Sample PagesCHAPTER TWENTY
Chev had taken the apartment's spare room, which could only sleep one person. For Shearer and Uberg, Antara had swept out an attic and cleared enough space between the boxes and bales of cloth that had been stored there to lay two mattresses on the floor. Jerri had done a little better, taking a spare bed in Evassanie's room. This arrangement delighted Evassanie, for besides having the Terran lady to herself to interrogate with endless questions about Earth and its peculiar ways after the household had finished supper and retired for bed, it meant that she had Nim in there with them too.
The room was rich with life and color, testifying to a busy mind with many interests and expressing the emerging individuality of young teenagers' personalized pads just about anywhere. Embroidered cushions with tassels and fringes lay scattered on the beds, lined the window seat, and filled a small armchair standing by a work table beneath a wall covered with shelves and cabinets. A tailor's dummy stood in one corner, draped with a partly made garment; a narrow table beside it carried a litter of bowls, implements, and pieces of what looked like sculpture or pottery; and the walls were covered in tapestries and paintings, some framed, others just attached with pins, amid a miscellany of notes, ribbons, a couple of hats, and other ornaments. The shelves bore numerous books, along with an assortment of pots and vases, decorated boxes, and several dolls evidently carried over from childhood.
Evassanie's fascination with the NIDA hadn't abated, and she insisted on showing Jerri her collections of jewelry and spice bottles, favorite dresses in the hanging closet, selected books, contents of her needlework basket, and other treasures. Her ambition, she confided, was to paint landscapes and outdoor scenes, which offered endless scope in all kinds of decorative fields, making it an "honored" profession. Jerri would have liked to let her see some scenes of Earth from the ship's library through broad-field phone spectacles, but they had left all their trackable electronic devices behind. Then came the inevitable question of, "What do you do?"
Jerri did her best to describe the functions of an anthropologist. Evassanie listened with evident interest. A profession devoted to the study of people's origins and how different societies behaved and lived was a new concept to her. Earlier Terran researchers had reported on the conspicuous absence of much in the way of religious conviction among the Cyreneans, contrasting sharply with its universality on Earth. Evassanie didn't appear to find it a subject of great importance when Jerri asked her about it. The general Cyrenean view seemed to be that life and the universe were expressions of a powerful creative principle that was echoed in individual vision and inventive abilities, but what and why were not matters that they felt equipped to furnish answers on--and so didn't try to.
It was the same disinclination to bind themselves to chains of reasoning derived from assumptions that might be questionable, that Uberg had described. The Cyreneans trusted their intuition, and if it drew them in a particular direction, they followed it confidently. If it didn't, they made no attempt to second guess the issue. Were it not for the results, everything that Jerri had learned and practiced as a scientist would have led her to expect the Cyrenean way to be inferior--a reliance on the kind of superstition and belief in dreams and "signs" that Earth had been outgrowing for centuries. It was galling--not to say more than a little humbling. Evassanie didn't help matters either by observing, when they had been discussing the subject for a while, "I suppose you need to study how different people live to see if you can find a better way than the one you've got." After a second of further reflection she added, "Is that why Terrans send ships out and build bases on all those other worlds at other stars?"
The suggestion was preposterous, but Jerri couldn't argue. By the standards that she herself had been defending for years, the Cyreneans were getting a lot of things right that cultures on Earth had sometimes aspired to and now were all but forgotten. It reminded her of something that Evassanie had said earlier.
"When you were talking about your father's shop downstairs, you said that he has a large staff of helpers and pays them well," she said.
"Right." Evassanie nodded.
"You made it sound like something people would approve of--the right way to run a business."
"Well, yes," Evassanie agreed, hesitating for a moment, as if it should have been obvious. "It pays the debt we owe to those who provide for us."
Jerri gave a quick frown and tossed up a hand. "But wouldn't there be more for him if he had fewer helpers and paid them less?" she said.
"Is that how they do it on Earth?"
"That's what they aim at, sure. Being efficient."
Evassanie had to pause and think about that. "Then their ideal should be to employ nobody at all and pay nothing," she said finally. "If everyone did that, then nobody would be able to buy anything. Every business's workers are other businesses'customers. They'd all have no business. That doesn't sound very efficient."
They treated each other decently, Jerri told herself--not through fear of some insane, vengeful god, or to earn favors for personal gain, but because in the longer term it added up to a life that was better for everyone. Were all of them smart enough to have figured that out? Jerri didn't think so. For one thing, as Uberg had said, they didn't do much figuring out about anything. And for another, the problem had been subjected to several centuries of logical analysis beyond the point of exhaustion on Earth, and the inevitable verdict had always been that survival in the short term demanded selfishness, and if that reality of life was not heeded, whatever might or might not happen in the longer term didn't matter. So it had to be the "uncanny intuition" that Uberg had alluded to that enabled them to see further. Somehow the Cyreneans just knew when more immediately apparent benefits were illusory, and what would be genuinely better for them in the long run. Deferred gratification. Being able to recognize and act on it was supposed to be an indicator of intelligence. If so, the Cyrenean brand didn't correlate with any of the measures of intelligence that Jerri was familiar with. But it seemed to be fearsomely effective. She was glad she wasn't a con-artist trying to make a living among these people, she decided.
Later, when Evassanie had finally settled down and become still, Jerri stood at the window of the darkened room, staring out over the sleeping town. Its daytime lines had blended into blocks of shadow broken by scattered lighted windows and orange lamps in the streets and under the arches, and disconnected highlights and outlines cast by the paler light of Calypso emerging above clouds to the east. Nim, too, was unusually alert, sitting on his haunches on the window seat, tongue lolling and eyes wide, sharing her contemplation of the scene and absorbed in dog thoughts. Above the seat back, extending the width of the window outside, was a planter box containing a mixture of leafy growths and maybe a dozen blooms that Jerri had recognized earlier in the day as moon flowers. They stood now in their nocturnal regalia of large dark petals fully opened, reduced to eerie silhouettes in the moonlight, throwing distorted shadows on the glass.
What the Cyreneans called "long-sight" seemed to have its effects also in their history. Although, to be sure, there had been occasions when differences got out of hand or a local squabble boiled over to the point of people getting violent, they were rare. Cyrene had known nothing like the orgies of mass bloodletting and cruelties that Earth had known. The Cyreneans simply wouldn't follow leaders who would bring about such things, Jerri was beginning to realize. They sensed insincerity. They knew when the line they were being spun was for the spinner's ultimate benefit, not theirs.
She thought of the untold millions on Earth who had marched and cheered and hated, fought and bled, hacked each other to shreds, blown each other to pieces, rotted in jails, seen themselves and their families starve . . . all, at the end of it, for the enrichment and greater security of others, and to expand other people's authority and power. It couldn't happen on Cyrene. She was looking out at a whole world that would never let it, of people who would never be a part of it.
Just a surely, she found herself becoming aware with a strange clarity of mind that she couldn't remember ever experiencing before, yet for not specific reason that she was able to pinpoint, that her future now lay here, on Cyrene. She felt as if she had never been completely alive until this moment and was knowing for the first time what it was to be fully conscious. Earth, even with all its memories and associations, seemed like a dream already fading, that had left impressions and fragmented images but no longer held anything of great consequence for her. She had no explanation, but crazy as it was, after a mere few days she had never felt more certain of anything in her life than that she belonged here.
She thought back to the Terran base that she had stayed in for precisely one night. The impression that came back to her was of a prison, with connotations of fear and degradation that were vivid emotionally but featureless in terms of anything definite that she could identify. She just knew.
Had she been there now, she realized, her only impulse would have been to get away.