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Jaroslavas Melnikas (born 1959) is a presence in at least three cultures. He was born in Ukraine, and his earlier work (both literary and academic/critical) began there and in the Russian and Ukrainian languages. He is a great Francophile, and some of his novels was published by a major French publisher. And life has brought him to Lithuania, which he adopted and adjusted to with success that is hard to believe. He has written several novels and numerous pieces of shorter fiction in a language that is not his mother-tongue!  His work is an interesting mix of complicated philosophical ideas and popular, entertaining genres like sci-fi. The effect has been divisive – some love him, others loathe him. However, leaving no-one indifferent is quite an achievement in itself.

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Vitalijus Butyrinas, Reflected World. From series "Civilisations", 1983. Photo collage, 22 x 17 cm. From the MO Museum collection

 

Excerpt from the novel Distant Space

 

 

HEALTH CARE CENTRE /I/

Unwilling to lose his orientation, Gabr closed his eyes tight and moved in response to the acoustic sensors of the centre. All his life, until the horrific event that had befallen him, his orientation in ordinary space had been good. Ordinary space consisted of turns of allowed complexity: just like his contemporaries, Gabr sensed an obstacle at a distance of 1.3 metres. It was a valid level in the final exam. At a competition of the sixth category college from which he had once graduated, he had guessed an obstacle at a distance of 2.05 metres. It was not the world record – 17.33 metres – yet Gabr was proud of this achievement. At half a metre he could determine an object's general shape, and at twenty centimetres – the material it was made of. All this was part of the curriculum of a sixth category college, and Gabr had been a talented student.

Now, however, he was walking along a narrow corridor, turning to the left and to the right, and responding to the acoustic sensors. They were guiding him and affecting his body from around every corner. The health centre of the Ministry of Control was constructed in the shape of a maze, of the sixteenth-level complexity: buildings with a complexity exceeding the normal had Obras' acoustic sensors installed everywhere.
Gabr was moving slowly, following the chain of transmitted signals: they were leading him according to the route he had requested at the checkpoint, straight to the psycho-diagnostic centre. He did not have to keep his ears open to the approaching space: the sensors informed him if anything was drawing near, and Gabr would turn towards the left wall in advance. He was flowing along the corridors, totally switched off and relying on the guiding force.

At last a powerful flux of delta rays rippled over the skin of his face, and Gabr stopped. He reached his destination.

'Come in,' he heard somebody's voice, together with the gentle sound of the opening door.

Several minutes later an authoritative and self-confident voice was talking to him.

'You do not have to worry. You've done all that has been required of you. It was only the District Controller who could have helped you. Calm down, you are in reliable hands now.'

Gabr was sitting with his hands on his knees and his head bowed.

'So what should I do?'

'Your condition is rare yet known to medicine. Above all, you should follow the instructions of the Ministry of Control. And you should tell nobody about it. You ought to realise what awaits you otherwise. There are diseases that patients do not discuss with anyone.'

Gabr was listening attentively.

'Your horror relating to the perception of space is logical,' the voice carried on. 'Spatial hallucinations have been known to psychiatry since ancient times. Moreover, I will not hide the fact that cases of mass psychosis are known.'

'But space does exist, doesn't it?' Gabr remarked.

'Yes,' the voice said, ‘closed space does, and you should know that as well as I do. There is closed space between you and me, now. And wherever you find yourself, you will always be in the zone of closed space. Cosiness and a sense of security – feelings so characteristic of humans – are related to it. Your diseased sensory organs give rise to hallucinations that in medicine are known as "distant space". It is a serious disorder of world perception. Even such unnecessary rudimentary organs like the appendix or hair sometimes suppurate and start damaging a human's body and soul, to say nothing about the eyes.'

'Eyes aren't a rudiment,' Gabr observed.

'You are totally right,' the voice agreed. 'They have always been a receptacle for the tear ducts, and nothing more. Thus, the eyes are a pair of lachrymal glands. Yet, as we know, words can be uttered by the stomach, like ventriloquists do. The only difference is that ventriloquism doesn't harm the human psyche; in your case, the psyche has been severely damaged. To be honest, is that what prompted you to come to us?’

'It is,' Gabr agreed.

'You have to understand,' the voice continued persuasively, 'that the State Amalgamation and its institutes have existed for seventeen calculations, and they've been working for the benefit of humanity for all these years. The horror that you experience when the hallucinations occur... it makes you suffer strongly, doesn't it? We will relieve you of those unpleasant sensations. However, you must fulfil our two conditions: take all medication scrupulously and wear eye fillings until recovery is complete.’

'What are eye fillings?' Gabr asked.

'It is an exceptionally rare and ancient method of dealing with the psychosis of distant space. A long time ago, when active brain agents for suppressing the hallucination centres had not yet been invented, it was the only means of preventing ravings. Purely mechanical. For several centuries the fillings have been stored, untouched, in the Main Repository of the Third department of our Ministry: for such rare cases as yours.’

'Is mine an exceptional case?' Gabr asked.

'Unequivocally. In my practice as a doctor it is the first time. To be honest, I haven't heard anything of the sort from my colleagues either. Nor have I read about it in our papers. All that I have been telling you about the psychosis of distant space is professional information hardly known to anybody, and forgotten as irrelevant. In my early days, however, when I was getting ready for the defence of a thesis on historical psychoses, I spent countless nights in archives studying the psychosis of distant space. So, young man, our encounter is not coincidental. When the District Controller telephoned, they had had difficulties finding me in the Chief Statistics Board. I would even say that there are only two professionals in this field in the entire State Amalgamation: me and a certain Rodzh from the A2-megapolis. Only he and I can understand what is happening to you, what you feel.

'Thank you,' Gabr stood up.

'Have you stood up?' the doctor asked.

'I have,' Gabr replied.

'A pity the fillings have not been brought from the repository. They are hard to locate there. So for now we will just put ordinary pads on your eyelids, and next week we will fill the gaps of your eyes for half a year.’

'For half a year?' Gabr asked.

'Yes. This is the time needed for the gradual and safe-for-health suppression of the hallucinatory centres in your brain.'

'Surgical intervention won't be necessary, will it?'

'This would be an extreme case. Bicephrasol, which has been prescribed to you, has an almost perfect effect.'

Gabr heard the door open and somebody came close to him: somebody's careful hands put soft pads over his eyes.

'When you wash yourself, see that water does not get inside,' a female voice said. 'They usually stick well.'

 

 

PROFESSOR MOKR /I/

Gabr went out and took the pedestrian path which led to the station of the Closed Express. He could hear and feel people moving around him: without bumping into each other they walked around one another. Gabr had always received good marks in orienteering practice at the college, and later at the primo-university. Having mastered the sensing an object obstacle at a distance of almost two metres, he could sense a living body at a whole four metres. Only occasionally – when pushing through an Express car – would he collide with somebody's rushing body. He inserted his card into the jaws of the automatic gate, felt the floor moving under his feet and then heard the voice of the automatic speaker-guide: '6-0-3-0-0-X-Gabr, you are closed in the Express car.' Gabr retrieved the card, listened and went on, overtaking some people, and guided by the signal of the indicator fitted in his chair.

The Closed Express functioned in the usual regime of a pneumatic train. Gabr disliked pneumatic trains: there, he could not feel the fresh wind through the open top hatches. The sickly smell of flowers lingering in the car was unnatural. Today, however, he wanted to get to Michhock as quickly as possible.
One jerk, and the train was whizzing along the pneumatic tunnel. The woman next to him – Gabr could smell her hair and skin – was listening to a film. Barely audible dislocated phrases reached his ears. He opened a newspaper and started reading: his fingers moved fast along the perforations of letters and words, lingering only occasionally on the more interesting places.

Professor Mokr met Gabr with open arms. It turned out that not only did he remember the talented student, but had also followed his infrequent yet significant publications. As they were stepping towards the balcony, the professor even put his arm on Gabr' shoulder:

'You shouldn't have gone to the Ministry,' he said thoughtfully.

'Why not?' Gabr asked.

'You can't be so naïve. What you've just told me is not quite so innocent.'

'Not innocent?' Gabr turned towards the professor. 'Have I done something?'

'You see,' Mokr said, 'over there at the Ministry they would never tell you openly what they are thinking about you or what they are planning.'

'But I am scared,' Gabr said. 'I can't understand it – it was as though I was vanishing. I was trying to escape the horror.'

'Try to explain.'
'It is impossible to describe it,' Gabr turned his face to the west wind. 'It's as though the world is becoming totally different from what is used to be. Everything is quivering, subsiding, everything is something different.'

'Do you hear unusual sounds or what?'

'They are not sounds, not sounds at all, I can't explain it. I can hear... no, it's not hearing, it's something different and horrible. When it first happened I was frozen with horror. No, it's sickening, sickening!'

'It is indeed difficult to understand you. I can see these are some extraordinary feelings,' said the professor after some reflection. 'I've been listening to you intently for two hours. And do you know what I am about to tell you? Once I worked in the Secret archives of the Microbiology Board. Each Board has its own Secret archive. Any idea why they are secret?

'I don't know.'

'I can't figure it out either. What can be secret in your and my science? Yet this is what I want to tell you: while still a doctoral student, I came across some strange books there. I thought about those books, and then got tired. They were very old books, thousands of years old.'

'What was strange about them?' Gabr asked.

'They were blank – totally blank: nothing was written in them. Thousands of completely blank pages.'

'And how should it be understood?'

'I couldn't answer that question either.'

'Could it be electronic reading?'

'That's the whole point – they were not plates, just ordinary paper, not stuffed with anything. No radiation. And then I thought, what if long ago people had some sensory organs unknown to us? We simply cannot access the symbols that are quite likely there.'

'Nonsense,' Gabr said.

'Why nonsense? We cannot reject the impossible, if we consider ourselves free. Why should we limit our fantasy? Then, perhaps, what you hear all around, with your lachrymal glands, is true? You perceive something that nobody else does.'

'How horrible,' Gabr said. 'I shall go now. Your reasoning, Professor, has always been unrestrained and paradoxical.'

'Wait,' Mokr caught Gabr by his sleeve. 'I am already old, and you are young. But why do I believe you more than you believe yourself?'

'You simply do not know what I feel when... No, you won't understand... Why is it happening to me, where did it all come from?'

'Wait, my friend. Another minute. Try to explain what you feel, after all.'

'Loneliness,' Gabr said. 'Excruciating loneliness, horrifying longing. Against my will, a wave rises in me: distant space invades me. I become as though alien to everybody and to myself. And then… the sound penetrates me, weakly. I am entirely focused on the other, I cannot do anything.'

'Whatever the case, the Ministry will hardly like it. If a human is not focused on the sounds that penetrate him, it means he can dissociate, digress.'

'Towards what?'

'Well, I don't know what hallucinations you have. In principle, you might not even be reached. If you leave closed space you are inaccessible, both to the Control Ministry and to the State Amalgamation. So if distant space is considered "a psychosis", as you say, then it is not just a reflection of some fact; in any case, it is also useful – useful to the Ministry.'

'What are you talking about?'

'My boy,' the professor said, 'do you really think that thoughts don't swarm in my head, or in many other heads? Impossible thoughts, too? Outwardly, we all love the State Amalgamation and its institutions: we are grateful to them for our well-being, for care. Yet thoughts stir up deep within us, do you understand? I have lived a long life and understood something in that system. Just don't tell anybody about it.'

For several days after this conversation Gabr stayed locked in his flat. He decided not to go to work: his life, understandable and harmonious until now, had collapsed. If only he could completely believe the Ministry! Or Professor Mokr. The professor had just stirred his own suspicions in him, and that was why he had argued with him so fiercely. Yet nobody could tell him precisely what was happening to him and where the truth was.

At last, unable to bear it any longer, he made up his mind to take a walk along the Central Boulevard. He did not take a single pill that had been prescribed to him, and now he felt like a criminal. Indeed, why had he gone to the District Controller, why had he resorted to the Ministry? Now he was under some obligation. In a few days they would put in the fillings, for half a year. In half a year, he would be like all the others. So what did he want? What was he afraid of?

Gabr was walking along the Central Boulevard listening to the shuffling of feet and the voices of people passing him. Suddenly, and unexpectedly to himself, he tore both pads from his eyes. All around him, some monsters were moving like in an ant-hill. Wrapped in bizarre rags, hunched, they were traipsing here and there, for some reason very slowly as though drunk. Gabr was standing among them unable to understand: a metre from him, the monsters would turn, overtake him and continue on their route. Their bent-down faces displayed inner concern. Those incomprehensible creatures would emerge and vanish at the end of the boulevard, so far away that Gabr immediately experienced that excruciating loneliness. He quickly swallowed a Bicephrasol and stood there, growing calmer and sinking into darkness. Slowly, the world was shrinking to fit the dimensions of closed space. At last he felt himself. He walked away with his eyes enveloped in mist and focused on the sensation of those moving in the opposite direction.

 

 

FROM TEXTBOOK OF GEOSOPHY FOR SIXTH CATEGORY COLLEGES
Compiled by the Academy of General Disciplines of the State Amalgamation

Memorize ten theses of general geosophy:
1. Space exists.
2. Space is subjective and surrounds everyone like an aura.
3. Space moves together with the human.
4. There are no distant spaces, there exist only closed spaces.
5. There cannot be movement in space; there can only be the movement of (closed) space together with the human.
6. The human is at home at any point. It does not move.
7. The so-called 'long distances' are the fruit of the imagination.
8. Time spent 'on the road' does not indicate anything.
9. Distant space is time, not space.
10. The emergence of new people or objects in the human's closed space does not mean that he has changed his location in space.

 

 

 

Translated by Diana Bartkute Barnard

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