In memoriam

Isaac Asimov

Petrovich (Russia) 1920 – New-York: April 1992

 

 

Grotto

 

Small can be beautiful; an eagle may at times go hungry;

a pet canary, never

 

Deznev, Senior

 

 

In a large and well-lit washroom, Boranova and Deznev began to remove their outer clothing. Morrison, alarmed at the prospect, hesitated.

 

Boranova smiled:

- You may keep your underclothing, Dr Morrison. Just toss everything else, except your shoes, into that bin. I presume there is nothing in your pockets. Place your shoes at the base of the bin. By the time we leave, it will all be cleaned and ready for use.

 

Morrison did as he was told, trying not to observe that Boranova had a most opulent figure, concerning which she seemed totally unaware. Amazing, he thought, what clothes will obscure what not designed to reveal.

 

They were washing now, with lavish application of soap, face to the ear and arms to the elbow, then brushing savagely at the hair. Again, Morrison hesitated and Boranova, reading his mind, said:

 

- The brushes are cleaned after each use, Dr Morrison. I don’t know what you may have read of us, but some of us understand hygiene.

 

Morrison said:

All this, just to go into the Grotto?  Do you go through this every time?

 

- Every time. That’s why no one goes in just briefly. And even when staying within, there are frequent ablutions… You may find next step unpleasant, Dr Morrison. Close your eyes, take a deep breath and hold it if you can. It will take about a minute.

 

Morrison followed orders and found himself buffeted by a swirling wind. He staggered drunkenly, and collided with one of the bins. He held on tightly. Then, as suddenly as it started, it was over.

 

He opened his eyes. Deznev and Boranova looked as though they had put on fright-wigs. He felt his own hair and knew he must look the same. He reached for his brush.

 

- Don’t bother – said Boranova. - There’s more we’ll have to go through.

 

- What was that all about? – asked Morrison. He found he had to clear his throat twice before he could speak.

 

- I mentioned that we’d have the dust vacuumed away from us, but that’s only the first stage of the cleaning process… Through this door, please. - She held it open for him.

 

Morrison emerged into a narrow, but well-lit corridor, the walls glowing photo-luminescently. He lifted his eyebrows.

- Very nice!

 

- Saves energy – Deznev said – and that’s very important… Or are you referring to the technological advancement? Americans seem to come to the Soviet Union expecting everything to be kerosene lamps. – He chuckled and added: - I admit we haven’t caught up with you in every respect. Our brothels are very primitive compared with yours.

 

- You strike back before waiting to be struck – said Morrison. – That is a sure sign of an unclear conscience. If you were anxious to demonstrate advanced technology, I could point out that it would be very simple to pave the avenue going from Malenkigrad to the Grotto, and to use closes air-jets. We would need less of this.

 

Deznev’s face darkened, but Boranova put in, sharply:

- Dr Morrison is quite right, Arkady. I don’t like your feeling that it is not possible to be honest without being rude. If you cannot be both honest and polite, keep your tongue on your own side of your teeth.

 

Deznev grinned uneasily:

- What have I said? Of course the American doctor is right, but is there anything we can do when decisions are made in Moscow, by idiots who save small bits of money without counting the consequences? As my old father used to say: the trouble with economizing is that it can be very expensive.

 

- That is true enough – said Boranova. – We could save a great deal of money, Dr Morrison, by spending on a better road and better air-jets, but it is not always easy to persuade those who hold the purse-strings. Surely you have the same trouble in America.

 

She was motioning even as she talked and Morrison followed her into a small chamber. As the door closed behind them, Deznev held out a bracelet to Morrison:

- Let me tie this about your right wrist. When we hold up our arms, you hold up yours.

 

Morrison felt his weight lighten momentarily as the chamber floor dropped.

- An elevator – he said.

 

- Clever guess – said Deznev. Then he clapped a hand to his mouth and said in a muffled tone: – but I mustn’t be rude.

 

They stopped smoothly, and the elevator door opened.

- Identification! – came a peremptory voice.

 

Deznev and Boranova raised their hands, at which Morrison did as well. Under the purplish light that suddenly suffused the elevator, the three bracelets glittered in patterns which were not, Morrison noted, exactly alike.

 

They were ushered down another corridor, and into a room which was both warm and damp.

 

- We will have to have a final scrubdown, Dr Morrison – said Boranova --. We are accustomed to this, and stripping is a routine for us. It is easier, and time-saving, to do it as a group.

 

- If you can stand it – said Morrison, grimly -, I can.

 

- It is unimportant – said Dreznev –. None of us are stranger to the sight.

 

Dreznev scrambled out of his underclothes, stepped over to a portion of the wall where a small, red knob was glowing and placed his right thumb immediately above it. A narrow panel in the wall slid open and revealed white garments hanging flaccidly to one side. He placed his underclothes at the bottom.

 

He seemed utterly unabashed about being nude. His chest and shoulders were dark with hair and there was a long-healed scar on his right buttock. Morrison wondered idly how that might have come about.

 

Boranova did the same as Deznev had done and said:

- Pick a light that is on, Dr Morrison. It will open to your thumbprint and then, when you touch it again, it will close. After that it will open only to your thumbprint, so please remember your locker number, and you won’t have to press every locker in order to find your own.

 

Morrison did as he was told.

 

Boranova said:

- If you need the bathroom first you can go there.

 

- I am all right – said Morrison.

 

With that, the room was a swirl with a damp mist of water droplets.

 

- Close your eyes – called out Boranova.

 

But it was unnecessary for her to say so. The initial sting of the water forced his eyes closed at once.

 

There was soap in the water or, at any rate, something that stung his eyes, tasted bitter in his mouth, and irritated his nostrils.

 

- Lift your arms -, called out Dreznev -. You needn’t circle. It comes from all directions.

 

Morrison lifted his arms. He knew it comes from all directions. It came from the floor, too, as he could tell by the slightly uncomfortable pressure on his scrotum.

- How long does it last? – he gasped.

 

- Too long – said Dreznev -, but it is necessary.

 

Morrison counted to himself. At the count of 58, it seemed to him that the bitterness on his lips cessed. He squinted his eyes. Yes, the other two were still there. He continued to count, and at 126, the water stopped and was bathed in air, uncomfortably hot and dry.

 

He was panting by the time that stopped too, and he realized he had been holding his breath.

 

- What was all that for? – he said, looking away uncomfortably at the sight of Boranova’s large but firm breasts, and finding little comfort in Deznev’s hairy chest.

 

- We are dry – said Boranova -. Let’s get dressed.

 

Morrison was eager, and then was almost immediately disappointed by the nature of the white clothes in the locker. They consisted of a blouse and pants of light cotton, the pants held by a cord. There was also a light cap to cover the hair, and light sandals. Though the cotton was opaque, it seemed to Morrison that neither the female breasts nor the male penis were satisfactorily obscured.

 

He said:

- Is this all we wear?

 

- Yes – said Boranova -. We work in a clean, quiet environment at even temperature and, with throwaway clothes, we can’t expect much in the way of fashion or expense. Indeed, barring a certain understandable reluctance, we could easily work in he nude. But enough… Come…

 

And now, at last, they stepped into what Morrison recognized at once as the main body of the Grotto. It stretched away before him, between and beyond ornate pillars, to a distance he couldn’t make out.

 

Isaac Asimov

(Journey to the centre of the mind)

 

 

 

ASIMOV ON THRONE

This image is a reproduction of an original painting by renewed science-fiction and fantasy.

Author: Rowena Morrill

Image found in http://es.wikipedia.org (free encyclopaedia)