"And when I die down here some day," said Boaz, "I'm going to be able to say to myself, 'Boaz- you made millions of lives worth living. Ain't n.o.body ever spread more joy. You ain't got an enemy in the Universe." Boaz became for himself the affectionate Mama and Papa he'd never had. "'You go to sleep now,'" he said to himself, imagining himself on a stone deathbed in the caves. "'You're a good boy, Boaz,'" he said. "'Good night.'"
An Age Of Miracles "O Lord Most High, Creator of the Cosmos, Spinner of Galaxies, Soul of Electromagnetic Waves, Inhaler and Exhaler of Inconceivable Volumes of Vacuum, Spitter of Fire and Rock, Trifler with Millennia- what could we do for Thee that Thou couldst not do for Thyself one octillion times better? Nothing. What could we do or say that could possibly interest Thee? Nothing. Oh, Mankind, rejoice in the apathy of our Creator, for it makes us free and truthful and dignified at last. No longer can a fool like Malachi Constant point to a ridiculous accident of good luck and say, 'Somebody up there likes me.' And no longer can a tyrant say, 'G.o.d wants this or that to happen, and anybody who doesn't help this or that to happen is against G.o.d.' O Lord Most High, what a glorious weapon is Thy Apathy, for we have unsheathed it, have thrust and slashed mightily with it, and the claptrap that has so often enslaved us or driven us into the madhouse lies slain!"
- The Reverend C. Horner Redwine It was a Tuesday afternoon. It was springtime in the northern hemisphere of Earth.
Earth was green and watery. The air of earth was good to breathe, as fattening as cream.
The purity of the rains that fell on Earth could be tasted. The taste of purity was daintily tart.
Earth was warm.
The surface of Earth heaved and seethed in fecund restlessness. Earth was most fertile where the most death was.
The daintily tart rain fell on a green place where there was a great deal of death. It fell on a New World country churchyard. The churchyard was in West Barnstable, Cape Cod, Ma.s.sachusetts, U.S.A. The churchyard was full, the s.p.a.ces between its naturally dead c.h.i.n.ked tight by the bodies of the honored war dead. Martians and Earthlings lay side by side.
There was not a country in the world that did not have graveyards with Earthlings and Martians buried side by side. There was not a country in the world that had not fought a battle in the war of all Earth against the invaders from Mars.
All was forgiven.
All living things were brothers, and all dead things were even more so.
The church, which squatted among the headstones like a wet mother dodo, had been at various times Presbyterian, Congregationalist, Unitarian, and Universal Apocalyptic. It was now the Church of G.o.d the Utterly Indifferent.
A seeming wild man stood in the churchyard, wondering at the creamery air, at the green, at the wet.He was almost naked, and his blue-black beard and his hair were tangled and long and shot with gray. The only garment he wore was a clinking breechclout made of wrenches and copper wire.
The garment covered his shame.
The rain ran down his coa.r.s.e cheeks. He tipped back his head to drink it. He rested his hand on a headstone, more for the feel than the support of it. He was used to the feel of stones- was deathly used to the feel of rough, dry stones. But stones that were wet, stones that were mossy, stones that were squared and written on by men- he hadn't felt stones like that for a long, long time.
Pro patria said the stone he touched. said the stone he touched.
The man was Unk.
He was home from Mars and Mercury. His s.p.a.ce ship had landed itself in a wood next to the churchyard. He was filled with the heedless, tender violence of a man who has had his lifetime cruelly wasted.
Unk was forty-three years old.
He had every reason to wither and die.
All that kept him going was a wish that was more mechanical than emotional. He wished to be reunited with Bee, his mate, with Chrono, his son, and with Stony Stevenson, his best and only friend wished to be reunited with Bee, his mate, with Chrono, his son, and with Stony Stevenson, his best and only friend.
The Reverend C. Horner Redwine stood in the pulpit of his church that rainy Tuesday afternoon. There was no one else in the church. Redwine had climbed up to the pulpit in order simply to be as happy as possible. He wasnot being as happy as possible under adverse circ.u.mstances. He was being as happy as possible under extraordinarily happy circ.u.mstances- for he was a much loved minister of a religion that not only promised but delivered miracles.
His church, the Barnstable First Church of G.o.d the Utterly Indifferent, had a subt.i.tle: The Church of the Weary s.p.a.ce Wanderer The Church of the Weary s.p.a.ce Wanderer. The subt.i.tle was justified by this prophecy: That a lone straggler from the Army of Mars would arrive at Redwine's church some day.
The church was ready for the miracle. There was a hand-forged iron spike driven into the rugged oak post behind the pulpit. The post carried the mighty beam that was the rooftree. And on the nail was hung a coathanger encrusted with semiprecious stones. And on the coathanger hung a suit of clothes in a transparent plastic bag.
The prophecy was that the weary s.p.a.ce Wanderer would be naked, that the suit of clothes would fit him like a glove. The suit was of such a design as to fit no one but the right man well. It was one piece, lemonyellow, rubberized, closed by a zipper, and ideally skin-tight.
The garment was not in the mode of the day. It was a special creation to add glamour to the miracle.
St.i.tched into the back and front of the garment were orange question marks a foot high. These signified that the s.p.a.ce Wanderer would not know who he was.
No one would know who he was until Winston Niles Rumfoord, the head of all churches of G.o.d the Utterly Indifferent, gave the world the s.p.a.ce Wanderer's name.
The signal, should the s.p.a.ce Wanderer arrive, was for Redwine to ring the church bell madly.
When the bell was rung madly, the parishioners were to feel ecstasy, to drop whatever they were doing, to laugh, to weep, to come.
The West Barnstable Volunteer Fire Department was so dominated by members of Redwine's church that the fire engine itself was going to arrive as the only vehicle remotely glorious enough for the s.p.a.ce Wanderer.
The screams of the fire alarm on top of the firehouse were to be added to the bedlam joy of the bell. One scream from the alarm meant a gra.s.s or woods fire. Two screams meant a house fire. Three screams meant a rescue. Ten screams would mean that the s.p.a.ce Wanderer had arrived.
Water seeped in around an ill-fitting window sash. Water crept under a loose shingle in the roof, dropped through a crack and hung in glittering beads from a rafter over Redwine's head. The good rain wet the old Paul Revere bell in the steeple, trickled down the bell rope, soaked the wooden doll tied to the end of the bell rope, dripped from the feet of the doll, made a puddle on the steeple's flagstone floor.
The doll had a religious significance. It represented a repellent way of life that was no more. It was called a Malachi Malachi. No home or place of business of a member of Redwine's faith was without a Malachi hanging somewhere.
There was only one proper way to hang a Malachi. That was by the neck. There was only one proper knot to use, and that was a hangman's knot.
And the rain dripped from the feet of Redwine's Malachi at the end of the bell rope- The cold goblin spring of the crocuses was past.
The frail and chilly fairy spring of the daffodils was past.
The springtime for mankind had arrived, and the blooms of the lilac bowers outside Redwine's church hung fatly, heavy as Concord grapes.
Redwine listened to the rain, and imagined that it spoke Chaucerian English. He spoke aloud the words he imagined the rain to be speaking, spoke harmoniously, at just the noise level of the rain.
Whan that Aprille with his shoures sote The droughte of Marche hath perced to the rote And bathed every veyne in swich licour, Of which vertu engendered is the flour- A droplet fell twinkling from the rafter overhead, wet the left lens of Redwine's spectacles and his apple cheek.
Time had been kind to Redwine. Standing there in the pulpit, he looked like a ruddy, bespectacled country newsboy, though he was forty-nine. He raised his hand to brush away the wetness on his cheek, and rattled the blue canvas bag of lead shot that was strapped around his wrist.
There were similar bags of shot around his ankles and his other wrist, and two heavy slabs of iron hung on shoulder straps- one slab on his chest and one on his back.
These weights were his handicaps in the race of life.
He carried forty-eight pounds- carried them gladly. A stronger person would have carried more, a weaker person would have carried less. Every strong member of Redwine's faith accepted handicaps gladly, wore them proudly everywhere.
The weakest and meekest were bound to admit, at last, that the race of life was fair.
The liquid melodies of the rain made such lovely backgrounds for any sort of recitation in the empty church that Redwine recited some more. This time he recited something that Winston Niles Rumfoord, the Master of Newport, had written.
The thing that Redwine was about to recite with the rain chorus was a thing that the Master of Newport had written to define the position of himself with respect to his ministers, the position of his ministers with respect to their flocks, and the position of everybody with respect to G.o.d. Redwine read it to his flock on the first Sunday of every month.
"'I am not your father,'" said Redwine. "' Rather call me brother. But I am not your brother. Rather call me son. But I am not your son. Rather call me a dog. But I am not your dog. Rather call me a flea on your dog. But I am not a flea. Rather call me a germ on a flea on your dog. As a germ on a flea on your dog, I am eager to serve you in any way I can, just as you are willing to serve G.o.d Almighty, Creator of the Universe.'"
Redwine slapped his hands together, killing the imaginary germ-infested flea. On Sundays, the entire congregation slapped the flea in unison.
Another droplet fell shivering from the rafter, wet Redwine's cheek again. Redwine nodded his sweet thanks for the droplet, for the church, for peace, for the Master of Newport, for Earth, for a G.o.d Who didn't care, for everything.
He stepped down from the pulpit, making the lead b.a.l.l.s in his handicap bags shift back and forth with a stately swish.
He went down the aisle and through the arch under the steeple. He paused by the puddle under the bell rope, looked up to divine the course the water had taken down. It was a lovely way, he decided, for spring rain to come in. If ever he were in charge of remodeling the church, he would make sure that enterprising drops of rain could still come in that way.
Just beyond the arch under the steeple was another arch, a leafy arch of lilacs.
Redwine now stepped under that second arch, saw the s.p.a.ce ship like a great blister in the woods, saw the naked, bearded s.p.a.ce Wanderer in his churchyard.
Redwine cried out for joy. He ran back into his church and jerked and swung on the bell rope like a drunken chimpanzee. In the clanging bedlam of the bells, Redwine heard the words that the Master of Newport said all bells spoke.
"NO h.e.l.l!" whang-clanged the bell- "NO h.e.l.l, "NO h.e.l.l, "NO h.e.l.l!"
Unk was terrified by the bell. It sounded like an angry, frightened bell to Unk, and he ran back to his ship,gashing his shin badly as he scrambled over a stone wall. As he was closing the airlock, he heard a siren wailing answers to the bell.
Unk thought Earth was still at war with Mars, and that the siren and the bell were calling sudden death down on him. He pressed the on on b.u.t.ton. b.u.t.ton.
The automatic navigator did not respond instantly, but engaged in a fuzzy, ineffectual argument with itself. The argument ended with the navigator's shutting itself off.
Unk pressed the on on b.u.t.ton again. This time he kept it down by jamming his heel against it. b.u.t.ton again. This time he kept it down by jamming his heel against it.
Again the navigator argued stupidly with itself, tried to shut itself off. When it found that it could not shut itself off, it made dirty yellow smoke.
The smoke became so dense and poisonous that Unk was obliged to swallow a goofball and practice Schliemann breathing again.
Then the pilot-navigator gave out a deep, throbbing organ note and died forever.
There was no taking off now. When the pilot-navigator died, the whole s.p.a.ce ship died.
Unk went through the smoke to a porthole- looked out.
He saw a fire engine. The fire engine was breaking through the brush to the s.p.a.ce ship. Men, women, and children were clinging to the engine- drenched by rain and expressing ecstasy.
Going in advance of the fire engine was the Reverend C. Horner Redwine. In one hand he carried a lemon-yellow suit in a transparent plastic bag. In the other hand he held a spray of fresh-cut lilacs.
The women threw kisses to Unk through the portholes, held their children up to see the adorable man inside. The men stayed with the fire engine, cheered Unk, cheered each other, cheered everything. The driver made the mighty motor backfire, blew the siren, rang the bell.
Everyone wore handicaps of some sort. Most handicaps were of an obvious sort- sashweights, bags of shot, old furnace grates- meant to hamper physical advantages. But there were, among Redwine's parishioners, several true believers who had chosen handicaps of a subtler and more telling kind.
There were women who had received by dint of dumb luck the terrific advantage of beauty. They had annihilated that unfair advantage with frumpish clothes, bad posture, chewing gum, and a ghoulish use of cosmetics.
One old man, whose only advantage was excellent eyesight, had spoiled that eyesight by wearing his wife's spectacles.
A dark young man, whose lithe, predaceous s.e.x appeal could not be spoiled by bad clothes and bad manners, had handicapped himself with a wife who was nauseated by s.e.x.
The dark young man's wife, who had reason to be vain about her Phi Beta Kappa key, had handicapped herself with a husband who read nothing but comic books.
Redwine's congregation was not unique. It wasn't especially fanatical. There were literally billions of happily self-handicapped people on Earth.
And what made them all so happy was that n.o.body took advantage of anybody any more.
Now the firemen thought of another way to express joy. There was a nozzle mounted amidships on the fire engine. It could be swiveled around like a machine gun. They aimed it straight up and turned it on. A shivering, unsure fountain climbed into the sky, was torn to shreds by the winds when it could climb no more. The shreds fell all around, now falling on the s.p.a.ce ship with splattering thumps; now soaking the firemen themselves; now soaking women and children, startling them, then making them more full of joy than ever.
That water should have played such an important part in the welcoming of Unk was an enchanting accident. No one had planned it. But it was perfect that everyone should forget himself in a festival of universal wetness.
The Reverend C. Horner Redwine, feeling as naked as a pagan wood sprite in the clinging wetness of his clothes, swished a spray of lilacs over the gla.s.s of a porthole, then pressed his adoring face against the gla.s.s.
The expression of the face that looked back at Redwine was strikingly like the expression on the face of an intelligent ape in a zoo. Unk's forehead was deeply wrinkled, and his eyes were liquid with a hopeless wish to understand.
Unk had decided not to be afraid.
Neither was he in any hurry to let Redwine in.
At last he went to the airlock, unlatched both the inner and outer doors. He stepped back, waiting for someone else to push the doors open.
"First let me go in and have him put on the suit!" said Redwine to his congregation. "Then you can have him!"
There in the s.p.a.ce ship, the lemon-yellow suit fit Unk like a coat of paint. The orange question marks on his chest and back clung without a wrinkle.
Unk did not yet know that no one else in the world was dressed like him. He a.s.sumed that many people had suits like his- question marks and all.
"This- this is Earth?" said Unk to Redwine.
"Yes," said Redwine. "Cape Cod, Ma.s.sachusetts, United States of America, Brotherhood of Man."
"Thank G.o.d!" said Unk.
Redwine raised his eyebrows quizzically. "Why?" he said.
"Pardon me?" said Unk.
"Why thank G.o.d?" said Redwine. "He doesn't care what happens to you. He didn't go to any trouble to get you here safe and sound, any more than He would go to the trouble to kill you." He raised his arms, demonstrating the muscularity of his faith. The b.a.l.l.s of shot in the handicap bags on his wrists shifted swishingly, drawing Unk's attention. Form the handicap bags, Unk's attention made an easy jump to the heavy slab of iron on Redwine's chest. Redwine followed the trend of Unk's gaze, hefted the iron slab on his chest. "Heavy," he said.
"Um," said Unk.
"You should carry about fifty pounds, I would guess- after we build you up," said Redwine.
"Fifty pounds?" said Unk.
"You should be glad, not sorry, to carry such a handicap," said Redwine. "No one could then reproach you for taking advantage of the random ways of luck." There crept into his voice a beatifically threatening tone that he had not used much since the earliest days of the Church of G.o.d the Utterly Indifferent, since the thrilling ma.s.s conversions that had followed the war with Mars. In those days, Redwine and all the other young proselytizers had threatened unbelievers with the righteous displeasure of crowds- righteously displeased crowds that did not then exist.
The righteously displeased crowds existed now in every part of the world. The total membership of Churches of G.o.d the Utterly Indifferent was a good, round three billion. The young lions who had first taught the creed could now afford to be lambs, to contemplate such oriental mysteries as water trickling down a bell rope. The disciplinary arm of the Church was in crowds everywhere.
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