Rumo and his miraculous.., p.16
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       Rumo: And His Miraculous Adventures, p.16

           Walter Moers
 

  The subcutaneous submarine

  Smyke was now inside the submarine, whose hull was made of no material he recognised. It was dark-red, looked soft and organic, and emitted a subdued glow. There were no levers, steering wheels or instruments to be seen, just this oval red chamber, which resembled a coffin tailor-made to fit his body.

  ‘Is there a membrane in front of you?’ Kolibri’s voice sounded rather muffled now that Smyke had closed the door behind him. He took a closer look. Yes, there in the red wall was a circular patch of slightly porous appearance. That might be the membrane.

  ‘What makes you think there’s a membrane here?’ asked Smyke.

  ‘My calculations. Isn’t there one?’ Kolibri’s voice was trembling with curiosity.

  ‘What do you think?’

  ‘I think there is one, of course. Don’t keep me on tenterhooks!’

  ‘But there isn’t,’ called Smyke. He couldn’t help grinning.

  ‘What, no membrane? Really not?’

  ‘Yes, there is. I was only joking.’

  ‘Don’t make me nervous!’ Kolibri bellowed. ‘Just do as you’re told!’

  ‘Yes, yes, no need to shout.’

  ‘Put your head down close to it and purr.’

  ‘What?’

  ‘You must purr. Into the membrane.’

  ‘What for?’

  ‘Purring starts the engine acoustically. It’s fitted with a contentment servo-mechanism.’

  ‘A what?’

  ‘You heard me. It’s important for the boat to feel good. Trust me.’

  ‘I’m not a cat. I can’t purr.’

  ‘Try!’

  ‘No.’

  ‘Go on!’

  ‘Bzzzzzz …’ went Smyke, feeling thoroughly ridiculous. Nothing happened. Acoustic servo-mechanism! A machine with emotions! What utter nonsense!

  ‘That wasn’t purring, it was buzzing,’ the professor said testily. ‘What do you think you are, a bumblebee?’

  ‘Prrrrrr! Prrrrrr!’ went Smyke.

  ‘That’s better! Keep purring!’

  ‘Prrrrrrrrrrrrr!’

  Smyke’s purring was joined by a multitudinous hum that seemed to emanate from the blood-red hull. Just in front of him a large section of wall steadily paled until it became transparent. Smyke could now see outside. It was like looking through a pink window-pane.

  ‘I can see, professor!’ he said.

  ‘Translucent material!’ gasped Kolibri. ‘Incredible!’

  ‘Can you see me too?’ asked Smyke.

  ‘No. Go on purring.’

  Smyke was starting to feel euphoric. Something in the bowels of the boat began to throb like a slow heartbeat, and the sound mingled with his purring.

  Outside, Kolibri was excitedly circling the machine. ‘That’s the engine!’ he cried. ‘It’s started up!’

  ‘I hope this thing isn’t getting under way!’ Smyke called, panic-stricken.

  ‘Don’t stop purring!’ commanded the professor.

  ‘Prrrrrr …’ went Smyke. ‘Prrrrrrrrrrrrrr …’

  Rumo was still trying to fight, but there was no one prepared to fight him. The faceless shadows besetting him on all sides were intangible. All he ever caught hold of was a fistful of cold, slippery nothingness. The shadows were above, beside and below him. They had formed a shell that enclosed him so tightly, it was like being buried alive. The air was running out, he noticed. He felt his body losing all its strength and flexibility, becoming slower and weaker. He lashed out desperately, still determined to escape from this entanglement of cold and darkness, but his onslaughts had no effect. He might have been fighting a squid with a thousand tentacles.

  Something soft and cold closed over his right ear and clung there like a limpet. Was it a mouth? There, another had attached itself to his left ear! There was a slurping sound in his auditory canals, so loud that it hurt, and an icy chill pervaded the space between his temples. He felt as if the shadows were trying to suck the brain out of his skull.

  Smyke and Kolibri were still standing rooted to the spot beside this dramatic spectacle. Smyke was purring like a contented cat beside the fire.

  The Non-Exisnte Teenies’ tools

  The ideosprites humming round Kolibri were growing more and more agitated.

  ‘We shall now try to activate the instruments!’ cried the professor. ‘Are you ready?’

  ‘I’m ready,’ said Smyke. ‘Ready for anything.’

  ‘Then please extend your six upper arms and touch the hull on either side of you.’

  Smyke complied. He touched the boat’s inner hull with three pairs of hands. It felt warm and yielding. Wherever his fingers touched an orange light came on. The rhythm of the engine accelerated.

  ‘Very good!’ called Kolibri. ‘Now tickle it!’

  ‘Huh?’

  ‘Tickle the hull. Anywhere will do.’

  ‘You must be joking!’

  ‘That’s the haptic part of the contentment servo-mechanism. Go on!’ With a sigh, Smyke did as he was told. He proceeded to tickle the soft, warm surface with the fingers of his right hand. The orange glow intensified and a violent shudder ran through the hull.

  ‘Perfect!’ cried Kolibri. ‘It’s working!’

  Looking through his pink window, Smyke saw an oval aperture take shape in the bow of the vessel. The noises inside the hull increased in volume and the opening disgorged a bizarre instrument suspended from a serpentine metallic arm.

  ‘I knew it!’ Kolibri exclaimed triumphantly. ‘That’s an amalorican grappling hook!’

  ‘Well, well,’ said Smyke.

  ‘Tickle it somewhere else, go on!’

  Smyke obeyed and a second oval slit appeared in the bow immediately beside the first.

  Another outlandish instrument emerged. ‘Yes, yes!’ Kolibri said exultantly. ‘My calculations were correct. That’s a hallucinogenic key!’ Kolibri strove to keep calm.

  ‘Go on tickling! Tickle one place after another!’

  Smyke did so. Another opening appeared and a third instrument emerged.

  ‘Yes! Yes! A scorpionic forceps! I knew it!’ The professor was completely beside himself with excitement.

  Smyke proceeded to activate the machine without Kolibri’s say-so. A fourth instrument emerged and was greeted with equal enthusiasm.

  ‘A multipedalian prehensor! Yes, yes, that’s a multipedalian prehensor, no doubt about it!

  ‘Go on tickling!’ commanded the professor.

  ‘Aye-aye, sir!’ croaked Smyke, eager to know more. He himself was now in the throes of a scientific frenzy. A fifth instrument appeared.

  Kolibri uttered a squawk. ‘A denticulated screwdriver! That nearly completes the set!’

  Smyke tickled the hull again and a sixth instrument emerged from its opening.

  Kolibri had to bite his fist to stifle a hysterical scream. ‘An odontoid extractor!’ he moaned. ‘The finest sight I ever saw!’

  ‘Shall I go on tickling?’ Smyke inquired from the interior of the machine.

  ‘It all fits!’ the professor cried triumphantly. ‘Everything is just as my calculations predicted!’

  The ideosprites were circling the submarine in a multicoloured festoon, humming excitedly.

  ‘You can come out now,’ called Kolibri. ‘That was all I wanted to know.’

  Smyke squeezed through the opening and rejoined the professor, who was examining the various instruments in high spirits.

  ‘What now?’ asked Smyke. He was also feeling exhilarated. ‘What do we do with these things? Operate on the heart of some dead creature? Conquer death? I’m game for anything.’

  ‘We don’t have the requisite patient, unfortunately.’ Kolibri laughed. ‘However, I’ve seen all I need to know for the moment.’

  ‘And that’s it? Is that all?’ Smyke made no attempt to conceal his disappointment.

  ‘Is that all?’ said Kolibri, looking grave. ‘Don’t you realise what you’ve just done?’

  ‘I sti
ll don’t understand how you hope to conquer death with such tiny instruments,’ said Smyke.

  Kolibri shrugged. ‘I can’t explain it either. All I can tell you is it isn’t a question of how big an impulse you need to start a dead heart beating again, but how small. There are six microscopically small points in the centre of every heart – ultra-fine nerve endings and immensely sensitive miniature arteries and muscles unknown to traditional medicine because they’re so infinitely small – visible only through an ostascope. If these are stimulated with an amalorican grappling hook, a hallucinogenic key, a scorpionic forceps, a multipedalian prehensor, a denticulated screwdriver and an odontoid extractor, all at the same time, the heart will start beating again, however long it’s been dead. Understand?’

  ‘No,’ said Smyke.

  ‘Ah well, maybe we’ll see it happen one day.’ At a signal from the professor, the ideosprites began to circle the submarine and its array of instruments more feverishly still. ‘Shall I show you the infodiscs now?’

  Smyke nodded. ‘Please do. Glad to have been of help. Perhaps you’ll give me a mention in your doctoral thesis, or something.’

  ‘You’ll get a footnote all to yourself,’ Kolibri promised.

  Rumo’s powers of resistance were steadily weakening. The slurping noise in his ears persisted, and he now realised that the shadows weren’t feeding on his brain, they were draining away his energy, his will-power, his very life.

  He redoubled his efforts, and his assailants were so surprised that they stopped slurping for a moment. Was that why he could suddenly feel something in his left paw? Something that was not merely cold and slippery but seemed to have a solid core? He gripped it with all his might. ‘That’s odd,’ he thought, ‘it feels like a Demonocle’s tongue.’

  The colours of knowledge

  Smyke found himself at the foot of a skyscraper composed of circular transparent discs floating one above another. Each disc was the size of a fairground roundabout in diameter and each was a different colour.

  Superimposed but separated by several feet of thin air, they towered high into the sky above North Ostafan.

  ‘How do I get in there?’ Smyke asked. ‘What do I have to do?’

  ‘Dive in,’ Kolibri’s disembodied voice called from nowhere in particular. ‘Simply dive through the discs from above.’

  ‘From above?’

  Before he knew it Smyke had shot to the top of the tower like a rocket. He didn’t yell; he was past being alarmed by anything that happened inside Kolibri’s brain. Once at the top, he glided slowly towards the centre of the uppermost disc. He looked down. Together, the superimposed discs produced a colour he’d never seen before.

  ‘It’s called intellimagenta,’ said Kolibri. ‘The colour of knowledge. Are you ready?’

  ‘Yes, I’m r—’ Smyke just managed to say. Then he was in free fall. The first disc he dived through was pale-blue.

  ‘Blue: astronomy!’ Kolibri’s voice intoned solemnly.

  Betelgeuze. Elevation. Geoid. Gravitational constant. Ellipse. Parallactic orbit. Solar volume. Heliocentric latitude. Emission spectrum. Entropy. Lunar eclipse. Orion. Pleiades. Quite suddenly, these had ceased to be meaningless words and become subjects on which Smyke could have lectured extempore for hours. He felt the blue light permeate his brain and infuse it with astronomical knowledge. Andromeda. Sirius. Light years. Radiation belt. Triton. Arcturus. Antares. Vega. Sinope. Ecliptic coordinates.

  Smyke’s brain absorbed these and hundreds more astronomical terms within a second. Then it was over. He was falling through a colourless gap towards a luminous green disk.

  ‘Green: biology!’ called Kolibri.

  Blue algae. Interferon. Isogamy. Morphosis. Tanning agents. Lower Zamonian leaf mould. Self-detonating bacteria. Anthozoa. Mimicry. Secretion. Ventricle. Kackertrattian metabolism. Ciliates. Wind pollination. Hornless unicorns. Scintillogenesis …

  Another gap. Heavens, what a speed! Smyke was now falling towards a red disc.

  ‘Red: history!’ The Norselandian laws of succession. The Demonoclean War. The genealogical table of the Atlantean mayoral dynasty. The Grailsundian Constitution. The Hundred-Year Peace. The Coal Age. Government policy towards druidical hybrids in the reign of King Bodioda the Intolerable. The ratification of the Pooph Plan. The Twelve Stone Kings. The revolt of the Porcelain Princesses. The Sewer-Dragon Crisis. The Yellow Peril. The expulsion of the Five Hundred Generals. The Demonic Amnesty.

  ‘Yellow: physics!’ Frequency modulation. Hydrostatic paradox. Genffatic gaseous density. Polarisable molecules. Cucumbrian angular velocity. Nightingalian postulates. The Gryphonian Constant. Hackonian interference tubes. Repercussive density. Telepathic wave frequencies. The Lemurian intolerator. Zones of silence. Counteractive effects. The Palaeo-Zamonian law of falling bodies … And so it went on. Subject followed subject in quick succession. Violet: mathematics. Turquoise: philosophy. Carmine: Zamonian grammar. Orange: medicine. Smyke fell through a hundred infodiscs in as many seconds and they filled his brain until nothing more would go in. He plummeted through the last few storeys without being able to absorb the knowledge stored there.

  When he reached the ground floor at last, his fall ceased abruptly. For an instant he hovered a hand’s breadth above the ground, then landed as slowly and gently as a feather.

  Dazedly, he tried to sort out his impressions. His head ached like mad.

  ‘Don’t worry,’ the professor called from above. ‘It won’t last long, that nasty feeling of intellectual repletion between the synapses. The information hasn’t settled yet.’

  Smyke belched.

  ‘I suggest you simply remove your finger from my ear,’ said Kolibri. ‘We’ll see each other back in the clearing. Our joyride is over.’

  Cold shadows

  Smyke looked around. He was back in the clearing once more. The fire was nearly out and his eyes took some time to get used to the semi-darkness. Rumo was seated on a big tree root, panting hard. In the ashes around the fire lay five dark forms. They looked rather like monkeys. Like dead black monkeys.

  ‘What are those?’ asked Smyke.

  ‘Lunawraiths,’ said Kolibri, who had bent over one of the figures and was prodding it with an inquisitive finger.

  ‘Lunawraiths? Are they dead?’

  ‘They’re cold, at least,’ said the Nocturnomath. ‘As cold as moonlight.’

  ‘They’re dead all right,’ said Rumo.

  ‘How did you manage it?’ Kolibri asked eagerly. ‘Until now it was always thought that the only way of killing such creatures was to deprive them of food and starve them to death.’

  ‘They’ve got tails with spines,’ said Rumo. ‘Snap them and they’re done for.’

  ‘Interesting,’ muttered the professor.

  ‘I owe you my life again,’ said Smyke. ‘We both do.’

  Rumo brushed this aside. ‘Can we get some sleep now?’

  ‘You do that. The professor and I will keep watch.’

  Kolibri nodded and turned to Smyke. ‘You promised to tell me an exciting story about our youthful saviour’s fighting abilities.’

  ‘I will,’ said Smyke, ‘but don’t be surprised if my story features Professor Nightingale and some interesting information about Demonocles’ tongues.’

  ‘Oh, Professor Nightingale pops up everywhere – one has to be prepared for that,’ Kolibri replied. ‘As for Demonocles’ tongues, the more one knows about them the better.’

  Parting of the ways

  Rumo felt thoroughly refreshed when he awoke the next morning. He had fallen at once into a swoonlike sleep from which not even his companions’ interminable talk and laughter could rouse him.

  Smyke and Professor Kolibri bade each other a verbose and protracted farewell while Rumo stood there pawing the ground. The night’s conversation seemed to have sealed their friendship. They clearly found it hard to say goodbye, but they eventually tore themselves away. Kolibri headed north-west, repeatedly turning to give the o
ther two a wave, whereas Smyke and Rumo set off in the opposite direction. Smyke waved back until the professor was out of sight.

  They hardly spoke during the next few hours. Smyke, who seemed engrossed in his own thoughts, was striving to master the turmoil in his head. He felt as if someone had not only renovated his brain but added a few extra storeys, and he revelled in all the novel and exciting ideas and items of information that were now stacked there.

  Meanwhile, Rumo gathered nuts and berries. He checked occasionally to ensure that they were still following the Silver Thread, relieved that Smyke was preoccupied with himself for once. The countryside became more and more sparsely wooded, and they eventually found themselves in a hilly region consisting almost entirely of grassland. They were followed throughout the afternoon by a huge black dog, but it was too timid to go near them. It disappeared at dusk, but they could hear it howling half the night.

  In the days that followed they traversed an endless prairie inhabited by vast numbers of grasshoppers. The insects almost drove them mad with their chirping, especially at night. In the midst of one of these green expanses Rumo and Smyke came to a ghost town built of plaited grass. In one of the houses they found two skeletons seated facing one another across a table, each with a discharged crossbow in its hand and a crossbow bolt in its skull. Prairie bandits, Smyke surmised.

  After a week, when Smyke had more or less marshalled his thoughts, he tried to arouse Rumo’s interest in the beauties of Florinthian ultralogic, invertebrate biology and druidical mathematics, but with little success. Rumo’s sole concern was to make as much progress as possible. Smyke, who knew the reason for his haste, felt sentimentally regretful that it would also be the reason for their imminent and inevitable parting of the ways.

 

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