Лекция: Марк Леви 1 страница
Copyright ©, 1956, by A. A. Wyn, Inc.
All Rights Reserved
at seven a.m., Allen Purcell, the forward-looking young president of the newest and most creative of the Research Agencies, lost a bedroom. But he gained a kitchen. The process was automatic, controlled by an iron-oxide-impregnated tape sealed in the wall. Allen had no authority over it, but the transfiguration was agreeable to him; he was already awake and ready to rise.
Squinting and yawning and now on his feet, he fumbled for the manual knob that released the stove. As usual the stove was stuck half in the wall and half out into the room. But all that was needed was a firm push. Allen pushed, and, with a wheeze, the stove emerged.
He was king of his domain: this one-room apartment within sight of the—blessed—Morec spire. The apartment was hard won. It had been his heritage, deeded to him by his family; the lease had been defended for over forty years. Its thin plasterboard walls formed a box of priceless worth; it was an empty space valued beyond money.
The stove, properly unfolded, became also sink and table and food cupboard. Two chairs hinged out from its underside, and beneath the stored supplies were dishes. Most of the room was consumed, but sufficient space remained in which to dress.
His wife Janet, with difficulty, had gotten into her slip. Now, frowning, she held an armload of skirt and looked around her in bewilderment. The central heating had not penetrated to their apartment as yet, and Janet shivered.
In the cold autumn mornings she awoke with fright; she had been his wife three years but she had never adjusted to the shifts of the room.
«What's the matter?» he asked, shedding his pajamas. The air, to him, was invigorating; he took a deep breath.
«I'm going to reset the tape. Maybe for eleven.» She resumed dressing, a slow process with much wasted motion.
«The oven door,» he said, opening the oven for her. «Lay your things there, like always.»
Nodding, she did so. The Agency had to be opened promptly at eight, which meant getting up early enough to make the half-hour walk along the clogged lanes. Even now sounds of activity filtered up from the ground level, and from other apartments. In the hall, scuffling footsteps were audible; the line was forming at the community bathroom.
«You go ahead,» he said to Janet, wanting her dressed and ready for the day. As she started off, he added: «Don't forget your towel.»
Obediently, she collected her satchel of cosmetics, her soap and toothbrush and towel and personal articles, and left. Neighbors assembled in the hall greeted her.
«Morning, Mrs. Purcell.»
Janet's sleepy voice: «Morning Mrs. O'Neill.» And then the door closed.
While his wife was gone, Allen shook two corto-thiamin capsules from the medicine well. Janet owned all sorts of pills and sprays; in her early teens she had picked up un-dulant fever, one of the plagues revived by the attempt to create natural farms on the colony planets. The corto-thiamin was for his hangover. Last night he had drunk three glasses of wine, and on an empty stomach.
Entering the Hokkaido area had been a calculated risk. He had worked late at the Agency, until ten o'clock. Tired, but still restless, he had locked up and then rolled out a small Agency ship, a one-man sliver used to deliver rush
orders to T-M. In the ship he had scooted out of Newer York, flown aimlessly, and finally turned East to visit Gates and Sugermann. But he hadn't stayed long; by eleven he was on his way back. And it had been necessary. Research was involved.
His Agency was totally outclassed by the giant four that made up the industry. Allen Purcell, Inc. had no financial latitude and no backlog of ideas. Its packets were put together from day to day. His staff—artists, historian, moral consultant, dictionist, dramatist—tried to anticipate future trends rather than working from patterns that had been successful in the past. This was an advantage, as well as a defect. The big four were hidebound; they constructed a standard packet perfected over the years, basically the time-tested formula used by Major Streiter himself in the days before the revolution. Moral Reclamation, in those days, had consisted of wandering troops of actors and lecturers delivering messages, and the major had been a genius at media. The basic formula was, of course, adequate, but new blood was needed. The major himself had been new blood; originally a powerful figure in the Afrikaans Empire—the re-created Transvaal State—he had revitalized the moral forces lying dormant in his own age.
«Your turn,» Janet said, returning. «I left the soap and towel, so go right in.» As he started from the room she bent to get out the breakfast dishes.
Breakfast took the usual eleven minutes. Allen ate with customary directness; the corto-thiamin had eliminated his queasiness. Across from him Janet pushed her half-finished food away and began combing her hair. The window—with a touch of the switch—doubled as a mirror: another of the ingenious space-savers developed by the Committee's Housing Authority.
«You didn't get in until late,» Janet said presently. «Last night, I mean.» She glanced up. «Did you?»
Her question surprised him, because he had never known
her to probe. Lost in the haze of her own uncertainties, Janet was incapable of venom. But, he realized, she was not probing. She was apprehensive. Probably she had lain awake wondering if he were all right, lain with her eyes open staring at the ceiling until eleven-forty, at which time he had made his appearance. As he had undressed, she had said nothing; she had kissed him as he slid in beside her, and then she had gone to sleep.
«Did you go to Hokkaido?» she wondered.
«For awhile. Sugermann gives me ideas... I find his talk stimulating. Remember the packet we did on Goethe? The business about lens-grinding? I never heard of that until Sugermann mentioned it. The optics angle made a good Morec—Goethe saw his real job. Prisms before poetry.»
«But—» She gestured, a familiar nervous motion of her hands. «Sugermann's an egghead.»
«Nobody saw me.» He was reasonably certain of that; by ten o'clock Sunday night most people were in bed. Three glasses of wine with Sugermann, a half hour listening to Tom Gates play Chicago jazz on the phonograph, and that was all. He had done it a number of times before, and without untoward difficulty.
Bending down, he picked up the pair of oxfords he had worn. They were mud-spattered. And, across each, were great drops of dried red paint.
«That's from the art department,» Janet said. She had, in the first year of the Agency, acted as his receptionist and file clerk, and she knew the office layout. «What were you doing with red paint?»
He didn't answer. He was still examining the shoes.
«And the mud,» Janet said. «And look.» Reaching down, she plucked a bit of grass dried to the sole of one shoe. «Where did you find grass at Hokkaido? Nothing grows in those ruins... it's contaminated, isn't it?»
«Yes,» he admitted. It certainly was. The island had been saturated during the war, bombed and bathed and doctored
and infested with every possible kind of toxic and lethal substance. Moral Reclamation was useless, let alone gross physical rebuilding. Hokkaido was as sterile and dead as it had been in 1972, the final year of the war.
«It's domestic grass,» Janet said, feeling it. «I can tell.» She had lived most of her life on colony planets. «The texture's smooth. It wasn't imported... it grows here on Earth.»
With irritation he asked: «Where on Earth?»
«The Park,» Janet said. «That's the only place grass grows. The rest is all apartments and offices. You must have been there last night.»
Outside the window of the apartment the—blessed—Morec spire gleamed in the morning sun. Below it was the Park. The Park and spire comprised the hub of Morec, its omphalos. There, among the lawns and flowers and bushes, was the statue of Major Streiter. It was the official statue, cast during his lifetime. The statue had been there one hundred and twenty-four years.
«I walked through the Park,» he admitted. He had stopped eating; his «eggs» were cooling on his plate.
«But the paint,» Janet said. In her voice was the vague, troubled fear with which she met every crisis, the helpless sense of foreboding that always seemed to paralyze her ability to act. «You didn't do anything wrong, did you?» She was, obviously, thinking of the lease.
Rubbing his forehead, Allen got to his feet. «It's seven-thirty. I'll have to start to work.»
Janet also rose. «But you didn't finish eating.» He always finished eating. «You're not sick, are you?»
«Me,» he said. «Sick?» He laughed, kissed her on the mouth, and then found his coat. «When was I last sick?»
«Never,» she murmured, troubled and watching him. «There's never anything the matter with you.»
At the base of the housing unit, businessmen were clustered
at the block warden's table. The routine check was in progress, and Allen joined the group. The morning smelled of ozone, and its clean scent helped clear his head. And it restored his fundamental optimism.
The Parent Citizens Committee maintained a female functionary for each housing unit, and Mrs. Birmingham was typical: plump, florid, in her middle fifties, she wore a flowered and ornate dress and wrote out her reports with a powerfully authoritative fountain pen. It was a respected position, and Mrs. Birmingham had held the post for years.
«Good morning, Mr. Purcell.» She beamed as his turn arrived.
«Hello, Mrs. Birmingham.» He tipped his hat, since block wardens set great store by the little civilities. «Looks like a nice day, assuming it doesn't cloud up.»
«Rain for the crops,» Mrs. Birmingham said, which was a joke. Virtually all foods and manufactured items were brought in by autofac rocket; the limited domestic supply served only as a standard of judgment, a kind of recalled ideal. The woman made a note on her long yellow pad. «I... haven't seen your lovely wife yet, today.»
Allen always alibied for his wife's tardiness. «Janet's getting ready for the Book Club meeting. Special day: she's been promoted to treasurer.»
«I'm so glad,» Mrs. Birmingham said. «She's such a sweet girl. A bit shy, though. She should mix more with people.»
«That's certainly true,» he agreed. «She was brought up in the wide open spaces. Betelgeuse 4. Rocks and goats.»
He had expected that to end the interview—his own conduct was rarely in question—but suddenly Mrs. Birmingham became rigid and business-like. «You were out late last night, Mr. Purcell. Did you have a good time?»
Lord, he cursed. A juvenile must have spotted him. «Not very.» He wondered how much it had seen. If it tagged
him early in the trip it might have followed the whole way.
«You visited Hokkaido,» Mrs. Birmingham stated.
«Research,» he said, assuming the posture of defense. «For the Agency.» This was the great dialectic of the moral society, and, in a perverse way, he enjoyed it. He was facing a bureaucrat who operated by rote, whereas he struck through the layers of habit and hit directly. This was the success of his Agency, and it was the success of his personal life. «Telemedia's needs take precedence over personal feeling, Mrs. Birmingham. You certainly understand that.»
His confidence did the trick, and Mrs. Birmingham's saccharine smile returned. Making a scratch with her pen she asked: «Will we see you at the block meeting next Wednesday? That's just the day after tomorrow.»
«Certainly,» Allen said. Over the decades he had learned to endure the interminable interchange, the stuffy presence of his neighbors packed together in one room. And the whirr of the juveniles as they surrendered their tapes to the Committee representatives. «But I'm afraid I won't have much to contribute.» He was too busy with his ideas and plans to care who lapsed and in what way. «I've been up to my neck in work.»
«Perhaps,» Mrs. Birmingham said, in a partly bantering, partly haughty thought-for-this-week voice, «there might be a few criticisms of you.»
«Of me?» He winced with shock, and felt ill.
«It seems to me that when I was glancing over the reports, I noticed your name. Perhaps not. I could be mistaken. Goodness.» She laughed lightly. «If so it's certainly the first time in years. But none of us is perfect; we're all mortal.»
«Hokkaido?» he demanded. Or afterward. The paint, the grass. There it was in a rush: the wet grass sparkling and slithering under him as he coasted dizzily downhill. The swaying staffs of trees. Above, as he lay gaping on his back,
the dark-swept sky; clouds were figments of matter against the blackness. And he, lying stretched out, arms out, swallowing stars.
«Or afterward?» he demanded, but Mrs. Birmingham had turned to the next man in line.
the lobby of the Mogentlock Building was active and stirring with noise, a constant coming-and-going of busy people as Allen approached the elevator. Because of Mrs. Birmingham he was late. The elevator politely waited.
«Good morning, Mr. Purcell.» The elevator's taped voice greeted him, and then the doors shut. «Second floor Bevis and Company Import-Export. Third floor American Music Federation. Fourth floor Allen Purcell, Inc. Research Agency.» The elevator halted and opened its door.
In the outer reception lounge, Fred Luddy, his assistant, wandered about in a tantrum of discomfort.
«Morning,» Allen murmured vaguely, taking off his coat.
«Allen, she's here.» Luddy's face flushed scarlet. «She got here before I did; I came up and there she was, sitting.»
«Who? Janet?» He had a mental image of a Committee representative driving her from the apartment and canceling the lease. Mrs. Birmingham, with smiles, closing in on Janet as she sat absently combing her hair.
«Not Mrs. Purcell,» Luddy said. He lowered his voice to a rasp. «It's Sue Frost.»
Allen involuntarily craned his neck, but the inner door was closed. If Sue Frost was really sitting in there, it
marked the first time a Committee Secretary had paid a call on him.
«I'll be darned,» he said.
Luddy yelped. «She wants to see you!»
The Committee functioned through a series of departmental secretaries directly responsible to Ida Pease Hoyt, the linear descendant of Major Streiter. Sue Frost was the administrator of Telemedia, which was the official government trust controlling mass communications. He had never dealt with Mrs. Frost, or even met her; he worked with the acting Director of T-M, a weary-voiced, bald-headed individual named Myron Mavis. It was Mavis who bought packets.
«What's she want?» Allen asked. Presumably, she had learned that Mavis was taking the Agency's output, and that the Agency was relatively new. With a sinking dread he anticipated one of the Committee's gloomy, protracted investigations. «Better have Doris block my incoming calls.» Doris was one of his secretaries. «You take over until Mrs. Frost and I are through talking.»
Luddy followed after him in a dance of prayer. «Good luck, Allen. I'll hold the fort for you. If you want the books—»
«Yes, I'll call you.» He opened the office door, and there was Sue Frost.
She was tall, and she was rather large-boned and muscular. Her suit was a simple hard weave, dark gray in color. She wore a flower in her hair, and she was altogether a strikingly handsome woman. At a guess, she was in her middle fifties. There was little or no softness to her, nothing of the fleshy and over-dressed motherliness that he saw in so many Committee women. Her legs were long, and, as she rose to her feet, her right hand lifted to welcome him in a forthright—almost masculine—handshake.
«Hello, Mr. Purcell,» she said. Her voice was not overly expressive. «I hope you don't mind my showing up this way, unannounced.»
«Not at all,» he murmured. «Please sit down.»
She reseated herself, crossed her legs, contemplated him. Her eyes, he noticed, were an almost colorless straw. A strong kind of substance, and highly polished.
«Cigarette?» He extended his case, and she accepted a cigarette with a nod of thanks. He took one also, feeling like a gauche young man in the company of an older and more experienced woman.
He couldn't help thinking that Sue Frost was the type of urbane career woman ultimately not proposed to by the hero of Blake-Moffet's packets. There was an unsympathetic firmness about her. She was decidedly not the girl from next door.
«Undoubtedly,» Sue Frost began, «you recognize this.» She unraveled the winding of a manila folder and displayed a sheaf of script. On the cover of the sheaf was his Agency's stamp; she had one of his packets, and she evidently had been reading it.
«Yes,» he admitted. «That's one of ours.»
Sue Frost leafed through the packet, then laid it down on Allen's desk. «Myron accepted this last month. Then he had qualms and he sent it along the line to me. I had a chance to go over it this weekend.»
Now the packet was turned so that Allen could catch the title. It was a high-quality piece he had personally participated in; as it stood it could have gone over any of T-M's media.
«Qualms,» Allen said. «How do you mean?» He had a deep, cold sensation, as if he were involved in some eerie religious ritual. «If the packet won't go, then turn it back to us. We'll create a credit; we've done it before.»
«The packet is beautifully handled,» Mrs. Frost said, smoking. «No, Myron certainly didn't want it back. Your theme concerns this man's attempt to grow an apple tree on a colony planet. But the tree dies. The Morec of it is—» She again picked up the packet. «I'm not certain what the
Morec is. Shouldn't he have tried to grow it?»
«Not there,» Allen said.
«You mean it belonged on Earth?»
«I mean he should have been working for the good of society, not off somewhere nourishing a private enterprise. He saw the colony as an end in itself. But they're means. This is the center.»
«Omphalos,» she agreed. «The navel of the universe. And the tree—»
«The tree symbolizes an Earth product that withers when it's transplanted. His spiritual side died.»
«But he couldn't have grown it here. There's no room. It's all city.»
«Symbolically,» he explained. «He should have put down his roots here.»
Sue Frost was silent for a moment, and he sat smoking uneasily, crossing and uncrossing his legs, feeling his tension grow, not diminish. Nearby, in another office, the switchboard buzzed. Doris' typewriter clacked.
«You see,» Sue Frost said, «this conflicts with a fundamental. The Committee has put billions of dollars and years of work into outplanet agriculture. We've done everything possible to seed domestic plants in the colonies. They're supposed to supply us with our food. People realize it's a heartbreaking task, with endless disappointments... and you're saying that the outplanet orchards will fail.»
Allen started to speak and then changed his mind. He felt absolutely defeated. Mrs. Frost was gazing at him searchingly, expecting him to defend himself in the usual fashion.
«Here's a note,» she said. «You can read it. Myron's note on this, when it came to me.»
The note was in pencil and went:
The same outfit again. Top-drawer, but too coy.
«What's he mean?» Allen said, now angered. «He means the Morec doesn't come across.» She leaned toward him. «Your Agency has been in this only three years. You started out very well. What do you currently gross?»
«I'd have to see the books.» He got to his feet. «May I get Luddy in here? I'd like him to see Myron's note.» «Certainly,» Mrs. Frost said.
Fred Luddy entered the office stiff-legged with apprehension. «Thanks,» he muttered, as Allen gave him the packet. He read the note, but his eyes showed no spark of consciousness. He seemed tuned to invisible vibrations; the meaning reached him through the tension of the air, rather than the pencilled words.
«Well,» he said finally, in a daze. «You can't win them all.»
«We'll take this packet back, naturally.» Allen began to strip the note from it, but Mrs. Frost said:
«Is that your only response? I told you we want it; I made that clear. But we can't take it in the shape it's in. I think you should know that it was my decision to give your Agency the go-ahead. There was some dispute, and I was brought in from the first.» From the manila folder she took a second packet, a familiar one. «Remember this? May, 2112. We argued for hours, Myron liked this, and I liked it. Nobody else did. Now Myron has cold feet.» She tossed the packet, the first the Agency had ever done, onto the desk.
After an interval Allen said: «Myron's getting tired.» «Very.» She nodded agreeably.
Hunched over, Fred Luddy said: «Maybe we've been going at it too fast.» He cleared his throat, cracked his knuckles and glanced at the ceiling. Drops of warm sweat sparkled in his hair and along his smoothly-shaved jowls. «We kind of got—excited.»
Speaking to Mrs. Frost, Allen said: «My position is simple. In that packet, we made the Morec that Earth is the center.
That's the real fundamental, and I believe it. If I didn't believe it I couldn't have developed the packet. I'll withdraw the packet but I won't change it. I'm not going to preach morality without practicing it.»
Quakily, in a spasm of agonized back-pedalling, Luddy muttered: «It's not a moral question, Al. It's a question of clarity. The Morec of that packet doesn't come across.» His voice had a ragged, guilty edge; Luddy knew what he was doing and he was ashamed. «I—see Mrs. Frost's point. Yes I do. It looks as if we're scuttling the agricultural program, and naturally we don't mean that. Isn't that so, Al?»
«You're fired,» Allen said.
They both stared at him. Neither of them grasped that he was serious, that he had really done it.
«Go tell Doris to make out your check.» Allen took the packet from the desk and held onto it. «I'm sorry, Mrs. Frost, but I'm the only person qualified to speak for the Agency. We'll credit you for this packet and submit another. All right?»
She stubbed out her cigarette, rising, at the same time, to her feet. «It's your decision.»
«Thanks,» he said, and felt a release of tension. Mrs. Frost understood his stand, and approved. And that was crucial.
«I'm sorry,» Luddy muttered, ashen. «That was a mistake on my part. The packet is fine. Perfectly sound as it now exists.» Plucking at Allen's sleeve, he drew him off in the corner. «I admit I made a mistake.» His voice sank to a jumpy whisper. «Let's discuss this further. I was simply trying to develop one possible viewpoint among many. You want me to express myself; I mean, it seems senseless to penalize me for working in the best interests of the Agency, as I see it.»
«I meant what I said,» Allen said.
«You did?» Luddy laughed. «Naturally you meant it.
You're the boss.» He was shaking. «You really weren't kidding?»
Collecting her coat, Mrs. Frost moved toward the door. «I'd like to look over your Agency while I'm here. Do you mind?»
«Not at all,» Allen said. «I'd be glad to show it to you. I'm quite proud of it.» He opened the door for her, and the two of them walked out into the hall. Luddy remained in the office, a sick, erratic look on his face.
«I don't care for him,» Mrs. Frost said. «I think you're better off without him.»
«That wasn't any fun,» Allen said. But he was feeling better.
in the hall outside Myron Mavis' office, the Telemedia workers were winding up their day. The T-M building formed a connected hollow square. The open area in the center was used for outdoor sets. Nothing was in process now, because it was five-thirty and everybody was leaving.
From a pay phone, Allen Purcell called his wife. «I'll be late for dinner,» he said.
«Are—you all right?»
«I'm fine,» he said. «But you go ahead and eat. Big doings, big crisis at the Agency. „I'll catch something down here.“ He added, „I'm at Telemedia.“
»For very long?" Janet asked anxiously.
«Maybe for a long, long time,» he said, and hung up.
As he rejoined Sue Frost, she said to him, «How long did Luddy work for you?»
«Since I opened the Agency.» The realization was sobering: three years. Presently he added: «That's the only person I've ever let go.»
At the back of the office, Myron Mavis was turning over duplicates of the day's output to a bonded messenger of the Committee. The duplicates would be put on permanent file; in case of an investigation the material was there to examine.
To the formal young messenger, Mrs. Frost said: «Don't leave. I'm going back; you can go with me.»
The young man retired discreetly with his armload of metal drums. His uniform was the drab khaki of the Cohorts of Major Streiter, a select body composed of male descendants of the founder of Morec.
«A cousin,» Mrs. Frost said. «A very distant cousin-in-law on my father's side.» She nodded toward the young man, whose face was as expressionless as sand. «Ralf Hadler. I like to keep him around.» She raised her voice. «Ralf, go find the Getabout. It's parked somewhere in back.»
The Cohorts, either singly or in bunches, made Allen uncomfortable; they were humorless, as devout as machines, and, for their small number, they seemed to be everywhere. His fantasy was that the Cohorts were always in motion; in the course of one day, like a foraging ant, a member of the Cohorts roamed hundreds of miles.
«You'll come along,» Mrs. Frost said to Mavis.
«Naturally,» Mavis murmured. He began clearing his desk of unfinished work. Mavis was an ulcer-mongerer, a high-strung worrier with rumpled shirt and baggy, unpressed tweeds, who flew into fragments when things got over his head. Allen recalled tangled interviews that had ended with Mavis in despair and his staff scurrying. If Mavis was going to be along, the next few hours would be hectic.
«We'll meet you at the Getabout,» Mrs. Frost said to him. «Finish up here, first. We'll wait.»
As she and Allen walked down the hall, Allen observed: «This is a big place.» The idea of an organ—even a government organ—occupying an entire building struck him as grandiose. And much of it was underground. Telemedia, like cleanliness was next to God; after T-M came the secretaries and the Committee itself.
«It's big,» Mrs. Frost agreed, striding along the hall and holding her manila folder against her chest with both hands. «But I don't know.»
«You don't know what?»
Cryptically, she said: «Maybe it should be smaller. Remember what became of the giant reptiles.»
«You mean curtail its activities?» He tried to picture the vacuum that would be created. «And what instead?»
«Sometimes I toy with the idea of slicing T-M into a number of units, interacting, but separately run. I'm not sure one person can or should take responsibility for the whole.»
«Well,» Allen said, thinking of Mavis, «I suppose it cuts into his life-expectancy.»
«Myron has been Director of T-M for eight years. He's forty-two and he looks eighty. He's got only half a stomach. Someday I expect to phone and discover he's holed up at the Health Resort, doing business from there. Or from Other World, as they call that sanitarium of theirs.»