Sirens Of Titan Part 20

"Luck, good or bad," said Rumfoord up in his treetop, "is not the hand of G.o.d. the hand of G.o.d.

"Luck," said Rumfoord up in his treetop, "is the way the wind swirls and the dust settles eons after G.o.d has pa.s.sed by.

"s.p.a.ce Wanderer!" called Rumfoord from up in his treetop.

The s.p.a.ce Wanderer was not paying strict attention. His powers of concentration were feeble- possibly because he had been in the caves too long, or on goofb.a.l.l.s too long, or in the Army of Mars too long.

He was watching clouds. They were lovely things, and the sky they drifted in was, to the color-starved s.p.a.ce Wanderer, a thrilling blue.

"s.p.a.ce Wanderer!" called Rumfoord again.

"You in the yellow suit," said Bee. She nudged him. "Wake up."

"Pardon me?" said the s.p.a.ce Wanderer.

"s.p.a.ce Wanderer!" called Rumfoord.

The s.p.a.ce Wanderer snapped to attention. "Yes, sir?" he called up into the leafy bower. The greeting was ingenuous, cheerful, and winsome. A microphone on the end of a boom was swung to dangle before him.

"s.p.a.ce Wanderer!" called Rumfoord, and he was peeved now, for the ceremonial flow was being impeded.

"Right here, sir!" cried the s.p.a.ce Wanderer. His reply boomed earsplittingly from the loudspeaker.

"Who are you?" said Rumford. "What is your real name?"

"I don't know my real name," said the s.p.a.ce Wanderer. "They called me Unk."

"What happened to you before you arrived back on Earth, Unk?" said Rumfoord.

The s.p.a.ce Wanderer beamed. He had been led to a repet.i.tion of the simple statement that had caused so much laughing and dancing and singing on Cape Cod. "I was a victim of a series of accidents, as are we all," he said.

There was no laughing and dancing and singing this time, but the crowd was definitely in favor of what the s.p.a.ce Wanderer had said. Chins were raised, and eyes were widened, and nostrils were flared. There was no outcry, for the crowd wanted to hear absolutely everything that Rumfoord and the s.p.a.ce Wanderer might have to say.

"A victim of a series of accidents, were you?" said Rumfoord up in his treetop. "Of all the accidents," he said, "which would you consider the most significant?"

The s.p.a.ce Wanderer c.o.c.ked his head. "I'd have to think-" he said.

"I'll spare you the trouble," said Rumfoord. "The most significant accident that happened to you was your being born. Would you like me to tell you what you were named when you were born?"

The s.p.a.ce Wanderer hesitated only a moment, and all that made him hesitate was a fear that he was going to spoil a very gratifying ceremonial career by saying the wrong thing. "Please do," he said.

"They called you Malachi Constant," said Rumfoord up in his treetop.

To the extent that crowds can be good things, the crowds that Winston Niles Rumfoord attracted to Newport were good crowds. They were not crowdminded. The members remained in possession of their own consciences, and Rumfoord never invited them to partic.i.p.ate as one in any action- least of all in applause or catcalls.

When the fact had sunk in that the s.p.a.ce Wanderer was the disgusting, irking, and hateful Malachi Constant, the members of the crowd reacted in quiet, sighing, personal ways- ways that were by and large compa.s.sionate. It was on their generally decent consciences, after all, that they had hanged Constant in effigy in their homes and places of work. And, while they had been cheerful enough about hanging the effigies, very few felt that Constant, in the flesh, actually deserved hanging. Hanging Malachi Constant in effigy was an act of violence on the order of tr.i.m.m.i.n.g a Christmas tree or hiding Easter eggs.

And Rumfoord up in his treetop said nothing to discourage their compa.s.sion. "You have had the singular accident, Mr. Constant," he said sympathetically, "of becoming a central symbol of wrong-headedness for a perfectly enormous religious sect.

"You would not be attractive to us as a symbol, Mr. Constant," he said, "if our hearts did not go out to you to a certain extent. Our hearts have have to go out to you, since all your flamboyant errors are errors that human beings have made since the beginning of time. to go out to you, since all your flamboyant errors are errors that human beings have made since the beginning of time.

"In a few minutes, Mr. Constant," said Rumfoord up in his treetop, "you are going to walk down the catwalks and ramps to that long golden ladder, and you you are going to climb that ladder, and you are going to get into that s.p.a.ce ship, and you are going to fly away to t.i.tan, a warm and fecund moon of Saturn. You will live there in safety and comfort, but in exile from your native Earth.

"You are going to do this voluntarily, Mr. Constant, so that the Church of G.o.d the Utterly Indifferent can have a drama of dignified self-sacrifice to remember and ponder through all time.

"We will imagine, to our spiritual satisfaction," said Rumfoord up in his treetop, "that you are taking all mistaken ideas about the meaning of luck, all misused wealth and power, and all disgusting pastimes with you."

The man who had been Malachi Constant, who had been Unk, who had been the s.p.a.ce Wanderer, the man who was Malachi Constant again- that man felt very little upon being declared Malachi Constant again. He might, possibly, have felt some interesting things, had Rumfoord's timing been different. But Rumfoord told him what his ordeal was to be only seconds after telling him he was Malachi Constant- and the ordeal was sufficiently ghastly to command Constant's full attention.

The ordeal had been promised not in years or months or days- but in minutes. And, like any condemned criminal, Malachi Constant became a student, to the exclusion of all else, of the apparatus on which he was about to perform.

Curiously, his first worry was that he would stumble, that he would think too hard about the simple matter of walking, and that his feet would cease to work naturally, and that he would stumble on those wooden feet.

"You won't stumble, Mr. Constant," said Rumfoord up in his treetop, reading Constant's mind. "There is nowhere else for you to go, nothing else for you to do. By putting one foot in front of the other, while we watch in silence, you will make of yourself the most memorable, magnificent, and meaningful human being of modern times."

Constant turned to look at his dusky mate and child. Their gazes were direct. Constant learned from their gazes that Rumfoord had spoken the truth, that no course save the course to the s.p.a.ce ship was open to him. Beatrice and young Chrono were supremely cynical about the festivities- but not about courageous behavior in the midst of them.

They dared Malachi Constant to behave well.

Constant rubbed his left thumb and index finger together in a careful rotary motion. He watched this pointless enterprise for perhaps ten seconds.

And then he dropped his hands to his sides, raised his eyes, and stepped off firmly toward the s.p.a.ce ship.

As his left foot struck the ramp, his head was filled with a sound he had not heard for three Earthling years. The sound was coming from the antenna under the crown of his skull. Rumfoord, up in his treetop, was sending signals to Constant's antenna by means of a small box in his pocket.

He was making Constant's long and lonely walk more bearable by filling Constant's head with the sound of a snare drum.

The snare drum had this to say to him: Rented a tent, a tent, a tent;Rented a tent, a tent.Rented a tent!Rented a tent!Rented a, rented a tent!

The snare drum fell silent as Malachi Constant's hand closed for the first time on a gilded rung of the world's tallest free-standing ladder. He looked up, and perspective made the ladder's summit seem as tiny as a needle. Constant rested his brow for a moment against the rung to which his hand clung.

"You have something you would like to say, Mr. Constant, before you go up the ladder?" said Rumfoord up in his treetop.

A microphone on the end of a boom was again dangled before Constant. Constant licked his lips.

"You're about to say something, Mr. Constant?" said Rumfoord.

"If you're going to talk," the technician in charge of the microphone said to Constant, "speak in a perfectly normal tone, and keep your lips about six inches away from the microphone."

"You're going to speak to us, Mr. Constant?" said Rumfoord.

"It- it's probably not worth saying," said Constant quietly, "but I'd still like to say that I haven't understood a single thing that's happened to me since I reached Earth."

"You haven't got that feeling of partic.i.p.ation?" said Rumfoord up in his treetop. "Is that it?"

"It doesn't matter," said Constant. "I'm still going up the ladder."

"Well," said Rumfoord up in his treetop, "if you feel we are doing you some sort of injustice here, suppose you tell us something really good you've done at some point in your life, and let us decide whether that piece of goodness might excuse you from this thing we have planned for you."

"Goodness?" said Constant.

"Yes," said Rumfoord expansively. "Tell me one good thing you ever did in your life- what you can remember of it."

Constant thought hard. His memories were of scuttling through endless corridors in the caves. There had been a few opportunities for what might pa.s.s for goodness with Boaz and the harmoniums. But Constant could not say honestly that he had availed himself of these opportunities to be good.

So he thought about Mars, about all the things that had been contained in his letter to himself. Surely, among all those items, there was something about his own goodness.

And then he remembered Stony Stevenson- his friend. He had had a friend, which was certainly a good thing. "I had a friend," said Malachi Constant into the microphone.

"What was his name?" said Rumfoord.

"Stony Stevenson," said Constant.

"Just one friend?" said Rumfoord up in his treetop.

"Just one," said Constant. His poor soul was flooded with pleasure as he realized that one friend was all that a man needed in order to be well-supplied with friendship.

"So your claim of goodness would stand or fall, really," said Rumfoord up in his treetop, "depending on how good a friend you really were of this Stony Stevenson."

"Yes," said Constant.

"Do you recall an execution on Mars, Mr. Constant," said Rumfoord up in his treetop, "wherein you were the executioner? You strangled a man at the stake before three regiments of the Army of Mars."

This was one memory that Constant had done his best to eradicate. He had been successful to a large extent- and the rummaging he did through his mind now was sincere. He couldn't be sure that the execution had taken place. "I- I think I remember," said Constant.

"Well- that man you strangled was your great and good friend Stony Stevenson," said Winston Niles Rumfoord.

Malachi Constant wept as he climbed the gilded ladder. He paused halfway up, and Rumfoord called to him again through the loudspeakers.

"Feel more like a vitally-interested partic.i.p.ant now, Mr. Constant?" called Rumfoord.

Mr. Constant did. He had a thorough understanding now of his own worthlessness, and a bitter sympathy for anyone who might find it good to handle him roughly.

And when he got to the top, he was told by Rumfoord not to close the airlock yet, because his mate and child would be up shortly.

Constant sat on the threshold of his s.p.a.ce ship at the top of the ladder, and listened to Rumfoord's brief sermon about Constant's dark mate, about the one-eyed, gold-toothed woman called Bee. Constant did not listen closely to the sermon. His eyes saw a larger, more comforting sermon in the panorama of town, bay, and islands so far below.

The sermon of the panorama was that even a man without a friend in the Universe could still find his home planet mysteriously, heartbreakingly beautiful.

"I shall tell you now," said Winston Niles Rumfoord in his treetop so far below Malachi Constant, "about Bee, the woman who sells Malachis outside the gate, the dark woman who, with her son, now glowers at us all.

"While she was en route to Mars so many years ago, Malachi Constant forced his attention on her, and she bore him this son. Before then, she was my wife and the mistress of this estate. Her true name is Beatrice Rumfoord."

A groan went up from the crowd. Was it any wonder that the dusty puppets of other religions had been put away for want of audiences, that all eyes were turned to Newport? Not only was the head of the Church of G.o.d the Utterly Indifferent capable of telling the future and fighting the cruelest inequalities of all, inequalities in luck- but his supply of dumfounding new sensations was inexhaustible.

He was so well supplied with great material that he could actually let his voice trail off as he announced that the one-eyed, gold-toothed woman was his wife, and that he had been cuckolded by Malachi Constant.

"I now invite you to despise the example of her life as you have so long despised the example of the life of Malachi Constant," he said up in his treetop mildly. "Hang her alongside Malachi Constant from your window blinds and light fixtures, if you will.

"The excesses of Beatrice were excesses of reluctance," said Rumfoord. "As a younger woman, she felt so exquisitely bred as to do nothing and to allow nothing to be done to her, for fear of contamination. Life, for Beatrice as a younger woman, was too full of germs and vulgarity to be anything but intolerable.

"We of the Church of G.o.d the Utterly Indifferent d.a.m.n her as roundly for refusing to risk her imagined purity in living as we d.a.m.n Malachi Constant for wallowing in filth.

"It was implicit in Beatrice's every att.i.tude that she was intellectually, morally, and physically what G.o.d intended human beings to be when perfected, and that the rest of humanity needed another ten thousand years in which to catch up. Again we have a case of an ordinary and uncreative person's tickling G.o.d Almighty pink. The proposition that G.o.d Almighty admired Beatrice for her touch-me-not breeding is at least as questionable as the proposition that G.o.d Almighty wanted Malachi Constant to be rich.

"Mrs. Rumfoord," said Winston Niles Rumfoord up in his treetop, "I now invite you and your son to follow Malachi Constant into the s.p.a.ce ship bound for t.i.tan. Is there something you would like to say before you leave?"

There was a long silence in which mother and son drew closer together and looked, shoulder to shoulder, at a world much changed by the news of the day.

"Are you planning to address us, Mrs. Rumfoord?" said Rumfoord up in his treetop.

"Yes," said Beatrice. "But it won't take me long. I believe everything you say about me is true, since you so seldom lie. But when my son and I walk together to that ladder and climb it, we will not be doing it for you, or for your silly crowd. We will be doing it for ourselves- and we will be proving to ourselves and to anybody who wants to watch that we aren't afraid of anything. Our hearts won't be breaking when we leave this planet. It disgusts us at least as much as we, under your guidance, disgust it.

"I do not recall the old days," said Beatrice, "when I was mistress of this estate, when I could not stand to do anything or to have anything done to me. But I loved myself the instant you told me I'd been that way. The human race is a sc.u.mmy thing, and so is Earth, and so are you."

Beatrice and Chrono walked quickly over the cat-walks and ramps to the ladder, climbed the ladder. They brushed past Malachi Constant in the doorway of the s.p.a.ce ship without any sort of greeting. They disappeared inside.

Constant followed them into the s.p.a.ce ship, and joined them as they considered the accommodations.

The condition of the accommodations was a surprise - and would have been a surprise to the custodians of the estate in particular. The s.p.a.ce ship, seemingly inviolable at the top of a shaft in sacred precincts patrolled by watchmen, had plainly been the scene of one or perhaps several wild parties.

The bunks were all unmade. The bedding was rumpled, twisted, and wadded. The sheets were stained with lipstick and shoe polish.

Fried clams crunched greasily underfoot.

Two quart bottles of Mountain Moonlight, one pint of Southern Comfort, and a dozen cans of Narragansett Lager Beer, all empty, were scattered through the ship.

Two names were written in lipstick on the white wall by the door: Bud and Sylvia Bud and Sylvia. And from a f.l.a.n.g.e on the central shaft in the cabin hung a black bra.s.siere.

Beatrice gathered up the bottles and beer cans. She dropped them out the door. She took the bra.s.siere down, and fluttered it out the doorway, awaiting a favorable wind.

Malachi Constant, sighing and shaking his head and mourning Stony Stevenson, used his feet for pushbrooms. He scuffed the fried clams toward the door.

Young Chrono sat on a bunk, rubbing his good-luck piece. "Let's go, Mom," he said tautly. "For crying out loud, let's go."

Beatrice let go of the bra.s.siere. A gust caught it, carried it over the crowd, hung it in a tree next to the tree in which Rumfoord sat.

"Good-by, all you clean and wise and lovely people," said Beatrice.

Chapter 12.

The Gentleman From Tralfamadore "In a punctual way of speaking, good-by."

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