Clans of the Alphane Moon
When CIA agent Chuck Rittersdorf and his psychiatrist wife, Mary, file for divorce, they have no idea that in a few weeks they’ll be shooting it out on Alpha III M2, the distant moon ruled by various psychotics liberated from a mental ward. Nor do they suspect that Chuck’s new employer, the famous TV comedian Bunny Hentman, will also be there aiming his own laser gun.
How things came to such a darkly hilarious pass is the subject of Clans of the Alphane Moon, an astutely shrewd and acerbic tale that blurs all conventional distinctions between sanity and madness.
BEFORE ENTERING THE supreme council room, Gabriel Baines sent his Mans-made simulacrum clacking ahead to see if by chance it might be attacked. The simulacrum -- artfully constructed to resemble Baines in every detail -- did many things, since it had been made by the inventive clan of Manses, but Baines only cared to employ it in its maneuvering for defense; defending himself was his sole orientation in life, his claim to membership in the Pare enclave of Adolfville at the north end of the moon.
Baines had of course been outside Adolfville many times, but he felt safe -- or rather relatively safe -- only here, within the stout walls of this, the Pare city. Which proved that his claim to membership in the Pare clan was not contrived, a mere simulated technique by which he could gain entry into the most solidly-built, sturdy and enduring urban area anywhere. Baines beyond doubt was sincere... as if there could be any doubt of him.
For example, there was his visit to the incredibly degrading hovels of the Heebs. Recently he had been in search of escaped members of a work brigade; being Heebs they had perhaps straggled back to Gandhitown. The difficulty, however, was that all Heebs, to him at least, looked alike: dirty, stooped creatures in soiled clothing who giggled and could not concentrate on any complicated procedure. They were useful for mere manual labor, nothing more. But with the constant need for tinkering improvement of Adolfville's fortifications against the predations of the Manses, manual labor was currently at a premium. And no Pare would dirty his hands. Anyhow, among the dilapidated shacks of the Heebs he had felt pure terror, a sense of almost infinitely vast exposure among the most flimsy of human constructs; it was an inhabited garbage dump of cardboard dwellings. The Heebs however did not object. They dwelt among their own refuse in tranquil equilibrium.
Here today, at the twice yearly council meeting representing all the clans, the Heebs would of course have a spokesman; speaking for the Pares he would find himself seated in the same room with an odious -- literally so -- Heeb. And this scarcely dignified his task. Probably it would be straggle-haired, fat Sarah Apos-toles again this year.
But more ominous would be the Mans representative. Because, like every Pare, Baines was terrified of each and every Mans. Their reckless violence shocked him; he could not comprehend it, so purposeless was it. For years he had put Manses down as simply hostile. But that did not explain them. They enjoyed violence; it was a perverse delight in breaking things and intimidating others, especially Pares such as himself.
But knowing this did not fully help him; he still quailed at the anticipated confrontation with Howard Straw, the Mans delegate.
Wheezing asthmatically his simulacrum returned, a fixed smile on its Baines-like artificial countenance. "All in order, sir. No deadly gas, no electrical discharge of a dangerous degree, no poison in the water pitcher, no peepholes for laser rifles, no concealed infernal machines. I would offer the suggestion that you can safely enter." It clacked to a halt, became silent,
"No one approached you?" Baines asked cautiously.
The simulacrum said, "No one is there yet Except, of course, for the Heeb sweeping the floor."
Baines, out of a lifetime of protective cunning, opened the door a crack for that which was essential: a momentary glimpse of the Heeb.
The Heeb, a male, swept in his slow, monotonous way, the usual silly Heeb expression on his face, as if his work amused him. He could probably keep it up for months without becoming bored; Heebs could not tire of a task because they could not comprehend even the concept of diversity. Of course, Baines reflected, there was some virtue in simplicity. He had for instance been impressed by the famous Heeb saint, Ig-natz Ledebur, who radiated spirituality as he wandered from town to town, spreading the warmth of his harmless Heeb personality. This one certainly looked devoid of dangerousness....
And the Heebs, at least, even their saints, did not try to convert people, as did the Skitz mystics. All the Heebs asked was to be let alone; they simply did not want to be bothered by life, and each year they shed more and more of the complexities of living. Returned, Baines reflected, to the mere vegetable, which, to a Heeb, was ideal.
Checking his laser pistol -- it was in order -- Baines decided that he could enter. So step by step he walked into the council room, took a chair, then abruptly changed to another; that one had been too close to the window: he presented too good a target to anyone outdoors.
To amuse himself while he waited for the others to arrive, he decided to bait the Heeb. "What's your name?" he demanded.
"J-jacob Simion," the Heeb said, sweeping with his standard silly grin unchanged; a Heeb never knew when he was being baited. Or if he did he did not care. Apathy toward everything: that was the Heeb way.
"You like your work, Jacob?" Baines asked, lighting a cigarette.
"Sure," the Heeb said, and then giggled.
"You've always spent your time sweeping floors?"
"Huh?" The Heeb did not appear able to comprehend the question.
The door opened and plump, pretty Annette Golding, the Poly delegate, appeared, purse under her arm, her round face flushed, her green eyes shining as she panted for breath. "I thought I was late."
"No," Baines said, rising to offer her a chair. He glanced professionally over her; no sign that she had brought her weapon. But she could be carrying feral spores in capsules secreted in a gum-pocket within her mouth; he made it a point, when he reseated himself, to select a chair at the far end of the big table. Distance... a highly valuable factor.
"It's warm in here," Annette said, still perspiring. "I ran all the way up the stairs." She smiled at him in the artless way that some Polys had. She did seem attractive to him... if only she could lose a little weight. Nonetheless he liked Annette and he took this opportunity to engage in light banter with her, tinged with overtones of the erotic.
"Annette," he said, "you're such a pleasant, comfortable person. A shame you don't marry. If you married me --"
"Yes, Gabe," Annette said, smiling. "I'd be protected. Litmus paper in every corner of the room, atmosphere analyzers throbbing away, grounding equipment in case influence machines radiating --"
"Be serious," Baines said, crossly. He wondered how old she was; certainly no more than twenty. And, like all Polys, she was childlike. The Polys hadn't grown up; they remained unfixed, and what was Polyism if not the lingering of plastic childhood? After all, their children, from every clan on the moon, were born Polys, went to their common, central school as Polys, did not become differentiated until perhaps their tenth or eleventh year. And some, like Annette, never became differentiated.
Opening her purse Annette got out a package of candy; she began to eat rapidly, "I feel nervous," she explained. "So I have to eat." She offered the bag to Baines, but he declined -- after all, one never knew. Baines had preserved his life for thirty-five years now, and he did not intend to lose it due to a trivial impulse; everything had to be calculated, thought out in advance if he expected to live another thirty-five.
Annette said, "I suppose Louis Manfreti will represent the Skitz clan again this year. I always enjoy him; he has such interesting things to tell, the visions he sees of primordial things. Beasts from the earth and the sky, monsters that battle under the ground..." She sucked on a piece of hard candy thoughtfully. "Do you think the visions that Skitzes see are real, Gabe?"
"No," Baines said, truthfully.
"Why do they ponder and talk about them all the time, then? They're real to them, anyhow."
"Mysticism," Baines said scornfully. He sniffed, now; some unnatural odor had come to him, something sweet. It was, he realized, the scent of Annette's hair and he relaxed. Or was it supposed to make him think that? he thought suddenly, again alert. "Nice perfume you have on," he said disingenuously. "What's it called?"
"Night of Wildness," Annette said. "I bought it from a peddler here from Alpha II; it cost me ninety skins but it does smell wonderful, don't you think? A whole month's salary." Her dark eyes looked sad.
"Marry me," Baines began again, and then broke off.
The Dep representative had appeared; he stood in the doorway and his fear-haunted, concave face with its staring eyes seemed to pierce Baines to the heart. Good lord, he groaned, not knowing whether to feel compassion for the poor Dep or just outright contempt. After all, the man could buck up; all the Deps could buck up, if they had any courage. But courage was totally lacking in the Dep settlement to the south. This one palpably showed this lack; he hesitate...
Copyright © 1964 by Philip K. Dick
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