The elevator must be able to withstand the entrance of the least-educated academician

From Arkady and Boris Strugatsky’s Tale of the Troika, what may be the only elevator in literature with personality (pace Charlie and the Great Glass Elevator).

An unbelievable hubbub reigned on the platform of the first floor in front of the elevator cage. The door of the shaft was open, as was the door into the elevator itself. Many lights were burning, the mirrors were sparkling, and the polished surfaces gleamed. Under the old, peeling banner that proclaimed “Let’s Get the Elevator Up by the Holiday!” huddled a crowd of curiosity seekers and people wanting rides.

They were all listening politely to Modest Matveevich Kamnoedov, the deputy director, who was giving a speech before some electricians from the Solovetsk Boiler Supervisor’s Department.

“This must be stopped,” Modest Matveevich exhorted. “This is an elevator, not some spectroscope or microscope. The elevator is a powerful means of locomotion—that’s primary. It is also a means of transportation. The elevator must be like a dump truck: it gets you there, dumps you out, and comes back. That’s point one. The administration has long been aware that many of our fellow scientists, and that includes some academicians, do not know how to use an elevator. We are combating this, and we will put an end to it. There will be examinations for licenses for operating an elevator, and past services to us will not be taken into consideration … the establishment of the title of Senior Elevator Operator … and so on. That’s my second point. And on their part the electricians must guarantee uninterrupted service. There’s no use in falling back on objective conditions as an excuse. Our slogan is ‘elevators for everyone.’ No matter who. The elevator must be able to withstand the entrance of the least-educated academician.”

We made our way through the crowd and moved on. The pomp of that improvised meeting impressed me greatly. I had the feeling that today the elevator would actually, finally, be running and would continue running maybe for as much as twenty-four hours. That was impressive. The elevator had always been the Achilles’ heel of the institute and of Modest Matveevich, personally. Actually, there was nothing special about it. It was an elevator like any other, with its good points and its bad points. As befits a proper elevator, it constantly strove to get stuck between floors, was always occupied, burned out the bulbs that were screwed into it, and demanded irreproachable behavior and a deft touch with the gate. Getting into the elevator, one could never say with any certainty where and when one would be getting out.

But our elevator did have one unique trait. It could not stand going above the thirteenth floor. I mean, of course, that there are recorded instances in the history of the institute of individual skilled craftsmen who managed to overcome the contrariness of the mechanism and, giving it its head, went up to absolutely fantastic heights. But for the average man, the endless territory of the institute looming above the thirteenth floor was just a blank. There were all kinds of rumors, some contradictory, about those territories, almost completely cut off from the world and the influence of the administration. It was maintained, for example, that the one hundred twenty-fourth floor had an exit into an adjoining space with different physical properties, that on the two hundred thirtieth floor lived a mysterious race of alchemists—the spiritual descendants of the famous Union of the Nine established by the enlightened Indian king Asoka, and that on the one thousand seventeenth floor, the old man, his wife, and the Golden Fish still lived on the shore of the Blue Sea.

The ‘old man, his wife, and the Golden Fish’ refers to a tale of Alexander Pushkin’s.

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