The Complete Stories (Page 235)
He went on, "I gather Elsevere will not give in to those demands."
"Never," said Blei, energetically. "Never."
"Ragusnik has threatened to cease operations."
"Go on strike, in other words."
"Would that be serious?"
"We have enough food and water to last quite a while; reclamation is not essential in that sense. But the wastes would accumulate; they would infect the planetoid. After generations of careful disease control, we have low natural resistance to germ diseases. Once an epidemic started-and one would-we would drop by the hundred."
"Is Ragusnik aware of this?"
"Yes, of course."
"Do you think he is likely to go through with his threat, then?"
"He is mad. He has already stopped working; there has been no waste reclamation since the day before you landed." Blei’s bulbous nose sniffed at the air as though it already caught the whiff of excrement.
Lamorak sniffed mechanically at that, but smelled nothing.
Blei said, "So you see why it might be wise for you to leave. We are humiliated, of course, to have to suggest it."
But Lamorak said, "Wait; not just yet. Good Lord, this is a matter of great interest to me professionally. May I speak to the Ragusnik?"
"On no account," said Blei, alarmed.
"But I would like to understand the situation. The sociological conditions here are unique and not to be duplicated elsewhere. In the name of science-"
"How do you mean, speak? Would image-reception do?"
"I will ask the Council," muttered Blei.
They sat about Lamorak uneasily, their austere and dignified expressions badly marred with anxiety. Blei, seated in the midst of them, studiously avoided the Earthman’s eyes.
The Chief Councillor, gray-haired, his face harshly wrinkled, his neck scrawny, said in a soft voice, "If in any way you can persuade him, sir, out of your own convictions, we will welcome that. In no case, however, are you to imply that we will, in any way, yield."
A gauzy curtain fell between the Council and Lamorak. He could make out the individual councillors still, but now he turned sharply toward the receiver before him. It glowed to life.
A head appeared in it, in natural color and with great realism. A strong dark head, with massive chin faintly stubbkd, and thick, red lips set into a firm horizontal line.
The image said, suspiciously, "Who are you?"
Lamorak said, "My name is Steven Lamorak; I am an Earthman."
"That’s right. I am visiting Elsevere. You are Ragusnik?"
"Igor Ragusnik, at your service," said the image, mockingly. "Except that there is no service and will be none until my family and I are treated like human beings."
Lamorak said, "Do you realize the danger that Elsevere is in? The possibility of epidemic disease?"
"In twenty-four hours, the situation can be made normal, if they allow me humanity. The situation is theirs to correct."
"You sound like an educated man, Ragusnik."
"I am told you’re denied of no material comforts. You are housed and clothed and fed better than anyone on Elsevere. Your children are the best educated."
"Granted. But all by servo-mechanism. And motherless girl-babies are sent us to care for until they grow to be our wives. And they die young for loneliness. Why?" There was sudden passion in his voice. "Why must we live in isolation as if we were all monsters, unfit for human beings to be
near? Aren’t weliuman beings like others, with the same needs and desires and reelings. Don’t we perform an honorable and useful function-?"
There was a rustling of sighs from behind Lamorak. Ragusnik heard it, and raised his voice. "I see you of the Council behind there. Answer me: Isn’t it an honorable and useful function? It is your waste made into food for you. Is the man who purifies corruption worse than the man who produces it?-Listen, Councillors, I will not give in. Let all of Elsevere die of disease -including myself and my son, if necessary-but I will not give in. My family will be better dead of disease, than living as now."
Lamorak interrupted. "You’ve led this life since birth, haven’t you?"
"And if I have?"
"Surely you’re used to it."
"Never. Resigned, perhaps. My father was resigned, and I was resigned for a while; but I have watched my son, my only son, with no other little boy to play with. My brother and I had each other, but my son will never have anyone, and I am no longer resigned. I am through with Elsevere and through with talking."
The receiver went dead.
The Chief Councillor’s face had paled to an aged yellow. He and Blei were the only ones of the group left with Lamorak. The Chief Councillor said, "The man is deranged; I do not know how to force him."
He had a glass of wine at his side; as he lifted it to his lips, he spilled a few drops that stained his white trousers with purple splotches.
Lamorak said, "Are his demands so unreasonable? Why can’t he be accepted into society?"
There was momentary rage in Blei’s eyes. "A dealer in excrement." Then he shrugged. "You are from Earth."
Incongruously, Lamorak thought of another unacceptable, one of the numerous classic creations of the medieval cartoonist, Al Capp. The variously-named "inside man at the skonk works."
He said, "Does Ragusnik really deal with excrement? I mean, is there physical contact? Surely, it is all handled by automatic machinery."
"Of course," said the Chief Councillor.