Perilous Planets Part 35

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'Of course.'

'Judaism - Jewishness - it's one of Earth's major religions.'

'You are therefore a priest?'

'Not at all. I don't even practice Judaism. But my ancestors did, and therefore I consider myself Jewish, even though-'

'It is an hereditary religion, then,' the Antarean said, 'that does not require its members to observe its rites?'

'In a sense,' said Schwartz desperately. 'More an hereditary cultural subgroup, actually, evolving out of a common re-ligious outlook no longer relevant.'

'Ah. And the cultural traits of Jewishness that define it and separate you from the majority of humankind are-?'

'Well-' Schwartz hesitated. 'There's a complicated dietary code, a rite of circ.u.mcision for newborn males, a rite of pa.s.sage for male adolescents, a language of scripture, a vernacular language that Jews all around the world more or less under-stand and plenty more, including a certain intangible sense of clannishness and certain att.i.tudes, such as a peculiar self-deprecating style of humor-'

'You observe the dietary code? You understand the langu-age of scripture?'

'Not exactly,' Schwartz admitted. 'In fact I don't do any-thing that's specifically Jewish except think of myself as a Jew and adopt many of the characteristically Jewish personality modes, which, however, are not uniquely Jewish any longer - they can be traced among Italians, for example, and to some extent among Greeks.

I'm speaking of Italians and Greeks of the late twentieth century, of course.

Nowadays-' It was all becoming a terrible muddle. 'Nowadays-'

'It would seem,' said the Antarean, 'that you are a Jew only because your maternal and paternal gene-givers were Jews, and they-'

'No, not quite. Not my mother, just my father, and he was Jewish only on his father's side, but even my grandfather never observed the customs, and-'

'I think this has grown too confusing,' said the Antarean. 'I withdraw the entire inquiry. Let us speak instead of my own traditions. The Time of Openings, for example, may be under-stood as-'

In the Green Room some eighty or a hundred distinguished Papuans press toward him, offering congratulations. 'Abso-lutely right,' they say. 'A global catastrophe.'

'Our last chance to save our culture.' Their skins are chocolate-tinted but their faces betray the genetic mishmash that is their ancestry - per-haps they call themselves Arapesh, Mundugumor, Tchambuli, Mafulu, in the way that he calls himself a Jew, but they have been liberally larded with chromosomes contributed by Chinese, j.a.panese, Europeans, Africans, everything. They dress in International Contemporary. They speak slangy, lively English. Schwartz feels seasick. 'You look dazed,' Dawn whispers. He smiles bravely. Body like dry bone. Mind like dead ashes. He is introduced to a tribal chieftain, tall, gray-haired, who looks and speaks like a professor, a lawyer, a banker. What, will these people return to the hills for the ceremony of the yam harvest? Will newborn girl-children be abandoned, cords uncut, skins unwashed, if their fathers do not need more girls? Will boys entering manhood submit to the expensive services of the initiator who sacrifices them with the teeth of crocodiles? The crocodiles are gone. The shamans have become stockbrokers.

Suddenly he cannot breathe.

'Get me out of here,' Schwartz mutters hoa.r.s.ely, choking.

Dawn, with stewardess efficiency, chops a path for him through the mob. The sponsors, concerned, rush to bis aid. He is floated swiftly back to the hotel in a glistening little bubble-car. Dawn helps him to bed. Reviving, he reaches for her.

'You don't have to,' she says. 'You've had a rough day.'

He persists. He embraces her arid takes her, quickly, fiercely, and they move together for a few minutes and it ends and he sinks back, exhausted, stupefied. She gets a cool cloth and pats his forehead, and urges him to rest. 'Bring me my drugs,'

he says. He wants siddharthin, but she misunder-stands, probably deliberately, and offers him something blue and bulky, a sleeping pill, and, too weary to object, he takes it. Even so, it seems to be hours before sleep comes.

He dreams he is at the skyport, boarding the rocket for Bangkok, and instantly he is debarking at Bangkok - just like Port Moresby, only more humid - and he delivers his speech to a horde of enthusiastic Thais, while rockets flicker about him, carrying him to skyport after skyport, and the Thais blur and become j.a.panese, who are transformed into Mongols, who become Uighurs, who become Iranians, who become Sudan-ese, who become Zambians, who become Chileans, and all look alike, all look alike, all look alike.

The Spicans hovered above him, weaving, bobbing, swaying like cobras about to strike. But their eyes, warm and liquid, were sympathetic: loving even. He felt the glow of their com-pa.s.sion. If they had had the sort of musculature that enabled them to smile, they would be smiling tenderly, he knew.

One of the aliens leaned close. The little translating device dangled toward Schwartz like a holy medallion. He narrowed his eyes, concentrating as intently as he could on the amber words flashing quickly across the screen.

'...has come. We shall...'

'Again, please,' Schwartz said. 'I missed some of what you were saying.'

'The moment has come. We shall... make the exchange of sacraments now.'



'Drugs, yes. Yes. Of course.' Schwartz groped in his pouch. He felt the cool smooth leather skin of his drug-case. Leather? Snakeskin, maybe. Anyway. He drew it forth. 'Here,' he said. 'Siddharthin, learitonin, psilocerebrin, acidly. Take your pick.' The Spicans selected three small blue siddharthins. 'Very good,' Schwartz said. 'The most transcendental of all. And now-'

The longest of the aliens proffered a ball of dried orange fungus the size of Schwartz' thumbnail.

'It is an equivalent dose. We give it to you.'

'Equivalent to all three of my tablets, or to one?'

'Equivalent. It will give you peace.'

Schwarts smiled. There was a time for asking questions, and a time for unhesitating action. He took the fungus and reached for a gla.s.s of water.

'Wait!' Pitkin cried, appearing suddenly. 'What are you-'

'Too late,' Schwartz said serenely, and swallowed the Spican drug in one joyous gulp.

The nightmares go on and on. He circles the Earth like the Flying Dutchman, like the Wandering Jew, skyport to skyport to skyport, an unending voyage from nowhere to nowhere. Obliging committees meet him and convey him to his hotel.

Sometimes the committee members are contemporary types, indistinguishable from one another, with standard faces, stand-ard clothing, the all-purpose new-model hybrid unihuman, and sometimes they are consciously ethnic, elaborately decked out in feathers and paint and tribal emblems, but their faces, too, are standard behind the gaudy regalia, their slang is the slang of Uganda and Tierra del Fuego and Nepal, and it seems to Schwartz that these masqueraders are, if anything, less authentic, less honest, than the other sort, who at least are true representatives of their era. So it is hopeless either way. He lashes at his pillow, he groans, he wakens.

Instantly Dawn's arms enfold him. He sobs incoherent phrases into her clavical and she murmurs soothing sounds against his forehead. He is having some sort of breakdown, he realizes: a new crisis of values, a shattering of the philosophical synthesis that has allowed him to get through the last few years. He is bound to the wheel; he spins, he spins, he spins, traversing the conti-nents, getting nowhere.

There is no place to go. No. There is one, just one, a place where he will find peace, where the uni-verse will be as he needs it to be. Go there, Schwartz. Go and stay as long as you can. 'Is there anything I can do?' Dawn asks. He shivers and shakes his head. 'Take this,' she says, and gives him some sort of pill. Another tranquilizer. All right. All right. It will help him get where he must go. The world has turned to porcelain. His skin feels like a plastic coating. Away, away, to the ship. To the ship!

'So long,' Schwartz says, and lets himself slip away.

Outside the ship the Capellans twist and spin in their ritual dance as, weightless and without ma.s.s, they are swept toward the rim of the galaxy at nine times the velocity of light. They move with a grace that is astonishing for creatures of such tremendous bulk. A dazzling light that emanates from the center of the universe strikes their glossy skin and, rebounding, resonates all up and down the spectrum, splintering into brilli-ant streamers of ultra-red, infra-violet, exo-yellow. All the cosmos glows and shimmers. A single perfect note of music comes out of the remote distance and, growing closer, swells in an infinite crescendo. Schwartz trembles at the beauty of all he perceives.

Beside him stands the seal-slick Antarean. She - definitely she, no doubt of it, she - plucks at his arm and whispers, 'Will you go to them?'

'Yes. Yes, of course.'

'So will I. Wherever you go.'

'Now,' Schwartz says. He reaches for the lever that opens the hatch. He pulls down.

The side of the starship swings open.

The Antarean looks deep into his eyes and says blissfully, 'I have never told you my name. My name is Dawn.' Together they float through the hatch into s.p.a.ce. The blackness receives them gently. There is no chill, no pressure at the lungs, no discomfort at all. He is surrounded by luminous surges, by throbbing mantles of pure color, as though he has entered the heart of an aurora.

He and Dawn swim to-ward the Capellans, and the huge beings welcome them with deep glad booming cries. Dawn joins the dance at once, mov-ing her sinuous limbs with extravagant ease; Schwartz will do the same in a moment, but first he turns to face the starship, hanging in s.p.a.ce close by him like a vast coppery needle, and in a voice that could shake universes he calls, 'Come, friends! Come, all of you! Come dance with us!' And they come, pour-ing through the hatch, the Spicans first, then all the rest, the infinite mult.i.tude of beings, the travelers from Formalhaut and Achernar and Acrux and Aldebaran, from Thuban and Arcturua and Altair, from Polaris and Canopus and Sirius and Rigel, hundreds of star-creatures spilling happily out of the vessel, bursting forth, all of them, even Pitkin, poor little Pitkin, everyone joining hands and tentacles and tendrils and whatever, forming a great ring of light across s.p.a.ce, everyone locked in a cosmic harmony, everyone dancing.

Dancing. Dancing.


The fair breeze blew, the white foam flew, The furrow followed free; We were the first that ever burst Into that silent sea.

Or into that silent atmosphere, that other planet beyond reach of Ancient Mariner.

New ocean, new atmosphere, new life - to these adventures the soul greatly responds, for they are part of everyone's fundamental experience, even when marred or m.u.f.fled by suburban living.

I cannot claim to have fulfilled adequately the task I set my-self in this volume; for that I would need much more s.p.a.ce much more time. Yet these stories give a hint that one of the most stirring of science fiction adventures remains our first sight of Deneb IV. The science fiction adventure is more than merely an adventure. It stands for one of the fundamentals of the psyche, the quest for knowledge. What is unknown must be known. Though it brings disaster.

Brush aside the palsied claim that this sf or that is pessi-mistic. For there are dark riddles in our nature that must be faced. Many of the great life-giving legends concern the necessity for acquiring knowledge even if it brings disaster. The story of Adam and Eve, the story of Faust, of Franken-stein, of Dr Jekyll, all embody this understanding. The know-ledge always brings pain, and often degradation as well; yet still the journey into knowing must be made. One day, there will be a journey into knowledge that will bring a fairer re-ward - and then perhaps Mankind itself will be changed. The Sack need not always give a dusty answer.

Perhaps that redeeming knowledge will be found on another planet, though personally I doubt it (the journey to wisdom needs stillness, not action). Meanwhile, there remains the romantic excitement of viewing, at the end of the journey, another fragment of matter harbouring its own secrets, silences sea birds. The South African poet, Roy Campbell, said it pre-cisely in the first verses of a poem celebrating his sight of Tristan da Cunha, as it stood out from the wastes of the South Atlantic: Snore in the foam; the night is vast and blind; The blanket of the mist about your shoulders, Sleep your old sleep of rock, snore in the wind, Snore in the spray! The storm your slumber lulls, His wings are folded on your nest of boulders As on their eggs the grey wings of your gulls.

No more as when, so dark an age ago, You hissed a giant cinder from the ocean, Around your rocks you furl the shawling snow Half sunk in your own darkness, vast and grim, And round you on the deep with surly motion Pivot your league-long shadow as you swim ...

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Perilous Planets Part 35 summary

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