The Complete Stories (Page 234)
They rose together and left the room, Blei politely motioning the Earthman to precede him out the door.
Lamorak felt oppressed by the vague feeling of crisis that had pervaded his discussion with Blei.
The newspaper reinforced that feeling. He read it carefully before getting into bed, with what was at first merely a clinical interest. It was an eight-page tabloid of synthetic paper. Cue quarter of its items consisted of "personals": births, marriages, deaths, record quotas, expanding habitable volume (not area! three dimensions!). The remainder included scholarly essays, educational material, and fiction. Of news, in the sense to which Lamorak was accustomed, there was virtually nothing.
One item only could be so considered and that was chilling in its incompleteness.
It said, under a small headline: DEMANDS UNCHANGED: There has been no change in his attitude of yesterday. The Chief Councillor, after a second interview, announced that his demands remain completely unreasonable and cannot be met under any circumstances.
Then, in parentheses, and in different type, there was the statement: The editors of this paper agree that Elsevere cannot and will not jump to his whistle, come what may.
Lamorak read it over three times. Ms attitude. Ms demands. Ms whistle.
He slept uneasily, that night.
He had no time for newspapers in the days that followed; but spasmodically, the matter returned to his thoughts.
Blei, who remained his guide and companion for most of the tour, grew ever more withdrawn.
On the third day (quite artificially clock-set in an Earthlike twenty-four
hour pattern), Blei stopped at one point, and said, "Now this level is devoted entirely to chemical industries. That section is not important-"
But he turned away a shade too rapidly, and Lamorak seized his arm. "What are the products of that section?"
"Fertilizers. Certain organics," said Blei stiffly.
Lamorak held him back, looking for what sight Blei might be evading. His gaze swept over the close-by horizons of lined rock and the buildings squeezed and layered between the levels.
Lamorak said, "Isn’t that a private residence there?"
Blei did not look in the indicated direction.
Lamorak said, "I think that’s the largest one I’ve seen yet. Why is it here on a factory level?" That alone made it noteworthy. He had already seen that the levels on Elsevere were divided rigidly among the residential, the agricultural and the industrial.
He looked back and called, "Councillor Blei!"
The Councillor was walking away and Lamorak pursued him with hasty steps. "Is there something wrong, sir?"
Blei muttered, "I am rude, I know. I am sorry. There are matters that prey on my mind-" He kept up his rapid pace.
"Concerning his demands."
Blei came to a full halt. "What do you know about that?"
"No more than I’ve said. I read that much in the newspaper."
Blei muttered something to himself.
Lamorak said, "Ragusnik? What’s that?"
Blei sighed heavily. "I suppose you ought to be told. It’s humiliating, deeply embarrassing. The Council thought that matters would certainly be arranged shortly and that your visit need not be interfered with, that you need not know or be concerned. But it is almost a week now. I don’t know what will happen and, appearances notwithstanding, it might be best for you to leave. No reason for an Outworlder to risk death."
The Earthman smiled incredulously. "Risk death? In this little world, so peaceful and busy. I can’t believe it."
The Elseverian councillor said, "I can explain. I think it best I should." He turned his head away. "As I told you, everything on Elsevere must recirculate. You understand that."
"That includes-uh, human wastes."
"I assumed so," said Lamorak.
"Water is reclaimed from it by distillation and absorption. What remains is converted into fertilizer for yeast use; some of it is used as a source of fine organics and other by-products. These factories you see are devoted to this."
"Well?" Lamorak had experienced a certain difficulty in the drinking of water when he first landed on Elsevere, because he had been realistic enough to know what it must be reclaimed from; but he had conquered the
feeling easily enough. Even on Earth, water was reclaimed by natural processes from all sorts of unpalatable substances.
Blei, with increasing difficulty, said, "Igor Ragusnik is the man who is in charge of the industrial processes immediately involving the wastes. The position has been in his family since Elsevere was first colonized. One of the original settlers was Mikhail Ragusnik and he-he-"
"Was in charge of waste reclamation."
"Yes. Now that residence you singled out is the Ragusnik residence; it is the best and most elaborate on the planetoid. Ragusnik gets many privileges the rest of us do not have; but, after all-" Passion entered the Councillor’s voice with great suddenness, "we cannot speak to him."
"He demands full social equality. He wants his children to mingle with ours, and our wives to visit- Oh!" It was a groan of utter disgust.
Lamorak thought of the newspaper item that could not even bring itself to mention Ragusnik’s name in print, or to say anything specific about his demands. He said, "1 take it he’s an outcast because of his job."
"Naturally. Human wastes and-" words failed Blei. After a pause, he said more quietly, "As an Earthman, 1 suppose you don’t understand."
"As a sociologist, I think I do." Lamorak thought of the Untouchables in ancient India, the ones who handled corpses. He thought of the position of swineherds in ancient Judea.