Boris Dolingo

Just information: Ivdel is a small settlement 

at the north of the Sverdlovsk region, Russia. 

There are many prison-camps around there.

When SF Ali ibn Serov left the chamber, Ivdel already had been waiting for him.

The meeting person stood afar near the fence, enclosing the landing platform, covered as everything around by white virgin snow.

Ivdel waved and went towards Ali, sinking down in snow almost knee-high. Serov also, in decency, made a gesture in the air by the palm of his hand, threw back the hood of the jacket and looked around to see the landscape layout. 

Occasional snowflakes with cat’s grace were gliding down from whitish clouds, completely covered all the sky. Here and now dusk was falling. White hilly plains stretched to the distance which eyes could embraced. Far away a wall of forest loomed – and there was neither a light nor any sign of life. The only evidence of human presence were three round unloading platforms of the pointing system with its high fences in which access guides for evacuation of cargo containers were yawning.


One sight was sufficient to understand that he was late – on the next platform stood another chamber. It meant that his adversary, also SF, al-Faraday, the representative of the “Instant Cargos”, had arrived first.

“So bad”, thought Serov with slightly drilling pain in his cheekbone. “Bad, but I hope not everything is still lost”

Ali looked upwards, where behind cloudy darkness his cargo lighter hung at the stationary orbit, stretched downwards invisible gravitational cable, just by which the chamber had slid down. If within three days Serov wouldn’t manage to persuade aborigines to sign the contracts, the containers from «Spacetrans” would never slide down by this cable. 

In any case, though being upset that al-Faraday had arrived earlier, Serov understood perfectly that his chances really weren’t completely lost: he knew this upstart gringo quite well and had now doubt that there still is a hope to win local tender.

“OK”, said Serov to himself, “the one, who comes first, not always wins. We’ll see what we’ll see.” 

Ivdel had approached, smiling, and sniffed loudly, as if saluted. 

Now Serov could watch him properly, despite of fading evening light and parka’s hood, hanging down the man’s face. Somewhat rough features: chapped and tanned at open areas skin, rather long nose, protruding forward as a hook. And at the same time as if naive, childishly glittering and at the same time impudent grey eyes.


“Well, may be, hello! Welcome!” Ivdel also threw back the hood, as if he figured out that the guest wants to see his physiognomy better. The eyes shone brightly with warmth, and mouth was stretching, opening strong but not very clean teeth, among which a pair was absent. 

“Hi”, Serov just in case also smiled and stretched his hand. “I’m Ali ibn Serov, Star Forwarder, that one with whom you spoke recently through the connecting channel.”

Ivdel hemmed as if the name caused some disappointment for him, and nodded:

“Well, and as to me, you must know then, how they call me – Ivdel, and that’s all!”

“Yes, yes, I know”, confirmed Serov, continuing to keep a trademark grin.

The aborigine looked sideway to the sky with certain fear:

“Lets’ go, or how? Otherwise I’m afraid these your boxes start to fall down…”

Ali curved his eyebrows in surprise:

“Why, don’t you know? Automatics guarantees safety, complete: my lighter will start to lower down containers only if the platform is empty! If someone of people enter here, the process will be abrupt at once. And, first of all, it is necessary to enter the special code.”

“And just imagine if it”, Ivdel poked his finger at the sky, “would mistake? Lighter in need is lighter indeed, you know!”

SF smiled indulgently:

“Have you ever heard about containers which fell down directly on humans from cargo lighters?”

“No”, answered Ivdel honestly. “But anybody seldom flew to us alive for last ten years, mainly automatic supply ships have been unloading here. And in such cases we did not stand at platforms! I have come here now just to meet you…”

“Hm, well… Thank’s for meeting me!” SF felt slightly awkward: this man was afraid of falling containers, but in respect had come to meet the forwarding agent! 

“By the way, about containers”, he said. “For they would start to be lowered exactly here, I have to sign contracts first. And it seem my rival managed to land earlier, yeah?”

“Aha!” with some foolish joy confirmed Ivdel. “He was taken away by my brother-in-law, half an hour ago. But never mind, don’t worry – nobody will start tender auction earlier that tomorrow morning. And, possibly, not even tomorrow…”

 “Really? Indeed they won’t start?” asked Ali, in whose soul the hope stirred, gradually  getting stronger and transforming into confident excitement of competition. 

“For sure!” confirmed the aborigine. 

“OK, good, if it’s so,” Serov rubbed his hands. 

“It is quite possible, that everything could be all right and I shall manage to beat this goon Al-Faraday,” he thought.

“Then, touch the wood, my containers will really tumble down here,” he said aloud. “By the way, how are you going to take them out of the platforms? I can’t see any unloading devices and all this!”

“Oh,” answered Ivdel, “fellahs with their curcamels will come and take away everything!”

Serov inquiringly let off a light stream of exhalation:

“Curcamels” are animals, it seems?”

It was told almost nothing about curcamels in his Reference Book. As well, however, as about “fellahs”, but from a pair of strange words the last one always clings stronger.

“Well, of course!  Certainly, animals! We harness them, I mean, and carry cargoes this way. We ourselves often ride them.”

“Ride the animal?!” Serov was amazed. “Hm, you could have bought mobiles and driven them – you have some money, as I’ve seen from your reports!”

“Why?! Why you don’t like our animals?! We don’t need these pieces of iron to carry goods: machines break, you should order spare parts for them to repair, and all this. Instead, you simply give a pile of hay to your nice curcamel – and he is satisfied. The best thing for the business!”  

Serov silently was looking at Ivdel, not knowing what to say. The aborigine shifted his feet for a while, looked back for some reason or other, cleaned his throat and said:

“Well, shall we go! I already have our pretty little steam-baths warmed up… And all the rest is ready. That your rival – what’s his name? – we’ll also make good steam bath for him. You have all the documents for the auction with you, just in case?” 

Serov slapped several times on the map-case, hanging at his side.

“So, shall we go!” repeated Ivdel .

“On curcamels?” with artificial negligence inquired Serov.

“What for?!” it was the aborigine’s turn to be surprised. “By propeller sleigh! I have one waiting over there, in hollow.

“Oh, I understand!” Serov nodded with relief. “And what’s that – “pretty little steam bath”?”

“Steam bath?!” Ivdel broke into smile. “This, brother, is such a thing, that you there in your spaces haven’t ever seen! It is nice thing, in one word: steam, hot water, bunch of green birch twigs and…”

“So it is shower, isn’t it?” interrupted Serov with hope. “But what for is that bunch of green birch twigs here?”

Ivdel sighed and has scratched back of his head, covered with ragged hair, now slightly silvered by fallen snowflakes:

“I don’t know what is it – shower, but the steam bath is the kind of washing, to say in general. With steam.”

“And don’t you burn yourselves?” in the manner of Ivdel asked SF.

“Well, if you are a muddler, then it’s possible, of course, to have a burn, when you throw water on hot stones. And if one makes everything neatly, this is real satisfaction, I say!” 

“I understand nothing!” thought Ali with despair and waved his hand hopelessly. 

There was a Reference Book called EBFP, “The Explanations on Behavior on Far Planets”, which every Star Forwarder was obliged to know: without this insurances couldn’t be obtained and pensions weren’t paid. Though, not everything was explained there, but in such cases it was advised in the Book not to asked aborigines too importunately about local customs, religions, etc. 

In general, there were a lot of illogical things in this Book. For example, the case was described in confirmation the recommendation not to ask aborigines. According to that a certain professor, studying local customs on a planet named Assgay, has asked the local governor to show him the most typical one. All ended up deplorably – the professor was ritually eaten up. It turned out that on this planet all guests were eaten just exactly for demonstration of most typical local customs, and if the visitor did not mention about such a demonstration, he wouldn’t have imagine peaceful and refined assgayinas, who equally loved both men and women, in the role of terrible cannibals.

Although, in the thick tome of “The Explanations” it was possible also to find references, how a traveler could suffer even not asking questions at all. On the planet Godallah one SF simply

had killed a small insect, which was called there “muha”, an analogue of terrestrial fly, which sat on the sleeve of his jacket, and that caused not less terrible consequences. The matter was that people on Godallah professed so called “muchrism”, the religion based on the faith in two prophets – Muha and Chrisya. Therefore, muha (i.e, a fly) was the sacred animal there, which killing was prohibited under any circumstances! What was the second sacred animal looked like, which should logically exist (any «chrisya” or what?) – it wasn’t even mentioned in EBFP. But there was told in details, that orthodox muchrises after the decision of court had beaten poor SF by stones. To death! And, you know, SF killed that fly just because of knowing nothing about the local religion!

Besides, about that Godallah it was said that there is no larceny there, however Serov knew for sure, that during the revolt against the dictator Haddam Sussein the capital of the planet, Tag-and-Run City was plundered completely, and even hundred thousand muhas (i.e., flies) were ruthlessly killed. Here’s your devotion and strict following to religious traditions!

In short, the founders of «The Explanations» obviously had no propensity to excessive detailed elaboration of the important information, but, anyway, though about terrible local customs on Ivdel nothing was said, Serov hadn’t begun to insist on explanations, having given himself a word to be extreme careful, just in case not to kill any flying insects here and in general not to provoke the aborigines somehow. 

“Well, shall we go, then?” repeated Ivdel, then turned around and went somewhere.

Ali shrugged, nodded and, having taken his bag, followed Ivdel, instantly sinking in snow, covered with thin layer of ice crust.

On his way to this planet, following the paragraphs of “The Explanations», forwarding agent Serov, named SF (or “Star Forwarder”), carefully learned the available Database on Ivdel. Small world (however, with almost normal gravitation – probably, there was very massive planet core here) rotated around the local sun being fourth in succession. Little planet was covered with forests and fields of snow. Here and there under this crusts of seldom thawing ice cold lakes lied, somewhere small rivers ran. Sometimes thaws happened, and during this time sky became blue, and local grass at thawed patches reached out small green tongues to the sun. But it happened very seldom, and general impression of the planet Ivdel was the following: a lot of snows and forests – and not much enough of warmth and people. 

Strange people lived in this strange place. Once upon a time, already after The Third Galactic war, which officially was called The Great Opposition, a group of refugees arrived on Ivdel and settled here. What made them to choose Ivdel as their home, no one could understand: almost no minerals, cold climate – not paradise at all.

Why the planet was named so, the Informatory of the spaceship, storing that data base, kept silence. The only thing that was known for sure was that boys here were often named after the planet itself – Ivdels. And inhabitants named themselves in the same way, but with lowercase first letter. It was assert that there was no larceny here, but the same thing was written about notorious Godallah, and the price to all those assertions (more precisely – explanations) also was well known. Nevertheless, indeed, there were even no rumors about the larceny on Ivdel. There was no information at all about local social system even as rumors, because, in fact, practically nobody could spread these rumors: very few people came here on business, and without business – nobody at all.

Following the man named Ivdel, Serov asked with caution, as if trying by finger the water of unknown temperature:

“And for how long time had nobody flown here?”

“For a long time,” said Ivdel regretfully. “Somewhere as three years ago a guy came – he preached earthlism. Heard about such religion? Real rubbish, by honor! Well, only think: they insist that all peoples origin from certain goddess of Earth, which has created space, stars and planets! And, besides all that, she also has created a man! And, in addition, without Copulation and, therefore, Vice – how do you like that? We’ve been keeping listening for some time, and then send him for a long-long journey, to unknown land, so to say…” 

“Beat to death by stones?” Serov tried to ask it quietly, but his voice quavered treacherously, and Ali touched powerful large-caliber gun, hanging under his jacket, though he understood that guns seldom help in such situations.

“What? What?!” Ivdel even turned back, and SF involuntarily looked aside. “Why – by stones?! Why so – by stones? What are you talking about?! Well, the man talks about trifles – and let him talk that. We ain’t no these muchrises to through a man down by stones! We simply asked him to go to hell in a handbucket. Get lost to your spaceship, buddy. Fly further to pull the wool over softheads’ eyes, but it won’t work with us! Who ever has seen the goddess to create people? How she could do this, and even without copulation? Even goddess – ha, ha! – can’t do that, correct?”

Serov wanted to ask if Ivdel is atheist, but stayed silent and kept on going. He thought that in accordance with “The Explanations” ivdels couldn’t be atheists, because they had the subject of worship, although the information in the Galaxy data-base was rather incomplete and contradictory.    

“The Goddess has created people!” continued to express his indignation Ivdel, though without much anger. “People get birth from wives, and not from goddesses. If you want to worship any goddess then you have right to do that, but don’t talk nonsense!..”

“Excuse me,” asked Serov almost without any purpose, “who gives birth to people?”

Ivdel stopped sharply and turned back. Serov’s hand mechanically twitched to the gun, but the aborigine grinned still with open heart, and forwarder felt relieved.

“You there at your stars – what, all got absolutely crazy, upon my word?” Ivdel shook his head. “Wives give birth to people! Wives!”

“That is “women” you mean?” asked Serov and, trying to adapt to rustic dialect of Ivdel, added: “Babes?”

“How did you say?” almost whispering inquired Ivdel, and stomach-freezing anxiety started to move in Ali’s soul again. “Women? Babes?! Well… Why you say like this? Women – hell with them, but the word is simply bad one. And babes… This is a gospel thing, and after all, babes can’t give birth to somebody. The babe can’t consist of flesh, sand or wood – the babe always is of snow!” 

“Oh, yeas, of snow, then…” promptly agreed Serov, looking at Ivdel with slight confusion, but the aborigine still showed no anger, just having absolutely frankly surprised at the astronaut’s lack of education.  

People on Ivdel must died out but they didn’t. They trade to other planets lumber and furs, sell very profitably (smuggling, of course) horns of curcamels, from which in other worlds people received “condoum” – amazing stimulant of intellectual abilities, though often causing hard constipations as by-effect.

Since the beginning of time ivdelians bought (in particular in “Spacetrans”) carrots, coal, brooms and zinc-coated buckets. They bought all that because they made “snowbabes” – in “The Explanations” it was explained in details what is it. The figures from snow were called so: usually, three spheres from snow, one smaller than another, put on each other. Additional two small spheres

were used as “hands” of the figure, coal was for eyes, carrot – for nose, the bucket was put on the head as a cap, and broom was inserted in one of two hands. As it was learned out, these “snowbabes” –  in some other worlds they were called “snowmen” – were made besides Ivdel only on a few planets, where it was also a lot of snow (at the planet where Serov had grown up, there was now snow at all and nobody never even saw snowmen, not saying about any snowbabes). But, more over, only on Ivdel, as it was said in the Book, snowbabes were worshipped! It was written literally – “worshipped”. Ali already read about it, but didn’t take in that seriously, and absolutely forget it, therefore.

In the language of Ivdel planet there were many derivative terms, connected with the original one – even money here were called “babeys”! Having recalled this fact, Serov immediately gave himself a word not to say anything bad about snowbabes, though he hardly could imagine how it is possible to worship to any scarecrow made of snow. Even muchrism was much more sensible for him though evidently was a stupid thing as one could easily guess. 

But all these problems seemed not serious ones against the fact that at the moment the monopoly of “Spacetrans” turned out to be under the threat: young and ambitious company “IC” or “Instant Cargoes” strived to penetrate in the monopolized sector of sales on Ivdel. Al-Faraday, as Serov knew, brought here very attractive pack of discounts and offers of new brands. However, he had to fight for the contract with Serov: “Spacetrans” hadn’t left this unanswered, and in Ali’s map-case strong trumps also were hidden.

Ivdel’s propeller sleigh turned out to be a quite up-to-date machine with a cozy streamline cabin form light polyplastmetal, having wide steady sledges. Over the smoothed drop-shaped hull housing of activator was rising. Vertical rudder bars stack up as twisted wings of swallow, adding a special grace to the high-speed vehicle.   

Serov was surprised twice – to the modern machine and to that it wasn’t painted in bright colors, because on this dull snow plain bright things would have been much more visible, if it would be necessary to look for a broken vehicle.

Despite his doubts and fears, Serov asked Ivdel a direct question. The aborigine laughed with his coughing laughter:

“Ha-ha, there’s no bloody need to search you if you can’t save you yourself! The cold and snow ain’t no enemies, but the nature of the existence. Snowbabes – they love the cold, you see.” 

Again, having understood nothing, Serov shrugged his shoulders and climbed into the cabin.

They went very quickly, simply rushed into the snow plain. Snowflakes flew up behind the propellersleigh, having hidden in the artificial snowstorm unloading platforms and distant hills.  While the light of the sunset allowed, one could see that the monotony of this snowness was disturbed only by dark-green white-covered forests, which sometimes approached suddenly very close to the ski track and then also suddenly hid behind accidents of the ground. There was absolutely no signs of dwellings, only at one glade in the forest Serov saw abandoned lumbering machines.

Approximately in every hundred meters along the ski track stood grotesque figures made of snow with carrots instead noses and with tin buckets on their heads. Evidently there were much talked-about snowbabes, but Serov bewitched by the speed of driving didn’t asked questions for the time being.  


It became dark finally. Ivdel turned on headlights and the sensation appeared that the vehicle went at a full speed in a dark tunnel, along which strange mystical white sculptures jumped out

approaching it and disappearing behind immediately. In this rushing along double rank of snowbabes some broken figures could be glanced from time to time – Ali managed to notice that.  Probably, vandals existed here also.

Having felt warm in cozy chair, Ali grew bolder and decided again to start conversation on the subject that was interesting to him.  

His inquisitive mind didn’t give hum a rest, he wanted to know more and understand the situation as much as possible.

“Listen, friend Ivdel,” began Ali, “you have told that time – snowbabes. So, that means by no means that they are from snow, aren’t they?”

Peering at ski track, glittering in headlights, Ivdel hemed:

“Stated in the messing way, but you can assume that it’s so.”

“Alright, but who gives birth to your children?”

“But I’ve already told you – wives!”

“Therefore, women, after all?”

“Well, if you want to call it so – call it that way, but “wives” is more correct. To the point!”

Ali knitted his brows – something was away from his understanding. Possibly it wasn’t worth asking, but Ivdel looked quite friendly, and Serov’s natural craving to the nitty-gritty drove him further.

“How it can be the same?! Women – they are all women, and wives are not necessarily all of them! Not all of them become wives!”

“Is that right, really?!” Ivdel derisively looked sideways to Serov. “How is it – “not necessarily”? All of them are wives – from the very birth they are!” 

“So, every woman is a wife?” specified Ali.

“No doubt!” confirmed Ivdel. “So it is, without fail!”

“And if she will not want?”

“Will not want – what?” the aborigine didn’t understand.

“Well, what if she will not want to be a wife? She possibly could not become wife, but still remain woman, correct? If she has been born as a woman!”

Ivdel pull a face as if he ate a lemon, shook his head and the propeller sleigh swang from side to side, because autopilot wasn’t switched on.

“Have you ever seen at least one that?”

“Who?” it was Serov’s turn not to understand.

“Well, that “woman”, as you call it, which does not want to become a wife.”

“Have seen!” Serov nodded convincingly. “Only one month ago I asked one woman to become my wife and she has refused, because…”

“Has refused?????!!!!!!” suddenly heartrendingly shouted Ivdel and abruptly turned on the dynamic reverse, playing on this vehicle the role of breaks.

The propellersleigh went into a skid and stopped just near one of snowbabes, stood as guard of honor along the road.

“She refused?!?! How she has refused?! How she could refuse?!”

Saying this again and again, Ivdel for some reason or other opened the cabin’s door and fall out into snow, where he started to roll in frenzy, thrashing by his hands and legs.


“Has refused!!!” he cried out. “How could she, stinker, refuse?! It’s not enough to kill for this, not enough! Why she has refused? Give her to me – I’ll tear her with my teeth, I’ll drink her eyes….”

Suddenly he jumped up and ran to the sleigh again. Ali got frightened, that Ivdel would rush at him, and reached for his gun, but had mistaken again. 

Ivdel draw long wrench from a tool box and tossed aside track. Slipping, he jumped up to the nearest snowbabe and brought down his improvised club on the head of the sculpture. The bucket caved in with crackle, smashing the head of snow, from which a carrot plunged out, and the aborigine with shouts “How is it – has refused?!”, “I’ll kill her!” and so on, was waving with his piece of iron while only one forth part of the lowest sphere had remained from the whole snowbabe. 

Last of all Ivdel grabbed fallen broom and broke its handle at his knee. Having lost equilibrium on the slippery ski track, he crashed down on his back with fruity struck of his head as a final accord.  

Serov was watching the Ivdel’s evolutions with caution, having leaned out of the cabin.

Ivdel, as if nothing had happened, stood up, picked up the wrench and the carrot, which blew out of the snowbabe’s head in the very beginning. Having bitten off a piece from the vegetable, he draw his face and threw the stump away.

“Damn!” The aborigine spitted. “Has frozen, all the way.”

Unexpectedly quietly Ivdel put the wrench in place, shook off snow and returned to the cabin. 

“You must settle things with her!” he wagged his finger at Serov. “Just on your returning back you should settle everything. How do you like that – has refused? Oo-oof, just imagine!..”

He rummaged in a cargo compartment and pulled out large bottle with a greenish liquid, which by it’s color reminded Serov a coolant for nuclear reactors, and two simple aluminum mugs. Ivdel by exact movements dashed in both vessels equal quantity of this slop and gave the mug to Serov.

Ali took it with care.

“Well, we shall shot a little for quite sake!” the aborigine dank it at a gulp, smelled the sleeve of his jacket and look at SF in a sideway: “Why you don’t drink?”

Serov inhale the air from his “cup”.

“Is that alcohol?1” asked he suspiciously.

“Not urine, naturally!” laughed Ivdel. “So drink and don’t think too much – it’s necessary to drink. For all good things! Listen, ain’t you muchris, by the way?”

“Bless you,” Ali waved his hand, “of course, not. I am an astronaut, and astronauts all are non-believers.”

“Well, drink so! For muchrises it’s prohibited, they say, and for us it’s allowed.”

“For you – it’s for whom?”

“For Ivdels, it goes without saying. We are free people. Though we live in butt, God is my witness.”

“In butt?!”

“Oh, I’ve said it figuratively, you know. Far away, that is… Well, drink, come on!”

“Hm, without any food?” Serov continued to doubt.

Ivdel made a helpless jest:

“Well, my excuses! I have no foods with me. Let’s arrive to the settlement – there are plenty of foods there. And for the time being, you… smell your sleeve, or, here you are…” He leaned over the edge of the cabin and took a lump of snow, “…have a bite of snow. Only a little bit, naturally.”

Serov sighed and drank. Slop appeared to be simply burning, and the fire river flew down SF’s gullet. Ali mechanically seized the snowball given by Ivdel and sent it in the mouth to extinguish a starting fire.

“Wha-at i-is-s thi-is-s?”

“You’ve already guessed yourself – alcohol,” Ivdel was mocking. “We call it “vodochka”. Before that we just only home brewed, and this thing was brought to us by earthlists. They asserted that, as if, it was the gift of their goddess, the Earth. Bullshit, certainly, about the gift, but it’s nice booze. We have expelled earthlists, but have adopted vodochka. The main thing here is to have a special apparatus to make it.”

“Why apparatus, what for?” asked Serov, wiping the tears, which appeared in his eyes: when the first shock had passed, he strangely felt himself much more quietly. “You could take food synthesizer and produce it.”

“What a smart you are! You can’t find synthesizers for everybody, the synthesizer is expensive to operate, and for this apparatus you needed only some amount of sawdust and two jars for distillation.”

“Really? Only two?” 

“By my word! Only two jars, but a lot of sawdust. I will draw it for you later. OK, are you alright? Well, here we go!”

The propeller sleigh rushed further in the night.

Ali kept silent for some time. From the slop with strange name of “vodochka” that he had drunken, pleasant warmth spread over his body but not burning, as it was at the first moment. He felt himself very good and pleasantly, and he felt no fear yet on this wild planet with that crazy aborigine, rushing with him through the night. After all, the aborigine is a human, and his vodochka is very nice thing… 

Suddenly SF imagined, how he arrived to the “Spacetrans”’s base, took a wrench and went to “settle things” with technologist Ramiya, who had refused to marry him – and he laughed: more ridiculous show was difficult to imagine. Though here it wasn’t worth laughing: if Serov had acted so, he would have been put into prison. 

And it’s interesting, would they put a person into prison for that action on Ivdel? However, if here everywhere are complete snows, then prisons are of no need here. Ali thought about it and laughed again.

“Why do you give a coarse laugh all the time?” inquired Ivdel. “Got tanked already?”

“Tanked?” didn’t understood Serov.

“Ah, that’s it! Why you giggle, I say?”

SF explained. Ivdel nodded with understanding:

“Well, I do not suggest you to do in your wife. Simply – settle your problems.” 

“But she’s not a wife to me!” objected Serov.

“But how she isn’t?! I tell you: all of them are wives!” 

“And if she won’t marry me, then what?”

“Listen – but what of it?!” – Ivdel was amazed. “It doesn’t matter whom she marry. Let her marry and unmarry. But all wives, on a large scale, are public property. Whether there are any restrictions? Are they, tell me?

Serov, suspecting a catch shrugged doubtingly:

“Certainly, are. It is impossible with somebody else’s wife… well, you understand. Well, that is, as though it’s possible, but under the law it is impossible… As though.”

“Oh, just exactly – as though! And, after all, I say it again: what does it mean – somebody else’s wife? Listen, all of them are common! Com-mon! There are no somebody else’s wives, it’s impossible!”

“Ha!” grunted Serov. “How it is simple from your point of view. And everywhere else it is different!”

“You are right,” agreed Ivdel suddenly, “I’ve heard about that. Customs differ everywhere, and all that. But it doesn’t concerns wives, you see!”

“How is it – doesn’t concerns?!”

“So it is! What prevents you to make somebody else’s wife become your one? Tell me – what?”

“To become mine?” Ali asked again slightly reddening.

Ivdel sighed:

“I see my question wasn’t very correct. OK, let her, so to say, to be both his and your wife also. So, tell me: what-prevents-you-from that?”

“Well, and what if her husband finds out?..”

“OK, let alone that variant for a while. Let’s assume, he won’t find out at all or he doesn’t care! By the way, mind that: you are husband yourself also! That is, you know, as though, and that another one – or how many are them there? – does not know. Does it suit you?”

“Well, if so…  then it’s possible.”

“There you are!” joyfully continued Ivdel, “all is clicking into place! And when it’s clicked into place, then it must stand there. Both wives and snowbabes and my and your manhood.

“Wait,” remembered Serov, “but why have you broken that snowbabe with the wrench?”

“And with what should I have to break it? By hand, may be? And what does it mean – what for? I was outraged, I had to release irritation. Did you wanted that I would had smashed the head of real wife, I mean – to woman, as you call them?. But it’s too long way to fly to your woman, and, again, they will condemn you for this. Will exile after that in the back of the beyond.”

“Where you could be exile from that place” 

“Don’t say! Ivdel isn’t the worst planet, though is the butt. You fly over space and you must know what god-forsaken holes exist in the Universe.” 

“Yes, right to you, but… Forgive me, I possibly say something wrong…”  

“Ha-ha!” Ivdel laughed. “I have already noticed that you often say something wrong.”

“I mean that you wouldn’t beat me by the wrench.”

“Far from it!?! It’s impossible – a living sole! Though, depending on the circumstances… So, what you wanted to ask me?”

Ali scratched his head. He was frightened to ask Ivdel, especially, recollecting his dragging   on snow and waving of the wrench. But he could not resist it, and even the end of his nose became wet. And he had made up his mind.

“Well, you here, as if worship to showbabes…”


“And not “as if”, but exactly worship,” confirmed Ivdel. “And what of it?”

 “You worship…” Serov has finally grown bolder from the alcohol, which he drank for the empty belly, “…and has broken it!”

“You’re freak! I’m trying to explain: we worship – and beat at the same time! Everywhere it goes in the same way. This happens from time immemorial; they worship to babe and beat her. Worship – and beat!”  

“Really? You don’t deceive me?” 

“I swear! Wives can’t be bitten, but babes can be!”

“Those – from snow?” specified Serov.

“Naturally! And for that we worship to do in then, how can be the different way? Whom to do in then?”

“And when you break all these along the road – what you will do then?”

“First, we have repair brigade called babers, which regularly restores snowbabes. «Babers” means that they initiate a babe, from snow, naturally. Secondly, snowbabes stands not only along this road, but in our settlement too. So everything is alright: there is somebody to worship and somebody to beat.”

“And you do not beat wives?”

“Not for the life of me! You see, the babe is the sense of all things in existence, the babe deserves worship! The babe can consist neither of flesh, nor of sand, nor of wood, nor of metal! The babe is always of snow! Because there is a lot of snow around here.” 

“And what is the connection?”

“Psychological solely!”

“Well, go ahead…”

Ivdel looked to Ali with hesitation:

“Hm, are exactly not muchris?”

“Never!” assured Serov. “Not at any price!” 

“Then let’s have some more booze! Because we have a long way to go, and the heater has broken down. So I always say: the piece of iron is the shit of iron.”

He turned on the autopilot and filled the mugs. Serov realized that he didn’t remember which one was his mug, and the exchanging of tableware with unfamiliar aborigines was said to be  dangerous, because it was possible to catch terrible disease, caused by the pangalactic virus named faggotaid. But vodochka, merrily splashing in the mug, as if had suggested that it was no need to worry about some foolish diseases at such cool but very friendly planet. The illness faggotaidia prospers on the advanced populous warm planets, and from where it could appear here? So Serov quietly drank new shot and smelled his sleeve, as he was told.

“Quite so!” noticed Ivdel with approval. “I was sure that the second one will go better with you. Shall we sing?”  

“Why?” Ali didn’t understand.

“I say, let’s sing a song! Whether you can’t sing at all?”

“I don’t know,” confessed Serov honestly. “I’ve never tried.”

“Oh,” Ivdel waved his hand, “it is even simpler that to drink vodochka, especially if you’ve already shot a dose. I will drink.. damn it – sing, and you sing along with me. Simply repeat words, I mean. Later I’ll write down them for you just for memory.”

And he started certain leisurely sad and at the same time surprisingly melodious song about astronaut, who was freezing in emptiness of the Universe at the spaceship punched by a meteorite. Astronaut was asking something his friend – obviously, he was freezing not alone, – but why his friend wasn’t freezing also, Serov had not understood.


* * *

Almost in two hours of the race on the ski tack some lights blinked ahead, and Ivdel reduced speed.

“There you are – we almost arrived,” he informed. “What about you? You planned to participate in the tender for the contract immediately or to have a rest after the journey?”

Serov understood that it’s necessary to demand to start the tender immediately on arrival, but after drinking, flicker of vague shadows behind the glass of the cabin and melodious-plaintive singings of Ivdel he felt absolutely worn out. “Well, it doesn’t matter too much, after all,” decided he. “Nobody will start the tender tonight.”

“You’re right, it’s worth to sleep a little,” said he aloud.

“Why?! Are you really tired? No even thoughts of sleeping! We’ll have a rest now, understand? Because you have decided not to work today!”

“What do you mean then – to have a rest?” inquired Serov in confusion. 

“Indeed – a new day has begun here! And if you decided not to work today, then do not work! And our guys, it seems, already gathered – they eager to see you. Do you think we often have guests from outer space here? – Ivdel pointed his finger to the sky, which was limited by the ceiling of the cabin. – And even two guests at a time!”

“Two?” surprised Ali.

“Certainly! And what about that one who came just before you?”

“Oh, yeah!” Serov almost forgot about the competitor and frowned slightly now. “I wouldn’t want to see him for the time being.”

“But why?” Ivdel conciliatorily waved his hand. “Now we shall have a drink, have some steam bath, and then we’ll drink again. Never mind! What have you both to divide on a large scale?”

“What, why?! Our “Spacetrans” have being quietly traded with your planet, and these upstarts from “IC” impudently crawl into the market! And if I wouldn’t prolong the contract, I would have been dismissed!”

“Fancy that!” Ivdel scratched his head. “And is that so terrible if they will fire you?”

“And what is good in being an employed?” sighed Serov. 

“How it is possible – to stay without work?” surprised Ivdel. “There is a helluva lot of work around! Things to be done never end. Nobody fires nobody here, because there is always a plenty of work to do.”

Ali ibn Serov looked sideways to the aborigine – was he jeering at him? But Ivdel, judging by everything, spoke absolutely seriously.

“Ignorant dolts,” thought Serov, smiling crookedly. “What could they understand? They are alright – sitting in their snows, making snowbabes and not caring a straw.”

Meanwhile propeller sleigh drove along the street of small town or, better to say, settlement – it was difficult to see in the darkness how big it was, and Ali just orientated only by lights that were

burning here and there. The number of lights was not so large but not so small, and it was easy to tell that the most of the houses were single-storey.  

Some of the houses at the same time were brightly illuminated. The propeller sleigh stopped just at on of that houses, having driven about three hundred meters on the street, going up the hilllock.

“So, we have arrived!” joyfully informed Ivdel.

It was frosty but not very hard. Fine snow was falling from the impenetrable-dark sky, glittering in the light of street lamps as vanilla dust. The sleigh was standing at the long building made of large round beams. It was one of a few two-storey buildings in the street, as far as it could be seen in the night. At its corners two pillars with bright lamps rose, lightening the ground near the house. The building was crowned with the roof made of plastic tile, also glittering with the snow. A high five-step porch led to the double door, crisscross bound with metal strips.

To the right, at the parking stood in row several propeller sleighs, and to the left – four sledges, yoked with strange animals, having branchy muzzles of frogs. On the back of each animal  puckered three projections or, humps with long bony outgrowths. Animals periodically put their muzzles in a horizontal tray screwed to the wall of the house, and chewed something evenly.

Serov guessed that, probably, it is so-called curcamels, mentioned by his guide.  

“Are you coming, or not?” called Ivdel already from the porch.

Serov nodded and hurried after the aborigine.

Behind the door was found a wide strongly heated hallway with coat racks where was piled up different leather jackets, some fur coats and absolutely strange woolen clothes embroidered with color patterns. Floors were covered with skins of unknown animals.

“And here are my fellahs,” Ivdel nodded to the coat rack.

Serov thought that somewhere in this pile evidently was hanging the jacket of his rival. Had he knew the appearance of the jacket, he could look whether he had left some documents in its pockets… However, he would be ashamed to do it before Ivdel’s eyes.

From a niche behind high desk quickly stepped stumpy little man in high felt boots, leather pants and crimson shirt, belted with golden lace.

“Hi, Ivdel,” welcomed he the aborigine respectfully but without any servility. “I see you’ve brought one more visitor?”

“Hi, Moses,” nodded Ivdel, kicking off his parka. “Aha, brought. And where is my brother with the first one?”

“They are already in the drawing room. Sir, please go through the formal procedure and write down you name in the guest-book,” the little man made inviting gesture to Serov. 

At the desk the data from the forwarder’s papers were written down in the thick velvet cover book. Ali paid attention, that there were hardly a couple of filled pages in the book. While Serov was registering, Ivdel waited patiently, rubbing his hands as if he was looking forward to something very pleasant.

Serov took off his jacket, having taken out of the pockets all valuable things beforehand, put all this in the map-case and followed Ivdel. The bag with his clothes had to be left at the Moses’ desk. 

 Just near the entrance to the room where Ivdel was walking, behind the projection of the wall an alcove suddenly was revealed. In the soft bluish light three snowbabes were towering there. 

“Not so bad…” murmured Ali, having stopped.  


In the hallway it was very hot, but in the alcove cold air blew from several wide nozzles.

“And what is it?” asked Serov, pointing to snowbabes.

“This?” Ivdel scratch his head. “These are soft brand consumers.”

Amazed Serov looked  sideways to Ivdel, trying to understand whether he jokes or not, and touched the snowbabe that was closer to him with his finger. Under his hand slightly melted snow gave way easily, and at the side of the snowbabe a small dent appeared. 

“They seem to be too soft, anyway…” said Serov doubtfully.

Ivdel shrugged:

“These are data of statistics and marketing. One can do nothing about it: if they said something is soft, then it is soft! Not too much of cold air here.”

“And who has been collecting these data?” surprised Ali.

“Who, who… Our kids gathered, while they’ve been making these snowbabes. Well, come on, are these data of any trouble for you?!”

“Such crazy things!” thought Serov. “All right, as to me, I really don’t care. The main thing is to overcome Al-Faraday. With those brands, at least…”

Behind heavy green curtains there was big hall with tables, at which people sat. Highlighted by lamps, long bar with glass shelves full of glittering multicolored bottles, extended to the left. The hall itself in contrast to the area near the bar wasn’t lighted too bright, but at each table small lams shone.

“Hey, Ivdel!” cried somebody. “At last appeared! Come to us!”

For behind the low partition in the corner a man was waving his hand. He looked very similar to the Serov’s guide – the same leggy lean figure. At the table also sat several people and between them Serov noticed pudgy mug of al-Faraday and made a wry face.

They sat down. In all, not counting the newly-arrived and al-Faraday, already known to Serov, here were three men else: Ivdel’s brother-in-law, who met gringo, also named Ivdel, fat fellah Dodik and lumber-merchant with a strange name “Sasha”. 

Ivdel briefly introduced Serov, and they drank. Ali felt, that the head, which already was almost cleared from intoxication taken on their journey, flew again in cozy warmth of the bar. He, as well as most of nations flying in the Space, almost did not use alcohol, because the precepts of the Creator were still alive, and they prohibited to drink vine with tinned pork. And though basic mass of gringos, turkorks or those churkas had been for a long time, in general scale, atheists, slightly laughing, for example, at orthodox muchrists, some of the Creator’s precepts were still revered, at least – formally.

Al-Faraday grinned, looking at Serov.

“Well, what cheer?” shamelessly inquired he.

“Business-like!” answered Serov coldly, having snacked the piece of meat, wrapped in boiled dough and seasoned with hot pepper. “Have outstripped for an half an hour and are full of joy already? If you think that…”

Al-Faraday waved his hands:

“No need of groundless accusations! Am I guilty that my lighter has tuned to the point of decent earlier than yours? That was the automatics which made it. We should had coordinated our actions better!” and he gave a wink at Serov.

“It seems this gringo already has built certain bridges with locals,” thought Ali. “They can just immediately anyhow to ingratiate themselves with anybody! And why I haven’t had talked over

the matter with Ivdel while we were driving? Damn it, about any rubbish have talked but not on business…”

Meanwhile Ivdel filled glasses again, stood up and cleared his throat. 

“Well, my friends,” he began, “allow me to say a word by human voice…”

Ali noticed that other visitors began to pull up to their table. Somebody came up with his own glass, in which Ivdel immediately poured up some alcohol, somebody moved with his chair, and now near the table gathered already about twenty persons who were curious. 

 “I would like to welcome our guests, I mean.” Ivdel by wide gesture pointed to Serov and al-Faraday, and all around applauded. “They are remarkable astronauts, carrying their company’s goods to different planets. Today they flew to us together to sign contracts. And this are we who have to choose which contract is better…”

“And how to define which one is better?” shouted somebody from the crowd.

“And we’ll now have some good time, steam in steam-house, and then will decide,” answered Ivdel.  “So – to the trade and friendship, there!”

“For profitable trade!” – added hated al-Faraday, stretching his mouth up to ears.

“Is grinning, son of a bitch,” thought Ali drearily. “But is his position much stronger than mine? Not at all! “Spacetrans” trades here for many years and “IC” tries to start only now. But how impertinently tries! Even here has outstripped me by half an hour!”

Ivdel slightly pushed him to the side:

“Why you look so worried?”

 “Let’s go out for a minute,” asked Serov, who felt considerable noise in his head already. “I have to talk to you!”  

Ivdel shrugged:

“We can go out, but now there well be a toast for snowbabes… We can’t for the time being!”

“What?!” surprised Serov, almost having forgotten about the special status of snowbabes on the Ivdel. 

“Hush!” asked Ivdel. “Now Sasha will speak!”

Healthy fellow Sasha stood up – he wore a green peasant coat decorated with golden flowers. 

“Sirs – natives and you, dear guests,” he said. “I want to drink to our beloved snowbabes! What would we do without them – I really do not know. Whatever to say, they provide our family happiness and harmony!” 

All around the table had nodded approvingly, whispered between each other and drunken. Serov stealthily looked at al-Faraday – gringo drank equally with aborigines, so Ali also knocked back the glass, decided not to look as a square peg in a round hole, melted snowbabe or, at worst, soft brand consumer.

“Wait,” suddenly recollected he, again leaning to Ivdel, “you have told me something about wives. Where are they with you?”

“How where?” Ivdel was amazed. “Sitting at home! Tavern is man’s place! As the manhood. And you what – need a wife? So, it is simplest thing at us…”

He took a bunch of some small plates put of his pocket and shook it under Serov’s nose.

“Here you are, choose any one!”

Only now Ali saw that there are not simple plates but mnemonic crystals.

“Can I have a look?” asked he irresolutely, feeling that gets tipsy not only with spirits, but also with recklessness of local customs.


“Certainly, look.”

Serov, constraining a grin, started to put mnemocrystals to his temple, scrutinizing Ivdel’s wives. Women were pictured in different moments – some were bustling about in the kitchen, some engaged in tiding up a room, and some were…. Serov’s face became hot, and he involuntary casted down his eyes.

However, now everyone at the table already made a lot of noise, and nobody paid any attention to Serov reaction.

“Like it?” Ivdel slapped his shoulder. “Which one have you chosen?”

“What do you mean?” entirely confused Ali. “To get married, perhaps? But, you see, I…”

“Who talks of marring?! I suggest you to pick up a wife. Simply temporarily. You just have arrived to us for a couple of days – and you can take a wife for this time. It is normal!”

“Well, I haven’t thought about that,” mumbled Ali, remembering self-assured face of Ramiya. “Wait!” suddenly guessed he, “I still can’t understand. So you say – wives are common, is it right?”

“Exactly!” Ivdel slightly waved his advanced forefinger in the air, as if he threatened to Serov.

“But if there are wives, then children happens, right?”

“Oh, right!” joyfully assured Ivdel. “You bet! Though, if you don’t want, then children don’t happen – why should they if you do not want? There are different remedies, and, after all, you can do…” he waved with the bristling palm of his hand in the air.

Serov rounded his eyes:

“But they can happen, can’t they? And if children happen, then – how?.. Whom they belong to in this case? How you assign them?”

Ivdel giggled:

“How we assign? We raffle them off! Silly you are! – this is called “biology”, excahging of genes! You pull the ticket – and receive!..”

Those sitting at the table got tired of their talks and they bawled:

“Stop wag your tongues!” Sasha was yelling. “Now we all go to the steam bath!”

Serov helplessly waves his hand and began to rise from the table, but felt treacherous tremor in his legs and catch at the edge of the table not to fall down.

“Oh!” several voices shouted at the same time, “Our guest wants to propose a toast before we go to the steam bath!”

Ali saw that a full glass appeared in his hand from somewhere.

“My friends!” he began. “Honestly, I am very glad to visit you here! Little steam bath is great thing, probably. And I also loved your snowbabes…”   

All gathered at the table had made noise approvingly. Serov shook his head, trying to catch the idea, which was slipping behind the curtain of intoxication, and, as with cat that had soiled, to start rubbing her nose in the main point.      

“Dear customers of “Spacetrans,” pronounced he very coherently and unexpectedly for himself, “I have arrived to sign new contract with very profitable conditions for you. I suppose, I will be one who signs this contract, just me! To the contract… and to you all!”

Almost without wincing and wondering how easily the burning liquid flows down his gullet, Serov bottomed up the glass and would fall down if not Ivdel who supported him. Through the mist in his eyes he noticed crooked face of al-Faraday and laughed gladly.

“We go to the steam bath, to the steam bath!” Ivdel dragged Ali somewhere in the distant corner of the hall, where the door leading to the basement was found.  


* * *

The following events merged in the line of strange pictures, completely messed up in Serov’s brain. Among all the most impressive was that initially he in big company of men was stripped naked and dragged in low very heated room, where clouds of steam were swirling. Serov was thrown down at slippery wooden bench and men started to lash him by a bunch of branches with leaves. At the beginning Ali got afraid, but suddenly it turned out to be very pleasant, and he almost got asleep at this bench, just mechanically protecting his genitals with hands, in order to protect this gentle organ from damages, that could be produced by flying up and down bunch of branches. 

Again unexpectedly he fell plop into the cold water to the laughter that almost brought him into the sense. This cycle of steaming and cold watering continued several times, and Ali noticed that al-Faraday also involved to this procedure and was also heavily drunk. That all the time calmed Serov subconsciously, because even through thick alcohol and water vapors he understood that in such condition gringo would hardly be able to sign anything. The only point that was worrying him was the though about his map-case with documents. Though, he couldn’t see al-Faraday’s map-case with him, and gradually he got absolutely quiet.

After all, Serov found out that he was standing, almost properly dressed, in the street about fifty meters from the tavern and looking somewhere in the darkness between nearest houses.

Somebody slapped him on the shoulder, and Ali turned back having to save the equilibrium with difficulty.

“Steadier, steadier!” reeling Ivdel was holding SF by the elbow. “We have to get out refreshing ourselves. Wait a minute, I have to take a leak…”

Ivdel minced along somewhere aside, and Serov, also having felt suddenly the demand to move, hobbled off half-unconsciously on unbending legs in dark lane between the houses as if something was attracting him there.     

The lane led downhill. Constantly slipping and rising up with concentration and in a hurry, Serov went for rather long time and suddenly in font of him in the reflected light of distant lamps had glittered the broad water surface. He approached whether to pond or lake. It unexpectedly wasn’t frozen. The lane ended on the low stoned embankment, disappearing on parabola in the darkness to the left and to the right. Just in front of Serov at the embankment at the pillar of about two meter high there was a dim lamp giving some light. Vague figure stood near the water.  

Ali came up and saw that it was a woman. SF was surprised very much – it was the first woman, met on Ivdel for the moment. The lamp gave weak light and it came slightly from behind and aside, but it seemed to Serov that the woman was beautiful.

“Hi!” he said, trying to articulate sounds as much clear as possible.

The woman slowly turned her head and looked to Serov.

“Hi,” said she with chest voice. “That was you who landed today?”

“It’s me,” answered Serov, not knowing what else to say.


He eager to talk to woman, especially with the beautiful one, but words suddenly scattered in all directions and hid in the darkness.

“You have flown just today,” said the woman, “and came here immediately…” 

Ali waited for the continuation, but the woman kept silence. Ali coughed, standing unsteadily:

“A beautiful lake,” said he just to say anything, though in the dark one could see only a small area of the embankment and reflects of widely spaced settlement’s lights in the water. “What is its name?”

The woman gave a slight start:

“By no means! It’s not a lake – it is the cemetery of snowbabes! And women, women are also berried here.”

Fear seized Serov. He came up close to the water and where the light of the weak lamp fell, he saw many floating carrots. Putrid smell of the water stroke his nose.   

“One more babe to count!” though Serov, not even knowing what he was thinking about.

“What a horror…” murmured he aloud.

 “Oh, there you are!” Ivdel’s joyful cry suddenly sounded form behind. “And I’ve already lost you. I see it’s high time to choose a wife for you.” And he dragged Serov by the hand away from the lake-cemetery.

“And she?..” whispered Serov, pointing to the woman.

“Leave her,” Ivdel was leading him to the light near the tavern.

“The wife…” murmured Serov, almost not gasping anything. 

“We’ll find another one, and let this one to stand here for the time being,” confirmed Ivdel rather sharp. “She is pre-pairing to berry herself because she doesn’t want to have husbands. Sometimes it happens, and these ones went here.”

“Preparing?..” asked Serov weakly.

“Pre-pairing,” corrected Ivdel. “So nobody should touch her that time. But you won’t understand that yet. Later. And now we’ll find a wife for you…”

Further Serov again had a lapse of memory. He didn’t remember how they went out of the lane and how came into the tavern, suspending by obliging Moses. But he regain consciousness, sitting at the table with a glass in his hand next to equally bleary-eyed al-Faraday.

“…And you know, all here at us are either Russian or Jews?” was telling to al-Faraday insidious and drunk Ivdel.     

“But who are they?” was surprised Ali, realizing that it’s for some reason is interesting to him.

“What is it – who?” misunderstood Ivdel.

“Well, I mean these Jews and Russian who they are?”

“Why? Your question is, excuse me, a stupid one, you know. They are… Well, I myself don’t know, who they are. It is said nothing in books. But asking questions about this is also even improperly. Jews and Russians are two peoples, chosen by God.”

“Ah, so you still believe in God?” asked drunken Serov sweetly.

“No, we believe only in snowbabes!”

“And what’s the connection with Russians and Jews?” that was al-Faraday, who stuck his nose again into the conversation.”


“I don’t know, but you have asked who we are here on Ivdel. And I have answered. Our parents taught us to. Simply the first spaceship was lost at landing, and all books were burn. But we remember that we were told to be either Russians or Jews, and since those times we try to be those.”

“That is you yourselves have prescribed yourselves to be those… Jews and Russians?” specified Serov.

“Yes, of course!” joyfully nodded Serov. 

“Stop!” Serov’s brain was blurred by vapors of alcohol, but he tried to understand the slipping logic. “If you said “peoples”, then it means “nations”, isn’t it? And I haven’t ever heard about such nations! There are Gringos, Churkas, Negrioids, Turkorks or any Chinaers, but who ever have heard about that Jews and Russians?         

“And who are you yourself by nationality?” asked with tied tongue fellah Dodic, sitting just opposite to Serov.

“I am, assume, Turkork,” answered Serov excessively quietly, trying not to lose the thread of the discussion, “but it doesn’t matter! Generally, I do not like when showdowns on nationalities are begun. All peoples are equal!”

“This is a certain kind of muchrism,” grumbled al-Faraday. “About the equality and so on!”     

“Don’t say that!” said fat Dodic with threat, and Serov thought with a hope, that it would be nice if fellah come to fight with his competitor.

But Dodic simply waved his fist in the air and kept silence for the time being. Instead of him answered Ivdel, lavishly added to glasses.

“That isn’t muchrism, because muchrises believe in Muha and Chrisya, and we – in snowbabes! Moreover, nobody saw real Muha and Chrisya, but snowbabes – here they are!”

“And how is it with Jews and Russians?” now already al-Faraday pestered to this subject. “You call yourselves like this, but nobody has seen them!”  

‘Why nobody has?” Ivdel was surprised. “Here I am, Russian, for instance, and Dodic is Jew!”

“So, these are nationalities?”

“I tell you – no! It is chosenness by God on the faith to snowbabes. There is certain legend, that just because of it Jews and Russians long-long ago were stopped to be considered as nations. Well, mean, there is such a fate, and not the nationality. You see, the Creator said: “Jew is a vocation, Russian is a fate. So we here all have a fatacation…”

“What does it mean?” hopelessly asked Serov.

Ivdel a second or two was staring at Aliand then said:

“I don’t know, but it doesn’t matter.”

“But, after all, who are you by nationality?” asked drunken al-Faraday, grinning.

“We are ivdels by nationality!” answered Dodic with authority and, after a short pause, added: “Let’s drink better. To all good things!”

They drank.

Serov suddenly felt funny.

“But how you her – with wrench!” giggled he. “Wife can’t be beaten, and snowbabe can be. It’s genius!.. And what you’ve been telling about the marriage? I’m ready! But, please, only tell me, with whom you’ll be signing the contract: with him,” – Ali nodded to al-Faraday, “or with me? If with me, then I’m ready to take a wife here immediately!”

“Where is my map-case?!” suddenly shouted al-Faraday, and Serov realized that he also haven’t his one with him. 

 He began to look around in worry, but Ivdel and Dodic assured them that nothing could be lost here. This is only a snowbabe, which can melt to pure water, but even in that case there would be a carrot remain, floating in the bucket.

And so they continued to have a good time again. 

Both Ivdels in the noisy company of fellahs and lumber-merchants, tasty smelling of tar, sawdust and curcamels’ muck, pulled then to wives. Serov and his competitor, slipping on steps of porches and stumbled in some entrances, bummed around from house to house, belting songs. In the end he found himself again with al-Faraday in some room, where they’d been drinking in the company of several wives already. Some of them were as if even pretty nice.

Then Serov didn’t remember anything again…

In the morning he found himself lying on the large bed in the room with low ceiling. The bed had lattice metal backs, and together with Serov on it slept not a wife, but absolutely naked al-Faraday.

Serov noticed that he himself is also naked. He was ashamed, so he quietly got down from the bed, and on the chair beside the bed found his clothes, neatly hanged. Near stood the second chair, where the competitor’s clothes were hanging. Both map-cases lied there. 

Serov’s throat was dry, he wanted to drink terribly. His head was almost bursting, and from this sound al-Faraday must have been awaken, but the gringo was sleeping tight, spread out his fatty haunches.

Ali looked thievishly back to the competitor, thinking whether to examine his map-case, but the thirst was much stronger, and he gave up thinking about that and then forgot it at all.  

Cautiously having moved aside the curtain, serving here as a door, Serov looked out to the next room ­ – spacious chamber, in windows of which not bright light of Ivdel’s day was falling. There stood simple but durable furniture and there was silence. 

Ali put on his boxers just in case and went to the chamber, already looking around much more carefully. Along the walls there stood cupboards, covered by embroidered napkins, at windows hang also embroidered curtains and at windowsills were piling up flowerpots.

In spite the headache, Serov loved this place, but the main thing was that at the table there stood a big jug and pair of glasses. Ali dragged his feet to the table and poured some turbid yellow-orange liquid in the glass. The liquid tasted as a carrot juice, and Serov suddenly thought whether these carrots can origin from the cemetery of snowbabes. But the thirst was so strong that he greedily emptied the second glass also.

He felt slightly better, but the head was still aching.

In the bedroom on the squeaking bed al-Faraday moved and muttered something. Serov heard a slapping of bare feet on the floor and gringo entered the chamber. He even didn’t put boxers on just in case, and Ali thought in passing that his competitor’s “just in case” was of quite good size.

“It’s unfair!” hoarsely mumbled gringo. “He’s sitting here alone and drink water!”

“Wake up and drink,” tiredly answered Serov. “And is it fair – trying to get to the planet first?”

He pulled a face and put the cool glass to his forehead, gently pulsing with ache.

“Oh, that’s it!” waved off al-Faraday, pouring from the jug into the free glass and pressing his mouth to it with greedy sips. “Oh, such a relief, thank the Creator!”


“On our planet it is necessary to say “Thank the snowbabes!” said Ivdel, entering the room – SFs hadn’t even heard the sound of opening door.

“Did you sleep well?” inquired Ivdel friendly.

Both forwarders nodded without spirit and with the expression that Ivdel shouldn’t have better asked about it.

Ivdel sat at the table and took a bottle out somewhere from immense pockets of his parka, having stamped it on the table top. 

“So, which means that we’ll receive treatment for this,” noticed he.

“Oh, no!” protested both SFs. “We have to run tender! We have to work today!”

“Ha, big deal – you have to work! You’ll have enough time in your life to work!”

 In one of the cupboards Ivdel found clean glasses and simple snack in kind of salted vegetables, already vaguely familiar by yesterday party. 

Serov signed – evidently, they had nowhere to go. He could hardly keep himself from asking where are those wives that were tonight with them, but he ashamed to do it.

As if guessed Ali’s thought, Ivdel informed that they – both Serov and gringo – had disgraced themselves in front of the wives.

“One shouldn’t load up to such a condition when he could not do the male duty!” he was telling them reproachfully, pouring into glasses.

Serov and al-Faraday exchanged with diffident glances. Gringo slightly shrugged his shoulders, Ali took his eyes off.

“But we can have fun one more day, can’t we?” asked he to hush up the slippery subject and looked sideways to the competitor again.

“We can even have fun for two days,” nodded al-Faraday, “but after that it will be necessary to run the tender for sure. I don’t know how it is with you, but I have only three days for this business mission. Otherwise they will dismiss me for fuck!”

Serov also had only three days. 

“We’ll do it in time, they won’t dismiss us,” thought he. “But how improperly was it with male duty…”

“And that’s wonderful!” assumed Ivdel. “It is obligatory for you to rehabilitate yourselves in eyes of wives. That’s why today we won’t drink too much; I’ll keep my eye on you…” 

The roundabout went on again. Persons was flashing by, vodochka was flowing like a river, the tight cold air hit hot faces after steam bath, when they’d been rushing in sledges yoked with curcamels. Then drank again. Hysterically-invitingly laughed wives, some of them more than even nice.

At the second day they really drank less, and in the evening made a creditable showing. But the contacts with wives had resulted that after these night successes they drank even more, again rode curcamels, and after this, having had got angry for something, drove along the road to shatter snowbabes, for not to vent the anger on real wives. 

After that they drank again and laid wreaths from fur-tree branches at the cemetery of snowbabes. Wreaths slowly drifted among carrots rocking on the water.

Serov wanted to ask Ivdel, why the cemetery lake didn’t freeze, and again forgot to do that… 

* * *

When almost at the same time Serov’s and al-Faraday’s galaphones signals started to ring, they firstly had not understood where they both were.

Serov scrambled down the bed, on which now were lying even three wives, but not naked gringo, and was trying to recollect his senses for rather long time. He found out his galaphone and read HGS – hyper galactic message:

<<The controlling system of your lighter informed that unloading started without the disposal of corresponding documents. In view of communication absence and without the disposal of the materials on the tented on the planet of Ivdel due to the unauthorized unloading you are dismissed form the “Spacetrans” company. The lighter received the command to leave the stationary orbit. The following deliverance of the cargo will be delayed until all the circumstances are clarified>>

Several seconds Serov was sitting and looking at letters, vanishing in the air, then stood up, came up to the table and poured a glass of vodka with carrot juice.

“Hubby,” sleepy called one of the wives from the bed and giggled, “let’s have more fun, it’s too early yet, isn’t it?”

“Shut up, bitch, please,” said Serov without any spirit and drank the glass by several big sips. After that he put on his clothes, restraining the desperation and went out to the common chamber of the house, which they hired along with the competitor.

At that moment appeared gringo, buttoning himself up.

“Well, so what, little stinker?” grumbled Serov, squeezing the handle of the gun in the pocket, “You think if you have come half an hour earlier, then you already won? But tell me, how you, son-of-a-bitch, unloaded my containers, eh?”

“Ah, you are also, aren’t you?!..” al-Faraday stared at him with swollen eyelids.  

“I won’t left it all with you so…” began Serov, but al-Faraday suddenly dropped to the chair and grabbed his head with his hands.

“Idiots!” started to grieve gringo, rocking to and fro. “They have snookered us as absolute dolts! Just went for a ride on us as on… those curcamels! Gee!..”

“I haven’t got…” Serov released the gun handle, took a hand out of the pocket and scratched his head. “So, your cargo also has been stolen?!”

“Look, Turkorkish softhead…” gringo held out his galaphone to Serov, switching the reading mode for incoming HGS.  

For a second they had been watching each other, then, simultaneously rushed to the door.

There was still dark and absolutely empty of people in the street. Heavily breathing with hangover, they ran up to the propeller sleigh parking and tumble into the cabin of the nearest machine.

Constantly risking to dash off the ski track, forwarders reached speedily the landing platforms. There was nothing there. Landing chambers disappeared, but instead, snow that was virgin at the day of arrival, now had been dug up with curcamels’ hoofs, fellahs’ boots and somewhere heaped up with excrements of animals.

“That’s it!” shrieked Serov. “We were tricked one by one! And you thought if you come a half hour earlier, you have won!..”

Al-Faraday just waved a hand and, having sat at the side of the sleigh, lighted up a hand kalian.

The new day was breaking, but the sun beams almost couldn’t struggle through thick whitish cover, hanging over this lost-by-God world.  

Ali looked to the sky covered by clouds. Now he knew for sure that there was no lighter at the orbit, and he even had no chance to clear off from here.

“How much they managed to unload, what you think?” asked he. “Can it really be all?”

Al-Faraday hopelessly waved his hand, inhaling deeply:

“Does it really matter? They had managed to take enough – both from yours and mine. We both are soiled, both!”

“Quite so,” agreed Serov.

He winced and having searched in the sleigh, found already opened bottle and two strangely familiar mugs.

“Mind?” asked he.

Gringo waved a hand not for the first time. The gesture was obscure, but Ali had pored in the mug, anyway.

They drank. Serov wanted to snack by a piece of snow, but there were too much curcamels’ excrements around, and it was too disgust for him to do that. Gringo hadn’t even thought about snacking with anything.

“I have asked about unloaded cargo,” said Serov, “because we look like accomplices in this situation. We have to talk it over with Ivdel – let he apportion a part for us, in that case. We need to settle down now here – who knows when we guessed out how to get out from this planet, so we need money… But, in fact, it’s not so bad here, right?”

Al-Faraday for a change silently shrugged.

Serov rubbed his forehead with the palm of the hand and poured again.

“As I see, we’ll possibly have to go to work in babers’ brigade.

“Where?” surprised gringo listlessly.

“So they call the workers who restore snowbabes. Initiating babes, generally speaking.”

“No…” objected al-Faraday, “I’d better go to work as lumberjack. It’s better to initiate real ones, well, those, which are wives…”

“What prevents you from that?! Though, it’s up to you,” noticed Ali philosophically. 

They had kept silence for some time, staring empty platforms and soiled snow around them. 

“Listen,” suddenly inquired al-Faraday, “but if we have to stay here, then whom you will be – Russian or Jew?”

“What?!” Serov hadn’t got the hang of the question immediately.

“Well, I remembered that they mentioned that here all are whether Russians or Jews.”

“And you – what you choose?”

“No, I have asked first!” grinned al-Faraday.

“But you have come here first – so choose first! Though as to me, I do not care a fig, who to be. If it would be necessary – we’ll lot it.”

They almost synchronously sighed.

“And I’ve got not bad wife…” dreamily said al-Faraday.

“Which one?” specified Serov.

“Even can’t remember now,” admitted gringo. “But there is something in all this, isn’t it?..”

At that moment the distant sound of propeller sleigh came from afar.


Ali and al-Faraday stood up and silently watched the approaching machine. When the sleigh stopped, two brothers Ivdels got out of it.

Former competitors exchanged glances.

“That’s the way,” said Ali in low voice, “both have visited.”

“You think that’s they who devised all?”

“Who doubts!” hissed Serov. “One have been meeting you, the second – me. And then they were with us all the time. That’s they’ve who read all the codes for unloading, and so on. It can’t be left so…”

 And he warily pulled the wrench from the sleigh, secretly giving it to gringo.

“And you?” whispered al-Faraday.

“And I have a gun,” reassured Serov.

Aborigines joyfully waved their hands.

Serov and al-Faraday exchanged glances again, waved instead and, hiding the arms behind the backs, went towards Ivdels.


* * *

In one hour new snowbabes stood on each platform. Clean snow had to be taken from aside and then big snowballs were rolled to the place.

“We shall name them Ivdel the One and Ivdel the Two,” said gringo puffing. “First babes here, which will have their own names!.. Though, wait: they ain’t no babes at all, as it turns out. It turns out they are the first snowguys of Ivdel, isn’t that super!”

“Exactly!” agreed Ali, trying to clean hands with snow. “But in any case, we have to bring here two carrots, buckets and so on, or the composition isn’t finished yet, not to local standards. Oh, and if they are guys, we’ll have to fix two carrots on each – at the top and at the bottom.”

“We shall!” promised his former competitor. “But it seems to me, I have understood who you and me would become here…”

Serov, while poring in the mugs, inquiringly looked sideways at al-Faraday.

“It’s not so bad here, isn’t it?” said gringo. “Wives and all that things, yeah?..”

Ali shrugged:

“Well, of no doubt. Not bad, even good somewhere…”

“That’s it!” joyfully continued al-Faraday. “We’ll get accustomed here, and I have guessed who we’ll become…”

Serov continued to watch inquiringly at his new partner or, more correctly, partner in crime.

“We’ll both become Ivdels!” reported al-Faraday, “And no one dirty scum could say that it’s not so! And one day somebody else will come to this planet on a cargo-ship – and we must be the first who meet him here, you see?”


The end







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