Chapter 3 - Blaník
Dr. Jaro gave me a hand and helped me out of the basket. He was gigantic compared to me, I only came up a bit higher than to his knees, but I knew it was actually the other way around - he was normal, but I was but a poor little midget. His hand was hot, but it didn't burn me. At once I knew what that means. He has warm blood and I'm - cold-blooded creature now. Compared to other disasters, this was a trifle.
The huge concrete room where I had just hatched was surely not that big as I originally thought. Any normal room must look gigantic to a midget's eye.
There were other baskets apart from my own. All of them had blankets in them and also huge blue-green newt eggs, as big as myself.
What - or who (?) is going to hatch out of them?
Dr. Jaro didn't let me look around for long. He took me the next door, to a bathroom. Pretty small one. Lots of old, rusty showers, but only one of them had the knobs mounted low enough for me to twist. Dr. Jaro didn't really need to explain what's what, he was just helping me to clean myself of... slime, or was it egg white? Of course, I was a biologist, I should call things the way I'd learned to.
Soon enough I could appreciate hot water knob apart from the cold water one. When I set the water to hotter and it warmed me throughout, I stopped feeling that stiff. I stopped sensing the heat fast, though - of course, the temperature of my body matched that of the water now. Oh dear, what experiences are awaiting me now!
"Newt babies are not such self-sufficient," said Dr. Jaro in calm, matter-of-fact tone. "We have to bathe them like human babies, they can't walk, they are more work, in short. It's much easier with former humans like yourself."
He was the only one to speak. I was standing upright under the shower, but the long newt-tail was getting in my way a bit. I couldn't get used to a fact that my arms are too short now and can't reach everywhere. I appreciated, as a kind of advantage, that I could turn my eyes any way I wanted, including backwards, but that didn't do much to mitigate my grievance. Dr. Jaro was patiently helping me, but all my shortcomings were angering me out of proportions.
"Would you like something to calm down?" he asked the third time I couldn't help myself but swearing loudly.
"I can take that," I squeaked. "I was always opposed to abusing drugs."
"I don't mean it in any bad way, dear colleague," he said. "This would't be abuse, but indicated use, I'm well-versed in this, you can trust me. It's bound to be a big shock for you, only two other had ever went through without medication."
"I'll be number three!" I growled.
"I am not interested in flashy gestures," he frowned.
"I'll tell you if I felt I won't be able to handle it," I said. "Can I keep at least some principles from my human life?"
He accepted that with a shrug. He was right in one point. It was a shock, I was still expecting to wake up from this, but I didn't, not even when I closed the hot water knob for a while and got a cold shower.
I finally deemed that enough. Dr. Jaro helped me with the towel, and then he gave me clothes. Strange blue underpants came first, then mottled blue-green one-piece suit in khaki style. Both were a perfect fit, with a big hole in the back to stick my tail through. No visible genitals didn't faze me much, I remembered that newts are not like humans in this regard, but I was beginning to get interested - for now, it was more of an expert interest.
"What am I, anyways?" I asked. "Female or male?"
"Well, how should I put it..." he pondered. No doubt he knew well, he was just trying to find the best way to tell me this delicate fact.
"Both, dear colleague, both at once. My newts, unlike the earth ones, are a bit of hermaphrodites, both sexes at once. Doin't be surprised by that, my evolutionary path is quite different from the one nature has taken, and hermaphroditism is keeping things simpler. In order to have separate sexes, you need chromosomal dimorphism, well-known as X and Y. I made it simpler, so most of my creatures are hermaphroditic. I will tackle dimorphism later - true, it's more advantageous for population stability, but harder to build. Basically, you do need a partner to achieve sexual reproduction, but it doesn't matter who fertilises who. You can fertilise each other and have eggs at the same time. Nothing like that happened yet; not even the oldest of newts reached sexual maturity, but no doubts that will change after a while. Sexual reproduction works flawlessly in other creatures, but all newts so far, with no exception, were produced by the creator. You might be interested in the creator, would you like to see it?"
I agreed. We came back to the hall where I was reborn - or hatched. The doctor walked to the next iron door; then we came into green-grey concrete corridor lit up by three waterproof electric lamps. Their glass was protected with a wire mesh. We came into a stop in front of a heavy metal door.
"Now, we are going to get a bit lower," said Dr. Jaro. Then he answered my unspoken question: "We are in the low floors of the fortress Blaník, one of the border forts of former Czechoslovakia. Blaník is not known to neither public nor experts. Its existence was kept completely secret - not only from Germans, but even later."
I wasn't surprised. I had no knowledge about the old border forts from before the war, except a faint idea that something like that exists.
We were heading down into darkness on narrow concrete steps. Only now, in the dark, I realized that Dr. Jaro's body is emitting a faint red glow. At first, it was spooky, but I soon realized a possible cause. Hadn't he said something about the infrared light? Does this mean I'm seeing him in IR? It looked like that. After all, any warm object is emitting infrared light.
Dr. Jaro searched for the light switch and switched on a faint light bulb with wire-protected glass cover. I could only see a narrow anteroom with another door. It opened to another long corridor with concrete walls.
"Apart from well-known fortress system - never actually finished - Czechoslovakia was planning to build a secret line of fortresses," continued Dr. Jaro. "It was to be more powerful, but also kept more secret. I don't know how much of it was built, but it looks like Blaník was the only fortress to be finished, armed and supplied. It wasn't manned, but the plan counted on manning it after the war was declared, to avoid premature leaks. It was surely wise, since there was very strong fifth colon of Sudety Germans who could attack the fortress from within the country - and they would certainly do so."
"But the people who built it, they..."
"They were elite builders," said Dr. Jaro. "Moreso, not even they knew exactly where is the fortress. Most of the work was done at night, the workers were moved in the darkness, and partly through underground corridors, also a part of the fortress systems. Four of them died during gestapo torture, but Germans never learned this secret. To tell you the truth, the Germans wanted completely different information and it looks like one of the tortured men told them what they wanted to hear - luckily, it didn't involve the fortresses. Germans had no idea they exist, so they were not interested in them. Basically, abwehr totally failed in this regard."
We were walking through a long corridor to reach another stairway.
"The stairways are pretty confined here," said Dr. Jaro. "That's a must in a fortress. Blaník was built mostly as Wehrmacht trap. If the Germans managed to get through the main fortification, they would surely felt victorious - but they would be trapped instead. Blaník controls very large area with its cannons, and it could become the very same thing Dukla became for Russians - a place of horrible slaughter."
"But why the army didn't use the fortresses? Why, this would mean that our fortifications was much stronger than people thought!"
"It looks like too few people knew about this backup line. And it's also possible that the construction was deferred, so it wasn't combat-ready. However, Blaník was finished, fully supplied, and kept secret - to the point of oblivion. Nobody of the original erudited ones is alive now, and neither the current government nor the military knows about the fortress."
We continued through another narrow, sparingly lit concrete corridor. It was damp here, with stalactites hanging from the ceiling, but the concrete didn't look disrupted. Just a bit moldy, which is rarely a problem with concrete.
"How come that you know about it, then?"
"It's quite simple. My father was one of the erudited ones. And he was the one tasked with keeping its existence secret - from Germans and from unreliable Czechs. He spent the whole war here, on the Sudety border; and that wasn't easy for a Czech to do. He's dead now, but he fulfilled the order to keep the secret in all circumstances until he died. He only told me a week before hi drew his last breath."
"He didn't tell anyone even after the liberation? You mean something this big was really completely forgotten? Why, it must have been incredibly expensive to build!"
"After the war, no one had claimed Blaník. My father, though, still believed it wasn't forgotten, just still kept secret. He maintained it and only before he died he told me that our house, which I thought to have known to the last chink and tile, is, in fact, built upon the vaults of the biggest of Czechoslovakian fortresses."
"And what did you do?"
"I tried to find out who else knows about Blaník, but neither civil nor military archives said anything about it. To tell you the truth, I had no big interest in passing my father's secret to Gottwald's government. Shortly before the war, the lands where Blaník is, together with a wide area around it, were booked in my father's name. Nor Germans, nor comrades chased us out or confiscated the lands. After my father's death, I paid the Czechoslovakian state's inheritance tax like a honest citizen, so everything belongs - officially - to me now."
"Including the fortress? That should still belong to the state, or to the military to be more exact."
"The land records say literally: lands and all buildings built there - including Blaník. I repeat, Blaník was officially booked to my father, for secrecy reasons. There was bound to be some sort of secret agreement between him and the army, which adjusted the situation, but I inherited everything, unconditionally. Nobody, so far, thought to question my right, and there's no case without a prosecution. To tell you the truth, I really doubt this fortress could be still used as a fortress. It's quite anachronistic in these times."
(Unfortunately, he was wrong here, but I'm sure he didn't allow himself to think otherwise.)
We went down on another set of narrow, zigzagging steps. Dr. Jaro was breathing heavily, but he was still an agile man taking into account his age. We were standing at the entrance of an almost empty hall with concrete walls. There was an old, massive computer, and something that looked a bit like sized-down brewery equipment.
"So this is your newt hatchery?" I asked with curiosity when another heavy metal door closed.
"Yes, this is my creator," said Dr. Jaro with pride, pointing at his child.
To tell you the truth, I'd expect something more... modern. Maybe even larger. But here, in an old military fortress, it looked strangely modern.
"You won't see anything from here," smiled Dr. Jaro. He must have seen I wasn't too amazed. "The beauty of the creator is not in the outside look, it's all inside."
"And what does it do anyway?" I asked, out of courtesy.
"The computer governs the whole process. It's an old, written-back Russian computer EC, only the disks are from more modern times. I got it free, I just had to move it and make it work, but I managed that much. The molecular synthesiser is more modern that the computer, a size of a fist. I have it in cooled vessel to stop the molecules from breaking prematurely."
"You mean that this thing can build that huge newt egg?"
"Of course not," said Dr. Jaro. "This only synthesises the embryonic nucleus. That has to be transferred into a suitable environment and hatched. In the beginnings, agar was all I'd needed, then I started to use chicken eggs. I removed the chicken embryo, implanted a new one, the rest was done by nature, if you want to call it that."
"But those giant eggs can hardly come from a chicken?" I opposed. "My God, what kind of a chicken would that have to be! Not even an ostrich has eggs that big!"
"Of course. In the beginning, when I'd been creating first primitive worms, I hadn't needed even the chickens. Later, after I got further, I had to use better environment, but by that time I already had more evolved creatures. I used chicken eggs for full five years. Those large eggs are produced by giant frogs. Newts will be self-sufficient soon enough, but I don't, and never will, use them to produce eggs for experiments. After all, they are sentient, and experimenting with their eggs would be like experimenting with human babies to me."
"Those experimental frogs are not sentient?" I jabbed.
"No. I only evolved them to produce eggs for sustaining newt embryos. Their brain is certainly not capable of thinking."
"Why didn't you use some giant chickens?" I asked.
"I'm not such far. Birds, speaking evolutionally, are higher than frogs. For now, I have, we can say, reached only amphibians. My way is quite different from natural evolution. The best proof is a brain, capable to bear intelligence even at the stage of newts, but that's not all by a long stretch. Were you but a copy of natural amphibians, you would need water to develop and you would hatch as tadpoles - with gills, but no limbs. That's not the case. From the moment of hatching you are complete imagoes, able to move on their own, and to move much better than human new-borns. Surely you can see that! You were hatched not even half an hour ago, and already you are walking on your own, without any help. And it doesn't even tire you that much."
"Well, that's because as a human, I learnt to walk a long time ago."
"Human babies can't even keep their head up, trying as they might. Not even with help. That's one of advantages newts have. At the moment of hatching, you're better developed than human babies, and you don't require as much care."
"Didn't you claim, a minute ago, that newt babies are not walking immediately after the hatching?"
"They're not; they have to learn how to first. Walking is essential for both humans and newts, but riding a bicycle is not, so many people don't learn that until later, and some never at all. After you get among others, you'll see. Newt children six months old are running in the playroom, and some of them can already talk well. Former humans like you are walking and talking immediately, although they are a bit weaker, physically. Besides, they are, intellectually speaking, a direct continuation of their original personalities."
"All right, I understand. You want to comfort me, and you are pretty successful in that..."
"This is not comfort, dear colleague, this is a scientific discussion! I'm explaining the advantages of my invention to you, since very soon you will use them a lot. Newtish existence isn't a mere replacement of humanity. For example, your blue blood! That doesn't make you nobility, but it conveys an advantage you'll probably appreciate soon. The base of your blood is not iron-based haemoglobin, but aluminium-based AL-haemoglobin. What does that mean? First and foremost, better oxygen transfer. You surely understand what an accomplishment that is. Natural newts are breathing air through lungs, and would you trap them underwater, they'd drown, since their lungs are no use in water. There are, of course, lungless newts, able to breath in water and on land, but these can only live in mountain streams with plenty of oxygen so they could breath through their skin; they don't survive too long on land. Gills, on the other side, can't make use of the air. There is precious few creatures that can be really considered amphibious. In this way, you are better than anything that has ever lived in nature. Your lungs can work both on land, and in water. You can stay underwater as long as you wish - of course, if there is some free oxygen in it. But you will surely remember my words once you'll try living in places humans can't - even with equipment. In many ways you surpass not only natural newts, but also us humans - not just in lung capabilities."
"How can you claim that with such assurance?"
"Dear colleague, you are not the first. We have some experience now. Our newt explorers undertook several underwater journeys of discovery. Franta Koátko has gone around Czech rivers and dams. Too bad Czech Republic has no sea! Franta's lifelong dream is to see the wreck of Titanic. It lies, apparently, in the depth of four thousand meters - that's not unreachable for newt, and I firmly believe Franta will see it one day. I wouldn't let him right now, since he's very small - even tuna fish would be dangerous to him, not even mentioning sharks!"
"You are so suggestive that I almost wonder why you are staying human!" I said, in a sour tone. Of course, it's easy to talk!
"Well, dear colleague, I guess that only depends on you," he sighed. "Understand, please, that I bear no responsibility for your death. On the contrary, you could only look forward to crematorium, and an urn, and instead - I granted you a new life. What prevents you from living as a newt? Your death didn't diminish your intellectual capacities, only about two percent of knowledge is lost during the transcription, that's about what happens after two years of your life. Why not become you my assistant? I'm over eighty now, if you can manage the creator, you can repay me that favour. I'm not going to live for ever, I'm just a human."
"Haven't you thought to try a life of newt yourself? Even temporarily."
"I would surely tried, if that was possible," he smiled. "But, sadly, it's not that simple. Soul transfer is destructive, it's like with ferrite memory old computers - including mine - have. Reading their memory erases the original contents, so it has to be written back or lost. I can both read a brain, and write it, but never the same brain at the same time. After the soul is copied, the original brain is empty and its personality is gone for good. It doesn't matter to dead, but it would be problem with living. Besides - I am the only one who can work with creator and transcriptor, and I cannot use them on myself."
"You can do it even with dead?" I shivered. I didn't realize that this was my case, too.
"Only with dead, that's the point," he nodded. "My theories say that it can't be done with living, so I never even tried that. Transcription is critical process. If it fails, you can't repeat it, the brain is utterly destroyed by it. The brain dies slowly otherwise, although it's often the first organ to stop functioning. The transcriptor, fortunately, doesn't require active cooperation, on the contrary. Brain activity interferes with it."
"How long after death is it possible?" I shivered again.
"Well, to tell you the truth, you were a borderline case - your body was in water for a long time before they found you, fortunately it was very cold water, almost freezing. You have seen your body, I don't think I have to tell you it was a close call."
I had to admit that I could have ended up in an urn, and my former human body probably still will. I was feeling sorry for it, nobody likes to see his own corpse, but I accepted that it wouldn't be of much use anyways once I've died. I had a different body now, and it was my problem how to come to terms with it.
"How many dead got this... offer from you?"
"Wait and see. I have contacted two hospitals and three crematoriums. I had no success in other places, but this is more than enough for me. I need to get the dead body here, at least for twenty minutes. Then I return them, mostly at night. I must say that I'm getting away with it so far. It would be hard to explain to the police why I have a dead body in my car, but I couldn't do anything if I kept strictly to the rules. I think that my conscience is clear. I can't harm the dead, they are usually grateful in due time."
"All of them?"
"Almost all of them," he shrugged. "I can count the exceptions on fingers of one hand. I'm not sure if they are taking offence, rebellious or truly opposed to me. To tell you the truth, Marcel was the only one to stand against me. The biggest problems were always the eyes. I don't think you liked the wide-spectrum sight at first, but it's a matter of a habit. Sure, it's different from human sight, it is unusual, but one day, you are going to thank me for those eyes - and you wouldn't be the first one."
While we were talking, we left the computer room. Instead of going back, though, we reached another corridor, long and winding one. Blaník had to be really huge fortress at one time, especially in horizontal direction - even accounting for my small size.
"I will take you to my other children," said Dr. Jaro kindly. "I hope that through them you will find that your misfortune is not as terrible as you might have thought. You will meet some of our celebrities there. Mr. Čupík, the teacher, will be really glad to have another pupil for his school - well, I guess I'll spare you that, he will surely forgive me for educating you by myself. I won't go into grammar or multiplication tables with you. What can one do - everyone has to have basic education. Always the new newts - and sometimes even the old ones. I suppose you have more than the basics. With you, I should be able to tie in directly into higher biological education."
"You even have a school in here?"
"Sure - like the surface folk. We only have one teacher, but so far he's managing his pupils. So you'd know, he's not just teaching the babies who barely learned to talk. Take Zlatuka Zikmudová, for example. She got here in the age of eighty-five. She was never good in school, even basic grammar was problematic for her, and she ended as a schoolgirl here. Čupík will surely examine you, I won't prevent him from that, but I surely hope he won't start teaching you grammar."
"Isn't that old lady... uneasy because of that?"
"In the beginning, sure, she was very embarrassed. It helped when I suggested her a name change - Zlatuka (Goldie) was quite a cumbersome name even for an old lady. I convinced her that she can get a new name with new life to not feel that embarrassed. In the end, she came to like it, especially when she started to make advances. She can easily catch up to anything she'd neglected as a human. Newts, among other things, are very fast learners, you will see for yourself."
"Why do you even talk about her - as, well, her?" I pointed to the illogicity in his words. "Haven't you said something about hermaphrodites? Why are you using masculine and feminine pronouns then?"
"You are right, it is a bit illogical," he admitted. "It's a sort of - human atavism. If you have lived as a human, you are used to these things. Former men usually keep male names, former women keep female names. It's entirely possible that a former woman will become a father at due time, and a former man will lay an egg - but all of you have more than enough time for that."
"Can I ask another question?" I got another idea.
"Of course. For one thing, it's the only way to find out something news. And I'm really glad to see you coming to terms with your life so quickly - this is not issue just with you, all human newts go through this."
"I would like to know who finances this research. I understand that it's really something incredible, and many levels above world's current best - but in that case, it's bound to by very expensive. Who gives you money? I don't think that this sort of research was going on in Czech Republic before. Are private companies investing in this? But they would hardly keep it this secret for that long. Is it military, then?"
"I see that the very hardest part will be, dear colleague, to convince you that I'm paying for all this myself - with my pension."
I bulged my eyes. Not literally, because it wasn't physically possible. I could turn my eyes, even to the back, I could blink, but that was about it."
"See, that's one of the reasons I stay human," he smiled slily.
I got used to newts' special colour vision by now, and I could see even details which escaped me before. It was like looking through a coloured glass for too long - after you remove it, the colours of normal world look unnatural to you. At one point I noticed that there is a faint red glow around Dr. Jaro's head. Not a halo, of course, just infrared aura. I knew immediately the explanation - and yet, it evoked a kind of... strange feeling within me.
(Which is why I wasn't really surprised when I found out that some newts, more precisely - former old women - pray to Jaro's picture in the evenings. Of course this aura-halo was present with other humans as well - including, of course, murderers.)
"I have assembled the key parts of both creator and transcriptor in the research institute of the Scientific Academy," continued Dr. Jaro with a sigh. "Then they expelled me - I was against the arrival of armies of our Soviet brothers to Czechoslovakia, and I didn't want to pretend. I was working beyond my years anyways... so they retired me and they suggested to get rid of my apparature no one but me could understand. I bought it for a price equal to my last paycheck. They thought I went crazy with grief and gave it to me. Oh God, how stupid those new academicians were! Only one of them, Mr. Jarec, a rock-hard communist was insisting - despite our similar names - that the machines must be scrapped so the contrarevolutionary elements wouldn't get their hands on them. The other comrades, thanks God, were even more stupid than him and convinced him to not make waves. Lots of reasonable people stayed in the institute. Not that they would openly back me, but they showed that they were not pleased. The comrades couldn't fire them all, they would never invent anything on their own and, well, someone had to do some real work there!"
"Well, maybe, but everything here must have been really expensive!"
"It was," he nodded. "But count it with me. My pension is nothing great - that's true. The regime really hit people like me. First, with small pay, then with pension which is barely enough to die. But Blaník has workshops with equipment - the builders considered every possibility. I've bought the key parts, including a written-back computer, for the same price a scrapyard would pay. Except land tax and house tax - and that's not high - I'm not paying anything else and Blaník is completely self-sufficient. Electricity comes from five underground water turbines; small, but quite strong. Most of Czechoslovakian fortresses had diesel generators, but the builders found a strong underground river here, strong enough to warrant their order of five small turbines. It was a great idea, really, since turbines don't require any fuel. They are not big, the diameter of water intake is just fifty centimetres, but the flow is constant throughout the year, so they preferred them to diesels. Which, by the way, we have too. I have a small diesel generator on the surface, kept ready - but I'm hardly using it apart from Christmas. It's basically a camouflage, otherwise people might think it strange that I have a light here without electrical wires. We eat fifty-years-old supplies - fortunately, there's nothing wrong with them, the supplies were carefully chosen, no low-quality goods here. I and my newts grow vegetables, mostly peas, in a small greenhouse with artificial lighting - before the war, there was some project to prevent scurvy with it, I think it was to be also some sort of medical experiment. I'm not paying for water or sewage, nobody is taking my trash, what should I pay for, then? I have a small van, a Tatra, but I'm not driving that much, so I don't pay much for gas. So even with my pension below the minimal threshold, I can live - and finance everything to boot."
That seemed logical. I was convinced. Although... well, after the miracle of artificial life, financing of this enterprise was incredible, too, but the artificial life was in lead.
"If I had a hat, Doctor, I would take it off. I am actually starting to feel grateful already."
"Ninety-nine percent of my children is," he smiled. "Although there are former humans that never got used to this. You met one of them when alive, actually. Marcel was a bad egg, I don't even feel too sorry for him. He decided to run away and cause a scandal, but he forgot that the first series of newts had vocal cords set to high ultrasound and people couldn't understand what they were saying. Marcel was shot by the first gamekeeper he met - to tell you the truth, I was really not surprised by that, such an encounter was bound to get him pretty scared."
"Was he the newt I was taking for tests?"
"Yes, that was Marcel," nodded Dr. Jaro gravely. "He was out of luck. When we found him, he was much longer dead than you and we couldn't transcribe anything. But it was his own fault. At the very least, he shouldn't refuse a one-piece from Ludmila, our newt seamstress!"
He was probably right. You are what you wear, and the clothing can be - at the very least - a distinct sign of intelligence. Mr. Vaněk, the gamekeeper, might not shoot a newt if it wore clothes.
"What happened to his body?"
"Well, of course we removed it," smiled Dr. Jaro. "Nobody will believe that gamekeeper without evidence, and I swear that he will never get another trophy like that. Better for it is to stay a mystery for him, too. After all, he already stopped thinking about it. I heard that he's blaming himself more for the fact that he didn't keep you in his house until the morning. He says that you wouldn't fall in the river then."
I had no objections - he was probably right.
Meanwhile, we reached more lively places. There were various sounds - although I've seen any other newts so far. I heard music, radio, probably, and squeaky voices I couldn't understand. The newts were keeping aside - or we have come at unusual time, and they were not expecting us.
Finally we reached the large gym.
It was a gym, no doubts about it, although it was a truly confined one. Several newts were playing on the mats, three of them were climbing on a gymnastic horse with handrails, way too big for them. Once they saw Dr. Jaro, they jumped down immediately. It looked like agility was not an unfamiliar concept for the newts. All of them had the same kind of one-pieces as me. Mottled, mostly dark, green or blue. All of them looked identical to me. Most of them was clearly older than me - they reached Dr. Jaro's waist, the oldest ones were reaching to his shoulders. To my eyes, they looked menacing. Just try meeting a living tyrannosaurus, your stomach would clench too. Newts' placoid teeth were not menacing in any way, but still - every newt had many times more teeth than a human.
"Good afternoon!" said Dr. Jaro aloud. "I've brought you a newbie."
"Do we know him? What was his name?" squeaked one of them.
Dr. Jaro turned down the prying newt pretty firmly. "You don't know him. We'll ask his name once he decides whether he will use his original one or make up another."
Nobody thought this strange, it was probably a norm here.
"Can I take him now?" asked another newt. He was much bigger than me, and he looked quite reasonable.
"Of course, Míla," nodded Dr. Jaro. "But you will be disappointed. He was college graduate, a doctor of biology, nothing for you."
"Maybe his Czech is not good," said the newt without looking particularly disappointed. "Leave him to me, I will find out if he needs educating or not."
I realized that this is - Mr. Čupík, the teacher. So he wasn't a human either!
"Don't bully him too much, he's just hatched. You know we are cutting everyone a little slack in their first week."
"If he's a human, a small exam won't hurt him," said the teacher calmly. "Maybe it's the other way around. The brain needs some fresh air at times, to not go stale."
"Know the measure," said Dr. Jaro jokingly.
He left me among the other newts, and quickly returned back where he came.
I was alone - among my own.
Oh God, am I really to be such a monster? It looked like it. Once again, I likened my situation to a sentence of the highest court, with no appeal. But it was like that! What appeal do you have against - death? Isn't death the highest judge of them all? Just a short time ago, not even this new and unexpected option wasn't there!
Everyone was looking at me with curiosity, but then two big newts in the back started to push and shove each other, and in a while, there was a genuine, I would say - boyish chasing game. At least a half of the newts, however, didn't join it.
I understood. Those playful ones in the back were probably newts from the beginning, mere children, but those more serious ones were - former humans.
"Is there this much of you?" I sighed.
"Of us?" repeated Mr. Čupík, accenting "us". "Who do you mean, brother? You are one of us, don't you separate yourself. I knew you need a few lessons of Czech language!"
"I know." His tone was kinder now. "You are freshly hatched, and you are not used to this yet, still feeling as a human. That will pass in time. You shall see, you will like this. What other place in the world ever made real that ancient, desired but never reached: Liberté, egalité, fraternité? Just this fortress where everyone has the same father - and no mother! We are all brothers, that's the fraternité. The freedom, liberté, comes from the fact that nobody is ordering anyone around, at most someone asks you to do something, but he doesn't force you to. And the equality, egalité? We are of one blood, you and I, as Mowgli would say. It's literal with us. Men and women are the same, and the same holds for nationalities and races. They are no former blacks here, not so far, but once they appear, they will be the same as everyone."
"Might be," I admitted grudgingly. "Ceterum autem censeo, I didn't get used to it yet."
"I understand, brother," nodded the teacher. "I can see that you're proficient in Latin. If you're proficient in Czech the same way, I won't get another pupil as I was hoping at first. But that's for the best, you will probably get a better teacher than me. However - surely you won't refuse to let me give you a general exam. I can answer a lot of questions for you. Our father Jaro is a genius, that's true, but he lacks practice, although his knowledge more than offsets that."
"Were you a man? Or a woman?" asked another newt.
"Stop that, Manča," said the teacher to - probably her. "We will not ask impertinent questions, that's just wrong. Anyways, man or woman, he doesn't look like a village gossiper by far, so - not a chance."
"He might know something news... Where are you from anyways?" said the little monster and looked at me.
"From Prague," I said quietly.
"See there? Stop interrogating him, it doesn't look like you'd get to some gossip. Come on, let's find you a room, how about that?" said Čupík to me.
I nodded. True, I was like them, but still not completely like them, and their stares made me nervous. So I let the teacher to drag me away.
...to be continued...
... I wrote this story in the year 1999. I really cannot expect, what happened two years after. Burning Pentagon and scyscrapers in New York after attack of newt's commando. Two years before reality... Yes, it was surprize for all, but... I wrote this story two years before...