Maps in a Mirror, page 43
“What trouble?” asked Zay.
“Listen to him, Deet. He thinks the world has stopped because of a couple of shouts.”
In the distance they could hear a man bellowing someone’s name.
“Happens all the time,” said Zay. “I’d better get back. Some lordling from Mahagonny is probably fuming because I haven’t granted his request for access to the Imperial account books.”
“Nice to meet you,” said Leyel.
“Good luck finding your way back,” said Deet.
“Easy this time,” said Zay. She paused only once on her way through the door, not to speak, but to slide a metallic wafer along an almost unnoticeable slot in the doorframe, above eye level. She turned back and winked at Deet. Then she was gone.
Leyel didn’t ask what she had done—if it were his business, something would have been said. But he suspected that Zay had either turned on or turned off a recording system. Unsure of whether they had privacy here from the library staff, Leyel merely stood for a moment, looking around. Deet’s room really was filled with violets, real ones, growing out of cracks and apertures in the floor and walls. The smell was clear but not overpowering. “What is this room for?”
“For me. Today, anyway. I’m so glad you came.”
“You never told me about this place.”
“I didn’t know about it until I was assigned to this section. Nobody talks about Indexing. We never tell outsiders. The architect died three thousand years ago. Only our own machinists understand how it works. It’s like—”
“A place where all the rules of the universe are suspended.”
“Not all. We still stick with good old gravity. Inertia. That sort of thing.”
“This place is right for you, Deet. This room.”
“Most people go years without getting the flower room. It isn’t always violets, you know. Sometimes climbing roses. Sometimes periwinkle. They say there’s really a dozen flower rooms, but never more than one at a time is accessible. It’s been violets for me both times, though.”
Leyel couldn’t help himself. He laughed. It was funny. It was delightful. What did this have to do with a library? And yet what a marvelous thing to have hidden away in the heart of this somber place. He sat down on a chair. Violets grew out of the top of the chairback, so that flowers brushed his shoulders.
“You finally got tired of staying in the apartment all day?” asked Deet.
Of course she would wonder why he finally came out, after all her invitations had been so long ignored. Yet he wasn’t sure if he could speak frankly. “I needed to talk with you.” He glanced back at the slot Zay had used in the doorframe. “Alone,” he said.
Was that a look of dread that crossed her face?
“We’re alone,” Deet said quietly. “Zay saw to that. Truly alone, as we can’t be even in the apartment.”
It took Leyel a moment to realize what she was asserting. He dared not even speak the word. So he mouthed his question: Pubs?
“They never bother with the library in their normal spying. Even if they set up something special for you, there’s now an interference field blocking out our conversation. Chances are, though, that they won’t bother to monitor you again until you leave here.”
She seemed edgy. Impatient. As if she didn’t like having this conversation. As if she wanted him to get on with it, or maybe just get it over with.
“If you don’t mind,” he said. “I haven’t interrupted you here before, I thought that just this once—”
“Of course,” she said. But she was still tense. As if she feared what he might say.
So he explained to her all his thoughts about language. All that he had gleaned from Kispitorian’s and Magolissian’s work. She seemed to relax almost as soon as it became clear he was talking about his research. What did she dread, he wondered. Was she afraid I came to talk about our relationship? She hardly needed to fear that. He had no intention of making things more difficult by whining about things that could not be helped.
When he was through explaining the ideas that had come to him, she nodded carefully—as she had done a thousand times before, after he explained an idea or argument. “I don’t know,” she finally said. As so many times before, she was reluctant to commit herself to an immediate response.
And, as he had often done, he insisted. “But what do you think?”
She pursed her lips. “Just offhand—I’ve never tried a serious linguistic application of community theory, beyond jargon formation, so this is just my first thought—but try this. Maybe small isolated populations guard their language—jealously, because it’s part of who they are. Maybe language is the most powerful ritual of all, so that people who have the same language are one in a way that people who can’t understand each other’s speech never are. We’d never know, would we, since everybody for ten thousand years has spoken Standard.”
“So it isn’t the size of the population, then, so much as—”
“How much they care about their language. How much it defines them as a community. A large population starts to think that everybody talks like them. They want to distinguish themselves, form a separate identity. Then they start developing jargons and slangs to separate themselves from others. Isn’t that what happens to common speech? Children try to find ways of talking that their parents don’t use. Professionals talk in private vocabularies so laymen won’t know the passwords. All rituals for community definition.”
Leyel nodded gravely, but he had one obvious doubt.
Obvious enough that Deet knew it, too. “Yes, yes, I know, Leyel. I immediately interpreted your question in terms of my own discipline. Like physicists who think that everything can be explained by physics.”
Leyel laughed. “I thought of that, but what you said makes sense. And it would explain why the natural tendency of communities is to diversify language. We want a common tongue, a language of open discourse. But we also want private languages. Except a completely private language would be useless—whom would we talk to? So wherever a community forms, it creates at least a few linguistic barriers to outsiders, a few shibboleths that only insiders will know.”
“And the more allegiance a person has to a community, the more fluent he’ll become in that language, and the more he’ll speak it.”
“Yes, it makes sense,” said Leyel. “So easy. You see how much I need you?”
He knew that his words were a mild rebuke—why weren’t you home when I needed you—but he couldn’t resist saying it. Sitting here with Deet, even in this strange and redolent place, felt right and comfortable. How could she have withdrawn from him? To him, her presence was what made a place home. To her, this place was home whether he was there or not.
He tried to put it in words—in abstract words, so it wouldn’t sting. “I think the greatest tragedy is when one person has more allegiance to his community than any of the other members.”
Deet only half smiled and raised her eyebrows. She didn’t know what he was getting at.
“He speaks the community language all the time,” said Leyel. “Only nobody else ever speaks it to him, or not enough anyway. And the more he speaks it, the more he alienates the others and drives them away, until he’s alone. Can you imagine anything more sad? Somebody who’s filled up with a language, hungry to speak, to hear it spoken, and yet there’s no one left who understands a word of it.”
She nodded, her eyes searching him. Does she understand what I’m saying? He waited for her to speak. He had said all he dared to say.
“But imagine this,” she finally said. “What if he left that little place where no one understood him, and went over a hill to a new place, and all of a sudden he heard a hundred voices, a thousand, speaking the words he had treasured all those lonely years. And then he realized that he had never really known the language at all. The words had hundreds of meanings and nuances he had never g
Leyel couldn’t remember hearing Deet sound so—rhapsodic, that was it, she herself was singing. She is the person she was talking about. In this place, her voice is different, that’s what she meant. At home with me, she’s been alone. Here in the library she’s found others who speak her secret language. It isn’t that she didn’t want our marriage to succeed. She hoped for it, but I never understood her. These people did. Do. She’s home here, that’s what she’s telling me.
“I understand,” he said.
“Do you?” She looked searchingly into his face.
“I think so. It’s all right.”
She gave him a quizzical look.
“I mean, it’s fine. It’s good. This place. It’s fine.”
She looked relieved, but not completely. “You shouldn’t be so sad about it, Leyel. This is a happy place. And you could do everything here that you ever did at home.”
Except love you as the other part of me, and have you love me as the other part of you. “Yes, I’m sure.”
“No, I mean it. What you’re working on—I can see that you’re getting close to something. Why not work on it here, where we can talk about it?”
“You are getting close, aren’t you?”
“How do I know? I’m thrashing around like a drowning man in the ocean at night. Maybe I’m close to shore, and maybe I’m just swimming farther out to sea.”
“Well, what do you have? Didn’t we get closer just now?”
“No. This language thing—if it’s just an aspect of community theory, it can’t be the answer to human origin.”
“Because many primates have communities. A lot of other animals. Herding animals, for instance. Even schools of fish. Bees. Ants. Every multicelled organism is a community, for that matter. So if linguistic diversion grows out of community, then it’s inherent in prehuman animals and therefore isn’t part of the definition of humanity.”
“Oh. I guess not.”
She looked disappointed. As if she had really hoped they would find the answer to the origin question right there, that very day.
Leyel stood up. “Oh well. Thanks for your help.”
“I don’t think I helped.”
“Oh, you did. You showed me I was going up a dead-end road. You saved me a lot of wasted—thought. That’s progress, in science, to know which answers aren’t true.”
His words had a double meaning, of course. She had also shown him that their marriage was a dead-end road. Maybe she understood him. Maybe not. It didn’t matter—he had understood her. That little story about a lonely person finally discovering a place where she could be at home—how could he miss the point of that?
“Leyel,” she said. “Why not put your question to the indexers?”
“Do you think the library researchers could find answers where I haven’t?”
“Not the research department. Indexing.”
“What do you mean?”
“Write down your questions. All the avenues you’ve pursued. Linguistic diversity. Primate language. And the other questions, the old ones. Archaeological, historical approaches. Biological. Kinship patterns. Customs. Everything you can think of. Just put it together as questions. And then we’ll have them index it.”
“Index my questions?”
“It’s what we do—we read things and think of other things that might be related somehow, and we connect them. We don’t say what the connection means, but we know that it means something, that the connection is real. We won’t give you answers, Leyel, but if you follow the index, it might help you to think of connections. Do you see what I mean?”
“I never thought of that. Do you think a couple of indexers might have the time to work on it?”
“Not a couple of us. All of us.”
“Oh, that’s absurd, Deet. I wouldn’t even ask it.”
“I would. We aren’t supervised up here, Leyel. We don’t meet quotas. Our job is to read and think. Usually we have a few hundred projects going, but for a day we could easily work on the same document.”
“It would be a waste. I can’t publish anything, Deet.”
“It doesn’t have to be published. Don’t you understand? Nobody but us knows what we do here. We can take it as an unpublished document and work on it just the same. It won’t ever have to go online for the library as a whole.”
Leyel shook his head. “And then if they lead me to the answer—what, will we publish it with two hundred bylines?”
“It’ll be your paper, Leyel. We’re just indexers, not authors. You’ll still have to make the connections. Let us try. Let us be part of this.”
Suddenly Leyel understood why she was so insistent on this. Getting him involved with the library was her way of pretending she was still part of his life. She could believe she hadn’t left him, if he became part of her new community.
Didn’t she know how unbearable that would be? To see her here, so happy without him? To come here as just one friend among many, when once they had been—or he had thought they were—one indivisible soul? How could he possibly do such a thing?
And yet she wanted it, he could see it in the way she was looking at him, so girlish, so pleading that it made him think of when they were first in love, on another world—she would look at him like that whenever he insisted that he had to leave. Whenever she thought she might be losing him.
Doesn’t she know who has lost whom?
Never mind. What did it matter if she didn’t understand? If it would make her happy to have him pretend to be part of her new home, part of these librarians—if she wanted him to submit his life’s work to the ministrations of these absurd indexers, then why not? What would it cost him? Maybe the process of writing down all his questions in some coherent order would help him. And maybe she was right—maybe a Trantorian index would help him solve the origin question.
Maybe if he came here, he could still be a small part of her life. It wouldn’t be like marriage. But since that was impossible, then at least he could have enough of her here that he could remain himself, remain the person that he had become because of loving her for all these years.
“Fine,” he said. “I’ll write it up and bring it in.”
“I really think we can help.”
“Yes,” he said, pretending to more certainty than he felt. “Maybe.” He started for the door.
“Do you have to leave already?”
“Are you sure you can find your way out?”
“Unless the rooms have moved.”
“No, only at night.”
“Then I’ll find my way out just fine.” He took a few steps toward her, then stopped.
“What?” she asked.
“Oh.” She sounded disappointed. “I thought you were going to kiss me good-bye.” Then she puckered up like a three-year-old child.
He laughed. He kissed her—like a three-year-old—and then he left.
For two days he brooded. Saw her off in the morning, then tried to read, to watch the vids, anything. Nothing held his attention. He took walks. He even went topside once, to see the sky overhead—it was night, thick with stars. None of it engaged him. Nothing held. One of the vid programs had a moment, just briefly, a scene on a semiarid world, where a strange plant grew that dried out at maturity, broke off at the root, and then let the wind blow it around, scattering seeds. For a moment he felt a dizzying empathy with the plant as it tumbled by—am I as dry as that, hurtling through dead land? But no, he knew even that wasn’t true, because the tumbleweed had life enough left in it to scatter seeds. Leyel had no seed left. That was
On the third morning he looked at himself in the mirror and laughed grimly. “Is this how people feel before they kill themselves?” he asked. Of course not—he knew that he was being melodramatic. He felt no desire to die.
But then it occurred to him that if this feeling of uselessness kept on, if he never found anything to engage himself, then he might as well be dead, mightn’t he, because his being alive wouldn’t accomplish much more than keeping his clothes warm.
He sat down at the scriptor and began writing down questions. Then, under each question, he would explain how he had already pursued that particular avenue and why it didn’t yield the answer to the origin question. More questions would come up then—and he was right, the mere process of summarizing his own fruitless research made answers seem tantalizingly close. It was a good exercise. And even if he never found an answer, this list of questions might be of help to someone with a clearer intellect—or better information—decades or centuries or millennia from now.
Deet came home and went to bed with Leyel still typing away. She knew the look he had when he was fully engaged in writing—she did nothing to disturb him. He noticed her enough to realize that she was carefully leaving him alone. Then he settled back into writing.
The next morning she awoke to find him lying in bed beside her, still dressed. A personal message capsule lay on the floor in the doorway from the bedroom. He had finished his questions. She bent over, picked it up, took it with her to the library.
“His questions aren’t academic after all, Deet.”
“I told you they weren’t.”
“Hari was right. For all that he seemed to be a dilettante, with his money and his rejection of the universities, he’s a man of substance.”
“Will the Second Foundation benefit, then, if he comes up with an answer to his question?”
“I don’t know, Deet. Hari was the fortune-teller. Presumably mankind is already human, so it isn’t as if we have to start the process over.”
“Do you think not?”
“What, should we find some uninhabited planet and put some newborns on it and let them grow up feral, and then come back in a thousand years and try to turn them human?”