Rumo and his miraculous.., p.13
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       Rumo: And His Miraculous Adventures, p.13

           Walter Moers
 

  ‘Pah! If no one had ever shed light on darkness we would still be sitting in caves, convinced that clouds are flying mountains.’

  ‘What will you do when you get to Murkholm?’

  ‘Investigate the fog, of course. I shall take an auracardiogram of it.’

  ‘A what?’

  ‘Please don’t ask me to explain, I wouldn’t want to spoil our evening, but I’ll tell you this much: I intend to examine the fog’s microscopic heart. All secrets can be fathomed in miniature.’

  ‘Aha,’ said Smyke.

  Professor Nightingale

  ‘Believe me, even I, with my four brains, hardly understand how an auracardiograph works. For that one needs seven brains like its inventor, Professor Nightingale.’

  ‘You know him?’

  ‘He was my doctoral supervisor. I studied under him when he was still teaching at Atlantis University. You know him too?’

  ‘“Know” would be an exaggeration. I met him once.’

  ‘Zamonia is a big place, but Nightingale is everywhere!’ The Nocturnomath laughed. ‘No matter where I go, Nightingale has been there before me. He’s like a disembodied spirit, everywhere and nowhere at once. Where did you come across him?’

  ‘At Fort Una.’

  ‘The gambler’s heaven!’ Kolibri chuckled. ‘The old fox!’

  ‘He was there for scientific reasons, if I understood him correctly. Any idea where he is now?’

  ‘I know nothing definite, as usual. Nightingale tends to keep his activities under wraps. Is he here or is he there? Is he vibrating his way through a mountain or walking on water in H20-densifying aquashoes? I heard he was planning to found an elite academy in the Gloomberg Mountains. Others say he’s invented a machine for deep-freezing tornadoes. Still others claim he lost his mind and jumped off Mount Apex. According to the latest rumour he’s travelling with a fairground attraction – trying it out on the rural population of Zamonia. But as I say, I know nothing definite. He’s probably sitting in the dark again, meditating on darkness research.’

  ‘Are you also into darkness research?’

  ‘No. Or rather, no longer. In my youth I assisted Professor Nightingale and acquired some knowledge of the subject, but in the end, because I didn’t want to spend my entire life in the Gloomberg Mountains, I had to liberate myself from him. The best way to sever one’s ties with a role model is to proceed in the opposite direction. You see, the main difference between my scientific methodology and Nightingale’s is one of perspective. His gaze is focused on the very big: the universal. I concentrate on the very small: the microcosmic.’

  Knowledge is night

  ‘I envy you Nocturnomaths your brains,’ Smyke said with a sigh. ‘I’ve forgotten nearly everything I learnt at school. I’d have to swot for twenty years to get back all the stuff that’s trickled through my sieve of a memory.’

  ‘Would you like a mental refill?’ Kolibri asked. There was a curiously expectant note in his voice.

  ‘Would I!’ said Smyke. ‘If only it were that easy!’

  ‘It is! At least, it is where the primitive basic knowledge whose loss you deplore is concerned. Elementary Zamonian mathematics, history, creaturology – is that the sort of stuff you mean? That’s easy to transmit. It can be done that fast.’ Kolibri snapped his fingers.

  Smyke remembered the ideas that had flooded his brain when Professor Nightingale laid a hand on his shoulder at Fort Una.

  ‘Yes, it’s something along those lines,’ said Kolibri, as if it went without saying that he’d read Smyke’s thoughts. ‘But that was just a random thought transmission – scientifically worthless.’

  ‘It certainly helped me,’ Smyke replied with a smile, involuntarily remembering the Demonocles’ tongues.

  ‘No,’ said Kolibri, ‘I’m talking about restoring the whole of the knowledge you acquired at school in a few seconds – and expanding it a little as well.’

  ‘You’re joking.’

  ‘Nocturnomaths don’t joke about the transmission of knowledge.’

  ‘Could you be a little more explicit?’

  ‘Well, I possess several brains. Four, to be exact. That makes me a Nocturnomath Grade Four. Nocturnomaths of the fourth grade and upwards are capable of transmitting knowledge bacterially.’

  ‘Could you really do that?’

  ‘Yes, but only if you want. Not everyone does. And I must warn you: even though it’s a very rapid process, completely painless and not injurious to one’s health, it has immense repercussions. It will expand your consciousness and change your life, and there’s no guarantee it will do so for the better. Knowledge can be dangerous. Knowledge is night.’ Kolibri giggled.

  ‘I’ll chance it,’ Smyke rejoined.

  ‘But the knowledge I can impart is limited. I can only transmit what I myself, with my limited cerebral capacity, have learnt. Compare Nightingale. He has seven brains, I have only four.’

  ‘All the same,’ said Smyke. He now knew what differentiated Kolibri from Nightingale. He lacked the excrescences on his head that contained additional brains.

  ‘I can think as much as I like and learn as much as I’m able, but I’ll never be as brilliant as Nightingale. Have you heard of the Grailsundian Prizefighters’ Guild?’

  ‘Yes, certainly. I’ve trained a few boxers myself.’

  ‘Then you’ll know they’re divided into various classes. Some fighters have two arms, others three, four or five. There are some very talented boxers with three arms, but they’ll never be contenders for the five-armed title.’

  ‘You’re too modest.’

  ‘It’s just that I don’t want you to be disappointed by the knowledge I impart. The other limitation is that you’ll only get the knowledge that happens to be passing through my brains at the time. It could be utterly irrelevant, useless stuff – mental baggage unneeded on your journey through life.’

  ‘I’ll chance it, as I say. How much does this business cost?’

  The Nocturnomath raised his head and shot Smyke a glance of blazing indignation.

  ‘I apologise,’ Smyke mumbled. ‘I’m a life form that’s accustomed to thinking in commercial terms.’

  Kolibri subsided quickly. ‘You’re champing at the bit, I can see, and I’m bound to say it would really give me pleasure to infect you a little. It’s a long time since I’ve done that. I’m not betraying any professional secrets when I say that passing on a mental infection sends us Nocturnomaths into a state of rapture verging on euphoria. A triumphant feeling of elation devoid of remorse.’

  ‘Shall we get on with it?’ Smyke asked impatiently.

  ‘One moment! Some minor preparations are essential. First I must inform your companion that he’ll be responsible for our safety in the immediate future. We’re utterly helpless while the infection is taking hold. We fall into a kind of trance and could be devoured alive without noticing it. So, if danger threatens –’

  ‘– I can’t think of a better bodyguard than Rumo,’ said Smyke.

  ‘Does he have any combat experience?’

  Smyke grinned. ‘Does he! As soon as this business is over I’ll tell you an interesting story about Rumo’s combat experience.’

  ‘Oh, good! I adore exciting stories.’ The Nocturnomath clapped his hands. ‘Let’s begin, then. What treatment would you like? Light, medium, or the full programme?’

  ‘If a job is worth doing, it’s worth doing well.’

  ‘Fine. “Light” means we wouldn’t even have to touch. “Medium” requires moderate physical contact. If you want the full programme, you must stick your finger in my ear.’

  ‘What?!’

  ‘You must insert one of your fingers in this aperture.’ Kolibri indicated a small hole beneath his temple. ‘That’s a Nocturnomath’s ear. It won’t work unless you do.’

  ‘I understand.’ Smyke hesitated, but only for a moment. He looked at Rumo. ‘Rumo, keep your eyes and ears open.’

  Rumo gave a sullen nod.

 
‘This is a dangerous part of the world,’ Kolibri told him. ‘And please don’t try to separate us, no matter what happens. If contact between us were severed we might have to spend the rest of our lives in a state of mental derangement.’

  ‘Really?’ Smyke stopped short.

  ‘Well, do you want to do it or not?’

  ‘All right,’ said Smyke. ‘Rumo, you heard what the professor said, so look out!’

  Rumo nodded again.

  As though preparing to dive, Smyke drew a deep breath and stuck his finger in the Nocturnomath’s ear. It felt as if he had dipped it in a jar of lukewarm jam.

  ‘Enjoy your flight,’ Kolibri said with a smile. ‘And don’t be surprised if you run into Professor Nightingale in there.’

  ‘Nightingale? What do you …’

  Smyke was dazzled by a white flash, then everything went black. ‘I’m passing out,’ he thought, but the next instant it was light again. He was soaring high in the air, and stretched out below him was something that resembled the street map of a vast city.

  ‘I can fly,’ he thought. ‘Great! Is that Atlantis down there?’

  ‘No,’ replied the voice of Professor Ostafan Kolibri. It came from above, from below, from all directions, like the voice of an invisible god. ‘No, you can’t fly. It’s just your mind’s way of coming to terms with your present location: the interior of a Nocturnomath’s brain. That isn’t Atlantis down there either, it’s Ostafan, my native city. Actually, it’s only a city district: North Ostafan. There’s North Ostafan, South Ostafan, West Ostafan and East Ostafan. Each district represents one of my four brains. Let us descend.’

  Rumo gave a start. Smyke was squealing like a stuck pig, loud and long, as if falling into a bottomless pit, but he kept his finger in Kolibri’s ear, so Rumo did nothing. Smyke and the Nocturnomath were standing motionless. The Shark Grub’s mouth was wide open, his tongue jerking back and forth like a bell clapper.

  This was a strange night, but Rumo had known stranger ones in his time. He tossed another log on the fire.

  North Ostafan

  Smyke was in free fall. He wasn’t flying any longer, he was plunging towards the city like a stone. It wouldn’t be long before he was dashed to pieces.

  ‘Eeeeeeeeee!’ he cried.

  ‘Don’t make such a fuss!’ Kolibri called from overhead. ‘You aren’t really falling, it’s only an illusion. If you scream in here you’ll be screaming out there as well, and that could attract unwelcome visitors to our campfire.’

  Smyke stopped screaming. ‘It’s an illusion,’ he muttered, ‘just an illusion. In reality I’m standing beside a Nocturnomath with my finger in his ear. This isn’t happening at all. An illusion.’

  ‘That’s right,’ said Kolibri. ‘We’re flying – or rather, illusioning our way – along the main street, Ostafan Avenue.’

  Smyke levelled out into a horizontal glide along North Ostafan’s widest thoroughfare. He noticed only now that there wasn’t any city or street at all. What he had mistaken for buildings were geometrical bodies of every conceivable shape, colour and size: hemispheres, parallelepipeds, pyramids, trapezoids, cubes, cones, octahedra, and … layer cakes. And none of them had any doors or windows.

  ‘Layer cakes?’ Smyke said wonderingly.

  Layer cake

  Seated on his tree stump, Rumo was mistrustfully watching the remarkable spectacle of Smyke, dramatically illuminated by the flickering campfire, with his finger stuck in Kolibri’s ear. At least he’d stopped screaming. Rumo listened: all was still. He cocked his head and sniffed the cool evening breeze: nothing. Just small creatures asleep beneath the trees, slow and steady heartbeats, deep and regular breathing, drowsy and contented snuffles. No danger. Tomorrow, Rumo decided, he would force the pace. They were going far too slowly. Smyke had no objective, so he didn’t mind how little progress they made. It was different for Rumo. He had an objective: the end of the Silver Thread.

  ‘Layer cakes?’ he heard Smyke mutter.

  ‘The buildings resembling layer cakes are information silos,’ Kolibri explained. ‘They contain preserved knowledge arranged in layers according to subject, rather like libraries. Would you like to see inside one?’

  ‘Of course,’ said Smyke. He had already banked to the right and was making for a point halfway up a circular orange-coloured building. It seemed to be hundreds of feet high, with floors that steadily diminished in size the higher they went. There were no doors or windows or other openings. He raced towards it at the speed of a cannon ball.

  ‘Aaaaaaah!’ he yelled.

  Rumo gave a jump. Smyke had started yelling again. A gust of wind blew across the clearing and wafted his long-drawn-out cry of fear into the depths of the wood.

  Rumo was becoming inured to the idea that this would be a pretty long night as well as a strange one. He hadn’t a clue what the two of them were doing in Ostafan Kolibri’s world of ideas, but it seemed they wouldn’t emerge for some time. He would gladly have gone to sleep and dreamt of the Silver Thread, but he was responsible for their safety. How on earth could anyone stick his finger in the ear of such an oddball? It served Smyke right if what was happening to him was unpleasant enough to make him yell.

  Brain music

  ‘Aaaaaaah!’ Smyke was still yelling as he hit the wall, but he wasn’t smashed to pieces. There was a squelching sound and he went straight through it.

  ‘It’s like diving without getting wet,’ he thought. For a second or two he was engulfed by a pulsating orange glow. His ears crackled loudly, there was another squelch, and he found himself hovering inside the information silo. He was in the midst of a beam of light, with luminous bubbles in every shade of orange floating above and below him. He hung there for an instant, motionless, then plunged into the depths like a puppet whose strings have been severed.

  ‘Aaaaaaah!’ he yelled again.

  ‘Quiet, please!’ snapped Kolibri, who seemed to be with him in the silo. ‘Pull yourself together. This is like a library. A place for introspection.’

  Smyke’s dive ended abruptly and he fell silent. ‘It’s only an illusion,’ he muttered, ‘only … an … illusion.’ He was hovering in space, and revolving around him was a wall with numerous circular openings. He could hear faint singing accompanied by a rhythmical ‘boom-boom-boom’.

  ‘Strange,’ he thought. ‘Somehow, that music sounds intelligent.’

  ‘It’s brain music,’ Kolibri explained. ‘The song of the synapses. That’s what thought processes sound like.’

  ‘But where am I?’ asked Smyke. ‘What kind of knowledge is stored here?’

  ‘Hm, you might find it rather boring. Early Zamonian history, creaturology.’

  ‘Creaturology?’ Kolibri had whetted Smyke’s thirst for knowledge.

  ‘The study of all life forms. Shark Grubs, for instance. Would you like to learn something about Shark Grubs?’

  ‘No thanks,’ said Smyke. ‘I already know too much about them.’

  ‘Norselanders? Junglies? Fangfangs? Yetis? Moomies? Turnip-heads? Take your pick. We also have information about the most disagreeable life forms: Werewolves, Nurns, Demonocles, Lunawraiths, Vrahoks.’

  ‘I know all I need to know about Demonocles,’ said Smyke, ‘but what are Vrahoks?’

  ‘Ah, I can only offer you rumours about them. Nothing scientifically definite.’

  ‘Lunawraiths, then. Are those the things you mentioned just now, beside the campfire? I’d never heard of them before.’

  ‘A rare species. Unpleasant individuals.’ Kolibri’s voice sounded as if he were shivering. ‘You really want to know something about Lunawraiths?’

  Rumo was growing impatient. The two of them were still standing there almost motionless, like an absurd monument to the advisability of keeping one’s ears clean. From to time they burbled semi-intelligibly to themselves. They might have been two sleepwalkers trying to converse.

  ‘Unplsnt indvdls,’ Kolibri was muttering. ‘You rly wnt to know smthng abt L
nwrths?’

  Rumo hadn’t the faintest idea what this meant, nor did he want to know. His dearest wish was to get some sleep so as to be able to cover plenty of ground the next day. He tossed a couple of dry logs on to the fire, which was dying down, and watched the sparks twinkle like stars as they soared into the night sky.

  The infochamber

  Smyke turned horizontally on his own axis, sped towards one of the rotating apertures and slipped through it. He was now in a cool grotto whose translucent walls shed an amber glow.

  ‘You’re now in an infochamber – something unique to a Nocturnomath’s brain. We can store substantial quantities of knowledge for a lifetime without forgetting even a tiny particle of it. The information is perfectly preserved.’

  ‘Is this your doctoral thesis on Lunawraiths?’

  ‘My doctoral thesis?’ Kolibri laughed. ‘No, that would require a building to itself. This is just a brief, off-the-cuff lecture I had to deliver as a student. The professors gave you a subject and you had to rattle off any relevant details that came into your head. It’s a little information picked up from encyclopedias, that’s all.’

  A gong sounded. Kolibri proceeded to hold forth, but his voice seemed considerably younger than before.

  Lunawraiths

  ‘Describing a Lunawraith is no easy matter. The creatures are colourless – those who have seen them speak of black, chimpanzee-like figures with short legs and long arms. They make no sound and emit no smell. Lunawraiths are also said to be faceless and in certain parts of Zamonia they are known as Fridgimakers. Many scientists assign Lunawraiths to the vampire family because they practise a procedure similar to bloodsucking. They attack sleepers and, in a still unexplained manner, suck the life force out of their ears until their victims are frozen stiff or dead – hence their nickname. Far more common during the Zamonian Middle Ages than they are today, Lunawraiths were then regarded as a thorough pest. They gave rise to the invention of lockable shutters and so-called vampire grilles. Lunawraiths cannot open doors or windows, they prefer to operate in the open air or enter by way of doors or windows that have been left unsecured. Thus shutters and grilles have dramatically reduced their population over the centuries. Today their sphere of activity is restricted to wooded areas and lonely places where travellers are compelled to spend the night in the open. In other respects Lunawraiths are the least well-researched life forms in Zamonia – in fact, many scientists doubt that they should be classified as life forms at all.’

 
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