The Sirens of Titan - Kurt Vonnegut - ebook

The Sirens of Titan is an outrageous romp through space, time, and morality. The richest, most depraved man on Earth, Malachi Constant, is offered a chance to take a space journey to distant worlds with a beautiful woman at his side. Of course there's a catch to the invitation—and a prophetic vision about the purpose of human life that only Vonnegut has the courage to tell.

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The Sirens of Titan
Kurt Vonnegut
Chapter 1Between Timid And Timbuktu
Chapter 2Cheers In The Wirehouse
Chapter 3United Hotcake Preferred
Chapter 4Tent Rentals
Chapter 5Letter From An Unknown Hero
Chapter 6A Deserter In Time of War
Chapter 7Victory
Chapter 8In A Hollywood Night Club
Chapter 9A Puzzle Solved
Chapter 10An Age of Miracles
Chapter 11We Hate Malachi Constant Because…
Chapter 12The Gentleman From Tralfamadore
“Every passing hour brings the Solar System forty-three thousand miles closer to Globular Cluster M13 in Hercules—and still there are some misfits who insist that there is no such thing as progress.”
—Ransom K. Ferm
For Alex Vonnegut, Special Agent, with love—
All persons, places, and events in this book are real. Certain speeches and thoughts are necessarily constructions by the author. No names have been changed to protect the innocent, since God Almighty protects the innocent as a matter of Heavenly routine.
“I guess somebody up there likes me.”
Everyone now knows how to find the meaning of life within himself.
But mankind wasn’t always so lucky. Less than a century ago men and women did not have easy access to the puzzle boxes within them.
They could not name even one of the fifty-three portals to the soul.
Gimcrack religions were big business.
Mankind, ignorant of the truths that lie within every human being, looked outward—pushed ever outward. What mankind hoped to learn in its outward push was who was actually in charge of all creation, and what all creation was all about.
Mankind flung its advance agents ever outward, ever outward. Eventually it flung them out into space, into the colorless, tasteless, weightless sea of outwardness without end.
It flung them like stones.
These unhappy agents found what had already been found in abundance on Earth—a nightmare of meaninglessness without end. The bounties of space, of infinite outwardness, were three: empty heroics, low comedy, and pointless death.
Outwardness lost, at last, its imagined attractions.
Only inwardness remained to be explored.
Only the human soul remained terra incognita.
This was the beginning of goodness and wisdom.
What were people like in olden times, with their souls as yet unexplored?
The following is a true story from the Nightmare Ages, falling roughly, give or take a few years, between the Second World War and the Third Great Depression.
There was a crowd.
The crowd had gathered because there was to be a materialization. A man and his dog were going to materialize, were going to appear out of thin air—wispily at first, becoming, finally, as substantial as any man and dog alive.
The crowd wasn’t going to get to see the materialization. The materialization was strictly a private affair on private property, and the crowd was emphatically not invited to feast its eyes.
The materialization was going to take place, like a modern, civilized hanging, within high, blank, guarded walls. And the crowd outside the walls was very much like a crowd outside the walls at a hanging.
The crowd knew it wasn’t going to see anything, yet its members found pleasure in being near, in staring at the blank walls and imagining what was happening inside. The mysteries of the materialization, like the mysteries of a hanging, were enhanced by the wall; were made pornographic by the magic lantern slides of morbid imaginations—magic lantern slides projected by the crowd on the blank stone walls.
The town was Newport, Rhode Island, U.S.A., Earth, Solar System, Milky Way. The walls were those of the Rumfoord estate.
Ten minutes before the materialization was to take place, agents of the police spread the rumor that the materialization had happened prematurely, had happened outside the walls, and that the man and his dog could be seen plain as day two blocks away. The crowd galloped away to see the miracle at the intersection.
The crowd was crazy about miracles.
At the tail end of the crowd was a woman who weighed three hundred pounds. She had a goiter, a caramel apple, and a gray little six-year-old girl. She had the little girl by the hand and was jerking her this way and that, like a ball on the end of a rubber band. “Wanda June,” she said, “if you don’t start acting right, I’m never going to take you to a materialization again.”
The materializations had been happening for nine years, once every fifty-nine days. The most learned and trustworthy men in the world had begged heartbrokenly for the privilege of seeing a materialization. No matter how the great men worded their requests, they were turned down cold. The refusal was always the same, handwritten by Mrs. Rumfoord’s social secretary.
Mrs. Winston Niles Rumfoord asks me to inform you that she is unable to extend the invitation you request. She is sure you will understand her feeling in the matter: that the phenomenon you wish to observe is a tragic family affair, hardly a fit subject for the scrutiny of outsiders, no matter how nobly motivated their curiosities.
Mrs. Rumfoord and her staff answered none of the tens of thousands of questions that were put to them about the materializations. Mrs. Rumfoord felt that she owed the world very little indeed in the way of information. She discharged that incalculably small obligation by issuing a report twenty-four hours after each materialization. Her report never exceeded one hundred words. It was posted by her butler in a glass case bolted to the wall next to the one entrance to the estate.
The one entrance to the estate was an Alice-in-Wonderland door in the west wall. The door was only four-and-a-half feet high. It was made of iron and held shut by a great Yale lock.
The wide gates of the estate were bricked in.
The reports that appeared in the glass case by the iron door were uniformly bleak and peevish. They contained information that only served to sadden anyone with a shred of curiosity. They told the exact time at which Mrs. Rumfoord’s husband Winston and his dog Kazak materialized, and the exact time at which they dematerialized. The states of health of the man and his dog were invariably appraised as good. The reports implied that Mrs. Rumfoord’s husband could see the past and the future clearly, but they neglected to give examples of sights in either direction.
Now the crowd had been decoyed away from the estate to permit the untroubled arrival of a rented limousine at the small iron door in the west wall. A slender man in the clothes of an Edwardian dandy got out of the limousine and showed a paper to the policeman guarding the door. He was disguised by dark glasses and a false beard.
The policeman nodded, and the man unlocked the door himself with a key from his pocket. He ducked inside, and slammed the door behind himself with a clang.
The limousine drew away.
Beware of the dog! said a sign over the small iron door. The fires of the summer sunset flickered among the razors and needles of broken glass set in concrete on the top of the wall.
The man who had let himself in was the first person ever invited by Mrs. Rumfoord to a materialization. He was not a great scientist. He was not even well-educated. He had been thrown out of the University of Virginia in the middle of his freshman year. He was Malachi Constant of Hollywood, California, the richest American—and a notorious rakehell.
Beware of the dog! the sign outside the small iron door had said. But inside the wall there was only a dog’s skeleton. It wore a cruelly spiked collar that was chained to the wall. It was the skeleton of a very large dog—a mastiff. Its long teeth meshed. Its skull and jaws formed a cunningly articulated, harmless working model of a flesh-ripping machine. The jaws closed so—clack. Here had been the bright eyes, there the keen ears, there the suspicious nostrils, there the carnivore’s brain. Ropes of muscle had hooked here and here, had brought the teeth together in flesh so—clack.
The skeleton was symbolic—a prop, a conversation piece installed by a woman who spoke to almost no one. No dog had died at its post there by the wall. Mrs. Rumfoord had bought the bones from a veterinarian, had had them bleached and varnished and wired together. The skeleton was one of Mrs. Rumfoord’s many bitter and obscure comments on the nasty tricks time and her husband had played on her.
Mrs. Winston Niles Rumfoord had seventeen million dollars. Mrs. Winston Niles Rumfoord had the highest social position attainable in the United States of America. Mrs. Winston Niles Rumfoord was healthy and handsome, and talented, too.
Her talent was as a poetess. She had published anonymously a slim volume of poems called Between Timid and Timbuktu. It had been reasonably well received.
The title derived from the fact that all the words between timid and Timbuktu in very small dictionaries relate to time.
But, well-endowed as Mrs. Rumfoord was, she still did troubled things like chaining a dog’s skeleton to the wall, like having the gates of the estate bricked up, like letting the famous formal gardens turn into New England jungle.
The moral: Money, position, health, handsomeness, and talent aren’t everything.
Malachi Constant, the richest American, locked the Alice-in-Wonderland door behind him. He hung his dark glasses and false beard on the ivy of the wall. He passed the dog’s skeleton briskly, looking at his solar-powered watch as he did so. In seven minutes, a live mastiff named Kazak would materialize and roam the grounds.
“Kazak bites,” Mrs. Rumfoord had said in her invitation, “so please be punctual.”
Constant smiled at that—the warning to be punctual. To be punctual meant to exist as a point, meant that as well as to arrive somewhere on time. Constant existed as a point—could not imagine what it would be like to exist in any other way.
That was one of the things he was going to find out—what it was like to exist in any other way. Mrs. Rumfoord’s husband existed in another way.
Winston Niles Rumfoord had run his private space ship right into the heart of an uncharted chrono-synclastic infundibulum two days out of Mars. Only his dog had been along. Now Winston Niles Rumfoord and his dog Kazak existed as wave phenomena—apparently pulsing in a distorted spiral with its origin in the Sun and its terminal in Betelgeuse.
The earth was about to intercept that spiral.
Almost any brief explanation of chrono-synclastic infundibula is certain to be offensive to specialists in the field. Be that as it may, the best brief explanation is probably that of Dr. Cyril Hall, which appears in the fourteenth edition of A Child’s Cyclopedia ofWonders and Things to Do. The article is here reproduced in full, with gracious permission from the publishers:
CHRONO-SYNCLASTIC INFUNDIBULA—Just imagine that your Daddy is the smartest man who ever lived on Earth, and he knows everything there is to find out, and he is exactly right about everything, and he can prove he is right about everything. Now imagine another little child on some nice world a million light years away, and that little child’s Daddy is the smartest man who ever lived on that nice world so far away. And he is just as smart and just as right as your Daddy is. Both Daddies are smart, and both Daddies are right.
Only if they ever met each other they would get into a terrible argument, because they wouldn’t agree on anything. Now, you can say that your Daddy is right and the other little child’s Daddy is wrong, but the Universe is an awfully big place. There is room enough for an awful lot of people to be right about things and still not agree.
The reason both Daddies can be right and still get into terrible fights is because there are so many different ways of being right. There are places in the Universe, though, where each Daddy could finally catch on to what the other Daddy was talking about. These places are where all the different kinds of truths fit together as nicely as the parts in your Daddy’s solar watch. We call these places chrono-synclastic infundibula.
The Solar System seems to be full of chrono-synclasticinfundibula. There is one great big one we are sure of that likes to stay between Earth and Mars. We know about that one because an Earth man and his Earth dog ran right into it.
You might think it would be nice to go toachrono-synclastic infundibulum and see all the different ways to be absolutely right, but it is a very dangerous thing to do. The poor man and his poor dog are scattered far and wide, not just through space, but through time, too.
Chrono (kroh-no) means time. Synclastic (sin-class-tick) means curved toward the same side in all directions, like the skin of an orange. Infundibulum (in-fun-dib-u-lum) is what the ancient Romans like Julius Caesar and Nero called a funnel. If you don’t know what a funnel is, get Mommy to show you one.
The key to the Alice-in-Wonderland door had come with the invitation. Malachi Constant slipped the key into his fur-lined trouser pocket and followed the one path that opened before him. He walked in deep shadow, but the flat rays of the sunset filled the treetops with a Maxfield Parrish light.
Constant made small motions with his invitation as he proceeded, expecting to be challenged at every turn. The invitation’s ink was violet. Mrs. Rumfoord was only thirty-four, but she wrote like an old woman—in a kinky, barbed hand. She plainly detested Constant, whom she had never met. The spirit of the invitation was reluctant, to say the least, as though written on a soiled handkerchief.
“During my husband’s last materialization,” she had said in the invitation, “he insisted that you be present for the next. I was unable to dissuade him from this, despite the many obvious drawbacks. He insists that he knows you well, having met you on Titan, which, I am given to understand, is a moon of the planet Saturn.”
There was hardly a sentence in the invitation that did not contain the verb insist. Mrs. Rumfoord’s husband had insisted on her doing something very much against her own judgment, and she in turn was insisting that Malachi Constant behave, as best he could, like the gentleman he was not.
Malachi Constant had never been to Titan. He had never, so far as he knew, been outside the gaseous envelope of his native planet, the Earth. Apparently he was about to learn otherwise.
The turns in the path were many, and the visibility was short. Constant was following a damp green path the width of a lawn mower—what was in fact the swath of a lawn mower. Rising on both sides of the path were the green walls of the jungle the gardens had become.
The mower’s swath skirted a dry fountain. The man who ran the mower had become creative at this point, had made the path fork. Constant could choose the side of the fountain on which he preferred to pass. Constant stopped at the fork, looked up. The fountain itself was marvelously creative. It was a cone described by many stone bowls of decreasing diameters. The bowls were collars on a cylindrical shaft forty feet high.
Impulsively, Constant chose neither one fork nor the other, but climbed the fountain itself. He climbed from bowl to bowl, intending when he got to the top to see whence he had come and whither he was bound.
Standing now in the topmost, in the smallest of the baroque fountain’s bowls, standing with his feet in the ruins of birds’ nests, Malachi Constant looked out over the estate, and over a large part of Newport and Narragansett Bay. He held up his watch to sunlight, letting it drink in the wherewithal that was to solar watches what money was to Earth men.
The freshening sea breeze ruffled Constant’s blue-black hair. He was a well-made man—a light heavyweight, dark-skinned, with poet’s lips, with soft brown eyes in the shaded caves of a Cro-Magnon brow-ridge. He was thirty-one.
He was worth three billion dollars, much of it inherited.
His name meant faithful messenger.
He was a speculator, mostly in corporate securities.
In the depressions that always followed his taking of alcohol, narcotics, and women, Constant pined for just one thing—a single message that was sufficiently dignified and important to merit his carrying it humbly between two points.
The motto under the coat of arms that Constant had designed for himself said simply, The Messenger Awaits.
What Constant had in mind, presumably, was a first-class message from God to someone equally distinguished.
Constant looked at his solar watch again. He had two minutes in which to climb down and reach the house—two minutes before Kazak would materialize and look for strangers to bite. Constant laughed to himself, thinking how delighted Mrs. Rumfoord would be were the vulgar, parvenu Mr. Constant of Hollywood to spend his entire visit treed on the fountain by a thoroughbred dog. Mrs. Rumfoord might even have the fountain turned on.
It was possible that she was watching Constant. The mansion was a minute’s walk from the fountain—set off from the jungle by a mowed swath three times the width of the path.
The Rumfoord mansion was marble, an extended reproduction of the banqueting hall of Whitehall Palace in London. The mansion, like most of the really grand ones in Newport, was a collateral relative of post offices and Federal court buildings throughout the land.
The Rumfoord mansion was an hilariously impressive expression of the concept: People of substance. It was surely one of the greatest essays on density since the Great Pyramid of Khufu. In a way it was a better essay on permanence than the Great Pyramid, since the Great Pyramid tapered to nothingness as it approached heaven. Nothing about the Rumfoord mansion diminished as it approached heaven. Turned upside down, it would have looked exactly the same.
The density and permanence of the mansion were, of course, at ironic variance with the fact that the quondam master of the house, except for one hour in every fifty-nine days, was no more substantial than a moonbeam.
Constant climbed down from the fountain, stepping onto the rims of bowls of ever-increasing sizes. When he got to the bottom, he was filled with a strong wish to see the fountain go. He thought of the crowd outside, thought of how they, too, would enjoy seeing the fountain go. They would be enthralled—watching the teeny-weeny bowl at the tippy-tippy top brimming over into the next little bowl… and the next little bowl’s brimming over into the next little bowl… and the next little bowl’s brimming over into the next bowl… and on and on and on, a rhapsody of brimming, each bowl singing its own merry water song. And yawning under all those bowls was the upturned mouth of the biggest bowl of them all… a regular Beelzebub of a bowl, bone dry and insatiable… waiting, waiting, waiting for that first sweet drop.
Constant was rapt, imagining that the fountain was running. The fountain was very much like an hallucination—and hallucinations, usually drug-induced, were almost all that could surprise and entertain Constant any more.
Time passed quickly. Constant did not move.
Somewhere on the estate a mastiff bayed. The baying sounded like the blows of a maul on a great bronze gong.
Constant awoke from his contemplation of the fountain. The baying could only be that of Kazak, the hound of space. Kazak had materialized. Kazak smelled the blood of a parvenu.
Constant sprinted the remainder of the distance to the house.
An ancient butler in knee breeches opened the door for Malachi Constant of Hollywood. The butler was weeping for joy. He was pointing into a room that Constant could not see. The butler was trying to describe the thing that made him so happy and full of tears. He could not speak. His jaw was palsied, and all he could say to Constant was, “Putt putt—putt putt putt.”
The floor of the foyer was a mosaic, showing the signs of the zodiac encircling a golden sun.
Winston Niles Rumfoord, who had materialized only a minute before, came into the foyer and stood on the sun. He was much taller and heavier than Malachi Constant—and he was the first person who had ever made Constant think that there might actually be a person superior to himself. Winston Niles Rumfoord extended his soft hand, greeted Constant familiarly, almost singing his greeting in a glottal Groton tenor.
“Delighted, delighted, delighted, Mr. Constant,” said Rumfoord. “How nice of you to commmmmmmmme.”
“My pleasure,” said Constant.
“They tell me you are possibly the luckiest man who ever lived.”
“That might be putting it a little too strong,” said Constant.
“You won’t deny you’ve had fantastically good luck financially,” said Rumfoord.
Constant shook his head. “No. That would be hard to deny,” he said.
“And to what do you attribute this wonderful luck of yours?” said Rumfoord.
Constant shrugged. “Who knows?” he said. “I guess somebody up there likes me,” he said.
Rumfoord looked up at the ceiling. “What a charming concept—someone’s liking you up there.”
Constant, who had been shaking hands with Rumfoord during the conversation, thought of his own hand, suddenly, as small and clawlike.
Rumfoord’s palm was callused, but not horny like the palm of a man doomed to a single trade for all of his days. The calluses were perfectly even, made by the thousand happy labors of an active leisure class.
For a moment, Constant forgot that the man whose hand he shook was simply one aspect, one node of a wave phenomenon extending all the way from the Sun to Betelgeuse. The handshake reminded Constant what it was that he was touching—for his hand tingled with a small but unmistakable electrical flow.
Constant had not been bullied into feeling inferior by the tone of Mrs. Rumfoord’s invitation to the materialization. Constant was a male and Mrs. Rumfoord was a female, and Constant imagined that he had the means of demonstrating, if given the opportunity, his unquestionable superiority.
Winston Niles Rumfoord was something else again—morally, spatially, socially, sexually, and electrically. Winston Niles Rumfoord’s smile and handshake dismantled Constant’s high opinion of himself as efficiently as carnival roustabouts might dismantle a Ferris wheel.
Constant, who had offered his services to God as a messenger, now panicked before the very moderate greatness of Rumfoord. Constant ransacked his memory for past proofs of his own greatness. He ransacked his memory like a thief going through another man’s billfold. Constant found his memory stuffed with rumpled, overexposed snapshots of all the women he had had, with preposterous credentials testifying to his ownership of even more preposterous enterprises, with testimonials that attributed to him virtues and strengths that only three billion dollars could have. There was even a silver medal with a red ribbon—awarded to Constant for placing second in the hop, skip, and jump in an intramural track meet at the University of Virginia.
Rumfoord’s smile went on and on.
To follow the analogy of the thief who is going through another man’s billfold: Constant ripped open the seams of his memory, hoping to find a secret compartment with something of value in it. There was no secret compartment—nothing of value. All that remained to Constant were the husks of his memory—unstitched, flaccid flaps.
The ancient butler looked adoringly at Rumfoord, went through the cringing contortions of an ugly old woman posing for a painting of the Madonna. “The mah-stuh—” he bleated. “The young mah-stuh.”
“I can read your mind, you know,” said Rumfoord.
“Can you?” said Constant humbly.
“Easiest thing in the world,” said Rumford. His eyes twinkled. “You’re not a bad sort, you know—” he said, “particularly when you forget who you are.” He touched Constant lightly on the arm. It was a politician’s gesture—a vulgar public gesture by a man who in private, among his own kind, would take wincing pains never to touch anyone.
“If it’s really so important to you, at this stage of our relationship, to feel superior to me in some way,” he said to Constant pleasantly, “think of this: You can reproduce and I cannot.”
He now turned his broad back to Constant, led the way through a series of very grand chambers.
He paused in one, insisted that Constant admire a huge oil painting of a little girl holding the reins of a pure white pony. The little girl wore a white bonnet, a white, starched dress, white gloves, white socks, and white shoes.
She was the cleanest, most frozen little girl that Malachi Constant had ever seen. There was a strange expression on her face, and Constant decided that she was worried about getting the least bit dirty.
“Nice picture,” said Constant.
“Wouldn’t it be too bad if she fell into a mud puddle?” said Rumfoord.
Constant smiled uncertainly.
“My wife as a child,” said Rumfoord abruptly, and he led the way out of the room.
He led the way down a back corridor and into a tiny room hardly larger than a big broom closet. It was ten feet long, six feet wide, and had a ceiling, like the rest of the rooms in the mansion, twenty feet high. The room was like a chimney. There were two wing chairs in it.
“An architectural accident—” said Rumfoord, closing the door and looking up at the ceiling.
“Pardon me?” said Constant.
“This room,” said Rumfoord. With a limp right hand, he made the magical sign for spiral staircase. “It was one of the few things in life I ever really wanted with all my heart when I was a boy—this little room.”
He nodded at shelves that ran six feet up the window wall. The shelves were beautifully made. Over the shelves was a driftwood plank that had written on it in blue paint: SKIP’S MUSEUM.
Skip’s Museum was a museum of mortal remains—of endoskeletons and exoskeletons—of shells, coral, bone, cartilage, and chiton—of dottles and orts and residua of souls long gone. Most of the specimens were those that a child—presumably Skip—could find easily on the beaches and in the woods of Newport. Some were obviously expensive presents to a child extraordinarily interested in the science of biology.
Chief among these presents was the complete skeleton of an adult human male.
There was also the empty suit of armor of an armadillo, a stuffed dodo, and the long spiral tusk of a narwhal, playfully labeled by Skip, Unicorn Horn.
“Who is Skip?” said Constant.
“I am Skip,” said Rumfoord. “Was.”
“I didn’t know,” said Constant.
“Just in the family, of course,” said Rumfoord.
“Um,” said Constant.
Rumfoord sat down in one of the wing chairs, motioned Constant to the other.
“Angels can’t either, you know,” said Rumfoord.
“Can’t what?” said Constant.
“Reproduce,” said Rumfoord. He offered Constant a cigarette, took one himself, and placed it in a long, bone cigarette holder. “I’m sorry my wife was too indisposed to come downstairs—to meet you,” he said. “It isn’t you she’s avoiding—it’s me.”
“You?” said Constant.
“That’s correct,” said Rumfoord. “She hasn’t seen me since my first materialization.” He chuckled ruefully. “Once was enough.”
“I—I’m sorry,” said Constant. “I don’t understand.”
“She didn’t like my fortunetelling,” said Rumfoord. “She found it very upsetting, what little I told her about her future. She doesn’t care to hear more.” He sat back in his wing chair, inhaled deeply. “I tell you, Mr. Constant,” he said genially, “it’s a thankless job, telling people it’s a hard, hard Universe they’re in.”
“She said you’d told her to invite me,” said Constant.
“She got the message from the butler,” said Rumfoord. “I dared her to invite you, or she wouldn’t have done it. You might keep that in mind: the only way to get her to do anything is to tell her she hasn’t got the courage to do it. Of course, it isn’t an infallible technique. I could send her a message now, telling her that she doesn’t have the courage to face the future, and she would send me back a message saying I was right.”
“You—you really can see into the future?” said Constant. The skin of his face tightened, felt parched. His palms perspired.
“In a punctual way of speaking—yes,” said Rumfoord. “When I ran my space ship into the chrono-synclastic infundibulum, it came to me in a flash that everything that ever has been always will be, and everything that ever will be always has been.” He chuckled again. “Knowing that rather takes the glamour out of fortunetelling—makes it the simplest, most obvious thing imaginable.”
“You told your wife everything that was going to happen to her?” said Constant. This was a glancing question. Constant had no interest in what was going to happen to Rumfoord’s wife. He was ravenous for news of himself. In asking about Rumfoord’s wife, he was being coy.
“Well—not everything,” said Rumfoord. “She wouldn’t let me tell her everything. What little I did tell her quite spoiled her appetite for more.”
“I—I see,” said Constant, not seeing at all.
“Yes,” said Rumfoord genially, “I told her that you and she were to be married on Mars.” He shrugged. “Not married exactly—” he said, “but bred by the Martians—like farm animals.”
Winston Niles Rumfoord was a member of the one true American class. The class was a true one because its limits had been clearly defined for at least two centuries—clearly defined for anyone with an eye for definitions. From Rumfoord’s small class had come a tenth of America’s presidents, a quarter of its explorers, a third of its Eastern Seaboard governors, a half of its full-time ornithologists, three-quarters of its great yachtsmen, and virtually all of its underwriters of the deficits of grand opera. It was a class singularly free of quacks, with the notable exception of political quacks. The political quackery was a means of gaining office—and was never carried into private life. Once in office, members of the class became, almost without exception, magnificently responsible.
If Rumfoord accused the Martians of breeding people as though people were no better than farm animals, he was accusing the Martians of doing no more than his own class had done. The strength of his class depended to some extent on sound money management—but depended to a much larger extent on marriages based cynically on the sorts of children likely to be produced.
Healthy, charming, wise children were the desiderata.
The most competent, if humorless, analysis of Rumfoord’s class is, beyond question, Waltham Kittredge’s The American Philosopher Kings. It was Kittredge who proved that the class was in fact a family, with its loose ends neatly turned back into a hard core of consanguinity through the agency of cousin marriages. Rumfoord and his wife, for instance, were third cousins, and detested each other.
And when Rumfoord’s class was diagramed by Kittredge, it resembled nothing so much as the hard, ball-like knot known as a monkey’s fist.
Waltham Kittredge often floundered in his The American Philosopher Kings, trying to translate the atmosphere of Rumfoord’s class into words. Like the college professor he was, Kittredge groped only for big words, and, finding no apt ones, he coined a lot of untranslatable new ones.
Of all Kittredge’s jargon, only one term has ever found its way into conversation. The term is un-neurotic courage.
It was that sort of courage, of course, that carried Winston Niles Rumfoord out into space. It was pure courage—not only pure of lusts for fame and money, but pure of any drives that smack of the misfit or screwball.
There are, incidentally, two strong, common words that would have served handsomely, one or the other, in place of all of Kittredge’s jargon. The words are style and gallantry.
When Rumfoord became the first person to own a private space ship, paying fifty-eight million dollars out of his own pocket for it—that was style.
When the governments of the earth suspended all space exploration because of the chrono-synclastic infundibula, and Rumfoord announced that he was going to Mars—that was style.
When Rumfoord announced that he was taking a perfectly tremendous dog along, as though a space ship were nothing more than a sophisticated sports car, as though a trip to Mars were little more than a spin down the Connecticut Turnpike—that was style.
When it was unknown what would happen if a space ship went into a chrono-synclastic infundibulum, and Rumfoord steered a course straight for the middle of one—that was gallantry indeed.
To contrast Malachi Constant of Hollywood with Winston Niles Rumfoord of Newport and Eternity:
Everything Rumfoord did he did with style, making all mankind look good.
Everything Constant did he did in style—aggressively, loudly, childishly, wastefully—making himself and mankind look bad.
Constant bristled with courage—but it was anything but un-neurotic. Every courageous thing he had ever done had been motivated by spitefulness and by goads from childhood that made fear seem puny indeed.
Constant, having just heard from Rumfoord that he was to be mated to Rumfoord’s wife on Mars, looked away from Rumfoord to the museum of remains along one wall. Constant’s hands were clasped together, tightening on each other pulsingly.
Constant cleared his throat several times. Then he whistled thinly between his tongue and the roof of his mouth. In all, he was behaving like a man who was waiting for a terrible pain to pass. He closed his eyes and sucked in air between his teeth. “Loo dee doo, Mr. Rumfoord,” he said softly. He opened his eyes. “Mars?” he said.
“Mars,” said Rumfoord. “Of course, that isn’t your ultimate destination—or Mercury either.”
“Mercury?” said Constant. He made an unbecoming quack of that lovely name.
“Your destination is Titan,” said Rumfoord, “but you visit Mars, Mercury, and Earth again before you get there.”
It is crucial to understand at what point in the history of punctual space exploration it was that Malachi Constant received the news of his prospective visits to Mars, Mercury, Earth, and Titan. The state of mind on Earth with regard to space exploration was much like the state of mind in Europe with regard to exploration of the Atlantic before Christopher Columbus set out.
There were these important differences, however: the monsters between space explorers and their goals were not imaginary, but numerous, hideous, various, and uniformly cataclysmic; the cost of even a small expedition was enough to ruin most nations; and it was a virtual certainty that no expedition could increase the wealth of its sponsors.
In short, on the basis of horse sense and the best scientific information, there was nothing good to be said for the exploration of space.
The time was long past when one nation could seem more glorious than another by hurling some heavy object into nothingness. Galactic Spacecraft, a corporation controlled by Malachi Constant, had, as a matter of fact, received the very last order for such a showpiece, a rocket three hundred feet high and thirty-six feet in diameter. It had actually been built, but the fire order had never come.
The ship was called simply The Whale, and was fitted with living quarters for five passengers.
What had brought everything to such an abrupt halt was the discovery of the chrono-synclastic infundibula. They had been discovered mathematically, on the basis of bizarre flight patterns of unmanned ships sent out, supposedly, in advance of men.
The discovery of the chrono-synclastic infundibula said to mankind in effect: “What makes you think you’re going anywhere?”
It was a situation made to order for American fundamentalist preachers. They were quicker than philosophers or historians or anybody to talk sense about the truncated Age of Space. Two hours after the firing of The Whale was called off indefinitely, the Reverend Bobby Denton shouted at his Love Crusade in Wheeling, West Virginia:
“‘And the Lord came down to see the city and the tower, which the children of men builded. And the Lord said, “Behold, the people is one, and they have all one language; and this they begin to do; and now nothing will be restrained from them, which they have imagined to do. Go to, let us go down, and there confound their language, that they may not understand one another’s speech.” So the Lord scattered them abroad from thence upon the face of all the earth; and they left off to build the city. Therefore is the name of it called Babel; because the Lord did there confound the language of all the earth: and from thence did the Lord scatter them abroad upon the face of the earth.’”
Bobby Denton spitted his audience on a bright and loving gaze, and proceeded to roast it whole over the coals of its own iniquity. “Are these not Bible times?” he said. “Have we not builded of steel and pride an abomination far taller than the Tower of Babel of old? And did we not mean, like those builders of old, to get right into Heaven with it? And haven’t we heard it said many times that the language of scientists is international? They all use the same Latin and Greek words for things, and they all talk the language of numbers.” This seemed a particularly damning piece of evidence to Denton, and the Love Crusaders agreed bleakly without quite understanding why.
“So why should we cry out in surprise and pain now when God says to us what He said to the people who builded the Tower of Babel: ‘No! Get away from there! You aren’t going to Heaven or anywhere else with that thing! Scatter, you hear? Quit talking the language of science to each other! Nothing will be restrained from you which you have imagined to do, if you all keep on talking the language of science to each other, and I don’t want that! I, your Lord God on High want things restrained from you, so you will quit thinking about crazy towers and rockets to Heaven, and start thinking about how to be better neighbors and husbands and wives and daughters and sons! Don’t look to rockets for salvation—look to your homes and churches!’”
Bobby Denton’s voice grew hoarse and hushed. “You want to fly through space? God has already given you the most wonderful space ship in all creation! Yes! Speed? You want speed? The space ship God has given you goes sixty-six thousand miles an hour—and will keep on running at that speed for all eternity, if God wills it. You want a space ship that will carry men in comfort? You’ve got it! It won’t carry just a rich man and his dog, or just five men or ten men. No! God is no piker! He’s given you a space ship that will carry billions of men, women, and children! Yes! And they don’t have to stay strapped in chairs or wear fishbowls over their heads. No! Not on God’s space ship. The people on God’s space ship can go swimming, and walk in the sunshine and play baseball and go ice skating and go for family rides in the family automobile on Sunday after church and a family chicken dinner!”
Bobby Denton nodded. “Yes!” he said. “And if anybody thinks his God is mean for putting things out in space to stop us from flying out there, just let him remember the space ship God already gave us. And we don’t have to buy the fuel for it, and worry and fret over what kind of fuel to use. No! God worries about all that.
“God told us what we had to do on this wonderful space ship. He wrote the rules so anybody could understand them. You don’t have to be a physicist or a great chemist or an Albert Einstein to understand them. No! And He didn’t make a whole lot of rules, either. They tell me that if they were to fire The Whale, they would have to make eleven thousand separate checks before they could be sure it was ready to go: Is this valve open, is that valve closed, is that wire tight, is that tank full?—and on and on and on to eleven thousand things to check. Here on God’s space ship, God only gives us ten things to check—and not for any little trip to some big, dead poisonous stones out in space, but for a trip to the Kingdom of Heaven! Think of it! Where would you rather be tomorrow—on Mars or in the Kingdom of Heaven?
“You know what the check list is on God’s round, green space ship? Do I have to tell you? You want to hear God’s countdown?”
The Love Crusaders shouted back that they did.
“Ten!—” said Bobby Denton. “Do you covet thy neighbor’s house, or his manservant, or his maidservant, or his ox, or his ass, or anything that is thy neighbor’s?”
“No!” cried the Love Crusaders.
“Nine!—” said Bobby Denton. “Do you bear false witness against thy neighbor?”
“No!” cried the Love Crusaders.
“Eight!—” said Bobby Denton. “Do you steal?”
“No!” cried the Love Crusaders.
“Seven!—” said Bobby Denton. “Do you commit adultery?”
“No!” cried the Love Crusaders.
“Six!—” said Bobby Denton. “Do you kill?”
“No!” cried the Love Crusaders.
“Five!—” said Bobby Denton. “Do you honor thy father and thy mother?”
“Yes!” cried the Love Crusaders.
“Four!—” said Bobby Denton. “Do you remember the Sabbath day, and keep it holy?”
“Yes!” cried the Love Crusaders.
“Three!—” said Bobby Denton. “Do you take the name of the Lord thy God in vain?”
“No!” cried the Love Crusaders.
“Two!—” said Bobby Denton. “Do you make any graven images?”
“No!” cried the Love Crusaders.
“One!—” cried Bobby Denton. “Do you put any gods before the one true Lord thy God?”
“No!” cried the Love Crusaders.
“Blast off!” shouted Bobby Denton joyfully. “Paradise, here we come! Blast off, children, and Amen!”
“Well—” murmured Malachi Constant, there in the chimneylike room under the staircase in Newport, “it looks like the messenger is finally going to be used.”
“What was that?” said Rumfoord.
“My name—it means faithful messenger,” said Constant. “What’s the message?”
“Sorry,” said Rumfoord, “I know nothing about any message.” He cocked his head quizzically. “Somebody said something to you about a message?”
Constant turned his palms upward. “I mean—what am I going to go to all this trouble to get to Triton for?”
“Titan,” Rumfoord corrected him.
“Titan, Triton,” said Constant. “What the blast would I go there for?” Blast was a weak, prissy, Eagle-Scoutish word for Constant to use—and it took him a moment to realize why he had used it. Blast was what space cadets on television said when a meteorite carried away a control surface, or the navigator turned out to be a space pirate from the planet Zircon. He stood. “Why the hell should I go there?”
“You do—I promise you,” said Rumfoord.
Constant went over to the window, some of his arrogant strength returning. “I tell you right now,” he said, “I’m not going.”
“Sorry to hear that,” said Rumfoord.
“I’m supposed to do something for you when I get there?” said Constant.
“No,” said Rumfoord.
“Then why are you sorry?” said Constant. “What’s it to you?”
“Nothing,” said Rumfoord. “I’m only sorry for you. You’ll really be missing something.”
“Like what?” said Constant.
“Well—the most pleasant climate imaginable, for one thing,” said Rumfoord.
“Climate!” said Constant contemptuously. “With houses in Hollywood, the Vale of Kashmir, Acapulco, Manitoba, Tahiti, Paris, Bermuda, Rome, New York, and Capetown, I should leave Earth in search of happier climes?”
“There’s more to Titan than just climate,” said Rumfoord. “The women, for instance, are the most beautiful creatures between the Sun and Betelgeuse.”
Constant guffawed bitterly. “Women!” he said. “You think I’m having trouble getting beautiful women? You think I’m love-starved, and the only way I’ll ever get close to a beautiful woman is to climb on a rocket ship and head for one of Saturn’s moons? Are you kidding? I’ve had women so beautiful, anybody between the Sun and Betelgeuse would sit down and cry if the women said as much as hello to ’em!”
He took out his billfold, and slipped from it a photograph of his most recent conquest. There was no question about it—the girl in the photograph was staggeringly beautiful. She was Miss Canal Zone, a runner-up in the Miss Universe Contest—and in fact far more beautiful than the winner of the contest. Her beauty had frightened the judges.
Constant handed Rumfoord the photograph. “They got anything like that on Titan?” he said.
Rumfoord studied the photograph respectfully, handed it back. “No—” he said, “nothing like that on Titan.”
“O.K.,” said Constant, feeling very much in control of his own destiny again, “climate, beautiful women—what else?”
“Nothing else,” said Rumfoord mildly. He shrugged. “Oh—art objects, if you like art.”
“I’ve got the biggest private art collection in the world,” said Constant.
Constant had inherited this famous art collection. The collection had been made by his father—or, rather, by agents of his father. It was scattered through museums all over the world, each piece plainly marked as a part of the Constant Collection. The collection had been made and then deployed in this manner on the recommendation of the Director of Public Relations of Magnum Opus, Incorporated, the corporation whose sole purpose was to manage the Constant affairs.
The purpose of the collection had been to prove how generous and useful and sensitive billionaires could be. The collection had turned out to be a perfectly gorgeous investment, as well.
“That takes care of art,” said Rumfoord.
Constant was about to return the photograph of Miss Canal Zone to his billfold, when he felt that he held not one photograph but two. There was a photograph behind that of Miss Canal Zone. He supposed that that was a photograph of Miss Canal Zone’s predecessor, and he thought that he might as well show Rumfoord her, too—show Rumfoord what a celestial lulu he had given the gate to.
“There—there’s another one,” said Constant, holding out the second photograph to Rumfoord.