A Toothsome Smile, an Artificial Death

Translated from the Czech by Cyril Simsa.

Perhaps it wasn’t the best programme for a dog.  Probably not at all.  When a dog skips and jumps on its hindlegs and demonstrates primitive dances, or when it prods coloured balloons with its muzzle, on the whole nobody takes any notice of it.  Edwiga, however, was a star of all the piazzas and market squares, she knew how to calculate the square root of any number, how to reflect incendiary laser beams with lightning reflexes until the aggrones shrieked with frustration, but most of all she liked to play chess.  It was funny how she used to move the chessmen with her white, slightly shaggy paw and its neat yellowish nails.  She would look terribly thoughtful as she did it.  Her warm grey eyes would grow moist as she squinted at the chessboard from close quarters (I think all dogs are shortsighted).  When she came upon the right move, she would always twitch her ears in a funny way.

We were only one of the many bands of wandering entertainers who roved around the plazas and the carriages of the metro, but people liked us.  Before, in the days when people still used money, I had a kind of funny leather pouch which was always full of coins.  In more recent times, people would rather give us all sorts of small gifts, which was in its way more exciting: nice little packages of various goodies, various scented foams, capsules from which within three days you could grow flowers or some kind of vegetable, and so on.  It was a pleasant life.

I didn’t have to teach Edwiga anything, she came up with everything herself.  On one occasion we were given a new set of children’s fencing foils by some fool, and Edwiga worked a fencing match into our repertoir.  The foils had coloured sensitive beads on their ends which recorded each hit, and a display on the handle which disclosed their strength and quality, depending on which part of your opponent you hit.  Perhaps the face, for which you wouldn’t receive any points at all.  You had to aim at the torso and the arms.

It fascinated me that Edwiga knew how to do all this at once.  Admittedly, she had to grasp the foil with both her forepaws, so that she couldn’t stand so well with her flank to her opponent, or to cover herself so precisely, but all the same her defences and lunges were inexhaustibly fast and gentle, she was simply untouchable with her reactions and her keeness of perception.

And precisely in that probably lay our error.

That day when it all began we had to clear out of our favourite pitch outside Olsa’s night club, La Branche Rouge, as we had done many times before, because they were getting ready for yet another massive outdoor night-time dance show, and that means lots of uproar, horrible music, glittering dancers with ostrich feathers and other ghastly manifestations of bad taste, none of which is for us.

What is more, Edwiga cannot stand coloured fireworks, because they smell cheesy and she is afraid the flames and sparks will set fire to her coat.

So, as soon as a party of screaming electrical technicians started to hang up garlands of coloured lights, laser flashes and generators of various smokes and vapours, we slipped off into a sort of quiet little alley about three corners away, by Old Soukup’s junk shop.  Nobody was shouting or screaming here.  However, the odd pedestrian would still occasionally walk by, so we laid out our props and prepared our performance.

I have always been very afraid of the aggrones, and in the depths of my heart I very much disagreed when they got the right to discharge their energies destructively, even when I understand that it applies only to boys between the ages of fourteen and sixteen, even when I understand that society, as we are always being told, has a great obligation towards them…but wouldn’t it be enough just to shut them into some hall, gym, quarry or some similar environment where they could break, smash and destroy to their heart’s content?  Well, probably not, since it wouldn’t be for real.  I simply don’t like the aggrones, even when I know that it is bad manners to show them this, since they become aggrones precisely because other people don’t like them enough.  I am always only afraid that they may recognise I don’t like them enough.

I am reconciled, however, to the fact that they fly around past us on jet aerofoils which split the eardrums and singe people with their fiery tongues.  I’ve got used to their bycycles which make pistol shots at every turn of the wheel.  I patiently move out of the way of their punch-balls on elasticated springs and convince myself that they don’t really hurt anybody anyway.  I don’t even take any notice anymore of the aggrones’ chases after terrified carters.  It’s a fact that according to the rules of the game they are forbidden to really hurt anybody.  They are, however, allowed to break, damage or destroy anything which isn’t alive or essential to the maintainence of the life functions of some living being.

Well, a party of these aggrones just decided that it would have some fun at our expense.  Naturally, they started by trying to slap us around with lasers.  I tried somehow to signal to Edwiga that she should’t react so terribly quickly.  That she should rather absorb some of the lashes of the laser into her pelt.  But I couldn’t do very much: winking, beseeching, movements of the mouth…none of it did any good.  Edwiga was finding the game positively entertaining.  She was showing off, deflecting the blows with outright enjoyment, her tiny antilaser shield flickered in her paws almost invisibly…her eyes lit up and her mouth opened up into that happiest of doggy smiles, with her pink tongue lolling out.

At that moment, the aggrones noticed the fencing foils and immediately shared them out between themselves.  They decided that they would fence with Edwiga three at a time.  To my horror, they broke off the tips of the foils, so as to give them sharp and genuinely dangerous points.  This of course would be paid for by my insurance, like all damage caused by the aggrones.

Edwiga took this all as better and better fun.  I could see that she was positively looking forward to the fight.  But myself, at that moment, I could hardly breathe. 

To the aggrones it was of course immaterial that from the start of the fight the display on Edwiga’s foil showed many first-class hits.  One aggrone with a roar started to charge towards her and with all his strength thrust his broken foil into her body.  With a mighty yank, he pulled it out and watched the wound with interest.

Understandably, no blood appeared, nor did Edwiga roll up on the ground in convulsions, or anything similar.  If anything, in the heat of the game she didn’t even notice the damage.  Her fur was only a little torn, and beneath it there appeared a black granular substance — Edwiga’s real body.

„Run away, quickly,“ I shouted, but I knew that it was hopeless, because she didn’t have any instinct for self-preservation at all, and even if she had, they would have caught her anyway.  This was a thoroughly legal entertainment.

They punctured her with their foils again and again.  They thrust her to the ground and stamped on her, until brittle connectors came out of her white-gold fur, little electronic boxes pressed out of the black porous matter of the filling of her body.

To the last moment, Edwiga tried to guide her foil in such a way that its gentle, sensitive point would strike her rivals on the torso and the shoulders.  So far as anything of her head still remained, she continued to wear that same happy, playful expression.

After a while there lay on the pavement only the scraps of trampled, muddy skin, a lot of black porous foam, and a couple of shiny, hairlike wires.

The aggrones were standing there quietly, grimacing and leering at me.

They were only a little younger than me.  I realised that they had managed to feel their way precisely towards how they could hurt me most.  I pulled a face so I wouldn’t appear so down, but only just managed to stop myself from crying.

One of them laughed in a kind of peculiar, bewildered way, and it occurred to me, even though this was already complete madness, that they actually wanted a display of recognition from me.  Respect.  That on some level they actually thought to themselves (even though in truth they couldn’t possibly really think anything so stupid), that I would admire them a little for what they had done.

„Tut,“ I smiled, even though it was a grim and disparaging smile, and even that smile gave me a lot of work.  „Tut.  I’ve heard that the destruction of zooids is amusing only to…“

„Yes?“ they gawped at me.

„Well, only to androids of course.  Don’t stand there goggling like an idiot and tuck those wires away, the ones sticking out from your ears.“

They stood there as if frozen, staring and not knowing what to do.  The smallest of them even started prodding around in his ear.

They weren’t sure.

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