Sirens Of Titan Part 18

"I must warn you," Redwine said to Unk, "that when you go out among all those people you mustn't say anything that would indicate that G.o.d took a special interest in you, or that you could somehow be of help to G.o.d. The worst thing you could say, for instance, would be something like, 'Thank G.o.d for delivering me from all my troubles. For some reason He singled me out, and now my only wish is to serve Him.'

"The friendly crowd out there," continued Redwine, "could turn quite ugly quite fast, despite the high auspices under which you come."

Unk had been planning to say almost exactly what Redwine had warned him against saying. It had seemed the only proper speech to make. "What- what should I say?" said Unk.

"It has been prophesied what you will say," said Redfield, "word for word. I have thought long and hard about the words you are going to say, and I am convinced they cannot be improved upon."

"But I can't think of any words- except h.e.l.lo- thank you-" said Unk. "What do you want want me to say?" me to say?"

"What you do say," said Redwine. "Those good people out there have been rehearsing this moment for a long time. They will ask you two questions, and you will answer them to the best of your ability."

He led Unk through the airlock to the outside. The fire engine's fountain had been turned off. The shouting and dancing had stopped.

Redwine's congregation now formed a semicircle around Unk and Redwine. The members of the congregation had their lips pressed tightly together and their lungs filled.

Redwine gave a saintly signal.

The congregation spoke as one. "Who are you?" they said.

"I- I don't know my real name," said Unk. "They called me Unk."

"What happened to you?" said the congregation.

Unk shook his head vaguely. He could think of no apt condensation of his adventures for the obviously ritual mood. Something great was plainly expected of him.He was not up to greatness. He exhaled noisily, letting the congregation know that he was sorry to fail them with his colorlessness. "I was a victim of a series of accidents," he said. He shrugged. "As are we all," he said.

The cheering and dancing began again.

Unk was hustled aboard the fire engine, and driven on it to the door of the church.

Redwine pointed amiably to an unfurled wooden scroll over the door. Incised in the scroll and gilded were these words: I WAS A VICTIM OF A SERIES OF ACCIDENTS, AS ARE WE ALL.

Unk was driven on the fire engine straight from the church to Newport, Rhode Island, where a materialization was due to take place.

According to a plan that had been set up years before, other fire apparatus on Cape Cod was shifted so as to protect West Barnstable, which would be without its pumper for a little while.

Word of the s.p.a.ce Wanderer's coming spread over the Earth like wildfire. In every village, town, and city through which the fire engine pa.s.sed, Unk was pelted with flowers.

Unk sat high on the fire engine, on a two-by-six fir timber laid across the c.o.c.kpit amidships. In the c.o.c.kpit itself was the Reverend C. Horner Redwine.

Redwine had control of the fire engine's bell, which he rang a.s.siduously. Attached to the clapper of the bell was a Malachi made of high-impact plastic. The doll was of a special sort that could be bought only in Newport. To display such a Malachi was to proclaim that one had made a pilgrimage to Newport.

The entire Volunteer Fire Department of West Barnstable, with the exception of two non-conformists, had made such a pilgrimage to Newport. The fire engine's Malachi had been bought with Fire Department funds.

In the parlance of the souvenir hawkers in Newport, the Fire Department's high-impact plastic Malachi was a "genuwine, authorized, official Malachi."

Unk was happy, because it was so good to be among people again, and to be breathing air again. And everybody seemed to adore him so.

There was so much good noise. There was so much good everything. Unk hoped the good everything would go on forever.

"What happened to you?" the people all yelled to him, and they laughed.

For the purposes of ma.s.s communications, Unk shortened the answer that had pleased the little crowd so much at the Church of the s.p.a.ce Wanderer. "Accidents!" he yelled.

He laughed.

Oh boy.

What the h.e.l.l. He laughed.

In Newport, the Rumfoord estate had been packed to the walls for eight hours. Guards turned thousands away from the little door in the wall. The guards were hardly necessary, since the crowd inside was monolithic.

A greased eel couldn't have squeezed in.

The thousands of pilgrims outside the walls now jostled one another piously for positions close to the loudspeakers mounted at the corners of the walls.

From the speakers would come Rumfoord's voice.

The crowd was the largest yet and the most excited yet, for the day was the long-promised Great Day of the s.p.a.ce Wanderer.

Handicaps of the most imaginative and effective sort were displayed everywhere. The crowd was wonderfully drab and hampered.

Bee, who had been Unk's mate on Mars, was in Newport, too. So was Bee's and Unk's son, Chrono.

"Hey!- getcher genuwine, authorized, official Malachis here," said Bee hoa.r.s.ely. "Hey!- getcher Malachis here. Gotta have a Malachi to wave at the s.p.a.ce Wanderer," said Bee. "Get a Malachi, so the s.p.a.ce Wanderer can bless it when he comes by."

She was in a booth facing the little iron door in the wall of the Rumfoord estate in Newport. Bee's booth was the first in the line of twenty booths that faced the door. The twenty booths were under one continuous shed roof, and were separated from one another by waist-high part.i.tions.

The Malachis she was hawking were plastic dolls with movable joints and rhinestone eyes. Bee bought them from a religious supply house for twenty-seven cents apiece and sold them for three dollars. She was an excellent businesswoman.

And while Bee showed the world an efficient and flashy exterior, it was the grandeur within her that sold more merchandise than anything. The carnival flash of Bee caught the pilgrims' eyes. But what brought the pilgrims to her booth and made them buy was her aura. The aura said unmistakably that Bee was meant for a far n.o.bler station in life, that she was being an awfully good sport about being stuck where she was.

"Hey!- getcher Malachi while there's still time," said Bee. "Can't get a Malachi while a materialization's going on!"

That was true. The rule was that the concessionaires had to close their shutters five minutes before Winston Niles Rumfoord and his dog materialized. And they had to keep their shutters closed until ten minutes after the last trace of Rumfoord and Kazak had disappeared.

Bee turned to her son, Chrono, who was opening a fresh case of Malachis. "How long before the whistle?" she said. The whistle was a great steam whistle inside the estate. It was blown five minutes in advance of materializations.

Materializations themselves were announced by the firing of a three-inch cannon.

Dematerializations were announced by the release of a thousand toy balloons.

"Eight minutes," said Chrono, looking at his watch. He was eleven Earthling years old now. He was dark and smoldering. He was an expert short-changer, and was clever with cards. He was foul-mouthed, and carried a switch-knife with a six-inch blade. Chrono would not socialize well with other children, and his reputation for dealing with life courageously and directly was so bad that only a few very foolish and very pretty little girls were attracted to him.

Chrono was cla.s.sified by the Newport Police Department and by the Rhode Island State Police as a juvenile delinquent. He knew at least fifty law-enforcement officers by their first names, and was a veteran of fourteen lie-detector tests.

All that prevented Chrono's being placed in an inst.i.tution was the finest legal staff on Earth, the legal staff of the Church of G.o.d the Utterly Indifferent. Under the direction of Rumfoord, the staff defended Chrono against all charges.

The commonest charges brought against Chrono were larceny by sleight of hand, carrying concealed weapons, possessing unregistered pistols, discharging firearms within the city limits, selling obscene prints and articles, and being a wayward child.

The authorities complained bitterly that the boy's big trouble was his mother. His mother loved him just the way he was.

"Only eight more minutes to get your Malachi, folk," said Bee. "Hurry, hurry, hurry."

Bee's upper front teeth were gold, and her skin, like the skin of her son, was the color of golden oak.

Bee had lost her upper front teeth when the s.p.a.ce ship in which she and Chrono had ridden from Mars crash-landed in the Gumbo region of the Amazon Rain Forest. She and Chrono had been the only survivors of the crash, and had wandered through the jungles for a year.

The color of Bee's and Chrono's skins was permanent, since it stemmed from a modification of their livers. Their livers had been modified by a three-month diet consisting of water and the roots of the salpa-salpa or Amazonian blue poplar. The diet had been a part of Bee's and Chrono's initiation into the Gumbo tribe.

During the initiation, mother and son had been staked at the ends of tethers in the middle of the village, with Chrono representing the Sun and Bee representing the Moon, as the Sun and the Moon were understood by the Gumbo people.

As a result of their experiences, Bee and Chrono were closer than most mothers and sons.

They had been rescused at last by a helicopter. Winston Niles Rumfoord had sent the helicopter to just the right place at just the right time.

Winston Niles Rumfoord had given Bee and Chrono the lucrative Malachi concession outside the Alice-in-Wonderland door. He had also paid Bee's dental bill, and had suggested that her false front teeth be gold.

The man who had the booth next to Bee's was Harry Brackman. He had been Unk's platoon sergeant back on Mars. Brackman was portly and balding now. He had a cork leg and a stainless steel right hand. He had lost the leg and hand in the Battle of Boca Raton. He was the only survivor of the battle- and, if he hadn't been so horribly wounded, he would certainly have been lynched along with the other survivors of his platoon.

Brackman sold plastic models of the fountain inside the wall. The models were a foot high. The models had spring-driven pumps in their bases. The pumps pumpedwater from the big bowl at the bottom to the tiny bowls at the top. Then the tiny bowls spilled into the slightly larger bowls below and...

Brackman had three of them going at once on the counter before him. "Just like the one inside, folks," he said. "And you can take one of these home with you. Put it in the picture window, so all your neighbors'll know you've been to Newport. Put it in the middle of the kitchen table for the kids' parties, and fill it with pink lemonade."

"How much?" said a rube.

"Seventeen dollars," said Brackman.

"Wow!" said the rube.

"It's a sacred shrine, cousin," said Brackman, looking at the rube levelly. "Isn't a toy." He reached under the counter, brought out a model of a Martian s.p.a.ce ship. "You want a toy? Here's a toy. Forty-nine cents. I only make two cents on it."

The rube made a show of being a judicious shopper. He compared the toy with the real article it was supposed to represent. The real article was a Martian s.p.a.ce ship on top of a column ninety-eight feet tall. The column and s.p.a.ce ship were inside the walls of the Rumfoord estate- in the corner of the estate where the tennis courts had once been.

Rumfoord had yet to explain the purpose of the s.p.a.ce ship, whose supporting column had been built with the pennies of school children from all over the world. The ship was kept in constant readiness. What was reputedly the longest free-standing ladder in history leaned against the column, led giddily to the door of the ship.

In the fuel cartridge of the s.p.a.ce ship was the very last trace of the Martian war effort's supply of the Universal Will to Become.

"Uh huh," said the rube. He put the model back on the counter. "If you don't mind, I'll shop around a little more." So far, the only thing he had bought was a Robin Hood hat with a picture of Rumfoord on one side and a picture of a sailboat on the other, and with his own name st.i.tched on the feather. His name, according to the feather, was Delbert Delbert. "Thanks just the same," said Delbert. "I'll probably be back."

"Sure you will, Delbert," said Brackman.

"How did you know my name was Delbert?" said Delbert, pleased and suspicious.

"You think Winston Niles Rumfoord is the only man around here with supernatural powers?" said Brackman.

A jet of steam went up inside the walls. An instant later, the voice of the great steam whistle rolled over the booths- mighty, mournful, and triumphant. It was the signal that Rumfoord and his dog would materialize in five minutes.

It was the signal for the concessionaires to stop their irreverent bawling of brummagem wares, to close their shutters.

The shutters were banged shut at once.

The effect of the closing inside the booths was to turn the line of concessions into a twilit tunnel.

The isolation of the concessionaires in the tunnel had an extra dimension of spookiness, since the tunnel contained only survivors from Mars. Rumfoord had insisted on that- that Martians were to have first choice of the concessions at Newport. It was his way of saying, "Thanks."

There weren't many survivors- only fifty-eight in the United States, only three hundred and sixteen in the entire World.

Of the fifty-eight in the United States, twenty-one were concessionaires in Newport.

"Here we go again, kiddies," somebody said, far, far, far down the line. It was the voice of the blind man who sold the Robin Hood hats with a picture of Rumfoord on one side and a picture of a sailboat on the other.

Sergeant Brackman laid his folded arms on the half-part.i.tion between his booth and Bee's. He winked at young Chrono, who was lying on an unopened case of Malachis.

"Go to h.e.l.l, eh, kid?" said Brackman to Chrono.

"Go to h.e.l.l," Chrono agreed. He was cleaning his nails with the strangely bent, drilled and nicked piece of metal that had been his good-luck piece on Mars. It was still his good-luck piece on Earth.

This good-luck piece had probably saved Chrono's and Bee's lives in the jungle. The Gumbo tribesmen had recognized the piece of metal as an object of tremendous power. Their respect for it had led them to initiate rather than eat its owners.

Brackman laughed affectionately. "Yessir- there's a Martian for you," he said. "Won't even get off his case of Malachis for a look at the s.p.a.ce Wanderer."

Chrono was not alone in his apathy about the s.p.a.ce Wanderer. It was the proud and impudent custom of all the concessionaires to stay away from ceremonies- to stay in the twilit tunnel of their booths until Rumfoord and his dog had come and gone.

It wasn't that the concessionaires had real contempt for Rumfoord's religion. Actually, most of them thought the new religion was probably a pretty good thing. What they were dramatizing when they stayed in their shuttered booths was that they, as Martian veterans, had already done more than enough to put the Church of G.o.d the Utterly Indifferent on its feet.

They were dramatizing the fact of their having been all used up.

Rumfoord encouraged them in this pose- spoke of them fondly as his "... soldier saints outside the little door. Their apathy," Rumfoord once said, "is a great wound they suffered that we might be more lively, more sensitive, and more free."

The temptation of the Martian concessionaires to take a peek at the s.p.a.ce Wanderer was great. There were loudspeakers on the walls of the Rumfoord estate, and every word spoken by Rumfoord inside blatted in the ears of anyone within a quarter of a mile. The words had spoken again and again of the glorious moment of truth that would come when the s.p.a.ce Wanderer came.

It was a big moment true believers t.i.tillated themselves about- the big moment wherein true believers were going to find their beliefs amplified, clarified, and vivified by a factor of ten.

Now the moment had arrived.

The fire engine that had carried the s.p.a.ce Wanderer down from the Church of the s.p.a.ce Wanderer on Cape Cod was clanging and shrieking outside the booths.

The trolls in the twilight of the booths refused to peek.

The cannon roared within the walls.

Rumfoord and his dog, then, had materialized- and the s.p.a.ce Wanderer was pa.s.sing in through the Alice-in-Wonderland door.

"Probably some broken-down actor he hired from New York," said Brackman.

This got no response from anyone, not even from Chrono, who fancied himself the chief cynic of the booths. Brackman didn't take his own suggestion seriously- that the s.p.a.ce Wanderer was a fraud. The concessionaires knew all too well about Rumfoord's penchant for realism. When Rumfoord staged a pa.s.sion play, he used nothing but real people in real h.e.l.ls.

Let it be emphasized here that, pa.s.sionately fond as Rumfoord was of great spectacles, he never gave in to the temptation to declare himself G.o.d or something a whole lot like G.o.d.

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