— richard M. nixon
BETTE DAVIS AND MARGARET DUMONT are in the curly-Cuvilliés drawing-room of somebody's palatial Home. From outside the window, at some point, comes the sound of a kazoo, playing a tune of astounding tastelessness, probably "Who Dat Man?" from A Day at the Races (in more ways than one). It is one of Groucho Marx's vulgar friends. The sound is low, buzzing, and guttural. Bette Davis freezes, tosses her head, flicks her cigarette, "What," she inquires, "is that?" Margaret Dumont smiles, throws out her chest, looks down her nose. "Well it sounds," she replies, "like a kazoo."
For all Slothrop knows, it was a kazoo. By the time he's awake, the racket has faded in the morning. Whatever it was, it woke him up. What it was, or is, is Pirate Prentice, in a more or less hijacked P-47, on route to Berlin. His orders are terse and clear, like those of the others, agents of the Pope, Pope got religion, go out 'n' find that minnesinger, he's a good guy after all. . . .
Well, it's an older Jug, one with a greenhouse canopy. The barred field of sight gives Pirate twinges of memory in his neck muscles. The plane seems permanently out of trim to him, though he still fiddles now and then with different tabs. Right now he's trying the War Emergency Power to see how it works, even though there seems to be no War, no Emergency, keeping an eye on the panel, where RPMs, manifold pressure, and cylinder-head temperature are all nudging their red lines. He eases it down and flies on, and presently is trying a slow roll over Celle, then a loop over Brunswick, then, what the hell, an Immelmann over Magdeburg. On his back, molars aching in a grin,
he starts his roll a hair too slow, just this side of one-thirty, and nearly stalls it, jolts over a set of surprise points—finish it as an ordinary loop or go for the Immelmann?—already reaching for ailerons, forget the damn rudder, a spin isn't worth worrying about. . . but at the last second does give the pedal just a touch anyway, a minor compromise (I'm nearly forty, good God, is it happening to me too?) and rolls himself upright again. It had to be the Immelmann.
Oh I'm the Eagle of Tooting,
Bombing and shooting,
And nobodee can bring me down!
Old Kaiser Bill, you're over the hill,
Cause I'm comin' into your Home town!
Tell all the fräuleins and mademoiselles
To keep a light in the window for me . . .
Cause I'm the Eagle of Tooting, just rooty-toot-tooting.
And flyin' on to victo-ree!
By now, Osbie Feel ought to be in Marseilles, already trying to contact Blodgett Waxwing. Webley Silvernail is on route to Zurich. Katje will be going to Nordhausen . . . Katje. . . .
No, no, she hasn't told him everything she's been up to. It's none of his Business. However much she told him, there'd always be the bit of mystery to her. Because of what he is, because of directions he can't move in. But how is it both of them kept from vanishing from each other, into the paper cities and afternoons of this strange peace, and the coming Austerity? Could it be there's something about ad hoc arrangements, like the present mission, that must bring you in touch with the people you need to be with? that more formal adventures tend, by their nature, to separation, to loneliness? Ah, Prentice. . . . What's this, a runaway prop? no, no, check the fuel-pressure—here's the gauge needle wobbling, rather low, tank's run dry—
Little in-flight annoyance for Pirate here, nothing serious. . . . Out of his earphones now and then, ghost-voices will challenge or reprimand him: air traffic people down in their own kingdom, one more overlay on the Zone, antennas strung in the wilderness like redoubts, radiating half-spheres of influence, defining invisible corridors-in-the-sky that are real only for them. The Thunderbolt is painted Kelly green. Hard to miss. Pirate's idea. Gray was for the War. Let them chase. Catch me if you can.
Gray was for the War. So, it seems, was Pirate's odd talent for living the fantasies of others. Since V-E Day, nothing. But it's not the
end of his psychic difficulties. He is still being "haunted," in the same marginal and uncertain way, by Katje's ancestor Frans van der Groov, dodo killer and soldier of fortune. The man never quite arrives, nor quite leaves. Pirate is taking it personally. He is the Dutchman's compatible host, despite himself. What does Frans see in him? Has it to do—of course it does—with the Firm?
He has warped a skein of his dreams into Pirate's own, heretical dreams, exegeses of windmills that turned in shadow at the edges of dark fields, each arm pointing at a spot on the rim of a giant wheel that turned through the sky, stop and go, always exactly with the spinning cross: "wind" was a middle term, a convention to express what really moved the cross . . . and this applied to all wind, everywhere on Earth, shrieking between the confectionery pink and yellow mountains of Mauritius or stirring the tulips at Home, red cups in the rain filling bead by clear bead with water, each wind had its own cross-in-motion, materially there or implied, each cross a unique mandala, bringing op-posites together in the spin (and tell me now, Frans, what's this wind I'm in, this 25,000-foot wind? What mill's that, grinding there below? What does it grind, Frans, who tends the stone?).
Far beneath the belly of the Thunderbolt, brushed on the green countryside, pass the time-softened outlines of ancient earthworks, villages abandoned during the Great Dying, fields behind cottages whose dwellers were scythed down without mercy by the northward march of black plague. Behind a scrim, cold as sheets over furniture in a forbidden wing of the house, a soprano voice sings notes that never arrange themselves into a melody, that fall apart in the same way as dead proteins. . . .
"It's as clear as the air," rants Gustav the composer, "if you weren't an old fool you'd see it—I know, I know, there's an Old Fools' Benevolent Association, you all know each other, you vote censures against the most troublesome under-7Os and my name's at the head of the list. Do you think I care? You're all on a different frequency. There's no way you'll get interference from us. We're too far separated. We have our own problems."
Cryptozoa of many kinds scurry through crumbs, pubic hairs, winesplashes, tobacco ash and shreds, a litter of dram cocaine vials, each with a red Bakelite top bearing the seal of Merck of Darmstadt. The bugs' atmosphere ends about an inch from the floor, an ideal humidity, darkness, stability of temperature. Nobody bothers them. There is an unspoken agreement about not stomping on bugs in Säure's place.
"You're caught in tonality," screams Gustav. "Trapped. Tonality is a game. All of them are. You're too old. You'll never move beyond the game, to the Row. The Row is enlightenment."
"The Row is a game too." Säure sits grinning with an ivory spoon, shoveling incredible piles of cocaine into his nose, going through his whole repertoire: arm straight out swinging in in a giant curve zoom precisely to the nostril he's aiming at, then flicking in the lot from two feet away without losing a crystal . . . then a whole bunch gets tossed up in the air like a piece of popcorn and nose-gobbled ngkok on target, inside where it's smooth as a Jo block, not a cilium in sight there since the Liebknecht funeral, if not before . . . hand-to-hand shifts of spoon two or three times, faster than ivory ever moved in air ... rails disappearing in a wink without benefit of a tube to guide them. "Sound is a game, if you're capable of moving that far, you adenoidal closet-visionary. That's why I listen to Spohr, Rossini, Spontini, I'm choosing my game, one full of light and kindness. You're stuck with that stratosphere stuff and rationalize its dullness away by calling it 'enlightenment.' You don't know what enlightenment is, Kerl, you're blinder than I am."
Slothrop moseys down the trail to a mountain stream where he's left his harp to soak all night, wedged between a couple of rocks in a quiet pool.
"Your 'light and kindness' are the jigging of the doomed," sez Gustav. "You can smell mortality in every one of those bouncy little tunes." Surly, he decapitates a vial of cocaine with his teeth, and spits the red debris in among the shimmering bugs.
Through the flowing water, the holes of the old Hohner Slothrop found are warped one by one, squares being bent like notes, a visual blues being played by the clear stream. There are harpmen and dulcimer players in all the rivers, wherever water moves. Like that Rilke prophesied,
And though Earthliness forget you, To the stilled Earth say: I flow. To the rushing water speak: I am.
It is still possible, even this far out of it, to find and make audible the spirits of lost harpmen. Whacking the water out of his harmonica, reeds singing against his leg, picking up the single blues at bar 1 of this morning's segment, Slothrop, just suckin' on his harp, is closer to being a spiritual medium than he's been yet, and he doesn't even know it.
The harp didn't show up right away. His first days in these moun-
tains, he came across a set of bagpipes, left behind in April by some Highland unit. Slothrop has a knack for doping things out. The Imperial instrument was a cinch. In a week he mastered that dreamy tune Dick Powell sang in the movies, "In the Shadows Let Me Come and Sing to You," and spent most of his time playing that, WHANGde-diddle de-dee, WHANG de dum—de-doooooo . . . over and over, on the bagpipes. By and by he began to notice that offerings of food were being left near the lean-to he'd put up. Mangel-wurzels, a basket of cherries, even fresh fish. He never saw who was leaving them. Either he was supposed to be a bagpiper's ghost, or just purely sound itself, and he knew enough about solitudes and night-voices to figure what was going on. He quit playing the bagpipes, and next day he found the harp. It happens to be the same one he lost in 1938 or -9 down the toilet at the Roseland Ballroom, but that's too long ago for him to remember.
He's kept alone. If others have seen him or his fire, they haven't tried to approach. He's letting hair and beard grow, wearing a dungaree shirt and trousers Bodine liberated for him from the laundry of the John E. Badass. But he likes to spend whole days naked, ants crawling up his legs, butterflies lighting on his shoulders, watching the life on the mountain, getting to know shrikes and capercaillie, badgers and marmots. Any number of directions he ought to be moving in, but he'd rather stay right here for now. Everyplace he's been, Cuxhaven, Berlin, Nice, Zurich, must be watched now. He could still make a try at finding Springer, or Blodgett Waxwing. Why does he have this obsession with getting papers? What th' fuck are papers, anyhow? He could try one of the Baltic ports, wait around for Frau Gnahb to put in, and get over to that Denmark or that Sweden. DPs, offices burned, records lost forever—papers might not mean so much in Europe . . . waitaminute, so much as where, Slothrop? Huh? America? Shit. C'mon—
Yup, still thinking there's a way to get back. He's been changing, sure, changing, plucking the albatross of self now and then, idly, half-conscious as picking his nose—but the one ghost-feather his fingers always brush by is America. Poor asshole, he can't let her go. She's whispered love me too often to him in his sleep, vamped insatiably his waking attention with come-hitherings, incredible promises. One day—he can see a day—he might be able finally to say sorry, sure and leave her . . . but not just yet. One more try, one more chance, one more deal, one more transfer to a hopeful line. Maybe it's just pride. What if there's no place for him in her stable any more? If she has
turned him out, she'll never explain. Her "stallions" have no rights. She is immune to their small, stupid questions. She is exactly the Amazon Bitch your fantasies have called her to be.
Then there's Jamf, the coupling of "Jamf" and "I" in the primal dream. Who can he go to with it? it will not bear that much looking into, will it? If he gets too close, there will be revenge. They might warn him first, They might not.
Omens grow clearer, more specific. He watches flights of birds and patterns in the ashes of his fire, he reads the guts of trout he's caught and cleaned, scraps of lost paper, graffiti on the broken walls where facing has been shot away to reveal the brick underneath—broken in specific shapes that may also be read. . . .
One night, on the wall of a public shithouse stinking and ripe with typhoid, he finds among initials, dates, hasty pictures of penises and mouths open to receive them, Werewolf stencils of the dark man with the high shoulders and the Homburg hat, an official slogan: W1LLST DU V-2, DANN ARBEITE. If you want the V-2, then work. Good Evening Tyrone Slothrop . . . no, no, wait, it's O.K., over on the other wall they've also painted W1LLST DU V-4, DANN ARBEITE. Lucky. The brimming voices recede, the joke clarifies, he is only back with Goebbels and the man's inability to let a good thing be. But it had taken an effort to walk around and look at that other wall. Anything could've been back there. It was dusk. Plowed fields, power lines, ditches and distant windbreaks went for miles. He felt brave and in control. But then another message caught his eye:
ROCKETMAN WAS HERE
His first thought was that he'd written it himself and forgot. Odd that that should've been his first thought, but it was. Might be he was starting to implicate himself, some yesterday version of himself, in the Combination against who he was right then. In its sluggish coma, the albatross stirred.
Past Slothrops, say averaging one a day, ten thousand of them, some more powerful than others, had been going over every sundown to the furious host. They were the fifth-columnists, well inside his head, waiting the moment to deliver him to the four other divisions outside, closing in. ...
So, next to the other graffiti, with a piece of rock, he scratches this sign:
Slothrop besieged. Only after he'd left it half a dozen more places did it dawn on him that what he -was really drawing was the A4 rocket, seen from below. By which time he had become tuned to other fourfold expressions—variations on Frans Van der Groov's cosmic windmill—swastikas, gymnastic symbols FFFF in a circle symmetrically upside down and backward, Frisch Fromm Frölich Frei over neat doorways in quiet streets, and crossroads, where you can sit and listen in to traffic from the Other Side, hearing about the future (no serial time over there: events are all there in the same eternal moment and so certain messages don't always "make sense" back here: they lack historical structure, they sound fanciful, or insane).
The sand-colored churchtops rear up on Slothrop's horizons, apses out to four sides like rocket fins guiding the streamlined spires . . . chiseled in the sandstone he finds waiting the mark of consecration, a cross in a circle. At last, lying one afternoon spread-eagled at his ease in the sun, at the edge of one of the ancient Plague towns he becomes a cross himself, a crossroads, a living intersection where the judges have come to set up a gibbet for a common criminal who is to be hanged at noon. Black hounds and fanged little hunters slick as weasels, dogs whose breeds have been lost for 700 years, chase a female in heat as the spectators gather, it's the fourth hanging this spring and not much spectacle here except that this one, dreaming at the last instant of who can say what lifted smock, what fat-haunched gnädige Frau Death may have come sashaying in as, gets an erection, a tremendous darkpurple swelling, and just as his neck breaks, he actually comes in his ragged loin-wrapping creamy as the skin of a saint under the purple cloak of Lent, and one drop of sperm succeeds in rolling, dripping hair to hair down the dead leg, all the way down, off the edge of the crusted bare foot, drips to earth at the exact center of the crossroad where, in the workings of the night, it changes into a mandrake root. Next Friday, at dawn, the Magician, his own moving Heiligenschein rippling infrared to ultraviolet in spectral rings around his shadow over the dewy grass, comes with his dog, a coal-black dog who hasn't been fed for a few days. The Magician digs carefully all around the precious root till it's held only by the finest root-hairs— ties it to the tail of his black dog, stops his own ears with wax then comes out with a piece of bread to lure the unfed dog rrrowf! dog lunges for bread, root is torn up and lets loose its piercing and fatal scream. The dog drops dead before he's halfway to breakfast, his holy-light freezes and fades in the million dewdrops. Magician takes the root tenderly Home, dresses it in a little white outfit and leaves money
with it overnight: in the morning the cash has multiplied tenfold. A delegate from the Committee on Idiopathic Archetypes comes to visit. "Inflation?" the Magician tries to cover up with some flowing hand-moves. " 'Capital'? Never heard of that." "No, no," replies the visitor, "not at the moment. We're trying to think ahead. We'd like very much to hear about the basic structure of this. How bad was the scream, for instance?" "Had m'ears plugged up, couldn't hear it." The delegate flashes a fraternal Business smile. "Can't say as I blame you. ..."
Crosses, swastikas, Zone-mandalas, how can they not speak to Slothrop? He's sat in Säure Bummer's kitchen, the air streaming with kif moires, reading soup recipes and finding in every bone and cabbage leaf paraphrases of himself. . . news flashes, names of wheelhorses that will pay him off enough for a certain getaway. . . . He used to pick and shovel at the spring roads of Berkshire, April afternoons he's lost, "Chapter 81 work," they called it, following the scraper that clears the winter's crystal attack-from-within, its white necropolizing . . . picking up rusted beer cans, rubbers yellow with preterite seed, Kleenex wadded to brain shapes hiding preterite snot, preterite tears, newspapers, broken glass, pieces of automobile, days when in superstition and fright he could make it all fit, seeing clearly in each an entry in a record, a history: his own, his winter's, his country's . . . instructing him, dunce and drifter, in ways deeper than he can explain, have been faces of children out the train windows, two bars of dance music somewhere, in some other street at night, needles and branches of a pine tree shaken clear and luminous against night clouds, one circuit diagram out of hundreds in a smudged yellowing sheaf, laughter out of a cornfield in the early morning as he was walking to school, the idling of a motorcycle at one dusk-heavy hour of the summer . . . and now, in the Zone, later in the day he became a crossroad, after a heavy rain he doesn't recall, Slothrop sees a very thick rainbow here, a stout rainbow cock driven down out of pubic clouds into Earth, green wet valleyed Earth, and his chest fills and he stands crying, not a thing in his head, just feeling natural. ...
Double-declutchingly, heel-and-toe, away goes Roger Mexico. Down the summer Autobahn, expansion joints booming rhythmic under his wheels, he highballs a pre-Hitler Horch 87OB through the burnt-
purple rolling of the Lüneburg Heath. Over the windscreen mild winds blow down on him, smelling of junipers. Heidschnucken sheep out there rest as still as fallen clouds. The bogs and broom go speeding by. Overhead the sky is busy, streaming, a living plasma.
The Horch, army-green with one discreet daffodil painted halfway up its bonnet, was lurking inside a lorry at the Elbeward edge of the Brigade pool at Hamburg, shadowed except for its headlamps, stalked eyes of a friendly alien smiling at Roger. Welcome there, Earthman. Once under way, he discovered the floor strewn with rolling unlabeled glass jars of what seems to be baby food, weird unhealthy-colored stuff no human baby could possibly eat and survive, green marbled with pink, vomit-beige with magenta inclusions, all impossible to identify, each cap adorned with a smiling, fat, cherubic baby, seething under the bright glass with horrible botulism toxins 'n' ptomaines . . . now and then a new jar will be produced, spontaneously, under the seat, and roll out, against all laws of acceleration, among the pedals for his feet to get confused by. He knows he ought to look back underneath there to find out what's going on, but can't quite bring himself to.
Bottles roll clanking on the floor, under the bonnet a hung-up tappet or two chatters its story of discomfort. Wild mustard whips past down the center of the Autobahn, perfectly two-tone, just yellow and green, a fateful river seen only by the two kinds of rippling light. Roger sings to a girl in Cuxhaven who still carries Jessica's name:
I dream that I have found us both again,
With spring so many strangers' lives away,
And we, so free,
Out walking by the sea,
With someone else's paper words to say. . . .
They took us at the gates of green return,
Too lost by then to stop, and ask them why—
Do children meet again?
Does any trace remain,
Along the superhighways of July?
Driving now suddenly into such a bright gold bearding of slope and field that he nearly forgets to steer around the banked curve. . . .
A week before she left, she came out to "The White Visitation" for the last time. Except for the negligible rump of PISCES, the place was a loony bin again. The barrage-balloon cables lay rusting across the
sodden meadows, going to flakes, to ions and earth—tendons that sang in the violent nights, among the sirens wailing in thirds smooth as distant wind, among the drumbeats of bombs, now lying slack, old, in hard twists of metal ash. Forget-me-nots boil everywhere underfoot, and ants crowd, bustling with a sense of kingdom. Commas, brimstones, painted ladies coast on the thermoclines along the cliffs. Jessica has cut fringes since Roger saw her last, and is going through the usual anxiety—"It looks utterly horrible, you don't have to say it. ..."
"It's utterly swoony," sez Roger, "I love it."
"You're making fun."
"Jess, why are we talking about haircuts for God's sake?"
While somewhere, out beyond the Channel, a barrier difficult as the wall of Death to a novice medium, Leftenant Slothrop, corrupted, given up on, creeps over the face of the Zone. Roger doesn't want to give him up: Roger wants to do what's right. "I just can't leave the poor twit out there, can I? They're trying to destroy him—"
But, "Roger," she'd smile, "it's spring. We're at peace."
No, we're not. It's another bit of propaganda. Something the P.WE, planted. Now gentlemen as you've seen from the studies our optimum time is 8 May, just before the traditional Whitsun exodus, schools letting out, weather projections for an excellent growing season, coal requirements beginning their seasonal decline, giving us a few months' grace to get our Ruhr interests back on their feet—no, he sees only the same flows of power, the same impoverishments he's been thrashing around in since '39. His girl is about to be taken away to Germany, when she ought to be demobbed like everyone else. No channel upward that will show either of them any hope of escape. There's something still on, don't call it a "war" if it makes you nervous, maybe the death rate's gone down a point or two, beer in cans is back at last and there were a lot of people in Trafalgar Square one night not so long ago . . . but Their enterprise goes on.
The sad fact, lacerating his heart, laying open his emptiness, is that Jessica believes Them. "The War" was the condition she needed for being with Roger. "Peace" allows her to leave him. His resources, next to Theirs, are too meager. He has no words, no technically splendid embrace, no screaming fit that can ever hold her. Old Beaver, not surprisingly, will be doing air-defense liaison over there, so they'll be together in romantic Cuxhaven. Ta-ta mad Roger, it's been grand, a wartime fling, when we came it was utterly incendiary, your arms open
wide as a Fortress's wings, we had our military secrets, we fooled the fat old colonels right and left but stand-down time must come to all, yikes! I must run sweet Roger really it's been dreamy. . . .
He would fall at her knees smelling of glycerine and rose-water, he would lick sand and salt from her ATS brogans, offer her his freedom, his next 50 years' pay from a good steady job, his poor throbbing brain. But it's too late. We're at Peace. The paranoia, the danger, the tuneless whistling of busy Death next door, are all put to sleep, back in the War, back with her Roger Mexico Years. The day the rockets stopped falling, it began to end for Roger and Jessica. As it grew clear, day after safe day, that no more would fall ever again, the new world crept into and over her like spring—not so much the changes she felt in air and light, in the crowds at Woolworth's, as a bad cinema spring, full of paper leaves and cotton-wool blossoms and phony lighting . . . no, never again will she stand at their kitchen sink with a china cup squeaking in her fingers, its small crying-child sound defenseless, meekly resonating BLOWN OUT OF ATTENTION AS THE ROCKET FELL smashing to a clatter of points white and blue across the floor. . . .
Those death-rockets now are in the past. This time she'll be on the firing end, she and Jeremy—isn't that how it was always meant to be? firing them out to sea: no death, only the spectacle, fire and roar, the excitement without the killing, isn't that what she prayed for? back in the fading house, derequisitioned now, occupied again by human extensions of ball-fringe, dog pictures, Victorian chairs, secret piles of News of the World in the upstairs closet.
She's meant to go. The orders come from higher than she can reach. Her future is with the World's own, and Roger's only with this strange version of the War he still carries with him. He can't move, poor dear, it won't let him go. Still passive as he'd been under the rockets. Roger the victim. Jeremy the firer. "The War's my mother," he said the first day, and Jessica has wondered what ladies in black appeared in his dreams, what ash-white smiles, what shears to come snapping through the room, through their winter ... so much of him she never got to know ... so much unfit for Peace. Already she's beginning to think of their time as a chain of explosions, craziness ganged to the rhythms of the War. Now he wants to go rescue Slothrop, another rocket-creature, a vampire whose sex life actually fed on the terror of that Rocket Blitz—ugh, creepy, creepy. They ought to lock him up, not set him free. Roger must care more about Slothrop
than about her, they're two of a kind, aren't they, well—she hopes they'll be happy together. They can sit and drink beer, tell rocket stories, scribble equations for each other. How jolly. At least she won't be leaving him in a vacuum. He won't be lonely, he'll have something to occupy the time. . . .
She has wandered away from him, down the beach. The sun is so bright today that the shadows by her Achilles tendon are drawn sharp and black as seams up the heel of a silk stocking. Her head, as always, is bent forward, away, the bare nape he's never stopped loving, will never see again, unprotected as her beauty, her innocence of how forever in peril it moves through the World. She may know a little, may think of herself, face and body, as "pretty" . . . but he could never tell her all the rest, how many other living things, birds, nights smelling of grass and rain, sunlit moments of simple peace, also gather in what she is to him. Was. He is losing more than single Jessica: he's losing a full range of life, of being for the first time at ease in the Creation. Going back to winter now, drawing back into his single envelope. The effort it takes to extend any further is more than he can make alone.
He hadn't thought he'd cry when she left. But he cried. Snot by the cubic yard, eyes like red carnations. Presently, every time his left foot hit the ground walking he'd get a jolt of pain through half his skull. Ah, this must be what they mean by the "pain of separation!" Pointsman kept showing up with armloads of work. Roger found himself unable to forget Jessica, and caring less about Slothrop.
But one day Milton Gloaming popped in to deliver him from his unmoving. Gloaming was just back from a jaunt through the Zone. He'd found himself on a task force with one Josef Schleim, a defector of secondary brilliance, who had once worked for the IG out of Dr. Reithinger's office, VOWI—the Statistical Department of NW7. There, Schleim had been assigned to the American desk, gathering for the IG economic intelligence, through subsidiaries and licensees like Chemnyco, General Aniline and Film, Ansco, Winthrop. In '36 he came to England to work for Imperial Chemicals, in a status that was never to be free from ambiguities. He'd heard of Slothrop, yes indeed . . . recalled him from the old days. When Lyle Bland went out on his last transmural journey, there'd been Green Reports flapping through the IG offices for weeks, Geheime Kommandosache, rumors coupling and uncoupling like coal-tar molecules under pressure, all to do with who was likely to take over the Slothrop surveillance, now that Bland was gone.
This was toward the beginning of the great struggle for the IG's
intelligence machinery. The economic department of the foreign office and the foreign department of the economic office were both after it. So were the military, in particular the Wehrwirtschaftstab, a section of the General Staff that maintained OKW's liaison with industry. The IG's own liaison with OKW was handled by Vermittlungsstelle W, under Drs. Dieckmann and Gorr. The picture was farther confused by the usual duplicate Nazi Party offices, Abwehr-Organizations, set up throughout German industry after 1933. The Nazis' watchdog over the IG was called "Abteilung A" and was set up in the same office building as—in fact, it appeared perfectly congruent with—the IG's own Army liaison group, Vermittlungsstelle W. But Technology, alas, braid-crowned and gold-thighed maiden, always comes up for grabs like this. Most likely the bitching and bickering of Army vs. Party was what finally drove Schleim over the hill, more than any moral feelings about Hitler. In any case, he remembers the Slothrop surveillance being assigned to a newly created "Sparte IV" under Vermittlungsstelle W. Sparte I was handling nitrogen and gasoline, II dyes, chemicals, buna rubber, pharmaceuticals, III film and fibers. IV handled Slothrop and nothing else, except—Schleim had heard tell—one or two miscellaneous patents acquired through some dealings with IG Chemie in Switzerland. An analgesic whose name he couldn't recall, and a new plastic, some name like Mipolam . . . "Polimex," or something. . . .
"Sounds like that would've come under Sparte II," was Gloaming's only comment at the time.
"A few directors were upset," Schleim agreed. "Ter Meer was a Draufgänger—he and Hörlein both, go-ahead fellows. They might have got it back."
"Did the Party assign an Abwehr man to this Sparte IV?"
"They must have, but I don't know if he was SD or SS. There were so many of them around. I can remember some sort of rather thin chap with thick eyeglasses coming out of the office there once or twice. But he wore civilian clothes. Couldn't tell you his name."
Well now what'n the bloody 'ell. . . .
"Suveillance?" Roger is fidgeting heavily, with his hair, his necktie, ears, nose, knuckles, "IG Farben had Slothrop under surveillance? Before the War? What for, Gloaming."
"Odd, isn't it?" Cheerio boing out the door without another word, leaving Roger alone with a most disagreeable light beginning to grow, the leading edge of a revelation, blinding, crescent, at the periphery of his brain. IG Farben, eh? Mr. Pointsman has been chumming, almost
exclusively these days, with upper echelon from ICI. ICI has cartel arrangements with Farben. The bastard. Why, he must have known about Slothrop all along. The Jamf Business was only a front for . . . well say what the hell is going on here?
Halfway up to London (Pointsman has repossessed the Jaguar, so Roger's on a motorcycle from the PISCES pool, which consists now only of the cycle and one Morris with virtually no clutch) it occurs to him that Gloaming was sent around deliberately by Pointsman, as some obscure tactic in this Nayland Smith campaign he seems to be into (Pointsman owns a matched set of all the books in Sax Rohmer's great Manichaean saga, and is apt these days to pop in at any time, usually while Roger is sleeping or trying to take a quiet shit, and actually stand there, in front of the toilet, reading aloud a pertinent text). Nothing is beyond Pointsman, he's worse than old Pudding was, no shame at all. He would use anyone—Gloaming, Katje Borgesius, Pirate Prentice, no one is (Jessica) exempt from his (Jessica?) Machiavellian—
Jessica. Oh. Yes ofcourseofcourse Mexico you fucking idiot... no wonder the 137th gave him the runaround. No wonder her orders came from Too High. He had even, lamb frolicking about the spit, asked Pointsman to see what he could do. . . . Fool. Fool.
He arrives at Twelfth House on Gallaho Mews in a homicidal state of mind. Bicycle thieves run down the back streets, old pros wheeling them three abreast at a good pace. Young men with natty mustaches preen in the windows. Children loot the dustbins. Courtyard corners are drifted with official papers, the shed skin of a Beast at large. A tree has inexplicably withered in the street to a shingly black corpse. A fly lands belly-up on the front fender of Roger's motorcycle, thrashes ten seconds, folds its veined and sensitive wings, and dies. Quick as that. First one Roger has ever seen. P-47s fly over in squadron box formations, four checkmarks apiece RedWhiteBlueYellow on the un-amended form of the whitish sky, squadron after squadron: it is either some military review, or another war. A plasterer is busy around the corner, smoothing over a bomb-scarred wall, plaster heaped on his hawk luscious as cream cheese, using an unfamiliar trowel inherited from a dead friend, still, these first days, digging holes like an apprentice, the shiny knife-edge not yet broken to his hand, the curl of it a bit more than his own strength could have ever brought it to ... Henry was a larger bloke. . . . The fly, who was not dead, unfolds its wings and zooms off to fool somebody else.
All right Pointsman stomping into Twelfth House, rattling the
corkboards down the seven hallways and flights, receptionists making long arms for the telephone dammit now where are you—
Not in his office. But Géza Rózsavölgyi is, and tries to give Roger a hard time. "You are ma-láng a spec-tacle oîyour-self, young man."
"Shurrup you Transylvanian twit," snarls Roger, "I'm looking for the boss, see, one funny move out of you and it's your last taste of O-negative, Jackson, those fangs won't even be able to gum oatmeal when I'm through wiv you—" Alarmed Rózsavölgyi, retreating around the water cooler, tries to pick up a swivel chair to defend himself with. The seat falls off, and Rózsavölgyi is left with only the base, which happens, embarrassingly, to be shaped like a cross.
"Where is he," Mexican standoff, Roger gritting his teeth do not succumb to hysteria, it is a counter-productive luxury you cannot, in your present great vulnerability, afford. . . . "Come on you sod, tell me or you'll never see the inside of a coffin again—"
In runs a short but spunky secretary, bit of a chubbette here, and commences belting Roger in the shins with the excess-profits tax records from 1940 to '44 of an English steel firm which happened to share a pattent with Vereinigte Stahlwerke for an alloy used in the liquid-oxygen couplings for the line running aft to the S-Gerät in A4 number 00000. But Roger's shins are not set up for this kind of information. The secretary's glasses fall off. "Miss Müller-Hochleben," reading her nametag, "you look beastly without your glasses. Put ssem back on, at vunce!" this comic Nazi routine being inspired by her surname.
"I can't find them," German accent all right, "I don't see too well."
"Well, we'll see if we can't help you here—ah! what's this? Miss Müller-Hochleben!"
"What do they look like, these eyeglasses?"
"They are white—"
"With clever little rhinestones all around the rims, Fräulein? eh?"
"Ja, ja, und mit—"
"And running down all the earpieces too, a-and feathers?"
"Ostrich feathers. ..."
"Male ostrich feathers, dyed a stunning peacock blue, sprouting off the edges?"
"That is my eyeglasses, ja," sez the groping secretary, "where are they, please?"
"Right here!'' bringing his foot down CRUNCH, smashing them to bright arctic gatherings all over Pointsman's rug.
"l-say," offers Rózsavölgyi from a far corner: the one corner of the room, by the way, which is not brightly lit, yes kind of an optic anomaly here, just a straight, square room, no odd-shaped polyhedrons in Twelfth House . . . and still, this strange, unaccountable prism of shadow in the corner . . . more than one visitor has popped in to find Mr. Pointsman not at his desk where he ought to be but standing in the shadow-corner—most disturbingly facing into it. . . . Rózsavölgyi is not himself that fond of the Corner, he's tried it a few times but only came out shaking his head: "Mis-ter Pointsman, I-don't like it in there, at all. What poss-ible kind, of a thrill can an-yone get, from such an un-wholesome experience. Eh?" raising one crookedly wistful eyebrow. Pointsman had only looked apologetic, not for himself but to something for Rózsavölgyi, and said gently, "This is one spot in the room where I feel alive," well bet your ass one or two memos went up toward Ministerial level over that one. If they reached the Minister himself, it was probably as office entertainment. "Oh yes, yes," shaking his wise old head of sheep's wool, high, almost Slavic cheekbones crinkling his eyes up into an inattentive but polite laughter, "yes Pointsman's famous Corner, yes . . . wouldn't be surprised if it was haunted, eh?" Reflex laughs from the underlings present, though only grim smiles from the overlings. "Get the S.P.R. in, to have a look," giggles someone with a cigar. "The poor bloke will think he's back in the War again." "Hear, hear," and, "That's a good one, all right," ring through the layering smoke. Practical jokes are all the rage among these particular underlings, a kind of class tradition.
"You say what," Roger has been screaming for a while.
"I-say," sez Rózsavölgyi, again.
"You say, 'I say'? Is that it? Then you should have said, 'I say, "I say." ' "
"No, no—you said, 'I say,' once, is what you—"
"A-ha! But I said it again. I-said it... twice."
"But that was after I asked you the question—you can't tell me the two 'I say's were both part of the same statement," unless, "that's asking me to be unreasonably," unless it's really true that, "credulous, and around you that's a form of," that we're the same person, and that the whole exchange was ONE SINGLE THOUGHT yaaaggghhh and that means, "insanity, Rózsavölgyi—"
"My glasses," snivels Fräulein Müller-Hochleben, now crawling around the room, Mexico scattering the glass splinters with his shoe so that now and then the unfortunate girl will cut a hand or a knee,
beginning to trail dark little feathers of blood for inches at a time, eventually—assuming she were to last long enough—dotting in Pointsman's rug like the train of a Beardsley gown.
"You're doing fine, Miss Müller-Hochleben!" cries Roger encouragingly, "and as for you, you—" but is stopped on noticing how Rózsavölgyi now is nearly invisible in the shadow, and how the whites of his eyes are actually glowing white, jittering around in the air, winking-out-coming-back ... it is costing Rózsavölgyi an effort to stay in this shadow-corner. It is not, at all, his sort of place. For one thing, the rest of the room seems to be at more of a distance, as through the view-finder on a camera. And the walls—they don't appear to be ... well, solid, actually. They flow: a coarse, a viscous passage, rippling like a standing piece of silk or nylon, the color watery gray but now and then with a surprise island in the flow, some color absolutely foreign to this room: saffron spindles, palm-green ovals, magenta firths running comblike into jagged comicbook-orange chunks of island as the wounded fighter-plane circles, jettisons the tanks, then the silver canopy, sets the flaps to just above a stall, wheels up as the blue (suddenly, such a violent blue!) rushes in just before impact throttle closed uhhnnhb! oh shit the reef, we're going to smash up on the—oh. Oh, there's no reef? We-we're safe? We are! Mangoes, I see mangoes on that tree over there! a-and there's a girl—there's a lotta girls! Lookit, they're all gorgeous, their tits point straight out, and they're all swingin' those grass skirts, playin' ukuleles and singing (though why are the voices so hard and tough, so nasally like the voices of an American chorus line?)—
White man welcome ta Puke-a-hook-a-look-i I-i-i-island!
One taste o' my pa-paya and y'll never wanna go a-waaaay!
Moon like a yel-low ba-na-na,
Hangin' over, my ca-ba-na,
And lotsa hula, hula games to play—
Oh the stars are fallin' over Puke-a-hook-a-look-i Island,
And the lava down the mountain's runnin' scrump-shus as a
Even Sweet Leilani in the Little Grass Shack Loves a coconut monkey and a missionary snack, Looky-looky, sugar cookie, you're on Puke-a-hook-a-look-i
O-boy, o-boy—go-ing to nail me, one, of those lit-Ûe is-hnd love-lies, spend, the rest. . . of my life, eat-ing pa-pay-as, Jra-grant as the cunt, of young paradise—
When paradise was young. The pilot is turning to Rózsavölgyi, who is still strapped in safety harness behind him. The face is covered with helmet, goggles that reflect too much light, oxygen mask—a face of metal, leather, isinglass. But now the pilot is raising the goggles, slowly, and whose eyes are these, so familiar, smiling hello, I know you, don't you know me? Don't you really know me?
Rózsavölgyi screams and backs out of the corner, shivering, blinded now in the overhead lights. Fräulein Müller-Hochleben is crawling around and around in the same circle, faster and faster, nearly a blur, croaking hysterically. Both have reached the exact level Roger's subtle psychological campaign here was intended to work them up to. Quietly but firmly: "Right. Now for the last time, where is Mr. Pointsman?"
"Mossmoon's office," they reply, in unison.
Mossmoon's office is a roller-skate ride away from Whitehall, and guarded by room after room of sentinel girls, each of them wearing a frock of a radically different color from the others (and this goes on for a while, so you can imagine what 3-sigma colors these are to begin with, if that many can be so "radically different," you know, like that— oh, colors such as lizard, evening star, pale Atlantis to name a few), and whom Roger romances, bribes, threatens, double-talks and (sigh) yes punches his way through till finally "Mossmoon," pounding on this gigantic oak door, carved like the stone doorways of certain temples, "Pointsman, the jig's up! In the name of whatever marginal decency enables you to get through the day without being shot dead by the odd armed stranger, open this door." This is quite a long speech, and the door actually opens halfway through, but Roger finishes it up anyhow. He's looking into a room of incandescent lemon-lime subdued drastically, almost to the milky point of absinthe-and-water, a room warmer than this tableful of faces really deserves, but perhaps it's Roger's entrance that deepens the color a bit now as he runs and jumps up on the polished table, over the polished head of a director of a steel company, skidding 20 feet down the waxed surface to confront the man at the end, who sits with a debonair (well, snotty) smile on his face. "Moss-moon, I'm on to you." Has he actually come inside, in among the hoods, eye-slits, gold paraphernalia, the incense and the thighbone scepter?
"That's not Mossmoon," Mr. Pointsman clearing his throat as he speaks, "Mexico do come down off the table won't you . . . gentlemen, one of my old PISCES colleagues, brilliant but rather unstable, as you may've noted—oh, Mexico, really—"
Roger has unbuttoned his fly, taken his cock out, and is now busy pissing on the shiny table, the papers, in the ashtrays and pretty soon on these poker-faced men themselves, who, although executive material all right, men of hair-trigger minds, are still not quite willing to admit that this is happening, you know, in any world that really touches, at too many points, the one they're accustomed to ... and actually the fall of warm piss is quite pleasant as it sweeps by, across ten-guinea cravats, creative-looking little beards, up into a liver-spotted nostril, across a pair of Army-issue steel-rim eyeglasses, slashing up and down starched fronts, Phi Beta Kappa keys, Legions of Honour, Orders of Lenin, Iron Crosses, V.C.s, retirement watchchains, Dewey-for-President lapel pins, half-exposed service revolvers, and even a sawed-off shotgun under the shoulder there. . . .
"Pointsman," the cock, stubborn, annoyed, bucks like an airship among purple clouds (very dense purple, as pile velvet that color) at nightfall when the sea-breeze promises a difficult landing, "I've saved you for last. But—goodness, I don't seem to have any urine left, here. Not even a drop. I'm so sorry. Nothing left for you at all. Do you understand? If it means giving my life" the words have just come out, and maybe Roger's exaggerating, but maybe not, "there will be nothing anywhere for you. What you get, I'll take. If you go higher in this, I'll come and get you, and take you back down. Wherever you go. Even should you find a spare moment of rest, with an understanding woman in a quiet room, I'll be at the window. I'll always be just outside. You will never cancel me. If you come out, I'll go in, and the room will be defiled for you, haunted, and you'll have to find another. If you stay inside I'll come in anyway—I'll stalk you room to room till I corner you in the last. You'll have the last room, Pointsman, and you'll have to live in it the rest of your scum, prostituted life."
Pointsman won't look at him. Won't meet his eyes. That's what Roger wanted. The security police show up as an anticlimax, although aficionados of the chase scene, those who cannot look at the Taj Mahal, the Uffizi, the Statue of Liberty without thinking chase scene, chase scene, wow yeah Douglas Fairbanks scampering across that moon minaret there—these enthusiasts may find interest in the following:
Roger dives under the table to button his fly and the zealous flatties leap at each other over the top of the table, colliding and cursing, but Roger has gone scuttling down the horsehide, hobnailed, pinstriped, Mom's-argyle-socked sublevel of these conspirators above, a precarious passage, any one foot could kick untelegraphed and wipe
him out—till he arrives back at the bald steel-magnate, reaches up, grabs him by the necktie or the cock, whichever it's easiest to get a hold on, and drags the man down under the table.
"Right. Now, we're going to get out of here, and you're my hostage, get it?" He emerges dragging the livid executive by his necktie or cock, pulling him like a child's sleigh strangling and apoplectic out the door, past the modally unusual rainbow of sentinel-ladies now intimidated-looking at least, sirens already wailing in the street MANIAC
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. . . .
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. . . .
Now it turns out that this light bulb over the colonel's head here is the same identical Osram light bulb that Franz Pokier used to sleep next to in his bunk at the underground rocket works at Nordhausen. Statistically (so Their story goes), every n-thousandth light bulb is gonna be perfect, all the delta-q's piling up just right, so we shouldn't be surprised that this one's still around, burning brightly. But the truth is even more stupendous. This bulb is immortal! It's been around, in fact, since the twenties, has that old-timery point at the tip and is less pear-shaped than more contemporary bulbs. Wotta history, this bulb, if only it could speak—well, as a matter of fact, it can speak. It is dictating the muscular modulations of Paddy McGonigle's cranking tonight, this is a loop here, with feedback through Paddy to the generator again. Here it is,
the story of byron the bulb
Byron was to've been manufactured by Tungsram in Budapest. He would probably have been grabbed up by the ace salesman Géza Rózsavölgyi's father Sandor, who covered all the Transylvanian territory and had begun to go native enough to where the Home office felt vaguely paranoid about him throwing some horrible spell on the whole operation if they didn't give him what he wanted. Actually he was a salesman who wanted his son to be a doctor, and that came true. But it may have been the bad witch-leery auras around Budapest that got the birth of Byron reassigned at the last minute to Osram, in Berlin. Reassigned, yes. There is a Bulb Baby Heaven, amiably satirized as if it was the movies or something, well Big Business, ha, ha! But don't let Them fool you, this is a bureaucracy first, and a Bulb Baby Heaven only as a sort of sideline. All overhead—yes, out of its own pocket the Company is springing for square leagues of organdy, hogsheads of IG Farben pink and blue Baby Dye, hundredweights of clever Siemens Electric Baby Bulb Pacifiers, giving the suckling Bulb the shape of a 110-volt current without the least trickle of power. One way or another, these Bulb folks are in the Business of providing the appearance of power, power against the night, without the reality.
Actually, B.B.H. is rather shabby. The brown rafters drip cobwebs. Now and then a roach shows up on the floor, and all the Babies try to roll over to look (being Bulbs they seem perfectly symmetrical, Skippy, but don't forget the contact at the top of the thread) going uh-guh!
uhhhh-guh!, glowing feebly at the bewildered roach sitting paralyzed and squashable out on the bare boards, rushing, reliving the terror of some sudden blast of current out of nowhere and high overhead the lambent, all-seeing Bulb. In their innocence, the Baby Bulbs don't know what to make of this roach's abreaction—they feel his fright, but don't know what it is. They just want to be his friend. He's interesting and has good moves. Everybody's excited except for Byron, who considers the other Bulb Babies a bunch of saps. It is a constant struggle to turn their thoughts on anything meaningful. Hi there Babies, I'm Byron-the-Bulb! Here to sing a little song to you, that goes—
Light-up, and-shine, you—in-cande-scent Bulb Ba-bies!
Looks-like ya got ra-bies
Just lay there foamin' and a-screamin' like a buncha
I'm deliv'rin' unto you a king-dom of roa-ches, And no-thin' ap-proaches
That joyful feelin' when-you're up-on the ceilin' Lookin' down—night and day—on the king-dom you sur-vey, They'll come out 'n' love ya till the break of dawn, But they run like hell when that light comes on! So shine on, Baby Bulbs, you're the wave of the fu-ture, And I'm here to recruit ya, In m'great crusade, Just sing along Babies—come-on-and-join-the-big-pa-rade!
Trouble with Byron's he's an old, old soul, trapped inside the glass prison of a Baby Bulb. He hates this place, lying on his back waiting to get manufactured, nothing to listen to on the speakers but Charleston music, now and then an address to the Nation, what kind of a setup's that? Byron wants to get out of here and into it, needless to say he's been developing all kinds of nervous ailments, Baby Bulb Diaper Rash, which is a sort of corrosion on his screw threads, Bulb Baby Colic, a tight spasm of high resistance someplace among the deep loops of tungsten wire, Bulb Baby Hyperventilation, where it actually feels like his vacuum's been broken though there is no organic basis. . . .
When M-Day finally does roll around, you can bet Byron's elated. He has passed the time hatching some really insane grandiose plans— he's gonna organize all the Bulbs, see, get him a power base in Berlin, he's already hep to the Strobing Tactic, all you do is develop the knack (Yogic, almost) of shutting off and on at a rate close to the human
brain's alpha rhythm, and you can actually trigger an epileptic fit! True. Byron has had a vision against the rafters of his ward, of 20 million Bulbs, all over Europe, at a given synchronizing pulse arranged by one of his many agents in the Grid, all these Bulbs beginning to strobe together, humans thrashing around the 20 million rooms like fish on the beaches of Perfect Energy—Attention, humans, this has been a warning to you. Next time, a few of us will explode. Ha-ha. Yes we'll unleash our Kamikaze squads! You've heard of the Kirghiz Light? well that's the ass end of a firefly compared to what we're gonna—oh, you haven't heard of the—oh, well, too bad. Cause a few Bulbs, say a million, a mere 5% of our number, are more than willing to flame out in one grand burst instead of patiently waiting out their design hours. ... So Byron dreams of his Guerrilla Strike Force, gonna get Herbert Hoover, Stanley Baldwin, all of them, right in the face with one coordinated blast. . . .
Is Byron in for a rude awakening! There is already an organization, a human one, known as "Phoebus," the international light-bulb cartel, headquartered in Switzerland. Run pretty much by International GE, Osram, and Associated Electrical Industries of Britain, which are in turn owned 100%, 29% and 46%, respectively, by the General Electric Company in America. Phoebus fixes the prices and determines the operational lives of all the bulbs in the world, from Brazil to Japan to Holland (although Philips in Holland is the mad dog of the cartel, apt at any time to cut loose and sow disaster throughout the great Combination). Given this state of general repression, there seems noplace for a newborn Baby Bulb to start but at the bottom.
But Phoebus doesn't know yet that Byron is immortal. He starts out his career at an all-girl opium den in Charlottenburg, almost within sight of the statue of Wernher Siemens, burning up in a sconce, one among many bulbs witnessing the more languorous forms of Republican decadence. He gets to know all the bulbs in the place, Benito the Bulb over in the next sconce who's always planning an escape, Bernie down the hall in the toilet, who has all kinds of urolagnia jokes to tell, his mother Brenda in the kitchen who talks of hashish hush puppies, dildos rigged to pump floods of paregoric orgasm to the capillaries of the womb, prayers to Astarte and Lilith, queen of the night, reaches into the true Night of the Other, cold and naked on linoleum floors after days without sleep, the dreams and tears become a natural state. . . .
One by one, over the months, the other bulbs burn out, and are gone. The first few of these hit Byron hard. He's still a new arrival, still hasn't accepted his immortality. But on through the burning hours he starts to learn about the transience of others: learns that loving them while they're here becomes easier, and also more intense—to love as if each design-hour will be the last. Byron soon enough becomes a Permanent Old-Timer. Others can recognize his immortality on sight, but it's never discussed except in a general way, when folklore comes flickering in from other parts of the Grid, tales of the Immortals, one in a kabbalist's study in Lyons who's supposed to know magic, another in Norway outside a warehouse facing arctic whiteness with a stoicism more southerly bulbs begin strobing faintly just at the thought of. If other Immortals are out there, they remain silent. But it is a silence with much, perhaps, everything, in it.
After Love, then, Byron's next lesson is Silence.
As his burning lengthens toward 600 hours, the monitors in Switzerland begin to keep more of an eye on Byron. The Phoebus Surveillance Room is located under a little-known Alp, a chilly room crammed full of German electro hardware, glass, brass, ebonite, and silver, massive terminal blocks shaggy with copper clips and screws, and a cadre of superclean white-robed watchers who wander meter to meter, light as snowdevils, making sure that nothing's going wrong, that through no bulb shall the mean operating life be extended. You can imagine what it would do to the market if that started happening.
Byron passes Surveillance's red-line at 600 hours, and immediately, as a matter of routine, he is checked out for filament resistance, burning temperature, vacuum, power consumption. Everything's normal. Now Byron is to be checked out every 50 hours hereafter. A soft chime will go off in the monitoring station whenever it's time.
At 800 hours—another routine precaution—a Berlin agent is sent out to the opium den to transfer Byron. She is wearing asbestos-lined kid gloves and seven-inch spike heels, no not so she can fit in with the crowd, but so that she can reach that sconce to unscrew Byron. The other bulbs watch, in barely subdued terror. The word goes out along the Grid. At something close to the speed of light, every bulb, Azos looking down the empty black Bakelite streets, Nitralampen and Wotan Gs at night soccer matches, Just-Wolframs, Monowatts and Siriuses, every bulb in Europe knows what's happened. They are silent with impotence, with surrender in the face of struggles they thought were all myth. We can't help, this common thought humming through pastures of sleeping sheep, down Autobahns and to the bitter ends of coaling piers in the North, there's never been anything we could do. . . . Anyone shows us the meanest hope of transcending and the Commit-
tee on Incandescent Anomalies comes in and takes him away. Some do protest, maybe, here and there, but it's only information, glow-modulated, harmless, nothing close to the explosions in the faces of the powerful that Byron once envisioned, back there in his Baby ward, in his innocence.
He is taken to Neukölln, to a basement room, the Home of a glass-blower who is afraid of the night and who will keep Byron glowing and on watch over all the flint bowls, the griffins and flower-ships, ibexes in mid-leap, green spider-webs, somber ice-deities. This is one of many so-called "control points," where suspicious bulbs can be monitored easily.
In less than a fortnight, a gong sounds along the ice and stone corridors of the Phoebus headquarters, and faces swivel over briefly from their meters. Not too many gongs around here. Gongs are special. Byron has passed 1000 hours, and the procedure now is standard: the Committee on Incandescent Anomalies sends a hit man to Berlin.
But here something odd happens. Yes, damned odd. The plan is to smash up Byron and send him back right there in the shop to cullet and batch—salvage the tungsten, of course—and let him be reincarnated in the glassblower's next project (a balloon setting out on a jour-• ney from the top of a white skyscraper). This wouldn't be too bad a deal for Byron—he knows as well as Phoebus does how many hours he has on him. Here in the shop he's watched enough glass being melted back into the structureless pool from which all glass forms spring and re-spring, and wouldn't mind going through it himself. But he is trapped on the Karmic wheel. The glowing orange batch is a taunt, a cruelty. There's no escape for Byron, he's doomed to an infinite regress of sockets and bulbsnatchers. In zips young Hansel Geschwindig, a Weimar street urchin—twirls Byron out of the ceiling into a careful pocket and Gesssschhhlrzwwdig! out the door again. Darkness invades the dreams of the glassblower. Of all the unpleas-antries his dreams grab in out of the night air, an extinguished light is the worst. Light, in his dreams, was always hope: the basic, mortal hope. As the contacts break helically away, hope turns to darkness, and the glassblower wakes sharply tonight crying, "Who? Who?''
Phoebus isn't exactly thrown into a frenzy. It's happened before. There is still a procedure to follow. It means more overtime for some employees, so there's that vague, full-boweled pleasure at the windfall, along with an equally vague excitement at the break in routine. You want high emotion, forget Phoebus. Their stonefaced search parties move out into the streets. They know more or less where in the city to
look. They are assuming that no one among their consumers knows of Byron's immortality. So the data for Now-immortal Bulbsnatchings ought to apply also to Byron. And the data happen to hump up in poor sections, Jewish sections, drug, homosexual, prostitute, and magic sections of the capital. Here are the most logical bulbsnatchers, in terms of what the crime is. Look at all the propaganda. It's a moral crime. Phoebus discovered—one of the great undiscovered discoveries of our time—that consumers need to feel a sense of sin. That guilt, in proper invisible hands, is a most powerful weapon. In America, Lyle Bland and his psychologists had figures, expert testimony and money (money in the Puritan sense—an outward and visible O.K. on their intentions) enough to tip the Discovery of Guilt at the cusp between scientific theory and fact. Growth rates in later years were to bear Bland out (actually what bore Bland out was an honorary pallbearer sextet of all the senior members of Salitieri, Poore, Nash, De Brutus and Short, plus Lyle, Jr., who was sneezing. Buddy at the last minute decided to go see Dracula. He was better off). Of all the legacies Bland left around, the Bulbsnatching Heresy was perhaps his grandest. It doesn't just mean that somebody isn't buying a bulb. It also means that same somebody is not putting any power in that socket! It is a sin both against Phoebus and against the Grid. Neither one is about to let that get out of hand. So, out go the Phoebus flatfoots, looking for the snatched Byron. But the urchin has already left town, gone to Hamburg, traded Byron to a Reeperbahn prostitute so he can shoot up some morphine—the young woman's customer tonight is a cost-accountant who likes to have light bulbs screwed into his asshole, and this John has also brought a little hashish to smoke, so by the time he leaves he's forgotten about Byron still there in his asshole—doesn't ever, in fact, find out, because when he finally gets around to sitting down (having stood up in trolleys all the way home) it's on his own Home toilet and plop! there goes Byron in the water and flusssshhhh! away down the waste lines to the Elbe estuary. He is just round enough to get through smoothly all the way. For days he floats over the North Sea, till he reaches Helgoland, that red-and-white Napoleon pastry tipped in the sea. He stays there for a while at a hotel between the Hengst and the Mönch, till being brought back one day to the mainland by a very old priest who's been put hep to Byron's immortality in the course of a routine dream about the taste of a certain 1911 Hochheimer . . . suddenly here's the great Berlin Eispalast, a booming, dim iron-trussed cavern, the smell of women in the blue shadows—perfumes, leathers, fur skating-costumes, ice-dust in the air, flashing legs, jutting haunches, desire in
grippelike flashes, helplessness at the end of a crack-the-whip, rocketing through beams of sunlight choked with the powdered ice, and a voice in the blurred mirror underfoot saying, "Find the one who has performed this miracle. He is a saint. Expose him. Expedite his canonization. ..." The name is on a list the old man presently draws up of about a thousand tourists who've been in and out of Helgoland since Byron was found on the beach. The priest begins a search by train, footpath, and Hispano-Suiza, checking out each of the tourists on his list. But he gets no farther than Nürnberg, where his valise, with Byron wrapped inside in an alb, is ripped off by a transsectite, a Lutheran named Mausmacher who likes to dress up in Roman regalia. This Mausmacher, not content with standing in front of his own mirror making papal crosses, thinks it will be a really bizarre kick to go out to the Zeppelin field to a Nazi torchlight rally in full drag, and walk around blessing people at random. Green torches flaring, red swastikas, twinkling brasses and Father Mausmacher, checking out tits V asses, waistlines 'n' baskets, humming a clerical little tune, some Bach riff, smiling as he moves through the Sieg Heils and choruses of "Die Fahne Hoch." Unknown to him, Byron slides out of the stolen vestments onto the ground. He is then walked past by several hundred thousand boots and shoes, and not one so much as brushes him, natch. He is scavenged next day (the field now deathempty, columned, pale, streaked with long mudpuddles, morning clouds lengthening behind the gilded swastika and wreath) by a poor Jewish ragpicker, and taken on, on into another 15 years of preservation against chance and against Phoebus. He will be screwed into mother (Mutter) after mother, as the female threads of German light-bulb sockets are known, for some reason that escapes everybody.
The cartel have already gone over to Contingency Plan B, which assumes a seven-year statute of limitations, after which Byron will be considered legally burned out. Meanwhile, the personnel taken off of Byron's case are busy tracking a long-lived bulb that once occupied a socket on the porch of an army outpost in the Amazon jungle, Beatriz the Bulb, who has just been stolen, mysteriously, by an Indian raiding party.
Through his years of survival, all these various rescues of Byron happen as if by accident. Whenever he can, he tries to instruct any bulbs nearby in the evil nature of Phoebus, and in the need for solidarity against the cartel. He has come to see how Bulb must move beyond its role as conveyor of light-energy alone. Phoebus has restricted Bulb to this one identity. "But there are other frequencies, above and
below the visible band. Bulb can give heat. Bulb can provide energy for plants to grow, illegal plants, inside closets, for example. Bulb can penetrate the sleeping eye, and operate among the dreams of men." Some bulbs listened attentively—others thought of ways to fink to Phoebus. Some of the older anti-Byronists were able to fool with their parameters in systematic ways that would show up on the ebonite meters under the Swiss mountain: there were even a few self-immolations, hoping to draw the hit men down.
Any talk of Bulb's transcendence, of course, was clear subversion. Phoebus based everything on bulb efficiency—the ratio of the usable power coming out, to the power put in. The Grid demanded that this ratio stay as small as possible. That way they got to sell more juice. On the other hand, low efficiency meant longer burning hours, and that cut into bulb sales for Phoebus. In the beginning Phoebus tried increasing filament resistance, reducing the hours of life on the sly and gradually—till the Grid noticed a fall-off in revenues, and started screaming. The two parties by and by reached an accord on a compromise bulb-life figure that would bring in enough money for both of them, and to go fifty-fifty on the costs of the antibulbsnatching campaign. Along with a more subtle attack against those criminal souls who forswear bulbs entirely and use candles. Phoebus's long-standing arrangement with the Meat Cartel was to restrict the amount of tallow in circulation by keeping more fat in meat to be sold regardless of cardiac problems that might arise, and redirecting most of what was trimmed off into soap production. Soap in those days was a booming concern. Among the consumers, the Bland Institute had discovered deep feelings about shit. Even at that, meat and soap were minor interlocks to Phoebus. More important were items like tungsten. Another reason why Phoebus couldn't cut down bulb life too far. Too many tungsten filaments would eat into available stockpiles of the metal—China being the major world source, this also brought in very delicate questions of Eastern policy—and disturb the arrangement between General Electric and Krupp about how much tungsten carbide would be produced, where and when and what the prices would be. The guidelines settled on were $37-$9O a pound in Germany, $200-$400 a pound in the U.S. This directly governed the production of machine tools, and thus all areas of light and heavy industry. When the War came, some people thought it unpatriotic of GE to have given Germany an edge like that. But nobody with any power. Don't worry.
Byron, as he burns on, sees more and more of this pattern. He learns how to make contact with other kinds of electric appliances, in
Homes, in factories and out in the streets. Each has something to tell him. The pattern gathers in his soul (Seek, as the core of the earlier carbon filament was known in Germany), and the grander and clearer it grows, the more desperate Byron gets. Someday he will know everything, and still be as impotent as before. His youthful dreams of organizing all the bulbs in the world seem impossible now—the Grid is wide open, all messages can be overheard, and there are more than enough traitors out on the line. Prophets traditionally don't last long—they are either killed outright, or given an accident serious enough to make them stop and think, and most often they do pull back. But on Byron has been visited an even better fate. He is condemned to go on forever, knowing the truth and powerless to change anything. No longer will he seek to get off the wheel. His anger and frustration will grow without limit, and he will find himself, poor perverse bulb, enjoying it. ...
Laszlo Jamf walks away down the canal, where dogs are swimming now, dogs in packs, dogs' heads bobbing down the scummy canals . . . dog's heads, chess knights, also may be found invisible in the air over secret airbases, in the thickest fogs, conditions of temperature, pressure and humidity form Springer-shapes the tuned flyer can feel, the radars can see, the helpless passengers can almost glimpse, now and then, out the little window, as through sheets of vapor ... it is the kind Dog, the Dog no man ever conditioned, who is there for us at beginnings and ends, and journeys we have to take, helpless, but not quite unwilling. . . . The pleats in Jamf's suit go weaving away like iris leaves in a backyard wind. The colonel is left alone in Happyville. The steel city waits him, the even cloud-light raising a white streak down each great building, all of them set up as modulations on the perfect grid of the streets, each tower cut off at a different height—and where is the Comb that will move through this and restore the old perfect Cartesian harmony? where are the great Shears from the sky that will readjust Happyville?
There is no need to bring in blood or violence here. But the colonel does have his head tilted back now in what may truly be surrender: his throat is open to the pain-radiance of the Bulb. Paddy Mc-Gonigle is the only other witness, and he, a one-man power system with dreams of his own, wants the colonel out of the way as much as anyone. Eddie Pensiero, with the blues flooding his shaking muscles, the down, mortal blues, is holding his scissors in a way barbers aren't supposed to. The points, shuddering in the electric cone, are aiming
downward. Eddie Pensiero's fist tightens around the steel loops his fingers have slid out of. The colonel, with a last tilt of his head, exposes his jugular, clearly impatient with the—
She comes riding into town on a stolen bicycle: a white kerchief at her crown, fluttering behind in points, a distinguished emissary from a drained and captured land, herself full of ancient title, but nothing in the way of usable power, not even a fantasy of it. She's wearing a lean white dress, a tennis dress from prewar summers, falling now not in knife-edge pleats but softer, more accidental, half-crisp, touches of blue in its deeper folds, a dress for changes in the weather, a dress to be flowed upon by shadows of leaves, by a crumble of brown and sun-yellow moving across it and on as she coasts preoccupied but without private smiles, under the leafy trees that line the road of hard-packed dirt. Her hair is wound, in braids, up on her head, which she holds not too high nor what used to be called "gravely," but toward (say against) a particular future, for the first time since the Casino Hermann Goe-ring . . . and she's not of our moment, our time, at all.
The outermost sentry peers from his rusty-boned cement ruin, and for two full pedal-swings they are both, he and Katje, out in the daylight, blending with packed earth, rust, blobbing perforations of sunlight cold gold and slick as glass, the fresh wind in the trees. Hyperthyroidal African eyes, their irises besieged as early cornflowers by the crowding fields of white . . . Ooga-booga! Gwine jump on dis drum hyah! Tell de res' ob de trahb back in de village, yowzah!
So, DUMdumdumdum, DUMdumdumdum, O.K., but still there's no room in her demeanor for even curiosity (of course weren't there going to be drums, a chance for violence? A snake jumping off of a limb, a very large presence ahead among the thousand bowing tree-tops, a scream inside herself, a leap upward into primal terror, surrendering to it and so—she has dreamt—regaining her soul, her long-lost self. . .). Nor will she waste more than token glances now on the German lawns rushing so deeply away into green hazes or hills, the pale limbs of marble balusters beside sanitarium walks that curve restlessly, in a fever, a stifling, into thickets of penis-budded sprig and thorn so old, so without comfort that eyes are drawn, seized by the tear-glands and dragged to find, to find at all cost, the path that has disappeared so suddenly ... or to look behind to hold on to some trace of the spa, a
corner of the Sprudelhof, the highest peak of the white-sugar bandstand, something to counteract Pan's whisper inside the dark grove Come in . . . forget them. Come in here. . . . No. Not Katje. She has been into the groves and thickets. She has danced naked and spread her cunt to the horns of grove-dwelling beasts. She has felt the moon in the soles of her feet, taken its tides with the surfaces of her brain. Pan was a lousy lover. Today, in public, they have no more than nervous glances for each other.
What does happen now, and this is quite alarming, is that out of nowhere suddenly appear a full dancing-chorus of Herero men. They are dressed in white sailor suits designed to show off asses, crotches, slim waists and shapely pectorals, and they are carrying a girl all in silver lame, a loud brassy dame after the style of Diamond Lil or Texas Guinan. As they set her down, everyone begins to dance and sing:
Ain't it grand ta see, that good-time face, again!
Pa-ra-noi-ya, boy oh boy, yer
Just a bit of you-know-what
From way back when!
Even Goya, couldn't draw ya,
Not the way you looked, just kickin' in that door—
Call a lawyer, Paranoia,
Lemme will my ass to you, for-ever-more!
Then Andreas and Pavel come out in tap shoes (liberated from a rather insolent ENSA show that came through in July) to do one of those staccato tap-and-sing numbers:
Pa- ra- noi— (clippety-clippety-clippety cl[ya,]op!) Pa- ra- noi— (shufflestomp! shufflestomp! shufflestomp! [and] cl[ya,]op! clickety cl[Ain't]ick) it grand (clop) ta (clop) see (clippyclop) yer good-time face again! etc.
Well, Katje realizes long before the first 8 bars of all this that the brazen blonde bombshell is none other than herself: she is doing a dance routine with these black sailors-ashore. Having gathered also that she is the allegorical figure of Paranoia (a grand old dame, a little wacky but pure heart), she must say that she finds the jazzy vulgarity of this music a bit distressing. What she had in mind was more of an Isadora Duncan routine, classical and full of gauzes, and—well, white. What Pirate Prentice briefed her on was folklore, politics, Zonal strategies—but not blackness. When that was what she most needed to
know about. How can she pass now through so much blackness to redeem herself? How can she expect to find Slothrop? among such blackness (subvocalizing the word as an old man might speak the name of a base public figure, letting it gutter out into real blackness: into being spoken no more). There is that stubborn, repressive heat to her thoughts. It is none of your heavy racist skin-prickling, no, but a feeling of one more burden, along with the scarcity of food in the Zone, the chicken-coop, cave or basement lodgings at sunfall, the armed-occupation phobias and skulkings as bad as Holland last year, comfortable in here at least, lotos-snuggly, but disastrous out in the World of Reality she still believes in and will never give up hoping to rejoin someday. All that's not bad enough, no, now she must also endure blackness. Her ignorance of it must see her through.
With Andreas she is charming, she radiates that sensuality peculiar to women who are concerned with an absent lover's safety. But then she must see Enzian. Their first meeting. Each in a way has been loved by Captain Blicero. Each had to arrive at some way of making it bearable, just bearable, for just long enough, one day by one. . . .
"Oberst. I am happy—" her voice breaks. Genuinely. Her head inclines across his desk no longer than is necessary to thank, to declare her passivity. The hell she's happy.
He nods, angles his beard at a chair. This, then, is the Golden Bitch of Blicero's last letters from Holland. Enzian formed no image of her then, too taken up, too gagged with sorrow at what was happening to Weissmann. She seemed then only one of the expected forms of horror that must be populating his world. But, ethnic when he least wants to be, Enzian came after a while to think of her as the great Kalahari rock painting of the White Woman, white from the waist down, carrying bow and arrows, trailed by her black handmaiden through an erratic space, stone and deep, figures of all sizes moving to and fro. . . .
But here is the true Golden Bitch. He's surprised at how young and slender she is—a paleness as of having begun to leak away from this world, likely to vanish entirely at any too-reckless grab. She knows her own precarious thinness, her leukemia of soul, and she teases with it. You must want her, but never indicate it—not by eyes or move—or she will clarify, dead gone as smoke above a trail moving into the desert, and you'll never have the chance again.
"You must have seen him more recently than I." He speaks quietly. She is surprised at his politeness. Disappointed: she was expecting more force. Her lip has begun to lift. "How did he seem?"
"Alone." Her brusque and sideways nod. Gazing back at him with the best neutrality she can be sure of in the circs. She means, You were not with him, when he needed you.
"He was always alone."
She understands then that it isn't timidity, she was wrong. It is decency. The man wants to be decent. He leaves himself open. (So does she, but only because everything that might hurt has long been numbed out. There's small risk for Katje.) But Enzian risks what former lovers risk whenever the Beloved is present, in fact or in word: deepest possibilities for shame, for sense of loss renewed, for humiliation and mockery. Shall she mock? Has he made that too easy—and then, turning, counted on her for fair play? Can she be as honest as he, without risking too much? "He was dying," she tells him, "he looked very old. I don't even know if he left Holland alive."
"He—" and this hesitation may be (a) in consideration of her feelings, or (b) for reasons of Schwarzkommando security, or (c) both of the above . . . but then, hell, the Principle of Maximizing Risk takes over again: "he got as far as the Lüneberg Heath. If you didn't know, you ought to."
"You've been looking for him."
"Yes. So has Slothrop been, though I don't think Slothrop knows that."
"Slothrop and I—" she looks around the room, her eyes skitter off metal surfaces, papers, facets of salt, cannot come to rest anywhere. As if making a desperate surprise confession: "Everything is so remote now. I don't really know why they sent me out here. I don't know any more who Slothrop really was. There's a failure in the light. I can't see. It's all going away from me. ..."
It isn't yet time to touch her, but Enzian reaches out gives a friendly chin-up tap on the back of her hand, a military now-see-here. "There are things to hold to. None of it may look real, but some of it is. Really."
"Really." They both start laughing. Hers is weary-European, slow, head-shaking. Once she would have been asessing as she laughed, speaking of edges, deeps, profit and loss, H-hours and points of no return—she would have been laughing politically, in response to a power-predicament, because there might be nothing else to do. But now she's only laughing. As she once laughed with Slothrop, back at the Casino Hermann Goering.
So she's only been talking with Enzian about a common friend. Is this how the Vacuum feels?
"Slothrop and I" didn't work too well. Should she have said "Blicero and I"? What would that have got her into with the African?
"Blicero and I," he begins softly, watching her over burnished cheekbones, cigarette smoldering in his curled right hand, "we were only close in certain ways. There were doors I did not open. Could not. Around here, I play an omniscient. I'd say don't give me away, but it wouldn't matter. Their minds are made up. I am the Berlin Snoot supreme, Oberhauptberlinerschnauze Enzian. I know it all, and they don't trust me. They gossip in a general way about me and Blicero, as yarns to be spun—the truth wouldn't change either their distrust or my Unlimited Access. They'd only be passing a story along, another story. But the truth must mean something to you.
"The Blicero I loved was a very young man, in love with empire, poetry, his own arrogance. Those all must have been important to me once. What I am now grew from that. A former self is a fool, an insufferable ass, but he's still human, you'd no more turn him out than you'd turn out any other kind of cripple, would you?"
He seems to be asking her for real advice. Are these the sorts of problems that occupy his time? What about the Rocket, the Empty Ones, the perilous infancy of his nation?
"What can Blicero matter to you?" is what she finally asks.
He doesn't have to think for long. He has often imagined the coming of a Questioner. "At this point, I would take you to a balcony. An observation deck. I would show you the Raketen-Stadt. Plexiglass maps of the webs we maintain across the Zone. Underground schools, systems for distributing food and Medicine. . . . We would gaze down on staff-rooms, communications centers, laboratories, clinics. I would say—"
"All this will I give you, if you will but—"
"Negative. Wrong story. I would say: This is what I have become. An estranged figure at a certain elevation and distance ..." who looks out over the Raketen-Stadt in the amber evenings, with washed and darkening cloud sheets behind him—"who has lost everything else but this vantage. There is no heart, anywhere now, no human heart left in which I exist. Do you know what that feels like?"
He is a lion, this man, ego-mad—but despite everything, Katje likes him. "But if he were still alive—"
"No way to know. I have letters he wrote after he left your city. He was changing. Terribly. You ask what he could matter to me. My slender white adventurer, grown twenty years sick and old—the last heart in which I might have been granted some being—was changing, toad
to prince, prince to fabulous monster. . . . 'If he is alive,' he may have changed by now past our recognition. We could have driven under him in the sky today and never seen. Whatever happened at the end, he has transcended. Even if he's only dead. He's gone beyond his pain, his sin—driven deep into Their province, into control, synthesis and control, further than—" well, he was about to say "we" but "I" seems better after all, "I haven't transcended. I've only been elevated. That must be as empty as things get: it's worse than being told you won't have to die by someone you can't believe in. ...
"Yes he matters to me, very much. He is an old self, a dear albatross I cannot let go."
"And me?" She gathers that he expects her to sound like a woman of the 1940s. "And me," indeed. But she can think of no other way offhand to help him, to allow him a moment of comfort. . . .
"You, poor Katje. Your story is the saddest of all." She looks up to see exactly how his face will be mocking her. She is stunned to see tears instead running, running over his cheeks. "You've only been set free," his voice then breaking on the last word, his face brushing forward a moment into a cage of hands, then uncaging again for a try at her own gay waltztime gallows laugh. Oh, no, is he about to go goofy on her too? What she needs right now in her life, from some man in her life, is stability, mental health and strength of character. Not this. "I told Slothrop he was free, too. I tell anybody who might listen. I will tell them as I tell you: you are free. You are free. You are free. .. ."
"How can my story be sadder than that?" Shameless girl, she isn't humoring him, she's actually flirting with him now, any technique her crepe-paper and spider-italics young ladyhood ever taught her, to keep from having to move into his blackness. Understand it isn't his blackness, but her own—an inadmissible darkness she is making believe for the moment is Enzian's, something beyond even the center of Pan's grove, something not pastoral at all, but of the city, a set of ways in which the natural forces are turned aside, stepped down, rectified or bled to ground and come out very like the malignant dead: the Qlip-poth that Weissmann has "transcended," souls whose journey across was so bad that they lost all their kindness back in the blue lightning (the long sea-furrows of it rippling), and turned to imbecile killers and jokers, making unintelligible honks in the emptiness, sinewed and stripped thin as rats—a city-darkness that is her own, a textured darkness in which flows go in all directions, and nothing begins, and nothing ends. But as time passes things get louder there. It is shaking itself into her consciousness.
"Flirt if you want," Enzian now just as smooth as that Gary Grant, "but expect to be taken seriously." Oh, ho. Here's whatcha came for, folks.
Not necessarily. His bitterness (all properly receipted in German archives which may, however, be destroyed now) runs too deep for her, really. He must have learned a thousand masks (as the City will continue to mask itself against invasions we often do not see, whose outcomes we never learn, silent and unnoticed revolutions in the warehouse districts where the walls are blank, in the lots where the weeds grow thick), and this, no doubt, this Suave Older Exotic, is one of them.
"I don't know what to do." She gets up in a long, long shrug and begins to stalk gracefully in the room. Her old style: a girl about 16 who thinks everyone is staring at her. Her hair falls like a hood. Her arms often touch.
"You don't have to come into this any further than locating Slothrop," he finally gets around to telling her. "All you have to do is tag along with us, and wait till he shows up again. Why bother yourself with the rest?"
"Because I feel," her voice, perhaps by design, very small, "that 'the rest' is exactly what I ought to be doing. I don't want to get away with some shallow win. I don't just want to—I don't know, pay him back for the octopus, or something. Don't I have to know why he's out here, what I did to him, for Them? How can They be stopped? How long can I get away with easy work, cheap exits? Shouldn't I be going all the way in?"
Her masochism [Weissmann wrote from The Hague] is reassurance for her. That she can still be hurt, that she is human and can cry at pain. Because, often, she will forget. I can only try to guess how terrible that must be. . . . So, she needs the whip. She raises her ass not in surrender, but in despair—like your fears of impotence, and mine: can it still. . . will it fail. . . . But of true submission, of letting go the self and passing into the All, there is nothing, not with Katje. She is not the victim I would have chosen to end this with. Perhaps, before the end, there will be another. Perhaps I dream. ... I am not here, am I, to devote myself to her fantasies!
"You are meant to survive. Yes, probably. No matter how painful you want to make it for yourself, still you're always going to come through. You're free to choose exactly how pleasant each passage will be. Usually it's given as a reward. I won't ask for what. I'm sorry, but
you seem really not to know. That's why your story is saddest of all."
"Reward—" she's getting mad. "It's a life-sentence. If you call that a reward, then what are you calling me?"
"You black bastard."
"Exactly." He has allowed her to speak the truth. A clock chimes in the stone corner. "We have someone who was with Blicero in May. Just before the end. You don't have to—"
"Come and listen, yes, Oberst. But I will."
He rises, crooks her his official and gentlemanly arm, smiling sideways and feeling like a clown. Her own smiling is upward like mischievous Ophelia just having glimpsed the country of the mad and itching now to get away from court.
Feedback, smile-to-smile, adjustments, waverings: what it damps out to is we will never know each other. Beaming, strangers, la-la-la, off to listen to the end of a man we both loved and we're strangers at the films, condemned to separate rows, aisles, exits, Homegoings.
Far away in another corridor a loud drill-bit strains, smokes, just before snapping. Cafeteria trays and steelware rattle, an innocent and kind sound behind familiar regions of steam, fat at the edge of souring, cigarette smoke, washwater, disinfectant—a cafeteria in the middle of the day.
There are things to hold on to. ...
You will want cause and effect. All right. Thanatz was washed overboard in the same storm that took Slothrop from the Anubis. He was rescued by a Polish undertaker in a rowboat, out in the storm tonight to see if he can get struck by lightning. The undertaker is wearing, in hopes it will draw electricity, a complicated metal suit, something like a deep-sea diver's, and a Wehrmacht helmet through which he has drilled a couple of hundred holes and inserted nuts, bolts, springs and conductive wands of many shapes so that he jingles whenever he nods or shakes his head, which is often. He's a digital companion all right, everything gets either a yes or a no, and two-tone checkerboards of odd shape and texture indeed bloom in the rainy night around him and Thanatz. Ever since reading about Benjamin Franklin in an American propaganda leaflet, kite, thunder and key, the undertaker has been obsessed with this Business of getting hit in the head by a
lightning bolt. All over Europe, it came to him one night in a flash (though not the kind he wanted), at this very moment, are hundreds, who knows maybe thousands, of people walking around, who have been struck by lightning and survived. What stories they could tell!
What the leaflet neglected to mention was that Benjamin Franklin was also a Mason, and given to cosmic forms of practical jokesterism, of which the United States of America may well have been one.
Well, it's a matter of continuity. Most people's lives have ups and downs that are relatively gradual, a sinuous curve with first derivatives at every point. They're the ones who never get struck by lightning. No real idea of cataclysm at all. But the ones who do get hit experience a singular point, a discontinuity in the curve of life—do you know what the time rate of change is at a cusp? Infinity, that's what! A-and right across the point, it's minus infinity! How's that for sudden change, eh? Infinite miles per hour changing to the same speed in reverse, all in the gnat's-ass or red cunt hair of the
Is he interested in all those other worlds who send their dwarf reps out on the backs of eagles? Nope. Nor does he want to write a classic
of anthropology, with the lightning-struck grouped into a subculture, even secretly organized, handshakes with sharp cusp-flicks of fingernails, private monthly magazine A Nickel Saved (which looks perfectly innocent, old Ben Franklin after inflation, unless you know the other half of the proverb: "... is a stockpile of nickel. "Making the real quote nickel-magnate Mark Hanna's: "You have been in politics long enough to know that no man in public office owes the public anything." So the real tide is Long Enough, which Those Who Know, know. The text of each issue of the magazine, when transformed this way, yields many interesting messages). To outsiders it's just a pleasant little club newsletter—-Jed Plunkitt held a barbecue for the Iowa Chapter the last weekend in April. Heard about the Amperage Contest, Jed. Tough luck! But come next Barbecue, you'll be back good as new. . . . Minnie Calkins (Chapter 1.793) got married Easter Sunday to a screen-door salesman from California. Sorry to say he's not eligible for Membership—at least not yet. But with all those screen doors around, we'll sure keep our fingers crossed! . . . Your Editor has been receiving many, many "Wha hoppen?" 's concerning the Spring Convention in De-catur when all the lights failed during the blessing. Glad to report now that trouble was traced finally to a giant transient in the line, "Kind of an electrical tidal wave," sez Hank Faffner, our engineer-on-the-scene. "Every bulb in the place burned out, a ceilingful of sooty, sterile eggs." Quite a poet, Hank! Now if you can only find out where that spike came from—
But does the Polish undertaker in the rowboat care about busting this code, about secret organizations or recognizable subcultures? No, he doesn't. The reason he is seeking these people out is that he thinks it will help him in his job. Can you dig that, gates? He wants to know how people behave before and after lightning bolts, so he'll know better how to handle bereaved families.
"You are perverting a great discovery to the uses of commerce," sez Thanatz, stepping ashore. "You ought to be ashamed of yourself." He is no more than five minutes into the empty town at the edge of the marsh when nockle KKAHH-UHNN! nocklenockle nockle an enormous blast of light and sound hits the water back where the undertaker, peeved at what he takes to be no gratitude, is hauling away.
"Oh," comes his faint voice. "Oh, ho. Oh-ho-ho-ho!"
"Nobody lives here but us." A solid figure, a whispering silhouette, charcoal-colored, has materialized in Thanatz's path. "We do not harm visitors. But it would be better if you took another way."
They are 175s—homosexual prison-camp inmates. They have
come north from the Dora camp at Nordhausen, north till the land ended, and have set up an all-male community between this marsh and the Oder estuary. Ordinarily, this would be Thanatz's notion of paradise, except that none of the men can bear to be out of Dora—Dora was home, and they are Homesick. Their "liberation" was a banishment. So here in a new location they have made up a hypothetical SS chain of command—no longer restricted to what Destiny allotted then for jailers, they have now managed to come up with some really mean ass imaginary Nazi playmates, Schutzhäftlingsführer to Blockführer, and chosen an internal hierarchy for themselves too: Lager and Block-ältester, Kapo, Vorarbeiter, Stubendienst, Läufer (who is a runner or messenger, but also happens to be the German name for a chess bishop ... if you have seen him, running across the wet meadows in very early morning, with his red vestments furling and fluttering darkened almost to tree-bark color among the watery downs, you will have some notion of his real purpose here inside the community—he is carrier of holy strategies, memoranda of conscience, and when he approaches over the reedy flats of morning you are taken by your bowed nape and brushed with the sidebands of a Great Moment—for the Läufer is the most sacred here, it is he who takes messages out to the ruinous interface between the visible Lager and the invisible SS).
At the top of the complex is Schutzhäftlingsführer Blicero. The name has found its way this far east, as if carrying on the man's retreat for him, past the last stand in the Lüneburg Heath. He is the Zone's worst specter. He is malignant, he pervades the lengthening summer nights. Like a cankered root he is changing, growing toward winter, growing whiter, toward the idleness and the famine. Who else could the 175s have chosen for their very highest oppressor? His power is absolute. And don't think he isn't really waiting, out by the shelled and rusty gasworks, under the winding staircases, behind the tanks and towers, waiting for the dawn's first carmine-skirted runner with news of how die night went. The night is his dearest interest, so he must be told.
This phantom SS command here is based not so much on the one the prisoners knew at Dora as on what they inferred to be the Rocket-structure next door at the Mittelwerke. The A4, in its way, was also concealed behind an uncrossable wall that separated real pain and terror from summoned deliverer. Weissmann/Blicero's presence crossed the wall, warping, shivering into the fetid bunkrooms, with the same reach toward another shape as words trying to make their way through dreams. What the 175s heard from their real SS guards there was enough to elevate Weissmann on the spot—they, his own brother-
elite, didn't know what this man was up to. When prisoners came in earshot, the guards stopped whispering. But their fear kept echoing: fear not of Weissmann personally, but of the time itself, a time so desperate that he could now move through the Mittelwerke as if he owned it, a time which was granting him a power different from that of Auschwitz or Buchenwald, a power they couldn't have borne themselves. . . .
On hearing the name of Blicero now, Thanatz's asshole tightens a notch. Not that he thinks the name was planted here or anything. Paranoia is not a major problem for Thanatz. What does bother him is being reminded at all—reminded that he's had no word, since the noon on the Heath when 00000 was fired, of Blicero's status—alive or dead, powerlord or fugitive. He isn't sure which he prefers. As long as the Anubis kept moving, there was no need to choose: the memory could have been left so far behind that one day its "reality" wouldn't matter any more. Of course it happened. Of course it didn't happen.
"We think he's out there," the town spokesman is telling Thanatz, "alive and on the run. Now and then we hear something—it could fit Blicero easily enough. So we wait. He will find us. He has a prefabricated power base here, waiting for him."
"What if he doesn't stay?" pure meanness, "what if he laughs at you, and passes by?"
"Then I can't explain," the other beginning to step backward, back out into the rain, "it's a matter of faith."
Thanatz, who has sworn that he will never seek out Blicero again, not after the 00000, feels the flat of terror's blade. "Who is your runner?" he cries.
"Go yourself," a filtered whisper.
"But I have a message for—"
"Take it yourself. ..."
The white Anubis, gone on to salvation. Back here, in her wake, are the preterite, swimming and drowning, mired and afoot, poor passengers at sundown who've lost the way, blundering across one another's flotsam, the scrapings, the dreary junking of memories—all they have to hold to—churning, mixing, rising, falling. Men overboard and our common debris. . . .
Thanatz remains shaking and furious in the well-established rain, under the sandstone arcade. I should have sailed on, he wants to scream, and presently does. "I wasn't supposed to be left with you dis-
cards. . . ." Where's the court of appeals that will hear his sad story? "I lost my footing!" Some mess cook slipped in a puddle of elite vomit and spilled a whole galvanized can full of creamed yellow chicken nausea all over that starboard weather deck, Thanatz didn't see it, he was looking for Margherita. . . . Too bad, les jeux sont faits, nobody's listening and the Anubis is gone. Better here with the swimming debris, Thanatz, no telling what'll come sunFishing by, ask that Oberst En-zian, he knows (there is a key, among the wastes of the World . . . and it won't be found on board the white Anubis because they throw everything of value over the side).
So—Thanatz is out by the gasworks, up against a tar wall, mackerel eyes bulging out of wet wool collar-shadows, all black and white, really scared, breath smoking out corners of his mouth as green dawn begins to grow back among the gassen. He won't be here, he's only dead only dead? Isn't this an "interface" here? a meeting surface for two worlds . . . sure, but which two? There's no counting on any positivism to save him, that didn't even work back in Berlin, before the War, at Peter Sachsa's sittings ... it only got in the way, made others impatient with him. A screen of words between himself and the numinous was always just a tactic ... it never let him feel any freer. These days there's even less point to it. He knows Blicero exists.
It wasn't a dream. Don't you wish it could be. Another fever that sooner or later will break, releasing you into the cool reality of a room . . . you don't have to perform that long and complicated mission after all, no, you see it was only the fever ... it wasn't real. . . .
This time it is real, Blicero, alive or dead, is real. Thanatz, a little crazy now with fear, wants to go provoke him, he can't wait any more, he has to see what it will take to get Blicero across the interface. What screaming ass-wiggling surrender might bring him back. . . .
All it brings is the Russian police. There's a working agreement about staying inside the limits of the 175-Stadt that of course no one told Thanatz about. The gasworks used to be a notorious hustling spot till the Russians made a series of mass busts. A last fading echo of the 175-Stadt Chorale goes skipping away down the road singing some horrible salute to faggotry such as
Yumsy-numsy 'n' poopsie-poo,
If I'm a degenerate, so are you. ...
"Nowadays all we get are you tourists," sez the natty civilian with the white handkerchief in his breast-pocket, snickering in the shadow of his hat brim. "And, of course, the odd spy."
"Not me," Thanatz sez.
"Not you, eh? Tell me about it."
Something of a quandary, all right. In less than half a day, Thanatz has moved from no need to worry or even think about Blicero, to always needing some formulation of him at hand to please any stray curious cop. This is one of his earlier lessons in being preterite: he won't escape any of the consequences he sets up for himself now, not unless it's by accident.
For example, at the outskirts of Stettin, by accident, a Polish guerrilla group, just arrived back from London, mistakes the police car for one transporting an anti-Lublin journalist to prison, shoots out the tires, roars in, kills the driver, wounds the civilian interrogator, and escapes lugging Thanatz like a sack of potatoes.
"Not me," Thanatz sez.
"Shit. He's right."
They roll him out the car door into a DP encampment a few miles farther on. He is herded into a wire enclosure along with 1,999 others being sent west to Berlin.
For weeks he rides the freights, hanging in shifts to the outside of his assigned car while inside someone else sleeps on the straw space he vacated. Later they change places. It helps to stay awake. Every day Thanatz sees half a dozen DPs go on the nod and fall off the train, and sometimes it's funny to watch, but too often it's not, though DP humor is a very dependent thing. He is rubber-stamped on hands, forehead, and ass, deloused, poked, palpated, named, numbered, consigned, invoiced, misrouted, detained, ignored. He passes in and out the paper grasp of Russian, British, American and French body-jobbers, round and round the occupation circuit, getting to recognize faces, coughs, pairs of boots on new owners. Without a ration card or Soldbuch, you are doomed to be moved, in lots of 2,000, center to center, about the Zone, possibly forever. So, out among the ponds and fenceposts of Mecklenburg somewhere, Thanatz discovers that he is exempt from nothing. His second night on the rails his shoes are stolen. He comes down with a deep bronchial cough and a high fever. For a week no one comes to look at him. For two aspirins he has to suck off the orderly in charge, who has grown to enjoy rough-bearded cheeks flaming at 103° against his thighs, the furnace breath under his balls. In Mecklenburg Thanatz steals a cigarette butt from a sleeping one-armed veteran, and is beaten and kicked for half an hour by people whose language he has never heard before, whose faces he never gets a look at. Bugs crawl over him only slightly irritated that he's in
their way. His daily bread is taken away by another DP smaller than he is, but with the look of some right to it, a look Thanatz at best can only impersonate—and so he's afraid to go after the little rag-coated liver-colored back, the munching haystack head . . . and others are watching: the woman who tells everyone that Thanatz molests her little girl at night (Thanatz can never meet her eyes because yes he wants to, pull down the slender pretty pubescent's oversize GI trousers stuff penis between pale little buttocks reminding him so of Bianca take bites of soft-as-bread insides of thighs pull long hair throatback Bianca make her moan move her head how she loves it) and a beetlebrowed Slav too, who has forced Thanatz to go hunting cigarette butts for him after lights out, to give up his sleep not so much to the chance of finding a real butt as to the Slav's right to demand it—the Slav is watching too—in fact, a circle of enemies have all observed the taking of the bread and Thanatz's failure to go after it. Their judgment is clear, a clarity in their eyes Thanatz never saw back on the Anubis, an honesty he can't avoid, can't shrug off. . . finally, finally he has to face, literally with his own real face, the transparency, the real light of...
Little by little his memory of that last rocket-firing on the Heath grows clearer. The fevers fire-polish, the pain removes impurities. An image keeps recurring—a muddy brown almost black eyeball reflecting a windmill and a jagged reticule of tree-branches in silhouette ... doors at the sides of the windmill open and shut quickly, like loose shutters in a storm ... in the iris sky one cloud, the shape of a clamshell, rises very purple around the edges, the puff from an explosion, something light ocher at the horizon . . . closer in it seems snarling purple around a yellow that's brightening, intestines of yellow shadowed in violet spilling outward, outward in a bellying curve toward us. There are, oddly (not to cut this picturesque scene off, but) oddly enough, get this, no windmills on the Lüneburg Heath! Thanatz even checked around real fast just to make sure, nope, no windmills, O.K., so, how come Blicero's eye, looking out on the Heath, is reflecting a windmill, huh? Well, to be honest, now it isn't reflecting a windmill, it's reflecting a bottle of gin. No bottle of gin out here on the Heath either. But it was reflecting a windmill. What's this? Could it be that Blicero's eyes, in which Greta Erdmann saw maps of his Kingdom, are for Thanatz reflecting the past? That would be strange. Whatever went on on those eyeballs when you weren't looking would just be lost. You'd only have fragments, now and then. Katje, looking back over her shoulder at fresh whip-marks. Gottfried in the morning lineup, body all Wandervogel-limp, wind blowing his uniform in great ripples back from the bough-curves of his
thighs, hair flying in the wind, saucy sideways smile, mouth a little open, jaw forward, eyelids down. Blicero's own reflection in the oval mirror, an old face—he is about to don a wig, a Dragon Lady pageboy with bangs, and he pauses, looking in, face asking what? what did you say? wig held to the side and slightly lower so as to be another face in heavy wig-shadows nearly invisible . . . but looking closer you can see bone-ridges and fat-fields begin to emerge now, an ice-glaze white bobbing, a mask hand-held, over the shadows in the hollow hood-space—two faces looking back now, and Thanatz, are you going to judge this man? Thanatz, haven't you loved the whip? Haven't you longed for the brush and sigh of ladies' clothes? Haven't you wanted to murder a child you loved, joyfully kill something so helpless and innocent? As he looks up at you, at the last possible minute, trusting you, and smiles, purses his lips to make a \dssjust as the blow falls across his skull . . . isn't that best of all? The cry that breaks in your chest then, the sudden, solid arrival of loss, loss forever, the irreversible end of love, of hope . . . no denying what you finally are ... (but so much fear at taking it in, the serpent face—at opening your arms and legs and letting it enter you, into your true face it'll kill you if it—)
He is telling the Schwarzkommando this now, all this and more. After a week of shouting I know, of crying I've seen the Schwarzgerät whenever a black face appears behind the flowing wire fences, at the cinderbanks or the crossings, word has got around. One day they come for him: he is lifted from the straw as black with coal-dust as they—lifted easy as an infant, a roach flicked in kindness off of his face—and transported shivering, gathered moaning south to the Erd-schweinhöhle where now they are all sitting around a fire, smoking and munching, eyes riveted on blue Thanatz, who has been gabbing for seven hours nonstop. He is the only one privileged, in a way, to tell this much of the story, he's the fella who lost out, the loser,
Just a fbol-who-never-wins, at love,
Though-he-plays, most-ev', ry night...
A loser-to-the-Ones, Above,
Who stack-the-cards, of wrong, and right. ...
Oh the loser never bets-it-all, and-he never-plays,
to win, He knows if-once, you don't-succeed, you can al-ways
Just a loser at-the-game, of love ... Spending night after night a-lo-o-o-one!
He lost Gottfried, he lost Bianca, and he is only beginning, this late into it, to see that they are the same loss, to the same winner. By now he's forgotten the sequence in time. Doesn't know which child he lost first, or even—hornet clouds of memory welling up—even if they aren't two names, different names, for the same child . . . but then in the crash of others' flotsam, sharp edges, and high-spin velocities you understand, he finds he can't hold on to this thought for long: soon he's floundering in the open water again. But he'll remember that he held it for a little, saw its texture and color, felt it against the side of his face as he woke from a space of sleeping near it—that the two children, Gottfried and Bianca, are the same. . . .
He lost Blicero, but it wasn't quite as real. After the last firing, the unremembered night-hours to Hamburg, the hop from Hamburg to Bydgoszcz in a purloined P-51 Mustang was so clearly Procalowski-down-out-of-the-sky-in-a-machine, that Thanatz came to imagine he had disposed of Blicero too only in that same very conditional, metallic way. And sure enough, the metal has given way to flesh, and sweat, and long chattering night encounters, Blicero cross-legged stammering down at his crotch I cuh-cuh-cuh-cuh—"Can't," Blicero? "Couldn't"? "Care"? "Cry"? Blicero that night was offering all his weapons, laying down all maps of his revetments and labyrinths.
Thanatz was really asking: when mortal faces go by, sure, self-consistent and never seeing me, are they real? Are they souls, really? or only attractive sculpture, the sunlit faces of clouds?
And: "How can I love them?"
But there's no answer from Blicero. His eyes go casting runes with the windmill silhouettes. A number of contributed scenes do now flash by for Thanatz. From Ensign Morituri, a banana-leaf floor somewhere near Mabalacat in the Philippines, late '44, a baby squirms, rolls, kicks in drops of sunlight, raising dust off the drying leaves, and the special-attack units roar away overhead, Zeros bearing comrades away, finally as fallen cherry-blossoms—that favorite Kamikaze image—in the spring . . . from Greta Erdmann, a world below the surface of Earth or mud—it crawls like mud, but cries like Earth, with layer-pressed generations of gravities and losses thereto—losses, failures, last moments followed by voids stringing back, a series of hermetic caves caught in the suffocated layers, those forever lost. . . from someone, who'll ever know who? a flash of Bianca in a thin cotton shift, one arm back, the smooth powdery hollow under the arm and the leaping bow of one small breast, her lowered face, all but forehead and cheekbone in shadow, turning this way, the lashes now whose lifting you pray for . . .
will she see you? a suspension forever at the hinge of doubt, this perpetuate doubting of her love—
They'll help him through it. The Erdschweinhöhlers will sit up all night with this nonstop intelligence briefing. He is the angel they've hoped for, and it's logical he should come now, on the day when they have their Rocket all assembled at last, their single A4 scavenged all summer piece by piece clear across the Zone from Poland to the Low Countries. Whether you believed or not, Empty or Green, cunt-crazy or politically celibate, power-playing or neutral, you had a feeling— a suspicion, a latent wish, some hidden tithe out of your soul, something—for the Rocket. It is that "something" that the Angel Thanatz now illuminates, each in a different way, for everybody listening.
By the time he's done, they will all know what the Schwarzgerät was, how it was used, where the 00000 was fired from, and which way it was pointed. Enzian will smile grimly, and groan to his feet, the decision already made for him hours ago, and say, "Well, let's have a look at the timetables now." His Erdschweinhöhle rival, Empty One Josef Ombindi, grips him by the forearm—"If there's anything . . ." Enzian nods. "See if you can work us out a tight security watch, 'kurandye." He hasn't called Ombindi that for a while. Nor is it a small concession to give the Empty Ones control of the watch lists, at least for the duration of this journey . . .
. . . which has already begun, as one and a half levels below, men and women are busy with tackle, lines, and harness easing rocket sections each onto its dolly, more Schwarzkommando waiting in leather and blueflowered files up the ramps to the outside, along the present and future vectors strung between wood rails and grooves, Empty, Neutral and Green all together now, waiting or hauling or supervising, some talking for the first time since the dividing along lines of racial life and racial death began, how many years ago, reconciled for now in the only Event that could have brought them together (/ couldn't, Enzian knows, and shudders at what's going to happen after it's over—but maybe it's only meant to last its fraction of a day, and why can't that be enough? try to let it be enough . . .).
Christian comes past, downhill adjusting a web belt, not quite swaggering—night before last his sister Maria visited him in a dream to tell him she wished no revenge against anyone, and wanted him to trust and love the Nguarorerue—so their eyes now meet not quite amused nor quite yet in a challenge, but knowing more together than they ever have so far, and Christian's hand at the moment of passing cocks out half in salute, half in celebration, aimed toward the Heath,
northwesterly, Kingdom-of-Deathward, and Enzian's goes out the same way, iya, 'kurandye! as, at some point, the two palms do slide and brush, do touch, and it is touch and trust enough, for this moment. . . .
Unexpectedly, this country is pleasant, yes, once inside it, quite pleasant after all. Even though there is a villain here, serious as death. It is this typical American teenager's own Father, trying episode after episode to kill his son. And the kid knows it. Imagine that. So far he's managed to escape his father's daily little death-plots—but nobody has said he has to keep escaping.
He's a cheerful and a plucky enough lad, and doesn't hold any of this against his father particularly. That oP Broderick's just a mur-derin' fool, golly what'll he come up with next—
It's a giant factory-state here, a City of the Future full of extrapolated 1930s swoop-façaded and balconied skyscrapers, lean chrome caryatids with bobbed hairdos, classy airships of all descriptions drifting in the boom and hush of the city abysses, golden lovelies sunning in roof-gardens and turning to wave as you pass. It is the Raketen-Stadt.
Down below, thousands of kids are running in windy courtyards and areaways, up and down flights of steps, skullcaps on their heads with plastic propellers spinning in the wind rattling and blurred, kids running messages among the plastic herbage in and out of the different soft-plastic offices—Here's a memo for you Tyrone, go and find the Radiant Hour (Weepers! Didn't know it was lost! Sounds like oP Pop's up to somma those tricks again!), so it's out into the swarming corridors, full of larking dogs, bicycles, pretty subdeb secretaries on roller skates, produce carts, beanies whirling forever in the lights, cap-gun or water-pistol duels at each corner, kids dodging behind the sparkling fountains WAIT that's a real gun, this is a real bullet zinnnggg! good try, Pop, but you're not quite as keen as The Kid today!
Onward to rescue the Radiant Hour, which has been abstracted from the day's 24 by colleagues of the Father, for sinister reasons of their own. Travel here gets complicated—a system of buildings that move, by right angles, along the grooves of the Raketen-Stadt's street-grid. You can also raise or lower the building itself, a dozen floors per second, to desired heights or levels underground, like a submarine
skipper with his periscope—although certain paths aren't available to you. They are available to others, but not to you. Chess. Your objective is not the King—there is no King—but momentary targets such as the Radiant Hour.
Bing in pops a kid with beanie spinning, hands Slothrop another message and spins off again. "The Radiant Hour is being held captive, if you want to see her on display to all interested customers be present at this address 11:30 a.m."—in the sky a white clockface drifts conveniently by, hmm only half an hour to gather together my rescue team. Rescue team will consist of Myrtle Miraculous flyin' in here in a shoulderpadded maroon dress, the curlers still up in her hair and a tough frown fer draggin' her outa Slumberland . . . next a Negro in a pearl-gray zoot and Inverness cape name of Maximilian, high square pomaded head and a superthin mustache come zooming here out of his "front" job, suave manager of the Club Oogabooga where Beacon Street aristocracy rubs elbows ev'ry night with Roxbury winos 'n' dopefiends, yeah hi Tyrone, heah Ah is! H'lo Moitle baby, hyeah, hyeah, hyeah! Whut's de big rush, mah man? Adjusting his carnation, lookin' round th' room, everybody's here now except for that Mar-eel but hark the familiar music-box theme yes it's that old-timery sweet Stephen Foster music and sure enough in through the balcony window now comes Marcel, a mechanical chessplayer dating back to the Second Empire, actually built a century ago for the great conjuror Robert-Houdin, very serious-looking French refugee kid, funny haircut with the ears perfectly outlined in hair that starts abruptly a quarter-inch strip of bare plastic skin away, black patent-shiny hair, hornrim glasses, a rather remote manner, unfortunately much too literal with humans (imagine what happened the first time Maximilian come hi-de-hoing in the door with one finger jivin' in the air sees metal-ebonite-and-plastic young Marcel sitting there and say, "Hey man gimme some skin, man!" well not only does Marcel give him a heavy time about skin, skin in all its implications, oh no that's only at the superficial level, next we get a long discourse on the concept of "give," that goes on for a while, then, then he starts in on "Man." That's really an exhaustive one. In fact Marcel isn't anywhere near finished with it yet). Still, his exquisite 19th-century brainwork—the human art it took to build which has been flat lost, lost as the dodo bird—has stood the Floundering Four in good stead on many, many go-rounds with the Paternal Peril.
But where inside Marcel is the midget Grandmaster, the little Jo-hann Allgeier? where's the pantograph, and the magnets? Nowhere.
Marcel really is a mechanical chessplayer. No fakery inside to give him any touch of humanity at all. Each of the FF is, in fact, gifted while at the same time flawed by his gift—unfit by it for human living. Myrtle Miraculous specializes in performing miracles. Stupendous feats, impossible for humans. She has lost respect for humans, they are clumsy, they fail, she does want to love them but love is the only miracle that's beyond her. Love is denied her forever. The others of her class are either homosexuals, fanatics about law 'n' order, off on strange religious excursions, or as intolerant of failure as herself, and though friends such as Mary Marvel and Wonder Woman keep inviting her to parties to meet eligible men, Myrtle knows it's no use. ... As for Maximilian, he has a natural sense of rhythm, which means all rhythms, up to and including the cosmic. So he will never be where the fathomless manhole awaits, where the safe falls from the high window shrieking like a bomb—he is a pilot through Earth's baddest minefields, if we only stay close to him, be where he is as much as we can—yet Maximilian's doom is never to go any further into danger than its dapperness, its skin-exciting first feel. . . .
Fine crew this is, getting set to go off after the Radiant—say what? what's Slothrop's own gift and Fatal Flaw? Aw, c'mon—uh, the Radiant Hour, collecting their equipment, Myrtle zooming to and fro materializing this and that:
The Golden Gate Bridge ("How about that one?" "Uh, let's see the other one, again? with the, you know, uh . . ." "The Brooklyn?" "—kind of old-fashioned looking—" "The Brooklyn Bridge?" "Yeah, that's it, with the pointed . . . whatever they are . . .").
The Brooklyn Bridge ("See, for a chase-scene, Myrtle, we ought to observe proportions—" "Do tell." "Now if we were gonna be in highspeed automobiles, well, sure, we might use the Golden Gate . . . but for zooming through the air now, we/need something older, more intimate, human—").
A pair of superlatively elegant Rolls Royces ("Quit fooling, Myrtle, we already agreed, didn't we? No automobiles . . .").
A small plastic baby's steering wheel ("Aw all right, I know you don't respect me as a leader but listen can't we be reasonable . . .").
Any wonder it's hard to feel much confidence in these idiots as they go up against Pernicious Pop each day? There's no real direction here, neither lines of power nor cooperation. Decisions are never really made—at best they manage to emerge, from a chaos of peeves, whims, hallucinations and all-round assholery. This is less a fighting team than nest full of snits, blues, crotchets and grudges, not a rare or
fabled bird in the lot. Its survival seems, after all, only a mutter of blind fortune groping through the heavy marbling of skies one Titanic-Night at a time. Which is why Slothrop now observes his coalition with hopes for success and hopes for disaster about equally high (and no, that doesn 't cancel out to apathy—it makes a loud dissonance that dovetails inside you sharp as knives). It does annoy him that he can be so divided, so perfectly unable to come down on one side or another. Those whom the old Puritan sermons denounced as "the glozing neuters of the world" have no easy rog d to haul down, Wear-the-Pantsers, just cause you can't see it doesn't mean it's not there! Energy inside is just as real, just as binding and inescapable, as energy that shows. When's the last time you felt intensely lukewarm? eh? Glozing neuters are just as human as heroes and villains. In many ways they have the most grief to put up with, don't they? Why don't you, right now, wherever you are, city folks or out in the country, snuggled in quilts or riding the bus, just turn to the Glozing Neuter nearest you, even your own reflection in the mirror, and . . . just. . . sing,
How-dy neighbor, how-dy pard! Ain't it lone-ly, say ain't it hard, Passin' by so silent, day-after-day, with-out, even a smile-or, a friendly word to say? Oh, let me Tell ya bud-dy, tell ya ace, Things're fal-lin', on their face— Maybe we should stick together part o' the way, and Skies'll be bright-er some day! Now ev'rybody—
As the 4 suit up, voices continue singing for a while, depending how much each one happens to care—Myrtle displaying generous expanses of nifty gam, and Maximilian leering up beneath the fast-talking young tomato's skirts, drawing bewildered giggles from adolescent Marcel, who may be a bit repressed.
"Now," Slothrop with a boobish, eager-to-please smile, "time for that Pause that Refreshes!" And he's into the icebox before Myrtle's "Oh, Jesus" has quite finished echoing . . . the light from the cold wee bulb turning his face to summernight blue, Broderick and Nalline's shadow-child, their unconfessed, their monster son, who was born with hydraulic clamps for hands that know only how to reach and grab . . . and a heart that gurgles audibly, like a funny fatman's stomach . . . but look how lost, how unarrested his face is, was that 1 1/2 seconds in the glow from the folksy old icebox humming along in Kelvinator-
Bostonian dialect, Why cummawn in, T'rone, it's nice and friendly heeah in my stummick, gawt lawtsa nice things, like Mawxies, 'n' big Baby Rooths. . . ." Walking now in among miles-down-the-sky shelves and food-mountains or food-cities of Iceboxland (but look out, it can get pretty Fascist in here, behind the candy-colored sweet stuff is ther-modynamic elitism at its clearest—bulbs can be replaced with candles and the radios fall silent, but the Grid's big function in this System is iceboxery: freezing back the tumultuous cycles of the day to preserve this odorless small world, this cube of changelessness), climbing over the celery ridges where the lettered cheese glasses loom high and glossy in the middle distance, slippin' on the butter dish, piggin' on the watermelon down to the rind, feelin' yellow and bright as you skirt the bananas, gazing down at verdigris reaches of mold across the crusted terrain of an old, no longer identifiable casserole—bananas! who-who's been putting bananas—
In-the-re-frig er a-tor! O no-no-no, no-no-no!
Chiquita Banana sez we shouldn't! Somethin' awful'll happen! Who would do that? It couldn't be Mom, and Hogan's in love with Chiquita Banana, Tyrone's come in the room plenty of times found his brother with banana label glued on his erect cock for ready reference, lost in masturbatory fantasies of nailing this cute but older Latin lady while she's wearing her hat, gigantic fruit-market hat and a big saucy smile ;Ay, ay, how passionate you Yankees are! . . . a-and it couldn't've been Pop, no Pop wouldn't, but if it (is it getting cold in here?) wasn't any of us, then (what's happening to the Spike Jones record of "Right in the Führer's Face" playing back out in the living room, why's the sound fading?). . . unless I did it without knowing (look around, something's squeaking on its hinges) and maybe that means I'm going crazy (what's this brightening the bulblight, what's—) SLAM well whoever it is that's been wantonly disregarding United Fruit's radio commercials has also just closed young Tyrone in that icebox, and now he'll have to count on Myrtle to get him out. Embarrassing as heck.
"Good thinking, boss man."
"Gee, M.M., I don't know what happened. ..."
"Do you ever? Grab on to my cape."
"Whew. Well," sez Slothrop, "uh, are we all... ?"
"That Radiant Hour's probably light-years away by now," sez Myrt, "and you have a snot icicle hanging outa your nose." Marcel
springs to the controls of the mobile building, keys in to Central Control a request for omnidirectional top-speed clearance, which sometimes comes through and sometimes not, depending on a secret process among the granters of permission, a process it is one of the 4's ongoing mandates to discover and impart to the world. This time they get Slow Crawl, Suburban Vectors, lowest traffic status in the Raketen-Stadt, invoked only once in recorded history, against a homosexual child-murdering Indian liked to wipe off his organ afterwards on the Flag and so on—"Shit!" hollers Maximilian at Slothrop, "Slow Crawl, Suburban Vectors! whut th' fuck we s'posed to do man, swim or some shit?"
"Uh, Myrtle ..." Slothrop approaches gold-snooded M.M. a little deferent, "uh, do you think you could ..." Jesus they run through this same routine every time—doesn't Myrtle wish Sniveling Slothrop would cut this wishy-washy malarkey 'n' be a man fer once! She lights a cigarette, lets it droop from one corner of her mouth, juts out the opposite hip and sighs, "On the beam," exasperated already with this creep—
And Los! the miracle is done, they're now zipping along the corridor-streets of the Raketen-Stadt like some long-necked sea monster. Little kids boil up like ants on the webby arches of viaducts high over the city dripping stone like Spanish moss petrified in mid-collapse, kids up over the airy railings and onto the friendly back of the sleek city-cruising monster. They climb window to window, too full of grace ever to fall. Some of them, naturally, are spies: that honey-curled little cutie in the blue checked pinafore and blue knee-socks, up there under the gargoyle at the window listening in to Maximilian, who began drinking heavily as soon as the building started to move, and is now carrying on a long denunciation of Marcel under the thin scholarly disguise of trying to determine if the Gallic Genius can truly be said to have any "soul." Young lady under gargoyle is taking it all down in shorthand. These are valuable data for the psychological warfare effort.
For the first time now it becomes apparent that the 4 and the Father-conspiracy do not entirely fill their world. Their struggle is not the only, or even the ultimate one. Indeed, not only are there many other struggles, but there are also spectators, watching, as spectators will do, hundreds of thousands of them, sitting around this dingy yellow amphitheatre, seat after seat plunging down in rows and tiers endless miles, down to the great arena, brown-yellow lights, food scattered on the stone slopes up higher, broken buns, peanut shells, bones, bottles
half-filled with green or orange sweet, fires in small wind-refuges, set in angles where seats have been chiseled away, shallow Depressions in the stone and a bed of cherry embers where old women are cooking hashes of the scavenged bits and crumbles and gristly lumps of food, heating them in thin frying pans of gray oil-water bubbling, as the faces of children gather around to wait for food, and in the wind the dark young man, the slippery young knife who waits for your maid outside the iron gate each Sunday, who takes her away to a park, a stranger's automobile and a shape of love you can never imagine, stands now with his hair untended in the wind, his head averted from the fire, feeling the cold, the mountain cold, at his temples and high under his jaw . . . while beside other fires the women gossip, one craning over now and then to look miles downward at the stage, to see if a new episode's come on yet—crowds of students running by dark as ravens, coats draped around shoulders, back out into a murky sector of seats which traditionally are never entered (being reserved for the Ancestors), their voices fading still very intense, dramatic, trying to sound good or at least acceptable. The women go on, playing cards, smoking, eating. See if you can borrow a blanket from Rose's fire over there, it's gonna be cold tonight. Hey—and a pack of Armies while you're out—and come right back, hear me? Of course the cigarette machine turns out to be Marcel, who else, in another of his clever mechanical disguises, and inside one pack is a message for one of the spectators. "I'm sure you wouldn't want Them to know about the summer of 1945. Meet me in the Male Transvestites' Toilet, level L16/39C, station Metatron, quadrant Fire, stall Malkuth. You know what time. The usual Hour. Don't be late."
What's this? What're the antagonists doing here—infiltrating their own audience? Well, they're not, really. It's somebody else's audience at the moment, and these nightly spectacles are an appreciable part of the darkside-hours life of the Rocket-capital. The chances for any paradox here, really, are less than you think.
Maximilian is way down in the bottom of the orchestra pit posing as the C-melody saxophone player, complete with Closet Intellectual Book, The Wisdom of the Great Kamikaze Pilots, with illustrations by Walt Disney—screaming, hairy-nosed, front teeth in white dihedral, slant-eyed (long, elaborate curlicued shapes) round black licorice dog-nosed Japs, zoomin' through ev'ry page! and any time he's not playing that saxophone, you can be sure Maximilian will be, to the casual observer, immersed in this diffuse, though rewarding, work. Myrtle meantime is back in the candycane control room, manning the switch-
board and ready to swoop in at any time to save the others, who are sure (through their own folly if nothing else) to be in deep trouble soon. And Slothrop himself lurks in the Transvestites' Toilet, in the smoke, the crowds, the buzzing fluorescent lights, piss hot as melted butter, making notes of all the dealing going on among the stalls, bowls 'n' urinals (you've got to look butch but not that butch and another thing no metal showing at any vital spots, she'll knock off ten marks for every one she sees, and the only bonuses she gives are spelled out here: blood drawn on first try, that's an extra 20—) wondering if the cigarette-pack message got through and if they'll come in person or if Pop'll send a hit man to try for a first-round KO.
Well, there is the heart of it: the monumental yellow structure, out there in the slum-suburban night, the never-sleeping percolation of life and enterprise through its shell, Outside and Inside interpiercing one another too fast, too finely labyrinthine, for either category to have much hegemony any more. The nonstop revue crosses its stage, crowding and thinning, surprising and jerking tears in an endless ratchet:
the low-frequency listener
The German U-boats communicated on a wave length of 28,000 meters, which is down around 10 kc. A half-wave antenna for that'd halfta be 9 miles high, or long, and even folded here and there it is still some antenna. It is located at Magdeburg. So is the headquarters of the German branch of Jehovah's Witnesses. So, for a time, is Slothrop, attempting to get through to the Argentine anarchist U-boat, now in unknown waters. The reason why is no longer clear to him. He was either visited again in some way by Squalidozzi, or he came upon Squalidozzi one day by accident, or he found, in some lint-picking at-tentionless search through pockets, rags or bedroll, the message he was given, back at the green edge of Aries, at the Cafe 1'Eclipse long ago in Geneva. All he knows is that finding Squalidozzi, right now, is his overriding need.
The Keeper of the Antenna is a Jehovah's witness named Rohr. He's just out of the Ravensbrück camp after being in since '36 (or '37, he can't remember). With that much camp time in, he's politically reliable enough for the local G-5 to put him, nights, in control of the network of longest wavelength in the Zone. Although this could be accidental, more likely there is some eccentric justice lately begun to operate out here which it would behoove Slothrop to look into. There are rumors of a War Crimes Tribunal under way in Nürnberg. No one
Slothrop has listened to is clear who's trying whom for what, but remember that these are mostly brains ravaged by antisocial and mindless pleasures.
But the only people—if any—apt to be communicating these days on 28,000 meters (the distance from Test Stand VII at Peenemünde to the Hafenstraße in Greifswald, where Slothrop in early August may see a particular newspaper photo), except for freak Argentine anarchists, are the undenazified Nazis still wandering around in unaccounted-for submarines holding their own secret shipboard tribunals against enemies of the Reich. So the closest thing in the Zone to an early Christian is put on to listen for news of unauthorized crucifixions.
"Someone the other night was dying," Rohr tells him, "I don't know if he was inside the Zone or out at sea. He wanted a priest. Should I have got on and told him about priests? Would he've found any comfort in that? It's so painful sometimes. We're really trying to be Christians. . . ."
"My folks were Congregationalist," Slothrop offers, "I think." It's getting harder to remember either of them, as Broderick progresses into Pernicious Pop and Nalline into ssshhhghhh .. . (into what? What was that word? Whatever it is, the harder he chases, the faster it goes away).
mom slothrop's letter to ambassador kennedy
Well hi Joe how've ya been. Listen: Jew-zeppy—we're getting edgy about our youngest again. Would you try bothering a few of those jolly old London connections just once more? (Promise!!) Even if it's old news it'll be good news for Poppy and I. I still remember what you said when the awful word about the PT boat came in, before you knew how Jack was. I'll never forget your words then. It's every parent's dream, Joe, that it is.
Oh, and Hozay (whoops, don't mind that, the pen just skidded as you can see! Naughty Nalline's on her third martini, we'll have you know). Poppy and I heard your wonderful speech at the GE plant over in Pittsfield the other week. You're in the groove, Mister K! How true! we've got to modernize in Massachusetts, or it'll just keep getting worse and worse. They're supposed to be taking a strike vote here next week. Wasn't the WLB set up to prevent just that? It isn't starting to break down, is it, Joe? Sometimes, you know these fine Boston Sundays, when the sky over the Hill is broken into clouds, the way white bread appears through a crust you hold at your thumbs and split apart.
. . . You know, don't you? Golden clouds? Sometimes I think—ah, Joe, I think they're pieces of the Heavenly City falling down. I'm sorry— didn't mean this to get so gloomy all so sudden, it's just. . . but it isn 't beginning to fall apart, is it, my old fellow Harvard-parent? Sometimes things aren't very clear, that's all. Things look like they're going against us, and though it always turns out fine at the end, and we can always look back and say oh of course it had to happen that way, otherwise so-and-so wouldn't have happened—still, -while it's happening, in my heart I keep getting this terrible fear, this empty place, and it's very hard at such times really to believe in a Plan with a shape bigger than I can see. . . .
Oh, anyway. Grumpy old thoughts away! Shoo! Martini Number Four, comin' up!
Jack's a fine boy. Really I love Jack like Hogan and Tyrone, just like a son, my own son. I even love him like I don't love my sons, ha-ha! (she croaks) but then I'm a wicked old babe, you know that. No hope for the likes of me. ...
on the phrase "Ass backwards"
"Something I have never understood about your language, Yankee pig." Säure has been calling him "Yankee pig" all day now, a hilarious joke he will not leave alone, often getting no further than "Yank—" before collapsing into some horrible twanging phthisic wheeze of a laugh, coughing up alarming ropy lungers of many colors and marbling effects—green, for example, old-statue green at leafy dusk.
"Sure," replies Slothrop, "you wanna learn English, me teachee you English. Ask me anything, kraut." It is exactly the kind of blanket offer that's always getting Slothrop in trouble.
"Why do you speak of certain reversals—machinery connected wrong, for instance, as being 'ass backwards'? I can't understand that. Ass usually is backwards, right? You ought to be saying 'ass forwards,' if backwards is what you mean."
"Uh," sez Slothrop.
"This is only one of many American Mysteries," Säure sighs, "I wish somebody could clear up for me. Not you, obviously."
Säure got a lotta gall picking on other people's language like this. One night, back when he was a second-story man, he had the incredible luck to break into the affluent Home of Minne Khlaetsch, an astrologer of the Hamburg School, who was, congenitally it seems, unable to pronounce, even perceive, umlauts over vowels. That night
she was just coming on to what would prove to be an overdose of Hi-eropon, when Säure, who back in those days was a curly-haired and good-looking kid, surprised her in her own bedroom with his hand around an ivory chess Läufer with a sarcastic smile on its face, and filled with good raw Peruvian cocaine still full of the Earth—"Don't call for help," advises Säure flashing his phony acid bottle, "or that pretty face goes flowing off of its bones like vanilla pudding." But Minne calls his bluff, starts hollering for help to all the ladies of the same age in her building who feel that same motherly help-help-but-make-sure-there's-time-for-him-to-rape-me ambivalence about nubile cat burglars. What she means to scream is "Hübsch Räuber! Hübsch Räuber!" which means "Cute-looking robber! Cute-looking robber!" But she can't pronounce those umlauts. So it comes out "Hub-schrauber! Hubschrauber!" which means "Helicopter! Helicopter!" well, it's 1920-something, and nobody in earshot even knows what the word means, Liftscrewer, what's that?—nobody except one finger-biting paranoid aerodynamics student in a tenement courtyard far away, who heard the scream late in Berlin night, over tramclashing, rifle shots in another quarter, a harmonica novice who has been trying to play "Deutschland, Deutschland Úber Alles" for the past four hours, over and over missing notes, fucking up the time, the breathing ü . . . berall... es ... indie ... ie ... then longlong pause, oh come on asshole, you can find it—Welt sour, ach, immediately corrected . . . through all this to him comes the cry Hubschrauber, lift-screwer, a helix through cork air over wine of Earth falling bright, yes he knows exactly—and can this cry be a prophecy? a warning (the sky full of them, gray police in the hatchways with ray-guns cradled like codpieces beneath each whirling screw we see you from above there is nowhere to go it's your last alley, your last stormcellar) to stay inside and not interfere? He stays inside and does not interfere. He goes on to become "Spörri" of Horst Achtfaden's confession to the Schwarzkommando. But he didn't go to see what Minne was hollering about that night. She would Ve OD'd except for her boy friend Wimpe, an up-and-coming IG salesman covering the Eastern Territory, who'd blown into town after unexpectedly dumping all of his Oneirine samples on a party of American tourists back in hilltop Transylvania looking for a new kind of thrills—it's me Liebchen, didn't expect to be back so—but then he saw the sprawled satin creature, read pupil-size and skin-tint, swiftly went to his leather case for stimulant and syringe. That and an ice-filled bathtub got her back O.K.
" 'Ass' is an intensifier," Seaman Bodine now offers, "as in 'mean ass,' 'stupid ass'—well, when something is very backwards, by analogy you'd say 'backwards ass.' "
"But 'ass backwards' is 'backwards ass' backwards," Säure objects.
"But gee that don't make it mean forwards," blinks Bodine with a sincere little break in his voice as if somebody's just about to hit him— actually this is a bit of private fun for the spirited salt, it is a William Bendix imitation. Let the others do Cagney and Gary Grant, Bodine specializes in supporting roles, he can do a perfect Arthur Kennedy-as-Cagneýs-kid-brother, how about that? O-or Gary Grant's faithful Indian water-bearer, Sam Jaífe. He is a white-hat in the navy of life, and that extends to vocal impressions of the fake film-lives of strangers.
Säure meantime is into something like this with instrumental soloists, or trying, teaching himself kind of by trial and error, currently ee-ee-aw-aw-ing his way through some hypothetical Joachim playing his own cadenza from the long-suppressed Rossini violin concerto (op. posth.), and in the process driving the household mad. One morning "Irudi just goes stomping away into an 82nd Airborne mass jump over the conquered city, a million fleecy canopies in the sky, falling slow as white ash behind around the silhouette of her good-by stomp. "He's driving me crazy." "Hi Trudi, where you going?" "I just told you— crazy!" and don't think this wretched old horny dopefiend doesn't love her, because he does, and don't think he isn't praying, writing down his wishes carefully on cigarette papers, rolling up in them his finest sacramental kif and smoking them down to a blister on the lip, which is the dopefiend's version of wishing on an evening star, hoping in his heart she's just off on another stomp, please only a stomp, let it be over inside the day Just one more time, he writes on each good-night's reefer, that's all, I won't ask again, I'll try not to, you know me, don't judge me too hard, please . .. but how many more of these stomps can there be? One's going to be the last. Still he keeps on ee-ee-aw-aw-ing with the Rossini, radiating his mean, lean, living-at-the-edge street-longevity, no he can't seem to stop it, it's an old man's habit, he hates himself but it just comes on him, no matter what attention he brings to the problem, he can't stop drifting back into the catchy cadenza. . . . Seaman Bodine understands, and is trying to help. To set up a useful interference, he has composed his own counter-cadenza, along the lines of those other pop tunes with classical names big around 1945 ("My Prelude to a Kiss," "Tenement Symphony")—every chance he gets, Bodine will croon it to the new weekly arrivals, Lalli just in from Lübeck,
Sandra who's run away from the Kleinbürgerstrasse, here's vile Bodine with his guitar ambling pelvis-wiggling down the hallway after each naughty defector, each choice little sexcrime fantasy made flesh, singing and picking a moving rendition of:
my doper's cadenza
If you hear, a "box" so sweet,
Play-in' tunes-with, a peppy beat,
That's just MY DOPER'S, CADEN-ZA-A-A-A!
Mel-o-dees, that getcha so, •
Where'd they come from? I don't know!
(h-ha) It's just MY DOPER'S CADEN-ZA(A)A-A-A!
[This is the "cadenza" part—]
Now I know it's not as keen as old Rossini
[snatch o/La Gazza Ladra here], Nor as grand as Bach, or Beethoven-or-Brahms (bubububoo[oo] oo [sung to opening of Beethoven 5th, -with fall band]) But I'd give away the fames, of a hundred Harry James
. . . wait, fame? of a hundred Jame? Jameses . . . uh . . . fameses? Hmm . . .
I-hi-hif this little-song, can-bring, you-to-my arms!
Dum de dum, de-dum de dee,
Oh, it's better than a symphonee—
It's MY DOPER'S CADENZA, to yoooouuu!
These days, the tenement is known as Der Platz, and is nearly filled up, all the way in to the last central courtyard, with friends of Säure's. The change is unexpected—a lot more vegetation seems to be growing now in the tenement dirt, an ingenious system of Home-carpentered light ducts and mirrors adjusted throughout the day send sunlight, for the first time, down into these back courts, revealing colors never seen before . . . there's also a rain-structure, to route the rain among flumes, funnels, splash-reflectors, waterwheels, nozzles, and weirs to make a system of rivers and waterfalls to play in this summer . . . the only rooms that can still be locked from the inside are reserved for isolates, fetishists, lost stumblers-in out of the occupation who need loneliness like the dopefiend needs his dope . . . speaking of which, everywhere in the complex now you can find army dope of all kinds stashed, from cellars to mansarde floors are littered with wire
loops and plastic covers from 1/2-grain syrettes of morphine tartrate squeezed toothpaste-tube empty, broken amyl nitrite containers looted from anti-gas kits, olive-drab tins of Benzedrine . . . work is proceeding on an anti-police moat around the entire tenement: to keep from drawing attention, this moat here is the first in history being dug from inside out, the space directly below the Jacobistrasse, slowly, paranoiacally, is hollowed, sculpted, carefully shored up under the thin crust of street so the odd tram won't find itself in unscheduled plunge—though it has been known to happen, out in the late night with interior tram-lights warm-colored as clear broth, out on the Peripheral runs through long stretches of unlighted park or along singing fences of storage depots all at once like a mouth pursing MF the blacktop buckles and you're down in some dripping paranoids' moat, the night-shift staring in with huge denizen-of-the-underground eyes, faced not with you so much as with the agonizing problem of deciding is this a real bus, or are these "passengers" really police agents in disguise well it's a touchy Business, touchy.
Somewhere in Der Platz now, early morning, somebody's two-year-old, a baby as fat as a suckling pig, has just learned the word "Sonnenschein." "Sunshine," sez the baby, pointing. "Sunshine," running into the other room.
"Sunshine," croaks some grownup morning-voice.
"Sunshine!" hollers the baby, tottering off.
"Sunshine," a smiling-girl voice, maybe his mother.
"Sunshine!" the baby at the window, showing her, showing anybody else who'll look, exactly.
shit 'n' shinola
"Now," Säure wants to know, "you will tell me about the American expression 'Shit from Shinola.' "
"What is this," screams Seaman Bodine, "I'm being set tasks now? This is some Continuing Study of American Slang or some shit? Tell me you old fool," grabbing Säure by throat and lapel and shaking him asymmetrically, "you're one of Them too, right? Come on," the old man Raggedy Andy in his hands, a bad morning of suspicion here for the usually mellow Bodine, "Stop, stop," snivels the amazed Säure, amazement giving way, that is, to a sniveling conviction that the hairy American gob has lost his mind. . . .
Well. You've heard the expression "Shit from Shinola." As in, "Aw, he don't know Shit from Shinola! 'bout that." Or, "Marine—you don't know Shit from Shinola!" And you get sent to the Onion Room, or
worse. One implication is that Shit and Shinola are in wildly different categories. You would envision—maybe just because they smell different—no way for Shit and Shinola to coexist. Simply impossible. A stranger to the English language, a German dopefiend such as Säure, not knowing either word, might see "Shit" as a comical interjection, one a lawyer in a bowler hat, folding up papers tucking them in a tan briefcase might smiling use, "Schitt, Herr Bummer," and he walks out of your cell, the oily bastard, forever ... or Scchhit! down comes a cartoon guillotine on one black & white politician, head bouncing downhill, lines to indicate amusing little spherical vortex patterns, and you thought yes, like to see that all right, yes cut it off, one less rodent, schittja! As for Shinola, we pass to universitarians Franz Pokier, Kurt Mondaugen, Bert Fibel, Horst Achtfaden and others, their Schein-Aula is a shimmering, Albert Speer-style alabaster open-air stadium with giant cement birds of prey up at each corner, wings shrugged forward, sheltering under each wing-shadow a hooded German face . . . from the outside, the Hall is golden, the white gold precisely of one lily-of-the-valley petal in 4 o'clock sunlight, serene, at the top of a small, artificially-graded hill. It has a talent, this Seeming-Hall, for posing up there in attractive profiles, in front of noble clouds, to suggest persistence, through returns of spring, hopes for love, meltings of snow and ice, academic Sunday tranquillities, smells of grass just crushed or cut or later turning to hay . . . but inside the Schein-Aula all is blue and cold as the sky overhead, blue as a blueprint or a planetarium. No one in here knows which way to look. Will it begin above us? Down there? Behind us? In the middle of the air? and how soon. . . . Well there's one place where Shit 'n' Shinola do come together, and that's in the men's toilet at the Roseland Ballroom, the place Slothrop departed from on his trip down the toilet, as revealed in the St. Veronica Papers (preserved, mysteriously, from that hospital's great holocaust). Shit, now, is the color white folks are afraid of. Shit is the presence of death, not some abstract-arty character with a scythe but the stiff and rotting corpse itself inside the whiteman's warm and private own asshole, which is getting pretty intimate. That's what that white toilet's for. You see many brown toilets? Nope, toilet's the color of gravestones, classical columns of mausoleums, that white porcelain's the very emblem of Odorless and Official Death. Shinola shoeshine polish happens to be the color of Shit. Shoeshine boy Malcolm's in the toilet slappin' on the Shinola, working off whiteman's penance on his sin of being born the color of Shit 'n' Shinola. It is nice to think that one Saturday night, one floor-shaking Lindyhopping Roseland night,
Malcolm looked up from some Harvard kid's shoes and caught the eye of Jack Kennedy (the Ambassador's son), then a senior. Nice to think that young Jack may have had one of them Immortal Lightbulbs then go on overhead—did Red suspend his ragpopping just the shadow of a beat, just enough gap in the moire there to let white Jack see through, not through to but through through the shine on his classmate Tyrone Slothrop's shoes? Were the three ever lined up that way—sitting, squatting, passing through? Eventually Jack and Malcolm both got murdered. Slothrop's fate is not so clear. It may be that They have something different in mind for Slothrop.
an incident in the transvestites' toilet
A small ape or orangutan, holding something behind his back, comes sidling unobserved among net-stockinged legs, bobby sox rolled down to loop under ankle bones, subdeb beanies tucked into rayon aquamarine waist-sashes. Finally he reaches Slothrop, who is wearing a blonde wig and the same long flowing white cross-banded number Fay Wray wears in her screentest scene with Robert Armstrong on the boat (considering his history in the Roseland toilet, Slothrop may have chosen this gown not only out of some repressed desire to be sodomized, unimaginably, by a gigantic black ape, but also because of an athletic innocence to Fay that he's never spoken of except to point and whisper, "Oh, look ..." —some honesty, pluck, a cleanness to the garment itself, its enormous sleeves so that wherever you pass is visibly where you've been . . .).
At that first moment, long before our flight: Ravine, tyrannosaurus (flying-mares And jaws cracked out of joint), the buzzing serpent That jumped you in your own stone living space, The pterodactyl or the Fall, no—just... While I first hung there, forest and night at one, Hung waiting with the torches on the wall. And waiting for the night's one Shape to come, I prayed then, not for Jack, still mooning sappy Along the weather-decks—no. I was thinking Of Denham—only him, with gun and camera Wisecracking in his best bum actor's way Through Darkest Earth, making the unreal reel By shooting at it, one way or the other— Carl Denham, my director, my undying,
Ah, show me the key light, whisper me a line. ...
We've seen them under a thousand names . . . "Greta Erdmann" is only one, these dames whose job it is always to cringe from the Terror . . . well, Home from work they fall asleep just like us and dream of assassinations, of plots against good and decent men. . . .
The ape reaches up taps Slothrop on the ass, hands him what he's been carrying yaahhgghh it's a round black iron anarchist bomb's what it is, with lit fuse too. . . . Ape goes scampering away. Slothrop just stands there, in the glassed and humid rooms, his makeup starting to run, consternation in his eyes clear as marbles and lips pressed into a bee-stung well-what-th'-heck-'m-I-s'posed-t'-do-now? He can't say anything, the contact still hasn't showed and his voice would blow his disguise. . . . The fuse is burning shorter and shorter. Slothrop looks around. All the washbowls and urinals are occupied. Should he just put the fuse out in front of somebody's cock, right in the stream of piss . . . uh, but wouldn't that look like I was propositioning them or something? Gee, sometimes I wish I wasn't so indecisive . . . m-maybe if I picked somebody weaker than me . . . but then it's the little guys got the reflexes, remember—
He is rescued from his indecision by a very tall, fat, somewhat Oriental-looking transvestite, whose ideal, screen and personal, seems to be little Margaret O'Brien. Somehow this Asiatic here is managing to look pigtailed and wistful even as he snatches the sputtering bomb away from Slothrop, runs heaves it into an empty toiletbowl and flushes it, turning back to Slothrop and the others with an air of civic duty well done when suddenly—
KRUPPALOOMA comes this giant explosion: water leaps in a surprised blue-green tongue (ever seen a toilet hollering, "Yìkes!"?) out of every single black-lidded bowl, pipes wrench and scream, walls and floor shudder, plaster begins to fall in crescents and powder-sheets as all the chattering transvestites fall silent, reach out to touch anyone nearby as a gesture of preparation for the Voice out of the Loudspeaker, saying:
"That was a sodium bomb. Sodium explodes when it touches water." So the fuse was a dummy, the dirty rat. . . . "You saw who threw it in the toilet. He is a dangerous maniac. Apprehend him, and there'll be a large reward. Your closet could make Norma Shearer's look like the wastebasket in Gimbel's basement."
So they all leap on the poor protesting Margaret O'Brien devotee, while Slothrop, for whom the humiliation and (presently, as the arrival of the police grows later and later) the sexual abuse and torture were really intended (Gotta hand it to ya, Pop!) slips away, loosening as he nears the outside the satin ties of his gown, dragging reluctantly, off of his grease-chevroned head, the shining wig of innocence. ...
A moment of fun with takeshi and ichizo,
THE KOMICAL KAMIKAZES
Takeshi is tall and fat (but doesn't braid his hair like that Margaret O'Brien), Ichizo is short and skinny. Takeshi flies a Zero, while Ichizo flies an Ohka device, which is a long bomb, actually, with a cockpit for Ichizo to sit in, stub wings, rocket propulsion and a few control surfaces back aft. Takeshi only had to go to Kamikaze School for two weeks, on Formosa. Ichizo had to go to Ohka school for six months, in Tokyo. They are as different as peanut butter and jelly, these two. No fair asking which is which.
They are the only two Kamikazes out here at this air base, which is rather remote actually, on an island that nobody, well, really cares much about, any more. The fighting is going on at Leyte . . . then on to Iwo Jima, moving toward Okinawa, but always too far away for any sortie from here to reach. But they have their orders, and their exile. Not much to do for kicks but go wandering on the beaches looking for dead Cypridinae. These are crustaceans with three eyes, shaped like a potato with catwhiskers at one end. Dried and powdered, Cypridinae are also a great source of light. To make the stuff glow in the dark, all you do is add water. The light is blue, weird multishaded blue—some green in it, and some indigo—amazingly cool and nocturnal blue. On moonless or overcast nights, Takeshi and Ichizo take off all their clothes and splash each other with Cypridina light, running and giggling under the palm trees.
Every morning, and sometimes evening too, the Scatterbrained Suicidekicks mosey down to the palm-thatched radar shack to see if there's any American targets worth a crash-dive, anywhere inside their flying radius. But it's the same story every time. Old Kenosho the loony radarman who's always brewing up a batch of that sake back in the transmitter room, in a still he's hooked up to a magnetron tube in some fiendish-Nip way that defies Western science, every time the fellas show up this drunken old reprobate starts cackling, "No dying today! No dying today! So solly!" pointing at all the blank PPI scopes, green radii sweeping silent round and round trailing clear webs of green shampoo, nothing but surface return for more miles than you
can fly, and of the fatal mandala both hearts would leap to, green carrier-blob screened eightfold in a circle of destroyer-strokes, nothing . . . no, each morning's the same—only the odd whitecap and old hysterical Kenosho, who by now is on the floor gagging on saliva and tongue, having his Seizure, an eagerly awaited part of each daily visit, each fit trying to top the one before, or at least bring in a new twist— a back-flip in the air, a gnaw or two after Takeshi's blue-and-yellow patent wingtips, an improvised haiku:
The lover leaps in the volcano!
It's ten feet deep,
as the two pilots mug, giggle, and jump around trying to avoid the grizzled old radarman's thrashings—what? You didn't like the haiku. It wasn't ethereal enough? Not Japanese at all? In fact it sounded like something right outa Hollywood? Well, Captain—yes you, Marine Captain Esberg from Pasadena—you, have just had, the Mystery Insight! (gasps and a burst of premonitory applause) and so you—are our Paranoid . . . For The Day! (band burst into "Button Up Your Overcoat," or any other suitably paranoid up-tempo tune, as the bewildered contestant is literally yanked to his feet and dragged out in the aisle by this M.C. with the gleaming face and rippling jaw). Yes, it is a movie! Another World War II situation comedy, and your chance, to find out what it's really like, because you—have won (drumroll, more gasps, more applauding and whistling) an all-expense, one-way trip for one, to the movie's actual location, exotic Puke-a-hook-a-look-i Island! (the orchestra's ukulele section taking up now a tinkling reprise of that "White Man Welcome" tune we last heard in London being directed at Géza Rózsavölgyi) on a giant TWA Constellation! You'll while your nights away chasing vampire mosquitoes away from your own throat! Getting blind lost, out in the middle of torrential tropical downpours! Scooping rat turds out of the enlisted men's water barrel! But it won't be all nighttime giddiness and excitement, Captain, because daytimes, up at five a.m. sharp, you'll be out making the acquaintance of the Kamikaze Zero you'll be flying! getting all checked out on those con-trols, making sure you know just where that bomb-safety-release is! A-ha-hand of course, trying to stay out of the way, of those two Nonsensical Nips, Takeshi and Ichizo! as they go about their uproarious weekly adventures, seemingly oblivious to your presence, and the frankly ominous implications of your day's routine. . . .
Strips of insulation hang up in the morning fog, after a night of moon brightening and darkening as if by itself, because the blowing fog was so smooth, so hard to see. Now, when the wind blows, yellow sparks will spill away with a rattlesnake buzz from the black old fraying wires, against a sky gray as a hat. Green glass insulators go cloudy and blind in the day. Wood poles lean and smell old: thirty-year-old wood. Tarry transformers hum aloft. As if it will really be a busy day. In the middle distance poplars just emerge out of the haze.
It could have been Semlower Strasse, in Stralsund. The windows have the same ravaged look: the insides of all the rooms seem to've been gutted black. Perhaps there is a new bomb that can destroy only the insides of structures ... no ... it was in Greifswald. Across some wet railroad tracks were derricks, superstructure, tackle, smells of canalside . . . Hafenstrasse in Greifswald, down over his back fell the cold shadow of some massive church. But isn't that the Petritor, that stunted brick tower-arch straddling the alleyway ahead ... it could be the Slüterstrasse in the old part of Rostock ... or the Wandfärber-strasse in Lüneburg, with pulleys high up on the brick gables, openwork weathercocks up at the very peaks . . . why was he looking upward? Upward from any of a score of those northern streets, one morning, in the fog. The farther north, the plainer things grow. There's one gutter, down the middle of the alley, where the rain runs off. Cobbles are laid straighter and there aren't as many cigarettes to be had. Garrison-churches echo with starlings. To come into a northern Zone town is to enter a strange harbor, from the sea, on a foggy day.
But in each of these streets, some vestige of humanity, of Earth, has to remain. No matter what has been done to it, no matter what it's been used for. . . .
There were men called "army chaplains." They preached inside some of these buildings. There were actually soldiers, dead now, who sat or stood, and listened. Holding on to what they could. Then they went out, and some died before they got back inside a garrison-church again. Clergymen, working for the army, stood up and talked to the men who were going to die about God, death, nothingness, redemption, salvation. It really happened. It was quite common.
Even in a street used for that, still there will be one time, one dyed afternoon (coaltar-impossible orange-brown, clear all the way through), or one day of rain and clearing before bedtime, and in the
yard one hollyhock, circling in the wind, fresh with raindrops fat enough to be chewed . . . one face by a long sandstone wall and the scuffle of all the doomed horses on the other side, one hair-part thrown into blue shadows at a turn of her head—one busful of faces passing through in the middle of the night, no one awake in the quiet square but the driver, the Ortsschutz sentry in some kind of brown, official-looking uniform, old Mauser at sling arms, dreaming not of the enemy outside in the swamp or shadow but of Home and bed, strolling now with his civilian friend who's off-duty, can't sleep, under the trees full of road-dust and night, through their shadows on the sidewalks, playing a harmonica . . . down past the row of faces in the bus, drowned-man green, insomniac, tobacco-starved, scared, not of tomorrow, not yet, but of this pause in their night-passage, of how easy it will be to lose, and how much it will hurt. . . .
At least one moment of passage, one it will hurt to lose, ought to be found for every street now indifferently gray with commerce, with war, with repression . . . finding it, learning to cherish what was lost, mightn't we find some way back?
In one of these streets, in the morning fog, plastered over two slippery cobblestones, is a scrap of newspaper headline, with a wirephoto of a giant white cock, dangling in the sky straight downward out of a white pubic bush. The letters
MB DRO ROSHI
appear above with the logo of some occupation newspaper, a grinning glamour girl riding astraddle the cannon of a tank, steel penis with slotted serpent head, 3rd Armored treads 'n' triangle on a sweater rippling across her tits. The white image has the same coherence, the hey-lookit-me smugness, as the Cross does. It is not only a sudden white genital onset in the sky—it is also, perhaps, a Tree. . . .
Slothrop sits on a curbstone watching it, and the letters, and girl with steel cock waving hi fellas, as the fog whitens into morning, and figures with carts, or dogs, or bicycles go by in brown-gray outlines, wheezing, greeting briefly in fog-flattened voices, passing. He doesn't remember sitting on the curb for so long staring at the picture. But he did.
At the instant it happened, the pale Virgin was rising in the east, head, shoulders, breasts, 17° 36' down to her maidenhead at the horizon. A few doomed Japanese knew of her as some Western deity. She loomed in the eastern sky gazing down at the city about to be sacri-
ficed. The sun was in Leo. The fireburst came roaring and sovereign....
listening to the toilet
The basic idea is that They will come and shut off the water first. The cryptozoa who live around the meter will be paralyzed by the great inbreak of light from overhead . . . then scatter like hell for lower, darker, wetter. Shutting the water off interdicts the toilet: with only one tankful left, you really can't get rid of much of anything any more, dope, shit, documents, They've stopped the inflow/outflow and here you are trapped inside Their frame with your wastes piling up, ass hanging out all over Their Movieola viewer, waiting for Their editorial blade. Reminded, too late, of how dependent you are on Them, for neglect if not good will: Their neglect is your freedom. But when They do come on it's like society-gig Apollos, striking the lyre
Everything freezes. The sweet, icky chord hangs in the air ... there is no way to be at ease with it. If you try the "Are you quite finished, Superintendent?" gambit, the man will answer, "No, as a matter of fact. . . no, you nasty little wet-mouthed prig, I'm not half finished, not with you. ..."
So it's good policy always to have the toilet valve cracked a bit, to maintain some flow through the toilet so when it stops you'll have that extra minute or two. Which is not the usual paranoia of waiting for a knock, or a phone to ring: no, it takes a particular kind of mental illness to sit and listen for a cessation of noise. But—
Imagine this very elaborate scientific lie: that sound cannot travel through outer space. Well, but suppose it can. Suppose They don't want us to know there is a medium there, what used to be called an "aether," which can carry sound to every part of the Earth. The Soniferous Aether. For millions of years, the sun has been roaring, a giant, furnace, 93 millionmile roar, so perfectly steady that generations of men have been born into it and passed out of it again, without ever hearing it. Unless it changed, how would anybody know?
Except that at night now and then, in some part of the dark hemisphere, because of eddies in the Soniferous Aether, there will come to pass a very shallow pocket of no-sound. For a few seconds, in a particular place, nearly every night somewhere in the World, sound-energy from Outside is shut off. The roaring of the sun stops. For its brief life, the point of sound-shadow may come to rest a thousand feet above a desert, between floors in an empty office building, or exactly around a
seated individual in a working-class restaurant where they hose the place out at 3 every morning . . . it's all white tile, the chairs and tables riveted solid into the floor, food covered with rigid shrouds of clear plastic . . . soon, from outside, rrrnnn! clank, drag, squeak of valve opening oh yes, ah yes, Here Are The Men With The Hoses To Hose The Place Out—
At which instant, with no warning, the arousing feather-point of the Sound-Shadow has touched you, enveloping you in sun-silence for oh, let us say 2:36:18 to 2:36:24, Central War Time, unless the location is Dungannon, Virginia, Bristol, Tennessee, Asheville or Franklin, North Carolina, Apalachicola, Florida, or conceivably in Murdo Mackenzie, South Dakota, or Phillipsburg, Kansas, or Stockton, Plainville, or Ellis, Kansas—yes sounds like a Roll of Honor don't it, being read off someplace out on the prairie, foundry colors down the sky in long troughs, red and purple, darkening crowd of civilians erect and nearly-touching as wheat stalks, and the one old man in black up at the microphone, reading off the towns of the war dead, Dungannon . . . Bristol . . . Murdo Mackenzie . . . his white hair blown back by a sculpting thine-alabaster-cities wind into leonine wreathing, his stained pored old face polished by wind, sandy with light, earnest outboard corners of his eyelids folding down as one by one, echoing out over the anvil prairie, the names of death-towns unreel, and surely Bleicheröde or Blicero will be spoken any minute now. . . .
Well, you're wrong, champ—these happen to be towns all located on the borders of Time Zones, is all. Ha, ha! Caught you with your hand in your pants! Go on, show us all what you were doing or leave the area, we don't need your kind around. There's nothing so loathsome as a sentimental surrealist.
"Now—the eastern towns we've listed are on Eastern War Time. All the other towns along the interface are on Central. The western towns just read off are on Central, while the other towns along that interface are on Mountain. ..."
Which is all our Sentimental Surrealist, leaving the area, gets to hear. Just as well. He is more involved, or "unhealthily obsessed," if you like, with the moment of sun-silence inside the white tile greasy-spoon. It seems like a place he has been (Kenosha, Wisconsin?) already, though he can't remember in what connection. They called him "the Kenosha Kid," though this may be apocryphal. By now, the only other room he can remember being in was a two-color room, nothing but the two exact colors, for all the lamps, furniture, drapes, walls, ceiling, rug, radio, even book jackets in the shelves—everything was ei-
ther (1) Deep Cheap-Perfume Aquamarine, or (2) Creamy Chocolate FBI-Shoe Brown. That may've been in Kenosha, may not. If he tries he will remember, in a minute, how he got to the white tiled room half an hour before hose-out time. He is sitting with a Coffee cup half full, heavy sugar and cream, crumbs of a pineapple Danish under the saucer where his fingers can't reach. Sooner or later he'll have to move the saucer to get them. He's just holding off. But it isn't sooner and it isn't later, because
the sound-shadow comes down on him,
settles around his table, with the invisible long vortex surfaces that brought it here swooping up away like whorls of an Aetheric Danish, audible only by virtue of accidental bits of sound-debris that may happen to be caught in the eddying, voices far away out at sea our position is two seven degrees two six minutes north, a woman crying in some high-pitched language, ocean waves in gale winds, a voice reciting in Japanese,
Hi wa Ri ni katazu,
Ri wa Ho ni katazu,
Ho wa Ken ni katazu,
Ken wa Ten ni katazu,
which is the slogan of a Kamikaze unit, an Ohka outfit—it means
Injustice cannot conquer Principle, Principle cannot conquer Law, Law cannot conquer Power, Power cannot conquer Heaven.
Hi, Ri, Ho, Ken, Ten go Jap-gibbering away on the long solar eddy and leave the Kenosha Kid at the riveted table, where the roaring of the sun has stopped. He is hearing, for the first time, the mighty river of his blood, the Titan's drum of his heart.
Come into the bulbshine and sit with him, with the stranger at the small public table. It's almost hosing-out time. See if you can sneak in under the shadow too. Even a partial eclipse is better than never finding out—better than cringing the rest of your life under the great Vacuum in the sky they have taught you, and a sun whose silence you never get to hear.
What if there is no Vacuum? Or if there is—what if They're using it on you? What if They find it convenient to preach an island of life surrounded by a void? Not just the Earth in space, but your own indi-
vidual life in time? What if it's in Their interest to have you believing that?
"He won't bother us for a while," They tell each other. "I just put him on the Dark Dream." They drink together, shoot very very synthetic drugs into skin or blood, run incredible electronic waveforms into Their skulls, directly into the brainstem, and backhand each other, playfully, with openmouth laugh—-you know, don't you is in those ageless eyes . . . They speak of taking So-and-So and "putting him on the Dream." They use the phrase for each other too, in sterile tenderness, when bad news is passed, at the annual Roasts, when the endless mind-gaming catches a colleague unprepared—"Boy, did we put him on the Dream." You know, don't you?
Ichizo comes out of the hut, sees Takeshi in a barrel under some palm leaves taking a bath and singing "Doo-doo-doo, doo-doo," some koto tune, twanging through his nose—Ichizo screams runs back inside reemerging with a Japanese Hotchkiss machine gun, a Model 92, begins setting it up with a lot of jujitsu grunting and eyepopping. About the time he's got the ammo belt poised, ready to riddle Takeshi in the tub,
takeshi: Wait a minute, wait a minute! What's all this?
ICHIZO: Oh, it's you! I—thought it was General MacArthur, in his—rowboat!
Interesting weapon, the Hotchkiss. Comes in many nationalities, and manages to fit in ethnically wherever it goes. American Hotchkisses are the guns that raked through the unarmed Indians at Wounded Knee. On the lighter side, the racy 8 mm French Hotchkiss when fired goes haw-haw-haw-haw, just as nasal and debonair as a movie star. As for our cousin John Bull, a lot of British Hotchkiss heavies were either resold privately after World War I, or blow-torched. These melted machine guns will show up now and then in the strangest places. Pirate Prentice saw one in 1936, during his excursion with Scorpia Mossmoon, at the Chelsea Home of James Jello, that year's king of Bohemian clowns—but a minor king, from a branch prone to those loathsome inbred diseases, idiocy in the family, sexual peculiarities surfacing into public view at most inappropriate times (a bare penis dangling out of a dumpster one razor-clear and rainwashed morning, in an industrial back-street about to be swarmed up by a crowd of angry workers in buttontop baggy caps carrying spanners
three feet long, Kelly crowbars, lengths of chain, here's bareass Crown Prince Porfirio with a giant halo of aluminum-shaving curls on his head, his mouth made up with black grease, his soft buttocks squirming against the cold refuse picking up steel splinters that sung deli-ciously, his eyes sultry and black as his lips, but oh dear what's this, oh how embarrassing here they come around the corner he can smell the rabble from here, though they are not too sure about Porfirio—the march pauses in some confusion as these most inept revolutionaries fall to arguing whether the apparition is a diversionary nuisance planted here by the management, or whether he's real Decadent Aristocracy to be held for real ransom and if so how much . . . while up on the rooftops, out from the brick and corrugated doorways begin to appear brown Government troops manning British Hotchkisses which were not melted down, but bought up by machinegun jobbers and sold to a number of minor governments around the world). It may have been in memory of Crown Prince Porfirio that day of massacre that James Jello kept a melted Hotchkiss in his rooms—or it may've been only another flight of grotesquerie on dear James's part you know, he's so unaware. . . .
—Son, been wondering about this, ah, "screwing in" you kids are doing. This matter of the, shooting electricity into head, ha-ha?
—Waves, Pop. Not just raw electricity. That's fer drips!
—Yes, ah, waves. "Keying waves," right? ha-hah. Uh, tell me, son, what's it like? You know I've been something of a doper all m'life, a-and—
—Oh Pop. Gripes. It isn't like dope at all!
—Well we got off on some pretty good "vacations" we called them then, some pretty "weird" areas they got us into 's a matter of fact—
—But you always came back, didn't you.
—I mean it was always understood that this would still be here when you got back, just the same, exactly the same, right?
—Well ha-ha guess that's why we called 'em vacations, son! Cause you always do come back to old Realityland, don't you.
—You always did.
—Listen Tyrone, you don't know how dangerous that stuff is.Suppose someday you just plug in and go away and never come back? Eh?
—Ho, ho! Don't I wish! What do you think every electrofreak
dreams about? You're such an old fuddyduddy! A-and who sez it's a dream, huh? M-maybe it exists. Maybe there is a Machine to take us away, take us completely, suck us out through the electrodes out of the skull 'n' into the Machine and live there forever with all the other souls it's got stored there. It could decide who it would suck out, a-and when. Dope never gave you immortality. You hadda come back, every time, into a dying hunk of smelly meat! But We can live forever, in a clean, honest, purified Electroworld—
—Shit that's what I get, havin' a double Virgo fer a son. . . .
some characteristics of imipolex G
Imipolex G is the first plastic that is actually erectile. Under suitable stimuli, the chains grow cross-links, which stiffen the molecule and increase intermolecular attraction so that this Peculiar Polymer runs far outside the known phase diagrams, from limp rubbery amorphous to amazing perfect tessellation, hardness, brilliant transparency, high resistance to temperature, weather, vacuum, shock of any kind (slowly gleaming in the Void. Silver and black. Curvewarped reflections of stars flowing across, down the full length of, round and round in meridians exact as the meridians of acupuncture. What are the stars but points in the body of God where we insert the healing needles of our terror and longing? Shadows of the creature's bones and ducts— leaky, wounded, irradiated white—mingling in with its own. It is entangled with the bones and ducts, its own shape determined by how the Erection of the Plastic shall proceed: where fast and where slow, where painful and where slithery-cool . . . whether areas shall exchange characteristics of hardness and brilliance, whether some areas should be allowed to flow over the surface so that the passage will be a caress, where to orchestrate sudden discontinuities—blows, wrenchings—in among these more caressive moments).
Evidently the stimulus would have had to be electronic. Alternatives for signaling to the plastic surface were limited:
a thin matrix of wires, forming a rather close-set coordinate
a beam-scanning system—or several—analogous to the well-
What has been inserted or What has actually grown itself a skin of Imipolex G, depending which heresy you embrace. We need not dwell here on the Primary Problem, namely that everything below the plastic film does after all lie in the Region of Uncertainty, except to emphasize to beginning students who may be prone to Schwärmerei, that terms referring to the Subimipolexity such as "Core" and "Center of Internal Energy" possess, outside the theoretical, no more reality than do terms such as "Supersonic Region" or "Center of Gravity" in other areas of science),
(c) alternatively, the projection, onto the Surface, of an electronic "image," analogous to a motion picture. This would require a minimum of three projectors, and perhaps more. Exactly how many is shrouded in another order of uncertainty: the so-called Otyiyumbu Indeterminacy Relation ("Probable functional derangement yR resulting from physical modification
Meantime, Tchitcherine has found it necessary to abandon his smegma-gathering stake-out on the Argentine anarchists. The heat, alias Nikolai Ripov of the Commissariat for Intelligence Activities, is in town and closing in. The faithful Dzabajev, in terror or disgust, has gone off across the cranberry bogs on a long wine binge with two local derelicts, and may never be back. Rumor sez he is cutting a swath these days across the Zone in a stolen American Special Services getup, posing as Frank Sinatra. Comes into town finds a tavern and starts crooning out on the sidewalk, pretty soon there's a crowd, sub-deb cuties each a $65 fine and worth every penny dropping in epilep-tiform seizures into selfless heaps of cable-stitching, rayon pleats and Xmastree applique. It works. It's always good for free wine, an embarrassment of wine, rolling Fuder and Fass in a rumbling country procession through the sandy streets, wherever the Drunkards Three find themselves. Never occurs to anybody to ask what Frank Sinatra's doing flanked by this pair of wasted rumdurns. Nobody doubts for a minute that it is Sinatra. Town hepcats usually take the other two for a comedy team.
While nobles are crying in their nights' chains, the squires sing.
The terrible politics of the Grail can never touch them. Song is the magic cape.
Tchitcherine understands that he is finally alone now. Whatever is to find him will find him alone.
He feels obliged to be on the move, though there's noplace for him to go. Now, too late, the memory of Wimpe, longago IG Farben V-Mann, finds him. Tags along for the run. Tchitcherine was hoping he might find a dog. A dog would have been ideal, a perfect honesty to calibrate his own against, day to day, till the end. A dog would have been good to have along. But maybe the next best thing is an albatross with no curse attached: an amiable memory.
Young Tchitcherine was the one who brought up political narcotics. Opiates of the people.
Wimpe smiled back. An old, old smile to chill even the living fire in Earth's core. "Marxist dialectics? That's not an opiate, eh?"
"It's the antidote."
"No." It can go either way. The dope salesman may know everything that's ever going to happen to Tchitcherine, and decide it's no use—or, out of the moment's velleity, lay it right out for the young fool.
"The basic problem," he proposes, "has always been getting other people to die for you. What's worth enough for a man to give up his life? That's where religion had the edge, for centuries. Religion was always about death. It was used not as an opiate so much as a technique—it got people to die for one particular set of beliefs about death. Perverse, natürlich, but who are you to judge? It was a good pitch while it worked. But ever since it became impossible to die for death, we have had a secular version—yours. Die to help History grow to its predestined shape. Die knowing your act will bring a good end a bit closer. Revolutionary suicide, fine. But look: if History's changes are inevitable, why not not die? Vaslav? If it's going to happen anyway, what does it matter?"
"But you haven't ever had the choice to make, have you."
"If I ever did, you can be sure—"
"You don't know. Not till you're there, Wimpe. You can't say."
"That doesn't sound very dialectical."
"I don't know what it is."
"Then, right up till the point of decision," Wimpe curious but careful, "a man could still be perfectly pure ..."
"He could be anything. / don't care. But he's only real at the points of decision. The time between doesn't matter."
"Real to a Marxist."
"No. Real to himself."
Wimpe looks doubtful.
"I've been there. You haven't."
Shh, shh. A syringe, a number 26 point. Bloods stifling in the brownwood hotel suite. To chase or worry this argument is to become word-enemies, and neither man really wants to. Oneirine theophos-phate is one way around the problem. (Tchitcherine: "You mean thio-phosphate, don't you?" Thinks indicating the presence of sulfur. . . . Wimpe: "I mean ífoophosphate, Vaslav," indicating the Presence of God.) They shoot up: Wimpe eying the water-tap nervously, recalling Tchaikovsky, salmonella, a fast medley of whistlable tunes from the Pathétique. But Tchitcherine has eyes only for the point, its German precision, its fine steel grain. Soon he will come to know a circuit of aid stations and field hospitals, as good for postwar nostalgia as a circuit of peacetime spas—army surgeons and dentists will bond and hammer patent steel for life into his suffering flesh, and pick out what has entered it by violence with an electromagnetic device bought between the wars from Schumann of Düsseldorf, with a light bulb and adjustable reflector, 2-axis locking handles and a complete set of weird-shaped Polschuhen, iron pieces to modify the shape of the magnetic field . . . but there in Russia, that night with Wimpe, was his first taste—his initiation into the bodyhood of steel ... no way to separate this from the theophosphate, to separate vessels of steel from the ungodly insane rush. . . .
For 15 minutes the two of them run screaming all over the suite, staggering around in circles, lined up with the rooms' diagonals. There is in Laszlo Jamf's celebrated molecule a particular twist, the so-called "Pokier singularity," occurring in a certain crippled indole ring, which later Oneirinists, academician and working professional alike, are generally agreed is responsible for the hallucinations which are unique to this drug. Not only audiovisual, they touch all senses, equally. And they recur. Certain themes, "mantic archetypes" (as Jolli-fox of the Cambridge School has named them), will find certain individuals again and again, with a consistency which has been well demonstrated in the laboratory (see Wobb and Whoaton, "Mantic Archetype Distribution Among Middle-Class University Students," J. Oneir. Psy. Pharm., XXIII, pg. 406-453). Because analogies with the ghost-life exist, this recurrence phenomenon is known, in the jargon, as "haunting." Whereas other sorts of hallucinations tend to flow by, related in deep ways that aren't accessible to the casual dopefiend,
these Oneirine hauntings show a definite narrative continuity, as clearly as, say, the average Reader's Digest article. Often they are so ordinary, so conventional—Jeaach calls them "the dullest hallucinations known to psychopharmacology"—that they are only recognized as hauntings through some radical though plausible violation of possibility: the presence of the dead, journeys by the same route and means where one person will set out later but arrive earlier, a printed diagram which no amount of light will make readable. . . . On recognizing that he is being haunted, the subject enters immediately into "phase two," which, though varying in intensity from subject to subject, is always disagreeable: often sedation (0.6 mg atropine subcut.) will be necessary, even though Oneirine is classified as a CNS depressant.
About the paranoia often noted under the drug, there is nothing remarkable. Like other sorts of paranoia, it is nothing less than the onset, the leading edge, of the discovery that everything is connected, everything in the Creation, a secondary illumination—not yet blind-ingly One, but at least connected, and perhaps a route In for those like Tchitcherine who are held at the edge. ...
As to whether the man is or isn't Nikolai Ripov: he does arrive the way Ripov is said to: heavy and inescapable. He wants to talk, only to talk. But somehow, as they progress, into the indoor corridor-confusions of words, again and again he will trick Tchitcherine into uttering heresy, into damning himself.
"I'm here to help you see clearly. If you have doubts, we should air them, honestly, man to man. No reprisals. Hell, don't you think I've had doubts? Even Stalin's had them. We all have."
"It's all right though. It isn't anything I can't handle."
"But you're not handling it, or they wouldn't have sent me out here. Don't you think they know when someone they care for is in trouble?"
Tchitcherine doesn't want to ask. He strains against it with the muscles of his heart-cage. The pain of cardiac neurosis goes throbbing down his left arm. But he asks, feeling his breath shift a little, "Was I supposed to die?"
"In the War."
"You wanted to hear what was troubling me."
"But don't you see how they'll take that? Come, bring it all the way
out. We lost twenty million souls, Vaslav. It's not an accusation you can make lightly. They'd want documentation. Even your life might be in danger—"
"I'm not accusing anyone . . . please don't... I only want to know if I am supposed to die for them."
"No one wants you to die." Soothing. "Why do you think that?"
So it is coaxed out of him by the patient emissary, whining, desperate, too many words—paranoid suspicions, unappeasable fears, damning himself, growing the capsule around his person that will isolate him from the community forever. . . .
"Yet that's the very heart of History," the gentle voice talking across twilight, neither man having risen to light a lamp. "The inmost heart. How could everything you know, all you've seen and touched of it, be fed by a lie?"
"But life after death ..."
"There is no life after death."
Tchitcherine means he's had to fight to believe in his mortality. As his body fought to accept its steel. Fight down all his hopes, fight his way into that bitterest of freedoms. Not till recently did he come to look for comfort in the dialectical ballet of force, counterforce, collision, and new order—not till the War came and Death appeared across the ring, Tchitcherine's first glimpse after the years of training: taller, more beautifully muscled, less waste motion than he'd ever expected—only in the ring, feeling the terrible cold each blow brought with it, only then did he turn to a Theory of History—of all pathetic cold comforts—to try and make sense of it.
"The Americans say, 'There are no atheists in foxholes.' You were never of the faith, Vaslav. You had a deathbed conversion, out of fear."
"Is that why you want me dead now?"
"Not dead. You're not much use dead." Two more olive-drab agents have come in, and stand watching Tchitcherine. They have regular, unremarkable faces. This is, after all, an Oneirine haunting. Mellow, ordinary. The only tipoff to its unreality is—
All three men are smiling at him now. There is no violation.
It's a scream, but it comes out as a roar. He leaps at Ripov, nearly nails him with his fist too, but the others, with faster reflexes than he counted on, have come up either side to hold him. He can't believe their strength. Through the nerves of hip and ass he feels his Nagant being slid from its holster, and feels his own cock sliding out of a Ger-
man girl he can't remember now, on the last sweetwine morning he saw her, in the last warm bed of the last morning departure. . . .
"You're a child, Vaslav. Only making believe that you understand ideas which are really beyond you. We have to speak very simply for you."
In Central Asia he was told of the functions of Moslem angels. One is to examine the recently dead. After the last mourner has gone, angels come to the grave and interrogate the dead one in his faith. . . .
There is another figure now, at the edge of the room. She is Tchitcherine's age, and in uniform. Her eyes don't want to say anything to Tchitcherine. She only watches. No music heard, no summer journey taken ... no horse seen against the steppe in the last daylight....
He doesn't recognize her. Not that it matters. Not at this level of things. But it's Galina, come back to the cities, out of the silences after all, in again to the chain-link fields of the Word, shining, running secure and always close enough, always tangible. . . .
"Why were you hunting your black brother?" Ripov manages to make the question sound courteous.
Oh. Nice of you to ask, Ripov. Why was I? "When it began ... a long time ago—at first ... I thought I was being punished. Passed over. I blamed him."
"I don't know."
"What made you think he was your target?"
"Who else's would he be?"
"Vaslav. Will you never rise above? These are old barbarisms. Blood lines, personal revenge. You think this has all been arranged for you, to ease your little, stupid lusts."
All right. All right. "Yes. Probably. What of it?"
"He isn't your target. Others want him."
"So you've been letting me—"
"So far. Yes."
Džabajev could have told you. That sodden Asiatic is first and last an enlisted man. He knew. Officers. Fucking officer mentality. You do all the work, then they come in, to wrap it up, to get the glory.
"You're taking it away from me."
"You can go Home."
Tchitcherine has been watching the other two. He sees now that they are in American uniform, and probably haven't understood a word. He holds out his empty hands, his sunburned wrists, for a last application of steel. Ripov, in the act of turning to leave, appears surprised. "Oh. No, no. You have thirty days' survivor's leave. You have survived, Vaslav. You're to report to TsAGI when you get back to Moscow, that's all. There'll be another assignment. We'll be taking German rocket personnel out to the desert. To Central Asia. I imagine they'll need an old Central Asia hand out there."
Tchitcherine understands that in his dialectic, his own life's unfolding, to return to Central Asia is, operationally, to die.
They have gone. The woman's iron face, at the very last, did not turn back. He is alone in a gutted room, with the plastic family toothbrushes still in their holders on the wall, melted, strung downward in tendrils of many colors, bristles pointing to every black plane and corner and soot-blinded window.
The dearest nation of all is one that will survive no longer than you and I, a common movement at the mercy of death and time: the ad hoc adventure.
—Resolutions of the Gross Suckling Conference
North? What searcher has ever been directed north? What you're supposed to be looking for lies south—those dusky natives, right? For danger and enterprise they send you west, for visions, east. But what's north?
The escape route of the Anubis.
The Kirghiz Light.
The Herero country of death.
Ensign Morituri, Carroll Eventyr, Thomas Gwenhidwy, and Roger Mexico are sitting at a table on the redbrick terrace of Der Grob Säugling, an inn by the edge of a little blue Holstein lake. The sun makes the water sparkle. The housetops are red, the steeples are white. Everything is miniature, neat, gently pastoral, locked into the rise and fall of seasons. Contrasting wood x s on closed doors. The brink of autumn. A cow sez moo. The milkmaid farts at the milk pail, which echoes with a very slight clang, and the geese honk or hiss. The four envoys drink watered Moselle and talk mandalas.
The Rocket was fired southward, westward, eastward. But not northward—not so far. Fired south, at Antwerp, the bearing was about
173°. East, during testing at Peenemünde, 072°. Fired west, at London, about 260°. Working it out with the parallel rulers, the missing (or, if you want, "resultant") bearing comes out to something like 354°. This would be the firing implied by all the others, a ghost-firing which, in the logic of mandalas, either has occurred, most-secretly, or will occur.
So the conferees at the Gross Suckling Conference here, as it will come to be known, sit around a map with their instruments, cigarettes and speculations. Sneer not. Here is one of the great deductive moments in postwar intelligence. Mexico is holding out for a weighting system to make vector lengths proportional to the actual number of firings along each one. Thomas Gwenhidwy, ever sensitive to events in geographical space, wants to take the 1944 Blizna firings (also eastward) into account, which would pull the arrow northward from 3 54°—and even closer to true north if the firings at London and Norwich from Walcheren and Staveren are also included.
Evidence and intuition—and maybe a residue of uncivilizable terror that lies inside us, every one—point to 000°: true North. What better direction to fire the 00000?
Trouble is, what good's a bearing, even a mythic-symmetric bearing, without knowing where the Rocket was fired from to begin with? You have a razor-edge, 280 km long, sweeping east/west across the Zone's pocked face, endlessly sweeping, obsessive, dithering, glittering, unbearable, never coming to rest. . . .
Well, Under The Sign Of The Gross Suckling. Swaying full-color picture of a loathsomely fat drooling infant. In one puddinglike fist the Gross Suckling clutches a dripping hamhock (sorry pigs, nothing personal), with the other he reaches out for a human Mother's Nipple that emerges out into the picture from the left-hand side, his gaze arrested by the approaching tit, his mouth open—a gleeful look teeth pointed and itching, a glaze of FOODmunchmunchyesgobblemmm over his eyes. Der Grob Säugling, 23rd card of the Zone's trumps major. . . .
Roger likes to think of it as a snap of Jeremy as a child. Jeremy, who Knows All, has forgiven Jessica her time with Roger. He's had an outing or two himself, and can understand, he's of liberal mind, the War after all has taken down certain barriers, Vìctorianisms you might say (a tale brought to you by the same jokers who invented the famous Polyvinyl Chloride Raincoat) . . . and what's this, Roger, he's trying to impress you? his eyelids make high, amiable crescents as he leans forward (smaller chap than Roger thought) clutching his glass, sucking
on the most tasteless Pipe Roger has ever seen, a reproduction in brier of Winston Churchill's head for a bowl, no detail is spared, even a cigar in its mouth with a little hole drilled down it so that some of the smoke can actually seep out the end ... it is a servicemen's pub in Cuxhaven here, the place used to be a marine salvage yard, so the lonesome soldiers sit dreaming and drinking among all that nautical junk, not at the same level as in one's usual outdoor cafe, no, some are up in tilted hatchways, or dangling in boatswain's chairs, crow's-nests, sitting over their bitter among the chain, tackle, strakework, black iron fittings. It's night. Lanterns have been brought out to the tables. Soft little nocturnal waves hush on the shingle. Late waterfowl cry out over the lake.
"But will it ever get us, Jeremy, you and me, that's the ques-shun. ..." Mexico has been uttering these oracular—often, as at the Club today for lunch, quite embarrassing—bits of his ever since he showed up.
"Er, will what ever get me, old chap?" It's been old chap all day.
"Haven't—ch'ever felt something wanted to gesh you, Jeremy?"
"Get me." He's drunk. He's insane. I obviously can't let him near Jessica these math chaps they're like oboe players it affects the brain or something. . . .
Aha, but, once a month, Jeremy, even Jeremy, dreams: about a gambling debt . . . different sorts of Collectors keep arriving ... he cannot remember the debt, the opponent he lost to, even the game. He senses a great organization behind these emissaries. Its threats are always left open, left for Jeremy to complete . . . each time, terror has come welling up through the gap, crystal terror. . . .
Good, good. The other sure-fire calibration test has already been sprung on Jeremy—at a prearranged spot in a park, two unemployed Augustes leap out in whiteface and working-clothes, and commence belting each other with gigantic (7 or 8 feet long) foam rubber penises, cunningly detailed, all in natural color. These phancy phalli have proven to be a good investment. Roger and Seaman Bodine (when he's in town) have outdrawn the ENSA shows. It is a fine source of spare change—multitudes will gather at the edges of these north German villages to watch the two zanies whack away. Granaries, mostly empty, poke up above the rooftops now and then, stretching a wood gallows-arm against the afternoon sky. Soldiers, civilians, and children. There is a lot of laughter.
Seems people can be reminded of Titans and Fathers, and laugh, It isn't as funny as a pie in the face, but it's at least as pure.
Yes, giant rubber cocks are here to stay as part of the arsenal. . . .
What Jessica said—hair much shorter, wearing a darker mouth of different outline, harder lipstick, her typewriter banking in a phalanx of letters between them—was: "We're going to be married. We're trying very hard to have a baby."
All at once there is nothing but his asshole between Gravity and Roger. "I don't care. Have his baby. I'll love you both—just come with me Jess, please ... I need you. . . ."
She flips a red lever on her intercom. Far away a buzzer goes off. "Security." Her voice is perfectly hard, the word still clap-echoing in the air as in through the screen door of the Quonset office with a smell of tide flats come the coppers, looking grim. Security. Her magic word, her spell against demons.
"Jess—" shit is he going to cry? he can feel it building like an orgasm—
Who saves him (or interferes with his orgasm)? Why, Jeremy himself. Old Beaver shows up and waves off the heat, who go surly, fangflashing back to masturbating into Crime Does Not Pay Comics, gazing dreamy at guardroom pinups of J. Edgar Hoover or whatever it was they were up to, and the romantic triangle are suddenly all to have lunch together at the Club. Lunch together? Is this Noel Coward or some shit? Jessica at the last minute is overcome by some fictitious female syndrome which both men guess to be morning-sickness, Roger figuring she'll do the most spiteful thing she can think of, Jeremy seeing it as a cute little private yoo-hoo for 2-hoo. So that leaves the fellas alone, to talk briskly about Operation Backfire, which is the British program to assemble some A4s and fire them out into the North Sea. What else are they going to talk about?
"Why?" Roger keeps asking, trying to piss Jeremy off. "Why do you want to put them together and fire them?"
"We've captured them, haven't we? What does one do with a
"Why? Damn it, to see, obviously. Jessica tells me you're—ah—a math chap?"
"Little sigma, times P of s-over-little-sigma, equals one over the square root of two pi, times e to the minus s squared over two little-sigma squared."
"Good Lord." Laughing, hastily checking out the room.
"It is an old saying among my people."
Jeremy knows how to handle this. Roger is invited to dinner in the evening, an intimate informal party at the Home of Stefan Ut-
garthaloki, an ex-member of management at the Krupp works here in Cuxhaven. "You're welcome to bring a guest, of course," gnaws the eager Beaver, "there're a lot of snazzy NAAFIs about, it wouldn't be too difficult for you to—"
"Informal means lounge suit, eh?" interrupts Roger. Too bad, he hasn't got one. The prospects of being nabbed tonight are good. A party that includes (a) an Operation Backfire figure, (b) a Krupp executive, must necessarily then include (c) at least one ear to the corporate grapevine that's heard of the Urinating Incident in Clive Mossmoon's office. If Roger only knew what Beaver and his friends really have in mind!
He does take a guest: Seaman Bodine, who has caused to be brought him from the Panama Canal Zone (where the lock workers wear them as a uniform, in amazing tropical-parrot combinations of yellow, green, lavender, vermilion) a zoot suit of unbelievable proportions—the pointed lapels have to be reinforced -with coat-hanger stays because they extend so far outboard of the rest of the suit—underneath his purple-on-purple satin shirt the natty tar is actually wearing a corset, squeezing his waist in to a sylphlike 42 inches to allow for the drastic suppression of the jacket, which then falls to Bodine's knees quintuple-vented in yards of kilt-style pleats that run clear back up over his ass. The pants are belted under his armpits and pegged down to something like ten inches, so he has to use hidden zippers to get his feet through. The whole suit is blue, not suit-blue, no—really BLUE: paint-blue. It is immediately noticed everywhere it goes. At gatherings it haunts the peripheral vision, making decent small-talk impossible. It is a suit that forces you either to reflect on matters as primary as its color, or feel superficial. A subversive garment, all right.
"Just you and me, podner?" sez Bodine. "Ain't that kind of cutting it a little close?"
"Listen," Roger chuckling unhealthily at what's also just occurred to him, "we can't even bring those big rubber cocks along. Tonite, we're going to have to use our wits!"
"Tell you what, I'll just send a motorcycle out to Putzi's, round us up a goon squad, and—"
"You know what? You've lost your sense of adventure. Yeh. You didn't use to be like this, you know."
"Look old buddy," pronouncing it in Navy Dialect: buddih, "c'mon, buddih. Putcherself in my shoes."
"I might, if they weren't. . . that. . . shade of yellow—"
"Just a humble guy," the swarthy doughboy of the deep scratching
in his groin after an elusive crab with a horn finger, rippling the ballooning pleats and fabric of his trousers, "just a freckleface kid from Albert Lea, Minnesota, down there on Route 69 where the speed limit's lickety-split all night long, just tryin' t' make it in the Zone here, kind of a freckleface kid used a safety pin through a cork for a catwhisker and stayed up listened to the voices coast to coast before I was 10 and none of them ever recommended gettin' into any of them gang wars, buddih. Be glad you're still so fuckin' naïve, Rog, wait'll you see your first European-gangster hit, they like to use 3 rounds: head, stomach, and heart. You dig that stomach? Over here stomach's no second-class organ, podner 'n' that's a good autumn kind of thought to keep in mind."
"Bodine, didn't you desert? That's a death-sentence, isn't it?" "Shit, I can square that. But I'm only a cog. Don't go thinking I know everything. All I know is my trade. I can show you how to wash coke and assay it, I can feel a gem and tell you from the temperature if it's a fake—the fake won't suck as much heat from your body, 'glass is a reluctant vampire,' ancient dealers' saying, a-and I can spot funny-money easy as E on an eye chart, I got one of the best visual memories in the Zone—" So, Roger drags him off, monologuing, in his zoot suit, to the Krupp wingding.
Coming in the door, first thing Bodine notices is this string quartet that's playing tonight. The second violin happens to be Gustav Schlabone, Säure Bummer's frequent unwelcome doping partner, "Captain Horror," as he is affectionately but not inaccurately known around Der Platz—and playing viola is Gustav's accomplice in sui-cidally depressing everybody inside 100 meters' radius wherever they drop in (who's that tapping and giggling at your door, Fred and Phyllis?), Andre Omnopon, of the feathery Rilke mustaches and Porky Pig tattoo on stomach (which is becoming the "hep" thing lately: even back in the Zone of the Interior the American subdebs all think it's swoony). Gustav and Andre are the Inner Voices tonight. Which is especially odd because on the program is the suppressed quartet from the Haydn Op. 76, the so-called "Kazoo" Quartet in G-Flat Minor, which gets its name from the Largo, cantabik e mesto movement, in which the Inner Voices are called to play kazoos instead of their usual instruments, creating problems of dynamics for cello and first violin that are unique in the literature. "You actually need to shift in places from a spiccato to a détaché," Bodine rapidly talking a Corporate Wife of some sort across the room toward the free-lunch table piled with lobster hors d'oeuvres and capon sandwiches—"less bow, higher up
you understand, soften it—then there's also about a thousand ppp-to-fff blasts, but only the one, the notorious One, going the other way. ..." Indeed, one reason for the work's suppression is this subversive use of sudden fff quieting to ppp. It's the touch of the wandering sound-shadow, the Brennschluss of the Sun. They don't want you listening to too much of that stuff—at least not the way Haydn presents it (a strange lapse in the revered composer's behavior): cello, violin, alto and treble kazoos all rollicking along in a tune sounds like a song from the movie Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, "You Should See Me Dance the Polka," when suddenly in the middle of an odd bar the kazoos just stop completely, and the Outer Voices fall to plucking a non-melody that tradition sez represents two 18th-century Village Idiots vibrating their lower lips. At each other. It goes on for 20, 40 bars, this feeb's pizzicato, middle-line Kruppsters creak in the bowlegged velvet chairs, bibuhbuhbibuhbuh this does not sound like Haydn, Mutti! Reps from ICI and GE angle their heads trying to read in the candlelight the little programs lovingly hand-lettered by Utgarthaloki's partner in life, Frau Utgarthaloki, nobody is certain what her first name is (which is ever so much help to Stefan because it keeps them all on the defensive with her). She is a blonde image of your mother dead: if you have ever seen her travestied in beaten gold, the cheeks curving too far, deformed, the eyebrows too dark and whites too white, some zero indifference that in the end is truly evil in the way They've distorted her face, then you know the look: Nalline Slothrop just before her first martini is right here, in spirit, at this Kruppfest. So is her son Tyrone, but only because by now—early Virgo—he has become one plucked albatross. Plucked, hell—stripped. Scattered all over the Zone. It's doubtful if he can ever be "found" again, in the conventional sense of "positively identified and detained." Only feathers . . . redundant or regenerable organs, "which we would be tempted to classify under the 'Hydra-Phänomen' were it not for the complete absence of hostility. . . ."—Natasha Raum, "Regions of Indeterminacy in Albatross Anatomy," Proceedings of the International Society of Confessors to an Enthusiasm for Albatross Nosology, Winter 1936, great little magazine, they actually sent a correspondent to Spain that winter, to cover that, there are issues devoted entirely to analyses of world economics, all clearly relevant to problems of Albatross Nosology—does so-called "Night Worm" belong among the Pseudo-Goldstrassian Group, or is it properly considered—indications being almost identical—a more insidious form of Mopp's Hebdomeriasis?
Well, if the Counterforce knew better what those categories concealed, they might be in a better position to disarm, de-penis and dismantle the Man. But they don't. Actually they do, but they don't admit it. Sad but true. They are as schizoid, as double-minded in the massive presence of money, as any of the rest of us, and that's the hard fact. The Man has a branch office in each of our brains, his corporate emblem is a white albatross, each local rep has a cover known as the Ego, and their mission in this world is Bad Shit. We do know what's going on, and we let it go on. As long as we can see them, stare at them, those massively moneyed, once in a while. As long as they allow us a glimpse, however rarely. We need that. And how they know it—how often, under what conditions. . . . We ought to be seeing much popular-magazine coverage on the order of The Night Rog and Beaver Fought Over Jessica While She Cried in Krupp's Arms, and drool over every blurry photo—
Roger must have been dreaming for a minute here of the sweaty evenings of Thermidor: the failed Counterforce, the glamorous ex-rebels, half-suspected but still enjoying official immunity and sly love, camera-worthy wherever they carry on ... doomed pet freaks.
They will use us. We will help legitimize Them, though They don't need it really, it's another dividend for Them, nice but not critical. . . .
Oh yes, isn't that exactly what They'll do. Bringing Roger now, at a less than appropriate time and place here in the bosom of the Opposition, while his life's first authentic love is squirming only to get Home and take another wad of Jeremy's sperm so they'll make their day's quota—in the middle of all that he has to walk (ow, fuck) right into the interesting question, which is worse: living on as Their pet, or death? It is not a question he has ever imagined himself asking seriously. It has come by surprise, but there's no sending it away now, he really does have to decide, and soon enough, plausibly soon, to feel the terror in his bowels. Terror he cannot think away. He has to choose between his life and his death. Letting it sit for a while is no compromise, but a decision to live, on Their terms. . . .
The viola is a ghost, grainy-brown, translucent, sighing in and out of the other Voices. Dynamic shifts abound. Imperceptible lifts, pla-tooning notes together or preparing for changes in loudness, what the Germans call "breath-pauses," skitter among the phrases. Perhaps tonight it is due to the playing of Gustav and Andre, but after a while the listener starts actually hearing the pauses instead of the notes—his
ear gets tickled the way your eye does staring at a recco map until bomb craters flip inside out to become muffins risen above the tin, or ridges fold to valleys, sea and land flicker across quicksilver edges— so the silences dance in this quartet. A-and wait'll those kazoos come on!
That's the background music for what is to transpire. The plot against Roger has been formulated with shivering and giddy glee. Seaman Bodine is an unexpected bonus. Going in to dinner becomes a priestly procession, full of secret gestures and understandings. It is a very elaborate meal, according to the menu, full of relevés, poissons, entremets. "What's this 'Überraschungbraten' here?" Seaman Bodine asks righthand dinner companion Constance Flamp, loose-khakied newshound and toughtalkin' sweetheart of ev'ry GI from Iwo to Saint-Lô.
"Why, just what it sez, Boats," replies "Commando Connie," "that's German for 'surprise roast.' "
"I'm hep," sez Bodine. She has—maybe not meaning to—gestured with her eyes—perhaps, Pointsman, there is such a thing as the kindness-reflex (how many young men has she seen go down since '42?) that now and then, also beyond the Zero, survives extinction. . . . Bodine looks down at the far end of the table, past corporate teeth and polished fingernails, past heavy monogrammed eating-tools, and for the first time notices a stone barbecue pit, with two black iron hand-operated spits. Servants in their prewar livery are busy layering scrap paper (old SHAEF directives, mostly), kindling, quartered pine logs, and coal, luscious fist-sized raven chunks of the kind that once left bodies up and down the sides of the canals, once, during the Inflation, when it was actually held that mortally dear, imagine. ... At the edge of the pit, with Justus about to light the taper, as Gretchen daintily laces the fuel with GI xylene from down in the dockyards, Seaman Bodine observes Roger's head, being held by four or six hands upside down, the lips being torn away from the teeth and the high gums already draining white as a skull, while one of the maids, a classic satin-and-lace, impish, torturable young maid, brushes the teeth with American toothpaste, carefully scrubbing away the nicotine stains and tartar. Roger's eyes are so hurt and pleading. . . . All around, guests are whispering. "How quaint, Stefan's even thought of head cheese!" "Oh, no, it's another part I'm waiting to get my teeth in ..." giggles, heavy breathing, and what's that pair of very blue peg pants all ripped . . . and what's this staining the jacket, and what, up on the spit, reddening to a
fat-glazed crust, is turning, whose face is about to come rotating around, why it's—
"No ketchup, no ketchup," the hirsute bluejacket searching agitatedly among the cruets and salvers, "seems to be no ... what th' fuck kind of a place is this, Rog," yelling down slantwise across seven enemy faces, "hey, buddih you find any ketchup down there?"
Ketchup's a code word, okay—
"Odd," replies Roger, who clearly has seen exactly the same thing down at the pit, "I was just about to ask you the same question!"
They are grinning at each other like fools. Their auras, for the record, are green. No shit. Not since winter of '42, in convoy in a North Atlantic gale, with accidental tons of loose 5-inch ammo rolling all over the ship, the German wolf pack invisibly knocking off sister ships right and left, at Battle Stations inside mount 51 listening to Pappy Hod tell disaster jokes, really funny ones, the whole gun crew clutching their stomachs hysterically, gasping for air—not since then has Seaman Bodine felt so high in the good chances of death.
"Some layout, huh?" he calls. "Pretty good food!" Conversation has fallen nearly silent. Politely curious faces are turning. Flames leap in the pit. They are not "sensitive flames," but if they were they might be able now to detect the presence of Brigadier Pudding. He is now a member of the Counterforce, courtesy of Carroll Eventyr. Courtesy is right. Seances with Pudding are at least as trying as the old Weekly Briefings back at "The White Visitation." Pudding has even more of a mouth on him than he did alive. The sitters have begun to whine: "Aren't we ever to be rid of him?" But it is through Pudding's devotion to culinary pranksterism that the repulsive stratagem that follows was devised.
"Oh, I don't know," Roger elaborately casual, "I can't seem to find any snot soup on the menu. ..."
"Yeah, I could've done with some of that pus pudding, myself. Think there'll be any of that?"
"No, but there might be a scum souffle!" cries Roger, "with a side of—menstrual marmalade!"
"Well I've got eyes for some of that rich, meaty smegma stew!" suggests Bodine. "Or howbout a clot casserole?"
"I say," murmurs a voice, indeterminate as to sex, down the table.
"We could plan a better meal than this" Roger waving the menu. "Start off with afterbirth appetizers, perhaps some clever little scab sandwiches with the crusts trimmed off of course . . . o-or booger bis-
cuits! Mmm, yes, spread with mucus mayonnaise? and topped with a succulent bit of slime sausage. ..."
"Oh I see," sez Commando Connie, "it has to be alliterative. How about. . . urn . . . discharge dumplings?"
"We're doing the soup course, babe," sez cool Seaman Bodine, "so let me just suggest a canker consomme, or perhaps a barf bouillon."
"Vomit vichysoisse," sez Connie.
"You got it."
"Cyst salad," Roger continues, "with little cheery-red squares of abortion aspic, tossed in a subtle dandruff dressing."
There is a sound of well-bred gagging, and a regional sales manager for ICI leaves hurriedly, spewing a long crescent of lumpy beige vomit that splatters across the parquetry. Napkins are being raised to faces all down the table. Silverware is being laid down, silver ringing the fields of white, a puzzling indecision here again, the same as at Clive Mossmoon's office. . . .
On we go, through fart fondue (skillfully placed bubbles of anal gas rising slowly through a rich cheese viscosity, yummm), boil blintzes, Vegetables Venereal in slobber sauce. ...
A kazoo stops playing. "Wart waffles!" Gustav screams.
"Puke pancakes, with sweat syrup," adds Andre Omnopon, as Gustav resumes playing, the Outer Voices meantime having broken off in confusion.
"And spread with pinworm preserves," murmurs the cellist, who is not above a bit of fun.
"Hemorrhoid hash," Connie banging her spoon in delight, ''bowel burgers!"
Frau Utgarthaloki jumps to her feet, upsetting a platter of stuffed sores—beg pardon, no they're deviled eggs—and runs from the room, sobbing tragically. Her suave metal husband also rises and follows, casting back at the troublemakers virile stares that promise certain death. A discreet smell of vomit has begun to rise through the hanging tablecloth. Nervous laughter has long embrittled to badmouth whispering.
"A choice of gangrene goulash, or some scrumptious creamy-white leprosy loaf," Bodine in a light singsong "le-pro-sy [down a third to] loaf," playfully hounding the holdouts, shaking a finger, c'mon ya little rascals, vomit for the nice zootster. . . .
"Fungus fricassee!" screams Roger the Rowdy. Jessica is weeping on the arm of Jeremy her gentleman, who is escorting her, stiff-armed,
shaking his head at Roger's folly, away forever. Does Roger have a second of pain right here? Yes. Sure. You would too. You might even question the worth of your cause. But there are nosepick noodles to be served up buttery and steaming, grime gruel and pustule porridge to be ladled into the bowls of a sniveling generation of future executives, pubic popovers to be wheeled out onto the terraces stained by holocaust sky or growing rigid with autumn.
"With groin gravy!"
"And ringworm relish!"
Lady Mnemosyne Gloobe is having a seizure of some kind, so violent that her pearls break and go rattling down the silk tablecloth. A general loss of appetite reigns, not to mention overt nausea. The flames in the pit have dwindled. No fat to feed them tonight. Sir Hannibal Grunt-Gobbinette is threatening, between spasms of yellow bile foaming out his nose, to bring the matter up in Parliament. "I'll see you two in the Scrubs if it kills me!" Well. . .
A gentle, precarious soft-shoe out the door, Bodine waving his widebrim gangster hat. Ta-ta, foax. The only guest still seated is Constance Flamp, who is still roaring out dessert possibilities: "Crotch custard! Phlegm fudge! Mold muffins!" Will she catch hell tomorrow. Pools of this and that glitter across the floor like water-mirages at the Sixth Ante-chamber to the Throne. Gustav and the rest of the quartet have abandoned Haydn and are all following Roger and Bodine out the door, kazoos and strings accompanying the Disgusting Duo:
Oh gimme some o' that acne, à-la-mode, Eat so much-that Ah, jes'ex-plode! Say there buddih? you can chow all nite, on Toe-jam tarts 'n' Diarrhea Dee-lite. . . .
"I have to tell you," Gustav whispering speedily, "I feel so awful about it, but perhaps you don't want people like me. You see ... I was a Storm Trooper. A long time ago. You know, like Horst Wessel."
"So?" Bodine's laughing. "Maybe I was a Melvin Purvis Junior G-Man."
"For Post Toasties."
"For whom?" The German actually thinks Post Toasties is the name of some American Führer, looking vaguely like Tom Mix or some other such longlip bridlejaw cowboy.
The last black butler opens the last door to the outside, and escape. Escape tonight. "Pimple pie with filth frosting, gentlemen," he nods. And just at the other side of dawning, you can see a smile.
In her pack, Geli Tripping brings along a few of Tchitcherine's toenail clippings, a graying hair, a piece of bedsheet with a trace of his sperm, all tied in a white silk kerchief, next to a bit of Adam and Eve root and a loaf of bread baked from wheat she has rolled naked in and ground against the sun. She has left off tending her herd of toads on the witches' hillsides, and has passed her white wand to another apprentice. She is off to find her gallant Attila. Now there are a good few hundred of these young women in the Zone who're smitten with love for Tchitcherine, all of them sharp as foxes, but none quite as stubborn as Geli—and none are witches.
At noon she comes to a farmhouse with a floor of blue and white tiles in the kitchen, elaborate old china plates hung like pictures, and a rocking-chair. "Do you have a photo of him?" the old woman handing her a tin army plate with the remains of her morning's Bauernfrüh-stuck. "I can give you a spell."
"Sometimes I can call up his face in a cup of tea. But the herbs have to be gathered carefully. I'm not that good at it yet."
"But you're in love. Technique is just a substitute for when you get older."
"Why not stay in love always?"
The two women watch each other across the sunny kitchen. Cabinets with glass panes shine from the walls. Bees buzz outside the windows. Geli goes and pumps water from the well, and they brew some strawberry-leaf tea. But Tchitcherine's face doesn't appear.
The night the blacks started off on their great trek, Nordhausen felt like a city in a myth, under the threat of some special destruction—en-gulfment by a crystal lake, lava from the sky ... for an evening, the sense of preservation there was lost. The blacks, like the rockets in the Mittelwerke, had given Nordhausen continuity. Now the blacks are gone: Geli knows they are on collision course with Tchitcherine. She doesn't want duels. Let the university boys duel. She wants her graying steel barbarian alive. She can't bear to think that she may already have touched him, felt his scarred and historied hands, for the last time.
Behind, pushing her, is the town's somnolence, and at night—the
strange canaried nights of the Harz (where canary hustlers are busy shooting up female birds with male hormones so they'll sing long enough to be sold to the foreign suckers who occupy the Zone)—full of too many spells, witch-rivalries, coven politics . . . she knows that's not what magic is about. The Hexes-Stadt, with its holy mountains cropped in pale circles all up and down their green faces by the little tethered goats, has turned into just another capital, where the only enterprise is administrating—the feeling there is of upstairs at the musicians' union—no music, just glass-brick partitions, spittoons, indoor plants—no practicing witches left. You either come to the Brocken-complex with a bureaucratic career in mind, or you leave it, and choose the world. There are the two distinct sorts of witch, and Geli is the World-choosing sort.
Here is the World. She is wearing gray men's trousers rolled to the knee that flap around her thighs as she walks by the rye fields ... walking, with her head down, pushing hair out of her eyes often. Sometimes soldiers come by, and give her rides. She listens for news of Tchitcherine, of the trekking Schwarzkommando. If it feels right, she will even ask about Tchitcherine. The variety of the rumors surprises her. I'm not the only one who loves him . . . though their love of course is friendly, admiring, unsexual . . . Geli's the only one in the Zone who loves him completely. Tchitcherine, known in some circles as "the Red Doper," is about to be purged: the emissary is none other than Beria's top man, the sinister N. Ripov himself.
Bullshit, Tchitcherine's already dead, didn't you hear, he's been dead for months . . .
. . . they've had somebody impersonating him till all the others in his Bloc are taken care of...
. . . no, he came into Lüneburg last weekend, my mate's seen him before, no mistake, it's him . . .
. . . he's lost a lot of weight and takes a heavy bodyguard everywhere he goes. At least a dozen. Orientals mostly . . .
. . . fully equipped with Judas Iscariot no doubt. That one's hard to believe. A dozen? Where does anybody find that many people he can trust? Especially out at the edge like he is—
"What edge?" They're rattling along in the back of a 2 1/2-ton lorry through very green rolling country ... a storm is blowing up mute purple, veined in yellow, behind them. Geli's been drinking wine with this scurvy lot of tommies, a demolition squad who've been out all day clearing canals. They smell of creosote, marsh-mud, ammonia from the dynamite.
"Well you know what he's doing."
"I wouldn't want to be in his place, that's all."
Up on the crest of a hill, an army surveying party is restoring a damaged road. One silhouette leans peering through a transit, one holds a bob. A bit apart from the instrument man another engineer stands with his arms out straight to the sides, his head moves sighting along either pointed hand, then the arms swoop together ... if you close your eyes, and have learned to let your arms move by themselves, your fingers will touch making a perfect right angle from where they were . . . Geli watches the tiny act: it is devotional, graceful, and she feels the cross the man has made on his own circle of visible earth . . . unconsciously a mandala ... it is a sign for her. He is pointing her on her way. Later that evening she sees an eagle flying across the marshes, in the same direction. It's golden-dark, almost night. The region is lonely and Pan is very close. Geli has been to enough Sabbaths to handle it—she thinks. But what is a devil's blue bite on the ass to the shrieking-outward, into stone resonance, where there is no good or evil, out in the luminous spaces Pan will carry her to? Is she ready yet for anything so real? The moon has risen. She sits now, at the same spot where she saw the eagle, waiting, waiting for something to come and take her. Have you ever waited for it? wondering whether it will come from outside or inside? Finally past the futile guesses at what might happen . . . now and then re-erasing brain to keep it clean for the Visit . . . yes wasn't it close to here? remember didn't you sneak away from camp to have a moment alone with What you felt stirring across the land ... it was the equinox . . . green spring equal nights . . . canyons are opening up, at the bottoms are steaming fumaroles, steaming the tropical life there like greens in a pot, rank, dope-perfume, a hood of smell . . . human consciousness, that poor cripple, that deformed and doomed thing, is about to be born. This is the World just before men. Too violently pitched alive in constant flow ever to be seen by men directly. They are meant only to look at it dead, in still strata, transputrefied to oil or coal. Alive, it was a threat: it was Titans, was an overpeaking of life so clangorous and mad, such a green corona about Earth's body that some spoiler had to be brought in before it blew the Creation apart. So we, the crippled keepers, were sent out to multiply, to have dominion. God's spoilers. Us. Counterrevolutionaries. It is our mission to promote death. The way we kill, the way we die, being unique among the Creatures. It was something we had to work on, historically and personally. To build from scratch up
to its present status as reaction, nearly as strong as life, holding down the green uprising. But only nearly as strong.
Only nearly, because of the defection rate. A few keep going over to the Titans every day, in their striving subcreation (how can flesh tumble and flow so, and never be any less beautiful?), into the rests of the folksong Death (empty stone rooms), out, and through, and down under the net, down down to the uprising.
In harsh-edged echo, Titans stir far below. They are all the presences we are not supposed to be seeing—wind gods, hilltop gods, sunset gods—that we train ourselves away from to keep from looking further even though enough of us do, leave Their electric voices behind in the twilight at the edge of the town and move into the constantly parted cloak of our nightwalk till
Suddenly, Pan—leaping—its face too beautiful to bear, beautiful Serpent, its coils in rainbow lashings in the sky—into the sure bones of fright—
Don't walk Home at night through the empty country. Don't go into the forest when the light is too low, even too late in the afternoon—it will get you. Don't sit by the tree like this, with your cheek against the bark. It is impossible in this moonlight to see if you are male or female now. Your hair spills, silver white. Your body under the gray cloth is so exactly vulnerable, so fated to degradation time and again. What if he wakes and finds you've gone? He is now always the same, awake or asleep—he never leaves the single dream, there are no more differences between the worlds: they have become one for him. Thanatz and Margherita may have been his last ties with the old. That may be why they stayed so long, it was his desperation, he wanted to hold on, he needed them . . . but when he looks at them now he doesn't see them as often any more. They are also losing what reality they brought here, as Gottfried lost all of his to Blicero long ago. Now the boy moves image to image, room to room, sometimes out of the action, sometimes part of it ... whatever he has to do, he does. The day has its logic, its needs, no way for him to change it, leave it, or live outside it. He is helpless, he is sheltered secure.
It's only a matter of weeks, and everything will be over, Germany will have lost the War. The routines go on. The boy cannot imagine anything past the last surrender. If he and Blicero are separated, what will happen to the flow of days?
Will Blicero die no please don't let him die. ... (But he will.) "You're going to survive me," he whispers. Gottfried kneels at his feet, wearing the dog collar. Both are in army clothes. It's a long time since either of them dressed as a woman. It is important tonight that they both be men. "Ah, you're so smug, you little bastard. . . ."
It is only another game isn't it, another excuse for a whipping? Gottfried keeps silent. When Blicero wants an answer, he says so. It happens often that he only wants to talk, and that may go on for hours. No one has ever talked to Gottfried before, not like this. His father uttered only commands, sentences, flat judgments. His mother was emotional, a great flow of love, frustration and secret terror passed into him from her, but they never really talked. This is so more-than-real ... he feels he must keep every word, that none must be lost. Blicero's words have become precious to him. He understands that Blicero wants to give, without expecting anything back, give away what he loves. He believes that he exists for Blicero, even if the others have all ceased to, that in the new kingdom they pass through now, he is the only other living inhabitant. Was it this he expected to be taken by, taken into? Blicero's seed, sputtering into the poisoned manure of his bowels ... it is waste, yes, futility . . . but... as man and woman, coupled, are shaken to the teeth at their approaches to the gates of life, hasn't he also felt more, worshipfully more past these arrangements for penetration, the style, garments of flaying without passion, sheer hosiery perishable as the skin of a snake, custom manacles and chains to stand for the bondage he feels in his heart... all become theatre as he approached the gates of that Other Kingdom, felt the white gigantic muzzles somewhere inside, expressionless beasts frozen white, pushing him away, the crust and mantle hum of mystery so beyond his poor hearing . . . there have to be these too, lovers whose genitals are consecrated to shit, to endings, to the desperate nights in the streets when connection proceeds out of all personal control, proceeds or fails, a gathering of fallen—as many in acts of death as in acts of life— or a sentence to be alone for another night. . . . Are they to be denied, passed over, all of them?
On his approaches to it, taken inward again and again, Gottfried can only try to keep himself open, to loosen the sphincter of his soul. . . .
"And sometimes I dream of discovering the edge of the World. Finding that there is an end. My mountain gentian always knew. But it has cost me so much.
"America was the edge of the World. A message for Europe, continent-sized, inescapable. Europe had found the site for its Kingdom of Death, that special Death the West had invented. Savages had their waste regions, Kalaharis, lakes so misty they could not see the
other side. But Europe had gone deeper—into obsession, addiction, away from all the savage innocences. America was a gift from the invisible powers, a way of returning. But Europe refused it. It wasn't Europe's Original Sin—the latest name for that is Modern Analysis—but it happens that Subsequent Sin is harder to atone for.
"In Africa, Asia, Amerindia, Oceania, Europe carne and established its order of Analysis and Death. What it could not use, it killed or altered. In time the death-colonies grew strong enough to break away. But the impulse to empire, the mission to propagate death, the structure of it, kept on. Now we are in the last phase. American Death has come to occupy Europe. It has learned empire from its old metropolis. But now we have only the structure left us, none of the great rainbow plumes, no fittings of gold, no epic marches over alkali seas. The savages of other continents, corrupted but still resisting in the name of life, have gone on despite everything . . . while Death and Europe are separate as ever, their love still unconsummated. Death only rules here. It has never, in love, become one with. . . .
"Is the cycle over now, and a new one ready to begin? Will our new Edge, our new Deathkingdom, be the Moon? I dream of a great glass sphere, hollow and very high and far away . . . the colonists have learned to do without air, it's vacuum inside and out. . . it's understood the men won't ever return . . . they are all men. There are ways for getting back, but so complicated, so at the mercy of language, that presence back on Earth is only temporary, and never 'real'. . . passages out there are dangerous, chances of falling so shining and deep. . . . Gravity rules all the way out to the cold sphere, there is always the danger of falling. Inside the colony, the handful of men have a frosty appearance, hardly solid, no more alive than memories, nothing to touch . . . only their remote images, black and white film-images, grained, broken year after hoarfrost year out in the white latitudes, in empty colony, with only infrequent visits from the accidental, like me. . . .
"I wish I could recover it all. Those men had once been through a tragic day—ascent, fire, failure, blood. The events of that day, so long ago, had put them into exile forever . . . no, they weren't really spacemen. Out here, they wanted to dive between the worlds, to fall, turn, reach and swing on journeys curved through the shining, through the winter nights of space—their dreams were of rendezvous, of cosmic trapeze acts carried on in loneliness, in sterile grace, in certain knowledge that no one would ever be watching, that loved ones had been lost forever. . . .
"The connections they hoped for would always miss by trillions of
dark miles, by years of frozen silence. But I wanted to bring you back the story. I remember that you used to whisper me to sleep with stories of us one day living on the Moon . . . are you beyond that by now? You've got much older. Can you feel in your body how strongly I have infected you with my dying? I was meant to: when a certain time has come, I think that we are all meant to. Fathers are carriers of the virus of Death, and sons are the infected . . . and, so that the infection may be more certain, Death in its ingenuity has contrived to make the father and son beautiful to each other as life has made male and female ... oh Gottfried of course yes you are beautiful to me but I'm dying ... I want to get through it as honestly as I can, and your immortality rips at my heart—can't you see why I might want to destroy that, oh that stupid clarity in your eyes . . . when I see you in morning and evening ranks, so open, so ready to take my sickness in and shelter it, shelter it inside your own little ignorant love. ...
"Your love." He nods several times. But his eyes are too dangerously spaced beyond the words, stunned irreversibly away from real Gottfried, away from the weak, the failed smells of real breath, by barriers stern and clear as ice, and hopeless as the one-way flow of European time. . . .
"I want to break out—to leave this cycle of infection and death. I want to be taken in love: so taken that you and I, and death, and life, will be gathered, inseparable, into the radiance of what we would become. . . ."
Gottfried kneels, numb, waiting. Blicero is looking at him. Deeply: his face whiter than the boy has ever seen it. A raw spring wind beats the canvas of their tent. It's near sunset. In a moment Blicero must go out to take evening reports. His hands rest near a mound of cigarette butts in a mess tray. His myopic witch's eyes, through the thick lenses, may be looking into Gottfried's for the first time. Gottfried cannot look away. He knows, somehow, incompletely, that he has a decision to make . . . that Blicero expects something from him . . . but Blicero has always made the decisions. Why is he suddenly asking . . .
It all poises here. Passageways of routine, still cogent enough, still herding us through time . . . the iron rockets waiting outside . . . the birth-scream of the latest spring torn across rainy miles of Saxony, route-sides littered with last envelopes, stripped gears, seized bearings, rotted socks and skivvies fragrant now with fungus and mud. If there is still hope for Gottfried here in this wind-beat moment, then there is hope elsewhere. The scene itself must be read as a card: what is to come. Whatever has happened since to the figures in it (roughly
drawn in soiled white, army gray, spare as a sketch on a ruined wall) it is preserved, though it has no name, and, like The Fool, no agreed assignment in the deck.
Here's Enzian ramrodding his brand-new rocket through the night. When it rains, when the mist is heavy, before the watch can quite get tarps over, the glossy skin of the rocket is seen to've turned to dark slate. Perhaps, after all, just before the firing, it will be painted black.
It is the 00001, the second in its series.
Russian loudspeakers across the Elbe have called to you. American rumors have come jiving in to the fires at night and summoned, against the ground of your hopes, the yellow American deserts, Red Indians, blue sky, green cactus. How did you feel about the old Rocket? Not now that it's giving you job security, but back then—do you remember any more what it was like wheeling them out by hand, a dozen of you that morning, a guard of honor in the simple encounter of your bodies with its inertia ... all your faces drowning in the same selfless look—the moires of personality softening, softening, each sweep of surf a little more out of focus till all has become subtle grades of cloud—all hatred, all love, wiped away for the short distance you had to push it over the winter berm, aging men in coatskirts flapping below your boottops, breaths in white spouts breaking turbulent as the waves behind you. . . . Where will you all go? What empires, what deserts? You caressed its body, brute, freezing through your gloves, here together without shame or reticence you twelve struggled, in love, on this Baltic shore—not Peenemünde perhaps, not official Peene-münde . . . but once, years ago . . . boys in white shirts and dark vests and caps ... on some beach, a children's resort, when we were younger ... at Test Stand VII the image, at last, you couldn't leave—the way the wind smelled salt and dying, the sound of winter surf, the premonition of rain you could feel at the back of your neck, stirring in the clipped hairs. ... At Test Stand VII, the holy place.
But young men have all grown older, and there's little color in the scene . . . they are pushing into the sun, the glare strikes them squinting and grinning, bright here as the morning shift at Siemens with the centaurs struggling high on the wall, the clock without numerals, bicycles squeaking, lunchpails and lunchbags and the lowered faces of the trudging dutiful streams of men and women into the dark openings
... it resembles a Daguerreotype taken of the early Raketen-Stadt by a forgotten photographer in 1856: this is the picture, in fact, that killed him—he died a week later from mercury poisoning after inhaling fumes of the heated metal in his studio . . . well, he was a habitue of mercury fumes in moderate doses, he felt it did his brain some good, and that may account for pictures like "Der Raketen-Stadt": it shows, from a height that is topographically impossible in Germany, the ceremonial City, fourfold as expected, an eerie precision to all lines and shadings architectural and human, built in mandalic form like a Herero village, overhead a magnificent sky, marble carried to a wild-ness of white billow and candescence . . . there seems to be building, or demolition, under way in various parts of the City, for nothing here remains the same, we can see the sweat in individual drops on the workers' dark necks as they struggle down in the bonedamp cellars . . . a bag of cement has broken, and its separate motes hang in the light . . . the City will always be changing, new tire-treads in the dust, new cigarette wrappers in the garbage . . . engineering changes to the Rocket create new routes of supply, new living arrangements, reflected in traffic densities as viewed from this unusual height—there are indeed tables of Functions to get from such City-changes to Rocket-modifications: no more than an extension, really, of the techniques by which Constance Babington-Smith and her colleagues at R. A. F. Medmenham discovered the Rocket back in 1943 in recco photographs of Peenemünde.
But remember if you loved it. If you did, how you loved it. And how much—after all you're used to asking "how much," used to measuring, to comparing measurements, putting them into equations to find out how much more, how much of, how much when . . . and here in your common drive to the sea feel as much as you wish of that dark double-minded love which is also shame, bravado, engineers' geopolitics—"spheres of influence" modified to toruses of Rocket range that are parabolic in section . . .
. . . not, as we might imagine, bounded below by the line of the Earth it "rises from" and the Earth it "strikes" No But Then You Never Really Thought It Was Did You Of Course It Begins Infinitely Below The Earth And Goes On Infinitely Back Into The Earth it's only the peak that we are allowed to see, the break up through the surface, out of the other silent world, violently (a jet airplane crashing into faster-than-sound, some years later a spaceship crashing into faster-than-light) Remember The Password In The Zone This Week Is FASTER—THAN, THE-SPEEDOFLIGHT Speeding Up Your
Voice Exponentially—Linear Exceptions Made Only In Case of Upper Respiratory Complaints, at each "end," understand, a very large transfer of energy: breaking upward into this world, a controlled burning—breaking downward again, an uncontrolled explosion . . . this lack of symmetry leads to speculating that a presence, analogous to the Aether, flows through time, as the Aether flows through space. The assumption of a Vacuum in time tended to cut us off one from another. But an Aether sea to bear us world-to-world might bring us back a continuity, show us a kinder universe, more easygoing. . . .
So, yes yes this is a scholasticism here, Rocket state-cosmology . . . the Rocket does lead that way—among others—past these visible serpent coils that lash up above the surface of Earth in rainbow light, in steel tetany . . . these storms, these things of Earth's deep breast we were never told . . . past them, through the violence, to a numbered cosmos, a quaint brownwood-paneled, Victorian kind of Brain War, as between quaternions and vector analysis in the 1880s—the nostalgia of Aether, the silver, pendulumed, stone-anchored, knurled-brass, fili-greed elegantly functional shapes of your grandfathers. These sepia tones are here, certainly. But the Rocket has to be many things, it must answer to a number of different shapes in the dreams of those who touch it—in combat, in runnel, on paper—it must survive heresies shining, unconfoundable . . . and heretics there will be: Gnostics who have been taken in a rush of wind and fire to chambers of the Rocket-throne . . . Kabbalists who study the Rocket as Torah, letter by letter—• rivets, burner cup and brass rose, its text is theirs to permute and combine into new revelations, always unfolding . . . Manichaeans who see two Rockets, good and evil, who speak together in the sacred idio-lalia of the Primal Twins (some say their names are Enzian and Blicero) of a good Rocket to take us to the stars, an evil Rocket for the World's suicide, the two perpetually in struggle.
But these heretics will be sought and the dominion of silence will enlarge as each one goes down . . . they will all be sought out. Each will have his personal Rocket. Stored in its target-seeker will be the heretic's EEG, the spikes and susurrations of heartbeat, the ghost-blossomings of personal infrared, each Rocket will know its intended and hunt him, ride him a green-doped and silent hound, through our World, shining and pointed in the sky at his back, his guardian executioner rushing in, rushing closer. . . .
Here are the objectives. To make the run over tracks that may end abruptly at riverside or in carbonized trainyard, over roads even the unpaved alternates to which are patrolled now by Russian and British
and American troops in a hardening occupation, a fear of winter bleaching the men all more formal, into braces of Attention they ignored during the summer, closer adherence now to the paperwork as colors of trees and brush begin their change, as purple blurs out over miles of heath, and nights come sooner. To have to stay out in the rains of early Virgo: the children who stowed away on the trek against all orders are down now with coughs and fevers, sniffling at night, hoarse little voices inside oversize uniform jackets. To brew tea for them from fennel, betony, Whitsun roses, sunflowers, mallow leaves— to loot sulfa drugs and penicillin. To avoid raising road-dust when the sun has dried the ruts and crowns again by noon. To sleep in the fields. To hide the rocket sections under haystacks, behind the single wall of a gutted railroad shed, among rainy willows down beside the river beds. To disperse at any alarm, or often at random, just for drill—to flow like a net, down out of the Harz, up the ravines, sleeping in the dry glazed spaces of deserted spas (official pain, official death watching all night from the porcelain eyes of statues), digging in nights' perimeters, smelling pine needles boots and trench-shovels have crushed. . . . To keep faith that it is not trek this time, nor struggle, but truly Destiny, the 00001 sliding like an oiled bolt into the receivership of the railway system prepared for it last spring, a route only apparently in ruins, carefully crafted by the War, by special techniques of bombardment, to take this most immachinate of techniques, the Rocket—the Rocket, this most terribly potential of bombardments. . . .
The 00001 goes disassembled, in sections—warhead, guidance, fuel and oxidizer tanks, tail section. If they all make it to the firing site, it will have to be put back together there.
"Show me the society that never said, 'I am created among men,' " Christian walks with Enzian in the fields above the encampment, " 'to protect you each from violence, to give shelter in time of disaster'— but Enzian, what protection is there? what can protect us from that," gesturing down the valley at the yellow-gray camouflage netting they can both, X-ray eyed for this one journey, see through. . . .
Enzian and the younger man somehow have drifted into these long walks. Nothing deliberate on either side. Is this how successions occur? Each man is suspicious. But there are no more of the old uncomfortable silences. No competing.
"It comes as the Revealer. Showing that no society can protect, never could—they are as foolish as shields of paper. . . ." He must tell Christian everything he knows, everything he suspects or has dreamed. Proclaiming none of it for truth. But he must keep nothing back for himself. Nothing is his to keep. "They have lied to us. They can't keep us from dying, so They lie to us about death. A cooperative structure of lies. What have They ever given us in return for the trust, the love—They actually say 'love'—we're supposed to owe Them? Can They keep us from even catching cold? from lice, from being alone? from anything? Before the Rocket we went on believing, because we wanted to. But the Rocket can penetrate, from the sky, at any given point. Nowhere is safe. We can't believe Them any more. Not if we are still sane, and love the truth."
"We are," nods Christian. "We do." He isn't looking at Enzian to confirm it, either.
"Then ... in the absence of faith ..."
One night, in the rain, their laager stops for the night at a deserted research station, where the Germans, close to the end of the War, were developing a sonic death-mirror. Tall paraboloids of concrete are staggered, white and monolithic, across the plain. The idea was to set off an explosion in front of the paraboloid, at the exact focal point. The concrete mirror would then throw back a perfect shock wave to destroy anything in its path. Thousands of guinea pigs, dogs and cows were experimentally blasted to death here—reams of death-curve data were compiled. But the project was a lemon. Only good at short range, and you rapidly came to a falloff point where the amount of explosives needed might as well be deployed some other way. Fog, wind, hardly visible ripples or snags in the terrain, anything less than perfect conditions, could ruin the shock wave's deadly shape. Still, Enzian can envision a war, a place for them, "a desert. Lure your enemy to a desert. The Kalahari. Wait for the wind to die."
"Who would fight for a desert?" Katje wants to know. She's wearing a hooded green slicker looks even too big for Enzian.
"In," Christian squatting down, looking up at the pale curve of reflector they've come to the base of and have gathered at in the rain, sharing a smoke, taking a moment away from the rest of the trek, "not 'for.' What he's saying is 'in.' "
Saves trouble later if you can get the Texts straight soon as they're spoken. "Thank you," sez Oberst Enzian.
A hundred meters away, huddled into another white paraboloid, watching them, is a fat kid in a gray tanker jacket. Out of its pocket peer two furry little bright eyes. It is fat Ludwig and his lost lemming
Ursula—he has found her at last and after all and despite everything. For a week they have been drifting alongside the trek, just past visibility, pacing the Africans day by day . . . among trees at the tops of escarpments, at the fires' edges at night Ludwig is there, watching . . . accumulating evidence, or terms of an equation ... a boy and his lemming, out to see the Zone. Mostly what he's seen is a lot of chewing gum and a lot of foreign cock. How else does a foot-loose kid get by in the Zone these days? Ursula is preserved. Ludwig has fallen into a fate worse than death and found it's negotiable. So not all lemmings go over the cliff, and not all children are preserved against snuggling into the sin of profit. To expect any more, or less, of the Zone is to disagree with the terms of the Creation.
When Enzian rides point he has the habit of falling into reveries, whether the driver is talking or not. In night without headlamps, a mist coarse enough to be falling, or now and then blown like a wet silk scarf in the face, inside and outside the same temperature and darkness, balances like these allow him to float just under waking, feet and arms bug-upwards pushing at the rubbery glass surface-tension between the two levels, sticking in it, dream-caressed at hands and feet become supersensitive, a good Home-style horizontalless drowse. The engine of the stolen truck is muffled in old mattresses tied over the hood. Henryk the Hare, driving, keeps a leery eye on the temperature gauge. He's called "the Hare" because he can never get messages right, as in the old Herero story. So reverences are dying.
A figure slips into the road, flashlight circling slowly. Enzian un-snaps the isinglass window, leans out into the heavy mist, and calls "faster than the speed of light." The figure waves him on. But in the last edge of Enzian's glance back, in the light from the flash rain is sticking to the black face in big fat globules, sticking as water does to black greasepaint, but not to Herero skin—
"Think we can make a U-turn here?" The shoulders are treacherous, and both men know it. Back in the direction of camp the line of slow-rolling lowlands is lit up by a thud of apricot light.
"Shit," Henryk the Hare jamming it in reverse, waiting for orders from Enzian as they grind slowly backwards. The one with the flashlight may have been the only lookout, there may be no enemy concentration for miles. But—
"There." Beside the road, a prone body. It's Mieczislav Omuzire, with a bad head wound. "Get him in, come on." They load him into the back of the idling truck, and cover him with a shelter half. No time to find out how bad it is. The blackface sentry has vanished for good. From the direction they're backing in comes the stick-rattle of rifle fire.
"We're going into this backwards?"
"Have you heard any mortar fire?"
"Since the one? No."
"Andreas must have knocked it out then."
"Oh, they'll be all right, Nguarorerue. I'm worrying about us."
Orutyene dead. Okandio, Ekori, Omuzire wounded, Ekori critically. The hostiles were white.
"We can't count on a safe perimeter—" blue-white flashlight blobbing ellipse-to-parabola across the shaking map, "till Braunschweig. If it's still there." Rain hits the map in loud spatters.
"Where's the railroad?" puts in Christian. He gets an interested look from Andreas. It's mutual. There's a good deal of interest here lately. The railroad is 6 or 7 miles northwest.
The people come empty their belongings next to the Rocket's trailer rigs. Saplings are being axed down, each blow loud and carrying ... a frame is being constructed, bundles of clothing, pots and kettles stuffed here and there under the long tarpaulin between bent-sapling hoops, to simulate pieces of rocket. Andreas is calling, "All decoys muster by the cook wagon," Fishing in his pockets for the list he keeps. The decoy trek will move on northward, no violent shift in direction—the rest will angle east, back toward the Russian Army. If they get just close enough, the British and American armies may move more cautiously. It may be possible to ride the interface, like gliding at the edge of a thunderstorm ... all the way to the end between armies East and West.
Andreas sits dangling feet kicking heels against tailgate bong . , . bong . . . tolling departure. Enzian looks up, quizzical. Andreas wants to say something. Finally: "Christian goes with you, then?"
"Yes?" Blinking under rain-beaded eyebrows. "Oh, for God's sake, Andreas."
"Well? The decoys are supposed to make it too, right?"
"Look, take him with you, if you want."
"I only wanted to find out," Andreas shrugs, "what's been settled."
"You could have asked me. Nothing's been 'settled.' "
"Maybe not by you. That's your game. You think it'll preserve you.
But it doesn't work for us. We have to know what's really going to happen."
Enzian kneels and begins to lift the heavy iron tailgate. He knows how phony it looks. Who will believe that in his heart he wants to belong to them out there, the vast Humility sleepless, dying, in pain tonight across the Zone? the preterite he loves, knowing he's always to be a stranger. . . . Chains rattle above him. When the edge of the gate is level with his chin, he looks up, into Andreas's eyes. His arms are braced tight. His elbows ache. It is an offering. He wants to ask, How many others have written me off? Is there a fate only I've been kept blind to? But habits persist, in their own life. He struggles to his feet, silently, lifting the dead weight, slamming it into place. Together they slip bolts through at each corner. "See you there," Enzian waves, and turns away. He swallows a tablet of German desoxyephedrine then pops in a stick of gum. Speed makes teeth grind, gum gets chewed by grinding teeth, chewing on gum is a technique, developed during the late War by women, to keep from crying. Not that he wants to cry for the separation. He wants to cry for himself: for what they all must believe is going to happen to him. The more they believe it, the better chance there is. His people are going to demolish him if they can. . . .
Chomp, chomp, hmm good evening ladies, nice job on the lashings there Ljubica, chomp, how's the head Mieczislav, bet they were surprised when the bullets bounced off! heh-heh chomp, chomp, evening "Sparks" (Ozohande), anything from Hamburg yet on the liquid oxygen, damned Oururu better come through-ru, or we gonna have a bad-ass time trying to lay low till he do-ru—oh shit who's that—
It's Josef Ombindi's who it is, leader of the Empty Ones. But till he stopped smiling, for a few seconds there, Enzian thought it was Oru-tyene's ghost. "The word is that the Okandio child was killed too."
"Not so." Chomp.
"She was my first try at preventing a birth."
"So you maintain a deadly interest in her," chomp, chomp. He knows that's not it, but the man annoys him.
"Suicide is a freedom even the lowest enjoy. But you would deny that freedom to a people."
"No ideology. Tell me if your friend Oururu is going to have the LOX generator ready to roll. Or if there is a funny surprise, instead, waiting for me in Hamburg."
"All right, no ideology. You would deny your people a freedom even you enjoy, Oberst Nguarorerue." Smiling again like the ghost of
the man who fell tonight. Probing for the spot, jabbing what? what? want to say what, Oberst? till he sees the tiredness in Enzian's face, and understands it is not a trick. "A freedom," whispering smiling, a love song under black skies edged all around in acid orange, a commercial full of Cathar horror at the practice of imprisoning souls in the bodies of newborns, "a freedom you may exercise soon. I hear your soul talking in its sleep. I know you better than anyone."
Chomp, chomp, oh I had to give him the watch lists didn't I. Oh, am I a fool. Yes, he can choose the night. . . . "You're a hallucination, Ombindi," putting just enough panic into his voice so that if it doesn't work it'll still be a good insult, "I'm projecting my own death-wish, and it comes out looking like you. Uglier then I ever dreamed." Giving him the Spaceman Smile for a full 30 seconds, after only 10 seconds of which Ombindi has already begun to shift his eyes, sweat, press his lips together, look at the ground, turn away, look back, but Enzian prolongs it, no mercy tonight my people, Spaceman Smile turning everything inside a mile radius to frozen ice-cream colors NOW that we're all in the mood, how about installing the battery covers anyway, Djuro? That's right, X-ray vision, saw right through the tarp, write it down as another miracle . . . you there Vlasta, take the next radio watch, forget what it says on the list, there's never been any more than routine traffic logged with Hamburg and I wanna know why, wanna know what does come through when Ombindi's people are on watch . . . communication on the trek command frequency is by CW dots and dashes—no voices to betray. But operators swear they can tell the individual sending-hands. Vlasta is one of his best operators, and she can do good hand-imitations of most of Ombindi's people. Been practicing up, just in case.
The others, who've been all along wondering if Enzian was ever going to move on Ombindi, can tell now by the look on his face and the way he's walking through—So, with little more than touches to the brim of his forage cap, signaling Plan So-and-So, the Ombindi people are quietly, without violence, relieved of all watch duties tonight, though still keeping their weapons and ammo. No one has ever taken those away. There's no reason to. Enzian is no more vulnerable now than he ever was, which was plenty.
The fat boy Ludwig is a white glowworm in the mist. The game is that he's scouting for a vast white army, always at his other flank, ready to come down off of the high ground at a word from Ludwig, and smear the blacks into the earth. But he would never call them down. He would rather go with the trek, invisible. There is no hustling for
him down there. Their journey doesn't include him. They have somewhere to go. He feels he must go with them, but separate, a stranger, no more or less at the mercy of the Zone. . . .
It's a bridge over a stream. Very seldom will traffic come by overhead. You can look up and see a whole slope of cone-bearing trees rushing up darkly away from one side of the road. Trees creak in sorrow for the engineered wound through their terrain, their terrenity or earth-hood. Brown trout flick by in the stream. Inside the culvert, other shelterers have written on the damp arch of wall. Take me, Stretchfoot, what keeps you? Nothing worse than these days. You will be like gentle sleep. Isn't it only sleep? Please. Come soon—Private Rudolf Effig, 12.iv.45. A drawing, in Commando blackface-grease, of a man looking closely at a flower. In the distance, or smaller, appears to be a woman, approaching. Or some kind of elf, or something. The man isn't looking at her (or it). In the middle distance are haystacks. The flower is shaped like the cunt of a young girl. There is a luminary looking down from the sky, a face on it totally at peace, like the Buddha's. Underneath, someone else has written, in English: Good drawing! Finish! and underneath that, in another hand, It IS finished, you nit. And so are you. Nearby, in German, I loved you Lisele with all my heart—no name, rank, unit or serial number. . . . Initials, tic-tac-toe games you can tell were played alone, a game of hangman in which the mystery word was never filled
in: GE RAT and the hanged body visible almost at the other
end of the culvert, even this early in the day, because it's a narrow road, and no real gradient of shadow. A bicycle is incompletely hidden in the weeds at the side of the road. A late butterfly pale as an eyelid winks aimlessly out over the stalks of new hay. High up on the slope, someone is swinging an ax-blade into a living tree . . . and here is where and when the young witch finds Vaslav Tchitcherine at last.
He's sitting by the stream, not dejected, nor tranquil, just waiting. A passive solenoid waiting to be sprung. At her step, his head lifts, and he sees her. She is the first presence since last night he's looked at and seen. Which is her doing. The charm she recited then, fastening the silk crotch torn from her best underpants across the eyes of the doll, his eyes, Eastern and liquid, though they'd been only sketched in clay with her long fingernail, was this:
May he be blind now to all but me. May the burning sun of love
shine in his eyes forever. May this, my own darkness, shelter him. By all the holy names of God, by the Angels Melchidael, Yahoel, Anafiel, and the great Metatron, I conjure you, and all who are with you, to go and do my will.
The secret is in the concentrating. She inhibits everything else: the moon, the wind in the junipers, the wild dogs out ranging in the middle of the night. She fixes on Tchitcherine's memory and his wayward eyes, and lets it build, pacing her orgasm to the incantation, so that by the end, naming the last Names of Power, she's screaming, coming, without help from her fingers, which are raised to the sky.
Later she breaks a piece of the magic bread in half, and eats one part. The other is for Tchitcherine.
He takes the bread now. The stream rushes. A bird sings.
Toward nightfall, the lovers lying naked on a cold grass bank, the sound of a convoy approaches on the little road. Tchitcherine pulls on his trousers and climbs up to see if he can beg some food, or cigarettes. The black faces pass by, mba-kayere, some glancing at him curiously, others too involved with their own exhaustion, or with keeping a tight guard on a covered wagon containing the warhead section of the 00001. Enzian on his motorcyle stops for a moment, mba-kayere, to talk to the scarred, unshaven white. They're in the middle of the bridge. They talk broken German. Tchitcherine manages to hustle half a pack of American cigarettes and three raw potatoes. The two men nod, not quite formally, not quite smiling, Enzian puts his bike in gear and returns to his journey. Tchitcherine lights a cigarette, watching them down the road, shivering in the dusk. Then he goes back to his young girl beside the stream. They will have to locate some firewood before all the light is gone.
This is magic. Sure—but not necessarily fantasy. Certainly not the first time a man has passed his brother by, at the edge of the evening, often forever, without knowing it.
By now the City is grown so tall that elevators are long-haul affairs, with lounges inside: padded seats and benches, snack bars, newsstands where you can browse through a whole issue of life between stops. For those faint hearts who first thing on entering seek out the Certificate of Inspection on the elevator wall, there are young women in green overseas caps, green velvet basques, and tapered yellowstripe
trousers—a feminine zootsuit effect—who've been well-tutored in all kinds of elevator lore, and whose job it is to set you at ease. "In the early days," pipes young Mindy Bloth of Carbon City, Illinois, smiling vacantly away in profile, close by the brass moire of diamond-blurs passing, passing in vertical thousands—her growing-up face, dreamy and practical as the Queen of Cups, never quite looks for you, is always refracted away some set angle in the gold-brown medium between you . . . it's morning, and the flower man at the rear of the elevator, down a step or two, behind the little fountain, has brought lilacs and irises fresh and early— "before the Vertical Solution, all transport was, in effect, two-dimensional—ah, I can guess your question—" as a smile, familiar and unrefracted for this old elevator regular, passes between girl and heckler— " 'What about airplane flight, eh?' That's what you were going to ask wasn't it!" as a matter of fact he was going to ask about the Rocket and everyone knows it, but the subject is under a curious taboo, and polite Mindy has brought in now a chance for actual violence, the violence of repression—the bleached colors of a September morning sky opposite the sunrise, and the filing-edge of a morning wind—into this intimate cubic environment moving so smoothly upward through space (a bubble rising through Castile soap where all around it's green lit by slow lightning), past levels already a-bustle with heads seething brighter than sperm and eggs in the sea, past some levels left dark, unheated, somehow forbidden, looking oddly wasted, levels where nobody's been since the War aaaaa-ahhh! howling past, "a common aerodynamic effect," explains patient Mindy, "involving our own boundary layer and the shape of the orifice as we pass it—" "Oh you mean that before we get to it," hollers another heckler, "it's a different shape?" "Yup, and after we go by it too, Mac," Mindy brushes him off, broadly mugging the same thing with her mouth, purse-relax-smile—these jagged openings howling, hauling forlorn and downward, already stories gone beneath the soles of your shoes, a howl bent downward like a harmonica note—but why don't any of the busy floors make a sound going by? where the lights are shining warm as Xmas-week parties, floors that beckon you into densities of glass faceting or screening, good-natured Coffee-urn grousing, well golly, here goes another day, howdy Marie, where you ladies hiding the drawings on the SG-1 . . . what do you mean Field Service has them . . . again? doesn't Engineering Design have any rights, it's like watching your child run away, to see a piece of equipment get set out to the Field (Der Veld). That it is. A broken heart, a mother's prayer. . . . Slowly, the voices of the Lübeck Hitler
Youth Glee Club fade in behind (nowadays the boys sing at officers' clubs all across the Zone under their road name, "The Lederhosen-ers." They are dressed appropriately, and sing—when the house feels right—with their backs turned to the audiences, their sly little faces turned over shoulders to flirt with the fighting men:
But sharper than a Mother's tears Are the beatings Mutti gave to me . . .
with a beautifully coordinated wiggle then to each pair of buttocks gleaming through leather so tight that the clenching of gluteal muscles is plainly visible, and you can bet there isn't a cock in the room doesn't stir at the sight, and scarcely an eye that can't hallucinate that maternal birch smacking down across each naked ass, the delicious red lines, the stern and beautiful female face, smiling down through lowered lashes, only a glint of light off of each eye—when you were first learning to crawl, it was her calves and feet you saw the most of—they replaced her breasts as sources of strength, as you learned the smell of her leather shoes, and the sovereign smell rose as far as you could see—to her knees, perhaps—depending on fashion that year—to her thighs. You were infant in the presence of leather legs, leather feet. . .).
"Isn't it possible," Thanatz whispers, "that we all learned that classical fantasy at Mother's knees? That somewhere tucked in the brain's plush album is always a child in Fauntleroy clothes, a pretty French maid begging to be whipped?"
Ludwig shifts his rather fat ass under Thanatz's hand. Both have perimeters they are not supposed to cross. But they have crept away anyhow, to a piece of the interface, a cold thicket they've pounded down a space in the middle of, to lie on. "Ludwig, a little S and M never hurt anybody."
"Who said that?"
"Sigmund Freud. How do I know? But why are we taught to feel reflexive shame whenever the subject comes up? Why will the Structure allow every other kind of sexual behavior but that one? Because submission and dominance are resources it needs for its very survival. They cannot be wasted in private sex. In any kind of sex. It needs our submission so that it may remain in power. It needs our lusts after dominance so that it can co-opt us into its own power game. There is no joy in it, only power. I tell you, if S and M could be established universally, at the family level, the State would wither away."
This is Sado-anarchism and Thanatz is its leading theoretician in the Zone these days.
It is the Lüneburg Heath, at last. Rendezvous was made last night with the groups carrying fuel and oxidizer tanks. The tail-section group has been on the radio all morning, trying to get a position fix, if the skies will only clear. So the assembly of the 00001 is occurring also in a geographical way, a Diaspora running backwards, seeds of exile flying inward in a modest preview of gravitational collapse, of the Messiah gathering in the fallen sparks. . . . Remember the story about the kid who hates kreplach? Hates and fears the dish, breaks out in these horrible green hives that shift in relief maps all across his body, in the mere presence of kreplach. Kid's mother takes him to the psychiatrist. "Fear of the unknown," diagnoses this gray eminence, "let him watch you making the kreplach, that'll ease him into it." Home to Mother's kitchen. "Now," sez Mother, "I'm going to make us a delicious surprise!" "Oh, boy!" cries the kid, "that's keen, Mom!" "See, now I'm sifting the flour and salt into a nice little pile." "What's that, Mom, hamburger? oh, boy!" "Hamburger, and onions. I'm frying them here, see, in this frying pan." "Making a little volcano in the flour here, and breaking these eggs into it." "Can I help ya mix it up? Oh, boy!" "Now, I'm going to roll the dough out, see? into a nice flat sheet, now I'm cutting it up into squares—" "This is terrif, Mom!" "Now I spoon some of the hamburger into this little square, and now I fold it over into a tri—" "GAAHHHH!" screams the kid, in absolute terror—"kreplach! "
As some secrets were given to the Gypsies to preserve against centrifugal History, and some to the Kabbalists, the Templars, the Rosi-crucians, so have this Secret of the Fearful Assembly, and others, found their ways inside the weatherless spaces of this or that Ethnic Joke. There is also the story about Tyrone Slothrop, who was sent into the Zone to be present at his own assembly—perhaps, heavily paranoid voices have whispered, his time's assembly—and there ought to be a punch line to it, but there isn't. The plan went wrong. He is being broken down instead, and scattered. His cards have been laid down, Celtic style, in the order suggested by Mr. A. E. Waite, laid out and read, but they are the cards of a tanker and feeb: they point only to a long and scuffling future, to mediocrity (not only in his life but also, heh, heh, in his chroniclers too, yes yes nothing like getting the 3 of Pentacles upside down covering the significator on the second try to send you to the tube to watch a seventh rerun of the Takeshi and Ichizo Show, light a cigarette and try to forget the whole thing)—to
no clear Happiness or redeeming cataclysm. All his hopeful cards are reversed, most unhappily of all the Hanged Man, who is supposed to be upside down to begin with, telling of his secret hopes and fears. . . .
"There never was a Dr. Jamf," opines world-renowned analyst Mickey Wuxtry-Wuxtry—"Jamf was only a fiction, to help him explain what he felt so terribly, so immediately in his genitals for those rockets each time exploding in the sky ... to help him deny what he could not possibly admit: that he might be in love, in sexual love, with his, and his race's, death.
"These early Americans, in their way, were a fascinating combination of crude poet and psychic cripple. ..."
"We were never that concerned with Slothrop qua Slothrop," a spokesman for the Counterforce admitted recently in an interview with the Wall Street Journal.
interviewer: You mean, then, that he was more a rallying-point.
SPOKESMAN: No, not even that. Opinion even at the start was divided. It was one of our fatal weaknesses. [I'm sure you want to hear about fatal weaknesses.] Some called him a "pretext." Others felt that he was a genuine, point-for-point microcosm. The Microcosmists, as you must know from the standard histories, leaped off to an early start. We—it was a very odd form of heretic-chasing, really. Across the Low Countries, in the summer. It went on in fields of windmills, marshlands where it was almost too dark to get a decent sight. I recall the time Christian found an old alarm clock, and we salvaged the radium, to coat our plumb-bob strings with. They shone in the twilight. You've seen them holding bobs, hands characteristically gathered near the crotch. A dark figure with a stream of luminescent piss falling to the ground fifty meters away . . . "The Presence, pissing," that became a standard joke on the apprentices. A Raketen-Stadt Charlie Noble, you might say. . . . [Yes. A cute way of putting it. I am betraying them all ... the worst of it is that I know what your editors want, exactly what they want. I am a traitor. I carry it with me. Your virus. Spread by your tireless Typhoid Marys, cruising the markets and the stations. We did manage to ambush some of them. Once we caught some in the Underground. It was terrible. My first action, my initiation. We chased them down the tunnels. We could feel their fright. When the tunnels branched, we had only the treacherous acoustics of the Underground to go on. Chances were good for getting lost. There was almost no light. The rails gleamed, as they do aboveground on a rainy night. And the whispers then—the shadows who waited, hunched in angles at the maintenance stations, lying against the tunnel walls,
watching the chase. "The end is too far," they whispered. "Go back. There are no stops on this branch. The trains run and the passengers ride miles of blank mustard walls, but there are no stops. It's a long afternoon run. ..." Two of them got away. But we took the rest. Between two station-marks, yellow crayon through the years of grease and passage, 1966 and 1971, I tasted my first blood. Do you want to put this part in?] We drank the blood of our enemies. That's why you see Gnostics so hunted. The sacrament of the Eucharist is really drinking the blood of the enemy. The Grail, the Sangraal, is the bloody vehicle. Why else guard it so sacredly? Why should the black honor-guard ride half a continent, half a splintering Empire, stone night and winter day, if it's only for the touch of sweet lips on a humble bowl? No, it's mortal sin they're carrying: to swallow the enemy, down into the slick juicery to be taken in by all the cells. Your officially defined "mortal sin," that is. A sin against you. A section of your penal code, that's all. [The true sin was yours: to interdict that union. To draw that line. To keep us worse than enemies, who are after all caught in the same fields of shit—to keep us strangers.
We drank the blood of our enemies. The blood of our friends, we cherished.]
Item S-1706.31, Fragment of Undershirt, U.S. Navy issue, with brown stain assumed to be blood in shape of sword running lower left to upper right.
Not included in the Book of Memorabilia is this footnote. The piece of cloth was given to Slothrop by Seaman Bodine, one night in the Chicago Bar. In a way, the evening was a reprise of their first meeting. Bodine, smoldering fat reefer stuck in under the strings at the neck of his guitar, singing mournfully a song that's part Roger Mexico's and part some nameless sailor stuck in wartime San Diego:
Last week I threw a pie at someone's Momma,
Last night I threw a party for my mind,
Last thing I knew that 6:02 was screamin' over my head,
Or it might've been th' 11:59 ...
Too many chain-link fences in the evening,
Too many people shiverin' in the rain,
They tell me that you finally got around to have your
baby, And it don't look like I'll see your face again.
Sometimes I wanna go back north, to Humboldt County— Sometimes I think I'll go back east, to see my kin ... There's times I think I almost could be happy, If I knew you thought about me, now and then. ...
Bodine has a siren-ring, the kind kids send away cereal boxtops for, cleverly arranged in his asshole so it can be operated at any time by blowing a fart of a certain magnitude. He's gotten pretty good at punctuating his music with these farted WHEEEEeeee's, working now at getting them in the right key, a brand-new reflex arc, ear-brain-hands-asshole, and a return toward innocence too. The merchants tonight are all dealing a bit slower. Sentimental Bodine thinks it's because they're listening to his song. Maybe they are. Bales of fresh coca leaves just in from the Andes transform the place into some resonant Latin warehouse, on the eve of a revolution that never will come closer than smoke dirtying the sky above the cane, sometimes, in the long lace afternoons at the window. . . . Street urchins are into a Busy Elf Routine, wrapping each leaf around a betel nut, into a neat little packet for chewing. Their reddened fingers are living embers in the shadow. Seaman Bodine looks up suddenly, canny, unshaven face stung by all the smoke and unawareness in the room. He's looking straight at Slothrop (being one of the few who can still see Slothrop as any sort of integral creature any more. Most of the others gave up long ago trying to hold him together, even as a concept—"It's just got too remote" 's what they usually say). Does Bodine now feel his own strength may someday soon not be enough either: that soon, like all the others, he'll have to let go? But somebody's got to hold on, it can't happen to all of us—no, that'd be too much . . . Rocketman, Rocketman. You poor fucker.
"Here. Listen. I want you to have it. Understand? It's yours." Does he even hear any more? Can he see this cloth, this stain? "Look, I was there, in Chicago, when they ambushed him. I was there that night, right down the street from the Biograph, I heard the gunfire, everything. Shit, I was just a boot, I thought this was what liberty was all about, so I went running. Me and half Chicago. Out of the bars, the toilets, the alleys, dames holding their skirts up so they could run faster, Missus Krodobbly who's drinking her way through the Big Depression, waitin' till the sun shines thru, and whatta you know, there's half my graduating class from Great Lakes, in dress blues with the same bedspring marks as mine, and there's longtime hookers and pockmark fags with breath smelling like the inside of a motorman's
glove, old ladies from Back of the Yards, subdebs just out the movies with the sweat still cold on their thighs, gate, everybody was there. They were taking off clothes, tearing checks out of checkbooks, ripping off pieces of each others' newspaper, just so they could soak up some of John Dillinger's blood. We went crazy. The Agents didn't stop us. Just stood with smoke still curling out of their muzzles while the people all went down on that blood in the street. Maybe I went along without thinking. But there was something else. Something I must've needed ... if you can hear me . . . that's why I'm giving this to you. O.K.? That's Dillinger's blood there. Still warm when I got to it. They wouldn't want you thinking he was anything but a 'common criminal'—but Their head's so far up Their ass—he still did what he did. He went out socked Them right in the toilet privacy of Their banks. Who cares what he was thinking about, long as it didn't get in the way? A-and it doesn't even matter why we're doing this, either. Rocky? Yeah, what we need isn't right reasons, but just that grace. The physical grace to keep it working. Courage, brains, sure, O.K., but without that grace? forget it. Do you—please, are you listening? This thing here works. Really does. It worked for me, but I'm out of the Dumbo stage now, I can fly without it. But you. Rocky. You. . . ."
It wasn't their last meeting, but later on there were always others around, doper-crises, resentments about burns real or intended, and by then, as he'd feared, Bodine was beginning, helpless, in shame, to let Slothrop go. In certain rushes now, when he sees white network being cast all directions on his field of vision, he understands it as an emblem of pain or death. He's begun to spend more of his time with Trudi. Their friend Magda was picked up on first-degree mopery and taken back to Leverkusen, and an overgrown back court where electric lines spit overhead, the dusty bricks sprout weeds from the cracks, shutters are always closed, grass and weeds turn to bitterest autumn floor. On certain days the wind brings aspirin-dust from the Bayer factory. The people inhale it, and grow more tranquil.
They both feel her absence. Bodine finds presently that his characteristic gross laugh, hyeugh, hyeugh, has grown more German, tjachz, tjachz. He's also taking on some of Magda's old disguises. Good-natured and penetrable disguises, as at a masked ball. It is a transvestism of caring, and the first time in his life it's happened. Though nobody asks, being too busy dealing, he reckons it's all right.
Light in the sky is stretched and clear, exactly like taffy after no more than the first two pulls.
"Dying a weird death," Slothrop's Visitor by this time may be
scrawled lines of carbon on a wall, voices down a chimney, some human being out on the road, "the object of life is to make sure you die a weird death. To make sure that however it finds you, it will find you under very weird circumstances. To live that kind of life. . . ."
Item S-1729.06, Bottle containing 7 cc. of May wine. Analysis indicates presence of woodruff herb, lemon and orange peel.
Sprigs of woodruff, also known as Master of the Woods, were carried by the early Teutonic warriors. It gives success in battle. It appears that some part of Slothrop ran into the AWOL Džabajev one night in the heart of downtown Niederschaumdorf. (Some believe that fragments of Slothrop have grown into consistent personae of their own. If so, there's no telling which of the Zone's present-day population are offshoots of his original scattering. There's supposed to be a last photograph of him on the only record album ever put out by The Fool, an English rock group—seven musicians posed, in the arrogant style of the early Stones, near an old rocket-bomb site, out in the East End, or South of the River. It is spring, and French thyme blossoms in amazing white lacework across the cape of green that now hides and softens the true shape of the old rubble. There is no way to tell which of the faces is Slothrop's: the only printed credit that might apply to him is "Harmonica, kazoo—a friend." But knowing his Tarot, we would expect to look among the Humility, among the gray and preterite souls, to look for him adrift in the hostile light of the sky, the darkness of the sea. . . .)
Now there's only a long cat's-eye of bleak sunset left over the plain tonight, bright gray against a purple ceiling of clouds, with an iris of darker gray. It is displayed above, more than looking down on, this gathering of Džabajev and his friends. Inside the town, a strange convention is under way. Village idiots from villages throughout Germany are streaming in (streaming from mouth as well as leaving behind high-pitched trails of color for the folks to point at in their absence). They are expected to pass a resolution tonight asking Great Britain for Commonwealth status, and perhaps even to apply for membership in the UNO. Children in the parish schools are being asked to pray for their success. Can 13 years of Vatican collaboration have clarified the difference between what's holy and what is not? Another State is forming in the night, not without theatre and festivity. So tonight's prevalence of Maitrinke, which Džabajev has managed to score several liters of. Let the village idiots celebrate. Let their holiness ripple into interference-patterns till it clog the lantern-light of the meeting hall.
Let the chorus line perform heroically: 16 ragged staring oldtimers who shuffle aimlessly about the stage, jerking off in unison, waggling penises in mock quarter-staffing, brandishing in twos and threes their green-leaved poles, exposing amazing chancres and lesions, going off in fountains of sperm strung with blood that splash over glazed trouser-pleats, dirt-colored jackets with pockets dangling like 60-year-old breasts, sockless ankles permanently stained with the dust of the little squares and the depopulated streets. Let them cheer and pound their seats, let the brotherly spit flow: Tonight the Džabajev circle have acquired, through an ill-coordinated smash-and-grab at the Home of Niederschaumdorf's only doctor, a gigantic hypodermic syringe and needle. Tonight they will shoot wine. If the police are on the way, if far down the road certain savage ears can already pick up the rumble of an occupation convoy across the night kilometers, signaling past sight, past the first headlamp's faintest scattering, the approach of danger, still no one here is likely to break the circle. The wine will operate on whatever happens. Didn't you wake up to find a knife in your hand, your head down a toilet, the blur of a long sap about to smash your upper lip, and sink back down to the old red and capillaried nap where none of this could possibly be happening? and wake again to a woman screaming, again to the water of the canal freezing your drowned eye and ear, again to too many Fortresses diving down the sky, again, again. . . . But no, never real.
A wine rush: a wine rush is defying gravity, finding yourself on the elevator ceiling as it rockets upward, and no way to get down. You separate in two, the basic Two, and each self is aware of the other.
the occupation of mingeborough
The trucks come rolling down the hill, where the State highway narrows, at about three in the afternoon. All their headlights are on. Electric stare after stare topping the crest of the hill, between the maple trees. The noise is terrific. Gearboxes chatter as each truck hits the end of the grade, weary cries of "Double-clutch it, idiot!" come from under the canvas. An apple tree by the road is in blossom. The limbs are wet with this morning's rain, dark and wet. Sitting under it, with anyone else but Slothrop, is a barelegged girl, blonde and brown as honey. Her name is Marjorie. Hogan will come Home from the Pacific and court her, but he'll lose out to Pete Dufay. She and Dufay will have a daughter named Kim, and Kim will have her braids dipped in the school ink-wells by young Hogan, Jr. It will all go on, occupation or not, with or without Uncle Tyrone.
There's more rain in the air. The soldiers are mustering by Hicks's Garage. In the back lot is a greasy dump, a pit, full of ball-bearings, clutch plates, and pieces of transmission. In the parking lot below— shared with the green-trimmed candy store, where he waited for the first slice of very yellow schoolbus to appear each 3:15 around the corner, and knew which high-school kids were easy marks for pennies— are six or seven old Cord automobiles, in different stages of dustiness and breakdown. Souvenirs of young empire, they shine like hearses now in the premonition of rain. Work details are already putting up barricades, and a scavenging party has invaded the gray clapboards of Pizzini's Store, standing big as a barn on the corner. Kids hanging around the loading platform, eating sunflower seeds out of burlap sacks, listen to the soldiers liberating sides of beef from Pizzini's freezer. If Slothrop wants to get home from here, he has to slide into a pathway next to the two-story brick wall of Hicks's Garage, a green path whose entrance is concealed behind the trash-fire of the store, and the frame shed where Pizzini keeps his delivery truck. You cut through two lots which aren't platted exactly back to back, so that actually you're skirting one fence and using a driveway. They are both amber and black old ladies' houses, full of cats alive or stuffed, stained lampshades, antimacassars and doilies on all the chairs and tables, and a terminal gloom. You have to cross a street then, go down Mrs. Snodd's driveway beside the hollyhocks, through a wire gate and San-tora's back yard, over the rail fence where the hedge stops, across your own street, and Home. . . .
But there is the occupation. They may already have interdicted the kids' short cuts along with the grown-up routes. It may be too late to get Home.
back in der platz
Gustav and Andre, back from Cuxhaven, have unscrewed the reed-holder and reed from Andre's kazoo and replaced them with tinfoil— punched holes in the tinfoil, and are now smoking hashish out of the kazoo, finger-valving the small end pa-pa-pah to carburete the smoke—turns out sly Säure has had ex-Peenemünde engineers, propulsion-group people, working on a long-term study of optimum hashpipe design, and guess what—in terms of flow rate, heat-transfer, control of air-to-smoke ratio, the perfect shape turns out to be that of the classical kazoo!
Yeah, another odd thing about the kazoo: the knuckle-thread above the reed there is exactly the same as a thread in a light-bulb
socket. Gustav, good old Captain Horror, wearing a liberated pair of very yellow English shooting-glasses ("Helps you find the vein easier, I guess"), likes to proclaim this as the clear signature of Phoebus. "You fools think the kazoo is a subversive instrument? Here—" he always packs a light bulb on his daily rounds, no use passing up an opportunity to depress the odd dopefiend . . . deftly screwing the light bulb flush against the reed, muting it out, "You see? Phoebus is even behind the kazoo. Ha! ha! ha!" Schadenfreude, worse than a prolonged onion fart, seeps through the room.
But what Gustav's light bulb—none other than our friend Byron— wants to say is no, it's not that way at all, it's a declaration of brotherhood by the Kazoo for all the captive and oppressed light bulbs. . . .
There is a movie going on, under the rug. On the floor, 24 hours a day, pull back the rug sure enough there's that damn movie! A really offensive and tasteless film by Gerhardt von Göll, daily rushes in fact from a project which will never be completed. Springer just plans to keep it going indefinitely there, under the rug. The title is New Dope, and that's what it's about, a brand new kind of dope that nobody's ever heard of. One of the most annoying characteristics of the shit is that the minute you take it you are rendered incapable of ever telling anybody what it's like, or worse, where to get any. Dealers are as in the dark as anybody. All you can hope is that you'll come across somebody in the act of taking (shooting? smoking? swallowing?) some. It is the dope that finds you, apparently. Part of a reverse world whose agents run around with guns which are like vacuum cleaners operating in the direction of life—pull the trigger and bullets are sucked back out of the recently dead into the barrel, and the Great Irreversible is actually reversed as the corpse comes to life to the accompaniment of a backwards gunshot (you can imagine what drug-ravaged and mindless idea of fun the daily sound editing on this turns out to be). Titles flash on such as
And here he is himself, the big ham, sitting on the toilet, a ... well what appears to be an unusually large infant's training toilet, up between the sitter's legs rises the porcelain head of a jackal with what, embarrassingly, proves to be a reefer, in its rather loosely smiling mouth— "Through evil and eagles," blithers the Springer, "the climate blondes its way, for they are no strength under the coarse war. No not for roguery until the monitors are there in Washing sheets of earth to mate and say medoshnicka bleelar medoometnozz in berg-
arnot and playful fantasy under the throne and nose of the least merciful king. ..." well, there is a good deal of this sort of thing, and a good time to nip out for popcorn, which in the Platz turn out to be morning-glory seeds popped into little stilled brown explosions. None of the regular company here actually watch the movie under the rug much—only visitors passing through: friends of Magda, defectors from the great aspirin factory in Leverkusen, over in the corner there dribbling liberated cornstarch and water on each other's naked bodies, giggling unhealthily . . . devotees of the I Ching who have a favorite hexagram tattooed on each toe, who can never stay in one place for long, can you guess why? Because they always have I Ching feet! also stumblebum magicians who can't help leaving themselves wide open for disastrous visits from Qlippoth, Ouija-board jokesters, poltergeists, all kinds of astral-plane tankers and feebs—yeah they're all showing up at Der Platz these days. But the alternative is to start keeping some out and not others, and nobody's ready for that. . . . Decisions like that are for some angel stationed very high, watching us at our many perversities, crawling across black satin, gagging on whip-handles, licking the blood from a lover's vein-hit, all of it, every lost giggle or sigh, being carried on under a sentence of death whose deep beauty the angel has never been close to. ...
Weissmann's Tarot is better than Slothrop's. Here are the real cards, exactly as they came up.
Significator: Knight of Swords
Covered by: The Tower
Crossed by: Queen of Swords
Crowning: King of Cups
Beneath: Ace of Swords
Before: 4 of Cups
Behind: 4 of Pentacles
Self: Page of Pentacles
House: 8 of Cups
Hopes and Fears: 2 of Swords
What will come: The World
He appears first with boots and insignia shining as the rider on a black horse, charging in a gallop neither he nor horse can control, across the heath over the giant grave-mounds, scattering the black-faced sheep, while dark stands of juniper move dreamily, death-loving, across his path in a parallax of unhurrying fatality, presiding as
monuments do over the green and tan departure of summer, the dust-colored lowlands and at last the field-gray sea, a prairie of sea darkening to purple where the sunlight comes through, in great circles, spotlights on a dancing-floor.
He is the father you will never quite manage to kill. The Oedipal situation in the Zone these days is terrible. There is no dignity. The mothers have been masculinized to old worn moneybags of no sexual interest to anyone, and yet here are their sons, still trapped inside inertias of lust that are 40 years out of date. The fathers have no power today and never did, but because 40 years ago we could not kill them, we are condemned now to the same passivity, the same masochist fantasies they cherished in secret, and worse, we are condemned in our weakness to impersonate men of power our own infant children must hate, and wish to usurp the place of, and fail. ... So generation after generation of men in love with pain and passivity serve out their time in the Zone, silent, redolent of faded sperm, terrified of dying, desperately addicted to the comforts others sell them, however useless, ugly or shallow, willing to have life defined for them by men whose only talent is for death.
Of 77 cards that could have come up, Weissmann is "covered," that is his present condition is set forth, by The Tower. It is a puzzling card, and everybody has a different story on it. It shows a bolt of lightning striking a tall phallic structure, and two figures, one wearing a crown, falling from it. Some read ejaculation, and leave it at that. Others see a Gnostic or Cathar symbol for the Church of Rome, and this is generalized to mean any System which cannot tolerate heresy: a system which, by its nature, must sooner or later fall. We know by now that it is also the Rocket.
Members of the Order of the Golden Dawn believe The Tower represents victory over splendor, and avenging force. As Goebbels, beyond all his professional verbalizing, believed in the Rocket as an avenger.
On the Kabbalist Tree of life, the path of The Tower connects the sephira Netzach, victory, with Hod, glory or splendor. Hence the Golden Dawn interpretation. Netzach is fiery and emotional, Hod is watery and logical. On the body of God, these two Sephiroth are the thighs, the pillars of the Temple, resolving together in Yesod, the sex and excretory organs.
But each of the Sephiroth is also haunted by its proper demons or Qlippoth. Netzach by the Ghorab Tzerek, the Ravens of Death, and Hod by the Samael, the Poison of God. No one has asked the demons
at either level, but there may be just the wee vulnerability here to a sensation of falling, the kind of very steep and out-of-scale fall we find in dreams, a falling more through space than among objects. Though the different Qlippoth can only work each his own sort of evil, activity on the path of The Tower, from Netzach to Hod, seems to've resulted in the emergence of a new kind of demon (what, a dialectical Tarot? Yes indeedyfoax! A-and if you don't think there are Marxist-Leninist magicians around, well you better think again!). The Ravens of Death have now tasted of the Poison of God . . . but in doses small enough not to sicken but to bring on, like the Amanita muscaria, a very peculiar state of mind. . . . They have no official name, but they are the Rocket's guardian demons.
Weissmann is crossed by the Queen of his suit. Perhaps himself, in drag. She is the chief obstacle in his way. At his foundation is the single sword flaming inside the crown: again, Netzach, victory. In the American deck this card has come down to us as the ace of spades, which is a bit more sinister: you know the silence that falls on the room when it comes up, whatever the game. Behind him, moving out of his life as an influence, is the 4 or Four of Pentacles, which shows a figure of modest property desperately clutching on to what he owns, four gold coins—this feeb is holding two of them down with his feet, balancing another on his head and holding the fourth tightly against his stomach, which is ulcerous. It is the stationary witch trying to hold her candy house against the host of nibblers out there in the dark. Moving in, before him, comes a feast of cups, a satiety. Lotta booze and broads for Weissmann coming soon. Good for him—although in his house he is seen walking away, renouncing eight stacked gold chalices. Perhaps he is to be given only what he must walk away from. Perhaps it is because in the lees of the night's last cup is the bitter presence of a woman sitting by a rocky shore, the Two of Swords, alone at the Baltic edge, blindfolded in the moonlight, holding the two blades crossed upon her breasts . . . the meaning is usually taken as "concord in a state of arms," a good enough description of the Zone nowadays, and it describes his deepest hopes, or fears.
Himself, as the World sees him: the scholarly young Page of Pentacles, meditating on his magic gold talisman. The Page may also be used to stand for a young girl. But Pentacles describe people of very dark complexion, and so the card almost certainly is Enzian as a young man. And Weissmann may at last, in this limited pasteboard way, have become what he first loved.
The King of Cups, crowning his hopes, is the fair intellectual-king.
If you're wondering where he's gone, look among the successful academics, the Presidential advisers, the token intellectuals who sit on boards of directors. He is almost surely there. Look high, not low. His future card, the card of what will come, is The World.
the last green and magenta
The Heath grows green and magenta in all directions, earth and heather, coming of age— No. It was spring.
In a field, beyond the clearing and the trees, the last horse is standing, tarnished silver-gray, hardly more than an assembling of shadows. The heathen Germans who lived here sacrificed horses once, in their old ceremonies. Later the horse's role changed from holy offering to servant of power. By then a great change was working on the Heath, kneading, turning, stirring with fingers strong as wind.
Now that sacrifice has become a political act, an act of Caesar, the last horse cares only about how the wind starts up this afternoon: rises at first, and tries to stick, to catch, but fails . . . each time, the horse feels a similar rising in his heart, at the edges of eye, ear, brain. . . . Finally, at the sure catching of the wind, which is also a turning in the day, his head rises, and a shiver comes over him—possesses him. His tail lashes at the clear elusive flesh of the wind. The sacrifice in the grove is beginning.
There is an Aggadic tradition from around the 4th century that Isaac, at the moment Abraham was about to sacrifice him on Moriah, saw the antechambers of the Throne. For the working mystic, having the vision and passing through the chambers one by one, is terrible and complex. You must have not only the schooling in countersigns and seals, not only the physical readiness through exercise and abstinence, but also a hardon of resolution that will never go limp on you. The angels at the doorways will try to con you, threaten you, play all manner of cruel practical jokes, to turn you aside. The Qlippoth, shells of the dead, will use all your love for friends who have passed across against you. You have chosen the active way, and there is no faltering without finding the most mortal danger.
The other way is dark and female, passive, self-abandoning. Isaac
under the blade. The glittering edge widening to a hallway, down, up which the soul is borne by an irresistible Aether. Gerhardt von Göll on his camera dolly, whooping with joy, barrel-assing down the long corridors at Nymphenburg. (Let us leave him here, in his transport, in his innocence. . . .) The numinous light grows ahead, almost blue among all this gilt and glass. The gilders worked naked and had their heads shaved bald—to get a static charge to hold the fluttering leaf they had first to run the brush through their pubic hair: genital electricity would shine forever down these gold vistas. But we have long left mad Ludwig and his Spanish dancer guttering, fading scarlet across the marble, shining so treacherously like sweet water ... already that lies behind. The ascent to the Merkabah, despite his last feeble vestiges of manhood, last gestures toward the possibility of magic, is irreversibly on route. ...
A giant white fly: an erect penis buzzing in white lace, clotted with blood or sperm. Deathlace is the boy's bridal costume. His smooth feet, bound side by side, are in white satin slippers with white bows. His red nipples are erect. The golden hairs on his back, alloyed German gold, pale yellow to white, run symmetric about his spine, run in arches fine and whirled as the arches of a fingerprint, as filings along magnetic lines of force. Each freckle or mole is a dark, precisely-set anomaly in the field. Sweat gathers at his nape. He is gagged with a white kid glove. Weissmann has engineered all the symbolism today. The glove is the female equivalent of the Hand of Glory, which second-story men use to light their way into your Home: a candle in a dead man's hand, erect as all your tissue will grow at the first delicious tongue-flick of your mistress Death. The glove is the cavity into which the Hand fits, as the 00000 is the womb into which Gottfried returns.
Stuff him in. Not a Procrustean bed, but modified to take him. The two, boy and Rocket, concurrently designed. Its steel hindquarters bent so beautifully ... he fits well. They are mated to each other, Schwarzgerät and next higher assembly. His bare limbs in their metal bondage writhe among the fuel, oxidizer, live-steam lines, thrust frame, compressed air battery, exhaust elbow, decomposer, tanks, vents, valves . . . and one of these valves, one test-point, one pressure-switch is the right one, the true clitoris, routed directly into the nervous system of the 00000. She should not be a mystery to you, Gottfried. Find the zone of love, lick and kiss . . . you have time—
there are still a few minutes. The liquid oxygen runs freezing so close to your cheek, bones of frost to burn you past feeling. Soon there will be the fires, too. The Oven we fattened you for will glow. Here is the sergeant, bringing the Zündkreuz. The pyrotechnic Cross to light you off. The men are at attention. Get ready, Liebchen.
He's been given a window of artificial sapphire, four inches across, grown by the IG in 1942 as a mushroom-shaped boule, a touch of cobalt added to give it a greenish tint—very heat-resistant, transparent to most visible frequencies—it warps the images of sky and clouds outside, but pleasantly, like Ochsen-Augen in Grandmother's day, the days before window-glass. . . .
Part of the vaporized oxygen is routed through Gottfried's Imi-polex shroud. In one of his ears, a tiny speaker has been surgically implanted. It shines like a pretty earring. The data link runs through the radio-guidance system, and the words of Weissmann are to be, for a while, multiplexed with the error-corrections sent out to the Rocket. But there's no return channel from Gottfried to the ground. The exact moment of his death will never be known.
At long last, after a distinguished career of uttering, "My God, we are too late!" always with the trace of a sneer, a pro-forma condescension—because of course he never arrives too late, there's always a reprieve, a mistake by one of the Yellow Adversary's hired bunglers, at worst a vital clue to be found next to the body—now, finally, Sir Denis Nayland Smith will arrive, my God, too late.
Superman will swoop boots-first into a deserted clearing, a launcher-erector sighing oil through a slow seal-leak, gum evoked from the trees, bitter manna for this bitterest of passages. The colors of his cape will wilt in the afternoon sun, curls on his head begin to show their first threads of gray. Philip Marlowe will suffer a horrible migraine and reach by reflex for the pint of rye in his suit pocket, and feel Homesick for the lacework balconies of the Bradbury Building.
Submariner and his multilingual gang will run into battery trouble. Plasticman will lose his way among the Imipolex chains, and topolo-gists all over the Zone will run out and stop payments on his honorarium checks ("perfectly deformable," indeed!) The Lone Ranger will storm in at the head of a posse, rowels tearing blood from the stallion's white hide, to find his young friend, innocent Dan, swinging from
a tree limb by a broken neck. (Tonto, God willing, will put on the ghost shirt and find some cold fire to hunker down by to sharpen his knife.)
"Too late" was never in their programming. They find instead a moment's suspending of their sanity—but then it's over with, whew, and it's back to the trail, back to the Daily Planet. Yes Jimmy, it must've been the day I ran into that singularity, those few seconds of absolute mystery . . . you know Jimmy, time—time is a funny thing. . . . There'll be a thousand ways to forget. The heroes will go on, kicked upstairs to oversee the development of bright new middle-line personnel, and they will watch their system falling apart, watch those singularities begin to come more and more often, proclaiming another dispensation out of the tissue of old-fashioned time, and they'll call it cancer, and just won't know what things are coming to, or what's the meaning of it all, Jimmy. . . .
These days, he finds he actually misses the dogs. Who would have thought he'd ever feel sentimental over a pack of slobbering curs? But here in the Sub-ministry all is so odorless, touchless. The sensory deprivation, for a while, did stimulate his curiosity. For a while he kept a faithful daily record of his physiological changes. But this was mostly remembering about Pavlov on his own deathbed, recording himself till the end. With Pointsman it's only habit, retro-scientism: a last look back at the door to Stockholm, closing behind him forever. The entries began to fall off, and presently stopped. He signed reports, he supervised. He traveled to other parts of England, later to other countries, to scout for fresh talent. In the faces of Mossmoon and the others, at odd moments, he could detect a reflex he'd never allowed himself to dream of: the tolerance of men in power for one who never Made His Move, or made it wrong. Of course there are still moments of creative challenge—
Yes, well, he's an ex-scientist now, one who'll never get Into It far enough to start talking about God, apple-cheeked lovable white-haired eccentric gabbing from the vantage of his Laureate—no he'll be left only with Cause and Effect, and the rest of his sterile armamentarium . . . his mineral corridors do not shine. They will stay the same neutral nameless tone from here in to the central chamber, and the perfectly rehearsed scene he is to play there, after all. ...
The countdown as we know it, 10-9-8-u.s.w., was invented by Fritz Lang in 1929 for the Ufa film Die Frau im Mond. He put it into the
launch scene to heighten the suspense. "It is another of my damned 'touches,' " Fritz Lang said.
"At the Creation," explains Kabbalist spokesman Steve Edelman, "God sent out a pulse of energy into the void. It presently branched and sorted into ten distinct spheres or aspects, corresponding to the numbers 1-10. These are known as the Sephiroth. To return to God, the soul must negotiate each of the Sephiroth, from ten back to one. Armed with magic and faith, Kabbalists have set out to conquer the Sephiroth. Many Kabbalist secrets have to do with making the trip successfully.
"Now the Sephiroth fall into a pattern, which is called the Tree of Life. It is also the body of God. Drawn among the ten spheres are 22 paths. Each path corresponds to a letter of the Hebrew alphabet, and also to one of the cards called 'Major Arcana' in the Tarot. So although the Rocket countdown appears to be serial, it actually conceals the Tree of life, which must be apprehended all at once, together, in parallel.
"Some Sephiroth are active or masculine, others passive or feminine. But the Tree itself is a unity, rooted exactly at the Bodenplatte. It is the axis of a particular Earth, a new dispensation, brought into being by the Great Firing."
"But but with a new axis, a newly spinning Earth," it occurs to the visitor, "what happens to astrology?"
"The signs change, idiot," snaps Edelman, reaching for his family-size jar of Thorazine. He has become such a habitual user of this tran-quilizing drug that his complexion has deepened to an alarming slate-purple. It makes him an oddity on the street here, where everybody else walks around suntanned, and red-eyed from one irritant or another. Edelman's children, mischievous little devils, have lately taken to slipping wafer capacitors from junked transistor radios into Pop's Thorazine jar. To his inattentive eye there was hardly any difference: so, for a while, Edelman thought he must be developing a tolerance, and that the Abyss had crept intolerably close, only an accident away—a siren in the street, a jet plane rumbling in a holding pattern— but luckily his wife discovered the prank in time, and now, before he swallows, he is careful to scrutinize each Thorazine for leads, mu's, numbering.
"Here—" hefting a fat Xeroxed sheaf, "the Ephemeris. Based on the new rotation."
"You mean someone's actually found the Bodenplatte? The Pole?"
"The delta-t itself. It wasn't made public, naturally. The 'Kaisers-bart Expedition' found it."
A pseudonym, evidently. Everyone knows the Kaiser has no beard.
strung into the apollonian dream ...
When something real is about to happen to you, you go toward it with a transparent surface parallel to your own front that hums and bisects both your ears, making eyes very alert. The light bends toward chalky blue. Your skin aches. At last: something real.
Here in the tail section of the 00000, Gottfried has found this clear surface before him in fact, literal: the Imipolex shroud. Flotsam from his childhood are rising through his attention. He's remembering the skin of an apple, bursting with nebulae, a look into curved reddening space. His eyes taken on and on, and further. . . . The plastic surface flutters minutely: gray-white, mocking, an enemy of color.
The day outside is raw and the victim lightly dressed, but he feels warm in here. His white stockings stretch nicely from his suspender-tabs. He has found a shallow bend in a pipe where he can rest his cheek as he gazes into the shroud. He feels his hair tickling his back, his bared shoulders. It's a dim, whited room. A room for lying in, bridal and open to the pallid spaces of the evening, waiting for whatever will fall on him.
Phone traffic drones into his wired ear. The voices are metal and drastically filtered. They buzz like the voices of surgeons, heard as you're going under ether. Though they now only speak the ritual words, he can still tell them apart.
The soft smell of Imipolex, wrapping him absolutely, is a smell he knows. It doesn't frighten him. It was in the room when he fell asleep so long ago, so deep in sweet paralyzed childhood ... it was there as he began to dream. Now it is time to wake, into the breath of what was always real. Come, wake. All is well.
orpheus puts down harp
LOS ANGELES (PNS)—Richard M. Zhlubb, night manager of the Orpheus Theatre on Melrose, has come out against what he calls "irresponsible use of the harmonica." Or, actually, "harbodica," since Manager Zhlubb suffers from a chronic adenoidal condition, which affects his speech. Friends and detractors alike think of him as "the Adenoid." Anyway, Zhlubb states that his queues, especially for mid-
night showings, have fallen into a state of near anarchy because of the musical instrument.
"It's been going on ever since our Bengt Ekerot / Maria Casarès Film Festival," complains Zhlubb, who is fiftyish and jowled, with a permanent five-o'clock shadow (the worst by far of all the Hourly Shadows), and a habit of throwing his arms up into an inverted "peace sign," which also happens to be semaphore code for the letter U, exposing in the act uncounted yards of white French cuff.
"Here, Richard," jeers a passerby, "I got your French cuff, right here," meanwhile exposing himself in the grossest possible way and manipulating his foreskin in a manner your correspondent cannot set upon his page.
Manager Zhlubb winces slightly. "That's one of the ringleaders, definitely," he confides. "I've had a lot of trouble with him. Him and that Steve Edelman." He pronounces it "Edelbid." "I'b dot afraid to dabe dabes."
The case he refers to is still pending. Steve Edelman, a Hollywood Businessman, accused last year of an 11569 (Attempted Mopery with a Subversive Instrument), is currently in Atascadero under indefinite observation. It is alleged that Edelman, in an unauthorized state of mind, attempted to play a chord progression on the Department of Justice list, out in the street and in the presence of a whole movie-queue of witnesses.
"A-and now they're all doing it. Well, not 'all,' let me just clarify that, of course the actual lawbreakers are only a small but loud minority, what I meant to say was, all those like Edelman. Certainly not all those good folks in the queue. A-ha-ha. Here, let me show you something."
He ushers you into the black Managerial Volkswagen, and before you know it, you're on the freeways. Near the interchange of the San Diego and the Santa Monica, Zhlubb points to a stretch of pavement: "Here's where I got my first glimpse of one. Driving a VW, just like mine. Imagine. I couldn't believe my eyes." But it is difficult to keep one's whole attention centered on Manager Zhlubb. The Santa Monica Freeway is traditionally the scene of every form of automotive folly known to man. It is not white and well-bred like the San Diego, nor as treacherously engineered as the Pasadena, nor quite as ghetto-suicidal as the Harbor. No, one hesitates to say it, but the Santa Monica is a freeway for freaks, and they are all out today, making it difficult for you to follow the Manager's entertaining story. You cannot repress a
certain shudder of distaste, almost a reflexive Consciousness of Kind, in their presence. They come gibbering in at you from all sides, swarming in, rolling their eyes through the side windows, playing harmonicas and even kazoos, in full disrespect for the Prohibitions.
"Relax," the Manager's eyes characteristically aglitter. "There'll be a nice secure Home for them all, down in Orange County. Right next to Disneyland," pausing then exactly like a nightclub comic, alone in his tar circle, his chalk terror.
Laughter surrounds you. Full, faithful-audience laughter, coming from the four points of the padded interior. You realize, with a vague sense of dismay, that this is some kind of a stereo rig here, and a glance inside the glove compartment reveals an entire library of similar tapes: CHEERING (AFFECTIONATE), CHEERING (AROUSED), HOSTILE MOB in an assortment of 22 languages, YESES, NOES, NEGRO SUPPORTERS, WOMEN SUPPORTERS, ATHLETIC—oh, come now—FIRE-FIGHT
(conventional), fire-fight (nuclear), fire-fight (urban), cathedral acoustics. . . .
"We have to talk in some kind of code, naturally," continues the Manager. "We always have. But none of the codes is that hard to break. Opponents have accused us, for just that reason, of contempt for the people. But really we do it all in the spirit of fair play. We're not monsters. We know we have to give them some chance. We can't take hope away from them, can we?"
The Volkswagen is now over downtown L.A., where the stream of traffic edges aside for a convoy of dark Lincolns, some Fords, even GMCs, but not a Pontiac in the lot. Stuck on each windshield and rear window is a fluorescent orange strip that reads FUNERAL.
The Manager's sniffling now. "He was one of the best. I couldn't go myself, but I did send a high-level assistant. Who'll ever replace him, I wonder," punching a sly button under the dash. The laughter this time is sparse male oh-hoho's with an edge of cigar smoke and aged bourbon. Sparse but loud. Phrases like "Dick, you character!" and "Listen to him," can also be made out.
"I have a fantasy about how I'll die. I suppose you're on their payroll, but that's all right. Listen to this. It's 3 a.m., on the Santa Monica Freeway, a warm night. All my windows are open. I'm doing about 70, 75. The wind blows in, and from the floor in back lifts a thin plastic bag, a common dry-cleaning bag: it comes floating in the air, moving from behind, the mercury lights turning it white as a ghost... it wraps around my head, so superfine and transparent I don't know it's
there really until too late. A plastic shroud, smothering me to my death...."
Heading up the Hollywood Freeway, between a mysteriously-canvased trailer rig and a liquid-hydrogen tanker sleek as a torpedo, we come upon a veritable caravan of harmonica players. "At least it's not those tambourines," Zhlubb mutters. "There aren't as many tambourines as last year, thank God."
Quilted-steel catering trucks crisscross in the afternoon. Their ripples shine like a lake of potable water after hard desert passage. It's a Collection Day, and the garbage trucks are all heading north toward the Ventura Freeway, a catharsis of dumpsters, all hues, shapes and batterings. Returning to the Center, with all the gathered fragments of the Vessels. . . .
The sound of a siren takes you both unaware. Zhlubb looks up sharply into his mirror. "You're not holding, are you?"
But the sound is greater than police. It wraps the concrete and the smog, it fills the basin and mountains further than any mortal could ever move . . . could move in time. ...
"I don't think that's a police siren." Your guts in a spasm, you reach for the knob of the AM radio. "I don't think—"
"Räumen," cries Captain Blicero. Peroxide and permanganate tanks have been serviced. The gyros are run up. Observers crouch down in the slit trenches. Tools and fittings are stashed rattling in the back of an idling lorry. The battery-loading crew and the sergeant who screwed in the percussion pin climb in after, and the truck hauls away down the fresh brown ruts of earth, into the trees. Blicero remains for a few seconds at launch position, looking around to see that all is in order. Then he turns away and walks, with deliberate speed, to the fire-control car.
"Steuerung klar?" he asks the boy at the steering panel.
"1st klar." In the lights from the panel, Max's face is hard, stubborn gold.
"Ist klar," from Moritz at the rocket motor panel. Into the phone dangling at his neck, he tells the Operations Room, "Luftlage klar."
"Schlüssel auf SCHIESSEN," orders Blicero.
Moritz turns the main key to fire. "Schlüssel steht auf SCHIESSEN."
There ought to be big dramatic pauses here. Weissmann's head ought to be teeming with last images of creamy buttocks knotted together in fear (not one trickle of shit, Liebchen?) the last curtain of gold lashes over young eyes pleading, gagged throat trying to say too late what he should have said in the tent last night . . . deep in the throat, the gullet, where Blicero's own cock's head has burst for the last time (but what's this just past the spasming cervix, past the Curve Into The Darkness The Stink The . . . The White . . . The Corner . . . Waiting . . . Waiting For—). But no, the ritual has its velvet grip on them all. So strong, so warm. . . .
"Durchschalten." Blicero's voice is calm and steady.
"Luftlage klar," Max calls from the steering panel.
Moritz presses the button marked VORSTUFE. "1st durchge-schaltet."
A pause of 15 seconds while the oxygen tank comes up to pressure. A light blazes up on Moritz's panel.
Entlüftung. "Beluftung klar."
The ignition lamp lights: Zundung. "Zundung klar."
Then, "Vorstufe klar." Vorstufe is the last position from which Moritz can still switch backward. The flame grows at the base of the Rocket. Colors develop. There is a period of four seconds here, four seconds of indeterminacy. The ritual even has a place for that. The difference between a top-grade launch officer and one doomed to mediocrity is in knowing exactly when, inside this chiming and fable-crowded passage, to order Hauptstufe.
Blicero is a master. He learned quite early to fall into a trance, to wait for the illumination, which always comes. It is nothing he's ever spoken of aloud.
"Hauptstufe ist gegeben."
The panel is latched forever.
Two lights wink out. "Stecker 1 und 2 gefallen," Moritz reports. The Stotz plugs lie blasted on the ground, tossing in the splash of flame. On gravity feed, the flame is bright yellow. Then the turbine begins to roar. The flame suddenly turns blue. The sound of it grows to full cry. The Rocket stays a moment longer on the steel table, then slowly, trembling, furiously muscular, it begins to rise. Four seconds later it begins to pitch over. But the flame is too bright for anyone to see Gottfried inside, except now as an erotic category, hallucinated out of that blue violence, for purposes of self-arousal.
This ascent will be betrayed to Gravity. But the Rocket engine, the deep cry of combustion that jars the soul, promises escape. The victim, in bondage to falling, rises on a promise, a prophecy, of Escape. . . .
Moving now toward the kind of light where at last the apple is apple-colored. The knife cuts through the apple like a knife cutting an apple. Everything is where it is, no clearer than usual, but certainly more present. So much has to be left behind now, so quickly. Pressed down-and-aft in his elastic bonds, pressed painfully (his pectorals ache, an inner thigh has frozen numb) till his forehead is bent to touch one knee, where his hair rubs in a touch crying or submissive as a balcony empty in the rain, Gottfried does not wish to cry out... he knows they can't hear him, but still he prefers not to ... no radio back to them . . . it was done as a favor, Blicero wanted to make it easier for me, he knew I'd try to hold on—hold each voice, each hum or crackle—
He thinks of their love in illustrations for children, in last thin pages fluttering closed, a line gently, passively unfinished, a pastel hesitancy: Blicero's hair is darker, shoulder-length and permanently waved, he is an adolescent squire or page looking into an optical device and beckoning the child Gottfried with a motherly or eager-to-educate look . . . now he is far away, seated, at the end of an olive room, past shapes going out of focus, shapes Gottfried can't identify as friend or enemy, between him and—where did he—it's already gone, no ... they're beginning to slide away now faster than he can hold, it's like falling to sleep—they begin to blur CATCH you can hold it steady enough to see a suspender-belt straining down your thighs, white straps as slender as the legs of a fawn and the points of the black . . . the black CATCH you've let a number of them go by, Gottfried, important ones you didn't want to miss . . . you know this is the last time . . . CATCH when did the roaring stop? Brennschluss, when was Brennschluss it can't be this soon . . . but the burnt-out tail-opening is swinging across the sun and through the blonde hair of the victim here's a Brocken-specter, someone's, something's shadow projected from out here in the bright sun and darkening sky into the regions of gold, of whitening, of growing still as underwater as Gravity dips away briefly . . . what is this death but a whitening, a carrying of whiteness to ultrawhite, what is it but bleaches, detergents, oxidizers, abrasives— Streckefuss he's been today to the boy's tormented muscles, but more
appropriately is he Blicker, Bleicheröde, Bleacher, Blicero, extending, rarefying the Caucasian pallor to an abolition of pigment, of melanin, of spectrum, of separateness from shade to shade, it is so white that CATCH the dog was a red setter, the last dog's head, the kind dog come to see him off can't remember what red meant, the pigeon he chased was slateblue, but they're both white now beside the canal that night the smell of trees oh I didn'? want to lose that night CATCH a wave between houses, across a street, both houses are ships, one's going off on a long, an important journey, and the waving is full of ease and affection CATCH last word from Blicero: "The edge of evening . . . the long curve of people all wishing on the first star. . . . Always remember those men and women along the thousands of miles of land and sea. The true moment of shadow is the moment in which you see the point of light in the sky. The single point, and the Shadow that has just gathered you in its sweep ..."
The first star hangs between his feet.
The rhythmic clapping resonates inside these walls, which are hard and glossy as coal: Come-on! Start-the-sho-w! Come-on! Start-the-show! The screen is a dim page spread before us, white and silent. The film has broken, or a projector bulb has burned out. It was difficult even for us, old fans who've always been at the movies (haven't we?) to tell which before the darkness swept in. The last image was too immediate for any eye to register. It may have been a human figure, dreaming of an early evening in each great capital luminous enough to tell him he will never die, coming outside to wish on the first star. But it was not a star, it was falling, a bright angel of death. And in the darkening and awful expanse of screen something has kept on, a film we have not learned to see ... it is now a closeup of the face, a face we all know—
And it is just here, just at this dark and silent frame, that the pointed tip of the Rocket, falling nearly a mile per second, absolutely and forever without sound, reaches its last unmeasurable gap above the roof of this old theatre, the last delta-t.
There is time, if you need the comfort, to touch the person next to you, or to reach between your own cold legs ... or, if song must find you, here's one They never taught anyone to sing, a hymn by William Slothrop, centuries forgotten and out of print, sung to a simple and pleasant air of the period. Follow the bouncing ball:
There is a Hand to turn the rime,
Though thy Glass today be run,
Till the Light that hath brought the Towers low
Find the last poor Pret'rite one . . .
Till the Riders sleep by ev'ry road,
All through our crippl'd Zone,
With a face on ev'ry mountainside,
And a Soul in ev'ry stone. ...