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 © Copyright by Arkady Strugatsky, Boris Strugatsky
 © Copyright 1998 by Fyodor Kondrashov, english translation

                     Translated by Fyodor Kondrashov (fedya@simons-rock.edu)

     The King sat naked. Like a foolish pauper on the street, he sat leaning
against  a  cold  wall, drawing in his blue, goose-bumped legs. He shivered,
with his eyes closed, he listened, but everything was quiet.
     He awoke at midnight from a nightmare and immediatelly understood  that
he  was  finished.  Some  one  weezed and writhed by the door of the bedroom
suite, he heard footsteps, metalic jingling and  drunken  mummbling  of  His
Highness,  Uncle  Buht: "Let me through... Let me.. Break it down, hell with
it..." Wet with icy sweat, he slintly rolled off  his  bed,  ducked  into  a
secter  closet,  and  loosing  himself  he ran down the underground passage.
Something sqelched under his bare feet, the startled rats dashed  away,  but
he  did  not notice anything, just now, sitting next to a wall he remembered
everything; the darkness, the slippery walls, and the pain from  a  blow  on
the  head against the shakled door to the temple, and his own unberable high
     They shall not enter here, he thought. No one shall enter here. Only if
the King  order's  so.  But  the  King  shall  not  order...  He   snickered
hysterically. Oh no, the King will not order! He carefully un screwed up his
eyes  and  saw  his  blue, hairless legs with scraped knees. Still alive, he
thought. I will live, because they shall not enter here.
     Everything in the temple  was  blueish  from  the  cold  light  of  the
lanterns -- long glowing tubes that were stretched under the ceiling. In the
center,  God stood on an eminence, big, heavy, with sparkling dead eyes. The
King continuously and stupidly stared, until God was suddenly screened by  a
shabby  lay  brother,  still  a  greenhorn. Scraching, with an open mouth he
gazed at the naked King. The King squinted once again. Scum, he  thought,  a
lousy  vermine,  catch the mongrel and to the dogs, for them to ravage... He
reasoned that he did not remember the lout well, but he was  long  gone.  So
scrawny,   snotty...   That's  all  right,  we'll  remember.  We'll  remeber
everything, Your Highness, Uncle Buht. During the father's  reighn,  I  dare
say you sat quietly, drank a bit and kept silent, were afraid to be noticed,
you knew that King Prostyaga did not forget you ignoble treachery...
     Great  was  the father, the King thought with an accustomed envy. You'd
be great, if your advisors are God's angels in flesh.  All  know,  all  have
seen  them:  their  faces  fearful, white, like milk, and their garment were
such that one could not understand if they were  naked  or  not.  And  their
arrows  were  fiery,  like  lightning,  they  drove  off the nomads with the
arrows, and although they casted them overhead, half the horde cripled  from
fear.  His  Highness,  Uncle  Buht,  wispered  once  upon  a time, drunk and
burping, that those arrows can be cast by anyone, that  special  slings  are
needed that the angels have and that would be nice to take from them. And he
said  then -- he was drunk then, -- that if it is nice to have, why not have
it, why not... Soon after that table talk one angel fell off the  wall  into
the  moat,  probably  slipped.  Next  to  him they found one of uncle's body
guards with a javelin between his shoulder  blades.  It  was  a  dark,  dark
deed...  It  good  that  the people did not care about the angels, they were
scary to look at, but it is not clear why is it scary -- angels were  happy,
cordial  people.  Only  their  eyes  were scary. Small, shiny, and they keep
racing around... non humanoid eyes, not peaceful. So the people hushed down,
although father, King Prostyaga gave them such freedom that it  is  shameful
to  remember...  although,  before  the  Coup, father, they say was a saddle
maker. For saying so, with my own hands I had torn eyes out, and sewen  ears
shut.  But  I remember, he used to sit in the evenings by the Crystal Tower,
and he would cut out leather -- beautiful work. And I would perch myself  at
his  side, it's warm and comfy... The angels were singing from the rooms, so
quietly, and in harmony, and father would start  to  accompany  --  he  knew
their  language  --  it  used to be spacious, nobody around... not like now,
guards are stuck at every corner, but there is no sense in it...
     The King lamented. Yes, he was a good father, just that he did not  die
for  a long time. You can't do that while your son is still alive... The son
is also the King, the son also want's to... But Prostyaga did not  age,  I'm
over  fifty,and  he  still looks younger than me... It looks like the angels
had asked God for his health... They asked for his health, but  they  forgot
about  me.  They  say  that  the  second one they managed to pin down in the
father's room, he had a sling in each hand, but he  did  not  fight.  Before
death,  they  say,  he  threw both of them out the window, they burst into a
blue flame, there was no dust  left...  Too  bad  about  the  slings...  And
Prostyaga, they say, cried and got drunk then, within an inch of his life --
the  first  time  since  his  reign  --  looked for me, they said, loved me,
     The King drew his knees to his chin, and hugged his leggs. So  what  if
he  believed?  One  should  know  one's  limit,  abdicate,  like  it is done
elsewhere... and I do not know anything, and do not want to. There was  only
a conversation with my uncle, His Highnesss.
     "Prostyaga, -- he said, -- doesn't age". -- "Yes, -- I tell him, -- but
what can  we  do,  the  angels  pleaded for his health." Uncle then sneered,
scum, and wispered: "Angels, -- he said,  --  no  longer  sing  their  songs
here".  And  I blurted out: "It is true, but now there is a way to deal with
them, not just with humans". Uncle looked at me  soberly,  and  immediatelly
left...  And I didn't really say anything... Empty words, without meaning...
And in a week Prostyaga died from a heart attack. So what? It was his  time.
He looked young, but in reality he was over one hundred. We'll all die...
     The King was startled, and covering himself, awkwardly sat up. Into the
temple  came  the  High  Priest  Agar.  Lay brothers were leading him by the
hands. He didn't look at the King, came up to God and kneeled  in  front  of
the  eminence,  tall,  hunch-backed, with waist length dirty-white hair. The
King gloated "It's the end of you, Your Highness, you did  manage,  I'm  not
like  Prostyaga,  you'll  ravage your oun intestines, drunken swine..." Agar
spoke in a rich voice:
     - God! The King wishes to speak to you! Forgive him and listen!
     The room fell silent, no-one dared to breathe. The  King  contemplated:
when  the  great flood happened, and the earth burst, Prostyaga asked God to
help, and God came down from the sky as a ball of flame on the same day, and
that night the earth closed up, and the flood  disappeared.  It  means  that
this  is  how  it will happen today. You were late uncle, Your Highness, you
didn't manage. No one can help you now...
     Agar straighned up. The lay brothers that supported him,  jumped  away,
turned with their backs to God, and covered their heads with their arms. The
Kind  saw,  how  Agar stretced his clasped hands and put them on Gods chest.
God's eyes lit up. The King snapped his jaw from fear: the eyes were big and
different -- one was snakish-green, the other white, as bright as light. One
could hear how  God  started  to  breathe,  heavily,  with  crackling,  like
consumption. Agar backed away.
     - Speak, - he whispered. It looked like he was unsettled as well.
     The King lowered to all fours, and started to crawl to the eminence. He
did not  know what to do or how. And he did not know how he should start and
whether he should tell the complete truth. God  breathed  heavily,  weezing,
suddenly he started to whimper, quietly and thinly - scary.
     - I'm  the son of Prostyaga -- said the King in despair, smothering his
face against the cold stone. -- Prostyaga died. I ask  protection  from  the
conspirators.  Prostyaga made mistakes. He did not know what he was doing. I
have fixed everything: calmed the people, became great and unatainable, like
you, I gathered an army... And the treacherous Buht is disrupting  my  plans
to conquer the world... He wants to kill me! Help me!
     He raised his head. God, without blinking, was looking in his face with
green and white. God was silent.
     - Help me... - repeated the King. -- Help! Help! - He suddenly thought,
that he  is  doing something wrong, and that God is indifferent towards him,
and inopportunely remembered: they said, his father, Prostyaga, did not  die
from  a  heart  attack,  but was killed here, in the temple when the killers
came in, with out asking permission. -- Help!.-- he  screemed  desperatelly.
-- I'm afraid to die today! Help! Help!
     He  hunched  up  on the stone tiles, biting his hands from an unbarable
terror. Differently-eyed God hoarsly breathed above his head.
     - Old vermine, - said Tolya. Ernst was quiet. On  the  screen,  through
the  sparks  of  static an ugly black shape of a human lay splattered on the
floor. -- When I think, Tolya spoke again, -- that if not for him, Alan  and
Derek would be alive, I want to do something, that you never wanted to do.
     Ernst shrugged his shoulders and moved to the table.
     - And  I  always think, - Tolya continued, - why didn't Derek shoot? He
could have killed all...
     - He couldn't , - said Ernst.
     - Why couldn't he?
     - Have you ever tried shooting at a human being?
     Tolya made a wry face, but didn't say anything.
     - Well that's what it was, - said Ernst. -- Try to imagine  it.  It  is
almost as disgusting.
     A  sorowful howl was heard from the loudspeaker. "HELP HELP I AM AFRAID
HELP..," the auto-translater was writing.
     - Poor cruel folk... - said Tolya.

Last-modified: Tue, 22 Sep 1998 19:46:36 GMT
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