Spring. From beyond the Green Wall, from the wild, invisible plains, the wind brings yellow honey pollen of some unknown flowers. The sweet pollen dries your lips, and every minute you pass your tongue over them. The lips of all the women you see must be sweet (of the men, too, of course). This interferes to some extent with the flow of logical thought.
But the sky! Blue, unblemished by a single cloud. (How wild the tastes of the ancients, whose poets could be inspired by those absurd, disorderly, stupidly tumbling piles of vapor!) I love — I am certain I can safely say, we love — only such a sterile, immaculate sky. On days like this the whole world is cast of the same impregnable, eternal glass as the Green Wall, as all our buildings. On days like this you see the bluest depth of things, their hitherto unknown, astonishing equations — you see them even in the most familiar everyday objects.
Take, for instance, this. In the morning I was at the dock where the Integral is being built, and suddently I saw: the lathes; the regulator spheres rotating with closed eyes, utterly oblivious of all; the cranks flashing, swinging left and right; the balance beam proudly swaying its shoulders; the bit of the slotting machine dancing up and down in time to unheard music. Suddenly I saw the whole beauty of this grandiose mechanical ballet, flooded with pale blue sunlight.
And then, to myself: Why is this beautiful? Why is dance beautiful? Answer: because it is unfree motion, because the whole profound meaning of dance lies precisely in absolute, esthetic subordination, in ideal unfreedom. And if it is true that our forebears abandoned themselves to dance at the most exalted moments of their lies (religious mysteries, military parades), it means only one thing: the instinct of unfreedom is organically inherent in man from time immemorial, and we, in our present life, and only consciously. . . .
I will have to finish later: the annunciator clicked. I looked up: O-90, of course. In half a minute she’ll be here, for our daily walk.
Dear O! It always seems to me that she looks exactly like her name: about ten centimeters shorter than the Maternal Norm, and therefore carved in the round, all of her, with that pink O, her mouth, open to meet every word I say. And also, that round, plump fold on her wrist, like a baby’s.
When she came in, the flywheel of logic was still humming at full swing within me, and I began, by sheer force of inertia, to speak to her about the formula I had just established, which encompassed everything — dance, machines, and all of us.
“Marvelous, isn’t it?” I asked.
“Yes, marvelous.” O-90 smiled rosily at me. “It’s spring.”
Well, wouldn’t you know: spring . . . She talks about spring. Women. . . I fell silent.
Downstairs, the avenue was full. In such weather, the afternoon personal hour is used for an additional walk. As always, the Music Plant played the “March of the One State” with all its trumpets. The numbers walked in even ranks, four abreast, ecstatically stepping in time to the music — hundreds, thousands of numbers, in pale blue unifs,* with golden badges on their breasts, bearing the State Number of each man and woman. And I — the four of us — but one of the innumerable waves in this might stream. On my left, O-90 (if this were being written by one of my hairy ancestors a thousand years ago, he probably would have described her by that funny word “mine”); on my right, two numbers I did not know, male and female.
Blessedly blue sky, tiny baby suns in every badge, faces unshadowed by the insanity of thoughts. . . Rays. Do you understand that? Everything made of some single, radiant, smiling substance. And the brass rhythms: “Ta-ta-ta-tam! Ta-ta-ta-tam!” Like brass stairs gleaming in the sun, and every step taking you higher and higher, into the dizzying blue. . . .
And again, as this morning at the dock, I saw everything as though for the first time in my life: the straight, immutable streets, the glittering glass of the pavements, the divine parallelepipeds of the transparent houses, the square harmony of the gray-blue ranks. And I felt: it was no the generations before me, but I — yes, I — who had conquered the old God and the old life. It was I who had created all this. And I was like tower, I dared not move an elbow lest walls, cupolas, machines tumble in fragments about me.
Then — a leap across the centuries, from + to –. I remembered (evidently an association by contrast) — I suddenly remembered a picture I had seen in a museum: one of their avenues, out of the twentieth century, dazzlingly motley, a teeming crush of people, wheels, animals, posters, trees, colors, birds. . . . And they say this had really existed — could exist. It seemed so incredible, so preposterous that I could not contain myself and burst out laughing.
And immediately, there was an echo — laughter — on my right. I turned: a flash of white — extraordinarily white and sharp teeth, and unfamiliar female face.
“Forgive me,” she said, “but you looked at everything around you with such an inspired air, like some mythical god on the seventh day of creation. It seems to me you are sure that even I was created by you, and by no one else. I am very flattered. . . .”
All this — without a smile; I would even say, with a certain deference (perhaps she knew that I am the Builder of the Integral). But in the yes, or in the eyebrows — I could not tell — there was a certain strange, irritating X, which I could not capture, could not define in figures.
For some odd reason, I felt embarrassed and tried, in a rather stumbling manner, to explain my laughter to her logically. I twas entirely clear, I said, that this contrast, this impassable abyss between the present and the past. . .
“But why impassable?” (What white teeth!) “A bridge can be thrown across an abyss. Just think: drums, battalions, ranks — all this has also existed in the past; and, consequently. . .”
“But of course!” I cried. (What an astonishing coincidence of ideas: she spoke almost my own words, the words I had written down before our walk.) “You understand, even ideas. And this is because nobody is ‘one,’ but ‘one of.’ We are so alike. . . .”
She: “Are you sure?”
I saw her eyebrows raised to her temples at a sharp angle, like the pointed horns of an X, and again I was confused. I glanced right, left, and. . .
On my right — she, slender, sharp, stubbornly pliant, like a whip, I-330 (I could see her number now); on my left — O, altogether different, all curves, with that childish fold on her wrist; and at the other end of our row, a male number I did not know — strange, doubly bent somehow, like the letter S. All of us so different. . .
That one on the right, I-330, seemed to have intercepted my flustered glance, and with a sigh she said, “Yes. . . . Alas!”
Actually, this “alas” was entirely appropriate. But again there was that something in her face, or in her voice. . . . And with a sharpness unusual for me, I said, “No reason for ‘Alas.’ Science progresses, and it is obvious that, if not now, then in fifty or a hundred years. . .”
“Even everyone’s noses. . .”
“Yes,” I almost shouted, “noses. If there is any ground for envy, no matter what it is. . . If I have a button-nose and another. . .”
“Oh, your nose is ‘classical,’ as they used to say in olden times. But your hands. . . No, let us see, let us see your hands!”
I detest to have anyone look at my hands: all hairy, shaggy — a stupid atavism. I held out my hand and said, as indifferently as I could, “An ape’s hands.”
She glanced at my hands, then at my face. “A most interesting conjunction.” She weighed me with her eyes as on a scale, and the horns flicked again at the corners of her eyebrows.
“He is registered with me.” O-90′s lips opened rosily, with eager joy.
I wished she had kept silent — this was altogether out of place. Generally, this dear O. . . how shall I put it. . . her tongue is wrongly timed; the speed of the tongue should always be some seconds behind the speed of thought, but certainly not the other way round.
At the end of the avenue, the bell on the Accumulator Tower was loudly striking seventeen. The personal hour was over. I-330 was leaving with the S-shaped male number. His face somehow inspired respect, and now it seemed familiar. I must have met him somewhere, but where?
In parting, I-330 said with another of her X-smiles, “Come to auditorium 112 the day after tomorrow.”
I shrugged. “If I am assigned to that auditorium. . .”
And she, with an odd certainty, “You will be.”
The woman affected me as unpleasantly as an irresolvable irrational member that has somehow slipped into an equation. And I was glad to remain for at least a few moments alone with dear O.
Hand in hand, we crossed four lines of avenues. At the corner she had to turn right, and I, left.
“I’d like so much to come to you today and let down the blinds. Today, right now. . .” O timidly raised her round, blue-crystal eyes to me.
How funny she is. What could I say to her? She had come to my only the day before, and she knew as well as I did that our next sexual day was the day after tomorrow. It was simply a case of her usual “words ahead of thoughts” — like the occasional (and sometimes damaging) premature supply of a spark to a motor.
Before we parted, I kissed her lovely blue eyes, unshadowed by a single cloud, two — no, let me be precise — three times.
– Yevgeny Zamyatin: We (1921) (translated from the Russian by Mirra Ginsburg)
*Derived apparently from the ancient “uniform.”