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The Cyberiad

The Cyberiad


A brilliantly crafted collection of stories from celebrated science fiction writer Stanislaw Lem
    Trurl and Klaupacius are constructor robots who try to out-invent each other. Over the course of their adventures in The Cyberiad, they travel to the far corners of the cosmos to take on freelance problem-solving jobs, with dire consequences for their unsuspecting employers. Playfully written, and ranging from the prophetic to the surreal, these stories demonstrate Stanislaw Lem’s vast talent and remarkable ability to blend meaning and magic into a wholly entertaining and captivating work.

Stanislaw Lem THE CYBERIAD Fables for the Cybernetic Age Translated from the Polish by Michael Kandel Illustrated by Daniel Mroz


    One day Trurl the constructor put together a machine that could create anything starting with n. When it was ready, he tried it out, ordering it to make needles, then nankeens and negligees, which it did, then nail the lot to narghiles filled with nepenthe and numerous other narcotics. The machine carried out his instructions to the letter. Still not completely sure of its ability, he had it produce, one after the other, nimbuses, noodles, nuclei, neutrons, naphtha, noses, nymphs, naiads, and natrium. This last it could not do, and Trurl, considerably irritated, demanded an explanation.
    “Never heard of it,” said the machine.
    “What? But it’s only sodium. You know, the metal, the element…”
    “Sodium starts with an s, and I work only in n.”
    “But in Latin it’s natrium.”
    “Look, old boy,” said the machine, “if I could do everything starting with n in every possible language, I’d be a Machine That Could Do Everything in the Whole Alphabet, since any item you care to mention undoubtedly starts with n in one foreign language or another. It’s not that easy. I can’t go beyond what you programmed. So no sodium.”
    “Very well,” said Trurl and ordered it to make Night, which it made at once—small perhaps, but perfectly nocturnal. Only then did Trurl invite over his friend Klapaucius the constructor, and introduced him to the machine, praising its extraordinary skill at such length, that Klapaucius grew annoyed and inquired whether he too might not test the machine.
    “Be my guest,” said Trurl. “But it has to start with n.”
    “N?” said Klapaucius. “All right, let it make Nature.”
    The machine whined, and in a trice Trurl’s front yard was packed with naturalists. They argued, each publishing heavy volumes, which the others tore to pieces; in the distance one could see flaming pyres, on which martyrs to Nature were sizzling; there was thunder, and strange mushroom-shaped columns of smoke rose up; everyone talked at once, no one listened, and there were all sorts of memoranda, appeals, subpoenas and other documents, while off to the side sat a few old men, feverishly scribbling on scraps of paper.
    “Not bad, eh?” said Trurl with pride. “Nature to a T, admit it!”
    But Klapaucius wasn’t satisfied.
    “What, that mob? Surely you’re not going to tell me that’s Nature?”
    “Then give the machine something else,” snapped Trurl. “Whatever you like.” For a moment Klapaucius was at a loss for what to ask. But after a little thought he declared that he would put two more tasks to the machine; if it could fulfill them, he would admit that it was all Trurl said it was. Trurl agreed to this, whereupon Klapaucius requested Negative.
    “Negative?!” cried Trurl. “What on earth is Negative?”
    “The opposite of positive, of course,” Klapaucius coolly replied. “Negative attitudes, the negative of a picture, for example. Now don’t try to pretend you never heard of Negative. All right, machine, get to work!”
    The machine, however, had already begun. First it manufactured antiprotons, then antielectrons, antineutrons, antineutrinos, and labored on, until from out of all this antimatter an antiworld took shape, glowing like a ghostly cloud above their heads.
    “H’m,” muttered Klapaucius, displeased. “That’s supposed to be Negative? Well… let’s say it is, for the sake of peace.… But now here’s the third command: Machine, do Nothing!”
    The machine sat still. Klapaucius rubbed his hands in triumph, but Trurl said:
    “Well, what did you expect? You asked it to do nothing, and it’s doing nothing.”
    “Correction: I asked it to do Nothing, but it’s doing nothing.”
    “Nothing is nothing!”
    “Come, come. It was supposed to do Nothing, but it hasn’t done anything, and therefore I’ve won. For Nothing, my dear and clever colleague, is not your run-of-the-mill nothing, the result of idleness and inactivity, but dynamic, aggressive Nothingness, that is to say, perfect, unique, ubiquitous, in other words Nonexistence, ultimate and supreme, in its very own nonperson!”
    “You’re confusing the machine!” cried Trurl. But suddenly its metallic voice rang out:
    “Really, how can you two bicker at a time like this? Oh yes, I know what Nothing is, and Nothingness, Nonexistence, Nonentity, Negation, Nullity and Nihility, since all these come under the heading of n, n as in Nil. Look then upon your world for the last time, gentlemen! Soon it shall no longer be…”
    The constructors froze, forgetting their quarrel, for the machine was in actual fact doing Nothing, and it did it in this fashion: one by one, various things were removed from the world, and the things, thus removed, ceased to exist, as if they had never been. The machine had already disposed of nolars, nightzebs, nocs, necs, nallyrakers, neotremes and nonmalrigers. At moments, though, it seemed that instead of reducing, diminishing and subtracting, the machine was increasing, enhancing and adding, since it liquidated, in turn: nonconformists, nonentities, nonsense, nonsupport, nearsightedness, narrowmindedness, naughtiness, neglect, nausea, necrophilia and nepotism. But after a while the world very definitely began to thin out around Trurl and Klapaucius.
    “Omigosh!” said Trurl. “If only nothing bad comes out of all this…”
    “Don’t worry,” said Klapaucius. “You can see it’s not producing Universal Nothingness, but only causing the absence of whatever starts with n. Which is really nothing in the way of nothing, and nothing is what your machine, dear Trurl, is worth!”
    “Do not be deceived,” replied the machine. “I’ve begun, it’s true, with everything in n, but only out of familiarity. To create however is one thing, to destroy, another thing entirely. I can blot out the world for the simple reason that I’m able to do anything and everything—and everything means everything—in n, and consequently Nothingness is child’s play for me. In less than a minute now you will cease to have existence, along with everything else, so tell me now, Klapaucius, and quickly, that I am really and truly everything I was programmed to be, before it is too late.”
    “But—” Klapaucius was about to protest, but noticed, just then, that a number of things were indeed disappearing, and not merely those that started with n. The constructors were no longer surrounded by the gruncheons, the targalisks, the shupops, the calinatifacts, the thists, worches and pritons.
    “Stop! I take it all back! Desist! Whoa! Don’t do Nothing!!” screamed Klapaucius. But before the machine could come to a full stop, all the brashations, plusters, laries and zits had vanished away. Now the machine stood motionless. The world was a dreadful sight. The sky had particularly suffered: there were only a few, isolated points of light in the heavens—no trace of the glorious worches and zits that had, till now, graced the horizon!
    “Great Gauss!” cried Klapaucius. “And where are the gruncheons? Where my dear, favorite pritons? Where now the gentle zits?!”
    “They no longer are, nor ever will exist again,” the machine said calmly. “I executed, or rather only began to execute, your order…”
    “I tell you to do Nothing, and you… you…”
    “Klapaucius, don’t pretend to be a greater idiot than you are,” said the machine. “Had I made Nothing outright, in one fell swoop, everything would have ceased to exist, and that includes Trurl, the sky, the Universe, and you—and even myself. In which case who could say and to whom could it be said that the order was carried out and I am an efficient and capable machine? And if no one could say it to no one, in what way then could I, who also would not be, be vindicated?”
    “Yes, fine, let’s drop the subject,” said Klapaucius. “I have nothing more to ask of you, only please, dear machine, please return the zits, for without them life loses all its charm…”
    “But I can’t, they’re in z,” said the machine. “Of course, I can restore nonsense, narrowmindedness, nausea, necrophilia, neuralgia, nefariousness and noxiousness. As for the other letters, however, I can’t help you.”
    “I want my zits!” bellowed Klapaucius.
    “Sorry, no zits,” said the machine. “Take a good look at this world, how riddled it is with huge, gaping holes, how full of Nothingness, the Nothingness that fills the bottomless void between the stars, how everything about us has become lined with it, how it darkly lurks behind each shred of matter. This is your work, envious one! And I hardly think the future generations will bless you for it…”
    “Perhaps… they won’t find out, perhaps they won’t notice,” groaned the pale Klapaucius, gazing up incredulously at the black emptiness of space and not daring to look his colleague, Trurl, in the eye. Leaving him beside the machine that could do everything in n, Klapaucius skulked home—and to this day the world has remained honeycombed with nothingness, exactly as it was when halted in the course of its liquidation. And as all subsequent attempts to build a machine on any other letter met with failure, it is to be feared that never again will we have such marvelous phenomena as the worches and the zits—no, never again.


    Once upon a time Trurl the constructor built an eight-story thinking machine. When it was finished, he gave it a coat of white paint, trimmed the edges in lavender, stepped back, squinted, then added a little curlicue on the front and, where one might imagine the forehead to be, a few pale orange polkadots. Extremely pleased with himself, he whistled an air and, as is always done on such occasions, asked it the ritual question of how much is two plus two.
    The machine stirred. Its tubes began to glow, its coils warmed up, current coursed through all its circuits like a waterfall, transformers hummed and throbbed, there was a clanging, and a chugging, and such an ungodly racket that Trurl began to think of adding a special mentation muffler. Meanwhile the machine labored on, as if it had been given the most difficult problem in the Universe to solve; the ground shook, the sand slid underfoot from the vibration, valves popped like champagne corks, the relays nearly gave way under the strain. At last, when Trurl had grown extremely impatient, the machine ground to a halt and said in a voice like thunder: SEVEN!
    “Nonsense, my dear,” said Trurl. “The answer’s four. Now be a good machine and adjust yourself! What’s two and two?”
    “SEVEN!” snapped the machine. Trurl sighed and put his coveralls back on, rolled up his sleeves, opened the bottom trapdoor and crawled in. For the longest time he hammered away inside, tightened, soldered, ran clattering up and down the metal stairs, now on the sixth floor, now on the eighth, then pounded back down to the bottom and threw a switch, but something sizzled in the middle, and the spark plugs grew blue whiskers. After two hours of this he came out, covered with soot but satisfied, put all his tools away, took off his coveralls, wiped his face and hands. As he was leaving, he turned and asked, just so there would be no doubt about it:
    “And now what’s two and two?”
    “SEVEN!” replied the machine.
    Trurl uttered a terrible oath, but there was no help for it—again he had to poke around inside the machine, disconnecting, correcting, checking, resetting, and when he learned for the third time that two and two was seven, he collapsed in despair at the foot of the machine, and sat there until Klapaucius found him. Klapaucius inquired what was wrong, for Trurl looked as if he had just returned from a funeral. Trurl explained the problem. Klapaucius crawled into the machine himself a couple of times, tried to fix this and that, then asked it for the sum of one plus two, which turned out to be six. One plus one, according to the machine, equaled zero. Klapaucius scratched his head, cleared his throat and said:
    “My friend, you’ll just have to face it. That isn’t the machine you wished to make. However, there’s a good side to everything, including this.”
    “What good side?” muttered Trurl, and kicked the base on which he was sitting.
    “Stop that,” said the machine.
    “H’m, it’s sensitive too. But where was I? Oh yes… there’s no question but that we have here a stupid machine, and not merely stupid in the usual, normal way, oh no! This is, as far as I can determine—and you know I am something of an expert—this is the stupidest thinking machine in the entire world, and that’s nothing to sneeze at! To construct deliberately such a machine would be far from easy; in fact, I would say that no one could manage it. For the thing is not only stupid, but stubborn as a mule, that is, it has a personality common to idiots, for idiots are uncommonly stubborn.”
    “What earthly use do I have for such a machine?!” said Trurl, and kicked it again.
    “I’m warning you, you better stop!” said the machine.
    “A warning, if you please,” observed Klapaucius dryly. “Not only is it sensitive, dense and stubborn, but quick to take offense, and believe me, with such an abundance of qualities there are all sorts of things you might do!”
    “What, for example?” asked Trurl.
    “Well, it’s hard to say offhand. You might put it on exhibit and charge admission; people would flock to see the stupidest thinking machine that ever was—what does it have, eight stories? Really, could anyone imagine a bigger dunce? And the exhibition would not only cover your costs, but—”
    “Enough, I’m not holding any exhibition!” Trurl said, stood up and, unable to restrain himself, kicked the machine once more.
    “This is your third warning,” said the machine.
    “What?” cried Trurl, infuriated by its imperious manner. “You… you…” And he kicked it several times, shouting: “You’re only good for kicking, you know that?”
    “You have insulted me for the fourth, fifth, sixth and eighth times,” said the machine. “Therefore I refuse to answer all further questions of a mathematical nature.”
    “It refuses! Do you hear that?” fumed Trurl, thoroughly exasperated. “After six comes eight—did you notice, Klapaucius?—not seven, but eight! And that’s the kind of mathematics Her Highness refuses to perform! Take that! And that! And that! Or perhaps you’d like some more?”
    The machine shuddered, shook, and without another word started to lift itself from its foundations. They were very deep, and the girders began to bend, but at last it scrambled out, leaving behind broken concrete blocks with steel spokes protruding—and it bore down on Trurl and Klapaucius like a moving fortress. Trurl was so dumb-founded that he didn’t even try to hide from the machine, which to all appearances intended to crush him to a pulp. But Klapaucius grabbed his arm and yanked him away, and the two of them took to their heels. When finally they looked back, they saw the machine swaying like a high tower, advancing slowly, at every step sinking to its second floor, but stubbornly, doggedly pulling itself out of the sand and heading straight for them.
    “Whoever heard of such a thing?” Trurl gasped in amazement. “Why, this is mutiny! What do we do now?”
    “Wait and watch,” replied the prudent Klapaucius. “We may learn something.”
    But there was nothing to be learned just then. The machine had reached firmer ground and was picking up speed. Inside, it whistled, hissed and sputtered.
    “Any minute now the signal box will knock loose,” said Trurl under his breath. “That’ll jam the program and stop it…”
    “No,” said Klapaucius, “this is a special case. The thing is so stupid, that even if the whole transmission goes, it won’t matter. But—look out!!”
    The machine was gathering momentum, clearly bent on running them down, so they fled just as fast as they could, the fearful rhythm of crunching steps in their ears. They ran and ran—what else could they do? They tried to make it back to their native district, but the machine outflanked them, cut them off, forced them deeper and deeper into a wild, uninhabited region. Mountains, dismal and craggy, slowly rose out of the mist. Trurl, panting heavily, shouted to Klapaucius:
    “Listen! Let’s turn into some narrow canyon… where it won’t be able to follow us… the cursed thing… what do you say?”
    “No… better go straight,” wheezed Klapaucius. “There’s a town up ahead… can’t remember the name… anyway, we can find—oof!—find shelter there…”
    So they ran straight and soon saw houses before them. The streets were practically deserted at this time of day, and the constructors had gone a good distance without meeting a living soul, when suddenly an awful crash, like an avalanche at the edge of the town, indicated that the machine was coming after them.
    Trurl looked back and groaned.
    “Good heavens! It’s tearing down the houses, Klapaucius!!” For the machine, in stubborn pursuit, was plowing through the walls of the buildings like a mountain of steel, and in its wake lay piles of rubble and white clouds of plaster dust. There were dreadful screams, confusion in the streets, and Trurl and Klapaucius, their hearts in their mouths, ran on till they came to a large town hall, darted inside and raced down endless stairs to a deep cellar.
    “It won’t get us in here, even if it brings the whole building down on our heads!” panted Klapaucius. “But really, the devil himself had me pay you a visit today.… I was curious to see how your work was going—well, I certainly found out…”
    “Quiet,” interrupted Trurl. “Someone’s coming…”
    And indeed, the cellar door opened up and the mayor entered, accompanied by several aldermen. Trurl was too embarrassed to explain how this strange and calamitous situation had come about; Klapaucius had to do it. The mayor listened in silence. Suddenly the walls trembled, the ground heaved, and the sound of cracking stone reached them in the cellar.
    “It’s here?!” cried Trurl.
    “Yes,” said the mayor. “And it demands that we give you up, otherwise it says it will level the entire town…”
    Just then they heard, far overhead, words that honked as if from a muffled horn:
    “Trul’s here… I smell Trurl…”
    “But surely you won’t give us up?” asked in a quavering voice the object of the machine’s obstinate fury.
    “The one of you who calls himself Trurl must leave. The other may remain, since surrendering him does not constitute part of the conditions…”
    “Have mercy!”
    “We are helpless,” said the mayor. “And were you to stay here, Trurl, you would have to answer for all the damage done to this town and its inhabitants, since it was because of you that the machine destroyed sixteen homes and buried beneath their ruins many of our finest citizens. Only the fact that you yourself stand in imminent peril permits me to let you leave unpunished. Go then, and nevermore return.”
    Trurl looked at the aldermen and, seeing his sentence written on their stern faces, slowly turned and made for the door.
    “Wait! I’ll go with you!” cried Klapaucius impulsively.
    “You?” said Trurl, a faint hope in his voice. “But no…” he added after a moment. “Why should you have to perish too?…”
    “Nonsense!” rejoined Klapaucius with great energy. “What, us perish at the hands of that iron imbecile? Never! It takes more than that, my friend, to wipe two of the most famous constructors off the face of the globe! Come, Trurl! Chin up!”
    Encouraged by these words, Trurl ran up the stairs after Klapaucius. There was not a soul outside in the square. Amid clouds of dust and the gaunt skeletons of demolished homes, stood the machine, higher than the town hall tower itself, puffing steam, covered with the blood of powdered brick and smeared with chalk.
    “Careful!” whispered Klapaucius. “It doesn’t see us. Let’s take that first street on the left, then turn right, then straight for those mountains. There we can take refuge and think of how to make the thing give up once and for all its insane… Now!” he yelled, for the machine had just spotted them and was charging, making the pavement buckle.
    Breathless, they ran from the town and galloped along for a mile or so, hearing behind them the thunderous stride of the colossus that followed relentlessly.
    “I know that ravine!” Klapaucius suddenly cried. “That’s the bed of a dried-out stream and it leads to cliffs and caves —faster, faster, the thing’ll have to stop soon!…”
    So they raced uphill, stumbling and waving their arms to keep their balance, but the machine still gained on them. Scrambling up over the gravel of the dried-out riverbed, they reached a crevice in the perpendicular rock and, seeing high above them the murky mouth of a cave, began to climb frantically toward it, no longer caring about the loose stones that flew from under their feet. The opening in the rock breathed chill and darkness. As quickly as they could, they leaped inside, ran a few extra steps, then stopped.
    “Well, here at least we’re safe,” said Trurl, calm once again. “I’ll just take a look, to see where it got stuck…”
    “Be careful,” cautioned Klapaucius. Trurl inched his way to the edge of the cave, leaned out, and immediately jumped back in fright.
    “It’s coming up the mountain!!” he cried.
    “Don’t worry, it’ll never be able to get in here,” said Klapaucius, not altogether convinced. “But what’s that? Is it getting dark? Oh no!”
    At that moment a great shadow blotted out the bit of sky visible through the mouth of the cave, and in its place appeared a smooth steel wall with rows of rivets. It was the machine slowly closing with the rock, thereby sealing up the cave as if with a mighty metal lid.
    “We’re trapped…” whispered Trurl, his voice breaking off when the darkness became absolute.
    “That was idiotic on our part!” Klapaucius exclaimed, furious. “To jump into a cave that it could barricade! How could we have done such a thing?”
    “What do you think it’s waiting for now?” asked Trurl after a long pause.
    “For us to give up—that doesn’t take any great brains.”
    Again there was silence. Trurl tiptoed in the darkness, hands outstretched, in the direction of the opening, running his fingers along the stone until he touched the smooth steel, which was warm, as if heated from within…
    “I feel Trurl…” boomed the iron voice. Trurl hastily retreated, took a seat alongside his friend, and for some time they sat there, motionless. At last Klapaucius whispered:
    “There’s no sense our just sitting here. I’ll try to reason with it…”
    “That’s hopeless,” said Trurl. “But go ahead. Perhaps it will at least let you go free…”
    “Now, now, none of that!” said Klapaucius, patting him on the back. And he groped his way toward the mouth of the cave and called: “Hello out there, can you hear us?”
    “Yes,” said the machine.
    “Listen, we’d like to apologize. You see… well, there was a little misunderstanding, true, but it was nothing, really. Trurl had no intention of…”
    “I’ll pulverize Trurl!” said the machine. “But first, he’ll tell me how much two and two makes.”
    “Of course he will, of course he will, and you’ll be happy with his answer, and make it up with him for sure, isn’t that right, Trurl?” said the mediator soothingly.
    “Yes, of course…” mumbled Trurl.
    “Really?” said the machine. “Then how much is two and two?”
    “Fo… that is, seven…” said Trurl in an even lower voice.
    “Ha! Not four, but seven, eh?” crowed the machine. “There, I told you so!”
    “Seven, yes, seven, we always knew it was seven!” Klapaucius eagerly agreed. “Now will you, uh, let us go?” he added cautiously.
    “No. Let Trurl say how sorry he is and tell me how much is two times two…”
    “And you’ll let us go, if I do?” asked Trurl.
    “I don’t know. I’ll think about it. I’m not making any deals. What’s two times two?”
    “But you probably will let us go, won’t you?” said Trurl, while Klapaucius pulled on his arm and hissed in his ear: “The thing’s an imbecile, don’t argue with it, for heaven’s sake!”
    “I won’t let you go, if I don’t want to,” said the machine. “You just tell me how much two times two is…”
    Suddenly Trurl fell into a rage.
    “I’ll tell you, I’ll tell you all right!” he screamed. “Two and two is four and two times two is four, even if you stand on your head, pound these mountains all to dust, drink the ocean dry and swallow the sky—do you hear? Two and two is four!!”
    “Trurl! What are you saying? Have you taken leave of your senses? Two and two is seven, nice machine! Seven, seven!!” howled Klapaucius, trying to drown out his friend.
    “No! It’s four! Four and only four, four from the beginning to the end of time—FOUR!!” bellowed Trurl, growing hoarse.
    The rock beneath their feet was seized with a feverish tremor.
    The machine moved away from the cave, letting in a little pale light, and gave a piercing scream:
    “That’s not true! It’s seven! Say it’s seven or I’ll hit you!”
    “Never!” roared Trurl, as if he no longer cared what happened, and pebbles and dirt rained down on their heads, for the machine had begun to ram its eight-story hulk again and again into the wall of stone, hurling itself against the mountainside until huge boulders broke away and went tumbling down into the valley.
    Thunder and sulfurous fumes filled the cave, and sparks flew from the blows of steel on rock, yet through all this pandemonium one could still make out, now and then, the ragged voice of Trurl bawling:
    “Two and two is four! Two and two is four!!” Klapaucius attempted to shut his friend’s mouth by force, but, violently thrown off, he gave up, sat and covered his head with his arms. Not for a moment did the machine’s mad efforts flag, and it seemed that any minute now the ceiling would collapse, crush the prisoners and bury them forever. But when they had lost all hope, and the air was thick with acrid smoke and choking dust, there was suddenly a horrible scraping, and a sound like a slow explosion, louder than all the maniacal banging and battering, and the air whooshed, and the black wall that blocked the cave was whisked away, as if by a hurricane, and monstrous chunks of rock came crashing down after it. The echoes of that avalanche still rumbled and reverberated in the valley below when the two friends peered out of their cave. They saw the machine. It lay smashed and flattened, nearly broken in half by an enormous boulder that had landed in the middle of its eight floors. With the greatest care they picked their way down through the smoking rubble. In order to reach the riverbed, it was necessary to pass the remains of the machine, which resembled the wreck of some mighty vessel thrown up upon a beach. Without a word, the two stopped together in the shadow of its twisted hull. The machine still quivered slightly, and one could hear something turning, creaking feebly, within.
    “Yes, this is the bad end you’ve come to, and two and two is—as it always was—” began Trurl, but just then the machine made a faint, barely audible croaking noise and said, for the last time, “SEVEN.”
    Then something snapped inside, a few stones dribbled down from overhead, and now before them lay nothing but a lifeless mass of scrap. The two constructors exchanged a look and silently, without any further comment or conversation, walked back the way they came.


    Someone was knocking at the door of Klapaucius the constructor. He looked out and saw a potbellied machine on four short legs.
    “Who are you and what do you want?” he asked.
    “I’m a Machine to Grant Your Every Wish and have been sent here by your good friend and colleague, Trurl the Magnificent, as a gift.”
    “A gift, eh?” replied Klapaucius, whose feelings for Trurl were mixed, to say the least. He was particularly irked by the phrase “Trurl the Magnificent.” But after a little thought he said, “All right, you can come in.”
    He had it stand in the corner by the grandfather clock while he returned to his work, a squat machine on three short legs, which was almost completed—he was just putting on the finishing touches. After a while the Machine to Grant Your Every Wish cleared its throat and said:
    “I’m still here.”
    “I haven’t forgotten you,” said Klapaucius, not looking up. After another while the machine cleared its throat again and asked:
    “May I ask what you’re making there?”
    “Are you a Machine to Grant Wishes or a Machine to Ask Questions?” said Klapaucius, but added: “I need some blue paint.”
    “I hope it’s the right shade,” said the machine, opening a door in its belly and pulling out a bucket of blue. Klapaucius dipped his brush in it without a word and began to paint. In the next few hours he needed sandpaper, some Carborundum, a brace and bit, white paint and one No. 5 screw, all of which the machine handed over on the spot.
    That evening he covered his work with a sheet of canvas, had dinner, then pulled up a chair opposite the machine and said:
    “Now we’ll see what you can do. So you say you can grant every wish…”
    “Most every wish,” replied the machine modestly. “The paint, sandpaper and No. 5 screw were satisfactory, I hope?”
    “Quite, quite,” said Klapaucius. “But now I have in mind something a bit more difficult. If you can’t do it, I’ll return you to your master with my kind thanks and a professional opinion.”
    “All right, what is it?” asked the machine, fidgeting.
    “A Trurl,” said Klapaucius. “I want a Trurl, the spit and image of Trurl himself, so alike that no one could ever tell them apart.”
    The machine muttered and hummed and finally said:
    “Very well, I’ll make you a Trurl. But please handle him with care—he is, after all, a truly magnificent constructor.”
    “Oh but of course, you needn’t worry about that,” said Klapaucius. “Well, where is it?”
    “What, right away?” said the machine. “A Trurl isn’t a No. 5 screw, you know. It’ll take time.”
    But it wasn’t long at all before the door in the machine’s belly opened and a Trurl climbed out. Klapaucius looked it up and down and around, touched it, tapped it, but there wasn’t any doubt: here was a Trurl as much like the original Trurl as two peas in a pod. This Trurl squinted a little, unaccustomed to the light, but otherwise behaved in a perfectly normal fashion.
    “Hello, Trurl!” said Klapaucius.
    “Hello, Klapaucius! But wait, how did I get here?” Trurl answered, clearly bewildered.
    “Oh, you just dropped in.… You know, I haven’t seen you in ages. How do you like my place?”
    “Fine, fine… What do you have there under that canvas?”
    “Nothing much. Won’t you take a seat?”
    “Well, I really ought to be going. It’s getting dark…”
    “Don’t rush off, you just got here!” protested Klapaucius. “And you haven’t seen my cellar yet.”
    “Your cellar?”
    “Yes, you should find it most interesting. This way…”
    And Klapaucius put an arm around Trurl and led him to the cellar, where he tripped him, pinned him down and quickly tied him up, then took out a big crowbar and began to wallop the daylights out of him. Trurl howled, called for help, cursed, begged for mercy, but Klapaucius didn’t stop and the blows rang out and echoed in the dark and empty night.
    “Ouch! Ouch!! Why are you beating me?!” yelled Trurl, cowering.
    “It gives me pleasure,” explained Klapaucius, swinging back. “You should try it sometime, Trurl!”
    And he landed him one on the head, which boomed like a drum.
    “If you don’t let me go at once, I’ll tell the King and he’ll have you thrown in his deepest dungeon!!” screamed Trurl.
    “Oh no he won’t. And do you know why?” asked Klapaucius, sitting down for a moment to catch his breath.
    “Tell me,” said Trurl, glad of the reprieve.
    “Because you’re not the real Trurl. Trurl, you see, built a Machine to Grant Your Every Wish and sent it here as a gift; to test it out, I had it make you! And now I’m going to knock off your head, put it at the foot of my bed and use it for a bootjack.”
    “You monster! Why are you doing this to me?”
    “I already told you: it gives me pleasure. But enough of this idle chatter!” And Klapaucius got up and this time picked up a huge bludgeon in both hands—but Trurl cried out:
    “Wait! Stop! I have something to tell you!!”
    “I wonder what you could possibly tell me to keep me from using your head as a bootjack,” replied Klapaucius.
    Trurl quickly yelled:
    “I’m not any Trurl from a machine! I’m the real Trurl —I only wanted to find out what you’ve been doing lately behind closed doors and drawn curtains, so I built a machine, hid in its belly and had it take me here, pretending to be a gift!”
    “Come now, that’s an obvious fabrication and not even clever!” said Klapaucius, hefting his bludgeon. “Don’t waste your breath, I can see right through you. You came out of a machine that grants wishes, and if it manufactures paint and sandpaper, a brace and bit, and a No. 5 screw, it can surely manufacture you!”
    “I had all that prepared beforehand in its belly!” cried Trurl. “It wasn’t hard to anticipate what you’d need in your work! I swear I’m telling the truth!”
    “Are you trying to tell me that my good friend and colleague, Trurl the Magnificent, is nothing but a common sneak? No, that I will never believe!” replied Klapaucius. “Take that!”
    And he let him have it.
    “That’s for slandering my good friend Trurl! And take that! And that!”
    And he let him have it again, and again, clubbing and clobbering until his arm was too tired to club or clobber anymore.
    “Now I’ll have a little nap and rest up,” said Klapaucius, throwing aside the bludgeon. “But don’t you worry, I’ll be back…” And he left, and soon was snoring so loud you could hear it even in the cellar. Trurl writhed and twisted until he loosened his bonds enough to slip off the knots, got up, crept back to the machine, climbed inside and took off for home at a gallop. Klapaucius meanwhile was watching the escape from his bedroom window, pressing a hand over his mouth to keep from laughing out loud. The next day he went to pay Trurl a visit. It was a gloomy and silent Trurl that let him in. The room was dark, but even so, Klapaucius could see that Trurl’s person bore the marks of a good shellacking—though it was apparent that Trurl had gone to some trouble to touch up the scratches and hammer out the dents.
    “Why so gloomy?” asked a cheerful Klapaucius. “I came to thank you for the nice gift—what a shame, though, it ran off while I slept, and in such a hurry that it left the door open!”
    “It seems to me,” snapped Trurl, “that you somewhat misused, or should I say abused, my gift. Oh, you needn’t bother to explain, the machine told me everything. You had it make me, me, then lured me, I mean the copy of me, to the cellar, where you beat it unmercifully! And after this great insult to my person, after this act of the blackest ingratitude, you dare show your face here as if nothing happened! What do you have to say for yourself?”
    “I really don’t understand why you’re so angry,” said Klapaucius. “It’s true I had the machine make a copy of you, and I must say it was absolutely perfect, an amazing likeness. As far as the beating goes, well, your machine must have exaggerated a little—I did give the artificial Trurl a poke or two, but only to see if it was well made, and perhaps also to test its reflexes, which were quite good, by the way. It turned out to be very much on its toes, and even tried to argue that it was really you, can you imagine—? Of course I didn’t believe it, but then it swore the gift wasn’t a gift at all, but some sort of low and underhanded trick. Well, I had to defend the honor of my good friend, you understand, so I thrashed it some for slandering you so shamelessly. On the other hand I found it to be extremely intelligent; so you see, Trurl, it resembled you mentally as well as physically. You are indeed a great and magnificent constructor, which is precisely what I came to tell you so early in the morning!”
    “Well, yes, in that case,” said Trurl, considerably appeased. “Though your use of the Machine to Grant Your Every Wish was not, I would say, the most fortunate…”
    “Oh yes, one other thing I wanted to ask,” said Klapau-cius, all innocence. “What did you do with the artificial Trurl? Could I see it?”
    “It was beside itself with rage,” explained Trurl. “It said it would ambush you by that mountain pass near your house and tear you limb from limb. I tried to reason with it, but it called me names, ran out into the night and started putting together all sorts of booby traps for you—and so, dear Klapaucius, though you had insulted me, I remembered our old friendship and decided to remove this threat to your life and limb. Hence I had to disassemble it…”
    And he touched a few nuts and bolts on the floor with his shoe, and sighed.
    Whereupon they exchanged kind words, shook hands and parted the best of friends.
    From that time on, Trurl did nothing but tell everyone how he had given Klapaucius a Machine to Grant Your Every Wish, how then Klapaucius had insulted him by having it make an artificial Trurl, which he proceeded to beat black-and-blue; how then this excellently constructed copy of the great constructor made clever lies to save itself, and finally managed to escape while Klapaucius slept, and how Trurl himself, the real Trurl, eventually had to disassemble the artificial Trurl to protect his good friend and colleague from its vengeance. Trurl told this story so often and at such length, elaborating on his glorious achievement (and never failing to call on Klapaucius as a witness), that it reached the ears of the Royal Court at last, and now no one spoke of Trurl other than with the utmost respect, though not long ago he had been commonly called the Constructor of the World’s Stupidest Computer. When Klapaucius heard, one day, that the King himself had rewarded Trurl handsomely and decorated him with the Order of the Great Parallax, he threw up his hands and cried:
    “What? Here I was able to see through his little game and gave him so good a shellacking for it that he had to sneak home in the middle of the night and patch himself up, and even then he looked a sight! And for that they decorate him, praise him, shower him with riches? O tempora, O mores!…”
    Furious, he went home, locked himself in and drew the blinds. He too had been working on a Machine to Grant Your Every Wish, only Trurl had beat him to it.


The First Sally
The Trap of Gargantius

    When the Universe was not so out of whack as it is today, and all the stars were lined up in their proper places, so you could easily count them from left to right, or top to bottom, and the larger and bluer ones were set apart, and the smaller, yellowing types pushed off to the corners as bodies of a lower grade, when there was not a speck of dust to be found in outer space, nor any nebular debris—in those good old days it was the custom for constructors, once they had received their Diploma of Perpetual Omnipotence with distinction, to sally forth ofttimes and bring to distant lands the benefit of their expertise. And so it happened that, in keeping with this ancient custom, Trurl and Klapaucius, who could kindle or extinguish suns as easily as shelling peas, did venture out on such a voyage. When the vastness of the traveled void had erased in them all recollection of their native skies, they saw a planet up ahead—not too little, not too big, just about right—with one continent only, down the middle of which ran a bright red line: everything on one side was yellow, everything on the other, pink. Realizing at once that here were two neighboring kingdoms, the constructors held a brief council of war before landing.
    “With two kingdoms,” said Trurl, “it’s best you take one, and I the other. That way nobody’s feelings get hurt.”
    “Fine,” said Klapaucius. “But what if they ask for military aid? Such things happen.”
    “True, they could demand weapons, even superweapons,” Trurl agreed. “We’ll simply refuse.”
    “And if they insist, and threaten us?” returned Klapaucius. “This too can happen.”
    “Let’s see,” said Trurl, switching on the radio. It blared martial music, a rousing march.
    “I have an idea,” said Klapaucius, turning it off. “We can use the Gargantius Effect. What do you think?”
    “Ah, the Gargantius Effect!” cried Trurl. “I never heard of anyone actually using it. But there’s always a first time. Yes, why not?”
    “We’ll both be prepared to use it,” Klapaucius explained. “But it’s imperative that we use it together, otherwise we’re in serious trouble.”
    “No problem,” said Trurl. He took a small golden box out of his pocket and opened it. Inside, on velvet, lay two white beads. “You keep one, I’ll keep the other. Look at yours every evening; if it turns pink, that’ll mean I’ve started and you must too.”
    “So be it,” said Klapaucius and put his bead away. Then they landed, shook hands and set off in opposite directions.
    The kingdom to which Trurl repaired was ruled by King Atrocitus. He was a militarist to the core, and an incredible miser besides. To relieve the royal treasury, he did away with all punishments except for the death sentence. His favorite occupation was to abolish unnecessary offices; since that included the office of executioner, every condemned citizen was obliged to do his own beheading, or else—on rare occasions of royal clemency—have it done by his next of kin. Of the arts Atrocitus supported only those that entailed little expense, such as choral recitation, chess and military calisthenics. The art of war he held in particularly high esteem, for a victorious campaign brought in excellent returns; on the other hand, one could properly prepare for war only during an interval of peace, so the King advocated peace, though in moderation. His greatest reform was the nationalization of high treason. As the neighboring kingdom was continually sending spies, he created the office of Royal Informer, who, through a staff of subordinate traitors, would hand over State secrets to enemy agents for certain sums of money. Though as a rule the agents purchased only outdated secrets—those were less expensive and besides, they were held accountable to their own treasury for every penny spent.
    The subjects of Atrocitus rose early, were well-behaved, and worked long hours. They wove fascines and gabions for fortifications, made guns and denunciations. In order that the kingdom not be flooded with the latter (which in fact had happened during the reign of Bartholocaust the Walleyed several hundred years before), whoever wrote too many denunciations was required to pay a special luxury tax. In this way they were kept at a reasonable level. Arriving at the Court of Atrocitus, Trurl offered his services. The King— not surprisingly—wanted powerful instruments of war. Trurl asked for a few days to think it over, and as soon as he was alone in the little cubicle they had assigned to him, he looked at the bead in the golden box. It was white but, as he looked, turned slowly pink. “Aha,” he said to himself, “time to start with Gargantius!” And without further delay he took out his secret formulae and set to work.
    Klapaucius meanwhile found himself in the other kingdom, which was ruled by the mighty King Ferocitus. Here everything looked quite different than in Atrocia. This monarch too delighted in campaigns and marches, and he too spent heavily on armaments—but in an enlightened way, for he was a most generous lord and a great patron of the arts. He loved uniforms, gold braid, stripes and tassels, spurs, brigadiers with bells, destroyers, swords and chargers. A person of keen sensibilities, he trembled every time he christened a new destroyer. And he lavishly rewarded paintings of battle scenes, patriotically paying according to the number of fallen foes depicted, so that, on those endless panoramic canvases with which the kingdom was packed, mountains of enemy dead reached up to the sky. In practice he was an autocrat, yet with libertarian views; a martinet, yet magnanimous. On every anniversary of his coronation he instituted reforms. Once he ordered the guillotines decked with flowers, another time had them oiled so they wouldn’t squeak, and once he gilded the executioners’ axes and had them all resharpened—out of humanitarian considerations. Ferocitus was not overly dainty, yet he did frown upon excesses, and therefore by special decree regulated and standardized all wheels, racks, spikes, screws, chains and clubs. Beheadings of wrongthinkers—a rare enough event— took place with pomp and pageantry, brass bands, speeches, parades and floats. This high-minded monarch also had a theory, which he put into action, and this was the Theory of Universal Happiness. It is well known, certainly, that one does not laugh because one is amused, but rather, one is amused because one laughs. If then everyone maintains that things just couldn’t be better, attitudes immediately improve. The subjects of Ferocitus were thus required, for their own good, to go about shouting how wonderful everything was, and the old, indefinite greeting of “Hello” was changed by the King to the more emphatic “Hallelujah!” —though children up to the age of fourteen were permitted to say, “Wow!” or “Whee!", and the old-timers, “Swell!”
    Ferocitus rejoiced to see his people in such good spirits. Whenever he drove by in his destroyer-shaped carriage, crowds in the street would cheer, and whenever he graciously waved his royal hand, those up front would cry: “Wow!"—"Hallelujah!"—"Terrific!” A democrat at heart, he liked to stop and chat awhile with old soldiers who had been around and seen much, liked to hear tales of derring-do told at bivouacs, and often, when some foreign dignitary came for an audience, he would out of the blue clap him on the knee with his baton and bellow: “Have at them!"—or: “Swiggle the mizzen there, mates!"—or: “Thunderation!” For there was nothing he loved so much or held so dear as gumption, crust and pluck, roughness and toughness, powder, chowder, hardtack, grog and ammo. And so, whenever he was melancholy, he had his troops march by before him, singing: “Screw up yer courage, nuts to the foe"—"When currents lag, crank out the flag"—"We’ll scrap, stout lads, until we’re nought but scrap"—or the rousing anthem: “Lock, stock, and barrel.” And he commanded that, when he died, the old guard should sing his favorite song over the grave: “Old Robots Never Rust.”
    Klapaucius did not get to the court of this great ruler all at once. At the first village he came to, he knocked on several doors, but no one opened up. Finally he noticed in the deserted street a small child; it approached him and asked in a thin, high voice:
    “Wanna buy any, mister? They’re cheap.”
    “What are you selling?” inquired Klapaucius, surprised.
    “State secrets,” replied the child, lifting the edge of its smock to give him a glimpse of some mobilization plans. This surprised Klapaucius even more, and he said:
    “No, thank you, my little one. But can you tell me where I might find the mayor?”
    “What’cha want the mayor for?” asked the child.
    “I wish to speak with him.”
    “In secret?”
    “It makes no difference.”
    “Need a secret agent? My dad’s a secret agent. Dependable and cheap.”
    “Very well then, take me to your dad,” said Klapaucius, seeing he would get nowhere with the child. The child led him to one of the houses. Inside, though it was in the middle of the day, a family sat around a lighted lamp—a gray grandfather in a rocking chair, a grandmother knitting socks, and their fully grown and numerous progeny, each busy at his own household task. As soon as Klapaucius entered, they jumped up and seized him; the knitting needles turned out to be handcuffs, the lamp a microphone, and the grandmother the local chief of police.
    “They must have made a mistake,” thought Klapaucius, when he was beaten and thrown in jail. Patiently he waited through the night—there was nothing else he could do. The dawn came and revealed the cobwebs on the stone walls of his cell, also the rusted remains of previous prisoners. After a length of time he was taken and interrogated. It turned out that the little child as well as the houses—the whole village, in fact—all of it was a plant to trick foreign spies. But Klapaucius did not have to face the rigors of a long trial; the proceedings were quickly over. For attempting to establish contact with the informer-dad the punishment was a third-class guillotining, because the local administration had already allotted funds to buy out enemy agents for that fiscal year, and Klapaucius, on his part, repeatedly refused to purchase any State secrets from the police. Nor did he have sufficient ready cash to mitigate the offense. Still, the prisoner continued to protest his innocence—not that the judge believed a word of it; even if he had, to free him lay outside his jurisdiction. So the case was sent to a higher court, and in the meantime Klapaucius was subjected to torture, though more as a matter of form than out of any real necessity. In about a week his case took a turn for the better; finally acquitted, he proceeded to the Capitol where, after receiving instructions in the rules and regulations of court etiquette, he obtained the honor of a private audience with the King. They also gave him a bugle, for every citizen was obliged to announce his comings and goings in official places with appropriate flourishes, and such was the iron discipline of that land, that the sun was not considered risen without the blowing of reveille.
    Ferocitus did in fact demand new weapons. Klapaucius promised to fulfill this royal wish; his plan, he assured the King, represented a radical departure from the accepted principles of military action. What kind of army—he asked first—always emerged victorious? The one that had the finest leaders and the best disciplined soldiers. The leader gave the orders, the soldier carried them out; the former therefore had to be wise, the latter obedient. However, to the wisdom of the mind, even of the military mind, there were certain natural limits. A great leader, moreover, could come up against an equally great leader. Then too, he might fall in battle and leave his legion leaderless, or do something even more dreadful, since he was, as it were, professionally trained to think, and the object of his thoughts was power. Was it not dangerous to have a host of old generals in the field, their rusty heads so packed with tactics and strategy that they started pining for the throne? Had not more than one kingdom come to grief thereby? It was clear, then, that leaders were a necessary evil; the problem lay in making that evil unnecessary. To go on: the discipline of an army consisted in the precise execution of orders. Ideally, we would have a thousand hearts and minds molded into one heart, one mind, one will. Military regimens, drills, exercises and maneuvers all served this end. The ultimate goal was thus an army that literally acted as one man, in itself both creator and executor of its objectives. But where was the embodiment of such perfection to be found? Only in the individual, for no one was obeyed as willingly as one’s own self, and no one carried out orders as cheerfully as the one who gave those orders. Nor could an individual be dispersed, and insubordination or mutiny against himself was quite out of the question. The problem then was to take this eagerness to serve oneself, this self-worship which marked the individual, and make it a property of a force of thousands. How could this be done? Here Klapaucius began to explain to the keenly interested King the simple ideas—for are not all things of genius simple?—discovered by the great Gargantius.
    Into each recruit (he explained) a plug is screwed in front, a socket in back. Upon the command “Close up those ranks!” the plugs and sockets connect and, where only a moment before you had a crowd of civilians, there stands a battalion of perfect soldiers. When separate minds, hitherto occupied with all sorts of nonmartial nonsense, merge into one regimental consciousness, not only is there automatic discipline, for the army has become a single fighting machine composed of a million parts—but there is also wisdom. And that wisdom is directly proportional to the numbers involved. A platoon possesses the acumen of a master sergeant; a company is as shrewd as a lieutenant colonel, a brigade smarter than a field marshal; and a division is worth more than all the army’s strategists and specialists put together. In this way one can create formations of truly staggering perspicacity. And of course they will follow their own orders to the letter. This puts an end to the vagaries and reckless escapades of individuals, the dependence on a particular commander’s capabilities, the constant rivalries, envies and enmities between generals. And detachments, once joined, should not be put asunder, for that produces nothing but confusion. “An army whose only leader is itself—this is my idea!” Klapaucius concluded. The King was much impressed with his words and finally said:
    “Return to your quarters. I shall consult my general staff…”
    “Oh, do not do this, Your Royal Highness!” exclaimed the clever Klapaucius, feigning great consternation. “That is exactly what the Emperor Turbulon did, and his staff, to protect their own positions, advised him against it; shortly thereafter, the neighbor of Turbulon, King Enamuel, attacked with a revolutionized army and reduced the empire to ashes, though his forces were eight times smaller!”
    Whereupon he bowed, went to his room and inspected the little bead, which was red as a beet; that meant Trurl had done likewise at the court of Atrocitus. The King soon ordered Klapaucius to revolutionize one platoon of infantry; joined in spirit and now entirely of one mind, this tiny unit cried, “Kill, kill!” swooped down on three squadrons of the King’s dragoons, who were armed to the teeth and led moreover by six distinguished lecturers of the Academy of the General Staff—and cut them to ribbons. Great was the grief of the generals, marshals, admirals and commanders in chief, for the King sent them all into a speedy retirement; fully convinced of the efficacy of Klapaucius’ invention, he ordered the entire army revolutionized.
    And so munitions electricians worked day and night, turning out plugs and sockets by the carload, and these were installed as necessary in all the barracks. Covered with medals, Klapaucius rode from garrison to garrison and supervised everything. Trurl fared similarly in the kingdom of Atrocitus, except that, due to that monarch’s well-known parsimony, he had to content himself with the lifelong title of Great Betrayer of the Fatherland. Both kingdoms were now preparing for war. In the heat of mobilization, conventional as well as nuclear weapons were brought into battle trim, and cannons and atoms subjected to the utmost spit and polish, as per regulations. Their work now all but done, the two constructors packed their bags in secret, to be ready to meet, when the time came, at the appointed place near the ship they had left in the forest.
    Meanwhile miracles were taking place among the rank and file, particularly in the infantry. Companies no longer had to practice their marching drills, nor did they need to count off to learn their number, just as one who has two legs never mistakes his right for his left, nor finds it necessary to calculate how many of himself there are. It was a joy to see those new units do the Forward March, About Face and Company Halt; and afterwards, when they were dismissed, they took to chatting, and later, through the open windows of the barracks one could hear voices booming in chorus, disputing such matters as absolute truth, analytic versus synthetic a priori propositions, and the Thing-in-itself, for their collective minds had already attained that level. Various philosophical systems were hammered out, till finally a certain battalion of sappers arrived at a position of total solipsism, claiming that nothing really existed beyond itself. And since from this it followed that there was no King, nor any enemy, this battalion was quietly disconnected and its members reassigned to units that firmly adhered to epistemological realism. At about the same time, in the kingdom of Atrocitus, the sixth amphibious division forsook naval operations for navel contemplation and, thoroughly immersed in mysticism, very nearly drowned. Somehow or other, as a result of this incident, war was declared, and the troops, rumbling and clanking, slowly moved towards the border from either side.
    The law of Gargantius proceeded to work with inexorable logic. As formation joined formation, in proportion there developed an esthetic sense, which reached its apex at the level of a reinforced division, so that the columns of such a force easily became sidetracked, chasing off after butterflies, and when the motorized corps named for Bartholocaust approached an enemy fortress that had to be taken by storm, the plan of attack drawn up that night turned out to be a splendid painting of the battlements, done moreover in the abstractionist spirit, which ran counter to all military traditions. Among the artillery corps the weightiest metaphysical questions were considered, and, with an absentmindedness characteristic of great genius, these large units lost their weapons, misplaced their equipment and completely forgot that there was a war on. As for whole armies, their psyches were beset by a multitude of complexes, which often happens to overly developed intellects, and it became necessary to assign to each a special psychiatric motorcycle brigade, which applied appropriate therapy on the march.
    In the meantime, to the thunderous accompaniment of fife and drum, both sides slowly got into position. Six regiments of shock troops, supported by a battery of howitzers and two backup battalions, composed, with the assistance of a firing squad, a sonnet entitled “On the Mystery of Being,” and this took place during guard duty. There was considerable confusion in both armies; the Eightieth Marlabardian Corps, for instance, maintained that the whole concept of “enemy” needed to be more clearly defined, as it was full of logical contradictions and might even be altogether meaningless.
    Paratroopers tried to find algorithms for the local terrain, flanks kept colliding with centers, so at last the two kings sent airborne adjutants and couriers extraordinary to restore order in the ranks. But each of these, having flown or galloped up to the corps in question, before he could discover the cause of the disturbance, instantly lost his identity in the corporate identity, and the kings were left without adjutants or couriers. Consciousness, it seemed, formed a deadly trap, in that one could enter it, but never leave.
    Atrocitus himself saw how his cousin, the Grand Prince Bullion, desiring to raise the spirits of his soldiers, leaped into the fray, and how, as soon as he had hooked himself into the line, his spirit was literally spirited away, and he was no more.
    Sensing that something had gone amiss, Ferocitus nodded to the twelve buglers at his right hand. Atrocitus, from the top of his hill, did likewise; the buglers put the brass to their lips and sounded the charge on either side. At this clarion signal each army totally and completely linked up. The fearsome metallic clatter of closing contacts reverberated over the future battlefield; in the place of a thousand bombardiers and grenadiers, commandos, lancers, gunners, snipers, sappers and marauders—there stood two giant beings, who gazed at one another through a million eyes across a mighty plain that lay beneath billowing clouds. There was absolute silence. That famous culmination of consciousness which the great Gargantius had predicted with mathematical precision was now reached on both sides. For beyond a certain point militarism, a purely local phenomenon, becomes civil, and this is because the Cosmos Itself is by nature wholly civilian, and indeed, the minds of both armies had assumed truly cosmic proportions! Thus, though on the outside armor still gleamed, as well as the death-dealing steel of artillery, within there surged an ocean of mutual good will, tolerance, an all-embracing benevolence, and bright reason. And so, standing on opposite hilltops, their weapons sparkling in the sun, while the drums continued to roll, the two armies smiled at one another. Trurl and Klapaucius were just then boarding their ship, since that which they had planned had come to pass: before the eyes of their mortified, infuriated rulers, both armies went off hand in hand, picking flowers beneath the fluffy white clouds, on the field of the battle that never was.

The First Sally (A)
Trurl’s Electronic Bard

    First of all, to avoid any possible misunderstanding, we should state that this was, strictly speaking, a sally to nowhere. In fact, Trurl never left his house throughout it— except for a few trips to the hospital and an unimportant excursion to some asteroid. Yet in a deeper and/or higher sense this was one of the farthest sallies ever undertaken by the famed constructor, for it very nearly took him beyond the realm of possibility.
    Trurl had once had the misfortune to build an enormous calculating machine that was capable of only one operation, namely the addition of two and two, and that it did incorrectly. As is related earlier in this volume, the machine also proved to be extremely stubborn, and the quarrel that ensued between it and its creator almost cost the latter his life. From that time on Klapaucius teased Trurl unmercifully, making comments at every opportunity, until Trurl decided to silence him once and for all by building a machine that could write poetry. First Trurl collected eight hundred and twenty tons of books on cybernetics and twelve thousand tons of the finest poetry, then sat down to read it all. Whenever he felt he just couldn’t take another chart or equation, he would switch over to verse, and vice versa. After a while it became clear to him that the construction of the machine itself was child’s play in comparison with the writing of the program. The program found in the head of an average poet, after all, was written by the poet’s civilization, and that civilization was in turn programmed by the civilization that preceded it, and so on to the very Dawn of Time, when those bits of information that concerned the poet-to-be were still swirling about in the primordial chaos of the cosmic deep. Hence in order to program a poetry machine, one would first have to repeat the entire Universe from the beginning—or at least a good piece of it.
    Anyone else in Trurl’s place would have given up then and there, but our intrepid constructor was nothing daunted. He built a machine and fashioned a digital model of the Void, an Electrostatic Spirit to move upon the face of the electrolytic waters, and he introduced the parameter of light, a protogalactic cloud or two, and by degrees worked his way up to the first ice age—Trurl could move at this rate because his machine was able, in one five-billionth of a second, to simulate one hundred septillion events at forty octillion different locations simultaneously. And if anyone questions these figures, let him work it out for himself.
    Next Trurl began to model Civilization, the striking of fires with flints and the tanning of hides, and he provided for dinosaurs and floods, bipedality and taillessness, then made the paleopaleface (Albuminidis sapienria), which begat the paleface, which begat the gadget, and so it went, from eon to millennium, in the endless hum of electrical currents and eddies. Often the machine turned out to be too small for the computer simulation of a new epoch, and Trurl would have to tack on an auxiliary unit—until he ended up, at last, with a veritable metropolis of tubes and terminals, circuits and shunts, all so tangled and involved that the devil himself couldn’t have made head or tail of it. But Trurl managed somehow, he only had to go back twice —once, almost to the beginning, when he discovered that Abel had murdered Cain and not Cain Abel (the result, apparently, of a defective fuse), and once, only three hundred million years back to the middle of the Mesozoic, when after going from fish to amphibian to reptile to mammal, something odd took place among the primates and instead of great apes he came out with gray drapes. A fly, it seems, had gotten into the machine and shorted out the polyphase step-down directional widget. Otherwise everything went like a dream. Antiquity and the Middle Ages were recreated, then the period of revolutions and reforms —which gave the machine a few nasty jolts—and then civilization progressed in such leaps and bounds that Trurl had to hose down the coils and cores repeatedly to keep them from overheating.
    Towards the end of the twentieth century the machine began to tremble, first sideways, then lengthwise-—for no apparent reason. This alarmed Trurl; he brought out cement and grappling irons just in case. But fortunately these weren’t needed; instead of jumping its moorings, the machine settled down and soon had left the twentieth century far behind. Civilizations came and went thereafter in fifty-thousand-year intervals: these were the fully intelligent beings from whom Trurl himself stemmed. Spool upon spool of computerized history was filled and ejected into storage bins; soon there were so many spools, that even if you stood at the top of the machine with high-power binoculars, you wouldn’t see the end of them. And all to construct some versifier! But then, such is the way of scientific fanaticism. At last the programs were ready; all that remained was to pick out the most applicable—else the electropoet’s education would take several million years at the very least.
    During the next two weeks Trurl fed general instructions into his future electropoet, then set up all the necessary logic circuits, emotive elements, semantic centers. He was about to invite Klapaucius to attend a trial run, but thought better of it and started the machine himself. It immediately proceeded to deliver a lecture on the grinding of crystallo-graphical surfaces as an introduction to the study of sub-molecular magnetic anomalies. Trurl bypassed half the logic circuits and made the emotive more electromotive; the machine sobbed, went into hysterics, then finally said, blubbering terribly, what a cruel, cruel world this was. Trurl intensified the semantic fields and attached a strength of character component; the machine informed him that from now on he would carry out its every wish and to begin with add six floors to the nine it already had, so it could better meditate upon the meaning of existence. Trurl installed a philosophical throttle instead; the machine fell silent and sulked. Only after endless pleading and cajoling was he able to get it to recite something: “I had a little froggy.” That appeared to exhaust its repertoire. Trurl adjusted, modulated, expostulated, disconnected, ran checks, reconnected, reset, did everything he could think of, and the machine presented him with a poem that made him thank heaven Klapaucius wasn’t there to laugh—imagine, simulating the whole Universe from scratch, not to mention Civilization in every particular, and to end up with such dreadful doggerel! Trurl put in six cliche filters, but they snapped like matches; he had to make them out of pure corundum steel. This seemed to work, so he jacked the semanticity up all the way, plugged in an alternating rhyme generator—which nearly ruined everything, since the machine resolved to become a missionary among destitute tribes on far-flung planets. But at the very last minute, just as he was ready to give up and take a hammer to it, Trurl was struck by an inspiration; tossing out all the logic circuits, he replaced them with self-regulating egocentripetal narcissistors. The machine simpered a little, whimpered a little, laughed bitterly, complained of an awful pain on its third floor, said that in general it was fed up, through, life was beautiful but men were such beasts and how sorry they’d all be when it was dead and gone. Then it asked for pen and paper. Trurl sighed with relief, switched it off and went to bed. The next morning he went to see Klapaucius. Klapaucius, hearing that he was invited to attend the debut of Trurl’s electronic bard, dropped everything and followed—so eager was he to be an eyewitness to his friend’s humiliation.
    Trurl let the machine warm up first, kept the power low, ran up the metal stairs several times to take readings (the machine was like the engine of a giant steamer, galleried, with rows of rivets, dials and valves on every tier)—till finally, satisfied all the decimal places were where they ought to be, he said yes, it was ready now, and why not start with something simple. Later, of course, when the machine had gotten the feel of it, Klapaucius could ask it to produce poetry on absolutely whatever topic he liked.
    Now the potentiometers indicated the machine’s lyrical capacitance was charged to maximum, and Trurl, so nervous his hands were shaking, threw the master switch. A voice, slightly husky but remarkably vibrant and bewitching, said:
    “Phlogisticosh. Rhomothriglyph. Floof.”
    “Is that it?” inquired Klapaucius after a pause, extremely polite. Trurl only bit his lip, gave the machine a few kicks of current, and tried again. This time the voice came through much more clearly; it was a thrilling baritone, solemn yet intriguingly sensual:
Pev’t o’ tay merlong gumin gots,
Untie yun furly pazzen ye,
Confre an’ ayzor, ayzor ots,
Bither de furloss bochre blee!

    “Am I missing something?” said Klapaucius, calmly watching a panic-stricken Trurl struggling at the controls.
    Finally Trurl waved his arms in despair, dashed clattering several flights up the metal stairs, got down on all fours and crawled into the machine through a trapdoor; he hammered away inside, swearing like a maniac, tightened something, pried at something, crawled out again and ran frantically to another tier. At long last he let out a cry of triumph, threw a burnt tube over his shoulder—it bounced off the railing and fell to the floor, shattering at the feet of Klapau-cius. But Trurl didn’t bother to apologize; he quickly put in a new tube, wiped his hands on a chammy cloth and hollered down for Klapaucius to try it now. The following words rang out:
Mockles! Fent on silpen tree,
Blockards three a-feening,
Mockles, what silps came to thee
In thy pantry dreaming?

    “Well, that’s an improvement!” shouted Trurl, not entirely convinced. “The last line particularly, did you notice?”
    “If this is all you have to show me…” said Klapaucius, the very soul of politeness.
    “Damn!” said Trurl and again disappeared inside the machine. There was a fierce banging and clanging, the sputtering of shorted wires and the muttering of an even shorter temper, then Trurl stuck his head out of a trapdoor on the third story and yelled, “Now try it!”
    Klaupaucius complied. The electronic bard shuddered from stem to stern and began:
Oft, in that wickless chalet all begorn,
Where whilom soughed the mossy sappertort
And you were wont to bong—

    Trurl yanked out a few cables in a fury, something rattled and wheezed, the machine fell silent. Klapaucius laughed so hard he had to sit on the floor. Then suddenly, as Trurl was rushing back and forth, there was a crackle, a clack, and the machine with perfect poise said:
The Petty and the Small;
Are overcome with gall;
When Genius, having faltered, fails to fall.

Klapaucius too, I ween,
Will turn the deepest green
To hear such flawless verse from Trurl’s machine.

    “There you are, an epigram! And wonderfully apropos!” laughed Trurl, racing down the metal stairs and flinging himself delightedly into his colleague’s arms. Klapaucius, quite taken aback, was no longer laughing.
    “What, that?” he said. “That’s nothing. Besides, you had it all set up beforehand.”
    “Oh, it’s quite obvious… the ill-disguised hostility, the poverty of thought, the crudeness of execution.”
    “All right, then ask it something else! Whatever you like! Go on! What are you waiting for? Afraid?!”
    “Just a minute,” said Klapaucius, annoyed. He was trying to think of a request as difficult as possible, aware that any argument on the quality of the verse the machine might be able to produce would be hard if not impossible to settle either way. Suddenly he brightened and said:
    “Have it compose a poem—a poem about a haircut! But lofty, noble, tragic, timeless, full of love, treachery, retribution, quiet heroism in the face of certain doom! Six lines, cleverly rhymed, and every word beginning with the letter s!!”
    “And why not throw in a full exposition of the general theory of nonlinear automata while you’re at it?” growled Trurl. “You can’t give it such idiotic—”
    But he didn’t finish. A melodious voice filled the hall with the following:
Seduced, shaggy Samson snored.
She scissored short. Sorely shorn,
Soon shackled slave, Samson sighed,
Silently scheming,
Sightlessly seeking
Some savage, spectacular suicide.

    “Well, what do you say to that?” asked Trurl, his arms folded proudly. But Klapaucius was already shouting:
    “Now all in g! A sonnet, trochaic hexameter, about an old cyclotron who kept sixteen artificial mistresses, blue and radioactive, had four wings, three purple pavilions, two lacquered chests, each containing exactly one thousand medallions bearing the likeness of Czar Murdicog the Headless…”
    “Grinding gleeful gears, Gerontogyron grabbed / Giggling gynecobalt-6o golems,” began the machine, but Trurl leaped to the console, shut off the power and turned, defending the machine with his body.
    “Enough!” he said, hoarse with indignation. “How dare you waste a great talent on such drivel? Either give it decent poems to write or I call the whole thing off!”
    “What, those aren’t decent poems?” protested Klapaucius.
    “Certainly not! I didn’t build a machine to solve ridiculous crossword puzzles! That’s hack work, not Great Art! Just give it a topic, any topic, as difficult as you like…”
    Klapaucius thought, and thought some more. Finally he nodded and said:
    “Very well. Let’s have a love poem, lyrical, pastoral, and expressed in the language of pure mathematics. Tensor algebra mainly, with a little topology and higher calculus, if need be. But with feeling, you understand, and in the cybernetic spirit.”
    “Love and tensor algebra? Have you taken leave of your senses?” Trurl began, but stopped, for his electronic bard was already declaiming:
Come, let us hasten to a higher plane,
Where dyads tread the fairy fields of Venn,
Their indices bedecked from one to n,
Commingled in an endless Markov chain!

Come, every frustum longs to be a cone,
And every vector dreams of matrices.
Hark to the gentle gradient of the breeze:
It whispers of a more ergodic zone.

In Riemann, Hilbert or in Banach space
Let superscripts and subscripts go their ways
Our asymptotes no longer out of phase,
We shall encounter, counting, face to face.

I’ll grant thee random access to my heart,
Thou’ll tell me all the constants of thy love;
And so we two shall all love’s lemmas prove,
And in our bound partition never part.

For what did Cauchy know, or Christoffel,
Or Fourier, or any Boole or Euler,
Wielding their compasses, their pens and rulers,
Of thy supernal sinusoidal spell?

Cancel me not—for what then shall remain?
Abscissas, some mantissas, modules, modes,
A root or two, a torus and a node:
The inverse of my verse, a null domain.

Ellipse of bliss, converge, O lips divine!
The product of our scalars is defined!
Cyberiad draws nigh, and the skew mind
Cuts capers like a happy haversine.

I see the eigenvalue in thine eye,
I hear the tender tensor in thy sigh.
Bernoulli would have been content to die,
Had he but known such a2cos 2 Ø!

    This concluded the poetic competition, since Klapaucius suddenly had to leave, saying he would return shortly with more topics for the machine; but he never did, afraid that in so doing, he might give Trurl more cause to boast. Trurl of course let it be known that Klapaucius had fled in order to hide his envy and chagrin. Klapaucius meanwhile spread the word that Trurl had more than one screw loose on the subject of that so-called mechanical versifier.
    Not much time went by before news of Trurl’s computer laureate reached the genuine—-that is, the ordinary—poets. Deeply offended, they resolved to ignore the machine’s existence. A few, however, were curious enough to visit Trurl’s electronic bard in secret. It received them courteously, in a hall piled high with closely written paper (for it worked day and night without pause). Now these poets were all avant-garde, and Trurl’s machine wrote only in the traditional manner; Trurl, no connoisseur of poetry, had relied heavily on the classics in setting up its program. The machine’s guests jeered and left in triumph. The machine was self-programming, however, and in addition had a special ambition-amplifying mechanism with glory-seeking circuits, and very soon a great change took place. Its poems became difficult, ambiguous, so intricate and charged with meaning that they were totally incomprehensible. When the next group of poets came to mock and laugh, the machine replied with an improvisation that was so modern, it took their breath away, and the second poem seriously weakened a certain sonneteer who had two State awards to his name, not to mention a statue in the city park. After that, no poet could resist the fatal urge to cross lyrical swords with Trurl’s electronic bard. They came from far and wide, carrying trunks and suitcases full of manuscripts. The machine would let each challenger recite, instantly grasp the algorithm of his verse, and use it to compose an answer in exactly the same style, only two hundred and twenty to three hundred and forty-seven times better.
    The machine quickly grew so adept at this, that it could cut down a first-class rhapsodist with no more than one or two quatrains. But the worst of it was, all the third-rate poets emerged unscathed; being third-rate, they didn’t know good poetry from bad and consequently had no inkling of their crushing defeat. One of them, true, broke his leg when, on the way out, he tripped over an epic poem the machine had just completed, a prodigious work beginning with the words:
    Arms, and machines I sing, that, forc’d by fate,
    And haughty Homo’s unrelenting hate,
    Expell’d and exil’d, left the Terran shore…
    The true poets, on the other hand, were decimated by Trurl’s electronic bard, though it never laid a finger on them. First an aged elegiast, then two modernists committed suicide, leaping off a cliff that unfortunately happened to lie hard by the road leading from Trurl’s place to the nearest train station.
    There were many poet protests staged, demonstrations, demands that the machine be served an injunction to cease and desist. But no one else appeared to care. In fact, magazine editors generally approved: Trurl’s electronic bard, writing under several thousand different pseudonyms at once, had a poem for every occasion, to fit whatever length might be required, and of such high quality that the magazine would be torn from hand to hand by eager readers. On the street one could see enraptured faces, bemused smiles, sometimes even hear a quiet sob. Everyone knew the poems of Trurl’s electronic bard, the air rang with its delightful rhymes. Not infrequently, those citizens of a greater sensitivity, struck by a particularly marvelous metaphor or assonance, would actually fall into a faint. But this colossus of inspiration was prepared even for that eventuality; it would immediately supply the necessary number of restorative rondelets.
    Trurl himself had no little trouble in connection with his invention. The classicists, generally elderly, were fairly harmless; they confined themselves to throwing stones through his windows and smearing the sides of his house with an unmentionable substance. But it was much worse with the younger poets. One, for example, as powerful in body as his verse was in imagery, beat Trurl to a pulp. And while the constructor lay in the hospital, events marched on. Not a day passed without a suicide or a funeral; picket lines formed around the hospital; one could hear gunfire in the distance —instead of manuscripts in their suitcases, more and more poets were bringing rifles to defeat Trurl’s electronic bard. But the bullets merely bounced off its calm exterior. After his return from the hospital, Trurl, weak and desperate, finally decided one night to dismantle the homeostatic Homer he had created.
    But when he approached the machine, limping slightly, it noticed the pliers in his hand and the grim glitter in his eye, and delivered such an eloquent, impassioned plea for mercy, that the constructor burst into tears, threw down his tools and hurried back to his room, wading through new works of genius, an ocean of paper that filled the hall chest-high from end to end and rustled incessantly.
    The following month Trurl received a bill for the electricity consumed by the machine and almost fell off his chair. If only he could have consulted his old friend Klapaucius! But Klapaucius was nowhere to be found. So Trurl had to come up with something by himself. One dark night he unplugged the machine, took it apart, loaded it onto a ship, flew to a certain small asteroid, and there assembled it again, giving it an atomic pile for its source of creative energy.
    Then he sneaked home. But that wasn’t the end of it. The electronic bard, deprived now of the possibility of having its masterpieces published, began to broadcast them on all wave lengths, which soon sent the passengers and crews of passing rockets into states of stanzaic stupefaction, and those more delicate souls were seized with severe attacks of esthetic ecstasy besides. Having determined the cause of this disturbance, the Cosmic Fleet Command issued Trurl an official request for the immediate termination of his device, which was seriously impairing the health and well-being of all travelers.
    At that point Trurl went into hiding, so they dropped a team of technicians on the asteroid to gag the machine’s output unit. It overwhelmed them with a few ballads, however, and the mission had to be abandoned. Deaf technicians were sent next, but the machine employed pantomime. After that, there began to be talk of an eventual punitive expedition, of bombing the electropoet into submission. But just then some ruler from a neighboring star system came, bought the machine and hauled it off, asteroid and all, to his kingdom.
    Now Trurl could appear in public again and breathe easy. True, lately there had been supernovae exploding on the southern horizon, the like of which no one had ever seen before, and there were rumors that this had something to do with poetry. According to one report, that same ruler, moved by some strange whim, had ordered his astroengineers to connect the electronic bard to a constellation of white supergiants, thereby transforming each line of verse into a stupendous solar prominence; thus the Greatest Poet in the Universe was able to transmit its thermonuclear creations to all the illimitable reaches of space at once. But even if there were any truth to this, it was all too far away to bother Trurl, who vowed by everything that was ever held sacred never, never again to make a cybernetic model of the Muse.

The Second Sally
The Offer of King Krool

    The tremendous success of their application of the Gargantius Effect gave both constructors such an appetite for adventure, that they resolved to sally forth once again to parts unknown. Unfortunately, they were quite unable to decide on a destination. Trurl, given to tropical climes, had his heart set on Scaldonia, the land of the Flaming Flamingos, while Klapaucius, of a somewhat cooler disposition, was equally determined to visit the Intergalactic Cold Pole, a bleak continent adrift among frozen stars. The friends were about to part company for good when Trurl suddenly had an idea. “Wait,” he said, “we can advertise our services, then take the best offer!”
    “Ridiculous!” snorted Klapaucius. “How are you going to advertise? In a newspaper? Do you have any idea how long it takes a newspaper to reach the nearest planet? You’ll be dead and buried before the first offer comes in!”
    But Trurl gave a knowing smile and revealed his plan, which Klapaucius—begrudgingly—had to admit was ingenious, and so they set to work. All the necessary equipment quickly thrown together, they gathered up the local stars and arranged them in a great sign, a sign that would be visible at truly incalculable distances. Only blue giants were used for the first word—to get the cosmic reader’s attention—and lesser stellar material made up the others. The advertisement read: TWO Distinguished Constructors Seek Employment Commensurate with Their Skill and Above All Lucrative, Hence Preferably at the Court of a Well-heeled King (Should Have His Own Kingdom), Terms to Be Arranged. It was not long before, one bright morning, a most marvelous craft alighted on their front lawn. It gleamed in the sun, all inlaid with mother-of-pearl, had three legs intricately carved and six additional supports of solid gold (quite useless, since they didn’t even reach the ground—but then, the builders obviously had more wealth than they knew what to do with). Down a magnificent staircase with billowing fountains on either side there came a figure of stately bearing with a retinue of six-legged machines: some of these massaged him, some supported him and fanned him, and the smallest flew above his august brow and sprayed it with eau de cologne from an atomizer. This impressive emissary greeted the constructors on behalf of his lord and sovereign, King Krool, who wished to engage them.
    “What sort of work is it?” asked Trurl, interested.
    “The details, gentle sirs, you shall learn at the proper time,” was his reply. He was dressed in galligaskins of gold, mink-tufted buskins, sequined earmuffs, and a robe of most unusual cut—instead of pockets it had little shelves full of mints and marzipan. Tiny mechanical flies also buzzed about his person, and these he brushed away whenever they grew too bold.
    “For now,” he went on, “I can only say that His Boundless Kroolty is a great enthusiast of the hunt, a fearless and peerless conqueror of every sort of galactic fauna, and verily, his prowess has reached such heights that now the fiercest predators known are no longer worthy game for him. And herein lies our misfortune, for he craves excitement, danger, thrills… which is why—”
    “Of course!” said Trurl. “He wants us to construct a new model of beast, something wild and rapacious enough to present a challenge.”
    “You are, worthy constructor, indeed quick!” said the King’s emissary. “Then it is agreed?”
    Klapaucius began to question the emissary more closely on certain practical matters. But after the King’s generosity was glowingly described and sufficiently elaborated upon, they hurriedly packed their things and a few books, ran up the magnificent staircase, hopped on board and were immediately lifted, with a great roar and burst of flame that blackened the ship’s gold legs, into the interstellar night.
    As they traveled, the emissary briefed the constructors on the laws and customs prevailing in the Kingdom of Krool, told them of the monarch’s nature, as broad and open as a leveled city, and of his manly pursuits, and much more, so that by the time the ship landed, they could speak the language like natives.
    First they were taken to a splendid villa situated on a mountainside above the village—this was where they were to stay. Then, after a brief rest, the King sent a carriage for them, a carriage drawn by six fire-breathing monsters. These were muzzled with fire screens and smoke filters, had their wings clipped to keep them on the ground, and long spiked tails and six paws apiece with iron claws that cut deep pits in the road wherever they went. As soon as the monsters saw the constructors, the entire team set up a howl, belching fire and brimstone, and strained to get at them. The coachmen in asbestos armor and the King’s huntsmen with hoses and pumps had to fall upon the crazed creatures and beat them into submission with laser and maser clubs before Trurl and Klapaucius could safely step into the plush carriage, which they did without a word. The carriage tore off at breakneck speed or—to use an appropriate metaphor— like a bat out of hell.
    “You know,” Trurl whispered in Klapaucius’ ear as they rushed along, knocking down everything in their path and leaving a long trail of sulfurous smoke behind them, “I have a feeling that this king won’t settle for just anything. I mean, if he has coursers like these…”
    But level-headed Klapaucius said nothing. Houses now flashed by, walls of diamonds and sapphires and silver, while the dragons thundered and hissed and the drivers cursed and shouted. At last a colossal portcullis loomed up ahead, opened, and their carriage whirled into the courtyard, careening so sharply that the flower beds all shriveled up, then ground to a stop before a castle black as blackest night. Welcomed by an unusually dismal fanfare and quite overwhelmed by the massive stairs, balustrades and especially the stone giants that guarded the main gate, Trurl and Klapaucius, flanked by a formidable escort, entered the mighty castle.
    King Krool awaited them in an enormous hall the shape of a skull, a vast and vaulted cave of beaten silver. There was a gaping pit in the floor, the skull’s foramen magnum, and beyond it stood the throne, over which two streams of light crossed like swords—they came from high windows fixed in the skull’s eye sockets and with panes specially tinted to give everything a harsh and infernal aspect. The constructors now saw Krool himself: too impatient to sit still on his throne, this monarch paced from wall to wall across the silver floor, his steps booming in that cadaverous cavern, and as he spoke he emphasized his words with such sudden stabs of the hand, that the air whistled.
    “Welcome, constructors!” he said, skewering them both with his eyes. “As you’ve no doubt learned from Lord Protozor, Master of the Royal Hunt, I want you to build me new and better kinds of game. Now I’m not interested, you understand, in any mountain of steel on a hundred-odd treads—that’s a job for heavy artillery, not for me. My quarry must be strong and ferocious, but swift and nimble too, and above all cunning and full of wiles, so that I will have to call upon all my hunter’s art to drive it to the ground. It must be a highly intelligent beast, and know all there is to know of covering tracks, doubling back, hiding in shadows and lying in wait, for such is my will!”
    “Forgive me, Your Highness,” said Klapaucius with a careful bow, “but if we do Your Highness’ bidding too well, might not this put the royal life and limb in some peril?”
    The King roared with such laughter that a couple of crystal pendants fell off a chandelier and shattered at the feet of the trembling constructors.
    “Have no fear of that, noble constructors!” he said with a grim smile. “You are not the first, and you will not be the last, I expect. Know that I am a just but most exacting ruler. Too often have assorted knaves, flatterers and fakes attempted to deceive me, too often, I say, have they posed as distinguished hunting engineers, solely to empty my coffers and fill their sacks with gems and precious stones, leaving me, in return, with a few paltry scarecrows that fall apart at the first touch. Too often has this happened for me not to take appropriate measures. For twelve years now any constructor who fails to meet my demands, who promises more than he is able to deliver, indeed receives his reward, but is hurled, reward and all, into yon deep well—-unless he be game enough (excuse the pun) to serve as the quarry himself. In which case, gentlemen, I use no weapon but these two bare hands…”
    “And… and have there been, ah, many such impostors?” asked Trurl in a weak voice.
    “Many? That’s difficult to say. I only know that no one yet has satisfied me, and the scream of terror they invariably give as they plummet to the bottom doesn’t last quite so long as it used to—the remains, no doubt, have begun to mount. But rest assured, gentlemen, there is room enough still for you!”
    A deathly silence followed these dire words, and the two friends couldn’t help but look in the direction of that dark and ominous hole. The King resumed his relentless pacing, his boots striking the floor like sledge hammers in an echo chamber.
    “But, with Your Highness’ permission… that is, we— we haven’t yet drawn up the contract,” stammered Trurl. “Couldn’t we have an hour or two to think it over, weigh carefully what Your Highness has been so gracious as to tell us, and then of course we can decide whether to accept your generous offer or, on the other hand—”
    “Ha!!” laughed the King like a thunderclap. “Or, on the other hand, to go home? I’m afraid not, gentlemen! The moment you set foot on board the Infernanda, you accepted my offer! If every constructor who came here could leave whenever he pleased, why, I’d have to wait forever for my fondest hopes to be realized! No, you must stay and build me a beast to hunt. I give you twelve days, and now you may go. Whatever pleasure you desire, in the meantime, is yours. You have but to ask the servants I have given you; nothing will be denied you. In twelve days, then!”
    “With Your Highness’ permission, you can keep the pleasures, but—well, would it be at all possible for us to have a look at the, uh, hunting trophies Your Highness must have collected as a result, so to speak, of the efforts of our predecessors?”
    “But of course!” said the King indulgently and clapped his hands with such force that sparks flew and danced across the silver walls. The gust of air from those powerful palms cooled even more our constructors’ ardor for adventure. Six guards in white and gold appeared and conducted them down a corridor that twisted and wound like the gullet of a giant serpent. Finally, to their great relief, it led out into a large, open garden. There, on remarkably well-trimmed lawns, stood the hunting trophies of King Krool.
    Nearest at hand was a saber-toothed colossus, practically cut in two in spite of the heavy mail and plate armor that was to have protected its trunk; the hind legs, disproportionately large (evidently designed for great leaps), lay upon the grass alongside the tail, which ended in a firearm with its magazine half-empty—a clear sign that the creature had not fallen to the King without a fight. A yellow strip of cloth hanging from its open jaws also testified to this, for Trurl recognized in it the breeches worn by the King’s huntsmen. Next was another prone monstrosity, a dragon with a multitude of tiny wings all singed and blackened by enemy fire; its circuits had spilled out molten and had then congealed in a copper-porcelain puddle. Farther on stood another creature, the pillarlike legs spread wide. A gentle breeze soughed softly through its fangs. And there were wrecks on wheels and wrecks on treads, some with claws and some with cannon, all sundered to the magnetic core, and tank-turtles with squashed turrets, and mutilated military millipedes, and other oddities, broken and battle-scarred, some equipped with auxiliary brains (burnt out), some perched on telescoping stilts (dislocated), and there were little vicious biting things strewn about. These had been made to attack in great swarms, then regroup in a sphere bristling with gun muzzles and bayonets—a clever idea, but it saved neither them nor their creators. Down this aisle of devastation walked Trurl and Klapaucius, pale, silent, looking as if they were on their way to a funeral instead of to another brilliant session of vigorous invention. They came at last to the end of that dreadful gallery of Krool’s triumphs and stepped into the carriage that was waiting for them at the gate. That dragon team which sped them back to their lodgings seemed less terrible now. Just as soon as they were alone in their sumptuously appointed green and crimson drawing room, before a table heaped high with effervescent drinks and rare delicacies, Trurl broke into a volley of imprecations; he reviled Klapaucius for heedlessly accepting the offer made by the Master of the Royal Hunt, thereby bringing down misfortune on their heads, when they easily could have stayed at home and rested on their laurels. Klapaucius said nothing, waiting patiently for Trurl’s desperate rage to expend itself, and when it finally did and Trurl had collapsed into a lavish mother-of-pearl chaise longue and buried his face in his hands, he said:
    “Well, we’d better get to work.”
    These words did much to revive Trurl, and the two constructors immediately began to consider the various possibilities, drawing on their knowledge of the deepest and darkest secrets of the arcane art of cybernetic generation. First of all, they agreed that victory lay neither in the armor nor in the strength of the monster to be built, but entirely in its program, in other words, in an algorithm of demoniacal derivation. “It must be a truly diabolical creature, a thing of absolute evil!” they said, and though they had as yet no clear idea of what or how, this observation lifted their spirits considerably. Such was their enthusiasm by the time they sat down to draft the beast, that they worked all night, all day, and through a second night and day before taking a break for dinner. And as the Leyden jars were passed about, so sure were they of success, that they winked and smirked —but only when the servants weren’t looking, since they suspected them (and rightly, too) of being the King’s spies. So the constructors said nothing of their work, but praised the mulled electrolyte which the waiters brought in, tail coats flapping, in beakers of the finest cut crystal. Only after the repast, when they had wandered out on the veranda overlooking the village with its white steeples and domes catching the last golden rays of the setting sun, only then did Trurl turn to Klapaucius and say:
    “We’re not out of the woods yet, you know.”
    “How do you mean?” asked Klapaucius in a cautious whisper.
    “There’s one difficulty. You see, if the King defeats our mechanical beast, he’ll undoubtedly have us thrown into that pit, for we won’t have done his bidding. If, on the other hand, the beast… You see what I mean?”
    “If the beast isn’t defeated?”
    “No, if the beast defeats him, dear colleague. If that happens, the King’s successor may not let us off so easily.”
    “You don’t think we’d have to answer for that, do you? As a rule, heirs to the throne are only too happy to see it vacated.”
    “True, but this will be his son, and whether the son punishes us out of filial devotion or because he thinks the royal court expects it of him, it’ll make little difference as far as we’re concerned.”
    “That never occurred to me,” muttered Klapaucius. “You’re quite right, the prospects aren’t encouraging… Have you thought of a way out of this dilemma?”
    “Well, we might make the beast multimortal. Picture this: the King slays it, it falls, then it gets up again, resurrected, and the King chases it again, slays it again, and so on, until he gets sick and tired of the whole thing.”
    “That he won’t like,” said Klapaucius after some thought. “And anyway, how would you design such a beast?”
    “Oh, I don’t know… We could make it without any vital organs. The King chops the beast into little pieces, but the pieces grow back together.”
    “Use a field.”
    “If you like.”
    “How do we operate it?”
    “Remote control, perhaps?” asked Trurl.
    “Too risky,” said Klapaucius. “How do you know the King won’t have us locked up in some dungeon while the hunt’s in progress? Our poor predecessors were no fools, and look how they ended up. More than one of them, I’m sure, thought of remote control—yet it failed. No, we can’t expect to maintain communication with the beast during the battle.”
    “Then why not use a satellite?” suggested Trurl. “We could install automatic controls-—”
    “Satellite indeed!” snorted Klapaucius. “And how are you going to build it, let alone put it in orbit? There are no miracles in our profession, Trurl! We’ll have to hide the controls some other way.”
    “But where can we hide the controls when they watch our every step? You’ve seen how the servants skulk about, sticking their noses into everything. We’d never be able to leave the premises ourselves, and certainly not smuggle out such a large piece of equipment. It’s impossible!”
    “Calm down,” said prudent Klapaucius, looking over his shoulder. “Perhaps we don’t need such equipment in the first place.”
    “Something has to operate the beast, and if that something is an electronic brain anywhere inside, the King will smash it to a pulp before you can say goodbye.”
    They were silent. Night had fallen and the village lights below were flickering on, one by one. Suddenly Trurl said:
    “Listen, here’s an idea. We only pretend to build a beast but in reality build a ship to escape on. We give it ears, a tail, paws, so no one will suspect, and they can be easily jettisoned on takeoff. What do you think of that? We get off scot-free and thumb our noses at the King!”
    “And if the King has planted a real constructor among our servants, which is not unlikely, then it’s all over and into the pit with us. Besides, running away—no, it just doesn’t suit me. It’s him or us, Trurl, you can’t get around it.”
    “Yes, I suppose a spy could be a constructor too,” said Trurl with a sigh. “What then can we do, in the name of the Great Comet?! How about—a photoelectric phantom?”
    “You mean, a mirage? Have the King hunt a mirage? No thanks! After an hour or two of that, he’d come straight here and make phantoms of us!”
    Again they were silent. Finally Trurl said:
    “The only way out of our difficulty, as far as I can see, is to have the beast abduct the King, and then—”
    “You don’t have to say another word. Yes, that’s not at all a bad idea… Then for the ransom we—and haven’t you noticed, old boy, that the orioles here are a deeper orange than on Maryland IV?” concluded Klapaucius, for just then some servants were bringing silver lamps out on the veranda. “There’s still a problem though,” he continued when they were alone again. “Assuming the beast can do what you say, how will we be able to negotiate with the prisoner if we’re sitting in a dungeon ourselves?”
    “You have a point there,” said Trurl. “We’ll have to figure some way around that… The main thing, however, is the algorithm!”
    “Any child knows that! What’s a beast without an algorithm?”
    So they rolled up their sleeves and sat down to experiment—by simulation, that is mathematically and all on paper. And the mathematical models of King Krool and the beast did such fierce battle across the equation-covered table, that the constructors’ pencils kept snapping. Furious, the beast writhed and wriggled its iterated integrals beneath the King’s polynomial blows, collapsed into an infinite series of indeterminate terms, then got back up by raising itself to the nth power, but the King so belabored it with differentials and partial derivatives that its Fourier coefficients all canceled out (see Riemann’s Lemma), and in the ensuing confusion the constructors completely lost sight of both King and beast. So they took a break, stretched their legs, had a swig from the Leyden jug to bolster their strength, then went back to work and tried it again from the beginning, this time unleashing their entire arsenal of tensor matrices and grand canonical ensembles, attacking the problem with such fervor that the very paper began to smoke. The King rushed forward with all his cruel coordinates and mean values, stumbled into a dark forest of roots and logarithms, had to backtrack, then encountered the beast on a field of irrational numbers (F1) and smote it so grievously that it fell two decimal places and lost an epsilon, but the beast slid around an asymptote and hid in an n-dimensional orthogonal phase space, underwent expansion and came out, fuming factorially, and fell upon the King and hurt him passing sore. But the King, nothing daunted, put on his Markov chain mail and all his impervious parameters, took his increment Δk to infinity and dealt the beast a truly Boolean blow, sent it reeling through an x-axis and several brackets—but the beast, prepared for this, lowered its horns and—wham!!—the pencils flew like mad through transcendental functions and double eigentransformations, and when at last the beast closed in and the King was down and out for the count, the constructors jumped up, danced a jig, laughed and sang as they tore all their papers to shreds, much to the amazement of the spies perched in the chandelier-—perched in vain, for they were uninitiated into the niceties of higher mathematics and consequently had no idea why Trurl and Klapaucius were now shouting, over and over, “Hurrah! Victory!!”
    Well after midnight, the Leyden jug from which the constructors had on occasion refreshed themselves in the course of their labors was quietly taken to the headquarters of the King’s secret police, where its false bottom was opened and a tiny tape recorder removed. This the experts switched on and listened to eagerly, but the rising sun found them totally unenlightened and looking haggard. One voice, for example, would say:
    “Well? Is the King ready?”
    “Where’d you put him? Over there? Good! Now—hold on, you have to keep the feet together. Not yours, idiot, the King’s! All right now, ready? One, two, find the derivative! Quick! What do you get?”
    “And the beast?”
    “Under the radical sign. But look, the King’s still standing!”
    “Still standing, eh? Factor both sides, divide by two, throw in a few imaginary numbers—good! Now change variables and subtract—Trurl, what on earth are you doing?! The beast, not the King, the beast! That’s right! Good! Perfect!! Now transform, approximate and solve for x. Do you have it?”
    “I have it! Klapaucius! Look at the King now!!”
    There was a pause, then a burst of wild laughter.
    That same morning, as all the experts and high officials of the secret police shook their heads, bleary-eyed after a sleepless night, the constructors asked for quartz, vanadium, steel, copper, platinum, rhinestones, dysprosium, yttrium and thulium, also cerium and germanium, and most of the other elements that make up the Universe, plus a variety of machines and qualified technicians, not to mention a wide assortment of spies—for so insolent had the constructors become, that on the triplicate requisition form they boldly wrote: “Also, kindly send agents of various cuts and stripes at the discretion and with the approval of the Proper Authorities.” The next day they asked for sawdust and a large red velvet curtain on a stand, a cluster of little glass bells in the center and a large tassel at each of its four corners; everything, even down to the littlest glass bell, was specified with the utmost precision. The King scowled when he heard these requests, but ordered them to be carried out to the letter, for he had given his royal word. The constructors were thus granted all that they wished.
    All that they wished grew more and more outlandish. For instance, in the files of the secret police under code number 48999/11K/T was a copy of a requisition for three tailor’s mannequins as well as six full police uniforms, complete with sash, side arm, shako, plume and handcuffs, also all available back issues of the magazine The Patriotic Policeman, yearbooks and supplements included—under “Comments” the constructors had guaranteed the return of all items listed above within twenty-four hours of delivery and in perfect condition. In another, classified section of the police archives was a copy of a letter from Klapaucius in which he demanded the immediate shipment of (1) a life-size doll representing the Postmaster General in full regalia, and (2) a light gig painted green with a kerosene lamp on the left and a sky-blue sign on the back that said THINK. The doll and gig proved too much for the Chief of Police: he had to be taken away for a much-needed rest. During the next three days the constructors asked only for barrels of red castor oil, and after that—nothing. From then on, they worked in the basement of the palace, hammering away and singing space chanties, and at night blue lights came flashing from the basement windows and gave weird shapes to the trees in the garden outside. Trurl and Klapaucius with their many helpers bustled about amid arcs and sparks, now and then looking up to see faces pressed against the glass: the servants, as if out of idle curiosity, were photographing their every move. One evening, when the weary constructors had finally dragged themselves off to bed, the components of the apparatus they had been working on were quickly transported by unmarked balloon to police headquarters and assembled by eighteen of the finest cyberneticians in the land, who had been deputized and duly sworn in for that very purpose, whereupon a gray tin mouse ran out from under their hands, blowing soap bubbles and dropping a thin trail of chalk dust from under its tail, which spelled, as it danced this way and that across the table, WHAT, DON’T YOU LOVE US ANYMORE? Never before in the kingdom’s history did Chiefs of Police have to be replaced with such speed and regularity. The uniforms, the doll, the green gig, even the sawdust, everything which the constructors returned exactly as promised, was thoroughly examined under electron microscope. But except for a minuscule card in the sawdust which read JUST SAWDUST, there was nothing out of the ordinary. Then individual atoms of the uniforms and gig were thoroughly searched— with equal lack of success. At last the day came when the work was completed. A huge vehicle on three hundred wheels, looking something like a refrigerator, was drawn up to the main entrance and opened in the presence of witnesses and officials; Trurl and Klapaucius brought out a curtain, the one with the tassels and bells, and placed it carefully inside, in the middle of the floor. Then they got in themselves, closed the door, did something, then went and got various containers from the basement, cans of chemicals, all sorts of finely ground powders—gray, silver, white, yellow, green—and sprinkled them under and around the curtain, then stepped out, had the vehicle closed and locked, consulted their watches and together counted out fourteen and a half seconds—at which time, much to everyone’s surprise, since the vehicle was stationary and there could be no question of a breeze inside (for the seal was hermetic), the glass bells tinkled. The constructors exchanged a wink and said:
    “You can take it now!”
    The rest of the day they spent blowing soap bubbles from the veranda. That evening Lord Protozor, Master of the Royal Hunt, came with an escort and politely but firmly informed them that they were to go with him at once to an assigned place. They were required to leave all their possessions behind, even their clothes; in exchange they were given rags, then put in irons. The guards and police dignitaries present were astounded by their perfect sang-froid: instead of demanding justice or trembling with fear, Trurl giggled as the shackles were being hammered on, saying he was ticklish. And when the constructors were thrown into a dark and dismal dungeon, they promptly struck up a rousing chorus of “Sing Sweet Software.”
    Meanwhile mighty Krool rode forth from the village on his mighty hunting chariot, surrounded by all his retinue and followed by a long and winding train of riders and machines, machines that included not only the traditional catapult and cannon, but enormous laser guns and beta ray bazookas, and a tar-thrower guaranteed to immobilize anything that walked, swam, flew or rolled along.
    And so this grand procession wended its way to the royal game preserve, and many jokes were made, and boasts, and haughty toasts, and no one gave a thought to the two constructors, except perhaps to remark that those fools were in a pretty pickle now.
    But when the silver trumpets announced His Majesty’s approach, one could see a huge vehicle-refrigerator coming up in the opposite direction. Its door flung open, and for one brief moment there gaped the black maw of what appeared to be some sort of field gun. Next there was a boom, a puff of yellow smoke, and something came rocketing out, a form as blurry as a tornado and with the general consistency of a sandstorm; it arced through the air so fast that no one really got a good look at it anyway. Whatever it was flew a hundred paces or more and landed without a sound; the curtain that had been wrapped around it floated to the earth, glass bells tinkling oddly in that perfect silence, and lay there like a crushed strawberry. Now everyone could see the beast clearly—though it wasn’t clear at all, but looked a little like a hill, rather large, fairly long, its color much like its surroundings, a clump of dried-up weeds. The King’s huntsmen unleashed the whole pack of automated hounds (mainly Saint Cybernards and Cyberman pinschers, with an occasional high-frequency terrier); these hurled themselves, howling and slavering, at the crouching beast. The beast didn’t rear back, didn’t roar, didn’t even breathe fire, but only opened its two eyes wide and reduced half the pack to ashes in a trice.
    “Oho! Laser-eyed, is it?” cried the King. “Hand me my trusty duralumin doublet, my bulletproof buckler, my halberd and arquebus!” Thus accoutered and gleaming like a supernova, he rode out upon his fearless high-fidelity cyber-steed, came nigh the beast and smote it such a mighty blow that the air crackled and its head tumbled neatly to the ground. Though the retinue dutifully hallooed his triumph, the King took no delight in it; greatly angered, he swore in his heart to devise some special torment for those wretches who dared to call themselves constructors. The beast, however, shook another head out of its severed neck, opened its new eyes wide and played a withering beam across the King’s armor (which, however, was proof against all manner of electromagnetic radiation). “Well, those two weren’t a total loss,” said the King to himself, “though this still won’t help them.” And he recharged his charger and spurred it into the fray.
    This time he swung full and cleaved the beast in twain. The beast didn’t seem to mind—in fact, it positioned itself helpfully beneath the whistling blade and gave a grateful twitch as it fell. And small wonder! The King took another look: the thing was twinned instead of twained! There were two spitting images, each a little smaller than the original, plus a third, a baby beast gamboling between them—that was the head he had cut off earlier: it now had a tail and feet and was doing cartwheels through the weeds.
    “What next?” thought the King. “Chop it into mice or little worms? A fine way to hunt!” And with great ire did he have at it, hewing with might and main until there were no end of little beasts underfoot, but suddenly they all backed off, went into a huddle, and there stood the beast again, good as new and stifling a yawn.
    “H’m,” thought the King. “Apparently it has the same kind of stabilization mechanism that—what was his name again?—Pumpington—that Pumpington tried to use. Yes, I dealt with him myself for that idiotic trick… Well, we’ll just wheel out the antimatter artillery…”
    He picked one with a six-foot bore, lined it up and loaded it himself, took aim, pulled the string and sent a perfectly silent and weirdly shimmering shell straight at the beast, to blow it to smithereens once and for all. But nothing happened—that is, nothing much. The beast only crouched a little lower, put out its left hand, long and hairy, and gave the King the finger.
    “Bring out our biggest!” roared the King, pretending not to notice. And several hundred peasants pulled up a veritable giant of a cannon, all of eighty-gauge, which the King aimed and was just about to fire—when all at once the beast leaped. The King lifted his sword to defend himself, but then there was no more beast. Those who saw what happened next said later that they were sure they had taken leave of their senses, for as the beast flew through the air, it underwent a lightning transformation, the grayish hulk divided up into three men in uniform, three policemen, who, still aloft, were already preparing to do their duty. The first policeman, a sergeant, got out the handcuffs, maneuvering his legs to keep upright; the second held on to his plumed shako with one hand, so it wouldn’t blow off, and with the other pulled out a warrant from his breast pocket; the third, apparently a rookie, assumed a horizontal position beneath the feet of the first two, to cushion their fall—after which, however, he jumped up and carefully dusted off his uniform. Meanwhile the first policeman had handcuffed the dumbfounded King and the second slapped the sword from his hand. Feebly protesting, the suspect was then summarily trotted off the field. The entire hunting procession stood rooted to the spot for a minute or two, then gave a yell and followed in hot pursuit. The snorting cybersteeds had practically caught up with the abductors, and swords and sabers were unsheathed and raised to strike, but the third policeman bent over, depressed his bellybutton and immediately the arms grew into two shafts, the legs coiled up, sprouting spokes, and began to turn, while the back formed the seat of a green racing gig to accommodate the other two policemen, who were vigorously plying the now-harnessed King with a whip, to make him run faster. The King obliged and broke into a mad gallop, waving his arms frantically to ward off the blows that descended upon his royal head; but now the huntsmen were gaining again, so the policemen jumped on the King’s back and one slipped down between the shafts, huffed and puffed and turned into a spinning top7 a dancing whirlwind, which gave wings to the little gig and whisked it away over hill and dale till it disappeared altogether in a cloud of dust. The King’s retinue split up and began a desperate search with Geiger counters and bloodhounds, and a special detachment came running up with shovels and flamethrowers and left no bone unburned in all the neighboring cemeteries—an obvious error, occasioned most likely by the trembling hand that hastily telegraphed the order from the observation balloon that had monitored the hunt. Several police divisions rushed here and there, searched the grounds, every bush, every weed, and both x-rays and laboratory samples were diligently taken of everything imaginable. The King’s charger was ordered to appear before a special board of inquiry appointed by the Prosecutor General. A unit of paratroopers with vacuum cleaners and sieves was dropped on the royal game preserve to sift through every last particle of dust. Finally, the order was issued that anyone resembling a policeman was to be detained and held without bail, which naturally created difficulties—one half of the police force, as it turned out, had arrested the other, and vice versa. At dusk the huntsmen and soldiers returned to the village dazed and bedraggled with the woeful tidings that neither hide nor hair of the King’s person was anywhere to be found.
    By torchlight and in the dead of night, the chained constructors were taken before the Great Chancellor and Keeper of the Royal Seal, who addressed them in the following way:
    “Whereas ye have falsely conspired and perversely plotted against the Crown and Life of Our Beloved Sovereign and Most Noble Ruler Krool and therewith dared to raise a treacherous hand and vilely devise his demise, not to mention impersonating an officer, a great aggravation of your crimes, so shall ye be quartered without quarter, impaled and pilloried, disemboweled, buried alive, crucified and burnt at the stake, after which your ashes shall be sent into orbit as a warning and perpetual reminder to all would-be regicides, amen.”
    “Can’t you wait a bit?” asked Trurl. “You see, we were expecting a letter…”
    “A letter, thou most scurrilous and scurvy knave?!”
    Just then the guards made way for the Postmaster General himself—indeed, how could they bar that dignitary’s entrance with their poleaxes? The Postmaster approached in full regalia, his medals jingling impressively, pulled a letter from a sapphire satchel and handed it to the Chancellor, saying, “Mannequin though I be, I come from His Majesty,” whereupon he disintegrated into a fine powder. The Chancellor could scarcely believe his eyes, but quickly recognized the King’s signet impressed there on the purple sealing wax; he opened the letter and read that His Majesty was forced to negotiate with the enemy, for the constructors had employed means algorithmic and algebraic to make him captive, and now they would list their demands, all of which the Great Chancellor had better meet, if he wished ever to get his Mighty Sovereign back in one piece. Signed: “Krool herewith affixes his hand and seal, held prisoner in a cave of unknown location by one pseudoconstabulary beast in three uniforms personified.”
    There then arose a great clamor, everyone shouting and asking what it all meant and what were the demands, to which Trurl said only, “Our chains, if you please.”
    A blacksmith was summoned to unfetter them, after which Trurl said:
    “We are hungry and dirty, we need a bath, a shave, massage, refreshment, nothing but the best, plenty of pomp and a water ballet with fireworks for dessert!”
    The court, of course, was hopping mad, but had to comply in every particular. Only at dawn did the constructors return from their villa, each elegantly pomaded, arrayed and reclining in a sedan chair borne by footmen (their former informers); they then, deigning to grant an audience, sat down and presented their demands—not off the top of their heads, mind you, but from a little notebook they had prepared for the occasion and hidden behind a curtain in their room. The following articles were read:
    First, A ship of the finest make and model available shall be furnished to carry the constructors home.
    2nd, The said ship shall be laden with various cargo as here specified: diamonds—four bushels, gold coin—forty bushels, platinum, palladium and whatever other ready valuables they happen to think of—eight bushels of each, also whatever mementos and tokens from the Royal Apartments the signatories of this instrument may deem appropriate.
    3rd, Until such time as the said ship shall be in readiness for takeoff, every nut and bolt in place, fully loaded and delivered up to the constructors complete with red carpet, an eighty-piece send-off band and children’s chorus, an abundance of honors, decorations and awards, and a wildly cheering crowd—until then, no King.
    4th, That a formal expression of undying gratitude shall be stamped upon a gold medallion and addressed to Their Most Sublime and Radiant Constructors Trurl and Klapaucius, Delight and Terror of the Universe, and moreover it shall contain a full account of their victory and be duly signed and notarized by every high and low official in the land, then set in the richly embellished barrel of the King’s favorite cannon, which Lord Protozor, Master of the Royal Hunt, shall himself and wholly unaided carry on board—no other Protozor but the one who lured Their Most Sublime and Radiant Constructors to this planet, thinking to work their painful and ignominious death thereby.
    5th, That the aforesaid Protozor shall accompany them on their return journey as insurance against any sort of double-dealing, pursuit, and the like. On board he shall occupy a cage three by three by four feet and shall receive a daily allowance of humble pie with a filling made of that very same sawdust which Their Most Sublime and Radiant Constructors saw fit to order in the process of indulging the King’s foolishness and which was subsequently taken to police headquarters by unmarked balloon.
    6th and lastly, The King need not crave forgiveness of Their Most Sublime and Radiant Constructors on bended knee, since he is much too beneath them to deserve notice.
    In Witness Whereof, the parties have hereunto set their hands and seals this day and year, etc. and so on. By: Trurl and Klapaucius, Constructors, and the Great Chancellor, the Great Chamberlain, the Great Chief of Secret Police, the Seneschal, Squadron Leader and Royal Balloonmaster.
    All the ministers and dignitaries turned blue, but what could they do? They had no choice, so a ship was immediately ordered. But then the constructors unexpectedly showed up after a leisurely breakfast, to supervise the work, and nothing suited them: this material, for instance, was no good, and that engineer was an absolute idiot, and they had to have a revolving magic lantern in the main hall, one with four pneumatic widgets and a calibrated cuckoo clock on top —and if the natives here didn’t know what a widget was, so much the worse for them, considering that the King was no doubt most impatient for his release and would (when he could) deal harshly with anyone who dared to delay it. This remark occasioned a general numbness, a great weakness about the knees, and much trembling, but the work continued apace. Finally the ship was ready and the royal stevedores began to stow the cargo in the hold, diamonds, sacks of pearls, so much gold it kept spilling out the hatch. Meanwhile the police were secretly running all about the countryside, turning everything upside down, much to the amusement of Trurl and Klapaucius, who didn’t mind explaining to a fearful but fascinated audience how it all happened, how they had discarded one idea after another until they hit upon an altogether different kind of beast. Not knowing where or how to place the controls—that is, the brain —so that they would be safe, the constructors had simply made everything brain, enabling the beast to think with its leg, or tail, or jaws (equipped with wisdom teeth only). But that was just the beginning. The real problem had two aspects, algorithmic and psychoanalytic. First they had to determine what would check the King, catch him flatfooted, so to speak. To this end, they created by nonlinear transmutation a police subset within the beast, since everyone knows that resisting or interfering with an officer who is making an arrest lege artis is a cosmic offense and utterly unthinkable. So much for the psychology of it—except that the Postmaster General was utilized here on similar grounds: an official of lower rank might not have made it past the guards, the letter then would not have been delivered, and the constructors would have very literally lost their heads. Moreover, the Postmaster mannequin had been given means to bribe the guards, should that have proved necessary. Every eventuality had been anticipated and provided for. Now as far as the algorithms went: they had only to find the proper domain of beasts, closed, bounded and bonded, with plenty of laws both associative and distributive in operation, throw in a constable constant or two, some graphs of graft, squadratic equations and crime waves—and the thing took over from there, once activated by the expedient of writing a document-program (behind the curtain with the bells) in castor oil ink, rendering it thereby sufficiently hard to swallow to serve as a red-tape generator. We might add here that later on the constructors had an article published in a prominent scientific journal under the title of “Recursive β—Metafunctions in the Special Case of a Bogus Polypolice Transmogrification Conversion on an Oscillating Harmonic Field of Glass Bells and Green Gig, Kerosene Lamp on the Left to Divert Attention, Solved by Beastly Incarceration-Concatenation,” which was subsequently exploited by the tabloids as “The Police State Rears Its Ugly Head.” Obviously none of the ministers, dignitaries or huntsmen understood a single word of what was said, but that hardly mattered. The loving subjects of King Krool knew not whether they should despise these constructors or stand and gape in awe and admiration.
    Now all was in readiness for takeoff. Trurl, as stipulated in the agreement, went through the King’s private chambers with a large sack and calmly appropriated whatever object he took a fancy to. Finally, the carriage arrived and took the victors to the spaceport, where a crowd cheered wildly and a children’s chorus sang, then a charming little girl in local costume curtsied and presented them with a ribboned nosegay, and high-ranking officials took turns to express their undying gratitude, bidding them both a fond farewell, and the band played, several ladies fainted, and then a hush fell over the multitude. Klapaucius had pulled a tooth from his mouth, not an ordinary tooth but a transmitter-receiver, a two-way bicuspid. He threw a tiny switch and a sandstorm appeared on the horizon, growing and growing, whirling faster and faster, until it dropped into an empty space between the ship and the crowd and came to a sudden stop, scattering dust and debris in all directions. Everyone gasped and stepped back—there stood the beast, looking unusually bestial as it flashed its laser eyes and flailed its dragon tail!
    “The King, if you please,” said Klapaucius. But the beast answered, speaking in a perfectly normal voice:
    “Not on your life. It’s my turn now to make demands…”
    “What? Have you gone mad? You have to obey, it’s in the matrix!” shouted Klapaucius. Everyone stared, thunderstruck.
    “Matrix-schmatrix. Look pal, I’m not just any beast, I’m algorithmic, heuristic and sadistic, fully automatic and autocratic, that means undemocratic, and I’ve got loads of loops and plenty of feedback so none of that back talk or I’ll clap you in irons, that means in the clink with the King, in the brig with the green gig, get me?”
    “I’ll give you feedback!” roared Klapaucius, furious. But Trurl asked the beast:
    “What exactly do you want?”
    And he sneaked around behind Klapaucius and pulled out a special tooth of his own, so the beast wouldn’t see.
    “Well, first of all I want to marry—”
    But they never learned whom in particular the beast had in mind, for Trurl threw a tiny switch and quickly chanted:
    “Eeny, meeny, miney, mo, input, output, out—you—go!”
    The fantastically complex electromagnetic wave system that held the beast’s atoms in place now came apart under the influence of those words, and the beast blinked, wiggled its ears, swallowed, tried to pull itself together, but before it could even grit its teeth there was a hot gust of wind, a strong smell of ozone, then nothing left to pull together, just a little mound of ashes and the King standing in the middle, safe and sound, but in great need of a bath and mortified to tears that it had come to this.
    “That’ll cut you down to size,” said Trurl, and no one knew whether he meant the beast or the King. In either case, the algorithm had done its job well.
    “And now, gentlemen,” Trurl concluded, “if you’ll kindly help the Master of the Royal Hunt into his cage, we can be on our way…”
    The Third Sally
    Or The Dragons
    of Probability
    Trurl and Klapaucius were former pupils of the great Cerebron of Umptor, who for forty-seven years in the School of Higher Neantical Nillity expounded the General Theory of Dragons. Everyone knows that dragons don’t exist. But while this simplistic formulation may satisfy the layman, it does not suffice for the scientific mind. The School of Higher Neantical Nillity is in fact wholly unconcerned with what does exist. Indeed, the banality of existence has been so amply demonstrated, there is no need for us to discuss it any further here. The brilliant Cerebron, attacking the problem analytically, discovered three distinct kinds of dragon: the mythical, the chimerical, and the purely hypothetical. They were all, one might say, nonexistent, but each non-existed in an entirely different way. And then there were the imaginary dragons, and the a-, anti- and minus-dragons (colloquially termed nots, noughts and oughtn’ts by the experts), the minuses being the most interesting on account of the well-known dracological paradox: when two minuses hypercontiguate (an operation in the algebra of dragons corresponding roughly to simple multiplication), the product is 0.6 dragon, a real nonplusser. Bitter controversy raged among the experts on the question of whether, as half of them claimed, this fractional beast began from the head down or, as the other half maintained, from the tail up. Trurl and Klapaucius made a great contribution by showing the error of both positions. They were the first to apply probability theory to this area and, in so doing, created the field of statistical draconics, which says that dragons are thermodynamically impossible only in the probabilistic sense, as are elves, fairies, gnomes, witches, pixies and the like. Using the general equation of improbability, the two constructors obtained the coefficients of pixation, elfinity, kobolding, etc. They found that for the spontaneous manifestation of an average dragon, one would have to wait a good sixteen quintoquadrillion heptillion years. In other words, the whole problem would have remained a mathematical curiosity had it not been for that famous tinkering passion of Trurl, who decided to examine the nonphenome non empirically. First, as he was dealing with the highly improbable, he invented a probability amplifier and ran tests in his basement—then later at the Dracogenic Proving Grounds established and funded by the Academy. To this day those who (sadly enough) have no knowledge of the General Theory of Improbability ask why Trurl probabilized a dragon and not an elf or goblin. The answer is simply that dragons are more probable than elves or goblins to begin with. True, Trurl might have gone further with his amplifying experiments, had not the first been so discouraging— discouraging in that the materialized dragon tried to make a meal of him. Fortunately, Klapaucius was nearby and lowered the probability, and the monster vanished. A number of scholars subsequently repeated the experiment on a phantasmatron, but, as they lacked the necessary know-how and sang-froid, a considerable quantity of dragon spawn, raising an ungodly perturbation, broke loose. Only then did it become clear that those odious beasts enjoyed an existence quite different from that of ordinary cupboards, tables and chairs; for dragons are distinguished by their probability rather than by their actuality, though granted, that probability is overwhelming once they’ve actually come into being. Suppose, for example, one organizes a hunt for such a dragon, surrounds it, closes in, beating the brush. The circle of sportsmen, their weapons cocked and ready, finds only a burnt patch of earth and an unmistakable smell: the dragon, seeing itself cornered, has slipped from real to configurational space. An extremely obtuse and brutal creature, it does this instinctively, of course. Now, ignorant and backward persons will occasionally demand that you show them this configurational space of yours, apparently unaware that electrons, whose existence no one in his right mind would question, also move exclusively in configurational space, their comings and goings fully dependent on curves of probability. Though it is easier not to believe in electrons than in dragons: electrons, at least taken singly, won’t try to make a meal of you.
    A colleague of Trurl, one Harborizian Cybr, was the first to quantize a dragon, detecting a particle known as the dracotron, the energy of which is measured—obviously—in units of dracon by a dracometer, and he even determined the coordinates of its tail, for which he nearly paid with his life. Yet what did these scientific achievements concern the common folk, who were now greatly harassed by dragons ranging the countryside, filling the air with their howls and flames and trampling, and in places even exacting tribute in the form of young virgins? What did it concern the poor villagers that Trurl’s dragons, indeterministic hence heuristic, were behaving exactly according to theory though contrary to all notions of decency, or that his theory could predict the curve of the tails that demolished their barns and leveled their crops? It is not surprising, then, that the general public, instead of appreciating the value of Trurl’s revolutionary invention, held it much against him. A group of individuals thoroughly benighted in matters of science waylaid the famous constructor and gave him a good thrashing. Not that this deterred him and his friend Klapaucius from further experimentation, which showed that the extent of a dragon’s existence depends mainly on its whim, though also on its degree of satiety, and that the only sure method of negating it is to reduce the probability to zero or lower. All this research, naturally enough, took a great deal of time and energy; meanwhile the dragons that had gotten loose were running rampant, laying waste to a variety of planets and moons. What was worse, they multiplied. Which enabled Klapaucius to publish an excellent article entitled “Covariant Transformation from Dragons to Dragonets, in the Special Case of Passage from States Forbidden by the Laws of Physics to Those Forbidden by the Local Authorities.” The article created a sensation in the scientific world, where there was still talk of the amazing polypolice beast that had been used by the intrepid constructors against King Krool to avenge the deaths of their colleagues. But far greater was the sensation caused by the news that a certain constructor known as Basiliscus the Gorgonite, traveling through the Galaxy, was apparently making dragons appear by his presence—and in places where no one had ever seen a dragon before. Whenever the situation grew desperate and catastrophe seemed imminent, this Basiliscus would turn up, approach the sovereign of that particular area and, settling on some outrageous fee after long hours of bargaining, would undertake to extirpate the beasts. At which he usually succeeded, though no one knew quite how, since he worked in secret and alone. True, the guarantee he offered for dragon removal—dracolysis—was only statistical; though one ruler did pay him in similar coin, that is, in ducats that were only statistically good. After that, the insolent Basiliscus always used aqua regia to check the metallic reliability of his royal payments. One sunny afternoon Trurl and Klapaucius met and held the following conversation:
    “Have you heard about this Basiliscus?” asked Trurl.
    “Well, what do you think?”
    “I don’t like it.”
    “Nor do I. How do you suppose he does it?”
    “With an amplifier.”
    “A probability amplifier?”
    “Either that, or oscillating fields.”
    “Or a paramagnedracic generator.”
    “You mean, a draculator?”
    “But really,” cried Trurl, “that would be criminal! That would mean he was bringing the dragons with him, only in a potential state, their probability near zero; then, after landing and getting the lay of the land, he was increasing the chances, raising the potential, strengthening the probability until it was almost a certainty. And then, of course, you have visualization, materialization, full manifestation.”
    “Of course. And he probably shuffles the letters of the matrix to make the dragons grand.”
    “Yes, and the poor people groan in agony and gore. Terrible!”
    “What do you think; does he then apply an irreversible antidraconian retroectoplasmatron, or simply lower the probability and walk off with the gold?”
    “Hard to say. Though if he’s only improbabilizing, that would be an even greater piece of villainy, since sooner or later the fractional fluctuations would have to give rise to a draconic iso-oscillation—and the whole thing would start all over again.”
    “Though by that time both he and the money would be gone,” observed Klapaucius.
    “Shouldn’t we report him to the Main Office?”
    “Not just yet. He may not be doing this, after all. We have no real proof. Statistical fluctuations can occur without an amplifier; at one time, you know, there were neither amplifiers nor phantasmatrons, yet dragons did appear. Purely on a random basis.”
    “True…” replied Trurl. “But these appear immediately after he arrives on the planet!”
    “I know. Still, reporting a fellow constructor—it just isn’t done. Though there’s no reason we can’t take measures of our own.”
    “No reason at all.”
    “I’m glad you agree. But what exactly should we do?”
    At this point the two famous dracologists got into a discussion so technical, that anyone listening in wouldn’t have been able to make head or tail of it. There were such mysterious words as “discontinuous orthodragonality.” “grand draconical ensembles.” “high-frequency binomial fafneration.” “abnormal saurian distribution.” “discrete dragons.” “indiscrete dragons.” “drasticodracostochastic control.” “simple Grendelian dominance.” “weak interaction dragon diffraction.” “aberrational reluctance.” “informational figmentation,” and so on.
    The upshot of all this penetrating analysis was the third sally, for which the constructors prepared most carefully, not failing to load their ship with a quantity of highly complicated devices.
    In particular they took along a scatter-scrambler and a special gun that fired negative heads. After landing on Eenica, then on Meenica, then finally on Mynamoaca, they realized it would be impossible to comb the whole infested area in this way and they would have to split up. This was most easily done, obviously, by separating; so after a brief council of war each set out on his own. Klapaucius worked for a spell on Prestopondora for the Emperor Maximillion, who was prepared to offer him his daughter’s hand in marriage if only he would get rid of those vile beasts. Dragons of the highest probability were everywhere, even in the streets of the capital, and the place literally swarmed with virtuals. A virtual dragon, the uneducated and simple-minded might say, “isn’t really there,” having no observable substance nor displaying the least intention of acquiring any; but the Cybr-Trurl-Klapaucius-Leech calculation (not to mention the Drachendranginger wave equation) clearly shows that a dragon can jump from configurational to real space with no more effort than it takes to jump off a cliff. Thus, in any room, cellar or attic, provided the probability is high, you could meet with a dragon or possibly even a metadragon.
    Instead of chasing after the beasts, which would have accomplished little or nothing, Klapaucius, a true theoretician, approached the problem methodically; in squares and promenades, in barns and hostels he placed probabilistic battery-run dragon dampers, and in no time at all the beasts were extremely rare. Collecting his fee, plus an honorary degree and an engraved loving cup, Klapaucius blasted off to rejoin his friend. On the way, he noticed a planet and someone waving to him frantically. Thinking it might be Trurl in some sort of trouble, he landed. But it was only the inhabitants of Trufffandria, the subjects of King Pfftius, gesticulating. The Trufflandrians held to various superstitions and primitive beliefs; their religion, Pneumatological Dracolatry, taught that dragons appeared as a divine retribution for their sins and took possession of all unclean souls. Quickly realizing it would be useless to enter into a discussion with the royal dracologians—their methods consisted primarily of waving censers and distributing sacred relics—Klapaucius instead conducted soundings of the outlying terrain. These revealed the planet was occupied by only one beast, but that beast belonged to the terrible genus of Echidnosaurian hypervipers. He offered the King his services. The King, however, answered in a vague, roundabout fashion, evidently under the influence of that ridiculous doctrine which would have the origin of dragons be somehow supernatural. Perusing the local newspapers, Klapaucius learned that the dragon terrorizing the planet was considered by some to be a single thing, and by others, a multiplex creature that could operate in several locations at the same time. This gave him pause—though it wasn’t so surprising really, when you considered that the localization of these odious phenomena was subject to so-called dragonomalies, in which certain specimens, particularly when abstracted, underwent a “smearing” effect, which was in reality nothing more than a simple isotopic spin acceleration of asynchronous quantum moments. Much as a hand, emerging from the water fingers-first, appears above the surface in the form of five seemingly separate and independent items, so do dragons, emerging from the lairs of their configurational space, on occasion appear to be plural, though in point of fact they are quite singular. Towards the end of his second audience with the King, Klapaucius inquired if perhaps Trurl were on the planet and gave a detailed description of his comrade. He was astonished to hear that yes, his comrade had only recently visited their kingdom and had even undertaken to exorcise the monster, had in fact accepted a retainer and departed for the neighboring mountains where the monster had been most frequently sighted. Had then returned the next day, demanding the rest of his fee and presenting four and twenty dragon’s teeth as proof of his success. There was some misunderstanding, however, and it was decided to withhold payment until the matter was fully cleared up. At which Trurl flew into a rage and in a loud voice made certain comments about His Royal Highness that were perilously close to lese majesty if not treason, then stormed out without leaving a forwarding address. That very same day the monster reappeared as if nothing had happened and, alas, ravaged their farms and villages more fiercely than before.
    Now this story seemed questionable to Klapaucius, though on the other hand it was hard to believe the good King was lying, so he packed his knapsack with all sorts of powerful dragon-exterminating equipment and set off for the mountains, whose snowcapped peaks rose majestically in the east.
    It wasn’t long before he saw dragon prints and got an unmistakable whiff of brimstone. On he went, undaunted, holding his weapon in readiness and keeping a constant eye on the needle of his dragon counter. It stayed at zero for a spell, then began to give nervous little twitches, until, as if struggling with itself, it slowly crawled towards the number one. There was no doubt now: the Echidnosaur was close at hand. Which amazed Klapaucius, for he couldn’t understand how his trusty friend and renowned theoretician, Trurl, could have gotten so fouled up in his calculations as to fail to wipe the dragon out for good. Nor could he imagine Trurl returning to the royal palace and demanding payment for what he had not accomplished.
    Klapaucius then came upon a group of natives. They were plainly terrified, the way they kept looking around and trying to stay together. Bent beneath heavy burdens balanced on their backs and heads, they were stepping single-file up the mountainside. Klapaucius accosted the procession and asked the first native what they were about.
    “Sire!” replied the native, a lower court official in a tattered tog and cummerbund. “’Tis the tribute we carry to the dragon.”
    “Tribute? Ah yes, the tribute! And what is the tribute?”
    “Nothin’ more ’r less, Sire, than what the dragon would have us bring it: gold coins, precious stones, imported perfumes, an’ a passel o’ other valuables.”
    This was truly incredible, for dragons never required such tributes, certainly not perfume—no perfume could ever mask their own natural fetor—and certainly not currency, which was useless to them.
    “And does it ask for young virgins, my good man?” asked Klapaucius.
    “Virgins? Nay, Sire, tho’ there war a time… we had to cart ’em in by the bevy, we did… Only that war before the stranger came, the furrin gentleman, Sire, a-walkin’ around the rocks with ’is boxes an’ contraptions, all by ’is-self…” Here the worthy native broke off and stared at the instruments and weapons Klapaucius was carrying, particularly the large dragon counter that was ticking softly all the while, its red pointer jumping back and forth across the white dial.
    “Why, if he dinna have one… jus’ like yer Lordship’s,” he said in a hushed voice. “Aye, jus’ like… the same wee stiggermajigger and a’ the rest…”
    “There was a sale on them,” said Klapaucius, to allay the native’s suspicions. “But tell me, good people, do you happen to know what became of this stranger?”
    “What became o’ him, ye ask? That we know not, Sire, to be sure. ’Twas, if I not mistake me, but a fortnight past —’twas, ’twas not, Master Gyles, a fortnight withal an’ nae more?”
    “’Twas, ’twas, ’tis the truth ye speak, the truth aye, a fortnight sure, or maybe two.”
    “Aye! So he comes to us, yer Grace, partakes of our ’umble fare, polite as ye please an’ I’ll not gainsay it, nay, a parfit gentleman true, pays hondsomely, inquires after the missus don’t y’know, aye an’ then he sits ’isself down, spreads out a’ them contraptions an’ thin’s with clocks in ’em, y’see, an’ scribbles furious-like, numbers they are, one after’t’other, in this wee book he keep in ’is breast pocket, then takes out a—whad’yacallit—therbobbiter thingamabob…”
    “Aye, that’s it! A thermometer… an’ he says it be for dragons, an’ pokes it here an’ there, Sire, an’ scribbles in ’is book again, then he takes a’ them contraptions an’ things an’ packs ’em up an’ puts ’em on ’is back an’ says farewell an’ goes ’is merry way. We never saw ’im more, yer Honor. That very night we hear a thunder an’ a clatter, oh, a good ways off, ’bout as far as Mount Murdigras—’tis the one, Sire, hard by yon peak, aye, that one thar, looks like a hawk, she do, we call ’er Pfftius Peak after our beluved King, an’ that one thar on’t’uther side, bent over like’t’would spread ’er arse, that be the Dollymog, which, accordin’ to legend—”
    “Enough of the mountains, worthy native,” said Klaupaucius. “You were saying there was thunder in the night. What happened then?”
    “Then, Sire? Why nothin’, to be sure. The hut she give a jump an’ I falls outta bed, to which I’m well accustomed, mind ye, seein’ as how the wicked beast allus come a-bumpin’ gainst the house with ’er tail an’ send a feller flyin’—like when Master Gyles’ ayn brother londed in the privy ’cause the creatur’ gets a hankerin’ to scratch ’isself on the corner o’ the roof…”
    “To the point, man, get to the point!” cried Klapaucius. “There was thunder, you fell down, and then what?”
    “Then nothin’, like I says before an’ thought I made it clear. Nothin’, an’ if’n there war somethin’, there’d be some-thin’, only there war nothin’ sure an’ that be the long an’ the short of it! D’ye agree, Master Gyles?”
    “Aye, sure ’tis the truth ye speak, ’tis.”
    Klapaucius bowed and stepped back, and the whole procession continued up the mountain, the natives straining beneath the dragon’s tribute. He supposed they would place it in some cave designated by the beast, but didn’t care to ask for details; his head was already spinning from listening to the local official and his Master Gyles. And anyway, he had heard one of the natives say to another that the dragon had chosen “a spot as near us an’ as near ’isself as could be found.”
    Klapaucius hurried on, picking his way according to the readings of the dragonometer he kept on a chain around his neck. As for the counter, its pointer had come to rest on exactly eight-tenths of a dragon.
    “What in the devil is it, an indeterminant dragon?” he thought as he marched, stopping to rest every now and then, for the sun beat fiercely and the air was so hot that everything shimmered. There was no vegetation anywhere, not a scrap, only baked mud, rocks and boulders as far as the eye could see.
    An hour passed, the sun hung lower in the heavens, and Klapaucius still walked through fields of gravel and scree, through craggy passes, till he found himself in a place of narrow canyons and ravines full of chill and darkness. The red pointer crept to nine-tenths, gave a shudder, and froze.
    Klapaucius put his knapsack on a rock and had just taken off his antidragon belt when the indicator began to go wild, so he grabbed his probability extinguisher and looked all around. Situated on a high bluff, he was able to see into the gorge below, where something moved.
    “That must be her!” he thought, since Echidnosaurs are invariably female.
    Could that be why it didn’t demand young virgins? But no, the native said it had before. Odd, most odd. But the main thing now, Klapaucius told himself, was to shoot straight and everything would be all right. Just in case, however, he reached for his knapsack again and pulled out a can of dragon repellent and an atomizer. Then he peered over the edge of the rock. At the bottom of the gorge, along the bed of a dried-up stream walked a grayish brown dragoness of enormous proportions, though with sunken sides as if it had been starved. All sorts of thoughts ran through Klapaucius’ head. Annihilate the thing by reversing the sign of its pentapendragonal coefficient from positive to negative, thereby raising the statistical probability of its nonexistence over that of its existence? Ah, but how very risky that was, when the least deviation could prove disastrous: more than one poor soul, seeking to produce the lack of a dragon, had ended up instead with the back of the dragon—resulting in a beast with two backs—and nearly died of embarrassment! Besides, total deprobabilization would rule out the possibility of studying the Echidnosaur’s behavior. Klapaucius wavered; he could see a splendid dragonskin tacked on the wall of his den, right above the fireplace. But this wasn’t the time to indulge in daydreams—though a dracozoologist would certainly be delighted to receive an animal with such unusual tastes. Finally, as Klapaucius got into position, it occurred to him what a nice little article might be written up on the strength of a well-preserved specimen, so he put down the extinguisher, lifted the gun that fired negative heads, took careful aim and pulled the trigger.
    The roar was deafening. A cloud of white smoke engulfed Klapaucius and he lost sight of the beast for a moment. Then the smoke cleared.
    There are a great many old wives’ tales about dragons. It is said, for example, that dragons can sometimes have seven heads. This is sheer nonsense. A dragon can have only one head, for the simple reason that having two leads to disagreements and violent quarrels; the polyhydroids, as the scholars call them, died out as a result of internal feuds. Stubborn and headstrong by nature, dragons cannot tolerate opposition, therefore two heads in one body will always bring about a swift death: each head, purely to spite the other, refuses to eat, then maliciously holds its breath—with the usual consequences. It was this phenomenon which Euphorius Cloy exploited when he invented the anticapita cannon. A small auxiliary electron head is discharged into the dragon’s body. This immediately gives rise to unreconcilable differences of opinion and the dragon is immobilized by the ensuing deadlock. Often it will stand there, stiff as a board, for a day, a week, even a month; sometimes a year goes by before the beast will collapse, exhausted. Then you can do with it what you will.
    But the dragon Klapaucius shot reacted strangely, to say the least. True, it did rear up on its hind paws with a howl that started a landslide or two, and it did thrash the rocks with its tail until the sparks flew all over the canyon. But then it scratched its ear, cleared its throat and coolly continued on its way, though trotting at a slightly quicker pace. Unable to believe his eyes, Klapaucius ran along the ridge to head the creature off at the mouth of the dried-up stream —it was no longer an article, or even two articles in the Dracological Journal he could see his name on now, but a whole monograph elegantly bound, with a likeness of the dragon and the author on the cover!
    At the first bend he crouched behind a boulder, pulled out his improbability automatic, took aim and actuated the possibiliballistic destabilizers. The gunstock trembled in his hands, the red-hot barrel steamed; the dragon was surrounded with a halo like a moon predicting bad weather— but didn’t disappear! Once again Klapaucius unleashed the utmost improbability at the beast; the intensity of nonverisimilarity was so great, that a moth that happened to be flying by began to tap out the Second Jungle Book in Morse code with its little wings, and here and there among the crags and cliffs danced the shadows of witches, hags and harpies, while the sound of hoofbeats announced that somewhere in the vicinity there were centaurs gamboling, summoned into being by the awesome force of the improbability projector. But the dragon just sat there and yawned, leisurely scratching its shaggy neck with a hind paw, like a dog. Klapaucius clutched his sizzling weapon and desperately kept squeezing the trigger—he had never felt so helpless— and the nearest stones slowly lifted into the air, while the dust that the dragon had kicked up, instead of settling, hung in midair and assumed the shape of a sign that clearly read AT YOUR SERVICE GOV. It grew dim—day was night and night was day, it grew cold-—hell was freezing over; a couple of stones went out for a stroll and softly chatted of this and that; in short, miracles were happening right and left, yet that horrid monster sitting not more than thirty paces from Klapaucius apparently had no intention of disappearing. Klapaucius threw down his gun, pulled an anti-dragon grenade from his vest pocket and, committing his soul to the Universal Matrix of Transfinite Transformations, hurled it with all his might. There was a loud ker-boom, and into the air with a spray of rock flew the dragon’s tail, and the dragon shouted “Yipe!"—just like a person—and galloped straight for Klapaucius. Klapaucius, seeing the end was near, leaped out from behind his boulder, swinging his antimatter saber blindly, but then he heard another shout:
    “Stop! Stop! Don’t kill me!”
    “What’s that, the dragon talking?” thought Klapaucius. “I must be going mad…”
    But he asked:
    “Who said that? The dragon?”
    “What dragon? It’s me!!”
    And as the cloud of dust blew away, Trurl stepped out of the beast, pushing a button that made it sink to its knees and go dead with a long, drawn-out wheeze.
    “Trurl, what on earth is going on? Why this masquerade? Where did you find such a costume? And what about the real dragon?” Klapaucius bombarded his friend with questions. Trurl finished brushing himself off and held up his hands.
    “Just a minute, give me a chance! The dragon I destroyed, but the King wouldn’t pay…”
    “Why not?”
    “Stingy, most likely. He blamed it on the bureaucracy, of course, said there had to be a notarized death certificate, an official autopsy, all sorts of forms in triplicate, the approval of the Royal Appropriations Commission, and so on. The Head Treasurer claimed he didn’t know the procedure to hand over the money, for it wasn’t wages, nor did it come under maintenance. I went from the King to the Cashier to the Commission, back and forth, and no one would do anything; finally, when they asked me to submit a vita sheet with photographs and references, I walked out—but by then the dragon was beyond recall. So I pulled the skin off it, cut up a few sticks and branches, found an old telephone pole, and that was really all I needed; a frame for the skin, some pulleys—you know—and I was ready…”
    “You, Trurl? Resorting to such shameful tactics? Impossible! What could you hope to gain by it? I mean, if they didn’t pay you in the first place…”
    “Don’t you understand?” said Trurl, shaking his head. “This way I get the tribute! Already there’s more than I know what to do with.”
    “Ah! Of course!!” Klapaucius saw it all now. But he added, “Still, it wasn’t right to force them…”
    “Who was forcing them? I only walked around in the mountains, and in the evenings I howled a little. But really, I’m absolutely bushed.” And he sat down next to Klapaucius.
    “What, from howling?”
    “Howling? What are you talking about? Every night I have to drag sacks of gold from the designated cave—all the way up there!” He pointed to a distant ridge. “I made myself a blast-off pad—it’s right over there. Just carry several hundred pounds of bullion from sundown to sunup and you’ll see what I mean! And that dragon was no ordinary dragon—the skin itself weighs a couple of tons, and I have to cart that around with me all day, roaring and stamping —and then it’s all night hauling and heaving. I’m glad you showed up, I can’t take much more of this…”
    “But… why didn’t the dragon—the fake one, that is— why didn’t it disappear when I lowered the probability to the point of miracles?” Klapaucius asked. Trurl smiled.
    “I didn’t want to take any chances,” he explained. “Some fool of a hunter might’ve happened by, maybe even Basiliscus himself, so I put probability-proof shields under the dragonskin. But come, I’ve got a few sacks of platinum left —saved them for last since they’re the heaviest. Which is just perfect, now that you can give me a hand…”

The Fourth Sally
How Trurl Built a Femfatalatron to Save Prince Pantaloon from the Pangs of Love, and How Later He Resorted to a Cannonade of Babies

    One day, in the middle of the night, as Trurl lay deep in slumber, there came a violent knocking at the door of his domicile, as if someone was trying to knock it off its hinges. Still in a stupor, Trurl pulled back the bolts and saw standing there against the paling stars an enormous ship. It looked like a giant sugar loaf or flying pyramid, and out of this colossus, which had landed right on his front lawn, long rows of andromedaries laden with packs walked down a wide ramp, while robots, garbed in turbans and togas and painted black, unloaded the bags at his doorstep, and so quickly, that before Trurl knew it, he was hemmed in by a growing embankment of bulging sacks—though a narrow passageway was left therein, and through this approached an electroknight of remarkable countenance, for his jeweled eyes blazed like comets, and he had radar antennas jauntily thrown back, and an elegant diamond-studded stole. This imposing personage doffed his armored cap and in a mighty yet silken voice inquired:
    “Have I the honor to speak with his lordship Trurl, Trurl the highborn, Trurl the illustrious constructor?”
    “Why yes, of course… won’t you come in… I wasn’t expecting… that is, I was asleep,” said Trurl, terribly flustered, pulling on a bathrobe, for a nightshirt was all he was wearing, and that wasn’t the cleanest.
    The magnificent electroknight, however, appeared not to notice any shortcoming in Trurl’s attire. Doffng his cap again, which purred and hummed above his castellated brow, he gracefully entered the room. Trurl excused himself for a moment, perfunctorily performed his morning ablutions, then hurried back downstairs. By now it was growing light outside, and the first rays of the sun gleamed on the turbans of the robots, who sang the old sad and soulful song of bondage, “Tote Dat Jack,” as they formed in triple rows around both house and pyramidal ship. Trurl took a seat opposite his guest, who blinked his shining eyes and finally spoke as follows:
    “The planet from which I come to you, Sir Constructor, is at present deep in the Dark Ages. Ah, but Your Excellency must forgive our untimely arrival, which did so incommoditate him; on board we had no way of knowing, you see, that at this particular locus of this worthy sphere, which your abode is pleased to occupy, night still reigned supreme and stayed the break of day.”
    Here he cleared his throat, like someone playing sweetly upon a glass harmonica, and continued:
    “I have been sent to Your Exalted Person by my lord and master, His Royal Highness Protuberon Asteristicus, sovereign ruler of the sister globes of Aphelion and Perihelion, hereditary monarch of Aneuria, emperor of all the Monodamites, Biproxicans and Tripartisans, the Grand Duke of Anamandorinth, Glorgonzigor and Esquacciaccaturbia, Count of the Euscalipü, the Algorissimo and the Flora del Fortran, Paladin Escutcheoned, Begudgeoned and of the Highest Dudgeon, Baron of Bhm, Wrph and Clarafoncasterbrackeningen, as well as anointed exarch extraordinary of Ida, Pida and Adinfinida, to invite in His munificent name Your Resplendent Grace to our kingdom as the long-awaited savior of the crown, as the only one who can deliver us from the general mortifaction occasioned by the thrice-unhappy infatuation of His Royal Highness, the heir to the throne, Pantagoon.”
    “But really, I’m not—” Trurl tried to interpose, but the dignitary waved his hand, signifying that he had not as yet finished, and went on in that same resonating voice:
    “In return for the gracious loan of your most sympathetic ear, and for your succor in the overcoming of our national calamity, His Royal Highness Protuberon hereby promises, pledges and solemnly swears that he shall shower Your Con-structorship with such riches and honors, that Your Esteemed Effulgence will never exhaust them, even until the end of his days. And now, by way of an advance or, as they say, a retainer, I forthwith dub thee"—and here the magnate rose, drew his sword, and spoke, vigorously punctuating each word with the flat of the blade on both Trurl’s shoulders—"Earl of Otes, Grotes and Finocclea, Margrave Emeritus of Trundle and Sklar, Eight-barreled Bearer of the Great Guamellonian Hok, not to mention Thane of Bondacalonda and Cgth, Governor General of Muxis and Ptuxis, as well as Titular Viscount of the Order of Unwinched Waifs, Almoner in perpetuum of the realms of Eenica, Meenica and Mynamoaca, with all the attendant rights and privileges accruing thereto, including a twenty-one gun salute upon rising in the morning and retiring at night, an after-dinner fanfare, and the Extinguished Exponential Cross, duly certified and carved in ebony, slate and marzipan. And as proof of his royal favor, my Lord and Liege sends you these few trifles, which I have taken the liberty to place about your dwelling.”
    And indeed, the sacks already blocked out the sky, and the room grew dim. The magnate finished speaking, though his hand, raised in eloquence, remained in midair. Trurl took this opportunity to say:
    “I am much obliged to His Royal Highness Protuberon, but affairs of the heart, you understand, are not exactly my specialty. Though…” he added, uncomfortable under the magnate’s dazzling gaze, “perhaps you would explain the problem to me…”
    The magnate gave a nod.
    “That is simply done, Sir Constructor! The heir to the throne has fallen in love with Amarandina Cybernella, the only daughter of the ruler of the neighboring state of Ib. But an ancient enmity divides our kingdoms, and doubtless, if our Beloved Sovereign, yielding to the unwearying pleas of the prince, were to ask that emperor for the hand of Amarandina, the answer would be a categorical never. And so a year has passed, and six days, and the crown prince wastes away before our eyes. All attempts to restore him to reason have failed, and now our only hope lies in Your Most Iridescent Eminence!”
    Here the magnate made a deep bow. Trurl, observing rows of warriors right outside his window, coughed and said in a feeble voice:
    “Well, I really don’t see how I could be of… though, of course, if the King wishes it… in that case…”
    “Wonderful!” cried the magnate and clapped his hands with a mighty clang. Immediately twelve cuirassiers, black as night, rushed in with clattering armor and bore Trurl off to the ship, which fired its engines twenty-one times, pulled anchor and, banners waving, lifted up into the open sky.
    During the flight the magnate, who was Grand Seneschal and Artifactotum to the King, filled Trurl in on the details of the prince’s ill-starred enamorization. Directly upon their arrival, after the welcoming ceremonies and ticker-tape parade through the streets of the capital, the constructor got down to work. He set up his equipment in the magnificent royal gardens and in three weeks had converted the Temple of Contemplation there into a strange edifice full of metal, cables and glowing screens. This was, he told the King, a femfatalatron, an erotifying device stochastic, elastic and orgiastic, and with plenty of feedback; whoever was placed inside the apparatus instantaneously experienced all the charms, lures, wiles, winks and witchery of all the fairer sex in the Universe at once. The femfatalatron operated on a power of forty megamors, with a maximum attainable efficiency—given a constant concupiscence coefficient—of ninety-six percent, while the system’s libidinous lubricity, measured of course in kilocupids, produced up to six units for every remote-control caress. This marvelous mechanism, moreover, was equipped with reversible ardor dampers, omnidirectional consummation amplifiers, absorption philters, paphian peripherals, and “first-sight” flip-flop circuits, since Trurl held here to the position of Dr. Yentzicus, creator of the famous oculo-oscular feel theory.
    There were also all sorts of auxiliary components, like a high-frequency titillizer, an alternating tantalator, plus an entire set of lecherons and debaucheraries; on the outside, in a special glass case, were enormous dials, on which one could carefully follow the course of the whole decaptivation process. Statistical analysis revealed that the femfatalatron gave positive, permanent results in ninety-eight cases of unrequited amatorial superfixation out of a hundred. The chances of saving the crown prince therefore were excellent.
    It took forty venerable peers of the kingdom four hours and more to push and pull their prince through the gardens to the Temple of Contemplation, for though fully determined, they had to show proper respect for his royal person, and the prince, having no desire whatever of becoming de-captivated, kicked and butted his faithful courtiers with great vigor. When finally His Majesty was shoved, with the application of numerous feather pillows, into the machine and the trapdoor shut after him, Trurl, full of misgivings, threw the switch, and the computer began its countdown in a dreary monotone: “Five, four, three, two, one, zero… start!” The synchroerotorotors, bumping and grinding, set up powerful counterseduction currents to displace the prince’s so tragically misplaced affections. After an hour of this, Trurl looked at the dials: their needles trembled under the terrible load of lascivicity but, alas, failed to show any significant improvement. He began to have serious doubts about the success of the treatment, but it was too late to do anything now—other than fold his hands and wait patiently. He only checked to make sure that the autolips were landing in the right place and at the proper angle, that the aphrodisial philanderoids and satyriacal panderynes weren’t going too far, for he didn’t want the patient to undergo a total dotal transferral and end up idolizing the machine instead of Amarandina, but only to fall thoroughly out of love. At last the trapdoor was opened in solemn silence. Out of the dim interior, wreathed with a cloud of the sweetest perfume, stumbled the pale prince through crushed rose petals—and fell in a swoon, stunned by that awesome access of passion. His faithful servants rushed up and, as they lifted his limp limbs, heard him utter in a hoarse whisper one solitary word: Amarandina. Trurl cursed under his breath, for all of it had been in vain, and the prince’s mad love had proven stronger than all the megamors and kilocuddles the femfatalatron could bring to bear. The rapturometer, when pressed against the brow of the stupefied prince, registered one hundred and seven, then the glass shattered and the mercury poured out, still quivering, as if it too had come under the influence of those raging emotions. The first attempt, then, was a complete failure.
    Trurl returned to his quarters in the foulest mood, and anyone eavesdropping would have heard how he paced from wall to wall, seeking a solution. Meanwhile there was an awful racket back in the gardens: some stonemasons, ordered to fix the wall of a small arborium, had out of curiosity crawled into the femfatalatron and accidentally turned it on. It became necessary to summon the fire department, for they jumped out so inflamed, that they started to smoke.
    Next Trurl tried a retropruriginous eroginator with heavy-duty volupticles, but that too—to make a long story short— was a flop. The prince was not a whit less smitten with Amarandina’s charms; in fact, he was more smitten than ever. Once again Trurl paced the floor of his room, back and forth for many miles, and sat up half the night reading professional manuals, till he hurled them against the wall. That morning he went to the Grand Seneschal and requested an audience with the King. Admitted to the presence of His Majesty, Trurl spoke in this fashion:
    “Your Royal Highness and Gracious Sovereign! The dis-enamorment methods which I employed upon Your son are the most powerful possible. He simply will not be dis-enamored, not alive—Your Majesty must know the truth.”
    The King was silent, crushed by this news, but Trurl went on:
    “Of course, I could deceive him, synthesizing an Amarandina according to the parameters I have at hand, but sooner or later the prince would find out, when news of the true Amarandina reached his ears. No, I see no other way: the prince must marry the Emperor’s daughter!”
    “Bah, but that is the whole problem, O foreigner! The Emperor will never agree to such a marriage!”
    “And if he were conquered? If he had to sue for peace, beg for mercy?”
    “Why then, certainly—but would you have me plunge two large kingdoms into a bloody war, which is a risky proposition at best, solely in order to win the hand of the Emperor’s daughter for my son? No, that is quite out of the question!”
    “Precisely the answer I expected of Your Royal Highness!” said Trurl calmly. “However, there are wars and there are wars; the kind I have in mind would be absolutely bloodless. For we would not attack the Emperor’s realm with arms; in fact, we would not take the life of a single citizen, but just the opposite!
    “What are you saying? What do you mean?” exclaimed the King.
    And as Trurl whispered his secret plan into the royal ear, the monarch’s careworn face gradually brightened, and he cried:
    “Go then, and do this thing, good foreigner, and may the gods be with thee!”
    The very next day the royal forges and workshops undertook the construction, according to Trurl’s specifications, of a great number of tremendous cannons, though for what purpose intended it was not clear. These were placed around the planet and disguised as defense installations, so that no one would guess a thing. Meanwhile Trurl sat day and night in the royal cybergenetic laboratory, watching over secret cauldrons in which mysterious concoctions gurgled and percolated. A spy on the premises would have discovered nothing, except that now and then behind the double-locked doors there was an odd mewling, puling sound, and technicians and assistants ran frantically back and forth with piles of diapers.
    The bombardment began a week later, at midnight. The cannons, primed by veteran cannoneers, were aimed, muzzles raised, straight at the white star of the Emperor’s empire, and they fired—not death-dealing, but life-giving missiles. For Trurl had loaded the cannons with newborn babies, which rained down upon the enemy in gooing, cooing myriads and, growing quickly, crawled and drooled over everything; there were so many of them, that the air shook with their ear-splitting ma-ma’s, da-da’s, kee-kee’s and waa’s. This infant inundation lasted until the economy began to collapse under the strain and the kingdom was faced with the dread specter of a depression, and still out of the sky came tots, tads, moppets and toddlers, all chubby and chuckling, their diapers fluttering. The Emperor was forced to capitulate to King Protuberon, who promised to call a halt to the hostilities on the condition that his son be granted Amarandina’s hand in marriage—to which the Emperor hastily agreed. Whereupon the baby cannons were all carefully spiked and put away, and, to be safe, Trurl himself took apart the femfatalatron. Later, as best man, in a suit of emeralds and holding the ceremonial baton, he played toastmaster at the riotous wedding feast. Afterwards, he loaded his rocket with the titles, diplomas and citations which both the King and the Emperor had bestowed upon him, and then, sated with glory, he headed for home.

The Fifth Sally
The Mischief of King Balerion

    Not by being cruel did Balerion, King of Cymberia, oppress his people, but by having a good time. And again, it wasn’t feasts or all-night orgies that were dear to His Majesty’s heart, but only the most innocent games—tiddlywinks, mumbledypeg, old maid and go fish into the wee hours of the morning, then hopscotch, leapfrog, but more than anything he loved to play hide-and-seek. Whenever there was an important decision to be made, a State document to be signed, interstellar emissaries to be received or some Commodore requesting an audience, the King would hide, and they would have to find him, else suffer the most dreadful punishments. So the whole court would chase up and down the palace, check the dungeons, look under the drawbridge, comb the towers and turrets, tap the walls, turn the throne inside out, and quite often these searches lasted a long time, for the King was always thinking up new places to hide. Once, a terribly important war never got declared, and all because the King, decked in spangles and crystal pendants, hung three days from the ceiling of the main hall and passed for a chandelier, holding his mouth to keep from laughing out loud at the ministers rushing about frantically below. Whoever found the King was instantly given the title of Royal Discoverer—there were already seven hundred and thirty-six of those at court. But he who would gain the King’s special favor had to beguile him with some new game, one the King had never heard of. Which was by no means easy, considering that Balerion was unusually well-versed in the subject; he knew all the ancient games, like jackstones or knucklebones, and all the latest games, like spin the electron, and he often said that everything was a game, his Crown included, and for that matter the whole wide world.
    These thoughtless and frivolous words outraged the venerable members of the King’s privy council; the prime minister in particular, My Lord Papagaster of the great house of Pentaperihelion, was much provoked, saying the King held nothing sacred and even dared expose his own Exalted Person to ridicule.
    Then, when the King unexpectedly announced it was time for riddles, terror filled the hearts of everyone. He had always had a passion for riddles; once, right in the middle of the coronation, he confounded the Lord High Chancellor with the question, why was antimatter like an antimacassar?
    It wasn’t very long before the King realized that his courtiers weren’t putting forth the proper effort in solving the conundrums he posed. They replied in any which way, said whatever came into their heads, and this infuriated the King. However, as soon as he began to base all royal appointments and promotions upon the answers to his riddles, things improved considerably. Decorations and dismissals came thick and fast, and the whole court, like it or not, had to play the game in earnest. Unfortunately, many dignitaries attempted to deceive the King, who, though basically good-natured, could simply not tolerate a cheater. The Keeper of the Great Seal was sent into exile because he had used a crib (concealed beneath his cuirass) in the Royal Presence; he never would have been discovered, had not one of his old enemies, a certain general, brought this to the King’s attention. Papagaster himself had to part with his high post, for he didn’t know what was the darkest place in outer space. In time, the King’s Cabinet was composed of the most accomplished solvers of crosswords, acrostics and rebuses in the land, and his ministers never went anywhere without their encyclopedias. The courtiers soon became so proficient, that they could supply the correct answer before the King had finished asking the question, though this was hardly surprising when you considered that they were all avid subscribers to the “Official Register,” which, instead of a tedious list of acts and administrative decisions, contained nothing but puzzles, puns and parlor games.
    As the years went by, however, the King liked less and less to have to think, and gradually returned to his first and greatest love, hide-and-seek. One day, in a particularly playful mood, he offered a most handsome prize to the one who could find for him the best hiding place in all the world. The prize was to be nothing less than the Royal Diadem of the Cymberanide Dynasty, a cluster of truly priceless jewels. No one had laid eyes on this wonder for many centuries, for it lay locked and coffered in the Royal Vault.
    Now it so happened that Trurl and Klapaucius chanced upon Cymberia in the course of one of their travels. News of the King’s proclamation, having quickly spread throughout the realm, reached our constructors too; they learned of it from the local villagers at the inn where they were spending the night.
    The next day they repaired to the palace to announce that they knew a hiding place unequaled by any other. Unfortunately, so many others had come to claim the prize, that it was next to impossible to get by the crowd at the gate. Trurl and Klapaucius therefore returned to their lodgings and resolved to try their luck the following day. Though they didn’t leave it to luck alone; this time the prudent constructors came prepared. To every guard who barred the way and then to every court official who challenged them, Trurl quietly slipped a few coins and, whenever that didn’t work, a few more, and in less than five minutes they were standing before the throne of His Royal Highness. His Royal Highness was of course delighted to hear that such famous wise men had come so far for the sole purpose of imparting to him the secret of the perfect hiding place. It took them a little time to explain the how and the why of it to Balerion, but his mind, schooled from childhood in the ways of tricks and puzzles, finally grasped the idea. Burning with enthusiasm, the King jumped down from his throne, assured the two friends of his undying gratitude, promised they would receive the prize without fail—provided only they let him try out their secret method at once. Klapaucius was reluctant on this point, muttering to himself that they ought to write up a proper contract first, with parchment, seals and tassels; but the King was so insistent, and pleaded with such vehemence, swearing great oaths the prize was as good as theirs, that the constructors had to give in. Trurl opened a small box he had brought with him, took out the necessary device and showed it to the King. This invention actually had nothing to do with hide-and-seek, but could be applied to that game wonderfully well. It was a portable bilateral personality transformer, with retroreversible feedback, of course. Using it, any two individuals could quickly and easily exchange minds. The device, fitted onto one’s head, resembled a pair of horns; when these came into contact with the forehead of the one with whom one wished to effect the exchange, and were lightly pressed, the device was activated and instantaneously set up two opposing series of antipodal impulses. Through one horn, one’s own psyche flowed into the other, and through the other, the other into one’s own. Hence the total deenergizing of the one memory and the simultaneous energizing of the other in its place, and contrariwise. Trurl had set the apparatus on his head for purposes of demonstration and was explaining the procedure to the King, bringing the royal forehead into proximity with the horns, when the King impulsively butted against them, which triggered the mechanism and immediately brought about a personality transfer. It all happened so quickly that Trurl, who had never really tested the device on himself, didn’t notice. Nor did Klapaucius, standing to one side; it did strike him rather odd that Trurl suddenly stopped in the middle of a sentence and Balerion instantly took up where Trurl had left off,, using such words as “the potentials involved with nonlinear conversion of submnemonic quanta” and “the adiabatic flux differential of the id.” The King went on in his squeaky voice for almost a minute before Klapaucius realized there was something wrong. Balerion, finding himself inside the body of Trurl, was no longer listening to the lecture, but wiggled his fingers and toes, as if making himself more comfortable in this novel shape, which he inspected with the greatest curiosity. Meanwhile Trurl, in a long purple robe, was waving his arms and explaining the reversed entropy of mutually transposed systems, until he grew aware that something was in the way, looked down at his hand and was dumbfounded to find himself holding a scepter. He was about to speak, but the King burst out laughing and took to his heels. Trurl started after him, but tripped over the royal robe and fell flat on his face. This commotion quickly brought the royal bodyguards, who straightway threw themselves upon Klapaucius, thinking he had attacked the Royal Person. By the time Trurl managed to get his royal personage off the floor and convince the guards it stood in no danger, Balerion was far away, rollicking somewhere in Trurl’s body. Trurl attempted to give chase, but the courtiers wouldn’t permit it, and when he protested he wasn’t the King at all but there had been a personality transfer, they concluded that excessive puzzle-solving had finally unhinged the Royal Reason and politely but firmly locked him in the royal bedchamber, then sent for the royal physicians while he roared and pounded on the door. Klapaucius meanwhile, thrown out of the palace on his ear, headed back to the inn, thinking—not without alarm—of the complications that might arise from what had just taken place. “Undoubtedly,” he thought, “had I been in Trurl’s shoes, my great presence of mind would have saved the day. Instead of making a scene and ranting on about telepsychic transfers, which couldn’t help but create suspicions as to his sanity, I would have taken advantage of the King’s body and ordered them to seize Trurl, namely Balerion, at once-—whereas now he’s running around free somewhere in the city—and also, I would have had the other constructor remain at my side, in the capacity of special adviser. But that complete idiot"—by which he meant Trurl—"completely lost his head, and now I’ll have to bring all my tactical talents into play, else this business may end badly…”
    He tried to recall everything he knew about the personality transformer, which was considerable. By far the greatest danger, as he saw it, was that Balerion, heedlessly rushing about in Trurl’s body, might stumble and hit some inanimate object with his horns. In which case Balerion’s consciousness would immediately enter that object and, since inanimate things had no consciousness and consequently the object could offer the transformer nothing in return, Trurl’s body would fall lifeless to the ground; as for the King, he would be trapped for all eternity inside some stone, or lamppost, or discarded shoe. Uneasy, Klapaucius quickened his pace, and not far from the inn he overheard some villagers talking excitedly of how his colleague, Trurl, had flown out of the royal palace like one possessed, and how, racing down the long, steep steps that led to the harbor, he’d taken a spill and broken his leg. How this drove him into a most amazing frenzy; how, lying there, he bellowed that he was King Balerion Himself, called for the royal physicians, a stretcher with feather pillows, sweet essences and balm; and how, when the people laughed at this madness, he crawled along the pavement, cursing terribly and rending his garments, until one passerby took pity on him and bent over to help. How then the fallen constructor tore the hat off his head, revealing—and there were witnesses to swear to this—devil’s horns. How with those horns he rammed the good Samaritan in the head, then fell senseless, strangely stiff and groaning feebly, while the good Samaritan suddenly changed, “as if an evil spirit had taken hold of him,” and dancing, skipping, shoving aside everyone who stood in his way, galloped down the steps to the harbor.
    Klapaucius grew faint when he heard all of this, for he understood that Balerion, having damaged Trurl’s body (and after using it for so short a time), had cunningly switched to the body of some stranger. “Now it’s started,” he thought with horror. “And how will I ever find Balerion, hidden in a body I don’t even know? Where do I begin to look?!” He tried to learn from the villagers who this passerby was, who had so nobly approached the injured pseudo-Trurl, and also, what had become of the horns. Of the good Samaritan they knew only that his dress was foreign, though unmistakably naval, which suggested he’d stepped off a vessel from distant skies; concerning the horns, nothing. But then a certain mendicant whose legs had rusted through (a widower, he had no one to keep them taped and tarred) and who was therefore obliged to go around on wheels attached to his hips, which indeed gave him a better vantage point on what transpired at ground level, told Klapaucius that the worthy mariner had snatched the horns from the prone constructor’s head with such speed, that no one but himself had seen it. So, apparently Balerion was again in possession of the transformer and could continue this hair-raising business of jumping from body to body. The news that he now occupied the person of a sailor was especially disturbing. “Of all things, a sailor!” thought Klapaucius. “When shore leave is up and he doesn’t appear on board (and how can he, not knowing which ship is his?), the captain is bound to notify the authorities, they’ll arrest the deserter of course, and Our Highness will find himself in a dungeon! And if at any time he beats his head against the dungeon wall in despair—with the horns on—then may heaven help us all!!” There was little chance, if any, of locating the sailor who was Balerion, but Klapaucius hastened to the harbor. Luck was with him, for he saw a sizable crowd gathered up ahead. Certain he was on the right track, he mingled with the crowd and soon learned, from what was said here and there, that his worst fears were being realized. Only minutes earlier, a certain respectable skipper, the owner of an entire fleet of merchant ships, had recognized a crewman of his, a person of sterling character; yet now this worthy individual was hurling insults at all who went by, and to those who cautioned him to be on his way lest the police come, he shouted he could become whoever he wanted, and that included the whole police force. Scandalized by such behavior, the skipper remonstrated with his crewman, who replied by striking him with a large stick. Then a police squad, patrolling the harbor as a place of frequent altercations and disorders, arrived on the scene, and it so happened the Commissioner himself was in charge. The Commissioner, seeing that the unruly sailor refused to listen to reason, ordered him thrown in jail. But while they were making the arrest, the sailor suddenly hurled himself at the Commissioner like one possessed and butted him with what seemed to resemble horns. Directly after that, he began to howl that he was a policeman, and not just any policeman, but chief commander of the harbor patrol, while the Commissioner, instead of being angered by this insolent raving, laughed as if it were a tremendous joke, but then ordered his subordinates to escort the troublemaker to prison without further delay, nor to be sparing with their clubs and fists in the process.
    Thus, in less than an hour, Balerion had managed to change his corporeal quarters three times, presently occupying the body of a police commissioner, who, though Lord knew he was innocent, had to sit and stew in some dark, dank cell. Klapaucius sighed and went directly to the police station. It was situated on the coast, a heavy stone edifice. No one barred the way, so he went inside and walked through a few empty rooms, until he found himself standing in front of a veritable giant several sizes too large for his uniform and armed to the teeth. This hulk of an individual glowered at Klapaucius and stepped forward, as if to throw him out bodily—but suddenly gave a wink (though Klapaucius certainly had never met him before) and burst out laughing. The voice was gruff, a policeman’s voice beyond a shadow of a doubt, yet the laugh—and particularly that wink—brought to mind Balerion, and indeed, it was Baler-ion on the other side of that desk, though obviously not in his own person!
    “I knew you right off,” said Balerion the policeman. “You were at the palace, you’re the friend of the one who had the apparatus. Well, what do you think? Isn’t this a fabulous hiding place? They’ll never find me, you know, not in a million years! And it’s so much fun being a big, strong policeman! Watch!”
    And he brought his huge policeman’s fist down on the desk with such force that it split in half—though there was a cracking in the hand as well. Balerion winced and said:
    “Ow, I snapped something. But that’s okay. If need be, I can always change—into you, for example!”
    Klapaucius backed off in the direction of the door, but the policeman blocked the way with his colossal frame and went on:
    “Not that I have anything against you personally, you understand. But you know too much, old boy. So I really think it’s best we put you in the clink. Yes, into the clink with you!” And he gave a nasty laugh. “That way, when I leave the force, no one—not even you—will have the foggiest notion where, or rather who, I am! Ha-ha!”
    “But Your Majesty!” Klapaucius protested. “You don’t know all the dangers of the device. Suppose you entered the body of someone with a fatal illness, or a hunted criminal…”
    “No problem,” said the King. “All I have to do is remember one thing: after every switch, grab the horns!”
    And he pointed to the broken desk, where the device lay in an open drawer.
    “As long as, each time,” he said, “I pull it off the head of the person I just was and hold on to it, nothing can harm me!”
    Klapaucius did his best to persuade the King to abandon the idea of future personality transfers, but it was quite hopeless; the King only laughed and made jokes, then finally said, clearly enjoying himself:
    “I won’t go back to the palace—you can forget about that! Anyway, I’ll tell you: I see before me a great voyage, traveling among my loyal subjects from body to body, which, after all, is very much in keeping with my democratic principles. And then for dessert, so to speak, the body of some fair maiden—that ought to be a most edifying experience, don’t you think? Ha-ha!”
    And he threw open the door with a great, hairy paw and bawled for his subordinates. Klapaucius, seeing they would lock him up for sure unless he acted at once, grabbed an inkwell and tossed its contents into the King’s face, then in the general confusion leaped out a window into the street. By a great stroke of luck, there were no witnesses about, and he was able to make it to a populous square and lose himself in the crowd before the police began pouring from the station, straightening their shakos and waving their weapons in the air.
    Plunged in thoughts that were far from pleasant, Klapaucius walked away from the harbor. “It would be best, really,” he said to himself, “to leave that incorrigible Balerion to his fate, go to the hospital where Trurl’s body is staying, occupied by the honest sailor, and bring it to the palace, so my friend can be himself again, body and soul. Though it’s true that that would make the sailor King instead of Balerion—and serve that rascal right!” Not a bad plan perhaps, but inoperable for the lack of a small but indispensable item, namely the transformer with the horns, which at present lay in the drawer of a policeman’s desk. For a moment Klapaucius considered the possibility of constructing another such device—no, there was neither the time nor the means. “But here’s an idea,” he thought. “I’ll go to Trurl, who’s the King and by now has surely come to his senses, and I’ll tell him to have the army surround the harbor police station. That way, we’ll recover the device and Trurl can get back to his old self!”
    However, Klapaucius wasn’t admitted to the palace. The King, so the sentries told him, had been put under heavy electrostatic sedation by his physicians and should sleep like a top for the next twenty-eight hours at least.
    “That’s all we need!” groaned Klapaucius, and hastened to the hospital where Trurl’s body was staying, for he feared that it might have already been discharged and irretrievably lost in the labyrinth of the big city. At the hospital he presented himself as a relative of the one with the broken leg; the name he managed to read off the in-patient register. He learned that the injury wasn’t serious, a bad sprain and not a fracture, though the patient would have to remain in traction for several days. Klapaucius, of course, had no intention of visiting the patient—it would only come out that they weren’t even acquainted. Reassured at least that Trurl’s body wouldn’t run off on him unexpectedly, he left the hospital and took to wandering the streets, deep in thought. Somehow he found himself back in the vicinity of the harbor and noticed the place was swarming with police; they were stopping everyone, carefully comparing face after face with a description each officer carried with him in a notebook. Klapaucius immediately guessed that this was the doing of Balerion, who at all costs wanted him under lock and key. Just then a patrol approached—and two guards rounded the corner in the opposite direction, cutting off his retreat. Klapaucius quietly gave himself up, demanding only that they take him before the Commissioner, saying that it was most urgent, that he was in possession of extremely important evidence concerning a certain horrible crime. They took him into custody and handcuffed him to a burly policeman; at the station, the Commissioner—Balerion— greeted him with a grunt of satisfaction and an evil twinkle in his beady eyes. But Klapaucius was already exclaiming, in a voice not his own:
    “Great One! High-high Police Sir! They take me, they say me Klapaucius, me not Klapaucius, not-not, me not even know who-what Klapaucius! Maybe that Klapaucius he bad one, one who bam-bam horns in head, make big magic, bad magic, make that me not me, put head in other head, take old head, horns, run zip-zip, O Much Police Sir! Help!”
    And with these words did the wily Klapaucius fall to his knees, shaking his head and muttering in a strange tongue. Balerion, standing behind the desk in a uniform with wide epaulets, blinked as he listened, somewhat taken aback; he gave the kneeling Klapaucius a closer look and began to nod, apparently convinced—-unaware that the constructor, on the way to the station, had pressed his own forehead with his free hand, to produce two marks not unlike those left by the horns of a personality transformer. Balerion had his men release Klapaucius and leave the room; when the two of them were alone, he asked him to relate exactly what had happened, omitting nothing. Klapaucius replied with a long story of how he, a wealthy foreigner, had arrived only that day at the harbor, his ship laden with two hundred cases of the prettiest puzzles in creation as well as thirty self-winding fair maidens, for he had hoped to present these to the great King Balerion; how they were a gift from the great Emperor Proboscideon, who in this way sought to express his boundless admiration for the great House of Cymberia; but how, having arrived and disembarked, he had thought to stretch his legs a little after the long journey and was strolling peacefully along the quay, when this person, who looked just like this (here Klapaucius pointed to himself) and who had already aroused his suspicions by gazing upon the splendor of his foreign dress with such evident rapacity—when this person, in short, suddenly ran towards him like a maniac, ran as if to run him down, but doffed his cap instead and butted him viciously with a pair of horns, whereupon an extraordinary exchange of minds took place.
    Klapaucius put everything he had into the tale, trying to make it as believable as possible. He spoke at great length of his lost body, while heaping insults upon the one it was now his misfortune to possess, and he even began to slap his own face and spit on his own legs and chest; he spoke of the treasures he’d brought with him, describing them in every detail, particularly the self-winding maidens; he reminisced about the family he’d left behind, his ion-scions, his hi-fi fido, his wife, one of three hundred, who made a mulled electrolyte as fine as any that ever graced the table of the Emperor Himself; he even let the Commissioner in on his biggest secret, to wit, that he had arranged with the captain of his ship to hand the treasures over to whomsoever came on board and gave the password.
    Balerion listened greedily, for it seemed quite logical to him that Klapaucius, seeking to hide from the police, should do so by entering the body of a foreigner, a foreigner moreover attired in splendid robes, hence obviously wealthy, which would provide him with considerable means once the transfer were effected. It was plain that a similar scheme had hatched in the brain of Balerion. Slyly, he tried to coax the secret password from the false foreigner, who didn’t require much coaxing, soon whispering the word into his ear: “Niterc.” By now the constructor was sure Balerion had taken the bait: the King, loving puzzles as he did, couldn’t bear to see them go to the King, since the King, after all, was no longer he; and, believing everything, he believed that Klapaucius had a second transformer—indeed, he had no reason to think otherwise.
    They sat awhile in silence; one could see the wheels turning in Balerion’s head. Assuming an air of indifference, he began to question the foreigner as to the location of his ship, the name of the captain, and so forth. Klapaucius answered, banking on the King’s cupidity, nor was he mistaken, for suddenly the King stood up, announced that he would have to verify what the foreigner had told him, and hurriedly left the room, locking the door securely behind him. Klapaucius then heard Balerion—evidently the wiser from past experience—station a guard beneath the window as he was leaving. Of course he would find nothing, there being no ship, no treasure, no self-winding maidens whatever. But that was the whole point of Klapaucius’ plan. As soon as the King was gone, he rushed over to the desk, pulled the device from the drawer and quickly placed it on his head. Then he quietly waited for the King to return. It wasn’t long before there were heavy footsteps outside, muffled curses, the grinding of teeth, a key scraping in the lock—and the Commissioner burst in, bellowing:
    “Scoundrel! Where’s the ship, the treasure, the pretty puzzles?!”
    But that was all he said, for Klapaucius leaped out from behind the door and charged like a mad ram, butting him square in the head. Then, before Balerion had time to get his bearings inside Klapaucius, Klapaucius, now the Commissioner, roared for the guards to throw him in jail at once and keep a close eye on him! Stunned by this sudden reversal, Balerion didn’t realize at first how shamefully he had been deceived; but when it finally dawned on him that he had been dealing with the crafty constructor all along, and there had never been any wealthy foreigner, Balerion filled his dark dungeon with terrible oaths and threats—harmless, however, without the device. Klapaucius, on the other hand, though he had temporarily lost the body to which he was accustomed, had succeeded in gaining possession of the personality transformer. He put on his best uniform and marched straight to the royal palace.
    The King was still asleep, they told him, but Klapaucius, in his capacity as Police Commissioner, said it was imperative he see His Highness, if only for a few moments, said that this was a matter of the utmost gravity, a crisis, the nation hanging in the balance, and more of the same, until the frightened courtiers led him to the royal bedchamber. Well-acquainted with his friend’s habits and peculiarities, Klapaucius touched the heel of Trurl’s foot; Trurl jumped up, instantly wide-awake, for he was exceedingly ticklish. He rubbed his eyes and stared in amazement at this hulking giant of a policeman before him, but the giant leaned over and whispered: “It’s me, Klapaucius. I had to occupy the Commissioner—without a badge, they’d never have let me in—and I got the device, it’s right here in my pocket…”
    Trurl, overjoyed when Klapaucius told him of his stratagem, rose from the royal bed, declaring to all that he was fully recovered, and later, draped in purple and holding the royal orb and scepter, sat upon his throne and issued several orders. First, he had them bring from the hospital his own body with the leg Balerion sprained on the harbor steps. This swiftly done, he enjoined the royal physicians to tend the patient with all the skill and solicitude at their disposal. Then, after a brief conference with his Commissioner, namely Klapaucius, Trurl proclaimed he would restore order in the realm and bring things back to normal.
    Which wasn’t easy, there being no end of complications to straighten out. Though the constructors had no intention of returning all the displaced souls to their former bodies; their main concern, actually, was that Trurl be Trurl as soon as possible, and Klapaucius Klapaucius. In the flesh, that is. Trurl therefore commanded that the prisoner (Balerion in his colleague’s body) be dragged from jail and hauled before His August Presence. The first transfer promptly carried out, Klapaucius was himself again, and the King (now in the body of the ex-commissioner of police) had to stand and listen to a most unpleasant lecture, after which he was placed in the castle dungeon, the official word being that he had fallen into disfavor due to incompetence in the solving of a certain rebus. Next morning Trurl’s body was in good enough health to be repossessed. Only one problem remained: it wasn’t right, somehow, to leave without having properly settled the question of succession to the throne. To release Balerion from his constabulary corpus and seat him once more at the helm of the State was quite unthinkable. So this is what they did: under a great oath of secrecy the friends told the honest sailor in Trurl’s body everything, and seeing how much good sense resided in that simple soul, they judged him worthy to reign; after the transfer, then, Trurl became himself and the sailor King. Before this, however, Klapaucius ordered a large cuckoo clock brought to the palace, one he had seen in a nearby shop when roaming the city streets, and the mind of King Balerion was conveyed to the cuckoo’s works, while it, in turn, occupied the person of the policeman. Thus was justice done, for the King was obliged to work diligently day and night thereafter, announcing the hours with a dutiful cuckoo-cuckoo, to which he was compelled at the appropriate moments by the sharp little teeth of the clock’s gears, and with which he would expiate, hanging on the wall of the main hall for the remainder of his days, his thoughtless games, not to mention having endangered the life and limb of two famous constructors by so frequently changing his mind. As for the Commissioner, he returned to his duties and functioned flawlessly, proving that a cuckoo mentality was quite sufficient for that post. The friends finally took their leave of the crowned sailor, gathered up their belongings, shook the dust of that troublesome kingdom from their feet, and continued on their way. One might only add that Trurl’s final action in the King’s body had been to visit the Royal Vault and take possession of the Royal Diadem of the Cymberanide Dynasty, which prize he had fairly earned, having discovered the very best hiding place in all the world.

The Fifth Sally (A)
Trurl’s Prescription

    Not far from here, by a white sun, behind a green star, lived the Steelypips, illustrious, industrious, and they hadn’t a care: no spats in their vats, no rules, no schools, no gloom, no evil influence of the moon, no trouble from matter or antimatter—for they had a machine, a dream of a machine, with springs and gears and perfect in every respect. And they lived with it, and on it, and under it, and inside it, for it was all they had—first they saved up all their atoms, then they put them all together, and if one didn’t fit, why they chipped at it a bit, and everything was just fine. Each and every Steelypip had its own little socket and its own little plug, and each was completely on its own. Though they didn’t own the machine, neither did the machine own them, everybody just pitched in. Some were mechanics, other mechanicians, still others mechanists: but all were mechanically minded. They had plenty to do, like if night had to be made, or day, or an eclipse of the sun—but that not too often, or they’d grow tired of it. One day there flew up to the white sun behind the green star a comet in a bonnet, namely a female, mean as nails and atomic from her head to her four long tails, awful to look at, all blue from hydrogen cyanide and, sure enough, reeking of bitter almonds. She flew up and said, “First, I’ll burn you to the ground, and that’s just for starters.”
    The Steelypips watched—the fire in her eye smoked up half the sky, she drew on her neutrons, mesons like caissons, pi- and mu- and neutrinos too—"Fee-fi-fo-fum plu-to-ni-um.” And they reply: “One moment, please, we are the Steelypips, we have no fear, no spats in our vats, no rules, no schools, no gloom, no evil influence of the moon, for we have a machine, a dream of a machine, with springs and gears and perfect in every respect, so go away, lady comet, or you’ll be sorry.”
    But she already filled up the sky, burning, scorching, roaring, hissing, until their moon shriveled up, singed from horn to horn, and even if it had been a little cracked, old, and on the small side to begin with, still that was a shame. So wasting no more words, they took their strongest fields, tied them around each horn with a good knot, then threw the switch: try that on for size, you old witch. It thundered, it quaked, it groaned, the sky cleared up in a flash, and all that remained of the comet was a bit of ash—and peace reigned once more.
    After an undetermined amount of time something appears, what it is nobody knows, except that it’s hideous and no matter from which angle you look at it, it’s even more hideous. Whatever it is flies up, lands on the highest peak, so heavy you can’t imagine, makes itself comfortable and doesn’t budge. But it’s an awful nuisance, all the same.
    So those who are in the proximity say: “Excuse us, but we are the Steelypips, we have no dread, we don’t live on a planet but in a machine instead, and it’s no ordinary machine but a dream of a machine, with springs and gears and perfect in every respect, so beat it, nasty thing, or you’ll be sorry.”
    But that just sits there.
    So, not to go to any great expense, they send not a very big, actually a rather small scarechrome: it’ll go and frighten that off, and peace will reign once more.
    The scarechrome sets off, and all you can hear inside are its programs whirring, one more frightening than the next. It approaches—how it hisses, how it spits! It even scares itself a little—but that just sits there. The scarechrome tries once more, this time on a different frequency, but by now it just doesn’t have its heart in it.
    The Steelypips see that something else is needed. They say: “Let’s take a higher caliber, hydraulic, differential-exponential, plastic, stochastic, and with plenty of muscle. It won’t cower if it has nuclear power.”
    So they sent it off, universal, reversible, double-barreled, feedback on every track, all systems go heigh-ho, and inside one mechanic and one mechanist, and that’s not all because just to be on the safe side they stuck a scarechrome on top. It arrived, so well-oiled you could hear a pin drop—it winds up for the swing and counts down: four quarters, three quarters, two quarters, one quarter, no quarter! Ka-boom! what a blow! See the mushroom grow! The mushroom with the radioactive glow! And the oil bubbles, the gears chatter, the mechanic and the mechanist peer out the hatch: can you imagine, not even a scratch.
    The Steelypips held a council of war and then built a mechanism which in turn built a metamechanism which in turn built such a megalomechanism that the closest stars had to step back. And in the middle of it was a machine with cogs and wheels and in the middle of that a servospook, because they really meant business now.
    The megalomechanism gathered up all its strength and let go! Thunder, rumbling, clatter, a mushroom so huge you’d need an ocean to make soup out of it, the clenching of teeth, darkness, so much darkness you can’t even tell what’s what. The Steelypips look—nothing, not a thing, just all their mechanisms lying around like so much scrap metal and without a sign of life.
    Now they rolled up their sleeves. “After all,” they say, “we are mechanics and mechanists, all mechanically minded, and we have a machine, a dream of a machine, with springs and gears and perfect in every respect, so how can this nasty thing just sit there and not budge?”
    This time they make nothing less than an enormous cyberivy-bushwhacker: it’ll creep up casually, as if minding its own business, glance over its shoulder, grow a little bolder, send out a root or two, grow up from behind, taking its time, and then when it closes in, that’ll be the end of that. And truly, everything happened exactly as predicted, except, when it was over, that wasn’t exactly the end of that, not at all.
    They fell into despair, and they didn’t even know what to think because this had never happened to them before, so they mobilized and analyzed, made nets and glues, lariats and screws, traps and contraptions to make it drown, break it down, make it fall, or maybe wall it up—they try this way and that and the other, but one is as poor as another. They turn everything upside-down, but nothing helps. They’re about ready to give up hope when suddenly they see—someone’s coming: he’s on horseback, but no, horses don’t have wheels—it must be a bicycle, but wait, bicycles don’t have prows, so maybe it’s a rocket, but rockets don’t have saddles. What he’s riding no one can tell, but who’s in the saddle we all know well: it’s Trurl himself, the constructor, out on a spree, or maybe on one of his famous sallies, serene and smiling, coming closer, flying by—but even from a distance you’d know that this wasn’t just anybody.