Penguin books - səhifə 61
ASSAULTS OIL PARLEY Ousted After ——ing on Conferees and he's out of
the elevator by now running down a back corridor to a central-heating complex zoom! over the heads of a couple of black custodians who are passing back and forth a cigarette rolled from some West African narcotic herb, stuffs his hostage into a gigantic furnace which is banked for the spring (too bad), and flees out the back way down an aisle of plane trees into a small park, over a fence, zippety zop, fastfoot Roger and the London cops.
There's nothing back at "The White Visitation" he really needs. Nothing he can't let go. Clothes on his back and the pool motorcycle, a pocket full of spare change and anger unlimited, what more does a 30-year-old innocent need to make his way in the city? "I'm fucking Dick Whittington!" it occurs to him zooming down Kings Road, "I've come to London! I'm your Lord Mayor. . . ."
Pirate is at home, and apparently expecting Roger. Pieces of his faithful Mendoza lie about the refectory table, shining with oil or bluing, wads, patches, rods, bottles occupy his hands, but his eyes are on Roger.
"No," cutting into a denunciation of Pointsman when Milton Gloaming's name comes up, "it's a minor item, but stop right there. Pointsman didn't send him. We sent him."
"You're a novice paranoid, Roger," first time Prentice has ever used his Christian name and it touches Roger enough to check his tirade. "Of course a well-developed They-system is necessary—but it's only half the story. For every They there ought to be a We. In our case there is. Creative paranoia means developing at least as thorough a We-system as a They-system—"
"Wait, wait, first where's the Haig and Haig, be a gracious host, second what is a 'They-system,' I don't pull Chebychev's Theorem on you, do I?"
"I mean what They and Their hired psychiatrists call 'delusional
systems.' Needless to say, 'delusions' are always officially defined. We don't have to worry about questions of real or unreal. They only talk out of expediency. It's the system that matters. How the data arrange themselves inside it. Some are consistent, others fall apart. Your idea that Pointsman sent Gloaming takes a wrong fork. Without any contrary set of delusions—delusions about ourselves, which I'm calling a We-system—the Gloaming idea might have been all right—"
"Delusions about ourselves?"
"Not real ones."
"But officially defined."
"Out of expediency, yes."
"Well, you're playing Their game, then."
"Don't let it bother you. You'll find you can operate quite well. Seeing as we haven't won yet, it isn't really much of a problem."
Roger is totally confused. At this point, in wanders who but Milton Gloaming with a black man Roger recognizes now as one of the two herb-smokers in the furnace room under Clive Mossmoon's office. His name is Jan Otyiyumbu, and he's a Schwarzkommando liaison man. One of Blodgett Waxwing's apache lieutenants shows up with his girl, who's not walking so much as dancing, very fluid and slow, a dance in which Osbie Feel, popping out of the kitchen now with his shirt off (and a Porky Pig tattoo on his stomach? How long has Feel had that?) correctly identifies the influence of heroin.
It's a little bewildering—if this is a "We-system," why isn't it at least thoughtful enough to interlock in a reasonable way, like They-systems do?
"That's exactly it," Osbie screams, belly-dancing Porky into a wide, alarming grin, "They're the rational ones. We piss on Their rational arrangements. Don't we ... Mexico?"
"Hoorah!" cry the others. Well taken, Osbie.
Sir Stephen Dodson-Truck sits by the window, cleaning a Sten. Outside, blowing over its dorsal and summer stillness, London today can feel advance chills of Austerity. There isn't a word in Sir Stephen's head right now. He is completely involved with the weapon. He no longer thinks about his wife, Nora, although she's out there, in some room, still surrounded by her planetary psychics, and aimed herself now toward a peculiar fate. In recent weeks, in true messianic style, it has come clear to her that her real identity is, literally, the Force of Gravity. I am Gravity, I am That against which the Rocket must struggle, to which the prehistoric wastes submit and are transmuted to the very sub- stance of History. . . . Her wheeling freaks, her seers, teleporters, astral travelers and tragic human interfaces all know of her visitation, but none see any way for her to turn. She must prove herself now—find deeper forms of renunciation, deeper than Sabbatai Zvi's apostasy before the Sublime Porte. It is a situation not without its chances for a good practical joke now and then—poor Nora will be suckered into seances that wouldn't fool your great-aunt, visits from the likes of Ronald Cherrycoke in a Jesus Christ getup, whistling down the wires into a hidden ultraviolet baby spot where he will start fluorescing in most questionable taste, blithering odd bits of Gospel together, reaching down from his crucified altitudes to actually cop feels of Nora's girdled behind . . . highly offended, she will flee into hallways full of clammy invisible hands—poltergeists will back toilets up on her, ladylike turds will bob at her virgin vertex, and screaming ugh, ass dripping, girdle around her knees, she will go staggering into her own drawing-room to find no refuge even there, no, someone will have caused to materialize for her a lesbian elephant soixante-neuf, slimy trunks pistoning symmetrically in and out of juicy elephant vulvas, and when she turns to escape this horrid exhibition she'll find some playful ghost has latched the door behind her, and another's just about to sock her in the face with a cold Yorkshire pudding. . . .
In Pirate's maisonette, everyone is singing now a counterforce traveling song, with Thomas Gwenhidwy, who has not fallen to the dialectic curse of Pointsman's Book after all, accompanying on what seems to be a rosewood crwth:
They've been sleeping on your shoulder,
They've been crying in your beer,
And They've sung you all Their sad lullabies,
And you thought They wanted sympathy and didn't care
And They never were about to put you wise. But I'm telling you today, That it ain't the only way,
And there's shit you won't be eating any more— They've been paying you to love it, But the time has come to shove it, And it isn't a resistance, it's a war.
"It's a war," Roger sings, driving into Cuxhaven, wondering offhand how Jessica has cut her hair for Jeremy, and how that insufferable
prig would look with a thrust chamber wrapped around his head, "it's a war ..."
Light one up before you mosey out that door, Once you cuddled 'em and kissed 'em, But we're bringin' down Their system, And it isn't a resistance, it's a war. . . .
D D D D D D D
These pine limbs, crackling so blue and watery, don't seem to put out any heat at all. Confiscated weapons and ammo lie around half-crated or piled loose inside the C-Company perimeter. For days the U.S. Army has been out sweeping Thuringia, busting into houses in the middle of the night. A certain lycanthropophobia or fear of Werewolves occupies minds at higher levels. Winter is coming. Soon there won't be enough food or coal in Germany. Potato crops toward the end of the War, for example, all went to make alcohol for the rockets. But there are still small-arms aplenty, and ammunition to fit them. Where you cannot feed, you take away weapons. Weapons and food have been firmly linked in the governmental mind for as long as either has been around.
On the mountainsides, patches will flash up now and then, bright as dittany in July at the Zippo's ceremonial touch. Pfc. Eddie Pensiero, a replacement here in the 89th Division, also an amphetamine enthusiast, sits huddling nearly on top of the fire, shivering and watching the divisional patch on his arm, which ordinarily resembles a cluster of rocket-noses seen out of a dilating asshole, all in black and olive-drab, but which now looks like something even stranger than that, which Eddie will think of in a minute.
Shivering is one of Eddie Pensiero's favorite pastimes. Not the kind of shiver normal people get, the goose-on-the-grave passover and gone, but shivering that doesn't stop. Very hard to get used to at first. Eddie is a connoisseur of shivers. He is even able, in some strange way, to read them, like Säure Bummer reads reefers, like Miklos Thanatz reads whipscars. But the gift isn't limited just to Eddie's own shivers, oh no, they're other peoples' shivers, too! Yeah they come in one by one, they come in all together in groups (lately he's been growing in his brain a kind of discriminator circuit, learning how to separate them
out). Least interesting of these shivers are the ones with a perfectly steady frequency, no variation to them at all. The next-to-least interesting are the frequency-modulated kind, now faster now slower depending on information put in at the other end, wherever that might be. Then you have the irregular waveforms that change both in frequency and in amplitude. They have to be Fourier-analyzed into their harmonics, which is a little tougher. There is often coding involved, certain subfrequencies, certain power-levels—you have to be pretty good to get the hang of these.
"Hey Pensiero." It is Eddie's Sergeant, Howard ("Slow") Lerner. "Getcher ass offa dat fire."
"Aww, Sarge," chatters Eddie, "c'mon. I wuz just tryin' ta get wawm."
"No ick-skew-siz, Pensiero! One o' th' koinels wants his hair cut, right now, an' yer it!"
"Ahh, youse guys," mutters Pensiero, crawling over to his sleeping bag and looking through his pack for comb and scissors. He is the company barber. His haircuts, which take hours and often days, are immediately recognizable throughout the Zone, revealing as they do the hair-by-hair singlemindedness of the "benny" habitue.
The colonel is sitting, waiting, under an electric bulb. The bulb is receiving its power from another enlisted man, who sits back in the shadows hand-pedaling the twin generator cranks. It is Eddie's friend Private Paddy ("Electro") McGonigle, an Irish lad from New Jersey, one of those million virtuous and adjusted city poor you know from the movies—you've seen them dancing, singing, hanging out the washing on the lines, getting drunk at wakes, worrying about their children going bad, I just don't know any more Faather, he's a good b'y but he's runnin' with a crool crowd, on through every wretched Hollywood lie down to and including this year's big hit, A Tree Grows in Brooklyn. With his crank here young Paddy is practicing another form of Eddie's gift, though he's transmitting not receiving. The bulb appears to burn steadily, but this is really a succession of electric peaks and valleys, passing by at a speed that depends on how fast Paddy is cranking. It's only that the wire inside the bulb unbrightens slow enough before the next peak shows up that fools us into seeing a steady light. It's really a train of imperceptible light and dark. Usually imperceptible. The message is never conscious on Paddy's part. It is sent by muscles and skeleton, by that circuit of his body which has learned to work as a source of electrical power.
Right now Eddie Pensiero is shivering and not paying much atten-
tion to that light bulb. His own message is interesting enough. Somebody close by, out in the night, is playing a blues on a mouth harp. "Whut's dat?" Eddie wants to know, standing under the white light behind the silent colonel in his dress uniform, "hey, McGonigle—you hear sunip'n?"
"Yeah," jeers Paddy from behind the generator, "I hear yer dischodge, flyin' away, wit' big wings comin' outa th' ass end. Dat's whut I hear! Yuk, yuk!"
"Aw, it's th' bunk!" replies Eddie Pensiero. "Y-you don't hear no dischodge, ya big dumbheaded Mick."
"Hey, Pensiero, ya know whut a Eye-talian submarine sounds like, on dat new sonar? Huh?"
"Uh . . . whut?"
"Pinnnggguinea-guinea-guinea wopwopwop! Dat's whut! Yuk, yuk, yuk!"
"Fuck youse," sez Eddie, and commences combing the colonel's silver-black hair.
The moment the comb contacts his head, the colonel begins to speak. "Ordinarily, we'd spend no more than 24 hours on a house-to-house sweep. Sundown to sundown, house to house. There's a quality of black and gold to either end of it, that way, silhouettes, shaken skies pure as a cyclorama. But these sunsets, out here, I don't know. Do you suppose something has exploded somewhere? Really—somewhere in the East? Another Krakatoa? Another name at least that exotic . . . the colors are so different now. Volcanic ash, or any finely-divided substance, suspended in the atmosphere, can diffract the colors strangely. Did you know that, son? Hard to believe, isn't it? Rather a long taper if you don't mind, and just short of combable on top. Yes, Private, the colors change, and how! The question is, are they changing according to something? Is the sun's everyday spectrum being modulated? Not at random, but systematically, by this unknown debris in the prevailing winds? Is there information for us? Deep questions, and disturbing ones.
"Where are you from, son? I'm from Kenosha, Wisconsin. My folks have a little farm back there. Snowfields and fenceposts all the way to Chicago. The snow covers the old cars up on blocks in the yards . . . big white bundles ... it looks like Graves Registration back there in Wisconsin.
"Heh, heh. .. ."
"Hey Pensiero," calls Paddy McGonigle, "ya still hearin' dat sound?"
"Yeah uh I t'ink it's a mouth-organ," Pensiero busily combing up single hairs, cutting each one a slightly different length, going back again and again to touch up here and there . . . God is who knows their number. Atropos is who severs them to different lengths. So, God under the aspect of Atropos, she who cannot be turned, is in possession of Eddie Pensiero tonight.
"I got your mouth organ," jeers Paddy, "right here! Look! A wop clarinet!"
Each long haircut is a passage. Hair is yet another kind of modulated frequency. Assume a state of grace in which all hairs were once distributed perfectly even, a time of innocence when they fell perfectly straight, all over the colonel's head. Winds of the day, gestures of distraction, sweat, itchings, sudden surprises, three-foot falls at the edge of sleep, watched skies, remembered shames, all have since written on that perfect grating. Passing through it tonight, restructuring it, Eddie Pensiero is an agent of History. Along with the reworking of the colonel's head runs the shiver-borne blues—long runs in number 2 and 3 hole correspond, tonight anyway, to passages in the deep reaches of hair, birch trunks in a very humid summer night, approaches to a stone house in a wooded park, stags paralyzed beside the high flagged walks. ...
Blues is a matter of lower sidebands—you suck a clear note, on pitch, and then bend it lower with the muscles of your face. Muscles of your face have been laughing, tight with pain, often trying not to betray any emotion, all your life. Where you send the pure note is partly a function of that. There's that secular basis for blues, if the spiritual angle bothers you. . . .
"I didn't know where I was," relates the colonel. "I kept climbing downward, along these big sheared chunks of concrete. Black reinforcing rod poking out . . . black rust. There were touches of royal purple in the air, not bright enough to blur out over their edges, or change the substance of the night. They dribbled down, lengthening out, one by one—ever seen a chicken fetus, just beginning? oh of course not, you're a city boy. There's a lot to learn, out on the farm. Teaches you what a chicken fetus looks like, so that if you happen to be climbing around a concrete mountain in the dark, and see one, or several, up in the sky reproduced in purple, you'll know what they look like—that's a heap better than the city, son, there you just move from crisis to crisis, each one brand-new, nothing to couple it back onto. ..."
Well, there he is, cautiously edging along the enormous ruin, his
hair at the moment looking very odd—brushed forward from one occipital spot, forward and up in great long points, forming a black sunflower or sunbonnet around his face, in which the prominent feature is the colonel's long, crawling magenta lips. Things grab up for him out of crevices among the debris, sort of fast happy lunge out and back in, thin pincer arms, nothing personal, just thought I'd grab a little night air, ha, ha! When they miss the colonel—as they always seem to do— why they just zip back in with a gambler's ho-hum, well, maybe next time. . . .
Dammit, cut off from my regiment here, gonna be captured and cremated by dacoits! Ob Jesus there they are now, unthinkable Animals running low in the light from the G-5 version of the city, red and yellow turbans, scarred dope-fiend faces, faired as the front end of a '37 Ford, same undirected eyes, same exemption from the Karmic Hammer—
A '37 Ford, exempt from the K.H.? C'mon quit fooling. They'll all end up in junkyards same as th' rest!
Oh, will they, Skippy? Why are there so many on the roads, then?
W-well gee, uh, Mister Information, th-th' War, I mean there's no new cars being built right now so we all have to keep our Old Reliable in tiptop shape cause there's not too many mechanics left here on the home front, a-and we shouldn't hoard gas, and we should keep that A-sticker prominently displayed in the lower right—
Skippy, you little fool, you are off on another of your senseless and retrograde journeys. Come back, here, to the points. Here is where the paths divided. See the man back there. He is wearing a white hood. His shoes are brown. He has a nice smile, but nobody sees it. Nobody sees it because his face is always in the dark. But he is a nice man. He is the pointsman. He is called that because he throws the lever that changes the points. And we go to Happyville, instead of to Pain City. Or "Der Leid-Stadt," that's what the Germans call it. There is a mean poem about the Leid-Stadt, by a German man named Mr. Rilke. But we will not read it, because we are going to Happyville. The pointsman has made sure we'll go there. He hardly has to work at all. The lever is very smooth, and easy to push. Even you could push it, Skippy. If you knew where it was. But look what a lot of work he has done, with just one little push. He has sent us all the way to Happyville, instead of to Pain City. That is because he knows just where the points and the lever are. He is the only kind of man who puts in very little work and makes big things happen, all over the world. He could have sent you on the right trip back there, Skippy. You can have your fantasy if you want, you probably don't deserve anything better, but Mister Information tonight is in a kind mood. He will show you Happyville. He will begin by reminding you of the 1937 Ford. Why is that dacoit-faced auto still on the roads? You said "the War," just as you rattled over the points onto the wrong track. The War was the set of points. Eh? Yesyes, Skippy, the truth is that the War is keeping things alive. Things. The Ford is only one of them. The Germans-and-Japs story was only one, rather surrealistic version of the real War. The real War is always there. The dying tapers off now and then, but the War is still killing lots and lots of people. Only right now it is killing them in more subtle ways. Often in ways that are too complicated, even for us, at this level, to trace. But the right people are dying, just as they do when armies fight. The ones who stand up, in Basic, in the middle of the machine-gun pattern. The ones who do not have faith in their Sergeants. The ones who slip and show a moment's weakness to the Enemy. These are the ones the War cannot use, and so they die. The right ones survive. The others, it's said, even know they have a short life expectancy. But they persist in acting the way they do. Nobody knows why. Wouldn't it be nice if we could eliminate them completely? Then no one would have to be killed in the War. That would be fun, wouldn't it, Sldppy?
Jeepers, it sure would, Mister Information! Wow, I-I can't wait to see Happyville!
Happily, he doesn't have to wait at all. One of the dacoits comes leaping with a whistling sound, ecru silk cord strung buzzing tight between his fists, eager let's-get-to-it grin, and just at the same moment a pair of arms comes pincering up out of a fissure in the ruins, and gathers the colonel down to safety just in time. The dacoit falls on his ass, and sits there trying to pull the cord apart, muttering oh shit, which even dacoits do too.
"You are under the mountain," a voice announces. Stony cave-acoustics in here. "Please remember from this point on to obey all pertinent regulations."
His guide is a kind of squat robot, dark gray plastic with rolling headlamp eyes. It is shaped something like a crab. "That's Cancer in Latin," sez the robot, "and in Kenosha, too!" It will prove to be addicted to one-liners that never quite come off for anyone but it.
"Here is Muffin-tin Road," announces the robot, "note the smiling faces on all the houses here." Upstairs windows are eyes, picket fence is teeth. Nose is the front door.
"Sa-a-a-y," asks the colonel, taken by a sudden thought, "does it ever snoiv here in Happyville?"
"Does what ever snow?"
"I'm evading-room vino from Vìsconsin," sings this boorish machine, "and you oughta see the nurses run! So what else is new, Jackson?" The squat creature is actually chewing gum, a Laszlo Jamf variation on polyvinyl chloride, very malleable, even sending out detachable molecules which, through an ingenious Osmo-elektrische Schalterwerke, developed by Siemens, is transmitting, in code, a damn fair approximation of Beeman's licorice flavor to the robot crab's brain.
"Mister Information always answers questions."
"For what he's making, I'd even question answers. Does it ever snow? Of course it snows in Happyville. Lotta snowmen'd sure be sore if it didn't!"
"I recall, back in Wisconsin, the wind used to blow right up the walk, like a visitor who expects to be let in. Sweeps the snow up against the front door, leaves it drifted there. . . . Ever get that in Happyville?"
"Old stuff," sez the robot.
"Anybody ever open his front door, while the wind was doing that, eh?"
"Thousands of times." "Then," pounces the colonel, "if the door is the house's nose, and the door is open, a-and all of those snowy-white crystals are blowing up from Muffin-tin Road in a big cloud right into the—" "Aagghh!" screams the plastic robot, and scuttles away into a narrow alley. The colonel finds himself alone in a brown and wine-aged district of the city: sandstone and adobe colors sweep away in a progress of walls, rooftops, streets, not a tree in sight, and who's this come strolling down the Schokoladestrasse? Why, it's Laszlo Jamf himself, grown to a prolonged old age, preserved like a '37 Ford against the World's ups and downs, which are never more than damped-out changes in smile, wide-pearly to wistfully gauze, inside Happyville here. Dr. Jamf is wearing a bow tie of a certain limp grayish lavender, a color for long dying afternoons through conservatory windows, minor-keyed lieder about days gone by, plaintive pianos, pipesmoke in a stuffy parlor, overcast Sunday walks by canals . . . here the two men are, dry-scratched precisely, attentively on this afternoon, and the bells across the canal are tolling the hour: the men have come
from very far away, after a journey neither quite remembers, on a mission of some kind. But each has been kept ignorant of the other's role. . . .
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