The Complete Stories (Page 233)
"What’s the matter, Dr. Sloane?" asked Mrs. Hanshaw.
But he didn’t hear her because he was thinking of the Door and the psychic probe and all the rising, choking tide of machinery. There is a little of the rebel in all of us, he thought.
So he said in a soft voice, as his hand fell away from the board and his feet turned away from the Door, "You know, it’s such a beautiful day that I think I’ll walk."
Elvis Blei rubbed his plump hands and said, "Self-containment is the word." He smiled uneasily as he helped Steven Lamorak of Earth to a light. There was uneasiness all over his smooth face with its small wide-set eyes.
Lamorak puffed smoke appreciatively and crossed his lanky legs.
His hair was powdered with gray and he had a large and powerful jawbone. "Home grown?" he asked, staring critically at the cigarette. He tried to hide his own disturbance at the other’s tension.
"Quite," said Blei.
"I wonder," said Lamorak, "that you have room on your small world for such luxuries."
(Lamorak thought of his first view of Elsevere from the spaceship visiplate. It was a jagged, airless planetoid, some hundred miles in diameter -just a dust-gray rough-hewn rock, glimmering dully in the light of its sun, 200,000,000 miles distant. It was the only object more than a mile in diameter that circled that sun, and now men had burrowed into that miniature world and constructed a society in it. And he himself, as a sociologist, had come to study the world and see how humanity had made itself fit into that queerry specialized niche.)
Blei’s polite fixed smile expanded a hair. He said, "We are not a small world, Dr. Lamorak; you judge us by two-dimensional standards. The surface area of Elsevere is only three quarters that of the State of New York, but that’s irrelevant. Remember, we can occupy, if we wish, the entire interior of Elsevere. A sphere of 50 miles radius has a volume of well over half a million cubic miles. If all of Elsevere were occupied by levels 50 feet apart, the total surface area within the planetoid would be 56,000,000 square miles, and that is equal to the total land area of Earth. And none of these square miles, Doctor, would be unproductive."
Lamorak said, "Good Lord," and stared blankly for a moment. "Yes, of course you’re right. Strange I never thought of it that way. But then, Elsevere is the only thoroughly exploited planetoid world in the Galaxy; the rest of us simply can’t get away from thinking of two-dimensional surfaces, as you pointed out. Well, I’m more than ever glad that your Council has been so cooperative as to give me a free hand in this investigation of mine."
Blei nodded convulsively at that.
Lamorak frowned slightly and thought: He acts for all the world as though he wished I had not come. Something’s wrong.
Blei said, "Of course, you understand that we are actually much smaller than we could be; only minor portions of Elsevere have as yet been hollowed out and occupied. Nor are we particularly anxious to expand, except very slowly. To a certain extent we are limited by the capacity of our pseudogravity engines and Solar energy converters."
"I understand. But tell me, Councillor Blei-as a matter of personal curiosity, and not because it is of prime importance to my project-could I view some of your farming and herding levels first? I am fascinated by the thought of fields of wheat and herds of cattle inside a planetoid."
"You’ll find the cattle small by your standards, Doctor, and we don’t have much wheat. We grow yeast to a much greater extent. But there will be some wheat to show you. Some cotton and tobacco, too. Even fruit trees."
"Wonderful. As you say, self-containment. You recirculate everything, I imagine."
Lamorak’s sharp eyes did not miss the fact that this last remark twinged Blei. The Elseverian’s eyes narrowed to slits that hid his expression.
He said, "We must recirculate, yes. Air, water, food, minerals-everything that is used up-must be restored to its original state; waste products are reconverted to raw materials. All that is needed is energy, and we have enough of that. We don’t manage with one hundred percent efficiency, of course; there is a certain seepage. We import a small amount of water each year; and if our needs grow, we may have to import some coal and oxygen."
Lamorak said, "When can we start our tour, Councillor Blei?"
Blei’s smile lost some of its negligible warmth. "As soon as we can, Doctor. There are some routine matters that must be arranged."
Lamorak nodded, and having finished his cigarette, stubbed it out.
Routine matters? There was none of this hesitancy during the preliminary correspondence. Elsevere had seemed proud that its unique planetoid existence had attracted the attention of the Galaxy.
He said, "I realize I would be a disturbing influence in" a tightly-knit
society," and watched grimly as Blei leaped at the explanation and made it his own.
"Yes," said Blei, "we feel marked off from the rest of the Galaxy. We have our own customs. Each individual Elseverian fits into a comfortable niche. The appearance of a stranger without fixed caste is unsettling."
"The caste system does involve a certain inflexibility."
"Granted," said Blei quickly; "but there is also a certain self-assurance. We have firm rules of intermarriage and rigid inheritance of occupation. Each man, woman and child knows his place, accepts it, and is accepted in it; we have virtually no neurosis or mental illness."
"And are there no misfits?" asked Lamorak.
Blei shaped his mouth as though to say no, then clamped it suddenly shut, biting the word into silence; a frown deepened on his forehead. He said, at length, "I will arrange for the tour, Doctor. Meanwhile, I imagine you would welcome a chance to freshen up and to sleep."