Angel G. Angelov
That Part of the Plant was still tucked away lower down, squatting on the precarious breast of the former marsh. Concrete held it fast in the same unobtrusive way as the incessant tremor that crept up its hardy body. Tonight the Colonel had not turned up. The Girl was waiting for him, as usual; her eight working hours were running their normal course - neither fast, nor slow - amidst the glitter of the glass equipment. Just before dawn she was overcome by the familiar fatigue, so she made some coffee for herself and the other laboratory workers. She made it in a graduated refractory beaker and they drank it out of small measuring glasses in which it hardly looked like coffee. The Colonel had not come, but the Girl did not worry about it as she usually did. Her heart no longer sank every time she caught sight of the jeep, drawing up in front of That Part of the Plant; it was here that her laboratory was. He still filled her with delight, but the feeling had somehow mellowed. She had a clearer understanding of what he really was and the casual touch of his hands bore burnt sparks. When he came, she was as warm as ever under the semi-transparent white smock next to her body; she would leave off work and they would sit down in the now vacated office of the Chief. The nickel-plated tubular chair let out a groan as the Colonel dumped his stocky form down into it. On these occasions he wore his shining full dress specially for her and put up a new act, whereby he brandished his small fists at the Disorders in the Plant; the Girl believed him. She knew he was a fake, but she also knew people were envious of him and the fact that he had singled her out, gave her a secret pride; she shut her ears to the abuse poured over him. Something deep in her was aware that she was also pretending and enjoying the pretence, but unlike the Colonel she did not really need it. Playacting had turned into a sort of mimicry for him. It was his only means of survival. With the years he managed to perfect it, inventing new techniques, carefully polishing the details: the uninitiated, when they first witnessed it, were invariably smitten. For the Colonel, love was part of the Control Set Up of the Plant... The Girl stretched out her hand, he touched her skin and threw a stealthy glance at the iron couch covered with a grey soldier's blanket - the only item in the way of furniture in the office of the Chief. Her long hair, the melting eyes, the sensuous scarlet lips, her slender thighs, the ultimate beauty of her nature turned to him, full of a lavish generosity which was difficult to resist. Memories came to her mind:
The Girl shook her head. The memories did not scatter, they clung to her luxuriant hair.
"I should be off," he said afterwards.
She nodded indifferently and made no promises. Then she picked up the tray with the glasses and the tube stand while he looked at her suggestive body, the hips, the swaying thighs, in which there was nothing intentional - they were part of her very nature, the eternal woman, designed to give birth. She seemed to him strange and remote the moment he stopped touching her. Then he would briskly stand up and drive off in the jeep, followed by envious eyes, for his liaison was no secret. The Colonel played his love the way he played his life, with eyes fixed upwards and with implacable commands. Going to his huge office he would summon everybody up on the intercom. He disconnected the Communications Links with the Outside World (CLOW) and put up one of his more unpleasant cketches. The Colonel was a great Performer and was sometimes so carried away acting out his part that with nothing else at hand to fling, he flung the telephones. That was rather expensive, but it came off quite effectively. In the meantime the Various Parts of the Plant were straining hard to fight the inevitable ruin of their very Substance and expected no help from the Colonel's office. Nothing but commands came from there. And the occasional abuse in addition. The Act, however, was of a quite different character when CLOW had to be plugged in. The Colonel got completely transformed. A commanding officer to the core, he burst with foresightedness and a true concern for the Plant, his wisdom gushed forth to the delight of anyone who did not know his abilities. The Colonel heard sincere taps of approval on the highest level and his unerring intuition told him he had earned the praise through his talent. He felt how his epaulettes got heavier and his holster too big for his gun.
At exactly that time the Various Parts of the Plant were doubled up with pain, unbearable stitches pierced through their rheumatic joints, they were afflicted by asthma and their taut, thinning skin burst open, oozing blood. The Colonel, firm and vigorous as ever, had them bandaged in fresh dressings which quickly got soiled again. The bandages stood but like patches on the body of the Plant, a listless prediction of impending catastrophe...
Tonight the Colonel had not turned up, but tha Girl did not worry as she usually did. The night was dragging by the glistening hues of the glass vessels and she knew that he was again amidst the multitude of those in front of whom he played his sketches with the greatest inspiration. He was most fruitfully inspired by the presence of his subordinates, the Actor in him was flattered by their applause although he could not be sure of their sincerity. Everything was all right - they clapped hands, pretty girls made love to him, he was given presents, his epaulettes shone and he was duly honoured. But there had always been something lacking and tonight he realised what. He needed the approval of the Boys, He brought them into the luxury of his huge flat tonight. The Colonel fetched them straight from the Plant, right after the shift and he did not let them even change out of their greasy navy-blue overalls. The faces of some of the Boys from the lower stations still bore the marks of the gasmasks. But the huge flat had turned into a place of wild merry-making, only now and then interrupted by the commands of the Colonel. The omen were looking at him in awe, some of the men were openly admiring him and the smarter ones were politely clapping hands, careful not to let their praise look like flattery The boys drank their first glasses solemnly, they failed to join the ovations since their hands were engaged holding the tools they had brought from the Plant. The Colonel had insisted that they should be their true selves, the same applied to the praise he expected from them and explains why they had brought their tools along. So far they had not applauded him yet. However, the Colonel was hopeful that it would not take them long to come round. Sparkling crystal glasses full of drink kept coming. The Boys carefully put their tools down on the thick carpet, took the glasses, drank them and then picked up their tools again; tools in hand and in the working clothes they looked eternal. The Colonel was almost sure that he would at last hear theirclapping approval, when a sigh coming from the Plant became distinctly audible. Some of the People around him struck their hands even more assiduously and although the Colonel heard the sighs, the sound of the hands was stronger and much more pleasant to the ear. The Host got disaffected and though he was an Actor by nature, did not Manage to suppress his anger. His commands carried venom now, Some of the Boys felt scarlet streaks dart across their faces, some women hoped to see an unprecedented performance. Heedless of the orders, however, the Boys made themselves comfortable in the trendy fawn-coloured armchairs and though they continued to drink in their dignified manner, never for a moment let go of their tools. When the Colonel ordered them to put on their gas masks, they imperturbably sat on in their places; of course, inhaled through the breathing tube of the masks, the sigarettes had lost their taste. But now they all stood up, thanked him for his hospitality and left. The women were amazed to see that the greasy overalls had not left a single stain on the armchairs... The night was drawing to its end, the Colonel felt the first signs of weariness; the victory he had anticipated had been thwarted and he was bored and nervous and in need of a change of company. He remembered that the Girl was on night shift. He looked at his watch and walking out on his guests drove the jeep towards the Plant. The day would soon break and he was in a hurry. He knew the sun would soon be at his heels in a chase which was bound to make him both restless and fearless. The night was drawing to its end and the Girl still on shift was thinking:
Then she took the successive sample, sniffed the air and detected a strange odour in it, something mixed with pain and a sense of predestination. The Boys from the Control room were drowsily staring at the instruments, the agitated shudder of the pointers ere keeping them alert. "The crucial moment may have arrived," the thought passed through their minds, but they avoided the issue as often happens in unpleasant situations. The Girl stopped by each one of them, looked them warmly in the eye, smiled and then lowering her long eyelashes went out. It was as if she were saying good-bye to them. She went into the laboratory and got again conscious of That Part of the Plant, still squatting down there, gripped in its rheumatic pains, short-winded, with the thinning skin of the pipes oozing blood...
He was about to say to himself, "The incredible hatred that I often notice in the people under my command, "but consciously held back the thought. The jeep was jolting him mercilessly, the tight stylish breeches were viciously squeezing his testicles. The Colonel thought life was pretty tough, "Climbing up is getting harder. More often now my commands lack inspiration..."
He was almost there. There was nothing left of the night. Dawn, plying its heavenly sprayer was sprinkling the blood of the day over one end of the horizon. The Colonel sniffed the air and detected a strange odour in it, mixed with pain and predestination. All of a sudden he saw his image projected in the sky in front of him - in full size, stark naked, with a bulging abdomen and flabby testicles, with a huge shiny gun, girded round his ball waist, hairy legs, buried almost to the ankles in flames and around he could make out the outline of the Plant. It was only now that he felt an evil shiver in the air, the windscreen of the jeep shattered into tiny glistening bits that stroke his broad beardless face like a handful of pellets, thrown in his eyes. The Colonel jammed on the brakes, anxiously got out of the jeep and saw how That Part of the Plant, quite near now, leapt up half a metre above the ground, cast its eyes to left and right, made as if to dart for a moment or so and then slumped onto the forbearing Earth. The air thickened into a hard wall coming up in his direction at a lightning speed. The Colonel was hit by its rigidness, it swept him off and when he came to, a while later, he saw the overturned jeep sprawled by the road. Over there, where That Part of the Plant had been, bursting flames were trying to burn through the sky and forlorn concrete pillars, sooty and dizzy, were stretching out into the sky in utter bewilderment. The Colonel did not believe his eyes and instinctively made a step or two towards the vision. It was then that he heard the Murderous Blast and only then did he see in the flames the twisting wreaths of black smoke that were reminiscent of something. He gazed through the Horror and the Chaos, straining his shortsighted eyes and it was revealed to him that what he had most been afraid of had happened. And it was too late He turned towards where That Part of the Plant had stood not so much because there was anything that could be done, but out of curiosity. It was too late to do anything but organise a decent funeral. After the Murderous Blast the Colonel was able to see the twisting wreaths of black smoke which brought to mind something familiar. Gazing through the Horror and the Chaos he recognised the hair of the Girl. She had risen, that child of a woman, with her life that she had not lived through, she had risen with some of the Boys, flying up as if trying to escape from him, the Colonel who pretended to be an Actor, and his acts; they had flown up with no thought for the ones who stayed behind and whose hearts they had broken, no thought of the trouble they were causing. The Colonel realised:
The idea was a godsend. He clutched at it, turned his back to the flames and walked towards the Cotrol room, it had survived. The blood of the day had already stained the whole of the sky. The Colonel saw through the glass door that they were searching for him. The Firemen and the Guys from the Security Outfit were marching up with grim faces, looking for him and prepared to give him first aid. "The First Secretary must have sent them," and he had another vision. He saw himself walking along the alleys of the Plant with an enormous old-time cow-bell hung round his neck, all the windows and hatchways were being hastily shut as if he were exuding an ominous stench. The Colonel smiled to himself and thought:
"Yes, but leprosy has been liquidated!"
He stood up, looked at his bloodshot eyes in the mirror and prepared to meet the Firemen and the Guys from the Security Outfit. They were marching up decisively and were almost there when the Colonel ordered them to halt. He was obviously not heard for they continued walking. The Colonel switched on the loudspeakers, picked up the megaphone so his voice would sound stronger and a resounding echo filled the air:
"The Boys never applauded me. The Boys did not approve. They have to be saved ... They are... They..."
His voice hit the advancing ranks, they drew close and continued marching forward. The Colonel was confused and bewildered. He tried once again:
"It's not just me, I am not alone... A play is a collective undertaking... I'm just a co-author... Save them... The...
For a moment the ranks hesitated, then walked forward again, intent on their original task. The Colonel took off his weighty revolver, determined to stop them at any cost. But they were drawing closer, the golden bugs shooting out of his hand crashed against their firmness and their ominous buzz faded away like a receding memory. Tha footfalls of the Firemen and the Guys from the Security Outfit could already be heard on the emergency stair case, when a golden bug suddenly turned back, stung the Colonel on the temple and went numb. The Colonel saw once again the wreaths of black smoke and felt he was rising up after the black hair of the Girl. For a moment he was relieved but then realised that no matter how hard he tried to catch up with her he would always be behind. The Boys looked at him from above, smiled and clapped hands. Their praise made the Colonel feel a sharp, piercing pain. The Plant raised its weary eyes, saw the stout heavenly racer, gave a sigh of relief and got down to work -its wounds needed proper bandaging.
© Angel G. Angelov