Sirens Of Titan Part 19

His worst enemies admit that. Dr. Maurice Rosenau, in his Pan-Galactic Humbug or Three Billion Dupes Pan-Galactic Humbug or Three Billion Dupes says: says: Winston Niles Rumfoord, the interstellar Pharisee, Tartufe, and Cagliostro, has taken pains to declare that he is not G.o.d Almighty, that he is not a close relative of G.o.d Almighty, and that he has received no plain instructions from G.o.d Almighty. To these words of the Master of Newport we can say Amen! And may we add that Rumfoord is so far from being a relative or agent of G.o.d Almighty as to make all communication with G.o.d almighty Himself impossible so long as Rumfoord is around!

Ordinarily, talk by the Martian veterans in the shuttered booths was sprightly- bristling with entertaining irreverence and tips on selling trashy religious articles to b.o.o.bs.

Now, with Rumfoord and the s.p.a.ce Wanderer about to meet, the concessionaires found it very hard not to be interested.

Sergeant Brackman's good hand went up to the crown of his head. It was the characteristic gesture of a Martian veteran. He was touching the area over his antenna, over the antenna that had once done all his important thinking for him. He missed the signals.

"Bring the s.p.a.ce Wanderer here!" blatted Rumfoord's voice from the Gabriel horns on the walls.

"Maybe- maybe we should go," said Brackman to Bee.

"What?" murmured Bee. She was standing with her back to the closed shutters. Her eyes were shut. Her head was down. She looked cold.

She always shivered when a materialization was taking place.

Chrono was rubbing his good-luck piece slowly with the ball of his thumb, watching a halo of mist on the cold metal, a halo around the thumb.

"The h.e.l.l with 'em- eh, Chrono?" said Brackman.

The man who sold twittering mechanical birds swung his wares overhead listlessly. A farm wife had stabbed him with a pitchfork in the Battle of Toddington, England, had left him for dead.

The International Committee for the Identification and Rehabilitation of Martians had, with the help of fingerprints, identified the bird man as Bernard K. Winslow, an itinerant chicken s.e.xer, who had disappeared from the alcoholic ward of a London hospital.

"Thanks very much for the information." Winslow had told the committee. "Now I don't have that lost feeling any more."

Sergeant Brackman had been identified by the Committee as Private Francis J. Thompson, who had disappeared in the dead of night while walking a lonely guard post around a motor pool in Fort Bragg, North Carolina, U.S.A.

The committee had been baffled by Bee. She had no fingerprints on record. The Committee believed her to be either Florence White, a plain and friendless girl who had disappeared from a steam laundry in Cohoes, New York, or Darlene Simpkins, a plain and friendless girl who had last been seen accepting a ride with a swarthy stranger in Brownsville, Texas.

And down the line of booths from Brackman and Chrono and Bee were Martian husks who had been identified as Myron S. Watson, an alcoholic, who had disappeared from his post as a wash room attendant at Newark Airport... as Charlene h.e.l.ler, a.s.sistant diet.i.tian of the cafeteria of Stivers High School in Dayton, Ohio... as Krishna Garu, a typesetter still wanted, technically, on charges of bigamy, pandering, and nonsupport in Calcutta, India... as Kurt Schneider, also an alcoholic, manager of a failing travel agency in Bremen, Germany.

"The mighty Rumfoord-" said Bee.

"Pardon me?" said Brackman.

"He s.n.a.t.c.hed us out of our lives," said Bee. "He put us to sleep. He cleaned out our minds the way you clean the seeds out of a jack-o'-lantern. He wired us like robots, trained us, aimed us- burned us out in a good cause." She shrugged.

"Could we have done any better if he'd left us in charge of our own lives?" said Bee. "Would we have become any more- or any less? I guess I'm glad he used me. I guess he had a lot better ideas about what to do with me than Florence White or Darlene Simpkins or whoever I was.

"But I hate him all the same," said Bee.

"That's your privilege," said Brackman. "He said that was the privilege of every Martian."

"There's one consolation," said Bee. "We're all used up. We'll never be of any use to him again."

"Welcome, s.p.a.ce Wanderer," blatted Rumfoord's oleomargarine tenor from the Gabriel horns on the wall. "How meet it is that you should come to us on the bright red pumper of a volunteer fire department. I can think of no more stirring symbol of man's humanity to man than a fire engine. Tell me, s.p.a.ce Wanderer, do you see anything here- anything that makes you think you may have been here before?"

The s.p.a.ce Wanderer murmured something unintelligible.

"Louder, please," said Rumfoord.

"The fountain- I remember that fountain," said the s.p.a.ce Wanderer gropingly. "Only- only-"

"Only?" said Rumfoord.

"It was dry then- whenever that was. It's so wet now," said the s.p.a.ce Wanderer.

A microphone near the fountain was now tuned into the public address system, so that the actual babble, spatter and potch of the fountain could underline the s.p.a.ce Wanderer's words.

"Anything else familiar, oh, s.p.a.ce Wanderer?" said Rumfoord.

"Yes," said the s.p.a.ce Wanderer shyly. "You."

"I am familiar?" said Rumfoord archly. "You mean there's a possibility that I played some small part in your life before?"

"I remember you on Mars," said the s.p.a.ce Wanderer. "You were the man with the dog- just before we took off."

"What happened after you took off?" said Rumfoord.

"Something went wrong," said the s.p.a.ce Wanderer. He sounded apologetic, as though the series of misfortunes were somehow his own fault. "A lot of things went wrong."

"Have you ever considered the possibility," said Rumfoord, "that everything went absolutely right?"

"No," said the s.p.a.ce Wanderer simply. The idea did not startle him, could not startle him- since the idea proposed was so far beyond the range of his jerry-built philosophy.

"Would you recognize your mate and child?" said Rumfoord.

"I- I don't know," said the s.p.a.ce Wanderer.

"Bring me the woman and the boy who sell Malachis outside the little iron door," said Rumfoord. "Bring Bee and Chrono."

The s.p.a.ce Wanderer and Winston Niles Rumfoord and Kazak were on a scaffold before the mansion. The scaffold was at eye-level for the standing crowd. The scaffold before the mansion was a portion of a continuous system of catwalks, ramps, ladders, pulpits, steps, and stages that reached into every corner of the estate.

The system made possible the free and showy circulation of Rumfoord around the grounds, unimpeded by crowds. It meant, too, that Rumfoord could offer a glimpse of himself to every person on the grounds.

The system was not suspended magnetically, though it looked like a miracle of levitation. The seeming miracle was achieved by means of a cunning use of paint. The underpinnings were painted a flat black, while the superstructures were painted flashing gold.

Television cameras and microphones on booms could follow the system anywhere.

For night materializations, the superstructures of the system were outlined in flesh-colored electric lamps.

The s.p.a.ce Wanderer was only the thirty-first person to be invited to join Rumfoord on the elevated system.

An a.s.sistant had now been dispatched to the Malachi booth outside to bring in the thirty-second and thirty-third persons to share the eminence.

Rumfoord did not look well. His color was bad. And, although he smiled as always, his teeth seemed to be gnashing behind the smile. His complacent glee had become a caricature, betraying the fact that all was not well by any means.

But on and on the famous smile went. The magnificently sn.o.bbish crowd-pleaser held his big dog Kazak by a choke chain. The chain was twisted so as to nip warningly into the dog's throat. The warning was necessary, since the dog plainly did not like the s.p.a.ce Wanderer.

The smile faltered for an instant, reminding the crowd of what a load Rumfoord carried for them- warning the crowd that he might not be able to carry it forever.

Rumfoord carried in his palm a microphone and transmitter the size of a penny. When he did not want his voice carried to the crowd, he simply smothered the penny in his fist.

The penny was smothered in his fist now- and he was addressing bits of irony to the s.p.a.ce Wanderer that would have bewildered the crowd, had the crowd been able to hear them.

"This is certainly your day, isn't it?" said Rumfoord. "A perfect love feast from the instant you arrived. The crowd simply adores you. Do you adore crowds?"

The joyful shocks of the day had reduced the s.p.a.ce Wanderer to a childish condition- a condition wherein irony and even sarcasm were lost on him. He had been the captive of many things in his troubled times. He was now a captive of a crowd that thought he was a marvel. "They've certainly been wonderful," he said, in reply to Rumfoord's last question. "They've been grand."

"Oh- they're a grand bunch," said Rumfoord. "No mistake about that. I've been racking my brains for the right word to describe them, and you've brought it to me from outer s.p.a.ce. Grand Grand is what they are." Rumfoord's mind was plainly elsewhere. He wasn't much interested in the s.p.a.ce Wanderer as a person- hardly looked at him. Neither did he seem very excited about the approach of the s.p.a.ce Wanderer's wife and child. is what they are." Rumfoord's mind was plainly elsewhere. He wasn't much interested in the s.p.a.ce Wanderer as a person- hardly looked at him. Neither did he seem very excited about the approach of the s.p.a.ce Wanderer's wife and child.

"Where are they, where are they?" said Rumfoord to an a.s.sistant below. "Let's get on with it. Let's get it over with."

The s.p.a.ce Wanderer was finding his adventures so satisfying and stimulating, so splendidly staged, that he was shy about asking questions- was afraid that asking questions might make him seem ungrateful.

He realized that he had a terrific ceremonial responsibility and that the best thing to do was to keep his mouth shut, to speak only when spoken to, and to make his answers to all questions short and artless.

The s.p.a.ce Wanderer's mind did not teem with questions. The fundamental structure of his ceremonial situation was obvious- was as clean and functional as a three-legged milking stool. He had suffered mightily, and now he was being rewarded mightily.

The sudden change in fortunes made a bang-up show. He smiled, understanding the crowd's delight- pretending to be in the crowd himself, sharing the crowd's delight.

Rumfoord read the s.p.a.ce Wanderer's mind. "They'd like it just as much the other way around, you know," he said.

"The other way around?" said the s.p.a.ce Wanderer.

"If the big reward came first, and then the great suffering," said Rumford. "It's the contrast contrast they like. The order of events doesn't make any difference to them. It's the thrill of the they like. The order of events doesn't make any difference to them. It's the thrill of the fast reverse-" fast reverse-"

Rumfoord opened his fist, exposed the microphone. With his other hand he beckoned pontifically. He was beckoning to Bee and Chrono, who had been hoisted onto a tributary of the gilded system of catwalks, ramps, ladders, pulpits, steps and stages. "This way, please. We haven't got all day, you know," said Rumfoord schoolmarmishly.

During the lull, the s.p.a.ce Wanderer felt the first real tickle of plans for a good future on Earth. With everyone so kind and enthusiastic and peaceful, not only a good life but a perfect life could be lived on Earth.

The s.p.a.ce Wanderer had already been given a fine new suit and a glamorous station in life, and his mate and son were to be restored to him in a matter of minutes.

All that was lacking was a good friend, and the s.p.a.ce Wanderer began to tremble. He trembled, for he knew in his heart that his best friend, Stony Stevenson, was hidden somewhere on the grounds, awaiting a cue to appear.

The s.p.a.ce Wanderer smiled, for he was imagining Stony's entrance. Stony would come running down a ramp, laughing and a little drunk. "Unk, you b.l.o.o.d.y b.a.s.t.a.r.d-" Stony would roar right into the public address system, "by G.o.d, I've looked in every flaming pub on b.l.o.o.d.y Earth for you- and here you've been hung up on Mercury the whole b.l.o.o.d.y time!"

As Bee and Chrono reached Rumfoord and the s.p.a.ce Wanderer, Rumfoord walked away. Had he separated himself from Bee, Chrono, and the s.p.a.ce Wanderer by a mere arm's length, his separateness might have been understood. But the gilded system enabled him to put a really respectable distance between himself and the three, and not only a distance, but a distance made tortuous by rococo and variously symbolic hazards.

It was undeniably great theater, notwithstanding Dr. Maurice Rosenau's carping comment (op. cit.): (op. cit.): "The people who watch reverently as Winston Niles Rumfoord goes dancing over his golden jungle gym in Newport are the same idiots one finds in toy stores, gaping reverently at toy trains as the trains go "The people who watch reverently as Winston Niles Rumfoord goes dancing over his golden jungle gym in Newport are the same idiots one finds in toy stores, gaping reverently at toy trains as the trains go chuffa-chuffa-chuffa chuffa-chuffa-chuffa in and out of papier-mache tunnels, over toothpick trestles, through cardboard cities, and into papier-mache tunnels again. Will the little trains or will Winston Niles Rumfoord in and out of papier-mache tunnels, over toothpick trestles, through cardboard cities, and into papier-mache tunnels again. Will the little trains or will Winston Niles Rumfoord chuffa-chuffa-chuffa chuffa-chuffa-chuffa into view again? Oh, into view again? Oh, mirabile dictu! mirabile dictu!... they will!"

From the scaffold in front of the mansion Rumfoord went to a stile that arched over the crest of a boxwood hedge. On the other side of the stile was a catwalk that ran for ten feet to the trunk of a copper beech. The trunk was four feet through. Gilded rungs were fixed to the trunk by lag screws.

Rumfoord tied Kazak to the bottom rung, then climbed out of sight like Jack on the beanstalk.

From somewhere up in the tree he spoke.

His voice can not from the tree but from the Gabriel horns on the walls.

The crowd weaned its eyes from the leafy treetop, turned its eyes to the nearest loudspeakers.

Only Bee, Chrono, and the s.p.a.ce Wanderer continued to look up, to look up at where Rumfoord really was. This wasn't so much a result of realism as it was a result of embarra.s.sment. By looking up, the members of the little family avoided looking at each other.

None of the three had any reason to be pleased with the reunion.

Bee was not drawn to the scrawny, bearded, happy b.o.o.b in lemon-yellow long underwear. She had dreamed of a big, angry, arrogant free-thinker.

Young Chrono hated the bearded intruder on his sublime relationship with his mother. Chrono kissed his good-luck piece and wished that his father, if this really was his father, would drop dead.

And the s.p.a.ce Wanderer himself, sincerely as he tried, could see nothing he would have chosen of his own free will in the dark, malevolent mother and son.

By accident, the s.p.a.ce Wanderer's eyes met the one good eye of Bee. Something had to be said.

"How do you do?" said the s.p.a.ce Wanderer.

"How do you you do?" said Bee. do?" said Bee.

They both looked up into the tree again.

"Oh, my happy, handicapped brethren," said Rumfoord's voice, "let us thank G.o.d- G.o.d, who appreciates our thanks as much as the mighty Mississippi appreciates a raindrop- that we are not like Malachi Constant."

The back of the s.p.a.ce Wanderer's neck ached some. He lowered his gaze. His eyes were caught by a long, straight golden runway in the middle distance. His eyes followed it.

The runway ended at Earth's longest free-standing ladder. The ladder was painted gold, too.

The s.p.a.ce Wanderer's gaze climbed the ladder to the tiny door of the s.p.a.ce ship on top of the column. He wondered who would have nerve enough or reason enough to climb such a frightening ladder to such a tiny door.

The s.p.a.ce Wanderer looked at the crowd again. Maybe Stony Stevenson was in the crowd somewhere. Maybe he would wait for the whole show to end before he presented himself to his best and only friend from Mars.

Chapter 11.

We Hate Malachi Constant Because...

"Tell me one good thing you ever did in your life."

- Winston Niles Rumfoord And this is how the sermon went: "We are disgusted disgusted by Malachi Constant," said Winston Niles Rumfoord up in his treetop, "because he used the fantastic fruits of his fantastic good luck to finance an unending demonstration that man is a pig. He wallowed in sycophants. He wallowed in worthless women. He wallowed in lascivious entertainments and alcohol and drugs. He wallowed in every known form of voluptuous turpitude. by Malachi Constant," said Winston Niles Rumfoord up in his treetop, "because he used the fantastic fruits of his fantastic good luck to finance an unending demonstration that man is a pig. He wallowed in sycophants. He wallowed in worthless women. He wallowed in lascivious entertainments and alcohol and drugs. He wallowed in every known form of voluptuous turpitude.

"At the height of his good luck, Malachi Constant was worth more than the states of Utah and North Dakota combined. Yet, I daresay, his moral worth was not that of the most corrupt little fieldmouse in either state.

"We are angered angered by Malachi Constant," said Rumfoord up in his treetop, "because he did nothing to deserve his billions, and because he did nothing unselfish or imaginative with his billions. He was as benevolent as Marie Antoinette, as creative as a professor of cosmetology in an embalming college. by Malachi Constant," said Rumfoord up in his treetop, "because he did nothing to deserve his billions, and because he did nothing unselfish or imaginative with his billions. He was as benevolent as Marie Antoinette, as creative as a professor of cosmetology in an embalming college.

"We hate hate Malachi Constant," said Rumford up in his treetop, "because he accepted the fantastic fruits of his fantastic good luck without a qualm, as though luck were the hand of G.o.d. To us of the Church of G.o.d the Utterly Indifferent, there is nothing more cruel, more dangerous, more blasphemous that a man can do than to believe that- that luck, good or bad, is the hand of G.o.d! Malachi Constant," said Rumford up in his treetop, "because he accepted the fantastic fruits of his fantastic good luck without a qualm, as though luck were the hand of G.o.d. To us of the Church of G.o.d the Utterly Indifferent, there is nothing more cruel, more dangerous, more blasphemous that a man can do than to believe that- that luck, good or bad, is the hand of G.o.d!

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