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“I really appreciate your loaning me the apt. Some people called up who hadn’t heard you were due to leave, and if my books did nothing else they got me a modicum of notoriety, so I’m invited to sundry forthcoming events in your place. I’ll try not to disgrace you, but by God it’ll be tough.

“It’s very curious coming back, at one blow, from the bottom to the top of this society we’ve constructed. It doesn’t look any better from this angle. I remembered that opinion, but I guess the melancholia it generated when I first reached it is alien to my temperament. I know it was what inspired Hipcrime—I felt getting outside the regular conformist orbit was the only route a sane man could take.

“But there isn’t an outside. Talking about ‘society’s outcasts’ or ‘opting out’ is so much whaledreck. The fact that we generate huge quantities of waste is all that allows people to go outside; they’re benefiting from the superficial affluence which conformists use to alleviate boredom. In essence, using the term ‘out’ is as meaningless as trying to define a location outside the universe. There’s no place for ‘outside’ to be.

“Where, for example, would your fellow Aframs, of the type who disclaim paleass-style living, find themselves if the society they so despise fell to bits? Hypothesise a plague which affects only people of Caucasian descent (as a matter of fact it exists, and the Chinese field-tested it in Macao about three to four years back, but the news was quietly stifled and I only heard about it by accident). Getting rid of us with our damnable arrogance wouldn’t cure the human race of its hereditary diseases.

“I’m beginning to wonder whether I ought not to copy the example of those people out on the West Coast who seem to have taken up sabotage as a kind of hobby. Something is horribly wrong with our setup, and they’re adopting a proper scientific technique to determine what. (I don’t know if anyone has pointed this out before—I suspect not. I have a disgusting habit of jumping to private conclusions which makes me wonder if I’m really living in a fantasy world not shared by anyone else.)

“Said scientific technique is to alter one, and only one, of the variables at a time, to see what effect the change has on the total interaction and hence deduce the function of the force you’re tampering with. Trouble is, of course, the impact is randomised, and no one is in a position to analyse the results.

“I guess maybe I’ll try and do it, since there are no other volunteers. I’ll head for California and start a study of the consequences of disorganising a city.

“No, that’s a hitrip-type illusion, to be honest. I never will do it, nobody will do it. I’m too scared. It would be on a par with climbing down the shaft of a fusion generator to watch the plasma whiz around the bottle. Somebody send us a Martian anthropologist, for heaven’s sake!

“Did you ever wonder how a doctor feels, faced with a disease he can’t cure, which he knows is so contagious he’s liable to catch it off the patients he can’t help? That’s me at this minute. Christ, I’m a rational being—of a sort—rational enough, at least, to see the symptoms of insanity around me. And I’m human, the same as the people I think of as victims when my guard drops. It’s at least possible I’m even crazier than my fellows, whom I’m tempted to pity.

“There seems only one thing to do, and that’s get drunk.

“Regards—Chad Mulligan”

continuity (26)


The government maintained its press liaison bureau on the top floor of a fifteen-storey block well towards the inland side of Gongilung. Having presented his papers of accreditation to a bland, unsmiling official, Donald wandered across the reed-mat flooring towards a window that give him a fine view over the city.

To his left, crowning a hill, rose the white towers of the university. He stared at them, wondering in which of them Sugaiguntung worked. What could have happened to a man like that to make him a mere stalking-horse for a propaganda claim? Long pressure, no doubt, was capable of caving in even a genius whose independence of thought had laid the foundations for his country’s continuing prosperity.

And speaking of pressure …

From here, for the first time, he could see the physical evidence for something he had intellectually been aware of and never digested into his emotions—a parallel to the feeling he had had the night he walked out into the city he thought of as home and discovered he could trigger a riot by his presence.

With only a hundred-odd scattered islands to contain them, Yatakang boasted a population of two hundred and thirty millions. At an average of over two million people per island that meant this was one of the most crowded areas on the face of the globe. And from here he could see the crowding.

Even the sides of Grandfather Loa himself were dotted with huts, and winding paths linked them and led down to the shore.

He thought of Chad Mulligan’s dictum about the pressure which made citizens of ancient Rome think that joining the eunuch priesthood of Cybele was an easy way out, and shuddered. Here was a modern counterpart: what pressure made people feel that scratching a living from the slopes of a live volcano was better than moving to a safe distance from its possible eruption?

A voice from behind said softly, “Mr. Hogan!”

He turned, to find the same official as before confronting him.

“Director Keteng will see you now,” the man told him.

*   *   *

Director Keteng was a portly man with a chill manner who sat behind a rampart of communications equipment, as if he had decided to frame himself in every possible attribute of his rôle as patron of the transmission of information. It seemed to Donald that Bronwen had been right; the Solukarta government, for all its policy of eliminating superstitious attitudes, had managed only to transfer their scope from inanimate idols to living—and fallible—human beings. This office was a shrine, effectively, dedicated to a god not of news but of what the people were allowed to hear.

At a curt gesture, Donald sat down facing Keteng.

“You speak Yatakangi?”

“A little.”

“It is not a popular language among American students. Why did you learn it?”

Donald repressed a desire to strangle this pompous fool in the cables of his own innumerable phones. He said in as mild a tone as he could muster, “I had the chance to learn a non-Indo-European language and chose Yatakangi because it was said to be very difficult.”

“You had no special interest in Yatakang?”


Lying fluently, Donald answered, “My college training was in genetics, and the greatest living geneticist is one of your compatriots. That was one of the important reasons.”

But flattery was not something this man reacted to. He shrugged. “You have never come here before. Now you do come, you are not exactly—shall we say?—in a great hurry. As a specialist in genetics, it is doubtless news of our genetic optimisation programme which attracts you.”

“Yes, that’s so. The public interest which the announcement has created in my country surprised my employers, so it was quite a long time before they took the decision to send me here. But—”

“Your countrymen do not believe the truth of our claim,” Keteng said flatly. “Do you?”

Donald hesitated. “I hope that what you say can be done,” he said at last. “It’s been some years, though, since Professor Dr. Sugaiguntung published full details of his current work, so—”

“He had been engaged on secret research for the government,” Keteng said. “Research of that kind in your country is mostly of two types: first, it is done so that one corporation can make more profit than its rivals, and you have spies who make a living out of uncovering company secrets and selling them to competing firms; or, second, it is concerned with more efficient ways to kill people. In this country it has been concerned with more efficient ways to have people born and grow up as intelligent adults able to make important contributions to their native land. Have you any opinion on these contrasting attitudes?”