A Cloudless Sky

A short story by Vladislav Surkov, former deputy prime minister in Putin’s government who writes under the pen name Nathan Dubovitsky. The writer Nathan Dubovitsky is well known from his stories “Oncology”, “The Machine and the Giant” and the recent short story “Uncle Vanya” is the author of this short story “ A Cloudless Sky”. This is a story about the fifth world war- the first nonlinear war where everyone fought against each other. Interpretations of this story can be different- especially today when the mood in the world is not simple and two dimensional as it has been.

Over our village the sky was clear. So we went out to look at the moon and the birds in the city on the other side of the river. The city dwellers hated us but did not create any obstacles for us. They rather created for us an observation platform on one of the hills where there was a brick church. Since for some reason they considered us to be drunks, apart from benches and a pay to view telescope, they also built a beer bar and a police post on the hill.

One could understand the city dwellers. They suffered a lot from the anger and the envy of the visitors.

Although we felt offended, that in us their closest neighbors almost city folks like them, they viewed us as if we were strangers, but one could understand them. All the same they understood us. They did not drive us away. No matter what their websites wrote, they did not drive us away.

It was obvious to everyone who was honest to admit it, that we were left without the sky not by our fault. For some reason, even strange to say, the greatest honor had fallen to us to witness it. The Marshalls of the four coalitions had chosen our sky for the great battle. Because the sky over our village was the best in the world. It was smooth, cloudless. The sun flowed over it like a wide calm river. I remember it so well. The sun. And the sky. The Marshalls found this place the most ideal for the final battle. It was not surprising.

At that time, all the armies were air armies. And here- in our sky, no clouds, no turbulence. It was more than perfect.

It was the first nonlinear war. In the primitive wars of the 19’Th and the 20’Th centuries and even before of the middle ages, usually two opposing sides fought. Two nations or two temporary alliances. And now it was a clash of four coalitions. It was not two against two. Or three against one.

No. It was all against all.

Such coalitions they were! Not like those that had been before. Rarely did states enter into them fully. It did happen that some provinces of a state entered into one coalition, other provinces into yet another coalition, and a city, or a generation or members of one sex or a professional association of that same state would enter into a third coalition. Then they would change sides. They would enter into any camp they fancied. They did this sometimes in the thick of battle.

The aims of the warring sides were so different. For some of them, it was to seize the lucrative natural resources of the continental shelf. For some, it was the violent imposition of a new religion. For others, it was to increase their ratings and the value of their stocks. And yet for others, it was to test their new laser weapons and airplanes. And for some, their aim was to eternally put an end to the division of people into men and women as they believed that it undermined the unity of the nation. And so on.

The simple minded commanders of the past aimed for victory. Today they would not have acted so foolishly. That is to say, some of course still kept the old traditions. They tried to dust out of the archives dense proclamations. Proclamations like victory will be ours. This sometimes worked. But for the most part, they understood war as a process. More exactly, a part of a process. Its sharp phase.

Maybe not the most important phase but nevertheless a sharp phase.

There were nations that had joined the war specially, just to be defeated. They were inspired by the prosperity of Germany and France after their defeat in the Second World War. It turned out that, to suffer such a defeat was as hard as to gain victory. To suffer such a defeat, they needed all the decisiveness, sacrifice and a total concentration of all the forces that they could muster. In addition, they needed all the cunning and cold bloodedness that they could deploy, the ability to use to great advantage their cowardice and stupidity.

But all of this was later analyzed and understood. By the historians and the economists. But at that time, the war just went on. It was the Fifth World War. It was a terrible time. I was only six then. We were all six then. All those who today are members of the Organization. Those who are 36 years old today. We remember, how from the four winds, gathered in our sky four great armadas. These were not the usual roaring, whizzing fighters of the old kind, those that we were used to seeing in the video clips of old. For the first time absolutely new noiseless technological machines saw action. These were unheard of systems of total noise absorption. Hundreds of thousands of aircraft, helicopters and rockets destroyed each other all day. In total deathly silence. Even when they fell, they were silent.

Sometimes dying pilots would scream. But this was rare. Because almost all the machines were drones. At that time drones were in fashion, they were the rage in town. Not only modes of transport.

There were hotels without managers, stores without salespeople, homes without owners. Financial and industrial firms without directors. There had even arisen as a result of democratic revolutions a couple of pilotless states. What could one then say about the planes? That is, there was no one to scream when they crushed into the roofs, in to the bridges and into the monuments. Only our houses shook and broke into pieces under the hail of falling parts. Everything was getting destroyed. And even that not loudly. The system of noise absorption worked so well covering almost the whole theater of battle.

Our parents tried to hide us in the city. The sky over the city was clear. But the city was closed. Our parents called for help from the other side of the river, our bank. They pleaded for us children to be taken in. At least those who were younger than ten. Or seven. Or three. Or even one year old. And only girls. And so on. But the city dwellers did not open to us. One could understand them. The city people. And our parents of course. Including my own parents.

My father said: They will not open the city. We need to dig in. So we crawled to the river bank which was sandy. It seemed, it took just a minute to do that. Everyone. Even the fattest and oldest among us. People do not really know themselves. Strange to say, but they proved quicker and smarter than worms. One small detail- It was winter. Frost. The sand was very hard.

Mama and Papa dug in together with me. They were very warm. They were soft. Papa, a funny and clever person, grabbed from the house my favorite sweets. A pocketful of them. And Mama my game player. I was happy and not bored in our den because of my game player. Thus, I wonderfully spent the time. On us fell the tail of a plane. This was close to evening.

The fighter planes of the northern coalition were superlight. They were made from almost weightless materials. If such a plane had fallen on us, fully, it would still not have caused us any serious harm. Especially since Papa had dug us in very deep.

The place, where we had hidden, there fell the tail end of another plane. Unfortunately. It was an attack plane of the South-Eastern League. An old machine. Relatively quiet. It was a heavy machine. The hole we had dug was deep. But not so deep, not like how heavy the tail of the plane was. And the sand over us had frozen. Completely. But all the same, this was sand. Not concrete, not steel, not the shawl of the Virgin Mary. It was sand. Sand is after all not steel. I at that time mastered this lesson. Once and for all.

Till today- wake me up at night, ask: sand, is it steel or not? I will answer: No. Momentarily. Not thinking for a moment, not doubting. No.

I lay between Mama and Papa. I did not hear the impact. Maybe, my Papa had amusingly shouted when the exceedingly heavy weight flattened him. Or he had cursed. In front of my eyes, something had burst out from him. It was frightening. Maybe some sound had escaped from my Mama. Not necessarily. I am not sure, that she even managed to laugh guiltily as she always did, when something unpleasant was happening to me or to Papa. I hope, they did not feel any pain.

They died. I did not. Death had gotten trapped in their bodies. It did not get to me. My brain only felt like a certain darkness had overtaken me. Something flowed out of my brain. And then it disappeared like steam. It was the third dimension. Height.

In the morning they dug me out. I was very cold. Because my parents had frozen quickly. And had become like sand. I now only saw a two dimensional world. Endless in length and width. But without height. Without the sky. Where was the sky, I asked. There it is, they answered me. But I could not see it, could not see it. I began to panic.

They began to treat me. But they did not succeed. It was such a contusion. Deep. Untreatable. The tail of the attack plane had flattened my consciousness like a pancake. It had become flat. Simple. What do I see instead of the sky over our village? Nothing. What does it look like? What does it resemble? Nothing. It does not resemble anything. That is, it is not that it cannot be described or explained. There is nothing, absolutely nothing.

People like me, the dimensionally disabled, after the war were almost a hundred. All of us, two dimensional were one year olds. Why, no one understood. The scientists in the city for some time tried to get into our consciousness. They wrote several articles. They dragged us to symposiums and talk shows. A few funds were created in our support. A special law was passed that forbade people from laughing at us. They even built for us an observation platform and a beer bar for fund raising purposes. Then we went out of fashion. They lost interest in us. They forget about us.

If we just had not been able to see the sky over our village, it would have been alright. But our own thoughts lost depth. They became two dimensional. We only understood “yes” or “no”. Only “black” and “white”. There were no gray areas. No halftones, no self-preservation ability.We were not able to lie. We only understood things literally. This meant, we absolutely did not have the ability to survive. We were helpless. We needed constant care. They abandoned us. No one gave us a job. They did not even pay us a pension due to our disability. Many of us degraded. Many just disappeared, rotted. Those who had kept their head above water began to self-organize. This was to save themselves together. Or to perish together.

We founded the organization. We planned the uprising of the simple two dimensional people against the complex and the crafty. Against, those who could not answer “yes” or “no”. Those who could not say: “black” or white”. Those who knew a third word. Many, many third words. Empty, false words. Entangled paths that darken the truth. In this darkness and webs, in these fleeting complexities- hides and reproduces all the evil in the world. They are the home of Satan. There, they make money and bombs. They say: “This is money for the good of the honest; these are bombs for the defense of love”.

We will engage tomorrow. We will be victorious. Or we will perish. There is no third way.

Source: Jehuti Nefekare.