Rumo and his miraculous.., p.14
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       Rumo: And His Miraculous Adventures, p.14

           Walter Moers
 

  Another gong. Smyke spun round, shot through the hole and floated back into the grotto.

  ‘Good heavens!’ he exclaimed. ‘You mean those creatures are prowling around outside in the wood?’

  ‘You told me your young companion was an excellent sentry.’ Kolibri’s voice, which was once more coming from overhead, sounded older and more mature. ‘Lunawraiths are bigger cowards than hyenas. They only attack sleeping people.’

  ‘That’s good,’ said Smyke. ‘Rumo isn’t fond of sleeping.’

  Rumo sat down on the ground, propped his back against a tree trunk and watched the grotesque pair, who were now only dimly illuminated by the dying campfire. The clearing was becoming suffused with darkness that seemed to flow from the trees and bathe every detail in dark-grey. He didn’t feel like feeding the fire any longer. The other two could do that when they emerged – very soon, he hoped – from their trance.

  He consulted his ears and nose. Nothing. No ominous sounds or scents, no lurking dangers. He stretched, yawned, and slid a little further down the tree trunk. The ground beneath him still seemed to be swaying, a distant reminder of Roaming Rock, but this time the sensation was soothing. He shut his eyes, just for a moment. He wouldn’t go to sleep, only shut his eyes for a few seconds in these peaceful surroundings. Scarcely had he done so when he saw the Silver Thread. He couldn’t open his eyes again right away, it was far too beautiful.

  The constrication site

  Volzotan Smyke glided along the deserted streets of North Ostafan. The geometrical structures that flanked them glowed in the most fantastic colours, and he was relishing this artistic spectacle, which came very close to his ideal conception of a big city, the only missing feature being a few good hostelries. He was starting to enjoy this mode of travel, and the more he enjoyed it the more control he gained over his aerial movements. It was all a question of will-power, he gathered.

  His eye was caught by a large structure in the distance that differed from all the other buildings in its bizarre outlines. Towering over everything in its vicinity, it resembled a palace designed by an architect who had gone mad while work was in progress. With its crooked towers and shapeless annexes, its domes erected on top of domes, its bulges and protrusions, it was less a building than a monstrous construction site.

  ‘Heavens alive,’ Smyke exclaimed, ‘what’s that?’

  Kolibri gave an embarrassed little cough from overhead.

  ‘Is that another information silo? Why does it look so odd?’

  ‘No, it’s not a silo.’

  ‘What is it, then?’

  ‘Nothing.’

  ‘What do you mean, nothing?’

  ‘Nothing of importance.’

  ‘So why is it the most conspicuous building in the city?’

  ‘I’d rather not talk about it.’

  ‘Come on, professor, out with it.’

  ‘It’s, er, a doctoral thesis.’

  Smyke laughed. ‘That’s a relief. I thought it was some frightful disease.’

  ‘So is a doctoral thesis, in a way.’

  ‘I’m going to take a closer look,’ said Smyke, and he headed straight for the curious excrescence.

  ‘Out of the question!’ cried Kolibri. ‘It’s still incomplete! It’s one of my unfinished doctoral dissertations – work in progress, nothing more.’

  ‘Never mind!’ Smyke flew lower.

  ‘Please don’t! Let’s look at a few thought balloons instead.’

  Undeterred, Smyke continued to make for the building. He was pleased to note that Kolibri seemed unable to influence his movements if he didn’t want him to.

  ‘This is embarrassing,’ the professor exclaimed with a note of entreaty in his voice.

  ‘Oh, go on!’ Smyke chuckled. His growing command of illusory flight was making him cocky. ‘Whee!’ he cried. He looped the loop twice, went into a vertical dive, and plunged into the dark shell of the bizarre structure.

  ‘Please don’t!’ Kolibri wailed again, but Smyke had already vanished into his thesis.

  ‘Whee!’ cried Smyke, and his exultant cry went echoing through the gloomy wood.

  ‘Whoo!’ replied a distant owl.

  Smyke and Kolibri were still standing there transfixed. The fire was just a mound of embers and all that lit the clearing was a faint yellowish glow.

  ‘Please don’t!’ muttered Kolibri.

  Rumo was still seated with his back against the tree. His chin had sunk on to his chest, a thin thread of saliva was issuing from the corner of his mouth, and he was snoring. Rumo was fast asleep. He was dreaming of love.

  Kolibri’s doctoral dissertation

  Smyke continued his dive. It was so dark, he might have been diving into a vat of ink. He could hear hundreds and thousands of voices talking simultaneously. He barely understood a word, but it sounded as if they were reciting scientific formulae and theorems. All at once he could see again and the voices ceased abruptly. He was floating in the midst of a vast, dimly illuminated dome. He looked around him. The floor was invisible from this height, because the lower reaches of the building were wrapped in a kind of dense grey mist. Half-finished walls projected from the gloom, spiral staircases ended in space, towers were devoid of windows. Either the architect had gone mad or his client had run out of money.

  ‘This is embarrassing,’ Kolibri repeated sheepishly. ‘I can’t have people seeing my work in progress. It all looks so unfinished.’

  ‘Nonsense!’ said Smyke. ‘This is the most interesting ruin I’ve ever seen.’

  ‘It’s an edifice of ideas.’ Kolibri sighed. ‘My everlasting construction site. Half-baked theories, ideological debris. I doubt if I shall ever complete this thesis in my lifetime.’

  A swarm of grey snakes came wriggling through the air and flew past Smyke with a whispering sound. They didn’t seem genuinely tangible, and he got the impression that they were composed of tiny black particles. He stared after them in surprise.

  ‘Footnotes,’ Kolibri explained. ‘They’re a nuisance, but indispensable to any thesis. One needs vast numbers of them.’

  He whistled and the grey swarm came to a halt. One of the snakes flew past Smyke at close range, and he now saw that the black particles were characters and numerals.

  He read,

  Smyke couldn’t help laughing, whereupon the footnote rejoined its companions in a huff. They milled around together, whispering. Then the whole swarm giggled and vanished into the gloom.

  There was a rumble as if truckloads of stone were being unloaded and a dark tower sprouted from the grey mist like a spear of asparagus. No sooner was it up than a second tower sprouted beside it, but only half as tall.

  ‘You see?’ exclaimed the professor. ‘I can’t stop working on it even now. Those are two new ideas that support my main contention.’

  ‘What’s the subject of your thesis?’ Smyke enquired.

  ‘The Influence of the Non-Existent Teenies on Zamonian micromechanics,’ Kolibri replied crisply.

  ‘Aha,’ said Smyke, ‘that sounds exciting.’

  Kolibri sighed. ‘No, it doesn’t. It sounds utterly quirky and hopelessly abstruse. But thanks all the same.’

  ‘You’re being too modest again.’

  ‘I am, I grant you. Believe me, my chosen subject may well harbour the solutions to our greatest problems.’

  ‘Problems like what?’

  ‘Well, dying, for example. Death.’

  Smyke guffawed. ‘Don’t tell me you’re an alchemist in disguise!’

  ‘I’m a scientist, not a charlatan,’ Kolibri said in a firm, businesslike tone. ‘I don’t blend unappetising bodily fluids together or subject dead bullfrogs to electric currents. I make measurements. Extremely accurate, microscopic measurements.’

  ‘Measurements of what?’

  ‘Of what indeed? Actually, I measure something that has long been extinct. I measure the Non-Existent Teenies.’

  Nightingale reappears

  An indistinct mur
mur issued from one of the passages leading off the dome and Smyke – who could hardly believe his eyes – saw Professor Nightingale coming towards him out of the gloom, burbling unintelligibly to himself. The professor was not only four times as big as in real life but transparent. Ignoring Smyke, he floated straight past and disappeared into the mist that enshrouded the dome. Smyke rubbed his eyes.

  ‘Was that really Nightingale?’ he asked uncertainly.

  ‘No. Yes. No. Well, in a manner of speaking. It was the embodiment of one of Nightingale’s doctoral theses: The Use of Bipolar Lenses in Multiple Classifications. I badly need it for my theoretical superstructure.’

  ‘That was another doctoral thesis? Why does it look like a living creature?’

  ‘Doctoral theses can appear in many forms,’ Kolibri replied. ‘It all depends on their quality. All of Nightingale’s theses resemble him. That’s because of his potent personality, his style. They’re quite unmistakable.’

  ‘But why did he look so hostile?’

  ‘The thesis is rather annoyed because so far it hasn’t melded with the basic theory underlying my own work. It’s still looking for an interface to lock on to. I told you to be prepared to run into Professor Nightingale in here, didn’t I?’

  ‘Now I understand.’

  ‘Every doctoral thesis is composed largely of others,’ Kolibri explained. ‘A new thesis is always an orgiastic agglomeration of old theses that, er, fertilise each other so as to give birth to something new and unprecedented.’

  ‘I’m finding it thoroughly instructive to have scientific processes explained to me in such a graphic way,’ said Smyke. ‘But there’s one thing you must tell me: Who or what are these Non-Existent Teenies?’

  ‘Well, to be honest, that’s the kind of specialised knowledge that would only burden your brain unnecessarily. What about something more useful? A little practical mathematics? A course in elementary biology?’

  ‘You raised the subject, now you must follow it through. I insist on a thorough explanation.’

  Kolibri sighed, but it was the sigh of a diva who deigns to give an encore after endless ovations.

  ‘Very well,’ he said. ‘On your own head be it.’

  Smyke’s surroundings began to revolve. The stairways, towers and walls became distorted, the entire dome was in motion. Feeling dizzy, Smyke shut his eyes for a moment. When he opened them again it was all over. He was in a kind of lecture hall, seated on something that felt like a cold stone slab, and in front of him was a platform with a lectern on it. Professor Kolibri was leaning on the lectern, smiling at him.

  ‘Professor Kolibri?’ said Smyke. ‘Is that you?’

  ‘Of course not,’ the apparition replied. ‘I’m an illusion, like everything else in here. I’m really standing in a clearing with your finger in my ear. These surroundings are merely illustrative. Surely this is nicer than having to float around in space listening to my disembodied voice?’

  Smyke looked at Kolibri more closely. He seemed to be slightly transparent, like a ghost.

  ‘Am I an illusion too?’ he asked.

  ‘No,’ said Kolibri, ‘you’re real. Our physical contact has generated a three-dimensional telepathic projection in my brain that really does possess a body. A very small body, but still. I myself cannot materialise inside my own brain, unfortunately, but you can.’

  ‘Aha,’ Smyke said uncomprehendingly.

  ‘Very well,’ said Kolibri, ‘let’s start the lesson.’

  The ostascope or kolibriscope

  ‘I’ve already told you of my, well, let’s say, obsessive interest in microscopy.’ Ostafan Kolibri opened the lid of the lectern and removed a curious object. It was a pair of spectacles consisting of numerous superimposed lenses of steadily diminishing size. He put this contraption on his nose and stared at Smyke. It made him look like a mechanical insect from another planet.

  ‘With the aid of ultra-small lenses, I succeeded in inventing some wearable microscopic spectacles, which I have now developed into in my personal, optometrical masterpiece: the ostascope or kolibriscope, whichever you prefer. How does it suit me?’

  ‘Excellently!’ lied Smyke.

  ‘While darknessologists and astronomers were striving to develop bigger and bigger lenses for bigger and bigger telescopes, I hit upon the idea of producing smaller and smaller lenses for smaller and smaller microscopes. There was a limit to this process, of course, because the lens-making instruments became too small for hands to manipulate them, so I had some dwarfs trained as lens grinders under my supervision. Although this reduced the size of my lenses by two thirds, they were very far from small enough for me. I eventually sought a solution to this problem in nature – and found it. On the beaches of Florinth’s Diamond Coast there are grains of sand whose cores are miniature lenses of extreme precision and delicacy. They occupy the exact centre of the grains like little hearts of glass. How to extract them from their surrounding shell, that was the problem. I solved it with the aid of an Aeolian sandblaster, which works on the principle …’ Kolibri broke off. ‘But I’m digressing.’

  ‘What can you do with these, er, spectacles?’

  ‘The ostascope enables me to examine the structure of objects – of every solid material including stone. But I can also see things in the air that would otherwise remain invisible to us. Did you know that colours consist of colours? Of considerably more delicate and indescribably beautiful shades compared to which the colours of the visible world are tasteless, vulgar, dingy and – how can I put it? – positively colourless?’

  ‘No,’ said Smyke, ‘I didn’t know that.’

  ‘Were you aware that one can see emotions? Rage? Fear? Love? Hatred? That one can see perfumes? Have you any idea how incredibly beautiful the scent of a rose looks? How repulsive the stench of a cesspit? Can you imagine the shapes that sound can assume? If you only knew how immensely fascinating good music looks – unlike bad music, which looks utterly hideous! But don’t imagine that the microcosm doesn’t have its dark sides too, far from it. Everything is far smaller, varied and complex, that’s all.’ Kolibri removed his spectacles.

  ‘I became thoroughly dependent on my invention, I’m bound to admit. I conducted ostascopic experiments wherever I was, day and night. I left no stone, no leaf or grain of sand unturned. And then, one especially fine day, I made it: the discovery of a lifetime.’

  Kolibri’s voice reverberated around the lecture hall. Apparently oblivious of why he was there, he seemed to be engrossed in pleasant memories.

  ‘Come on, professor, don’t keep me in suspense!’

  Kolibri clicked his tongue. ‘Well, it happened at the foot of an ancient oak tree. I’d begun to turn over every leaf, every grain of soil, with a pair of miniature pincers and examine them through the ostascope. I shall never forget that moment. I picked up an ancient oak leaf with my pincers and beneath it lay …’ Kolibri stopped short.

  ‘Well?’ Smyke cried impatiently. ‘What was underneath it?’

  ‘Beneath that leaf lay a city.’

  ‘A city?’ said Smyke. ‘An anthill, you mean?’

  ‘No, I mean a real city. A big city, to be exact. A metropolis that had clearly been built by highly intelligent beings, with umpteen buildings and a maze of streets, lanes and alleyways. With towers and palaces, tenements and skyscrapers, shops and factories. In all, it was about the size of a walnut and overgrown with grass.’

  ‘Incredible.’

  ‘Quite so. I was completely taken aback. I rubbed my eyes, checked my pulse, pinched myself, polished a lens or two and looked again. And again. But there was no doubt: I had discovered a tiny, microscopically small civilisation, an archaeological find of diminutive size but incalculable importance. It was the smallest but, at the same time, the biggest ruin in the history of Zamonian archaeology!’

  The professor briefly shut his eyes and massaged his eyelids before continuing.

  ‘I began by submitting the city to a preliminary microscopic examina
tion. There were buildings, as I have said: dwelling houses, civic buildings, factories – everything that belongs in an average city, but in an architectural style unfamiliar to me. The buildings had walls, roofs, windows and doors, but they were all – if you’ll pardon my scientifically imprecise terminology – odd in some way. There weren’t any really bizarre buildings. One simply got the impression that those who built them were unacquainted with our own structural conventions. The staircases had circular treads, for example, and the doors and windows – if that’s what they were – took the form of extremely tall, thin slits. And there were no signs of life – no signs of death either. No cemeteries. No minute skeletons or other testimony to the inhabitants’ former existence. In view of their microscopic size and non-existent presence, I christened the builders of this city The Non-Existent Teenies.’

  ‘I’m beginning to understand now,’ said Smyke.

  The Non-Existent Teenies

  ‘First I took my find to a safe place. Having carefully dug away the soil around the city, I transported it to my laboratory with my fingertips and submitted it to months-long microscopic examination. I mounted three ostascopes on a stand, one behind the other, so that I could explore every corner of the city. I had no instruments small enough to enable me to touch anything inside it. I could only observe it, but from every conceivable angle.’

 
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