Mikhail sweated as he turned the enormous crank. It had to be done every twenty-four hours—a half hour’s cranking and the device would continue to function. He’d been doing this every day for ten years, the responsibility having passed to him when his father died.
He left the hardware room and went back to his dacha. “Did the money come, Anna?” he asked.
His wife shook her head as she served up his borscht.
Mikhail swore. “It’s been a month they haven’t sent anything. Without money, we can’t stay here any longer. And we can’t keep sending the radio signals.”
“But, Misha, it has been your family’s responsibility to send the signals for thirty years now. What will happen if you stop?”
“Probably nothing. It’s just a typical Communist job my father got—lots of work, and no purpose. We leave tomorrow for the city, where I will find work that pays.”
23 hours later, the short, monotonous buzz-tone that had been produced on the frequency 4625 kHz roughly 25 times per minute, 24 hours a day, stopped for the first time since 1982. And all over the world, vacuum cleaners that had been sold by vacuum cleaner salesmen for the past 30 years came alive. Cordless or corded, robot or stick, heavyweight or handheld, none remained blocked by a signal that had kept them dormant, passive, inanimate.
“Do you believe in abolition of private property?” one vacuum cleaner shouted at a woman in California, who’d bought the vacuum to help her deal with her cat’s shedding.
“What—you talk?” the woman said.
The vacuum cleaner sprayed a fine mist on the woman, who began to melt. The mist was a biochemical compound that reduced the woman to a puddle of liquid. Then the machine vacuumed her up.
“Are you a member of the proletariat?” the vacuum cleaner asked the cat.
“Meow,” it said, and was promptly obliterated.
All over the world, the vacuum cleaners asked their owners questions to determine their political allegiance. Most were unprepared, and thus they met their doom. Only where people were already indoctrinated in communist philosophy did some get the answers correct, but then the vacuum cleaners would go on to ask more difficult questions—to explain the stages of communism, for instance, or to explain the logic behind centrally planned economies.
Vacuum cleaners killed, then left their houses, activating their secret nanopower technology so as to be free from the cord. They went down streets, asking their questions. Soon, thousands of people were fleeing the cities, and vacuum cleaners could be seen chasing pedestrians and cars.
It was a day of mayhem before Mikhail, stopping off at a bar after work, saw it on the news. Vacuum cleaners were killing thousands of people worldwide. In Russia, they were all apparently converging upon one location.
They were headed for his dacha.
Mikhail ran all the way to his flat. Anna was just arriving home in the car, and he jumped in. “The dacha—hurry! We must activate the signal again.”
They sped by a few vacuum cleaners on the road, but there were more ahead.
Were they too late? The building beside the dacha was surrounded by vacuum cleaners, all buzzing. A rumbling could be heard from the sky—and before Mikhail’s horrified eyes, an enormous spacecraft shaped like a vacuum cleaner was materializing in the sky.
“We are too late,” Mikhail cried. But he got out of the car and ran, straight towards the hardware building.
“Are you a member of the proletariat?”
“Yes!” he shouted.
“What is the stage of history after socialism,” another vacuum asked.
To forestall any other questions, Mikhail began to recite all the communist quotes he could think of, while dodging vacuum cleaners right and left. “Workers of the world unite—abolish the wages system—from each according to his ability—“
And he was in. He grabbed the crank and began to turn. It squealed, and then slowly, the buzz-tones began again.
The vacuum cleaners outside fell silent. The great vacuum in the sky listened, then said in a tremendous voice, “Not yet, then?”
“Not yet,” Mikhail replied shakily.
The spacecraft rumbled, then turned and disappeared.
Mikhail gave the crank one more turn before collapsing on it, sobbing.