CLANS OF THE ALPHANE MOON
Although she had a thousand matters to attend to, all pertaining to her new non-paying job with the US Interplan Health & Welfare Department, Dr. Mary Rittersdorf took time off for a personal item. Once more she rode by jet cab to New York and the Fifth Avenue office of Jerry Feld, the producer of the Bunny Hent-man show. A week ago she had given him a batch of he very latest -- and best -- CIA scripts which Chuck had written; it was now time to find out if her husband, or ex-husband, had a chance at the job.
If Chuck wouldn't seek better employment on his own she would. It was her duty, if for no other reason than that she and the children, for the next year at least, would be totally dependent on Chuck's earnings.
Let off on the roof field Mary descended by in- ramp to floor ninety, came to the glass door, hesitated, then allowed it to open and entered the outer office in which Mr. Feld's receptionist -- very pretty, with much make-up and a rather tight spider-silk sweater -- sat. Mary felt annoyed at the girl; just because bras had become passe, did a girl with so pronounced a bosom have to cater to fashion? In this case practicality dictated a bra, and Mary stood at the desk feeling herself flushing with disapproval. And artificial nipple-dilation; it was just too much.
"Yes?" the receptionist said, glancing up through an ornate, stylish monocle. As she met Mary's coldness her nipples deburgeoned slightly, as if scared into submission, frightened away.
"I'd like to see Mr. Feld. I'm Dr. Mary Rittersdorf and I don't have much time; I have to leave for the TERPLAN lunar base at three P.M. New York time." She made her voice as efficient -- and demanding -- as she knew how.
After a series of bureaucratic actions on the receptionist's part Mary was sent on in.
At his imitation oak desk -- no genuine oak had existed for a decade -- Jerry Feld sat with a video tape projector, deep in his business tasks. "Just a moment, Dr. Rittersdorf." He pointed to a chair; she seated herself, crossed her legs and lit a cigarette.
On the miniature TV screen Bunny Hentman was doing an act in which he played a German industrialist; wearing a blue, double-breasted suit, he was explaining to his board of directors how the new autonomic plows which their cartel was producing could be used for war. Four plows would guide themselves, at news of hostilities, into a single unit; the unit was not a larger plow but a missile- launcher. In his heavy accent Bunny explained this, putting it as if it were a great achievement, and Feld chuckled.
"I don't have much time, Mr. Feld," Mary said crisply.
Reluctantly, Feld stopped the video tape and turned toward her. "I showed Bunny the scripts. He's interested. Your husband's wit is dry, moribund, but it's authentic. It's what once was --"
"I know all this," Mary said. "I've had to hear his programming scripts for years; he always tried them out on me." She smoked rapidly, feeling tense. "Well, do you think Bunny could use them?"
"We're nowhere," Feld said, "until your husband sees Bunny; there's no use your --"
The office door opened and Bunny Hentman entered.
This was the first time Mary had seen the famous TV comic in person and she felt curious; how did he differ from his public image? He was, she decided, a little shorter, quite a bit older than on TV; he had a large bald area and he looked tired. In fact, in real life Bunny looked like a worried Central European junk dealer, in a rumpled suit, not quite well-shaved, thinning hair disarrayed, and -- to cap the impression -- smoking the shortened remains of a cigar. But his eyes. He had an alert and yet warm quality; she rose and stood facing him. Over TV the strength of his gaze did not register. This was not mere intelligence on Bunny's part; this was more, a perception of -- she did not know what. And --
All about Bunny an aura hung, an aura of suffering. His face, his body, seemed sopped with it. Yes, she thought, that's what shows in his eyes. Memory of pain. Pain that took place long ago, but which he has never forgotten -- nor will he. He was made, put on this planet, to suffer; no wonder he's a great comic. For Bunny comedy was a struggle, a fighting back against the reality of literal physical pain; it was a reaction formation of gigantic -- and effective -- stature.
"Bun," Jerry Feld said, "This is Dr. Mary Rittersdorf; her husband wrote those CIA robot programs I showed you last Thursday."
The comic held out his hand; Mary shook hands with him and said, "Mr. Hentman --"
"Please," the comic said. "That's just my professional name. My real name, the one I was born with, is Lionsblood Regal. Naturally I had to change it; who goes into show biz calling himself Lionsblood Regal? You call me Lionsblood or just Blood; Jer here calls me Li-Reg -- it's a mark of intimacy." He added, still holding onto her hand, " And if there is anything I like about a woman it's intimacy."
"Li-Reg," Feld said, "is your cable address; you've got it mixed up again."
"That's so." Hentman released Mary's hand. "Well, Frau Doktor Rattenfanger --"
"Rittersdorf," Mary corrected.
"Rattenfanger," Feld said, "is German for rat-catcher. Look, Bun, don't make a mistake like that again."
"Sorry," the comic said. "Listen, Frau Doktor Rittelsdof. Please call me something nice; I can use it. I crave affection from pretty women; it's the small boy in me." He smiled, and yet his face -- and especially his eyes -- still contained the world-weary pain, the weight of an ancient burden. "I'll hire your husband if I get to see you now and then. If he understands the real reason for the deal, what diplomats call the 'secret protocols.'" To Jerry Feld he said, "And you know how my protocols have been bothering me, lately."
"Chuck is in a run-down conapt on the West Coast," Mary said. "I'll write the address down." Quickly she took pen and paper and jotted. "Tell him you.need him; tell him --"
"But I don't need him," Bunny Hentman said quietly.
Mary said, with caution, "Couldn't you see him, Mr. Hentman? Chuck has a unique talent. I'm afraid if no one pushes him --"
Plucking at his lower lip Hentman said, "You're afraid he won't make use of it, that it'll go abegging."
"Yes." She nodded.
"But it's his talent. It's for him to decide."
"My husband," Mary said, "needs help." And I ought to know, she thought. It's my job to understand people. Chuck is a dependent infantile type; he must be pushed and led if he's to move at all. Otherwise, he'll rot in that awful little old conapt he's rented. Or -- throw himself out the window. This, she decided, is the only thing that will save him. Although he would be the last to admit it.
Eyeing her intently Hentman said, "Can I make a side-deal with you, Mrs. Rittersdorf?"
'W-what kind of side-deal?" She glanced at Feld; his face was impassive as if he had withdrawn, turtle-like, from the situation.
"Just to see you now and then," Hentman said. "Not on business."
"I won't be here. I'm going to work for TERPLAN; I'll be in the Alph' system for months if not years." She felt panic.
"Then no job for your hubby," Hentman said.
Feld spoke up. "When are you leaving, Dr. Rittersdorf?"
"Right away," Mary said. "In four days. I have to pack my things, arrange for the children to --"
"Four days," Hentman said meditatively. He continued to eye her, up and down. "You and your husband are separated? Jerry said --"
"Yes," Mary said. "Chuck's already moved out."
"Have dinner with me tonight," Hentman said. "And meanwhile I'll either drop by your husband's conapt, or send someone from my staff. We'll give him a six weeks' try ... get him started doing scripts. Is it a deal?"
"I don't mind having dinner with you, " Mary said. "But --"
"That's all," Hentman said. "just dinner. Any restaurant you want, anywhere in the United States. But, if more develops ..." He smiled.
After flying back to the West Coast by jet cab, she traveled on the urban monorail into downtown San Francisco and TERPLAN's branch office, the agency with whom she had dealt regarding her highly desirable new job.
Shortly she found herself ascending by elevator; beside her stood a trim-cut young man, well-dressed, a P.R. official of TERPLAN whose name, as she had gotten it, was Lawrence McRae.
McRae said, "There's a gang of homeopape reporters waiting, and here's what they'll throw at you. They'll imply, and try to get you to confirm, that this therapeutic project is a coverup for Terra's acquisition of the moon Alpha III M2. That fundamentally we're there to reestablish a colony, claim it, develop it, then end settlers to it."
"But it was ours before the war," Mary said. "Otherwise how could it have been used as a hospital base?"
"True," McRae said. They left the elevator, walked down a hall. "But no Terran ship has visited it for twenty-five years and legally speaking that terminates our land-claim. The moon reverted five years ago to political and legal autonomy. However, if we land and reestablish a hospital base, with technicians, doctors, therapists, whatever else is needed, we can assert a fresh claim -- if the Alphanes haven't, and evidently hey haven't. They're still recovering from the war, of course; that may be it. Or they may have scouted the moon and decided it's not what they want, that the ecology is too foreign to their biology. Here." He held a door open and she entered, finding herself facing seated homeopape reporters, fifteen or sixteen of them, some with pic-cameras.
Taking a deep breath she walked to the lectern which McRae pointed out; it was equipped with a microphone.
McRae, speaking into the mike, said, "Ladies and gentlemen, this is Dr. Mary Rittersdorf, the renowned marriage counselor from Marin County who as you know has volunteered her services for this project."
A reporter at once said, lazily, "Dr. Rittersdorf, what is this project called? Project Psychotic?" The other reporters laughed.
It was McRae who answered. "Operation Fifty minutes is the working name we've applied to it."
"Where do the sickies on the moon go when you catch them?" another reporter asked. "So maybe you sweep them under the rug, is that it?"
Mary, speaking into the mike, said, "At first we will be involved in research, in order to fathom the situation. We know already that the original patients -- at least some of them -- and their progeny are alive. How viable the society they've formed is we don't pretend to know. I would guess it's not viable at all, except in the bare, literal sense that they do live. We will attempt corrective therapy with those we can. It's the children, of course, that we're most concerned with."
"When do you expect to be on Alpha III M2, Doctor?" a reporter asked. The pic-cameras ground away, whirring like distant flights of birds.
"I'd say within two weeks," Mary said.
"You're not being paid for this, are you, Doctor?" a reporter asked.
"You're convinced, then, that this is in the public good? It's a Cause?"
"Well," Mary said, hesitantly. "It --"
"Terra, then, will benefit by our meddling with this culture of ex-mental hospital patients?" The reporter's voice was sleek.
Turning to McRae, Mary said, "What should I say?"
McRae, into the mike, said, "This is not Dr. Rittersdorf's area; she's a trained psychologist, not a politician. She declines to answer."
A reporter, tall, lean, experienced, rose to his feet and said drawlingly, "Has it occurred to TERPLAN just to leave this moon alone? To treat its culture as you would any other culture, respecting its values and customs?"
Haltingly, Mary said, "We don't know enough yet. Perhaps when we know more --" She broke off, floundering. "But it's not a subculture," she said. "It has no tradition. It's a society of mentally ill individuals and their offspring that came into existence only twenty-five years ago ... you can't dignify that by comparing it with, say, the Ganymedean or Ionian cultures. What values could mentally ill people develop? And in such a short time."
"But you said yourself," the reporter purred, "that at this point you know nothing about them. For all you know --"
McRae, speaking into the microphone, said sharply, "If they've developed any kind of a stable, viable cul-ure, we'll leave them alone. But that determination is up to experts such as Dr. Rittersdorf, not to you or to me or the American public. Frankly, we feel there's nothing more potentially explosive than a society in which psychotics dominate, define the values, control the means of communication. Almost anything you want to name can come out of it -- a new, fanatical religious cult, a paranoiac nationalistic state-concept, barbaric destructiveness of a manic sort -- these possibilities alone justify our investigation of Alpha III M2. This project is in defense of our own lives and values."
The homeopape reporters were silent, evidently convinced by what McRae had said. And certainly Mary agreed.
Later, as she and McRae left the room, Mary said, "Was that actually the reason?"
Glancing at her McRae said, "You mean, are we going into Alpha III M2 because we fear the consequences to us of a mentally deranged social enclave, because a deranged society, as such, makes us uneasy? I think either reason is sufficient; certainly for you it ought to be."
"I'm not supposed to ask?" She stared at the young cleancut TERPLAN official. "I'm just supposed to --"
"You're supposed to do your therapeutic task and that's it. I don't tell you how to cure sick people; why should you tell me how to handle a political situation?" He faced her coolly. "However I'll give you one further purpose for Operation Fifty-minutes that you might not have thought of. It's entirely possible that in twenty-five years a society of mentally ill people may have come up with technological ideas we can use, especially the manics -- that most active class." He pressed the elevator button. "I understand they're inventive. As are the paranoids."
Mary said, "Does this explain why Terra hasn't sent anyone in there sooner? You wanted to see how their ideas developed?"
Smiling, McRae waited for the elevator; he did not answer. He looked, she decided, absolutely sure of himself. And that as far as the knowledge of psychotics went, was a mistake. Possibly a grave one.
It was almost an hour later, as she was returning to her house in Marin County to resume packing her things, that she realized the basic contradiction in the government's position. First, they were probing into the culture of Alpha III M2 because they feared it might be lethal, and then they were probing to see if it had developed something of use. Almost a century ago Freud had showed how spurious such double logic was; in actual fact each proposition canceled the other. The government simply could not have it both ways.
Psychoanalysis had shown that generally, when two mutually contradicting reasons for an act were given, the genuine underlying motive was neither, was a third drive which the person -- or in this case a body of governing officials -- was unaware of.
She wondered what, in this case, the real motive was.
In any event the project for which she had volunteered her services no longer seemed so idealistic, so free of ulterior purpose.
Whatever the government's actual motive, she had one clear intuition about it: the motive was a good, hard, selfish one.
And, in addition, she had one more intuition.
She would probably never know what that motive was.
She was absorbed in the task of packing her drawerful of sweaters when all at once she realized that she was no longer alone. Two men stood in the doorway; swiftly she turned, hopped to her feet.
"Where is Mr. Rittersdorf?" the older man said. He held out a flat black ID packet; the two men, she saw, were from her husband's office, from the San Francisco branch of the CIA.
"He moved out," she said. "I'll give you his address."
"We got a tip," the older man said, "from an unidentified informant, that your husband might be planning suicide."
"He always is," she said as she wrote down the address of the miserable hovel in which Chuck now lived. "I wouldn't worry about him; he's chronically ill but never quite dead."
The older CIA man regarded her with bleak hostility."I understand you and Mr. Rittersdorf are separating."
"That's right. If it's any of your business." She gave him a brief, professional smile. "Now, may I continue packing?"
"Our office," the CIA man said, "tends to extend a certain protection to its employees. If your husband turns up a suicide there'll be an investigation -- to determine to what extent you're involved." He added, "And in view of your status as marital counselor, it might prove embarrassing, don't you agree?"
After a pause Mary said, "Yes, I suppose so."
The younger crew-cut CIA man said, "Just consider this an informal warning. Go slow, Mrs. Rittersdorf; don't put the pressure on your husband. You understand?" His eyes were lifeless, frigid.
She nodded. And shivered.
"Meanwhile," the older man said, "if he should show up here, have him call in. He's on a three-day leave of absence but we'd like to talk to him." Both men moved from the room, to the front door of the house.
She returned to her packing, gasping in relief, now that the two CIA men had gone.
The CIA isn't going to tell me what to do, she said to herself. I'll say anything I want to my husband, do anything I want. They're not going to protect you, Chuck, she said to herself as she packed sweater after sweater, pressing them down savagely into the suitcase. In fact, she said to herself, it's going to be worse on you because you involved them; so be prepared.
Laughing, she thought, You poor frightened snink. Thinking you had a good idea in intimidating me by sending your co-workers around. You may be frightened of them, but I'm not. They're just stupid, fat headed cops.
As she packed she toyed with the idea of calling her attorney to tell him of the CIA's pressure-tactics. No, she decided, I won't do that now; I'll wait until the divorce action comes up before Judge Brizzolara. And then I'll give that as evidence; it'll show the sort of life I've been forced to lead, married to such a man. Exposed to police harassment, constantly. And, in helping find him a job, propositioned.
Gleefully she placed the last sweater in the suitcase, closed it, and with a rapid turn of her fingers, locked it tight.
Poor Chuck, she said to herself, you don't stand a chance, once I get you into court. You'll never know what hit you; you'll be paying out for the rest of your life. As long as you live, darling, you'll never really be free of me; it'll always cost you something.
She began, with care, to fold her many dresses, packing them into the large trunk with the special hangers.
It will cost you, she said to herself, more than you can afford to pay.