THE PURPLE MUMMY
The Russian original title: Пурпурная мумия
Translated from the Russian
(The translator is not specified)
Novosti Publishing House APN
You know the feeling you get when you come to the Capital. It is as if you've just dropped into a new world. As helicopters transfer you from one square to another, or as you skim over the tops of huge palaces in gyroplanes that glide noiselessly along on powerful cables, or just as noiselessly descend into the underground railways streaming with bright sunlight whose source is a mystery, it, seems that everything that is striking and unique, everything that points to the future, is concentrated in this amazing and ancient city of Moscow.
I don't consider myself a hopeless yokel. In the north where I live, in the city of Leninsk, we too have got suspension cableways, helicopters and TV information centres in all the big squares. Nevertheless, when I am in Moscow I go about with a slight feeling of confusion and awe. I often wondered why, and finally came to the conclusion that it was because of the accelerated tempo. Life pulsates much faster in the capital. Even the people, who are very hospitable and warm by nature, always seem to be in a hurry. They don't stand still on the moving sidewalks, but almost run as they are carried along. They seem to be trying to keep up the traditions of their forebears who used to rush down the noisy escalators of the old Moscow Metro several decades ago, and even managed to read at the same time.
I stopped at the TV information centre on Vostania Square, which is suspended high between the two huge buildings of the Sports Palace and the Palace of Art, and dialled the address of the Museum of Material Culture, the place I was making for. The necessary co-ordinates flashed onto the screen along with directions as to how to find my way to the museum.
I was to descend to the lower park and board a winged reactor-plane which would take me to the Monument of Freedom on the Friendship of Peoples Canal. From there I was to transfer to a helicopter and land on the Blue Way . which led straight to the museum through the Agate Tunnel. The colour screen showed a thirty-storied building in the shape of a parallelepiped, inlaid with orange ceramics and a fifty-metre bas-relief in snow-white marble of the first space rocket we had launched to the moon. I set out in the direction indicated and in less than a hundred and thirty seconds had reached my destination. On the way I used my private automatic radio-telephone to inform Professor Sayen of my arrival. He met me at the museum entrance.
'Glad to see you, my young friend!' he exclaimed in his melodious voice as he welcomed me and grasped my hand in both of his. 'What brings you to this quiet corner of ours in this ever-bustling city?'
I looked attentively into the slightly mocking eyes of this scientist who was no longer young and recalled how he had looked two years ago when I was taking my post-graduate course at the Revolution University near Moscow. He hadn't changed.
'I'm afraid I have chosen an inopportune time for my visit,' I said. 'The radio news said that you are getting ready to leave for Togo...'
'Not in the least, not in the least!' the Professor protested. 'I still have thirteen hours at my disposal. I am quite sure that will be more than sufficient to clear up your problems.'
T don't think it will require more than two or three hours of your valuable time,' I said. 'Perhaps, if you don't mind, we could begin at once...'
I had no idea how mistaken I was.
We entered a marble hall and a noiseless elevator shot us up to the museum's seventeenth floor where Professor Sayen had his office. On our way up the Professor told me something about the programme of their trip to Togo...
'We are in need of additional information on the second stage of the independence struggle of the people of that district. Many years have passed and no one has as yet gone through the archives... it's one of the weak spots in our museum,' he concluded bitterly. 'Well, I am at your disposal,' he said, seating himself on the couch.
I made myself comfortable in an arm-chair, opened my brief-case, took out a photograph of Maya, my wife, and handed it to the Professor.
'Is this face familiar to you?' I asked, watching closely to catch the slightest movement of the muscles in his tired face.
Professor Sayen took a quick glance at the photograph, puckered his brows and turned his eyes towards me in bewilderment. He seemed to be thinking hard, but shook his head. Back in Leninsk, as I was saying good-bye to my wife, she had said: 'You just watch... he'll do this...' And she had shaken her head, puckered her brows and pouted her lips, exactly as the Professor was doing at the moment.
'No, I can't say that I do,' he answered quizzically, looking at me.
He was somewhat taken aback when I nodded with satisfaction and began rummaging about in my brief-case. This time I pulled out the latest edition of the Museum's catalogue. The Professor grew impatient and moved closer to where I sat.
'Could you tell me what this is?' I asked, as I handed him the catalogue opened at the page with the inset of the portrait of the purple mummy.
It does happen that the editor-in-chief of a big publication is not always aware of everything that is printed in it. He is as human as the next man and it is quite natural that he pays more attention to material connected with his own field. His assistants answer for the rest. It is most probable that is what had happened in this case.
Professor Sayen took another look at the portrait of the mummy and turned over several pages of the catalogue to make sure of the name of the museum's new exhibit. Suddenly he exclaimed:
'Why, it's one and the same thing!'
'What is?' I asked, anticipating what was coming next.
The picture of the purple mummy and this!' he said in wonderment.
'I knew that's how it would be,' I said, and placed the portrait of my wife next to the inset in the catalogue.
'Knew how what would be?' he queried in a puzzled voice.
'I knew that was what you would say. I had an argument with Maya. She was sure you would notice the difference at once.'
Professor Sayen's face took on a stern expression.
'I do not understand you. Whatever are you talking about?. Who is this Maya that you have mentioned?'
'I was talking of the likeness of the photograph. Maya is my wife.'
'What has your wife got to do with this?'
'The photograph is of my wife, and this,' I said, pointing to the inset, 'is a picture of the purple mummy.'
The Professor sprang up from the couch and looked me up and down. I noticed that his brows were quivering slightly.
T hope you have not travelled five thousand kilometres just for the sake of a joke?' He spoke with evident restraint.
I could see that he was finding it difficult to keep his voice in check.
'Not in the least. As a matter of fact it is this likeness that has brought me here. You are aware that I head the , Museum of Regional Studies in Leninsk. When I received this edition of your catalogue I was astounded at the likeness between my wife and the purple mummy...'
He took the catalogue out of my hands and approached the broad window. It was about noon and bright daylight streamed in through the scarcely perceptible thin glass. A helicopter flashed by, but the professor didn't take the slightest notice. He was preoccupied in making a thorough comparison of the two portraits.
I recalled Maya's words: 'He'll say that there is a difference in the shape of
'Why, the shape of their necks is different!' Professor Sayen cried out joyfully.
I went up to him and smiled.
'That is true. Their necks are not alike. But their faces are exact copies of each other. Just now I am interested only in the likeness. The differences may be gone into later on...'
We sat down again where we had been before. I chose the armchair and the Professor sat on the couch.
'Tell me more about what brought you here,' he requested.
I was a little nervous because the most important moment had arrived: I had to make myself as clear as possible. I pressed my lips together and my gaze wandered uneasily around the spacious study trying to find an object that would help me begin my story.
'Look at the bust of Academician Philio in the left corner behind his desk,' I recalled Maya's admonitions.
I finally located Philio's bust and began turning the pages of the catalogue. Finding the page I was looking for I showed it to the Professor.
'Look,' I said, 'do you know who this is?'
'That's Philio,' Professor Sayen answered without the slightest hesitation. 'I would like to know what you are driving at. What sort of guessing game are you playing?'
It was now my turn to show impatience. I glanced at the clock. Our short talk was certainly becoming quite a drawn-out affair. Another helicopter flashed by the window. That meant another five minutes had passed.
'Excuse me, Professor, but no doubt you do not read all the material that is published in your catalogue.'
He bunched his hands together nervously. It appeared that the idea I was trying to convey had just got through to him. Why had Philio's bust been placed in the catalogue of the Museum of Material Culture?
He gave a confused smile and passed his hand lightly over his forehead.
'You know, I never noticed that... I did see it of course, but I didn't pay any special attention to it. It concerns the department of radio-astronomic information and I suppose...'
Professor Sayen suddenly stopped talking and turned pale. He began to get up slowly from the couch, his wide-open eyes glued to my face. 'What has all this got to do with Academician Philio?' The question blazed out of his frightened eyes.
'Let me see that catalogue again,' he whispered.
With the catalogue grasped tightly in his hand he crossed the study at a diagonal, nearly banging into his desk, and came to a dead stop in front of the bust of the famous linguist.
A strained silence reigned in the room for several seconds. Then the Professor switched on the dictophone.
'I would like to see Androv in my study at once . . .'
The timbre of his voice was soft, but a slightly menacing note betrayed itself. He picked up the telephone receiver and spoke into it:
'Is that you, Aginov? Who edited Androv's stuff for the last number of our catalogue? Who checked it with the original? Are you sure? Who did the photography job? Thank you.'
The Professor had forgotten about my presence. He sat down at his desk and fell into a deep study of the portrait in the catalogue.
Suddenly he remembered me.
'Give me the portrait of that girl...' 'Which girl?'
'The one you showed me.' 'You mean Maya?',
'I don't know what her name is... Let me have it... quickly...'
'It's a photograph of my wife,' I put in determinedly. 'That is of no importance...' He cut me short. He stared at both portraits for a long time with his head between his hands.
The door opened and a tall middle-aged man dressed in a light yellow sports suit came in. He strode briskly towards the Professor's desk.
'Is this your work?' Professor Sayen asked without lifting his eyes. 'Yes.'
'Aren't you ashamed of yourself?' T don't understand what you mean...' 'You will understand in a moment. Look!' Sayen nearly threw the picture of my wife into Androv's face.
'Here is your purple . . . mummy.' Then, directing an enraged glance in my direction he said with biting irony:
'Perhaps this girl of yours...'
'My wife,' I prompted.
'... this wife of yours is really a... mummy?' Androv was staring at Maya's portrait. The Professor looked at him with scorn, contempt written in his eyes.
'In our times... to have such a thing happen... such deception... such cheating...'
It finally got home to Androv that I was directly connected with all this and he rushed up to me.
'Did you make this mirror-image of my mummy?' he demanded in a menacing voice.
I shook my head. Then, without saying a word he seized my hand and dragged me out of the study. The Professor could hardly keep up with us. Androv switched on a mobile strip of corridor, rushed off to the right and then pushed me into an elevator. We made a headlong descent, ran down another corridor, nearly bumping into the Professor who was making for the same place from another direction, and finally burst into a huge, dimly lighted hall. Quartz sarcophagi were arrayed down the centre and along the walls. We stopped in front of one.
I looked into the sarcophagus and quickly closed my eyes. It couldn't be. It couldn't!
'Look, look!' Androv ordered in a choking voice.
'I'm looking...' I said, faltering.
'What do you see?' the Professor asked, peering into my face.
'I see Maya,' I whispered, turning my eyes away from the plastic figure of a naked woman.
'Who the devil is Maya?' Androv demanded sharply. 'Are you trying to tell me that you know this creature?'
A deadly silence ensued. I was the first to find my voice.
'Excuse me, but that is a model of Maya, my wife...'
Androv burst into peals of laughter and shouted:
'Take a good look, perhaps you can find some special birth marks on the body of your wife!'
He put an acid stress on the words 'your wife.'
I took another look at the woman's figure lying there with wide open eyes as if she were alive... The plastic material that she was made of was purple. The most improbable thoughts were racing around in my head. I thought I was going mad.
'Everything seems to be the same except the colour of her body...'
This was followed by another burst of mocking laughter.
'Oho! So it's the colour! So she isn't quite like your wife!'
There was the same malicious stress on the words 'your wife '... I felt highly embarrassed.
I cast a pleading look in Androv's direction. These learned men from the capital often disregard the most elementary rules of etiquette and stop at nothing to prove their point.
T really have nothing against this being here,' I said, 'although you should understand... Well, it's a good thing that you've only got a picture of the head in your catalogue, and...'
'Did you hear what I heard? Did you hear what he just said? He's got nothing against this thing being here! Do you have any idea what this thing is? My God, this is one of the greatest discoveries ever made! Four of the most powerful radio-telescopes were in continuous operation for more than a hundred hours so as not to miss the slightest signal! The information received was decoded simultaneously both in Moscow and Paris! The best machines we have were used to convolve all that information to achieve this! And you say...'
This passionate flood of words was interrupted by Professor Sayen.
'Was the head of Academician Philio also convolved in Moscow and Paris?' he interjected in a stern sharp voice.
Androv stopped short and stood frozen to the spot, his mouth open.
'What Philio?' he finally managed to get out.
The Professor pivoted us to a quartz cowl which stood in the centre of the hall. I recognized a copy of the bust which stood in the Professor's study. This one was made of plastic material and was also purple in colour.
Androv nodded his head.
'Well, say something!' the Professor demanded.
'Yes... we used the same machines for both of them... we...'
'Who do you mean by "we"?'
'I, that is, the whole space radio-information decoding department... you know... behind the Pantheon... over there near the...'
Androv stopped short. He looked at us wild-eyed.
'You don't believe me!' he spluttered.
Professor Sayen shrugged his shoulders. For no apparent reason cold waves began to run up and down my spinal column. A horrible thought was churning around in my brain. At that moment Androv said, almost in a whisper:
'I'm telling the truth. Those two figures were convolved from coded impulse-information we received three months ago from an outlying part of the Swan constellation. We got the information on the head first... on the twenty-three centimetre band... Three months later we got the purple mummy on the same wavelength. During reception the noise did not exceed 5db... the signal-noise ratio was no more than...'
Suddenly he began to shout: 'That is impossible! What are you trying to do? Who is this Maya? Who the devil is Philio?'
The Professor handed him the photograph of my wife. He compared it to the figure lying in the sarcophagus against the wall...
'What about Philio? Is he the same man that died three months ago? Did you know him personally?'
The Professor nodded in the affirmative.
Androv jerked to a stop in the middle of the hall as if turned to stone, and then made a sudden dash for the door and disappeared.
With every second I was experiencing a growing feeling of terror. I tried to keep from looking at the transparent lid under which could be seen the purple double of my wife... The door burst open and Androv returned, accompanied by a woman carrying a small kit bag such as doctors usually lug around with them. Without a word they ran up to the sarcophagus containing the mummy and began taking off the lid.
'What do you intend to do?' Professor Sayen demanded in alarm.
'Dissect it,' Androv whispered, breathing heavily, 'and at once. If what I think is confirmed, then...'
'What are you going to dissect?'
'What for?' I shouted. I had the feeling that they were going to cut up my wife.
At that moment the woman took a scalpel and a disc-shaped electric saw out of her bag.
'I won't allow you to do this! This is valuable public property and you have no right to destroy it without getting permission from the International Science Council,' Professor Sayen stated categorically. 'Besides I do not see any sensible reason for treating this exhibit, which has been acquired from space with such difficulties, if it really has been acquired from space, in the manner you propose.'
'Don't let that bother you. Professor. All the data has been recorded on electret cylinders. She can be reconstructed any time. It would take no more than a day or two. Anthonia, get to work.'
He spread his arms wide, barring the way to the sarcophagus. I heard the whining sound of the saw as it bit into the mummy. Ice-cold waves followed each other up and down my spine.
'Now dissect the chest,' Androv commanded. 'Holy Moses, can't you saw any quicker! Are you through? Now turn back the breast-bone. Have you found the heart? Aha! Where's the liver? That's right! And the spleen. That's all. Now we can let them see it.'
Androv grabbed my shoulder.
'What are you afraid of? It's only a mummy made of plastic. Somebody's double. An exact copy. You can see for yourself how well the copy has been made...'
I approached the sarcophagus reluctantly. Parts of the dissected plastic body were spread back symmetrically from its centre and its internal structure was clearly visible. The organs were of different colours, but all with a purple tinge... The mummy's eyes were wide open and didn't express the slightest sign of suffering. It cost me a great mental effort to convince myself that this was not a live organism, but just a cleverly made copy of a human being.
'Is this a copy or isn't it?' Androv demanded as he grabbed my shoulders and shook me. His eyes shone with ill-concealed joy. 'Take a good look at it!'
I nodded my head dejectedly.
'What is your opinion, Professor?' Androv asked eagerly.
He was answered by a cry from the woman who had dissected the mummy.
'Everything is the wrong way round!'
I stared at her wide-eyed, trying to understand what she had said.
'What do you mean, Anthonia?' the Professor asked hoarsely.
'Everything! Her heart, liver, spleen... they're all the wrong way round!'
Finally I understood. The mummy's heart was on the right side and its liver on the left, as if it were a reflection in a mirror!
'Do you realize what we have achieved! This is colossal confirmation of the theory of Anti-Worlds. This is staggering news! This...'
'Will you please explain what you are talking about!' Professor Sayen demanded.
This remark reminded Androv that we were there. He walked away from the mummy, embraced the Professor, and said, solemnly:
'At last we have experimental proof that somewhere in the depths of the Universe there exists an anti-world which is •an exact copy of ours but
composed of anti-matter. Such a world might be considered as an inverted image of ours.'
As I made my way to the Palace of Science along the swiftly moving platforms and thoroughfares of the capital, here and there above the general restrained hum and buzz of voices I could hear the words: 'Purple Mummy, Purple Mummy...'
After the International Council of scientists had made a special announcement concerning Andronov's astounding and, to say the least, bold hypotheses, it was the talk of the whole world, let alone Moscow. A new copy of the mummy was put on exhibit at the Museum of Material Culture in place of the one that had been dissected. The influx of visitors from many cities in other parts of the world became so great that several copies had to be made. They were put on exhibit in the largest public halls of the capital. By special order of the Supreme Council, the portrait of the mummy was relayed three times a day on the stereo-television colour screen. Moscow echoed with 'the Purple Mummy, the Purple Mummy.' My head buzzed with something quite different:
'Maya... Maya... Could there be, somewhere in the Universe, another woman exactly like my wife?'
I could stand it no longer. In a quiet corner of the Kremlin Park I pulled my radio-telephone out of my pocket and dialled Leninsk. A few seconds later I heard the drawn out sound of the buzzer.
'Is that you, Maya?'
'Yes. What's all this excitement about the Purple Mummy? I think I am going to invoke the law of respect for personal dignity in protest against being put on show for the whole world to see!'
This was my Maya - a very vital and effervescent little woman. A weight fell from my shoulders as I listened to her bell-like, bantering voice.
'Don't be silly. You ought to be proud of yourself!' I countered.