Soon, the moment to die will come again. I do not look forward to it, but such is my duty to the revolution. For here, in the worker’s paradise, we all must fight for the future: from the nurse to the soldier to the peasant. But while they all trudge in the darkness of the present, the Futurographer scouts ahead to find the hard reefs of his death and map the future for all others.
And yet, what good is the cartography of my deaths in the Becomingness if it’s unable to spare my proletarian brothers and sisters? What good is being able to move swiftly through the dark chamber of uncertainty if we’re ultimately trapped in a jail—or even worse, the slaughterhouse?
Tonight, I’m being sent into the violent rapids of our future once more, but this time, I’m not to predict the outcome of a battle, but rather to help suppress insurrection at my home in Kronstadt. In a telegram, the Secretary of War, Citizen Leon Trotsky himself, demanded names—no fewer than a hundred—of those enemies of the revolution to be put under arrest and hanged.
The idea revolts me. I have many friends among the sailors, and I know what they stand for. Until now, Kronstadt’s sailors have been the Bolsheviks’ watchdogs and the revolution’s staunchest supporters. If they’re about to revolt, it’s not to sabotage revolution but rather to protect it. I know well that Ksana Vasilievna’s name would be on that list, and the thought makes me queasy with dread. She’s the one that started it all, but only because she was brave enough to come here to denounce the abuses in Petrograd.
When Dulkin, the head of the Cheka police in Kronstadt, came to me with the orders, I could have refused to help him, but that would have only made them question my own loyalty. Besides, if they’re asking me this, it must be because another Futurographer in Moscow has seen this rebellion. I want to prevent this senseless bloodbath. And for that, I need to outsmart them all. I must see for myself what’s to come.
This is why we’re here: Misha and I, skulking about the lower deck of the battleship Petropavlosk like thieves in the night. Dulkin is here with us—he says that he’s come to “protect us,” but I reckon he’s begun to suspect me. What else did that telegram say?
At least I have Misha to help me. He’s my friend, but he’s here tonight because I need him. He’s the only electrician on board that I trust to operate the Futurography machine, and he’s a member of the Communist party, so that makes Dulkin approve of him. Or so I hope.
In the cold of the Futurography chamber, I can see my breath loom in the air like a ghost. I can feel it too, seeping up from the frozen Baltic through the hull of the Petropavlosk. I can’t really move, strapped as I am to the Chronosthesic engine, but I can squirm to fight it.
Misha continues working diligently, and soon the engine comes to life, powered by coal and oil. My whole body tingles with both dread and excitement as I try to clear my mind of any thoughts, opening it to the humming of the machine. But then the clanking of approaching footsteps on the stairs outside reminds me that we’re still missing someone.
Misha cranes his head towards the closed door, and Dulkin reaches for his revolver.
“What did you tell the Firemen working the boilers, Anatoly Yuryevich?” Misha asks me in a low voice.
“Only that we were running some routine calibrations on the machine,” I force a calmed smile. I need time, as much as I can have.
The footsteps veer away into the distance and they both relax, even though Dulkin keeps his hand on the holster.
“Hurry up! How long do you need, Futurographer Kolchunov?” asks Dulkin.
“How long can you hold your breath, Citizen Dulkin?” I reply.
Dulkin’s eyes widen, and his grey, scrawny beard seems to part in a gaping crack of surprise. Misha chuckles softly, and I put on a coy smile. It’s quite a thrill to see this man—one of the all-powerful Chekists, the secret police—watch me as dumbfoundedly as if I were a mystic.
“It is like diving in the ice out there, or at least it triggers a similar response in my body: less breathing, less circulation, until the brain finally runs out of oxygen. Anything more than ten minutes is risky, anything more than twenty will certainly cause cerebral damage. So fear not, there’ll be time for a celebratory drink.”
Dulkin titters and I laugh with him. It helps to ease the tension a bit.
Misha reads aloud the display of the equalisers as the machine warms. With my free hand, I adjust the chronograph on my left wrist to help me track the passing of the minutes: February 28th, 1921. Elapsed travel time: 0 minutes. The reason a Futurographer never removes his chronograph is that they’re our compass in the Becomingness, marking both the current date and our time elapsed in the machine.
“Ready?” Misha asks.
I manage to move my chin in a slight gesture of assent. It’s time.
“Good luck, Anatoly,” he says.
“I’ll see you soon.”
Carefully, Misha raises the lever that opens the way for the electrical current to reach my cranium. A spark runs through my brain, lighting up my lethargic medial temporal lobe and flooding my head with endless fleeting images; the moment charges itself with an electrical effervescence.
My still body is held tightly by a dozen straps while my muscles contract in pain. As my perception breaks apart, a tingling sensation traverses my skin. It’s as if my body were shifting around my mind, recomposing itself and feeding me disconnected flashes of information. And yet, despite my painful immobility, my mind leaps forward at an impossible speed.
I enter the Becomingness naked of thoughts. Still, it’s difficult not to feel disoriented when my brain is flooded with waves of strange images and sensations. Even one’s eyes seem strange when they’re twisted by the tides of time. There is hardly time to understand or assimilate what I’ve seen before one image moves to the next, but from these fleeting encounters with my distorted reflections, shells of truth remain.
Stroke by stroke, I swim into the waters of the immediate future. There, I feel myself die often and rapidly. I discover a cluster of temporally close endings, a small island made up of a jumble of connected deaths. This might be exactly what I seek.
I fight to hold on to one wave. I cling to it and let soak me, engulf me. I must drown in it if I’m to understand.
March, 1921. Elapsed travel time: 2 minutes.
I suck in a mouthful of cold air before opening my eyes and checking my chronograph. I haven’t drifted too far away in time. I’m standing on one of the battlements of the fortresses on the island of Kronstadt. The Baltic Sea is a frozen flatland of unending whiteness that lies at my feet, and its only wave is a legion of soldiers that march over the plains under the fire of our guns.
This is what I feared. Not only the sailor’s bloody revolt but its suppression. And yet, somehow I’m decidedly on the side of the sailors. Why? Yes, they’re my comrades, but so are the Red Army soldiers.
I’ve barely begun searching my own mind for the answers when an artillery barrage hits the wall, blowing the world apart around me. At full speed, I feel the vertigo of the fall turn into terror. Before my body smashes to pieces against the ice, I jump away, forcing my mind to detach itself from this current and seeking my next death. I focus on my body, the one that’s trapped in the machine. It’s there even if I can’t feel it. I imagine my slow breathing, the unyielding cold, anything to shatter this illusion of death.
March, 1921. Elapsed travel time: 4 minutes.
My body convulses as I collide with a machine gun burst. I hit the ground, but what truly hurts are the gunshot wounds on my side and my left arm.
Around me, Kronstadt’s white streets are littered with uniformed corpses. Within arm’s reach, a comrade I don’t recognise lies face down, his sailor’s telnyashka shirt sown with lead and watered with blood.
Misha yells at me from a nearby alley. I try to gesture him away, but my muscles won’t respond. Too late, he lurches forward in search of my fallen body. I always knew I could trust him with my life. In Kazan, when the Whites’ bombs fell and hit the barge on which the Futurography machine was running, Misha pulled me out of the burning wreckage and took me ashore. Just like then, he runs towards me.
When he reaches my side, the Red Guards fire off their machine gun. The burst tears off half his mouth, and he falls by my side. He splatters me with his blood, like a muddy child playing with his friend. During those brief moments, whatever is left of his jaw opens and closes, trying to produce some sound. I manage to grab his arm, soaked in scarlet, trying to offer him some solace. Breathing has become difficult, and blood bubbles in my mouth. One of the bullets has pierced a lung.
This is a futile struggle. The sailors don’t stand a chance against the might of the entire Red Army. We don’t stand a chance. Still, I manage to move, propelled by deep anger. Despite the pain, I push myself upwards, every ounce of will against the gravity of my dying body. I only manage to kneel, but that’s enough. Enough to wield my revolver and empty it against one of the soldiers handling the machine gun a few metres away. The young Red Army soldier falls dead instantly.
This is it. The end of the Soviet dream. Proletarian brother murdering Proletarian brother.
I drop my smoking weapon while a trickle of blood cascades down my mouth, warm and intoxicating. I’m too close to the end, too tightly held by its embrace. My entrails tremble with pain. I don’t have the time to codify the memories from this life.
I need another stream, a different branch of my own history. Within the Becomingness, I graze through other oceanic currents:
There, I’m bleeding to death in Kronstadt, torn apart by rifle fire in the Anchor Square.
There, I suffocate in the fires of the Engineering School.
There, I’m shot against a white wall with other brother rebels.
But surely there is a way out of this. If not peace, at least escape? I swim away, I swim to a current that leaves the island.
Only in the workers’ paradise, thanks to the geniuses of Citizens Pavlov and Theremin, have the volumes of time been pried open and mapped for the advancement of the revolution. With Theremin’s Engine for Predictive Historical Materialism, a trained Futurographer can reveal a fraction of futures to come in the same way a chess player may project future positions on the board. But unlike the omniscient chess player, I can’t see the entire board. I’m only a piece, a willing pawn—a knight perhaps—limited in awareness to his own moves. But in the right combination, my moves may reveal more.
Experiencing your final throes over and over is a strange sort of torture, but I have only myself to blame. Like a hunting dog, my mind has been trained to sniff out my own death and track it. It was Comrade Pavlov, the other father of Futurography, who theorised that one’s death might act as a cartographic milestone. My endings are the reefs against which the swell of my time breaks, the shores on which my stream bleeds out roaring. Knowing them allows me to draw the shape of the seas we’re to traverse in the future.
But how many deaths can a mind experience without falling apart? During our hasty training at Comrade Ioffe’s Institute in Petrograd, the majority of my class quit before they completed their training. It is telling that they would prefer to go back to the frontlines to fight the Whites rather than lose their sanity.
Of those of us who didn’t abandon their studies, the majority succumbed to chronosthesic delirium. I remember some of them being dragged away from the machine, forever lost into a state of vegetative idiocy. I also remember a friend, a young Ukranian engineer, forever possessed by constant hysterical attacks and atemporal ravings.
Not many of us were spared. And then we were taken to the front and employed to predict Admiral Kolchak’s battle plans and actions. We helped to turn the tide at the direst hour in Kazan and saved uncountable lives. But at what cost?
Somehow I survived it all with only some shrapnel in my left leg and a few horrible images locked in my mind, but my fellow Futurographers were not so lucky. I was among the few to remain in active service, assigned to Kronstadt. How was I different from my comrades? Was it my fondness for chess and calculating possible scenarios? Or was my mind singularly shaped to cope with death?
If anything spared my mind from decay, it was my blind love for the revolution, my desperate hope that there was a purpose to all this suffering. A justification, a final utopia waiting for us at the end of the road. Predictive Materialism is a scientific discipline, but it does require a sort of faith: an unbreakable certainty that there will be a better tomorrow that justifies the tribulations we’re faced with now.
March, 1921. Elapsed travel time: 7 minutes.
In the darkness of the night, I stop, panting, and check the chronograph before resuming our desperate flight from the Bolsheviks through the frozen plain that separates us from Finland. By my side, several sailors advance, armed with their rifles, bags, blankets, and whatever little else they’ve been able to hastily salvage from the city. Cold and fatigue gnaw at both our skin and the muscles beneath it. When I turn, I see her, a woman laden with heavy filming equipment. In fact, with the same camera that started it all.
She trudges ahead, but there’s a stubborn grace to her. Perhaps it’s because of her distinguished bearing and features, or her auburn hair, messy and wild. When one of her film cases falls to the ground and rolls away, she stops.
After considering, I drop my rifle and run to her aid. I help her pick it up and then, a lone bullet hits me in the leg. I bite back a curse. The pursuing soldiers are almost upon us.
“Take your camera and run, Ksana!”
“Anatoly!” she responds, gripping her camera tightly but hesitating over me.
“Go, please! You need to show them everything!”
She mouths something I can’t hear, an apology perhaps, or a goodbye—still, she doesn’t waver, and bolts away.
The bullet must have cut through an artery, for I’m bleeding out quickly. We were fleeing, but where to? It doesn’t really matter. This Anatoly cares for her enough to try to escape with her from the fighting in Kronstadt.
I step back into the Becomingness, tracing other currents running in parallel. There aren’t many. I seem to perish far more often than not in the rebellion. But if I escape, it seems to be with her. How come she suddenly means so much to me?
I still remember when she arrived on the island. Many scoffed at her, an idealistic member of the intelligentsia among the rough sailors, but I saw more than that. Behind her two shining blue irises, I saw the revolution in flesh and bone: a new world in which our comrades, proletarian women, have opportunities beyond the labour of the fields, the work at the factories, or the raising of a family.
When she tried showing us her reels from Petrograd, nobody took her seriously at first. The city is not even a day away; certainly we knew what was happening there. But then we saw it all.
We saw workers of all kinds, from the steel factories to the tobacco plants, protesting in the streets. We saw the army dispersing them with gunfire. We saw soldiers forcing those same workers to remain in their posts at gunpoint. Her reels were an eye-opening mirror, one that showed a Petrograd very much like the one we had liberated from the Tsar.
The old Tsar might be dead, but still the people starved and died by the hand of the army. It didn’t matter that the Bolsheviks were wielding the weapons, the workers were the ones wounded. “A few moving pictures aren’t the truth,” the Bolshevik Commissar on the island said, but it was too late. Those moving pictures had lit a fuse, and the whole naval base was aflame. In just a matter of hours, the sailors, until then some of the staunchest watchdogs of Communism, were loudly denouncing its abuses.
I spent hours debating with Ksana Vasilievna. She argued the need for immediate change, while I defended the necessity of a long term view. I spoke in favour of predictive materialism and of Futurography to show us the way and on strong leadership to bring forth that vision. She countered saying that no future could be conquered without gaining a foothold in the hearts and minds of today’s women and men.
And yet, what I remember most is her smile and the contagious wonder in her words as if she were a storyteller sharing a captivating fairytale instead of outlining the principles of a new world. Was it then that I began to care for her? Possibly. But when did I start to care for her more than I’ve ever cared for the revolution?
I reject this notion. All these years, I’ve lived and died to serve the revolution. I’ve known no love other than my faith in our future, no family other than my brother sailors.
Mine is an agnostic and empirical love to the cause. A thousand times over, I’ve seen what it will do to me, and still, I believe that we’ll make a better world. My only devotion is to the incandescent truths born in the darkness of the Futurography chamber.
What does my own happiness matter when compared to the freedom of the people? Though when I stop to consider… why have I been forced to choose?
I can see the rebellion of the sailors ending in a furious bloodbath one way or another, but this is not an answer. I must go deeper in time.
I know that a Futurographical journey of such magnitude is a reckless endeavour. All those I knew who attempted it died or were committed because of chronosthesic delirium. Their brains collapsed under the sheer volume of raw information or decayed because of the time spent in the machine.
And yet I must try.
How could I abandon the sailors, Misha, and Ksana Vasilievna to die? I must find answers. I must find a way out for us all.
Furiously, I swim forward, trying not to let the stream pull me too far, but the current is far stronger than I had anticipated. It pushes me with the strength of a tempest.
October, 1925. Elapsed travel time: Uncertain. 9 minutes (estimated).
We’re making our way through the thick snow in the middle of a Siberian blizzard. The wind lashes at us angrily through our prisoners’ uniforms, little more than soaked rags. In this wave, they’ve taken my chronograph from me, so I’m forced to count the seconds mentally.
Misha is helping me carry a heavy beam. Even here, in this grim place crafted to break the human spirit, he is a brother to me. But there’s not much left of me, or him for that matter; we’re both dregs of the revolution. Refuse left behind by the purges, and then vomited into this frozen graveyard.
I skim through my memories quickly, trying to understand whether this is a result of the Kronstadt rebellion, but the truth is worse than that: even remaining faithful to the Bolsheviks, we’ve been sent to a gulag. Comrade Stalin and his ilk despise us; they’ve deemed Futurography a threat too big for the party.
Intense dizziness hits me. My nose bleeds and my lungs burn, but the worst thing is my heart. Worn out after years of wasting away in this work-camp, each step I take forward is a colossal struggle. My arms begin shaking.
“Hold on, Anatoly! Just a little longer!” Misha yells.
But my arms won’t listen, and I let go of my side of the beam. Misha curses, but I can’t even apologise. I collapse on the snow, breathing heavily as pain fills my chest.
He rushes towards me, and his gaunt, bearded face creates a stark outline against the shifting whiteness of the skies.
I try uttering some words; I want him to know how sorry I am for abandoning him to his fate. But he can’t hear me under the wailing winds.
He holds my hand as pain tears through my heart like a bullet. I can’t stay in the machine much longer without risking neuronal damage. I clench my teeth and leap onto a nearby wave in the Becomingness.
June, 1927. Elapsed travel time: 11 minutes (est.).
I’m atop a scaffold at the centre of St. Vasily’s Descent in Moscow. My neck is tightly wrapped in a rough noose, warm in the cold evening’s breeze.
I’m not alone. I share the scaffold with other Futurographers. Citizen Theremin isn’t among us; he’s fled to America, or so they say. A quiet crowd has gathered to watch us die. There’s more of them than I’d have anticipated, but they keep a respectful silence. I search for familiar faces among them, but the grey and chapped countenances all look the same from here.
They don’t even seem all human. They are hollow beings, devoured by a hunger born from years of famine and scarcity. A hunger so deep that it’s eaten every single one of the dreams they once held inside themselves.
Someone else from Kronstadt is here with us: Citizen Dulkin reads aloud a summary of our trial, including our signed confessions of having betrayed the Proletariat by offering false reports to the party. “They’ve wilfully misguided the Party! They’ve sabotaged the economic planning and brought us famine and poverty!”
He’s lying. They’ve ignored our reports over and over, because hunger is a tool for them. The Bolsheviks have swallowed the revolution and turned it into a grim masquerade. Prisoners turn into frozen skeletons in the depths of the gulags. Shooting squads play the music of their guns for blindfolded audiences. And we, the hanged men, dance for the crowds in public squares. They’ve turned the revolution into a melting furnace where we’re all to be remade to the image of the party.
“Behold, comrades! This is the fate reserved to all who defy the dictatorship of the Proletariat! To all those who dare threaten the glorious future the party has built for us!”
“We’ll see each other again, Citizen Dulkin,” I say defiantly, but my voice is cracked.
Dulkin looks at me with hatred and kicks the stool from beneath my feet. I plummet towards my death. As the blood begins clogging my head and I lurch with my dangling legs, I push myself out.
August, 1928. Elapsed travel time: 13 minutes (est.).
I open my eyes to a blurry image of white and red. It’s difficult to breathe and my heart hurts with a burning sensation, but I force my eyes wide open.
I’m tied to a chair, head leaning over my chest, facing a cellar floor of immaculate tiles stained by a mosaic of blood drops. My legs radiate in excruciating waves of pain, but even so, it takes me a while to recognise those two grotesque sculptures of purplish meat for what they are: they are what’s left of my feet, ankles, and knees.
Dulkin is seated by my side. His uniform is crumpled, and there are deep shadows underneath his eyes. His revolver rests on his lap, and he’s leaning back in his chair, waiting for a cigarette to die in my lips. In the chilly air of the room, the smoke of my cigarette floats like a playful ghost. Am I in the Cheka prison in Moscow? Or is this the one in Kronstadt? The memories of different purges dance in my mind, mingling and shifting.
“It was always bound to end like this, Anatoly, don’t you see? Communism, our glorious future, is unstoppable. It’s bigger than you or me. Before the revolution, history was a locomotive out of control, one bound to crash and drag us all with it, but now the party will lay the tracks in the right direction. Perhaps the Patriarchs weren’t wrong after all. Man is flawed and needs a perfect and omnipotent God to rule over it. But that is the party, is it not?”
What does he want from me? To beg? Or is it to reassure him? I inhale one last time and then let the butt fall to my lap. When it touches me, I only feel a distant burn, incapable of disrupting the serenity that fills me around the agony of my legs. I manage to croak a reply: “Who are you trying to convince, Dulkin, me or yourself?”
He leans forward as if eager to share a confidence.
“You think yourself better than me, Kolchunov? You think you’re the only one who isn’t blinded by the illusion of time? You think that you can swim away to another “wave” to escape this? Well, here’s the truth for you, Anatoly: all waves are headed in the same direction. With Comrade Trotsky at the helm, we’ll use Futurography to steer the world towards the utopia. Who cares if you think that your vision for the future is different? It means nothing in the grand scheme of things. Your voice means nothing.”
“And yours does?”
“Neither does mine. The collective will of the Proletariat is absolute, don’t you understand? Change and revolution are for the many, for every single Proletarian of the world! The future too belongs to the collective… And for the revolution to triumph, for us to defeat Imperialistic Capitalism and bourgeoisie democracy, we must eliminate any dissidence!”
“Dissidence and liberty…”
He’s sweating now, agitated: “What don’t you understand? Individual liberty is dissidence! Liberty is an illusion. That was never the struggle! None of us can be truly free until we’re all free… If only you had seen this! There’s still time for you to help us, Anatoly. To help us steer the future together with the party.”
“Keep saying that to yourself.”
“A man matters nothing, Anatoly! Even if he’s a Futurographer! Tell me that I’m wrong! Tell me that you’ve seen different.”
“You can’t quench human thirst for freedom.”
“Perhaps. But we can quell rebellion, as we did with the sailors.”
“I am still here, am I not?”
“No. You’re wrong. You’re not. I will hunt and kill you as many times as it’s necessary, Kolchunov.”
He places the barrel of his gun to my temple, and I swim away before the discharge.
He can’t be right. His mind is too narrow, his eyes too small to contain the potential of the revolution. Humanity’s yearning for freedom is far larger than this, thus the revolution must be more than this. It must be.
I swim through the pain:
There, my heart is giving up in the middle of torture in the Cheka’s dungeons.
There, I’m dancing the hangman’s dance once more in Petrograd.
There, my very marrow freezes in the cruel Siberian winter.
I want to prove him wrong. But my time has already run out, and the deeper I enter the Becomingness, the more dire the prospects seem. Still, I have to find an answer—I have to find a spark of hope. Some proof that this isn’t it all doomed: the revolution, the unrest in Petrograd and Kronstadt… Humanity’s dream of liberty.
Somewhere in my past, my body begins convulsing. I ignore it. I force myself to keep searching, to venture the farthest I’ve ever been, despite the length of time I’ve spent in the machine, despite the decaying of my mind.
I sink into a turbulent ocean of rapid and violent currents. A hundred blurry endings slip slowly through my throat like razors, drowning me in my own blood. Even catching glimpses of them hurts.
There, I am running through Berlin’s crowded streets when they finally shoot me in the back.
There, I’m trudging through Chicago’s blasted concrete landscape when I step on a mine.
I wish I could flee, return to my warm flesh, to the blindness of immediacy. But I can’t. This is who I am. I’ve lived for this future, for the foolish promise that humanity would grow wiser.
Instead, there’s an island, an entire continent of war and destruction ahead of me. It stretches in every direction, a global war that devours the world. I die over and over again, in Trotskygrad, London, Amsterdam, a thousand deaths for the revolution. Is this the price of world revolution? Will the world be remade into paradise through another Great War?
And then I find a gnawing hole in the ocean, a trench into which lives fall and becomes nothingness. Somehow, time itself runs dry. Somehow, the future has devised weapons and horrors capable of putting an end to everything.
The hole sucks me in, but I fight it with every bit of strength left in me. It’s not courage but fear that possesses me. I swim backwards, reeling in horror. I force myself to ignore the cold of millions of images burning through my closed eyelids in rapid succession. I push back through huge waves of time, entire lives, joyous and miserable, yet to be lived. But all for what? Perhaps I deserve to die here. Perhaps this is my punishment.
I gain some distance from the maelstrom but at a great cost. I’m now too spent, and I’ve lost my bearing. When a wave hits me from behind, I’m too weak to resist it and it traps me in its grasp.
May, 1937. Elapsed travel time: 19 minutes (est.).
I’m standing at the end of a pier in Barcelona’s harbour. This sea is foreign to me, its deep blue waters nothing like the Baltic’s charcoal grey. A salty wind runs over the docks, mixed with the toasted afternoon air. But I can’t quite enjoy the scene. Even if this country is at war, even though I’m a soldier, I’m an outcast, a sombre stain in the human landscape of this city.
But I’m not alone in this solitude. Ksana Vasilievna is curled up against my chest, as if she prefers the sound of my heart to the rumour of the waves. Here, she isn’t Citizen Shatunova anymore, but just Ksana. I can see the passing of the years in the premature wrinkles of her face, but she still has the same brilliant eyes. Not only is she still beautiful, but now she carries the gravitas of someone who has seen whole cities dissolve like sand castles with the tide.
Soon they’ll come for us. Spain is having its own war, but also its own revolution. Anarchists and Socialists are remaking society here, and yet they’re hunted, not just by the Fascists but also by the Bolsheviks.
Even here, the Cheka will make sure that only the Bolsheviks can craft the future of the revolution. They’ll purge the Spanish Anarchists if they must, and they’ll certainly execute two self-exiled traitors like us. We could have hidden somewhere else, but Ksana didn’t want to. Even facing death, she isn’t afraid.
She came, and I followed. Here, she’s fought for revolution and change in the only way she knows: with words and images. With her reels from Kronstadt and other places. With her truths about our victories and our failings. For the revolution is never done, and never right, and she helps birth it over and over again, with truth and inspiration.
Ksana stops me when she sees me examining the chronograph. She reaches for my face and forces me to meet her eyes.
“Is it time, my love? Well then, Anatoly, I need you to remember this. Even if it doesn’t end like one of Pushkin’s fairy tales, this moment matters. You and I, and this moment, we all matter. There are fires that can never be extinguished. Just like us.”
Then she stands on her tiptoes and places a deep kiss on my lips. A spark burns within my heart. The emotion reaches me cushioned, just like the sound of bullets through the waters in Kazan, but even so it hits the mark.
I can feel the gravitational pulse of this time, of her and our shared journey. Why would I want to return to Kronstadt’s cold and hunger, rather than remain here by her side? If only I could remain here! This must be the root for cronosthesic delirium: getting lost on some island of the future like a castaway. If I stay with her, my heart will collapse, while my brain makes a futile attempt to to codify a whole life yet to be lived. And yet, even knowing that, I’m tempted, drawn to her and this moment.
The spell breaks when we hear a group of men approaching us. The few scrawny fishermen and children around us scatter away as soon as they see the weapons. They’d be even more scared if they recognised the man leading them.
“At last, camaradas!” Dulkin calls to us. “I feared that you might have left the city already. Luckily, there’s still time for a proper farewell.”
He addresses those accompanying him in Spanish. I don’t need to hear him to tell what he’s saying. As the Chekists raise their guns, I hug Ksana and shield her with my body.
“Don’t worry, love. I won’t forget.”
We kiss, and their fusillade pierces my back, bullets cutting through ribs and lungs. For once, the hardest part isn’t dying, but rather letting her go.
I have in me a final stroke, but not much more. I want to return home, to life. But now more than ever do I want to prevent this senseless bloodbath.
With one last effort, I push myself back towards the point of origin. Nausea pinches at the bottom of my stomach, the waves striking me until I catch a slow one. I sink into it, soak myself in it. I let it infect every skin pore, permeate every sensory detail. I drown in it.
Ksana’s face is the first thing I see when I open my eyes. She’s holding a wet cloth against my forehead.
“He’s awake!” she calls out.
My face is covered in sweat, and I have trouble breathing. My nostrils are inundated with the sticky aroma of blood. When I search around, I realise I’m lying on the floor of the Futurography chamber and that the room seems to have been seized by armed sailors. Some have Misha and Dulkin pinned against the wall. Ksana Vasilievna seems to be leading them.
They all stutter at different speeds, as my mind struggles to synchronise itself with the present.
“For a moment I thought you had died on me. But it turns out that you were just sleeping, just like—”
“The princess in Pushkin’s tale,” I manage to interject.
“Yes! The dead Princess and the seven knights… But how?” Her bright eyes narrow. She must understand, or intuit what I’ve seen.
“Enough! Tell us, what’s happening here?” The man addressing me is one of the leaders among the sailors, a dark-moustached fireman that holds the barrel of his gun firmly against Misha’s chest.
“They’ve been planning to arrest and kill us all!” some scrawny blond sailor calls from the back. “I told you that the Bolsheviks wouldn’t let us protest peacefully!”
“You’re damn right about that!” boasts Dulkin. “We’ll never give away power, for such is our duty to the revolution. Surrender your weapons now, and I assure you that your rebellion will be forgiven!”
His little speech is interrupted when someone punches him. Soon, another blow follows, and some other sailor hits Misha with the butt of his rifle. “Let’s kill these Chekists!” someone yells, and I can see the young blond sailor point his rifle at me.
Ksana Vasilievna rises to stop them with her arms outstretched. For a moment, I fear she too might be struck down, but the sailor backs off.
“Let him speak! He’s risked his life to find what awaits us. He’s the only one who can tell us whether rebelling against the Bolshevik rule will accomplish anything!” she yells.
The sailors seem to hesitate, but the coaler turns to address her: “You want us to trust a Chekist?”
“Anatoly Yuryevich is a Futurographer, but he isn’t a Chekist. In fact, he’s the one who told me about this experiment he was doing. He wanted me here to witness it, to film it for all of us. He loves the revolution like us.” She turns to face me, and her confusion has shifted into something else: fear, but also a strange recognition. “He has my trust.”
The fireman slowly gives in. “Very well, speak then! What did you see, Futurographer?”
Ksana turns on her phonograph, and all of the sudden, my throat is dry. “Tell us, Comrade,” Ksana beseeches me. “Tell everyone what you saw.” Everyone’s eyes are on me. Those of the sailors gleam with renewed hopes. Am I willing to smash their dreams? To tell them that they will most likely fail? Dulkin offers me a crooked smile, certain of his hold on things. Am I ready to denounce the Party and sign my own death warrant?
I could craft the right lie to avoid it all. Something pleasant to appease both sides, a tale to buy us some time and allow Misha and I to escape the island before it all goes to hell. We could steal some horses and ride all the way to Finland. Run away before it’s too late.
But I can see in Ksana’s eyes that it wouldn’t be enough for her. As if she can feel my doubts, she speaks: “Comrade Kolchunov—Anatoly, just give us the truth. It’s the only thing we want.”
So I tell them.
I tell them everything. I speak both of the terrible purges and the doomed rebellion. I tell them how the revolution is to become an inhospitable country, a mother that devours its children, a war waged on the present in the name of a future that will never arrive. A future so perfect and pure that it shall never touch us. An idea that will just loom, admitting no compromise, no concession. On its name, the Bolsheviks shall make righteous all sacrifices and atrocities. On its name, all liberties will be postponed, all voices made one.
But history can be remade. In fact, I tell them, it is now being remade in front of my eyes. In Kronstadt, the voice of the revolution has been returned to the throats of the people. The present belongs to them, and only to them. Life is no longer to be postponed; it now must be lived.
The Bolsheviks might unleash the mighty fury of the Red Army to kill us all, but they can’t prevent us from lighting a beacon.
And then, as if to punctuate my words, a shot explodes in the room.
I’m lying on the floor looking upwards, a bullet wound burning in my side. Dulkin struggles as they take his revolver, but he still manages to scream at me as they drag him away: “How much gold have they promised you for your lies, Kolchunov? You’re nothing but traitorous Tsarist scum! You shall pay for all these lies!”
This is the final nail in their coffin. The Bolsheviks have already lost control of Kronstadt, the sailors will rebel, and their fire will be seen through the ages. These people fear neither the Bolshevik’s wrath, nor the other dented reefs of Becomingness. Their hearts are swollen with a timeless love for liberty. And this is the only compass that will ever guide them.
I’m bleeding and my vision is blurry, but I manage to see Misha persuade the sailors to let him run to fetch a doctor. Then, Ksana kneels by my side and places her hands over mine, helping me put pressure on the wound.
I know death, the final destination of all of my journeys. And yet, despite our familiarity, I reject it. I cling to these seconds and this burning breath. Right now life feels more than a fleeting dream of the Futurography chamber. It is a fraction of infinity waiting to be conquered. It must be seized, the momentary must be made momentous.