Maps in a mirror, p.68

Maps in a Mirror, page 68

 

Maps in a Mirror
 



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  HECTOR 2

  Hector said to himselves, “I’m thirsty, I’m thirsty, I’m thirsty,” and the Hectors gave themself plenty to drink, and when Hector was satisfied, for the moment, he sang a soundless song that all the Hectors heard, and they, too, sang:

  Hector swims in an empty sea

  With Hectors all around.

  Hector whistles merrily

  But never makes a sound.

  Hector swallows all the light

  So he’s snug out in the cold.

  Hector will be born tonight

  Although he’s very old.

  Hector sweeps up all the dust

  And puts it in a pile:

  Waybread for his wanderlust,

  More Hectors in a while.

  And the Hectors laughed and also sang and also danced because they had come together after a long journey and they were warm and they were snug and they lay together to listen to themself tell himselves stories.

  “I will tell,” Hector said to himselves, “the story of the Masses, and the story of the Masters, and the story of the Makers.”

  And the Hectors cuddled together to listen.

  AGNES 3

  Agnes and Danny made love the day before they reached the Trojan Object, because that made it easier for both of them to work. Roj and Roz did not, because that made it easier for them to stay alert. For a week it had been clear that the Trojan Object was far more than anyone on Earth had suspected, and far less.

  “Diameter about fourteen hundred kilometers on the average,” Roz reported as soon as she had good enough data to be sure. “But gravity is about as much as a giant asteroid. Our shaddles are strong enough to get us off.”

  Danny spoke the obvious conclusion first. “There’s nothing that could be as solid as that, as large as that, and as light as that. Artificial. Has to be.”

  “Fourteen hundred kilometers in diameter?”

  Danny shrugged. Everybody could have shrugged. That’s what they were here for. Nothing natural could have suddenly appeared in Earth’s leading trojan point, either—obviously it was artificial. But was it dangerous?

  They circled the Trojan Object dozens of times, letting the computer scan with better eyes than theirs for any sign of an aperture. There was none.

  “Better set down,” Roz said, and Agnes brought the skipship close to the surface. It occurred to her as she did so that she and Danny and the others changed personality completely when they worked. Fun-loving, filthy-minded, game-playing friends, until work was needed. Then the fun was over, and they became a pilot and an engineer and a doctor and a physicist, functioning smoothly, as if the computer’s integrated circuits had overcome the flesh barrier and inhabited all of them.

  Agnes maneuvered her craft within three meters of the surface. “No closer,” she said. Danny agreed, and when they were all suited up, he opened the hatch and shaddled down to the surface. “Careful, Leaner,” Agnes reminded him. “Escape velocity and everything.”

  “Can’t see a damn thing down here,” he answered in a perfect non sequitur. “This surface material sucks up all light. Even from my headlamp. Hard and smooth as steel, though. I have to keep shining my light on my hands to see where they are.” Silence for a few moments. “Can’t tell if I’m scratching the thing or not. Am I getting a sample?”

  “Computer says no,” Roj answered. As the doctor, he had nothing better to do at the moment than monitor the computer.

  “I’m not making any impact on the surface at all. I want to find out how hard this thing is.”

  “Torch?” Agnes asked.

  “Yeah.”

  Roz protested. “Don’t do anything to make them mad.”

  “Who?” Danny asked.

  “Them. The people who made this.”

  Danny chuckled. “If there’s anybody in there, they either know we’re out here or they’re sure enough we can’t get in that they don’t care. Either way, I’ve got to do something to attract their attention.”

  The torch flared brightly, but nothing was reflected from the surface of the Trojan Object, and only the gas dissipated with the torch made it visible.

  “No result. Didn’t even raise the surface temperature,” Danny finally said.

  They tried laser. They tried explosives. They tried a diamond tip on a drill for repair work. Nothing had any effect on the surface at all.

  “I want to come out,” Agnes said.

  “Forget it,” Danny answered. “I suggest we go to the pole, north or south. Maybe something’s different there.”

  “I’m coming out,” Agnes said.

  Danny was angry. “What the hell do you think you can accomplish that I haven’t done?”

  Agnes frankly admitted that there wasn’t anything she could possibly do. While she was admitting it she clambered out of the skipship and launched herself toward the surface.

  It was a damnfool thing to do, as Danny informed her loudly over the radio, just as he turned to face Agnes and flashed his light directly in her eyes. She realized to her alarm that he was directly below her—she couldn’t turn around and shaddle down. She slipped to the right, instead, and then tried to turn around, but because of her panic at the thought of colliding with Danny (always dangerous in space) and the delay as she maneuvered to avoid him, she struck the planet surface going a good deal faster than should have been comfortable.

  But as she touched the surface, it yielded. Not with the springiness of rubber, which would have forced her hand back out, but with the thick resistance of almost-hard cement, so that she found her hand completely immersed in the surface of the planet. She shone her headlamp on it—the smooth surface of the planet was unbroken, not even dented, except that her hand was in it up to the wrist.

  “Danny,” she said, not sure whether to be excited or afraid.

  He didn’t hear her at first because he was too busy shouting, “Agnes, are you OK?” into the radio to notice that she was already answering. But at last he calmed down, found her with his headlamp, and came over to her, shaddling gently to stay tight to the surface of the Trojan Object.

  “My hand,” she said, and he followed her shoulder and her arm until he found her hand and said, “Agnes! Can you get it out?”

  “I didn’t want to try until you saw this. What does it mean?”

  “It means that if it was wet cement it’s hard by now and we’ll never get you off!”

  “Don’t be an ass,” Agnes said. “Test around it. See if it’s different.”

  Except for the torch, Danny made all the same tests. Right up to the edge of Agnes’s suit the Trojan Object’s surface was absolutely impenetrable, completely absorbent of energy, nonmagnetic—in other words, untestable. But there was no arguing the fact that Agnes’s hand was buried in it.

  “Take a picture,” Agnes said.

  “What will that show? It’ll look like your wrist with the hand cut off.” But Danny went ahead and laid some of his tools on the surface to give some hint in the photograph of where the surface actually was. Then he took a dozen or more photos. “Why am I taking these pictures?” he said.

  “In case we got back and people don’t believe I could stick my hand into something harder than steel,” Agnes answered.

  “I could have told them that.”

  “You’re my Leaner.”

  Leaners were very good for some things, but you’d never want to be the prosecutor whose case against a defendant rested entirely on his Leaner’s testimony. Leaners were loyal first, honest second. Had to be.

  “So we’ve got the pictures.”

  “So now I get out.”

  “Can you?” Danny asked. He had only postponed his concern for her; now it was back in full force.

  “My knees and my other hand were both sunk in just as deep. The reason this one is still in is because I clenched my fist and I’m still holding on.”

  “Holding on to what?”

  “To whatever this damn thing is made of. My other hand and my knees flo
ated to the surface after a few seconds.”

  “Floated!”

  “That’s what it felt like. I’m letting go now.” And as Agnes unclenched her fist her hand slowly rose to the surface and was gently ejected. There wasn’t a ripple on the surface material, however. Where her hand was, it behaved like a liquid. Where her hand wasn’t, it was as solid as ever.

  “What is this made of?”

  “Silly Putty,” Agnes said.

  “Unfunny,” Danny answered.

  “I’m serious. Remember how Silly Putty was flexible, but if you formed it into a ball and threw it on the ground, it broke like clay?”

  “Mine never worked like that.”

  “But this stuff does, in reverse. When something sharp hits it, or something hot, or something too slow or too weak, it sits there. But when I ran into it going at shaddle speed, I sank in it for a few inches.”

  “In other words,” Roj said from the skipship, “you’ve found the door.”

  They were back in the skipship inside ten minutes, and after only a few more minutes of checking everything to make sure it was in good condition, Agnes pulled the skipship a few dozen meters away from the surface of the Trojan Object. “Everybody ready?” Agnes asked.

  “Are we doing what I think we’re doing?” Roz asked.

  “Yep,” Danny answered. “We shore is.”

  “Then we’re idiots,” Roz said, her voice sounding nervous. No one argued with her.

  Agnes fired the vernier rockets on the outboard side and they plunged toward the Trojan Object. Not terribly fast, by the standard of speed they were used to. But to those aboard, who knew that they were heading directly into a surface so hard a diamond drill and a laser had had no effect at all, it was disconcertingly fast.

  “What if you’re wrong?” Roz asked, pretending she was joking.

  No one could answer before they hit. But in the moment when there should have come a violent crunch and a rush of atmosphere escaping from the ship, the skipship merely slowed sickeningly and kept moving inward. The black flowed quickly past the viewports, and they were buried in the surface of the Trojan Object.

  “Are we still moving?” Roj asked, his voice trembling.

  “You’ve got the computer,” Agnes answered, flattering herself that she, at least, did not sound scared. She was wrong, but no one told her.

  “Yeah,” Roj finally said. “We’re still moving. Computer says so.”

  And then they sat in silence for an interminable minute. Agnes was just about to say “Maybe this isn’t such a good idea. I’ve changed my mind” when the blackness turned to a reflective brown through the window, and then, just when they’d had time to notice it, the brown turned into a bright, transparent blue—“Water!” Danny said in surprise—and then the water broke and they bobbed on the surface of a lake, the sun dazzlingly bright on the surface.

  HECTOR 3

  “First I will tell you the story of the Masses,” Hector said to himselves. Actually, the telling of the stories was not necessary. As Hector drank, all that he had been through, all that he had known through the years of his life was being transferred subliminally to himselves. But there was the matter of focus. The matter of meaning. Hector had no imagination at all. But he did have understanding, and that understanding had to be passed to himselves, or in ages to come the Hectors would curse themself for having left himselves crippled.

  This is the story, therefore, that he told, because it focused and it meant:

  Cyril [said Hector] wanted to be a carpenter. He wanted to cut living wood and dry it and cure it and shape it into objects of beauty and utility. He thought he had an eye for it. As a child he had experimented with it. But when he applied at the Office of Assignments, he was told no.

  “Why not?” he asked, astonished that the Office of Assignments could make such an obvious mistake.

  “Because,” said the clerk, who was unflaggingly nice (she had tested nice and therefore held her job), “your aptitude and preference tests show that not only do you not have any aptitude along those lines at all, but also you do not even want to be a carpenter.”

  “I want to be a carpenter,” Cyril insisted, because he was young enough not to know that one does not insist.

  “You want to be a carpenter because you have a false impression of what carpentry is. In actual fact, your preference tests show that you would absolutely hate life as a carpenter. Therefore you cannot be a carpenter.”

  And something in her manner told Cyril that there was no point in arguing any further. Besides, he was not so young as not to know that resistance was futile—and continued resistance was fatal.

  So Cyril was placed where his tests showed he had the most aptitude: He was trained as a miner. Fortunately, he was not untalented or utterly unbright, so he was trained as a lead miner, the one who follows the vein and finds it when it jogs or turns or jumps. It was a demanding job. Cyril hated it. But he learned to do it because his preference tests showed that he really wanted this line of work.

  Cyril wanted to marry a girl named Lika, and she wanted to marry him. “I’m sorry,” said the clerk at the Office of Assignments, “you are genetically, temperamentally, and socially unsuited for each other. You would be miserable. Therefore we cannot permit you to marry.”

  They didn’t marry, and Lika married someone else, and Cyril asked if it was all right if he remained unmarried. “If you wish. That’s one of your options for optimum happiness, according to the tests,” the clerk informed him.

  Cyril wanted to live in a certain area, but he was forbidden; food was served for him that he didn’t like; he had to go dancing with friends he didn’t like, doing dances to music he loathed, singing songs whose words were silly to him. Surely, surely there’s been a mistake, he said, pleading with the clerk.

  The clerk fixed a cold stare on him (he tried in vain to scrub the stare off, but still it hung on him like slime in his dreams) and said, “My dear Cyril, you have now protested as often as a citizen may protest and remain alive.”

  In just such a case many another member of the masses might have rebelled, joining the secret underground organizations that sprang up from time to time and were crushed at regular intervals by the state. In just such a case many another member of the masses, knowing he was consigned to a lifetime of undeserved misery, would kill himself and thereby eliminate the misery.

  However, Cyril belonged to the largest group within the masses, and so he chose neither route. Instead he went to the town he was assigned to, worked in the coal mine where he was assigned, remained lonely as he pined for Lika, and danced idiotic dances to idiotic music with his idiotic friends.

  Years passed, and Cyril began to be well known among coal miners. He handled his rockcutter as if it were a delicate tool, and with it he left beautiful shapes in the rock behind, so that any miner could tell when he walked down a tunnel cut by Cyril, for it would be beautiful, and as he walked the miner would feel exalted and proud and, oddly, loved. And Cyril also had a knack for anticipating the coal, following where it led no matter how narrow the seam, how twisting its path, how interrupted its progress.

  “Cyril knows the coal like a woman, every twist and turn of her, as if he’d had her a thousand times and knew just when she’d come,” a miner said of Cyril once, and because the statement was apt and true (and because there are poets’ hearts beating even at the bottom of a mine) the statement spread through the mines and the miners began referring to their black stone as “Mrs. Cyril.” Cyril heard of it, and smiled, because in his heart coal was not a wife, only an unloved mistress used for the scant pleasure she gave and then cast away. Hatred mistaken for love, as usual.

  Cyril was nearly sixty years old when a clerk from the Office of Assignments came to the mines. “Cyril the coal miner,” the clerk said, and so they brought Cyril from the mines, and the clerk met him with a huge, unbelievable smile. “Cyril, you are a great man!” cried the clerk.

  Cyril smiled wanly, not knowing
what he was leading up to.

  “Cyril, my friend,” said the clerk, “you are a notable miner. Without seeking fame at all, your name is known to miners all over the world. You are the perfect model of what a man ought to be—happy in your assignment, hardworking, content. So the Office of Assignments has announced that you are the Model Worker of the Year.”

  Everyone knew about Model Worker of the Year. That was a person who had his picture in all the papers, and was in the movies and on television and who was held up as the greatest person in all the world in that year. It was an honor to be envied.

  But Cyril said, “No.”

  “No?” asked the clerk.

  “No. I don’t want to be the Model Worker of the Year.”

  “But—but. But why not?”

  “Because I’m not happy. I was put into this assignment by mistake many years ago. I shouldn’t be a coal miner. I should be a carpenter, married to Lika, living in another town, dancing to other music with other friends.”

  The clerk looked at him in horror. “How can you say that!” he cried. “I’ve announced that you are Model Worker of the Year! You will either be Model Worker of the Year or you will be put to death!”

  Put to death? Forty years ago that threat had made Cyril comply, but now a stubborn streak erupted from him, like a seam of coal long hidden but under such pressure that when the stone around it gave way, it actually burst from the rock walls. “I’m near sixty,” Cyril said, “and I’ve hated all my life to now. Kill me if you like, but I won’t go on television or the movies saying how happy I’ve been because I haven’t.”

  And so they took Cyril and locked him in prison and sentenced him to death because while he might suffer all kinds of abuse, he refused to lie to his friends.

  That is the story of the Masses.

  And when Hector was finished, the Hectors sighed and wept (without tears) and said, “Now we understand. Now we know the meaning.”

 

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