Rumo and his miraculous.., p.15
Rumo: And His Miraculous Adventures, p.15Walter Moers
‘One day I discovered what appeared to have been a magnificent public building – a museum, perhaps, or a university. You can imagine the excitement that overcame me when I saw that, as luck would have it, the roof over the whole of the upper floor had fallen in: I could look inside with my ostascope! And the building really was something in the nature of a museum: a building full of artefacts, the products of a vanished civilisation! My surprise – and disappointment – was all the greater when I was forced to conclude that the Non-Existent Teenies seemed not to have had any art in our sense of the word. I looked in vain for any paintings, sculptures or books. What I had at first mistaken for objets d’art were machines. My theory is that the Non-Existent Teenies grew out of art many thousands of years ago, or that their arts had developed into something that must have been considerably more important to them, namely, science.’
Kolibri inserted a brief pause for effect.
‘I’m convinced that the Non-Existent Teenies attained a degree of civilisation that still, I hope, lies before us. They welded together the arts and sciences, which we so studiously keep separate, and thereby took a giant leap forward. Imagine scientific disciplines being pursued with the concentrated creativity of artistic genius, or arts being based on highly complex scientific calculations! Biology, literature, mathematics, painting, music, astronomy, sculpture, physics – imagine all those disciplines amalgamated into a single … well, whatever one cares to call such a super-discipline. I still haven’t devised a name for it.’
‘Scart?’ hazarded Smyke. ‘Or artience?’
Kolibri ignored his interjection.
‘What mainly differentiated the exhibits in this museum from works of art was that they all seemed to have had some practical function. They all looked as if one could do something with them. Except that I didn’t know what.’
Kolibri was becoming more and more agitated. He flapped his hands and rolled his big, glowing eyes.
‘I was close to despair, believe me. The technology of a tiny, vanished civilisation within arm’s reach, but my fingers were too big to touch it.’ He regarded his spindly fingers with contempt. ‘So my only alternative was to investigate all those micromachines theoretically. I proceeded to measure and compute them optically. With the aid of these data and some detective work on the part of my four brains, I managed, little by little, to determine their functions. If only I’d possessed Professor Nightingale’s seven brains!’
He clasped his head in a gesture of despair.
‘Assisted by my calculations in the field of hypothetical mechanics,’ he went on, ‘I discovered that one of the contraptions was a machine for milking slipper animalcules. Another could put influenza viruses into a trance. Another was a bacteria mill for grinding bacteria to dust. But that was only small stuff. The really interesting machines could do things of which we can only dream today.’
‘What, for instance?’
‘You’d never believe me. Think of the things modern science is furthest from achieving – those machines could accomplish them.’
Smyke sighed. ‘I wish I could see those things.’
‘Really? I can show you some.’
‘Pictures of them, you mean?’
‘No, in reality.’
Kolibri’s figure started to flicker gently. His silhouette became distorted. He grew mistier than before, then completely transparent, until all that remained of him was something that resembled a phantom. Finally he became airborne.
‘Follow me,’ he commanded impatiently. His voice, too, had acquired a tremulous, ghostly quality. ‘We can’t hang around here for ever. Think of your poor friend in the clearing.’
The lecture hall folded up like a huge fan. Smyke’s seat and the floor beneath him dissolved into thin air, and he was once more hovering inside the monstrous building that was Kolibri’s doctoral thesis.
‘This way!’ called Kolibri’s ghost, darting off down one of the gloomy corridors.
Smyke hurried after him and they sped through a seemingly endless maze of passages. The professor kept turning abruptly left and right, ascending and descending flights of stairs. At length some little coloured specks of light came flying towards them. Softly humming and buzzing, flashing and sparkling, the initially isolated specks multiplied in number until Smyke felt as if he were in the midst of a blizzard of luminous, multicoloured snowflakes.
‘Those are Nocturnomathic ideosprites,’ Kolibri explained. ‘Don’t worry, there’s nothing supernatural about them, we simply call them that. They’re embodiments of the thirst for knowledge in my brains. What corpuscles are to the circulation of the blood, ideosprites are to one’s circulation of ideas. They’re inquisitive little things, more ambitious than ants and busier than bees. They want to know everything and never get tired.’
Kolibri chuckled and disappeared down a side turning. Smyke suddenly wondered what would happen if he lost touch with the professor and went astray in this labyrinth. Was it possible that he might get lost in a Nocturnomathic doctoral thesis? Might he and Kolibri continue to stand in the clearing in a trance until they starved to death and turned into skeletons? But there was always Rumo, it occurred to him. Rumo would sooner or later extract his finger from the professor’s ear, but then they might both go insane …
Before he could pursue this thought any further he caught up with the Nocturnomath, who had paused beside an illuminated aperture in the wall of the passage. Smyke slowed to a hover.
‘What I am about to show you,’ Kolibri announced in a voice tremulous with excitement, ‘are my gems of Teenyological research.’
The passage was teeming with ideosprites. Hundreds of the humming creatures were flitting in and out of the opening in the wall.
A submarine, a spaceship and a time machine
Kolibri glided forward into the dazzling glow and Smyke followed. They were now in a chamber that seemed to consist entirely of light: floor, walls and ceiling were all a luminous white. Red, green, yellow and blue ideosprites flew in all directions like startled butterflies, filling the chamber with an electrical hum.
‘There they are, my prize specimens!’ said Kolibri, his voice vibrant with pride. Hovering in the middle of the chamber, seemingly supported by the brilliant light itself, were three machines. ‘According to my calculations they’re the Non-Existent Teenies’ most highly developed micromachines,’ the professor went on. ‘Or the most complex, at least. Their private lives must be immensely complicated.’
‘What can they do?’ asked Smyke.
‘Well,’ Kolibri replied, ‘they all have one function in common: you can go places in them.’
‘You mean they’re vehicles?’
‘Yes, if you like to put it that way, although they aren’t vehicles in the traditional sense – that would be too primitive. My measurements suggest that the one in the centre was designed to travel through viscous fluid. The one on the left can move in conditions of zero gravity and the third seems capable of propelling itself through the fourth dimension.’
‘You mean …?’
‘Yes indeed. They’re a submarine, a spaceship and a time machine.’
Rumo was dreaming of the Silver Thread. Shimmering high overhead beneath some fluffy, snow-white clouds, it was making wonderful, unearthly music. The strains filled him with a sensation of warmth. Waves of well-being surged through his body as he recalled that, where the thread ended, happiness awaited him. He smiled in his sleep.
But what was that? The clouds had suddenly darkened. They turned greyer and greyer, and Rumo was buffeted by a cold wind from above. A gust tore the Silver Thread and blew it away, and the beautiful music was replaced by an ugly sound. Big fat raindrops detached themselves from the clouds and fell to earth, chilling Rumo to the bone wherever they landed on him. He opened his eyes to find that he was surrounded by five dark, shadowy forms with long arms and short legs. They were bending over and probing him with their
Wide awake now, Rumo had already worked out a way of putting them to flight. He turned his head to the right, intending to bite the nearest figure in the throat.
But he might as well have tried to bite an icy wind. His teeth closed on nothing, jarring his jaws, and the figures moved imperturbably closer.
He felt colder and colder.
Professor Kolibri glided over to the machine in the centre, shooed away some inquisitive ideosprites with his hand and said, ‘This one is the submarine.’
‘You mean it can travel underwater?’ asked Smyke.
‘No, under skin. That’s what comes of using inexact terminology – I should really have called it a subcutaneous submarine. I infer from its streamlined shape that it was designed to propel itself through liquids considerably more viscous than H20. Blood is thicker than water, n’est-ce pas? This machine was built to travel along veins and arteries.’
‘Good heavens! What for?’
‘For medical reasons, I surmise. My measurements lead me to assume that it contains some extremely sophisticated instruments capable of being extended and used to carry out microscopic operations inside the bloodstream.’
‘Quite so.’ Kolibri glided over to the next machine. ‘And in this, or so I conjecture, one can fly through space. The surface alloy is capable of withstanding the heat of a solar flare without damage. As for the engine, it may well be powerful enough to enable one to exceed the speed of light.’
‘You mean that contraption may be faster than light?’
‘No, it may be smaller than light.’
‘I don’t understand.’
‘Neither do I, to be honest.’ Kolibri gave a despairing laugh. ‘I’m still working it out – using inconceivably small figures. The Non-Existent Teenies may have used such machines to leave our planet.’ He glided over to the third machine. ‘And this, unless my observations, theoretical deliberations and Nocturnomathic speculations have deceived me, is a time machine.’
‘It’s possible that the Non-Existent Teenies disappeared into time, not space – into another, more desirable age or a smaller dimension that suited them better.’
‘But these machines don’t look like illusions,’ said Smyke. ‘Don’t be offended, professor, but everything inside your brain – yourself included – makes a rather artificial impression. These machines don’t. They look so real. So … genuine.’
‘That’s probably because they are.’
‘These three machines are genuine – they’re real. They’re inside my brain, yes, but not in the form of Nocturnomathic memories or stored information. They’re originals. I implanted them.’
‘How did you manage that?’
Kolibri groaned. ‘Oh dear, do you really want to know? It’s not a very pleasant story. All right, I’ll be brief. First, I decided to take the whole city in which the museum was situated and pickle it in formaldehyde to preserve it from further oxygenous decay. I was then able to syphon off individual objects – like the micromachines – through a length of gut which I’d removed from the liver of a dwarf microbe … But that’s irrelevant here. Simply believe me when I say that I succeeded in extracting these three machines from the city of the Non-Existent Teenies.’
Smyke nodded submissively.
‘The rest was easy. I drew them off into a syringe filled with a solution of brine, stuck the needle into my head and injected them into one of my brains – straight into this doctoral thesis. The task of transporting the machines into this chamber was undertaken by my inquisitive little friends.’ The professor waved a hand in the direction of some humming ideosprites.
‘You actually injected these machines into your head?’
‘I told you it wasn’t a story for the squeamish. But it was an entirely safe procedure. I specialised in trepanning when I studied Nocturnomathic medicine. Give me a can opener and a rubber tube and I’ll drain your cerebral fluid in five minutes.’
‘No thanks.’ Smyke waved the suggestion aside. He inspected the machines more closely. He found them even more fascinating now he knew they were real.
‘May I touch them?’
‘You may even try them out,’ Kolibri said with a sudden tremor in his voice.
‘Try them out? Try the Non-Existent Teenies’ machines? Me?’
‘Of course. Since you’re here …’
Smyke gave a start. There was an expectant note in the Nocturnomath’s voice. He gave a little cough and his ghostly figure undulated gently.
Suddenly it dawned on Smyke. He wasn’t there because the nice professor wanted to do him a favour or infect him with knowledge free of charge. He was there because Kolibri wanted him there. He stared at the Nocturnomath.
‘What is it?’ Kolibri demanded innocently. ‘Why are you looking at me like that?’
‘The way you steered me straight into the right brain! The way you made me “accidentally” stumble on your thesis! What a convincing act you put on! Come off it, professor!’
Kolibri gave another little cough.
‘I’m here because you need a stooge – someone to try out your machines, right?’
‘You’ve got the perfect build for subcutaneous travel,’ Kolibri admitted. ‘I spotted that as soon as I saw you.’
‘Ahaaa!’ Smyke cried triumphantly. ‘I knew it! You want me to play the guinea pig!’
‘I wouldn’t put it that way,’ Kolibri protested. ‘I’d prefer to call it a historic opportunity. You can make history.’
‘Oh yes? What if I press the wrong button? What if the time machine whisks me back to the Zamonian Ice Age or the spaceship transports me to the nearest galaxy, eh? What then?’
‘These machines don’t work as simply as that. There are no buttons of any kind. In order to perform such complex functions you have to do a bit more than throw a switch. But I can’t compel you. All right, forget it. In that case you’ll play no part in what may well be the most important discovery in the history of Zamonian scientific research. Someone else will do it instead.’
‘Come on, professor, can’t you do better than that? You really think you need only appeal to my ambition to embroil me in a suicide mission?’
‘Quite apart from the fact that I’ve no wish to try out the time machine or the spaceship myself,’ said Kolibri, ‘what would it avail me if the time machine transported you out of my brain and into another dimension? I would only know that it worked, but the machine itself would be gone. And what if you got the spaceship working and flew off? The most I’d be left with is a hole in my skull.’ Kolibri felt his head. ‘No, all I want is for you to get into the subcutaneous submarine and operate its hidden instruments. Here in this chamber. You won’t even need to submerge.’
‘So why don’t you do it yourself?’
‘I already told you: I’m not present here in the flesh. I can’t touch or move anything. Only you can do that.’
‘What about your luminous little assistants?’
‘Ideosprites are just brainless organisms. It was all they could do to haul the machines in here. This extremely complex conveyance must be manned by an intelligent being. To operate it one needs hands. One needs eyes. One needs a voice. You possess all those requirements. It was fate that brought you to me, don’t you understand?’
Kolibri fixed Smyke with an imploring gaze.
‘And what do I get out of helping you?’
‘What do the people of Zamonia get – that’s the question you should be asking. I suspect that this machine is capable of conquering death itself.’
Smyke drew a deep breath. ‘That’s impossible. It would be a miracle.’
‘You’re right. There aren’t any miracles, only scientific advances, but many scientific advances verge on the miraculous.’
‘How could such a microscopically small gadget prevail over death?’
‘That’s easy. It could start a dead heart beating again.’
‘Get in and follow my instructions and I’ll show you.’
‘What makes you so sure?’
‘My computations, my carefully constructed theories, years of quadruple brainwork. But as I said, either you do it or you don’t. The chances are fifty-fifty, eh?’ Kolibri tried to sound indifferent.
Now he’s got me, thought Smyke and he smiled. Wittingly or unwittingly, Kolibri had put his finger on Smyke’s weak spot: his love of gambling. Red or black, heads or tails, stick or twist, win or lose.
‘All right,’ said Smyke, ‘the subcutaneous submarine. I’m game. What do I have to do?’
‘I knew it!’ Kolibri cried in relief. ‘You’re a man of science, a pioneer! You’ve got an inquiring mind!’
‘Enough of that,’ Smyke said dismissively. ‘Just tell me what to do. How do I get inside there?’
Kolibri clapped his hands and the ideosprites formed a big, humming, slowly revolving circle above the submarine. ‘Take up your position beside it. Yes, there. Stop! And now touch it. Anywhere will do.’
Smyke leant forwards and hesitantly brushed the surface of the machine. It felt as smooth, hard and as robust as armour plate. There was a faint hiss like air being released somewhere and a circular opening appeared on the left-hand side of the craft. It looked as if it was just the same width as Smyke. Pulsating red light was issuing from the interior.
Kolibri laughed. ‘You see? The machine is highly intelligent – it’s adapting itself to your physical dimensions. It’s accepting you! Crawl inside!’
Smyke drew a deep breath and squeezed through the aperture. Rumo wondered why he was being so slow. He was in extreme danger, but he couldn’t speed up his reactions the way he’d done in The Glass Man Tavern. On the contrary, he was getting slower and slower. Even thinking had become a supreme effort. Although he could feel nothing but the cold they gave off, the shadowy forms that were wrapped round him possessed a strength that seemed to increase the weaker he himself became. He couldn’t even have risen to his feet, so much of his own strength had already been drained by this bizarre wrestling match. He was squandering his energy. This wasn’t a fight, it was drudgery – drudgery that would sooner or later send him to sleep from sheer exhaustion. Was that what the shadowy figures wanted?
Rumo: And His Miraculous Adventures by Walter Moers / Fantasy / Humor have rating 4 out of 5 / Based on32 votes