashka thought no more of anything.
The spot of the sting was burning so much that he even did not feel how the
cobweb touching him burst.
It brightened. The tunnel widened. A false confidence emerged that
everything was behind and the swamp had let them go. Exactly in that moment,
lifting her head up, Rina saw very near a hdiver on a red horse. A girl was sitting
in the saddle in front of him. Both faces were distorted by hatred, teeth clenched.
The foreheads were touching but the eyes did not see each other. Each was locked
in his own solitude. Both hdivers were covered with elbes, which stuck to them
like molluscs. Who were they? Why had they let themselves be walled in? All of
this Rina did not know and even could not know.
“Indeed at the exit from the swamp! Probably they also decided that they
could relax,” thought Rina.
Münnich proceeded forward. Several more strokes with the wings and Rina
felt an elastic push. Light, pale for the time being, struck her eyes. It grew
noticeably warm. Flakes of the scum on Rina’s jacket and the horse’s sides
quickly melted. Under them lay a forest, seemingly endless. The tops of the pine
trees groomed by an invisible comb leaned noticeably to one side. In the distance
was a solid mountain ridge. A rock lizard was lying motionless. A white scattering
of something incomprehensible. Snow? Sand? An invisible sun beating from
upwind flooded the lizard. It was much brighter there.
The exhausted Askold decided that it had had enough and, after folding up
its wings, slid to the ground. The horse looked for a clearing between the trees.
Rina saw how the three-year-old touched the ground with its front hooves and
began to stumble, not expecting the resistance of the wings. The raised rump
froze in a suspended position. Sashka, half-risen on the stirrups, flew over
Askold’s head and went for a ride along the grass.
Rina jumped down from Münnich. The sly pensioner immediately started to
move away in small steps, hoping that she would let go of the rein. Rina held it
firmly and Münnich resigned itself. It began to lick the dew on the ground.
Sashka rubbed the spot of the sting. Askold roamed beside him, snorted, and,
lowering its snout into the grass, nibbled the white flowers.
On hearing footsteps, Sashka raised his head. He jumped up and, limping,
went to her. Rina pressed her cheek against his hdiver jacket. “We’re on Duoka,
do you understand? On Duoka!” she shouted directly into his breast pocket. The
jacket smelled of dampness and the swamp.
Sashka made a helpless gesture. Thoughts were crowding. His face was glad,
radiant, but slightly guilty. “Cool! I thought: I’ll crash… Grabbed its neck, nearly
strangled it. Right away merged as one. Like passing through a bubble … Eh?!” he
said jerkily, excitedly.

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As if understanding that the discussion was about it, the three-year-old


nudged him in the shoulder with its snout. Sashka swayed. Askold stretched out
its wings. The long feathers caught the grass. Its lower lip sagged. The eyes were
stupid, bulging. It only looked sideways in alarm at Münnich. Hoped it did not
decide to bite.
“How did you pull out Askold’s feather? By hand?” asked Rina.
Sashka moved away from the moist nostril ransacking him. Askold’s
unofficial name was Vacuum. Twice it happened that it ripped people’s pocket
out together with the treats.
“With teeth. I felt my feet flying off, but it was still grabbing me further with
its wings. So I used teeth… What shall we do now? Search for markers?”
Rina shook her head. Where to search for them? They are not here in the
pine trees. Skip to the ridge without an assignment and pick at the ground there
by hand without a trowel? Well, indeed not. They barely managed even without
markers.
Until now, her head had been stuffed with garbage that she fancied she saw
in the swamp. She saw a quiet woman with an obstinate fold between the
eyebrows, and a man who shouted at her. She saw a corpse with an arrow sticking
out of its forehead. She saw a person reeking of medicine, pressing her temples
with thick palms. His index fingers were yellow and the nails were hard as a
tortoise shell.
What saved her was that she was more worried about Sashka than herself.
She was holding onto Münnich crawling near the rear hooves to Askold, and the
cobweb slid down, not being able to anchor itself. “Help others carry straw and
your burden will become lighter by a pood,” said Mamasia.
Sashka examined his boots. Outstanding, from natural leather, they did not
suffer, but here for some reason the laces had melted. Sashka picked off with a
nail the drops of burnt synthetics. He pulled the jacket zipper. “Hot! I would stew
right away.”
Rina looked at the tops of the pine trees sensitive to cold, to the uncertain
dawn. She wiped her forehead and sweat glittered in the lines of her palm. “Hot!”
she agreed. “What do you think of Duoka?”
Sashka looked around the clearing. Pine trees with a girth of the length of
three arms. Resin tears thickened on the reddish bark. A motionless strip of dawn
above the rock ridge. Time was frozen. Nothing was happening. Neither birds nor
beasts nor insects. An entirely new world waiting for something, hardly freed
from wrapping paper. “Don’t know,” he said honestly. “I still… haven’t gotten
used to this, in short. And you?”
Rina took in air. The collar of her jacket still had a whiff of the swamp, but
something stirring, light, joyful had already mixed in with the mustiness. Smells
had always spoken to her more than words. The breeze stretched from there,
from the ridge. “I like it here, but it’s somehow scary… I feel… well, as if I was
peeping at a gift ahead of time.”
Münnich stopped licking the ground and greedily stretched out its lips: to
drink. A narrow stream cut through the grass. Tapered banks. The water was

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brown, the colour of peat. Rina pulled the rein but was unable to lead the gelding
from the stream. It drank and that was it. She dragged it away by the snout and
tied it to a pine tree. Münnich tried to press her sideways against the tree. It got a
fist. It was appropriately insulted and began to rub its neck against the tree,
bringing down the reddish bark.
Sashka got down on his knees and washed in the stream, resting a hand on
the opposite bank. “Cold… good…”
Rina also washed. The water brightened on her palm. The peat had turned
light turbid. She had already straightened when something jostled heavily in her
pocket. The dead queen bee in the matchbox.
Not giving any thought to why she was doing this, Rina rolled it out onto her
palm. The bee had withered even more. The gold was lying on it like pollen. A
large piece of bark was lying on the grass. After placing the bee on it, Rina let go
of it onto the water. The bark was rocking. It glided.
“Look! But how is it drifting?” Sashka asked suddenly.
“Meaning?”
He leaned down, ripped up a piece of grass and dropped it. “See! The grass
drifts down but the bark up… Against the current!”
The bark pushed into the bank, entangled in the overhanging grass, but after
finding itself in the fast water, again hurried on. Clouds tinted peat and iodine
drifted towards it. Rina ran after it. Sashka dragged Askold with him. He did not
guess that it was possible to tie it up.
When Münnich remaining by a pine tree became the size of a hand, Rina
suddenly turned away from the stream. After catching up with her, Sashka saw
peaceful backwater. It came to light ten steps away. The bark was swaying along
its centre. The queen bee was no longer on it. No one noticed where it fell off and
sank. Askold stuck its snout into the creek. Waves rippled out.
“Do you see it?” whispered Rina.
“Stones, perhaps?” Sashka wondered. “Well, they’re lying there and...?”
“These are not simple stones.”
On the shore was a pointer lined with white chalky stones. It was pointing to
a low barrow piled up in the backwater. At the top of the barrow was a bag of
rough “hdiver” skin. Sashka squelched along the water to it. Askold took a step
with a front hoof and remained on the shore, suspiciously examining the winged
horse in the stream.
The skin of the bag had hardened with time. Inside were a small ancient
arbalest of lever cock and three bolts with prickly pneupfs serving as tips. Sashka
stretched a finger out to a pneupf but jerked back without touching. Beside them
were salt in a rag, a knife with a wooden handle, and a tiny roll tied with a
woollen thread. There was no need to cut the thread. It broke by itself. Inside
turned out to be a silver cheetah, flat with a small round head.
“Give me your hand! The other one, where the clms is!” Sashka ordered.
Efficiently rolling up Rina’s sleeve, he turned her wrist. Here was the clear outline
pressed down in the skin. Sashka touched it with the cheetah, checking if it fit.
“The same. Set it on with glue, and...” Sashka tried to pull it off, but it was useless.

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He started to help with a knife but it only scratched the clms. Sashka was puzzled;
he huffed and puffed.
He dug in the bag again. But there was nothing more interesting. Only a
rumpled parchment cut slantwise.

spite in triumph.
end will overcome.
ict of a bee’s destiny,
ll bring mortality.
years of prophecy,
a grain grows in obscurity.
passes only one –
cient guardian.
the mouth of a young hyeon,
ly creates for himself humiliation.
gains a victory,
will prevail is a guarantee.

Askold neighed, lifting its head. A small spot shook near the grey peaks.
“Look, a winged horse! Who is it, Caesar?” shouted Sashka.
Rina had learned to recognize horses. “No, Mitridat… It means, either Max or
Rodion in the saddle. Mitridat takes nobody else.”
Sashka shuddered. He was rather scared of Rodion. Indeed better Max than
this red-faced with a displaced nose and dry lips. Even if Max is angry, he quickly
cools down. Rodion, though, yields to any movement of the human heart with
enormous effort. Even when he smiles, the smile is as if carved in wood. “How do
you know?”
“Yara taught me. Look how it flies. Two strokes, short glide. Caesar glides
after three strokes… Aza works the wings without gaps at all. Eric jerks the wings
up, as if drying oars.”
The rider descended. Mitridat still had not touched the ground with its
hooves but he already came down from the saddle and jumped onto the grass.
White with fury. Jacket zipped to the collar. Not a drop of sweat on his face.
He staggered to Sashka, threatened with the whip. “Oh, you mutt, bitch! Half
of HDive is searching for you! Ul, the idiot, dived without a saddle at all!” Sashka
took offence. In the word mutt was something especially offensive, much worse
than bitch, which they also frequently threw around at boxing.
“But how does HDive know…” Rina started.
Rodion turned his whole body to her. Rina saw that he was enraged and it
would be better to keep quiet, but the usual substitution happened to her. When
it was necessary to make a serious face, she suddenly wanted to laugh aloud. The
muscles of her face turned straight into spasms of laughter. She squatted in a
hurry, pretending that she was straightening her pant legs.
“In your opinion, it’s possible that we in HDive don’t know about dual
dives?” Rodion began to yell and, in order not to hit Rina with the whip, lashed

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his own boot. “Why are you grinning? You think you’ve past the swamp? It threw
you out without a load!”
He pulled Mitridat’s rein, jumped up on it, and only then saw the bag in
Sashka’s hands. “Where’s this from? Where did you get it, fool? Hand it over!”
Sashka reluctantly handed him the bag.
Rodion ran his eyes down the parchment, held the knife, turned the ancient
arbalest in his hands. With a broken nail he cautiously touched the bowstring. He
muttered incomprehensibly, “Indeed… it’s not your schnepper!”
“This is everything? There was nothing more?” Rodion asked.
Sashka saw that Rodion did not intend to return the bag. Otherwise, he
would not have thrown the strap over his shoulder. “Seems so!” Sashka muttered,
before Rina had time to mention the cheetah. Rina quickly looked at him. To tell
the truth now without betraying Sashka was impossible.
Sashka suddenly became hotter than earlier. Red spots began to twirl in his
eyes. Wheezing, he wiped sweat off his forehead. He was panting, not
understanding what was wrong with him. He did not know that one cannot lie in
Duoka, even about trifles.
Nudging Mitridat with his knees, Rodion forced it to go down into the
stream. The horse was making chomping sounds on the moist clay at the bottom,
crushing the clouds without pity. Rodion, knitting his brows, was picking at
something with a finger. Rina ran along the bank to look. On the inside of the
bag, on the rough skin, a sign was distinctly visible: a circle and a cross.
“What does it mean?” asked Sashka.
“Nothing,” answered Rodion through his teeth. “Simply a picture! Come
along! We’re returning!”
The return dive happened with an escort. First flew Mitridat, Münnich after
it, and Askold brought up the rear, contented that no one would bite it on the
rump. Before the swamp Rodion made sure that Sashka and Rina were
blindfolded. However, even with a blindfold the flight through the tunnel became
a nightmare. Choking in the poisonous fumes, Rina heard continuous gnashing,
laughter, and cries. Strange voices forced their way into her consciousness. They
were hissing with false kindness, searching for a loophole.
It seemed to Rina that she was making her way with closed eyes through a
hall where films of all possible genres were showing on dozens of screens. Shots,
the clank of blades, the ringing of coins; the roar of guards greeting the empress;
the sea washing over pebbles; someone whispering to her how beautiful and
desirable she was; and here someone was even unwrapping the foil on a piece of
chocolate and Rina heard the contented quiet laughter of a person having earned
five minutes of happiness and rest.
While Rina was listening to everything immediately, not sorting out
anything, it was still okay, tolerable, but the minute she began to notice some
separate film and listen to it with interest, the remaining films obediently quieted
down, and that same film, noticed and selected, began to crawl like a thickening
snake into her consciousness. In such seconds, Rina ceased to suffer from the
stink of the swamp, and it seemed to her that it was completely bearable. “Come

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to us! You’ve just come from Duoka. Was it nice for you there? Sweat, fatigue,
pain,” whispered the voices.
Rina no longer knew anything and wanted nothing, only that everything
would end faster. Both the swamp and Duoka. To show up in her own world, to
collapse into her bed, and to conk out. Rina did not know what Sashka fancied he
saw, but once heard how he yelled, “Leave her alone!” Who “her” was, she also
did not understand.

***

Iushshshshp! A taut slap of air, the sluggish cold of scum hanging on the skin
– and they escaped the swamp. Rina tore the moist bandage off her eyes. It was
much brighter in their world than on Duoka, where they did not make their way
beyond the dawn.
They were waiting for them. Two black cut-out silhouettes dashed towards
them from the direction of the sun. Berserkers. Everything happened instantly.
The teeth of a hyeon clicked, almost reaching Askold’s neck. The hyeon aimed for
the throat, but the bridle hampered it. Askold, with a dangling hyeon, started to
panic, stalled, losing speed.
To save Sashka, Rodion charged Mitridat at the hyeon. A lifted membranous
wing brushed against Sashka’s face. The berserker, grinning, waved the hatchet,
but the hyeon was already somersaulting from the powerful blow of the horse’s
chest. The berserker, tenacious as a cat, grasped for the saddle. He held on.
Released from the hands the axe hung on a long leather cord.
The second berserker was attacking Rina, approaching from the direction of
the horse’s belly. Clever Münnich protected its sated paunch. It managed in flight
to meet the hyeon with double kicks of its rear hooves. The hyeon dodged and
began to fly in from the other side. Rodion, after falling back in the saddle, with
his head on the horse’s rump, unseated the berserker with a shot from his
schnepper. The cold flash of pneupf blinded Rina and the saddle was deserted.
The hyeon, surprised by the unaccustomed lightness, lost its head, span around,
and remained behind; the horses continued to rush along.
After discarding the discharged schnepper, Rodion jumped up with his knees
on the saddle. Rina saw his face. Sneering, haggard, with eyes red from the
swamp, completely covered in the sticky foam of the hurricane, he had nothing to
lose and therefore was more terrible than a berserker. He threw himself from the
saddle at the first warlock and hung onto his shoulders. That one fell back, trying
to turn his fist clutching a schnepper in order to shoot Rodion in the head. The
overloaded hyeon, scooping air with its wings, fell between the clouds and
disappeared.
Rina and Sashka, turning the horses around with difficulty, circled above the
forest and the field for a long time. Under them, in the grid of dirt roads, the iron
roofs of summer cottages blazed in the sun. They saw neither hyeons nor warlock
with Rodion.

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Mitridat with the empty saddle circled above them. Then with a short neigh,
it hailed Münnich and flew to HDive. The stirrups were dangling. Attached to a
cord – like the example of the warlock – Rodion’s schnepper was swinging in the
right stirrup. After exchanging glances, Sashka and Rina followed Mitridat. They
flew silently, not looking at each other.
The defence, becoming silvery, let them through. They turned to the stable,
but the entire meadow before it was filled with hdivers. Almost fifty people, heads
lifted, were looking at them. No one waved, no one shouted, all eyes were directed
toward the empty saddle of Mitridat… Rina waved, showing the main lane. They
landed quite close to HDive.
Kavaleria stood on the porch. Small, standing very straight, almost falling
back. She persistently looked above their heads.
They ran to them. Rina jumped from Münnich and handed the rein to
Platosha running up. All the time Sashka in no way could get down from Askold –
a foot fell from agitation through the stirrup. Mitridat was already caught.
Rina, in a state of unease, began to describe the dive, the struggle with the
berserkers. Sashka was interrupting, trying to take the blame.
Kavaleria did not tear her eyes off the empty saddle of Mitridat. She
approached the horse, breathed into its nostrils, pressed her forehead against the
horse’s nose. “Later. Everything later! Search for Rodion! You’ll show where you
saw him last!”
“In the sky…” Sashka was at a loss.
“You’ll show in the sky!” Kavaleria angrily exhaled into the horse’s nostrils.
She caught Mitridat by the rein and led it to the stable.
Rina, after catching up with her, hurriedly described the two hdivers stuck
behind the wall of the tunnel, near Duoka. Kavaleria, in motion, said angrily, “I
knew them… The bee chose me when they were senior hdivers. Then one day
both disappeared… The swamp is not the place for clearing up
misunderstandings in love. I think they’ll be freed when they see each other and
not just themselves! No one else will be able to help them.”
“But they’re nose to nose!”
“Possible to look and not see,” Kavaleria cut her off.
“But love…”
“It wasn’t love, but the fencing of two egoists. Now disappear nicely!” ordered
Kavaleria. Rina obeyed. One may be persistent, but more pleasant to brake on
your own than against a concrete wall.
They searched for Rodion until late at night. The hdivers – including the
novices – spread out in a wide chain.
Long-legged Danny went out first to the cottages. He did not walk normally,
but like a camel lifting his knees high. He ducked his head with caution under the
gates, and here someone briefly and unnaturally hailed him from the bushes,
“Hey!” Danny, eternally staying with his own thoughts, took about three steps
before he realized that there was a working probability that he was being hailed.
This happened regularly with him. He would sink so deeply within himself
that he generally forgot that he had a body that was going somewhere. He would

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remember about the body when he had to dash away suddenly from honking cars
or a shoe was suddenly taking in water from a puddle, which mistakenly seemed
shallow to the conceited self-striding shoe.
“Hey. Please!” the voice caught up with him.
In this lonely “please!” detached from the “hey!” was something such that
Danny, after wavering for a while, pushed his head through into the bushes. He
saw nothing, only a pile of leaves. Danny wanted to step over it, but the pile shot
out a mysterious root piece and abruptly tugged at Danny’s foot. He gasped and
fell. The pile cursed.
Danny saw a young face badly scratched and stained with dirt. A cloak limp
from moisture was stretched on the jacket of rough skin. Someone had cut off a
layer of turf and, after freeing it from the ground, secured it to the cloak, having
poured leaves on top. Even a black knitted cap and that resembled a bush more.
“Quiet! Don’t yell!”
Danny inadvertently moved a foot. His knee touched the fellow’s thigh. That
one growled, clenched his teeth, and knocked his forehead against the earth.
Danny belatedly discovered that his right foot was unnaturally turned with the
foot in.
“Are you always such an ass?”
“Well, you see, everything depends on the system of nominations and
principles of assessment…” Danny started with dignity. “I’m searching for
Rodion!”
“You’ve already found him! Must recognize your own! Get off me!”
Middle hdivers, running up, made a stretcher with poles.
Rodion was mad. The battle in the air had not ended in his favour. The strong
berserker managed to escape – he butted his rock hard forehead into Rodion’s
face and threw him off the hyeon, when it, after straightening the flight with
difficulty, was near the ground.
Rodion fell onto an unfinished bathhouse, broke his leg, and rolled along the
roof down into the vegetable garden. The berserker searched for him for a long
time in order to finish him off. He was rushing above the houses, leaning down,
looking. Rodion hid in a gap between the bathhouse and the shed and from
weakness wheezed into the cobweb.
Pain came gradually. Rodion envisioned a dirty old woman with purulent
eyes, getting the drill and tongs ready. For the time being, she was only trying
them on. She touched the leg and moved away, but he knew from experience that
she would soon get down to serious business.
A dirty big dog came out from somewhere and began to yelp. In order that it
would not give him away, Rodion pressed down on it with his stomach and
pushed a fist into its mouth, pushed deeply into the throat. The dog was choking,
skinned his wrist, but could not clamp down with its teeth.
The berserker flew over them. Rodion saw his strong back. He remembered
the smell of the deodorant, a massive gold watch on the wrist, a face satisfied with
life, overfed, self-confident. This evening the berserker will shed his “work”
armour, hide the axe, take off the schnepper, and sit down at the wheel of an

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expensive car. A beautiful wife – top-notch, no doubt – is waiting for him in his
comfortable home in the country. Even the rest is also premium: the best food,
the best health resorts, the best medicine. And the children, if there are any, are
also outstanding. In good schools, athletic, tanned.
Only a hdiver has to be a hdiver constantly. It is enough for a berserker to be
a berserker for two or three shifts a week. Shift is over and adieu! Another takes
over. Guy and Till do not demand anyone to knock himself out. But what awaits
him, Rodion? The dusty HDive attic? A hammock? Ul’s monotonous jokes?
Dives? The mustiness of the swamp? Helping some people whom you do not
even know and also do not choose… Old lady pain shyly gave a cough and twisted
his bone with red-hot tongs. In order not to yell, Rodion bit his own hand.
The berserker returned. He deftly leaned over the saddle and grabbed the bag
Sashka had found on Duoka. The bag was lying in sight, in the sun. Rodion never
crawled to it. The berserker threw the bag over his shoulder. He hollered and
took off. Rodion let go of the half-stranggled dog. It lay on its belly, wheezing.
Rodion was wheezing. They were lying this way next to each other.

***

Till came to Guy’s residence late in the evening. Only the external perimeter
was guarded. There was not a soul inside. Neither Guy’s personal arbalesters nor
berserkers. Only the hyeons were making noise in their cages. Nevertheless Till
pushed the door, knocked belatedly, and gave a cough as into a barrel. “Here…
the on-duty shift delivered this… Took it from a hdiver…” he said into the gloom
before his eyes became accustomed.
Guy was lying on the floor. When the door was opened, he twitched, half-
rose, and looked with the empty eyes of a sick owl. He again lay down. The
secretary Arnaud had found room for himself in the corner, quiet as a dead mole.
He pulled his knees to his head. It seemed he was waiting to be switched on. He
hurriedly waved to Till to leave and froze again. Till sensed that the secretary was
mortally afraid.
Till became frightened. He had heard: there are moments when Guy’s soul
“wanders.” The guardian, the elbeus, the strongest of the elbes in the swamp,
installs itself in his body and then the host becomes a marionette. An eerie,
terrible, cultivated death. Once in this state a skinny and slender Guy mutilated a
huge berserker such that they buried him in a closed coffin. They say he even tore
the berserker with his teeth. Was that the reason security scattered?
Till stumbled, put down a heavy foot, and began to backtrack. Suddenly he
heard the hoarse, “Come! Come, told you!” Guy, still lying on the floor, ran his
hands over his face. He sat up. The secretary Arnaud’s eyes lit up immediately.
He began to move, jumped up, and was almost everywhere at once. The elbeus
had left.
Panting, Till handed over the bag. Guy took it, scratching the skin with bent
fingers. His face was suspicious, anxious. He took out the arbalest, the knife…
Held it for a long time, examining the wood handle. Then also looked at the circle

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and cross for a long time. “Well now! And you said that you won’t say goodbye to
me!” he said voicelessly with his lips. His narrow mouth moved like a wave.
After coming to his senses, Guy eagerly turned the bag over and shook it. He
squinted dangerously at Till. “Where?”
Till’s chin began to bounce with folds of fat. “Who? I don’t know… didn’t take
it…”
“You’re toying with death! You didn’t give me everything!” He grabbed Till by
the silver boar. He pulled him by the collar to himself like pulling a dog, looked at
him for a long time, scorching him with the look. Till stared honestly, afraid to
blink. Guy pushed him away.
“Watch it, if I find out! Mityai Zheltoglazyi had a rare uniqum… Once he took
it away to Duoka… But today the uniqum returned to our world!”
Till recalled the swamp. There they know what passes through the tunnel.
“Searched the hdiver’s corpse?” Guy asked sharply.
Till began to move his shoulders uncomfortably. “Something happened with
this hdiver. They searched for the body, but only…” he began.
Guy waved his hand to silence Till. He picked up the strip of skin with the
writing, looked for a long time, even smelled it, fanning the wings of his
cartilaginous nose. From the bulky cabinet he took out another strip, delivered at
some point by the antique dealer. He attached them, smoothing out the rumpled
spot. It matched exactly, as if fused. The piece that had been on Duoka seemed
brighter, fresher, but it read well:

Its demise is clever spite in triumph.


Only true to the end will overcome.

Mysterious verdict of a bee’s destiny,


On golden wings to it will bring mortality.

Given three hundred years of prophecy,


And that same time a grain grows in obscurity.

When day has passed only one –


Will break the jug ancient guardian.

Will open hissing the mouth of a young hyeon,


Traitor only creates for himself humiliation.

In that the lie gains a victory,


Truth will prevail is a guarantee.

“So far everything fits!” Guy said seriously. “The queen bee is dead. The
young hyeon has taken wing… The traitor would have been in the grave long ago,
if we hadn’t reduced the psyose dose. We dismiss the delirious morals. What’s
left?”

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Till started to smoke. He looked at the glowing flame. “The hourglass, the
jug, and the guardian.”
Guy pressed his chin against his chest. Till tried fawningly to repeat the
gesture of his chief, but he had a pillow of fat on his chin.
“Bravo, Ingvar! You, it seems, have isolated the main thing wonderfully! If we
believe the hourglass, 300 years has passed. Now the guardian must break the
jug, after freeing a certain ‘grain’. The jug, of course, is in HDive. It’s the safest
place. The guardian, it goes without saying, is Gorshenya.”
“Why?” Till asked.
“Who is still living in HDive after so long? And really not its image on the
hourglass? It’s Gorshenya. Simply no other candidate exists there. Contact our
young friend! Let him do everything necessary; Gorshenya must be removed from
HDive as soon as possible!”
“But why?”
“Till, you’re tiresome! Then it won’t break the jug and the ‘grain’ will rot in it,
whatever it was. And the hyeon… let our friend also get rid of it at the same time.
Triumph of spite, so triumph of spite!”

Chapter 17

Rina’s Diary

The only thing with value before eternity is that in


which a lot of love and pain has been invested. Everything
else is situational rot.
From the diary of a non-returning hdiver

She did not have a laptop in HDive. A common notebook with snap
“dividers” took its place. The handwriting was small, but the capital letters,
commas, and stops were very steady. The rows were even. Rina did not use
hyphens. She preferred to squeeze the longest word into a line, although getting
closer to the margin, it would also begin to compress like an accordion. In the text
were many drawings. They often replaced words. For example, short legs were
often drawn instead of “went” and instead of “saw” were two caricature eyes with
eyelashes.

92 September. (In reality, of course, 29, but no desire to make


corrections immediately in the new notebook. Then I, of course, will
become cocky and start to tear everything here into bits and pieces,
but not now.)
I sit and think how little can be said with words. Only to pass on some
milestones, to catch the circumstance in each of the separate flashes, and that is
all. I have not written a diary by hand in a hundred years and now I have
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butterflies in my stomach. As if my head was not thinking earlier and the


computer keys helped it, but now there are no keys and the brain stalls. Okay, I
will record everything that comes to my head.
Sashka and I really got it for that dive. We work hard in the stable: I with the
wing horses, he… eh-eh… in the stable itself. All of Sashka’s fingers have calluses.
Specifically, the fingers and not the palms. I never thought that you could get that
from a normal palette knife. Sashka was told to strip old paint off the enormous
gates, which he has been busy with for several days now. The most inconvenient
is that the gates are always opening and closing. You only just climb up the
stepladder and – wham! – someone slams the gates.
Aza is somewhat better. It will live, but will it fly, skip, walk? Ul and Yara
spent whole hours rubbing its legs and the base of its wings with straw plaits.
Not far from here is Kopytovo, an urban-type settlement. Once it came to
someone’s head to build a needle plant and make sewing needles, knitting
needles, and fishhooks for the whole country. Now the plant is not operating and
there is absolutely nothing to do in the settlement. Quite a few apartment towers
are left, between which groups of bored youth lounge about.
Vovchik regularly goes there to flex his muscles, and every time returns with
a black eye. Even the clms cannot save him. We are not supposed to go there, but
we do all the same and the authorities wink at it.
We are not even forbidden to talk about HDive, although it is close by. Here
the same rule applies as on the telephone with Mamasia. You tell her “HDive”
and she, “five to five.”
Our Makar also goes to the settlement often. However, they do not beat him
up. I saw several times how he wears down the locals behind the kiosks about
something.
Yesterday I went to Kopytovo for meat scraps for Gavr and met a fellow in a
wheelchair. With a huge sheepdog. He goes to the park there. I do not know what
problem he has, but obviously something serious and long-standing, because his
face is not hopeless but so peaceful and not anticipating. Although, I would not
say that he sags. When I saw him yesterday, he was even laughing.
He has a girl. So small, compact. They are both serious, natural partisans
who know that they will be shot the next morning. They go about this way: he, the
girl, and the dog. And they do not talk with anyone. Even the sheepdog also takes
no notice of other dogs, does not growl, does not wag its tail.
I found Kavaleria in the park. She was pruning with pruners and giving the
bushes the shape of a poodle.
“It’s more a fat groundhog. Especially if that branch there is removed,” I said.
Kavaleria went around the bushes and stood next to me. “According to the
logic of things – and everything is fine with me with the logic of things – this is
really a groundhog! But, for me, if I indeed took it upon myself to make a poodle,
then I’d make a poodle!” she said and continued to work with the pruners.
I described to her the fellow in the wheelchair and proposed to dive to Duoka
to get a marker for him.
“Do markers for legs exist?” I asked.

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“Here it’s more precisely the spine… Any red marker will fit. Only not a small
one, but somewhere starting from the middle,” Kavaleria answered pensively.
“Please let me dive! Please!” She knitted her eyebrows. I understood that it
was better not to mention me diving. “Then you! Or let Ul or Athanasius!
Anybody!” Kavaleria slowly shook her head.
“But why?” I could not believe it. “Why don’t you want to help him?”
Kavaleria kept silent for a long time, continuing to click the pruners. It
seemed to me several times she clicked them quite idly. “I want it very much,” she
finally answered. “But I don’t decide who and for whom to get markers.
Otherwise, long ago we would have increased the number of hdivers to ten
thousand, breed twenty herds of winged horses, used anti-aircraft machine guns
against hyeons, and dived in three shifts like in a mine. But now our max is
several dives a day. That means only so many miracles.”
“Why?” I repeated obstinately. “What’s bad about you diving now and he’ll be
walking with his own legs tomorrow?”
It seemed to me that the marble statue, which I erected for myself as
Kavaleria, was covered with a network of small cracks. She understood this and
looked sad. “You cannot imagine how many hdivers stumbled here, moreover the
passionate and selfless,” she said.
“Wh…?” I started and stopped in order not to resemble a parrot.
She answered instantly. “Imagine that somewhere in an almost inaccessible
place there’s a button, after pressing it, you’ll make all the people healthy,
contented, rich, full. You’ll wipe out all diseases and even possibly death itself.
Specifically you, of your own will, of your own choice. Would you press it?”
“Yes,” I immediately said.
“Ah,” answered Kavaleria. “Some day yes, even if we were to perish, but now
– no. There is a time for everything. Can only do harm before this time.” She
clicked the pruners again. They were already driving me crazy.
“But how do hdivers determine at all for whom to get markers?” I asked.
She thought for a little and placed the pruners on the bushes. “Come! Only
keep in mind: must tell no one about this,” she said and we went through the
Labyrinth to the fountain.
Just like the last time, I could not get close to the rock itself. Several steps, no
more. Further, something pushed me aside. “Interesting, does Kavaleria know
that the time I pushed my way to the rock, it threw me across the fence?” I
thought but did not begin to expand on this.
Kavaleria took several stones out of a knapsack. They seemed normal to me.
Small, with traces of clay. Three were the size of a fist, one long, and one flat,
irregularly shaped. She began to throw them one by one into the fountain. When
she grasped them, the stones lit up from within, but briefly. The small stones
were pulled into the rock-fountain and disappeared. I saw red and blue flashes.
They did not wane but shot up swiftly, changing shape. Like birds with colours
washed out, when you shoot them in motion out of focus. The blue was from the
flat stone and one of the two with clay.

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“There!” said Kavaleria. “Five markers, five destinies. This is also our help:
bring and release.”
“And that’s all?” I asked with suspicion, because it took all of ten seconds of
effort.
“Yes,” answered Kavaleria.
“And you don’t intend to do anything more with them?”
“With what?” she was surprised.
“With the markers.”
She showed me empty hands. “They are no more. But everything will be
arranged as it should. Precisely how, you’ll never guess. The doctor will help one.
They will announce to another that the last time they probably gave him someone
else’s x-ray, because now everything in him is all clear. They will apologize,
congratulate, and hide a box of chocolates in the locker.”
“These are the red flashes. And the blue?” I asked.
“Well, with the blue you also won’t guess. Someone will feel a burning desire
to go into the store to buy a canvas and paint, although earlier he didn’t paint
with watercolour but only soiled himself. Another, perhaps some quite reckless
type, in half a year will end up in the hospital. Likely an accident, but there he’ll
have to stay calm, and for the first time in his life begin to read books and revise
his outlook on life.”
“There was no other way?” I took a risk and asked.
“What other way?” Kavaleria was surprised.
“Well, take a shovel and hit him with the handle so he would lie and read,
and give the marker to someone else?”
Kavaleria smiled, and Octavius, which she was carrying under her arm,
began a high-pitched bark. They are always this way: she smiles and it laughs for
her. “Well, you’re just like Rodion! Who wouldn’t hit just to be within one’s
power! No, never. First, you don’t know whom to hit and how hard. And
secondly, if you hit someone nevertheless, then why would someone let you do
this for some reason?”
When we left the Labyrinth, we saw Platosha rushing to us and shouting
something. Kavaleria and I dashed after him. I thought Kavaleria would fail to
keep up with me but soon realized that it was the other way around. She did not
even sweat. At the same time, I discovered that we were running to that part of
the fence where I usually go to feed Gavr and this really strained me.
After running out to the fence, we saw that one of the posts was wrenched out
with the base, and the section of fence attached to it was down. In the wet soil
were printed deep tracks, which could only belong to one creature in the entire
HDive.
“It had never done this before!” Kavaleria said through her teeth.
Platosha darted into the breach and shot further. And we after him. Now I
had no doubt that Platosha was leading us to the shed. There was simply no other
option. Therefore, I pressed on, passed him, passed Kavaleria, and was the first to
run up to the shed.

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The first thing that I saw: the garage was turned inside out and crushed. The
ground all around was pitted by enormous feet. Here an excited Gorshenya was
roaming. It was twirling on the spot, hitting itself in the chest, and banging the
garage with hardware. On seeing us, it began to scream something indistinctly.
Only three phrases were clearly distinguished, “I will gorge! I will not allow! I will
trample!” Again it banged the garage, which was similar to a flattened food can.
“Here!” Platosha said, looking guiltily at me. “I was coming from the
settlement and here this…”
Everything inside me fell. I decided that Gorshenya had sensed Gavr and
killed it, because Gavr was a hyeon. I wanted to run up to the garage, but
Kavaleria did not let me. She allowed no one to approach it at all, until Kuzepych,
Max, Ul, and Rodion ran up.
Using the power of the lions, they dragged Gorshenya away to HDive before
any of the locals detected it. They pulled, precisely four ants and a resisting
caterpillar. Although I would not say that Gorshenya resisted. It only floundered,
looked at the sky, and repeated, “I will gorge! I will not allow!”
They were not able to drag Gorshenya into HDive itself. Something did not
let it in, although they struggled with it for a long time. The HDive defence
continued to work even with the fence down. Everyone’s clms was discharged,
but by that time Athanasius, Oxa, Nasta, Vovchik, and someone else, it seemed to
be Vityara, ran up. Nasta was the first to have the sense to check Gorshenya’s
belly. Everything was immediately understood.
My hyeon was discovered in Gorshenya’s belly. Alive, hissing, with twisted
wings. Obviously, Gavr was struggling the whole time. It was very angry, hissed,
rushed to Kavaleria, to Kuzepych, and generally showed everyone what an
average hdiver expects from an average hyeon. For example, I did not have any
idea that frightened hyeons fire the remains of undigested food at enemies and
splash them with urine. I grabbed Gavr by the neck and, not waiting for any
comments from Kavaleria, dragged it into the bushes.
Sashka went with me and helped to find a new place for Gavr. It is somewhat
further from HDive, but then it is harder to find Gavr. Still harder to understand
that the place is this way at all. In the thick of the forest, something like a trench
is dug out with a roof of boards rotted through. About twenty steps away from it
is the cab of a rusty tractor. That is it. Neither how a tractor found itself in the
forest nor why this dugout was made – no answers, just a lot of questions.

October 1.
A bad day. They locked Gorshenya in the old storehouse. The walls of the
storehouse are thick, it cannot get out. If a window is open, one can hear how it
hits the iron gates. Boom-boom-boom! Day and night. They say Kavaleria has
decided to send Gorshenya to Altai and release it there but does not know when
to implement this. Cannot teleport such a giant.
Ul worries about Gorshenya. So do all the senior hdivers. They have gotten
used to the old guy. To them it is inseparable from HDive, but after the incident
with the ruined beehive and the knocked-down fence, everyone is bewildered.

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Rodion lies in the attic. All sorts of restraints are mounted on his leg, I keep
quiet about the cast. He cannot move. He cannot do anything at all, just lies and
stares at the ceiling. Yesterday I took Yara with me just in case and called on him
to apologize, but he did not want to talk to me. He turned his head to the wall.
Gloomy, haggard, nasty. One feels that he is terribly hard on himself. Simply the
tank in his heart moves and the gun got stuck in his throat.
I was already leaving when Yara said to him, “And you think about Ilya
Muromets!”43
“What for?”
“About how it was for him not stirring from one place in those thirty years.
Indeed something matured in him all those years when he could barely blow a fly
away from his nose? Why was strength given to him but not to another?”
“Be done with the propaganda!” Rodion muttered.

October 3.
Fall. All night the windows were banging. Empty buckets flew in the HDive
courtyard. This is the autumn wind coming. I went out in the morning and saw
that the park was bare and the sky looks through the crowns of the trees. Strange.
When I lived in the city, it seemed to me that fall comes gradually. But here I saw
that it begins suddenly. One night with the gusty wind moaning and the trees are
like plucked chickens. And Moscow does not make itself felt here at all, though it
is not particularly far away.
For the time being, we are not particularly loaded down with work. We
wander around HDive and then turn up in the stable. Every day Freda declares
that she will break out of this jail but she does not. Apparently, because none of
the authorities is especially against it. Freda has typical reverse psychology: if you
want her to stay, open the door wide and start to push her out.
Yesterday I accidentally overheard a conversation between Kavaleria and
Yara. I was standing by Aza’s stall, and they were nearby, in Lana’s. Lana has
something with the joints. When it is damp, it begins to limp, and in the morning
cannot stand up. It becomes unsteady. Straightens the pelvis with difficulty like
Arturych with sciatica. Did not know that horses are so similar to people.
In the evening Sashka and I went to feed Gavr. Sashka always walks with me
now. Freda jeers that he is stuck to me.

October 9.
Well! Still alive!
I am sick. I have the flu. Temperature over 39. Weakness. I lie in the far room
in sickbay, where we have a type of insulator. My nose is swollen, eyes watering.
But I do not lose time for nothing: in the morning I soaked three hankies.

43
Ilya Muromets is a hero in epic poems of Kievan Rus’. The name is synonymous with outstanding
physical and spiritual power and integrity, and dedication to protecting native land and people.

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Because of a head cold, I have become sentimental and stupid. I want to watch
TV and cry aloud when some Duremar44 is killed.
Talked on the phone all morning with Mamasia. For some reason she is still
not tired of waiting, while the President trains me in the secret school and awards
me with all sorts of Russian orders.
One of the main pluses of HDive is that when you talk from there, money
does not run out on the phone; instead it becomes more than what I have, what
Mamasia has. But should you climb over the fence and even if you just say
“cuckoo” on the phone, it all flies away at crazy speed.
Generally, Sashka and Ul with Yara visit me. And Athanasius dropped in. I
am not interesting to the rest. Sniff-sniff! But then Supovna stuffs me with food,
Yara brought jam, and Sashka cutlets in newspaper. By the way, he also feeds
Gavr.
He says that Gavr flies very well, only manages flight poorly. If there is the
smallest obstacle in its path, it cuts into it. He even says that Gavr invented a
trainer for itself. It sits on the tractor cab, seizing it with its paws, and flaps its
wings so, as if it wants to tear the cab away from the ground.
***
!!!!!
Kavaleria visited me in the evening and sat on my bed. The bed is narrow. I
had to dangle my legs. So we sat together.
“Here I’m thinking about you all the time, about the dive… You’re beeless!
But one can’t be beeless in HDive. I think a bee for you exists nevertheless,” she
said.
“But where is it?” I asked.
“A good question,” admitted Kavaleria. “Simply remarkable. I wish I had at
least one tiny, most insignificant answer.”
I carefully asked her about Gorshenya. What will happen to it?
“In one of the coming days a van will arrive. A former hdiver will be behind
the wheel of the van… No, he left by himself. Simply couldn’t stand the workload.
Now he’s already all grown up.”
“Are there many like that?” I asked.
“Hdivers who left of their own free will? Quite a few. Some disappear forever,
but the majority continues to help. Can never break off with HDive completely.
Possible to curse, betray, even go to the warlocks, but can never forget!”

Oct 10.
Little is visible from the window of sickbay. It goes out to an empty corner
with only Max there. Well, everything is more or less clear with Max. This is our
positively competent hdiver-berserker. He loves the corner because here is the
stand of thick boards for shooting from an arbalest. Max is always mutilating it,

44
Duremar is a character from the 2009 made-for-TV musical The Golden Key or the Adventures of
Buratino, based on the 1936 children’s book of the same name by Soviet writer Alexei Nikolaevich Tolstoy
(1883-1945).

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throwing at it everything in succession: tent pegs, construction nails, knives, and


axes, almost like pushpins.
I have noticed: when a man loves something, love fills any of his
undertakings with success. Let it even be throwing objects at a target.

October 17.
Tomorrow I will be discharged, and today I was allowed to take a walk, “You
will walk along the path around HDive for about fifty metres and come right
back.” I, of course, nodded and… left for the settlement, because I wanted
chocolate so badly, and I decided to call on Gavr also. Barely got there and was
completely soaked.
When I was buying chocolate, through the store window I saw Kavaleria
passing the square. Decided that she was searching for me and started to worry,
but she did not notice me. Kavaleria approached the park and I saw how she
looked at someone behind the fence, trying to remain unnoticed. When Kavaleria
left, I went up to the fence where she had stood. There was already no one behind
the fence, but on the other side, I noticed the clear tracks of a wheelchair and dog
prints on the moist earth.
Visited Gavr on the way back. Could not find this stupid cab for a long time. I
was freezing. Got mad. Started to phone Sashka and curse him, although what
does he have to do with it? And here I was jumped at from a pine tree. Knocked
off my feet, licked all over, and covered with stench. A thousand exclamation
marks!!! Gavr!!! Grown to about the size of a young tiger! Interesting, how many
people in Kopytovo rush to drink after seeing my “bib”?

Oct 18.
I was not discharged, because yesterday I sweated, then froze, stayed too long
with Gavr, and nearly croaked tonight. Now I lie and everything is terribly funny
to me. The walls are funny, the ceiling is funny, the lamp is funny. Like slow-
motion hysterics: I have led a delayed existence for a very long time, but now it
sped up and hit me. Sashka came. Here indeed is someone really fun… ny (“ny”
was written with another pen and, apparently, the next day).

Oct 20.
Phew! I am now free! Freedom will meet you joyfully at the entrance and
brothers – tweedledee! – will give the sword back to you. While I was not there,
Alice contrived to move to my bed. Had to drive her away. There were no howls
from her direction. Just a hundred and forty-two tragic facial expressions, a clank
of the medals, and the promise to poison me at the first opportunity.
About the clms. Almost in the region of an anecdote. Alice does not wear the
clms because it “sags her hand.” Lara drove Kuzepych crazy asking his permission
to colour her clms blue. Black does not suit her. Freda drags her clms around in
her handbag, at times forgetting it in the most inappropriate places. Lena tried to
sew a zipper onto her clms. She broke three needles and an awl, and then shorted

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the sirin. If she had not managed to discard the clms, she would be stuck together
with it in the foundation of HDive.
P.S. Saw Kavaleria. She looks bad. Circles under her eyes, taciturn. A hand is
bandaged, obviously stripped the skin of her hand with the trowel. They say she
returned from a dive in the morning.

Chapter 18

Clay Head on a Hungry Belly

One day I clearly understood that people examine


themselves in ordinary relationships. We are not like
the person whom we got to know yesterday and who
interests us, but like the person whom we have known for
ten years and who touched us long ago.
From the diary of non-returning hdiver

Soon after discharge, Rina dropped in on Sashka. Sashka was in the room
alone. He was lounging on the bed and, with his feet on the wall, leafing through
the pages of Kavaleria’s lecture borrowed from one of the middle hdivers. On
noticing Rina, he did a cartwheel over his head and landed on the floor.
“Oh! Hello! Nightmarish handwriting! Only possible to make out that she
doesn’t want to impose her opinion on anyone!” he imparted.
“You carry this! It’s for Gavr!” Rina shoved at him a massive saucepan of
chicken drumsticks with traces of puree and hdiver teeth marks.
Taking the saucepan, Sashka looked with interest at the scar on Rina’s wrist
– traces of cable burns (she had taken it into her head to climb down from the
fourth floor without gloves). “How many scars do you have?”
“Indeed more than you!” Rina stated.
Sashka looked at her with compassion. “Well, here you exaggerated! Can’t
be!” he said leniently.
They began to count. They pulled up sleeves, rolled up pant legs. Even parted
hair on the head. It was also not managed without disputes. How to include the
scar from a camp saw on Sashka’s leg? As one scar or seven? Burns and
inoculation marks were not included in general.
On recalling that she still had a scar on her stomach (she had fallen from a
scooter), Rina started to lift up her T-shirt. Immediately like a jack-in-the-box,
Makar’s inquisitive face pushed through into the room.
“Oh! Whacha doing here?”
Sashka silently kicked the door. An additional sound proved that Makar had
a strong forehead.
“Well, could say so right away! What am I, a wee one?” reached them without
offence from behind the door.
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“Could have said with words!” proposed Rina.


“To whom, Makar? You tell him three times in words, then kick the door all
the same…” explained Sashka.
After counting, they finally agreed that Rina had sixteen scars, and Sashka
either eighteen or twelve (they still had not come to a consensus about the saw).
Then they went to feed Gavr. Rina saw Kavaleria at the old storehouse. She
was standing and looking into the small window. At times, the iron gates
shuddered. From the other side came Gorshenya’s sighs and sad muttering. “I am
Gorshenya, clay head, hungry belly! Must release Gorshenya!”
“And what will Gorshenya do when released?” asked Kavaleria.
“Gorshenya will boom-boom!” the honest giant instantly answered.
Kavaleria sighed. “That’s what I’m afraid of!”
Hearing steps behind her, Kavaleria looked around and bit her lip. Iron
ladies do not like to appear weak. They get rusty from weakness. “This is its last
evening here! The trailer will come tomorrow morning!” Kavaleria said and,
having pulled her glasses out of her vest pocket, put them on challengingly. The
sun, hitting from behind and passing through the lenses as through a magnifier,
began to dance on Sashka’s jacket. It came to Rina’s head that Kavaleria’s look
could set it on fire.
“One second!” ordered Kavaleria. They stopped. “The hyeon is flying, of
course?”
“Yes,” Rina carefully acknowledged.
Kavaleria pulled her plait. “Short flights?”
“Well, not particularly,” Sashka blurted out.
Rina looked around at him with displeasure. She wanted to be the only one to
talk about Gavr. The others solely had the moral right to nod agreement. “It’s
already flying not badly. Only it tires quickly and doesn’t know how to turn,” she
confirmed.
“Precisely during this period the warlocks begin to train them gradually to
the saddle,” Kavaleria remarked.
“Uh-huh, indeed! We don’t have a saddle for a hyeon!” Rina, feeling sad,
blurted out.
Kavaleria pushed up her glasses with her index finger. Her nail was
provocatively pink with a white semicircle. “Let’s get something straight! Whom
do you take me for? Someone who will tell you that you can find anything you
want in the HDive storerooms?” she asked with indignation.

***

Rina found a cleaner drumstick without teeth marks and took a bite. The
drumstick had remains of cold puree stuck on it but was tasty. “Papa always
bought me something in the city, though Mama forbade it. Rolls, chocolate, juice.
We agreed that I’d eat at home and wouldn’t give him away,” she said, chewing.
“And you?”

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“But I never ate later and always gave him away. Not with words, but
somehow in different ways. For example, I would feel sick. Or accidentally wiped
my lips with a white T-shirt in the cafe.”
“Really your Mamasia is so mean?”
“Of course not… Strange, likely she’s normal…” Rina started and became
silent. Something in her own words did not quite mesh.
Sashka stopped. An amber drop of resin was frozen on a rough, darkened,
black thread of dried through mould. Sashka could not resist and, picking it off,
quickly slipped it into his mouth. Rina remembered this simple motion for a long
time, as she also remembered how Sashka once, after rolling up his pant leg,
gnawed around the drying scab on his knee. One always attaches oneself
somehow more to the atypical and the unsanitary.
“Interesting,” thought Rina. “At first I can immediately like a few. But later
only one from these few. And usually not even the one that stung the heart at the
very beginning. The law of a flash. If a perch did not rush to the flickering object
immediately, it would see that it’s a bright piece of iron with a hook…” Rina’s
thoughts returned to Gorshenya. Tomorrow the van would come for it and take it
away. Forever.
“What does a crossed-out fish tail depicted on some object indicate?” Sashka
asked unexpectedly.
“Ah! Well, the tail is probably the mermaid! A crossed-out tail means the
mermaid doesn’t work.”
“Shield from magic?”
“Likely that. But where did you see it?”
“Nowhere,” Sashka said and hurriedly started to talk about something else.

***

At night, after waiting until everyone had fallen asleep, Sashka carefully
opened the window and jumped onto the flowerbed. In the summer, a
considerate Supovna had planted her yellow flowers that could not be trampled
down, the seeds of which someone had brought for her from Duoka. Knowing
Supovna’s weakness, sly senior hdivers always brought her seeds, cones, and now
and then even young saplings with roots. And all adapted wonderfully. Supovna’s
hand was heavy for the back of heads but light for plants. Once, as an experiment,
an inquisitive Makar spent twenty minutes grinding one of the flowers with his
heel but could not press it into the lawn. The next morning the flower shook it off
and differed in no way from the others.
Sashka reached the old storehouse by the paths, afraid to show up on the
main lane. He shook with a finger the very heavy lock with the crossed-out fish
tail. He put his ear to the iron gate. Silence. He even decided that Gorshenya was
not there. Then he heard a rustle. Someone on the other side of the gate was
listening to Sashka as attentively as Sashka himself.
“I found an outstanding place not far from HDive!” Sashka reported into the
crack. “A deserted elevator. Of course, anything can fall onto the head there, but

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one can stroll as much as one wants at night! Do you hear me? OK, we’ll consider
that panting is consent!”
Sashka sighed, shook the lock once more, and climbed. He rolled over onto
his stomach on the metal-tiled roof. The crowbar tucked under his belt rested
against his side. Sashka reached for it and began decisively to push it through the
space between the sheet of metal tile and the low ridge beam. The tile
straightened out easily. What is there – the usual tin! Only have to be more
careful. Easy to cut oneself on this trash.
Fussing with the tile took Sashka about ten minutes. After straightening the
sheet, he forcibly pulled the insulation and vapour barrier out from under it. He
squatted, gave a shove down with his foot, and, after feeling how something gave
way, shone the flashlight into the void generated. The ray was lost, not reaching
the floor. “Gorshenya! Hey! Do you see the light?”
Sashka lowered his legs, squeezed himself through, and hung swinging by his
hands. He did not want to jump blindly. Now he did not even need to be tall. An
ordinary chair would be sufficient, on which one would land on a half-bent knee.
The sharp edge of the tile cut into his hands and, realizing that he could not
hold on much longer nevertheless, Sashka let go. A second of agonizing flight, a
brief moment of fear, and not having touched the floor, Sashka hung in
Gorshenya’s huge paws.
“Hey, what are you doing? Put me down!” Gorshenya tossed him up. Opened
its mouth. The amber buttons settled back. “I’m here to save you-ou-ou!” The
howl was lost in the darkness.
It was dry but tight in Gorshenya’s stomach. From the side Gorshenya
seemed much more spacious. Sashka tried to kick Gorshenya’s stomach – useless,
there was no support. He attempted to move an elbow – too little room. He tried
to pull himself up to full height – the collar and his own shoulders interfered with
his head. Remembering, he grabbed the clms. Teleport from here fast!
The sheepskin coat was unbuttoned. Gorshenya slapped its own stomach.
“Clms does not work inside Gorshenya!” it informed as if quite incidentally.
Sashka thought sullenly that the exaggeration of the degree of one’s folly is
the main tactical weapon of simpletons.
After several attempts to get settled, Sashka hit upon taking the pose of an
embryo. This turned out to be the solution. His head and his knees were already
tired of each other and came unstuck with pleasure.
He lay and pondered what Rina would say now. That one has to see
something good in everything. Sashka attempted to see something good but could
not even see his own hands. It was only Gorshenya’s belly on all sides.
The most improbable thing was that Sashka fell asleep nevertheless. Either
from the stuffy heat or that the setting itself was womblike, sedative…
Noise and rumbling outside woke him. All around everything was jumping.
Sashka’s forehead hit against solid walls. Gorshenya shouted something, swung
its arms. Leaning with all their weight on different sides, they were dragging it
somewhere. Sashka also tried to participate in the shouting, but when about ten
people yell all at once, no one listens to the eleventh.

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The trailer door slammed, the motor roared. Gorshenya left the bounds of
HDive forever, and Sashka together with it.

***

Sashka’s absence was discovered in the morning. His tucked-in bed looked as
if someone had lounged on it for the sake of propriety and then quickly
disappeared. Each interpreted Sashka’s disappearance in his own way.
“Knew he would take off. Still posing!” said Vlad Ganich.
“Perhaps setting up an experiment?” assumed Danny.
“Likely gone on a date!” said Cyril.
“He’s not one to be trusted! While Kuzepych sleeps, a good time to snitch
somethin’!” answered Makar.
Sashka also had not appeared for dinner. Everyone asked Rina and she only
got irritated. After breakfast, she managed to run around to the stable, the
meadow, and twice to Gavr. Sashka had disappeared without a trace. His clms
also did not respond, no matter how much Rina tried to connect with him
through the centaur.
While Sashka was persistently beside her, Rina behaved like Bonaparte –
darted off somewhere without looking around, knowing that he would not leave.
Now she remained the same Bonaparte, but had suddenly lost her guard and
realized how she needed this guard.
Yara approached her after dinner. “Where?” she started.
“Don’t know! Don’t have a clue! Search ourselves?” Rina yelled.
Yara moved back a little. “…am I to put the hyeon saddle you asked to find?”
she finished reproachfully.
Rina was embarrassed. “Sorry… I thought that…”
“What were you thinking?”
“Not important… it’s all Sashka… He’s disappeared somewhere and I’m
mad.”
The hyeon saddle turned out to be unexpectedly bulky. A wooden frame
covered with skin. Short wide stirrups, into which rammed heaven knows what
big size feet. Rina recalled the saddles of those warlocks twirling around HDive.
“They’re not like this! Smaller and lighter.”
“New model! This is about a hundred and fifty years old… See how
intelligently made: no need for saddle blanket or sweat cloth. Only two contact
points with the back of the hyeon, not counting the girth,” Yara said with
admiration.
Rina’s finger slid into a hollow of the front pommel. “What’s here?”
Yara leaned over. “Where? Well now! A secret pocket. Withhold a marker
from the dear boss. Saddles change, berserkers don’t,” she sneered.
With the saddle on her shoulder, Rina meandered to Gavr. Gavr was sitting
on the tractor cab, grabbing it with its paws, and flapping its wings. The wind
made by its wings was such that it tore the last leaves off the birches. On seeing
Rina for the third time that day, Gavr was not a bit surprised. Having jumped off

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the cab, it ran up to her and growled pleadingly, opening its mouth. Its teeth were
white, sharp, but its breath was awful. It showed its love for carrions and its habit
of grubbing for garbage.
“Sashka has disappeared!” Rina complained.
Gavr whined. Possibly because it discovered in Rina’s hands, besides food,
something incomprehensible, reeking alarmingly and so familiarly at the same
time.
Having poured out from the bag herring scraps begged from the on-duty
people, Rina waited until it buried its snout in them. She sneaked up and
carefully lowered the saddle between the leathery wings. She expected resistance,
but Gavr, as a creature with a one-track mind, saw only the fish scraps now. Rina
tightened the girths.
Here Gavr latched onto the fact that while it was gorging itself, an
incomprehensible and persistent being had clung to its back. It twirled on the
spot. The heavy stirrups lashed it on the sides. It jumped. It flopped onto its back,
attempting to hook its hind legs onto the girths. The persistent critter would not
let go. It mocked Gavr. It squeezed its chest, chafed the base of its wings. Gavr
finally lost self-control. Hissing, full of hate, it rolled on the ground, stripping the
saddle against a felled tree. The veins in its eyes burst. Poison foamed on its lips.
Rina did not wait until Gavr connected her arrival with the appearance of the
saddle and huddled up inside the cab. After settling in on the foam-rubber trash,
which was once a seat, she watched how the enraged winged monster rushed all
around, pulling down young trees.
So passed an hour. Gavr was rushing all the time, turning trees into candles
along about three hundred metres, and its strength had not diminished. Rina
understood that this was for a long time. The boy had come into effect. From a
self-conscious adolescent it had become a fully formed loafer. Its wingspan
exceeded three metres, approaching the maximum for an adult hyeon.
On stopping to look out of the cab, Rina reached for pencil and notebook.
Today in the stable, she had accidentally bumped into the donkey Phantom,
without a moment’s thought what this could involve.

Marquis du Grätz’s look was lost in the depths of her corset. Louisa was
breathing so hard that the little buttons in her back exploded and the snap
fasteners flew like rain.
“Where is your stiletto?” asked Marquis du Grätz.
“Seems I’ve forgotten it in the next room!”
“Can you not forget anything at least once?” the Marquis said peevishly and
looked into the next room.
The prince of vampires was lying on the thick carpet. A narrow silver
handle projected from his chest.

Having finished writing, Rina hid the pencil and suddenly saw someone’s
legs beside her. Long, skinny. In jeans. Rina’s look slid along the jeans. The jeans
ended at a blue turtleneck and the turtleneck a pale face with ashy locks.

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“Allow me to sit at the wheel of the tractor?” the pale face inquired. Platosha,
the mysterious HDive neoromanticist, stood before her, lashing his boots with a
freshly cut branch. It appeared he had come from the direction of the settlement
where he had love affairs.
“Sit! Steer!” Rina allowed. Platosha did not wait for a repeated invitation and
jumped easily into the cab.
Gavr swept past over them. It hit the roof with its hind legs and, bouncing off
like a ball, leaped out into the thicket, bringing down leaves from the birches.
“Grown,” Platosha said pensively. “Naturally an adult hyeon. Cut the clouds
like a corkscrew.”
“Still should learn to turn. Else it’ll smash its noggin,” Rina said gloomily.
Platosha smiled. “Don’t wish for everything at once and there will always be
something to want the next time,” he advised.
Gavr swept past over them again. Both eyes bunched up. The lower teeth
jutted out forward on too big a jaw. It could not coordinate the working of the
wings and got carried away.
“Well, I’m hitting the road!” said Platosha. “Need help, just whistle! You
know how to use the centaur? Imagine me and touch it… Let me give you
something!”
He shoved his hand into his pocket and began to dig in a preoccupied
manner. He reached a subway pass, a picture of a girl, and several schnepper
pneupfs in a plastic jar. Continuing to slap all around his pockets, he pulled out a
narrow phial with a rubber stopper. A thread passed through the stopper. A piece
of bark was attached to it.
Platosha placed the phial on her palm. Rina saw that the bark leaned
noticeably to one side. “Hdiver compass. The bark from Duoka always points in
the direction of HDive. They say it’s attracted to the marker in the Labyrinth.”
“And you don’t mind?”
“What’s there to mind? I can always get bark. There are more phials and
threads. Well, so long!”
Platosha jumped out of the cab and, squinting cautiously at Gavr,
disappeared in the forest. He moved almost soundlessly, keeping not to the path
but the shadows by the path. Rina even recalled an anecdote. How to identify a
hdiver without a jacket in the subway? He will crawl on his belly along a non-
working escalator and cross a station in short bounds, after hiding behind the
columns.

***

Rina returned to HDive. Towards her along the main lane waddled Gosha,
half-stepping half-running like a duck. He was holding two green mess tins in
each hand. “Four teams of five on departure! Warlocks attacked the trailer with
Gorshenya!” he shouted.
“And those?” Rina stared at the tins. She treaded on his sore spot.

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Gosha grimaced as from a toothache. “Well, Supovna here… Ordered them


brown-bag dinner. Indeed she was told!” he answered in a whine.
Dry flashes of three-dimensional displacements sparkled by the HDive gates
at the parking area. Leaving Gosha behind, Rina rushed there. Three teams had
already teleported, the fourth was getting ready. Vovchik sat on the asphalt and,
with the help of his teeth, was lacing his clms.
“Where were you?” Vovchik asked Rina. “Your team in the meantime
teleports short and backwards!”
“Hdived? Well, hdive out of here!” Rina said, using the slang. She had
learned to deal with Vovchik long ago. Nice, he did not understand, nasty, he did
not understand, and it was all a riddle to Rina: how had he turned up in HDive?
Perhaps the bee had mistaken him for somebody else?
The bushes cracked. Ul broke through the brushwood from the stable. It was
also possible along the lane, but Ul did not search for easy paths. A well-known
proverb in his rendition would sound like this: the wise will not go up the hill, the
wise rams the hill.45 Yara ran after him, dropping behind one half-step, noiseless
and light.
“Take me with you! I won’t bug anyone!” shouted Rina.
Ul looked questioningly at Yara. She, after lingering, nodded. “Well, OK, go
ahead! Hold my hand! Holy! Dang! Mentally, and then connect!”
Three flashes flared up simultaneously, blinding Vovchik. Left behind, he got
up and loaded his schnepper. “At least once someone should manage to crash!”
he mumbled and, after touching the sirin with his nose, disappeared.
When Rina was assembled again in space, the first thing that she saw was the
road sign “Moscow 145.” The sign lay near her feet, wrenched out together with
the post. The trailer stood on a meadow about fifty meters from the highway. The
driver’s door was wide open.
Prowling all around with schneppers were middle hdivers; among them
Vovchik displayed zeal more than anyone. “Down!” he yelled, aiming carefully at
the spare wheel. “Hands up!” The wheel was down but it did not have hands.
Athanasius approached Ul. A blade of grass in his mouth. His look was
dreamy. “Kaput!” he said.
“What’s kaput?”
“Neither warlocks nor Gorshenya! In one place, all the grass is trampled
down. Found several cigarette butts and a broken off antenna from a hyeon
electric shock.”
“The driver of the trailer?”
“Taken to the hospital. Fracture upon fracture. Someone had a real good
time. He already came to in my presence. He said a red car cut him off. He
stopped, leaned out, and remembers nothing more.”
“Can’t you stop chewing the grass?” Ul asked.
“Irritating? Just that I’m so nervous!” explained Athanasius. He spat out the
blade of grass, but in five seconds, forgetting, he reached for a new one.

45
The well-known Russian proverb: the wise will not go up the hill, the wise goes around the hill.

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Yara climbed into the empty container. Straw lined the bottom. Crushed
boxes scattered about to the edge. Yara walked between them, looking at
something. She leaned down and picked up something. In her hand was a
familiar leather shield with figures. “A clms! Fully charged!” she exclaimed.
“Whose?”
Yara brought the clms to the light and looked at the inner side of the skin,
where a careful Kuzepych had added a last name, thoroughly rubbing out the old
one. “Who’s Dudnik?”
“Sashka!!!” Ul and Rina said simultaneously.
“Gone over to the warlocks, the skunk!” Vovchik said through clenched teeth.
Ul pushed his schnepper aside with two fingers. “Can you not aim at anyone
you’re talking to, agent? Better ask Athanasius for a blade of grass! Also occupy
the mouth at the same time!” Vovchik unwillingly lowered the schnepper.
“Holy! Dang!” Ul continued, getting mad. “I’d sooner believe that Sashka is
sitting inside Gorshenya and, trying to catch our attention, throwing out
everything at hand. Well, anything else there?”
Yara moved a crushed box to the side. “A boot.”
“Again Sashka’s?”
Rina nodded.
The last doubts faded. Sashka was sitting inside Gorshenya and trying with
all his might to communicate to them where he was. Now only how did he get
there? Did he really try to free Gorshenya and instead turned up in its belly?
Rina’s heart grew warm. Dear silly Sashka! Did he really climb into the hangar for
her sake?
Yara pushed the tinkling door and jumped down onto the grass. “Hey! Does
anyone want to explain this here to me?” she shouted clearly.
Ul ran up to her. Above, where one of the steel rods entered a groove, a good
piece of metal was pulled out. “Oho!” he exclaimed joyfully. “There’s hope that
our giant slipped away!”
“How did you figure that?” Vovchik doubted.
“Well, look… They started to open the doors and here Gorshenya hit from
within. They removed the basic lock and these bolts could not hold it back. A
struggle took place where the grass is trampled down. Gorshenya swept everyone
away and dashed off to the forest.”
“Why precisely to the forest?”
“Because berserkers are combing the forest! Sometimes it’s useful to look not
only under your feet but also over your head!” Ul quietly imparted.
Far above the forest, barely distinguishable, a couple of hyeons were hanging
around. Occasionally one or the other soared upward and, after circling, returned
to its former place.
“They’ve lost it somewhere. See, one marks the spot and the other tries to
search? Gorshenya won’t be easy to find in the forest. It hides between two pine
trees like we do in the taiga.”
“But where can Gorshenya go?”
“Where else? Only to HDive.”

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“Far to HDive?”
Ul looked at Max. “A-about fifty k-kilometres,” Max stuttered.
“Less,” Ul recalled the wrenched post. “Twenty… well, let it be twenty-five!
And now everything depends on who will intercept Gorshenya first: the warlocks
or us.”
“Why do the warlocks want Gorshenya?” asked Yara.
“I have no idea. But obviously they do if they decided to attack a neutral.”
“The driver’s a f-former h-hdiver!” objected Max. Athanasius nodded
agreement with the blade of grass.
“Any former becomes a neutral. Earlier this rule was never violated… If it’s
violated, there’ll be such an outcry…”
Ul looked sideways at the highway, on which a whole chain of automobiles
had lined up. “Come, Max! Look how many cars have gathered and all are
staring!”
Max climbed into the cab of the trailer. The keys remained in the ignition.
The engine roared. The heavy vehicle, rocking, crawled out onto the highway and
turned to HDive.

***

Guy walked anxiously around the room, turning sharply by the walls. The
secretary Arnaud followed him with his eyes, not letting go for a second, like a
dog. At the same time, he did not move his head. Beldo, sighing like an old
woman, calmly played solitaire. When something did not agree, he, squinting
anxiously at Arnaud, cheated in haste, shifting the cards, and sighed yet again.
There were commotion, hoarse shouts, and hyeons flapping their wings in the
cages above. It was the time of evening feeding.
Security moved apart. Till, panting and wiping his forehead with a hanky,
squeezed into the room. In his hand was a black garbage bag, which he prudently
placed on the edge of the rug.
“What’s there?” asked Guy.
“Heads,” Till answered with a good-natured, slightly guilty smile. “I ordered
to execute one from each participating team. Just had to drive the van off, but
they started to climb in to check if Gorshenya was in place! Then, of course, they
shot, and then…” The impressionable old man Beldo reached for wet wipes and
wiped his nose.
“When will you stop apologizing with heads, Ingvar?” Guy asked gloomily.
“It’s tiring! Find me Gorshenya!”
Till obediently turned and left, preserving on his face that same minty,
slightly breathless smile.
“Forgot the bag!” Arnaud shouted after him. Till obediently returned for the
bag.
“We have a few hours left,” recalled Guy, watching at the window as Till put
his foot in the car.

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Beldo rolled up the wipe precisely and with two fingers delicately placed it on
the very edge of the table. “It’s them with a few hours left. We’ll intercept the
queen bee or it’ll suffocate in the jug – is it so important?” he corrected him
sweetly.

Chapter 19

A Zigzag Flight

Wisdom, if one looks at it, is nothing more than the sum


of patiently filled bumps.
From the diary of a non-returning hdiver

They searched for six hours for Gorshenya but without any result. Twice the
vanguards ran into warlocks, fired at them, and moved away. The warlocks shot
in answer. Vovchik finally managed to “bang.” They also “banged” at him – near
the end, his cheek was scratched by a shot from a schnepper. He walked around
proudly and on the rights of an injured hero hung around all the girls, driving
Oxa to white heat.
Rina disappeared as early as before nightfall. She leaped over the fence,
jumping backwards as usual. Reverse jumping gradually became her habit.
Recently in Kopytovo, after deciding to take a short cut, she made several youths
laugh. Indeed – they saw a girl dashingly climb up the concrete fence, and then
for some reason she leaped back and froze with a dumbfounded look on finding
herself where she was.
“Gavr!” she shouted. “Gavr!”
Gavr, yawning, came out from under the cab. It was always sleeping when it
did not have to eat or fly. Hyeons do not have a dallying phase; they are always
doing something specific. The dangling stirrups irritated Gavr and it growled at
them. On the whole, however, it had time to become accustomed to the
incomprehensible hump stuck to it like a leech.
After sniffing Rina’s hand, Gavr found nothing edible and whimpered with
bewilderment. Rina and food had so solidly fused in its consciousness that one
without the other seemed wrong. After thinking it over, Gavr came to the
conclusion that food was hidden and started sweetly dribbling acidic saliva and
rolled on its back. Such grovelling could continue infinitely.
“Stop! You must find Sashka! Smell this!” said Rina, shoving a boot under
Gavr’s nose.
Gavr backed off and Rina understood that she did this with too much zeal.
Changing her mind, she took away the boot and used the clms instead. Gavr
sniffed it curiously and lifted its mug interrogatively at Rina.
“Find Sashka!” she repeated.

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This game was well known to Gavr. They had played this repeatedly: with
Sashka it searched for Rina, and with Rina, Sashka. Right away Gavr poked its
nose into the leaves and, sneezing from the ferrous smell of earthworms, with
confidence headed in the direction of HDive.
Rina understood what the matter was. The previous four times Sashka had
hidden behind a felled tree, and sly Gavr decided not to exert itself particularly.
Rina cut through the craftiness and pulled it by the saddle. Gavr’s withers were
about to her waist.
“No, won’t work! We have to fly! You heard me right: fly!” she said,
frightened because she let it slip out. To fly on a hyeon, on which she had never
taken off before! Of course Gavr is a friend, comrade, and brother, but what will
prevent this friend, comrade, and brother from dropping her from the height of a
ten-storey building, and then walking around and whimpering, at a loss why she
does not want to play anymore?
Another serious problem concerned the bridle. How to control it? Rina had
to dash back to HDive to find an old bridle in the tack room. In about an hour,
using pruners, a knife, an upholstery needle, and an awl, from an old bridle for a
winged horse she made a bridle for a hyeon. She had to show wit, bordering on
arrogance, because the belts did not fit, there were no holes in the necessary
places, and a growling Gavr totally refused to take the snaffle in its mouth, which
as a result had to be managed without altogether.
Finally, using persuasion and kindness in equal portions with frozen fish,
Rina managed to bridle the hyeon and struggle up onto the saddle. “Well, now
fly!” she ordered in a voice insincere from stress and tossed one of the two
remaining fishes up highly.
Gavr scurried, pushed off with its hind legs, and caught the cod two metres
off the ground. The unaccustomed weight overloaded it, but it managed and,
chaotically flapping its wings, flew along the road.
A branch bashed Rina on the forehead. She started to turn and immediately
another branch gladly lashed her ear. Here Gavr again hit a young pine with its
wings, almost catapulting her from the saddle.
Rina understood that if she did not urgently force Gavr to climb up, she
would be flattened against the trees. She pulled the reins, jerking up its snout. A
winged horse would understand this as the command to fly up; however, Gavr
was not a winged horse and interpreted this as an insolent intrusion into its
personal space. It tumbled over a wing, flopped onto the meadow, and started to
strip the bridle with its paws. Distracting its attention, Rina waved before its nose
the last frozen fish. Gavr scurried after the fish and again took off.
Their flight reminded Rina of the movement of a butterfly. Gavr took off, did
several swift zigzags differing in height, collapsed onto the ground, worrying little
about the quality of its landing, rested a second or two, and again took off. On
average, if we count along a straight line, they moved about three hundred metres
every time.
Completely worn out by the bucking movements, Rina did not know where
they were flying to. It seemed to her she was handcuffed to a swing and her brain

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was being pumped out methodically. She dreamed of the wide secure saddle of a
horse and its flat, safe flight. A winged horse and a young hyeon are not just two
different things. The difference is approximately like rushing along a flat road on
a touring motorcycle or being towed by a tractor when it goes over potholes.
“Po-or wa-ar-lo-ocks! And they do this every d-a-ay!” galloping, Rina
muttered. She perceived the complete folly of her venture. Instead of searching
for Sashka, they were tearing along without any direction and only moving away
from HDive. Rina already only wanted the shaking to end and that she could
quietly die somewhere on the grass.
During one of the leaps, the bridle causing such strong indignation in Gavr
hooked onto a branch by the chinstrap. Gavr scurried, twisted its snout almost to
its back, as only cats and hyeons can, and the torn-off bridle remained far behind.
Nevertheless, Gavr got carried away in the air.
Rina was knocked back, after being struck by the shoulder blades against the
base of Gavr’s spine, and then sharply thrown forward. Trying to hold on, she
wrapped her arms around Gavr’s neck and suddenly heard the hyeon’s thoughts.
This so amazed her that, not understanding why, she even licked Gavr’s neck.
The thoughts were sporadic, jumpy, dissimilar in structure to human. Not so
much thoughts as images of endlessly flowing things strung on desires. If the
desire was to eat, then strung on it were herring heads, bones, chicken giblets,
deep rumbling, and, the pinnacle of anticipation of intense happiness, Supovna’s
soiled apron appearing on the horizon next to Rina’s dark hdiver jacket. If it was
the desire to play, then on it strung knots, on which it was so pleasant to drag and
scratch the back, the wind smelling of orange and strawberries (they made
shampoos in Kopytovo), a gnawed through rubber ball, and again Rina.
Rina was Gavr’s most popular person. At any given moment, Gavr did not
think about anything substantial, it only took off and fell, and still the girth was
chafing its stomach, driving it crazy.
Rina’s nose, still pressed against the hyeon’s neck, accidentally touched her
clms. In the darkness, she saw the weak twinkling of the cheetah. The figure
shone dimly, in outline. “The cheetah is for hearing the thoughts of animals and
controlling them. For this we need contact of clms and skin!” Rina surmised.
“Well, Gavr! Brake!” Gavr went down, but immediately pushed off with its
legs, and they again dashed off to make loops. No matter how much Rina
knocked on the cheetah, it was no use.
“They don’t think like us… They have their own logic… It means, must also
order according to this logic,” Rina grasped.
She tried to catch the rhythm of Gavr’s thoughts. She caught up with the
wave consisting of jumps, uneasiness, uncomfortable sensation from the girth,
and began gradually to replace the images with others. A wind-fallen tree, under
which one can hide; wings touching wet grass; the smell of rotten fish (the
returned wave of hunger and desire almost knocked Rina off the saddle).
Gavr began to have doubts. Now two waves were flowing in parallel: its own
of jumps and the discomfort from the girth, and the other, Rina’s. Gradually the

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second wave caught up with the first and covered it. The wing flaps became
calmer. Gavr descended and sat down.
After jumping off the saddle, Rina saw how Gavr was greedily sniffing the
grass. It squinted at Rina with suspicion, sniffed, and dug in the ground. It had
the same look as a tourist whose knapsack was stolen.
“What’s this it’s after? Ah, looking for fish! Well, I’m simply an elbe
temptress!” thought Rina.
She was standing on a small hill, which was dimly flooded by moonlight. The
highway flowed below like a dark river with flakes of little white houses sprinkled
along the edges. Behind her was a sparse growth of trees cut through by
numerous ravines. Neither Moscow nor HDive, nothing familiar.
Gavr, rumbling, dug in succession the third foundation pit. Rina felt pride
that she had created such a clear image to subdue the hyeon. Nearly an hour went
by. Gavr, having dug up the entire field, had worn itself out and was lying with its
snout lowered onto the loose soil. Occasionally it jumped as if hit by a current,
rushed off somewhere, and an entire fountain of dirt flew from under its hind
legs. “Oh! I got it! Fish under that bush! Well, now you won’t get away!” said its
happy tail.
Suddenly Gavr stopped digging and jerked up its stained snout. Its ears
turned to the forest. Rina heard how it started to whimper in warning. Someone
was walking along the ravine at the bottom, once in a while calling to someone.
Male voices were distinctly audible.
“Shh, kitsy! Scram!” Rina whispered and, touching Gavr’s neck with the
cheetah, transmitted to it the necessary mental image. Something like a modest
winged half-lion, sitting in the bushes and staring slyly from there.
She herself went down onto the ground and quickly crawled to the
brushwood separating the little hill from the ravine. Gavr crawled beside her,
honestly pressing its belly on the grass and covering its nose with a paw. It
seemed to it that it hid well. That the exposed humps of folded wings were
capable of easily giving it away did not bother it a bit.
Because of the thickness of the bushes, Rina lost sight of the ravine and
remembered it only when she slipped downward on her chest. Wet soil began to
shift down too. Rina found herself in the silliest position. Her boots were on the
embankment, her knees, stomach, and head in the ravine.
At the bottom of the ravine, spread out in a sparse chain, four berserkers
were advancing. Rina only saw the two at the end. The older one was with a heavy
arbalest. The buttstock of a rifle, a scope. A good piece: hits accurately without
spread. With such, if one shoots from a support, one can land a bolt in a pack of
cigarettes from a hundred metres. The other berserker was sinewy, with an axe
on a long handle. This one moved like he was dancing. They were about seventy
metres from Rina. Two others were only issuing sounds from an adjacent ravine.
Rina squinted at Gavr. Stretching out its snout, it was noisily nibbling a
burdock on a paw. Rina was glad that the berserkers had nothing edible with
them: Gavr would have enough smarts to start begging. She tried to touch its

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neck with the clms, but the hyeon had settled too far. Move carelessly and one
would roll down along the sandy embankment to a berserker’s feet.
Understanding this, Gavr insolently sat on the embankment. It sat and
scratched its dirty stomach with a paw. It yawned. Five more seconds and it
would have to be blind not to see her. Rina, hissing, half rose and threw a lump of
soil. It fell on a wing, where the tender bones caught in the fork of the leathery
film cut by blood-making veins. Gavr cautiously sniffed the lump of earth and,
baring sharp teeth, withdrew into the bushes: it was offended.
The berserkers were discussing very close by. Only the darkness and that she
was higher along the slope saved Rina. On seeing a convenient rock, the berserker
with the arbalest sat down on it, stretching out his legs. His young companion
stopped unwillingly, toying with the hatchet. Rather pale, active, with a small
restless face. Such a one would not even be able to sit quietly on a stool and,
continuously twisting and turning, would screw himself into it.
“Gamov saw the freak somewhere here. While he was descending, it
disappeared.” The berserker with the arbalest shoved a hand into a bag. “I
brought along a couple of bolts with explosive tips. Fragments of this freak will
pack the entire forest.”
They whistled questioningly from the adjacent ravine. The berserker also
answered with a whistle. He leaned down and, after spitting on the grass, wiped
mud off a boot.
“How this Gamov takes care of his hyeon! A psyose maniac! Indeed it’s
attached to him! Never thought that hyeons can become attached to someone.”
“Gamov isn’t a psyose maniac. I know him well,” objected the young one.
“How not? He earns a lot!”
“True. I don’t know what he does with his psyose, but definitely doesn’t
spend it on pleasure.”
“All the more a nutcase. In my opinion, you get, so use immediately. One of
the fellows that Till beheaded today also left tonnes of psyose. Stingy all the time!
What’s the point?” the berserker with the arbalest said, getting annoyed.
An impatient whistle was heard again. The berserker got up unwillingly.
“Yes, I’m coming, I’m coming! Annoying! Just can’t wait!” he said unhappily.
Eyeing his back, Rina let air out through her nose. She was keeping two large
lumps of soil in her hands. A third was held down with her chin. It just started
rolling when she began to crawl carefully back. There was no Gavr in the bushes.
“Gavr!” she hailed in a whisper. “Are you still mad?”
No one answered. Rina began to search. Here was a broken branch, here was
flattened grass, and here illegible tracks of claws marked the ground. Gavr had
lain here. Then it got up and dragged itself off somewhere. Further, the tracks
disappeared. Rina was afraid that Gavr had flown away. Where to search for it
now? She was choking with horror and immediately rejected this probability as
terrifying and blind. No, we will consider that Gavr is here.
For half a kilometre, the night fog was mixed with the smell of smoke. Then
Rina also saw the campfire, lying lower than the fog and connected to it by a

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smoky pointer. So, the warlocks had gone off to the potato field, found no one,
and set up camp.
“Gavr!” she shouted more loudly. This time it seemed to Rina that she heard
something. She broke into a run in the fog, bumped into a scattering of stones
and, after jumping out onto flat ground, suddenly saw Gavr. It was sitting on its
hind legs and, wings stretched out, examining a thick forked stick jutting out of
the bushes. Something about this stick it actively did not like, because it leaned
its head first to the right, then to the left, and started a deep rumble.
“What, now we’re afraid of any stump?” Rina nudged the stick with a foot.
The following second she was dangling with her head down and contemplating an
open mouth and two amber buttons. The moon was reflected in the holes in the
buttons for threads.
“I am Gorshenya, clay head, hungry belly! I like you! I eat you!”
It was not possible to dawdle. The huge mouth was settling back even
further. Here the mean Gavr even approached and began to sniff her face, making
use of the fact that there was nothing for her to kick it with.
“How will you prove that you are Gorshenya?” Rina blurted out.
The thrown-back mouth moved in the opposite direction. It was noticed that
earlier the giant did not think about proofs. “I am Gorshenya!”
“It’s I who is Gorshenya, and there can’t be two Gorshenyas!” Rina continued
to push the thought.
Logic was limping on all prostheses, but the giant’s mouth was no longer
open. Gorshenya thought, and its thought was grave, distressing, and mysterious
like itself. Suddenly the giant let go of her. Rina had time to put her arms out. She
rolled a little along the grass.
The giant sat on the grass propping up its head with its hands. “You are
Gorshenya! Who am I?” he asked with melancholy.
Rina checked if her neck was whole. The neck was in one piece but turned
only in one direction. “I’ll think about it,” she promised.

Chapter 20

The Hill at Kopytovo

Rays come off the sun and radiate in different


directions. The moment comes when the rays are millions of
kilometres apart; they are forever strangers to each other
and any contact between them is impossible. The only thing
that a ray needs to stop from being lonely is to return to the
sun.
From the diary of a non-returning hdiver

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“Well, come here!” Rina said severely. She threw open the sheepskin coat and
stuck an ear to Gorshenya’s belly. This was not clay but a solid copper cauldron of
impressive size. “Who do we have there: boy or girl?”
“No one,” answered the giant sadly.
“So did you eat Sashka or not?”
Gorshenya began to recollect. It had also eaten many at different times.
“Always turns. Kicks.”
“Spit him out now!”
“Not-Gorshenya not supposed to!” the giant said obstinately.
Rina began to drum on the copper cauldron. “Yes, you’re Gorshenya,
Gorshenya! Hey, Sashka! You here?”
“Almost…” a voice confirmed, however, not from the cauldron but from the
opposite direction. Sashka was lying on a pile of leaves behind two large rocks.
His face was happy. It is pleasant to watch as they search for you.
“Kicks, butts, does not agree with Gorshenya. Ate, sit, do not come out!”
complaining, the giant started muttering.
Rina rushed to Sashka, but, not having reached him, stopped, realizing that
she had almost thrown herself onto his neck. She reached out for her clms to
communicate with Kavaleria to say that she had found Gorshenya, but recollected
suddenly that her centaur was discharged. She was searching in the morning in
the stable for Yara, who turned out to be – mockery of nature! – in the next stall.
Mamasia called this “psycho-syndrome” – always searching for friends and
relatives on the phone when they open the door with a key.
“Not a bad place! A recess, and surrounded by bushes. And the fog line is
low. Can light a smokeless fire, berserkers won’t notice,” said Sashka.
“Are you going to stay here till morning?”
“Me, no. But it seems it’s not against it,” Sashka nodded at Gorshenya. That
one had settled five steps from them. It was muttering something and looking at
the stars.
After moving about in place, Gavr trampled down a grassy spot and settled
down next to Gorshenya. Gorshenya put a three-fingered hand on its back. Gavr
began to growl and moved aside, showing strong teeth in a rim of dark gums.
“They like each other. It doesn’t even believe that Gorshenya once swallowed
it,” said Rina.
“It also swallowed me,” Sashka reminded her.
Gorshenya sat restlessly. It moved its head, got up, and sat down again.
The night was cold. They warmed their hands by a small fire. Already
towards one in the morning, a frozen Rina realized that she would not mind
being swallowed by Gorshenya. “We would light a fire inside it and it would
release smoke through the nose!” she proposed.
“Cool, but I’d rather watch on the outside,” Sashka declined.
Rina took out the sandwiches she brought. The ham had started to spoil,
which Gavr liked but not Sashka. “In which cemetery did you dig this up?” he
asked Rina.

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“You don’t like it, don’t eat!” Rina was indignant, trying to take the bag away
from him.
“I didn’t say that!” Sashka said in a hurry, sniffing out for himself a sandwich
with cheese.

The scorched kasha was reflected in Marquis du Grätz’s passionate eyes.


“And I considered you perfection, my dear!” he said in a velvety voice with
spurs ringing in it.
“You don’t like it, go to a tavern!” Louisa suggested.
Marquis du Grätz’s gaze slid along the desert stretching out for a ten-day
journey. The night sand sparkled with jackal eyes. The jackals were finishing
the fallen horse. “Perhaps I’ll still continue to consider you perfection!” the
terrible person said with a sigh and picked up the spoon again.

Rina wanted to write this down. At least on her palm, but there was nothing
to write with. Thoughts are like birds. If a bird sits on your hand, grab it fast,
because it will flutter away and it is unclear if it will return.
Sashka started to show Rina how to drink whirling tea. “You twirl, wait for
the liquid to gain speed and…” Sashka lifted the bottom of the flask too high and
coughed spasmodically. Rina had to jump up and slap the hero on the back.
Although Sashka was being goofy, all the same it was done for her. Any folly
performed for love becomes a plus, if it does not become habitual.
Rina carefully lowered her head onto Sashka’s shoulder. This way at least one
ear was warm. And her feet too, which she almost shoved into the fire. “Whom do
you live with, Sashka? With parents?” she asked.
“With father.”
“And mama?”
“Cancer,” Sashka answered sullenly. The question about mother was posed to
him regularly, and he could visualize very well the entire sequence. When you
say, “she died,” they begin to sigh without fail, throw up their front extremities,
and feel sympathy, and then without fail, after an appropriately polite pause,
“What did she die of?” But if you immediately say “cancer,” you can bypass all the
painful steps.
Rina lifted her head. “My mama also…” she suddenly said.
“Also what? Died?” Sashka was surprised.
Rina remembered Mamasia and was surprised at herself. “Who, Mamasia?
You what, sick?” she asked, abruptly pushing him away.
“Of course not… You yourself… never mind,” Sashka was confused.
He looked at the small fire and fed it the dry ends of fir branches, which did
not emit any smoke. He thought about the berserkers keeping warm now by
another campfire, about hdivers. Gavr placed its snout on his knee. The snout
was heavy. Sashka tried to push it off, but Gavr bared its teeth. It only allowed
Rina to touch it. Well this, it goes without saying, was along the lines of “the
presence of the absence of the availability of something to devour,” Ul had
specified.

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172

“Obtrusive service without the right of refusal,” said Rina. Sashka nodded,
yielding his knee to Gavr.
“I’m putting together an entire system here. Remember the swamp?”
Rina said nothing.
“They fouled up their world. Duoka is closed. Can only break through to us.
But in order to operate here, they need bodies. They can’t take them by force.
They can either incorporate an elbe or gradually feed it psyose and use the body
as a manipulator in a medium hostile to them. The more psyose the body takes
in, the higher the degree of control. The problem is that a body burnt out by
psyose perishes contentedly. Then they switch over to a new one, but again the
same, this is the uneconomical way of consumption of resources. Therefore the
most valuable warlocks – well, Beldo there, Guy – the elbes protect.” Sashka
talked clearly and logically. Obviously, to him the system was fully formed.
“How do they protect?”
“Well, neither incorporate elbes in them nor feed them psyose. There’s
another channel of control, longer lasting.”
“Through those bandaged dwarfs, which you described?”
“Well, yes. Maybe there are also germinated elbes? Those that will populate
our world?”
Rina listened to him and wiggled her toes. The toes moved but the tips of the
thick boots remained stationary.
Gorshenya saw a sleepy fly woken up by the heat of the campfire and,
suddenly pushing its arm out, tried to kill it. This interested Sashka. He began to
experiment. He waited until a fly sat down somewhere and shouted, “fly!”
Gorshenya immediately delivered a powerful hit. The fly always flew away, but
Gorshenya hammered the stone into the ground to the depth of a finger.
“Quieter! The berserkers will hear us!” said Rina.
“Not far from the road here. And noisy even without it,” said Sashka, who did
not want to be interrupted.
Suddenly Gorshenya straightened, shuddered, and, as if a clock spring in it
had snapped into action, began to walk away from the highway. Rina and Sashka
rushed after it, trying to stop it. Gorshenya was walking straight to the distant
campfire of the berserkers. Gorshenya moved as if wound up. When, moving its
legs like a pair of compasses, it got down into the crumbling ravine, it seemed
that any minute now the giant would fall, but only Sashka and Rina fell and rolled
down.
“Where’s it going?” shouted Sashka.
Rina recalled the hdiver compass, which Platosha gave her. She took it out.
The piece of bark on the thread was slanted to the West. Gorshenya was also
walking that way. “To HDive,” she said.
Gorshenya was unstoppable. It was goose-stepping as if on a thread, refusing
to deviate from the course. It went off to the clearing at the edge of which, in the
forest, a campfire cracked and it went through it. A seventeenth-century
ceremonial poleaxe stuck out of the stump of a recently felled fir. Berserkers
valued a good weapon.

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173

Three berserkers were asleep on fir twigs. One was sitting with his back to
them and quietly playing a harmonica. He was exactly between Rina and the fire
and therefore it seemed that the flame surrounded him. Rina even froze for a
second; the sad sounds originated from breathing were so strange.
Gorshenya’s unsteady shadow jumped on the forest wall. It crossed the
clearing. It only had a little bit more to go in order to hide when the berserker
sensed something and turned around. Rina heard a shout and flew into the forest
after Gorshenya. Gavr rushed somewhere in front, agile and quick. It folded up its
wings and only occasionally caught the bushes with them. Once in a while, in
open places, it even managed to glide.
Shouts of berserkers and a whistle caught up with them. Very near, hyeons
screamed in the fog. Gavr lifted its head on the run but did not hurry to answer: it
still had not forgotten how everything had ended last time. One of the berserkers
fired a signal flare. A red sphere shot up from the forest, hung in the fog, and
began to come down slowly.
In the light of the rocket, Rina saw two figures bending down, rushing in
their direction. Attempting to determine whether the warlocks saw them, Rina
did not notice the rotted tree trunk, so soft and overgrown with moss that it was
possible to crumble it by hand. A speeding foot went into the trunk while the
body continued to fly forward…
Half stunned, Rina fell down into the ditch from the roots, deep and long like
an entrenchment. Sashka jumped in after her, and Gavr, for which this was a fun
game, after Sashka. Gorshenya unwillingly returned and settled on them like a
broody hen, completely covering the pit. Its huge paw deftly lifted out a layer of
moss and threw it on the sheepskin coat. In a second, they were not there.
After approximately a minute, warlock voices rolled by somewhere very close
and bore more to the right. Then they returned. Rina understood that the
berserkers, spreading out, were searching for them all over the area. Again
strange hyeons screamed in the sky… This stretched out for a long, very long time
until finally the berserkers moved to the highway.
Rina was lying on the very bottom. Somewhere on her legs, Sashka was
huffing and puffing. She felt either his cheek or his sharp chin. The hyeon was
shifting its feet on her back. It persistently smelled of Garv in the pit.
Occasionally a slippery tongue passed like a broom over her cheekbone.
“Get off me!” Rina hissed and, with the threat of being scratched by its
poisonous teeth, butted its forehead. Gavr obeyed.
“Merci,” Sashka said sadly.
“For what?”
“It’s on me!”
Finally, Gorshenya got up, shook off the moss, and began to walk like a
mechanical toy, a known course holding onto him. Gavr rushed lightly and
willingly after Gorshenya. It was behaving like a dog: first it ran in front, then
returned and began to get under foot. To it, the game was still continuing.

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174

Rina first walked, then ran, otherwise it was impossible to catch up with
Gorshenya. Any wind-fallen trees, which Gorshenya, playing, stepped over with
its compass legs, she and Sashka had to either go around or climb over.
They went on.
And on.
And on again.
Rina was not thinking whether they had gone far or not, and how much more
they still had to go. She already feared no one and desired nothing. Occasionally
she understood that Sashka took her hand and helped her to get up.
“Someone please shoot me!” she begged.
“My schnepper is in HDive,” answered Sashka. His voice was hoarse. He was
also tired.
Trying to keep up with Gavr, Rina rolled down from the little hill and dashed
into the tall growth of reeds. Only when it started to chomp under foot and icy
water poured into her boots that she understood it would be better to keep
further away from the reeds. Nevertheless, she climbed out onto the other shore
of the swampy stream, but her legs had become mud posts.
The forest thinned out. They began to come across structures: a cow shed
with boarded-up windows and a collapsed roof, the yellow booth of a substation,
a newspaper kiosk – it had likely been dragged into the forest by a tractor. Tracks
of it being dragged remained on the ground. Then the forest disappeared
altogether. Now they were going along a gently sloping hill, which, gradually
picking up, became higher all the time. Gorshenya’s back was swinging in front
like a pendulum. Rina wanted to throw something at it. She already hated it.
In the middle of the hill rain caught up with them. Still from a distance, Rina
saw how it was rolling up to them. The rain moved like an army, with pacesetters.
At first a light infantry of sprays, long-distant archers after that, soundless
lightning, and further, the armoured array of troops of a heavy fall shower. The
streams were skew, dense.
Here the rain reached the foot of the hill, bent the bush down to the ground,
caught up with Gavr taking off and began to drum on the stretched skin of its
wings. Gavr, surprised, somersaulted in the air, and, clicking its teeth, started to
hiss with a threat. Its lower teeth gleamed. “Only try, I’ll tear you apart!” it said
with its whole appearance. And the rain did. Stunned by the thunder, severely
lashed by the wind, Gavr, whimpering, rolled from the hill.
Lifting up his face, Sashka swallowed raindrops. They were flowing along his
neck from the edge of his mouth. “Drink! The wind is strong. Soon there won’t be
rain. Will blow it off,” he said. True: soon the rain began to weaken. The drops
lost strength and became guilty like drunken tears.
All the time Gorshenya was stepping. From the side it resembled a large
sponge. The sheepskin coat became limp with water. Water even gurgled in its
belly. Sashka estimated that it was leaking somewhere up top. Perhaps through
the slightly-opened mouth?

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175

“Dawn!” Sashka indicated where beyond the forest the young sun was
discernable in the thick fog. Clouds rushed to it from all sides, exactly like grey
blankets.
Gorshenya also noticed the sun. It turned its head slowly and looked at it
with distrust. As if it doubted whether it was the sun in front. But this was
definitely the sun. Gorshenya walked up the hill and stopped. This happened so
unexpectedly that Rina, who had been dragging her legs for some time like they
were prostheses, bumped into it.
“We’ve arrived!” exclaimed Rina.
Below, the red water-pump station of Kopytovo, very recognizable because
next to it a high pipe stuck out like its loyal guard, was visible. Here was also the
soccer field. Under them lay Kopytovo, familiar to the last fence.
“About four kilometres to HDive,” said Sashka.
Gorshenya, turning clumsily, pulled the sheepskin coat off itself. It turned
out to be absurd and ungainly under the sheepskin coat. The huge cauldron of a
stomach. One more pot, the chest, without a bottom, and a clay head, settled
back, topped everything.
Gorshenya noticed no one and nothing: neither Rina nor Sashka nor Gavr,
who was twirling next to it and having pushed its snout far inside a sleeve of the
sheepskin coat, was trying to rid itself of it. It twisted its head and the sheepskin
coat twisted together with it, hitting it with the second sleeve.
“Clay head, hungry belly has arrived!” Gorshenya said with unspeakable
seriousness. With arms up, it seized its head (earlier the tight sheepskin coat
prevented it from raising its arms up high) and, before Rina and Sashka figured
out what it intended to do, pulled it off itself. It stood with its head in its hands,
and it stared goggle-eyed at them with the buttons. “Gorshenya did not have time
for HDive! Already dawn! Gorshenya will do everything here,” said the head.
Rina screamed. Only Gavr treated what happened as natural. It looked
sideways at Gorshenya and continued to sneak up to the sheepskin coat. The
sheepskin coat lay, did not stir, and seemed extremely suspicious to Gavr.
Gorshenya’s mouth was opened to the limit. The giant stuck its fingers into
the clay pot and began to fumble inside, above the eyes, in the upper part of the
head. Its movements were unusually careful.
Sashka noticed that the pot was bigger on the outside than from within. This
meant that the head had a false bottom and the space there was empty.
Gorshenya took a finger and picked along the pot from within. It turned out to
have a false bottom.
Carefully, very carefully, Gorshenya extracted fragments and something else
from the head. This turned out to be a dry honeycomb that had lost its shape.
After dropping them onto its palm, Gorshenya began to sort out the honeycomb,
glancing into each cell. Honey was still preserved in some. It was hard for
Gorshenya to work blindly. Therefore, pausing for a second, it thrust its head at
Sashka, who, understanding what the giant wanted, turned the heavy clay pot
with the buttons towards the honeycomb.

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Now Gorshenya was working like a surgeon. Incomprehensible how its huge
fingers, pulling out young trees easily, could be so delicate. In one of the central
cells, a black-headed insect sat and twitched its antennae. When Gorshenya’s
finger touched it accidentally, it moved capriciously, slowly let out its wings with
effort, and crawled out onto Gorshenya’s palm. Rina saw the golden taut sides
covered in honey.
“You don’t think it’s …” losing his head, Sashka started to talk. Rina covered
up his mouth with a hand.
Gorshenya jammed on its head with an air of importance. It was beaming, to
whatever extent a clay being whose face expressing nothing can beam, and its
mouth was similar to an enormous trap. Gavr marked the windfall in its own way.
It jumped on the sheepskin coat, bit it, hit it with a paw, and bounced off. It lay
down and, very contented, waited until the coat died from the poison.

Chapter 21

The New Mistress of the Beehive

Any pleasure contains punishment in itself. If pleasure


– any, the most desired – could continue infinitely, it
undoubtedly would become torture. If so, then maybe hell is
also this bundle of all false pleasures, with which there was
no more sense in disguising itself?
From the diary of a non-returning hdiver

The queen bee sat for a long time on Gorshenya’s hand. It cleaned itself.
Then it began to move its wings, at the same time without tearing itself away
from its palm.
“Warming itself. It’s cold,” Sashka declared and proposed to warm up the bee
with a cigarette lighter. Rina with suspicion looked sideways at him. One could
never be sure about Sashka whether he was talking seriously or joking.
After waiting until the sun had climbed higher, the queen with explicit
pleasure crawled up along a finger and stood still, catching the rays with
greediness. Then it flew to Gorshenya’s head and crawled along its forehead,
along the long crack above the right eye. There still remained the smell of comb
honey.
“Look! A hyeon there!” Sashka suddenly said.
Rina lifted her head. Double semicircles – the way children draw seagulls –
hung motionlessly above the water-pump station of Kopytovo. “Not a hyeon. A
winged horse!”
“How can you tell?”
“A hyeon fidgets all the time. It doesn’t like gliding for long. And the wings
are different.”
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177

The winged horse coasted above Kopytovo and slowly began to move away.
Rina shouted, jumped on the little hill, waved her arms, and tried to force
Gorshenya – it would be more noticeable – to make itself noticed. But Gorshenya
stood like an idol: grand, pot-bellied, even did not raise its arms, all the time
looking with its slapped-on head at the bee.
“You jump! Do something!” Rina yelled at Sashka.
He began to jump, but somehow without enthusiasm. Rina, demanding him
to be a more persuasive bunny, remained dissatisfied.
She remembered Gavr and began to nudge it, pointing at the winged horse,
“Front! No, not front, but… in short… bad kitty! Hmm-hmm!” Gavr looked at her
politely. Then stuck out its tongue and sympathetically licked Rina’s forehead.
“It’s checking if there’s fever,” said Sashka.
“And you jump, bunny, jump!” snapped Rina.
She flung herself into the saddle, tightened the girths (during the night
Gavr’s sides had sunk in perceptibly), and touched Gavr’s neck with the cheetah.
Now everything must be shifted into images: she imagined the sky, a winged
horse, and, obeying inspiration, added a bag of slightly spoilt mackerels into the
saddle of the winged horse. After this intellectual pumping, spurs were not
needed on Gavr. Dropping saliva, it took off and sped to the winged horse.
Rina did not expect such speed from it. She had to bend down so that she
would not be blown off by the wind. Moreover, she had not yet put her feet into
the stirrups and now perceived herself as a very temporary occurrence in the
saddle.
Guided by instinct, Gavr chose an exceptionally reliable tactic – from below,
from the direction of the hind hooves – for approaching the winged horse. A
better approach would only be on top, from the clouds. In the beginning the
winged horse left them far behind, but then it made a U-turn on a sighting circle,
and Rina was able to shorten the distance.
Because she was approaching from below, Rina could not make out who was
in the saddle. She even did not immediately recognize the horse. At first, she
decided that this was Kavaleria on Caesar, then Arap and Oxa, and only identified
Brute near the end by the powerful bay rump and the dramatically expanding
wings.
On its back was the dashing overgrown girl Darning with a beer. The bottle
was a two-litre, and poor Darning, having bought it for economic considerations,
was now grappling with greediness and could not decide whether to throw it away
or take it to HDive. Darning herself noticed Rina only when Gavr was beside her.
She abruptly turned around in the saddle, dropping the bottle. A small schnepper
with a silvery arc was aimed at Rina’s forehead.
“Hey, it’s me! Don’t shoot!” Rina shouted. Darning spat and lowered the
schnepper.
Rina experienced relief but then Gavr noticed the bay stallion. It sneered,
yelped, and started to turn around, scooping with its right wing. Rina understood
that what happened with Brute was originally built into its name.

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Rina had gotten used to winged horses fleeing from hyeons, but here it was
strictly the other way around. Foam from the stallion’s mouth flew onto Rina’s
jacket. She got a blurry strike by a wing. Teeth clicked next to her head,
miraculously not taking off a piece of her scalp.
Gavr, in a flash transforming from predator to victim, squealed and saved
itself only by sharp lunges from side to side. Rina pressed herself to the hyeon’s
back, squeezed the saddle with her knees.
“Paddle out of here, kid! I’ll pull the tentacles off! I’ll skin you!” Rina heard.
Darning settled back in the saddle, pulled the rein, and struck the stallion
with the whip. Useless. Only near the ground did she succeed in turning Brute to
HDive. The whimpering Gavr hurried to hide in the hole between the soccer field
fence and the garages. Darning, aiming higher, took a pot shot at it with the
schnepper and sped away to HDive.
“Call Kavaleria! Tell her we found Gorshenya!” Rina shouted belatedly.
“Ah-h! Well, die, dummy! I’ll bite the ears off! Jellied hooves!” reached her
from a distance.
“Gorshenya!” Rina shouted again. It was important for her to imprint
something on Darning’s consciousness at least. When she stops raging, she will
remember.
Demonstrating the miracle of tenacity, Darning landed the fidgeting stallion
on the central street of Kopytovo, empty in this early hour, and swept past along
it from end to end. Brute bounced and tried to take off. Local dogs hid with a
quiet howl under the kiosks. On the enraged stallion, Darning jumped to the
place known among the locals as “mushroom.”
An entire group of Kopytovo winos was forever shocked, when right on them
in a cloud of dust jumped a sneering winged stallion with red eyes, ears pressed
down, and a cursing girl on its back. It bruised the chest of the impervious and
indestructible Uncle Tolya, having already sustained five concussions and two
flights to prison; knocked down with outstretched wings the boozing migrant
workers Mike and Gene; tore up with its teeth the bag of the former chess player
Boris, better known as Knot; and sped away into the unknown.
The bruised Uncle Tolya got up from the sand, scratched his tattooed chest,
spat, recalled mama for the sake of appearance, and informed everyone
surrounding him, “Holy moly! That’s it, fellas! Time to ditch the champagne!”
The surrounding ones listened to him, despondently heeding the voice of reason.
Rina dragged a trembling Gavr out from behind the garages and returned to
Sashka on the hill. He was sitting next to Gorshenya, and four eyes were looking
at the bee crawling along the grass. Rina, recovering her breath, joined them. The
queen bee ran up along Gorshenya’s leg to its knee and, after taking off with
difficulty, quickly gained altitude.
“It’ll get lost! It won’t find the hive!” shouted Rina.
“Another will show it!” said Sashka.
“What other?” On looking closely, Rina was convinced that, true, there were
two dots. The large one was flying and the small one accompanying.

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179

“My bee,” said Sashka with pride. “It cleaned it for about twenty minutes.
And all the time on Gorshenya’s forehead. It could barely keep its eyes open from
tender emotion.”
The dashing girl Darning nevertheless carried out the assignment. Moreover,
most likely through the centaur, because otherwise she would have to breathe on
Kavaleria.
The director of HDive appeared after ten minutes. Without saddle, on Bunt.
How she had forced it to take off remained a secret also to Bunt. Depressed by
coerced diligence, Bunt pretended to be thoroughly sick. Still not having decided
until the end exactly what illness to simulate, it limped slightly either with the
right wing or the left, arranging dying dances in the air.
On reaching the hill, Kavaleria jumped from Bunt. She went to them with a
decisive step, but Rina suddenly realized that she did not notice the puddles. She
saw only Gorshenya.
Gorshenya jumped up and turned its back to her. “You are nasty! Gorshenya
will not eat you!” it threatened.
Kavaleria stopped. “I’ll try to survive this,” she said, making enormous efforts
not to be pleased. Rina saw how the corners of her lips stretched.
However, Rina already firmly knew what would make her smile. “Gorshenya
let out the queen bee!” she said.
A hand began to pat a pocket blindly in search of the glasses. “What? What
delirium is this?” Kavaleria answered absent-mindedly.
“The queen bee, which Mityai Zheltoglazyi hid. It was in Gorshenya’s head!”
Rina continued persistently.
After hearing about Mityai, Kavaleria raised worried eyes to Rina. “Mityai?
Queen bee? You’re confusing something! Mityai disappeared three hundred years
ago. He certainly dived to the second ridge, but…”
Rina silently pointed a finger at her feet. Kavaleria got down on her knees
and began to examine the fragments of the internal partition of the pot. She
picked it up and carefully licked it. “Similar to honey! But indeed this proves
nothing!” she said in the obstinate voice of a person who categorically refuses to
be happy.
A vague sound was heard nearby. Kavaleria lifted up her head. The rumble
became louder. Surrounded by a weak radiance, the queen bee flew around the
lonely growing tree. It was impossible to confuse this with a worker bee: it was
larger, stronger, it was queen after all. The queen bee brushed against the rowan
branches, knocking down a rain of tears, and, having gotten wet, it grew heavy
and came down abruptly. It touched Sashka’s hair and he felt a muscular might
quite unlike that of a bee. It again took off and, getting accustomed, made several
circles around Rina.
Rina stretched out a hand. The queen bee did not quite sit down on her palm.
It descended onto her wrist, made several turns, and unwillingly climbed into her
sleeve. At the same time, it behaved independently, like a lenient queen. “Don’t
by any chance think that you’re doing me a favour! In fact quite the opposite!” it
informed with its whole appearance.

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180

Kavaleria stood beside her and watched. She had grown quiet,
unrecognizably quiet. “Well now, it’s… Your bee!” she said.
“Are you serious? Yes, no, of course! It’ll now fly away and want to live in the
beehive altogether,” Rina said hoarsely.
“All bees live in the hive!” Kavaleria said in the tone of a person who stamps a
document. “A bee flies to its host on three occasions: when it has to call him into
HDive, in key moments of his life, or…”
“…when it was mistaken in the person and it must die,” guessing, Rina
finished.
“Only in your version this would indicate the loss of all bees of HDive. I
doubt that Mityai still has queen bees stashed,” said Kavaleria. She looked
intently at Rina, pensively nibbling a temple of her glasses.
Rina became uneasy. She did not feel herself worthy of such a bee. “Well
then, perhaps it’s not necessary at all…” Rina began carefully.
Kavaleria shook her head. “Necessary or not… Can’t separate you. The
selection of a bee is always final. Not possible to explain it, only must take it into
consideration.”
The queen bee was already tickling Rina in the region of her elbow. Then it
turned and crawled out of the sleeve. The tour of Rina was complete. Sashka
stretched out a hand. He was interested whether the queen bee would touch him
at least in passing. However, he did not manage to clarify this.
“Don’t touch!” someone yelled. Someone jumped Sashka from behind. He
decided that this was a berserker tracking them.
He jerked his shoulder, freeing his right arm. He was unable to strike
immediately and even had to hit blindly, into the whitish spot jumping in front of
him, and they were already rolling on the grass. The spot collapsed somewhere.
Sashka got up, surprised at how easily this victory came to him. On the grass,
arms outstretched, lay Vityara. In the unzipped hdiver jacket, big-eared, absurd,
he resembled the baby elephant from the cartoon.
“He rushed at me first,” said Sashka guilty.
“This I saw! But don’t understand why,” Kavaleria admitted.
“But then I do… I told Vityara that you ruined the hive, killed the first queen,
and want to kill the second. Vityara has been following you for a very long time.
The nice boy wanted to save the bee,” someone mockingly explained.
Platosha was standing by the rowan. He held a schnepper in his left half-bent
arm. In the right, lowered for the time being, was a heavy double-charged
arbalest with bolts placed vertically. Platosha leaned a shoulder on the rowan.
Evidently, he had been standing here for a long time and had heard everything.
Kavaleria interrogatively looked sideways at the arbalest. “They didn’t ruin
the hive,” she said.
“I know,” answered Platosha.
“How?”
“Because I did. And I poisoned the queen bee. But now I’m going to take
apart the new one. After this, I’ll leave you, and you’ll see me no more,” said
Platosha with a challenge.

©Jane H. Buckingham 2012


jhbuckingham@yahoo.ca https://twitter.com/translator_frog
http://emets.olmer.ru/
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181

Gorshenya was hanging around next to him, throwing up its arms, turning its
head, but Platosha did not pay it any attention. Such courage surprised Sashka.
“It won’t do anything to me…,” Platosha explained, guessing his thought. “It’s
dangerous only for the warlocks, and I’m still a hdiver. This big guy didn’t even
eat me at the hive, when I blew it away. Mityai Zheltoglazyi made it harmless… It
only eats those it loves! Hey you, shoo!” Gorshenya moved aside.
Rina squatted down by the lying Vityara. She raised his head. “What a fool I
was to suspect him! Should have guessed! Gorshenya kept repeating, ‘hungry
belly will not eat!’ But then swallowed Vityara!” she said.
“By the way, thanks for taking the compass and separate thanks for going up
the hill. There was a radio beacon in the lid,” Platosha barked. “Unfortunately, it
works rather poorly. Until you climbed up the hill, I couldn’t catch a signal.”
Kavaleria looked without break at Platosha. There was no hatred in her look.
Only infinite regret and pity. Unable to bear this pity, Platosha pushed a cone
with his foot. It jumped and stopped six steps from him and one-and-a-half steps
from Kavaleria. “A boundary not to cross! Else…!” he brandished the schnepper.
“Why?” repeated Kavaleria.
Platosha licked his lips. “Why so important to know? Curiosity torturing?”
“Yes,” said Kavaleria.
“All right: psyose! I was introduced to a girl from Beldo’s fort. In a hole by
Kievskaya, where there’s the drain to the river. The warlocks have some temple
there. She jumped out at me with a schnepper.”
“She didn’t shoot you?”
“As you can see, no,” said Platosha. “We saw each other for three months.
Then she died and I got hooked. But I only wanted to help so that she would get
less…”
“Did it ever occur to you that you could bring the girl to us?” Kavaleria asked
softly.
“She couldn’t get into HDive!” Platosha objected in a hurry.
Kavaleria took off her glasses and blew on them, as if she did not rule out that
this Platosha, whom she had known till now, was an optical illusion. “No
comments. Even for a person who wants very much to deceive himself, the
argument is weak. I could also meet her in the city,” she said.
“She didn’t want to! She despised all hdivers!” shouted Platosha.
“Well. It means she was close to Dionysus Beldo,” Kavaleria remarked.
“Beldo? She couldn’t stand him! Called him a narcissistic skunk!”
“A complex case. Despised some, couldn’t stand others. Nevertheless, note
that she chose the word ‘skunk’. Action is always more important than words. A
person is capable of yelling for two hours and helps. Or lisping for two years and
betrays.”
Platosha shuddered. He stood, lowering his head. It seemed he had forgotten
about the schnepper and the arbalest. But Sashka sensed that his forgetfulness
was deceptive. Sashka estimated the distance between them to be eight steps. Too
far to leap. He used any of Platosha’s relaxing of attention to move unnoticeably.

©Jane H. Buckingham 2012


jhbuckingham@yahoo.ca https://twitter.com/translator_frog
http://emets.olmer.ru/
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182

Sashka’s golden bee was twirling above Platosha but did not land on him.
“Land on him!” Sashka mentally begged it. “At least for a second, please!”
Interesting, does a bee hear thoughts? Indeed it is his bee!
“And, it goes without saying, now you console yourself that you have had a
beautiful tragic love,” continued Kavaleria.
“Don’t! Please stop!” whispered Rina. She saw how Platosha’s face became
aloof. Only the finger became white on the cock of the schnepper.
“But I won’t keep quiet! It always irritates me when people take abominable
actions and feel righteous about it!” Kavaleria continued energetically. “You had
three months. In these three months you not only did not help her, but also
slipped into it yourself!”
“I loved her!” Platosha obstinately repeated.
“You loved no one! When she died, you lost the channel to free psyose and
immediately dashed off to beg Guy… This is what you loved in reality!”
With the same aloof face, even without moving an eyelid, Platosha shot from
the single-round schnepper.
The steel ball slid along Kavaleria’s hair. She touched her hair in a
preoccupied manner. “Don’t embarrass yourself making excuses! You did
everything possible so as not to get caught,” she remarked.
Platosha threw away the discharged schnepper and got a better grip of the
arbalest with his freed hand. “It was a request for silence! Now listen to me, you! I
need this bee. I can’t kill it. I have no poison to poison it. Put it in a box and take
it away? No restraint will hold it!”
“And what do you propose?” asked Kavaleria.
“This!” Platosha lifted the heavy arbalest and took aim. He held the arbalest
firmly. His hands did not shake. The upper bolt looked Rina in the neck, the
lower in the centre of her chest.
Rina could not take her eyes away from the bluish steel tips. Death did not
even frighten her, since a person cannot visualize what he has not gone through,
and what a silly question: interesting, if the cock is pressed, do the bolts depart
one by one or both at once?
The queen bee did not think of flying away. It crawled along Rina’s shoulder,
cleaned its wings, and did not much hurry off to the beehive.
“Only you can help me! Kill it while it’s weak! Pull off its wings! Or I’ll shoot
your friends before your eyes!” Platosha’s voice was jumpy. It seemed he was
diligently working himself up but was somehow doing it unconvincingly.
Kavaleria walked up to the cone marking the boundary, kicked it to
Platosha’s side, and, after sitting down on the grass, crossed her legs Turkish
style. “Won’t work,” she said.
“What won’t work?” he asked, irritated.
“Blackmail. Would everything be so simple that it would be worthwhile for
warlocks to catch one hdiver and demand the rest to kill all the bees, give out the
markers, amputate the horses’ wings, and, after blowing up HDive, go home?”
Vityara stirred. He lay on the ground and, licking his broken lips, looked first
at Sashka, then at Platosha. Sashka squatted down next to him and looked at his

©Jane H. Buckingham 2012


jhbuckingham@yahoo.ca https://twitter.com/translator_frog
http://emets.olmer.ru/
http://www.goodreads.com/author/show/3463868.Dmitrii_Aleksandrovich_Emets
183

pupils. His eyes were already normal but with tears in them. Sashka understood
that Vityara had come to long ago.
“Platon!” Vityara called, without raising his voice. “Platon!” Platosha
pretended that he did not hear. “I thought you were my friend, Platon! The best,
the closest… The keys on my phone have been rubbed off, we texted each other so
much! For your sake I gave up diving, you yourself asked me to when you
couldn’t dive! I thought it was because of your nose!” Vityara’s voice was crushed.
Like earlier, without getting up, he wiped his lips with the back of his hand. The
drying blood remained as a narrow dark strip on his skin.
“You used me! You forced me to follow Gorshenya, and then the newbies!
You lied to me and I believed you. I understand more about the hyeon! I was
there when Gorshenya broke the fence! You would have shot it if Gorshenya
hadn’t swallowed it!” Vityara shouted from the ground. He persistently tried to
catch Platosha’s eyes, but that one persistently did not look in his direction. Only
the dry flush on his cheeks showed that he heard everything perfectly.
“Gorshenya swallowed Gavr in order to protect it?” Kavaleria asked again
with distrust.
“Why?” Vityara continued to shout. “Why couldn’t you do everything
yourself? Why involve me? Answer me, Platon! Aren’t you tired of pretending to
be deaf?”
The arbalest in Platon’s hands lowered and aimed now not at Rina’s chest but
her stomach. Sashka was able to get one step closer.
“I couldn’t follow alone. I got tired. They demanded too much from me. I also
need sleep,” said Platosha, as before avoided looking at Vityara. “You yourself
were…”
“Trusting? Nice to you? Naive?” Vityara prompted. “Why have you gone
deaf? Answer me! A simple fellow from a small town, which no one can find on
the map, yes?” Platosha did not answer.
Then Vityara got up and moved towards him. Very simply and slowly, arms
down, with a sad face.
“Back! Back, I tell you! I’ll kill you!” Platosha yelled.
“No,” said Vityara. “Shoot! Only don’t miss, else it’ll be very painful for me!”
He took another step. Platosha jerked up the arbalest.
Sashka saw how the golden bee, long circling above Platosha, sat down on his
head. “A fly! Gorshenya! A fly!” he shouted.
Platosha did not turn immediately but did all the same. Amazement still had
time to be reflected on his face. Gorshenya swiped him like a tractor operator in a
fight. Legs flickered. Platosha disappeared from the hill.
“You said it, dude!” Vityara said in amazement.
The golden bee, which Gorshenya never hit, circled above the hill with a
displeased buzz…

***

©Jane H. Buckingham 2012


jhbuckingham@yahoo.ca https://twitter.com/translator_frog
http://emets.olmer.ru/
http://www.goodreads.com/author/show/3463868.Dmitrii_Aleksandrovich_Emets
184

When they returned to HDive and together with Kavaleria went to put up
Bunt, Ul was proudly strolling along the stable. He was leading Aza by the rein.
Emaciated, with a dull coat, with sides sunk in, Aza moved like a ghost caught in
daylight. But, the main thing, Aza’s eyes were not lacklustre. Interest and slyness
were reflected in them. It tossed up its snout and squinted at the sun. The wing
feathers no longer swept dust. On noticing Rina, Aza stretched its wings and
waved them weakly, as if saying “hello!”

***

©Jane H. Buckingham 2012


jhbuckingham@yahoo.ca https://twitter.com/translator_frog
http://emets.olmer.ru/
http://www.goodreads.com/author/show/3463868.Dmitrii_Aleksandrovich_Emets