- Shopping Bag ( 0 items )
Roget Germyn, banker, of Wheeling, West Virginia, a Citizen, woke gently from a Citizen's dreamless sleep. It was the third-hour-rising time, the time proper to a day of exceptional opportunity to appreciate.
Citizen Germyn dressed himself in the clothes proper for the appreciation of great works--such as viewing the Empire State ruins against stormclouds from a small boat; or walking in silent single file across the remaining course of the Golden Gate Bridge. Or--as today; one hoped it was today--witnessing the re-creation of the Sun.
Germyn with difficulty retained a Citizen's necessary calm--one was tempted to meditate on improper things: would the Sun be re-created? What if it were not? He put his mind to his dress. First of all he put on an old and storied bracelet, a veritable identity bracelet of heavy silver links and a plate which was inscribed:
His fellow jewelry-appreciators would have envied him that bracelet--if they had been capable of such an emotion as envy. No other ID bracelet as much as two hundred and fifty years old was known to exist in Wheeling. His finest shirt and pair of light pants went next to his skin, and over them he wore a loose parka whose seams had been carefully weakened. When the Sun was re-created, every five clock-years or so, it was the custom to remove the parka gravely and rend it with the prescribed graceful gestures ... but not so drastically that it could not be stitched together again. Hence the weakened seams. This was, he counted, the forty-first day on which he and all of Wheeling had donned the appropriate Sun-re-creation clothing. It was theforty-first day on which the Sun--no longer white, no longer blazing yellow, no longer even bright red--had risen and displayed a color that was darker maroon and always darker.
It had, thought Citizen Germyn, never grown so dark and so cold in all of his life. Perhaps it was an occasion for special viewing? For surely it would never come again, this opportunity to see the old Sun so near to death....
Gravely Citizen Germyn completed his dressing, thinking only of the act of dressing itself. It was by no means his specialty, but he considered when it was done that he had done it well, in the traditional flowing gestures, with no flailing, at all times balanced lightly on the ball of the foot. It was all the more perfectly consummated in that no one saw it but himself.
He woke his wife gently, by placing the palm of his hand on her forehead as she lay neatly, in the prescribed fashion, on the Woman's Third of the bed.
The warmth of his hand gradually penetrated her layers of sleep; her eyes demurely opened.
"Citizeness Germyn," he greeted her, making the assurance-of-identity sign with his left hand.
"Citizen Germyn," she said, with the assurance-of-identity inclination of the head which was prescribed when the hands are covered.
He retired to his tiny study to wait.
It was the time appropriate to meditation on the properties of connectivity. Citizen Germyn was skilled in meditation, even for a banker; it was a grace in which he had schooled himself since earliest childhood.
Citizen Germyn, his young face composed, his slim body erect as he sat, but in no way tense or straining, successfully blanked out, one after another, all of the external sounds and sights and feelings that interfered with proper meditation. His mind was very nearly vacant except of one central problem: Connectivity.
Over his head and behind, out of sight, the cold air of the room seemed to thicken and form a blob; a blob of air.
There was a name for those blobs of air; they had been seen before; they were a known fact of existence in Wheeling and in all the world. They came. They hovered. And then went away--sometimes not alone. If someone had been in the room with Citizen Germyn to look at it, he would have seen a distortion, a twisting of what was behind the blob, like flawed glass, a lens; like an eye. And they were called Eye.
The blob of air grew and slowly moved. A vagrant current that spun out from it caught a fragment of paper and whirled it to the floor; Germyn stirred; the blob retreated.
Germyn, all unaware, disciplined his thoughts to disregard the interruption, to return to the central problem of connectivity. The blob hovered...
From the other room, his wife's small, thrice-repeated throat-clearing signaled to him that she was decently dressed. Germyn got up to go to her, his mind returning to the world; and the overhead Eye spun restlessly, and disappeared.
Some miles east of Wheeling, Glenn Tropile, a Jack of every trade who secretly wondered whether he was a human being, awoke on the couch of his apartment.
He sat up, shivering. It was cold. Damned cold. The damned sun was still damned bloody dark outside the window, and the apartment was soggy and chilled.
He had kicked off the blankets in his sleep--why couldn't he learn to sleep quietly, like anybody else? Lacking a robe, he clutched them around him, got up and walked to the unglassed window.
It was not unusual for Glenn Tropile to wake up on his couch. This happened because Gala Tropile had a temper, was inclined to exile him from her bed after a quarrel, and he knew he always had the advantage over her for the whole day following the night's exile. Therefore the quarrel was worth it. An advantage was, by definition, worth anything you paid for it ... or else it was no advantage.
He could hear her moving about in one of the other rooms and cocked an ear, satisfied. She hadn't waked him. Therefore she was about to make amends. A little itch in his spine or his brain--it was not a physical itch, so he couldn't locate it; he could only be sure that it was there--stopped troubling him momentarily; he was winning a contest. It was Glenn Tropile's nature to win contests, and his nature to create them.
Gala Tropile, young, dark, attractive, with a haunted look, came in tentatively carrying coffee from some secret hoard of hers.
Glenn Tropile affected not to notice. He stared coldly out at the cold landscape. The sea, white with thin ice, was nearly out of sight, so far had it retreated as the little sun waned.
Ah, good! Glenn. Where was the proper mode of first-greeting-one's-husband? Where was the prescribed throat-clearing upon entering a room? Assiduously he had untaught her the meticulous ritual of manners that they had all of them been brought up to know; and it was the greatest of his many victories over her that sometimes, now, she was the aggressor, she would be the first to depart from the formal behavior prescribed for Citizens. Depravity! Perversion! Sometimes they would touch each other at times which were not the appropriate coming-together times, Gala sitting on her husband's lap in the late evening, perhaps, of Tropile kissing her awake in the morning. Sometimes he would force her to let him watch her dress--no, not now, for the cold of the waning sun made that sort of frolic unattractive; but she had permitted it before; and such was his mastery over her that he knew she would permit it again, when the Sun was re-created....
If, a thought came to him, if the Sun was re-created. He turned away from the cold outside and looked at his wife.
"Good morning, darling." She was contrite.
He demanded jarringly: "Is it?" Deliberately he stretched, deliberately he yawned, deliberately he scratched his chest. Every movement was ugly. Gala Tropile quivered but said nothing.
Tropile flung himself on the better of the two chairs, one hairy leg protruding from under the wrapped blankets. His wife was on her best behavior--in his unique terms; she didn't avert her eyes. "What've you got there?" he asked. "Coffee?"
"Yes, dear. I thought--"
"Where'd you get it?"
The haunted eyes looked away. Good again, thought Glenn Tropile, more satisfied even than usual; she's been ransacking an old warehouse again. It was a trick he had taught her, and like all of the illicit tricks she had learned from him a handy weapon when he chose to use it. It was not prescribed that a Citizeness should rummage through Old Places. A Citizen did his work, whatever that work might be--banker, baker or furniture repairman. He received what rewards were his due for the work he did. A Citizen never took anything that was not his--no, not even if it lay abandoned and fated to spoil.
It was one of the differences between Glenn Tropile and the people he moved among.
I've got it now, he exulted; it was what he needed to clinch his victory over her. He spoke: "I need you more than I need coffee, Gala."
She looked up, troubled. "What would I do," he demanded, "if a beam fell on you one day while you were scrambling through the fancy groceries? How can you take such chances? Don't you know what you mean to me?"
She sniffed a couple of times. She said brokenly: "Darling, about last night--I'm sorry--" and miserably held out the cup. He took it and set it down. He took her hand, looked up at her, and kissed it lingeringly.
He felt her tremble. Then she gave him a wild, adoring look and flung herself into his arms.
A new dominance cycle was begun at the moment he returned her frantic kisses.
Glenn knew, and Gala knew, that he had over her an edge--an advantage; the weather gauge; initiative of fire; percentage; the can't-lose vigorish. Call it anything but it was life itself to Glenn Tropile's kind. He knew, and she knew, that having the advantage he would press it and she would yield--on and on, in a rising spiral, He did it because it was his life, the attaining of an advantage over whomever he might encounter; because he was a Son of the Wolf.
A world away a Pyramid squatted sullenly on the planed-off top of the highest peak of the Himalayas.
It had not been built there. It had not been carried there by man or man's machines. It had come in its own time for its own reasons.
Did it wake on that day, the thing atop Mount Everest, or did it ever sleep? Nobody knew. It stood or sat, there, approximately a tetrahedron. Its appearance was known; constructed on a base line of some thirty-five yards, slaggy, midnight-blue in color. Almost nothing else about it was known to mankind.
It was the only one of its kind on Earth, though men thought (without much sure knowledge) that there were more, perhaps many thousands more, like it on the unfamiliar planet that was now Earth's binary, swinging around the miniature Sun that now hung at their common center of gravity. But men knew very little about that planet itself, for that matter, only that it had come out of space, and was now there.
Time was when men had tried to label that binary, more than two centuries before, when it first appeared. "Runaway Planet." "The Invader." "Rejoice in Messias, the Day Is at Hand." The labels might as well have been belches; they were sensefree; they were x's in an equation, signifying only that there was something there which was unknown.
"The Runaway Planet" stopped running when it closed on Earth.
"The Invader" didn't invade; it merely sent down one slaggy, midnight-blue tetrahedron to Everest.
And "Rejoice in Messias" stole Earth from its sun--with Earth's old moon, which it converted into a miniature sun of its own.
That was the time when men were plentiful and strong--or thought they were; with many huge cities and countless powerful machines. It didn't matter. The new binary planet showed no interest in the cities or the machines. There was a plague of things like Eyes--dustdevils without dust, motionless air that suddenly tensed and quivered into lenticular shapes. They came with the planet and the Pyramid, so that there probably was some connection, but there was nothing to do about the Eyes; striking at them was like striking at air--was the same thing, in fact.
While the men and machines tried uselessly to do something about it, the new binary system--the stranger planet and Earth--began to move, accelerating very slowly.
In a week astronomers knew something was happening. In a month the Moon sprang into flame and became a new sun--beginning to be needed, for already the parent Sol was visibly more distant, and in a few years it was only one other star among many.
When the inferior little sun was burned to a clinker they--whoever "they" were, for men saw only the one Pyramid--would hang a new one in the sky; it happened every five clock-years, more or less. It was the same old moon-turned-sun; but it burned out, and the fires needed to be rekindled. The first of these suns had looked down on an Earthly population of ten billion. As the sequence of suns waxed and waned there were changes; climatic fluctuation; all but immessurable differences in the quantity and kind of radiation from the new source.
The changes were such that the forty-fifth such sun looked down on a shrinking human race that could not muster up a hundred million.
A frustrated man drives inward; it is the same with a race. The hundred million that clung to existence were not the same as the bold, vital ten billion.
The thing on Everest had in its time received many labels, too: The Devil, The Friend, The Beast, A Pseudo-living Entity of Quite Unknown Electrochemical Properties.
All these labels were also x's.
If it did wake that morning it did not open its eyes, for it had no eyes--apart from the quivers of air that might or might not belong to it. Eyes might have been gouged; therefore it had none; so an illogical person might have argued--and yet it was tempting, to apply the "purpose, not function" fallacy to it. Limbs could be crushed; it had no limbs. Ears could be deafened, it had none. Through a mouth it might be poisoned; it had no mouth. Intentions and actions could be frustrated; apparently it had neither.
It was there; that was all.
It and others like it had stolen the Earth and the Earth did not know why. It was there. And the one thing on Earth you could not do was hurt it, influence it, or coerce it in any way whatever.
It was there--and it, or the masters it represented, owned the Earth by right of theft. Utterly. Beyond human hope of challenge or redress.
Posted January 23, 2010
No text was provided for this review.