« 网上资源 | 首页 | 中译本转载(译自菲茨杰拉德本,译者不详) »

Ch 2. At Daybreak

The planets of the solar system, G. P. Kuiper explains, began to solidify in the darkness, through the condensation of a fluid, shapeless nebula. All was cold and dark. Later the Sun began to become more concentrated until it was reduced almost to its present dimensions, and in this process the temperature rose and rose, to thousands of degrees, and the Sun started emitting radiations in space.

Pitch-dark it was, -- old Qfwfq confirmed, -- I was only a child, I can barely remember it. We were there, as usual, with Father and Mother, Granny Bb'b, some uncles and aunts who were visiting, Mr. Hnw, the one who later became a horse, and us little ones. I think I've told you before the way we lived on the nebulae: it was like lying down, we were flat and very still, turning as they turned. Not that we were lying outside, you understand, on the nebula's surface; no, it was too cold out there. We were underneath, as if we had been tucked in under a layer of fluid, grainy matter. There was no way of telling time; whenever we started counting the nebula's turns there were disagreements, because we didn't have any reference points in the darkness, and we ended up arguing. So we preferred to let the centuries flow by as if they were minutes; there was nothing to do but wait, keep covered as best we could, dose, speak out now and then to make sure we were all still there; and, naturally, scratch ourselves; because -- they can say what they like -- all those particles spinning around had only one effect, a troublesome itching.

What we were waiting for, nobody could have said; to be sure, Granny Bb'b remembered back to the times when matter was uniformly scattered in space, and there was heat and light; even allowing for all the exaggerations there must have been in those old folks' tales, those times had surely been better in some ways, or at least different; but as far as we were concerned, we just had to get through that enormous night.

My sister G'd(w)^n fared the best, thanks to her introverted nature: she was a shy girl and she loved the dark. For herself, G'd(w)^n always chose to stay in places that were a bit removed, at the edge of the nebula, and she would contemplate the blackness, and toy with the little grains of dust in tiny cascades, and talk to herself, with faint bursts of laughter that were like tiny cascades of dust, and -- waking or sleeping -- she abandoned herself to dreams. They weren't dreams like ours (in the midst of the darkness, we dreamed of more darkness, because nothing else came into our minds); no, she dreamed -- from what we could understand of her ravings -- of a darkness a hundred times deeper and more various and velvety.

My father was the first to notice something was changing. I had dozed off, when his shout wakened me: "Watch out! We're hitting something!"

Beneath us, the nebula's matter, instead of fluid as it had always been, was beginning to condense.

To tell the truth, my mother had been tossing and turning for several hours, saying: "Uff, I just can't seem to make myself comfortable here!" In other words, according to her, she had become aware of a change in the place where she was lying: the dust wasn't the same as it had been before, soft, elastic, uniform, so you could wallow in it as much as you liked without leaving any print; instead, a kind of rut or furrow was being formed, especially where she was accustomed to resting all her weight. And she thought she could feel underneath her something like granules or blobs or bumps; which perhaps, after all, were buried hundreds of miles farther down and were pressing through all those layers of soft dust. Not that we generally paid much to these premonitions of my mother's: poor thing, for a hypersensitive creature like herself, and already well along in years, our way of life then was hardly ideal for the nerves.

And then it was my brother Rwzfs, and infant at the time; at a certain point I felt him -- who knows? -- slamming or digging or writhing in some way, and I asked: "What are you doing?" And he said: "I'm playing."

"Playing? With what?"

"With a thing," he said.

You understand? It was the first time. There had never been things to play with before. And how could we have played? With that pap of gaseous matter? Some fun: that sort of stuff was all right perhaps for my sister G'd(w)^n. If Rwzfs was playing, it meant he had found something new: in fact, afterwards, exaggerating as usual, they said he had found a pebble. It wasn't a pebble, but it was surely a collection of more solid matter or -- let's say -- something less gaseous. He was never very clear on this point; that is, he told stories, as they occurred to him, and when the period came when nickel was formed and nobody talked of anything but nickel, he said: "That's it: it was nickel. I was playing with some nickel!" So afterwards he was always called "Nickel Rwzfs." (It wasn't, as some say now, that he had turned into nickel, unstable -- retarded as he was -- to go beyond the mineral phase; it was a different thing altogether, and I only mention this out of love for truth, not because he was my brother: he had always been a bit backward, true enough, but not of the metallic type, if anything a bit colloidal; in fact, when he was still very young, he married an alga, one of the first, and we never heard from him again.)

In short, it seemed everyone had felt something: except me. Maybe it's because I'm absent-minded. I heard -- I don't know whether awake or asleep -- our father's cry: "We're hitting something!," a meaningless expression (since before then nothing had ever hit anything, you can be sure), but one that took on meaning at the very moment it was uttered, that is, it meant the sensation we were beginning to experience, slightly nauseating, like a slab of mud passing under us, something flat, on which we felt we were bouncing. And I said, in a reproachful tone: "Oh, Granny!"

Afterwards I often asked myself why my first reaction was to become angry with our grandmother. Granny Bb'b, who clung to her habits of the old days, often did embarrassing things: she continued to believe that matter was in uniform expansion and, for example, that it was enough to throw refuse anywhere and it would rarefy and disappear into the distance. The fact that the process of condensation had begun some while ago, that is, that dirt thickened on particles so we weren't able to get rid of it -- she couldn't get this into her head. So in some obscure way I connected this new fact of "hitting" with some mistake my grandmother might have made and I let out that cry.

Then Granny Bb'b answered: "What is it? Have you found my cushion?"

This cushion was a little ellipsoid of galactic matter Granny had found somewhere or other during the first cataclysms of the universe; and she always carried it around with her, to sit on. At a certain point, during the great night, it had been lost, and she accused me of having hidden it from her. Now, it was true I had always hated that cushion, it seemed so vulgar and out of place on our nebula, but the most Granny could blame me for was not having guarded it always as she had wanted me to.

Even my father, who was always very respectful toward her, couldn't help remarking: "Oh see here, Mamma, something is happening -- we don't know what -- and you go on about that cushion!"

"Ah, I told you I couldn't get to sleep!" my mother said: another remark hardly appropriate to the situation.

At that point we heard a great "Pwack! Wack! Sgrr!" and we realized that something must have happened to Mr. Hnw: he was hawking and spitting for all he was worth.

"Mr. Hnw! Mr. Hnw! Get hold of yourself! Where's he got to now?" my father started saying, and in that darkness, still without a ray of light, we managed to grope until we found him and could hoist him onto the surface of the nebula, where he caught his breath again. We laid him out on that external layer which was then taking on a clotted, slippery consistency.

"Wrrak! This stuff closes on you!" Mr. Hnw tried to say, though he didn't have a great gift for self-expression. "You go down and down, and you swallow! Skrrrack!" He spat.

There was another novelty: if you weren't careful, you could now sink on the nebula. My mother, with a mother's instinct, was the first to realize it. And she cried: "Children: are you all there? Where are you?"

The truth was that we were a bit confused, and whereas before, when everything had been lying regularly for centuries, we were always careful not to scatter, now we had forgotten all about it.

"Keep calm. Nobody must stray," my father said.

"G'd(w)^n! Where are you? And the twins? Has anybody seen the twins? Speak up!"

Nobody answered. "Oh, my goodness, they're lost!" Mother shouted. My little brothers weren't yet old enough to know how to transmit any message: so they got lost easily and had to be watched over constantly. "I'll go look for them!" I said.

"Good for you, Qfwfq, yes, go!" Father and Mother said, then, immediately repentant: "But if you do go, you'll be lost, too! No, stay here. Oh, all right, go, but let us know where you are: whistle!"

I began to walk in the darkness, in the marshy condensation of that nebula, emitting a constant whistle. I say "walk"; I mean a way of moving over the surface, inconceivable until a few minutes earlier, and it was already an achievement to attempt it now, because the matter offered such little resistance that, if you weren't careful, instead of proceeding on the surface you sank sideways or even vertically and were buried. But in whatever direction I went and at whatever level, the chances of finding the twins remain the same: who could guess where the two of them had got to?

All of a sudden I sprawled; as if they had -- we would say today -- tripped me up. It was the first time I had fallen, I didn't know what "to fall" was, but we were still on the softness and I didn't hurt myself. "Don't trample here," a voice said, "I don't want you to, Qfwfq." It was the voice of my sister G'd(w)^n.

"Why? What's there?"

"I made some things with things ..." she said. It took me a while to realize, groping, that my sister, messing about with that sort of mud, had built up a little hill, all full of pinnacles, spires, and battlements.

"What have you done there?"

G'd(w)^n never gave you a straight answer. "An outside with an inside in it."

I continued my walk, falling every now and then. I also stumbled over the inevitable Mr. Hnw, who was stuck in the condensing matter again, head-first. "Come, Mr. Hnw. Mr. Hnw! Can't you possibly stay erect?" and I had to help him pull himself out once more, this time pushing him from below, because I was also completely immersed.

Mr. Hnw, coughing and puffing and sneezing (it had never been so icy cold before), popped up on the surface at the very spot where Granny Bb'b was sitting. Granny flew into the air, immediately overcome with emotion: "My grandchildren! My grandchildren are back!"

"No, no, Mamma. Look, it's Mr. Hnw!" Everything was confused.

"But the grandchildren?"

"They're here!" I shouted, "and the cushion is here, too!"

The twins must long before have made a secret hiding place for themselves in the thickness of the nebula, and they had hidden the cushion there, to play with. As long as matter had been fluid, they could float in there and do somersaults through the round cushion, but now they were imprisoned in a kind of spongy cream: the cushion's central hole was clogged up, and they felt crushed on all sides.

"Hang on to the cushion," I tried to make them understand. "I'll pull you out, you little fools!" I pulled and pulled and, at a certain point, before they knew what was happening, they were already rolling about on the surface, now covered with a scabby film like the white of an egg. The cushion, instead, dissolved as soon as it emerged. There was no use trying to understand the phenomena that took place in those days; and there was no use trying to explain to Granny Bb'b.

Just then, as if they couldn't have chosen a better moment, our visiting relatives got up slowly and said: "Well, it's getting late; I wonder what our children are up to. We're a little worried about them. It's been nice seeing all of you again, but we'd better be getting along."

Nobody could say they were wrong; in fact, they should have taken fright and run off long since; but this couple, perhaps because of the out-of-the-way place where they lived, were a bit gauche. Perhaps they had been on pins and needles all this time and hadn't dared say so.

My father said: "Well, if you want to go, I won't try to keep you. But think it over: maybe it would be wiser to stay until the situation's cleared up a bit, because as things stand now, you don't know what sort of risk you might be running." Good, common sense, in short.

But they insisted: "No, no, thanks all the same. It's been a real nice get-together, but we won't intrude on you any longer," and more nonsense of the sort. In other words, we may not have understood very much of the situation, but they had no notion of it at all.

There were three of them: an aunt and two uncles, all three very tall and practically identical; we never really understood which uncle was the husband and which the brother, or exactly how they were related to us: in those days there were many things that were left vague.

They began to go off, one at a time, each in a different direction, toward the black sky, and every now and then, as if to maintain contact, they cried: "Oh! Oh!" They always acted like this: they weren't capable of behaving with any sort of system.

They had hardly left when their cries of "Oh! Oh!" could be heard from very distant points, though they ought to have been still only a few paces away. And we could also hear some exclamations of theirs, whose meaning we couldn't understand: "Why, it's hollow here!" "You can't get past this spot!" "Then why don't you come here?" "Where are you?" "Jump!" "Fine! And what do I jump over?" "Oh, but now we're heading back again!" In other words, everything was incomprehensible, except the fact that some enormous distances were stretching out between us and those relatives.

It was our aunt, the last to leave, whose yells made the most sense: "Here I am, all alone, stuck on top of a piece of this stuff that's come loose ..."

And the voices of the two uncles, weak now in the distance, repeated: "Fool ... Fool ... Fool ..."

We were peering into this darkness, crisscrossed with voices, when the change took place: the only real, great change I've ever happened to witness, and compared to it the rest is nothing. I mean this thing that began at the horizon, this vibration which didn't resemble those we then called sounds, or those now called the "hitting" vibrations, or any others; a kind of eruption, distant surely, and yet, at the same time, it made what was close come closer; in other words, all the darkness was suddenly dark in contrast with something else that wasn't darkness, namely light. As soon as we could make a more careful analysis of the situation, it turned out that: first, the sky was dark as before but was beginning to be not so dark; second, the surface where we were was all bumpy and crusty, an ice so dirty it was revolting, which was rapidly dissolving because the temperature was rising at full speed; and, third, there was what we could later have called a source of light, that is, a mass that was becoming incandescent, separated from us by an enormous empty space, and it seemed to be trying out all the colors one by one, in iridescent fits and starts. And there was more: in the midst of the sky, between us and that incandescent mass, a couple of islands, brightly lighted and vague, which whirled in the void with our uncles on them and other people, reduced to distant shadows, letting out a kind of chirping noise.

So the better part was done: the heart of the nebula, contracting, had developed warmth and light, and now there was the Sun. All the rest went on revolving nearby, divided and clotted into various pieces, Mercury, Venus, the Earth, and others farther on, and whoever was on them, stayed where he was. And, above all, it was deathly hot.

We stood there, open-mouthed, erect, except for Mr. Hnw who was on all fours, to be on the safe side. And my grandmother! How she laughed! As I said before, Granny Bb'b dated from the age of diffused luminosity, and all through this dark time she had kept saying that any minute things would go back the way they had been in the old days. Now her moment seemed to have come; for a while she tried to act casual, the sort of person who accepts anything that happens as perfectly natural; then, seeing we paid her no attention, she started laughing and calling us: "Bunch of ignorant louts ... Know-nothings ..."

She wasn't speaking quite in good faith, however; unless her memory by then had begun to fail her. My father, understanding what little he did, said to her, prudently as always: "Mamma, I know what you mean, but really, this seems quite a different phenomenon ..." And he pointed to the terrain: "Look down!" he exclaimed.

We lowered our eyes. The Earth which supported us was still a gelatinous, diaphanous mass, growing more and more firm and opaque, beginning from the center where a kind of yolk was thickening; but still our eyes managed to penetrate through it, illuminated as it was by that first Sun. And in the midst of this kind of transparent bubble we saw a shadow moving, as if swimming and flying. And our mother said: "Daughter!"

We all recognized G'd(w)^n: frightened perhaps by the Sun's catching fire, following a reaction of her shy spirit, she had sunk into the condensing matter of the Earth, and now she was trying to clear a path for herself in the depths of the planet, and she looked like a gold and silver butterfly as she passed into a zone that was still illuminated and diaphanous or vanished into the sphere of shadow that was growing wider and wider.

"G'd(w)^n! G'd(w)^n!" we shouted and flung ourselves on the ground, also trying to clear a way, to reach her. But the Earth's surface now was coagulating more and more into a porous husk, and my brother Rwzfs, who had managed to stick his head into a fissure, was almost strangled.

Then she was seen no more: the solid zone now occupied the whole central part of the planet. My sister had remained in there, and I never found out whether she had stayed buried in those depths or whether she had reached safety on the other side until I met her, much later, at Canberra in 1912, married to a certain Sullivan, a retired railroad man, so changed I hardly recognized her.

We got up. Mr. Hnw and Granny were in front of us, crying, surrounded by pale blue-and-gold flames.

"Rwzfs! Why have you set fire to Granny?" Father began to scold, but, turning toward my brother, he saw that Rwzfs was also enveloped in flames. And so was my father, and my mother, too, and I -- we were all burning in the fire. Or rather: we weren't burning, we were immersed in it as in a dazzling forest; the flames shot high over the whole surface of the planet, a fiery air in which we could run and float and fly, and we were gripped by a kind of new joy.

The Sun's radiations were burning the envelopes of the planets, made of helium and hydrogen: in the sky, where our uncles and aunt were, fiery globes spun, dragging after them long beards of gold and turquoise, as a comet drags its tail.

The darkness came back. By now we were sure that everything that could possibly happen had happened, and "yes, this is the end," Grandmother said, "mind what us old folks say ..." Instead, the Earth had merely made one of its turns. It was night. Everything was just beginning.