Like Pavlov's Dogs
BY STEVEN R. BOYETT
" Goodmorning, happy campers!" blares the loudspeaker on the wall above the head of Marly Tsung's narrow bed. "It's another beautiful day in paradise!" A bell rings. "Rise and shine!"
Marly the sleepy camper slides out from her pocket of warmth. "Rise your own fucking shine," she mutters as she rises from her pallet and staggers to the computer screen that glows a dull gray above her desk. The word UPDATE pulses in the middle of the monitor; she flicks it with a finger and turns away to find the clothes she shed the night before.
"Today is Wednesday, the twenty-ninth," says her recorded voice. "Today marks the three hundred seventy-second day of the station's operation." Marly sniffs and makes a sour face at how pleasant her earlier self sounds. How enthused. "Gung ho," she says.
"The structural integrity of the Ecosphere is ninety-nine point five percent," the recording continues brightly, "with indications of water-vapor leakage in panels above the northern quadrant of the Rain Forest environment."
"Christ," says Marly, hating the daily cheerfulness of her own voice. She slides into faded, baggy jeans, then scoops on peasant sandals.
"Unseasonal warm weather in this region of Arizona has increased the convection winds from the Desert environment, and as a result the humidity has increased in the Rain Forest environment. Rainfall may be expected in the late afternoon. Soil nitrogenating systems are - "
Marly puts on a T-shirt, sees the neck tag pass in front of her, pulls the shirt partway off, and turns it around.
Leaving, she pauses at the door and looks back. Computer console on oak desk, dirty laundry, precariously stacked pop-music cassettes, rumpled bed. If someone were to come in here, someone who knew Marly but wasn't on Staff, would they be able to figure out who lived here?
She looks away. The question is moot. The only people in the entire world who know Marly are the Ecostation personnel.
She slides shut the door on her own voice and heads down the narrow hall to one of the station's two bathrooms.
FLUSH TWICE - IT'S A LONG WAY TO THE KITCHEN is scrawled in black felt-tip on the wall facing her. It's been there a year now. More recently - say, ten months ago - someone wrote, below that, EAT SHIT. And below that - with a kind of prophetic irony - WE'RE ALL IN THIS TOGETHER.
Marly never did think these were very funny.
She flushes - once - and heads for the rec room and the inevitable. Her waste heads for reclamation and the (nearly) inedible.
Four of the other seven station personnel are in the rec room ahead of her. Billtheasshole stands on the blue wrestling mat. He's wearing his gray UCLA sweat suit again. If clothes could get leprosy, they'd look like that sweat suit. On a leather thong around his neck is a silver whistle. Marly thinks her usual idle morning thought about what it would feel like to choke Billtheasshole by that lanyard. She imagines his stern face purpling, his reptilian eyes dimming. Watching his tinfoil-colored eyes staring at the door, Marly invents Tsung's law: The biggest shithead and the person in command can usually be shot with the same bullet.
Pale Grace sits glumly at an unplugged gaming table, drumming her nails against the dark glass tabletop. Marly shakes her head. A year now, and Grace still looks like someone desperate for a cigarette. She catches Marly watching her and ducks her head and twitches a smile.
Marly thinks of just staring at her to drive her even more crazy, but what's the point?
Slumped against the heavy bag in the corner like a determined marathon dancer is Dieter. He smiles sleepily at her and scratches his full, brown beard. "Grow me coffee," he says in his pleasant Rotweiler growl, "and I will unblock your pipes for the next year."
She smiles and shakes her head. "No beans," she replies. This has become their daily morning ritual. Dieter knows what that headshake is really for: He's unblocked her pipes enough already, thank you.
Sitting barefoot in lotus on the folding card table is little carrot-topped Bonnie. She smiles warmly at Marly, attempting to get her to acknowledge the spiritual kinship that supposedly exists between them because Bonnie is into metaphysics and Marly is Chinese.
Marly makes herself look inscrutable.
In walk Deke and Haiffa, a mismatched set: him burly, her slight; him hairy, her smooth; him Texas beefeating good-ole-boy-don't-shoot-till-you-see-the-black-of-their-skin, her Israeli vegetarian educated at Oxford. Naturally they are in love. Marly pays them little mind beyond a glance as they walk in holding hands like children and sit on the unraveling couch; Deke and Haiffa return the favor. They have become Yin and Yang, a unit unto themselves, outside of which exists the entire rest of the world. Proof again that there is such a thing as circumstantial love, love in a context, love-in-a-box.
Last in is Leonard Willard. Marly still spells his name LYNYRD WYLLYRD on the duty roster, long after the last drop of humor has been squeezed from the joke, which Leonard never got anyway. Leonard is the youngest staff member, always compensating for his inexperience with puppyish eagerness to please. But despite the fact that Leonard could have been one of the original Mouseketeers, Marly takes his constant good cheer as an indication of his bottomless well of self deception. The Ecosphere station is his world; everything outside it is... some movie he saw once. In black and white. Late at night. When he was a kid. He really doesn't remember it very well.
Predictably, Billtheasshole blows his whistle the moment the last person walks in. "Okay, troops," he says. "Fall in." He likes to call the staff members "troops." He would still be wearing his mirrored aviator sunglasses if Marly hadn't thrown them into the Ocean.
She falls in behind the others as they line up on the wrestling mat to begin their calisthenics. Or, as Billtheasshole calls them, their "cardiovascular aerobic regimen."
Sweetpea spits gum onto low-pile, gray carpet. "Flavor's gone," she explains.
Doughboy laughs. Shirtless, his hairy belly quivers. "Where you gonna get some more, girl?"
("Sailor?" someone calls from the stacks upstairs. "Goddamn motherfucker - Sailor!")
Sweetpea just shrugs and turns her back on Doughboy. She goes to join a group gathered behind one of the tall bookshelves. 0900: American History. One of the group pulls a book from a shelf and heaves it, then gives the finger to someone Doughboy can't see. The hand is snatched back as a return salvo is launched from Engineering. The book tumbles across the floor and stops facedown like a tired bat near Doughboy's left boot. Alloy Tensile Strength Comparisons. He doesn't attempt to interpret the title, but bends down, picks up the book, and pulls Sweetpea's gum from where it has stuck against a page that shows a graph. He brings fingers to chapped lips and blows. Fingers in mouth, then out, and wiped against blue jeans that have all the beltloops ripped loose. "Dumb bitch," he says, and chews.
A loud slap from above. Doughboy looks up to see gangly Tex being thrown against a tall shelf. The shelf tips, but does not fall. Books do.
"What the fuck you yellingfor, man?" Sailor stands above Tex, who has set a hand to his reddening cheek. Sailor remains there a moment, looking down at Tex with hands on hips, then bends and pulls Tex to his feet. He dusts him off and pats his shoulder. "Look, I'm sorry I hit you, man," he says. "Only, don't run around yellingall the time, okay?"
"Sure," says Tex. His hand leaves his inflamed cheek, and he glances at his palm (for blood? wonders Doughboy). "Sure. But, I mean, I was just wonderin', y'know? I mean - " He looks around the library. "What're we gonna find here?"
Sailor frowns. He looks around. One hand tugs at the face of Mickey Mouse hanging from his right ear. When he looks back at Tex, he's smiling wryly.
"Books," he says.
Doughboy nearly chokes on his gum, he thinks this is so goddamn funny.
"What are youlaughing at?" from above.
Doughboy only shakes his head.
Sailor shakes his head, too, but for completely different reasons. "Fuck," he says. "I used to goto this school." He comes down the stairs with two hardcover books tucked under one arm. "Yoo of A."
Doughboy angles his head to see the titles; Sailor hands him the books. Doughboy holds one in each hand before him. His lips move. Furrows appear in his forehead.
Sailor taps the book in Doughboy's left hand. " Principles of Behavior Modification," he supplies. He taps the thicker in Doughboy's right. " Radiation and Tissue Damage." He clasps his hands behind him and rocks back and forth, beaming.
"You taking a test?"
Sailor shakes his head. "Nope. Deadheads are. I think I can teach them to find food for us. Realfood."
Doughboy makes a farting noise. "Shit. Wecan't find real food; how you expect them to?"
"The name 'Pavlov' ring a bell?"
Sailor sighs. "Why I stay with you limpdicks I will never know," he says.
Doughboy stacks the books. "But how you gonna get - "
" God damn you, nigger!"
They turn at the shout from Engineering.
"That hurt, motherfucker!"
"Why you didn't move, then, home?" replies American History. "What you been throwing at methe last - "
Shouts, something heavy thrown against a wall, a bookshelf falling against a bookshelf, scuffling, and cheers as American History and Engineering begin beating the living shit out of each other.
Sailor walks over to break it up. He takes his time, wondering why the hell he's bothering in the first place. He oughta just let evolution sort 'em out. Well, he's there now; he might as well do something to split 'em up.
It's Cheesecake and Jimmy. Figures. Cheesecake's got the upper hand, which is no surprise, and with no more than two or three blows he's already made a mess of Jimmy's face. White boys never could fight.
He leans forward to grab Cheesecake's teak arm as the knotted fist at the end of it rises, but something stops him. Around them
(" You gonna let that nigger put a hurt on you, boy?") are scattered newspapers. One lies spilled like a dropped deck of cards
(" Fuck 'im up! Yeah! Yeah!"),
fanned out to expose the Local section.
Dull slap of bone-backed meat on softer meat.
Sailor bends to pick up the paper.
(" Cheese, man, ease up. C'mon, man.")
(" Motherfucker hit me on my head with a book. A big book, motherfucker!")
Sailor turns the paper over.
He unfolds the paper.
(" Ah! Fucking nigger! I'll kill you, fuckin - ")
Breaks New Ground
Sailor frowns. An artist's conception accompanies the article.
"Let him up," Sailor says mildly, and they stop.
(Tucson) - Official groundbreaking ceremonies were held Monday morning in a tent 60 miles northwest of Tucson, to mark the beginning of construction on Ecosphere - a self-contained "mini-Earth" environment that may prove a vital step in mankind's eventual colonization of other planets.
Budgeted at a "modest" $30 million, according to project director Dr. William Newhall of the University of Arizona Ecological Sciences division, Ecosphere will be a completely self-sufficient, 5-million-cubic-feet ecological station. The station will contain five separate environments, including a tropical rain forest, a savanna, a marshland, a desert, and a 50,000-gallon salt-water "ocean," complete with fish. There will also be living quarters for the Ecosphere staff, scientific laboratories, livestock, and an agriculture wing - all on two acres covered by computer-controlled "windowpanes" that regulate the amount of sunlight received. Even Ecosphere's electrical energy will come from the sun, in the form of arrays of solar-power cells.
"Ecosphere will be a sort of model of our planet," says chief botanist Marly Tsung. "We'll have a little of everything" - including several thousand types of trees, plants, animals, fish, birds, insects, and even different kinds of soil.
If all goes well after Ecosphere is constructed and stocked, eight "Ecosphereans" will bid goodbye to the outside world and enter the station's airlock, and they will remain as working residents of this model Earth for two years.
Designed to reproduce and maintain the delicate balance of the Earth's ecosystem in the midst of a hostile environment - presently the Arizona desert, but conceivably Mars by the end of the century - Ecosphere will also serve as an experiment in how future interplanetary colonists might get along working in close quarters for long periods. However, Grace Havland, team psychologist, does not foresee any problems. "We're all self-motivated, resourceful, problem-solving people," she says. "But we're also very different from one another, with widely varied interests. I think that will help. That, and the fact that the station itself provides a lot of stimuli." What could go wrong? In the first place, Eco-sphere's delicate environment could suffer a
(turn to page 16D)
"I remember this," says Sailor as the others gather around to see what's got him so interested. Jimmy mops his face with his torn, white T-shirt. "They started building it when I was in school." He turns to 16D. "They interviewed a bunch of these assholes before they went to live in it. There was this Chinese girl with blue eyes." He whistles appreciative recollection and lowers the paper. Suddenly he frowns and hands the paper to Florida, who scans the article and studies the cutaway drawing of the Ecosphere (which is not a sphere at all). Florida's dark eyebrows flex toward his hairline. One big-fingered, skull-ringed hand strays to his scarred leather hunting vest. He passes the paper around for the others to read and scratches the back of his neck under the red elastic band that holds his long pony tail.
Ed the Head squints at the article as if it is out of focus. His lips move as he reads, then he turns bleary eyes to Sailor. "So they, like, built some kinda space station in the middle of the goddamn desert. So fuckin' what?"
"So now you know why no one lets you do the grocery shopping," says Sailor. "You wouldn't recognize an opportunity if it gave you a whip-cream enema."
Ed fingers his matted beard. "Chill out, dude. Ain't nobody fuckin' with you."
Sailor shakes his head. "It's all just one big mystery to you, isn't it?" He looks around at the group. "Jesus," he says, and takes back the paper before leaving them.
"What he mad about?" Cheesecake rubs cut knuckles with two ragged-nailed fingers.
Florida folds his Popeye arms, making himself look twice as big as he already is. "That space station's set up to go for years without any help from outside," he says in his surprising melodic baritone. He pulls off his silver ear cuff and massages the outside curve of his ear. "They control their environment. They grow their own food. They raise their own livestock. Get it now?" His arms unfold. "Apples. Oranges. Chicken. Eggs. Bacon."
"Oh, man..." from someone behind Jimmy.
"Aw, those dudes're wasted by now," says Ed the Head.
"Reefer," adds Florida.
Ed the Head straightens. "No shit? Hey, Florida, man, you wouldn't fuck with me, now..."
"How we know they still there?" demands Cheesecake. "They be walkin' around dead and shit, by now."
Florida smiles and replaces his earcuff. "We don't know," he says. He glances at Sailor and raises an eyebrow. "Yet."
"Doughboy. Hey, Doughboy!"
Doughboy turns with a finger still up his nose. "Yo, Sailor," he says mildly. He twists, pulls out -
"We still got that baby?"
- and puts the finger in his mouth. He withdraws it with a wet smack and shrugs. "I dunno. Maybe. You wanna go to the zoo an' see?"
Outside the hurricane fence at the juncture of Optical Sciences and Physics: Sailor and Doughboy peer about the corral.
"I don't see it," says Sailor. "Maybe they ate it?"
"Nah. They don't do that, much. Somehow they know the difference." He bangs the fence with both palms.
Shambling figures turn.
"Hey," shouts Doughboy. " Hey, you deadhead fuckheads!" He bangs harder. " 'Course," he says, more conversationally, watching their stiff approach, "they coulda tore it up. They're kinda dumb that way."
Watching them shuffle toward him and Doughboy, Sailor suddenly begins to giggle. He bends forward and his mouth opens, as if he has been kicked in the stomach. The giggle expands and becomes full-throated. He can't control it. Eventually he drags a bare, anchor-tattooed forearm across one eye, saying "Oh, shit..." in a pained way, and wipes the other eye with the other arm. "Oh, Jesus. Whose idea was this?"
Doughboy grins and rubs a palm across sparse blond billy-goat beard. "You like it?" The hand lowers to hook a thumb in a front pocket of his Levi's. "Florida ran across a T-shirt shop in the Westside Mall. He brought back a shitload of 'em. And a bunch of us got the deadheads outta of the zoo one at a time and put 'em on 'em."
Sailor shakes his head in amazement.
A little old lady deadhead reaches the fence ahead of the others. Part of her nose is missing, and the rest flaps against one wrinkled, bluegray cheek in time with her sleepwalker's gait. She runs face-first into the fence, then steps back with a vaguely surprised look that quickly fades. Hanging shapelessly about her upper body is a ridiculously large, blue T-shirt. I'M WITH STUPID, it reads, with an arrow pointing to her left.
Sailor begins to laugh again.
Doughboy is laughing now, too.
The dead old lady is joined by an enormous Hispanic deadhead with the figure of a bodybuilder. His skin is the color of moss. A strip of bone shows above his ear where a furrow of scalp has been ripped away. His arms and chest look over-inflated. He wears a tight, red maternity blouse. Centered over his bulging pectorals is:
The deadheads make plaintive little noises as they reach like sad puppies for Sailor and Doughboy, only to regard the fence that blocks their hands as some kind of miraculous object that has inexplicably appeared in front of them.
There are twenty of them clustered around the fence now, purpled fingers poking nervelessly through the wide mesh.
"No baby," says Doughboy. "But it wouldn't be here anyway. Can't walk yet."
"Walk?" Sailor frowns. "It probably never will." He regards the hungry drowned faces as he speaks. "I wonder if they age?"
Doughboy's eyes narrow. "Baby doesn't have to have been like that from the start. Coulda been born after everything turned to shit, then died an' gone deadhead."
"Yeah, but still - how would we know? Do they get older as time goes by?" He nods toward the fence. "Can a deadhead die of old age?"
Doughboy shrugs. "We'll find out someday," he says.
Sailor looks away from the fence. "Are you an optimist or what?"
Doughboy only snorts.
"Who's the one by himself back there?" Sailor points. "He doesn't move like a deadhead."
"Whozzat? Oh, Jo-Jo? Yeah, he's pretty fuckin' amazing, ain't he? He's a regular Albert fuckin' Einstein - for a deadhead, I mean. Quick, huh?"
The figure standing alone turns to face them. He wears a brown T-shirt with white letters that spell out HE'S DEAD, JIM.
Sailor's frown deepens. "He's watchingus."
"They all do that, man. We look like those big ol' steaks in the cartoons."
"No, I mean..." He squints. "There's something going on in that face. His tabulaain't quite rasa."
"Yeah, what you said. Here - " Doughboy leaves the fence and goes to a plastic milk crate. He pulls out a disk that glints rainbow colors. "Cee Dee," he says, grinning, and holds it up. "Michael Jackson. Thriller."
In his other hand is a rock.
He steps to the left of the knot of deadheads who still claw vaguely toward them. He glances at Sailor and angles the compact disk to catch the sunlight.
"Jo-Jo," he calls. "Hey - Jo-Jo!" He jumps ( light on his feet, for a jelly-belly, thinks Sailor) and lobs the rock.
hunger me jojo they call jojo and throw at me without hurt only eat and i with move them to jojo from their meat mouths i reach to hunger with light of hot above with bright the fence the hunger-others grab and pull but shining outside they hold the shining thing and forward i into the fence grab against press into my face and raise my hands in hunger not to the shining thing but to the hand that holds it in hunger jojo they say and i will eat
"He," declares Sailor, watching the deadhead toss the rock it has caught from hand to hand, "is smarter than the average deadhead."
Doughboy nods. "Fuckin' A, Boo-Boo."
Bill hangs around after the others leave, sweating from their cardiovascular aerobic regimen. They will disperse to attend to the many jobs that await them each day; maintaining the Ecosphere is a full-time job for eight people. And keeping those eight people in shape and responsive to the needs of the ecological station, maintaining their esprit de corps, making them understand their responsibilities to the station's investors, to science - indeed, to the human race - is quite a burden. That's why Bill is glad that he is the one in charge - because, of the eight, only he has the discipline and organizational abilities, the qualities of command, to keep them functioning as a unit. And - as a unit - they will persevere. He imagines he is a lifeboat captain, forcing the others to share their labor and rations, sometimes extreme in his severity and discipline. But when rescue comes, they will all thank Bill for running his tight little ship. Yes they will.
He goes to a locker and removes a French fencing foil. He tests the grip, slides into stance, and holds his left hand loosely above and behind his head. En garde. Blade to quarte. Block, parry, riposte. Lunge, hah!He is D'Artagnan; the wine of his opponent's life spills upon the wrestling mat. Touche.
The pigs in their small pen near the corner formed by the human habitat and the agricultural wing are slopped by Grace. Of all the dirty work in the station she must perform (even though it is not her job to), the team psychologist finds working with the pigs almost pleasurable, and certainly less troublesome than working with Staff. Grace is a behaviorist, and a behaviorist will always work better with pigs than with people. The pigs in their uncomplicated Skinner box of a muddy pen are easier to direct and adjust than those upright pigs in their bigger, labyrinthian pen.
The ground darkens around her and she looks up at a cloud passing in front of the sun, distorted by the triangular glass panes above. She idly wonders how long it's been since she went outside the station. She shrugs. What difference does it make?
She bends to pat Bacon's globular head. She has named the pigs so that she will remember their prime function, to prevent her from becoming too sentimentally attached to them: Bacon, Fatback, Pork Chop, Hot Dog, Sausage, and Hambone. The pigs are wonderful: not only do they clear the quarter acre of land devoted to raising vegetable crops, and fertilize it as well, but they are astonishingly gregarious, affectionate, and intelligent animals. Which any farm girl knows - but Grace has devoted her life to the exacting science of manipulating human beings, and has only recently become devoted to the emotionally admirable pig.
If only the staff were as easy to manage. Humbly she tries to tell herself that she's only doing her job, but, truth to tell, if they hadn't had someone to keep them psychologically stable all this time, she doubts they'd have lasted even this long. She thinks of the other staff members one at a time as Pork Chop and Sausage nuzzle her calves. She maintains a file on each one of them and updates it every day with her observations and impressions of their sessions together. Luckily the sessions have diminished in importance, which is as it should be, since everybody is so mentally healthy. So goddamned healthy. So enormouslyadjusted.
Pork Chop squeals, and Grace realizes she has been squeezing his poor ear as hard as she can. She lets go and pats his thick head. "There, there," she says. "There, there."
She thinks again of the book she will write when all this is over. It will sell well. She will be on Phil Donahue. Holding an imaginary pen, she practices signing her name.
* * *
Bonnie is not far from Grace; she works, shirtless in the early-morning sun, on her knees in the three tall rows of cornstalks. The agricultural wing is like the playing board of a child's game, with squares devoted to corn, potatoes, beans, peas, squash, carrots, and tomatoes. She wishes they had watermelon, but it would require far too much water to be ecologically justifiable. But at least there's the fruit grove by the wall, there - right beside the vegetables - with apples, oranges, and lemons. The soils are as rich as possible, having originally been procured from all parts of the United States.
Is it stillthe United States? Bonnie wonders. Surely somewhere it mustbe.
She returns to her work, examining stalks and peeling back husks to check for insects. There are screen doors in the narrow access corridors between the agriculture wings and the Environments, but still, insects manage to get through. Despite their productive yield the Ecosphere is actually never very far away from starvation, and the loss of a single crop to insects could be - well, it just didn't bear thinking about.
Bonnie likes to work with plants. Not in the same way that Marly does - that appraising, sterile, scientificway - but in a sort of... holisticway. An organicway. Yes, that's right: organic. She smiles at the word. Bonnie feels a kinship to the plants, with the interrelatedness of all living things. She likes to feel the sunlight on her bare, freckled skin because it reminds her of the ironic combination of her specialness and insignificance. The sun is an indifferent ball of burning gases ninety-three million miles away, yet without it there could be no life. "We are all made of the same star-stuff," Carl Sagan used to say. Well, Bonnie feels that stuff in her very cells. It sings along the twined strands of her DNA.
She certainly doesn't miss sex. She doesn't need sex. She hardly ever even thinksabout sex.
She sits up and shuts her eyes. She breathes deeply. Om mani padme om. Who needs sex when there is such passion in as simple an act of life as breathing?
She finds a bug in a cornhusk and crushes it between thumb and forefinger.
Leonard Willard takes everybody's shit every day. He puts it in phials and labels it and catalogs it; he analyzes it and files the results. He operates and maintains the waste-reclamation systems and biological and mechanical filtering systems. It's a dirty job, but someone has to do it. If no one did it, the Ecosphere wouldn't work. Leonard likes to think of himself as the vital link in the Ecosphere's food chain. Filtration is his life. Ecosphere gives him an abundance of opportunity to feel fulfilled: there are filtration systems in the sewage facilities, in the garbage-disposal units, in the water-reclamation systems; there are desalinization units between the Ocean and the freshwater marsh; there are air filtration units, and air is also cleaned by pumping it beneath the Ecosphere and allowing it to percolate through the soil from several areas.
Leonard loves to purify things. To take a thing that is unusable in its present form, and by passing it through buffers and barriers and filters, distill a usable, needed thing - that makes him feel useful. Needed. Staff couldn't breathe without him. Staff couldn't drink without him. Without Leonard, staff couldn't take so much as a healthy shit. Without Leonard, the shit would never hit the fans.
Leonard has Hodgkin's disease, a cancer of the lymph system. Years ago radiation therapy made all his hair fall out and stabilized his condition enough that he could be put on chemotherapy, which only made him stupid and violently ill for two days out of every month. He began putting on weight again, and his hair grew back in, even thicker than before, and the doctors felt encouraged that his condition had stabilized. Somehow his body learned to live with the disease.
Or, from a different perspective, he thinks (reaching a gloved hand into a water conduit to withdraw what looks like a dirty wet air-conditioning filter), the disease has allowed his body to live. So that it can continue to feed. This is why Leonard rarely worries about the things that roam the Outside, the things Bill has dubbed carnitropes. He doesn't worry about them because his body is being eaten from the inside. Or, to distill it in a very Leonard-like way, there is shit in his blood, and he can't filter it out.
He shakes the wet filter over a plastic sheet. Ropy black strands drip down. Leonard cleans the filter with a compressed-air hose, returns it to the conduit, then bundles and twist-ties the plastic sheet.
Walking with it dripping to the lab, Leonard realizes that there is nowhere else on Earth, anymore, where he could perform his job. Leonard feels he is the most realistic of all the Staff - and he knows what it's like outside their brittle little environment. Though he helps maintain the station, and therefore the illusion the station represents, he understands intuitively that his reasons for doing so are quite different from theirs. They maintain Ecosphere as a denial of what has changed Outside. He maintains it as a triumphant affirmation of the same. As above, so below. None of the others, being physically fit, can appreciate this. Therefore none of the others can adequately appreciate Leonard.
But he keeps up a cheery fa?ade. It's important to him that he do this.
In the lab he unbundles the plastic and breathes deeply. Thatis the stuff of life, and don't let anyone tell you otherwise.
Deke and Haiffa are fucking on the thirty-foot beach. Deke and Haiffa are always fucking somewhere. "Oh, look," Haiffa says. She points, and their rhythm halts. Deke rolls his head to look out on the water, not minding the sand that grinds into his brush-cut hair.
"Don't see nothin'," he says.
"A fish," she says. She sets her hands on his chest and resumes.
"Fish on Friday," he says. "Maybe I'll hook 'im. What's today?"
"I don't know." Her accent, which used to charm him, is invisible to him now. "Wednesday."
"Anything-Can-Happen Day," he says, and arches his back as he begins to come.
* * *
Above them on the roof, Dieter the marine biologist watches through the glass. Sometimes the Ecosphere to him is a big aquarium. He watches Deke and Haiffa not from a need to accommodate voyeurism so much as from a desire to alleviate boredom. The first couple of months, everybody went at everybody else in various combinations, then settled into a few pairings that dissolved, either from attrition or from entropy, and now everybody is more or less an environment unto his or her self. In this they are like the scientific wonder in which they all live, but which none calls home.
Dieter is supposed to be cleaning solar panels. Dust from the Arizona desert accumulates on the Ecosphere's glass-and-aluminum roof, and when it is thick upon the solar cells, the station's power supply is diminished. But there are a lot of solar-power cells, and it is a hot July day in the Arizona desert. Dieter takes frequent water breaks.
Below him Haiffa and Deke seem to be finished, and he looks away. He stands and puts his hands on his hips, turning to take in the gleaming, sloping geometry of glass and aluminum that is the station. Ecosphere is built into the side of a gently sloping hill; the rain forest uphill is forty feet higher than the desert downhill, which is also nearly six hundred feet distant. Hot air rises from the desert and flows uphill; condensers in the rain forest cool the air and separate the moisture. It actually rains in the indoor rain forest.
Dieter looks at the terraced Aztec pyramid of glass and aluminum that caps the rain forest. What would it feel like, he wonders, to jump from the top? A sense of freedom, the exhilaration of weightlessness, and then the ground, stopping all thought. All worry. All pain. All fear.
But an eighty-foot fall might not kill him. And even if it did, he'd just get back up and start walking around again. No, a bullet in the brain is about the only way to go, he thinks laconically, bending to pick up his rags and economy-size bottle of Windex. Shame Bill had to have the foresight to lock up the guns they obtained on that one expedition to Tucson, a year ago.
He looks left, over the edge and down at the parking lot behind the human habitat. The Jeep Cherokee and the Land Rover are still there. It would be so goddamned easy. Just get in, crank up one of those babies - might need to juice up the battery, but there was plenty of that to go around - put her in gear, and fucking go.
He'd do it in a minute, too, if there was someplace to fucking go to.
And Marly. She climbs down from a tree, drops her pruning shears, unties her harness, and lets it fall at her feet. She mops her brow. It is amazingly humid in here. "Tropical" is such a misleading word, she thinks, conjuring mai tais and virgin beaches. In the higher branches of the tree she has been pruning it is not so bad; the eternal trade wind from the downhill desert is cooling. On the surface, though, the breeze is broken up by the thick foliage, and the climate is dank and wet.
She watches a squirrel dart along branches. They've been having trouble with the squirrels. They're dying out, and no one is sure why. Marly was against their presence from the start; they're filthy little rodents that carry disease and live by stealing whatever they can get their grubby little paws on. Everybody likes them because they have neotenic characteristics: big heads in relation to the body, big eyes in relation to the head. They look, in other words, like babies, and everybodylikes babies. Well, small-scale evolution is taking care of the little shits, so Marly guesses she showed them. Nobody would listen to her because she's a botanist, which everybody knows is just a fancy word for gardener. Have you met Miss Tsung, our Chinese gardener - oh, I dobeg your pardon: Ms. Tsung, our Asian botanist.
She wipes palms on denim and walks from the rain forest to the sparse growth near the beach. She pulls open a screen door and walks down an access corridor, then out the screen door at the far end. Bare-breasted Bonnie waves to her as she cuts across a corner of the Agricultural wing. Marly ignores her and enters the Supply section of the human habitat.
"Supplies, supplies!" she says.
From a closet whose door is marked EXT STORES she takes the two-man tent and a sleeping bag.
Walking toward the front door she meets Billtheasshole walking in. He stops in front of her, eyebrows rising, and does not get out of her way. "Again?" he says, looking at the blue nylon tent bag and rolled sleeping bag. "I don't know that I altogether approve of this antisocial behavior, Marly. Everybody needs his privacy - or herprivacy - but you are actively segregatingyourself from us."
She holds the camping supplies before her like a shield. Her mouth forms an O as she mimics sudden recollection. "Oh, I amsorry," she says. "We were having the Tupperware party tonight, weren't we? Or were Haiffa and Deke going to sell us Amway? I forget."
"Grace tells me you didn't show up for your last two scheduled sessions." He rubs his jaw (tending toward jowls) with the span of thumb and forefinger. Of the four men on Staff, only Bill continues to shave - his badge of civilization endeavoring to persevere. Striking a blow for homo gillette.
She laughs. "Who has? I don't have time for her bullshit. She's more fucked-up than the rest of us. Just tell her it was my bad toilet training, okay?"
"I am merely attempting to express my concern over your lack of cooperation," he says with the mildness of psychotic conviction. "Everyone has to contribute if we're going to pull through - "
"Pull through? Pull through, Bill? What is this, some phasethe world's going through? Going to grow out of it, is that it?"
"I think I understand your resentment toward authority, Marly, but you must see that some sort of hierarchy is necessary in light of - "
"Authority?" She looks around, as if expecting a director to yell "Cut!" "Why don't you do me a favor, Bill, and fuck off?" She shoulders past him.
"This will have to go into my report," he warns.
She opens the door. "More demerits!" she wails to the vegetable crops. "Golly. I'm - I'm so ashamed." She turns back to smile meanly, then tries to slam the door behind her. The hydraulic lever at the top hisses that she'd better not.
A last swipe with a dirty rag, and Dieter grins at his reflection. "I can seemyself!" he says.
He collects the dirty rags scattered around him on the glass. Waste not, want not: the Golden Rule of the Ecosphere. He stands and surveys the surrounding Arizona desert. As an experiment in maintaining an artificial environment in the midst of an alien one, Ecosphere is immensely successful: They are an island of glass on the rusted surface of Mars.
He stretches cramped muscles and breathes in the dry Martian air. Dieter Schmoelling, naked to the alien plain, the only human being able to withstand -
He frowns. Wipes sweat from his brow. Shades his eyes, squints, bends forward.
A tunnel of dust, a furrow in the desert. A giant Martian mole burrowing toward the invading glass island. A Martian antibody come to attack the invading foreign cell.
Marly is pitching her tent in the downhill desert when the P.A. sounds an electronic bell: Bong!"All personnel to the fruit grove," commands Billtheasshole. Bong!"All personnel report to the fruit grove immediately." And clicks off.
What confidence, what assurance! The son of a bitch just knowsthat everybody will show up there, bong!Marly thinks of not showing up, just to remind him that his authority lies entirely in their acquiescence, but curiosity gets the better of her. Despite her dislike of him, she knows that Bill wouldn't call them together in the middle of their working day for no good reason. But what Bill thinks of as a good reason is not necessarily dreamt of in her philosophy.
Marly sighs, pulls up stakes, and walks around the bluff, past scrub, into savanna, beside the ocean, into the southern access corridor, across croplands, and into the fruit grove.
The others are already there, except for Bill. Their backs are to her as they look out the windows. "I suppose we're all wondering why he called us here," says Marly.
Dieter turns and beckons her over. She pulls an apple from a tree and heads toward them. She bites into the apple and Dieter frowns. She grins and offers it to him, Chinese Eve. His frown deepens, and she laughs at his seriousness.
He makes room for her and points to the ruler-straight desert road, but he really doesn't need to. Marly can see the car heading for them. It's only three or four miles away.
"Should've baked a cake," she says, but inside she feels a pang, something tightening.
Bill joins them, holding a double-barreled shotgun. Her heart slams, and for a moment she is certain Bill is going to kill them all. This is it; she knew it would happen someday -
Deke steps forward and takes the shotgun from Bill's hands. Bill is so surprised by this... this usurpation, that he allows him to.
Deke breaks the shotgun and removes the corrugated red plastic shells. He returns shells and broken shotgun to Bill, shakes his head in contempt, and steps back.
"They'll probably pull into the parking lot," says Bill. "I'm going out on the roof, in case they try anything." From a back pocket he pulls out a slim walkie-talkie. He hands it to Dieter. "I'll call you if I need you," he says. He turns to Leonard. "Talk to them over the P.A. in the monitor room," he orders. "Find out what they want and get them out of here. Ladies - "
"We'll make coffee," suggests Marly.
"I want you to keep out of sight."
"I want a gun."
Bill shakes his head. He turns away and heads for the human habitat, where the airlock is. They follow him, since the monitor room is at the north end of the human habitat anyway. Marly catches up to Bill. "Then give me the key to the armory," she persists. "You're not taking it out of here so you can get your ass shot off on the roof."
He frowns, but cannot fault her logic. He draws a many-keyed holder from a retractable line attached to his belt and selects a key. He gives it not to Marly but to Deke, then turns and trots ahead of them.
Marly glances back toward the apple trees. The car is perhaps two miles away.
Inside the habitat Bill veers right at a T intersection; the others veer left and climb a flight of stairs. They enter the monitor room - all but Deke, who grins at Haiffa, tosses the armory key, catches it, and hurries down the hall.
Camera One already stares unblinkingly at the asphalt parking lot. Leonard activates Camera Two and sends it panning. The others cluster at his chair.
"Check, check," says the walkie-talkie in Dieter's hand. "Do you read me? Over."
"Loud 'n' clear, man," replies Dieter. He rolls his eyes.
"I'm on the roof, making my way toward the agricultural wing where the cover's better. Over."
"Right. I mean, yeah... over?"
Leonard turns from the control panel. "I'm guh-guh- goingto test the puh-puh-P.A. Ask him if he c-c-can hearit."
Dieter relays the message, and Leonard says "T-testing wuh-wuh-one t-two three," into the microphone.
"Loud and clear," says Bill. "Listen, if there's any - here they are. Over and out."
The car is a dusty black El Camino. They watch on Monitor One as it pulls into the asphalt lot, slows, and parks beside the Land Rover. The driver waits for the dust to clear. Over the speakers they can hear the engine idle, can hear it knocking after it is switched off.
The driver opens the door and steps out holding a pump shotgun. He turns, says something to a passenger (there isn't room for more than two in the El Camino), and straightens. He shuts the door and approaches the Ecosphere.
He is the first live human being they have seen in over a year.
"Hello?" he calls. Squeak of feedback, and Marly winces. Leonard adjusts the gain. "Hello, is anybody there?"
Leonard pushes a button and Camera Two zooms in.
He is young - early twenties. His hair is dark, straight, shiny, tied in a pony tail, to his waist. Faded gray jeans with white-threaded holes in the knees below a long, unbuttoned, black-and-white-checked shirt with rolled sleeves. Earring dangling from right earlobe.
"Hello?" he calls again.
Leonard thumbs the mike switch. He clears his throat self-consciously and the man steps back. The shotgun comes up.
"Wuh-wuh-we hearyou," Leonard says.
The man looks around for the source of the voice.
Leonard glances at the others. "Wuh-wuh- whatdo you want?" he says into the mike.
The shotgun dips, lowers. "Food. Just - food. Me and my wife are... we haven't eaten in a while - "
Deke arrives carrying an armload of rifles and ammunition. Silently he gives one to each of the other six, continually glancing at the monitor.
" - and our baby is pretty sick. We just want some food; we'll leave you alone, after."
Bonnie refuses a rifle. Deke shrugs. "Your funeral," he says.
"If we give them food now they'll only come back for more later," says Grace.
"Prob'ly with friends," adds Deke, handing Marly a rifle.
Leonard fiddles with the monitor controls. Camera Two pans left, centers on the El Camino, and zooms. Leonard adjusts the focus. There is a young woman in the car, holding a bundle that might be a baby.
Leonard looks at Dieter, who shrugs.
On Camera One the man waits.
Leonard frowns and thumbs the mike again. "How did you nuh-nuh- knowwe w-were here?"
A breeze billows the tail of the young man's shirt. "There was an article in the paper," he says. "In the Tucson library. I thought maybe you were still here." He looks around and wipes his brow. "Hot out here," he says.
"Suffer, bud," says Deke. Marly glares at him.
Dieter goes to stand beside Leonard. "Maybe we should, like, tell him to get his wife out of the car," he says.
Leonard glances up. "W-w-what if he won't?"
"What if shewon't?" adds Bonnie.
"Hey, beggars can't be choosers," Dieter replies. "They'll do it."
Leonard turns back to the mike. "Tell your w-w- wifeto step out of the cuh, car," he says.
"You didn't say please," murmurs Marly.
"She - our baby's pretty sick," says the man. "I don't..." He seems indecisive, then turns toward the car and walks from Monitor One to Monitor Two. He opens the passenger door and leans in. He glances back once or twice as he speaks.
Leonard fiddles with the gain knobs.
" - ust do it. No one's going to hurt you... I don't care what the little fucker feels like, just do it. And keep your cakehole shut."
The passenger door opens and a girl gets out. She wears khaki pants, sandals, and a dirty white T-shirt. She is perhaps seventeen years old. She wears a lot of make-up and bright red lipstick. The breeze tugs her tangled hair.
She holds a bundle before her. A little hand protrudes from it, grabs air, finds her breast, clasps.
"All right," says the man. "Now, please - can you spare us some food?" Leonard pulls back Camera One until he's in view again. They watch him gesture expansively. "You have a lot; we just want enough for a few days. Just enough for us to drive across the desert. We're trying to get to California."
Again Leonard glances at the others. "Cuh, Cuh, California? What's there?"
"I'll just bet he is," mutters Grace.
"Hold on a m-m-minute," says Leonard, and kills the mike. He swivels in his chair with a questioning look.
"I don't like it, man," says Dieter.
"Not one bit," says Deke.
"Maybe just some apples, or something..." says Bonnie.
Marly pulls back the bolt of her carbine and begins feeding little missile shapes to the breech.
"Sure," says Deke. "You wanna take it out to 'em?"
"Belling the cat," muses Grace.
"Dieter? Dieter, do you read me?" Bill's voice, a loud whisper.
Dieter lifts the walkie-talkie. "Roger... Bill."
At the console, Leonard suppresses a giggle. Behind him on the monitors, the man, the girl, and the baby await their reply.
"Keep it down; I don't want them to hear me up here. Don't tell them we'll give them any food. Over."
"We were just voting on it," says Dieter.
"It's not a voting issue. They don't get any."
Marly finishes loading her rifle and slaps the bolt in place.
"Just a couple of apples?" asks Bonnie.
Marly glares at her, hating her every milquetoast fiber.
"We have to remember the Ecosphere," continues Bill's tinny voice. "We can't upset the balance. We can't introduce anything new or take anything away. We can't breach the integrity of the station."
Marly shoulders her rifle and leaves the room.
"Hey, listen, Bill - " begins Dieter, but Bill is still transmitting.
" - ink of what this station represents: we're a self-containedunit. We grew that food ourselves. We live on a day-to-day basis."
"They're not asking for very much," mutters Bonnie. She sits in a chair and stares sullenly at the television monitor.
Dieter thumbs the "send" button. "We think it's a bad idea for other reasons," he says. "Grace feels that if we feed them, they'll just, like, come back for more. Probably they'll tell others, y'know? Uh... over."
"Exactly! And they'lltell others, and we'll be barraged. We'll be like a... a free McDonald's out here."
"Golden arches," says Haiffa solemnly, and steeples her hands. Deke pinches her butt.
"We've got a consensus, then?" asks Dieter.
"Tell them no," says the walkie-talkie.
"They don't look too hungry to me," says Deke. "Get 'em outta here."
"Still," mutters Bonnie, "it seems such a shame..." She watches the monitor and does nothing.
"Hello? Hey, hello?"
Leonard activates the mike. "Wuh-wuh-we're still here," he says. He seems much more confident now that a decision has been made for him. "Listen, we... we've taken stock of our, um, situationhere, and we've talked it over, and examined the, uh, parametersof our food-intake quotients. You have to understand: we're rationed out ourselves. A meal for you means a meal less for someone here." His tone has become warm, congenial. "I'm sure you understand."
"You're saying no?" The beggar seems incredulous.
"I'm saying I'm sorry, but we've analyzed your situation with regard to ours, and we simply can't... accommodateyou at this time."
"I don't fucking believe - you won't give us three days' food?" He keeps glancing around, as if persuasive arguments lie around the asphalt parking lot. "What about my wife?" he asks. "What about our baby?"
"I'm very sorry," says Leonard. He does not sound very sorry. He sounds, in fact, glad to be in a position to refuse something to someone, for a change. Like a hotel manager effusively sympathetic because there's no room at his inn. "But you come here asking a favor," he continues stutterlessly, "and you don't have any right to blame us for declining to grant it."
"Favor?" The man raises the gun. "You want a favor, you god - "
"Hold it right there, son." Bill's voice, over the speakers.
The young man hesitates.
"Don't do it. I don't want to shoot, but I will." Bill doesn't sound reluctant to shoot. He sounds very excited. "Now, you've asked for help and we can't give it. We would if we could. My advice to you is for you and your wife to get back in your car and head out of here. Don't head for California; head for Phoenix. There's bound to be food there, and it's only a few hours' drive."
"But we just camefrom - "
"Then head south. But you can't stay here. You got that? We don't have anything for you."
"We'll workfor it!"
"There's no work for you here. This is a highly sophisticated station, and it takes a highly trained staff to operate it. There are a lot of us, and we're all armed. We need everything we have, and there isn't enough to go around. I'm sorry, son, but that's life in the big city. I - "
Bill breaks off. The young man and his wife look at something off camera.
"Get back inside!" yells Bill. "Back inside, now! That's an order!"
Leonard pans Camera One as close as it can come to the airlock entrance, which is below it and to the right. He shakes his head and gives a low whistle.
"Well," says Dieter. "Fuck me."
The rifle is braced on its strap on her shoulder. Her finger is on the trigger. In the other hand she holds a wicker basket. She's not nervous as she heads toward them - in fact, she's surprised how calm she is. Behind and above her, Billtheasshole yells for her to get back inside. She ignores him, but she feels a curious itching between her shoulder blades - probably because Bill is more likely to shoot her than they are.
They don't look as good off camera. A scar splits his eyebrow; another runs the length of his upper arm, bisecting a blue-gray anchor tattooed on his muscular biceps. He's not thin, but he looks undernourished. Vitamin deficiencies.
And the girl looks... well, wornis the only word Marly can think of. Used up. Her eyes are dull and unresponsive.
The hand gropes again from the bundle the girl carries. She presses it protectively to her, and Marly glimpses mottled flesh when the baby tries to suck the girl's nipple through the cotton of her T-shirt.
Marly stops ten feet from the man and sets down the basket. The girl glances down and holds the baby farther from her body.
The man and Marly stare at each other for a moment.
"What's it like?" asks Marly. She inclines her head to indicate the Arizona desert. "Out there."
"Pretty rough," he says.
She nods a few times. "Well..." She indicates the basket and steps back from it. "I'm sorry I can't do more. There's fruit, some vegetables, a little meat. A can of milk for the baby - what's wrong with it?"
"I don't know."
"Well, none of us is a medical doctor," she says. "But you might want to try a pharmacy whatever town you go through next. Or a doctor's office. If it's an infection, try ampicillin. If it's some kind of disease... well, antibiotics shouldn't hurt anyway. But keep her - him?" They don't say; Marly raises an eyebrow and continues. "...on liquids, and get her out of this heat."
Since setting down the basket she's been backing toward the airlock. The man comes forward. Instead of picking up the basket, he glances at the roof of the habitat.
"No one's going to shoot you," says Marly. "Just take it and go. And don't come back."
He lifts the basket and backs toward the El Camino. The girl is already behind the open passenger door, and now she eases into the cab. He sets the basket next to her, gets in, and shuts the door.
The man studies Marly. He nods, slowly. He starts the car and backs out. He backs up until he is out of the parking lot, then turns around and drives away.
For several minutes Marly watches the settling of the receding rooster tail raised by the car, and then she goes inside.
"Just who the hell do you think you are?"
"I'm one-eighth of this station, same as you, and I grew that food as much as anybody else did."
"You defied a direct order - "
"From someone with no authority over me. You know as well as I do that the hierarchy depends on the nature of the crisis."
"We put it to a vote, damn you - "
"Nobody asked for mine. How about you, Grace? Haiffa? Leonard? Bonnie?"
"Did you give any thought whatsoever to the repercussions this might have on us? You've just sent ripples through a very small pond."
"For Christ's sake, Bill, I gave them enough food to last them three days - if they're careful."
"We're not much more than three days from food depletion ourselves. Everychange affects allof us. You of all people should know that, Marly. The experiment can't continue if outside - "
"The experiment ended over a yearago, Bill! Along with the rest of civilization! Why don't you fucking wake up!"
"All the more reason for us to hold out. Maintaining this station ismaintaining civilization."
"But not humanity."
"Hey, Marly - the guy's just tryin' to say that, y'know - sometimes hard decisions have to be made. I'm sure he didn't like turning them down. Did you, man?"
"Of course not."
"Oh, Christ! Look, I'll skipa meal a day for three days, to make everything nice and even, all right? Will that make you happy?"
" Ithought we should give them some food."
"Yeah, Bonnie. But you didn't do shit."
" Motherfuckers." Sailor has the pedal to the metal. "Those mother fuckers, man. I thought we'd just grab some food from them, you know? As an excuse to case the place. See how many of them are left, see how good their security is, all that shit. But, goddamn, I never thought they wouldn't give us any food. Fuck, we'dhave given us food, I know we would've. We've doneit before! Sons of fucking bitches." He bangs the steering wheel. "They wouldn't feed a goddamn baby, man!" He glances at Sweetpea. "You believethat?"
Sweetpea is holding the baby at arm's length, staring at it with loathing. "It was chewing," she says dully.
"Of course it was chewing; it's a goddamn - "
She drops the baby and begins batting her hands about her as if fighting off wasps. "It was chewing, it was chewing, it was trying to eat me through my shirt, its mouthwas on me, oh, God, and it was moving, and I thought, that poor baby, and then I realized - "
Sailor grabs her arm and yanks. The El Camino swerves. "Calm down. Calm fucking down."
She stares at him wide-eyed. On the floorboard the baby paddles air like a roach on its back. Half out of its swaddling, the skin around its neck blues where the make-up leaves off, its left arm missing, ripped from the socket some unknown time ago. Its right arm reaches; its toothless mouth opens and closes. Its eyes are like flat plastic.
Sweetpea pulls her legs up to the seat.
"We have to drive straight out of here," says Sailor. "We can't give them any reason to think something's not right. Just stay calm until we get over the rise, there, all right? All right?"
"I want it out of here."
"In a minute." He seems amused at her revulsion. He snorts. "Just close your eyes and think of England."
Huddled on the seat, she turns to look at him. A mile later she says, "You wanna know why I fuck all the others and not you?"
Sailor gives her a you-can't-be-serious look. "Because I don't wantto fuck all the others?" he asks innocently.
She ignores him. "Sometimes the others are nice to me, you know? They give me things, they show me things. They take me where good things are. You give me the fucking creeps. You're like a fucking deadhead; you live inside your brain all the time and hardly ever come out, and when you do, it's fucking creepy. You got maggots in your brain, or something. I wouldn't fuck you if you were the last man on earth."
"Well, gosh," Sailor says meanly. "There can't be many more to go." He sighs. "Maybe someday..."
She slits her eyes and he laughs.
They top the rise. On the other side Sailor pulls off the road and fishes out his .45 semiautomatic from under the seat. He works the action and turns off the engine. He takes the keys, not about to leave them with her. He goes to her side and opens the door. He picks up the baby and turns to face the desert.
Its head lolls. Its mouth works. Its single hand grabs gently at the hair on his forearm. Its mouth opens and closes, opens and closes.
He holds the baby at arm's length, puts the barrel of the pistol against one unblinking flat-plastic eye, and fires.
hands: remember other hands of other food that touch and make the hunger go without the need of food from her a her i remember but the hunger and without her now the hunger still but her hands
Marly takes soil samples from the savanna. She must determine whether the recirculated air is percolating properly throughout all the environments; she suspects blockage in places.
Dieter leans against a mangrove tree, arms folded, left leg crossed over right.
"Hey, I'm not saying that you did the wrong thing," he is saying. "I'm just playing devil's advocate here. I mean, from Bill's standpoint, you've violated the integrity of the Ecosphere. You risked possible contagion; you depleted a carefully regulated - "
She stands with a metal scoop and a dripping, mud-filled plastic baggie in hand. She turns away from him and squishes toward another section of mangrove. She squats and gropes in the stagnant water.
Other than their brief sexual liaison in the first months of the station's operation, Dieter and Marly have something in common: They both helped design environments for the EPCOT Center at Walt Disney World in Florida. Under contract from Kraft, Marly worked on a pavilion called The Land, which raised its own crops in various experimental ways, including hydroponics and alternate-gravity centrifuge environments. Dieter helped stock a million-gallon, walk-through ocean called The Living Seas, complete with sharks and dolphins.
Marly wonders how ol' Walt Disney World is faring these days. The personnel and guests probably look and act pretty much the same. Down & Out in Tomorrowland, same as her.
Now, a week after reality so rudely impinged upon their own little world, Marly is trying to sever all connections with Staff as best she can, under the confined circumstances. She has slept in a tent in the desert every night. She has eaten only food she picks and prepares herself from the Agriculture wing. She does not report for morning exercises with Bill, psychiatric consultation with Grace, the weekly Staff gripe sessions, or the twice-weekly operations reports. She receives all environmental updates from the computer. She stands night watch on the monitor screens when scheduled to - a duty increased since what she has come to think of as the Food Incident.
So now Dieter stands around, dragging the Incident out into ridiculous academic discourse, and the jissum of his mental masturbation falls all over her. She wants to spill his alleged brains with her garden trowel, but what she does is continue working and ignore him. It's not very difficult. Thinking about it, Marly realizes that she's already spent over a year in solitary with these seven people.
For the others it's life as normal - as normal as they can make it, which is very normal indeed, if you apply a now-anachronistic standard. The Food Incident was simply an unplanned-for contingency; they tap its pertinent minutiae into their data banks and schedules and allotments; they compensate, and adjust, and otherwise act as though it were no different than any of the other minor inconveniences that must be dealt with to keep the Ecosphere going.
Marly knows better. She knows their heads are in the sand. She knows that, one day, the real world will show up and kick them in the ass.
But Marly also knows that it's a lot easier to get by in here than Outside. She is torn: she certainly does not want to leave the station, but she is not sure how much longer she can tolerate these whitebread martinets. Self ostracism is her temporary compromise. She's on hold. She is a weather vane, shaping herself around the direction of the wind.
Florida turns on the flashlight. Sailor watches as Jo-Jo's hands, knotted in the T-shirt (HE'S DEAD, JIM), extend before him. Jo-Jo trudges toward the source of the light like Frankenstein's monster.
Florida clicks off the light and Jo-Jo stops. He looks confused. Through the fence Sailor extends a broom handle from which dangles a fresh piece of cat. Jo-Jo grabs it and begins gnawing, string and all.
"How are the others coming along?"
Florida shrugs. "Not as good. Jo-Jo's still smartest. We can get 'em to go for the light, though, as long as we give 'em munchies after. They'll follow a piece of meat anywhere, particularly if it's alive. It's got so that every time they see a light, they expect food. But Jo-Jo's the only one you can get to carry things. Got him to open a door, a couple times."
One deadhead (SHIT HAPPENS) trips over a lounging deadhead whose shirt proclaims that she is BORN AGAIN.
Sailor shakes his head. "Pretty fucking stupid."
Florida nods. "Don't see what good all this is gonna do us."
"They taught pigeons to run machines by pecking buttons. Deadheads are as smart as pigeons."
"Not by much."
"No," Sailor agrees. "They're like plants that turn to follow the sun. Only they follow live meat. But we can redirect that impulse to get them to go after something else if we give them meat as a reward. Clustered stimuli and delayed gratification. They used to do the same thing to get people to quit smoking."
Florida laughs and scratches a muscular arm. "Dead? Call Schick! But Sailor, what do we need 'em for? We do all right by ourselves."
Sailor shrugs. "I want to use them," he says simply.
"You're still pissed at those techno-weenies out in the desert? Fuck 'em, bud. Let 'em rot. Ain't nothing those peckerwoods got that we can't get ourselves."
"There's more to it than that," Sailor mutters.
"You're taking this pretty personally," says Florida.
Sailor turns on him. "They wouldn't feed a fucking baby."
"Sailor, it was a deadhead."
"They didn't know that."
"So what? What possible difference can it make?"
"Aw, man, fuck you, all right?"
At the fence, finished with his bit of cat, cyanotic-tinged face against the broad steel mesh, Jo-Jo watches. Beside him now are the others, carnitropically attracted. They jostle and vie mindlessly, like teenagers before the gate at a rock concert. The upraised elbow of a deadhead (PARTY ANIMAL) strikes the temple of a skinny woman wearing a blank T-shirt that has a bumper sticker slapped onto it: I
EAT ROAD KILL.
Sailor and Florida turn at the sound of approaching music. Cheesecake has a ghetto blaster the size of a suitcase on his muscular shoulder. Run D.M.C. are demanding that sucker emcees call them sire. How Cheesecake can walk and dance at the same time is a mystery to Sailor, whose musical taste always ran to Tangerine Dream and King Crimson anyhow. Well-ordered, high-tech music. White-boy stuff.
Cheesecake's eyes glint in the light from the building the others are burning down across the quad. His irises are bright, mirrored rings.
"Fuck," whispers Florida, and reaches for his holster.
Sailor stops him with a hand on his elbow. Florida glances at him, and Sailor shakes his head.
Cheesecake stops before them and sets the ghetto blaster down, dancing jointlessly.
"I thought you'd gone deadhead," Florida says mildly.
Cheesecake dances. "Say what?" The music is pretty goddamn loud.
"I nearly shot your nigger-brains out!" yells Florida.
Florida and Sailor glance at each other and laugh.
"Oh, man..." says Florida, shaking his head.
"Hey, you like these?" Cheesecake points to his eyes. "They bad, or what?"
"Where'd you get 'em?" yells Sailor.
"I dunno. Some building." He waves across the quad, where the building burns.
"Optical sciences," says Sailor.
The song changes; the beat doesn't.
"You're gonna get your ass shot off with those on," yells Florida.
Florida shakes his head and turns to Sailor. "I don't think the others are gonna be too enthused on coming down on that place, Sailor," he says. "No percentage in it."
Sailor nods. "Figured."
"I have to tell you, too." He watches Cheesecake dancing. "Sweetpea thinks... well, she wants some of the guys to split up, you know, and come with her. You aren't exactly Number One on her hit parade."
"She wants to leave, let her."
"Yeah, but... a lot of the guys'd go with her. You know how it is."
"There's girls at that station in the desert."
"Yeah?" Hearing this last, Cheesecake brightens. "Hey, yeah?"
Sailor nods, and begins to elaborate, but stops when he sees Florida staring at the zoo pen. He turns to look.
"Hey, Jo-Jo!" Cheesecake points and grins. "Check you out, bro!"
sounds they make i remember from boxes it made me move not toward like food but with and sometimes with sounds and moving with her
* * *
"Jesus Christ," Sailor breathes, watching Jo-Jo stiffly dancing. "He remembers."
Later that night Jimmy sees Cheesecake coming down the steps of the Student Union and blows his nigger brains all over the concrete. Engineering defeats American History.
"He was walkin' funny an' his eyes was all fucked an' shit," he tells Sailor. "What the hell was I supposedto think?"
"Fuck if I know," replies Sailor, certain now that it's time he moved on.
Leonard in the monitor room is drawing circles on a yellow legal pad. He draws them two lines tall and one after the other, circle beside circle. He is trying to teach himself to draw a perfect circle every time. He will not stop until he draws two consecutive rows of perfect circles.
At the end of each row he surveys the monitor screens. Cameras are placed around the station, along with an alarm system on the bottom row of glass panes around the perimeter.
Leonard does not see the Ryder truck with its lights out glide to the base of the slope and stop several hundred yards from the south end of the Ecosphere. He does not see the driver's-side door open and close (without the cab light coming on), nor the black-clad driver hurrying to the back to raise the door. He does not see the masked Pied Piper with a flashlight beam lead a group of shambling figures toward the Ecosphere.
Leonard draws a row of nearly perfect circles and surveys the monitors. He looks directly at the Ryder truck at the bottom left of Monitor Five, but motionless in the dark it looks like the rest of the angular landscape and he returns to drawing circles.
He completes a perfect row, and is halfway through a second when the alarm goes off.
Marly awakens to the sound of a distant bell. It is dark inside her two-man tent. She slips out of her sleeping bag and pushes past the entrance flaps.
Stars shine in the Arizona sky above glass above desert built in desert.
She zips her coverall and tries to get her bearings. It's the general alarm; somebody on monitor watch must have hit it.
A chill clenches her stomach. She retrieves her carbine from the tent and heads down the bluff, then around the miniature oasis and toward the marshlands. Marshwater has begun to soak through her Reeboks when she hears the screams. She stops, and chill water saturates.
From the animal pens. She splashes toward the savanna and the nearest access corridor.
The sound of the pigs squealing in terror awakens Grace. Her room is right next to the animal pens, and she hurriedly throws on a robe and looks out the window. There is motion, but it is too dark to make out anything.
She leaves her room and hurries down the corridor, out the front door, and past the bean poles toward the animal pens. Only then does she notice that an alarm bell is ringing. Her feet are getting dirty and there is a cold draft blowing from the apple orchard. She should have thought to put on her slippers, at least, but no, if something's happened to Bacon, or Pork Chop, she'd want to get -
She stops. The cool breeze is coming from the end of the apple orchard. In the dim light she can see two triangular glass panes are missing from the wall past the trees. What could have caused that? It could have just... blownin - the difference in external air pressure, maybe, or even just a strong gust. Maybe that'swhat had upset the poor little piggies: the sound of breaking glass.
The squealing comes again, startling her. She rushes toward the pens, unmindful of cold air or dirty feet. "There, there," she calls as she opens the waist-high gate.
"Mommie's here. It's all right." She finds the switch for the bare bulb above the pigpen and flips it up. "Mommie's - "
Bacon is standing on top of a man. The man has arms and legs wrapped around Bacon. Bacon is gnawing on his shoulder. His round head tosses, tearing flesh and pulling tendon.
Beside them is the gutted body of Hambone. Grace is horrified to see that Hambone is still alive.
The man's head comes up. Bacon's ferocious gnawing does not seem to bother him. He opens his mouth and bites her neck. Pork flesh tears and blood gouts. Bacon squeals.
" What are you doing?" Grace is heading toward him before she knows what sheis doing. " You get away from her!"
Bacon slips loose. Blood squirts rhythmically from her neck. The man stands amid snuffling pigs. He turns toward her. Pig blood streaks his Grateful Dead T-shirt. Bloodless flaps of flesh fold from torn fabric at his shoulder.
Grace is only beginning to register what it is that turns toward her. That heads toward her with vacant eyes and outstretched arms. That needs her as no one has. She backs up a step. "No," she says. "No, wait." Snuffling pigs nuzzle her calves. "You can't - you don't belong - "
She falls backward over Fatback. The frenetic pig tramples her stomach. The breath is knocked from her. Something tugs her foot. She looks up. Hot Dog's mouth is around her instep. She jerks back her leg. The pig makes a guttural noise like the growling of a dog. Its eyes are wide and dull in the light from the bare bulb.
She sits up. The intruder bends to her. He places a hand on either shoulder. He opens his mouth. Pork gobbets hang from green-coated teeth. She cannot get breath enough to scream. She pushes him away and tries to stand. Hot Dog tears into her calf. The intruder bends again. Her leg is burning. She kicks away. Hot Dog squeals and bites again. The intruder lowers his face to her breast. Ringing bells and squealing pigs. His teeth come together. It burns. He turns his head. It tears. She pushes him away. Wetness warms her hands. Tatters of herself in his mouth. Her fingers smear dark wet across his face. Into his mouth. He bites. Bone crunches. She pulls back her hand. Two fingers gone. Leg numb. Why so cold? Vague pressures. Distant sound of chewing.
Burning white flashes as he feeds the pigs feed on rip of meat stripped from bone pull tendons bitten tugged snapped like hot strands of cheese that pulse the pulse that beats... that... ebbs... that... slows... and... fades... away.
Marly hurries along the access corridor, wet shoes squishing. The Ecosphere is very dark; they do not like to keep "exterior" lights on at night because they would be visible for miles.
At the screen door leading to the agriculture wing she pauses.
Pop. Pop-pop! - and breaking glass.
She unslings her carbine and opens the door.
Dieter jumps awake at the sound of the bell. He sits up in bed and glances at the flashing computer screen on his desk. INTEGRITY BREACH. He rubs his eyes, gets out of bed, and puts on his clothes. He fastens his belt and opens his closet to retrieve a .45 automatic in a shoulder holster and the pump 30.06 Deke gave him the day of the Food Incident.
He is halfway up the stairs to the monitor room when he hears the screams from outside. He pumps the rifle, chuk-chik!and hurries into the corridor, where he meets Bonnie in her white kimono. They run for the front door.
The screams have stopped by the time they are outside. Neither has a flashlight, and they stand in the darkness for a moment, letting their eyes adjust. Bonnie gestures nervously toward the animal pens, and they head that way, Dieter in the lead and Bonnie clinging close behind, both trying to be silent but making a lot of noise.
At the low barrier to the pigpen they stop. The pigs are gathered and snuffling, hind ends wiggling. Dieter vaults the barrier and claps his hand against the rifle stock. The pigs scatter, and Dieter stops in his tracks. Spread before him is emptied Grace, and before her in the flesh kneels a real live dead carnitrope. The carnitrope raises its head and opens its mouth. A quivering strip of flesh hangs on its upper lip, then slides off.
Behind him Bonnie vomits.
Dieter levels his rifle and pulls the trigger. It will not depress. The carnitrope is getting to its feet. For some reason Dieter does not think to check the safety, but drops the rifle and pulls the .45 from its holster. The carnitrope shambles toward him, dragging a worn wing-tip shoe through Grace. Dieter thumbs the safety and pulls the trigger. The bullet makes a small hole going in and a large hole going out of the carnitrope's chest. The corpse staggers back under the impact, heel squirting something rubbery from beneath, then comes forward again. Dieter aims higher and fires twice. The back of the carnitrope's head sprays away, and behind it a pane shatters. The corpse slams backward to land in the remains of Grace.
Bill pops awake the second he hears the alarm bell. He's anticipated something like this, and he's ready. They'll never catch old Bill with his pants down. He pulls a Smith & Wesson .44 magnum from under his bed, snatches his brown coverall from across the back of the chair at his desk, where he has left it so that he can find it in the dark, and pulls it on without letting go of the enormous pistol. He goes to his door and raises the pistol alongside his head. Purple light flickers from his desk as the computer monitor screen comes to life. INTEGRITY BREACH, it reads, and begins blinking. Bill narrows his eyes and turns back to the door. He snatches it open and peers into the corridor.
The bell continues to ring.
He jumps into the corridor and lands in a policeman's firing stance, legs straddled, left hand around right hand holding the gun, back straight, arms a little bent. He didn't read Soldier of Fortunefor nothing.
He turns quickly. The corridor is clear. He straightens and moves for the stairwell and the monitor room.
Leonard is puh-puh-panning cameras like mad, searching for any sign of motion, when Bill bursts into the room. He starts, then bolts out of his chair when he sees that Bill clutches the buh-buh-biggest pistol he has ever seen, aimed square at his chest. He glances at the monitors and Bill lowers the gun.
"You sounded the alarm?"
Leonard shakes his head. "Window buh-buh-broke. In the orchard."
Bill frowns, still looking at the monitors. "False alarm?" He sounds disappointed.
Bill peers forward. "Hold Camera Five," he says.
Leonard hits a button on the console. Bill leans until his face is five inches from the screen. "Bring it up."
"Do you mean zoom, or p-p- panup?"
Bill glares. "Zoom," he says.
Leonard works the controls until Bill is staring at a Ryder truck not three hundred yards downhill from the desert environment. He turns to look at Leonard. He raises the gun. Leonard raises his hands as if to ward off bullets.
From outside they hear gunshots. Pop. Pop-pop.
Haiffa swims naked in cool tropical water. She cannot bear to open her eyes in salt water and so swims blindly, coming up for a breath and flipping back down again. Her long hair streams behind her; she is a mermaid. Or a Siren, perhaps, to torture the naked ears of Ulysses.
She likes to swim after making love. She likes to think of Deke lying spent on the shore, waiting for his Venus to emerge.
She swims out past the sandbar and surfaces. She waves toward the narrow shore, but Deke does not see her because he is facing the Staff Quarters to the west and scratching his head. She draws a deep breath and dives.
The bottom is less than twenty feet down, here; she grabs it with her hands. Grit collapses in her palms. Sometimes she has accidentally grabbed crabs here, or scraped herself against rock, or been startled when -
- something slides across her leg. She jerks, but of course it is only a fish, though for a moment it felt -
Her ankle is grabbed. The grip is cold and firm. She whirls and opens her eyes. Salt water stings. Dark water. She reaches. Her fingers brush the cloud of her hair. She kicks out, but encounters nothing. Her leg is tugged. She jackknifes to free herself from whatever holds her. Something with ridges. It feels like a hand, but that's ridic -
Agony as something rips along the blade of her foot. Air bubbles contain her scream, float to the surface, and pop without a sound. Haiffa curls up and grabs at her foot. Her hands encounter something round, with hair. A head. But it can't be a head, not down here. Her hands slide across it as her foot pulses into the cold water. Her fingers trace cold flesh and opened eyes.
Following her next scream is a short gasp. It contains water. She forces herself to check it. Salt water in her throat. She coughs. The little air that remained to her bubbles up. Her lungs feel scoured. Her foot throbs. Her leg is pulled in again. Two hard crescents press into her thigh, and press harder. In the sudden pain of tearing flesh she rips away a clot of hair in one hand. Thrashing now. She tries to scream, but there is nothing. Her mouth works to call, but the world lies above a veil of water she cannot part. The only sound is the beating of her heart.
The flailing arm that holds the hair is grabbed, is pulled. Her mouth stretches horribly as arm muscle is pulped and torn away. Mottled red tinges the darkness in her eyes. A tone builds in her ears, the sustained ringing of a distant underwater bell. Some threshold is crossed in her brain, a line of resistance past which the instinct to breathe defeats the knowledge that there is no breath to draw. She inhales. Her lungs fill with water. Relief floods into the midst of her pain. Coolness quenches the burning in her chest.
Something tears loose inside her. The ringing grows, her heartbeat slows. Red lace webs her vision. Pain spreads up her arm as she is drawn into a cold embrace, is held like a lover, is kissed with great passion, is consumed, while around her the water grows warm.
Deke rises from the beach at the sound of gunfire. Pop. Pop-pop!Pistol, sounds like. He brushes sand from his butt and turns toward the agricultural wing. He opens his mouth to improve his hearing, but there is nothing further to hear. He does not see the hand rise from the water behind him, wave a frantic goodbye, and sink again.
He picks up his jeans, shakes them out, and begins pulling them on. "Haiffa," he calls. "Haiffa!"
He peers forward, straining to see in the darkness. The Olympic-sized ocean is placid.
Been under an awful long time now. Prob'ly swam out past the sandbar, but she oughta be able to hear him call. Should check out that gunfire. Better make sure Haiffa's okay first.
He walks to the end of the beach and skirts the ocean to the west, where the savanna begins.
Probably somebody finally had enough of ol' Billy-boy and did it to him. More than likely idjit did it to himself, way he handles a gun. Damn fool could screw up a two-car funeral on a one-way street. Three shots, though.
Well, it'd probably take him three shots to find a brain in that head to blow out anyway, the stupid son of -
Something in the water there? Not big enough to be Haiffa, though. But what the hell couldit be? Gator? Shee-it. Something else appearing beside it, something smaller. Oh, forgot to tell you, man. Dieter's voice in his head. Put a little tiger shark in the ocean. Full stock, right? Scavengers of the deep, y'know?
Splashing as something rises from the water. Dripping as it emerges.
Reaches the smaller object in the water, grabs it, picks it up. Brings it toward itself. Heading toward him. Taking shape from the darkness. Wet figure. Woman. Not Haiffa. Pulls the object away from its head, dangles it by its side. In silhouette he sees the object is a leg from ragged-ended knee to foot. Pulled in again. Piece ripped away.
Deke sprints toward the beach. Fucking pistol on the towel. He splashes through the muddy ground, hits soft, wet sand, heads to the dark square of towel. Yep, pistol's there. Smith and Wesson beats four aces, his daddy used to say. Take that to the bank. Bill had wanted the guns back. "Sure you can have it back," he'd replied, and repeats it now. "You take it from me, it's yours."
He wipes palms on jeans and grips the pistol firmly. On the sand he waits as the figure stumbles onto the beach, recovers, and gropes toward him. Carnitrope. What the fuck was thatsupposed to mean? Plant's phototropic, Bill explained. Turn toward sunlight. Biochemical reaction. Stimulus/response. Ding! - slobber. Carni= meat.
He raises the pistol and thumbs back the trigger -
Carnitrope his goddamn ass. They can call it that if it makes 'em feel better, but his momma didn't raise no fools.
- sights down the long barrel -
" The only thing working is their hindbrains - the reptilian complex," Marly had lectured. " They're like snakes that wait in one place all day for something to come along. The R-complex lets the carnitropes move, and the only reason they move is to get live meat." Chink bitch. He may be just a glorified fucking janitor, but where did she come off -
The figure staggers back and drops the leg onto the sand. It comes forward again.
" Cut off the R-complex - decapitation, massive neural destruction," Marly had continued, " and the tropism is removed." In memory Bill smiles. " In other words," he elaborated, " if you blow their brains out they have a motivation problem."
"Blow your fuckin' brains out," breathes Deke. He cocks the hammer and fires again.
A sudden furrow glistens above the creature's left eye. The creature takes two more steps. Stops. Reaches up an inquiring hand. Fingers sink to knuckles. Hand lowers. Another step. Front knee buckles, and it pirouettes to the sand.
Deke holds the gun on it for a few more seconds, then straightens and nears it cautiously. Yep. Dead for good.
Writing on its wet T-shirt. LIFE'S A BITCH, THEN YOU DIE. Diiferent lettering beneath: THEN YOU COME BACK. Nipples beneath the wet fabric. Peekaboo.
Deke looks out over the little ocean. A little log, propelled by the eternal north wind, drifts toward the sandbar.
Crack!More gunfire. Rifle, this time. He better -
- searingblindwhiteness. Jesus fucking -
He sinks to his knees. His belly is turning warm. Somebody pushed a hot soldering iron through his chest. He looks down at his knees. Grit-ringed wet spots in the denim. I hate that. Fuckin' cold spots when I walk -
You never hear the one that gets you. Goddamn lie. Heard that one just fine. Oh, shit. He tries to rise, but something shudders to a halt inside.
Sailor lowers his nine-millimeter Ingram submachine gun. The man he has just shot arches his back and spasms once. God, he hates that. Like all the nerves are screaming at once. Gives him the fuckin' willies.
He turns away from the beach. Invisible in his black jeans and sweatshirt, he works rapidly but quietly from tree to tree, heading uphill from the palms on the beach to the dense foliage of the rain forest. At the north end vegetation meets slanting glass panes. He pulls a box from his nylon backpack, wedges it between two aluminum struts, and turns a Radio Shack wireless intercom to "receive." He hurries toward the west wall, where he places another box and attaches another intercom.
He pauses at the screen door to the access corridor that leads back to the agriculture wing, where he broke in ten minutes ago. Floodlights are on outside the staff quarters, illuminating neat rectangles of crops. Getting in there isn't going to be easy.
* * *
Bill looks from the carnitrope lying in tattered Grace to the missing panes at the end of the orchard. "All right, now, let's not jump to any conclusions," he says. "It could be that one just got in here and went for the pigs, and Grace found it."
"Right," says Leonard. "It ruh-ruh- renteda Ryder truck and d-d- droveon up here to see if it could buh, buy a bacon, lettuce, and tomato sandwich." He wipes a shaking hand across his mouth.
Bill narrows his eyes.
"It was eating her," Bonnie says flatly. She looks strangely calm, as if Grace's death at the teeth of a reanimated corpse is yet another factor to account for in the many trivial events that accrue during the normal operation of the Ecosphere. Yes, Grace is dead; now work schedules will have to be adjusted, and the sudden one-eighth surplus of food and water will have to be noted, and of course a new person will have to be appointed to moderate the weekly gripe sessions, not to mention someone else having to slop the remaining pigs.
Bill, Dieter, and Leonard regard her stonily. It is as if her casualness toward Grace's death is more repulsive than the fact and manner of Grace's death. There is something alien about it. If only she would go into hysterics, they would understand. That's what a woman is supposedto do when this sort of thing happens; they're conditionedby society. They can't help it. So why doesn't Bonnie just have a screaming fit and get it over with?
"I guess we shouldn't assume there aren't any more of them," Dieter says.
Bill nods. "Someone let them in here deliberately. An infiltration."
"Huh-who?" asks Leonard.
Dieter cradles his arms and rocks them, humming "Rock-a-bye Baby."
Bill frowns. He inclines his head, slowly. "We have to stay together," he says. "I don't want - "
Their heads jerk.
"Beach," says Leonard.
"Deke and Haiffa," says Dieter.
Bill brandishes his pistol. "Leonard, you come with me. Dieter, stay with Bonnie."
Bill trots away without waiting for Leonard, pistol in the lead.
Crack!Different sound from the beach. Bill stops. He glances back. "Leonard?"
Leonard swallows and cuh-cuh-catches up to Bill, his rifle held before him like a shield he doesn't trust.
Marly in the southern access corridor, trying to decide what to do. First three shots from near the agriculture wing to the northwest, and now three more from the vicinity of the beach. Which way should she go?
Well... assuming it's the same people shooting, she ought to head in the direction of the most recent shots.
She firms her grip on the carbine and turns back.
"I don't want to wait here."
Dieter looks at Bonnie as if suddenly remembering she is there. "We have to wait till they find out what's going on."
"I don'twant to wait here." She glances toward the pen at the bodies of the two pigs, the carnitrope, and Grace. The other pigs snuffle and make nervous sounds, run into one another, trample the bodies, sometimes stop to nuzzle the freshly dead, and raise their piggy heads with piggy noses freshly red.
Dieter goes to the pen and bangs the low wall to calm the pigs, but they only bleat louder. "I'm gonna let 'em out," he decides. Bonnie says nothing, and Dieter opens the little wooden gate. The pigs do not bolt, so Dieter enters the pen and drives them out.
"I'm going inside," says Bonnie. "I'm going to my room. Until this is over."
"Hey, you can't do that. You heard what the man said."
"He's got no authority over me. There's no rank here. I wouldn't have volunteered if there was. Fuck that supremist bullshit."
"I mean about the zom - the carnitropes." He walks from the pen, and they head toward the front of the staff quarters. "There are probably others in here," he continues. "And someonelet them in. You don't even have a gun."
"I despise the things. They're maleweapons. Extensions of the male sexuality. If you can't rape something, you exterminate it."
Dieter gives a moment's thought to exterminating Bon-nie, but none to raping her.
"I'm going to my room," Bonnie continues, "and locking the door. No one will bother me there. I'm not going to be a party to you people acting out your primal hunting instincts. I am civilized, and I refuse to collaborate."
"You are one fucked-up asshole," says Dieter. "You know that? I use the word asshole because it is nonchauvinistic. Everyone has one, y'know?"
Bonnie opens the front door to the staff quarters and goes inside. Dieter shakes his head. He levels the 30.06 extension of his male sexuality and surveys the floodlighted area. He wishes he had a cigarette, the first such craving he has felt in a while. Or a joint. They had to give up cigarettes when they entered the Ecosphere, and bringing in marijuana seeds was out of the question, even though Marly claimed they'd grow fine in the tropics.
He stands stiffly and swiveling, trying to make his face hard. Dieter the Martian colonist standing sentry duty within the lone glass island, the only thing between safety and the living-dead invaders who threaten their very -
Something pokes his back. "Don't move." The voice is tight, as if the throat that produced it is constricted.
He begins to move anyway, then stops.
"Drop the gun. Now."
He lowers the rifle. Holds it at arm's length. Lets go.
Loud thud of a large-caliber handgun from somewhere near the ocean.
Someone shoves his shoulder. "That way. Inside."
Dieter attempts to walk normally. If he passes an opened door, a corner to scuttle around -
"Keep your hands up. I have a submachine gun, and you wouldn't get five feet without looking like an outtake from Bonnie and Clyde. Got it?"
He glances back despite himself. " Bonnie and Clyde?"
Poke in the kidneys. "Move, asshole."
"Where are we going?"
"Power room. Battery room. Whatever the fuck you people call it."
"I don't know how - "
"I don't care what you don't know. You take me to it. Fuck with me and I'll kill you. And I'll put the bullet in your heart so you come back, like my friends out there."
Dieter imagines himself an automaton: stumbling, agape, hands outstretched, eyes needy, drawn to living flesh. Turning left toward the power room, he finds himself wondering just how different it would really be.
"It got him? The, the carnitrope, it got him?"
Bill toes Deke's face-down body, which yields joint-lessly. There is a small, nearly bloodless hole between the shoulder blades. Bill bends and turns the body over. The torso rolls, but the legs stay knee-down, body twisted at the waist.
That's how you know someone's dead, Leonard thinks. Because they don't care what position they're in.
Bill rolls the lower half of Deke's body as well. Out of some sense of decorum? Whatever; he squats before the big man's chest. A larger, more ragged exit hole exactly at the solar plexus. "Someone shot him in the back," Bill says.
Leonard glances around the beach. They're pretty exposed here. Something floats against the sandbar in the water. A sniper there, prone in the water? Too far, too dark, to tell. "Shouldn't we take cuh, cuh, cover?" he asks.
"Whoever shot him wouldn't remain in one position." Bill stands and goes to the corpse of the carnitrope. "They'd sweep the terrain, continue mobile. Tactical maneuvering. Offensive advantage. Search and destroy. Divide and conquer."
Leonard comes up beside him. "Took one with him," Bill observes.
They do not see Deke's body stir behind them.
"Lot of guh-good it did him," Leonard replies.
They do not hear it regain its feet and begin to slouch toward them.
Leonard maintains a respectful distance from the morbid X of the carnitrope. "So... w-what should we duh-do now?"
Bill never answers, because Leonard's shoulder is grabbed. He turns and finds himself face to face with Deke. At first he is relieved: They made a mistake and Deke is not duh-duh-dead after all. But realization floods in: Deke is wall-eyed and slack-faced. Thickened blood stains his chin. Sand clings to the right side of his face, to his eyelashes - Leonard can even see grains in his eye. But Deke does not blink. He does not breathe. He does not have any light of life in his eyes. His cold fingers curl on Leonard's shoulder, and pull. What do you want to say, Deke? What are you trying to tell me? Nuh-nuh-nothing. His mouth opens. Bill is shouting something, but Leonard is so fascinated by the sight of Deke back from the dead like some redneck Jesus that he doesn't really hear Bill. Deke the Resurrected pulls him nearer, and Leonard knows he ought to do something, but all he can do is stare. The rifle is a piece of wood in his hand. Flesh of my flesh, good buddy. That's what Deke would say if the front part of his brain was still working. You gonna be baptised now! You gonna get the faith! The Holy Spirit gonna enter you! Whosogoddamnever believeth in me shall not perish, but shall dwell in the House of the Bored forever.
But Deke the Saviour stops. He stares at Leonard in a kind of open-mouthed sorrow, a wistfulness like a child denied a sugary cereal on a trip to the grocery store with Mom. The hand still holds his shoulder, but no longer clutches with need, no longer pulls imploringly. A dog-like, questioning look enters the dull eyes. Leonard feels a kind of stupid disappointment. He feels a sudden compulsion to reason with Deke, dead or no, to ask him just what the heck is going on here, good buddy, you gonna eat me or what? But the enormously long, black barrel of a pistol enters the scene and taps Deke on the temple. Leonard sees the hand curled around the handle, bite-nailed index finger curved over the trigger, hammer cocked. Bill to the rescue. Bill who nightly yearns for rabid dogs, broken-legged horses, mortally wounded soldiers in a platoon pursued by enemy soldiers. It is the proof of your grit to shoot your own dog; it is the token of your humanity to put a thing out of its misery. Bill has wanted to put something out of its misery for as long as he can remember. An unnatural and unsanctified reanimation stands between Deke and his heavenly reward; Bill as God's agent shall liberate his spirit.
The finger squeezes, the hammer descends, the bullet flies, the locker of Deke's being sprays onto the sand. Father forgive them.
Marly ducks back behind the tree. Jesus Christ, they killedhim; they shot Deke -
No. No. Think. Piece it together. Deke was dead already.
All right. Then maybe Bill and Leonard knew what was happening here, what this madness was all about.
Sweating in the artificial subtropic night, she steps out from behind the tree. She lowers her rifle and waves. "Hey," she calls.
Bill whirls and fires. The .44 magnum goes off like a cannon. Behind her she hears the bullet slam into the tree. A splinter strikes her arm.
She drops, rolls sideways, and ends up prone with the butt of her carbine against her right shoulder, left eye sighting. "It's Marly," she calls. "Drop your gun."
"Marly - " Bill heads toward her.
"Drop your gun, or Deke's gonna hold the door for you on his way in."
He hesitates, possibly thinking about the independent clause of Marly's sentence, but drops the gun. His left hand goes to his wrist.
"You, too, Leonard."
"Listen, Marly, there's muh, muh, moreof those things around here. I don't think it's such a g-g-good - "
She pulls the trigger. The rifle doesn't buck nearly as much as she thought it would. A plume of sand kicks up behind Leonard's right leg, and he drops his rifle. Marly stands and heads toward them. "Now what the hell's going on?" she demands as she approaches.
"Someone's b-b-broken into the station," Leonard says from the beach.
"Infiltration," adds Bill. "Carnitropes for distraction. Behind enemy lines. Liberating the soles in limbo. Tactical incursion, hit and run, select firepower for multienviron-ment guerrilla warfare. Strategic placement, Staff on alert." He is breathing heavily. His right wrist is swelling.
Marly looks at Leonard, who shrugs and looks momentarily worried. Bill, he seems to be indicating, is playing poker with a pinochle deck.
"Grace is dead," says Leonard, and Marly feels something with blades unfold in her chest. Not because she cared especially for Grace, to be quite honest, but because their hermetic group is irretrievably reduced. Change has been introduced into the system; ripples will spread from this splash. About fucking time.
She indicates the corpses on the sand behind Leonard. "One of them?"
He nods. "Huh-Haiffa, too, we think."
"I saw what happened with Deke. Why did he stop? He had you, but he just stopped."
"Because I liberated him," replies Bill. "I freed him, I cast him from limbo. Because I blew his goddamn brains out."
"Why did he stop attacking you before Bill shot him?" Marly firmly directs her question to Leonard, who shrugs.
"I don't know. One m-minute he was all over me, and the nuh, next it was like he'd smelled bad muh-muh- meat, or someth..." He stops.
"B-b-bad meat," says Leonard. "Oh, my God. That's it. Culls from the herd. Cellular awareness." He looks at Marly. "Jesus Christ, that's it." His stutter is much slighter.
"It's an extremely good pistol, actually," says Bill.
Marly ignores him. She is uncertain what to do. Now Leonard seems to be popping his excelsior, too.
"Hodgkin's disease," says Leonard, and thumps his chest. For a moment Marly thinks it's another non sequitur, but then she realizes.
"You son of a bitch," she says. "You never said - "
And the lights go out all over the Ecosphere.
Bonnie sits in lotus on her bed. Om mani padme om. Om mani padme om. She uses the litany as a kind of squeegee to wipe away the karmic scum she feels she has accumulated tonight.
She is just beginning to feel relaxed when the lights go out. She sits in darkness for a moment, waiting for her eyes to adjust.
She hears a faint noise like popcorn popping in the distance.
She debates whether she should stay in her room. What decides her is the realization that the air vents probably aren't working if the power is out. She'll want to be outside.
But... outside? The men are stalking each other, and probably Marly playing their adolescent army games along with them. Outside? No; let them get it out of their systems. Of course there are carnitropes out there, the reanimated corpses, but Bonnie feels no superstitious dread whatsoever toward them. They didn't askto be what they are, and what they are is really not very different from plants. Hungry plants, mobile plants, but plants all the same. And Bonnie feels a kinship with plants. She certainly does not feel threatenedby them, just as she does not feel threatened by the carnitropes. You could outrun them, outsmart them, out-anything them.
She gropes around her modular dresser until she finds a miniature Tekna flashlight. She twists the ridged section ringing the lens, and the light comes on. She slides the circle of light around her room and is reminded of a germ under a microscope. Light is the only weapon she needs.
She fixes the circle of light on her door and makes her way toward it.
"This is it." Dieter opens the power-room door and begins to enter.
"Stay right there. Turn on the light."
"I can't stay where I am and turn on the light."
"Turn on the light, asshole."
Dieter leans in and turns on the light. He takes short steps as he is prodded in. The door is shut behind him. He turns to look at his captor for the first time and is unsurprised to recognize the long-haired young man who came begging last week. Was it last week? He's not sure how long ago it was. Time flies.
"Yeah, it's me," says the young man. "You just stay right there. Lace your fingers and put your hands on top of your head. We're playing charades and you're a sequoia, got it?"
Dieter doesn't get it, but he nods anyway and does as he's told.
The man keeps the submachine gun trained on him as he shrugs out of a nylon daypack. He bends and unzips it, keeping the gun on him, then pulls out a box about the size of a cardboard pencil case. The box is olive-drab and curved like a hip flask. In upraised letters one side reads FRONT TOWARD ENEMY. He carries box and backpack toward power-converter controls, circuit breakers, generator controls, voltmeters, regulators, and stacked banks of power-storage batteries. He sets the box face-down on a bank of controls, pulls out a little white box with square buttons that looks like a portable radio, connects it to the curved box, and trips a toggle switch. He sets another curved box against the battery bank. "Nice little ratbox you people have here," he says conversationally as he goes about his work. "All the comforts of home. Air conditioning. Barcaloungers. MTV."
"What do you want from us?" Dieter asks.
"Nothing." He glances at him. "Really." He shrugs. "Used to want a hamburger or two, but hey, that's life in the big city, now, isn't it?"
"Look, man, Iwanted to give you some food. I toldthem we should, that it was only the right thing to do. But they wouldn't - "
The man waves him to silence. "Water under the bridge," he says. "Let the dead past bury its dead, I say." He indicates the row of circuit breakers. "Main power switch?" he asks.
Dieter shrugs. "I'm a marine biologist," he says.
"Mmph. Chust followink orders, huh?"
Dieter says nothing. The man rises and goes to the row of circuit breakers. He throws a knife switch. Nothing happens. He pulls another one. Nothing. Another.
" 'S awright," he says. "They're doing something somewhere." He continues throwing switches.
The lights go out, and Dieter makes his move.
Sailor waits until he hears the door latch jerked down and the door snatched open. He fires a burst on full auto, sweeping the barrel in a tight crescent. The clip is empty in seconds. He thumbs the release, pulls out the empty, drops it, pulls a fresh one from his back pocket, and slaps it in. He bends and gropes until he encounters the backpack. He pulls out a penlight and switches it on, then attaches it beneath the squarish gun barrel with electrical tape and plays it around the room.
The body props open the door. Bulletholes in a slight diagonal to either side of the door frame. Sailor shoulders his pack and steps over the body. "One duuumb fucker," he says. He trains the penlight beam down. All back shots, a whole bunch of them. They don't count for shit in the long run, but that's all right. It's Sailor's party. The more, the merrier.
Flashlight beam guarded with one hand, he steps past the body and makes his way down the hall.
Bill doesn't waste a second: He knows where his gun is, and when the lights go out, he bends, scoops it up, and runs. He doesn't need light to find his way. Hyperacute kinesthesia. Night sense. Geared to register motion. Under siege. Trojan horse. Marly and Leonard calling, but he keeps running. Charlie's out there. In the bush. In the desert. In the marsh. In the fields. In their own back yard.
Gotta deploy. Gotta recon. Stay low. Hit and roll. Hit and run.
He reaches the screen door easily and negotiates the access corridor in a westerly direction. He emerges in fresher air and croplands. Out there. Waiting.
Footsteps. Running toward him. Breathing, low, from the ground. Crawling, sneaky sons of bitches. Pale figure coming toward him on hands and knees. He raises the magnum and fires. Pain stitches his sprained wrist. Tough shit. Gotta be tough, son. No pain, no gain.
Squealing, labored breathing. Stubby, flailing legs in front of him. A goddamn pig, for Christ's sake!
Wrist throbbing, he stalks the cornfields. There, there, two of the fucks. Zip, zip, good as dead. Good as dead - hah! Better soon.
He stalks. Three shots left? Let's see: one that liberated Deke, one that missed Marly, one for makin' bacon. Yep: three left.
They're turning for him now. Stupid bastards, not even brains enough to hide. Couldn't sneak up on a goddamn slug. He walks right up to the nearest. Gun against the nose. It grabs the barrel. "Say goodnight, Grade," he says, and pulls the trigger - but the sonofabitch has grabbed around the backof the gun, and the hammer won't cock back. Bill tugs the gun and the creature merely follows. The other one is pretty close now. Bill puts a foot on its stomach and shoves. The gun slides free. Bill steps back. Too close to take time to aim. Head a hard target. Policeman crouch, good form, squeeze...
Boom!and the fucker slams backward like it's been sledgehammered by God himself. In the muzzle flash the T-shirt reads SAVE THE WHALES.
Bill ignores the pain in his wrist as he takes aim and fires at the second staggering figure. Boom!EAT ME, reads the shirt.
Bill laughs. "Eat this, shit-for-brains!" He waves the magnum. His wrist is on fire. He is alive.
He runs for the staff HQ. Ten feet in front of it, the door is flung open. He fires automatically: last bullet, quick on the draw, and right in the goddamn forehead, yeah! What's her T-shirt say? He bends, pulls a flashlight from the twitching fingers, shines it down.
No T-shirt. Kimono, parted to expose one breast. Doesn't say a thing. Germ circle of light slides up to dead eyes, drilled forehead, red hair.
Leonard walks the forest of the dead. He is one of them and they leave him alone. He is tainted. He is taboo. He is bad meat.
In the distance, gunfire.
Sweating he wanders smiling through lush tropics. He'll make it. They'll leave him alone. Leonard alone may run the gauntlet of the dead. The rejected cull triumphant. Darwin in reverse: Those who have not survived will allow the genetic undesirable to continue.
Leonard pauses. There is more to fear from the living, he realizes.
Then I shall climb a tree. I will sit in a branch and await the dawn. And then? I will be free. To do whatever I want. For as long as... as I have left.
He finds a tree and hoists himself up from the leaf-carpeted ground.
Marly thinks it's about time to abandon ship. At the first sound of gunfire she was acting out of concern for the Ecosphere and the safety of the others, but now she realizes that the Ecosphere has been a ghost ship for quite some time, Flying Dutchman in the Arizona desert, and the truth about her crew is that it's alwaysbeen every man for himself. The current situation merely brings the point home.
Nope: too late to repair the leaks, to Band Together As A Unit; no returning to Those Golden Days of Yesteryear. Time to jump in a lifeboat and row for shore.
Marly exits the access corridor and crouches low near the glass. In her pocket is the key to the armory, taken from Deke's body on the beach. In the armory are the keys to the Land Rover, along with more guns and ammunition.
She runs forward, bent low, carbine ready. She nearly trips over the body of a pig. Half its head has been blown away.
She hurries on toward the habitat. In the darkness every shape is a threat. Why didn't she think to grab a flashlight? Well, this wasn't exactly the sort of emergency they'd planned on.
But wasn't it exactly the sort of emergency they should have considered? Didn't crop blights sort of pale in comparison?
She heads toward the three tall rows of corn; from there she can survey her surroundings before proceeding.
Body among the stalks. Face up, face gone. SAVE THE WHALES beneath. She steps around it and puts some distance between it and herself, then kneels in the rich soil. Tang of nitrogenated fertilizers.
She looks toward the staff quarters. The door is partway open, propped by a body. She can see it only from the waist down; from the waist up it is inside the building. Too dark to tell who it is.
Marly grows still. She strains to hear, but it is difficult because of the sound of her breathing, of her heartbeat in her ears. She turns her head slowly. The sound is approaching from her right.
She turns that way and steadies in a marksman's stance, right leg back and weight over the knee, left leg forward, left elbow on left knee, rifle steady.
It lurches toward her almost drunkenly. It's moving pretty slowly; she has plenty of time. She steadies, sights, and fires. The rifle bucks slightly. The drunken figure staggers back, trips over the body behind it, and lands on its butt. It gets to its feet again.
Go for the head, Marly remembers. The chest is the easier target, but the head is the only thing that powers it. Medulla oblongata.
She slaps the bolt of the carbine with the heel of her hand and pulls it back. The cartridge spits out. She pushes the bolt forward, and it sticks. She pulls back, pushes again. No good. She glances again. Scarecrow approaching through the corn. If I only had a brain. She stands and turns -
- into the arms of another. It hugs her. Stink of rotten meat. Opens its mouth. Gold filling glints. Half-moon crescent in one earlobe where an earring has been ripped away. Its head bends toward her.
Marly gets an arm up and grabs it by the throat, forcing its head back. The flesh against her palm is loose and leathery cool, like touching the neck of a turtle. She bats her rifle against its side, but can get no room for a powerful swing. The creature bleats softly. Smell of stale air from dead lungs. Quiet, so quiet; absurdly, she thinks there ought to be more noise.
Her hair is tugged from behind.
She turns and the hungry thing turns with her, wedged now between her and the first one. She pushes against the unbreathing throat while the other tries to reach around the one holding her. She can't get loose.
Pop!like a champagne cork. The carnitrope not holding her cants to one side, balances on one leg like a street mime doing an obscure impression, and falls. The one holding her works its head from side to side and snaps its teeth to bite the hand it wants to feed it. Clack-clack! Clack!
"Turn it!" someone yells. "Turn it toward me! Goddammit - "
Marly strains. For a panicked moment she feels overbalanced, about to fall over with the creature on top of her, but she jerks a leg back, brings it up into the creature's groin, and pivots.
A loud riveting sound from her right. The creature's head peels away like a rotten plum. It holds her a moment longer, and she feels its dead fingers spasming against her. Then it drops, and she pushes it away and jumps back, turning toward the sound of the gunfire.
A flashlight, but who's behind it? Bill? Dieter? Leonard?
He walks closer. The light shines beneath the squarish barrel of his submachine gun.
He nods. The light does not waver. He cups it with his left hand. "Get out of here," he says.
"But - I don't - "
"Go on. Party's winding down."
Marly considers him for a moment, then nods. "I was just leaving," she says.
She starts to thank him, but stops. Thanks are not called for here. He hadn't thanked her for the basket, had he? She nods again. "I have to get ammunition and supplies."
"You have about ten minutes."
"The others," she begins. "I have to - "
"Fuck the others. Get your shit and get out of here."
Still she hesitates. "I - I'm a botanist. I can keep this place going. I know how. It can keep you and your wife - and your baby - "
"Wasn't a real baby." The light dips, then raises again. "Deadhead."
"There's a lot of 'em out there, deadheads. But you wouldn't know. You've been in here."
She feels a clammy turning inside. World of dead babies, relentless crawling, toothless chewing. "You want the station," she says. "I understand that. But look, I know how to maintain it. It won't last without - "
"I don't want it to last. I want to bring it down."
"To..." She searches out his face above the light. Again she nods. "Yes," she says. "Yes, I guess so."
"Eight minutes." The light clicks off, and he's gone.
Bill with his Tekna light in the apple orchard. Gun in hand, swollen wrist. Incursion. Evasion. Stealth. Sentry removal.
There's one up ahead. HE'S DEAD, JIM. No shit, Sherlock.
* * *
things on trees food once but no more smell i remember made water in my mouth but nothing now is light toward light for food with light she with light her hands would hold the treefood would feed would let into my mouth and i would eat the food of the tree but not the food that is her hand that holds the light and behind the light is food and if i reach the light i will eat and i will be and i will know
Bill holds the flashlight in sprained right wrist and raises the gun in his left hand. Marly unlocks the dark storage closet-become-armory, takes a flashlight from a shelf, plays it around the room, and begins cramming boxes of ammunition into an orange crate. Dieter pushes his bullet-riddled body from the floor and staggers down the dark hall; behind him the power-room door thuds shut. Bonnie grows cold half-in, half-out the front door of the habitat. Leonard awaits the dawn on the limb of a South American tree. Haiffa bobs gently on the ocean, nuzzling the little sandbar. Sailor sets a final charge. Pigs run blindly through dark geometry of cropland. Bill aims and fires at the thing that gropes toward his light, bracing for the recoil. Marly shoves packets of dried food into a plastic garbage bag. Click: Bill stares in wonder at the gun.
the light i reach for behind the light is always food
Heading for the front door with supplies and a slung carbine, Marly sees Dieter shambling away from her down the dark corridor. Sailor pauses at the air-lock door when he hears Bill's scream. He smiles, he claps softly, he bows. He leaves; wait for the encore, folks. "Dieter?" Marly ventures. Leonard stands in the tree and peers into the lightening east. Dieter turns toward Marly. Sailor trots down the hill and opens the driver's door of the Ryder truck. Marly drops orange crate and garbage bag, saying, "Shit." Dieter's eyes fill with something not recognition. Leonard drinks in the faint coral tinge bleeding into the horizon. Jo-Jo drinks in tincture of Bill beneath apple blossoms. Marly raises the carbine. Dieter's face is a rictus she remembers from orgasm. Sailor turns the key, depresses the clutch, puts the truck in gear, and eases onto the road. Bill stares unblinking at the infinity of departing night above the glass roof of his little pocket of civilization. Marly lowers the rifle. Dieter reaches for her needfully. Leonard sits again on his leafy throne, feet dangling, to watch the sunrise. Marly picks up garbage bag and orange crate, turns, and steps over Bonnie holding the front door for her.
light then food i move from sound not from the box but sounds i hear anyway and she holds out her hand
Sailor drives a mile away and pulls off the road beside a low hill, turning the truck to face the Ecosphere. Sparkle of glass and aluminum by dawn's early light. Marly runs from the air lock, throws bag and crate into the back of the Land-Rover, sets carbine on passenger seat, slides key into ignition. Sailor glances into the long side-view mirror. He will wait until the sun clears the horizon. Faint buzz from under the hood: battery dead. Shit.
and the sound louder and others move with and she looks at me with her hand out to me and her mouth opens and sound from it
Leonard on high looks down on Marly opening the hood of the Land-Rover outside. Let her go; let them all go. Leonard knows who he is now; the death inside him has found the pure unfilterable fundament of death without. Sailor opens the door and gets out. The sun is a dome on the horizon, a frozen nuclear explosion, the Eye of God. Marly removes the battery and tosses it onto the asphalt. Spare in the back of the Rover; Bill is - was? - nothing if not redundant. Motion turns her head: A figure inside the Ecosphere presses against the glass, flattened dead features of its face above a T-shirt that reads RUGBY PLAYERS EAT THEIR DEAD. Sailor breathes in the cool morning air that blows across the desert floor. He pulls the elastic band from his hair for the breeze to have its way. He feels very alive. In the distance the Ecosphere gleams like a discarded toy. Marly slams down the hood, gets in the Land-Rover, and turns the key. Once, twice, and it starts. She squeals out of the lot, and Leonard waves good-bye.
The sun clears the crooked line of mountain-limned horizon. Sailor goes to the back of the truck and raises the door. He removes a box from the wood-slatted bed, and from it removes another box. He raises the telescoping antenna in back of this, and presses a button. A red light glows: CHARGE OKAY. He carries the box to the front of the truck and sets it on the high hood. He hoists himself up beside it, then sets it in his lap and throws another switch. Another red light winks on above the white-painted word ARMED. Sailor cracks his knuckles and looks to the framework of aluminum struts supporting triangular glass panels in the distance.
"It is a far, far better thing I do," he says, and flourishes a finger.
"Oh, no, you don't."
The finger pauses. He glances right. The wind blows his hair over his eyes. He shakes his head to move it out of the way. The Chinese woman stands on top of the hill, carbine trained on him. They stare at each other across the orange-lit slope. The rifle barrel traces a curt line to the right; Sailor sets the transmitter aside. She juts her jaw; Sailor eases down from the warm hood of the truck. She heads down the hill toward him; Sailor spreads his fingers and holds his hands away from his body.
"Have a seat," she says.
"Hands on top of your head."
Sailor puts his hands on top of his head. "You never let me have any fun," he says.
"What were you going to do," she asks. "After this?"
Sailor shrugs. "Don't know. Got a bunch of shit in back of the truck. Oregon, maybe. Find some asshole survivalist's nuclear bomb shelter, set up camp. I try not to think that far ahead anymore. How 'bout you?"
Her turn to shrug. "Yosemite, maybe."
He grins. "Bears and 'possums. Raccoon stew."
"This what I think it is?" She nods toward the transmitter on the hood.
"Ain't about to play no rock and roll, if that's what you mean."
"That's what I mean." She keeps the carbine aimed toward him and grabs the transmitter. The two red lights shine steadily: CHARGE OKAY. ARMED. And a button with no light: DETONATE.
She looks back to see him wincing under the vacant, one-eyed stare of the rifle. "Nervous?"
"We've got to stop meeting like this."
"I can't let you do it," she says. "I'm sorry."
"Why not?" Sailor lowers his hands. "You like the rest of those assholes? Are you endeavoring to persevere?"
"No." She lowers the rifle to the road and holds out the transmitter. She takes a deep breath. "Because Iwant to."
She extends her hand -
- Dieter exploring the aquarium of the dead, intrepid Martian explorer alone and yet accepted, finally where he belongs, cartographer of the damned -
- Bill reborn, rising with the dawn, finally at peace with the world, content at last with a single purpose and mission: to feed -
- Leonard arboreal, monument to Darwin descending; Leonard Rex Mortura, King of the Dead; Leonard with power at last, returning to earth enlightened to survey these his new people, this the new necropolis -
others but nothing for them i walk there is light past the treefoods i go near i press my face against the clear toward the light i shut my eyes and she is there with the soft of her hands and there is music and roger she says Roger come dance with me, and I take her hand, and I open my eyes, and there is music, and light, and I remember -
- and brings her finger down.
***P/S: Copyright -->Novel12__Com