Texto en español en NGC 3660: "Reunión de consorcio"
Traducido al inglés por Claudia De Bella
The music from the combined stereo (as they called that monstrosity, a large wooden box that worked as a chest of drawers, its luster long gone) faded the thick politeness of casual conversations. The old noisy, half-deaf gossipers were having lively chats. Nobody was looking at me, but their dialogues concealed secret messages about the blonde, freckled young lady I was for some of them or the sixty-year-old womanizer’s present chick I was for the others.
Paying attention to gossip proved to be as effective as probing. They didn’t get it, but they were full of morbid satisfaction when they found a willing ear.
They wanted to know about me as much as I did about them. And that was understandable of both sides. They had a new neighbour and a new HOA member. Once the package was discovered, I wanted to know more and find out what the impact on the weft congruence was. I needed more data for the final report.
I looked at my watch. The telepod hanging from my waist had announced I had until six in the afternoon.
The HOA meeting hadn’t started yet. Andorregui, from 5C, and revolting Gómez —my sixty-year-old neighbour from 6A, who I’d been ordered to “persuade at any price” to make me eligible for the sixth floor apartment and be part of that HOA—were still to come.
I still dream of the old man. Back then, I shivered whenever I heard his unbearable giggle. The only thing that helped me cope with him was knowing it wouldn’t take much longer.
While we waited for Gómez and Andorregui, the others were having a kind of literary gathering. It was a mess of vital objects, as valuable as life itself: hearing aids, colored pills, pacemakers, walking canes, eyeglasses. The music—sugary, strange, tortured by the scratchy needle—, the laughter, the whispering, the ironies and the silences found their way through the stale, damp air. The tinkling of spoons against the painted china coffee-cups completed the rich texture of sounds in the room.
The hostess limped to an armchair patterned with violet flowers, helped by a wooden cane. Her eyes scrutinized her guests over her thick, tortoiseshell framed glasses. Thirty-some people packed the living-room of the old Polish woman, Enriqueta Kascheburskyj. It was a large room, covered with flowered wallpaper to the ceiling and crammed with portraits from yesteryear. The living-room had been miraculously filled with wooden chairs and battered stools that dropped small pieces of moldy foam rubber.
Mental note: pick up a sample of that foam rubber when everything is over. The training you get before going down helps you disguise your amazement at so many surprising triffles, but I’d been told nothing about foam rubber. There’s nothing like that in Ro-Junk or in the Station.
Our hostess was the HOA president. Sitting on the armchair, she was the undisputed axis of the whole wrinkled group. A frowning old lady of washed-out green eyes where you could see the spiderweb of budding cataracts peep out. Beneath her strawy hair—maybe blonde in another time—a tangle of vertical wrinkles spread out. At first, I’d assumed her face had been weathered by bitterness. My theory turned out to be valid when I coaxed out of Mrs. Rosa—the greatest gossiper of them all, from 1A—that the Polish lady was an Auschwitz survivor. The corridor secrets were told in whispers, among distrustful looks and, in this case, with the “natural pride of having such a celebrity in the building”. However, in spite of her harshness, Enriqueta Kascheburskyj smiled when it was necessary and intently listened to the subservient words of the old people who surrounded her as a court of tamed, indulgent minions. Her eyes, always hard, only showed affection when she looked at Olga, the silent old woman who lived with her and was now tirelessly walking around the circle of old-timers, serving coffee and tea over and over again, tray in hand.
The bell rang. Olga hurried to open the door, not before looking through the peephole. Andorregui walked in, taking off his dirty beret by way of greeting. He was followed by the sweaty pig Gómez, his hair slick with gel. Compared to the Polish woman, he was wrinkled horizontally; his forehead looked like a Venetian blind, surely because of too much giggling. The old guy couldn’t say two words without spluttering his irritating “he-he” out of the corner of his stained mouth. He distributed greetings and flattering compliments everywhere, but was always ignored. Then he saw me and inevitably sat down beside me. In a whisper and clicking his tongue, he told me:
“Hello, Patricia! I haven’t been able to sleep since the other night. Doesn’t the same happen to you, sweetie? He-he…” He pointed at my left breast. “I miss that birthmark so much!” And he tried to kiss me in my mouth. I dodged his revolting lips. The old pig made me sick, but orders are orders.
We all knew the reason for this meeting. It wasn’t to welcome me as a new home owner. I’d used the elevator and I’d discovered what I was looking for by chance. After four days of frustrated tries, I’d confirmed what Zepeda—chief of Adjustments and Special Missions—suspected. He was piloting himself, monitoring me and operating the beams, which made the importance of the mission clear. The coordinates he’d sent me down were correct.
It happened when I was going to old Kascheburskyj’s apartment to approach her. Once inside the elevator, I pressed the button to the third floor. The red numbers in the display started to flicker—6, 5, 4… When I expected the elevator to stop on the third floor, it shook slightly and then it went crazy. It went up. It stopped. Then it went down fast. The display showed an incoherent series of numbers and letters. Suddenly, it was hot, stifling hot, and I recognized the strong smell of ozone.
It was near. Very near. In the milky light radiating from everywhere, I saw myself reflected countless times in the opposite mirrors. Sweat rolled down my face. After an eternity, the doors opened with a soft hiss.
I was hit by an intense, pungent amalgam of smells coming from the darkness: sweat, smoke, excrement and urine. Tongues of flowing light were moving, revealing an irregular rock roof. Then I heard the voices. It was a strange language, spoken in screams, and the voices were getting louder. A flame which seemed to be floating in the air was coming closer. It turned out to be a torch that apparently was riding on the arm of a hairy, half naked, barely upright man who was running towards me. He was followed by two or three shadowy, too hairy women with big hanging breasts, which was emphazised by their stooping. All the screaming was directed to me and, though unintelligible, it sounded threatening. Instinctively, I put my right hand on the stiletto hanging from my belt. Then I thought it over and pressed the close button. The violent banging against the steel door reminded me I had to get out of there. I went to the sixth floor. I walked out of the elevator and saw the doors were dented.
Through the telepod, I was ordered to apply the tenth corrective action. Wipe off all traces. The suggested method was to cause an explosion according to the safest probabilistic line, the strongest thread in the continuum fabric. That same night, when Gómez finally left my apartment, I installed the explosives in the building, trying to keep mi mind numb.
Now I only had to find out how deep the damage was. Obviously, by now each and every old person in the building knew I had “used” the elevator.
Clap, clap, clap. Kascheburskyj’s palms asked for silence.
“Good. Now that we’re all here, let’s start our HOA meeting.”
As if rehearsed, the music from the combined stereo stopped and the cracked voices died down at once.
“Well, dïevochka, now you share our secret,” Kascheburskyj told me while she straightened her brown skirt and green V-neck sweater. Under it, a once white shirt, buttoned up to the collar, was turning yellow. “You, Miller, were allowed to buy 6B thanks to Gómez, who talked us into approving the sale.”
Pig! He’d better persuade them, after what I had to do to him.
“You’re the first person in many years to have been eligible for an apartment in this building,” the Polish woman continued. “And I gather Gómez has informed you about the building rules in detail.” The woman leaned forward and glared at me. “One of them explicitly restrains the use of the elevator at certain hours. You’ve broken that rule.”
The Polish woman turned to Gómez, who was carelessly poking his nose. She gave him a disapproving look. From their point of view, I was Gómez’s protegee. He was responsible for everything I did.
“He-he-he... Patricia, honey, I asked you to let me know if you wanted to use the elevator.”
With a deft movement of index and thumb, he casually threw a snot ball in the air. Gross.
“Now we must have her take part in this game,” the old woman complained. “Tell me, Miller, what did you see when the elevator doors opened?”
All the old-timers looked at me with their tired eyes. For a moment, I felt like a spoiled granddaughter explaining the reason of her mischief to her thirty bad-humored grandparents.
“Well… I’m not really sure.”
I crossed my legs and scratched my chin, pretending to be pondering.
“Just tell us,” Gómez said. “Nothing to fear, baby.”
“A prehistoric cave,” I said.
“Non lo posso credere!” Brignardello shouted. He was a petite, gaunt Calabrian old man who concealed his baldness beneath a picturesque hairpiece and made large, flailing gestures. “She got to the beginning of the cycle!”
Kascheburskyj ignored the Italian man, who continued whispering, and resumed my questioning.
“Did you see anybody?” The old lady’s voice sounded impatient.
“Well... yes. At least they looked like people. A man with a torch and two or three women. They were hairy, almost naked, and screamed in a strange language. I suppose that’s what primitive men looked and sounded like. Before the elevator doors closed, I could see some drawings on the walls in the torch light. Cave paintings representing hunting scenes or something.”
“Prehistoric women! That would be new! He-he-he…”
“Buiet, Gómez! Remember you were the one who insisted on having this young lady in the building. And I expect you won’t try to do what that pervert brain of yours is thinking of doing.”
Andorregui giggled while he looked at his greasy beret spinning on his finger. Two toothless old women who where sitting by the window whispered their shock at Gomez’s nerve to each other.
The Polish lady remained unabashed. She went on asking questions.
“Miller, did you walk out of the elevator?”
“I didn’t have the courage...”
“Then you didn’t bring anything with you from that place, right?”
“Right. Of course not.”
Relief covered the old Polish woman’s scowling face. And as if a sudden exhaustion had come over her, she requested:
“Could you, Blatter, explain what this is all about to this young lady? Thanks.”
This was a good one. I was really curious about hearing the explanation they were going to throw at me.
Mr. Cristóbal Blatter, from 2A, chewed on his pipe nervously. He started to stand up as if he’d been called to recite a lesson, but desisted.
“You see, this elevator is a kind of time machine.”
He waited for a few seconds to see if I acknowledged the news. Faking disbelief or amazement would have made me feel stupid, so I remained indifferent.
“Once a day,” he went on, “during a period of, let’s say, about an hour, the elevator can take its occupants to another time and another place. Let’s put it this way. During that hour, the elevator runs a past fragment that’s replayed at a high speed. It’s like a movie played in fast forward. You just have to choose the still shot where you want to ‘fall down’.”
Funny he used those two little words. At the Station, we also say ‘fall down’ or ‘go down’, although you don’t always come from above.
Cristóbal sucked on his pipe and the thick smoke caused some of those throats to cough terribly.
“Catzo, Blatter! Put that thing off.”
Tugging his unkempt beard, the mentioned Blatter looked at the Calabrian man with the kind of despise only old people and children are capable of.
Gómez cared nothing about what was being said. He just stared at my breasts from the corner of his eyes.
“Buiet, people!” Kascheburskyj was unsuccessfully trying to hide her impatience.
Blatter gave his pipe another puff and continued with his explanation.
“We know this past-time segment starts on some long lost prehistoric day and reaches until today. Therefore, the cycle is increased in twenty-four hours with each day that goes by in the present. Then, the one-hour period I mentioned before increases proportionally every day. A few thousandths of a second daily. It’s like the unending film was stretching. The movie becomes longer and longer and there are more images to show.”
Good analogy, the movie.
They explained the button board was used to mark the chosen “where-when”, that an error of a few seconds in “real” time could mean whole years in the “compressed” time of the elevator.
The old Polish lady rose from her patterned armchair, walked to me with the cane and explained:
“We believe it’s an artifact some highly advanced civilization has left behind. All of this has been deducted by Mr. Cristóbal, who is an amateur physicist and mathematician, by decoding the intrincate equations and instructions we’ve found on a titanium plaque hidden behind an elevator panel.
Again, the dramatic silence. I supposed everbody was eager to see a suitable reaction from me. Surprise. Or disbelief. I stood up and I went as close to the Polish woman as I could. I asked:
“What do you expect from me, telling me all this?”
“As you can understand, nobody outside this HOA must know what we use the elevator for. We’ve even bribed the maintenance technician. We expect your connivance to continue keeping the secret.”
I looked sideways at my watch for the zillionth time.
“What do you use the time machine for?”
“Haven’t you ever wondered, Miller, why everybody in this building is old?”
I had some ideas about that. But there was no more time to go on talking.
A high-pitched, oscillating screech started to come out from the telepod.
I embraced the Polish woman and jumped backwards. She screamed. We both fell on Gómez. The stool he was sitting on broke and the three of us collapsed on the floor, the old lady and I squashing the pig’s belly. Gómez gave a deflated moan. I got loose of that tangle of limbs and stood up quickly. With my right palm open, I drew a wide arch in the air. Just in time. At six o’clock, powerful energy jets came from another time to stop all matter, trapping the Polish woman’s living room and all its contents inside an achronic globule. The ozone smell egged on us. Kascheburskyj was hurt and scared. She whined as she covered her ears to cope with the vibrant noise. The irritating air made her nose sting and her eyes water. I wondered if she’d broken a bone. But my worries were absurd. Gómez was panting and trying to get the old lady off him. He cursed heartily. I hit him on both temples with all my hatred. He passed out. I was glad to know I’d soon get even with him.
An instant before Zepeda fired the beams, I activated my personal globule, confining the three of us inside a subjective-time aura. You may die in an ordeal like that. If I’d activated the aura at the same time Zepeda enclosed that spacetime portion inside the globule, I’d have never noticed. The cataclysm would have been terrible. “Explosion” is not the right word—it’s not enough to illustrate what would have happened. It’s a question of phases and singularities. The usual preventive action is to isolate a whole spacetime weft “region” during each falldown. I’m still fascinated by the fact we can manipulate such an unconceivable power to perform this kind of adjustments. It’s like doing surgery on the continuum tissue.
Despite the time flow was reduced down to zero, the light in the room continued to move normally. Photons are never captured inside an achronic globule. That’s why matter looks really frozen. Now, the image of the Polish woman’s living-room I saw through the translucid globular wall of my aura was like a painting. Outside the opaline bubble, the chronosuspended old-timers looked like mummies. For being chronosuspended is the same as being dead. Except matter doesn’t corrupt. It stops. The smoke from Blatter’s pipe had turned into a static nebula, a marble shroud surrounding the mummies. That increased the surrealistic feel of the painting. Chronosuspension always inspired oneiric feelings in the beholder.
Kascheburskyj had stopped whining. She looked at me in confusion and fear. She began to mumble a question, but I didn’t give her the time. Before she could speak, I put both my ring fingers on her forehead and started to probe her. I remembered there were six lungs inside my aura. Time was three times scarcer than usual.
Her eyes said she was afraid. Her enthralled mind was like a demented mouse bouncing against the walls of a narrow cage. I know it’s hard to be probed. I was raping her mind. And witnessing chronosuspension with no proper training can turn to be quite disturbing for your senses. But the old lady was strong—she would endure.
I needed to know.
I closed my eyes. Images began to flow fast through my brain. Too fast. I slightly pressed the old lady’s orbits. I relaxed. Then the flow decreased. And I started to hear the Polish lady’s monotonous inner voice.
Enriqueta Kascheburskyj had died in Auschwitz in 1943. Osvaldo Lepori, at the ESMA in 1977. Andorregui had been an ex-cop killed in a robbery in 1955. Elena Gregorio, one of the old ladies from the first floor, had been run over by a bus with no brakes in 1962. The Calabrian man, Brignardello, had died from the black death in 1891. And the list went on. More than half of the old people in the building were corpses, officially speaking.
I kept probing, probing, until I found a bright core deep inside. I dived into it.
Olga, my dearest daughter…
I opened my eyes and looked through the globular wall of my aura. There was Olga Kascheburskyj, sitting next to the combined stereo with the tray on her lap. Her eyes were as green as the old Polish woman’s. The daughter looked as old as her mother.
I closed my eyes again before the flow weakened. I pressed some more on the old lady’s eyebrows and then I also tasted, felt and smelled. I could reach an almost complete empathy and now, through that tight mother-daughter bond, I could be Olga Kascheburskyj:
…it was so hot in the elevator, really hot. I shivered when I went back to the concentration camp, to the hell where I spent the childhood years I only remember in dreams.The doors opened and I went into the gas chamber. I knew I was outside, a four-year-old girl woefully crying because she’d been separated from her mom. That thought gave me the power. The sight inside the chamber was horrible, hideous. I made my way through the skinny, naked bodies who clutched my legs and desperately gasped for help. I remember crying out for God to help me find her. But the horrified screams suffocated my prayer. Suddenly, I spotted her, half breathless already. My mother’s face was emaciated, bony...
There was a flash of light and I was expelled from the core. I was forcing the old lady to the limits of her psychic resistance. I insisted some more. Now I was Enriqueta Kascheburskyj:
Boj moi! What a nightmare for my little girl! Going back to Auschwitz, to the horror she’d escaped alive from just to find me. Have you seen that, Miller? And now you have the privilege of knowing me...
I startled. For a moment, I could feel the blurred figure in front of me squeeze my head with her fingers. It was a strange feeling of being unfolded. That could only mean one thing: she’d outstripped me. I’d killed her and now traces of her psychic energy flowed without undergoing the distrotions of an organic platform—liberation of the soul. Her body had stopped working and then, instinctively and just for a second, mine tried to shelter that residual energy. In an instant, I was Patricia Miller probing the old lady and, at the same time, Enriqueta Kascheburskyj confessing to the young lady, the dïevochka, the blonde freckled girl. I had to take advantage of the last inertia of the flow. I pressed harder on her now dead eyebrows and my forehead hurt, but the old lady spoke to me:
You see, dievochka, all of us have infringed the laws of destiny. Look at my daughter. She’s fifty, but she looks like an old woman. It’s the price she paid for crossing those doors and rescuing me. Those minutes of compressed time in Auschwitz meant many decades for her body. I was twenty-five when I was dying in the gas chamber; more than fourteen years have passed since my rescue. Therefore, today I’m thirty-nine. But I also look like an old woman. Passing through the elevator doors turned me into an elderly woman almost instantly. Blatter tried to explain the reason of this phenomenon, but I never understood it completely. The same happened to all of us. But, in any case, we’re alive. In a certain way, we could even say we’re happy. Everybody in this HOA would tell you a similar story. Except for brilliant Cristóbal, who only wanted to chat with Einstein for a few minutes. Our children, nephews and grandchildren found the plaque in the elevator and, with Cristóbal’s help, made the device work. They rescued us, dïevochka. Because we should all be dead. Before my rescue there were several failed attempts. Some of them never came back to the building. But after the first success more raids were planned. They were all ready to sacrifice several years of their lifetime. Even someone as unpleasant as Gómez can be loved to such an extent. But now there’s nobody young enough to try again left in the building. We’re all too old and we count every minute. We need you. That’s why we let you buy the apartment. Boj moi, Miller! You’d be surprised to know there’s always somebody we want to bring back from the past! There’s always somebody...
And the flow ran out and faded softly away, and the entity who’d been Enriqueta Kascheburskyj was integrated to the continuum universal weft, as if an endless peace had fallen over her and had finally absolved her from the sin of meddling with the plans of destiny or God—or Boj, as she called it.
I withdrew my fingers from her forehead and her inert body collapsed against the wall of my aura. I’d found out everything I needed to know. Damage was serious, although controlled by the secretiveness in the HOA. Anyway, orders had been clear: wipe off all traces. There was no other corrective action to repair the paradoxes created in the spacetime weft. Some of them had knotted the stems, others had torn them up.
The air inside my aura was stale. Through the globular wall, I saw all the old-timers were still petrified. Now everything depended on the skills of the Chief of Adjustments and Special Missions. Zepeda started to “dig the tunnel” through which I’d be extracted. The wall sissed and squeaked. The frozen matter moaned. Atoms were almost out of inertia and resisted the advance of my aura. Suddenly, it started to move slowly, as a floating bubble. I turned around and looked at the old people for the last time. Kascheburskyj’s living-room looked like a wax museum.
I had to hold back my tears when I thought of the old lady and her daughter, and also of the other stories I didn’t know but was able to imagine. The old-timers had died and their fates had rescued them from their relentless deaths by using the elevator, even submitting themselves to the early aging caused by the chronological dislocation. Zepeda, Katrian and the Ro-Junk authorities would have to discover who the hell had left a compressed-loop spacetime transpositor in perfect working condition inside the shaft of a primitive elevator.
My bubble exited the living-room, penetrating the suspended matter. The atmosphere of the room, the metal, the wood, the bricks and the plaster— everything “dissolved” as the aura removed by Zepeda passed by. I remember feeling relieved when I saw none of the suspended old people was on my way. In any case, Zepeda wouldn’t have noticed such an insignificant contingency. Finally, the aura went through the wall of the achronic globule enclosing the living-room with a loud crash. Then the telepod beeped in a faltering, disonant way. I was ready to deactivate the aura safely. Trepidation shook us. Again, an intense ozone smell. Kascheburskyj’s body, Gómez and I were in the corridor, next to the fragments of a broken stool. Zepeda was a very accurate surgeon.
I acted quickly. I oponed the panel in the elevator cabin and I removed the heavy titanium plaque with the instructions. They were written in several languages and also in the Station techincal jargon.
Then Gómez recovered from unconsciousness. He coughed and panted, his eyes watered by retching. It was time to take care of him. He tried to sit up. I didn’t let him. With all the rage I was capable of, I crushed his head with the titanium plaque.
“Motherfucker, repulsive old man...!”
Not satisfied yet, I took the stiletto from my belt and stabbed him in the crotch until my fist sank into bloody pulp.
What the hell, all the mummies would die in a few minutes anyway. I thought something heavy would break loose from me that way. Blood drenched his trousers as an opening flower.
I took a few pieces of foam rubber from the broken stool and put them in my pocket. I wrapped the plaque with the Polish lady’s green sweater. I ran down the stairs.
I went out to the street and walked hastily with no direction. It was a sunny day.
I firmly decided not to obey degrading orders ever again. No damned transpositor left behind by the Logistic morons was valuable enough to let myself be raped by an old pig. But, of course, we must prevent the primitives from using our technology inappropriately at any price.
Orders are orders.
Idiots. I hated Zepeda, I hated Katrian. I also hated myself.
After walking for an hour, the telepod vibrated in my waist. I automatically read the glowing characters. Back at the Station, they’d verified the union and isolation of the weft stems. The probabilistic lines were stretching out congruently. A low, metallic buzz told me Zepeda had already disgregated the achronic globule, enabling me to implement the corrective action. I wondered what it would be like for the old-timers to wake up. Had they resisted the matter acceleration in their bodies? Had the displacement movement of my aura caused interpenetrations of bodies and objects when the time flow normalized? I wondered what it would be like—to revive one more time, seconds before dying for good.
I shivered at the thought that the whimsical, tyrannic Continuity we serve needed humiliation, revenge and murder to go on. Who would take care of the other damaged fibers?
I activated the detonator.
Then I discovered the explosion could be heard from twenty blocks away. I couldn’t take it anymore and I cried.
And not until now—two months after my return to the Station—have I been able to complete this final report of the mission.
Néstor Darío Figueiras
El cuento "Reunión de consorcio" ganó el premio Ictineu 2012.
Néstor Darío Figueiras
El cuento "Reunión de consorcio" ganó el premio Ictineu 2012.