Definitely Maybe

A Manuscript Discovered Under Strange Circumstances

by Arkady Strugatsky and Boris Strugatsky

Definitely Maybe

Paperback, 149 pages, Random House Inc, List Price: $15 | purchase

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Title
Definitely Maybe
Subtitle
A Manuscript Discovered Under Strange Circumstances
Author
Arkady Strugatsky and Boris Strugatsky

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NPR Summary

Astrophysicist Dmitri Malianov, on the verge of a major scientific discovery that could win him the Nobel Prize, is distracted by a series of strange events and wonders if someone — or something — wants to stop his scientific knowledge from progressing. Translated by Antonina Bouis.

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Boris and Arkady Strugatsky coauthored the 1971 science fiction novel Roadside Picnic. Courtesy of the Strugatsky Estate hide caption

itoggle caption Courtesy of the Strugatsky Estate

Note: Book excerpts are provided by the publisher and may contain language some find offensive.

Excerpt: Definitely Maybe

Malianov hung up and lay still for a while, feeling the nap of the blanket against his naked side and beginning to drip with sweat. The yellow shade glowed, filling the room with an unpleasant yellow light. The air was like gelatin. He should move into Bobchik's room, that's what. This room was a steambath. He looked at his desk, heaped with papers and books. There were six volumes just of Vladimir Ivanov­ich Smirnov. And all those papers scattered on the floor. He shuddered at the thought of moving. Wait a minute, I had a breakthrough before... Let's see, I was in the kitchen and then I ended up in here. Oh yes! Conformal representation! A stupid idea. But I guess it should be looked into.

He got up from the bed with a low groan, and the phone rang again.

"Idiot," he said to the phone and picked it up. "Hello?"

"Is this the depot? Who's on the phone? Is this the depot?"

Malianov hung up and dialed the repair service.

"Hello? My number is nine-three-nine-eight-zero-seven. Listen, I already called you last night. I can't work, I keep get­ting wrong numbers."

"What's your number?" a vicious female voice interrupted.

"Nine-three-nine-eight-zero-seven. I keep getting calls for Intourist and the depot and — "

"Hang up. We'll check it."

"Please do," Malianov said to the dial tone.

Then he slapped over to the table, sat down, and picked up his pen. So-o-o, where did I see that integral? Such a neat little guy symmetrical on all sides ... where did I see it? And not even a constant, just a plain old zero! Well, all right then. Let's leave it in the rearguard. I don't like leaving anything in the rear, it's as unpleasant as a rotting tooth.

He began rechecking the previous night's calculations and he suddenly felt good. It was pretty clever, by God! That Mali­anov! What a mind! Finally, you're getting there. And, brother, it looks good. This was no routine "figure of the pivots in a large transit instrument"; this was something that no one had ever done before! Knock on wood. This integral. Damn the integral, full speed ahead!

There was a ring. The doorbell. Kaliam jumped down from the bed and raced to the foyer with his tail in the air. Malianov neatly set down his pen.

"They're out in full force," he said.

Kaliam traced impatient circles in the foyer, getting underfoot.

"Ka-al-liam!" Malianov said in a suppressed but threaten­ing tone. "Get out of here, Kaliam!"

He opened the door. On the other side stood a shabby man, unshaven and sweaty, wearing a jacket of indeterminate color that was too small for him. Leaning back to balance the huge cardboard box he was holding, muttering something in­comprehensible, he came straight at Malianov.

"You, er ... " Malianov mumbled, stepping aside.

The shabby fellow had already penetrated the foyer. He looked to the right, into the room, and turned determinedly to the left, into the kitchen, leaving dusty white footprints on the linoleum.

"Er, just a ... " muttered Malianov, hot on his heels.

The man put the box down on a stool and pulled out a batch of receipts from his pocket.

"Are you from the Tenants' Committee, or what?" For some reason, Malianov thought that perhaps the plumber had finally shown up to fix the bathroom sink.

"From the deli," the man said hoarsely and handed him two receipts pinned together. "Sign here."

"What is this?" Malianov asked, and saw that they were order blanks. Cognac — two bottles; vodka ... "Wait a minute, I don't think we ordered anything," he said.

He saw the tab. He panicked. He didn't have money like that in the apartment. And anyway, what was going on? His panic-stricken brain flashed vivid pictures of all kinds of com­plications, like explaining this away, refusing it, arguing, de­manding, phoning the store, or maybe even going there in person. But then he saw the purple paid stamp in the corner of the receipt and the name of the purchaser — I. E. Malianova. Irina! What the hell was going on?

"Just sign here," the shabby man insisted, pointing with his black nail. "Where the X is."

Malianov took the man's pencil stub and signed.

"Thanks," he said, returning the pencil. "Thanks a lot," he repeated, squeezing through the narrow foyer with the deliv­ery man. I should give him something, but I don't have any change. "Thank you very much. So long!" he called to the back of the tight jacket, viciously pushing back Kaliam with his leg. The cat was trying to get outside to lick the cement floor of the landing.

Then Malianov closed the door and stood in the dusky light. His head was muddled.

"Strange," he said aloud, and went back to the kitchen.

Kaliam was rubbing his head against the box. Malianov lifted the cover and saw tops of bottles, packages, bags, and cans. The copy of the receipt was on the table. So. The car­bon was smeared, as usual, but he could make out the hand­writing. Hero Street ... hmm ... everything seemed to be in order. Purchaser: I. E. Malianova. That was a nice hello! He looked at the total again. Mind-boggling! He turned the re­ceipt over. Nothing interesting on the other side. A squashed mosquito. What was the matter with Irina? Had she gone completely bananas? We're in debt for five hundred rubles. Wait, maybe she said something about this before she left? He tried to remember that day, the open suitcases, the mounds of clothes strewn all over the house, Irina half-dressed and wielding her iron. Don't forget to feed Kaliam, bring him some grass, the spiky kind; don't forget the rent; if my boss calls, give him my address. That seemed to be it. She had said something else, but Bobchik had run in with his machine gun. Oh yes! Take the sheets to the laundry. I don't understand a damn thing!

Malianov gingerly pulled a bottle out of the box. Cognac. At least fifteen rubles! Is it my birthday or something? When did Irina leave? Thursday, Wednesday, Tuesday. He bent back his fingers. It was ten days today that she left. That means she had placed the order ahead of time. Borrowed the money from somebody again and ordered it. A surprise. Five hun­dred in debt, you see, and she wants to give me a surprise! At least one thing was settled: he wouldn't have to go to the store. The rest was a fog as far as he was concerned. Birthday? No. Wedding anniversary? Didn't think so. No, definitely not. Bobchik's birthday? No, that's in the winter.

He counted the bottles. Ten of them. Who did she think would drink it all? I couldn't handle that much in a year!

Vecherovsky hardly drinks either, and she can't stand Val Weingarten.

Kaliam began howling terribly. He sensed something in the box.

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