Copyright Arcady and Boris Strugatsky
Copyright 2002 Translated by Vera Zaychik, zaychik@drexel.edu
Origin: "Spontanniy refleks"

Utm got bored.
In general, boredom as a reaction to the tedium and monotony of
surroundings or inner dissatisfaction with oneself, and loss of interest in
life, are only characteristic of Man and some animals. To be bored one needs
to have something to be bored with, so to say, - that is, a delicately and
perfectly organized nervous system. One needs the capacity for abstract
thought or, at the very least, suffering. Utm had no nervous system in the
common sense of the word, and he did not ponder abstract thoughts. What is
more, he did not know how to suffer. He only took in his surroundings,
memorized and acted. Nevertheless, he got bored.
The thing is, nothing new around him was left to memorize since the
Master left. Accumulation of new impressions was the main stimulus governing
Utm and triggering his actions. He was possessed by insatiable curiosity,
voracious thirst to take in and memorize as much as possible. If there were
no unknown facts and phenomenon, they had to be found.
However, Utm's surroundings were familiar to him 'til the last
brushstroke and last touch. He remembered this spacious square area with
rough gray walls, low ceiling and steel door from the very first moment of
his existence. It always smelled of warm steel and insulating fluid. Some
barely discernable low humming could be heard from somewhere above - people
could not hear him without special equipment, but Utm could hear everything
perfectly. The fluorescent lamps below the ceiling were off but Utm could
see the room perfectly in infrared light and through the impulses of his
So Utm got bored and decided to go in search of new sensations. It had
been half an hour since Master left. Utm knew through experience that Master
would not come back any time soon. This was very important since once when
Utm had endeavored to take a little walk around the room without an order,
his Master caught him in the act and did something that left Utm
incapacitated and unable to move even his sonar arrays. Though it seemed
this was not something to be worried about at the moment.
Utm swayed and made a heavy step forward. Cement floor resonated under
his thick rubber soles and Utm stopped for a moment to listen. He even
stooped. But the range of sounds emitted by the vibrating cement had nothing
unfamiliar in it, and Utm again headed for the opposing wall. He came up
really close to it and sniffed. The wall smelled of wet concrete and rusting
steel. Nothing new here. So Utm turned, scratching the wall with his sharp
steel elbow in the process, crossed the room diagonally and stopped in front
of the door. It was not self-evident how to open the door and Utm did not
immediately figure out how to accomplish that operation. He stretched out
his jagged left arm-manipulator, nimbly grabbed the door knob and turned it.
The door opened with a long low screech. This was amusing and Utm spent
several minutes opening and closing it, iterating between slow and fast,
listening and memorizing. Then he crossed over the high doorstep and found
himself in front of the stairs. The staircase was narrow, with stone steps,
and somewhat high. Utm immediately counted eighteen steps till the first
landing which was lighted. He unhurriedly proceeded upstairs. Another set of
stairs, wooden, with ten steps, was leading from the landing, and a wide
hall was opening up on the right. Hesitatingly Utm turned right. He did not
know why. The hallway was in no way more interesting than the stairs.
Perhaps Utm did not like the look of the wooden steps much.
Warmth was coming from the hallway which was brightly lit with infrared
light. The light was emitted by the ribbed cylinders hanging low above the
floor. Utm had never seen steam heaters and these ribbed cylinders captured
his attention. He stooped and grabbed one of them with both pincers. Short
sound of ripping metal could be heard, and a thick cloud of hot steam rose
up to the ceiling. Boiling water gushed at Utms feet. Utm lifted the
cylinder to his head, looked it over carefully, and investigated torn edges
of the pipe. Then the cylinder was tossed aside and Utms feet splashed in
the puddles. Utm reached the end of the corridor. A red sign lighted above
the low door. "Danger! Do not enter without an environment suit!" read Utm.
He knew the word "Danger", but he also knew that this word was always
applied to people. The word had no relevance for him. He stretched his hand
and pushed the door in.
There was a lot new and interesting here. He was standing at the
entrance to a vast room filled with metal, stone, and plastic objects. A
round concrete construction covered in steel or lead shielding that looked
like a flat stand stood in the middle of the room. Numerous cables emerging
from it ran along walls covered in marble boards with sparkling gadgets and
switches. Copper-wire fencing surrounded this concrete pedestal and shiny
jointed rods hung from the ceiling. The rods ended in the same forceps and
pincers like the ones Utm had. Silently stepping on the tile floor, Utm
approached the copper net and walked around it. Then he stopped and walked
around it again. There was no break in the net. Utm lifted one leg and
walked through the net without an effort. Torn pieces of copper web clang to
his shoulders. Not two steps before the concrete stand he stopped dead in
his tracks. His round globe-like head cautiously turned left and right,
acoustic receptors moved out and about, sonar antenna quivered. Lead
covering on the stand emitted infrared light noticeable even in this warm
area. Aside from that though it gave off some ultra-emission. Utm could see
pretty well in x- and gamma rays and it looked to him as if the lid was
transparent and opened up into an endless narrow well filled with sparkling
dust. An order surfaced from the depth of Utms memory: leave immediately.
Utm did not know who gave this order and when. Most likely he emerged into
this world with the ready knowledge of this, along with many other things.
But Utm did not obey the order. Curiosity was stronger. He leaned above the
stand, extended his pincers and lifted the lid with some effort.
The flood of gamma rays blinded him. The marble boards blinked with red
warning lights, as an alarm went off. For a brief moment he saw the bowels
of the concrete abyss through the transparent outlines of his arms, then
dropped the lid and exclaimed in a low rasping voice, "Danger! Opasnost'!
Gefar! Waysan! Abunai!"
A loud echo resonated throughout the room and died away. Utm turned his
upper body full hundred and eighty degrees and hurried towards the exit. The
shock caused by the radioactive particles in his control circuits was
directing him away from the concrete stand. Without a doubt, neither the
harshest radiation nor most powerful floods of particles could cause Utm any
harm; had he been in the active reactor zone itself he would not suffer any
severe consequences. But whoever had created Utm gave him a preference to
keep as far away from sources of strong radiation as possible. Utm came out
into the hallway, carefully and meticulously closed the door behind him,
stepped over the ribbed steam radiator and found himself once again on the
stair landing. There he immediately saw a person hurriedly coming down the
wooden steps.
This person was much shorter than Master. They wore loose-fitting
light-colored clothing. Their hair was unusually long and of golden color.
Utm had never seen such a human before. He sniffed the air and sensed the
familiar smell of white lilacs. Master smelled the same exact way, but
fainter, sometimes.
The landing was faintly lit while the stairs behind the girl were lit
brightly, so she did not see the bulky outline of Utms immense body right
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