Maps in a mirror, p.70

Maps in a Mirror, page 70


Maps in a Mirror

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Cyril got a very weary expression on his face. “So we do it again?”

  “Do what?”

  “Punish me.”

  “Indeed, no, Cyril. We remove you from circulation. Apparently you are going to complain and resist no matter what happens. What about your wife?”

  Cyril got a bitter smile on his face. “Lika? Oh, she’s content. She’s happy enough.” And he glanced toward the door into the cottage’s other room.

  Martha went to the door and opened it. (Officers of the Office of Assignments did not need to knock.) Inside the room Lika sat in a clumsily built rocking chair, rocking back and forth, an old woman with a blank stare on her face.

  Martha heard breathing over her shoulder, and turned, startled, to see Cyril leaning over her. For a moment Martha was afraid of violence. Quickly she realized, however, that Cyril was merely looking sadly at his wife.

  “She’s raised a family, you know. And now to be cut off from her husband and her children and her grandchildren—it’s hard. She’s been like this since the first week. Never lets me near her. She hates me, you know.” The sadness in his voice was contagious. And Martha was not without pity.

  “It’s a shame,” she said. “A damned shame. And so I’ll use my discretionary powers, Cyril, and not kill you. As long as you promise not to complain to anyone ever again, I’ll let you live. It wouldn’t be fair, when things really are bad in your life, to kill you for noticing it.”

  Martha was an exceptionally kind administrator.

  But Cyril did not smother her with gratitude. “Not kill me?” he asked. “Oh, but Administrator, can’t we have things back the way they were? Let me go back to the coal mines. Let Lika go back to her family. This was what I wanted when I was twenty. But I’m near sixty, and this is all wrong.”

  Ingratitude again. What I have to put up with! Martha’s eyes went small and her face flushed with rage (an emotion she did remarkably well, and so she reserved it for special occasions) and she shouted, “I will forgive that one remark, but only that one remark!”

  Cyril bowed his head. “I’m sorry.”

  “The tests that sent you to the coal mines were in error! But the tests that sent you here are absolutely, completely, totally correct, and by heaven you’re going to stay here! There isn’t a law on earth that will let you change now!”

  And that was that.

  Or almost. Because in the silence ringing after Martha spoke and before she left, a voice came from the rickety rocker in the bedroom.

  “Then we have to stay like this?” Lika asked.

  “Until Cyril dies, you have to stay like this,” Martha said. “It’s the law. He and you have both been given everything you ever petitioned for. Ingrates.”

  Martha would have turned to go, but she saw Lika looking pleadingly at Cyril, and saw Cyril nod slowly, and then Cyril turned away from the door, picked up the crosscut saw, and drew it sharply and hard across his own throat. The blood gushed and poured, and Martha thought it would never, never end.

  But it did end, and Cyril’s body was taken out and disposed of, and then everything was set to rights, with Lika going back to her family and a real carpenter getting the cottage with the dark red stains on the floor. The best solution after all, Martha decided. Nobody could be happy until Cyril was dead. I should have killed him in the first place, instead of these silly ideas of mercy.

  She suspected, however, that Cyril would rather have died the way he did, ugly and bloody and painful though it was, than to have an injection administered by strangers in a plastic room in the capital.

  I’ll never understand them. They are as foreign to human thought as monkeys or dogs or cats. And Martha returned to her desk and went on double-checking everything just in case she found another mistake she could fix.

  That is the story of the Masters.

  When Hector was finished the Hectors wriggled uncomfortably, some (and therefore all) of them angry and disturbed and a little frightened. “But it makes no sense,” the Hectors said to themself. “Nothing was done right.”

  Hector agreed. “But that’s the way they are made,” he said to himselves. “Not like me. I am regular. I act as I have always acted, as I will always act. But the Masters and the Masses always act oddly, forever seeing things in the future where no one can see, and acting to avert things that would never have come to pass anyway. Who can understand them?”

  “Who made them, then?” asked the Hectors. “Why were they not made well, as we were?”

  “Because the Makers are as inscrutable as the Masters and the Masses. I shall tell you their story next.”

  (“They are gone,” whispered the ones who had been penetrated. “They have gone away. We are safe after all.” But Hector knew better, and because he knew better, so did the Hectors.)


  “You invited yourself to my bedroom, Agnes. That isn’t typical.”

  “I accepted your standing invitation.”

  “I never thought you would.”

  “Neither did I.”

  Vaughan Malecker, president of IBM-ITT Space Consortium, Inc., smiled, but the smile was weak. “You don’t long for my body, which is in remarkably good shape, considering my age, and I have an aversion to making love to anyone who is doing it for an ulterior motive.”

  Agnes looked at him for a moment, decided that he meant it, and got up to leave.

  “Agnes,” he said.

  “Never mind,” she answered.

  “Agnes, it must have been something important for you to be willing to make such a sacrifice.”

  “I said never mind.” She was at the door. It didn’t open.

  “Doors in my house open when I want them to,” Malecker said. “I want to know what you wanted. But try to persuade my mind. Not my gonads. Believe it or not, testosterone has never made a major decision here at the consortium.”

  Agnes waited with her hand on the knob.

  “Come on, Agnes, I know you’re embarrassed as hell but if it was important enough to come this far, you can get over the embarrassment and sit down on the couch and tell me what the hell you want. You want to take another trip to the Balloon?”

  “I’m going anyway.”

  “Sit down, dammit. I know you’re going anyway but I was trying to get you to say something.”

  Agnes came back and sat down on the couch. Vaughan Malecker was a remarkably good-looking man, as he had pointed ont, but Agnes had heard that he slept with anyone good-looking and was nice to them afterward. Agnes had been turning him down for years because she wanted to be a pilot, not a mistress, and Danny was plenty for her needs, which were not overwhelming. But this mattered, and she thought. . . .

  “I thought you’d listen to me if I came this way, I thought—”

  Malecker sighed and buried his face in his hands, rubbing his eyes. “I’m so tired. Agnes, what the hell makes you think I ever listen to a woman I’m trying to lay?”

  “Because I listen to Danny and Danny listens to me. I’m naive. I’m innocent. But Mr. Malecker—”


  “I need your help.”

  “Good. I like to have people need my help. It makes them treat me nicely.”

  “Vaughan, the whole world needs your help.”

  Malecker looked at her in surprise, then burst out laughing. “The whole world! Oh, no! Agnes, I would never have thought it of you! A cause!”

  “Vaughan, people all over the world are starving. There are too many people for this planet—”

  “I read your report, Agnes, and I know all about the possibilities in the Balloon. The problem is transport. There is no conceivable way to transport people there fast enough to make even a dent in the population problem. What do you think I am, a miracle worker?”

  This was the argument Agnes was waiting for. She pounced with descriptions of the kind of ship that could carry a thousand people at once from Earth orbit to an orbit around the Balloon.

  “Do you know how many billion dollars a
ship like that would cost?” Vaughan asked.

  “About fifteen billion for the first ship. About four billion for each of the others, if you made five hundred of them.”

  Vaughan laughed. Loud. But Agnes’s serious expression forced his laughter to become exasperation. He got up from the couch. “Why am I listening to you? This is nonsense!” he shouted.

  “You spend more than that every year on telephone service.”

  “I know, damn AT&T.”

  “You could do it.”

  “IBM-ITT could do it, of course, it’s possible. But we have stockholders. We have responsibilities. We’re not the government, Agnes, we can’t throw money away on stupid useless projects.”

  “It could save billions of lives. Make the Earth a better place to live.”

  “So could a cure for cancer. We’re working on that, but this—Agnes, there’s no profit, and where there’s no profit, you can bet your ass this company will not go!”

  “Profit!” Agnes shouted. “Is that all you care about?”

  “Eighteen million stockholders say that’s all I’d better care about or I get a kick in the butt and an old-age pension!”

  “Vaughan, you want profit, I’ll give you profit!”

  “I want profit.”

  “Then here’s profit. How much do you sell in India?”

  “Enough to make a profit.”

  “Compare it to sales in Germany.”

  “Compared to Germany, India is practically nothing.”

  “How much do you sell in China?”

  “Exactly nothing.”

  “You make your profits off one tiny part of the world. Western Europe, Japan, Australia, South Africa, and the United States of America.”

  “Canada, too.”

  “And Brazil. But the rest of the world is closed to you.”

  Vaughan shrugged. “They’re too poor.”

  “In the Balloon they would not be poor.”

  “Would they suddenly be able to read? Would they suddenly be able to run computers and sophisticated telephone equipment?”

  “Yes!” And on she went, painting a picture of a world where people who had been scratching out a bare subsistence in poor soil with no water would suddenly be able to raise far more than they needed. “That means a leisure class. That means consumers.”

  “But all they’d have to trade would be food. Who needs food across a few million miles of space?”

  “Don’t you have any imagination at all? Excess food means one person can feed five or ten or twenty or a hundred. Excess food means that you locate your stinking factories there! Solar power unlimited, with no night and no clouds and no cold weather. Shifts around the clock. You have plenty of manpower, and a built-in market. You can do everything there that you’ve been doing here, do it cheaper, make better profits, and nobody’ll be going hungry!”

  And then there was silence in the room, because Vaughan was actually seriously thinking about it. Agnes’s heart was beating fast. She was panting. She was embarrassed to have been so fervent when fervor was not fashionable.

  “Almost thou persuadest me,” said Vaughan.

  “I should hope so. I’ll lose my voice in a minute.”

  “Only two problems. The first one is that while you’ve persuaded me, I’m a much more reasonable, persuasible man than the officers and boards of directors of IBM and ITT, and it’s their final decision, not mine. They don’t let me commit more than ten billion to a project without their approval. I could make the initial ship—but I couldn’t make any more than that: And the initial ship won’t make a profit alone. So I have to persuade them, which is impossible, or lose my job, which I refuse to do.”

  “Or do nothing at all,” Agnes said, contempt already seeping into her tone. Malecker was going to say no.

  “And the second problem is actually the first, too. How could I persuade the board of directors of two of the world’s largest corporations to invest billions of dollars in a project that depends entirely on being able to educate or train or even communicate with illiterate savages and peasants from the most backward countries on Earth?”

  His voice was sweet reason, but Agnes was not prepared to hear reason. If Vaughan said no, she would be stopped here. There was nowhere else to go.

  “I’m an illiterate savage!” she said. “Do you want to hear a few words of Igbo?” She didn’t wait for an answer, babbled off the few words she remembered from childhood. She hardly remembered meanings—they were phrases that in her anger came to the surface. Some of the words, however, were spoken to her mother. Mother, come here, help me.

  “My mother was an illiterate savage who spoke fluent English. My father was an illiterate savage who spoke better English than her and had French and German, too, and wrote beautiful poems in Igbo and even though to survive in the days when Biafra was struggling for survival he worked as a house servant to an American correspondent, he was never illiterate! He’s read books you’ve never heard of, and he was a black African who was gutted in a tribal war while all those wonderful literate Americans and Europeans and educated Orientals watched placidly, counting up the profits from arms sales to Nigeria.”

  “I didn’t know you were Biafran.”

  “I’m not. There is no Biafra. Not on this planet. But up there, up there a Biafra could exist, and a free Armenia, and an independent Eritrea, and an unshackled Quebec, and an Ainu nation and a Bangladesh where no one was hungry and you tell me that illiterates can’t be taught—”

  “Of course they can be, but—”

  “If I’d been born fifty miles to the west I wouldn’t have been an Ibo and so I would have grown up exactly as illiterate as you say, exactly as stupid. Now look at me, you privileged white American, and tell me I can’t be educated—”

  “If you talk like a radical no one’s going to listen to you.”

  Too much. Couldn’t take Malecker’s patronizing smile, his patient attitude. Agnes struck out at him. Her hand hit his cheek, tore his fashionable glasses off. Furious, he struck back, perhaps trying more to hold her off than to hit her, but because she was moving and he was unaccustomed to hitting people his hand slugged her hard in the breast, and she cried out in pain and jabbed a knee in his groin and then the fight got mean.

  “I listened to you,” he said huskily, when they were tired and pulled apart. His nose was bleeding. He was exhausted. He had a tear in his shirt, because his body had had to twist in a direction that tailored shirts were not meant to go. “Now listen to me.”

  Agnes listened because, her anger spent and her mind only beginning to realize that she had just assaulted the president of her company and would certainly be grounded and blackballed and her life would be over, she was not interested in leaving or in getting up or even in talking. She listened.

  “Listen to me because I’m going to say it once. Go to the engineering department. Tell them to do rough plans and estimates. A proposal. I want it in three months. Ships that will carry two thousand and make a round trip in at most a year. Shuttle ships that will carry two hundred or, preferably, four hundred from Earth up into Earth orbit. And cargo ships that will take whole stinking factories, as you so aptly named them, and take them to the Balloon. And when the cost figures are all in, I’m going to go to the boards of directors, and I’m going to make a presentation, and I swear to you, Agnes Howarth, you lousy illiterate savage bitch of a best pilot in the world, if I don’t persuade those bastards to let me build those ships it’s because nobody could persuade them. Is that enough?”

  I should be elated, Agnes thought. He’s doing it. But I’m just tired.

  “Right now you’re tired, Agnes,” Malecker said. “But I want you to know your fingernails and that knee in the groin and your teeth in my arm did not change my mind. I agreed with you from the start. I just didn’t believe it could be done. But if there are a few thousand Ibos like you, and a few million Indians and a few billion Chinese, then this thing can work. That’s all I needed to know, all any
body needs to know. It was uneconomical to ship colonists to America, too, and anybody who went was a damn fool, and most of them died, but they came and bloody well conquered everything they saw. You do it too. I’ll try to make it possible.”

  He put his arm around Agnes and embraced her and then helped her clean up and patch up places where he had given as good as he got.

  “Next time you want to wrestle,” Vaughan offered as she left, “let’s at least take our clothes off first.”

  Eleven years and eight hundred billion dollars later, IBM-ITT’s ships were in the sky, filling with colonists. GM-Texaco’s ships were still under construction, and five other consortiums would soon be in the business. More than a hundred million people had signed up for seats on the ships. The seats were free—all it took was a deed made out to the corporation for all the property a person owned, in return for which he would receive a large plot of ground in the Balloon. Whole villages had signed up. Whole nations were being decimated by emigration. The world had grown so full that there had been no place to run away to. Now there was a new promised land. And at the age of forty-two, Agnes brought her ship forward to part the waters.


  “Ah!” cried many Hectors in agony, and so they were all in agony, and Hector said to himselves, “They are back,” and the Hectors said to themself, “We will surely die.”

  “We can never die, not you, not us,” Hector answered.

  “How can we protect ourselves?”

  “I was made defenseless by the Makers,” said Hector. “There is no defense.”

  “Why were the Makers so cruel?” asked the Hectors, and so Hector told himselves the story of the Makers, so they would understand.

  The story of the Makers:

  Douglas was a Maker, an engineer, a scientist, a clever man. He made a tool that melted snow before it fell, so that crops could last a few more days and not be ruined by early snows. He made a machine that measured gravity, so that stars too dark to shine could be charted by the astronomers. And he made the Resonator.

  The Resonator focused sound waves of different but harmonious frequencies on a certain point (or diffused the sound waves over a large area), setting up patterns that resonated with stone to bring mountains crumbling down; metal, to shatter steel buildings; and water vapor, to disperse storms.


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