Episode 28, Homage to Luxenben

 

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night of tossing and turning did wonders for my gumption. Early the next morning, I was at Research’s reception desk.

The girls’ first words confirmed my hope that once we could speak privately, they would be more forthcoming about their betrothed’s mission than they were at the company meeting.

“Ros and I were all for it at first,” Anne began. “It made Neuman happy. The job was one he looked forward to and it paid well. He’d be gone for two years and we’d miss each other terribly, but they promised him a permanent position in the project’s home office when he got back.”

“Neuman thinks that if he does a good job,” Ros went on, “he’ll be respected like a war veteran or something like that and we’ll be proud of him and we’ll have a good life to look forward to.”

“If he gets back,” Anne blurted out. “We didn’t dream there’d be any danger. He was going back to do battle, sure. But a battle over ideas. Not guns. We figured all Earthlings were nice people like you and the rabbi. And Research didn’t tell us anything different. Nothing to worry about, right?”

“Then we ran into Captain Mueller at a reception a couple weeks ago,” Ros continued. “He didn’t reveal much—nothing specific anyway—but it got us digging into things for ourselves. We couldn’t believe it! Jiminy, Mr. Stelzer. What’s going on down there? Only way we can make any sense of it is that everybody’s got mad cow disease except nobody realizes it because they’re all losing their minds at the same time.”

“And seeing those pictures yesterday. Mr. Brimley said he couldn’t get to sleep afterwards. How do you think we felt?” Anne asked. “The way we feel now, it’s like Earth’s a burning building that’s ready to collapse and the company is sending Neuman in there like he’s some kind of fireman. Neuman, a fireman? We’ll be lucky if he remembers to put on his helmet. I keep telling him,” she added with a tired smile, “that if he’s so set on preserving mankind’s pool of genetic material, he ought to stay here. You know what I mean?”

“We’ve tried to talk him out of it. But you know Neuman. Stubborn as a damn mule. And don’t think we feel good about our part in the whole thing. Helping to train him and all. Besides, at first, who knew we were going to fall in love with the guy? Not us, believe me,” said Ros emphatically.

They had no reason to feel guilty, I assured the girls. The responsibility lay not with them but with the company. This was why I had come. I had decided that the only way to kill the Project Seedfaith monster was to cut off its head—that is to say, to convince Metzingham to abandon it. Could Rosanne get me in to see him?

“I don’t know, Mr. Stelzer. They’re very busy guys.”

“They’ll be a lot less busy if they listen to me.”

Anne graced me with one of her unforgettable smiles. “Let me check on their schedules,” she said.

With a few clicks on her keyboard, Rosanne called up the vice-president’s calendar and confirmed that Metz’s appointment schedule was indeed crowded not only for that afternoon but for the next several days, as well. I wondered aloud as to whom else I might talk to—Pilkinson or Mulhouse, perhaps. They might be easier to convince; on the other hand, they lacked the authority to act. But I need not have fretted over the predicament. Before I knew it, Anne, taking the matter in her own hands, was on the intercom with Research’s head.

“Mr. Stelzer is here to see you, Dr. Metzingham. You know, Earth’s odd man out. He says he’s got some very important information about the project. Says it’s urgent. May I send him up…Yes, sir. I know you’re covered…but since he seems so intent on seeing you right away…Yes, sir, I could tell him to come back later, but I don’t see an opening in your schedule until late next week and I remember your telling us every day in the countdown is vital so naturally I thought…Yes, sir, I could ask him to write it all down, but since it might concern my husband, well, I’m concerned, you know…come on, boss, you can double up…yeah, I know you hate to but it’d be just for a little while…sure, I’ll hang on while you get Fred’s okay…tell him I’d consider it a real personal favor…you will? Gee, that’s nice of you, sir. Ros and I really appreciate it.”

 

Fred Metzingham, the head nearest the door, was already meeting with his scheduled conferee when I was ushered into the office. With a nod of his head, he directed me to the other side where his twin, Al, beckoned me to take a seat. One look at these gentlemen and it was easy to understand their reluctance to “double up.” On their heads they wore a “communiguard,” as I later learned it was named, whose function it was to create the illusion on the part of the visitor that he alone had the wearer’s attention—a courtesy, as it were, extended in compensation for the visitor being limited in reality to only one-half of the wearer’s attention. The contraption consisted of two light leather helmets joined by a telescoping metal connector that, to a limited degree, permitted each head to move independently. A crossbar mounted diagonally on this connector supported a short, opaque curtain that limited each visitor’s view to the head with which he was directly engaged. (Despite the laudable intention of the wearers, I found the device more distracting than helpful what with the curtain slapping against chin, cheek, ear, or skull whenever either of the discussions taking place grew more animated.)

Once I had become somewhat accustomed to the communiguard’s rufflings, I studied Fred Metzingham’s face. In contrast with his round faces, his sharp features silhouetted against the backdrop of the black curtain reminded me of the visage one sees on old coins depicting some self-confident, steely-eyed Venetian patriarch.

Metz wasted no time getting down to the substance of our meeting. “Rosanne said you had some new information about Project Seedfaith. What is it exactly?”

His directness seemed to leave me with no choice other than to be as direct as himself. “Yes, sir. Now that I know what’s going on, I think you ought to scrap it. I don’t mean the whole project. Just Earth’s part in it.”

“And why is that, Mr. Stelzer? As you heard, we went to considerable trouble finding it.”

As painstakingly and unemotionally as I could, I explained that Captain Mueller’s eagerness to fulfill his mission had marred his judgment. He had clung to the belief that Earth was poised on dichotomax’s threshold despite evidence collected by his own crew proving the planet’s disease to be far more advanced. Earth was, in fact, in the final phase of the scourge and could not, therefore, fulfill any of Research’s objectives, no matter how limited. More than likely, the so-called missionaries would simply be ignored. Earth is so noisy, I pointed out, that nobody pays attention to anything unless it’s hugely amplified by some powerful special interest. And since there was no such group on Earth that could conceivably have a motive in promoting Cartism, the project would die of its own accord. If, by chance, the pair did succeed in attracting attention they would be certain to run into rabid opposition from fanatics who would, at best, garble the data Research was looking for, and, at worst, incite violence. In either case, Project Seedfaith would fail at its very first attempt at proselytizing Cartism and no meaningful information would be obtained. Would this not threaten the program’s future funding by a company already strapped for cash? Would not the company be better off, I concluded, by shifting its first test site to a more productive location?

I expected Metzingham to react angrily to my pessimistic assessment, but instead he merely looked amused. “I suspect, Mr. Stelzer, that your concerns are derived more out of fear for the safety of your friends than for the possible failure of our mission. It’s all very commendable I’m sure, but I’m afraid it’s your judgment you should be worried about. Not Captain Mueller’s. As a matter of fact, none of the issues you raised are new to us.”

“You’ve gone back?”

“No need to. Your friends have called our attention to the same problems and I can assure you we’ve analyzed them thoroughly.”

“Neuman warned you?”

“They both did. Neuman’s no fool. And neither is his mentor, by the way. Publicly they’re all bravado, but privately I would say they have as realistic a view of the situation as yourself.”

“I can’t believe Neuman has a realistic view of anything,” I retorted. “Out of four billion people on Earth you couldn’t have picked a worse informant. He was never really acclimated to it, you know—not mentally at any rate.”

“I’m afraid you do him an injustice, Mr. Stelzer. Neuman has greatly matured since he’s been here. It might interest you to know that the young man you think so unrealistic has insured his wife and child against the possibility that he may not return.”

“Then he is aware of the danger?”

“Of some danger, yes. But let’s keep this in perspective. We’ve carefully gone into all the pitfalls with both Neuman and the rabbi and we don’t foresee anything that is unmanageable. In any case, I assure you we would never have gone ahead without their full knowledge and consent.”

An idea flashed in my head. “You’re saying that either of them could change his mind this late in the day?”

The learned doctor practically fell out of his chair protesting the implication of my question. “This is Luxenben, Mr. Stelzer. We’d find it regrettable if they did so, certainly, but SVI is not in the habit of shanghaiing its space travelers. One word from either of them and they’re off the roster.”

“That’d be quite an embarrassment, wouldn’t it?” I persisted.

“Embarrassment, Mr. Stelzer, is an occupational hazard for scientists. Experiments go bad for any number of reasons—a breakdown of apparatus being among the most common,” Metzing­ham answered. “In any case, what point would there be in sending an emissary who was only half committed?”

“Assuming there’s a point to it to begin with.”

“It seems to us you ought to learn more about the project before you criticize it further. We’re holding a strategy session in a few days to refine our approach. Why don’t you pop in? I’m sure that whatever you have to say will be constructive,” Metzingham added meaningfully. “And by all means feel free to call again. But please do give us a little more notice.”

As Metzingham shook my right hand, his left hand detached the communiguard and, with a sigh of relief, threw it to the floor.

The meeting had been unpleasant but not entirely fruitless. Now that I was assured they had the option to quit, Neuman and Samuels had to be confronted. If either of them decided to quit, I hoped to be the one who broke the news to the Vice-President of Research. Would their faces retain their stony imperturbability, I wondered? Probably. They had certainly appeared sanguine enough when I broached the possibility of the project’s cancellation and months of work and tons of money going down the drain. Too sanguine, now that I thought about it. Could they be that confident that Neuman—a young man whose mental history left room for uncertainty—would not change his mind at the last minute? Or was it more likely that they had a replacement on hand ready, if necessary, to be slid into Neuman’s vacated position, thus allowing Seedfaith to proceed?

There were too many loose ends in my own mind for me to face up to Rosanne’s inevitable questions. I slipped out a side entrance to avoid the reception desk on my way out.

 

Neuman greeted me with, “Mr. Stelzer, hi. What’d you think of the company meeting?” I had arranged to meet him and Samuels later that afternoon at a pavilion sheltering a score or so of concrete tables neatly spaced in rows—each tabletop embedded with its four requisite chessboards.

“You don’t have to ask,” said Samuels. “Just look at his face. He didn’t like it.”

“What was there not to like?” I said. “It’s not every day you hear your two closest friends entering into a suicide pact. Next to your funerals, it’s the most entertaining thing I can think of.”

“Such melodrama!” exclaimed the rabbi.

“It’s not melodrama. It’s reality. The minute you get back to Earth and start mouthing your Cartistic blasphemy, some people are going to go ape. Count on it.”

“Cartism is about evolutionary change. Peaceful change, Duvidul. There’s nothing to worry about.”

“About Cartism, no. About anti-Cartism, yes. You’re going to anoint their heads with holy water and they’re going to anoint your heads with clubs.”

“Sha. You’re exaggerating, Duvidul. People can change. Maybe it won’t be so easy, but dangerous, no,” admonished Samuels.

“It will be, Eli. Don’t give me one of your looks. You don’t think there are plenty of people down there who won’t be too happy about you sticking your nose into their business, threatening their way of life, turning everything upside down? Their religious beliefs, their economy, their politics, their welfare? And you don’t think those people don’t have plenty of money to pay for whatever they want to do?”

“So many don’ts, David. They make my head spin. Okay, so we’ll have some opposition. We expect that. But we’ll have plenty of support too,” replied the rabbi. “We’ll be fine. You wait and see.”

“I don’t have to wait. I can close my eyes and see it now. You flip over a stone on Earth and underneath it’s crawling with creeps. Just hulking there until the next hatefall sends them slithering out again. Every idiot is going to go looking for rocks to throw. Every arsonist practicing how to light matches. Every gun-toting lunatic cleaning his rifle. Every terrorist…”

“Jesus, you make it sound like the natives are waiting with pots of boiling water,” said Neuman.

“If they aren’t, it’s because nobody has the patience to cook any more.”

Oy vey iz mir! That’s enough, Duvidul,” growled Samuels. “You’ve made your point. Now drop it already.”

“All right, forget about the danger. What’s the point in getting involved in the first place?”

“That’s our decision. Look, why don’t you let us do the worry, Mr. Stelzer? It’s our heads.”

“Good question. I would with pleasure, believe me. If there were brains inside them. Don’t you see? You won’t be allowed to talk about Luxenben, right? And even if you did, who would believe you? Okay, maybe a few people might believe the two-headed part, but the notion that Cartism could make civilized people behave civilized, never.”

“You’re wasting your breath, Mr. Stelzer. We’ve seen what it’s done here. Even Mr. Brimley says it can do the same thing on Earth.”

“He told me the same thing on the Starbound. But cruising around Earth for a month doesn’t make him an authority on humanity. I lived there for forty-seven years. So I know a thing or two that he doesn’t.”

“And what’s that, Mr. Stelzer? Maybe I can enlighten him.”

“Don’t smart-aleck me, Neuman. I know what people are like and so does your friend here if you could get him to admit it. Their brains are so infused with bunkum that they’re impenetrable, intellectually blind. And what I’m telling you is that being able to see in the land of the blind is not a good idea. Two years on Earth and you’ll be begging them to have your eyes out too. If they haven’t already done it for you.”

“We can’t back out now. The company’s been training us for months,” said Neuman.

“Ah, the company. I’ll tell you about the company. They’re not questioning whether you fall flat on your face or not. They take that as a foregone conclusion. All they’re interested in is the forensics. Which of your bones get broken and in what order. You heard them at the meeting. They have one objective. Money, come hell or high water. Meanwhile you guys get stuck with the dirty work.”

“It’s not dirty work,” snapped Neuman.

“That’s sure what it looks like to me. They’re using you guys.”

“You’re missing the big picture, Duvidul. Sure, SVI’s interested in profit, but the end result is Earth, az got vil, is going to be stopped from destroying itself.”

“Yeah. And you’ll be helping too. We’ll have your translation of the Red Book,” Neuman reminded me. “We’re bringing lots of copies to get started.”

“Like you lugged boxes of Hasidic books up here. Why don’t you just buy a magazine when you go on a trip like everyone else?”

“Would you stop being so goddamned cynical for a minute? People will appreciate it. I wasn’t the only confused kid on Earth. A lot of people are looking for answers. They know God is dead but they haven’t had the guts to bury him yet because they don’t know how to fill the hole he’s left. Once they hear how Cartism is built from scratch on bedrock and how every part fits together and….”

“I’m not quarrelling with the party line, Neuman. I know Earth’s broken. And maybe once upon a time Cartism might have glued it back together. But not any more. It’s too late.”

“That’s your take, Mr. Stelzer. Not ours. Anyway, it’s something we gotta do. And personally, I’m excited as hell about it. I told ya I wanted to do something important. This is my chance. Earth needs us. Luxenben doesn’t. It’s that simple.”

“Is it? Your new baby doesn’t need you? Rosanne?”

“Butt out, Mr. Stelzer. That’s between her and me. We’ve worked things out. She understands.”

“I’m glad to hear it. But two years is a long time, Neuman.”

“Lay off, would you? How do you think I’d feel if I stay here fat and happy and pick up the paper one morning and read that Earth has gone down the tube?”

“Better than if you got flushed down with it.”

“Leave the boy alone. You talk like you know what’s going to happen, but you don’t know any more than we do, Duvidul. Maybe we really could do something. To tell you the truth, I’m excited, too. Anyway, like Neuman says, how can we turn our backs? People need us.”

“Mars needs water too. That doesn’t mean its going to get any. A couple of unknown ex-Jews aren’t going to change anybody’s mind about anything.”

Oy! So when we come back in two years we’ll be failures. That will make you happy, okay. But you know what? We’ll be happy too because we tried. What’s wrong with that?” Samuels wanted to know. “What’s got into you anyway, Duvidul? It’s no skin off your nose.”

“I know what’s got into him. He’s jealous,” Neuman explained. “While he’s stuffing down his millionth blintz up here, you and I will be making history.”

“Whose history? Not Luxenben’s. Semis get into their zoo directories, not their history books. And on Earth, you’ll be lucky to get a couple of lines at the bottom of the Saturday Religion Page.”

“Better than nothing,” the rabbi observed.

“Or maybe you’ll go down as a trivia question. ‘Two crank missionaries made futile attempt to establish a new esoteric faith based on feedback. Name either one or the religion itself.’ In a few years, nobody will have an answer, believe me.”

“Thanks for the encouragement, Mr. Stelzer. We really appreciate it,” said Neuman.

I attempted one last try. “All right. Go if you want. But nothing says it has to be right now. If you don’t give a damn about yourself, think about Rabbi Samuels. He needs a rest. He did his duty at Brith Shalom. Ten times over. Let him enjoy life here a little.”

“Earth won’t run away?” Neuman suggested with the hint of a smile.

Suddenly it was as though we were in my Imperial heading down the highway on our way to East Pershing. I at the wheel and he the sullen passenger slumped against the car door. It was just as hopeless now. Neuman was right. I was wasting my breath. And Samuels was right too. It was no skin off my nose.

I grumbled my good-byes and left.

 

The following Thursday morning being a fine one, the conferees chatted in groups outside Research’s Conference Center before the strategy meeting began. Samuels and Neuman were busily engaged talking to Mulhouse. Dr. Metzingham, Pilkinson, and their three aides, likewise engaged in conversation, formed a second knot of attendees.

Rosanne, who was there to record the proceedings, stood alone looking, I thought, tired and pensive. I drew her aside and confessed that my meetings with both Metzingham and her husband had been unproductive. The poor girl said that, not having heard from me sooner, she had expected as much. She smiled wanly and thanked me for my effort.

“I’m sorry,” I said. “I know how you feel.”

“You know how I feel?” Ros replied. “Then tell me. I’d like to know. I really would. Luxan women haven’t sent men off to war for the last eight hundred years. We’re out of practice.”

I started to say that Earth wasn’t exactly a war zone, but her distressed look discouraged argument. She asked if I planned to take advantage of the meeting to restate my arguments against the project and I had no choice but to tell her I had given up. Project Seedfaith was on track and nothing could derail it. I was there, I admitted, largely out of curiosity and on the off chance that I might have some suggestions to offer. Furthermore, Metzingham had made it abundantly clear that whatever I had to say was to be constructive, and I had no intention of bucking him.

With that Rosanne turned away and was about to follow the others into the building when I hurriedly suggested that a farewell dinner might be in order among us human beings. I had admittedly been abrasive last time I talked to the pair of missionaries and now hoped to restore good feelings before the launch, now less than two months away. I was, in effect, inviting myself to an affair she would have to host and apologized for the intrusion, but, given the circumstances, hoped she wouldn’t mind. The good girl had regained her composure and immediately agreed, contending that if any apology was in order, it was due on her side for not having thought of it herself. She blamed the baby for her inattention to social norms and promised to call me shortly with a date. And so as to leave no doubt about her acquiescence in the matter, she sealed her promise with two sweet pecks on my cheeks.

 

The Galaxy One Room turned out to be a wood paneled chamber whose only windows were high clerestories—the better, one supposed, to encourage concentration within and discourage intrusion from without. Centered in this room was an oval conference table that easily accommodated the ten of us. The atmosphere was informal and the communication monaural in deference to the three Semis in attendance.

Al Metzingham opened the meeting. He regretted that his administrative duties had prevented him from attending the previous strategy sessions and he looked forward to being brought up to date at this final meeting of the conference. Given the competency of its members, he had no doubt but that they had drafted the most workable solution possible to what he knew to be a difficult assignment. He was then kind enough to introduce me to the group, reminding them that it was my translation of the Red Book that was to play such an important part in their conversion effort. He was confident my fresh, unbiased view of their planning was bound to be helpful and urged the group to pay heed to whatever I had to say.

Without any of the old-business-new-business falderal, Bert Pilkinson, Project Seedfaith’s director, then recapped for his boss the plan that had been developed for the initial introduction of Cartism to Earth. He described it as a coordinated two-prong effort. The first, under the guidance of Rabbi Samuels, was the widest possible distribution of the Red Book in both e-book and print form. This would require engaging a publisher and possibly a publicist as well. Book tours, interviews, reviews, social media were all to be employed to the greatest possible extent. The rabbi had no experience in the publishing business but, it was felt he could be an effective advocate thanks to his many years of sermonizing. Moreover, who better to lead people from their traditional religions than one who had helped bring them there to begin with?

Having thus been introduced, Samuels estimated it would take about six months to properly launch the Red Book. Thereafter he would assist Neuman in whatever capacity was required of him. “Every Don Quixote needs his Sancho Panza” was his way of putting it, though why he did so I don’t know, for he got only blank looks in return.

In passing, Samuels remarked that he would not be surprised if conferees had qualms regarding his frequent reliance on Yiddish expressions and Neuman’s reliance on curse words. Both men, he said, were very conscious of their defects and were doing their best to overcome them. When they were in each other’s company, any individual violation cost the speaker a dollar note payable to the offended party. They were about even dollarwise, he admitted, but the good news was that the number of transactions was clearly in decline. And on this hopeful note, Pilkinson turned to the other half of Cartism’s assault on Planet Earth.

 

Neuman’s responsibility was the formation of the Cartist Society. Hopefully, he would get the organization off to a strong enough start for Seedfaith2’s teams to grow it into an influential worldwide political force that might yet deflect the planet’s self-destructive course. From SVI’s purely selfish standpoint, whether the society succeeded or not was less important than gaining experience it could apply to ventures on other planets. Nevertheless, the company did have both an emotional and financial stake in the effort and, most earnestly, wished it well. With this brief introduction, Pilkinson turned the meeting over to Neuman who would recap the conferees’ ambitions for the intellectual conquest of Planet Earth.

“Well, my job will be to assemble a group of dedicated Cartists. Doesn’t sound too difficult does it? Piece of cake here on Luxenben. Not so easy on Earth. Here when you know somebody is a Cartist, you can count on him or her being entirely trustworthy. No question. On Earth, big question. Complete trustworthiness there is nothing you can take for granted. Just the opposite. And, as you all know, if there’s no trustworthiness, there’s no Cartism worthy of the name.

“So what can we do about it? This!,” said Neuman reaching into his pocket for a computer thumb drive and waving it in the air. “Cartbook. The conferees have been working on it with the programmers for months, but Dr. Metzingham and Mr. Stelzer don’t know anything about it so I’ll sketch it out for them. The rest of you please pitch in if I leave anything important out. Okay?”

“Cartbook. Where to start? Pretend it’s up and running already on Earth’s Internet. Part of it runs the administrative node. That handles the run of the mill stuff every organization needs. Staffing, financing, setting policies, keeping up membership lists, adjudicating disputes, routine stuff like that.

“The interesting part is where the members interact. Let’s say I’m an ordinary Earthling and I’ve come across a copy of the Red Book and I really like what it has to say. So I decide to become a card-carrying Cartist. I get on Cartbook’s site, send it my twenty bucks annual fee, and start filling in my application form. Boy, this is one helluva form. Right away it tells me that any error or omission will mean automatic rejection. It wants to know all about me besides the ordinary questions you’d expect. How many marriages? Have I ever been arrested? Sued? What schools I attended and what grades I got. How I earn a living, and on-and-on. Sure, I can get fed up and log off at any time. No harm done. Except good-bye my twenty bucks. But if I get to the end, and give permission, all that stuff gets posted on my page. A page that any member—no non-members allowed, thank God—can see and object to if they want by writing on it. Let’s say my ex-wife, who’s a member, posts a message saying I should be denied membership for such and such. I can defend myself on the same page, but if I’m caught lying on any particular, I’m thrown out. Everything’s totally transparent.

“The probationary period goes on for six months. After that, if the administration gives its okay and I officially agree to uphold Cartist principles, I’m in. Now I’m a full-fledged member.

“And it changes my life. There’s the obvious stuff like who do I buy things from or who do I hire when I need a professional. Maybe I need a business partner or a reliable auto mechanic. I’m going to go to Cartbook and find a fellow member, right? Somebody I can trust. How do I know they’ve stayed honest? Easy. If a member screws me, I can post it on his page. So can anyone else who’s been screwed. So every member is going to do his best to keep his page clean. The damn thing is non-erasable and it follows you to the grave. Everybody knows all about you so it keeps you on the up-and-up. Kinda like an electronic ghetto if you want to look at it that way.

A reminder came from one of the conferees in back. “Explain how the double-entry system works, Neuman.”

“Oh yeah. Important point. Thanks for bringing it up. Whatever I write on another members page, good or bad, it gets automatically posted on my page as well. So if I’m a chronic complainer, my page would show it right away. So most members only post messages they think are important. Not a good idea to throw bricks when you live in a glass house, right?

“And there’s a real plus side to all this. Say I do somebody a real favor, or donate a hunk of money to charity or win an award or something, all that gets posted as well.”

Another reminder from one of the conferees. “Arbitration, Neuman.”

“Right. I should have mentioned that too,” Neuman said. “If any members’ pages get out of hand—two guys locked in a property dispute, for example—compulsory arbitration steps in. Too many details to go over here, but I’m sure it’ll work.

“Well, what do you think is going to happen over time? I’ll give you my opinion. By trusting and helping each other, the whole membership is going to pull ahead. And while living in the Cartist Society’s fishbowl may not be everybody’s cup of tea, most people will want to join when they see how much it helps them. It won’t be long, then, before there’ll be enough members for the whole society to benefit. Fewer cops, fewer jailbirds, best of all I guess, fewer lawyers. Plus a lot of self-organizing will go on outside of Cartbook. Social groups, political groups, business tie ups, you name it. Meanwhile Cartism’s growing stronger and stronger.

“When you think of it, whole governments might come around. Encourage all their subjects to join. Atheist countries ought to welcome Cartism to restore the morality they’d thrown out along with their gods and found out it was a rotten idea. Even countries run by religious groups might see Cartism as an excuse to get rid of a lot of their stuff that they knew had grown out of date. Anyway, it’s hard to predict, but with Cartism playing a bigger and bigger public role, maybe we can turn the stupid ship around like Mr. Pilkinson said. Worth the try, I guess. Anyway, that’s Cartbook in a nutshell.”

 

Pilkinson was left to end the meeting. “Well, Mr. Stelzer. You’ve been quiet during our presentation. Any suggestions? Comments?”

“Only one rather trivial matter. It struck me that Cartists might want to recognize each other on the street. Perhaps a lapel pin of some sort would be appropriate.”

“I think it would, too. Excellent, Mr. Stelzer. Thank you. As an Earthling, yourself, what do you think of our chances for success?”

“You seem to have thought things out about as well as possible. To what extent they can be implemented is another matter. You won’t lack opposition, I can tell you that. Only time will tell, I suppose.”

“Indeed,” said Pilkinson. “Thank you, gentlemen and Ms. Neuman. The meeting is adjourned.”

 

What with good food and drink, the dinner party at the Neumans a few days later was a warm, collegiate affair. Rosanne acted as both the perfect hostess and tactful moderator of our table conversation. It was just as well that she did so, but for her guidance, our banter’s unexpected twists and turns could easily have turned disputatious. As it was, it was late in the night before heads were sufficiently cleared and matters sufficiently resolved for Samuels and me to leave. Sometime around two o’clock in the morning hugs were exchanged and Samuels and I stumbled out of the house.

“You’re sure?” he asked me.

“I’m sure.”

“Well, Duvidul, az me lebt, derlebt men alles.”

I instinctively held out my hand for one more of the dollar note fines that had so frequently been assessed that evening. Instead, the welcher said, “put it on my account” and gave me nothing but an oddly tight, two-handed shake before he turned and strode into the night.

Confounding my expectation for a restless night beset with apprehension, I actually slept quite well and awoke the next morning determined to make the best of my new situation. I had a lot of work to do.

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