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Authors: Victor Pelevin

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I shook my head.

‘And this tiny animal, chosen by man to be the emblem of his own secret terrors, never kills another creature. It does not even cause serious harm. It punctures the skin with its front incisors and then takes its two cubic centimetres, neither more nor less. What harm could that possibly do to a horse or a bull? Or a man? Medically speaking, letting a small quantity of red liquid from the veins is considered beneficial. There are documented reports, for instance, of a bite from a vampire bat saving the life of a Catholic monk who was dying of fever. But' – and here he raised an admonitory finger – ‘you will find no documented instance of a Catholic monk saving the life of a bat dying of fever.'

It was difficult to argue with this.

‘Remember this, Rama. All the ideas human beings have about vampires are false. We are very far from being the monsters of evil that we are depicted …'

I studied the photograph of the bat. Its furry face truly did not appear threatening: rather it was intelligent, nervous and a little frightened.

‘Then what are we?' I asked.

‘You know what a food chain is? Or, as it is sometimes called, a feeding chain?'

‘You mean, like McDonald's?'

‘Not exactly. McDonald's is a
fast
-food chain. A food chain is a sequence of plants and animals linked to one another by the relationship of food to consumer. Such as the rabbit to the boa constrictor, or the grasshopper to the frog …' He smiled and winked at me. ‘Or the frog to the Frenchman. Or the Frenchman to the worm in the grave. Human beings believe they are at the apex of the pyramid because they can eat whomever they like, as often they like and as much as they like. This belief is the basis of human self-esteem. But in reality there is a higher stage in the food chain, a stage of which the majority of human beings have no conception. And that is us – vampires. We are the penultimate link.'

‘What is the ultimate link?' I asked.

‘God,' replied Enlil Maratovich.

To this I made no reply, but shrank deeper into my chair.

‘Vampires are not merely the highest link in the food chain,' continued Enlil Maratovich, ‘they are the most compassionate. The link representing the highest moral standards.'

‘And yet it strikes me,' I said, ‘that to be a parasite living on other creatures is not good.'

‘Do you really think it better to deprive an animal of life in order to eat its meat?'

To this I could find no answer either.

‘Which is the more humane,' Enlil Maratovich pursued his questioning, ‘to milk cows in order to drink their milk, or to kill them in order to produce cutlets?'

‘Milking is more humane.'

‘Certainly it is. Even Count Tolstoy, who has had a great influence on vampires, would agree with that. That is how vampires behave, Rama. We don't kill anything. Not, at least, for gastronomic purposes. The vampire way of life is more akin to dairy husbandry.'

I began to detect, as I had done with Mithra, a tendency to special pleading.

‘These things are not truly comparable,' I said. ‘People breed cattle for specific purposes. Also, cows are raised in an artificial environment. They would not have developed as they did in a pure state of nature. After all, vampires did not raise human beings specially, did they?'

‘How do you know?'

‘You mean to suggest that vampires did breed human beings for specific purposes?'

‘Yes,' said Enlil Maratovich. ‘I mean exactly that.'

I thought he must be joking. But his face was perfectly serious.

‘How did they do that?'

‘You won't be able to understand, until you study Glamour and Discourse.'

‘Study what?'

Enlil Maratovich laughed. ‘Glamour and Discourse. They are the two principal vampire studies. You see, you don't even know what they are, but you're already trying to discuss complex issues. When you have acquired a sufficient education, I will myself enlighten you as to the history of creation, and how vampires exploit human resources. At the present juncture, we would simply be wasting time.'

‘So when am I to begin studying Glamour and Discourse?'

‘Tomorrow. Your course will be undertaken by two of our best specialists, Baldur and Jehovah. They will visit you tomorrow morning, so you should retire to bed early. Do you have any questions?'

I thought for a while. ‘You said that vampires raised human beings for specific purposes. Why, then, do people regard them as evil monsters?'

‘It obscures the true state of affairs. And then, it's more entertaining that way.'

‘But, after all, humanoid primates have existed on Earth for many millions of years. And
Homo sapiens
for hundreds of thousands of years. How could vampires have raised them?'

‘Vampires have lived on Earth for an immeasurable length of time. Human beings are by no means the first species to have provided them with nourishment. But, as I have already said, it is too soon for us to talk about this. Do you have any more questions?'

‘I do,' I said. ‘But perhaps you will again say it is too early to discuss them. I don't know.'

‘Try me.'

‘Can you explain how a vampire is able to read the thoughts of another person. Is it by sucking his blood?'

Enlil Maratovich winced. ‘By sucking his blood – yuck! You must remember, Rama, that is not how we refer to it. Not only it is vulgar, it can offend the sensibilities of some vampires. With me it is all right. I sometimes use such language myself, for effect. But others' – he shook his head – ‘might find it hard to forgive.'

‘How do vampires speak of it?'

‘A vampire would say “while engaged in a degustation”.'

‘All right, then. How is a vampire able to read the thoughts of another person while engaged in a degustation?'

‘Is it the practical method that interests you?'

‘I already know how degustation is carried out,' I said. ‘What I should like is a scientific explanation of how it works.'

Enlil Maratovich sighed. ‘Look Rama, any explanation can only be a function of concepts that already exist. If the explanation is a scientific one, it depends on concepts that already exist in science. In the Middle Ages people believed that plague was transmitted through the skin of the body. At that time it was good prophylactic practice to prevent people taking baths, because they open the pores. Today, scientific opinion is that the plague infection is transmitted by fleas, and people are recommended to take frequent baths as a prophylactic measure. When concepts alter, so do the conclusions. Does that make sense?'

I nodded.

‘In the same way,' he went on, ‘today's science lacks concepts on which to base a scientific answer to your question. Such concepts do not exist. The only explanation I can offer is to suggest an analogy from another discipline, one with which you are familiar. You know quite a bit about computers, don't you?'

‘A little,' I said modestly.

‘No, you are pretty competent, I've seen that for myself. Do you understand the difference between keeping information on your hard drive and on the net?'

I shrugged my shoulders in amusement.

‘Sure I do. In the first case you keep all your data in your room. In the second, the user makes a connection to the Net and by putting a password gains access to the particular cell housing his information.'

‘There you are!' exclaimed Enlil Maratovich. ‘Exactly so. I would have struggled myself to formulate the difference with such clarity. Now imagine that the human brain is a computer, about which almost nothing is known. Scientists today see the brain as resembling a hard disc on which is written everything its human owner knows. But it may not be so. It could be that the brain is no more than a modem connected to the Internet, and all the information is stored there. Can you imagine it like that?'

‘In principle, yes,' I said. ‘Absolutely.'

‘Well then, once we have reached that stage, everything follows quite simply. The user deploys a password to connect with his information cell. If a third party is able to intercept that person's password, he can make use of that person's information cell just as if it were his own.'

‘You mean the password is a kind of information code which is stored in the blood?'

Enlil Maratovich blenched and recoiled. ‘Please, do not use that word. Erase it from your vocabulary from the very outset. Get this into your head – you may use the B-word in writing as much as you like, that is normal practice, but orally to a vampire it is indecent language and not acceptable.'

‘What is one supposed to say in place of the B-word?'

‘Red liquid.'

‘Red liquid?' I echoed. I had heard the expression several times already.

‘It's an Americanism,' explained Enlil Maratovich. ‘Anglo-Saxon vampires talk about “red liquid”, and we have copied them. It's a long story. In the nineteenth century they talked about “fluid”. Then that word began to have questionable overtones. When electricity became all the rage, the word “electrolyte” came into use, and eventually was shortened to “electro”. After a while that too began to seem too crude, and people started to talk about a “preparation”. In the nineties it became a “solution”. Now we have “red liquid”… It's all a lot of nonsense, of course. But one cannot swim against the tide.'

He glanced at his watch. ‘Any more questions?'

‘Please tell me,' I asked, ‘what is that store cupboard for, the one with the apparatus hanging down from the ceiling?'

‘That is not a store cupboard,' replied Enlil Maratovich. ‘It's a hamlet.'

‘Hamlet? From Shakespeare?'

‘No,' said Enlil Maratovich. ‘It's from the English word for a small place, not big enough to have a church. It is, so to speak, an unconsecrated refuge. To us a hamlet is everything. It is connected to a slightly shameful and very, very magical side of our life. But you will learn all about it later on.'

He rose from his chair.

‘Now it really is time for me to leave you.'

I accompanied him to the door. As he got there he turned, bowed to me ceremoniously, looked me straight in the eye, and said: ‘We are happy that you are back with us.'

‘Goodbye,' I muttered.

The door closed behind him. I realised that the last phrase had not been directed at me. It had been addressed to the Tongue.

BALDUR

The cream Enlil Maratovich left acted with improbable speed: by morning the bruises below my eyes had disappeared as if I had merely wiped some make-up from my face. If one discounted the two missing teeth I now looked exactly as I had done before, and this did wonders for my mood. The teeth were also growing; my gums were irritated as if I were teething like a baby. Not only that, but my voice had lost its croak and reverted to its former timbre. After taking the prescribed dose of calcium, I decided to telephone my mother.

She enquired where I had disappeared to. This was her favourite pleasantry, signalling that she had been at the brandy bottle and was in a mellow mood. This question would, as night follows day, be followed by the next observation: ‘I suppose you know, don't you, that sooner or later you'll disappear for good?' I allowed her to say it, and came up with a cock-and-bull story about having met an old school friend and gone out of town with him to a
dacha
, which did not have a telephone. Then I told her I had found a flat to rent and would soon call in at home to collect my things. My mother delivered a chilly warning that drug addicts do not generally live beyond thirty years of age, and hung up. Thus were my family circumstances disposed of.

Not long after, Mithra rang.

‘Are you asleep?' he asked.

‘No,' I said, ‘I've been up some time.'

‘You made a good impression on Enlil Maratovich,' he informed me. ‘So you can regard yourself as having passed the first test.'

‘He told me some teachers would be coming to see me today.'

‘That's right. Study hard and don't think about anything else. You can only become a vampire once you have absorbed the best that the human intellect has produced …'

The moment I put down the telephone receiver, the doorbell rang. Peering through the spyhole I observed two men dressed in black. They were carrying black valises such as obstetricians use.

‘Who's there?' I asked.

‘Baldur,' said one voice, deep and thick.

‘Jehovah,' added the other, lighter and higher.

I opened the door.

The men I saw standing on the doorstep looked like old-timers from some former KGB unit. I envisaged them fit, ruddy and athletic, driving expensive foreign cars, living in handsome apartments in dormitory suburbs, getting together every once in a while in some out-of-town
dacha
to booze and play dominoes. All the same, there was a glint in their eyes that did make me wonder whether this mellow exterior might not be camouflage for something else.

I noticed one odd thing about the pair straight away, although exactly
what
I was to realise only later when Baldur and Jehovah came to see me separately from one another. They were at the same time both very like, and very unlike, one another. Seen together, they seemed to have little in common. Yet when I met them separately, I had difficulty telling which was which, despite the fact that they were of quite different builds and facial appearance.

Baldur taught Glamour, Jehovah – Discourse. The full course in these disciplines occupied three weeks. The scale and range of knowledge that had to be absorbed was comparable to a full university degree course followed by a Masters and a PhD.

It must be admitted that at this time I was a bright young man and inclined to be glib, but there were still a good many words whose meanings I did not properly know. Continually hearing the terms ‘Glamour' and ‘Discourse', I dimly imagined the latter to be something wise and hard to understand, the former as chic and expensive. Furthermore, the words seemed to me very like the names of card games played in prison. As it turned out, this was not so far from the truth.

Once we were acquainted, Baldur said:

‘Glamour and Discourse are the two main skills a vampire must master. The essence of them is disguise and control, and therefore power. Do you know how to disguise and control? Do you know how to exercise power?'

I shook my head.

‘We are going to teach you how.'

Baldur and Jehovah settled themselves on chairs in either corner of the study, and told me to sit on the red sofa. This was the sofa on which Brahma had shot himself, and to begin with I felt most uncomfortable sitting on it.

‘Today we are going to instruct you simultaneously,' began Jehovah. ‘Do you know why?'

‘Because Glamour and Discourse are in fact one and the same thing,' continued Baldur.

‘Yes,' agreed Jehovah. ‘They are the twin pillars of contemporary culture which come together in an arch high above our heads.'

They fell silent, expecting me to react.

‘I don't really understand what you are saying,' I confessed. ‘How can they be one and the same if they have different names?'

‘They only
appear
different at first glance,' said Jehovah. ‘“Glamour” comes from a Scottish word meaning witchcraft. It came originally from the word “grammar”, and “grammar” in turn gives us “
grammatica
”. In the Middle Ages this word had various meanings relating to aspects of erudition, and one of these was occult practices, which were associated with literacy. In this sense, the meaning is almost the same as “discourse”.'

I found this interesting. ‘What is the derivation of the word “discourse”?'

‘In mediaeval Latin one finds the term “
discursus
”, literally “running hither and thither”, “flight forward and back”. Carefully peeling off the etymological layers, you find it comes from the verb “
discurrere
”. “
Currere
” means to flee, and “
dis
” is a negative-signifying prefix. “Discourse”, therefore, is
forbidding flight
.'

‘Flight from what?'

‘If you wish to understand that,' said Baldur, ‘we had better begin from the beginning and proceed in order.'

He dived into his holdall and produced a glossy magazine. Opening it at the centrefold he turned it towards me.

‘Everything you see in these photographs is Glamour. The columns of type running between the photographs are Discourse. Clear?'

I nodded.

‘You can put it another way,' said Baldur. ‘Everything a person says is Discourse …'

‘And how he looks while saying it is Glamour,' added Jehovah.

‘But this explanation only holds good as a starting point …' said Baldur.

‘Because in reality the meaning of the concepts is much wider,' finished Jehovah.

I began to feel as though I was sitting in front of a stereo system with two brisk, black-garbed revenants taking the place of the loudspeakers. It was like a retro experience from the sixties, a psychedelic sensation much prized by the early pioneers of rock, who used to chop the wall of sound in two in order to overwhelm the listener with the maximum stereophonic effect.

‘Glamour is sex expressed as money,' said the left-hand speaker. ‘Or, if you prefer, money expressed as sex.'

‘While Discourse,' came the response from the right-hand speaker, ‘is the sublimation of Glamour. Do you know what sublimation is?'

I shook my head.

‘Then,' continued the left-hand speaker, ‘let us put it like this: Discourse is sex, which is lacking, expressed as money, which is absent.'

‘In extreme cases one may find sex having exceeded the brackets of Glamour,' said the right-hand speaker. ‘Money, expressed as sex, may be seen as money expressed as sex expressed as money, which comes to money being expressed as money. The same applies to Discourse, only with a necessary correction for the hypothetical nature of the factor outside the brackets.'

‘Discourse is the flickering play of the inconsequential concepts produced from Glamour simmering in the furnace of black envy,' said the left-hand speaker.

‘While Glamour,' came from the one on the right, ‘is the scintillating glint of insubstantial images produced from Discourse evaporating in the fire of sexual excitement.'

‘Glamour and Discourse together stand in the relationship of yin and yang,' declared Left.

‘Discourse encases Glamour and acts as an exquisite frame for it,' elucidated Right.

‘Glamour infuses the breath of life into Discourse and prevents it from drying up,' added Left.

‘Think of it like this,' advised Right: ‘Glamour is the Discourse of the body …'

‘… while Discourse is the Glamour of the spirit,' finished Left.

‘The point where these two concepts meet is the genesis of all contemporary culture,' said Right.

‘Which thus reveals itself as the dialectical unity of Glamorous Discourse and Discursive Glamour,' concluded Left.

Baldur and Jehovah pronounced both ‘Glamour' and ‘Discourse' with the accent on the wrong syllable, which lent them a sort of pseudo-professional air – much as veteran Gazprom sharks, for instance, like to talk about ‘pet
rol
' rather than ‘
pet
rol'. It was intended to inspire confidence in their knowledge and admiration for their experience; however, the confidence and admiration I felt did not prevent me from rapidly falling asleep.

They did not wake me up since, as I was subsequently informed, intellectual matter is assimilated four times more quickly as a result of irrelevant mental processes being blocked when one is asleep. Several hours passed before I awakened. Baldur and Jehovah seemed tired, but content. I had absolutely no recollection of what had occurred during this time.

Subsequent lessons, however, were very different.

Talking was kept to a minimum. Very occasionally my teachers would dictate to me something that needed to be written down. At the start of each session they laid out on the table identical plastic racks reminiscent of DNA testing equipment in a laboratory. The racks housed short test tubes with clear liquid and elongated black stoppers, and the tubes were labelled with stickers giving either a description or a number.

These were the
preparations
.

The procedure was simple. I applied two or three drops of the clear liquid to my mouth and added to them another clear, bitter-tasting liquid known as the ‘fixative'. The result was that my memory was invaded by an explosion of hitherto unknown information – something like a cognitive aurora borealis or a firework display of self-unpacking data. The process was similar to my first tasting, the difference being that the knowledge was now retained in my memory even after the initial effects induced by the preparation had worn off. This was the contribution of the fixative, a complex distillation that acted on the chemistry of the brain. It was damaging to health to be exposed to its influence for long; this was why instruction had to be restricted to sessions kept as brief as possible.

The preparations that were the subject of my tastings were an elaborate cocktail of red liquid from a great number of people, the eidolons of whose personalities overlaid one another in my perception like a crystalline chorus singing various kinds of information. Along with this I was burdened with often distasteful and boring details of their personal life. The secrets thus revealed provoked no interest in me – rather the reverse.

The way I absorbed the information contained in the preparations was different from the way in which a student absorbs a chapter of a textbook or a lecture he attends. I was drinking from a source more like an endless television programme in which instructional material coalesced with soap-opera realism, family photograph albums and amateur pornography usually of a repulsive nature. On the other hand, the manner in which any student assimilates useful knowledge is inevitably accompanied by approximately the same proportion of irrelevant trimmings, so my training could be regarded as essentially similar.

In itself, this swallowing of large quantities of information added nothing to my store of wisdom. But I found that when I started to think about any given issue, new facts and perceptions would rise up unexpectedly from my memory, and as my thought processes developed, they led me to places I could not have imagined. The sense of what happened is best conveyed by a Soviet song I used to hear at the very dawn of my days (my mother had a standing joke that its last line was a reference to Brezhnev's memoirs about World War Two):

Today I shall rise before dawn
And walk through the wide, wide field –
Something has started in my memory,
I remember everything that happened not to me …

At first this process was extremely unpleasant. Ideas familiar from childhood blossomed with new angles I had not known before, or at least had not thought of. It all happened quite suddenly, resembling one of those cognitive chain reactions when random impressions bring to the surface a long-forgotten dream that instantly infuses everything around with a special meaning. I already knew that similar hallucinations can be symptoms of schizophrenia. But as the days went by the world grew more and more interesting; I soon lost my fear and eventually began to take pleasure in what was happening to my mind.

For example, I was in a taxi one day going along Warsaw Prospect. I happened to look up and see an image of a bear on the wall of a building – the emblem of the ‘United Russia' party. It suddenly came to me that the Russian word for bear – ‘
medved
' – is not in fact the true name for the animal but a substitute. The primeval Slavs invented it because they were afraid that uttering the animal's real name – ‘
ber
'
–
might inadvertently bring one into the house. And the literal meaning of the word ‘
medved
' is itself revealing: ‘the one who is after the honey'. This thought sequence took place so quickly that at the moment when the true meaning shone blindingly through the emblem of the victorious bureaucracy, the taxi was still approaching the wall. I began to laugh, and the driver, thinking I was expressing pleasure in the song that was playing at the time, stretched out his hand to the radio in order to increase the volume …

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