Home > Twilight Watch (Watch #3)(7)

Twilight Watch (Watch #3)(7)
Author: Sergei Lukyanenko

Only what if it really was possible to become a magician?

What if there was a way for any human being to be transformed into an Other? To acquire long - very long - life and exceptional abilities. There was no doubt many people would want to do it.

And we wouldn't be against it, either. There were so many fine people living in the world who were worthy to become Light Others.

Only the Dark Ones would start building up their ranks too...

Suddenly it struck me. It was no disaster that someone had revealed our secrets to a human being. It was no disaster that information could leak out. It was no disaster that the traitor knew the address of the Inquisition.

But this was a new twist in the spiral of endless war!

For centuries the Light Ones and Dark Ones had been shackled by the Treaty. We had the right to search for Others among human beings, even the right to nudge them in the right direction. But we were obliged to sift through tons of sand in our search for grains of gold. The balance was maintained.

Then suddenly here was a chance to transform thousands, millions of people into Others.

A soccer team wins the cup final - and a wave of magic surges across tens of thousands of exultant people, transforming them into Light Others.

Then and there the Day Watch issues a command to the fans of the team that has lost - and they're transformed into Dark Others.

That was what Kostya had had in mind. The immense temptation to shift the balance of power in your own favor at a single stroke. Of course, the consequences would be clear, both to the Dark Ones and us Light Ones. The two sides would adopt new amendments to the Treaty and restrict the initiation of human beings within acceptable limits. After all, the USA and the USSR had managed to keep the nuclear arms race within bounds...

I closed my eyes and shook my head. Semyon had once told me that the arms race was halted by the creation of the ultimate weapon. Two thermonuclear devices - that was all that was required - each of which could trigger a self-sustaining reaction of nuclear fusion. The American one was installed somewhere in Texas, the Russian one in Siberia. It was enough to explode either one of them - and the entire planet would be transformed into a ball of flame.

Only that state of affairs didn't suit us, so the weapon that was never meant to be used could never be activated. But the presidents didn't need to know that - they were only human beings...

Maybe the top commands of the Watches had "magical bombs" like that? And that was why the Inquisition, which was in on the secret, policed the observation of the Treaty so fervently?

Maybe.

But even so it would be better if it were impossible to initiate ordinary people...

Even in my drowsy state I winced at my own thought. What did this mean, that I'd begun to think like a fully-fledged Other? There are Others, and there are human beings - and they're second class. They can never enter the Twilight, they're not going to live more than a hundred years. And there's nothing you can do about it...

Yes, that was exactly the way I'd started to think. Finding a good human being with the natural aptitudes of an Other and bringing him or her over to your own side - that was a joy. But turning absolutely everyone into Others was puerile nonsense, a dangerous and irresponsible delusion.

Now I had something to feel proud about. It had taken me less than ten years to finally stop being human.

My morning began with contemplation of the mysteries of the shower stall. Reason finally overcame soulless metal and I got a shower - with music playing, no less - and then concocted a breakfast out of biscotti, salami, and yogurt. Feeling uplifted by the sunshine, I settled down on the windowsill and breakfasted with a view of the Moscow River. For some reason I recalled Kostya admitting that vampires can't look at the sun. Sunlight doesn't actually burn them at all, it just gives them a disagreeable sensation.

But I had no time for indulging in sad thoughts about my old acquaintances. I had to search for... for whom? The renegade Other? I was hardly in the best position to do that. His human client? A long, dreary business.

All right, I decided. We'll proceed according to the strict laws of the classic detective novel. What do we have? What we have is a clue. The letter sent from Assol. What does it give us? It doesn't give us anything. Unless perhaps someone saw the letter being posted three days ago. There's not much chance that they'd remember, of course...

What a fool I was. I even slapped myself on the forehead. Sure, it's no disgrace for an Other to forget about modern technology. Others aren't very fond of complicated technical devices. But I was a computer hardware specialist.

All the grounds of Assol were monitored by video cameras.

I put on my suit and knotted my tie, splashed on the eau de cologne that Ignat had chosen for me the day before, dropped my phone into my inside pocket... "Only dumb kids and sales assistants carry their cells on their belts!" - that was one of Gesar's helpful little homilies.

The cell was new and still unfamiliar. It had different kinds of games in it, a built-in music-player, a dictaphone, and all sorts of other nonsense entirely unnecessary in a phone.

I rode down to the vestibule in the cool silence of the new Otis elevator and immediately caught sight of my new acquaintance from the night before - only this time he was looking really strange...

Las, wearing brand new blue overalls with "Assol" written on the back, was explaining something to a confused elderly man dressed in the same way. I heard what he said: "This isn't a broom you've got here, okay! There's a computer in it, it tells you how dirty the asphalt is and the pressure of the cleaning solution... Come on, I'll show you..."

My feet automatically carried me after them.

Out in the yard, in front of the entrance to the vestibule, there were two bright-orange road-sweeping machines - with a tank of water, round brushes, and a little glass cabin for the driver. There was something toylike about the small vehicles, as if they'd come straight from Sunshine Town, where the happy baby girls and boys cheerfully clean their own miniature avenues.

Las clambered nimbly into one of the machines and the elderly man thrust himself halfway in after him. He listened to something Las said, nodded, and set off toward the second orange cleaning unit.

"And if you're lazy, you'll spend the rest of your life as a junior yard keeper!" I heard Las say. His machine set off, twirling its brushes merrily, and began spinning circles on the asphalt surface. Before my eyes a yard that was already clean acquired an entirely sterile appearance.

Well, would you believe it.

So he worked as a yard keeper in the Assol complex, did he?

I tried to withdraw unobtrusively, so as not to embarrass the man, but Las had already spotted me and he drove closer, waving his hand gleefully. The brushes started turning less vigorously.

"So you work here then?" I asked. I suddenly started having the most fantastic ideas, such as Las didn't live in Assol at all, he'd simply moved into an empty apartment for a while. There was no way anyone with a huge residence like that would go cleaning the yard.

"I earn a bit on the side," Las explained calmly. "It's a real gas, I tell you. Ride around the yard for an hour in the morning, instead of your morning exercises, and they pay you wages for it. And not bad wages, either!"

I didn't say anything.

"Do you like going on the rides in the park?" Las asked me. "All those buggies, where you have to pay ten dollars for three minutes? Well, here they pay you the money. For enjoying yourself. Or take those computer games, for instance... sitting there, twitching that joystick about..."

"It all depends on whether they make you paint the fence..." I muttered.

"That's right," Las agreed happily. "But they don't make me do that. I get the same buzz cleaning up the yard as Leo Tolstoy did from scything hay. Only no one has to wash it all again after me - unlike the count, whose peasants used to finish the job after him... I'm in their good graces here, I regularly get a bonus. So, do you fancy riding around too? I could get you a job, if you like. The professional yard keepers just can't get the hang of this technical equipment."

"I'll think about it," I said, examining the briskly spinning brushes, the water spurting out of the nickel-plated nozzles, the gleaming cabin. Back when we were kids, which of us didn't want to drive a street-washing truck? Now, of course, after early childhood kids start dreaming about working as a banker or a hit man...

"Okay, think it over, but I've got work to do," Las said amiably. The machine set off around the yard, sweeping, washing, and sucking up dirt. I heard singing from the cabin:

The generation of yard keepers and watchmen

Have lost each other in the vast expanse of winter...

They've all gone back home now.

In our time, when every third man is a hero,

They don't write articles,

They don't send telegrams...

Dumbfounded, I went back to the vestibule. I found out from the security guard where Assol's own post office was located and set off. The post office was open; there were three young female employees sitting behind the counter in the cozy little shop, and the mailbox the letter had been posted in was standing right there.

The glass eyes of video cameras glittered just below the ceiling.

We could certainly use some professional investigators. They would have come up with this idea right away.

I bought a postcard of a young chick jumping up and down in the tray of an incubator with the printed message "I miss my family!" Not very amusing, but in any case I couldn't remember the mailing address of the village where my family was vacationing, so, with a mischievous smile, I sent the postcard to Gesar at home - I did know his address.

I chatted to the girls for a while - working in such an elite residential complex they had to be polite anyway, but on top of that they were bored - then left the post office and went to the security department on the first floor.

If I'd had the right to use my abilities as an Other, I would have simply implanted in the security men's minds the idea that they liked me and then been given access to all the video recordings. But I couldn't reveal who I was, and so I decided to employ the most universal motive for liking anyone - money.

Out of the money I'd been given I put together a hundred dollars in rubles - well, no one could expect more than that, could they? I entered the duty office, and there was a young guy in a formal suit, looking bored.

"Good day!" I greeted him, smiling radiantly.

The security man's expression indicated complete solidarity with my opinion concerning the day. I cast a quick sideways glance at the monitors in front of him - they showed the images from at least ten television cameras. He had to be able to call up a repeat run of any particular moment. If the images were saved to a hard disk (where else could they be saved?), then a recording from three days earlier might not have been transferred to the archive yet.

"I have a problem," I said. "Yesterday I received a rather amusing letter..." - I winked at him - "from some girl. She lives here too, as far as I can tell."

"A threatening letter?" the security man asked, pricking up his ears.

"No, no!" I protested. "On the contrary... But my mysterious stranger is trying to remain incognito. Could I take a look to see who posted letters at the post office three days ago?"

The security man started thinking about it.

And then I spoiled everything. I put the money on the desk and said with a smile, "I'd be very grateful to you..."

The young guy instantly turned to stone. I think he pressed something with his foot.

And ten seconds later two of his colleagues appeared, both extremely polite - which looked pretty funny, given their impressive dimensions - and insistently invited me to come in and see their boss.

There is a difference, and a serious one, between dealing with state officials and a private security firm, after all.. .

It would have been interesting to see if they would have taken me to their boss by force. After all, they weren't the militia. But I preferred not to aggravate the situation any further and did as my escort in suits asked.

The head of security, a man already advanced in years who had clearly come from the organs of state security, looked at me reproachfully.

"What were you thinking of, Mr. Gorodetsky..." he said, twirling my pass to the Assol grounds in his fingers. "Behaving as if you were in a state institution - if you'll pardon the expression..."

I got the impression that what he really wanted to do was snap my pass in two, call the guards, and order them to throw me out of the elite grounds.

I felt like saying I was sorry and I wouldn't do it again. Especially since I really was feeling ashamed.

Only that was the desire of the Light Magician Anton Gorodetsky, not of Mr. A. Gorodetsky, the owner of a small firm trading in milk products.

"What, exactly, is the problem?" I asked. "If it's not possible to do as I asked, they should have said so."

"And what was the money for?" the head of security asked.

"What money?" I asked in surprise. "Ah... your colleague thought I was offering him money?"

The head of security smiled.

"Absolutely not!" I said firmly. "I wanted to get my handkerchief out of my pocket. My allergies are really killing me today. And there was a load of small change in there, so I put it on the desk... but I didn't even get time to blow my nose."

I think I overdid it a bit.

The stony-faced boss held out my pass card and said very politely, "The incident is closed. I'm sure you understand, Mr. Gorodetsky, that private individuals are not permitted to view our security recordings."

I sensed that what had stung the boss most was the phrase about "small change." Of course, he wasn't exactly poor, working in a place like that. But he wasn't so flush that he could call a hundred dollars small change.

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