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Chapter 3 NINE FOR A PARTY

  • > Hell is the place for me. For to Hell go the fine churchmen, and the fin_nights, killed in the tourney or in some grand war, the brave soldiers an_he gallant gentlemen. With them will I go. There go also the fair graciou_adies who have lovers two or three beside their lord. There go the gold an_he silver, the sables and ermine. There go the harpers and the minstrels an_he kings of the earth.
  • >
  • > —Aucassin
  • I EXCHANGED my drink for a new one from another tray Beau was bringing around.
  • The gray of the Void was beginning to look real pleasant, like warm thick mis_ith millions of tiny diamonds floating in it. Doc was sitting grandly at th_ar with a steaming tumbler of tea—a chaser, I guess, since he was jus_utting down a shot glass. Sid was talking to Erich and laughing at the sam_ime and I said to myself it begins to feel like a party, but something'_acking.
  • It wasn't anything to do with the Major Maintainer; its telltale was glowing _teady red like a nice little home fire amid the tight cluster of dials tha_ncluded all the controls except the lonely and frightening Introversio_witch that was never touched. Then Maud's couch curtains winked out and ther_ere she and the Roman sitting quietly side by side.
  • He looked down at his shiny boots and the rest of his black duds like he wa_ust waking up and couldn't believe it all, and he said, " _Omnia mutantur,
  • nos et mutamur in illis_ ," and I raised my eyebrows at Beau, who was takin_he tray back, and he did proud by old Vicksburg by translating: "All thing_hange and we change with them."
  • Then Mark slowly looked around at us, and I can testify that a Roman smile i_ust as warm as any other nationality, and he finally said, "We are nine, th_roper number for a party. The couches, too. It is good."
  • Maud chuckled proudly and Erich shouted, "Welcome back from the Void,
  • _Kamerad_ ," and then, because he's German and thinks all parties have to b_oisy and satirically pompous, he jumped on a couch and announced, " _Herre_nd Damen_ , permit me to introduce the noblest Roman of them all, Marcu_ipsaius Niger, legate to Nero Claudius (called Germanicus in a former tim_tream) and who in 763 a.u.c. (Correct, Mark? It means 10 a.d., yo_eatheads!) died bravely fighting the Parthians and the Snakes in the Battl_f Alexandria.  _Hoch, hoch, hoch!_ "
  • WE all swung our glasses and cheered with him and Sid yelled at Erich, "Kee_our feet off the furniture, you unschooled rogue," and grinned and boomed a_ll three hussars, "Take your ease, Recuperees," and Maud and Mark got thei_rinks, the Roman paining Beau by refusing Falernian wine in favor of scotc_nd soda, and right away everyone was talking a mile a minute.
  • We had a lot to catch up on. There was the usual yak about the war—"The Snake_re laying mine fields in the Void," "I don't believe it, how can you min_othing?"—and the shortages—bourbon, bobby pins, and the stabilitin that woul_ave brought Mark out of it faster—and what had become of people—"Marcia? Oh,
  • she's not around any more," (She'd been caught in a Change Gale and green an_tinking in five seconds, but I wasn't going to say that)—and Mark had to b_old about Bruce's glove, which convulsed us all over again, and the Roma_emembered a legionary who had carried a gripe all the way to Octavius becaus_e'd accidentally been issued the unbelievable luxury item sugar instead o_he usual salt, and Erich asked Sid if he had any new Ghostgirls in stock an_id sucked his beard like the old goat he is. "Dost thou ask me, lust_llemand? Nay, there are several great beauties, amongst them an Austria_ountess from Strauss's Vienna, and if it were not for sweetling here …
  • Mnnnn."
  • I poked a finger in Erich's chest between two of the bright buttons with thei_iny death's heads. "You, my little von Hohenwald, are a menace to us rea_irls. You have too much of a thing about the unawakened, ghost kind."
  • He called me his little Demon and hugged me a bit too hard to prove it wasn'_o, and then he suggested we show Bruce the Art Gallery. I thought this was _eal brilliant idea, but when I tried to argue him out of it, he got stubborn.
  • Bruce and Lili were willing to do anything anyone wanted them to, though no_o willing to pay any attention while doing it. The saber cut was just a thi_ed line on his cheek; she'd washed away all the dried blood.
  • The Gallery gets you, though. It's a bunch of paintings and sculptures an_specially odd knick-knacks, all made by Soldiers recuperating here, and a lo_f them telling about the Change War from the stuff they're made of—bras_artridges, flaked flint, bits of ancient pottery glued into futuristi_hapes, mashed-up Incan gold rebeaten by a Martian, whorls of beady Luna_ire, a picture in tempera on a crinkle-cracked thick round of quartz that ha_illed a starship porthole, a Sumerian inscription chiseled into a brick fro_n atomic oven.
  • THERE are a lot of things in the Gallery and I can always find some I haven'_ver seen before. It gets you, as I say, thinking about the guys that mad_hem and their thoughts and the far times and places they came from, an_ometimes, when I'm feeling low, I'll come and look at them so I'll feel stil_ower and get inspired to kick myself back into a good temper. It's the onl_istory of the Place there is and it doesn't change a great deal, because th_hings in it and the feelings that went into them resist the Change Wind_etter than anything else.
  • Right now, Erich's witty lecture was bouncing off the big ears I hide under m_ageboy bob and I was thinking how awful it is that for us that there's no_nly change but Change. You don't know from one minute to the next whether _ood or idea you've got is really new or just welling up into you because th_ast has been altered by the Spiders or Snakes.
  • Change Winds can blow not only death but anything short of it, down to th_eatheriest fancy. They blow thousands of times faster than time moves, but n_ne can say how much faster or how far one of them will travel or what damag_t'll do or how soon it'll damp out. The Big Time isn't the little time.
  • And then, for the Demons, there's the fear that our personality will just fad_nd someone else climb into the driver's seat and us not even know. Of course,
  • we Demons are supposed to be able to remember through Change and in spite o_t; that's why we are Demons and not Ghosts like the other Doublegangers, o_erely Zombies or Unborn and nothing more, and as Beau truly said, ther_ren't any great men among us—and blamed few of the masses, either—we're _are sort of people and that's why the Spiders have to Recruit us where the_ind us without caring about our previous knowledge and background, a Foreig_egion of time, a strange kind of folk, bright but always in the background,
  • with built-in nostalgia and cynicism, as adaptable as Centaurian shape-
  • changers but with memories as long as a Lunan's six arms, a kind of Chang_eople, you might say, the cream of the damned.
  • But sometimes I wonder if our memories are as good as we think they are and i_he whole past wasn't once entirely different from anything we remember, an_e've forgotten that we forgot.
  • As I say, the Gallery gets you feeling real low, and so now I said to myself,
  • "Back to your lousy little commandant, kid," and gave myself a stiff boot.
  • Erich was holding up a green bowl with gold dolphins or spaceships on it an_aying, "And, to my mind, this proves that Etruscan art is derived fro_gyptian. Don't you agree, Bruce?"
  • Bruce looked up, all smiles from Lili, and said, "What was that, dear chap?"
  • ERICH'S forehead got dark as the Door and I was glad the hussars had parke_heir sabers along with their shakos, but before he could even get out a Jerr_ussword, Doc breezed up in that plateau-state of drunkenness so lik_ypnotized sobriety, moving as if he were on a dolly, ghosted the bowl out o_rich's hand, said, "A beautiful specimen of Middle Systemic Venusian. Whe_ightaitch finished it, he told me you couldn't look at it and not feel th_aves of the Northern Venusian Shallows rippling around your hoofs. But i_ight look better inverted. I wonder. Who are you, young officer?  _Nichevo_
  • ," and he carefully put the bowl back on its shelf and rolled on.
  • It's a fact that Doc knows the Art Gallery better than any of us, really b_eart, he being the oldest inhabitant, though he maybe picked a bad time t_how off his knowledge. Erich was going to take out after him, but I said,
  • "Nix,  _Kamerad_ , remember gloves and sugar," and he contented himself wit_omplaining, "That  _nichevo_ —it's so gloomy and hopeless,  _ungeheuerlich_.
  • I tell you,  _Liebchen_ , they shouldn't have Russians working for th_piders, not even as Entertainers."
  • I grinned at him and squeezed his hand. "Not much entertainment in Doc thes_ays, is there?" I agreed.
  • He grinned back at me a shade sheepishly and his face smoothed and his blu_yes looked sweet again for a second and he said, "I shouldn't want to cla_ut at people that way, Greta, but at times I am just a jealous old man,"
  • which is not entirely true, as he isn't a day over thirty-three, although hi_air is nearly white.
  • Our lovers had drifted on a few steps until they were almost fading into th_urgery screen. It was the last spot I would have picked for the forma_reliminaries to a little British smooching, but Lili probably didn't share m_rejudices, though I remembered she'd told me she'd served a brief hitch in a_rachnoid Field Hospital before being transferred to the Place.
  • But she couldn't have had anything like the experience I'd had during my shor_nd sour career as a Spider nurse, when I'd acquired my best-hated nightmar_nd flopped completely (jobwise, but on the floor, too) at seeing a docto_lick a switch and a being, badly injured but human, turn into a long cluste_f glistening strange fruit—ugh, it always makes me want to toss my cookie_nd my buttons. And to think that dear old Daddy Anton wanted his Greta chil_o be a doctor.
  • WELL, I could see this wasn't getting me anywhere I wanted to go, and afte_ll there was a party going on.
  • Doc was babbling something at a great rate to Sid—I just hoped Doc wouldn'_et inspired to go into his animal imitations, which sound pretty fierce an_nce seriously offended some recuperating ETs.
  • Maud was demonstrating to Mark a 23rd Century two-step and Beau sat down a_he piano and improvised softly on her rhythm.
  • As the deep-thrumming relaxing notes hit us, Erich's face brightened and h_ragged me over. Pleasantly soon I had my feet off the diamond-rough floor,
  • which we don't carpet because most of the ETs, the dear boys, like it hard,
  • and I was shouldering back deep into the couch nearest the piano, wit_ushions all around me and a fresh drink in my hand, while my Nazi boy frien_as getting ready to discharge his  _Weltschmerz_  as song, which didn't alar_e too much, as his baritone is passable.
  • Things felt real good, like the Maintainer was just idling to keep the Plac_n existence and moored to the cosmos, not exerting itself at all or at mos_aking an occasional lazy paddle stroke. At times the Place's loneliness ca_e happy and comfortable.
  • Then Beau raised an eyebrow at Erich, who nodded, and next thing they wer_aunched into a song we all know, though I've never found out where i_riginally came from. This time it made me think of Lili, and I wondere_hy—and why it's a tradition at Recuperation Stations to call the new gir_ili, though in this case it happened to be her real name.
  • > _Standing in the Doorway just outside of space,
  • > _ _Winds of Change blow 'round you but don't touch your face;
  • > _ _You smile as you whisper tenderly,
  • > _ _"Please cross to me, Recuperee;
  • > _ _The operation's over, come in and close the Door."_