Read an Excerpt
Lurulu (Chapter 1)
Excerpt from the article ‘Fluter: World Of Glamour’, from the periodical Touristic Topics.
There is nothing to be gained by describing the climate of Fluter: it is perfect, and as such it is taken for granted, as are most of the other aspects of this magnificent world. The landscapes are as sunny and verdant as a view across lost Arcady.
The people of Fluter share the attributes of their wonderful world. They seem to dance through life to the measures of music they alone can hear: women of many talents, noble philosophers, solitary vagabonds wandering the lonely places. In general the folk of Fluter are friendly and gay, and anxious to appear beautiful in the eyes of the off-worlders, whom they revere perhaps unreasonably. In the main they are addicted to the joys of feasting, music, star-naming, sailing the wild seas, and love-making in a style known as ‘ingesting the perfumed flowers’.
NOTE: The intelligent reader will quickly observe that the article quoted above is a masterpiece of hyperbole; doubtless the writer was never any closer to Fluter than his local amusement park. Only the most naive of readers, upon exposure to the article, will set off pell-mell for Fluter hoping to find ‘ineffable glamour and daily episodes of erotic hi-jinks’.
The following facts should be noted. The scenery of Fluter is very pleasant. The best hotel in Coro-Coro is the O-Shar-Shan, but there is no running hot water. The girls are neither seductive nor particularly amiable. Arrivals at the spaceport are allowed visitor’s permits of thirty days duration.
The geography of Fluter as seen from space was extraordinary, and perhaps unique — certainly within the bounds of the Gaean Reach. In cooling from its primal melt the world had shrunk, squeezing up the crust into nine enormous anticlines running north and south across all of one hemisphere, leaving the opposite hemisphere a flat peneplain. In the course of time the sea rose and the rock-folds became nine narrow continents, with shallow seas between. The opposite hemisphere was drowned beneath the waters of a vast featureless ocean.
Time passed. The climate was benign; life came to Fluter, and clothed the land in verdure of innumerable varieties. A band of Gaean pioneers arrived from the world Ergard, to settle all nine continents. Five years later, at the First Conclave, they bound themselves to a set of strict covenants by which to control their population, so that never should Fluter become the congested jungle of concrete towers, underground warrens, smells, stinks and pollution, crowded streets and cramped space which they had left behind on Ergard. Time might pass — a hundred years, a thousand years — but never, so they swore, would they allow their wonderful new world to be so desecrated. The Flauts, as they called themselves, surveyed the nine continents and divided the arable land into sections, with each section rated for a maximum population which might never be exceeded.
A thousand years later, the population of Fluter occupied one hundred and forty-seven villages scattered at random across all nine continents, along with a special node surrounding the Coro-Coro spaceport.
The native flora co-existed amiably with dozens of exotic imports, from Old Earth and elsewhere. The ubiquitous coconut palm leaned across a thousand beaches; exotic hardwoods, softwoods, flowering shrubs and vines grew in the Fluter forests and along the mountain slopes. The fauna consisted of a few lizards and insects on land, and a variety of marine life, which made the waters fascinating but dangerous.
At Coro-Coro, on Continent Five, was the famous O-Shar-Shan Hotel, and a dozen other tourist hotels more or less fashionable. Though the calculations were often complicated, Coro-Coro was subject to the same population controls as the rest of Fluter, so that Coro-Coro remained an oversized village.
The Glicca landed at the Coro-Coro spaceport and was boarded by a team of local officials. Their routines were unusually careful. A pair of medics tested ship, crew and passengers for noxious diseases, while another technician filtered samples of air in search of undesirable viruses, pollen, spores or proteins. Finding nothing of interest, the team departed the ship. Meanwhile, an immigration officer noted name, age, world of origin, reason for visit, criminal record, if any, for each member of the ship’s complement, issuing entry permits as he did so. He then addressed the company.
“Please listen with care! I am Civil Agent Uther Taun; I represent the administration of Coro-Coro and, effectually, of all Fluter. Civil Agents are charged with many responsibilities, but most importantly we guard the beauty of our beloved world. Severe penalties are visited upon anyone so depraved as to distribute litter or cause any other defilement. I need not enlarge upon these laws, except to state that they are enforced with diligence by a corps of special Civil Agents, and equally vigilant Land Agents. If appropriate, penalties of three orders are inflicted. Neither the Land Agents nor the Civil Agents accept excuses! Wastes must be deposited in certified receptacles. Random micturition or defecation at large are never encouraged, for reasons which need not be particularized. Nevertheless, rather than frowning and wincing, you should think yourselves privileged to enjoy the delights of Fluter! Visitor’s permits are valid for thirty days, but may be renewed upon timely application. I will mention for persons desiring temporary employment, a Labor Exchange is situated nearby, along Pomare Boulevard.
“A final word: if, during your excursion, you should come upon a village, you would be prudent to turn away and go elsewhere. Should you ignore my advice and enter the village, be absolutely discreet! The typical Flaut is not a graceful host; to the contrary he is both unfeeling and surly. If you visit a village tavern, use total decorum. If you encounter a female, no matter of what age, abstain from familiarity, since the Flauts have no qualms about thrashing an obnoxious tourist. If you are careful and pay with a willing hand, you will encounter no trouble.
“Another matter of importance: the lands of Fluter are devoid of both dangerous beasts and predatory birds; the law therefore forbids the importation or possession of power guns, or other such weapons. This is an ancient law, enacted during the Terrible Times. It was felt that warriors of the day committed enough horror with their dirks and battle-hatchets without the need for more help. The law is still enforced by the Civil Agents, and applies to all weapons of projective energy, large or small. No excuses pertain, and penalties are of the third order. Now then: are there questions?”
The ineffable Cooner stepped forward, his plump face alight with eager innocence. He raised his hand on high, fingers fluttering. The Civil Agent looked down at him. “You have a question?”
“Yes sir! Why are there both Civil Agents and Land Agents?”
The Agent frowned coldly. “The differences are real, but sometimes unclear to the public. In general, the Civil Agents patrol Coro-Coro, while the Land Agents keep a vigilant surveillance over the conduct of campers and excursionists.”
“And which is the more severe?”
“Neither is severe. Both enforce the law of the land to the exact jot and tittle.”
“Ha!” cried Cooner, with unbecoming joviality. “And what, may I ask, is the nature of the three orders of punishment? What, exactly, do they designate?”
The Agent, not happy with Cooner’s flippant demeanor, answered tersely: “These matters are considered indelicate; ladies and gentlemen prefer to ignore them.”
“Aha!” cried Cooner, chuckling. “You misread your audience! Aboard the Glicca we are all philosophers; not a lady or a gentleman in the group! You may speak on with an easy mind.”
The Agent’s voice became even more terse than before. “Just as you like. Listen then!
“Punishment of the first order is public chastisement. Punishment of the second order includes disgrace, confiscation of all property and expulsion from Fluter dressed only in a bramble. Punishment of the third order involves death by subaqueation in Sharler’s Pond.”
“Hm,” said Cooner, more soberly than before. “I see that you take your litigation seriously. Perhaps it is wise to stay within the law.”
“That is ever the case,” said the official.
“A final question!” called Cooner. “How might I detect a Civil Agent or a Land Agent, when one is in the vicinity? How are they different?”
“The questions are nuncupatory. The most prudent conduct is to assume that you are being watched by one or the other at all times. To answer your question more circumspectly: the Civil Agent is never conspicuous, even though he wears a neat uniform. He is polite even when he is taking you into custody. Tradition ordains that he wear a short square beard. He is mature but never infirm, and is notable for his punctilio. The Land Agent wears a green sash and carries a ceremonial whangee. Otherwise he is much like a Civil Agent. Now: to other business.” From his pouch he brought forth pamphlets entitled: ‘LEGAL CODE, Ordinary Regulations’, ‘Duties of the Visitor’ and ‘Advice from a Civil Agent’.
“Everyone must study this compendium with care!” declared the Agent. “There can then be no excuses for misconduct!”
Cooner muttered: “Never fear; we shall creep about our affairs on tiptoe.”
The Agent pretended not to hear. He distributed the pamphlets, then departed the ship.
Perrumpter Kalash made a final attempt to soften the resolve of Captain Maloof. He approached, face wreathed in a tremulous smile. “Sir, in talking with my colleagues, I find that we are united in admiration for the clarity of your wisdom!”
“Thank you,” said Maloof. “That is good to hear.”
“But we also feel that certain of your views are so abstract as to insulate you from the woes of humanity. It is our sincere hope that you have reconsidered our unhappy situation, that perhaps you have reached a better understanding, and now feel a surge of sympathy for our plight; am I right?”
“You could not be more wrong. My recommendation is as before.”
Kalash threw up his arms in defeat and turned away. The pilgrims gathered to confer, and decided to ask Schwatzendale to return his winnings. Wingo overheard their muttered plans and assured them that Schwatzendale would “rather drain blood from his leg than relinquish money, once it had come into his possession.”
Schwatzendale himself joined the conversation. He asked Perrumpter Kalash: “Would you have returned my losses had you depredated my wealth? Remember, if you will, that I too have feelings!”
The pilgrims murmured resentfully, then left the ship and straggled off toward the Labor Exchange. Captain Maloof and Myron went off to the warehouse to arrange for the discharge of cargo. Moncrief, along with Flook, Pook and Snook, set off toward the center of town, with Hunzel and Siglaf hunching behind.
Wingo and Schwatzendale, before leaving the ship, changed into shoreside clothes. Wingo donned dust-brown breeches, a gray-pink shirt with a black string cravat, his loose brown cloak and the brown planter’s hat with the sweeping brim — a costume harking back to those gallant artists who swaggered with such élan across the early romantic eras. His sensitive feet were at ease in the fine boots of soft leather by which he set great store. Schwatzendale wore black breeches, a shirt patterned in a black and green diaper, a soft black cap pulled askew over his black locks. They set off along the Pomare Boulevard, walking under a rustling canopy of overhanging foliage and sweet-smelling flowers.
The trees were of many varieties: some indigenous, others brought from far worlds. Certain of the trees towered grandly on high; others crouched contorted, with heavy limbs spreading fans of foliage over the roadway. Silurian elms displayed fronds of pale blue and sea-green; dendrons released lobes of gas-filled membrane which floated off down the boulevard, loaded with spores. Quake-trees, nectarcups hanging on corkscrew tendrils, bobbed and bounced to spill perfume into the air.
Schwatzendale trotted along in jaunty high spirits. He danced first ahead of Wingo’s staunch and steady gait, then off to the side to pluck a flower, which a moment later he flung over his shoulder in flamboyant disregard for the law. Wingo watched benignly and paused to pick up Schwatzendale’s litter, which he tucked into his pocket.
The two passed the Labor Exchange: a long open-sided shed thatched with tawny palm fronds, overhung by talisman trees. Behind a counter, a single clerk attended to the needs of a stout woman wearing black boots and wide orange pantaloons. The pilgrims, meanwhile, stood in a glum huddle reading notices on a bulletin board, striking from time to time at flying insects.
Wingo and Schwatzendale continued along the way. Wingo was inclined to commiserate with the pilgrims, citing the inconveniences of their present plight. Schwatzendale was more detached. “They were not compelled to march off on this fateful expedition! Had they stayed at home, they might have slept in their own beds, or performed religious rites whenever the notion took them, each to their heart’s content.”
“They are driven by something called ‘afflatus’,” Wingo told him. “It is an all-consuming force which cannot be explained.”
Schwatzendale nodded his comprehension. They proceeded, passing the premises of the Tarquin Transit Company, which offered rental vehicles of all kinds, some fanciful and ostentatious, others built for speed, low in front with tall spindly wheels behind. There were flitters of local construction, so fragile and light that it seemed as if the wind might carry them away.
Taking in the sights Schwatzendale and Wingo went on, dodging the occasional skitter which trundled along the boulevard. They noticed several bungalows, almost hidden in the foliage, then came upon a rambling structure built of old boards and panels of compressed grass, under a high-peaked roof of palm thatch. A sagging porch ran along the front, with three wooden steps connecting porch to ground. Above the porch hung a sign: Pingis Tavern. Wingo and Schwatzendale stopped short. They appraised the raffish structure with practiced eyes, then with one accord they turned aside, mounted the steps and entered the tavern.
They were met by a familiar odor: the scent of old wood permeated by generations of spilled beer, along with the must of dry palm. At this time of day, business was slow. The interior was dim and quiet. At the back a pair of stout ladies gossiped earnestly over small beers. A gentleman of evident respectability leaned against the bar, clasping a goblet of pale liquor in his right hand. He wore a smart blue tunic, breeches of black whipcord, black ankle-boots of good quality. His face was long and sober, under a neatly ordered ruff of crisp brown hair. A short square beard emphasized the sobriety of his features. He nodded politely as Wingo and Schwatzendale seated themselves at a scarred wooden table.
On the wall behind the bar a board listed a dozen special drinks in an illegible scrawl. The brown-bearded gentleman watched tolerantly for a moment, then volunteered advice: “Balrob, our host, is a man of good reputation, and I can vouch for his bitter ale.”
Balrob bowed in gratification. “Thank you, Sir Agent! Your commendation carries weight.”
The gentleman straightened to an erect posture. “Allow me to introduce myself; I am Efram Shant, Land Agent, at your service.”
Wingo and Schwatzendale mentioned their own names, and the Land Agent continued his remarks. “If you are partial to toddies, the Tingletown, the Importunata and the Old Reliable are all well-regarded! Balrob, however, feels that his first speciality is Pooncho Punch, and I am inclined to agree.”
“Hm,” mused Wingo. “I am not familiar with this drink.”
Schwatzendale gave his head a doubtful shake. “I have tested many formulations, but never Pooncho Punch.”
“I am not surprised,” said Balrob. “There are four versions of Pooncho; all have been developed locally, using local ingredients only. The recipe is, of course, a guarded family secret.”
Agent Shant said: “My own preference is Pooncho Number Three. It is bracing and flavorful, yet never sits heavy on the tongue.”
Wingo looked at Schwatzendale. “Shall we attempt this storied tipple?”
“The opportunity should not be wasted!” declared Schwatzendale without hesitation.
“My feelings exactly,” said Wingo. He signalled to Balrob. “Two orders of the Number Three Pooncho, if you please.”
“With pleasure, sir.”
“… Well, then? What is your verdict?”
Wingo coughed and cleared his throat. “This is a drink of several dimensions. It should not be judged in haste.”
Schwatzendale said: “I find the drink stimulating, well-balanced, and rife with a distinctive panache.”
Wingo sipped again from the mug. “Most refreshing! Might there be a Number Four Pooncho?”
Agent Shant pulled soberly at his beard. “I have no personal experience with the drink. However, I understand that it is sometimes known as the ‘Pingis Rejuvenator’, and is occasionally administered to the dead or unconscious.”
“Indeed!” marvelled Wingo. “To what effect?”
“I have not witnessed the cure myself. Still, I have had a broad experience of life and I have seen some startling events, so that I no longer make absolute assertions.”
“You would seem a man to be trusted,” said Schwatzendale. “I would value your advice on another topic altogether.”
“Speak! I shall answer to my best ability.”
“We are new arrivals upon this remarkable world. How best can we entertain ourselves, at modest expense, and within the limits of the law?”
“Hm.” Agent Shant again pulled at his beard. “That is like asking how to dive into the water without getting wet. But let me reflect. If you are keen botanists, you will enjoy examining the flowers in the public parks, or you may go on nature walks about the countryside. At slightly larger expense, you may hire a way-car, which affords you more latitude, or you might simply trundle off across the wilderness. Again, you might rent a houseboat and cruise our incomparable waterways. We discourage the use of flitters or aircraft of any sort, since they often intrude upon the privacy of the back-country Flauts.” The Land Agent squared his shoulders, drained his goblet and glanced around the room. “I must be off about my business.”
Schwatzendale, never diffident, asked: “With full respect, I wonder what might be your business.”
The Land Agent turned Schwatzendale a brief, rather severe look. “I am a member of the Land committee. I supervise thirty Land Agents and as many sub-Agents, often known as the ‘Land Rovers’, all of whom seek illicit rubbish and bring the culprits to justice. It is a taxing job, and not without danger.”
Wingo asked innocently: “Do you yourself search out litter?”
Agent Shant stood erect with shoulders thrown back. “I never shrink from my duty, at all times and in all places! I must set an example for my men!” Agent Shant glanced idly down at the floor, then frowned and stared more fixedly. Wingo, sensing a change in the Agent’s demeanor, followed his gaze to the floor, where, to his alarm, he found that one of the dead flowers he had picked up from the road had fallen from his pocket and now lay blatantly in full view. Wingo hastily reached down and retrieved the illicit object. The Land Agent gave a grim shrug, then turned away and departed.
Wingo and Schwatzendale discussed the episode in low tones for a moment, then decided to attempt another Number Three Pooncho Punch. They gave the order and were served.
Aboard the Glicca, Myron saw to the discharge of cargo, then retired to his office to deal with paperwork. After a time Captain Maloof appeared in the doorway. Myron looked up. “Something, sir?”
Maloof waved his hand. “Nothing of consequence. Proceed with your work.”
“I am almost finished. It won’t be more than a minute.”
Maloof came into the office and seated himself, and watched while Myron made a few final entries. Myron closed his ledger and looked toward Maloof, wondering what was in the wind.
Maloof asked: “Is there outbound cargo to interest us?”
Myron nodded. “A good bit — all trans-shipment. About half a bay for Blenkinsop.”
“I see.” Maloof showed no great interest. Myron thought that he seemed preoccupied. Presently Maloof said: “A few days ago I mentioned that I might have some private business here at Coro-Coro.”
“So you did,” said Myron. “As I recall, you used the word ‘lurulu’ in this connection.”
Maloof nodded. “I am inclined to think that I spoke carelessly. My quest is more prosaic. I want to resolve a mystery which has been troubling me a long time.”
“What sort of mystery?”
Maloof hesitated. “I’ll explain, if you have the patience to listen.”
“I’ll listen, of course; in fact, I’ll be happy to help you in any way that I can.”
“That is a kind offer, which I am tempted to accept. But first, I should mention the very real possibility of danger.”
Myron shrugged. “There will be two of us. If nothing else, I can guard your back.”
“Perhaps it won’t come to that,” said Maloof, without conviction. “In any case, I am pleased for the help, especially since your temperament seems suitable for this sort of undertaking. Wingo and Schwatzendale are excellent fellows, no doubt, but for this particular work neither would be at his best. Wingo is too artless and Schwatzendale too flamboyant. What is needed is someone quiet, subtle and unobtrusive, or who will adapt himself to such a role; in short, a person like yourself, with a cap pulled down to hide your blond hair, which is rather conspicuous.”
Myron decided to take the remark as a compliment. It could be worse, he reflected.
For a time Maloof sat deep in thought. At last he stirred. “I will explain the background to the case. It is not simple, but I will try to be succinct. I must start many years ago — at Traven on the world Morlock, in Argo Navis. I was born into the patrician caste and spent a privileged childhood, which now seems unthinkably far away. My father was a banker, and wealthy. I remember him as a tall, erect gentleman, fastidious, humorless and definite in his views. My mother was altogether different: she was pretty, frivolous, impulsive and always ready to try a new fad. We lived in a grand house overlooking Faurency Weald, with all the country clubs spread out before us, all the way to Leyland Forest. My father and I were never on the best of terms — my fault more than his, so I understand now. When I was eighteen I left home to become an IPCC cadet, which further estranged both my father and mother, who wanted me to become a banker. In those days I was wild and reckless and thought very well of myself. Six years of IPCC training ground away the worst of my rough edges, and brought discipline into my life. In the end I was commissioned a junior officer, Level Eight, and I thought that my parents might even be pleased with me. I was allowed a short leave of absence, which I spent at Traven, even though my father had become more opinionated than ever, or so it seemed. Now I understand that I had never appreciated his regard for me and that my leaving home had left him forlorn and lonely. My mother, on the other hand, seemed more frivolous and foolish than before. She fluttered and flitted about in girlish frocks, more fluffy-minded than ever. I felt concern for both of them and was sorry to return to duty.
“I was sent out on a tour of service which took me here and there across the Reach, and finally, after a promotion to Level Six, I was posted first to Olfane on Sigil 92, where I was promoted Lieutenant Grade Five, and then to the town Wanne on the hard little world Dusa, at the very brink of Beyond. Wanne was reputedly the meanest posting on this side of the Reach. I survived; I learned what there was to be learned. I was promoted again to a grade just short of ‘Captain’, but by this time I was ready for something new. There was talk of transfer to a new posting, but now occurred an event which changed the course of my life.
“From the town Serafim, out in the Beyond, came a dilapidated old Model 11-B Scudder with a crew of four ruffians. They attacked the Creach, a freighter which happened to be in port, killed the master and crew, then took the Creach aloft and away, presumably back into the Beyond, where our authority was nil and the law barred our presence.
“At the time there were only three agents posted to the Wanne office. We were all outraged by the contemptuous act of the pirates. It was an insult to our dignity and it demanded a reaction, illegal or not.
“The commanding officer was Captain Wistelrod. He promoted me to full ‘Captain’, then put me on indefinite leave and decommissioned me, so that I was temporarily a civilian and could go where I saw fit, without arousing an uproar from do-gooders and pussy-footers. I took the Model 11-B up from the Wanne spaceport and flew across the edge into the Beyond. I made for the town Serafim, where we thought the pirates would take their prize. When I arrived at Serafim I put down at night in the wilderness which surrounded the town and ran through the moonlight to the spaceport. Sure enough! There was the Creach!
“To make a long story short, I killed the pirates and took the Creach back into Gaean space. Along the way, a constructive idea came to me. The previous owner of the vessel was dead. De facto title had passed to the pirates, once they had gone Beyond. By salvaging the ship from the pirates, title had devolved upon me. Since I was now a civilian, I need not surrender the ship to the IPCC. I fell in love with the ship, which was sound, secure and competent. I renamed it the ‘Glicca’.
“At Wanne I reported briefly to Captain Wistelrod and told him of my decision, which was to remain on indefinite leave. He was sorry to lose me, but wished me well. I assembled a crew and at once began to transport cargo.
“For one reason or another, three years passed before I put into Traven. I was a year too late. My father had been killed in a boating accident at the country club lake. After a few days of mourning, my foolish mother had gone off with a man whom my aunt and cousin described as an out-and-out adventurer. He had beguiled her with romantic nonsense, and their present whereabouts was unknown. The big house on Telmany Heights had been sold and was now inhabited by strangers. It was a depressing situation, with a single spark of comfort: my father, knowing my mother’s impulsive disposition, had ordered the executors of his will to consolidate his assets into a trust fund, from which my mother should be paid an adequate but not lavish annuity: a wise precaution, which could only frustrate her new consort.
“I was troubled by the circumstances of my father’s death; I had come to revere, if not love him. He had drowned when his small sailboat had capsized on a calm day, under questionable circumstances. But I was able to prove nothing.
“My aunt and my cousin knew very little of the man involved with my mother. She had brought him to their house only once, for a visit of half an hour. The man had given his name as ‘Loy Tremaine’, and seemed considerably younger than my mother. She clearly doted upon him and had acted like a moonstruck girl. Tremaine sat stiffly, making no effort to hide his boredom. Neither my aunt nor my cousin found him agreeable, though they admitted that he was personable, even magnetically so. His hair, short, thick and black, clasped his head like a casque. His eyes were black, intense, a trifle too close together, beside a high-bridged nose. It was a face which, in the opinion of both my aunt and my cousin, indicated a self-centered willfulness, or even cruelty. Both noticed a small tattoo on his neck, just under the turn of his jaw. It was a cross inside two concentric circles, in a distinctive black-purple ink.
“Tremaine had spoken little, responding to questions in monosyllables. Only when asked as to his world of origin did he respond, and then in an excited and exalted manner, walking back and forth, flourishing his hands for emphasis. Even so, he gave them little real information. ‘It is a far world,’ he said. ‘Its name would mean nothing to you; in fact, it is known only to discriminating and wealthy tourists, who are allowed to make limited stays, despite their reluctance to leave. But we cannot relax and money means nothing to us. The world must be protected! It is now entrancing for its serenity; we cannot allow it to be defiled by vulgar hordes.’
“My mother proudly amplified the statement. ‘Loy claims that it is the most beautiful world in all the Reach — so beautiful, in fact, that it compels the return of anyone who has lived there. I am anxious to know this wonderful place!’ At this time, according to my aunt, Tremaine rose to his feet and said: ‘It is time that we were leaving.’ A moment later they were gone.
“I made inquiries at the bank. I learned that a few months before, my mother had come to the bank in the company of a surly gentleman. She had stated her intention to travel, and had requested that the trust be broken so that she might realize the full value of the fund at once. The bank officials had decisively denied the request, eliciting sharp comments from the gentleman, which troubled them not at all. The bank officials had tendered my mother a set of dated coupons, which she might cash at any local bank at the beginning of each year. After a set of formalities to prove her identity, the coupons would be referred to the bank at Traven and the value of the coupon returned to my mother. She complained that the process seemed cumbersome, and was told it was the only means to ensure that her money was paid to her and not some clever swindler, and that she should not complain. I asked if they as yet had paid off any of the coupons, but none had been presented for payment. The bank had no clue as to my mother’s present whereabouts.
“At the spaceport, I tried to discover, first: when Loy Tremaine had arrived on Morlock; second: when Tremaine and my mother had departed; and third: what had been their destination? I learned nothing. There was urgent cargo aboard the Glicca; I could delay no longer, and so I departed Morlock.
“Sometime later the Glicca put into Lorca on the world Sansevere. I went to the Aetna University and sought out Doctor Tessing, a savant in the field of social anthropology. I described Tremaine to the best of my ability. I mentioned that he was native to what he felt to be the most beautiful world of the Gaean Reach, which no one could leave without yearning to return. I asked if he could identify this world. Doctor Tessing said that the chances were good. He worked the controls of his information processor, and studied the output. Then he said: ‘The problem is relatively simple. Both man and world have well-defined characteristics. Together they indicate that the man is a Flaut, native to the world Fluter, which is famed for the charm of its landscapes. I can tell you more. The Flauts are obsessional in regard to their world, and no Flaut would leave unless fleeing for his life. If he returns to Fluter, he will do so at great risk.’
“I asked: ‘What do you make of the tattoo on his neck?’
“‘It is either a status symbol, or it identifies his place of origin.’
“There was nothing more he could tell me. I expressed my thanks and returned to the Glicca. I now knew where my mother could be found. Her money would keep her safe, so I reasoned. Tremaine could not get at her capital, but her annuity nevertheless was a substantial sum, and was in effect her insurance policy.
“For a time the transport business kept us across the Reach and far away from Fluter. We drifted here and there, but one day we settled upon the Coro-Coro spaceport. We would remain for three days only.
“I spent one of these days with the senior official in the Office of Entry Formalities. Together we searched the files, but there was no record of either the man who called himself ‘Tremaine’ or my mother. The official was not altogether surprised. He told me, rather reluctantly, that certain rogues and blackguards avoided the immigration laws by arranging to be set down a mile or so out in the wilderness, then walking into town. This was a serious offense, he told me, and the perpetrators, if apprehended, were liable to penalties of the third order, since they were violating the basic canon of Flaut law: namely, the statutes controlling the population. Without valid entry permits, they were in constant danger of being taken up by a Civil Agent. This would be the case if they tried to book into a hotel.
“I asked: ‘What if they use forged documents?’
“‘Possible,’ he admitted, ‘but such documents must be renewed monthly, which would soon arouse attention. After two or three such renewals the permit would be voided and the guilty person — would suffer the appropriate penalties.’”
Myron grimaced. “It seems rather extreme.”
“Not when you know Flaut history. During their ‘Terrible Times’ they learned to accept death as the all-purpose punishment for any mistake whatsoever. It was easy and there was no quibbling.
“The next day I went to the IPCC office. The commanding officer was Captain Harms, a crusty old veteran who had been sent out to rusticate at Coro-Coro, a post considered a safe and comfortable sinecure where the agent in charge could do no great damage. His assistant was an innocuous young lieutenant who had learned to exert no twitch of initiative for fear of Captain Harms’ displeasure.
“I found Captain Harms sitting at his desk. He was in fact a man of formidable aspect, with the broad chest and thin legs of a pouter pigeon. His face had been weathered pinkish-brown, against which bristling white eyebrows, ferocious blue eyes, an ungovernable tuft of white hair and a bristling white mustache made a fine contrast.
“I introduced myself and explained my problem. As I expected, he produced a dozen reasons why the IPCC could not stir its majestic bulk to interfere in the local jurisdiction. I told him that Tremaine almost certainly had killed my father and that the safety of my mother was at risk. Harms declared that these factors were extraneous to the case, and that I should report my suspicions to the Civil Agents. I explained that, by so doing, I would be exposing my mother to a penalty of the third order. Harms shrugged, implying that she should have foreseen the eventuality before she indulged in a criminal act. I mentioned Tremaine’s tattoo. Harms said that it identified his native village. He could not help in this regard since he had no list or compendium of the Flaut tattoos. For such information I might apply to the Office of Civil Dispositions, or the Bureau of Vital Statistics, or the Population Registry. I bade Captain Harms farewell and left the agency. The next day I followed his suggestion. I presented myself first to the Office of Civil Dispositions. After two hours they referred me to the Population Registry, where after another two hours I was told that the information could most easily be had at the Office of Vital Statistics. After another wait I learned that the clerk who might have this information had gone off to a houseboat for a two-week vacation, and nothing could be done until her return. They suggested that I make inquiries at the Bureau for Archaeological Research, but by this time I was certain that they were playing a game with me. I returned to the Glicca in a very bad mood.
“On the next day we departed Fluter. But now the Glicca is back and I will resume where I left off.”
“So there you have it. Is it lurulu?” Maloof smiled. “Not exactly; in fact, not even close.” He surveyed Myron. “Now that you understand the program, do you still care to participate?”
“Certainly! But I have a question or two. First, how do you plan to proceed?”
Maloof shrugged. “I wish I had a clever strategy, but I expect that I will do as before, which means trudging around, asking questions until someone decides to answer. The clerk at Vital Statistics may now be back from the houseboat.”
“We have at least one advantage,” said Myron. “Tremaine will not know that we are looking for him.”
“And if we find him — what then?”
“Much depends upon circumstances.”
Myron rose to his feet. “I’m ready when you are.”
Maloof also stood erect. “Wear a dark jacket. We are anthropologists from Aetna University on Sansevere. And don’t forget your hat.”
Lurulu Copyright © 2004, 2012 by Jack Vance