The Visit

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From the novel ‘Roadside Picnic’ by Arkady and Boris Strugatsky (1972), trans. Olena Bormashenko (2012) as part of the SF Masterworks series published by Gollancz.


AN EXCERPT FROM AN INTERVIEW WITH DR VALENTINE PILLMAN BY A CORRESPONDENT FROM HARMONT RADIO, AFTER THE FORMER RECEIVED THE NOBEL PRIZE IN PHYSICS.

INTERVIEWER: … I suppose that your first important discovery, Dr Pillman, was the celebrated Pillman radiant?

DR. PILLMAN: I wouldn’t say so. The Pillman radiant wasn’t my first discovery, it wasn’t important, and, strictly speaking, it wasn’t a discovery. It’s not entirely mine either.

INTERVIEWER: Doctor, you must be joking. Everyone knows about the Pillman radiant – even schoolchildren.

DR PILLMAN: That’s no surprise. As matter of fact, it was discovered by a schoolboy. I’d tell you his name, but unfortunately it’s slipped my mind. Take a look in Stetson’s History of the Visit – he’s an excellent source on the subject. Yes, the radiant was discovered by a schoolboy, the coordinates were published by a college student, and yet it was named after me.

INTERVIEWER: Ah, yes, you can never tell who’ll get credit for a discovery. Dr Pillman, could you please explain to our listeners…

DR PILLMAN: Of course. The Pillman radiant is really very simple. Imagine taking a large globe, giving it a good spin, then firing a few rounds at it. The bullet holes on the globe would fall on a certain smooth curve. The crux of my so-called important discovery is the following simple observation: all six Visit Zones are positioned on the surface of the planet like bullet holes made by a gun located somewhere between Earth and Deneb. Deneb is the alpha star of Cygnus, while the Pillman radiant is just our name for the point in space from which, so to speak, the shots were fired.

INTERVIEWER: Thank you, Doctor. Dear listeners: finally, a clear explanation of the Pillman radiant! By the way, the day before yesterday was the thirteenth anniversary of the Visit. Would you like to say a couple of words on the subject?

DR. PILLMAN: What would your listeners like to know? Keep in mind, I wasn’t in Harmont at the time.

INTERVIEWER: That makes us all the more interested in what you thought when you heard that your hometown was invaded by a highly advanced alien civilization…

DR PILLMAN: To be honest, at first I assumed it was a hoax. I couldn’t imagine anything like that happening in our little town. Western Siberia, Uganda, the South Atlantic – even those seemed possible, but Harmont!

INTERVIEWER: But eventually, you had to believe.

DR PILLMAN: Eventually, yes.

INTERVIEWER: And then?

DR PILLMAN: I suddenly realized that Harmont and the other five Zones – actually, pardon me, we only knew about four at the time – I noticed that that they lay on a very smooth curve. So I calculated the coordinates of the radiant and sent it to Nature.

INTERVIEWER: And you weren’t at all worried about the fate of your hometown?

DR PILLMAN: Well, by then I believed in the Visit, but I simply couldn’t force myself to swallow the hysterical articles about burning neighbourhoods, monsters that devoured exclusively women and children, and the bloody struggles between the invincible aliens and the doomed yet heroic units of the Royal Armoured Corps.

INTERVIEWER: I have to admit, you were right. Our fellow journalists sure made a mess of things… But let us return to science. Have you made other discoveries related to the Visit? Was the Pillman radiant the first of many?

DR PILLMAN: It was my first and last discovery.

INTERVIEWER: But you’ve probably been carefully following the progress of international research in the Visit Zones?

DR PILLMAN: Yes, I periodically flip through the Reports.

INTERVIEWER: You mean the Reports of the International Institute of Extraterrestrial Cultures?

DR PILLMAN: Yes.

INTERVIEWER: And what, in your opinion, is the most important discovery of the last thirteen years?

DR PILLMAN: The fact of the Visit.

INTERVIEWER: Pardon me?

DR PILLMAN: The fact of the Visit is not only the most important discovery of the last thirteen years, it’s the most important discovery in human history. It doesn’t matter who these aliens were. Doesn’t matter where they came from, why they came, why they left so quickly, or where they’ve vanished to since. What matters is that we now know for sure: humanity is not alone in the universe. I’m afraid the Institute of Extraterrestrial Cultures could never make a more fundamental discovery.

INTERVIEWER: That’s incredibly interesting, Dr Pillman, but actually I was referring to technological discoveries. Discoveries our Earth engineers can use. After all, many distinguished scientists believe that the items we’ve found could completely change the course of human history.

DR PILLMAN: Ah, I’m afraid I don’t belong to their number. And I’m not an expert on specific discoveries.

INTERVIEWER: But for the last two years, you’ve acted as a consultant to the UN commission on the Problems of the Visit…

DR PILLMAN: That’s correct. But I’m not involved in the research on extraterrestrial culture. As a consultant, I along with my colleagues, represent the international scientific community on decisions about the internationalization of the Visit Zones. Roughly speaking, we make sure that no one outside the International Institute gets access to the alien marvels discovered in the Zones.

INTERVIEWER: Why, are there others with designs on them?

DR PILLMAN: Yes.

INTERVIEWER: You probably mean stalkers?

DR PILLMAN: I’m not familiar with the term.

INTERVIEWER: That’s what the residents of Harmont call the desperate young men who, despite the grave risks, sneak into Zone and smuggle out whatever they find. It’s quite the new career.

DR PILLMAN: Oh, I see. No, that’s outside our area of expertise.

INTERVIEWER: Of course! That’s police work. Out of curiosity, what exactly is within your area of expertise, Dr Pillman?

DR PILLMAN: There’s a constant leak of materials from the Visit Zones into the hands of irresponsible people and organizations. We deal with the consequences of such leaks.

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INTERVIEWER: Doctor, could you be a little more specific?

DR PILLMAN: Wouldn’t you rather move on to the arts? Aren’t your listeners interested in my opinion about the beautiful Godi Muller?

INTERVIEWER: Of course! But first let’s finish up with science. Aren’t you, as a scientist, tempted to study these alien treasures yourself?

DR PILLMAN: Hard question… I suppose I am.

INTERVIEWER: So there’s a chance that one day we’ll see you back on the streets of your hometown?

DR PILLMAN: Perhaps.


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