PRAISE FOR THE NOVELS OF
“Farmer’s blend of intellectual daring and pulp-fiction prose found a worldwide audience.…Sprawling, episodic works gave him room to explore the nuances of a provocative premise while indulging his taste for lurid, violent action.”
—The New York Times
To Your Scattered Bodies Go
“One of the most imaginative worlds in science fiction!”
“From the beginning, To Your Scattered Bodies Go gripped me in a way few books have been able to match.”
The Dark Design
“Its publication is an event with a capital E!”
—Parade of Books
The Magic Labyrinth
“A wide-screen adventure that never fails to provoke, amuse, and educate…His imagination is of the first rank…his velocity breathtaking.…Charts a territory somewhere between Gulliver’s Travels and The Lord of the Rings.”
“This book, like the series as a whole, offers delight to the sense of wonder and storytelling flow as irresistible as the river itself.”
BY THE SAME AUTHOR
Doc Savage: His Apocalyptic Life
Time’s Last Gift
Traitor to the Living
The Stone God Awakens
Behind the Walls of Terra
Image of the Beast
A Feast Unknown
The Gates of Creation
The Maker of Universes
Night of Light
A Private Cosmos
The Wind Whales of Ishmael
The Lavalite World
Jesus on Mars
Dark Is the Sun
The Unreasoning Mask
The Alley God
The Book of Philip José Farmer
THE RIVERWORLD SERIES
To Your Scattered Bodies Go
The Fabulous Riverboat
The Dark Design
The Magic Labyrinth
The Gods of Riverworld
Riverworld and Other Stories
Riverworld: Including To Your Scattered Bodies Go
and The Fabulous Riverboat
Red Orc’s Rage
The Dark Heart of Time: A Tarzan Novel
PHILIP JOSÉ FARMER
A TOM DOHERTY ASSOCIATES BOOK
This is a work of fiction. All of the characters, organizations, and
events portrayed in this novel are either products of the author’s
imagination or are used fictitiously.
THE DARK DESIGN
Copyright © 1977 by The Estate of Philip José Farmer
All rights reserved.
A Tor Book
Published by Tom Doherty Associates, LLC
175 Fifth Avenue
New York, NY 10010
Tor ® is a registered trademark of Tom Doherty Associates, LLC.
First Tor Edition: June 2010
Printed in the United States of America
0 9 8 7 6 5 4 3 2 1
Though some of the names in the Riverworld series are fictional, the characters are or were real. You may not be mentioned, but you’re here.
To Sam Long and my godson David,
son of Doctor Docter
Other Books By This Author
And still the Weaver plies his loom, whose warp and woof is wretched Man
Weaving th’ unpattern’d dark design, so dark we doubt it owns a plan.
—The Kasîdah of Hâjî Abdû al-Yazdi
Sentence first—verdict afterwards.
—Alice in Wonderland
The book at hand is volume III of the Riverworld series. Originally, it was to be the conclusion of a trilogy. However, the MS was more than 400,000 words long. Published under one cover, it would be too heavy and unwieldy for the reader.
Therefore, the publisher and myself decided to cut it into two. Volume IV, The Magic Labyrinth, will follow this book. It will definitely conclude this phase of the series, explain all the mysteries set forth in the first three volumes, tie up all ends in a knot, Gordian or otherwise.
Any novels about the Riverworld after volume IV are not to be considered as part of the mainstream of the series. These will be the “sidestream,” stories not directly concerned with mystery and the quests of the first three. My decision to write these is based on my belief—and that of many others—that the Riverworld concept is too big to compress within four volumes. After all, we have a planet on which a single river, or a very long and narrow sea, runs for 16,090,000 kilometers, or about 10,000,000 miles. More than thirty-six billion people live along its banks, human beings who existed from the Old Stone Age through the first part of the Electronic Age.
There is not room in the first four volumes to chronicle many events which might interest the reader. For instance, the resurrectees were not distributed along The River according to the chronological sequence in which they had been born on Earth. There was a considerable mixture of races and nationalities from different centuries. Take as an example one of the many thousands of blocs along the banks. This would be in an area ten kilometers long, and the people comprising it would be 60 percent third-century a.d. Chinese, 39 percent seventeenth-century a.d. Russians, and 1 percent men and women from anywhere and any time.
How would these people manage to form a viable state from anarchy? How would they succeed, or fail, in their efforts to get along with each other and to form a body which could defend itself against hostile states? What problems would they have?
In the book at hand, Jack London, Tom Mix, Nur ed-din el-Musafir, and Peter Jairus Frigate sail on the Razzle Dazzle II up The River. There is considerable characterization of Frigate and Nur in volumes III and IV. However, there was not enough space to fully develop the characters of the others. So, the “sidestream” stories will give me scope to do this.
These will also relate how the crew of the Razzle Dazzle meet some major and minor representatives of various fields of human endeavor. These should include da Vinci, Rousseau, Karl Marx, Rameses II, Nietzsche, Bakunin, Alcibiades, Eddy, Ben Jonson, Li Po, Nichiren Daishonin, Asoka, an Ice Age cavewife, Joan of Arc, Gilgamesh, Edwin Booth, Faust et al.
It’s been apparent to some that Peter Jairus Frigate remarkably resembles the author. It is true that I am the basis for that character, but Frigate has approximately the similarity to me that David Copperfield has to Charles Dickens. The author’s physical and psychic features are only a springboard for propelling reality into that parareality—fiction.
I apologize to the readers for the cliffhanger endings of the first three volumes. The structure of the series was such that I could not emulate that of Isaac Asimov’s Foundation series. In these each volume seemed to have a definite conclusion, the mystery seemingly solved, only to reveal in the sequel that the previous ending was false or misleading.
I hope to finish the series, volumes I through V (or possibly VI), before it’s my time to lie down and rest while waiting to board the fabulous riverboat.
Dreams haunted The Riverworld.
Sleep, night’s Pandora, was even more generous than on Earth. There, it had been this for you and that for your neighbor. Tomorrow, that for you and this for next door.
Here in this endless valley, along these unceasing Riverbanks, she dumped her treasure chest, showering everybody with all gifts: terror and pleasure, memory and anticipation, mystery and revelation.
Billions stirred, muttered, groaned, whimpered, laughed, cried out, swam to wakefulness, sank back again.
Mighty engines battered the walls, and things wriggled out through the holes. Often, they did not retreat but stayed, phantoms who refused to fade at cockcrow.
Also, for some reason, dreams recurred more frequently than on the mother planet. The actors of the nocturnal Theater of the Absurd insisted on return engagements, performances which they, not the patrons, commanded. The attendees were powerless to jeer or applaud, to throw eggs and cabbages or walk out, to chatter with their seatmates or doze.
Among this captive audience was Richard Francis Burton.
Fog, gray and swirling, formed the stage and the backdrop. Burton stood in the pit like an Elizabethan too poor to afford a seat. Above him were thirteen figures, all in chairs which floated in the mist. One of them faced the others, who were arranged in a semicircle. That man was the protagonist—himself.
There was a fourteenth person there, though it stood in the wings and could be seen only by the Burton in the pit. It was a black, menacing shape which, now and then, chuckled hollowly.
A not quite similar scene had happened before, once in reality and many times in dreams, though who could be sure which was which? There he was, the man who’d died seven hundred and seventy times in a vain effort to elude his pursuers. And there sat the twelve who called themselves the Ethicals.
Six were men; six, women. Except for two, all had deeply tanned or heavily pigmented skins and black or dark brown hair. The eyes of two men and a woman had slight epicanthic folds, which made him think that they were Eurasians. That is, they were if they had originated on Earth.
Only two of the twelve had been named during the brief inquisition—Loga and Thanabur. Neither name seemed to be of any language he knew, and he knew at least a hundred. However, languages change, and it was possible that they might be from the fifty-second century A.D. One of their agents had told them that he came from that time. But Spruce had been under threat of torture and might have been lying.
Loga was one of the few with comparatively pale skins. Since he was sitting and there was (and had been) nothing material to measure him against, he could be short or tall. His body was thick and muscular, and his chest was matted with red hair. The hair on his head was fox-red. He had irregular and strong features: a prominent, deeply clefted chin; a massive jaw; a large and aquiline nose; thick pale-yellow eyebrows; wide, full lips; and dark green eyes.
The other light-skinned man, Thanabur, was obviously the leader. His physique and face were so much like Loga’s that they could be brothers. His hair, however, was dark brown. One eye was green, though a rare leaf-green.
The other eye had startled Burton when Thanabur had first turned his face toward him. Instead of the green mate he had expected, he saw a jewel. It looked like an enormous blue diamond, a flashing, multifaceted precious stone set in his eye socket.
He felt uneasy whenever that jewel was turned on him. What was its purpose? What did it see in him that a living eye could not see?
Of the twelve, only three had spoken: Loga, Thanabur, and a slim but full-breasted blonde with large blue eyes. From the manner in which she and Loga spoke to each other, Burton thought that they could be husband and wife.
Watching them offstage, Burton noted again that just above the heads of each, his other self included, was a globe. They whirled, were of many changing colors, and extended six-sided arms, green, blue, black, and white. Then the arms would shrink into the globe, only to be replaced by others.
Burton tried to correlate the rotating spheres and the mutation in the arms with the personalities of the three and of himself, with their physical appearances, with the tones of their voices, with the meanings of their words, with their emotional attitudes. He failed to find any significant linkages.
When the first, the real, scene had taken place, he had not seen his own aura.
The spoken lines were not quite the same as during the actual event. It was as if the Dream-Maker had rewritten the scene.
Loga, the red-haired man, said, “We had a number of agents looking for you. They were a pitifully small number, considering the thirty-six billion, six million, nine thousand, six hundred and thirty-seven candidates that are living along The River.”
“Candidates for what?” the Burton on the stage said.
In the first performance, he had not uttered that line.
“That’s for us to know and you to find out,” Loga said.
Loga flashed teeth that seemed inhumanly white. He said, “We had no idea that you were escaping us by suicide. The years went by. There were other things for us to do, so we pulled all agents from the Burton Case, as we called it, except for some stationed at both ends of The River. Somehow, you had knowledge of the polar tower. We found out how later.”
Burton, the watcher, thought, But you didn’t find out from X.
He tried to get nearer to the actors so he could look at them more closely. Which one was the Ethical who had awakened him in the preresurrection place? Which one had visited him during the stormy, lightning-racked night? Who was it that had told him that he must help him? Who was the renegade whom Burton knew only as X?
He struggled against the wet, cold mists, as ethereal yet as strong as the magic chains which had bound the monster wolf Fenrir until Ragnarok, the doom of the gods.
Loga said, “We would have caught you, anyway. You see, every space in the restoration bubble—the place where you unaccountably awakened during the preresurrection phase—has an automatic counter. Any candidate who has a higher than average number of deaths is a subject for study sooner or later. Usually later, since we’re short-handed.
“We had no idea it was you who had racked up the staggering number of seven hundred and seventy-seven deaths. Your space in the PR bubble was empty when we looked at it during our statistical investigation. The two technicians who had seen you when you woke up in the PR chamber identified you by your… photograph.
“We set the resurrector so that the next time your body was to be recreated, an alarm would notify us, and we would bring you here to this place.”
But Burton had not died again. Somehow, they had located him while he was alive. Though he had run away again, he had been caught. Or had he? Perhaps, as he ran through the night, he had been killed by lightning. And they were waiting for him in the PR bubble. That vast chamber which he supposed was somewhere deep under the surface of this planet or in the tower of the polar sea.
Loga said, “We’ve made a thorough search of your body. We have also screened every component of your… psychomorph. Or aura, whichever word you prefer.”
He pointed at the flashing, whirling globe above the Burton who sat in the chair facing him.
Then the Ethical did a strange thing.
He turned and looked out into the mists and pointed at Burton, the watcher.
“We found no clues whatsoever.”
The dark figure in the wings chuckled.
The Burton in the pit called out, “You think there are only twelve of you! There are thirteen! An unlucky number!”
“It’s quality, not quantity, that matters,” the thing offstage said.
“You won’t remember a thing that occurs down here after we send you back to the Rivervalley,” Loga said.
The Burton in the chair said something that he had not said in the original inquisition.
“How can you make me forget?”
“We have run off your memory as if it were a tape recording,” Thanabur said. He talked as if he were lecturing. Or was he warning Burton because he was X?
“Of course, it took a long time to run your memory track for the seven years since you’ve been here. And it required an enormous amount of energy and materials. But the computer Loga monitored was set to run your memory at high speed and stop only when you were visited by that filthy renegade. So, we know what happened then exactly as you knew what happened. We saw what you saw, heard what you heard, felt what you touched, what you smelled. We even experienced your emotions.
“Unfortunately, you were visited at night, and the traitor was effectively disguised. Even his voice was filtered through a distorter which prevented the computer from analyzing his—or her—voiceprints. I say his or her because all you saw was a pale thing without identifiable features, sexual or otherwise. The voice seemed to be masculine, but a female could have used a transmitter to make it seem a man’s.
“The body odor was also false. The computer analyzed it, and it’s obvious that a chemical complex altered that.
“In short, Burton, we have no idea which of us is the renegade, nor do we have any idea why he or she would be working against us. It is almost inconceivable that anyone who knew the truth would try to betray us. The only explanation is that the person is insane. And that, too, is inconceivable.”
The Burton in the pit knew, somehow, that Thanabur had not spoken those words during the first performance, the real drama. He also knew that he was dreaming, that he was sometimes putting words in Thanabur’s mouth. The man’s speech was made up of Burton’s own thoughts, speculations, and fantasies which were afterthoughts.
The Burton in the chair voiced some of these.
“If you can read a person’s mind—tape it, as it were—why don’t you read your own minds? Surely you have done that? And just as surely, you would have found your traitor.”
Loga, looking uncomfortable, said, “We submitted to a reading, of course. But…”
He raised his shoulders and spread out his palms upward.
Thanabur said, “So, the person you call X must have been lying to you. He is not one of us but one of the second-order, an agent. We are calling them in for memory scanning. That takes time, however. We have plenty of that. The renegade will be caught.”
The Burton in the chair said, “And what if none of the agents is guilty?”
“Don’t be ridiculous,” Loga said. “In any event your memory of awakening in the preresurrection bubble will be erased. Also, your memory of the renegade’s visit and all events from that time on will be a blank space. We are truly sorry to have to do this violent act. But it is necessary, and the time will come, we hope, when we can make amends.”
The Burton in the chair said, “But… I will have many recollections of the preresurrection place. You forget that I often thought of that between the time I awoke on the banks and X’s visit. Also, I told many people about it.”
Thanabur said, “Ah, but do they really believe you? And if they do, what can they do about it? No, we do not want to remove your entire memory of your life here. It would cause you great distress; it would remove you from your friends. And”—here Thanabur paused—“it might slow down your progress.”
“There is time for you to find out what that means. The insane person who claims to be aiding you was using you for his own purposes. He did not tell you that you were throwing away your opportunity for eternal life by carrying out his designs. He or she, whoever the traitor is, is evil. Evil, evil!”
“Now, now,” Loga said. “We all feel strongly about this but we must not forget. The… unknown is sick.”
The jewel-eyed man said, “To be sick is, in a sense, to be evil.”
The Burton in the chair threw back his head and laughed loudly and long.
“So you bastards don’t know everything?”
He stood up, the gray fog supporting him as if it were solid, and he shouted, “You don’t want me to get to the headwaters of The River! Why? Why?”
Loga said, “Au revoir. Forgive us for this violence.”
A woman pointed a short, slim blue cylinder at the Burton on the stage, and he crumpled. Two men, wearing only white kilts, emerged from the fog. They picked up the senseless body and carried it into the mists.
Burton tried again to get at the people on the stage. Failing, he shook his fist at them, and he cried, “You’ll never get me, you monsters!”
The dark figure in the wings applauded, but his hands made no noise.
Burton had expected to be placed in the area where he had been picked up by the Ethicals. Instead, he awoke in Theleme, the little state which he had founded.
Even more unexpected was that he had not been deprived of his memory. He remembered everything, even the inquisition with the twelve Ethicals.
Somehow, X had managed to fool the others.
Later, he got to wondering if they had lied to him and had not intended to tamper with his memory. That made no sense, but then he did not know what their intentions were.
At one time, Burton had been able to play two games of chess at the same time while blindfolded. That, however, only required skill, a knowledge of the rules, and familiarity with the board and the pieces. He did not know the rules of this game, nor did he know the powers of all the chessmen.
The dark design had no pattern.
Groaning, Burton half-awoke.
For a moment, he didn’t know where he was. Darkness surrounded him, darkness as thick as that which he felt filled him.
Familiar sounds reassured him. The ship was rubbing up against the dock, and water lapped against the hull. Alice was breathing softly by him. He touched her soft, warm back. Light footsteps came from above, Peter Frigate on night watch. Perhaps he was getting ready to wake up his captain. Burton had no idea what time it was.
There were other well-known sounds. Through the wooden partition the snores of Kazz and his woman, Besst, gurgled. And then, from the compartment behind theirs, the voice of Monat issued. He spoke in his native language, but Burton could not distinguish the words.
Doubtless, Monat was dreaming of far-off Athaklu. Of that planet with its “wild, weird clime” which circled the giant orange star, Arcturus.
He lay for a while, rigid as a corpse, thinking, Here I am, a one-hundred-and-one-year-old man in the body of a twenty-five-year-old.
The Ethicals had softened the hardened arteries of the candidates. But they had not been able to do anything about atherosclerosis of the soul. That repair was apparently left up to the candidate.
The dreams were going backward in time. The inquisition by the Ethicals had come last. But now he was dreaming that he was experiencing again the dream he’d had just before he awoke to the Last Trump. However, he was watching himself in the dream; he was both participant and spectator.
God was standing over him as he lay on the grass, as weak as a newly born baby. This time, He lacked the long, black, forked beard, and He was not dressed like an English gentleman of the fifty-third year of Queen Victoria’s reign. His only garment was a blue towel wrapped around His waist. His body was not tall, as in the original dream, but was short and broad and heavily muscled. The hairs on His chest were thick and curly and red.
The first time, Burton had looked into God’s face and seen his own. God had had the same black straight hair, the same Arabic face with the deep, dark eyes like spear points thrusting from a cave, the high cheekbones, the heavy lips, and the thrust-out, deeply cleft chin. However, His face no longer bore the scars of the Somali spear that had sliced through Burton’s cheek, knocking out teeth, its edge jammed into his palate, its point sticking out the other cheek.
The face looked familiar, but he couldn’t name its owner. It certainly was not that of Richard Francis Burton.
God still had the iron cane. Now He was poking Burton in the ribs.
“You’re late. Long past due for the payment of your debt, you know.”
“What debt?” the man on the grass said.
The Burton who was watching suddenly realized that fog was swirling around him, casting veils between the two before him. And a gray wall, expanding and contracting as if it were the chest of a breathing animal, was behind them.
“You owe for the flesh,” God said. He poked the ribs of the man on the grass. Somehow, the standing Burton felt the pain.
“You owe for the flesh and the spirit, which are one and the same thing.”
The man on the grass struggled to get onto his feet. He said, gasping, “Nobody can strike me and get away without a fight.”
Somebody snickered, and the standing Burton became aware of a dim, tall figure in the fog beyond.
God said, “Pay up, sir. Otherwise, I’ll be forced to foreclose.”
“Damned moneylender!” the man on the grass said. “I ran into your kind in Damascus.”
“This is the road to Damascus. Or it should be.”
The dark figure snickered again. The fog enclosed all. Burton awoke, sweating, hearing the last of his whimperings.
Alice turned and said sleepily, “Are you having a nightmare, Dick?”
“I’m all right. Go back to sleep.”
“You’ve been having many nightmares lately.”
“No more than on Earth.”
“Would you like to talk?”
“When I dream, I am talking.”
“But to yourself.”
“Who knows me better?” He laughed softly.
“And who can deceive you better,” she said a little tartly.
He did not reply. After a few seconds, she was breathing with the gentle rhythm of the untroubled. But she would not forget what had been said. He hoped that morning would not bring another quarrel.
He liked arguing; it enabled him to explode. Lately, however, their fights had left him unsatisfied, ready at once for another.
It was so difficult to blaze away at her without being overheard on this small vessel. Alice had changed much during their years together, but she still retained a ladylike abhorrence of, as she put it, washing their dirty linen in public. Knowing this, he pressed her too hard, shouted, roared, getting pleasure out of seeing her shrink. Afterward, he felt ashamed because he had taken advantage of her, because he had caused her shame.
All of which made him even more angry.
Frigate’s footsteps sounded on the deck. Burton thought of relieving Frigate early. He would not be able to get back to sleep; he’d suffered from insomnia most of his adult life on Earth and much here, too. Frigate would be grateful to get to bed. He had trouble staying awake when on watch.
He closed his eyes. Darkness was replaced by grayness. Now he saw himself in that colossal chamber without walls, floor, or ceiling. Naked, he was floating in a horizontal position in the abyss. As if suspended on an invisible, unfelt spit, he was turning slowly. Rotating, he saw that there were naked bodies above, to the sides, and below. Like him, their heads and pubic regions were shaven. Some were incomplete. A man nearby had a right arm which was skinless from the elbow down. Turning, he saw another body that had no skin at all and no muscles in the face.
At a distance was a skeleton with a mess of organs floating inside it.
Everywhere, the bodies were bounded at head and foot by red metallic-looking rods. They rose from the unseen floor and ascended to the unseen ceiling. They stood in rows as far as he could see, and in a vertical line between each pair hovered the wheeling bodies, rank on rank of sleepers, bodies as far down, bodies as far up, as the eye could encompass.
They formed vertical and horizontal lines stretching into gray infinity.
This time, watching, he felt some of the bewilderment and the terror of the first moment of awakening.
He, Captain Sir Richard Francis Burton, Her Majesty’s consul at the city of Trieste in the Austro-Hungarian Empire, had died on Sunday, October 19, 1890.
Now he was alive in a place that was like no heaven or hell he had ever heard of.
Of all the millions of bodies he could see, he was the only one alive. Or awake.
The rotating Burton would be wondering why he was singled out for this unsought honor.
The watching Burton now knew why.
It was that Ethical whom Burton called X, the unknown quality, who had roused him. The renegade.
Now the suspended man had touched one of the rods. And that had broken some kind of circuit, and all the bodies between the rods had started to fall, Burton among them.
The watcher felt almost as much terror as when it had first occurred. This was a primal dream, the universal human dream of falling. Doubtless, it originated from the first man, the half-ape half-sentient, for whom the fall was a dread reality, not just a nightmare. The half-ape had leaped from one branch to another, thinking in his pride that he could span the gulf. And he had fallen because of his pride, which distorted his judgment.
Just as Lucifer’s fall had been caused by his pride.
Now that other Burton had grabbed a rod and was hanging on while the bodies, still turning slowly, hurtled past him, a cataract of flesh.
Now he looked up and saw an aerial machine, a green canoe shape, sinking down through the space between nearby rods. It was wingless, propellerless, apparently buoyed up by some kind of device unknown to the science of his day.
On its bow was a symbol: a white spiral which ended pointing to the right and from which point white threads flared.
In the reality, two men had looked over the side of the flying machine. And then, suddenly, the falling bodies slowed in their fall, and an invisible force seized him and brought his legs up and tore him loose from the rod. He floated upward, revolving, went past and above the canoe, and stopped. One of the men pointed a pencil-sized metal object at him.
Screaming with rage and hate and frustration, that Burton shouted, “I’ll kill! I’ll kill!”
The threat was an empty one, as empty as the darkness that stilled his fury.
Now, only one face looked over the edge of the machine. Though he could not see the man’s face, Burton thought it looked familiar. Whatever the features, they belonged to X.
The Ethical chuckled.
Burton sat upright and grabbed for the throat of X.
“For God’s sake, Dick! It’s me, Pete!”
Burton opened his hands from around Frigate’s throat. Starlight as bright as Earth’s full moon beamed in through the open doorway and silhouetted Frigate.
“It’s your watch, Dick.”
“Please be less noisy,” Alice murmured.
Burton rolled off the bed and felt the suit hanging from a peg. Though he was sweating, he shivered. The little cabin, hot from the night-long radiation of two bodies, was cooling now. The cold fog was pressing in.
Alice said, “Brrr!” and sounds indicated she was pulling the thick towels over her. Burton caught a glimpse of her white body before it was covered. He glanced at Frigate, but the American had turned and was heading up the ladder. Whatever his faults, he was not a Peeping Tom. Not that he could really blame the fellow if he had taken a look. He was more than half in love with Alice. He had never said so, but it was obvious to Burton, to Alice, and to Loghu, Frigate’s bunkmate.
If anybody was to blame, it was Alice. She had long ago lost her Victorian modesty. Though she would deny it, she may have, subconsciously, of course, teased Frigate with a quick flash of herself.
Burton decided not to bring that subject up. Though he was angry at both Frigate and Alice, he’d look like a fool if he said anything about this. Alice, like most people, bathed in The River in the nude, seemingly indifferent to the passersby. Frigate had seen her hundreds of times without clothing.
The night suit was composed of a number of thick towels held together by magnetic tabs underneath the cloth. Burton opened it and fitted the cloths to make a hooded garment around legs and body. He buckled on a belt of hornfish skin holding scabbards containing a flint knife, a chert axe, and a wooden sword. The edges of the latter were lined with tiny flint chips and its end held a sharp hornfish’s horn. He removed from a rack a heavy ash spear tipped with horn and went up the ladder.
Gaining the deck, he found that his head was above the fog. Frigate was his same height, and his head seemed to float bodiless above the swirling wool of the mists. The sky was bright, though The Riverworld had no moon. It blazed with stars and with vast, shining gas clouds. Frigate believed that this planet was near the center of Earth’s galaxy. But it could be inside some other galaxy, for all anybody knew.
Burton and his friends had built a vessel and had sailed from Theleme. The Hadji II, unlike its predecessor, was a cutter, a fore-and-aft rigged single-master. Aboard it were Burton, Hargreaves, Frigate, Loghu, Kazz, Besst, Monat Grrautut, and Owenone. The latter was a woman of ancient pre-Hellenic Pelasgia who did not mind at all sharing the Arcturan’s bunk. With his peculiar crew (Burton had a not always fortunate talent for collecting an unhomogeneous band of followers), he had voyaged upRiver for twenty-five years. One of the men with whom he had shared many adventures, Lev Ruach, had decided to stay in Theleme.
The Hadji II had not gotten as far as Burton had hoped. Since the crew had little elbow room, its members were in too close and constant contact with each other. It had been necessary to take long shore leaves so they could cool off their cabin fever.
Burton had decided that it was about time for another long liberty when the boat had sailed into this area. This was one of the rare widenings of The River, a lake about 20 miles or 32 kilometers long and 6 miles or 9.6 kilometers wide. At its western end the lake narrowed into a strait about a quarter-mile or 321 meters wide. The current boiled through this, but fortunately the prevailing wind here was behind a vessel going upstream. If the Hadji II had had to sail against the wind, it would have had little space to tack.
After looking at the strait, Burton thought that the passage could be made, though it would be close. However, now was the time to take a long rest. Instead of putting into one of the banks, he had stopped the boat alongside one of the scores of rocks that jutted up from the middle of the lake. These were tall spires with some level land at their bases. Some of them had grailstones, and around these were gathered a few huts.
The island-spire nearest the strait had a few floating docks. They would have been more convenient if they had been on the downcurrent side, but they were not, so the boat was taken alongside one. It was secured by lines to the posts and against the bumpers, bags of tough skins of alligator-fish filled with grass. The island’s inhabitants approached them cautiously. Burton quickly assured them of his peaceful intentions, and he politely asked if his crew could use the grailstone.
There were only twenty islanders—short, dark people whose native language was unknown to Burton. They spoke a degraded form of Esperanto, however, so there was little language barrier.
The grailstone was a massive mushroom-shaped structure of gray red-flecked granite. The surface of its top was as high as Burton’s chest and bore seven hundred round indentations in concentric circles.
Shortly before sunset, each person put in one of the shadow holes a tall cylinder of gray metal. English-speakers called it a grail, a pandora (or its shortened form, dora), a tucker box, lunch pail, glory bucket, and so on. The most popular name was that given it by the missionaries of the Church of the Second Chance. This was the Esperanto pandoro. Though the gray metal was as thin as a sheet of newspaper except for the base, it was unbendable, unbreakable, and indestructible.
The owners of the grails retreated about fifty paces and waited. Presently, intense blue flames roared upward from the top of the stone to 20 feet or a little over 6 meters. Simultaneously, every one of the stones lining the banks of the lake spat fire and shouted thunder.
A minute later, several of the little dark people climbed onto the stone and handed down the grails. The party sat down under a bamboo roof by a fire of bamboo and driftwood and opened the lids of the cylinders. Inside were racks holding cups and deep dishes, all filled with liquor, food, crystals of instant coffee or tea, cigarettes and cigars.
Burton’s grail contained both Slovene and Italian food. He had been first resurrected in an area consisting mainly of people who had died in the Trieste area, and the grails of these usually gave the type of food they had been accustomed to eat on Earth. About every ten days, however, the grails served something entirely different. Sometimes it was English, French, Chinese, Russian, Persian, or any of a hundred national foods. Occasionally it offered dishes which were disgusting, such as kangaroo meat, burned on the surface and raw underneath, or living grubworms. Burton had gotten this Australian aborigine meal twice.
Tonight the liquor cup contained beer. He hated beer, so he traded it for Frigate’s wine.
The islanders’ grails contained food, much of which reminded Burton of Mexican cuisine. However, the tacos and tortillas were packed with venison, not beef.
While they ate and talked, Burton questioned the locals. From their descriptions, he surmised that they were pre-Columbian Indians who had lived in a wide valley in the Southwest desert. They had been composed of two different tribes speaking related but mutually unintelligible languages. Despite this, the two groups had lived peacefully side by side and had formed a single culture, each of the groups differing only in a few traits.
He decided that they were the people whom the Pima Indians of his time had called Hohokam, The Ancient Ones. These had flourished in the area which the white settlers would call the Valley of the Sun. It was there that the village of Phoenix of the Arizona Territory had been founded, a village which, according to what he had been told, had become a city of over a million population in the late twentieth century.
These people called themselves the Ganopo. In their Terrestrial time they had dug long irrigation ditches with flint and wooden tools and turned the desert into a garden. But they had suddenly disappeared, leaving the American archaeologists to explain why. Various theories had been advanced to account for this. The most widely accepted was that belligerent invaders from the north had wiped them out, though there was no evidence for that.
Burton’s hopes that he could solve this mystery were quickly dissipated. These people had lived and died before their society came to an end.
They all sat up late that night, smoking and drinking the alcohol made from the lichen which coated their rock spire. They told stories, mostly obscene and absurd, and rolled on the ground with laughter. Burton, when he told Arabic tales, found it necessary not to use unfamiliar references or to explain them if they were simple enough to be understood. But they had no trouble grasping the stories of Aladdin and his magic lamp or of how Abu Hasan broke wind.
The latter had been a great favorite with the Bedouins. Burton had often sat around a fire of dried camel dung and sent his listeners into shrieks of laughter though they had heard it a thousand times.
Abu Hasan was a Bedouin who had left his nomadic life to become a merchant of the city of Kaukaban in Yemen. He became very rich, and after his wife died he was urged by his friends to marry again. After some resistance, he gave in and arranged a marriage to a beautiful young woman. There was much feasting of rices of several colors and sherbets of as many more, kids stuffed with walnuts and almonds and a camel colt roasted whole.
Finally, the bridegroom was summoned to the chamber where his bride, clad in many rich robes, waited. He rose slowly and with dignity from his divan but, alas! he was full of meat and drink, and as he walked toward the bridal chamber, lo and behold! he let fly a fart, great and terrible.
On hearing this, the guests turned to each other and talked loudly, pretending not to have noticed this social sin. But Abu Hasan was greatly humiliated, and so, pretending a call of nature, he went down to the horsecourt, saddled a horse, and rode away, abandoning his fortune, his house, his friends, and his bride.
He then took a ship to India, where he became the captain of a king’s bodyguard. After ten years he was seized with a homesickness so terrible that he was about to die of it, and so he set out for home disguised as a poor fakir. After a long and dangerous journey, he drew near to his city, and he looked from the hills upon its walls and towers with eyes flowing with tears. However, he did not dare venture into the city until he knew that he and his disgrace had been forgotten. So he wandered around the outskirts for seven days and seven nights, eavesdropping upon the conversations in street and marketplace.
At the end of that time he chanced to be sitting at the door of a hut, thinking that perhaps he could now venture into the city as himself. And then he heard a young girl say, “O my mother, tell me the day I was born, for one of my companions needs to know that so she can read my future.”
And the mother replied, “You were born, O daughter, on the very night when Abu Hasan farted.”
The listener no sooner heard these words than he rose from the bench and fled, saying to himself, “Truly your fart has become a date, which shall last forever.”
And he did not quit traveling and voyaging until he returned to India and there lived in self-exile until he died, and the mercy of God be upon him.
This story was a great success, but before he told it Burton had to preface his story with the explanation that the Bedouins of that time considered farting in company a disgrace. In fact, it was necessary that everyone within earshot pretend that it had not happened, since the disgraced one would kill anyone who called attention to it.
Burton, sitting cross-legged before the fire, noted that even Alice seemed to enjoy the story. She was a middle-Victorian, raised in a deeply religious Anglican family, her father a bishop and the brother of a baron, descended from John of Gaunt, King John’s son, her mother the granddaughter of an earl. But the impact of Riverworld life and a long intimate association with Burton had dissolved many of her inhibitions.
He had then gone on to the tale of Sinbad the Sailor, though it was necessary to adapt this to the experiences of the Ganopo. They had never seen a sea, so the sea became a river, and the roc which carried off Sinbad became a giant golden eagle.
The Ganopo, in their turn, told stories from their creation myths and the ribald adventures of a folk hero, the trickster Old Man Coyote.
Burton questioned them about the adaptation of their religion to the reality of this world.
“O Burton,” their chief said, “this is not quite the world after death which we had envisioned. It is no land where maize grows higher than a man’s head in one day and deer and jackrabbit give us a good hunt but never escape our spears. Nor have we been reunited with our women and children, our parents and grandparents. Nor do the great ones, the spirits of the mountains and the river, of the rocks and the bush, walk among us and talk to us.
“We do not complain. In fact, we are far happier than in the world we left. We have more food, better food, than we had there, and we do not have to work to get it, though we had to fight to keep it in the early days here. We have far more than enough water, we can fish to our heart’s content, and we do not know the fevers that killed or crippled us nor do we know the aches and pains of old age and its enfeeblements.”
Here the chief frowned, and with his next words a shadow fell upon them and the smiles faded.
“Tell me, you strangers, have you heard anything about the return of death? Of death forever, I mean? We live upon this little island and so do not get many visitors. But from the few we do meet and from those we talk to when we visit the banks, we have heard some strange and troubling stories.
“They say that for some time now no one who has died has been raised again. A person is killed, and he or she does not wake up the next day, his wounds healed, his grail beside him, upon a bank far from the scene of his death. Tell me, is this true or is it just one of those tales that people like to make up to worry others?”
“I do not know,” Burton said. “It is true that we have traveled for thousands of kilometers… I mean, we have passed by an uncountable number of grailstones on our voyage. And for the past year, we have noticed this thing of which you speak.”
He paused for a moment, thinking. From the very second day after the great resurrection, the lesser resurrections, or translations, as they were generally called, had occurred. People were killed or killed themselves or had fatal accidents, but, at dawn the next day, they found themselves alive. However, they were never raised at the scene of their deaths. Always, they found themselves far away, often in a different climatic zone.
Many attributed this to a supernatural agency. Many more, among whom was Burton, did not think that there was any agency except an advanced science which accounted for this. There was no need to call in the supernatural. “No ghosts need apply,” to quote the immortal Sherlock Holmes. Physical explanations sufficed.
Burton knew from his own experience, apparently a unique one, that a dead person’s body could be duplicated. He had seen that in the vast space where he had awakened briefly. Bodies were somehow made from some kind of recording, their wounds healed, diseased flesh regenerated, limbs restored, the ravages of old age repaired, youth restored.
Somewhere under the crust of this planet was an immense thermionic energy-matter converter. Probably, it was fueled by heat from the nickel-iron core. Its machinery operated through the complex of grailstones, the roots of which reached deep under the earth, forming a circuit so complex that it staggered the mind to think of it.
Was the recording of the dead person’s cells made by something in the stones themselves? Or was it made as Frigate had suggested, by unseen orbital satellites which kept an eye upon every living being, much as God was supposed to note even the fall of a sparrow?
Nobody knew, or, if they did, they were keeping the secret to themselves.
Energy-matter conversion through the grailstone system also accounted for the free meals every citizen of The Riverworld found in his grail three times a day. The base of each of the metal cylinders must conceal a tiny converter and an electronic menu. The energy was transmitted through the grailstone complex into the grails. And there electricity became complex matter: beef, bread, lettuce, etcetera, and even luxuries, tobacco, marijuana, booze, scissors, combs, cigarette lighters, lipstick, dreamgum.
The towel-like cloths were also provided via the stone system, but not through the grails. They appeared in a neat pile next to the resurrected body and the grail.
There had to be some sort of mechanism inside the underground roots of the stone complex. This somehow could project through many meters of earth the vastly complicated configuration of molecules of human bodies, grails, and cloths at precisely a centimeter above ground level.
Literally, people and things formed from the air.
Burton had sometimes wondered what would happen if the translatee should happen to be formed in an area occupied by another object. Frigate said that there would be a terrible explosion. This had never happened, at least not to Burton’s knowledge. Thus, the mechanism “knew” how to avoid this intermingling of molecules.
There was, however, as Frigate had pointed out, the volume of atmosphere which the newly formed body had to displace. How were the molecules of air kept from a fatal mingling with the molecules of the body?
No one knew. But the mechanism must somehow remove the air, make vacuums into which the body, grail, and cloths appeared. It would have to be a perfect vacuum, too, something which the science of the late 10th century had not succeeded in making.
And it did it silently, without the explosion of a mass of suddenly displaced air.
The question of how bodies were recorded still did not have a satisfactory answer. Many years ago, a captured agent of the Ethicals, a man calling himself Spruce, had said that a sort of chronoscope, an instrument which could look back in time, recorded the cells of human beings. Of every person who had ever lived from about two million B.C. to 2008 A.D.
Burton did not believe this. It did not seem possible that anything could go backward in time, bodily or visually. Frigate had expressed his disbelief, too, saying that Spruce probably had used “chronoscope” in a figurative sense. Or perhaps he had lied.
Whatever the whole truth, the resurrection and the grail food could be explained in purely physical terms.
“What is it, Burton?” the chief said politely. “You have been seized by a spirit?”
Burton smiled and said, “No, I was just thinking. We too have talked to many who said that no one has been translated for a year in their areas. Of course, this may just mean that the places through which we voyaged may not have had any translatees. It is possible that there have been translatees elsewhere. After all, The River may be…”
He paused. How could he put across the concept of a River which was possibly 10,000,000 or more kilometers long to people who did not understand any number above twenty?
“It may be so long that a man who sailed from one end of The River to the other would take as many years to do it as the combined lifetimes of your grandfather, father, and yourself on Earth.
“Thus, even though there may be as many deaths as there are blades of grass between two grailstones, that still would not be much compared to the number who live along The River. Even though we have voyaged very far, we still have not gone far compared to the length of The River. So, there may be many areas where the dead have risen.
“Also, not as many people die now as in the first twenty years here. The many, many little states have been permanently established. Few slave states now exist. People have made states which keep order among their own citizens and protect them from other states. The evil people who lusted for power and the food and goods of others were killed off. It is true they popped up elsewhere, but in other areas they found themselves without their supporters. Things are fairly well settled now, though, of course, there are still accidents, mainly from fishing, and individuals do kill, though chiefly from passion.
“There are not so many dying nowadays. It is possible that the areas through which we went just were not the areas in which translatees appeared.”
“Do you really believe that?” the chief said. “Or are you saying that merely to make us feel happy?”
Burton smiled again. “I do not know.”
“Perhaps,” the chief said, “it is as the shamans of the Church of the Second Chance tell us. That this world is only a stepping-stone, a way station, to another. A world even better than this one. The shamans say that when a person becomes a very good man here, much better than he was on Earth, he goes on to a world where the great spirits truly dwell. Though the shamans do insist that there is only one great spirit. I cannot believe that, since everybody knows that there are many spirits, both high and low.”
“That is what they say,” Burton replied. “But how should they know any more than you or I know?”
“They say that one of the spirits that made this world appeared to the man who founded their church. This spirit told the man that this was so.”
“Perhaps the man who claims this is mad or a liar,” Burton said. “In any event, I would have to talk to this spirit myself. And he would have to prove that he was indeed a spirit.”
“I do not trouble myself about such matters,” the chief said. “It is better to leave the spirits alone, to enjoy life as it is and to be one whom the tribe finds good.”
“Perhaps that is the wisest course,” Burton said.
He did not believe this. If he did, why was he so determined to get to the headwaters of The River and to the sea behind the mountains ringing the north pole, the sea that was said to have at its center a mighty tower in which the secret makers and rulers of this world lived?
The chief said, “I mean no offense, Burton, but I am one who can see into a person. You smile and you tell funny stories, but you are troubled. You are angry. Why do you not quit voyaging on that small vessel and settle down? You have a good woman, all, in fact, that any man needs. This is a good place. There is peace, and thieves are unknown, except for an occasional passerthrough. There are not many fights except between men who want to prove that one is stronger than the other or between a man and his woman because they cannot get along with each other. Any sensible person would enjoy this area.”
“I am not offended,” Burton said. “However, for you to understand me, you would have to listen to the story of my life, here and on Earth. And even then you might not understand. How could you when I don’t understand it myself?”
Burton fell silent then, thinking of another chief of a primitive tribe who had told him much the same thing. This was in 1863 when Burton, as Her Majesty’s consul for the west African island of Fernando Po and the Bight of Biafra, visited Gélélé, king of Dahomey. Burton’s mission was to talk the king into stopping the bloody annual human sacrifices and the slave trade. His mission had failed, but he had collected enough data to write two volumes.
The drunken, bloody-minded, lecherous king had acted highhandedly with him, whereas when Burton had visited Benin its king had crucified a man in his honor. Still, they had gotten along rather well, considering the circumstances. In fact, on a previous visit, Burton had been made an honorary captain of the king’s Amazon guard.
Gélélé had said that Burton was a good man but too angry.
Primitive people were good at reading character. They had had to be to survive.
Monat, the Arcturan, sensing that Burton’s withdrawal was lowering the high spirits of the occasion, began to tell stories of his native planet. Monat had somewhat awed the islanders at first because of his obviously nonhuman origin. However, he had no trouble in warming them, since he knew exactly how to make a human being feel at ease. He should have; he had had to do this every day of his life on The Riverworld.
After a while, Burton arose and said that his crew should be getting to bed. He thanked the Ganopo for their hospitality but said that he had changed his mind about staying there for several days. His original intention to rest there while he studied them was gone.
“We would like very much for you to stay here,” the chief said. “For a few days or for many years. Whichever you prefer.”
“I thank you for that,” Burton said. He quoted the words of a character from The Thousand and One Nights. “Allah afflicted me with a love of travel.”
He then quoted himself, “Travelers, like poets, are mostly an angry race.”
That at least made him laugh, and he went to the boat feeling less gloomy. Before going to bed, he set the watches. Frigate protested that a guard wasn’t needed in this isolated place where the few inhabitants seemed to be honest. He was overruled, which was no surprise to him. He knew that Burton thought that acquisitiveness was the mainspring of human action.
Burton was thinking of this and other events of last night, including the dreams. He stood for a while, smoking a cigar, while Frigate stood by him. The assemblage of closely packed stars and wide-spreading gas sheets paled as they silently watched. Dawn would be coming within a half-hour. Its light would wash out most of the celestial objects, would spread out for some time before the sun finally cleared the northern mountain wall.
They could see the fog, like a woolly blanket, covering The River and the plains on both banks. It lapped against the tree-covered hills, on the sides of which were a few lights. Beyond the hills of the valley were the mountains, inclined at an angle of forty-five degrees for the first thousand feet or 305 meters or so, then ascending straight up, smooth as a mirror, for 10,000 feet or about 3048 meters.
During his first years here, Burton had estimated the mountains to be about 20,000 feet or 6096 meters high. He was not the only one to make that error when only the eye was available for calculation. After he had been able to construct rather crude surveying instruments, however, he had determined that the mountain walls were, generally, twice as low as he had thought. Their blue-gray or black rock created an illusion. Perhaps this was because the valley was so narrow, and the walls made the dwellers feel even more pygmyish.
This was a world of illusions, physical, metaphysical, and psychological. As on Earth, so here.
Frigate had lit a cigarette. He had quit smoking for a year, but now, as he put it, he had “fallen from grace.” He was almost as tall as Burton. His eyes were hazel. His hair was almost as black as his companions, though it reflected a reddish undercoating in sunlight. His features were irregular: bulging supraorbital ridges, a straight nose of average size but with large nostrils, full lips, the upper very long, a clefted chin. The latter seemed to recede because of his unusually short jaw.
On Earth he had been, among many other things, one of that rare but vigorous breed which collected all literature by, about, and relevant to Burton. He had also written a biography of him but had eventually novelized it as A Rough Knight for the Queen.
On first meeting him, Burton had been puzzled when Frigate had identified himself as a science fiction writer.
“What in Gehenna is that?”
“Don’t ask me to define science fiction,” Frigate had said. “No one was ever able to give it a completely satisfactory definition. However, what it is… was… was a genre of literature in which most of the stories took place in a fictional future. It was called science fiction because science was supposed to play a large part in it. The development of science in the future, that is. This science wasn’t confined to physics and chemistry but also included extrapolations of the sociological and psychological science of the author’s time.
“In fact, any story that took place in the future was science fiction. However, a story written in 1960, for instance, which projected a future of 1984, was still classified as science fiction in 1984.
“Moreover, a science fiction story could take place in the present or the past. But the assumption was that the story was possible because it was based on the science of the author’s time, and he merely extrapolated, more or less rigorously, what a science could develop into.
“Unfortunately, this definition included stories in which there was no science or else science poorly understood by the author.
“However (there are a lot of howevers in science fiction), there were many stories about things which could not possibly happen, for which there was no scientific evidence whatsoever. Like time travel, parallel worlds, and faster-than-light drives. Living stars, God visiting the Earth in the flesh, insects tall as buildings, world deluges, enslavement through telepathy, and more in an endless list.”
“How did it come to be named science fiction?”
“Well, actually, it was around a long time before a man named Hugo Gernsback originated the label. You’ve read the Jules Verne novels and Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, haven’t you? Those were considered to be science fiction.”
“It sounds as if it were just fantasy,” Burton had said.
“Yes, but all fiction is fantasy. The difference between mundane fantasy, what we called mainstream literature, and science fiction was that mainstream stories were about things which could have happened. They also always took place in the past or the present.
“Science fiction stories were about things that could not happen or were highly improbable. Some people wanted to name it speculative literature, but the term never caught on.”
Burton never thoroughly understood what science fiction was, but he did not feel bad about it. Frigate couldn’t explain it clearly either, though he could give numerous examples.
“Actually,” Frigate had said, “science fiction was one of those many things that don’t exist but nevertheless have a name. Let’s talk about something else.”
Burton had refused to drop the subject. “Then you were in a profession which didn’t exist?”
“No, the profession of writing science fiction existed. It was just that science fiction per se was nonexistent. This is beginning to sound like a dialog in Alice in Wonderland.”
“Was the money you made from your writings also nonexistent?”
“Almost. Well, that’s an exaggeration. I didn’t starve in a garret, but I also wasn’t driving a gold-plated Cadillac.”
“What’s a Cadillac?”
Thinking of that now, Burton found it strange that the woman who slept with him was the Alice who had been the inspiration for Lewis Carroll’s two masterpieces.
Suddenly, Frigate said, “What’s that?”
Burton looked eastward toward the strait. Unlike the areas above and below it, the strait had no banks. High hills rose abruptly along its length, hills which were smooth walls. Below the strait something—no, two objects—were moving toward him, seemingly suspended above the fog.
He climbed a rope ladder to get a better look. The two objects were not suspended in the air. Their lower parts were just hidden by the mists. The nearest was a wooden structure with what seemed to be a human figure on its top. The second, much farther back, was a large, round, black object.
He called down. “Pete! I think it’s a raft! A very large one! It’s moving with the current, and it’s headed directly toward us! There’s a tower with a pilot on it. He isn’t moving, though, just standing there. Surely…”
No, not surely. The man on the tower had not moved. If he were awake, he would have seen that the raft was on a collision course.
Burton hooked an arm around a rope, cupped his hands, and bellowed warnings. The figure leaning against the guardrail did not move. Burton stopped shouting at him.
“Wake up everybody!” he thundered at Frigate. “On the double! We must get the boat out of the way!”
He climbed swiftly down and went over the side onto the dock. Here, where his head was below the surface of the fog, he could see nothing. By running one hand along the hull, however, he could feel his way to the mooring posts. By the time he had untied two lines, he heard the others on the deck above. He shouted that Monat and Kazz should get onto the dock on the other side and untie the lines there.
In his haste, he rammed into a post and for several seconds hopped around holding his knee. Then he resumed his work.
Having completed his part of unloosing, he groped back along the hull. Someone had by then let down the gangway. He went up it, his hands sliding along the railing, and came aboard. Now he could see the tops of the women’s heads and the American’s face.
Alice said, “What’s going on?”
“Have you gotten the poles out?” he said to Frigate.
He swung up onto the rope ladder again. The two objects were still on a course that must end at the docks. The man on the watchtower had not moved.
By now there were voices coming from the island. The Ganopo were awake and calling out questions.
Monat’s head and shoulders rose from the grayness. He looked like a monster sliding up out of the fog of a Gothic novel. The skull was similar to that of a human being’s, but the fleshy features made him seem only semihuman. Thick black eyebrows curved down alongside the face to knobbed cheekbones and flared out to cover them. Thin membranes that swung with the movement of his head hung from the lower part of his nostrils. At the end of his nose was a deeply cleft boss of cartilage. His lips were like a dog’s, thin, black, and leathery. The lobeless ears were convoluted like seashells.
Kazz bellowed somewhere near Monat. Burton could not see him since he was the second shortest of the crew, only about 5 feet or 1.5 meters tall. Then he came very close, and Burton could make out the squat figure.
“Get the poles and push the boat from the docks!” Burton yelled.
“Where in hell are they?” Besst called.
Frigate said, “I pulled them from the rack. They’re on the deck below it.”
Burton said, “Follow me,” and then he cursed as he stumbled over something and fell flat on his face. He was up again at once, only to bump into somebody. From the bulky shape, he thought it must be Besst.
After some confusion, the poles were gotten and their wielders were stationed along the sides. At Burton’s orders, they thrust the ends against the top of the dock, there being no room between the hull and the side of the dock for the poles to shove against the stone bottom of the underwater shelf. Since they had to fight against the current, which was strongest in the middle of the lake, they could only move the vessel very slowly. Once past the dock, they lowered the ends of the poles into the water and pushed against the rocky bottom. Even so, the poles slipped on the bare, smooth rock.
Burton ordered that they should let the prow of the boat swing around. This was done, and then the polers on the port side moved to the starboard to help the others keep the vessel from drifting sidewise against the spire. At this point, both the beach and the underwater shelf abruptly ceased. Now they had to hold the poles horizontally and shove against the wall of the spire.
Burton, hearing an unknown voice, looked back. The dark figure on the tower was moving now and screaming down into the fog. Other voices, fainter than the pilot’s, came through the mists.
The large, round, dark object had become even larger. In the starlight it looked like the head of a giant. He estimated that the distance between the tower and the other object was about 100 meters. That meant that the raft which carried them was huge. He had no idea how wide it was, and he hoped he did not find out until after the boat was on the other side of the island.
Just before he turned back to his task, he saw another man appear on the tower. He was waving his hands, and his shrill voice dominated the other man’s.
“Here it comes!” Frigate called out.
Burton didn’t blame him for sounding panicked. He was in a frenzy himself. All that weight and momentum, hundreds, perhaps thousands of logs, were moving toward the Hadji II.
“Push your guts out!” he yelled. “We’ll be crushed if you don’t!”
By then the bowsprit, the large spar projecting forward of the ship, had cleared the spire. About ten more pushes should clear the corner, and the Hadji II would be taken by the current past the spire, away from the danger.
The yelling from the raft was loud and close. Burton spared a glance at the tower. It was only a little over 400 feet or 122 meters away. Furthermore, the side of the tower had turned a little. He cursed. That meant that the raft had turned, or been turned, off its course to avoid striking the island in its center part. Unfortunately, it was going to the left instead of to the right.
“Heave!” Burton shouted.
He wondered where the tower was located. Was it on the very prow of the raft or was it set back? If the latter was the situation, then there would be a large part of the raft forward of the tower. That meant that somewhere under the fog the forward part of the raft was very near the boat.
In any case, the raft was not going to miss the island. He did not care about that if it did not strike the boat.
A man on the tower was screaming orders in an unknown language down into the mists.
The prow of the Hadji II was now past the spire. But here the strong current at the corner had pressed the boat against the rocky wall, and their poles were slipping on the rock, which was smoother than that just passed.
“Push, you sons of bitches, push!” Burton thundered.
There was a roar, an abrupt lifting of the deck, a tilting inward toward the rock. Burton was dashed against a bright hardness that made him go soft and black inside. Dimly, he was aware that he had fallen back onto the deck, was lying on his back, was trying to get up in the dark grayness. Screams arose from around him. These and the snapping of smashed timbers and a final explosion, the impact of the forward part of the raft against the rock, were the last things he heard.
Fog blinded Jill Gulbirra.
By keeping close to the right bank of The River, she could barely discern the grailstones. They looked ominous, like giant toadstools in a dismal wasteland.
The next one should be the end of her odyssey. She had been counting them as she passed them, counting all night.
Now, a phantom in a ghost canoe, she paddled on. The wind was dead, but she revived it a little, or made it a pseudowind, by her own motion, driving against the current. The heavy wet air rubbed against her face like ectoplasmic curtains.
Now she saw a fire by the stone which had to be her destination. It had been a small spark. Now it was bigger, glowing palely, a ghost of a fire. From near it the voices of men. Disembodied voices.
She herself, she thought, must look like the spirit of a nun. White cloths held together by concealed magnetic tabs swathed her body. One cloth formed a hood so that anyone near enough in the fog would see her face as a darker blank in the dark grayness.
Her few belongings crouched on the floor of the canoe. In this wet, dim woolliness, they were two small beasts, white and gray. Near her was a tall gray metal cylinder, her “tucker box.” Beyond it was a bundle, cloths containing various items. A bamboo flute. A ring of oak set with polished jadeite stone, her lover’s gift, a lover departed but dead in only one sense—as far as she knew. A bag of dragonfish leather, crammed with artifacts and memories. Tied to the bundle, but invisible in this darkness, was a leather case holding a yew bow and a quiver of arrows.
Under her seat lay a spear, a bamboo shaft tipped with a hornfish horn. By it lay two heavy oak war-boomerangs and a bag containing two leather slings and forty stones.
As the fire brightened, the voices became louder. Who were they? Guards? Drunken revellers? Slavers hoping to catch just such as she? Early worms out to catch a bird?
She smiled grimly. If they wanted violence, they would get it.
However, they sounded more like drunks. If what she had been told downRiver was true, she was in peaceful territory. Neither Parolando nor its neighboring states practiced grail slavery. She could have sailed the canoe boldly in daylight, according to her information. She would be welcomed and free, free to come or to go. Moreover, it was true that they, Parolandoj, were building a giant airship.
But distrust was her native element, though she could not be blamed for that. Consider her terrible experiences. So, she would scout around in the dark. It would require more work and inconvenience; it would be inefficient. You had to make your choice between survival and efficiency, though in the long run survival was optimum efficiency, no matter how much time and effort it took.
Death was no longer a temporary event in the Rivervalley. Resurrection seemed to have stopped, and with its cessation the ancient terror had returned.
Now the fire was bright enough for her to see the huge toadstool shape. The blaze was just beyond it. Four figures, black outlines, moved by the flames. She could smell the smoke of bamboo and pine, and she thought she whiffed cigars. Why had the disgusting cigars been provided by the Mysterious Donors?
They were talking in somewhat slurred English. Either they had been drinking or English was not their native tongue. No. The voice now booming through the fog belonged to an American.
“No!” the man bellowed. “By the holy flaming rings of buggered Saturn, no! It’s not sheer ego, downright stinking hubris! I want to build the biggest ever built, a fabulous ship, a true queen of the skies, a colossus, a leviathan! Bigger than Earth or The Riverworld has ever seen or will ever see again! A ship to make everybody’s eyes bug out, make them proud they’re human! A beauty! A wondrous behemoth of the air! Unique! Like nothing that ever existed before! What? Don’t interrupt, Dave! I’m flying high, and I’m going to keep on flying until we get there! And then some!”
“But me no buts! We need a big one, the biggest, the grandest, for purely logical scientific reasons. My God, man, we have to go higher, further, than any dirigible ever has! We have to range 16,900 kilometers maybe, depending upon where the boat is! And God only knows what winds we’ll run into! And it’s all one vast one-shot! Do you hear me, Dave, Zeke, Cyrano? A one-shot!”
Her heart would not quit racing. “Dave” had spoken with a German accent. They must be the very men she was looking for. What luck! No, not luck. She had known how many kilometers distant, counted by the grailstones spaced along the bank, her destination was. And she had been told exactly where the headquarters of Milton Firebrass was. And she knew that David Schwartz, the Austrian engineer, was one of Firebrass’ lieutenants.
“It’ll take too much time, too much material,” a man said loudly. His speech was that of a native of Maine. There was something, or was it just her overactive imagination, of the shriek of the wind in rigging, the creaking of rope and wood in a rolling ship, the thunder of surf, the flapping of sails, in his voice? Imagination, of course.
“Stop that, Jill,” she told herself. If Firebrass had not called him Zeke, she would not now be imposing open-sea-sailing-ship images on the voice. He would be Ezekiel Hardy, captain of a New Bedford whaler, killed by a sperm whale off the coast of Japan—1833?—and he had convinced Firebrass that he would make an excellent helmsman or navigator for the airship. After suitable training, of course. Firebrass must really be hard up for a crew if he signed on an early-nineteenth-century whaling ship skipper. The man had probably never even seen a balloon, maybe not even a steam-driven riverboat.
The grapevine had it that Firebrass had had little success so far in finding experienced airshipmen. Men, of course. Always men. So, he had accepted candidates who seemed most likely to benefit from training. Airplane pilots. Balloonists. Sailors. Meanwhile, the word had spread up and down The River for 60,000 kilometers, perhaps 100,000, that Firebrass wanted lighter-than-air men. Always men.
What did Firebrass know about building and flying a gasbag? He may have journeyed to Mars and Ganymede, orbited Jupiter and Saturn, but what did that have to do with dirigibles? David Schwartz, it was true, had designed and built the first truly rigid dirigible. It had also been the first to have a structure and skin made completely from aluminum. This was in 1893, sixty years before she had been born. He’d then started to build a better airship—in Berlin, 1895?—but work had stopped on it when Schwartz had died—January, 1897?
She was not sure now. Thirty-one years on The River had dimmed much of memories on Earth.
She wondered if Schwartz knew what had happened after he had died. Probably not unless he’d met some gasbag freak, a layman Zepfan. Schwartz’s widow had carried on his work, and yet no book Jill had read had bothered to note her first name or her maiden name. She was only Frau Schwartz. She had gotten the second ship built, despite being only a woman. And some male jackass had flown the aluminum ship (which looked more like a thermos bottle than anything else), had panicked, and had wrecked it.
All that was left of Schwartz’s dream and his wife’s devotion to it was a crumpled mass of silvery-looking metal. So much for dreams in a high wind when a big phallus, lilliputian brains, and mouse courage were at the controls. Now, if the jackass had been a woman, her name would have been recorded. See what happens when a woman leaves the kitchen? If God had intended…
Jill Gulbirra trembled, a hot ache in her chest. Get hold of yourself, she murmured. Cool does it or you blow it.
She started from her reverie. While she had been dreaming of Frau Schwartz’s dream, she had allowed the canoe to be carried downRiver. The fire had become smaller, and the voices fainter, and yet she had not noticed. Better bloody watch out, she told herself. She had to be ever alert, or she would never convince the powers-that-be that she was qualified to be one of the airship crew. To be captain?
“There’s plenty of time!” Firebrass thundered. “This isn’t any government-contract, low-fund, high-pressure project! It’ll be thirty-seven years or more before Sam gets to the end of The River. It’ll only take two—maybe three—years to complete the beast. Meanwhile, we’ll use the blimp for training. And then we’re off, heigh ho for the wild blue yonder, the misty sea of the north pole, where no Santa Claus, but somebody who’s given us gifts that make Saint Nick look like the world’s worst tightwad, lives! Off to the Misty Tower, the Really Big Grail!”
The fourth man spoke up now. He had a pleasant baritone, but it was evident that English was not his natal speech. What was it? It sounded like a French accent in some ways but… Yes, of course. That could be Savinien de Cyrano de Bergerac, if she could believe what she had heard at about hundredth hand. It just did not seem possible that she would soon be talking to him. Perhaps she wouldn’t be, since there were so many phonies on The River.
There was silence for a moment, the silence that only the Rivervalley knew—when people kept their mouths shut. No birds, no animals (especially no barking dogs), no mechanical monsters roaring, bellowing, buzzing, screeching, no tooting horns, no whooping or screaming sirens, no shrieking brakes, no loud radios, no blaring loudspeakers. Only water lapping against shore and then a splash as a fish leaped out and fell back. And the crackle of wood in the fire.
“Ah!” Firebrass said. “Smooth! Better’n anything I ever had on Earth! And free, free! But when, when will the airmen show up? I need more men with experience, real gasbaggers!”
Schwartz made a smacking sound—Jill could see the bottle tilted above his lips now—and he said, “So! You are not so unworried!”
The canoe touched shore, and she got out of it without tipping it. The water was up to her waist, but the magnetically sealed cloths kept the cold liquid out. She waded closer and lifted the long, heavy canoe, moving forward until she was on shore. She let the craft down and dragged it until its entire length was out of the stream. The bank was only about 30 centimeters above the water level. She stood for a moment, planning her entrance, then decided not to go armed.
“Oh, I’ll get them eventually,” Firebrass was saying.
She stepped closer, sliding her feet over the short grass.
“I’m the one you’re looking for,” she said loudly.
The four whirled, one almost falling and grabbing another. They stared, their mouths and eyes dark holes in paleness. Like her, they were covered with cloths but theirs were brightly colored. If she had been an enemy, she could have put an arrow into each one before they could grab their weapons—if they had such. Then she saw that they did have guns, placed on the edge of the mushroom top of the grailstone.
Pistols! Made of iron! So, it was true!
Now she suddenly saw a rapier, a long, steel sharp-pointed blade, in the hand of the tallest man there. His other hand brushed his hood back and revealed a long, dark face with a big nose. He had to be the fabled Cyrano de Bergerac.
Cyrano reverted to seventeenth-century French, of which she could understand only a few words.
Firebrass pushed his hood back, too.
“I almost crapped in my britches! Why didn’t you warn us you were coming?”
She lowered her hood.
Firebrass stepped closer and looked keenly at her. “It’s a woman!”
“Nevertheless, I’m your man,” Jill said.
“What’d you say?”
“Don’t you understand English!” she said angrily.
Her displeasure was more at herself. She had been so excited, though pretending to be composed, that she’d reverted to her Toowoomba dialect. She might as well have spoken in Shakespearean English for all they understood. She repeated, in the standard Midwestern American she’d learned so painstakingly, “Nevertheless, I’m your man. My name, by the way, is Jill Gulbirra.”
Firebrass introduced himself and the others, then said, “I need another drink.”
“I could use one myself,” Jill said. “It’s a fallacy that alcohol warms you up, but it does make you think you’re warmed up.”
Firebrass stopped and picked up a bottle—the first glass Jill had seen for years. He handed it to her and she drank the scotch without wiping the mouth of the bottle. After all, there were no disease germs on The River. And she had no prejudices about drinking from a bottle that had been in the mouth of a half-black. Wasn’t her grandmother an aborigine? Of course, abos were not Negroes. They were black-skinned archaic Caucasians.
Why was she thinking such thoughts?
Cyrano, his head stuck forward, his back bent, walked up to her. He looked her over, shook his head, and said, “Mordioux, the hair is shorter than mine! And there is no makeup! Are you sure she is a woman?”
Jill moved the scotch around in her mouth and swallowed it. It was delicious, and it warmed all the way down.
“We shall see,” the Frenchman said. He put his hand on her left breast and squeezed gently.
Jill sank a fist into his hard belly. He bent over, and Jill brought her knee up against his chin. He fell heavily.
Firebrass said, “What the hell?” and stared at her.
“How would you react if he felt your crotch to see if you were a man?”
“Simply thrilled, honey,” Firebrass said. He whooped with laughter and danced around while the other two men looked at him as if they thought he was crazy.
Cyrano got onto his hands and knees and then onto his feet. His face was red, and he was snarling. Jill wanted to back away, especially after he picked up the rapier. But she did not move, and she said, her voice steady, “Do you always take such familiarities with strange women?”
A shudder went over him. The redness faded away, and the snarl became a smile. He bowed. “No, madame, and my apologies for such inexcusable manners. I do not usually drink, since I do not like to cloud my mind, to become bestial. But tonight we were celebrating the anniversary of the departure of the Riverboat.”
“No sweat,” Jill said. “Just don’t let it happen again.”
Though she smiled, she was cursing herself for having begun in such a bad way with a man for whom she had a great admiration. It was not her fault, but she could not expect him to forgive her for having felled him so easily before witnesses. No male ego could survive that.
The mist thinned. Now they did not need the firelight to see each other’s faces. Below their waists the gray-white coils were still dense, however. The sky was brightening, though it would be some hours before the sun cleared the eastern peaks. The great white gas sheets that covered one-sixth of the sky had faded away with the lesser stars. Thousands of the giants still flamed red, green, white, blue, but their intensity, like gas jets slowly being turned off, was diminishing.
Westward, a dozen structures towered up from the mists. Her eyes widened, though she had heard about these through the grapevine and the drum-telegraph. Some were four-and-five-story-high buildings of sheet-iron and aluminum. Factories. But the colossus was an aluminum building, a hangar.
“It’s the biggest I ever saw,” she murmured.
“You ain’t seen nothing yet,” Firebrass said. He paused, then said, wonderingly, “So you have come to sign up?”
“I said that once.”
He was The Man. He could hire and fire her. But she’d never been able to conceal irritation at stupidity. Repetition was wasteful and hence stupid. Here was a man who had a Ph.D. in astrophysics and a master’s in electronic engineering. And the United States had not sent any dummies into space, though they may not have been brilliant. Maybe it was the liquor that made him seem stupid. As it did every man. And every woman, she hastened to remind herself. Be fair.
He was close, breathing the whiskey fumes up into her face. He was a head shorter than she, his broad shoulders, muscular arms, and deep chest making a curious contrast with long, skinny legs. His large eyes were brown, the balls bloodshot. His head was large, his forehead bulged, his bronze hair was so curly that it was almost kinky, his skin was bronze-red. He was supposed to be a mulatto, but the Caucasian and Onondaga Indian genes seemed to be dominant. He could pass for a Provençal or Catalonian. Or just about anything South European.
He looked her up and down. Was his bold stare supposed to challenge her to knock him down as she had Cyrano?
Jill said, “What are you thinking of? My qualifications for airship officer? Or what kind of body is under these baggy towels?”
Firebrass burst out laughing. When he had recovered, he said, “Both.”
Schwartz looked embarrassed. He was short and slight, blue eyed and brown haired. Jill glared at him, and he turned away. Ezekiel Hardy was, like Cyrano, almost as tall as she. He was narrow faced, high cheekboned, black haired. He stared at her with hard pale-blue eyes.
“I’ll repeat this because it needs to be stressed,” she said. “I’m as good as any man and ready to prove it. And I’m a godsend. I have an engineering degree and I can design an airship from A to Z. I have 8,342 hours flight time in four different types of blimp. I can handle any post, including captain.”
“What proof do we have?” Hardy said. “You could be lying.”
“Where are your papers?” Jill said. “And even if you were skipper of a whaling ship, so what? What qualification is that for a dirigible man?”
“Now, now,” Firebrass said. “Don’t let us get our bowels in an uproar. I believe you, Gulbirra. I don’t think you’re one of the many phonies I’ve had to put up with.
“But let’s get one thing straight. You are a hell of a lot more qualified than I am—as of this moment, anyway—to command the ship. But nevertheless, I am the captain, the boss, the head cheese! I’m running this whole show from start to finish. On the ground and up there. I didn’t give up being chief engineer on Clemens’ boat so I could take a minor position in this project.
“It’s Captain Firebrass, and don’t ever forget that. If that’s okay, signed and sealed in blood, then I’ll be jumping with joy to welcome you aboard. You might even be first mate—no sexual implications involved—though I can’t promise that. The roster is a long way from being filled.”
He paused, cocked his head, and narrowed his eyes.
“First thing off. You have to swear by your personal honor—and by God, if you believe in one—that you’ll obey the laws of Parolando. No ifs, ands, buts.”
Gulbirra hesitated. She licked her lips, feeling their dryness. She desired—no, lusted for—the airship. She could visualize it even now. It hovered over them, casting a shadow over her and Firebrass, shining silvery where the imaginary sun struck it.
“I’m not going to sacrifice any of my principles!” she said. She spoke so loudly that she startled the men. “Are men and women equal here? Is there any discrimination in sex, race, nationality, and so forth? Especially in sex?”
“No,” Firebrass said. “Theoretically and legally, that is. Actually, that is, personally, there is, of course. And there is, as there has always been everywhere and everytime, discrimination based on competency. We have high standards here. If you’re one of those who think that a person should be given a job just because he—or she—belongs to a group that has been discriminated against, forget it. Or move your ass on out of here.”
She was silent for a moment. The men looked at her, obviously aware of the struggle inside her.
Firebrass grinned again. “You’re not the only one in agony,” he said. “I want you in the worst way, just as you want in the worst way, that is, the best way, to be one of the crew. But I’ve got my principles, just as you have yours.”
He jerked a thumb at Schwartz and Hardy. “Look at them. Both nineteenth-century. One’s an Austrian; one, a New Englander. But they’ve not only accepted me as the captain, they’re good friends. Maybe they still believe, way deep down, that I’m an uppity nigger, but they’d take a poke at anyone who called me that. Right, men?”
“Thirty-one years on The Riverworld changes a person. If he’s capable of being changed. So, what do you say? Want to hear the constitution of Parolando?”
“Of course. I wouldn’t make a decision until I knew what I was getting into.”
“It was formulated by the great Sam Clemens, who left on his boat, the Mark Twain, almost a year ago.”
“The Mark Twain? That’s pretty egotistical, isn’t it?”
“The name was chosen by popular vote. Sam protested, though not very strongly. Anyway, you interrupted me. There’s an unwritten rule that nobody interrupts the captain. So here goes. We, the people of Parolando, do hereby declare… ”
There was no hesitation nor, as far as she knew, any mistakes in the long recital. The almost total lack of the written word had forced the literate population to rely on memory. A skill that once had flourished only among preliterates—and actors—was now general property.
While the words rose to the sky, the sky became brighter. The mists shrank to their knees. The valley floor was still covered with what looked at a distance like snow. The foothills beyond the plains were no longer distorted. The long hillgrass, the bushes, the irontrees, oaks, pines, yews, and bamboo no longer looked like a Japanese painting, misty, unreal, and far off. The huge flowers that grew from the thick vines intertwined on the irontree branches were beginning to collect color. When the sun would hit them, they would glow with vivid reds, greens, blues, blacks, white, yellows, stripes and diamonds of mixed colors.
The western precipices were blue-black stone on which were enormous splotches of bluish-green lichen. Here and there, narrow cataracts fell dull-silvery down the mountainsides.
All of this was familiar to Jill Gulbirra. But each morning awoke in her the same sense of awe and wonder. Who had formed this many-million-kilometers-long Rivervalley? And why? And how and why had she, along with an estimated thirty-four to thirty-seven billion people, been resurrected on this planet? Everybody who had ever lived from about 2,000,000 B.C. to 2008 A.D. seemed to have been raised from the dead. The exceptions were children who’d died at or under the age of five and the mentally retarded. And also, possibly, the hopelessly insane, though there was doubt about the definition of hopelessly.
Who were the people who had done this? Why?
There were rumors and tales, strange, disturbing, and maddening, of people who had appeared among the lazari. Briefly. Mysteriously. They were named, among other things, the Ethicals.
“Are you listening?” Firebrass said. She became aware that they were staring at her. “I can give you back, almost verbatim, what you’ve said so far,” she answered.
This wasn’t true. But she was sensitized—keeping one ear open, as it were, like an antenna receiving on a single frequency—for what she considered important.
Now the people were coming out of the huts, stretching, coughing, lighting up cigarettes, heading for the bamboo-walled latrines, or walking toward The River, grails in hand. The hardy wore only a towel; most were clad from head to foot. Bedouins of the Rivervalley. Phantoms in a mirage.
Firebrass said, “Okay. You ready to be sworn in? Or do you have mental reservations?”
“I never have those,” she said. “What about you? In regard to me, I mean?”
“It wouldn’t matter, anyway.” He grinned again. “This oath is only a preliminary one. You’ll be on probation for three months, then the people vote on you. But I can veto the vote. Then you take the final oath, if you pass. Okay?”
She didn’t like it, but what could she do? She certainly wasn’t going to walk out. Besides, though they didn’t know it, they’d be on probation with her.
The air became warmer. The eastern sky continued to brighten, quenching all but a few giant stars. Bugles blew. The nearest was on top of a six-story bamboo tower, in the middle of the plain, and the bugler was a tall, skinny black wearing a scarlet towel around his waist.
“Real brass,” Firebrass said. “There are some deposits of copper and zinc a little ways upstream. We could have taken them away from the people who owned it, but we traded instead. Sam wouldn’t let us use force unless it was necessary.
“South of here, where Soul City used to be, were big deposits of cryolite and bauxite. The Soul Citizens wouldn’t keep their side of the bargain—we were trading steel weapons for the ores—so, we went down and took it. In fact,” he waved his hand, “Parolando now extends for sixty-four kilometers on both sides of The River.”
The men removed all cloths except for those around the waist. Jill kept on a green-and-white-striped kilt and a thin, nearly transparent cloth around her breasts. They had looked like desert Arabs; now they were Polynesians.
The dwellers of the plains and the bases of the foothills were gathering by the Riverside. A number shucked all their cloths and jumped into the water, whooping at the cold and splashing each other.
Jill hesitated for a minute. She had sweat all day and all night paddling her canoe. She needed a bath, and sooner or later she’d have to disrobe entirely. She dropped her towels and ran to the bank and dived flatly out. After swimming back, she borrowed a bar of soap from a woman and lathered the upper part of her body. She came out of the water shivering and rubbed herself vigorously.
The men stared frankly, seeing a very tall woman, slim, long legged, small breasted, wide hipped, deeply tanned. She had short, straight, russet hair and large russet eyes. Her face, as she well knew, was nothing to write home about. It was passable except for large buck teeth and a nose a little too long and too hawkish. The teeth were an inheritance from her blackfeller grandmother. There was nothing she could do about them. Nor was there anything she wanted to do about them.
Hardy’s gaze was fastened on her pubic hair, which was extraordinarily long, thick, and ginger colored. Well, he’d get over that, and he was as close to it as he was ever going to get.
Firebrass went around the side of the grailstone and returned with a spear. Just below the steel head, attached to the shaft, was a large vertebral bone from a hornfish. He drove the spear straight into the ground beside her canoe.
“The bone means it’s my spear, the captain’s,” he said. “I stuck it in the ground by the canoe to tell everybody that it’s not to be borrowed without permission. There are a lot of things like that for you to learn. Meanwhile, Schwartz can show you your quarters and then give you a guided tour. Report to me at high noon under that irontree there.”
He indicated a tree about 90 meters to the west. Towering over 300 meters, it had a thick, gnarly gray bark, scores of great branches extending 90 meters outward, huge elephant’s-ear leaves with green and red stripes. Its roots surely drove down at least 120 meters, and its unburnable wood was so hard it would resist a steel saw.
“We call it The Chief. Meet me there.”
The bugles rang out again. The crowds organized themselves into a military formation under the directions of officers. Firebrass pulled himself onto the top of the grailstone. He stood there, watching while the roll call was made. The corporals reported to the sergeants and the sergeants to the lieutenants, and they to the adjutant. Then Hardy to Firebrass. A moment later, the mob was dismissed. However, they did not leave. Firebrass got off the mushroom-shaped stone, and the corporals took his place. These put the grails in the depressions on the surface of the stone.
Schwartz was beside her. He cleared his throat. “Gulbirra? I’ll take care of your grail.”
She took it from the canoe and handed it to him. This was a gray metal cylinder, 45.72 centimeters across, 76.20 centimeters high, weighing empty about 0.55 kilogram. It had a lid which, once shut, could be lifted only by the owner. There was a curved handle on the lid. Tied to it by a bamboo fiber rope was her I.D., a tiny baked-clay dirigible. It bore her initials on both sides.
Schwartz ordered a man to place her grail on the stone. The man did so quickly, glancing often at the eastern peaks. But he was safe by two minutes. At the end of that time, the sun ballooned over the top. A few seconds later, the mushroom shape spouted blue flames over 9 meters high. The roar of its discharged electricity mingled with the thunder of every stone on both sides of The River for as far as could be seen. All these years had not inured Jill to the sight nor sound. Though expecting it, she jumped a little. The report rolled back from the reflector of the mountains, echoed again, and died out with a mutter.
Everybody had breakfast.
They were on a foothill. The tall espartolike grass had been recently mown to about a centimeter-and-a-half length. “We have some machines that do that, though much cutting is done with sickles,” David Schwartz said. “The grass is made into ropes.”
“We didn’t have any machines where I come from,” Jill said. “We used flint sickles. But we made rope from it, of course.”
It was shady and cool here. The branches of an irontree spread out to cover a small village, a scattering of square or round huts of bamboo. Many of them were thatched with the scarlet and green leaves of the irontree. A rope ladder dangled from the lowest branch of the colossus, 33 meters up. Near it, a hut sat on a platform supported on two branches. There were other rope ladders, other platforms and huts here and there.
“Perhaps you will be assigned one of them after your probation,” Schwartz said. “Meanwhile, here’s your home.”
Jill entered the indicated doorway. At least, she did not have to stoop in this. So many people were short and had therefore built low entrances.
She set her grail and bundles down on the floor. Schwartz followed her in. “This belonged to a couple killed by a dragonfish. It came up out of the water as if it had been fired from a cannon. It bit off one end of the fishing craft. Unfortunately, the couple were standing on the end and were swallowed along with the logs.
“It was also unfortunate that this happened after the resurrections ceased. So, they won’t be appearing elsewhere, I suppose. You haven’t heard anything about new lazari, have you? Recently?”
“No, I haven’t,” she said. “Nothing reliable, anyway.”
“Why do you suppose it stopped? After all these years?”
“I don’t know,” she said sharply. Talking about this made her uneasy. Why had the gift of immortality been so suddenly withdrawn?
“Bloody hell with it,” she said loudly. She looked around. The floor was hidden under grass that reached almost to her crotch. The blades rasped against her legs. She would have to cut the grass close to the ground and then bring in earth to cover it. Even then the blades might not die. The roots went so deep and were so interconnected that the grass could flourish without benefit of sunshine. Apparently they could draw their sustenance from the roots of those exposed to light.
A steel sickle hung from a peg on the wall. Steel was so common here that this tool, priceless elsewhere, had not been stolen.
She moved around, slowly, so that the sharp edges of the grass would not cut her legs. She found two clay pots—thundermugs—in the tall green. A jar for drinking water was on a bamboo table which had not as yet been overturned by the pressure of the growing grass. A necklace of fishbones hung on another peg. Two bamboo cots and pillows and mattresses, made from magnetically locked cloths stuffed with leaves, were partially hidden by the grass. Near them lay a harp made from turtlefish shell and fish intestines.
“Well, it’s not much,” she said. “But then it never is, is it?”
“It’s big enough, though,” Schwartz said. “Plenty of room for you and your mate—when you find one.”
Jill took the sickle from the peg and swiped at the grass. The blades fell like so many heads. “Hah!”
Schwartz looked at her as if he wondered if she would go from the grass to him.
“Why do you assume that I want a lover?”
“Why, why, why, everybody, that is, everybody does.”
“Everybody doesn’t,” she said. She hung the sickle back onto the peg. “What’s next on this Cook’s tour?”
She had expected that, when they were alone in the hut, he would ask her to go to bed with him. So many men did. It was evident now that he would like to ask her, but he didn’t have the guts. She felt relief mixed with contempt. Then she told herself that it was a strange feeling, self-contradictory. Why should she look down on him because he behaved as she wanted him to behave?
Perhaps some disappointment was also present. When a man got too aggressive, despite her warnings, then she chopped his neck with the edge of her hand, squeezed his testicles, kicked him in the stomach while he writhed on the ground. No matter how big and strong a man, he was taken by surprise. They were all helpless, at least while the agony in the testicles lasted. Afterward… well, most of them left her alone. Some had tried to kill her, but she was ready for that. They didn’t know how handy she was with a knife—or with any weapon.
David Schwartz was unaware of how narrowly he had escaped crippling and a permanent dent in his ego.
“It’s quite safe to leave your belongings here. We’ve never had a case of theft yet.”
“I’ll take the grail. I’d feel nervous if I couldn’t keep my eye on it.”
He shrugged and took a cigar from the leather bag hanging from his shoulder. One of this morning’s offerings from his grail.
“Not in here,” she said quietly. “This is my home, and I don’t want it stunk up.”
He looked surprised, but he shrugged again. As soon as they had stepped out, however, he lit it. And he moved from her left side to upwind, puffing vigorously, blowing in her direction.
Jill repressed the remark she wanted so much to make. It would be indiscreet to offend him too much, to give him a chance to black-mark her. After all, she was on probation; she was a woman; she wouldn’t needlessly antagonize a man with such a high position, a good friend of Firebrass’. But she would bend her principles, her neck, only so far.
Or would she? She had taken a lot of crap on Earth because she had wanted to be an airship officer. And smiled and gone home and smashed dishes and pottery and written dirty words on the wall. Childish, but satisfactory. And here she was, in a similar situation, undreamed of until several years ago. She couldn’t go someplace else, because there wasn’t any other place. Here was where the only airship in the world would be built. And that was to be a one-shot, a single-voyage phenomenon.
Schwartz stopped on top of the hill. He pointed at an avenue formed by ridgepole pines. At its end, halfway down the hill opposite, was a long shed.
“The latrine for your neighborhood,” he said. “You’ll dump your nightpots in it first thing every morning. The urine in one hole and the excrement in the one next to it.”
He paused, smiled, and said, “Probationers are usually given the task of removing the stuff every other day. They take it up the mountain to the gunpowder factory. The excrement is fed to the powderworms. The end product of their digestion is potassium nitrate, and…”
“I know,” she said, speaking between clamped teeth. “I’m not a dummy. Anyway, that process is used wherever sulfur is available.”
Schwartz teetered on his heels, happily puffing his cigar, tilted upward. If he had had suspenders, he would have snapped them.
“Most probationers put in at least a month working in the factory. It’s unpleasant, but it’s good discipline. It also weeds out those who aren’t dedicated.”
“Non carborundum illegitimatus,” she said.
“What?” he said out of the side of his mouth.
“A Yank saying. Jack-Latin. Translation: Don’t let the bastards grind you down. I can take any crap handed me—if it’s worth doing it. Then it’s my turn.”
“Too right. You have to be if you survive in a man’s world. I thought perhaps things would be different here. They weren’t, and aren’t, but they will be.
“We’ve all changed,” he said slowly and somewhat sadly. “Not always for the better. If you’d told me in 1893 that I’d be listening to a woman, an upper-class woman, not a whore or a millhand, mind you, spewing filth and subversive…”
“Instead of subservient, you mean,” she said harshly.
“Allow me to finish. Subversive suffragette rot. And if you’d told me that it wouldn’t particularly bother me, I’d have said you were a liar. But live and learn. Or, in our case, die and learn.”
He paused and looked at her. The right side of her mouth jerked; her eyes narrowed.
“I could tell you to stick it,” she said. “But I must get along with you. I will take only so much, however.”
“You didn’t understand all I said,” he replied. “I said it doesn’t bother me now. And I said, live and learn. I am not the David Schwartz of 1893. I hope you are not the Jill Gulbirra of… when did you die?”
They walked down the hill in silence, Jill carrying her grail on the end of her spear, which was on her shoulder. Schwartz stopped once to point out a stream that ran down from the hills. Its source was a cataract in the mountains. They came to a small lake between two hills. A man sat in a rowboat in the middle of the lake, a bamboo fishing pole in his hand, the float drifting toward a bush overhanging the bank. Jill thought he looked Japanese.
Schwartz said, “Your neighbor. His real name is Ohara, but he prefers to be called Piscator. He’s crazy about Izaak Walton, whom he can quote verbatim. He says a man needs only one name in this world, and he’s chosen Piscator. Latin for fisher. He’s a fish freak, as you can see. Which is why he’s in charge of the Parolando Riverdragon fishing. But today’s his day off.”
“That’s interesting,” she said. He was, she believed, leading up to something unpleasant for her. The slight smile looked sadistic.
“He’ll probably be the first mate of the airship,” he said. “He was a Japanese naval officer and during the first part of World War I he was attached to the British Navy as an observer and trainee on dirigibles. Later, he was a trainee-observer on an Italian Navy airship which made bombing raids on Austrian bases. So, you see, he’s had enough experience to rank him very high on the list.”
“And he is a man.” She smiled, though seething inside. “And though my experience is much much more than his, still, he’s a man.”
Schwartz backed away from her. “I’m sure Firebrass will appoint officers according to their merits only.”
She did not reply.
Schwartz waved at the man in the boat. He rose from his seat and, smiling, bowed. Then he sat down, but not before giving her a look that seemed to sweep over her like a metaphysical radar beam, locating her place in the world, identifying her psychic construction.
Imagination, of course. But she thought that Schwartz was right when he said, “An extraordinary man, that Piscator.”
The Japanese’s black eyes seemed to burn holes in her back as she walked away.
Blackness outside. Inside, a night writhing with snakes of pale lightning, twisty and fuzzy. Some time later, in a place where there was no time, a bright beam ahead shone as if from the lens of a movie projector. The light was a whisper in the air; in her mind, it was bellowing. The film was being shown on a cathode-ray oscilloscope; it was a series of letters, broken words, signs, and symbols, all part of an undeciphered code. Perhaps: undecipherable.
Worse, it seemed to run backward, spun back into the reel(ity?). It was a documentary made for television, for the boobish (boobed?) viewer of the boob tube. Yet, backward was an excellent technique. Images flashed to suggest, to reverberate, to echo, to evoke, to flap intimation upon intimation with electronic quickness. Like flipping the pages of an illustrated book from back to beginning. But the text, where was the text? And what was she thinking of when she thought of images? There were no images. No plot. Yes, there was a plot, but it had to be put together from many pieces. Ah, many pieces. She almost had it, but it had slipped away.
Moaning, she awoke. She opened her eyes and listened to the rain beating upon the thatched roof.
Now she remembered the first part of the dream. It was a dream of a dream, or what she thought was a dream but was not sure. It was raining, and she had half-awakened or had seemed to do so. The hut was 20,000 kilometers from this one, but it was almost identical, and the world outside the hut, as seen by occasional flashes of lightning, would not have differed much. She had turned, and her hand had not felt the expected flesh.
She had sat up and looked around. A lightning streak, close enough to make her jump, showed that Jack was not in the hut.
She had got up and lit a fish-oil lamp. Not only was he not there, his cloths, weapons, and grail were gone.
She had run out into the stormy night to look for him.
She never found him. He was gone, and no one knew where or why.
The only one who might have been able to tell her had also sneaked out that same night. He, too, had left his hutmate without saying a word about his intentions. It was apparent to Jill that the two had run off together. Yet, as far as she knew, they had been only casual acquaintances.
Why had Jack left her, so silently and heartlessly?
What had she done?
Was it just that Jack had decided that he did not want to put up with a woman who wouldn’t play second fiddle in their relationship? Also, had the wanderlust gotten him again? With both motives pushing him, had he just up and went, to use one of his corny Americanisms?
Whatever was the truth, she was living with no man anymore, ever again. Jack was the best, and the last was the best, as it should be, but he had not been good enough.
She was on the rebound when she met Fatima, the little sloe-eyed Turk. Fatima, one of the hundreds of concubines of Mohammed IV (ruled Turkey from 1648–1687), had never gone to bed with him. She had, however, not suffered overmuch from lack of sexual satisfaction. There were plenty of fellow prisoners of the Seraglio who preferred their own sex as lovers, either through natural inclinations or conditioning. She became a favorite of Kosem, Mohammed’s grandmother, though there was nothing overtly homosexual in their relationship.
But Turhan, Mohammed’s mother, sought to get control of the government from Kosem, and eventually Kosem was caught by a party of Turhan’s assassins and strangled to death with the cords from her own bed curtain. It was Fatima’s bad fortune to be attending Kosem when this happened and so she had to share her fate.
Jill took the sexy little Turk in as hutmate after Fatima had quarreled with her lover, a French ballet danseuse (died 1873). Jill was not in love with her, but she was sexually exciting and, after a while, she became fond of her. Fatima, however, was ignorant and, worse, unteachable. She was selfish and would remain so, was infantile and would remain so. Jill got tired of her after a year. Even so, she was grief-stricken when Fatima was raped and then beaten to death by three drunken Sikeli (born 1000 B.C.?). Her grief was intensified by the knowledge (or belief, since there was no proof) that Fatima was truly dead. Resurrection had apparently stopped. No more would a dead person rise the next day at dawn far, far from the scene of his or her demise.
Before succumbing to her sorrow, however, Jill had put an arrow into each of Fatima’s murderers. They were not going to rise elsewhere either.
Years later, she had heard rumors of the great dirigible that was being built upRiver. She did not know if they were true or not, but there was only one way to find out.
So here she was, though it had taken a long time to get here.
From The Daily Leak, a five-page newspaper. Owner and publisher: the state of Parolando. Editor: S.C. Bagg. In the upper-left-hand corner above the headline is the standard notice:
By law, the reader must place this journal in a public recycling barrel the day after receipt. In case of emergency, it may be used for toilet paper. We recommend the Letters to the Editor page as most appropriate for this purpose. First offense: a public reprimand. Second: confiscation of all booze, tobacco, and dreamgum for a week. Third: permanent exile.
Prominent in the Newcomers section:
We welcome, in spite of the advice of many, our latest female candidate for citizenship. On Sunday last, this tall drink of water appeared out of the predawn fog and accosted four of our leading public figures. Despite their certain state of inebriation and possibly lecherous thoughts, two conditions leading to mental fogginess, the quartet finally comprehended that their unexpected guest had traveled approximately 32,180 kilometers (or 20,000 miles, for you dummies and dodos). She had done this alone and in a canoe (and not been raped or dunked once) and all this odyssey was performed just to make sure that our airship project proceeds on proper lines. While not exactly demanding that she be appointed commander of the dirigible when it is commissioned, she did intimate that it would be to everybody’s good if she did obtain this post.
After a few snorts of the divine product of Caledonia, the quartet partially recovered from this onslaught. (One witness thus describes her appearance: “Amazonly, with a demeanor of sheer brass nerves and ironclad guts, unseemly in any woman worthy of the name.”)
The famous four inquired as to her credentials. She furnished these, which, if valid, are impressive indeed. A prominent citizen interviewed on the subject by our intrepid reporter, Roger “Nellie” Bligh, affirms that she is indeed what she claims to be. Though never having met her in his Terrestrial existence, he did read about her in various periodicals and once viewed her on television (a mid-twentieth-century invention which your editor did not live long enough to see and from all accounts was fortunate to have missed).
It seems that, unless this woman bears a remarkable physical resemblance to the genuine Jill Gulbirra, she is not one of the numerous phonies that have plagued this Rivervalley for far too long a time.
The Office of Vital (some say Deadly) Statistics has furnished us with the following information. Gulbirra, Jill (no middle name). Female. Natal name: Johnetta Georgette Redd. Born February 12, 1953, Toowoomba, Queensland, Australia. Father: John George Redd. Mother: Marie Bronze Redd. Heredity: Scotch-Irish, French (Jewish), Australian aborigine. Unmarried on Earth. Attended schools in Canberra and Melbourne. Graduated 1973 from Massachusetts Institute of Technology, master’s degree in aeronautical engineering. Commercial aviator’s license, four-motor. Free balloonist’s license. Engineer-navigator on West German freighter blimp serving Nigerian government, 1977–78. Blimp pilot for Goodyear, United States, 1979. Blimp pilot for the Sheik of Kuwait, 1980–81. Blimp instructor for British Airways Systems, 1982. Became in 1983 the only qualified woman airship captain in the Western world. Logged 8342 hours airship flight time.
Died April 1, 1983 A.D., automobile accident near Howden, England, just before assuming command of the newly commissioned rigid airship Willows-Goodens.
Profession: obvious from above.
Skills: flute, archery, fencing, kendo, quarterstaff, martial arts, badmouthing.
She is pretty good with her dukes, too, having slammed a distinguished citizen, Cyrano “Schnozzola” de Bergerac, in the breadbasket, following with a knee to the jaw, rendering him hors de combat and speechless. This phenomenon occurred as a result of his having laid hands (without permission) upon her teat. Normally, the fiery Frenchman would have challenged anyone who handled him so savagely to a duel to the death (across the Parolando boundary, of course, since dueling is illegal in our fair state). But he is so old-fashioned that he would feel, as he put it, “comme un imbécile,” if he were to fight a woman. Moreover, he feels that he was in the wrong for having made advances without invitation “verbal” or “ocular.”
An hour after suppertime yesterday, your enterprising intrepid appeared at the door of Gulbirra’s hut and knocked. There were some grunts and then a querulous voice called, “What in hell do you want?” Apparently, the would-be interviewee didn’t give a hoot about the identity of her caller.
“Miss Gulbirra, I’m Roger Bligh, reporter for The Daily Leak. I’d like to interview you.”
“Well, you’ll have to wait. I’m on the pot.”
Your journalist lit up a cigar to pass the time. He also planned to use its burning tip later to clear out the fumes in the hut. After some time, during which he heard splashing of water in a basin, he heard, “Come on in. But leave the door open.”
“Gladly,” said your dauntless.
He found the subject seated at a chair by the table and smoking a joint. What with the cigar and maryjane and residue of the subject’s recent occupation and the smoke from several fishwax candles, neither visibility nor olfactoriness were at an optimum.
“What does the title mean?”
“Are you asking just to get my views or don’t you really know? There are plenty of people of my time around. Surely, you’ve encountered Miz before?”
Your reporter confessed his ignorance.
Instead of enlightening Mr. Bligh, the subject said, “What is the position of women in Parolando?”
“In the daytime or at night?” Mr. Bligh said.
“Don’t get smart with me,” Miz Gulbirra said. “Let me put it simply so your mind can grasp exactly what I’m talking about. Legally, that is, theoretically, women have equal rights here. But in practice, in reality, what is the male attitude toward females?”
“Mainly lecherous, I’m afraid,” the intrepid replied.
“I’ll give you one more chance,” the subject said. “Then it’ll be a question of chance and gravity which strikes the ground first outside the door, your ass or your stinking cigar.”
“My apologies,” the intrepid said. “But, after all, I am here to interview you, not vice versa. Why don’t you ask our female citizens what they think of the male attitude toward them? Anyway, are you here to conduct a suffragette crusade or to build and to man (if I may use the word) the proposed dirigible?”
“Are you making fun of me?”
“The farthest thing from my mind,” the dauntless said hastily. “We are quite modern here, even though the late-twentieth-centurians constitute only a small percentage of the population. The state is dedicated to the construction of the airship. To that goal, strict discipline during working hours is maintained. But a citizen may do what he damn well pleases on his hours off, as long as he doesn’t hurt anybody else. So, let’s get down to business. What is a Miz, not to be confused with amiss?”
“You aren’t putting me on?”
“I’d swear by a stack of Bibles, if any existed.”
“Briefly, it’s a title which the members of the women’s liberation movement in the sixties adopted. Miss and Mrs. were too indicative of male sexual attitudes. To be a Miss was to be unmarried, which automatically evoked contempt, consciously or unconsciously, on the part of the male, if the Miss were past marriageable age. It implied that something was lacking in the woman, and also that the Miss must be dying to be referred to as Mrs. That is, without an identity of her own, regarded as an appendage to her husband, a second-class citizen. Why should a Miss, for that matter, be known by her father’s name? Why not her mother’s?”
“In the latter case,” our intrepid replied, “the name would still be a man’s, the woman’s father’s name.”
“Exactly. That is why I changed my name from Johnetta Georgette Redd—you’ll notice that both my so-called Christian names are feminizations of masculine names—I changed it to Jill Gulbirra. My father raised hell about that, even my mother protested strongly. But she was a typical Aunt Dora—brainwashed.”
“Interesting,” Mr. Bligh said, “Gulbirra? What kind of a name is that? Slavic? And why did you choose it?”
“No, it’s Australian aborigine, you dummy. A gulbirra is a kangaroo that catches dogs and eats them.”
“A carnivorous kangaroo? I thought they were all vegetarians?”
“Well, actually, it may not have existed. But the abos claimed that it did exist in the outlands. It may have been mythical, but what’s the difference? It’s the symbolism that counts.”
“So you identify with the gulbirra? I can imagine what the dogs symbolize.”
At this point, Miz Gulbirra smiled so terrifyingly that your correspondent felt compelled to down a snort of the Dutch courage he always carries in his shoulderbag.
“Not that I chose that name because I identify with, or sympathize with, blackfellow culture,” the Miz said. “I am one-quarter abo, but so what? It was a male chauvinist culture through and through, women were mere objects, subject to slavery; they did all the hard work and they were often beaten by their fathers and husbands. A lot of Caucasian males have sentimentalized about the destruction of abo society, but I personally thought it was a good thing. Of course, I deplore the suffering that went along with its disintegration.”
“Deploration, unlike defloration, is usually managed without pain,” Mr. Bligh said.
“Virginity! That’s another male myth, invented solely to aggrandize the male ego and enforce his opinions about his property rights,” Miz Gulbirra said bitterly. “Fortunately, that attitude changed considerably during my lifetime. But there are still plenty of pigs around, fossil boars, I called them, who…”
“That’s all very interesting,” the dauntless dared to interrupt. “But you can reserve your opinion for the Letters to the Editor page. Mr. Bagg will print anything you say, no matter how scurrilous. Our readers just now would like to know what your professional plans are. Just how do you see yourself as contributing to Project Airship, as it’s officially called? Just where do you think you’ll fit into the hierarchy?”
By now, the heavy acrid fumes of marijuana overrode all others. A wild, fierce light glittered in her drug-expanded pupils. Your correspondent felt it necessary to expand his rapidly shrinking dauntless state with another pull on the divine bottle.
“By all logic and by right of superior knowledge, experience, and capability,” she said slowly but loudly, “I should be in charge of the project. And I should be captain of the airship! I’ve checked out everybody’s qualifications, and there’s no doubt at all that I am by far the best qualified.
“So why am I not put in charge of the construction? Why am I not even considered as a candidate for the captaincy? Why?”
“Don’t tell me,” your intrepid answered. Possibly he was overly emboldened by the liquid lava coursing through his veins and dulling his otherwise fine sensibilities. “Don’t tell me. Let me hazard a guess. Could it be, I’m just groping for an explanation, mind you, could it be that you are relegated to an inferior position because you are only a woman?”
The subject stared at your correspondent, took another puff, drew it deep into her lungs, causing a slight lifting of slight breasts, and finally, face bluish with lack of oxygen, discharged the tag ends of fumes through her nostrils. Your intrepid was reminded of pictures of dragons he had seen during his Terrestrial existence. He, however, thought of the better part of valor and did not remark upon the similarity.
“You’ve got it,” she said. “Maybe you’re not so dense after all.”
Then, gripping the edge of the table as if she’d squeeze the wood, she sat up straight. “But just what do you mean by only a woman?”
“Oh, that’s only my verbalization of your thoughts,” the intrepid said hastily. “I was being ironic. Or whatever…”
“If I were a man,” she said, “which, thank God I am not, I’d have been made at least first mate on the spot. And you wouldn’t be sitting there sneering at me.”
“Oh, you’re mistaken about that,” your dauntless said. “I am not sneering at you. However, there is a point that you may have overlooked. It wouldn’t make any difference what your sex is; you could have the biggest balls for forty thousand kilometers around, and you still wouldn’t be put in charge.
“Long before the Riverboat was built—the second one, I mean, not the one King John stole—it was agreed that Firebrass would be in charge of the airship project. It’s even in the Parolando constitution, which you must know, since he himself recited it chapter and verse to you. You were aware of that and by taking the oath you accepted that. So, tell me, why all the bitching?”
“You don’t understand after all, do you, you clown?” she said. “The point is that that rule, that arrogantly imperious law, should never have been made.”
Your correspondent swallowed some more of the stuff that encourages—and stupefies—and said, “The point is that it was made. And if a man came along twice as qualified as you, he’d still have to accept the fact that he could never be higher than second. He could be Captain Firebrass’ chief construction assistant and first mate on the ship. But that’s all.”
“There isn’t any such creature as twice as qualified as me,” she said, “unless an officer from the Graf Zeppelin should show up. Listen, I’m getting tired of this.”
“It is rather hot and smoky in here,” your correspondent said, wiping the sweat off his brow. “However, I would like to get more of your background, details of your earthly life, you know, human interest stuff. And also the story of what happened to you right after Resurrection Day. And…”
“And you’re hoping I’ll get turned on by this joint and by your overwhelming male charm and virility?” she said. “Are you getting ready to make a pass at me?”
“God forbid,” I said. “This is a strictly professional visit. Besides…”
“Besides,” she said, and she was the one sneering now, “you’re scared of me, aren’t you? You’re all alike. You have to be dominant, the superior. If you meet a woman with more brains, one who is able to handle you in a fight, who is clearly the superior, then the hot air whistles out of you like a pricked balloon. A balloon with a prick.”
“Now, really, Miz Gulbirra,” your dauntless said, feeling his face heat up.
“Bug off, little man,” the subject said.
Your correspondent thought it was wise to obey this imperative. The interview, though not complete from our viewpoint, was terminated.
Jill picked up next evening’s Leak from the distribution shack outside the press building. Some people who obviously had already read the news snickered or grinned at her. She opened the paper to the Newcomers page, suspecting what she would find there, angry before reading it.
The pages rattled in her shaking hands. The interview was bad enough, though she should have known that a late-nineteenth-century man like Bagg would print such rot. What had he been, editor of some crummy yellow rag of some frontier town in the Arizona Territory? Yes, that was it. Tombstone. Firebrass had told her something about him.
What really enraged her was the photograph. She hadn’t been aware of it, but someone in the crowd her first morning here had snapped her picture. There she was, caught in a silly-looking, almost obscene, posture. Naked, bending over, her breasts hanging straight down like a cow’s udders, the towel in one hand behind her and one before as she sawed it, drying her crotch. She was looking up, her mouth open, and she seemed all nose and buckteeth.
Surely, the cameraman had taken other shots. But Bagg had chosen this one just to make her a laughingstock.
She was so furious she almost forgot to pick up her grail. Swinging it from one hand, thinking how she was going to brain Bagg with it, the newspaper clutched in the other—it was also going to be jammed all the way up—she stormed toward the building. But when she got to the door, she stopped.
“Come on, Jill!” she told herself. “You’re reacting just as he hoped you would, just as they all hope you will. Play it cool; don’t be a knee-jerk. Sure, it’d make you feel great to slam him around his office a little. But it might ruin everything. You’ve endured worse, and you’ve come out on top.”
She walked slowly homeward, the handle of the grail looped over one arm. In the fading light, she read the rest of the paper. She wasn’t the only one Bagg had libeled, slandered, and mocked. Firebrass himself, though treated gently in the write-up on her, was severely criticized elsewhere and not only by Bagg. The vox pop page contained a number of signed letters from citizens outraged by Firebrass’ policies.
As she left the plain and started her winding way through the hills, she was softly hailed. Turning, she saw Piscator. He smiled as he walked toward her and said in an Oxford accent, “Good evening, citizen. May I accompany you? We will be happier in each other’s company than alone? Or perhaps not?”
Jill had to smile. He spoke so gravely, almost in a seventeenth-century style. This impression was strengthened by his hat, a tall cylinder sloping inward to the top and with a wide circular brim. It reminded her of the hats of the New England Pilgrims. It was made of dark-red leather from the scaleless redfish. Several aluminum alloy flies were snagged in its brim. A black cloth was over his shoulders, held together at the throat. A dark-green cloth served as a kilt, and his sandals were of redfish leather.
Over his shoulder was a bamboo rod. In the other hand was the handle of his grail. A newspaper was clamped by an arm to his body. A wicker basket hung by a strap from the other shoulder.
He was tall for a Japanese, the top of his head coming to her nose. And his features were attractive, not too Mongolian.
“I suppose you’ve read the paper?” she said.
“Unhappily, most of it,” he said. “But don’t be grieved. As Solomon says of scoffers, Proverbs 24:9: They are an abomination to mankind.”
“I prefer humankind,” she said.
He looked puzzled. “But what… ? Ah, I see, you obviously object to man in mankind. But man means man, woman, and child in this usage.”
“I know it does,” she said as if she were repeating this for the thousandth time, which she was. “I know it does. But the use of man conditions the speaker and the hearer to think of man as the human male only. The use of humankind, or personkind, conditions people to think of Homo sapiens as consisting of both sexes.”
Piscator drew breath in through his teeth. She expected him to say, “Ah, so!” but he did not. Instead, he said, “I have in this basket three of the savory tench, if I may call them that. They are remarkably similar in appearance and taste to Terrestrial fish of that name. They are not quite as delicious as the grayling, if I may call them that, which are caught in the mountain streams. But they are much sport, a cunning and lusty fish.”
She decided that he must have learned his English from The Compleat Angler.
“Would you care to share some of the fish with me tonight? I’ll have them baked piping hot at 16:00 by the waterclock. I will also have a plentiful supply of skull-bloom.”
This was the local name for alcohol made from the lichen scraped off the mountain face. It was watered down, three parts to one, and then blossoms from the irontree vines were dried, crushed, and mixed with alcohol. After the blossoms had given a purplish color and a roselike fragrance to the liquid, it was ready to be served.
Jill hesitated for several seconds. She did not mind being alone—most of the time. Unlike most of her contemporaries, she did not get desperate, panicked, if she were thrown on her own resources. But she had been her only company for too long. The voyage up The River had taken four hundred and twenty days, and during most of that time she had been utterly alone by day. At night, she had eaten and talked with strangers. She had passed an estimated 501,020,000 people and had not seen one face she had known on Earth or Riverworld. Not one.
But then she had seldom gotten close enough to the banks during the day to have recognized facial features. Her socializing at night was limited to a few people. What was mental agony, or would have been if she permitted herself such an emotion, was that she might have passed by some people she had loved on Earth, or, at least, liked. There were some she wanted very much to see again.
Perhaps the one she most longed to talk to was Marie. What had Marie felt when she learned that her senseless jealousy had been responsible for the death of her lover, Jill Gulbirra? Would she have been grief-stricken, perhaps have taken her own life because of guilt? After all, Marie was suicide-prone. Or, rather, to be exact, prone to taking just enough pills to endanger her but not enough so that she could not get medical assistance in time to save her. Marie had come close to death at least three times that Jill knew about. But not very close.
No, Marie would have been plunged into gloom and self-reproach for about three days. Then she would have swallowed about twenty phenobarbitols and called her closest friend, probably another lover, Jill thought, her breast hurting—the bitch!—and the lover would have called the hospital, and then there would be the stomach pump and the antidotes and the long, anxious waiting in the lobby and then the attendance by the bed while Marie rambled on half-mindlessly, still fogged by the drug but not so fogged that she would not be deliberately working on her lover’s emotions. It would not just be sympathy that she would be evoking. The sadistic little bitch would also make a few wounding remarks to her lover, getting across some criticisms which she would claim later that she did not remember making.
Then Marie would be taken to her apartment by her lover, and tenderly taken care of for a while, and then… Jill could not bear fantasizing that then.
At these times she had to laugh, though grimly, at herself. It was thirty-one years after she had stormed out of the house and driven off, tires screaming, rubber burning, and raced recklessly through three stoplights and then… then the blinding lights and the blaring horn of the huge lorry and the savage wrenching at the wheel to turn the Mercedes-Benz, the frozen sickness inside her, the looming of the juggernaut, and…
And she had awakened with countless others, naked, her thirty-year-old body restored to a twenty-five-year-old state—minus certain blemishes and imperfections—on the banks of the Rivervalley. Nightmare in paradise. Or what could have been paradise if so many human beings did not insist on making a hell of it.
Thirty-one years ago. Time had not mended all hurts, not, at least, this one. By now she should have gotten over the mingled fury and grief. It should have receded beyond the horizon of things that mattered now. She should have no slightest emotion about Marie now. But she did.
She was suddenly aware that the Japanese was looking at her. He evidently expected her to reply to something he had just said.
“I’m sorry,” she said. “Sometimes, I get lost in the past.”
“I am sorry, too,” he said. “Sometimes… if one is using dreamgum as a means to rid oneself of painful or crippling memories or undesirable psychic states, one instead… gets lost.”
“No,” she said, trying to keep the anger out of her voice. “It’s just that I have been alone so long, I have fallen into the habit of reverie. Why, when I was sailing the canoe up The River, I would do so automatically. Sometimes, I would realize that I had put ten kilometers behind me and not even been aware, consciously anyway, of what had happened during that time.
“But now that I’m here, where I have a job that requires constant mental alertness, you will see that I can be as much on my toes as anyone.”
She added that because she knew that Piscator might report her to Firebrass. Absentmindedness was not to be tolerated in an airship officer.
“I am sure you will,” Piscator said. He paused, smiled, and said, “By the way, do not be worried about competition from me. I am not ambitious. I will be satisfied with whatever rank or position I am given, because I know that that will fit my abilities and experience. Firebrass is fair.
“I am curious about our goal, the so-called Misty Tower or Big Grail or the dozen other titles it bears. In fact, I am eager to journey there, to inquire into what may hold the secret of this world. Eager but not anxious, if you understand what I mean. I readily admit that I do not have your qualifications, and so I anticipate being ranked under you.”
Jill Gulbirra was silent for a moment. This man belonged to a nation which practically enslaved its women. At least, in his own time (1886–1965), it had. It was true that after World War I there had been a certain amount of liberation. He would, theoretically, still have the attitude of the old-fashioned Japanese man toward women. Which was a terrible attitude. On the other hand, The Riverworld did change people. Some people.
“You really wouldn’t mind?” she said. “Not really, deep down!”
“I seldom lie,” he said. “And that only to spare the feelings of someone or to keep from wasting time with fools. I think I know what you are thinking. Would it help you to know that one of my masters in Afghanistan was a woman? I spent ten years as her disciple before she decided that I was not as stupid as when I had come to her and that I could go on to my next sheik.”
“What were you doing there?”
“I would be happy to discuss that some other time. As of the moment, let me assure you that I am not prejudiced against women or against non-Japanese. I was, but that foolishness was emptied out of me a long time ago. For instance, at one time, for some years after World War I, I was a Zen monk. First, though, do you know anything about Zen?”
“There were many books written about it after 1960 or thereabouts,” Jill said. “I read a few.”
“Yes. Did you know any more after reading these than you did before?” he said, smiling.
“You are truthful. As I was saying, I retired from the world after I resigned from the Navy and I resided at a monastery in Ryukyu. The third year, a white man, a Hungarian, came to the monastery as a humble novitiate. When I saw how he was treated, I suddenly acknowledged what I had known unconsciously but had resisted bringing to light. That was that many years in the discipline of Zen had not rid either the disciples or masters, no one in the monastery, except myself, of their racial prejudices. Their national prejudices, I should say, since they showed hostility and even contempt for Chinese and Indo-Chinese, fellow Mongolians.
“After being honest for the first time with myself, I acknowledged to myself that the practice of Zen had not resulted in anything deeply worthwhile in myself or the others. Of course, you must realize that Zen does not have goals. To have goals is to frustrate the attaining of goals. Is that contradictory? It is.
“It is also nonsense, as is that business of emptying oneself. Perhaps the state of being empty is not nonsense, but the methods used to achieve it were, as far as I was concerned. And so, one morning, I walked out of the monastery and took ship to China. And I began my long wanderings, called by some inaudible voice toward Central Asia. And from thence… well, that is enough for the time being. I can continue this later if you wish.
“I see that we are getting close to our homes. I bid you adieu then until tonight. I will set out two torches, which you may see from your window, to announce when our little gathering begins.”
“I did not say that I was coming.”
“But you had nevertheless accepted,” he said. “Is that not true?”
“Yes, but how did you know?”
“It’s not telepathy,” he said, smiling again. “A certain posture, a certain relaxation of muscles, the dilation of your pupils, an undertone to your voice, undetectable except to the highly trained, told me that you were looking forward to the party.”
Jill said nothing. She had not known herself that she was pleased with the invitation. Nor was she sure now. Was Piscator conning her?
An irontree grew from the top of a hill 200 meters from Jill’s hut. Piscator’s hut was near the top, nestled between the upper parts of two roots. Its back rested upon a shelf of earth; its front was held up by bamboo pylons to keep it from slipping down the steep slope.
Jill went up the hill without Jack, though there would be Jackasses at its top, she thought. She went under the house and up a bamboo staircase which entered the structure through the floor halfway along its length.
The building was larger than most of those in this area, three rooms on the ground floor and two on the first story. According to a neighbor, it had once housed a commune. Like all such nonreligious organizations composed of Occidentals, it had dissolved after a while. Piscator had moved in then, though Jill did not know why one man wanted such a large house. Was it because it was a prestige symbol? He did not seem to be the sort of man who would care for such things.
Along the railing were bright acetylene lamps behind white, green, or scarlet shades made from fish intestines. Piscator, at the top of the steps, smiled and nodded at Jill. He was wearing a kimonolike arrangement of varicolored towels. In his hand he held a bouquet of huge blooms plucked from the vines entwining the upper reaches of the irontree.
“Welcome, Jill Gulbirra.”
She thanked him, breathing deeply the strong odor of the flowers, reminiscent of honeysuckle with a very slight scent of old leather. A peculiar but pleasing combination.
Gaining the top of the steps, she found herself in the largest room of the house. Its ceiling was about three times her height; from it hung a score of Japanese lamps. The bamboo floor was covered here and there with throw rugs made from bamboo fiber. The furniture was of bamboo, light, simple forms the seats of which were softened with cushions. Some of the chair arms and table legs and the posts supporting the ceiling were, however, of oak or yew. Heads of animals, demons, Riverfish, and human beings had been carved from these. They did not look as if they had been done by a Japanese. Probably, a previous occupant had sculptured them.
Tall, wasp-waisted, bell-mouthed vases stood on the floor. Shorter versions stood on top of spindly legged round-topped tables. These were formed on a potter’s wheel, baked, and glazed or painted. Geometrical designs were on some vases; others bore marine scenes from Earthlife. The boats were lateens; the sailors, Arabs. Blue dolphins leaped from a blue-greenish sea; a monster opened its mouth to swallow a ship. However, since there were large fish called dolphins in The River, and the colossal Riverdragon did bear a faint resemblance to the monster, it was possible that the artist had represented Riverlife.
The doorways to the neighboring rooms were filled with dangling strings of white and red hornfish vertebrae; these emitted a tinkling when disturbed. Mats of woven fibers from irontree vines hung on the walls, and the transparent intestines of Riverdragons, stretched on bamboo frames, were above each window.
All in all, though there were some things, such as the acetylene lamps, not found elsewhere, the room was a variation of what many called Riparian Culture; others, Riverine Polynesian.
The lamp lights strove to pierce the heavy clouds of tobacco and marijuana. A band played softly on a small podium in a corner. It was providing its services in return for booze and a chance to please itself with useful work. The musicians were beating or brushing drums, blowing on a bamboo flute, a clay ocarina; stroking a harp made of a turtlefish shell and fish guts; sawing on a fiddle of fish intestines and English-yewlike wood with a yew bow fitted with the horsehairlike mouth cilia of the blue dolphin; hammering a xylophone; blowing a saxophone, a trumpet.
The music was unrecognizable, at least for Jill. But she thought that it was derived from a Central or South American Indian piece.
“If this were tête-à-tête, instead of a large party, I would be able to give you tea, my dear,” Piscator said. “But it is not possible. My grail does not provide me with tea daily, but only one small bagful once a week.”
He had not changed so much that he did not miss the ceremony of tea, so beloved by all Japanese. Jill regretted the scarcity of the herb, too. Like most of her nation, she felt that something vital was missing if she didn’t get her tea at the proper time.
Piscator dipped a glass in a huge glass bowl full of skull-bloom and handed it to her. She sipped on it while he told her how happy he was to see her here. He sounded as if he really meant it. She found herself warming to him, though she did remind herself that he came from a culture which conditioned males to regard females as pleasure and work objects. Then she warned herself—for the ten thousandth time?—that she must not be as guilty of prejudice as others. Find the facts first and study them before judgment.
Her host led her around, introducing her briefly. Firebrass waved at her from a corner. Cyrano smiled thinly and bowed. They had encountered each other a number of times since that morning, but each had been aloof though polite. She did not want it that way. After all, he had apologized, and she was very curious about this flamboyant seventeenth-centurian.
She said hello to Ezekiel Hardy and David Schwartz, whom she saw every day in the office inside the hangar and in the factories nearby. Hardy and Schwartz were friendly enough; they had learned by now that she was thoroughly knowledgeable in her field. In many, in fact. She had bridled her impatience and anger at their ignorance and their assumed superiority. It had paid off, though she did not know how long she could repress herself.
“Don’t bottle up,” she told herself. “Empty yourself.”
How many times had she done that, or tried to do that? And it had seemed to work so many times, though not always by any means. Yet, here was this Japanese, Ohara, calling himself by the goofy name of Piscator—how weird—telling her that Zen was nonsense. Well, not exactly nonsense. But he had certainly indicated that it was overrated. She had not liked to hear that. It struck her below the belt of her self-image; it injured her. Which it should not have done. She should have laughed at him, even if only inwardly. But he had seemed so sure.
One of the women she was introduced to was Jeanne Jugan. Piscator mentioned that she had once been a servant in her native France but then had become one of the founders of the Roman Catholic religious order of the Little Sisters of the Poor, established in 1839 in Brittany.
“I am his disciple,” Jugan said, nodding at Piscator.
Jill’s eyebrows rose. “Oh!” She had no chance to continue the conversation. Piscator steered her away with a light touch on the elbow.
“You may talk to her later.”
Jill wondered what particular religion, sect, or mental discipline Piscator belonged to. He wasn’t a member of the Church of the Second Chance. A Chancer always wore a hornfish spiral vertebra or its wooden facsimile on a string from his neck.
However, the next person she met did wear that emblem, three, in fact, indicating that he was a bishop. Samuelo, short, very dark, and hawk faced, had been born sometime around the middle of the second century A.D. He had been a rabbi of the Jewish community at Nehardea in Babylonia. According to Piscator, he was somewhat famous in his time for his knowledge of traditional law and for some attainments in science. One of his feats was the compilation of a calendar of the Hebrew year. His chief claim to fame, however, lay in his efforts to adjust the Jewish law to the law of the land in which the Jews of the Diaspora lived.
“His principle was The law of the state is the binding law,” Piscator said.
Samuelo introduced his wife, Rahelo. She was even shorter, though not as dark, and she had very broad hips and heavy legs, but a face of startling sensuality. Replying to Jill’s questions, she said that she had been born in the Krakow ghetto in the fourteenth century A.D. Piscator would tell Jill later that Rahelo had been abducted by a Polish nobleman and imprisoned for a year in his castle. Tiring of her, he had then kicked her out, though not without a fat purse of gold coins. Her husband had murdered her because she had not had the grace to kill herself because of her dishonor.
Samuelo sent Rahelo running several times to get him a drink from a bowl filled with nonalcoholic bloom juice. He also gestured for her to light his cigar. She obeyed quickly and then resumed her position behind him.
Jill felt like kicking Rahelo for putting up with her ancient degradation and Samuelo for his ancient complacency. She could visualize him at prayers, thanking God that he was not born a woman.
Later, Piscator said to her, “You were furious with the bishop and his wife.”
She did not ask him how he knew. She said, “It must have been a hell of a shock for him to wake up here and find out that he was not one of God’s chosen people. That everybody, idol worshipper, cannibal, swine eater, uncircumcised dog of an infidel, all God’s children, were here, all were chosen.”
“We were all shocked,” Piscator said. “And terrified. Weren’t you?”
She stared at him for a moment, then laughed, and said, “Of course. I was an atheist, and I still am. I was sure that I was just so much flesh that would become so much dust. And that was that. I was horribly frightened when I awoke here. But at the same time, well, not at first but a little later, I was relieved. So, I thought, there is eternal life. Then, even later, I saw such strange things, and we were in such a strange place, nothing like heaven or hell, you know…”
“I know,” he said. He smiled. “I wonder what Samuelo thought when he saw that the uncircumcised goyim of Earth had been resurrected without their foreskins? That must have been as puzzling as the fact that men could no longer grow beards. On the one hand, God had performed a briss upon all the Gentiles who needed it and so He must be a Jewish god. On the other hand, a man could no longer sport the full beard demanded by God, so He surely could not be a Jewish god.
“It was, and is, such things that should have and should be changing our patterns of thinking,” Piscator said.
He came close, looking up at her with dark brown eyes set in fleshy slits. “The Second Chancers have some excellent ideas about why we have been raised from the dead and who has done it. They are not too far wrong about the way, or ways, one must take to attain the goal. A goal which mankind should desire and the gate to which our unknown benefactors have opened for us. But exactness is rightness. The inexact Church has wandered off the main road, or, I should say, the only road. Which is not to say that there is not more than one road.”
“What are you talking about?” she said. “You sound as weird as those Chancers.”
“We shall see—if you care to see,” he said. He excused himself and walked to the big table, where he started talking to a man who had just entered.
Jill sauntered toward Jeanne Jugan, intending to ask her what she meant by calling herself Piscator’s disciple. De Bergerac, however, placed himself in front of her. He was smiling broadly now.
“Ah, Ms. Gulbirra! I must beg your pardon for that unfortunate incident again! It was the liquor which caused me to behave so unforgivably, well not unforgivably I hope, but so barbarically! It is seldom that I drink more than an ounce or two, since I abominate the dulling of my senses. Alcohol makes one a swine, and I do not care for the beast on the hoof, though I adore him sliced and fried in a pan or roasted on a spit. But that night we were fishing…”
“I didn’t see any fishing equipment,” she said.
“It was on the other side of the grailstone. And the fog was thick, remember, mademoiselle?”
“And we got to talking of things on Earth, places, people we had known, friends who had come to a bad end, children who had died, how our parents had misunderstood us, enemies, why we were here, and so on, understand? I became depressed, thinking of what might have been on Earth, especially what my cousin Madeleine and I might have done if I had been more mature or had not been so naive at that time. And so…”
“And so you got drunk,” she said, her face grave.
“And offended you, Ms., though I swear that I did not believe that you were a woman. The fog, the baggy clothing, my own addled wits…”
“Forget it,” she said. “Only… I believed you would never forgive me, since you would have lost face after a woman punched you out. Your ego…”
“You must not stereotype!” Cyrano cried.
“And you are right,” she said. “That is a failing I loathe, and yet I find myself doing it all the time. However, so often… well, most people are living stereotypes, aren’t they?”
They stood there, talking for a long time. Jill sipped on the purple passion, feeling her belly slowly warm up. The marijuana fumes became thicker, and she added to their intensity by drawing on the burning joint between her fingers. The voices were becoming louder, and there was much more laughter. Some couples were dancing now, their arms around each other’s necks, shuffling languorously.
Piscator and Jugan seemed to be the only ones who were not drinking. Piscator was smoking a cigarette now, the first, she believed, that he had lit up since she had entered.
The combination of liquor and pot had given her a pleasant halo now. She felt as if her flesh must be leaking a red-colored light. The smoke clouds were forming into almost-shapes. Sometimes, out of the corners of her eyes, she would glimpse a definite figure, a dragon, a smokefish, once, a dirigible. But when she turned her head toward them, she could see only amorphous masses.
When she saw a metal tub float by to one side, she knew that she had had it. No more booze and grass the rest of the night. The reason for the appearance of the tub was apparent, since Cyrano had been telling her about crime and its punishments in the French of his day. A counterfeiter, for instance, was stretched out upon a large wheel. The executioner then broke his arms and legs with an iron bar, sometimes pounding them to a pulp. Executed criminals were hung in chains in marketplaces and left to rot until the bodies fell through the chains. The guts of others were left in big open tubs so that they could remind the citizens of what happened to transgressors.
“And the streets ran with sewage, Ms. Gulbirra. No wonder that those who had the money drenched themselves with perfume.”
“I thought it was because you seldom bathed then.”
“True,” the Frenchman said. “I mean, true that we did not bathe often. It was thought to be unhealthy, un-Christian. But one can get used to the stench of unwashed bodies. I was not often aware of it since I was, as you might say, immersed in it, as unconscious of it as a fish is of water. But here, hélas! Where so few clothes are worn and where running water is so at hand, and where one encounters so many who cannot endure the odor of long-dirty humans, then one learns new habits. I, myself, now, I must confess that I saw no reason to be so fastidious, but then after some years I met a woman with whom I fell in love almost as passionately as I had with my cousin. She was Olivia Langdon…”
“You can’t mean Sam Clemens’ wife?”
“But yes. Though of course that meant nothing to me when I first met her and still does not. I understood that he was the great writer of the New World—she told me much about what happened since I had died on Earth—but I do not think much about it. And then Olivia and I wandered down The River and suddenly we were confronted with that classical situation which so many people dread. We met the former, the Terrestrial, spouse of one’s hutmate.
“By then, though I was still fond of her, my passion had cooled off. Each of us did so many things to annoy, even enrage the other, and why not? Is that not something commonplace here, where man and woman may be not only from different nations but from different times? How can the seventeenth-century person mesh with the nineteenth? Well, sometimes such a mismatch can be reshaped to match. But add the temporal differences to those that naturally exist between individuals, and what do you have? Quite often, a hopeless case.
“Livy and I were far up The River when I heard about the boat that was being built. I had heard of the meteorite that fell here, but I did not know that it was Sam Clemens who had seized the meteorite. I wanted to be one of the crew, and especially I wanted to feel a steel rapier in my hand again.
“And so, my dear Ms. Gulbirra, we came to this place. The shock was powerful indeed for Sam. I felt sorry for him, for a while, and regretted having forced this reunion that was not a reunion. Olivia showed no inclination to leave me for Clemens even though our passion was not quite what it had been. She did feel guilt about not feeling love for him. This was all the stranger when it is considered that they were deeply in love on Earth.
“But there had been many frictions, deeply hidden hostilities. She said that when she was in her terminal illness she did not want to see him. This hurt him very much, but she could not help it. And why, I asked her, had she not cared to admit him into her sickroom? She replied that she did not know. Perhaps it was because their only son had died because of Sam’s negligence. Criminal negligence, she called it, though she had never used, or even thought of, that word on Earth.
“I said that that was a long time ago and on another planet. Why did she still hold that fierce grievance within her breast? Did it matter now? Was not little… I forget his name…”
“Langdon,” Jill said.
“… risen from the dead now? And she said, yes, but she would never see Langdon. He had died when he was two, and no one under five years of age at death had been resurrected. At least not here. Maybe on another world. In any event, even if he had been raised here, what chance would she have of running across him? And what if she did? He would be full grown now, he would not even remember her. She would be a stranger to him. And God only knew what kind of a boy he would be. He might have been resurrected among cannibals or Digger Indians and not even known English or table manners.”
Jill grinned and said, “That sounds like something Mark Twain would say, not his wife.”
Cyrano grinned back and said, “She didn’t say that. I made that up, paraphrasing her. There was, of course, much more to her feeling than the accidental death of her baby. Actually, I can’t blame Clemens. Being a writer, he was very absentminded when he was pondering upon a story. I am that way myself. He did not notice that the coverings of the baby had slipped aside and that the icy air was blowing full upon the unprotected infant. He was automatically driving the horse which was drawing the sledge through the snows while his mind was intent upon that other world—his fiction.
“However, Olivia was certain that he was not as absentminded as he believed. She insisted that he could not have been, that some part of his mind must have observed the baby’s situation. He did not really want a son. Unlike most men, he preferred daughters. Besides, the baby was sickly from birth, a nuisance. To Sam, I mean.”
“That’s one thing in his favor,” Jill said. “I mean, that he preferred girls. Though I suppose, to be fair, that it is as neurotic to prefer a female infant as to prefer a male. Still, he did not have that male chauvinism…”
Cyrano said, “You must comprehend that Olivia did not consciously acknowledge all this during her Terrestrial existence. At least, she claimed not to have done so, though I suspect that she had such thoughts, was ashamed of them, and so put them away in the deep, dark files of her soul. But it was here, in this Valley, when she became addicted to chewing the soi-disant, the so-called dreamgum, that she perceived her true feelings.
“And so, though she still loved Clemens, in a manner of speaking, she hated him even more.”
“Did she quit using the gum?”
“Yes. It upset her too much. Though she now and then had some ecstatic or fantastic visions, she had too many horrible experiences.”
“She should have stuck with it,” Jill said. “But under proper guidance. However…”
Jill compressed her lips, than said, “Perhaps I shouldn’t be too bloody critical. I had a guru, a beautiful woman, the best and wisest woman I ever knew, but she couldn’t keep me from running headlong into… well, no need to go into it here… it was too… dismaying? No, horrifying. I chickened out. So I shan’t be criticizing anyone else, shouldn’t anyway. I have been considering taking it up again, but I don’t trust the Second Chancers’ use of it, even though they claim to have excellent, quite safe, techniques. I couldn’t put full confidence in people who have their religious beliefs.”
“I was a free thinker, a libertin, as we styled ourselves,” Cyrano said. “But now… I do not know. Perhaps there is after all a God. Otherwise, how does one account for this world?”
“There are a score of theories,” Jill said. “And no doubt you’ve heard them all.”
“Many, at any rate,” Cyrano said. “I was hoping to hear a new one from you.”
At that moment, several people invaded the conversation. Jill broke off from the clump and drifted around, looking for another clump, a temporary colony, to attach herself to. In the Riverworld, as on Earth, all cocktail or after-dinner parties were alike. You spoke briefly, trying to make yourself heard above all the chatter and music, and then changed partners or groups until you had made a complete circuit. If you were intrigued or even interested in someone, you could make arrangements to see him or her some other time, when you could have a chance for an uninterrupted and quiet conversation.
In the old days, long ago, when she was young in mind, she had often met men or women at such gatherings who enthralled her. But then she had been full of booze or pot or both and so wide open. It was easy to fall in love with a mind or body—or both at the same time. Sobering up usually meant wising up. A disappointment. Not always. Just most of the time.
Here was a gathering all of whom had the bodies of twenty-five-year-olds. Chronologically, she was sixty-one. Some here might actually be one hundred and thirty-two or even more. The youngest could not be under thirty-six.
The index of wisdom should be high, if it was true that age brought wisdom. She had not found that to be true about most people on Earth. Experience was something it was difficult to avoid, though many people had managed to keep it to a minimum. Experience did not by any means give wisdom, that understanding of the basic mechanics of humanity. Most oldsters she had known had been as governed by conditioned reflexes as when they had been nineteen.
So it was expected that people would not have benefited much from their experiences here. However, the hammer blows of death and resurrection had broken open the seals of the minds of many.
For one thing, absolutely no one had expected this type of afterlife, if you could call this an afterlife. No religion had described such a place, such events. Though, to tell the truth, those religions which did promise paradises and hells were remarkably lacking in descriptive detail. Perhaps not so remarkably, since very few persons had actually claimed to have seen the postmortem world.
And there certainly was nothing supernatural about this place and the raising of the dead in it. Everything—well, not everything but almost everything—could be explained in physical, not metaphysical, terms. This did not keep people from originating religious theories or reshaping old ones.
Those religions which had no eschatology of resurrection or immortality in the Western sense, Buddhism, Hinduism, Confucianism, Taoism were discredited. Those which did have such, Judaism, Islamism, Christianity, were equally discredited. But here, as on Earth, the death of a major religion was the birth pang of a new one. And there were, of course, minorities who refused stubbornly, despite all evidence, to admit that their faith was invalid.
Jill, standing near Samuelo, ex-rabbi, present bishop of the Church of the Second Chance, wondered what his reaction had been that first year on this world. There was no Messiah come to save the Chosen People, nor, indeed, any Chosen People assembled together at Jerusalem on Earth. No Jerusalem, no Earth.
Apparently the shattering of his faith had not shattered him. Somehow he had been able to accept that he had been wrong. Although a superorthodox rabbi of ancient times, he had a flexible mind.
At that moment Jeanne Jugan, who was hostess, offered Samuelo and Rahelo a dish of bamboo tips and fileted fish. Samuelo looked at the fish and said, “What is that?”
“Toadfish,” Jeanne said.
Samuelo tightened his lips and shook his head. Jeanne looked puzzled, since the bishop was obviously hungry and his fingers were only a few centimeters from seizing the tips. These, as far as Jill knew, were not tabu according to the Mosaic laws. But they were on the same plate as the forbidden scaleless fish and so contaminated.
She smiled. It was much easier to change a person’s religion than his/her food habits. A devout Jew or Moslem could give up his creed but would still feel nauseated if offered pork. A Hindu whom Jill had known had become an atheist on The Riverworld, but he still could not abide meat. Jill, though of partial blackfellow descent, could not force herself to eat worms, though she had tried. Genetic descent had nothing to do with dietary matters, of course; it was social descent that determined food choices. Though not always. Some people could adapt easily enough. And there was always the individual taste. Jill had ceased eating mutton the moment she had quit her parents’ house. She hated it. And she preferred hamburger to beef roast.
The whole point to this reverie, she thought as she emerged from it, shedding thoughts as a surfacing diver sheds water, the whole point was that we are what we eat. And we eat what we do because of what we are. And what we are is determined partly by our environment and partly by our genetic makeup. All my family except myself loved mutton. A sister shared my indifference to beef roast and my love for hamburgers.
All my brothers and sisters, as far as I know, are heterosexual. I am the only bisexual. And I don’t want that. I want to be one way or the other, a gate that is latched, not swinging either way depending upon which way the wind is blowing. My internal wind which shifts from east to west or vice versa, twirling the windcock this way or that way.
Actually, she did not want it one way or the other. If she had her choice—and why shouldn’t she?—she would be a woman lover.
Woman lover. Why didn’t she say to herself: lesbian? The English language was the greatest in the world, but it had its faults. It was often too ambiguous. Woman lover could mean a man who loved women, a man or woman who loved women, or a woman who was a lover.
There, she’d said it. Lesbian. And she didn’t feel any shame. What about Jack? She had loved him. What about… ?
She had come up from the reverie only to dive down again.
Across the room, Firebrass, though talking to others, was looking at her. Had he noticed her tendency to become a statue, slumped, her head slightly cocked to the left, her eyelids lowered, and the eyes slightly rolled up? And if he had, then had he decided she was too moody and hence untrustworthy?
At that, she felt a slight panic. Oh, God, if he rejected her as a candidate just because she was pensive now and then! She was not that way when on duty! Never. But how could she convince Firebrass of that?
She would have to be alert, always act as if she were on her toes, extroverted, prepared, trustworthy. As if she were a Girl Scout.
She walked up to a circle in the center of which was Bishop Samuelo. The dark little man was telling some stories about La Viro. Jill had heard a number of them, since she had attended many Second Chancer meetings and talked with its missionaries. In Esperanto, the official language of the Church, La Viro meant The Man. He was also called La Fondinto, The Founder. Apparently, no one knew his Terrestrial name or else it was not considered important by the Second Chancers.
Samuelo’s tale concerned the stranger who had approached La Viro one stormy night in a cave high in the mountains. The stranger had revealed that he was one of the people who had reshaped this planet into one long Rivervalley and who had then resurrected the people of Earth.
The stranger had instructed La Viro to found the Church of the Second Chance. He was given certain tenets to preach, and he was told that after he had spread these up and down the Valley, he would then be given more revelations. As far as she knew, these new “truths” had not yet been forthcoming.
But the Church had spread everywhere. Its missionaries had traveled on foot or boat. Some, it was said, had journeyed in balloons. The fastest means of transportation had been death and resurrection.
Actually, those who had killed the Chancer preachers were doing the Church a service. It ensured that the faith spread around The Riverworld in a much faster time.
Martyrdom was a convenient means of travel, Jill thought. But it took great courage to die for your religion now when once dead always dead. She had heard that there had been a great falling away from the Church recently. Whether that was caused by the permanency of death now, or it was just that the movement had lost its steam, she did not know.
One of the group was a man to whom she had not been introduced. Piscator had, however, pointed to him across the room and said, “John de Greystock. He lived during Edward I of England’s reign. Thirteenth century? I have forgotten much of British history, though I studied it intensively when I was a naval cadet.”
“Edward ruled from about 1270 to very early 1300, I think,” Jill said. “I do remember that he ruled thirty-five years and died when he was sixty-eight. I remember it because that was a long life in those days, especially for an Englishman. Those chilly, drafty castles, you know.”
“Greystock was made a baron by Edward and accompanied him on his Gascon and Scottish expeditions,” Piscator said. “I don’t really know much about him. Except that he was governor of La Civito de La Animoj—Soul City in English—a little state some forty-one kilometers downRiver. He came here before I did, not too long after King John stole Clemens’ boat. He enlisted in Parolando’s army, rose rapidly in rank, and distinguished himself during the invasion of Soul City…”
“Why would Parolando invade Soul City?” Jill said.
“Soul City had made a sneak attack on Parolando. It wanted to get control of the meteorite iron supply here and the Not For Hire too. It almost succeeded. But Clemens and several others blew up a big dam. This had been built to store water from a mountain stream so it could be used to generate electrical power. The blowing up of the dam released many millions of liters of water. The invaders were wiped out, along with thousands of Parolandans. It also swept the aluminum and steel mills and the factories into The River. The Riverboat, too, but that was recovered almost undamaged.
“Clemens had to rebuild almost from scratch. During our vulnerable situation, the Soul Citizens allied with some other states and attacked again. They were repulsed but with heavy losses. The Parolanders badly needed Soul City’s bauxite, cryolite, cinnabar, and platinum. It had the only supply in the Valley. The bauxite and cryolite were needed to make more aluminum. Cinnabar is the ore of mercury, and platinum is used as electrical contacts for various scientific apparatuses, and as absolutely required catalysts in various chemical reactions.”
“I know that,” Jill said with some asperity.
“Forgive me,” Piscator said, smiling slightly. “After the unsuccessful attack by the Soul Citizens, Greystock was made a colonel. And after Parolando’s successful invasion of Soul City, he was made its governor. Clemens wanted a tough, ruthless man, and like most feudal lords, Greystock was that.
“However, several weeks ago Soul City voluntarily became one of the states in the United States of Parolando, fully equal with the mother state.
“Of course”—here Piscator smiled lopsidedly—“by now the supply of minerals in Soul City is almost exhausted. Project Airship doesn’t need Soul City anymore. Also, through the process which Greystock calls attrition, a very euphemistic term, I fear, the original makeup of the population there has changed considerably. It was once a majority of mid-twentieth-century American blacks, with a minority of medieval Arabs—fanatical Wahhabis—and Dravidian speakers of ancient India. Because of the wars and Greystock’s harsh governorship, its population became about half-white.”
“He sounds so savage,” she said. “With due apologies to the savages.”
“He had several rebellions to put down. No one was forced to stay at Soul City, you know. Clemens would not permit slavery. Everybody was given a chance to leave, to go peacefully and with all his possessions elsewhere. Many citizens stayed there, swore loyalty to Parolando, but then became saboteurs.”
“Hardly,” Piscator said. “You know that the topography just isn’t fitted for guerrilla activity. No. It seems that a number of Soul Citizens thought that sabotage would be a method of recreation.”
“It gave them something to do. It was better than drifting on down The River. Besides, many of them wanted revenge.
“To give Greystock his due, he usually just kicked any saboteurs he caught out of the state. Actually, he threw them into The River. Well, that is history, and it happened before I came here. Anyway, Greystock has come here because he wants to be a member of the airship crew.”
“But he has no qualifications!”
“True—in one sense. He does not come from a highly technological culture, relatively speaking. But he is intelligent and curious, and he can learn. And though he was once a baron of England and governor of Soul City, he is willing to be a lowly crewman. The idea of flying fascinates him. It’s akin to magic—for him. Firebrass has promised him that he can go—if there are not enough qualified airshipmen. Of course, if by chance the crew of the Graf Zeppelin or the Shenandoah should just happen to come along…”
Piscator had smiled.
Greystock was about 1.8 meters, a very tall height during the medieval period. His hair was black, long, and straight; his eyes, large and gray; his eyebrows, thick; his nose, slightly aquiline. His features harmonized into a ruggedly good-looking face. His shoulders were broad; his waist, narrow; his legs, thickly packed with muscle but long.
At the moment, he was speaking to Samuelo, his grin and his tone both sarcastic. Piscator had said that Greystock hated priests, though he had been very devout during his Terrestrial existence. Apparently, he had never forgiven the clergy for falsely claiming to know the truth about the afterlife.
Using Esperanto, Greystock said, “But surely you must have some idea of who and what La Viro was on Earth? What race was he? What nationality? When was he born, when died? Was he prehistoric, ancient, medieval, or what the later peoples called modern? What had he been on Earth, a religionist, agnostic, or atheist? What was his trade or profession? His education? Was he married? Did he have children? Was he a homosexual?
“Was he unknown during his time? Or was he, perhaps, Christ? And is that why He is remaining anonymous, knowing that no one is going to believe His lies a second time?”
Samuelo scowled, but he said, “I know little of this Christ; only what has been told me and that is not much. All I know of La Viro is what I have heard through word of mouth. They say that he is very tall, white skinned though very dark, and some say that they think he might have been Persian.
“But all this is irrelevant. It is not his background or his physical appearance that matters. What does matter is his message.”
“Which I have heard from many preachers of your Church many times!” Greystock said. “And which I believe no more than I do the stinking falsehoods the stinking priests offered me as God’s own truths in my own time!”
“That is your privilege, though not your right,” Samuelo said.
Greystock looked puzzled. Jill did not understand what he meant either.
Greystock said loudly, “All you priests talk mumbo-jumbo!” and he walked away scowling.
Piscator, watching him, smiled. “A dangerous man. But interesting. You should get him to tell the story of his journey with an Arcturan.”
Jill’s eyebrows went up.
“Yes, he knew a being who came to Earth from a planet of the star Arcturus. Apparently, this being came with some others in a spaceship in 2002 A.D. But he was forced to kill almost all human beings. He died, too, though. It’s a horrible story, but true.
“Firebrass can give you the details. He was on Earth when it happened.”
Eager to talk to Greystock, Jill made her way through the crowd toward him. But she was stopped by Firebrass before she could reach the Englishman.
“A messenger just told me that radio contact’s been made with the Mark Twain. Want to come along and get in on the pow-wow? You might get to talk to the great Sam Clemens himself.”
“Too right I would!” she said. “And thanks for the invitation.”
Jill followed Firebrass to the jeep, which was near the foot of the staircase. It was made of steel and aluminum and had pneumatic nylon tires. Its six-cylinder motor was fueled by wood alcohol.
There were five passengers: Firebrass, Gulbirra, de Bergerac, Schwartz, and Hardy. The jeep took off swiftly, following the narrow valleys among the hills. Its bright beams showed the grass, closely cut by machines, huts here and there, stands of the incredibly quick-growing bamboo, some 31 meters or over 100 feet high. Leaving the hills, it sped over the plain gently sloping to The River.
Jill could see the lights of the aluminum-processing factory, the steel mill, the distillery, the welding shop, the armory, the arms factory, the cement mill, and the government building. The latter housed the newspaper and radio station offices, and the top government officials had residences there.
The colossal hangar was downRiver and hence downwind of the other buildings. Up in the mountains to the west were strings of lights. These were on the dam constructed to replace the one that Clemens had blown up.
The jeep passed the hangar. A steam locomotive, burning alcohol, chuffchuffed by, hauling three flatbed cars piled with aluminum girders. It entered the blazing interior of the hangar, stopped, and a crane hook swung down to the rear car. Workers gathered around it to connect hooks to the steel cables around the girders.
“City Hall” was the northernmost building. The jeep stopped before its porch. The riders got out and went between two massive Doric columns. Jill thought that the building was an abomination, architecturally speaking. Nor did it fit in with the surroundings. Seen from a distance, this area looked as if both the Parthenon and a section of the Ruhr had been teleported to a remote section of Tahiti.
Firebrass’ suite of offices was to the left of the entrance to the immense lobby. Six men stood guard before its entrance, each armed with a single-shot rifle firing .80-caliber plastic bullets. They also carried cutlasses and daggers. The radio “shack” was a large room next to the conference hall and Firebrass’ sanctum sanctorum. They entered the former to find several men standing around the operator. He was adjusting dials on the big panel before him. On hearing the door slam open under his commander’s overvigorous shove, he looked up.
“I’ve been talking to Sam,” he said. “But I lost him about thirty seconds ago. Hold on. I think I got him.”
A series of squeals and crackles issued from the loudspeaker. Suddenly, the interference eased off, and a voice could be heard above the noise. The operator made a final adjustment and gave up his chair to Firebrass.
“Firebrass speaking. Is that you, Sam?”
“No. Just a moment.”
“Sam here,” a pleasant drawling voice said. “Is that you, Milt?”
“Sure is. How are you, Sam? And what’s doing?”
“As of today, Milt, the electronic log says we’ve traveled 792,014 miles. You can convert that into kilometers if you wish. I prefer the old system, and that’s what we’re… well, you know that. Not bad for three years’ travel, heh? But downright aggravating. A snail could go to the North Pole faster than we can, if it could go on a straight line. Or, pardon me, a great curve. It would have time to build a hotel for us and make an enormous fortune renting rooms to the walruses until we arrived. Even if the snail was traveling only a mile every twenty-four hours and we’re averaging about eight hundred miles a day.
“As of…” sputter, crackle, “… little trouble.”
Firebrass waited until reception was clear before speaking again. “Is everything all-go, Sam?”
“Copacetic,” Sam said. “Nothing unusual has happened. Which means that there are always emergencies, always trouble, but not mutinies, among the crew. I’ve had to boot a few out now and then. If this keeps up, by the time we get to our million-mile mark, I’ll be the only person who was on the boat when it left Parolando.”
More crackles. Then Jill heard a voice that was so deep, so bottom-of-the-well, that cold ran over her neck.
Sam said, “Yeah? Oh, all right, I forgot you, though that’s not easy with you breathing booze down my neck. Joe says he’ll still be here, too. He wants to say hello to you. Joe, say hello.”
Thunder in a barrel.
“How’re thingth going? Thwell, I hope. Tham here, he’th kinda thad becauthe hith girlfriend left him. Thye’ll be back, though, I think. He’th been havingk bad dreamth about that Erik Bloodakthe again. I told him if he’d lay off the boothe, he’d be okay. He hathn’t got any ekthcyuthe to drink, thinthe he hath me ath a thyining ekthample of thobriety.”
Jill looked at Hardy, saying, “What the…”
Hardy grinned and said, “Yeth, he lithpth. Joe Miller is as big as two Goliaths put together but he lisps. Joe belongs to a species of subhuman which Sam named Titanthropus clemensi, though actually I think Joe’s kind is really just a giant variant of Homo sapiens. Anyway, it became extinct an estimated fifty thousand to one hundred thousand years ago. He and Sam met many years ago, and they’ve been real pals since. Damon and Pythias. Roland and Oliver.”
“More like Mutt and Jeff or Laurel and Hardy,” someone muttered.
Hardy said, “Hardy?”
Firebrass said, “Mute it. Okay, Sam. Everything’s in orbit. We got a great new candidate, real first-class officer material. Australian, named Jill Gulbirra. She’s got over eight thousand hours dirigible experience and she has an engineering degree. How do you like that?”
Crackle. Then, “A woman?”
“Yeah, Sam, I know they didn’t have female riverboat pilots or railroad engineers in your day. But in my day we had women airplane pilots and horse jockeys and even astronauts!”
Jill unfroze and started forward. “Let me talk to him,” she said. “I’ll tell that son of a bitch…”
“He isn’t objecting. He’s just surprised,” Firebrass said, looking up at her. “Take it easy. What do you care? He’s all right. Even if he wasn’t, he couldn’t do anything. I’m Numero Uno here.
“Sam, she said she’s pleased to meet you.”
“I heard her,” Sam said, and he chuckled. “Listen…” Crackle, hiss, sputter. “… when?”
“Static shot that all to hell,” Firebrass said. “And you’re drifting off. I don’t think we can keep contact much longer. So here goes, fast. I’m a long way from having a full crew, but it’ll be a year before the big ship’s finished. By then I might have enough. If not, what the hell? Airplane pilots and mechanics are a dime a dozen and they can be trained for dirigible operation.
He paused, looked around—though why Jill did not know—and said, “Heard from X? Have…”
Static rolled over his voice, chewed it up, and wouldn’t let go of the pieces. After trying for several minutes to get hold of Clemens again, Firebrass gave up.
Jill said to Hardy, “What is this about hearing from X?”
“I don’t know,” the New Englander said. “Firebrass says it’s a private joke between Sam and him.”
Firebrass turned off the radio and got up from his chair. “It’s getting late, and we have a lot to do tomorrow. Do you want Willy to drive you home, Jill?”
“I don’t need anyone to protect me,” she said. “And I don’t mind walking. No thanks.”
Covered with the magnetically attached towels, she walked across the plain. Before she had reached the first hill, she saw clouds racing across the blazing sky. She took a stick of dreamgum from her shoulderbag, tore off half of it, and thrust it into her mouth. It had been years since she had chewed it.
Now, as she moved the coffee-tasting chicloid around in her mouth, she wondered why she had suddenly, almost involuntarily, decided to try it again. What secret motive did she have? It had been almost an unconscious act. If she had not gotten into the habit of closely observing herself, she might not even have been aware of what she was doing.
Lightning flashed to the north. Then the rain fell as if dumped from a ballast bag. She put her head down under her hood and hunched her shoulders. Her bare feet were wet, but the cloth over her body repelled the drops.
She unlatched the door of her hut. Inside, she put down the bag, opened it, and removed the heavy metal lighter provided twice a year by her grail. She groped toward the table which held an alcohol lamp, a gift from Firebrass. The lightning came nearer, and by its increasing brightness, she could see the lamp.
Something touched her shoulder.
She screamed and whirled, dropping the lighter. Her right fist struck out. A hand gripped her right wrist. Her knee came up, aiming at the groin she hoped was in its path. It slid by a hip, and another hand caught her other wrist. She sagged, and the attacker was deceived. He chuckled and pulled her close. She could see him vaguely now as flashes of light dimly illumined the interior of the hut. His nose was in front of her and close, though below her, since he was short.
She bent her head swiftly, bit down on the end of the nose, and jerked her head savagely. The man screamed and released her. He staggered backward holding his nose. She followed him, and this time her foot shot up between his legs. Though she had no shoes, her hard-driven toes sent him writhing to the ground, clutching his genitals.
Jill came up and leaped up and down, landing on his side. His ribs snapped loudly. Stepping off him, she bent down and grabbed both ears. He tried to reach up then, but she yanked outward. The ears came loose with a ripping sound.
The man, ignoring his injured genitals and broken ribs, came up off the floor. Jill caught the side of his neck with the edge of her palm. He fell, and she went to the table and lit the lamp with a lighter in a shaking hand. The wick took hold, and then the flame brightened as she turned the knob on the side of the lamp. After trimming it, she turned, and she yelled again.
He had risen and had seized a spear from its wall brackets and was thrusting it at her.
The lamp flew from her hand in unthinking but deadly reaction. It struck him in the face, shattered, and the alcohol spilled out.
Flames exploded. He screamed and ran blindly—his eyes were on fire—toward her. She screamed. Only now did she recognize him.
She shrieked, “Jack!” and then he was on her, had wrapped his burning arms around her, knocked her upon her back, the breath coming out of her in a whoof. Unable to breathe for a moment, but in a frenzy to escape his fiery arms, she tore herself loose and rolled away. Her fireproof clothing had kept her from being burned.
Before she could get up, however, he had grabbed her garment hem and yanked on it. The magnetic tabs separated. Naked, she leaped to her feet and ran for the spear, lying where he had dropped it. She bent down to get it, and Jack was on her from behind, blazing hands grabbing her breasts, his blazing erection driving into her. Their screams bounced around the walls of the hut, seeming to mount in intensity with each echo. She was being fried, seared, inside her, on her buttocks, on her breasts, and in her ears—as if the echoes were flames, too. She could only roll over and over until brought up short against the wall.
Jack was on his hands and knees now, his hair burned off, his scalp black, crinkled, and ridged, his skin broken open to reveal reddish-black blood and gray-black bone. The only illumination was the fire still consuming his face and chest and belly and the penis—which was swollen as if with the passion of hate—and the lightning cracking into the earth outside.
She was up and running toward the door to get to the outside, where the blessed rain would put out the fire and soothe her external burns. Somehow, he grabbed hold of her ankle. She fell heavily, knocking her breath out again. Jack was on top of her again, muttering strange croaking sounds—his tongue was burned, too?—and both were enfolded in fire.
She slid down a scream of pure agony toward a hole far below, a hole which expanded swiftly and received her as she fell toward the center of this world and toward the heart of all things.
Jack’s face was hanging above her. It was unconnected to a body, floating freely like a balloon. The curly reddish hair, the broad handsome face, the bright blue eyes, the strong chin, the full lips, smiling…
“Jack!” she murmured, and then the face dissolved and became another, attached to a body.
The face was broad and handsome, the cheekbones high, the eyes black, slanted by epicanthic folds, the hair straight and black.
“I heard you screaming.” He leaned down and took her hands. “Can you get up?”
“I think so,” she said shakily. She came up easily enough with his help. She became aware that the thunder and lightning had ceased. Nor was it raining, though water was still dripping from the eaves. The door was open, showing only darkness. The clouds had not yet disappeared. No, there was the silhouette of a hill suddenly rising. Beyond was a break in the skycover and the white flare of a great gas sheet in which thousands of giant stars were embedded.
She also became aware that she was naked. She looked down and saw her breasts were reddened, as if they had been too near a fire. The red slowly faded away as she watched.
Piscator said, “I thought you had been slightly burned. Your breasts and your pubic area were inflamed, swollen, reddened. But there was no evidence of a fire.”
“The fire was from within, inside me,” she said. “Dreamgum.”
His eyebrows arose. He said, “Ah, so!”
He helped her to the cot, and she lay down on it with a sigh. The slight warmth inside her vagina had subsided now. Piscator busied himself, placing towels over her, getting her a drink of rainwater from the bamboo barrel placed outside the door. She drank the water, holding the cup with one hand, leaning on the elbow of the other arm.
“Thanks,” she said. “I should have known better than to chew the gum. I was depressed, and when I’m in that kind of a mood, I get strange effects from it. It all seemed so real, so horrible. I never questioned its reality, though it was clearly impossible.”
He said, “The Second Chancers use dreamgum in their therapy, but it’s done under supervision. It seems to have some beneficial results. But we do not use it except in the initial stages of education with some people.”
“Al Ahl al-Hagg, the followers of the Real. What you Occidentals call Sufis.”
“I thought so.”
“You should, since we have had this conversation once before.”
She gasped and said, “When was that?”
“It must be the gum,” she said. “I’m through with it. No more of this bloody stuff.”
She sat up and said, “You won’t tell Firebrass about this, will you?”
He was no longer smiling. “You are experiencing some very strong psychic disturbances. To cause burns, stigmata, on your body through mental means… well…”
“I won’t be using the gum anymore. I’m not just making an empty promise you know. I’m not addicted. I am mentally stable.”
“You’re deeply troubled,” he said. “Be honest with me, Jill. I may call you Jill, may I not? Have you had attacks similar to this? If so, how many and how serious were they? That is, how long did they last? How long did it take you to recover from them?”
“Not one recent attack, as you call it,” she said.
“Very well. I will say nothing to anyone. That is, if there is no recurrence. You will be honest with me and inform me if you do suffer from any, won’t you? You would not endanger your ship just because you want so desperately to be a member of the crew?”
“No, I would not,” she said. But the words came hard.
“Then we’ll let it stand at that, for the time being.”
She rose on one elbow again, ignoring the slipping aside of the towel and the baring of her breast.
“Look, Piscator. Be honest. If you are given a rank inferior to mine, and it’s likely, if Firebrass awards ranks according to experience, would you resent serving under me?”
“Not in the slightest,” he said, smiling.
She lay back and pulled the towel up. “You come from a culture which held women in a very inferior position. Your women were practically on a level with the beasts of burden. They…”
“That is in the past, the long dead and faraway past,” he said. “Nor was nor am I a typical male, Nipponese or not. You must avoid stereotyping. After all, that is what you hate, what you have fought all your life, have you not? Stereotyping?”
“You’re right,” she said. “But it’s a conditioned reflex.”
“I believe I said this once before to you. However, repetition has its uses in education. You should learn to think in a different pattern.”
“And how do I do that?”
He hesitated, then said, “You will know when to attempt that. And whom to see about it.”
Jill knew that he was waiting for her to ask him to accept her as his disciple. She was having none of that. She just did not believe in organized religion. Though Sufism was not a religion, its members were religious. There was no such thing as an atheist Sufi.
She was an atheist. Despite having been resurrected, she did not believe in a Creator. At least, she did not believe in a Creator who was personally interested in her or in any creature whatsoever. People who did believe in a deity who considered human beings as His children—and why was a spirit always he?—why not be logical since God had no sex, an it?—people who believed in Him were deluded. The believers in God might be intelligent, but they were mentally benighted. The gears in that part of the brain which dealt with religion had been put into neutral, and they were spinning. Or the circuit of religion had been disconnected from the main circuit of the intellect.
That was a bad analogy. People used their intellect to justify the nonintellective, emotionally based phenomenon called religion. Often brilliantly. But, as far as she was concerned, uselessly.
Piscator said, “You are going to sleep. Good. If you need me, though, feel free to call on me.”
“You’re no physician,” she said. “Why should you…”
“You have potential. And though you sometimes act foolishly, you are no fool. Though you have fooled yourself from time to time and still are. Good night.”
He bowed quickly and walked out, closing the door behind him. She started to call out, but she stopped. She had wanted to ask him what he was doing near the hut when he had heard her. It was too late. Nor was it important. Still… what had he been doing here? Had he intended to seduce her? Rape was out of the question, of course. She was bigger than he, and though he probably was a master of the martial arts, so was she. Moreover, his position as an airship officer would be seriously jeopardized if she were to accuse him.
No, he would not have been here either to seduce or to rape. He did not give the impression that he was that type of man. On the other hand, no matter how nice they acted, weren’t they all? No, there was something about him—she hated to use the imprecise and unscientifically founded term vibrations—but there it was. He did not radiate that length of frequency classified as “bad vibes.”
It was then she realized that he had not asked her to describe her experience. If he had been curious, he had managed not to show it. Perhaps he had felt that she would have volunteered if she had wanted to share the details with him. He was a very sensitive man, very perceptive.
What did that horrifying attack by Jack mean? That she was afraid of him, of men in general? Of the male sex? Of sex itself when in male form? She could not believe that. But the illusion? delusion? visitation? had revealed certain feelings of hate and destruction. Not just for men in general and for Jack in particular. She had set him afire but she had also burned and raped herself—in a sense. Which made no sense. She certainly did not subconsciously wish to be raped. Only a mentally sick woman would desire that.
Did she hate herself? The answer was, yes, at times. But who didn’t?
Some time later, she sank into an uneasy sleep. Once, she dreamed of Cyrano de Bergerac. They were fencing with épées. The circling point of his blade dazzled her, and then her weapon was knocked up and his leaped in and its point sank deep into her navel. She looked down in surprise at the blade as it withdrew, but the navel did not spout blood. Instead, it swelled and thickened and then a tiny dagger issued from the tumor.
The shock of cold water fully awoke Burton. For a minute, he was completely beneath the surface, and he did not know which way was up in the darkness.
There was only one way to find out. After five strokes, he felt the pressure on his eardrums increasing. Reversing position, he swam in what he hoped was the opposite direction. For all he knew, he was moving horizontally. But the pressure eased, and just as he feared he could not possibly hold his breath anymore, he broke the surface.
At the same time, something rammed into the back of his head, knocking him half-senseless again. His flailing hand hit an object and he grabbed it. Though he could see nothing in the mists, he could feel the thing that was holding him up. A massive log.
Bedlam was around him, screams, shouts, someone nearby calling for help. He released his hold as soon as he had regained all his senses and swam toward the woman crying for aid. As he neared her, he realized that it was Loghu’s voice. A few strokes brought him to her, close enough to see her face dimly.
“Take it easy,” he said. “It’s me, Dick!”
Loghu seized him by the shoulders, and they both went down. He fought her, pushed her away, then grabbed her from behind.
Loghu said something in her native Tokharian. He answered her in the same tongue.
“Don’t panic. We’ll be all right.”
Loghu, gasping, said, “I’ve got hold of something. I won’t sink.”
He released her and reached around her. Another log. The collision must have torn some of the forward logs loose. But where was the boat and where was the raft? And where were Loghu and he?
It seemed probable that they had fallen into the gap made when the lashings of the logs of the raft had been torn loose. But the current would by now surely have carried the intact part against the rock, crushing everything between it and the rock. Had they been carried around the corner of the spire and were now drifting with the current?
If so, they were in a tangle of logs and pieces from the boat. They kept bumping against him and Loghu.
She moaned and said, “I think my leg’s broken, Dick. It hurts so.”
The log to which they were clinging was very thick and long, its ends so distant they could not be seen through the fog. They had to dig into the rough bark with their fingers. It would not be long before they would lose their grip.
Suddenly Monat’s voice tore through the grayness.
“Dick! Loghu! Are you out there?”
Burton shouted, and a moment later something rapped along the log. It struck his fingers, causing him to yell with pain and to slip back into the water. He struggled back up, and then the end of a pole shot like a striking snake in ambush from the fog. It grazed his left cheek. A little to the right and it would have stunned him, perhaps broken his skull.
He seized it and called out that he was to be pulled in.
“Loghu’s here, too,” he said. “Be careful with that pole!”
He was dragged in by Monat to the edge of the raft where Kazz pulled him out with a single heave. Monat then stuck the pole into the darkness. A minute later, Loghu was drawn in. She was half-unconscious.
“Get some cloths and wrap her up in them. Keep her warm,” he told Kazz.
“Will do, Burton-naq,” the Neanderthal said. He turned and was enfolded in the mist.
Burton sat down on the wet, smooth surface of the raft. “Where are the others? Is Alice all right?”
“They’re all here except Owenone,” Monat said. “Alice seems to have some broken ribs. Frigate hurt his knee. As for the boat, it’s gone.”
Before he could recover from this shock, he saw torches flaring. They drew nearer, casting light enough for him to see their bearers. There were a dozen of them, short, dark-faced Caucasians with large, hooked noses, clad from head to foot in cloths of many stripes and colors. Their only arms were flint knives, all sheathed.
One of them spoke in a language which Burton thought was Semitic. If so, it was an ancient form of that family. He could understand a few words here and there, though. He replied in Esperanto, and the speaker switched to that.
There followed a swift dialog. Apparently, the man on the tower had fallen asleep because he had been drinking. He had survived the fall from the tower when the raft had crashed into the island and toppled him and the man whom Burton had seen climb up to him.
The second man had not been so lucky. He had died of a broken neck. As for the luck of the pilot, it had run out on him. He had been thrown overboard by his enraged fellows.
The great grinding noises Burton had heard before the boat struck came from the collision of the tip of the V-shaped prow with the docks and then the hard rock of the beach. This had crumpled the front half of the V and torn loose many of the fish-leather lashings. The V had also absorbed much of the shock, preventing more of the raft from being ripped apart.
A section of the northwest side had been ripped off, but it was forced on by the main body. It was this jumble of massive logs which had rammed into the Hadji II, crushing the lower half of the back part. After the torn-off front half of the boat had fallen into the water, the back half, knocked apart by the great blow, had fallen down from—and through—the log jam.
Burton had been thrown forward by the impact against the rock, had fallen back onto the deck, and then had been tilted off it as it slid into the water.
The crew was indeed lucky that no one had been killed or seriously hurt. No, Owenone was yet to be accounted for.
There were more things to find out. Just now, the wounded had to be attended to. He made his way to where the others lay beneath the blaze of three torches. Alice put out her arms to him and cried when he embraced her.
“Don’t squeeze me,” she said. “My side hurts.”
A man came to him and said that he had been appointed to take care of them. The two women were carried by some raftsmen, while Frigate, groaning, hobbled along supported by Kazz. By then the daylight had increased somewhat so they could see farther. After progressing for perhaps 61 meters or over 200 feet, they stopped before a large bamboo hut thatched with the great irontree leaves. This was secured to the raft by leather ropes tied at one end to pegs fitted into drilled holes in the logs.
Inside the hut was a stone platform on which a small fire burned. The injured were laid near this on bamboo beds. By then the fog was getting thinner. The light increased and presently they were startled by a noise like a thousand cannon shells exploding at once. No matter how often they heard it, they jumped.
The grailstones had spouted their energy.
“No breakfast for us,” Burton said.
He raised his head abruptly.
“The grails? Did anyone get the grails?”
Monat said, “No, they were lost with the boat.” His face twisted with grief, and he wept. “Owenone must have drowned!”
They looked at each other in the firelight. Their faces were still pale from their ordeal; even so, they lost a shade of color.
Some of them groaned. Burton cursed. He too felt grief for Owenone, but he and his crew were beggars, dependent upon the charity of others. It was better to be dead than without a grail, and in the old days those who had lost theirs could, and often did, commit suicide. The next day they would wake up, far from their friends and mates, but at least with their own source of food and luxuries.
“Well,” Frigate said, “we can eat fish and acorn bread.”
“For the rest of our lives?” Burton said, sneering. “Which may be forever for all we know.”
“Just trying to look on the bright side of things,” the American said. “Though even that is pretty dim.”
“Why don’t we deal with things as they come up?” Alice said. “For the moment, I’d like my ribs seen to, and I’m sure poor Loghu would like her broken bone set and splinted.”
The man who had conducted them there arranged for treatment of the injured. After this was done and the pains of his patients had been eased with pieces of dreamgum, he went outside. Burton, Kazz, and Monat followed him outside. By then the sun was burning away the fog. Within a few minutes it would all be gone.
The scene was appalling. The entire V-shaped prow of the raft had broken up when its point had ridden up onto the beach and its port side had smashed into a corner of the spire. The docks and the boats of the Ganopo were smashed, buried somewhere in the pile of logs on the beach. The main part of the raft had also slid for at least 13 meters onto the shore. Several hundreds of the raftspeople were standing at the edge of the wreck, talking animatedly but doing nothing constructive.
To the left, logs were jammed against the sheer wall of the spire by the current. There was no sign of the Hadji II, or of Owenone. Burton’s hope that he might be able to retrieve at least a few grails was not going to be realized.
He looked around the raft. Even though it had lost its forepart, it was still immense. It had to be at least 660 feet or 201 meters long with a breadth at its widest of 122 meters. Its stern was also V-shaped.
In the center was the large, round, black object he had seen floating above the mists. It was the head of an idol 30 feet or over 9 meters tall. Black, squat, and ugly, it dominated the raft. It was sitting cross-legged, and its spine bore lizardlike crests. The head was a demon’s, its blue eyes glaring, its wide, snarling mouth displaying many great white sharkfish teeth.
These, Burton assumed, had been removed from a dragonfish and set within the scarlet gums.
In the middle of its huge paunch was a round hole. Inside this was a stone hearth on which a small pile of wood blazed. Its smoke rose within the body and curled out of the batlike ears of the idol.
Forward, near the edge of the raft, the watchtower lay on its side, its supports broken off at the base by the force of the collision. A body still lay near it.
There were some large buildings here and there with many smaller ones among them. A few of the smaller ones had collapsed, and one of the big constructions leaned crazily.
He counted ten tall masts with square-rigged sails and twenty shorter ones with fore-and-aft rigs. All of the sails were furled.
Alongside the edges were a number of racks holding boats of various sizes.
Behind the idol was the largest building of all. He supposed that this was the house of the chief or perhaps a temple. Or both.
Presently wooden trumpets blew and drums beat. Seeing the people streaming toward the great building, Burton decided to join them. They congregated between the idol and the building. Burton stood behind the mob where he could hear the proceedings but at the same time examine the statue. A little discreet scratching with a flint knife revealed that it was adobe covered with a black paint. He wondered where the paint for the body, eyes, and gums had been obtained. Pigments were rare, much to the sorrow of artists.
The chief, or the head priest, was taller than the others though still half a head shorter than Burton. He wore a cape and kilt with blue, black, and red stripes and an oaken crown with six points. His right hand held a long shepherd’s staff of oak. He spoke from a platform at the building’s entrance, gesturing often with the staff, his black eyes fiery, his mouth spewing a torrent of which Burton understood not one word. After about half an hour he got down from the platform, and the crowd broke up into various work parties.
Some of these went to the island to clear away the logs which had broken from the prow and piled onto the main body. Others went to the starboard rearside, where the V-shaped stern joined the main part. These lifted huge oars and fitted them to locks. Then, like a gang of galley slaves, working to a rhythm beat out on a drum, they began rowing.
Apparently, they were trying to bring the stern around so that the current would catch it on one side and then swing the entire raft. As soon as the vessel presented enough of its starboard side to the current, it would be turned around enough to be free of the island.
That was the theory, but the practice failed. It became apparent that the log jam would have to be cleared first and then leverage applied to push the front part from the beach.
Burton wished to talk to the headman, but he had gone around to the front of the idol and was bowing rapidly and chanting to it. Whatever Burton had learned or not learned, he knew that it was dangerous to interrupt a religious ritual.
He strolled around, stopping to look at the dugouts, canoes, and small sailboats in racks or on slides along the edge of the raft. Then he poked around the larger buildings. Most of these had doors which were barred on the outside. Making sure that no one was noticing him, he entered several.
Two were storehouses of dried fish and acorn bread. One was crammed with weapons. Another was a boat shed containing two half-finished dugouts and the pine framework of a canoe. In time the latter would be covered with fish-skin. The fifth building held a variety of artifacts: boxes of oak rings for trading, spiral bones and the unicornlike horns of the hornfish, piles of fish- and human-leather, drums, bamboo flutes, harps with hornfish guts for strings, skulls fashioned into drinking cups, ropes of fiber and fish-skin, piles of dried dragonfish intestines suitable for sails, stone lamps for burning fish-oil, boxes of lipstick, face-paint, marijuana, cigarettes, cigars, lighters (all doubtless saved up for trading or tribute), about fifty ritual masks, and many more items.
When he went into the sixth building, he smiled. This was where the grails were kept. The tall gray cylinders were stacked in wooden racks, waiting for their owners. He counted three hundred and fifty. One grail for each of the approximately three hundred and ten raftspeople meant that there were forty extra grails.
A few minutes’ inspection showed him that all but thirty were tagged. The others had cords tied around the handles of the tops, the other ends of which cords were connected to baked clay tablets bearing cuneiform writing. These were the names of their owners. He examined some of the incised marks, which looked like those he had seen in photographs of Babylonian and Assyrian documents.
He tried to raise the lids of a number of the tagged cylinders but failed, of course. There was some sort of mechanism preventing anyone but its owner from opening it. There were several theories about the operation, one being that a sensitive device inside the grail detected the electrical field of the owner’s skin and then activated an opening mechanism.
However, the untagged grails were of a different kind, called “freebies” by some English-speakers.
When over thirty-six billion of Earth’s dead had awakened whole and young along the immense stretch of The River, they had found a personal grail at their side. At the same time, each of the grailstones bore in its central depression one grail. This apparently had been provided by the resurrectors to show the new citizens just how their grails worked.
Each stone had vomited noise and light, and when the thunder and lightning had ceased, curious people had climbed onto the stones to look into the grails left there. The lids were raised, and the contents were revealed. Wonder of wonders, joy of joys! The hollow interior held snap-down racks on which were dishes and cups full of food and various goodies.
The next time the stones discharged, the private grails were on the stones, and these, too, supplied everything they needed and more, though human nature was such that many people complained because there wasn’t more variety.
The freebies had become very valuable; people bullied and thieved and killed to get them. If a person had a private grail and a freebie, he or she had twice as much food and luxuries as he or she was supposed to get.
Burton himself had never owned one, but here were thirty on racks before him.
The problem of the lost grails was solved—if he could get the headman to part with them. After all, his raft was responsible for the loss of the boat and the grails. He owed the crew of the Hadji II.
So far, he and his crew had been treated decently. He could think of other groups he had met that would have done nothing for them except throw them overboard—after mass-raping the women and perhaps sodomizing the men.
However, there might be a limit to the raftspeople’s hospitality. The free grails were anything but free. This group might even have stolen these. However they got them, they would be saving them for emergencies, such as replacements for those they lost or as tribute if they ran into a particularly hostile and powerful group.
Burton left the building, barred the door after him, and walked around pondering. If he asked the chief to give him seven grails, he could be refused. That would make the man suspicious, and he would set up guards over this building. Not to mention the fact that he might get nervous having potential thieves around and would ask them, politely or otherwise, to leave.
Passing by the idol, he saw that the chief had stopped praying and was walking toward the island. Apparently, he intended to supervise the activities there.
Burton decided to ask him now about the grails. No use putting off the issue.
The man who sits on his arse sits on his fortune.
Mutu-sha-ili was his native name, meaning “man of god,” but to Esperanto speakers he was Metuael. In English, Methusaleh.
For a delirious moment, Burton wondered if he had met the model for the long-lived patriarch of the Old Testament. No, Metuael was a Babylonian, and he had never heard of Hebrews until he had come to The Riverworld. He had been an inspector of granaries on Earth, but here he was the founder and head of a new religion and commander of the great raft.
“One night many years ago, while a storm raged outside, I was sleeping. And a god came to me in my dream, a god named Rushhub. I had never heard of this god, but he told me that he had once been a mighty god of my ancestors. Their descendants, however, had abandoned him, and in my lifetime on Earth only a small village at the edge of the kingdom had still worshipped him.
“But gods do not die, though they may take other forms and new names, or even become nameless, and he had lived in the dreams of many people through many generations. Now he had decided that the time was come to leave the dreamworld. Thus, he told me that I must arise and go forth and preach the worship of Rushhub. I must gather together a group of the faithful and build a giant raft and take my people down The River upon it.
“After many years, perhaps several generations as we knew generations on Earth, we would come to the end of The River, where it empties into a hole in the base of the mountains that ring the top of this world.
“There, we would go through the underworld, a great dark cavern, and then we would come out into a bright sea surrounding a land where we would live forever in peace and happiness with the gods and goddesses themselves.
“But before the raft was launched we must make a statue of the god Rushhub and set it upon the raft and worship it as the symbol of Rushhub. So do not say, as so many have said, that we are idolaters who mistake the physical symbol for the body of the god itself.”
Burton thought the man was crazy, though he was discreet enough not to say so. He and his crew had fallen into the hands of fanatics. Fortunately, the god had told Metuael that his worshippers must harm no one unless it was in self-defense. However, he knew from experience that “self-defense” could mean whatever a person or group wanted it to mean.
“Rushhub himself told me that just before we enter the underworld, we must break the idol into little bits and cast them into The River. He did not say why we should do so. He merely said that by the time we reach the cavern, we will understand.”
“That is all very well for you,” Burton said. “But you are responsible for destroying our boat. Also, we have lost our grails.”
“I am indeed sorry, but there is little I can do for you. What happened to you is the will of Rushhub.”
Burton felt like striking the man in his face. Mastering himself, he said, “Three of my people are too injured at the moment to move them very far. Could you at least give us a boat so we could get to shore?”
Metuael glared with fierce black eyes, and he pointed at the island.
“There is the shore, and there is a foodstone. I will see that your injured are placed there, and we will give you some dried fish and acorn bread. In the meantime, please do not trouble me with any more requests. I have work to do. We must get our raft back into The River. Rushhub told me that we should not delay our journey for any reason whatsoever.
“If we take too long, we may find the gates to the land of the gods forever shut. Then we will be left to howl at the gates and repent in vain for our lack of faith and determination.”
At that moment Burton decided that anything he did would be justified. These people owed him much, and he owed them nothing.
Metuael had walked away. Now he stopped suddenly, pointing at Monat, who had just come out of the building.
“What is that?”
Burton walked up to him and said, “That is a man from another world. He and some of his kind traveled from a distant star to Earth. This was over a hundred years after I died, perhaps four thousand years after you died. He came in peace, but the people of Earth discovered that he had a… drug which could keep people from aging. They demanded that he tell them its secret, but he refused. He said that Earth people had enough problems as it was with overpopulation. Besides, a person should not be given the chance to live forever unless that person was worthy of it.”
“He was wrong then,” Metuael said. “The gods have given us a chance to live forever.”
“Yes, in a way. Though, according to your religion, only a very small group, just those on this raft, will become truly immortal. Am I right?”
“It seems hard,” Metuael said. “But that is the way it is, and who are we to question the motives and methods of the gods?”
“It is, however, a fact that we only know what the gods desire through human beings who speak for them. I have never met a person yet whose motives and methods I would not question.”
“The more fool you.”
“Aside from that,” Burton said, smiling to hide his anger, “the Arcturans, Monat and his people, were attacked by the Earth people. They were all killed, but before he died Monat caused almost all of the Earth people to die.”
He paused. How could he explain to this ignoramus that the Arcturans had left their mother ship in orbit around Earth? And that Monat had transmitted a radio wave signal to the orbiting vessel and that it had projected an energy beam of such a frequency that only human beings had died?
He did not really understand it himself, since in his time such things as radio and spaceships had not existed.
Metuael was wide-eyed now. Looking at Monat, he said, “He is a great magician? He killed all those people through his powers?”
For a moment, Burton considered using Monat’s supposed magic as a lever. Perhaps he could pry a boat and free-grails out of this man if he threatened him. But, though Metuael might be ignorant, and crazed, he was not unintelligent. He would ask why Monat, if he was such a sorcerer, had not protected the Hadji II from destruction and his companions from hurt. He also might ask why Burton needed a boat, since surely Monat could give them the power to fly through the air.
“Yes, he did slay them,” Burton said. “And he also woke up on these banks, not knowing how or why. His magical tools were left on Earth, of course. However, he says that he will find the materials to make more tools someday, and he will regain his powers and be as mighty and as deadly as ever. Then those who have scorned and mocked him will have good reason to fear him.”
Let Metuael chew on that.
Metuael smiled, and said, “By that time…”
Burton understood. By then the raft would be long gone.
“Besides, Rushhub will protect his people. A god is mightier than a man, even a demon from the stars.”
“Why didn’t Rushhub avert this accident then?” Burton said.
“I do not know, but I am sure that he will come to me in a dream, and he will tell me why. Nothing happens to the people of Rushhub without a purpose.”
Metuael walked off. Burton returned to the building to check on his crew. Kazz stepped outside just as Burton was about to enter. He had removed all his cloths except for his kilt, revealing a very hairy, squat, big-boned, powerfully muscled body. His head was thrust forward on a bowed and bull-like neck. His forehead was low and slanting; his skull long and narrow; his face, broad. His supraorbital ridges were thick, bony shelves above shrewd dark-brown eyes. The nose was puggish but had flaring nostrils. The bulging jaws pushed out thin lips. The massive hands looked as if they could squeeze stone to powder.
Despite his fearsome appearance, he would not have gotten more than a passing glance in the East End of London in Burton’s time if he had been clothed.
His full name was Kazzintuitruaabemss. In his native language, Man-Who-Slew-The-White-Tooth.
“What’s up, Burton-naq?”
“You and Monat come in with me.”
When he was in the hut, he asked the others how they felt. Alice and Frigate said they could walk but not run. Loghu’s case was evident. She was in no pain because of the dreamgum given her, but she would not be restored to full health for four or five days. It took that long for a broken bone to knit completely. The fantastic speed in healing was due to causes unknown, perhaps something in their food.
Whatever the reason, bones healed, teeth and eyes regrew, torn muscles and burned flesh were renewed, all with a quickness that had once astonished the Valley-dwellers. Now it was taken for granted.
Burton had no sooner explained the situation to them than twelve armed men appeared. Their captain said he had orders to escort them to the island. Two men put Loghu on a stretcher and carried her out. Frigate, supported by Monat and Kazz, limped after them. They made their way, with some difficulty, over the wilderness of logs and onto the shore. Here they were met by the Ganopo, all angry but helpless.
Loghu was taken into a hut, and the guards left. Not, however, before their captain cautioned Burton that he and his crew must stay away from the raft.
“And if we don’t?” Burton said loudly.
“Then you will be thrown into The River. Perhaps with a stone tied to your legs. Almighty Rushhub has told us not to spill blood except in self-defense. But he said nothing about drowning our enemies.”
Shortly before the midday grailstone discharge, a store of dried fish and acorn bread was delivered to Burton.
“Metuael says that this will keep you from starving until you can catch more fish and make more bread.”
“I’ll save my thanks to deliver in person to him,” Burton said to the captain. “He may not like its form, though.”
Monat said, “Was that empty bluster or do you plan on some sort of revenge?”
“Revenge isn’t my dish,” Burton said. “I do intend, however, to see that we do not go grailless.”
Two days passed. The front part of the raft was still beached. The log jam had been cleared away, and the raft had been pushed back toward the water several meters. This was a tedious, backbreaking job. The entire population of the raft, their leader excepted, pried away at the front end with small thin logs as levers. From sunup until sunset, the Babylonian words for “Heave! One, two three, heave!” bellowed from hundreds of mouths.
Every mass effort only succeeded in pushing back the immensely heavy raft a millimeter or so. Often, the stones wedged between the rock of the beach and the front edge of the raft would slip a little, and the raft, urged by the current, would move back onto the beach. Several times, the wedges were knocked out, and all gains were lost.
Since the wind blew from downRiver, the sails on the masts were unfurled. Metuael hoped that the upstream wind would give the heavers an advantage. The theory would have worked if it had not been that the rock spire blocked off most of the breeze.
By the morning of the third day, the raft had been pushed back about a meter. At this rate, it would take seven more days to free it.
The Ganopo were busy meanwhile. Unable to borrow a boat from Metuael, they sent four strong swimmers out. These got to the right bank, where they explained the situation and were loaned a small sailboat. They returned with a fleet of twenty boats manned by the chiefs of the local state and the best fighting men. The head chief, a tall Shawnee, looked around and then conferred with the Ganopo. Burton and Monat sat in on the meeting.
There was a lot of talking, complaints from the Ganopo, various counsels offered, and a speech by Burton. He told them of the large store of goods on the raft, omitting mention of the free-grails, and suggested that perhaps the Babylonians would part with some of their stores if the locals loaned enough men to help free the raft.
The Shawnee thought this was a good idea. He talked to Metuael, who was polite but said he did not need any help.
Disgruntled, the Shawnee returned to the island.
“Those eagle-noses do not have much sense,” he said. “Don’t they know that we can take everything they have without giving anything in return? They have wrecked the boats and the docks of the Ganopo and offered nothing in restitution. They have wrecked the strangers’ vessel, which took a year to build and cost them much tobacco and booze in trade for the wood with which to build it. They have caused a crewman to die. They have also caused the loss of the strangers’ grails. A person might as well be dead as not have a grail.
“And what do they offer as payment? Nothing! They mock the Ganopo and the strangers. These are evil people, and they should be punished as such.”
“Not to mention the valuable goods the chief and his chums will obtain,” Burton murmured in English to Monat.
“What did you say?” the chief said.
“I was telling my friend, the man from the stars, that you have great wisdom and know what is right and wrong. That what you do to the eagle-noses will be right and just, and the great spirit will smile upon you.”
“Your language says much in a few words.”
“The tongue of my people is not forked.”
And God forgive me for that remark, Burton thought.
Though the Shawnee did not say what he meant to do, it was evident to Burton that he would be planning a raid in force. Perhaps for that very night.
Burton called the others into his hut.
“Don’t look so gloomy. I think we’ll have grails after all, lose our beggar status. However, we must act tonight. How about it, Loghu, Pete, Alice? Do you feel up to some action? Some perhaps vigorous action?”
The three replied that they could walk. Running was as yet out of the question.
“Very well. Here is what we’ll do, if you have no objections. If you do, we’ll do it anyway.”
They ate their evening meal, fish and bread which disgusted them before they put it in their mouths. The Ganopo, however, were kind enough to give them a few cigarettes and as much of the lichen-alcohol as they wanted. Before going into his hut, presumably to retire for the night, Burton walked around the beach. The Babylonians were either in their huts or talking in small groups before them. They were tired after three days of hard and frustrating labor and would soon be asleep. All, that is, except for the guards stationed along the edge of the raft. They would light pine torches soaked in fish-oil and pace back and forth under their illumination, waiting for their reliefs.
The largest groups were at the forward end. Metuael had placed them there to make sure that Burton’s people did not try to sneak aboard to steal their goods. The little dark-skinned men watched him closely as he sauntered along. He grinned and waved at them. They did not return his greeting.
Having checked the situation, Burton walked back to his hut. On the way he passed the Ganopo chief, who was sitting before his hut and smoking one of the little briar pipes the grails offered once a year.
Burton squatted down by him.
“I am thinking, O chief, that tonight the raftspeople may be in for a big surprise.”
The chief removed his pipe and said, “What do you mean?”
“It is possible that the chief of the people on the north bank may be leading a raid upon the raftspeople. Have you heard anything about that?”
“Not a word. The great chief of the Shaawanwaaki does not confide in me. However, I would not be surprised if he and his warriors did not resent the injuries and the insults which we Ganopo, who are under his protection, have suffered from the eagle-noses.”
“If they did make this raid you suggest, when would they be likely to do it?”
“In the old days, when the Shaawanwaaki warred against the people on the south bank, they would cross The River just before dawn. The clouds are still thick then, and they could not be seen approaching. But soon after they had landed, the sun would come up and the clouds would burn away under its heat. Then the Shaawanwaaki could see to strike.”
“That is what I thought,” Burton said. “However, one thing troubles me. It is an easy matter to cross a river or even a small lake in the fog and find the other side. This is a small island which would be difficult to find in the clouds. It is true the rock tower is very high, but the raiders would be in the fog and could not see it.”
The chief tamped down the coals in his pipe, and he said, “That is no worry of mine.”
Burton said, “There is a ledge on the spire. It faces the north bank, but an outcropping of rock would prevent the raftspeople from seeing it. It would also prevent them from seeing a bonfire. A bonfire which anyone on The River north of the island might see even through the fog. Is that why some of the Ganopo have been busy all day carrying bamboo and pine up to this ledge?”
The chief grinned. “You have the curiosity of a wildcat and the eyes of a hawk. However, I promised the Shaawanwaaki chief not to say a word about this business.”
Burton stood up. “I understand. Many thanks for your hospitality, chief, whether or not I ever see you again.”
“If not in this world, perhaps in the next.”
It was difficult to get to sleep. After hours of tossing and turning, he was surprised to find himself being shaken awake by Monat. Burton freed himself of the Arcturan’s three fingers and thumb and got up. Monat, who also came from a planet with a twenty-four-hours’ rotation, had a biological chronometer in his head. Burton had depended upon him to wake the others at the right time.
They moved around, talking softly while they drank instant coffee. The crystals, a gift from the islanders, provided a boiling heat as they dissolved.
After going over their plan once more, they moved outside and relieved themselves. The hut was just high enough to be above the mists, enabling them to see a faint glow high up on the spire. The Shaawanwaaki, even though in fog, would be able to discern it as a dim glow. That would be all they needed.
Frigate and Burton were the only ones who had been wearing a full suit of cloths when the Hadji II had gone down. The others, however, had cloths given them by the Ganopo. Clad from head to foot in these, they walked down into the fog. Burton led, one hand in Alice’s, hers in Frigate’s, and so on down the line. Depending upon an unusual sense of direction, Burton led them to the water’s edge. Now they could see the glow of the torches in the fuzziness.
Burton took out his flint knife. Kazz had a club he’d fashioned from a stick of pine with a knife he’d borrowed from a Ganopo. Frigate’s knife had been given to the Neanderthal woman, Besst. The rest were unarmed.
Burton moved cautiously forward until he was at the edge of the raft. There was enough space between the torches ranged along the edge for him to crawl through unseen. He proceeded to do this until he was well out of range of the guards’ vision and hearing. He waited while, one by one, the others caught up.
“This is the easy part,” he said. “From now on we’ll be blind until we come across a torchlight. I have the location of the buildings and the boats in my head, but in this fog… well, follow me.”
Despite his assurances, he blundered around for a while. Then, abruptly, the huge black figure of the idol, a fire in its hollow belly, was in front of him. He stood for a minute, estimating the probable number of paces from the statue to the building which held the grails.
Kazz said, “I can just see some lights to the right.”
Keeping to the right of the torches, Burton led the others until he saw the square walls and conical roof of the storehouse. From the front of the building came the voices of the guards, speaking in low tones, stamping their feet now and then. After going behind the bulding, touching it with a finger to keep contact, Burton stopped on the other side.
Here he removed from under his cloths a coil of leather rope borrowed from the Ganopo chief, who had not asked him about its intended use. Monat and Frigate also carried coils. Burton tied their ends together to make a single rope. While Alice held one end, he moved out into the darkness with Frigate, Monat, Loghu, and Kazz. He knew that there was a boat-rack on the edge of the raft just opposite the storehouse. This time, he went straight to his target.
Cautioning them to move slowly and silently, he and the others eased a large canoe off the rack. It could hold ten people and so, though made of light pine and thin fish skin, was heavy.
After the canoe was in the water and paddles placed in it, all returned except Loghu. It was her job to keep the canoe from drifting away.
Following the rope, they went swiftly back to the storehouse.
Just as they returned, Kazz grunted, and said, “Others coming!”
The flames of four torches became visible.
“It’s a change of guards!” Burton said.
They had to move around to the other side of the building since the four armed men were headed toward them.
Burton looked upward. Was it his imagination or was the fog becoming less dark above?
They waited, some of them sweating despite the damp, cold air. The guards exchanged some words, somebody must have cracked a joke, judging by their laughter, then the relieved men said good night. The torches showed that two were going to homes in the forward part. The other two went in the opposite direction, causing a swift retreat by the invaders.
Burton, watching from the corner said, “Those two are separating, Kazz, do you think you could get one of them?”
“No sweat, Burton-naq,” Kazz said, and he was gone.
Both the torches were almost out of sight when Burton saw one of them drop. A minute later it lifted, becoming more bright as it approached them.
By then, Burton had moved the group from the side to the back of the building. He did not want a guard to walk past the front and see the torch.
Kazz had thrown his hood back. His big, blocklike teeth gleamed in the light of the flames. In one hand he held the heavy oak spear tipped with a long hornfish horn which he had taken from the guard. His belt held a chert knife set in a heavy wooden handle and a flint-headed axe. These he passed out to Frigate and Alice. His club went to the Arcturan.
“I hope you didn’t kill him,” Monat whispered.
“That depends on how thick his skull is,” Kazz said.
Monat grimaced. He had an almost pathological abhorrence of violence, though he could be an effective fighter in self-defense.
“Will your leg handicap you?” Burton said. “Think you can throw that axe as effectively as usual?”
“I think so,” Frigate said. He was shaking now, though he would be steady when the fighting started. Like the Arcturan, he dreaded physical conflict.
Burton told them what to do, then he led Kazz and Alice around one side toward the front. The others went around the opposite corner.
Burton peered around the corner. The four guards were standing close together, facing each other, and talking. A moment later, a torchlight appeared around the corner. The guards did not see it until it was close. As soon as Burton saw them turn toward it, calling a challenge, he moved out.
Kazz, his features shrouded by his hood, got near to them before he was required to stop. Probably, the guards thought that he was one of the relieved men, returned for some reason.
By the time the mistake was discovered, it was too late for them. Kazz grasped his spear just behind its head, and, using it as a quarterstaff, struck its butt against the side of a guard’s neck.
Burton, holding his knife in his left hand, chopped the edge of his right against the back of the neck of another man. He had no wish to kill, and he had ordered the bloodthirsty Kazz to avoid using the spearhead if he could do so.
Frigate’s axe whirled out of the grayness and caught a third in the chest. It was thrown not quite accurately enough, or perhaps Frigate was trying not to kill. In which case, his axe-throwing was superb. The blunt forefront, not the cutting edge, struck, and the man fell back, the wind knocked out of him. Before he could recover it, he was knocked out by Burton’s savage kick to the side of his head.
At the same time as the others, Monat struck, and the fourth crumpled from a blow on the head.
There was silence for a moment as they waited to find out if anyone had heard the fight. Then they picked up the torches from the deck, and Burton unbarred the door. The fallen were dragged inside, where Monat examined them.
“Very good. They’re all alive.”
“Some of them’ll be coming to soon,” Burton said. “Watch them, Kazz.”
He held a torch above the free-grail rack. “We’re beggars no longer.”
He hesitated. Should just seven grails be taken? Why not all thirty? The extras could be used to trade for wood and sails for the new boat to be built.
Honor Not Honors was his motto, but this was a matter of recompense, not thievery.
He gave the order, and each took five grails. They put the wide handle of one grail over their head, letting it hang behind them by the neck and thrust each arm through the handles of two grails. Then they left the building, barred the door, and followed the leather cord to the canoe. The torches were left upon the deck outside the storehouse.
Loghu said, “Isn’t it about time the Indians attacked?”
“Past time, I would say,” Monat replied.
The canoe loaded, they paddled away. Their destination was the south bank, which they intended to follow upRiver until just before dawn. Burton was worried about the extra grails. If the local authorities saw them, they might seize them. Even if they didn’t, greedy individuals would try to steal them.
There was only one way to hide them. The extras were filled with water. Sections of leather line were cut, and one end of each was tied to a handle. The other end was tied to the upper part of the canoe framework through a hole punched in the skin.
The drag on the canoe was heavy, but fortunately they were very close to the bank. They stopped at a dock complex near a grailstone and tied the canoe to a piling under a dock.
They sat down under the stone and waited. Dawn and hundreds of citizens came. Burton’s group introduced itself and requested permission to use the stone. This was given gladly, since the south-bank locals were peaceful. In fact, they welcomed strangers, a source of news and gossip.
The fog burned away. Burton got on top of the stone and looked toward the spire. Its base was about 2.5 nautical miles distant, which, from his altitude, put the horizon 4 miles away. He could see the larger buildings and the idol but the flames he had expected to be rising from them were nonexistent. Perhaps the Shaawanwaaki had not set them afire. After all, they might have wanted to keep the raft intact until it could be taken to the shore and dismantled. Its logs were valuable.
Instead of pushing on that day, he decided that they would rest. That afternoon a Ganopo party landed, the chief among them. Burton questioned him.
The chief laughed. “Those Shaawanwaaki turtleheads completely missed the raft. They couldn’t see the fire, though how they could not, I don’t understand. Anyway, they paddled around for hours, and when the fog lifted they found that the current had taken them five stones below the island. What a bunch of bums!”
“Did the Babylonians say anything to you about their missing canoe? Not to mention the guards we had to rough up?”
Burton thought it best not to say anything about the grails.
The chief laughed again. “Yes, they came storming ashore before the stone flamed. They were very angry, though they did not say why. They knocked us around a little, but the bruises and the insults did not bother us because we were happy that you had made fools of them. They searched the island thoroughly, but they did not find you, of course. They did find the ashes of the fire and asked us about it. I told them that it was a ceremonial fire.
“They didn’t believe me. I think they must have guessed the truth. You won’t have to worry about them sending out search parties for you. Every one of them, including Metuael, is straining to get the raft off today. They must expect another attack tonight.”
Burton asked the chief why the Shaawanwaaki didn’t attack in the daylight. They could easily overwhelm the Babylonians.
“That is because there is an agreement among the states in this area to protect strangers. So far, it has been honored and with good reason. The other states would be compelled to go to war against the aggressor. However, the Shaawanwaaki were hoping to keep it a secret. If they were to be found out, they would say that the raftspeople had refused to pay compensation for the damage done to us.
“I don’t know. Perhaps the Shaawanwaaki will give up the idea. Still, there are many among them who would like to make a raid just for the sake of excitement.”
Burton never found out what happened to the Babylonians. He decided that they should leave that day. After the canoe was on its way, the grails were pulled up, emptied, and placed in the bottom of the canoe.
After traveling 200 kilometers, Burton found an area suitable for boat construction. It was not determined by the wood available, since all places had plenty of pine, oak, yew, and bamboo. What was now difficult to find was flint and chert for cutting timber. Even in the beginning, these stones were restricted to certain sites, some being rich in them, others comparatively poor, and many lacking them entirely. Wars for flint had been common in the old days.
The minerals were even rarer now. Hard as they were, flint and chert wore out, and new supplies were almost unheard of. As a result, the end of 32 A.R.D. (After Resurrection Day) was also the near end of large-vessel construction. At least, it was in the countries through which Burton had passed, and he presumed that it was the same everywhere.
The area at which he stopped was one of the very few that still had a plentiful store. The locals, a majority of pre-Columbian Algonquins and a minority of pre-Roman Picts, were well aware of the value of their stones. Their chief, a Menomini named Oskas, haggled fiercely with Burton. Finally, he stated that his rock-bottom price was seven thousand cigarettes of tobacco, five hundred of marijuana, twenty-five hundred cigars, forty packages of pipe tobacco, and eight thousand cupfuls of liquor. He also suggested that he would like to sleep with the blonde, Loghu, every five days or so. Actually, he would prefer that it be every night, but he did not think his three women would like that.
Burton took some time to recover from his shock. He said, “That’s up to her. I don’t think either she or her man would agree to it. Anyway, you’re asking far too much. None of my party would have booze or tobacco for a year.”
Oskas shrugged and said, “Well, if it isn’t worth it to you… ?”
Burton called a conference and told his crew what Oskas demanded. Kazz objected the most.
“Burton-naq, I lived all my life on Earth, forty-five summers, without whiskey or nicotine. But here I got hooked and if I go a day without either, I am ready, as you put it, to climb the wall. You know that I tried to quit both at different times, and before a week was gone I was ready to bite my tongue off. I was as mean as a cave bear with a thorn in his paw.”
Besst said, “I haven’t forgotten.”
“If there was no alternative, we’d have to do it,” Burton said. “It’d be cold turkey or no boat. But we do have the extra grails.”
He returned to Oskas and, after they had smoked a pipe, he got down to business.
“The woman with the yellow hair and blue eyes says the only part of her you’ll get is her foot, and you might have a hard time pulling it out of your ass.”
Oskas laughed loudly and slapped his thigh.
When he had dried his tears, he said, “Too bad. I like a woman with spirit, though not with too much.”
“It so happens that some time ago I got hold of a free-grail. Now, I am willing to trade that for a place in which to build our boat and the materials to build it.”
Oskas did not ask him how he got it, though it was evident that he thought Burton had stolen it.
“If that is so,” he said, smiling, “then we have a deal.”
He stood up. “I will see that things are arranged at once. Are you sure that the blonde is not just playing hard to get?”
The chief took the grail to the council’s stronghouse, adding it to the twenty-one free-grails there. These had been collected through the years for the benefit of himself and his subchiefs.
Here, as everywhere, special people made sure that they got special privileges.
It took a year to build another cutter. When it was half-finished, Burton decided not to name it after its predecessors, Hadji I and Hadji II. Both had come to bad ends, and, though he denied it, he was superstitious. After some talk with his crew, it was agreed that Snark was suitable. Alice liked the name because of her association with Lewis Carroll, and she agreed with Frigate that it was most appropriate.
Smiling, she recited part of the Bellman’s speech from The Hunting of the Snark.
“He had bought a large map representing the sea, Without the least vestige of land:
And the crew were much pleased when they found it to be
A map they could all understand.
“‘What’s the good of Mercator’s North Poles and Equators,
Tropics, Zones, and Meridian Lines?’
So the Bellman would cry: and the crew would reply
‘They are merely conventional signs!
“‘Other maps are such shapes, with their islands and capes!
But we’ve got our brave Captain to thank’
(So the crew would protest) ‘that he’s bought us
A perfect and absolute blank!’”
Burton laughed, but he was not sure that Alice was not obliquely insulting his abilities as a captain. Lately, they had not been getting along so well.
“Let’s hope the voyage in the new boat won’t be another agony in eight fits!” Alice cried.
“Well,” Burton said, grinning savagely at her, “this Bellman knows enough not to get the bowsprit mixed up with the rudder sometimes!
“Nor,” he added, “is there a Rule 42 of the boat’s code. No one shall speak to the Man at the Helm.”
“Which,” Alice said, her smile gone, “was decreed by the Bellman himself. And the Man at the Helm shall speak to no one.”
There was a short silence. All felt the tension between the two, and they looked uneasy, dreading another violent explosion of their captain’s temper.
Monat, eager to avoid this, laughed. He said, “I remember that poem. I was especially struck by ‘Fit the Sixth, The Barrister’s Dream.’ Let me see, ah, yes, the pig was on trial for having deserted its sty, and the Snark, dressed in gown, bands, and wig, was defending it.
“The indictment had never been clearly expressed, And it seemed that the Snark had begun,
And had spoken three hours, before any one guessed
What the pig was supposed to have done.”
He paused, rolled his eyes, and said, “I have it. That one quatrain which so impressed me.
“But their wild exultation was suddenly checked When the jailor informed them with tears,
Such a sentence would not have the slightest effect, As the pig had been dead for some years.”
They all laughed, and Monat said, “Somehow, that verse squeezes out the essence of Terrestrial justice, its letter if not its spirit.”
“I am amazed,” Burton said, “that in your short time on Earth you managed not only to read so much but to remember it so well.”
“The Hunting of the Snark was a poem. I believe that you can understand human beings better through poetry and fiction than through so-called fact-literature. That is why I took the trouble to memorize it.
“Anyway, an Earth friend gave it to me. He said that it was one of the greatest works of metaphysics that humanity could boast of. He asked me if Arcturans had anything to equal it.”
Alice said, “Surely he was pulling your leg?”
“I don’t think so.”
Burton shook his head. He had been a voracious reader, and he had an almost photographic memory. But he had been on Earth sixty-nine years, whereas Monat had lived there only from 2002 to 2008 A.D. Yet, during the years they had voyaged together, Monat had betrayed a knowledge that no human could have accumulated in a century.
The conversation ended since it was time to go back to work on the boat. Burton had not forgotten Alice’s seeming barb, however. He brought it up as they got ready to go to bed.
She looked at him with large, dark eyes, eyes that were already retreating into another world. She almost always withdrew when he attacked, and it was this that heated his anger from red to white-hot.
“No, Dick, I wasn’t insulting you. At least, I wasn’t doing so consciously.”
“But you were doing it unconsciously, is that it? That’s no excuse. You can’t plead that you have no control of that part of you. What your unconscious thinks is just as much you as the conscious is. It’s even worse. You can dismiss your conscious thoughts, but what you really believe is what that shadowy thing believes.”
He began pacing back and forth, his face looking like a demon’s in the faint light cast by the small fire on the stone hearth.
“Isabel worshipped me, yet she was not afraid to argue violently with me, to tell me when she thought I was doing something wrong. But you… you harbor resentment until it makes an absolute bitch of you, yet you won’t come out with it. And that makes things even worse.
“There’s nothing evil about a hammer-and-tongs, screaming, throwing argument. It’s like a thunderstorm, frightening when it happens; but it clears the air after it’s over.
“The trouble with you is that you were raised to be a lady. You must never lift your voice in anger, you must always be calm and cool and collected. But that shadowy entity, that hindbrain, that inheritance from your ape ancestors, is tearing at the bars of its cage. And, incidentally, tearing at you. But you, you won’t admit it.”
Alice lost her dreamy look, and she shouted at him.
“You’re a liar! And don’t throw up your wife to me! We agreed never to compare each other’s spouse, but you do it every time you wish to get me angry! It isn’t true that I lack passion. You of all people should know that, and I don’t just mean in bed.
“But I won’t go into a rage over every petty word and incident. When I get mad it’s because the situation demands it. It’s worth getting angry about. You… you’re in a perpetual state of rage.”
“That’s a lie!”
“I don’t lie!”
“Let us get back to the point,” he said. “What is there about my capacity as commander that you don’t like?”
She bit her lip, then said, “It’s not how you run the boat or how you treat your crew. That’s such an obvious matter, and you do fine at it. No, what troubles me is the command, or lack of it, over yourself.”
Burton sat down, saying, “Let’s have it. Just what are you talking about?”
She hitched forward on the chair and leaned over so that her face was close to his.
“For one thing, you can’t stand to stay in one place more than a week. Before three days are up, you get uneasy. By the seventh day you’re like a tiger pacing back and forth in his cage, a lion throwing himself against the bars.”
“Spare me the zoological analogies,” he said. “Besides, you know that I have stayed in one place for as much as a year.”
“Yes, when you were building a boat. When you had a project going, one which would enable you to travel even more swiftly. Even then, you took short trips, leaving the rest of us to work on the boat. You had to go see this and that, investigate rumors, study strange customs, track down a language you didn’t know. Never mind what the excuse was. You had to get away.
“You have a blight of the soul, Dick. That’s the only way I can describe it. You can’t endure to stay long in one place. But it’s not because of the place. Never! It’s you yourself that you can’t tolerate. You must run so you can get away from yourself!”
He stood up and began pacing again.
“You say then that I can’t endure myself! What a pitiable fellow! He doesn’t love himself, which means that no one else can love him!”
“Yes, all you’re saying is pure rot!”
“The rot is in you, not in what I say.”
“If you can’t stand me, why don’t you leave?”
Tears slid down her cheeks, and she said, “I love you, Dick!”
“But not enough to put up with my trifling eccentricities, is that it?”
She threw up her hands. “Trifling?”
“I have an itch to travel. So what? Would you taunt me if I had a physical itch, say athlete’s foot?”
She smiled slightly. “No, I’d tell you to get rid of it. But this isn’t just an itch, Dick. It’s a compulsion.”
She got up and lit a cigarette. Waving it under his nose, she said, “Look at this. In my time on Earth I would never have dared smoke, wouldn’t even have considered it. A lady did not do such things. Especially a lady whose husband was of the landed gentry, whose father was a bishop of the Anglican church. Nor did she ever drink strong liquor to excess or curse. And she would never have considered bathing nude in public!
“But here I am, Alice Pleasance Liddell Hargreaves of the estate of Cuffnells, a most proper Victorian female aristocrat, doing all that and much more. By much more, well, I’m doing things in bed that even the French novels my husband was so fond of reading would not even have hinted at.
“I’ve changed. So why can’t you?
“To tell the truth, Dick, I’m sick of traveling, always moving on, cooped up inside a small vessel, never knowing what tomorrow will bring. I’m no coward, you know that. But I would like to find a place where they speak English, where the people are of my own kind, where there is peace, where I can settle down, put down roots. I’m so tired of this eternal voyaging!”
Burton was moved by her tears. He put his hand on her shoulder and said, “What can we do about it? I must keep going on. Now, my…”
“Isabel? I’m not she. I’m Alice. I do love you, Dick, but I’m not your shadow, trailing you wherever you go, present when there’s light, gone when there’s darkness, a mere appendage.”
She got up to put out the half-smoked cigarette in a baked-clay ashtray. Turning to him, she said, “But there’s more! There’s something else that bothers me very much. It hurts me that you don’t fully confide in me. You have a secret, Dick, a very deep, very dark secret.”
“Perhaps you can tell me what it is. I certainly don’t know.”
“Don’t lie! I’ve heard you talking in your sleep. It has something to do with those Ethicals, doesn’t it? Something happened to you you didn’t tell anyone about when you were gone all those years.
“I’ve heard you muttering about bubbles, about killing yourself seven hundred and seventy-seven times. And I’ve heard names you never mention when you’re awake. Loga. Thanabur. And you speak of Ecks and the mysterious stranger. Who are these people?”
“Only the man who sleeps alone can keep a secret,” Burton said.
“Why can’t you tell me? Don’t you trust me—after all these years?”
“I would if I could. But it would be too dangerous for you. Believe me, Alice, I have said nothing because I must say nothing. It is for your own good. No arguments now. I won’t give in, and I’ll get very angry if you persist in questioning me.”
“Very well then. But keep your hands to yourself tonight.”
It was a long time before he fell asleep. Some time in the night he awoke, aware that he had been talking. Alice was sitting up, staring at him.
Oskas, half-drunk as usual, visited Burton during lunch hour. Burton did not mind, especially since the chief gave him a skin containing at least two liters of bourbon.
“Have you heard the rumors of this great white boat which is said to be coming from downRiver?” the Indian said.
“Only a deaf man would not have heard,” Burton said, and he took a long pull of the whiskey. It had a winey odor and went down smoothly, needing no dilution with water. But then the grails never delivered anything but the best.
He said, “Aah!” and then, “I find it hard to believe the stories. From the description, the vessel is propelled by paddle wheels. That would mean that its engines are of iron. I doubt that anyone could gather enough ore to make engines of any size. Also, I have heard that the hull of the boat is made of metal. There’s not enough iron in the whole planet to make a vessel that big. If it is as big as the rumors say.”
“You are full of doubts,” Oskas said. “That is bad for the liver. However, if the stories are true, then the great boat will be coming along some day. I would like to have such a boat.”
“You and millions more. But if such a boat can be made, then its maker could have iron weapons, perhaps firearms. You have never seen these though you do have some gunpowder bombs. Firearms, however, are metal tubes which can shoot metal projectiles to a great distance. Some of these can fire so fast that a man could not shoot one arrow before he was hit ten times. And then there are cannons. These are giant tubes which shoot large bombs farther than the mountains.
“So, you can assume that others have tried to take this boat away from its owners and have died before they could get within arrow range. Besides, what would you do with it if you did get it? It takes highly trained people to operate such a boat.”
“Those could be gotten,” Oskas said. “You, for instance. Could you operate it?”
“Would you be interested in helping me take it? I would be grateful. You would be first among my subchiefs.”
“I am not a warlike man,” Burton said. “Nor am I greedy. However, just for the sake of conversation, let us say that I was interested. Here is what I would do.”
Oskas was fascinated by the intricate but fantastic plan that Burton proposed. When he left he said that he would send Burton more whiskey. They must talk about this some more. Smiling broadly, Oskas staggered away.
Burton thought the chief was very gullible. He did not mind stringing him along, however. It would keep him happy.
The truth was that Burton had some plans of his own.
If the stories were true, then the boat was a means for traveling much faster than by sail. Somehow, he was going to get on it. Not by force but by cunning. The main trouble was that he had no idea as yet how he could accomplish that.
For one thing, the boat might not, probably would not, stop at this area. For another, it might not have room for more people. Also, why should its captain want to take him and his crew on?
The rest of the day, he was silent, absorbed in his thoughts. After he had gone to bed, he lay a long time considering every possibility. One of the things he considered was that of going along with Oskas’ plan. Then, at the last moment, he could betray him. That might get him into the good graces of the boat’s captain.
He rejected that almost instantly. In the first place, even if Oskas was rapacious and treacherous, he, Burton, would feel dishonored if he deceived him. Secondly, it was inevitable that many of Oskas’ people would be killed and wounded. He did not wish to be responsible for that.
No, there had to be another way.
Finally, he found it. Its success depended upon stopping the boat or at least getting the attention of those aboard it. How he would do it if it passed during the night, he did not know. Somehow, he would.
Smiling, he fell asleep.
Two months passed. In another week, the Snark would be launched. In the meantime, details about the approaching paddle wheeler had come in piecemeal. These had arrived by drum, smoke, fire, and mica-mirror signals. Putting the items together, Burton had built a picture of the vessel. It was probably larger than any Mississippi riverboat of his time. It was undoubtedly of metal, and it traveled at least 15 miles an hour or a little over 24 kilometers per hour. Sometimes, it had been seen going twice as fast. The calculations were crude, of course, since none of the observers had a stopwatch. But seconds could be counted as it passed from one grailstone to the next.
Burton had presumed from the first reports that the boat was a steamer. However, later messages said that the vessel seldom took in wood. This was for a boiler which heated water for showers and made steam for machine guns. Burton could not understand how steam propelled bullets. Monat suggested that the weapon used a synchronizing system to drop projectiles into the barrel, through which steam at considerable pressure was shot at regular intervals.
The motors of the boat used electricity, drawn from a grailstone when it discharged.
“Then they not only have steel, they have copper for the windings of the electrical motors,” Burton said. “Where did they get all that metal?”
Frigate said, “The boat could be mainly aluminum. And aluminum could be used for the windings, though it’s not as efficient as copper.”
More data came in. The vessel bore its name on its sides in big black Roman letters. Rex Grandissimus. Latin for “The Greatest King,” that is, greatest in manner or style of life. Its commander, according to informants, was none other than the son of Henry II of England and Eleanor, divorced wife of Louis VII of France, daughter of the Duke of Aquitaine. King John, surnamed Lackland, was the captain. After his famous brother, Richard the Lion-Hearted, had died, John had become Joannes Rex Angliae et Dominus Hiberniae, etc. He had also gained such a bad reputation that there was an unwritten law in the British royalty that no heir to the throne should ever be named John.
On first learning the captain’s name, Burton had gone to Alice. “One of your ancestors commands the paddle wheeler. Perhaps we could appeal to his family affections to get him to take us aboard. Though, from what history said, he did not seem to have much family loyalty. He led a rebellion against his father, and he is said to have murdered his nephew, Arthur, whom Richard had made heir to the crown.”
“He was no worse than any other king of that time,” Alice said. “And he did do some good things, despite what people think. He reformed the coinage, he supported development of the Navy, he did all he could to develop trade, he urged the completion of London Bridge. He was also unusual among the monarchs of his time in that he was an intellectual. He read Latin books and French histories in the vernacular, and wherever he went he took his library with him.
“As for his opposition to the Magna Carta, that has been misrepresented. The barons’ revolt was not in the interests of the common people; it was no democratic movement. The barons wanted special privileges for themselves. The freedom for which they fought was the freedom to exploit their subjects without opposition from the king.
“He fought hard against the barons, and he battled to keep the French provinces under the English crown. But there was no way he could get out of that; he had inherited old conflicts from his father and brother.”
“Well!” Burton said. “You make him sound like a saint.”
“He was far from that. He was also far more interested in England itself, the welfare of its people, than any previous Anglo-Norman king.”
“You must have done much reading and thinking about him. Your opinions go against the grain of everything I’ve read.”
“I had much time to read when I lived in Cuffnells. And I form my own opinions.”
“Bully for you. Nevertheless, the fact remains that somehow this medieval monarch has gotten control of the greatest artifact, the most superb machine, on this world. I can deal with him when I get to him. The problem is, how do I do it?”
“You mean, how do we do it?”
“Right. My apologies. Well, we shall see.”
The Snark was let down the ways into The River amid much cheering and drinking. Burton was not as happy as he should have been. He had lost interest in it.
During the festivities, Oskas took him aside.
“You don’t intend to leave soon, I hope? I am counting on you to help me take the great boat.”
Burton felt like telling him to go to hell. That would, however, not be diplomatic, since the chief might decide to confiscate the Snark for himself. Worse, he might quit resisting the temptation to take Loghu to his bed. During the year he had given her some trouble, though he had made no violent moves. Whenever he got very drunk, which was often, he had openly asked her to move in with him.
There had been many uneasy moments when it looked as if he was going to take her by force. Frigate, whose nature was anything but belligerent, had intended to challenge him to a duel, though he thought that it was a stupid way to solve a problem. But honor demanded it, manhood demanded it; there was no other way out unless he and Loghu sneaked away some night. He would not leave the people with whom he had been so intimate so many years.
Loghu had told him, “No, you will not get killed or kill that savage and so arouse his people to kill you. Leave it to me.”
Loghu had then astonished everybody, Oskas most of all, by challenging him to a fight to the death.
After recovering from the shock, Oskas had roared with laughter. “What? I should fight a woman? I beat my wives when they anger me, but I would not fight one. If I were to do this, it would not matter that I would kill you easily. I would be laughed at; I would no longer be Oskas, The Bear Claw, I would be The Man Who Fought a Woman.”
“What will it be?” Loghu had said. “Tomahawk? Spear? Knife? Or bare hands? You have seen me in the contests. You know how good I am with all weapons. It is true that you are bigger and stronger, but I know many tricks you don’t. I’ve had some of the best instructors in the world.”
What she did not mention was that he was very intoxicated, very fat, and very much out of condition.
Had it been a man who talked to him like that, Oskas would have leaped upon him. Drunk as he was, he knew that he was in a quandary. If he killed this woman, he would be a public jest. If he didn’t accept the challenge, he would be said to be afraid of her.
Monat, smiling, stepped forward. “Chief, Loghu is my very good friend. I am also a friend of yours. Why don’t we drop this matter? After all, it is the drink that is speaking in you, not you yourself, Oskas, the chief, a mighty warrior on Earth and along The River. No one can blame you for refusing to fight a woman.
“However, it is not right that you should bother another man’s woman. You would not do it if you were not full of whiskey. So, I say that from now on you must not treat this woman with anything but the respect you demand from other men toward your women.
“Now, as Burton has told you, I was once a great magician. I still have some powers left, and I will not hesitate to use them if you harm Loghu. I would do so reluctantly, since I have great respect for you. But I will if I have to.”
Oskas turned pale beneath the dark skin and the flush of whiskey-heated blood. He said, “Yes, it must be the drink. No one can blame me for what I do when I am drunk.”
No more was said that night, and the next day Oskas claimed to have been so intoxicated he did not remember anything about the party.
For several months, he had been cool though polite to Loghu. Lately, he had resumed making remarks to her, though he had not touched her. This may have been because Loghu had told him, in private so that he would not lose face, that she would slice open his belly if he so much as laid a hand on her. Following which, she would crush his testicles.
She reported that he had only laughed at her. Despite which, he was aware that, given a chance, she could do just what she said. Nevertheless, Oskas had a compulsive passion for her. Now that the time was drawing close for her to leave, he was again after her.
Burton, talking to him now, kept this in mind. It wouldn’t do to have him think that he had little time left to get Loghu into his bed.
“No, we are not leaving. We will follow the plan that I have worked out for you, and I and my people will be among the vanguard when we seize the boat.
“However, as you know, it is essential that we get to the boat when it has stopped to draw lightning from a stone. If it’s moving we have no chance. Now, I have calculated the area where the boat will stop nearest to this place. I can’t pinpoint it. But I can say within four or five grailstones where it will stop in the evening.
“Our boat needs a shakedown cruise. I propose to take it on one tomorrow. I’ll sail down to the place where the real boat will stop, and I’ll look over the situation. We need to know the lay of the land if we are to attack the mighty vessel with any chance of success.
“Would you like to come along?”
Oskas had been looking at him narrow-eyed. Now his face cleared, and he smiled.
“Of course I will go along. I do not blunder blind into a battle.”
That took care of Oskas’ unvoiced suspicion that the Snark would not return from the cruise. Even so, he stationed four men in a hut nearby to keep an eye on the boat, though he said nothing of it to Burton. That night, the entire crew sneaked out through the fog to the hills. There they retrieved the free-grails from a hole in the base of the mountain and brought them back to the boat. These were put in a hiding place behind what looked like a solidly secured bulkhead.
The next day, after breakfast, Oskas came aboard with seven of his best warriors. They crowded the vessel, but Burton did not complain. He began passing out lichen-alcohol flavored with ground irontree leaves. His crew had orders to be very abstemious. By midafternoon, the chief and his men were loud-mouthed, laughing drunks. Even their lunch had not been enough to sober them to any extent. Burton kept pressing his guests with drinks. About an hour before they were to stop for dinner, the Indians were staggering around or lying on deck asleep.
It was easy to push the still conscious ones into the water and then throw the unconscious after them. Fortunately, the shock of the water woke up the latter. Otherwise, Burton would have felt compelled to pick them up and take them ashore.
Oskas, treading water, shook his fist at them and raved in Menomini and Esperanto. Laughing, Burton bent his thumb and all except the middle finger and jerked his hand upward. Then he held out his hand with the first and fourth fingers extended, the ancient sign of the “evil eye,” a sign that in modern times had come to mean “bullshit.”
Oskas became even more violent and colorful in his description of the many ways he would get revenge.
Kazz, grinning, threw the chief’s grail to him so accurately that it struck him on the head. The warriors had to dive down after him. When they brought him up, two were forced to support him until he could regain consciousness.
Kazz thought that putting a lump on Oskas’ head was very funny. He would have considered it to be even a better joke if the chief had drowned. Yet, among his crewmates, he was as sociable, tender, and compassionate a man as anyone could ask for. He was a primitive, and all primitives, civilized or preliterate, were tribal people. Only the tribe consisted of human beings and were treated as such. All outside the tribe, though some might be considered friends, were not quite human. Therefore, they did not have to be treated as if they were completely human.
Though the Neanderthal had lost his tribe on Earth, he had regained it in the crew of the Snark. This was his family, his tribe.
The Snark did not stop where Burton had told Oskas it would wait for the paddle wheeler. It would have been foolish to do so. Oskas could have made his way back quickly to his territory by renting or stealing a boat. He would then return with many warriors before the arrival of the Rex Grandissimus.
The cutter sailed on past the designated stop and continued down-River for two days. Meanwhile, its crew saw and heard messages sent by Oskas via heliograph, fire and smoke signals, and drum. The chief claimed that Burton’s party had stolen cigarettes and booze from him and then had kidnapped him. Oskas offered a reward to anyone who would seize and hold the “criminals” until he could arrive to take them into custody.
Burton had to act quickly to counteract this, though it was doubtful that any authorities of the small states would arrest the crew of the Snark. Oskas was not popular because of the troubles he had given them over the years. However, individuals might organize privateering groups.
Burton went ashore with a box of tobacco and liquor and some oak rings. With these he paid the head of the local branch of the signal company to send out a message for him. This was that Oskas lied, and the truth was that the chief had wanted to take a female crew member by force and so she and her companions had been compelled to flee. Oskas had pursued them but his warcanoe had been sunk when he had tried to board the Snark.
Burton then added that he knew that the chief and his councillors had a great treasure, a hoard of free-grails numbering at least a hundred.
This was a lie, since Oskas, when drunk, had told Burton that the headmen only had twenty. Burton did not mind stretching the truth. Attention would be diverted from him to the chief. His people would hear this, and they would be raising hell about it. Undoubtedly, they would demand that the proceeds of the free-grails be added to the communal stockpile. Also, Oskas would now have to worry about thieves. Not only would these be of his own people, but many from other states would be planning how they could steal the grails.
Oskas was going to be too busy to worry about revenge.
Burton chuckled as he thought about this.
The Snark came to an area where the current of The River slowed down considerably. The boat had encountered many of these, places where a river should no longer be able to flow downward. On Earth this would have meant that The River would have spread out into a lake, deluging the Valley.
However, after passing through the almost dead current, the cutter came to an area where the water picked up speed. Once again, it was running toward the faraway mouth, that legendary great cavern leading to the north polar sea. There were a number of explanations for this phenomenon, none of which had so far been proved valid.
One was that there were enough variations in local gravity to permit the impetus of The River to overcome the lack of downward gradient. Those who favored this theory said that the unknown makers of this world might have installed underground devices which caused a weaker gravity field in appropriate areas.
Others suggested that water was pumped under great pressure from pipes deep beneath The River.
The third school speculated that the ceaseless current-flow was caused by a combination of pressure pumps and “light-gravity” generators.
A fourth maintained that God had decreed that the water go uphill and so there was no use wondering about the phenomenon.
The majority of people never thought about it.
Whatever the cause, The River never stopped rolling along its many-million-meter course.
At the end of the second day, the Snark docked in the locality where the great metal boat should stop. The news here was that the Rex had stopped traveling for several days. Its crew was taking a short shore leave.
“Excellent!” Burton said. “We can get to it by tomorrow and have a whole day to talk Captain John into enlisting us.”
Though he sounded cheerful, he did not feel so. If his plan did not work, he’d have to take the Snark through Oskas’ area in daylight since there was little wind at night. Warned by the signal system that it was coming, the chief would be waiting for it with his full force. Burton felt that he should have turned back upRiver after getting rid of the Indians and sailed far past their land. However, the paddle wheeler might then have passed by the Snark, and Burton would have had no chance to talk to its commander.
Sufficient unto the day is the evil thereof, and the best-laid plans of mice and men gang aft agley. He’d enjoy tonight and take care of tomorrow tomorrow. Despite which reassurance, he worried.
The locals here were a majority of sixteenth-century Dutch, a minority of ancient Thracians, and the usual small percentage of people from many places and many times. Burton met a Fleming who had known Ben Jonson and Shakespeare, among other famous persons. He was talking to him when a newcomer joined the crowd sitting around a bonfire. He was a Caucasian of medium stature, thin bodied, black-haired, and blue-eyed. He stood for a minute, looking intently at Frigate. Then he smiled broadly and ran up to him.
He cried out in English, “Pete! For God’s sake, Pete! It’s me, Bill Owain! Pete Frigate, by the Lord! It is you, isn’t it, Pete?”
Frigate looked startled. He said, “Yes? But you, you’re… what did you say your name was?”
“Bill Owain! For Christ’s sake, you haven’t forgotten me, Bill Owain, your old buddy! You look a little different, Pete. For a moment, I wasn’t sure! You don’t quite look like I remember you! Bill Owain! I didn’t recognize you at first, it’s been so long!”
They embraced then and both talked swiftly, laughing now and then. When they let loose of each other, Frigate introduced Owain.
“He’s my old schoolmate. We’ve known each other since fourth grade in grammar school. We went to Peoria Central High together and buddied around for some years afterward. When I finally settled down in Peoria after working around the country, we used to see each other now and then. Not very often, since we had our own lives to live and belonged to different circles.”
“Even so,” Owain said, “I don’t see how you could have failed to recognize me right off. But then I wasn’t quite sure about you either. I remembered you differently. Your nose is a little longer and your eyes are greener and your mouth isn’t quite as broad and your chin seems bigger. And your voice—you remember how everybody kidded you because it was a dead ringer for Gary Cooper’s? It doesn’t sound like it used to, like I thought it did. So much for memory, eh?”
“Yeah, so much for memory. You know, Bill, mine was never very good. Besides, we remember each other as middle-aged and old men, and now we look like we did when we were twenty-five. Also, we’re not wearing the clothes we did then, and it’s a shock, a real shock, to run across somebody I knew then. I was stunned!”
“I was, too! I wasn’t quite sure! Listen, do you know you’re the first person I’ve met that I knew on Earth?”
Frigate said, “You’re the second for me. And that was thirty-two years ago, and the guy I met wasn’t one I cared to associate with!”
That, Burton thought, would be a man called Sharkko. A publisher of hardcover science fiction books in Chicago, he had cheated Frigate in a rather complicated deal. The business had taken several years, at the end of which Frigate’s writing career had been almost wrecked. But one of the first persons Frigate had encountered after being resurrected was Sharkko. Burton had not witnessed the meeting, but Frigate had recounted how he had avenged himself by punching the fellow in the nose.
Burton himself had met only one person he had known on Earth, though his acquaintances had been numerous and worldwide. That was also a meeting he could have passed up. The man had been one of the porters on his expedition to find the source of the Nile. On the way to Lake Tanganyika (Burton and his companion Speke were the first Europeans to see it), the porter had purchased a slave, a girl about thirteen years old. She had become too sick to continue with them, so the porter had cut off her head rather than allow someone else to own her.
Burton had not been present to prevent the murder, nor would it have been discreet to punish the man. He had the legal right to do with his slave as he wished. However, Burton would punish him for other things, such as laziness, thievery, and breakage of goods, and he laid the whip on him whenever the opportunity arose.
Now Owain and Frigate sat down to drink lichen-alcohol and to talk of old times. Burton noticed that Owain seemed to remember incidents and friends much better than Frigate did. This was surprising, since Frigate had very good recall.
“Remember how we used to see the shows at the Princess, Columbia, and Apollo theaters?” Owain said. “Do you remember the Saturday we decided to find out how many movies we could see in one day? We went to a double feature at the Princess, then a double feature at the Columbia, a triple feature at the Apollo, and a midnight show at the Madison.”
Frigate smiled and nodded. But his expression showed that his recollection was faulty.
“Then there was that time we took a trip to St. Louis with Al Everhard and Jack Dirkman and Dan Doobin. Al’s cousin got some dates for us; they were nurses, remember? We drove out to the cemetery—what was it called?”
“Damned if I remember,” Pete said.
“Yes, but I’ll bet you haven’t forgotten how you and that nurse stripped and you were chasing her around the cemetery and you jumped over a tombstone and fell smack into a wreath and got all torn up from the thorns and roses! Bet you haven’t forgotten that!”
Frigate grinned embarrassedly. “How could I?”
“It sure took the wind out of your sails! And everything else! Haw, haw!”
There was more reminiscence. After a while, the talk turned to their reactions on awakening along the banks of The River. The others joined in then, since this was a favorite topic. That day had been so frightening, so awe-inspiring, so alien that no one would ever forget that. The horror, the panic, and confusion were still with them. Burton sometimes wondered if people were still talking so much about that experience because the recapitulation was a form of therapy. They hoped to rid themselves of the trauma by a verbal discharge.
There was a general agreement that everybody had acted somewhat silly that day.
“I remember how absurdly formal and dignified I was,” Alice said. “Not that I was the only one. However, most people were hysterical. We were all in great shock. The wonder is that nobody died of a heart attack. You’d think that waking up in this strange place after you’d died would be enough to kill you again—at once.”
Monat said, “Perhaps, just before resurrection, our anonymous benefactors injected some sort of drug into us that eased the impact of the shock. Also, the dreamgum we found in our grails may have acted as a sort of postoperative anesthesia. Though I must say that its effect caused some terribly savage behavior.”
Alice looked at Burton then. Even after all these years, she still blushed at the memory. All their social inhibitions had been stripped off for a few hours, and they had acted as if they were minks whose sole diet was Spanish fly. Or as if their secret fantasies had taken control.
The conversation then centered on the Arcturan. Previously, despite his warm manner, he had encountered the standoffishness he met everywhere at first from strangers. His obvious nonhuman origin made them shy or caused repulsion.
Now they questioned him about his life on his native planet and his experience on Earth. A few had heard tales of how the Arcturans had been forced to slay almost all the people on Earth. No one present, however, except Frigate, had been living when the Arcturans’ ship had arrived on Earth.
Burton said, “You know, that is peculiar, though I suppose it’s to be expected. There were, according to Pete, eight billion people living in 2008 A.D. Yet, aside from Monat and Frigate here, and one other person, I’ve never met anyone who lived then. Did any of you?”
Nobody had. In fact, the only locals who had lived past the seventies of the twentieth century were Owain and a woman. She had died in 1982; he, in 1981.
Burton shook his head. “There must be at least thirty-six billion along The River. The biggest majority should be those who lived between 1983—I choose that date because I’ve met only three who lived past it—those who lived between 1983 and 2008. Yet, where are they?”
“Maybe there are some at the next grailstone,” Frigate said. “After all, Dick, nobody’s taken a census. What’s more, nobody is able to do that. You pass hundreds of thousands every day, but how many do you get to talk to? A few dozen a day. Sooner or later you’re bound to run into one.”
They speculated for a while about why and how they had been resurrected and who could have done it. They also talked about why the growth of facial hair in men was inhibited, why all males had awakened circumcised, and why women had their hymens restored before resurrection. As for not needing to shave, half the men thought it a good thing while the other half resented not being able to grow moustaches and beards.
There was also some wonder about why the grails of both men and women occasionally yielded lipstick and other cosmetics.
Frigate said that he thought that their benefactors probably did not like to shave and that both their sexes painted their faces. That was, to him, the only reasonable explanation.
Then Alice brought up Burton’s experience in the preresurrection bubble. This got everybody’s attention, but he told them that he had no memory of that. He’d suffered a blow on his head which had wiped out all recollection of it.
As always, when he told this lie, he caught Monat smiling slightly at him. He suspected that the Arcturan guessed that he was prevaricating. However, the fellow had never said so. He respected Burton’s reasons for concealment even if he did not know what they were.
Frigate and Alice recounted Burton’s tale as they remembered it. They made several mistakes, which he, of course, could not correct.
“If that is so,” a man said, “then the resurrection isn’t a supernatural thing. It was done through scientific means. Amazing!”
“Yes, it is,” Alice said. “But why are we no longer resurrected? Why has death, permanent death, returned?”
A gloomy pensiveness fell upon them for a minute.
Kazz broke it by saying, “There is one thing which Burton-naq has not forgotten. That’s the business with Spruce. The agent of the Ethicals.”
That brought forth more questions.
“What are Ethicals?”
Burton took a long drink of scotch and launched into the story. At one time, he said, he and his party had been captured by grail-slavers. There was no need to explain this word. Everybody had had some experience with grail-slavers.
Burton told them how his boat had been attacked and how they had been put into a stockade. Thereafter, they had left it only to work under a heavy guard. All of their tobacco, marijuana, dreamgum, and liquor were taken by their captors. Moreover, these kept half of the food for themselves, leaving their prisoners on a bare-minimum diet.
After a few months, Burton and a man named Targoff had led a successful revolt against the slavers.
A few days after we’d won our freedom, Frigate, Monat, and Kazz came to me. They greeted me, and then Kazz spoke excitedly.
“‘A long time ago, before I could speak English good, I see something. I try to tell you then, but you don’t understand me. I see a man who don’t have this on his forehead.’
“My friend here, my naq, as he calls it in his speech, indicated the center of his forehead and that of all of us.
“Kazz then said, ‘I know you can’t see it. Pete and Monat can’t either. Nobody else can. But I see it on everybody’s forehead. Except on that man I try to catch long time ago. Then, one day, I see a woman who don’t have it, but I don’t say nothing to you. Now, I see a third who don’t have it.’
“I still did not understand. Monat, however, explained.
“‘He means that he is able to perceive certain symbols of characters on the forehead of each and every one of us. He can see these only in bright sunlight and at a certain angle. But everyone he’s ever seen has had those symbols—except for the three he’s mentioned.’
“Frigate added that Kazz somehow could see a little further into the color spectrum than non-Neanderthals could. Into the ultraviolet, as a matter of fact, since the symbols were bluish. At least that is the way Kazz described them. All of us, except certain individuals, seem to bear this mark. As if we’re branded cattle. Since that time, Kazz, and his woman Besst, have observed these on people’s foreheads, when the lighting conditions were right, of course.”
This news, as always, resulted in astonishment, indignation, and even shock. Burton waited until the furor died down before speaking.
“Some of you late-twentieth-centurians may know that the so-called Neanderthal man was reclassified. The anthropologists decided that he was not a separate species but a variant of Homo sapiens. Nevertheless, just as he differed somewhat in physical build and teeth from us, he also has the ability to see into the ultraviolet.”
Besst said, “I am not a Neanderthal man but a woman, and I, too, have this ability.”
Burton grinned and said, “Woman’s lib has penetrated into the Old Stone Age. However, let me point out that events will show that Whoever made this world and stamped us with, in a manner of speaking, the mark of the beast, did not know that Homo neanderthalis had a special visual ability. This means that Whoever is not omniscient.
“To resume my narrative. I asked for the identity of the person who lacked the symbol. Frigate replied, ‘Robert Spruce!’
“Spruce had also been a grail-slave. He claimed to be an Englishman born in 1945. That was about all I knew of him.
“I said that we would get him and question him. Frigate told me that we’d have to catch him because he was probably long gone. It seems that Kazz told Spruce he’d noticed Spruce lacked the mark on his forehead. Spruce had turned pale, and a few minutes later he left hurriedly. Frigate and Monat sent search parties out, but at the time they reported to me he hadn’t been found.
“It seemed to me that his flight was an admission of guilt, though I didn’t know what he was guilty of. A few hours later, he was discovered hiding in the hills. He was brought before the newly formed council of our newly formed state. Spruce was pale and trembling, though he looked us straight in the eye defiantly enough.
“I informed him that we suspected that he was an agent for the Ethicals if not an Ethical himself. I also told him that we would go to any lengths, including torture, to get the truth from him. This was a lie, since we would have been no better than the men who’d enslaved us if we had resorted to torture. Spruce, however, did not know that.
“Spruce said, ‘You may be denying yourself eternal life if you torture me. It will at least set you far back on your journey, delay your final goal.’
“I asked him what that final goal was, but he ignored that question. Instead, he said, ‘We can’t stand pain. We’re too sensitive.’
“There was some more exchange, but he would not answer our questions. Then one of the councillors suggested that he be suspended above a fire. Monat spoke up then. He told Spruce that he was from a culture somewhat more advanced than that of Earth’s. He felt he was more qualified to make guesses about the truth than the rest of us, and no one argued with him about this. Monat said that he would like to spare him the pain of the fire and also the pain of betraying his trust. Perhaps Monat could make some speculations about the Ethicals and their agents, and Spruce could merely affirm or deny the speculations. In this way, Spruce would not be making a positive betrayal of his trust, whatever that was.”
Bill Owain said, “That was a peculiar arrangement.”
“True. But Monat hoped to get him talking. You see, we were not going to use any brutal methods of inquisition. If we couldn’t scare him, then we were going to try hypnosis. Both Monat and I are skilled mesmerists. However, as it turned out, we didn’t have to resort to that.
“Monat said, ‘It’s my theory that you are a Terrestrial. You come from an age chronologically far past 2008 A.D. In fact, you are a descendant of the few people who survived the death beam projected from our orbital ship.’ Monat guessed that the technology and energy required to reconstruct this planet into one vast Rivervalley was very advanced. He suggested that Spruce was born in the fiftieth century A.D.
“Spruce replied that he should add two thousand years.
“Monat then said that not everyone had been resurrected. There wasn’t enough room on this world. It was known that no children who had died before the age of five were here. And though it couldn’t be proved, it seemed likely that no imbeciles and idiots had been resurrected here. Nor was anyone who lived after 2008 A.D., with the exception of Spruce here.
“Where were these people?
“Spruce answered that they were elsewhere, and that was all he would say on the subject.
“Monat then asked him how the people of the Earth had been recorded. That is, what device had the Ethicals used to make recordings of our bodies? Since it was obvious that scientific, not supernatural, means were used to resurrect us, that meant that everyone from the Old Stone Age to 2008 A.D. had somehow been observed, the structure of every cell of a person’s body recorded, and this recording was stored somewhere to be used later in the recreation of the body.
“Monat said that the recordings must be placed in an energy-matter converter, whereupon the body was duplicated. The effects of injuries, wounds, and diseases that had caused death were cancelled. Amputated limbs and organs were restored. I myself saw some of this regeneration process when I awoke in the preresurrection space. Also, those aged past twenty-five were rejuvenated.
“Monat further speculated that the bodies in the PR bubble were destroyed after the regeneration process was completed. But recordings of the new bodies had been made, and these recordings were used in the final stage, the great resurrection, when all of us appeared together on that never-to-be-forgotten day.
“Monat supposed that the resurrection was accomplished through the metal of the grailstone system. That is, all the stones are connected deep underground to form a circuit of some sort, and the energy is supplied from the hot nickel-iron core of this planet.
“Monat then said, ‘The big question is why?’
“Spruce said, ‘If you had it in your power to do all this, would you not think it your ethical duty?’
“Monat said that he would think so. But he would bring back to life only those who deserve a second life.
“Spruce became angry then. He replied that Monat was setting himself up as an equal of God. Everybody, no matter how stupid, selfish, petty, brutal, etcetera, must be given another chance to redeem themselves, to make themselves worthy. It would not be done for them; they must, somehow, lift themselves by their own moral bootstraps.
“Monat asked Spruce how long this process would take. A thousand years? Two? A million?
“Spruce became angry, and he shouted, ‘You will stay here as long as it takes you to be rehabilitated! Then…’
“He paused, glaring at us as if he hated us, and he said, ‘Continued contact with you makes even the toughest of us take on your characteristics. We then have to go through a rehabilitation process ourselves. Already, I feel unclean…’
“One of the councillors, wishing to press him, urged that he be put over the fire until he would talk freely.
“Spruce cried, ‘No, you won’t! I should have done this long ago. Who knows what… ’”
Burton paused dramatically.
“Then Spruce fell dead!”
There were gasps, and someone said, “Mein Gott!”
“Yes, but that isn’t the end of the story. Spruce’s body was taken away for dissection. It seemed too coincidental that he should have had a heart attack. Not only was it too convenient for him, it was unheard-of.
“While he was being dissected, we discussed what happened. Some thought that he was lying to us. Or, at least, only giving us half-truths. We did agree on one thing. That was that there were people in this Valley who were agents of the Ethicals or perhaps the Ethicals themselves. These did not bear the mark on their foreheads.
“But it seemed likely that we would not be able to distinguish them anymore by using Kazz’s peculiar visual powers. Spruce would be resurrected wherever their headquarters was. He would report to the others that we now knew about the symbols. And of course they would put the mark on their agents.
“This would take time, and in the meantime Kazz might detect others. But this has not happened. Neither he nor Besst has seen anybody unmarked. Again, of course, this does not mean too much. They have to get a close look under certain conditions to see the mark.
“Three hours later, the surgeon reported to us. There was nothing remarkable about Spruce. Nothing to distinguish him from other members of Homo sapiens.”
Once more, Burton paused.
“Except for one small item! This was a very tiny black sphere! The doctor had found it on the surface of Spruce’s forebrain. It was attached to the cerebral nerves by extremely thin wires. This led us to conclude that Spruce had literally thought, or wished, himself to die.
“Somehow, the sphere interacted with his mental processes in such a manner that he could think himself dead. Perhaps he thought of a certain code sequence, and this released a poison into his system. The doctor could find no evidence of this, but then he lacked the necessary chemical means to make an accurate analysis.
“In any event, Spruce’s body showed no damage. Something had stopped his heart, but the doctor did not know what that was.”
A woman said, “Then there could be such people among us? Now, here, in this group?”
Burton nodded, and everybody started talking at once. After fifteen minutes of this babel, he stood up and indicated to his crew that it was time to go to bed. On the way to the cutter, Kazz drew him aside.
“Burton-naq, when you mentioned you and Monat were hypnotists… well, that made me think about something. I’ve never thought about it before… maybe there’s nothing funny about it… only…”
“It’s nothing, I’m sure. Only it was funny. You see, I told Spruce I could see he didn’t have no sign on his head. He left a few minutes later, but I could smell the fear in his sweat. There were others there, all eating breakfast, Targoff, Doctor Steinborg, Monat, Pete, and a number of others. Targoff said we should convene the council, though this was some time after Spruce had taken off. Monat and Pete agreed. But they said they wanted to question me a little more. You know, what the marks looked like. Were they all alike or did they differ?
“I said they differed. A lot of them were… what you say?… similar, yes, that’s it. But each one… what the hell, you know what they look like, I’ve drawn pictures of them for you.”
Burton said, “Aside from some looking something like Chinese ideograms, they resemble nothing I’ve ever seen. My guess is that they’re symbols of a numbering system.”
“Yeah, I know what you said. The thing is, Monat and Frigate took me aside before we went to your place to tell you what’d happened. In fact, we went to Monat’s hut.”
Kazz paused. Impatiently Burton said, “Well?”
“I’m trying to remember. But I can’t. I went into the hut, and that’s all!”
“What do you mean, that’s all?”
“Burton-naq, I mean that’s all. I don’t remember a thing about going into that hut. I remember starting through the door. The next I remember is walking with Monat, Pete, and the other councillors to your hut!”
Burton felt a slight shock, yet he had no idea what had caused it.
“You mean that you don’t remember anything from the time you entered until the time you walked out?”
“I mean that I don’t remember walking out. All of a sudden, there I was, a hundred paces from Monat’s house and walking along, talking to Monat.”
Burton frowned. Alice and Besst were standing on the dock, looking back as if wondering why they had dropped behind.
“This is most peculiar, Kazz. Why haven’t you told me about this before? After all, it’s been many years since it happened. Didn’t you think about this before?”
“No, I didn’t. Ain’t that funny? Not one frigging thought. I still wouldn’t remember even entering the hut if Loghu hadn’t said something about it the other day. She saw me go in, but she wasn’t with the group that day and so didn’t know what was going on until later.
“What happened was that she was standing in the doorway of her and Frigate’s hut. Frigate, Monat, and me was going to go into Frigate’s hut. When they found she was there, they went to Monat’s. It was just by chance that she mentioned this yesterday. We was talking about when we was grail-slaves, and this brought up Spruce. That’s when she asked me what Monat, Pete, and me was talking about. She said she wondered sometimes why they wanted to talk to me in private.
“She just never brought it up before because it didn’t seem important. It still wasn’t, but she was curious, and since the subject was brought up, she remembered to ask me. You know how curious women are.”
“Woman have the curiosity of cats,” Burton said, and he chuckled. “Whereas men are as curious as monkeys.”
“What? What does that mean?”
“I don’t know, but it sounds deep. I’ll think up an explanation later. So, it was Loghu’s remarks that made you remember the events preceding and following your entry into Monat’s place?”
“Not right away, Burton-naq. I got to puzzling about what she said. I really strained my brain. I could hear the tissues ripping. Finally, I could remember, in a dim way, how we meant to go into Pete’s hut. Then I could remember Loghu being there and Monat saying they’d use his hut. And after a while… I could faintly recollect going into there.
“While you was talking didn’t you notice me sitting there by the fire, frowning away like there was a thunderstorm on my brow?”
“I just thought you’d taken too much to eat and drink, as usual.”
“That, too. But it wasn’t no farts storming around inside me. It was gas on the brain.”
“Since you’ve recalled this, you haven’t said anything to Monat or Frigate about it?”
Kazz had a low forehead, but he was not unintelligent.
“You think there’s something phony about those two?”
Burton said, “I don’t know. I’d hate to think so. After all these years… and they are good friends. At least…”
“It don’t seem possible,” Kazz said. He sounded as if his heart were about to break.
“I don’t know what. But it has to be something bad.”
“I don’t know that,” Burton said. “There may be a very good explanation other than the one I’m thinking of. Anyway, don’t mention this to anyone.”
“I won’t. Only… listen, those two do have symbols on their heads. They always had them. So, if them agents didn’t have them at one time, Pete and Monat couldn’t be agents!”
Burton smiled. Kazz’s thoughts were his. Nevertheless, he had to look into this. How could he do it without putting the two on guard? Of course, they might have nothing to hide.
“Yes, I know. Don’t forget that Besst has also seen their symbols. So we have double confirmation, not that we need it.
“In any course, mum’s the word until I say otherwise.”
They started to walk toward the Snark. Kazz said, “I don’t know. I sure have a bad feeling about this. Wish I’d kept my mouth shut. Loghu would say something about it.”
Burton paced back and forth on the deck in the fog. Though his body was warm in the cloths, his face was chilled. An unusually cold body of air had moved into the area, and as a result the mists were piled halfway up the mast. He could not see beyond his outstretched arms.
As far as he knew, everybody aboard except himself was asleep. His only company were his thoughts. These tended to stray as if they were sheep on a hillside. Burton had to work hard to bring them back, arrange them in an orderly band, keep them moving toward pasture. And what was pasture? Bitter eating.
There were thirty-three years to cover in his memory. It was a selective process, one which concentrated on Monat and Frigate. What actions, what words of theirs were suspicious? What could be fitted into a dark jigsaw puzzle?
There were very few people available. There might be more, but he could be looking at them and not even realize that they were pieces.
That terrible, joyous day, the day that he had awakened from the dead, he had met the Arcturan first of all. Of all those he had encountered that day, Monat had acted most calmly and rationally. He had taken stock of the situation amazingly fast, checked out the environment, and immediately understood the purpose of the grails.
The second person Burton had especially noticed was the Neanderthal, Kazz. He, however, had not tried to talk to Burton at first. He had merely followed him for a while. Peter Frigate had been the second person to talk to Burton. And, now that Burton considered it, Frigate had been rather easy and casual in manner. This was strange in view of Frigate’s claim that he suffered from anxiety and hysteria.
Later events had seemed to confirm this. However, from time to time, and consistently in the past twenty years, Frigate had overcome his faults. Had he really attained self-mastery or had he just abandoned a role, ceased to play-act?
Certainly, it had been quite a coincidence that the second person Burton met had written a biography of him. How many biographers of his existed? Ten or twelve? What were the probabilities that one of them would be resurrected only a few meters from him? Twelve in thirty-six billion.
Still, it was within the realm of chance; it was not impossible.
Then Kazz had joined those who’d collected around Burton. Then Alice. Then Lev Ruach.
Today, while Kazz had been helmsman, Burton had stood by him and questioned him. Had Kazz talked to Monat and Frigate during Resurrection Day when Burton had not been around? Did he remember anything that was suspicious about them?
Kazz had shaken his thickly boned head. “I was with them several times when you were not in sight. But I don’t remember nothing strange about them. That is, Burton-naq, there was nothing stranger than strange. Everything was strange that day.”
“Did you notice the marks on people’s foreheads that day?”
“Yes, a few. That was when the sun was highest.”
“What about Monat and Frigate?”
“I don’t remember seeing any on theirs that day. But then I don’t remember seeing one on you, either. The light had to reflect at a certain angle.”
Burton had taken out of his shoulderbag a pad of bamboo paper, a sharply pointed fish bone, and a wooden bottle of ink. He took over the wheel while Kazz drew the marks he saw on the foreheads of the Arcturan and the American. Both were three parallel horizontal lines crossed by three parallel vertical lines juxtaposed to a cross enclosed in a circle. The lines were of even thickness and length except at the ends. Monat’s lines broadened at the right; Frigate’s at the left.
“What about the sign on my forehead?” Burton had said.
Kazz showed him four wavy parallel horizontal lines next to a symbol like an ampersand (&). Below it was a short, thin, straight horizontal line.
“Monat’s and Pete’s are remarkably alike,” Burton said.
At Burton’s request, Kazz then drew the symbols on the foreheads of everyone of the crew. Not one resembled any other.
“Do you remember Lev Ruach’s?”
Kazz nodded, and a moment later he handed Burton the drawing. He felt disappointed, though he had no conscious reason to be so. Ruach’s symbol was not at all like his prime suspects’.
Now, walking on the deck, Burton wondered why he had expected it to be similar to the other two. Something tickled the back of his brain, some suspicion he could not scratch. There was a linkage among the three, but it slipped away just as he was about to grasp it.
He had done enough thinking. Now for action.
A white bundle lying against the cabin was the Neanderthal, wrapped in cloths. Guiding himself by the fellow’s snoring, Burton went to him and shook him. Kazz, snorting, woke up at once.
First, though, Kazz had to piss over the railing. Burton lit a fish-oil lantern, and they walked down the gangplank onto the dock. From there they moved slowly onto the plain, their destination an empty hut about two hundred paces away. They missed it, but after circling around, they found it. After they had entered, Burton shut the door. A bundle of logs and shavings had been placed in the stone hearth that evening by Kazz. In a minute, a small fire was blazing. Kazz sat down on a bamboo wickerwork chair near the fire. He coughed as he breathed smoke which had escaped the feeble draught of the chimney.
It was easy to place Kazz into a hypnotic trance. He had been one of Burton’s subjects for years when Burton entertained locals by displaying his powers as a mesmerist.
Now that Burton thought about it, Monat and Frigate had always been present at these times. Had they been nervous then? If they had, they had successfully concealed it.
Burton took Kazz straight back to the time when he had mentioned to the breakfasting group that Spruce had no mark. Working forward, he took him then to the point where the Neanderthal had gone into Monat’s hut. Here he encountered first resistance.
“Are you now in the hut?”
Kazz, staring straight ahead, his eyes seemingly turned inward upon the past, said, “I am in the doorway.”
“Go on in, Kazz.”
The fellow shook with effort.
“I can’t, Burton-naq.”
“I do not know.”
“Is there something you fear in the hut?”
“I don’t know.”
“Has anyone told you that there is something bad in the hut?”
“Then you have nothing to fear. Kazz, you are a brave man, aren’t you?”
“You know I am, Burton-naq.”
“Why can’t you go on in then?”
Kazz shook his head. “I don’t know. Something…”
“Something… tells me… tells me… can’t remember.”
Burton bit his lower lip. The flaming wood cracked and hissed.
“Who tells you? Monat? Frigate?”
Kazz’s forehead wrinkled. Sweat poured down it.
The firewood crackled again. Hearing it, Burton smiled.
“Kazz! Besst is in the hut, and she’s screaming! Can you hear her screaming?”
Kazz straightened up and looked from side to side, his eyes wide open, his nostrils distended, his lips drawn back.
“I hear her! What is the matter?”
“Kazz! There’s a bear in the hut, and it’s going to attack Besst! Take your spear and go in there and kill the bear, Kazz! Save Besst!”
Kazz stood up, and, his hand grasping the imaginary spear, sprang forward. Burton had to move swiftly to get out of his way. Kazz stumbled over the chair and fell upon his face.
Burton grimaced. Would the shock bring Kazz out of his trance? No, Kazz was up on his feet and about to run forward again.
“Kazz! You’re in the hut! There’s the bear! Kill it, Kazz! Kill it!”
Snarling, Kazz grabbed the phantom spear with both hands and thrust it.
“Ayee! Ayee!” And a gabble of harsh sounds followed. Burton, having learned his native language, understood them.
“I am Man-Who-Slew-The-White-Tooth! Die, Hairy-One-Who-Sleeps-All-Winter! Die, but forgive me! I must, I must! Die! Die!”
Burton spoke loudly. “Kazz! It’s run away! The bear has run out of the hut! Besst is safe now!”
Kazz stopped thrusting the spear. He stood upright now, looking from side to side.
“Kazz! It’s a few minutes later. Kazz! Besst has left. You’re in the hut now! Inside it. You’ve nothing to fear! You’ve entered the hut, and there is nothing to be afraid of! But who else is in there with you?
“Kazz! You’re in the hut a few minutes after you saw that Spruce had no mark on his forehead. Who else is in the hut with you?”
The Neanderthal had lost his fierce expression. Now he looked dully at Burton.
“Who? Why, Monat and Pete.”
“Very good, Kazz. Now… who first spoke to you there?”
“Tell me what he said to you. Tell me what Frigate said, too.”
“Frigate never said anything. Just Monat.”
“Tell me what he said… what he is saying.”
“Monat says, ‘Now, Kazz, you will remember nothing that took place in this hut. We will talk a minute and then we will leave. After you leave you will not remember going into the hut or leaving it. Everything between that time will be a blank. If anyone should ask you about this time, you will say that you don’t remember. And you will not be lying because you will have forgotten everything. Isn’t that right, Kazz?’”
The Neanderthal nodded.
“‘Also, Kazz, just to make sure, you will not remember the first time I told you to forget that you had mentioned to me and Frigate that we had no marks. Do you remember that time, Kazz?’”
Kazz shook his head. “‘No, Monat.’”
He gave a drawn-out sigh.
“Who sighed?” Burton said.
It was evidently an expiration of relief.
“What else is Monat saying? Tell me what you are saying, too.”
“‘Kazz, when I talked to you that first time, the time just after you had told Frigate and me that we had no signs, I also told you to tell me whatever Burton said about meeting a mysterious person. By that I mean someone who might call himself an Ethical.’”
Burton said, “Aah!”
“‘Do you remember that, Kazz?’
“‘Of course not. I told you not to remember that. But I now tell you to remember it. Do you remember it, Kazz?’”
A silence of about twenty seconds followed. Then the Neanderthal said, “‘Yes, I remember now.’
“‘Very good, Kazz. Now, forget it again, though what I told you then still is a command. Isn’t that right?’
“‘Yes, that’s right.’
“‘Now, Kazz. Has Burton ever said anything to you about this Ethical? Or about anyone, man or woman, who claimed to be one of those who brought us back from the dead?’
“‘No, Burton-naq never told me anything like that.’
“‘But if, in the future, he does tell you, you will come to me at once and tell me. You will only do this, however, when no one else is around. Where no one can overhear us. Do you understand that?’
“‘Yes, I understand.’
“‘If for some reason I am not available, if you cannot get hold of me because I am dead or gone on a journey, you will tell Peter Frigate or Lev Ruach, instead of me. Do you understand?’”
Burton said, in a low voice, “Ruach, too!”
“‘Yes, I understand. I will tell Peter Frigate or Lev Ruach instead of you.’
“‘And you will tell them only when no one is around, where no one else can overhear you two. Understand?’
“‘Yes, I understand.’
“‘And you will not tell anyone else about this, you will only tell Frigate, Ruach, or myself. Understand?’
“‘Yes, I understand.’
“‘Very good, Kazz. That’s fine. We will go now, and when I snap my fingers twice, you will not remember this or the first time. Understand?’
“‘Yes, I understand.’
“‘Kazz, you will also… oh, oh! Someone’s calling for us! No time for an excuse now. Let’s go!’”
Burton had to guess what this last remark meant. Monat must have been about to tell Kazz what he should say if anyone asked him what the conversation had been about. That was a lucky break for Burton. If Kazz had had a reasonable story, then Burton would never have become suspicious.
Burton said, “Sit down, Kazz. Make yourself comfortable. You sit there for a minute. I’m leaving. Monat will be coming in, and he will talk to you.”
Burton walked out of the hut and stood for a minute. He should have posed as Monat when he first started the session. That might have overcome Kazz’s resistance more quickly, and Burton would not have had to resort to the trickery of the bear and Besst.
He reentered, and said, “Hello, Kazz. How are you?”
“I’m fine, Monat. How are you?”
“Great! Very well, Kazz. I’ll take over from where your friend, Burton, left off. We’ll go back to that first time I talked to you, just after you had noticed that Frigate and I had no marks on our foreheads. You now remember that time, Kazz, because I, Monat, tell you to do so.
“You will go back to the second after you had told Monat. Are you there?
“Where are you, Monat, and Frigate?”
“We are near a grailstone.”
“What day, or night, is that?”
“I do not understand.”
“I mean, how many days was it after Resurrection Day?”
“Tell me what happened after you spoke to them about the lack of the mark.”
Kazz, speaking in a monotone, described the events immediately after. Monat had said that he and Frigate wanted to speak to him privately. They had walked across the plain and gone into the hills. There, behind a giant irontree, Monat had fixed his eyes upon Kazz’s. Without the use of any mechanical devices, without even informing Kazz what he was doing, Monat had hypnotized him.
“It was as if something dark flowed from him to me, something dark and overpowering.”
Burton nodded. He had seen Monat demonstrate this power, this “animal magnetism” as it was known in Burton’s time. He was a stronger mesmerist than Burton, which was one reason why Burton had never permitted the Arcturan to attempt hypnotizing him. In fact, Burton had taken precautions against getting caught unawares by Monat. In an elaborate self-hypnosis, he had told himself that he must never allow himself to be mesmerized by Monat. However, Monat could be powerful enough to break down that command, so Burton had been extremely cautious about being alone with him.
That forearming had been based on the fear that Monat might stumble across the time when he had been visited by the Ethical. That was Burton’s secret, one he wanted no one to know. He had had no idea then, of course, that Monat was one of Them.
He wondered if Frigate was also an expert hypnotizer. The fellow had never given any indication that he was. However, he had refused to let Burton try mesmerism on him. His plea had been that he could not endure the thought of losing his self-control.
Kazz remembered that, during the course of the session, Monat had remarked to Frigate about the Neanderthal’s ability to see the symbols.
“‘We never knew about that. We’ll have to tell HQ as soon as we get a chance.’”
So, Burton thought, Monat and Frigate were in communication from time to time with the Ethicals. How did they manage that? Were prearranged landings of the flying machines, which Burton had once glimpsed, one method of communicating? Those machines which flickered into and out of visibility as they flew along?
Those two must have been watching him closely. That was one of the reasons the Mysterious Stranger had visited him at night during a storm. The Ethical must have known that Monat and Frigate were in Burton’s party. But he had never mentioned them, had not put him on his guard.
Perhaps he had meant to do so, but he had been hurried. He’d said that the Ethicals were coming soon in their flying machines. And he had left abruptly. Even so, he surely would have mentioned so grave a matter. A few words would have warned him. Why had he not done so? Was it possible that he did not know that Monat and Frigate were with him? And Ruach, too. He must not forget Ruach.
Why had three agents been assigned to him? Wouldn’t one have been enough? Also, why was one so conspicuous as the Arcturan given the job?
Whatever the reasons for this, the matter of the lack of signs on the heads of the three agents was more pressing. Evidently, Ethicals, first-order or second-order, did not have such marks. Now that they were aware that Neanderthals could observe this, they had made sure that Kazz would not say anything about it.
Moreover, Monat had then told Kazz that from that moment on he would see the marks on the foreheads of himself and his two colleagues.
Why had he not then installed a command that Kazz would see these signs on everybody who did not have them?
Perhaps he thought that it would not be necessary. The chances of running across other Neanderthals, never a numerous people, were slight. Still, it would have eliminated any exposures of agents from then on.
The explanation might be simple. Monat would have had to describe the marks of every agent in the valley. Inasmuch as there might be hundreds, or thousands, for all Burton knew, that would have been impossible.
Monat had not been too wrong in thinking that encounters with Neanderthals would be rare. In fact, Burton had never seen more than a hundred. All of these except Kazz and Besst had been passed by swiftly and at a distance during the day.
Yet, they had come across Besst.
He tried to recollect the exact circumstances under which she had been met. It was three years ago that they had come ashore at evening. This was an area populated largely by fourteenth-century A.D. Chinese and ancient Slavs. Besst was living with a Chinese, but she had made it evident from the first that she wished to go on the boat with Kazz. It was dark, so she would not have noticed anything unusual about Frigate and Monat—aside from the latter’s being nonhuman, of course.
The two had gotten together and talked until late that night. When her hutmate had ordered her to come with him, she had refused. There was a tense moment when it looked as if the Chinese were going to attack Kazz. Discretion won. He realized that, though he was bigger than the Neanderthal, he was also much weaker. Though very short, Kazz’s massive bones and muscles made him stronger than any but the most powerful of modern men. In addition, his brutal face was enough to scare anybody.
The two had gone aboard to spend the night together. Yet they must have gone to sleep before dawn. Could Monat have gotten her then? Probably. Burton did not know how he had done it. But Besst had never said anything about Frigate’s and Monat’s marks.
Kazz finished his account of the session. It was short and what Burton had expected.
He sent Kazz after Besst, telling him to be very quiet. In a few minutes he was back with her. Burton told her he would satisfy her curiosity later. For the time being, would she let him hypnotize her? Sleepily, she agreed, and she sat down on the chair Kazz had occupied.
After telling her he was Monat, he took her back to the mesmerizing by Monat. As he had thought, it had been done after she and Kazz had gone to sleep. Monat had simply described to her the marks which he had hypnotized her mate into seeing on the three agents’ foreheads. Then he had ordered her to see the same marks. The whole process would have been done very quietly and quickly.
Monat and his colleague had been lucky. Before Kazz had encountered Spruce, he had seen two other people without the marks. However, the first time had been on Resurrection Day. He had called out to the man, asking him why he had no mark. The man had fled, probably not because he understood what Kazz was saying but because he had misunderstood the Neanderthal’s intentions.
Later, after meeting Burton, Kazz had tried to tell him what he had seen, but neither could speak the other’s language yet. And Kazz had simply forgotten about it in the days following, when they were all busy trying to survive.
The second person he’d seen lacking a mark was a woman, a Mongolian. This had happened at high noon, and the woman had just come out of The River, where she was bathing. Kazz had tried to talk to her, but her hutmate, who did have a mark on his head, had taken the woman away. Evidently, he was jealous. Once more, Kazz’s intentions were misunderstood.
At that time, Burton and the others had been talking to the local headman in the council house. Kazz had stayed behind to watch their boat. After the woman had gone, Kazz was offered some drinks of lichen-alcohol by several people who wanted to talk to him. These had never seen a Neanderthal before, and the liquor was an inducement to get him to talk. Kazz, easily induced and seduced by free booze, was half-drunk by the time his crewmates returned. Burton had reproached him so harshly that Kazz had never again drunk while on guard duty.
He also forgot about the woman.
After bringing Besst out of the trance, Burton sat for a while in thought. Besst and Kazz shifted uneasily and gave each other wondering looks. Finally, he made a decision. There was no longer any use keeping them in the dark. Nor would he exclude Alice from now on. He owed the Stranger nothing, and the fact that he had not reappeared again could mean that he, Burton, had no reason to keep silent. Besides, though he was naturally secretive, he longed now to share his experiences.
Though he gave only a bare outline, he took over an hour. Both Besst and Kazz were amazed, and they had many questions. He held up his hand for silence.
“Later! Later! As of now, we must question them. The Arcturan’s a much tougher customer, so we’ll tackle Frigate first.”
He told them what they must do. Kazz said, “But wouldn’t it be best to knock out Monat and tie him up? What if he wakes up while we’re getting Frigate?”
“I don’t want to make any more noise than we have to. If Loghu and Alice hear us, we’ll have a brouhaha.”
“An uproar. Let’s go.”
The three of them made their way through the fog. Burton thought of some more questions he would ask Frigate. For instance, Monat, Frigate, and Ruach must have known that Spruce was an agent. There had been plenty of opportunity for them to talk to him while they had been grail-slaves. And Monat had had opportunities after the revolt to hypnotize Kazz so he would see a mark on Spruce. Why had he not done that?
If Monat had not been able to get to Kazz after the revolt, he should then have told Spruce to leave the area at once. Or, at least, to wear a cloth around his head when conditions were favorable for seeing the mark.
Could Spruce not have known that they were his fellow agents? They might be so numerous that each was familiar only with a few others. But surely all would know of Monat.
He stopped, and drew in his breath.
The Mysterious Stranger had never said anything about having his own agents. Yet, he was a renegade, and he might have enlisted a few highly trusted people. Could Spruce have been one? And could Monat somehow have found this out? And so gotten rid of him by not telling him about Kazz’s visual abilities?
That did not seem probable. If Monat had found out that Spruce was on the Stranger’s side—and how would he ever be able to do that?—would he not then have hypnotized Spruce? That would enable him to identify the Stranger, supposing, of course, that Spruce knew who he was.
There was another possibility. Monat knew of Spruce’s ability to kill himself by means of the sphere on his forebrain. Thus, he was not worried that Spruce would be forced to divulge any information at all.
Also, he may have used Spruce as a messenger. He would have given him some information to pass on when Spruce was resurrected at HQ—if HQ meant headquarters.
Monat had taken part in Spruce’s inquistion. How amused he must have been at that. Also, it was Monat who had given Spruce some leading questions.
Had Spruce been prepared by Monat to give the answers he had made? Were they all lies?
If so, why should he lie? Why were all resurrectees kept in the dark?
It was quite possible that Spruce, acting on Monat’s orders, had deliberately ensured that Kazz would notice him.
By then, the three had boarded the Snark. The Neanderthals stayed above. Burton felt his way to the cabin, down the companionway, and, counting the compartment doors, stopped outside Frigate’s and Loghu’s. He opened the door slowly and stepped inside. It was a very small space, just large enough to hold two bunks against the bulkhead and room to climb down from them. The bunk-chambers were the only places where any privacy was available. Even defecation was done in them, in the bamboo chamber pots which were stored in a rack to one side.
Frigate usually slept in the top bunk. Burton moved forward, his hand outstretched. He would wake him gently, whisper that it was his watch, and then he would follow him to the deck. There Kazz would knock him out, and he would be carried to the hut.
Since it would be impossible to keep him from killing himself once he was fully conscious, Burton had decided to try to mesmerize him as he was regaining his wits. It would be a chancy procedure, but he would have to try it. Frigate, unlike Spruce, might not be so willing to commit suicide now that there were no more resurrections.
However, Burton was not sure that the Ethicals’ agents were not resurrected.
His fingertips felt the smooth sideboard of the bunk. They moved up onto the cloths that served as a mattress. They stopped.
Frigate was not in his bunk.
Burton felt along the cloths though he knew that nobody was on the bunk. They were warm. Then he stood for a minute. Had Frigate gone above to relieve himself because he did not want to awake Loghu? Or had he awakened early and decided to talk to his captain a few minutes before going on guard duty?
Or had he… ? Burton felt furious. Had he sneaked out of bed and now was with Alice?
Feeling ashamed of himself, he rejected that idea. Alice was honest. She would never betray him. If she wanted another lover, she would have said so. She would have told him and then left him. Nor did he believe that Frigate would ever do anything like that to him, though he may have contemplated it in his mind.
He bent down and reached out until he touched cloth. His fingers moved along, traced a curve—Loghu’s breast under the cloth—and he backed out and closed the door.
Silently, his heart thudding so fast he could almost believe that it could be heard throughout the cabin, he moved to Monat’s partition. His ear against the door, he listened. Silence. He straightened, opened the door, and felt into the upper bunk. Monat was not there, but he could be sleeping in the lower bunk. If so, his breathing was not audible.
His hand slid over unoccupied cloths.
Cursing softly, he groped back to the deck.
Kazz stepped out of the fog with his fist raised.
“Wallah! What’s the matter?”
“They’re both gone,” Burton said.
“But… how could that be?”
“I don’t know. Maybe Monat knew that something was wrong. He’s the most sensitive person I’ve ever met; he can read your slightest expression, detect the feeblest nuance in your voice. Or perhaps he heard you wake up Besst, investigated, and guessed the truth. For all I know, he may have been listening to us outside the door of the hut.”
“Neither Besst or me made any noise. We was as silent as a weasel sneaking up on a rabbit.”
“I know. Look around. See if our launch is missing.”
He met Kazz coming around the other way.
“The boats’re all here.”
Burton roused Loghu and Alice. While they drank hot coffee, he outlined everything that had happened to him in connection with the Ethicals. They were stunned, but they kept silent until he had finished. Questions hailstormed him then, but he said that he would answer them later. It would be dawn shortly, which meant that they had to put their grails on the stone for breakfast.
Alice was the only one who had not said anything. It was evident from her narrowed eyes and tight lips that she was furious.
“I am sorry that I had to keep all this from you,” Burton said. “But surely you can see how necessary it was? What if I told you everything and then the Ethicals grabbed you, as they did me? They could have read your mind and discovered that they had erred in thinking they had erased relevant portions of my memory.”
“They didn’t do so,” she said. “Why should they have even thought of that?”
“How do you know they didn’t?” he said. “You wouldn’t remember it if they had done it.”
That gave her another shock. Nevertheless, she did not speak again until after breakfast.
This took place in unusual weather. Normally, the sun quickly burned off the fog. The sky was clear the rest of the day in the tropical zone or until midafternoon in the temperate zones. In the latter, clouds quickly gathered, rain fell for fifteen minutes or so, and then the clouds disappeared.
This morning, however, black masses rolled between sun and earth. Lightning flickered as if chips of the bright sky above the clouds were falling through. Thunder was the muttering of a giant behind the mountains. A pale light spread over the land, staining it brownish-yellow. The faces around the grailstone looked as if a blight had settled upon them.
Kazz and Besst hunched down uneasily over their food and looked around as if they expected an unwelcome visitor. He muttered in his native tongue, “The-Bear-Who-Collects-The-Bad is walking.”
Besst almost whined. “We must find a hut to hide in. It is not good to be near the water when he walks.”
The others looked as if they were going to seek shelter, too. Burton stood up and said loudly, “One moment, please! I’m interested in finding out if any of you are missing a boat!”
A man said, “Why?”
“Two of my crew deserted last night, and it’s possible that they stole a boat to get away.”
Forgetting about the coming storm, the party scattered to look along the bank. Within a minute, a man reported that his dugout was gone.
“They’re far away by now,” Kazz said. “But did they go up or down The River?”
“If there was a signal system in this area, we could find out quickly enough,” Burton said. “Unless, of course, they beached their boat and went into the hills to hide.”
Alice said, “What do we do now, Dick? If we stay here to look for them, we’ll not be able to get on the Rex.”
Burton stifled the impulse to tell her not to point out the obvious to him. She was still simmering; no sense in making her boil again.
“Monat and Frigate can hole up today and sneak out tonight and steal another boat. It would be futile to try to catch them. No, we’ll try to get aboard the paddle wheeler. But those two will come along someday, and when they do…”
“We’ll tear them apart?” Kazz said.
Burton shrugged and spread his palms upward.
“I don’t know. They’ve got the advantage. They can either drop dead on us or lie to us. Until we get to the tower…”
Alice spoke then, her eyes dark with accustomed reverie:
“If at his counsel I should turn aside Into that ominous tract which, all agree, Hides the Dark Tower. Yet acquiescingly
I did turn as he pointed; neither pride
Nor hope rekindling at the end descried, So much as gladness that some end might be.
“For, what with my world-wide wandering, What with my search drawn out thro’ years, my hope Dwindled into a ghost not fit to cope
With that obstreperous joy success would bring—
I hardly tried now to rebuke the spring My heart made, finding failure in its scope.
“There they stood, ranged along the hillsides, met To view the last of me, a living frame For one more picture! in a sheet of flame
I saw them and I knew them all. And yet
Dauntless the slug-horn to my lips I set And blew, ‘Childe Roland to the Dark Tower came.’”
Burton grinned savagely. “Browning would have thought… must think… that this world is even stranger than the setting of his outré poem. I appreciate your sentiment, even if he said it first, Alice. Very well, we will go to the Dark Tower.”
“I don’t know what Alice was talking about,” Kazz said. “Anyway, just how’re we going to get on that boat?”
“If King John has room for us, I’ll offer him our treasure trove, our free-grails. That should appeal even to the ungreediest heart.”
“And if he doesn’t have room?”
He was silent for a moment. That tickle in the back of his brain, that feeling that he had overlooked some linkage between agents, had returned while Alice was speaking. And now he saw, or thought he saw, the means for scratching the itch, the kind of chain binding the agents together.
How did they recognize each other? Monat was no problem; he did not need identification. But what kind of secret signal would the human agents use to identify each other?
If they possessed a Neanderthal’s ability, they could see the negative signal, lack of a sign, in their colleagues’ foreheads. Suppose, though, they did not have this ability? Spruce had been surprised when he found out about Kazz’s optical talent. Though he had not said so, his manner had indicated that he had never heard of such a thing. Evidently, machines were used to detect and translate the symbols into whatever meaning they had. That would probably be done in the PR bubble or whatever HQ was.
If, then, they could not see the symbols with the naked eye, they would have another means of identification.
Suppose, just suppose, that there was a cutoff date. A period of time at which no more people from Earth were resurrected, not, at least, on this planet. According to Monat, Frigate, Ruach, and Spruce, that cutoff date had been 2008 A.D.
What if that was not the true date? What if it were earlier than 2008 A.D.?
He had no idea what the true date would be, though he had never met anyone, except the agents, who claimed to have lived past 1983 A.D. From now on, he would question every late-twentieth-centurian he met. And if 1983 was the latest at which anybody had died, then he would be fairly certain that that was the cutoff point.
So… perhaps the Ethicals had contrived a fiction which would enable them to identify each other instantly. That was that they had lived during 2008 A.D. And, of course, there would be a fixed story about events from 1983, or whatever date it was, to 2008.
Which meant that perhaps it was untrue that the Arcturans had killed most of humanity in that year. The terrible slaughter might never have happened. In fact, anything he had heard about the years 1983-2008 might be a lie. Yet, there was Monat. He was not a Terrestrial. There was no reason to believe that he had not come from a planet of the Bear Watcher.
For the present, there was no way to explain his presence on The Riverworld.
Meanwhile, Burton had two means for catching an Ethical. Kazz was one; the 2008 story was another.
However—humanity lived not only in an as-if world, it was a but-if world, too—however, just possibly the agents had been recruited from a time past 1983. So, their stories could be true.
There were so many possibilities. For instance, how did he know that Monat, Frigate, and Ruach had told him the truth about what had happened to them when they were away from him? There was that incident when Frigate had claimed he had met the publisher who had cheated him on Earth. Frigate said he had gotten a long-delayed revenge by punching him on the nose.
There were bruises on Frigate, supposedly gotten during the fight with Sharkko and his gang. Those could have come from conflict with others, though. Frigate’s nature was such that he dreaded violence, physical or verbal. He might fantasize revenge, but he would never carry it out.
Suppose, just suppose, that the agents adopted disguises based on real life Terrestrials. What if there was an actual Peter Jairus Frigate somewhere on this planet? The pseudo-Frigate could be pretending to be the man who had had such an intense interest in Burton’s life. That would be one means of getting close to Burton, of making sure that Burton would let him attach himself to Burton. After all, it would be hard for any man to be indifferent to his biographer, to a person who seemed to worship him.
Yet, why would it be necessary for an agent to adopt such a disguise? Why not make up one from whole cloth?
Perhaps it was not necessary, it was just easier, more convenient. As for an agent encountering the person he was pretending to be, that was highly unlikely.
There were so many potentialities, so many questions to be answered.
Alice said, “Dick! What’s the matter?”
He came out of his reverie with a start. Everybody except his crew and the man whose boat had been stolen had fled. The man looked as if he would like to ask for reparations but was hesitating because he had no one to back him up.
And wind was whipping the waves of The River and ruffling the thatches of the huts. The Snark thumped against the bumpers of its dock. The light had gone from brownish-yellow to pale gray, making the faces around him even more ghastly. Across the water lightning flashed its fiery tooth, and thunder bellowed like a bear in a cave. Kazz and Besst were obviously longing for him to give the word to look for shelter. The others were only somewhat less nervous.
“I was thinking,” he said. “You asked what we’d do if King John doesn’t have room for us? Well, monarchs have means for making room if they wish to do so. And if he refuses, I’ll find some way to get aboard. I’m not going to be stopped by anything or anybody!”
Lightning struck nearby, cracking as if the back of the world had broken. Kazz and Besst led the headlong flight for the nearest building!
Burton, standing in the heavy rain that had immediately followed the bolt, laughed at them.
He shouted, “On to the Dark Tower!”
In the dream, Peter Jairus Frigate was groping through a fog. He was naked; somebody had stolen his clothes. He had to get home before the sun rose and burned the fog off and exposed him to the derision of the world.
The grass was wet and scratchy. After a while he got tired of walking on the shoulder of the road, and he stepped onto the asphalt pavement. Now and then, as he trudged along, the fog would thin a little, and he could see the trees to his right.
Somehow, he knew that he was far out in the country. Home was a long way off. But if he walked fast enough, he could make it before dawn. Then he’d have to get into the house without waking his parents. The doors and windows would be locked, which meant that he’d have to throw pebbles against the second-story window in the back. The rattle might wake his brother, Roosevelt.
But his brother, though only eighteen, was already a heavy drinker, a skirt chaser, roaring around on his motorcycle with his sideburned, leather-jacketed, dese-and-dem pals from the Hiram Walker Distillery. This was Sunday morning, and so he’d be snoring away, filling the small attic bedroom he shared with Peter with stinking whiskey fumes.
Roosevelt was named after Theodore, not Franklin Delano, whom his father hated. James Frigate abominated “the man in the White House” and loved The Chicago Tribune, which was delivered on the doorstep every Sunday. His oldest son loathed the editorials, the whole tone of the paper, except for the comics. Ever since he had learned to read, he’d eagerly awaited every Sunday morning, right after the cocoa, pancakes, bacon, and eggs, for the adventures of Chester Gump and his pals in quest of the city of gold; Moon Mullins; Little Orphan Annie and her big Daddy Warbucks and his pals, the colossal magician Punjab and the sinister The Asp; and Mr. Am, who looked like Santa Claus, was as old as the Earth, and could travel in time. And then there was Barney Google and Smilin’ Jack and Terry and the Pirates. Delightful!
And what was he doing thinking about those great comic-strip characters while walking naked along a country road in dark, wet-with-evil clouds? It wasn’t difficult to figure out why. They brought a sense of warmth and security, happiness even, his belly filled with his mother’s good cooking, the radio turned on low, his father sitting in the best chair reading the opinions of “Colonel Blimp.” Peter would be sprawling on the living room floor with the comics page spread out before him, his mother bustling around in the kitchen feeding his two younger brothers and his infant sister. Little Jeannette, whom he loved so much and who would grow up and go through three husbands and innumerable lovers and a thousand fifths of whiskey, the curse of the Frigates.
All that was ahead, fading now from his mind, absorbed by the fog. Now he was dwelling in the front room, happy… no, it too faded away… he was outside the house, in the backyard, naked and shivering with the cold and the terror of being caught without his clothes and no way of explaining why it happened. He was throwing pebbles against the window, hoping their rattle wouldn’t wake up his little brothers and sister sleeping in the tiny bedroom below and to one side of the attic bedroom.
The house had once been a one-room country schoolhouse outside the mid-Illinois town of Peoria. But the town had grown, houses sprang up all around it, and now the city limits were a half a mile to the north. A second story and indoor plumbing had been added sometime during the growth of this area. This was the first house he had lived in in which there had been an indoor toilet. Somehow, this once-country house became the farmhouse near Mexico, Missouri. Here he, at the age of four, had lived with his mother, father, and younger brother and the family of the farmer who’d rented out two rooms to the Frigates.
His father, a civil and electrical engineer (one year in Rose Polytechnic Institute in Terre Haute, Indiana, and a diploma from the International Correspondence School) had worked for a year at the generating plant in Mexico. It was in the farmyard behind the farmhouse that Peter had been horrified on realizing that chickens ate animals and he ate chickens that ate animals. That had been the first revelation that this world was founded on cannibalism.
That was not right, he thought. A cannibal was a creature that ate its own kind. He turned over and passed back into sleep, vaguely aware that he had been half waking between segments of this dream and mulling over each before passing on to the next. Or he had been redreaming the entire dream each time. In one night he would have the same dream several times. Or a dream would recur a number of times over several years.
The series was his specialty in dreams or in fiction. At one time, during his writing career, he had twenty-one series going. He’d completed ten of them. The others were still waiting, cliff-hangers all, when that great editor in the skies arbitrarily canceled all of them.
As in life, so in death. He could never—never? Well, hardly ever—finish anything. The great uncompleted. He’d first become aware of that when, a troubled youth, he had poured out his torments and anxieties onto his college freshman advisor, who also happened to be his psychology teacher.
The professor, what was his name? O’Brien? He was a short, slim youth with a fiery manner and even fierier red hair. And he always wore a bow tie.
And now Peter Jairus Frigate was walking along in the fog and there was no sound except for the hooting of a distant owl. Suddenly, a motor was roaring, two lights shone faintly ahead of him, then brightly, and the motor screamed as he screamed. He dived to one side, floating, slowly floating, while the black bulk of the automobile sped slowly toward him. As he inched through the air, his arms flailing, he turned his head toward it. Now he could see, beyond the glare of its lights, that it was a Duesenberg, the long, low, classy roadster driven by Cary Grant in the movie he’d seen last week, Topper. A shapeless mass sat behind the wheel, its only visible features its eyes. They were the pale-blue eyes of his German grandmother, his mother’s mother, Wilhelmina Kaiser.
Then he was screaming because the car had swerved and headed directly toward him and there was no way he could escape being hit.
He woke up moaning. Eve said sleepily, “Did you have a bad… ?” and she subsided into mumbles and a gentle snoring.
Peter got out of bed, a short-legged structure with a bamboo frame and rope supports for a mattress made of cloths magnetically attached around treated leaves. The earthen floor was covered with attached cloths. The windows were paned with the isinglasslike intestinal membrane of the hornfish. Their squares shone faintly with the reflected light from the night sky.
He stumbled to the door, opened it, walked outside, and urinated. Rain still dripped from the thatched roof. Through a pass in the hills, he could see a fire blazing under the roof of a sentinel tower. It outlined the form of a guard leaning on the railing and looking down The River. The flames also shone on the masts and rigging of a boat he had never seen before. The other guard wasn’t on the tower, which meant that he would be down by the boat. He’d be questioning the boat’s skipper. It must be all right, since there were no alarm drums beating.
Back in bed, he considered the dream. Its chronology was mixed up, which was par for dreams. For one thing, in 1937, brother Roosevelt had been only sixteen. The motorcycle, the distillery job, and the peroxided blondes were still two years away. The family wasn’t even living in that house anymore. It had moved to a newer, larger house a few blocks away.
There was that amorphous, sinister dark mass in the car, the thing with his grandmother’s eyes. What did that mean? It wasn’t the first time he had been horrified by a black hooded thing with Grandma Kaiser’s almost colorless blue eyes. Nor the first time he’d tried to figure out why she appeared in such horrendous guise.
He knew that she had come from Galena, Kansas, to Terre Haute to help his mother take care of him just after he’d been born. His mother had told him that his grandmother had also taken care of him when he was five. He didn’t remember, however, ever seeing her before the age of twelve, when she had come to this house for a visit. But he was convinced that she had done something awful to him when he was an infant. Or it was something which had seemed awful. Yet she was a kindly old lady, though inclined to get hysterical. Nor did she have any control at all over her daughter’s children when they were left in her care.
Where was she now? She’d died at about seventy-seven after a long and painful siege of stomach cancer. But he’d seen photographs of her when she was twenty. A petite blonde whose eyes looked a lively blue, not the washed-out, red-veined things he remembered. The mouth was thin and tight, but all the adults in her family were grim lipped. Those brown-toned photogravures displayed faces that looked as if they’d had a very tough time but would never break under the strain.
The Victorians, judging by their photographs, were a hard-nosed, stiff-spined lot. His German grandma’s family had been made of the same stern stuff. Persecuted by their Lutheran neighbors and the authorities because they had converted to the Baptist church, they left Oberellen, Thuringia, for the land of promise. (Peter’s family on both sides had always opted for the religion of the minority, usually a somewhat crank religion. Maybe they were troubleseekers.)
After years of moving from one place to another, never finding a single street paved with gold, after backbreaking labor, soul-searing poverty, and the deaths of many children and finally of parents and grandparents, the Kaisers had made it. They had become well-to-do farmers near, or owners of machine shops in, Kansas City.
Was it worth it? The survivors said that it was.
Wilhelmina had been a pretty, blue-eyed blonde of ten when she had come to America. At eighteen she had married a Kansan twenty years older than she, probably to escape poverty. It was said that old Bill Griffiths was part Cherokee and that he had been one of Quantrill’s guerrillas, but there was a lot of malarkey in Peter’s family on both sides. They were always trying to make themselves look better, or worse, than they really were. Whatever old Bill’s past, Peter’s mother never wanted to talk about it. Maybe he was just a horse thief.
Where was Wilhelmina now? She’d no longer be the wrinkled, bent old woman he’d known. She’d be a good-looking, shapely wench, though still with the vacuous blue eyes and still speaking English with a heavy German accent. If he should run across her, would he recognize her? Not likely. And if he did, what could he find out from her about the traumas she’d inflicted on her infant grandson? Nothing. She wouldn’t remember what would have been minor incidents to her. Or, if she did, she surely wasn’t going to admit that she had ever mistreated him. If indeed the dark deed had ever been done.
During a brief stint of psychoanalysis, Peter had tried to break through the thick shadows of repressed memory to the primal drama in which his grandmother played such an important role. The effort had failed. More extended attempts in Dianetics and Scientology had resulted in zilch also. He had kept on sliding past the traumatic episodes, like a monkey on a greased pole, on past his birth and into previous lives.
After being a woman giving birth in a medieval castle, a dinosaur, a prevertebrate in the postprimal ocean, and an eighteenth-century passenger in a stagecoach going through the Black Forest, Peter had abandoned Scientology.
The fantasies were interesting, and they revealed something of his character. But his grandmother evaded him.
Here, on The Riverworld, he had tried dreamgum as a weapon to pierce the thick shadows. Under the guidance of a guru, he had chewed half a stick, a heavy load, and dived after the pearl hidden in the depths of his unconscious. When he woke from some horrible visions, he found his guru, battered and bloody, unconscious on the floor of the hut. There was no mystery about who had done this deed.
Peter had left the area after making sure that his guide would live without serious aftereffects. He could not stay in the area nor could he feel anything but guilt and shame whenever he saw his guru. The fellow had been very forgiving, had, in fact, been willing to continue the sessions—if Peter was tied up during them.
He could not face the violence that he felt dwelt deep within him. It was this fear of violence in himself that made him so afraid of violence in others.
The fault, dear Brutus, lies not in the stars but in our lousy genes. Or in failure of one’s conquest of one’s self.
The fault, dear Brutus, is in our fear of knowing our self.
The next, almost inevitable, scene in this drama of recollection was the seduction of Wilhelmina. How easy to think of this fantasy as potentially real, since it was possible that he would meet her. After some mutual questioning, they would discover that they were grandmother and grandson. Then the long talk with him telling what had happened to her daughter and husband (Peter’s father) and her grandchildren and great-grandchildren and great-great-grandchildren. Would she be horrified when she found that a great-granddaughter had married a Jew? Undoubtedly. Anyone of rural stock born in 1880 was bound to be deeply prejudiced. Or what if he told her that his sister had married a Japanese? Or that a brother and a first cousin had married Catholics? Or that a great-granddaughter had converted to Catholicism? Or that a great-grandson had become a Buddhist?
On the other hand, The Riverworld might have changed her attitudes, as it had done to so many. However, many more were as psychologically fossilized as when they had lived on Earth.
To get on to the fantasy.
After a few drinks and a long talk, bed?
Rationally, one could not object to incest here. There would be no children.
But when did people ever think rationally in such situations?
No, the thing to do would be to say nothing about their relationship until after they’d been to bed.
The construction crumbled then. To reveal that would make her grievously ashamed. It would be cruel. And no matter how much he wanted revenge, he could not do that to her. To anyone. Besides, it would be revenge for some act that he only thought might have been committed. Even if it had occurred, it might have been something only a child would have thought terrible. Or something misinterpreted in his infant mind. Or something that she, being a product of her times, would have thought only natural.
It was exciting to think about laying your grandmother. But, in reality, it just wouldn’t happen. He was sexually drawn only to intelligent women, and his grandmother had been an ignorant peasant. Vulgar, too, though not in an obscene or irreligious way. He remembered when she was eating with the family on a Thanksgiving holiday. She’d sneezed, the snot had landed on her blouse, and she had wiped it off with her hand and deposited it on her skirt. His father had laughed, his mother had looked stricken, and he had lost his appetite.
There went the whole fantasy, dissolved in disgust.
Still, she might have changed.
To hell with it, he told himself, and he turned on his side and went to sleep.
Drums beat, and wooden trumpets blew. Peter Frigate woke up in the midst of another dream. It was three months after Pearl Harbor, and he was an air cadet at Randolph Field being chewed out by his flight instructor.
The lieutenant, a tall young man with a thin moustache and big feet, was almost as hysterical as Grandma Kaiser.
“The next time you turn left when I tell you to turn right, Frigate, I’m bringing us in right now, cutting the goddamn flight, and I’m refusing to go up with you! You can get an instructor who doesn’t give a shit