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I still remember

I still remember that nuclear submarines can travel under water for one hundred and twenty days, or even longer – if they have enough food; and if the refrigeration stops working, then you need to eat the meat to start with – in huge chunks for breakfast, lunch and dinner, after soaking it in mustard for a day, and then – the tinned food: you can hang on for many days thanks to tinned food. And then the grains and dry bread come into play – you can hold on till you get to shore. And when you arrive you have a day or two to stock up and again they send you out to sea on an equally long patrol.

I remember my compartment and all the equipment in it; I shut my eyes – and it’s all there in front of me, and I can remember all the other compart ments, too. I can even travel around them in my mind. I remember where the pipelines are, and where they lead to, where the hatches are positioned, the speedometer, the railings, the airlocking doors. I know how many steps to reach them if you screw up your eyes, hold your breath, if the place is filled with smoke, and you’re feeling your way blindly from one airlocking door to the next.

I remember how the body of the boat creaks in a sudden dive and how it creaks when the boat falls to the very depths; when it goes down like a rock, then it’s impossible to open the door to the command cabin because the hulk is pressed against the depths and the door is squeezed in around its perimeter. That can happen, too, at the “jamming of the large stern rudder in a dive”. Then the boat rushes down, nose-first, and it can be squashed at the bottom, then nobody can do anything, so they shout from the central post – “Bubble in the nose! Full speed backwards!” and whoever is still standing, dashes off to the bow headlong through the flying boxes.

I remember that the maximal differential balance is 30 degrees and how the boat hovers at that, and everyone’s eyes jump up into their foreheads and everything is damp to your pants, and there’s no air in your lungs, and there’s such silence onboard you can hear the water splashing around the light hulk, and then the boat shivers and “settles”, and you “settle” with the boat, and inside it’s as if a string has broken, and your legs aren’t what they used to be – they won’t hold you, and you sit down on anything you can find and you sit – not moving a muscle, and then you are filled with such joy that you laugh and laugh…

I know that every half hour the watch must go around the compartment and report to the central post; I know that if anything happens you mustn’t step out of your compartment, you must stay in it, shut the airtight door and do your best to stay alive; and if that “something” happens in the compart- ment next to yours and they’re jumping up and down trying to get to yours, crazed, shaking, then it’s your holy duty to drive them back with kicks, lock the door with the bolt – let them fight.

And I also know that boats sometimes perish from a trifling fire when there’s been a tiny little spark but they’ve been slow to deal with it – and suddenly every thing’s burning, and they bring a fire-extinguisher from the central post, but they get confused and give it to the wrong compartment, and people start suffocating in there, and they give high pressure air to the one which is burning up – also by mistake, of course, and for some reason the fuel tanks are squashed and they blaze up like an open-hearth fire and the men – amazingly, they’re still alive – run like mad, you won’t be able to hold them back anymore; and something all around is falling, falling, cracking, exploding, collapsing, shifting, and a fiery whirlwind is travelling along the corridors, and men are burning up, crackling, like straw, and here bulkhead stuffing boxes of a demag netising device have burnt to ashes, and the compartment is filling with water, and through the ventilation shafts and through some other way – the devil only knows which one – the neighbouring cabin is filling up with water, and in the central post, they’re still trying to get the right differential, still plugging away at the differential but can’t seem to get the right differential for the life of them…

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