CLANS OF THE ALPHANE MOON
From head-high shelves, cats hopped down, three old orange toms and a mottled Manx, then several part-Siamese kittens with fuzzy, whiskery faces, a supple black young tom, and, with great difficulty, a heavy-with-young calico female; the cats, joined by a small dog, clustered around Ignatz Ledebur's feet, impeding his progress as he attempted to leave the shack.
Ahead lay parts of a dead rat; the dog, a ratting terrier, had caught it and the cats had eaten what they wished. Ignatz had heard them, at dawn, growling. He felt sorry for the rat, which had probably been after the garbage heaped on both sides of the shack's single door. After all, the rat had a right to life, too, as much so as any human. But, of course, the dog did not grasp that; to kill was an instinct implanted in the dog's weak flesh. So no moral blame was involved, and anyhow the rats frightened him; unlike their counterparts back on Terra these had agile hands, could-and did-fashion crude weapons. They were smart.
Ahead of Ignatz stood the rusting remains of an autonomic tractor, long out of service; it had been deposited here several years ago with the vague idea that it might be repaired. In the meantime Ignatz's fifteen (or was it sixteen?) children played on it, inducing what remained of its commune-circuit to converse with them.
He did not see what he was searching for: an empty plastic milk carton by which to start his morning fire. So instead he would have to break up a board. Among the great mound of discarded lumber next to his shack, he began to pick about, seeking a board frail enough for him to break by jumping on it, as it lay propped against the shack's porch.
The morning air was cold and he shivered, wishing that he had not lost his wool jacket; on one of his long walks he had lain down to rest, placing the jacket under his head as a pillow ... when he had awakened he had forgotten it and left it there. So much for the jacket. He could not, of course, remember where that had been; he knew only vaguely that it lay toward Adolfville, perhaps ten days' walk.
A woman from a nearby shack -- she had been his, briefly, but he had gotten tired of her after fathering two children by her -- appeared and yelled in a frenzy at a big white goat who had gotten into the vegetable garden. The goat continued to eat, almost until the woman had reached him, and then he bucked, kicked with his hind legs, and leaped away, out of reach, beet leaves still dangling from his maw. A flock of ducks, startled by his activity, honked in various stages of panic as they all scattered, and Ignatz laughed. Ducks took things so seriously.
After he had broken the board for his fire, he returned to the shack, the cats still trailing; he shut the door in their faces -- not before one kitten managed to squeeze past and inside -- and then he squatted by the cast iron trash burner and began building the fire.
On the kitchen table his current wife, Elsie, lay sleeping under a pile of blankets; she would not get up until he had started the fire and fixed coffee. He did not blame her. On these cold mornings no one liked to get up; it was late in the morning before Gandhitown stirred, except of course for those Heebs who had wandered all night.
From the sole bedroom of the shack a small child appeared, naked, stood with thumb in mouth, watching him silently as he lit the fire.
Behind the child blared the noise of the TV set; the sound worked but not the picture. The children could not watch, could only listen. I ought to fix that, Ignatz said to himself, but he felt no urgency; before the moon's TV transmitter at Da Vinci Heights had gone into operation, life had been simpler.
When he started to make coffee he found that part of the pot was missing. So, rather than spend time searching, he made boiled coffee; he heated a pan of water over the propane burner, then, just as it boiled, dropped in a large, unmeasured handful of ground beans. The warm, rich smell filled the shack; he inhaled with gratitude.
He was standing there at the stove, God knew how long, smelling the coffee, hearing the crackling of the fire as it warmed the shack, when by degrees he discovered that he was having a vision.
Transfixed, he remained there; meanwhile the kitten which had squeezed in managed to climb to the sink, where it found a mass of discarded food left over from last night -- it ate greedily, and the sound and sight of it mixed with the other sounds and sights, and the vision grew stronger.
"I want cornmeal mush for breakfast," the naked child at the bedroom door announced.
Ignatz Ledebur did not answer; the vision held him, now, in another land. Or rather in a land so real that it had no place; it obliterated the spacial dimension, was neither there nor here. And in terms of time --
It seemed always to have been, but as to this aspect he possessed no certitude. Perhaps what he saw did not exist in time at all, had no start and, no matter what he did, would never terminate, because it was too large. It had burst loose from time entirely perhaps.
"Hey," Elsie murmured sleepily. "Where's my coffee?"
"Wait," he said.
"Wait? I can smell it, goddam it; where is it?" She struggled to a sitting position, throwing the covers aside, her body bare, breasts hanging. "I feel awful. I feel like throwing up. I suppose those kids of yours are in the bathroom." She slid from the table, walked unsteadily from the room. "Why are you standing there like that?" she demanded, pausing at the entrance of the bathroom, suspiciously.
Ignatz said, "Leave me alone."
"'Leave me alone' my ass -- it was your idea I live here. I never wanted to leave Frank." Entering the bathroom she slammed the door; it swung back open and she pushed it, held it shut, with her foot.
The vision, now, had ended; Ignatz, disappointed, turned away, went with the pan of coffee to the table, shoved the blankets to the floor, laid out two mugs -- left over from last night's meal -- and filled them with hot coffee from the pan; swollen grounds floated at the surface of each mug.
From the bathroom Elsie said, "What was that, another of your so-called trances? You saw something, like God?" Her disgust was enormous. "I not only have to live with a Heeb -- I have to live with one who has visions, like a Skitz. Are you a Heeb or a Skitz? You smell like a Heeb. Make up your mind." She flushed the toilet, came out of the bathroom. "And you're as irritable as a Mans. That's what I hate about you the most, your perpetual irritability." She found her coffee, drank. "It's got grounds in it!" she yelled at him in fury. "You lost the pot again!"
Now that the vision had departed he found it difficult to remember what it had been like. That was one trouble with visions. How did they relate to the everyday world? He always asked that of them.
"I saw a monster," he said. "It stepped on Gandhitown and crushed it underfoot. Gandhitown was gone; only a hole remained." He felt sad; he liked Gandhitown, much more than any other spot on the moon. And then he felt afraid, much more than he ever had before in his life. And yet there was nothing he could do. No way to stop the monster; it would come and get them all, even the powerful Manses with all their clever ideas, their ceaseless activity. Even the Pares who tried to defend themselves against everything real and unreal alike.
But there had been more to the vision than that.
Behind the monster had been a wicked soul.
He had beheld it as it crept out onto the world like a shiny jello of rot; it had decayed everything it touched, even the bare soil, the skinny plants and trees. A cupful of it would corrupt an entire universe, and it belonged to a person of deeds. A creature who wanted.
So there were two evil things coming, the monster who crushed Gandhitown, and, beyond that, the wicked soul; they were separable, and each would ultimately go its separate way. The monster was female, the wicked soulmate. And -- he shut his eyes. This was the portion of the vision that terrified him. The two would fight a dreadful battle. And it was not a battle between good and evil; it was a sightless, vacant struggle in the mire between two thoroughly contaminated entities, each as vicious as the other.
The battle, fought perhaps even to the death of one of the entities, would take place on this world. They were coming here now, to use this as a battleground deliberately, to fight out their timeless war.
"Fix some eggs," Elsie said.
Reluctantly, Ignatz looked about in the litter by the sink for a carton of eggs.
"You'll have to wash the frying pan from last night," Elsie said. "I left it in the sink."
"Okay." He began to run cold water; with a rolled-up mass of newspaper he scrubbed at the encrusted surface of the frying pan.
I wonder, he thought. Can I influence the outcome of this struggle? Would the presence of good in the midst of this have any effect?
He could summon all his spiritual faculties and try. Not only for the benefit of the moon, for the clans, but for the two dismal entities themselves. Perhaps to ease their burden.
It was a thought-provoking idea, and as he scoured the frying pan he continued to entertain it, silently. No use telling Elsie; she would merely tell him to go to hell. She did not know his powers inasmuch as he had never revealed them to her. When in the right mood, he could walk through walls, read people's minds, cure illness, cause evil people to become ill, affect the weather, blight crops -- he could do almost anything, given the right mood. It derived from his saintliness.
Even the suspicious Pares recognized him as a saint. Everyone on the moon did, including the busy, insulting Manses -- when they took time out from their activity to glance up and notice him.
If anyone can save this moon from the two dingy organisms approaching, Ignatz realized, it is I. This is my destiny.
"It's not a world; it's just a moon," Elsie said, with bleak contempt; she stood before the trash burner, dressing herself in the clothes she had taken off the night before. She had worn them for a week now, and Ignatz observed -- not without a trace of relish -- that she was well on her way to becoming a Heeb; it would not require much more.
And it was a good thing to be a Heeb, because the Heeb had found the Pure Way, had dispensed with the unnecessary.
Opening the door of the shack he stepped out once more into the morning cold.
'Where are you going?" Elsie shrieked after him.
Ignatz said, "To confer." He shut the door behind him and then, with the cats trailing, set off on foot to find Omar Diamond, his colleague among the Skitzes.
By means of his Psionic, unnatural powers he teleported here and there about the moon until at last, sure enough, there was Omar, seated in council at Adolfville with a representative of each clan. Ignatz levitated to the sixth floor of the great stone building, bobbed against the window and rapped until those within noticed him and came to open the window for him.
"God, Ledebur," Howard Straw, the Mans rep, declared. "You smell like a goat. Two Heebs in the room at once -- foul." He turned his back on everyone, walked off and stood staring into space, fighting to hold back his Mans anger.
The Pare rep, Gabriel Baines, said to Ignatz, "What's the purpose of this intrusion? We're in conference."
Ignatz Ledebur communed silently with Omar Diamond, telling him the urgency of their need. Diamond heard him, agreed, and at once, by combining their skills, the two of them left the council chamber; he and Diamond walked together across a grassy field in which mushrooms grew. Neither spoke for a time. They amused themselves by kicking over mushrooms.
At last Diamond said, "We were already discussing the invasion."
"It's going to land in Gandhitown," Ignatz said. "I experienced a vision; those who are coming will --"
"Yes, yes," Diamond said irritably. "We know they're chthonic powers; I acquainted the delegates with that fact. No good can come from chthonic powers because they're heavy; like the corporeal animae they are they will sink down into the earth, become mired in the body of the planet."
"Moon," Ignatz said, and giggled.
"Moon, then." Diamond shut his eyes, walked without missing a step even though he could no longer see where he journeyed; he had retreated, Ignatz realized, into a momentary, voluntary catatonia. All the Skitzes were prone to this, and he said nothing; he waited. Halting, Omar Diamond mumbled something which Ignatz could not catch.
Ignatz sighed, seated himself on the ground; beside him Omar Diamond stood in his trance and there was no sound except the faint rustling of far-distant trees beyond the limits of the meadow.
All at once Diamond said, "Pool your powers with mine and we will envision the invasion so clearly that --" Again his words became arcane mumbling. Ignatz -- even a saint could be annoyed -- sighed again. "Get hold of Sarah Apostoles," Diamond said. "The three of us will evoke a view of our enemy so real that it will actualize; we will control our enemy and his arrival here."
Sending out a thought-wave, Ignatz contacted Sarah Apostoles, asleep in her shack in Gandhitown. He felt her awaken, stir, mumble and groan as she rose from her cot to stagger to her feet.
He and Omar Diamond waited and presently Sarah appeared; she wore a man's coat and man's trousers, tennis shoes. "Last night," she said, "I had a dream. Certain creatures are hovering near here, preparing to manifest themselves." Her round face was twisted with worry and a nagging, corroding fear. This gave her an ugly contracted look, and Ignatz felt sorry for her. Sarah had never been able, in times of stress, to purge the destructive emotions from her being; she was bonded to the soma and its ails.
"Sit down," Ignatz requested.
'We shall make them appear now," Diamond said. "And here at this spot. Begin." He ducked his head; the two Heebs also ducked their heads, and together the three of them applied their mutually-reinforcing visionary powers. They struggled in unison, and time passed -- none of them knew how much -- while that which they contemplated bloomed in the vicinity like an evil bud.
"Here it is," Ignatz said, and opened his eyes. Sarah and Diamond did also; they looked up into the sky -- and saw, lowering itself tail first, a foreign ship. They had been successful.
Blowing vapors from its rear the ship settled to the ground a hundred yards to their right. It was a large ship, Ignatz perceived. The largest he had ever seen. He, too, felt fright, but as always he managed to control it; many years had passed since phobia had been a factor for him to deal with. Sarah, however, looked palpably terror-stricken as she watched the ship tremble to a halt, saw the hatch slide open as the occupants prepared to excrete themselves from the great tubular organism of metal and base plastic.
"Have them approach us," Omar Diamond said, his eyes once again squeezed shut. "Have them recognize our existence. We will force them to take note of us and honor us." Ignatz joined him instantly, and after a pause so did frightened Sarah Apostoles, to the extent possible for her.
A ramp descended from the hatch of the ship. Two figures appeared, then lowered themselves step by step to the ground.
Ignatz said hopefully to Diamond, "Shall we produce miracles?"
Eyeing him, Diamond said with doubt, "Such as? I do not customarily work magic."
Sarah said, "Together Ignatz and I can accomplish this." To Ignatz she said, "Why don't we transfigure them with the specter of the world-spider as it spins its web of determination for all life?"
"Agreed," Ignatz said, and turned his attention to the chore of summoning the world-spider ... or, as Elsie would say, the moon-spider.
Before the two figures from the ship, blocking their way, appeared a glistening manifold of web-strands, a hastily erected structure by the never-ceasing toils of the spider. The figures froze.
One of them said something unutterable.
"If you let them amuse you," Omar Diamond said severely, "we will lose the power which we hold over them."
"I'm sorry," Sarah said, still laughing. But it was already too late; the heap of shimmering web-fragments dissolved. And, Ignatz saw to his dismay, so did Omar Diamond and Sarah; he found himself seated alone. Their triumvirate had been extinguished by one instant of weakness. Nor did he still sit on the field of grass; he sat instead on a heap of junk in his own front yard in the center of Gandhitown.
The invading macro-organisms had regained control of their actions. Had managed to revert to their own plans.
Rising, Ignatz walked toward the two figures from the ship, who now stood uncertainly looking around them. Beneath Ignatz's feet his cats romped and raced; he tripped, almost sprawled; cursing to himself he pushed the cats aside, trying to retain a measure of gravity, of dignified countenance before these invaders. However this was impossible. Because behind him the door of the shack had opened and Elsie had come out; she had spoiled even this last-ditch stand on his part.
"Who are they?" she yelled.
Irritably Ignatz said, "I don't know. I'm going to find out."
"Tell them to get the hell out of here," Elsie said, her hands on her hips. She had been a Mans for several years and she still retained the arrogant hostility learned at Da Vinci Heights. Without knowing what she was up against she was prepared to do battle ... perhaps, he thought, with a can opener and a skillet. That amused him and he began to laugh; once he started he could not stop, and it was in this condition that he came up face to face with the two invaders.
"What's so funny?" one of them, a female, inquired.
Ignatz, wiping his eyes, said, "Do you remember landing twice? Do you remember the world-spiders? You don't." It was too funny; the invaders did not even recall the efforts of the triadic unnaturally-gifted saints. For them it had not even happened; it had not even been a delusion, and yet into it had gone all the efforts possible on the part of Ignatz Ledebur, Sarah Apostoles and the Skitz, Omar Diamond. He laughed on and on, and meanwhile the two invaders were joined by a third and then a fourth.
One of them, a male, sighed as he looked around. "Lord, what a rundown dump this place is. You think it's all this way?"
"But you can help us," Ignatz said. He managed to gain control of himself; pointing to the rusting hulk of the autonomic tractor on which the children played, he said, "Could you put yourself out to the extent of lending a hand to repair my farming equipment? If I had a little help --"
"Sure, sure," one of the men said. 'We'll help clean up this place." He wrinkled his nose in disgust; evidently he had smelled or seen something that offended him.
"Come inside," Ignatz said. "And have coffee." He turned toward the shack; after a pause the three men and the woman reluctantly followed. "I have to apologize for the smallness of the place," Ignatz said, "and the condition it's in --" He pushed open the door and his time most of the cats managed to squirm into the shack; bending, he picked up one after another, tossed them back outdoors. The four invaders uncertainly entered, stood about looking acutely unhappy.
"Sit down," Elsie said, summoning a modicum of politeness; she put the teakettle on the stove, lit the burner. "Just clear off that bench," she directed. "Push the stuff anywhere; on the floor if you want."
The four invaders reluctantly -- with tangible aversion -- pushed the mass of children's soiled clothing onto the floor, seated themselves. Each had a vague, stunned expression and Ignatz wondered why.
The woman, haltingly, said, "Couldn't you -- clean up your home here? I mean, how do you live in such --" She gestured, unable to continue.
Ignatz felt apologetic. But after all ... there were so many more important matters and so little time. Neither he nor Elsie could seem to find the opportunity to straighten things up; it was wrong, of course, to let the shack get like this, but -- he shrugged. Sometime soon, perhaps. And the invaders could possibly help here, too; they might have a work-sim that could pitch in. The Manses had them, but they charged too much. Possibly the invaders would loan him a work- sim free.
A rat, from its hole behind the icebox, scuttled across the floor. The woman invader, seeing the clumsy little weapon which it carried, shut her eyes and moaned.
Ignatz, as he fixed the coffee, giggled. Well, no one had asked them to come here; if they didn't like Gandhitown they could leave.
From the bedroom several of the children appeared, gaped in silence at the four invaders. The invaders sat rigidly, saying nothing, waiting in pain for their coffee, ignoring the blank, staring eyes of the children.
In the large council room at Adolfville the Heeb rep, Jacob Simion, spoke up suddenly. "They've landed. At Gandhitown. They're with Ignatz Ledebur."
Furious, Howard Straw said, "While we sit here talking. Enough of this time-wasting gabble; let's wipe them out. They have no business on our world -- don't you agree?" He poked Gabriel Baines.
"I agree," Baines said, and moved a trifle further away from the Mans delegate. "How did you know?" he asked Jacob Simion.
The Heeb snickered. "Didn't you see them here in the room? The asteral bodies? It was Ignatz who came here -- you don't remember that; he came and took Omar Diamond with him, but you've forgotten that because it never happened; the invaders made it unhappen by dividing the three into one and two."
Staring hopelessly at the floor the Dep said, "So already it's too late; they've landed."
Howard Straw barked a sharp, cold laugh. "But only in Gandhitown. Who cares about that? It ought to be mopped up; personally I'd be glad if they pulverized it out of existence -- it's a cesspool and everybody living in it stinks."
Shrinking back as if struck, Jacob Simion murmured, "At least we Heebs, we're not cruel." He blinked back helpless tears; at that, Howard Straw grinned with relish and nudged Gabriel Baines.
"Don't you have spectacular weapons at Da Vinci Heights?" Gabriel Baines asked him. He had a deep intuition, then, that the Mans' write-off of Gandhitown was indicative; the Manses probably intended to make no stand until their own settlement was endangered. They would not lend the inventiveness of their hyperactive minds for the general defense.
Gabriel Baines' long-time suspicions of Straw were now being justified.
Frowning with worry Annette Golding said, "We can't let Gandhitown go down the drain."
"'Down the drain,'" Straw echoed. "Appropriate! Yes we certainly can. Listen; we have the weapons. They've never been put to use -- they can wipe out any invading armada. We'll trot them out -- when we feel like it." He glanced around the table at the other delegates, enjoying the power of his position, his mastery; they were all dependent on him.
"I knew you'd behave like this as soon as a crisis arose," Gabriel Baines said bitterly. God, how he hated the Manses. How unreliable morally they were, so egocentric and superior; they simply could not work for the common good. Thinking this he made himself a promise right on the spot. If his opportunity to get back at Straw ever came he would take it. Fully. In fact, he realized, if the opportunity came to pay back the whole bunch of them, the entire Mans settlement -- it was a hope worth living for. The Manses held the advantage now, but it wouldn't last.
In fact, Gabriel Baines thought, it would almost be worth going to the invaders and making a pact with them on behalf of Adolfville; the invaders and ourselves against Da Vinci Heights.
The more he thought of it the more the idea appealed to him.
Annette Golding, eyeing him, said, "Do you have something to offer us, Gabe? You look as if you've thought of something valuable." Like all Polys she had acute perceptions; she had correctly read the changing expressions on his face.
Gabe chose to lie. Obviously he had to. "I think," he said aloud, "we can sacrifice Gandhitown. We're going to have to give it to them, let them colonize in that area, set up a base or whatever they want to do; we may not like it but --" He shrugged. What else could they do?
Miserably, Jacob Simion stammered, "Y-you people don't care about us just because we're -- not so cleanly as you all. I'm going back to Gandhitown and join my clan; if they're going to perish I'll perish with them." He rose to his feet, pushing his chair over with a discordant crash. "Betrayers," he added as he shambled, Heebwise, toward the door. The other delegates watched him go, displaying various shades of indifference; even Annette Golding, who generally cared about everything and everyone, did not seem perturbed.
And yet -- fleetingly -- Gabriel Baines felt grief. Because for the whole lot of them, here went their potential fate; every now and then a full Pare or Poly or Skitz or even Mans drifted by insidious, imperceptible degrees into Heebhood. So it could still come about. Any time.
And now, Baines realized, if that happens to any of us there will be no place to go. What became of a Heeb without Gandhitown? A good question; it frightened him.
Aloud he said, "Wait."
At the door the shambling, unshaven, sloppy figure of Jacob Simion paused; in the sunken Heeb eyes a flicker of hope manifested itself.
Gabriel Baines said, "Come back." Addressing himself to the others, especially arrogant Howard Straw, he said, 'We have to act in concert. Today it's Gandhitown; tomorrow it'll be Hamlet Hamlet or ourselves or the Skitzes -- the invaders will nab us bit by bit. Until only Da Vinci Heights remains." His antagonism toward Straw made his voice grate with envenomed harshness; in his own ears it was scarcely recognizable. "I vote formally that we employ all our resources in an effort to reconquer Gandhitown. We should make our stand there." Right in the middle of the heaps of garbage, animal manure and rusting machinery, he said to himself, and winced.
After a pause Annette said, "I -- second the motion."
The vote was taken. Only Howard Straw voted against it. So the motion carried.
"Straw," Annette said briskly, "you're instructed to produce these miracle weapons you've been bragging about. Since you Manses are so militant we'll let you lead the attack to retake Gandhitown." To Gabriel Baines she said, " And you Pares can organize it." She seemed quite calm, now that it had all been decided.
Softly, Ingred Hibbler said to Straw, "I might point out that if the war is fought near and in Gandhitown, damage will not occur to the other settlements. Had you thought of that?"
"Imagine fighting in Gandhitown," Straw muttered. "Wading around waist-deep in --" He broke off. To Jacob Simion and Omar Diamond he said, "We'll need all the Skitz and Heeb saints, visionaries, miracle-workers and just plain Psis we can get; will your settlements produce them and let us employ them?"
"I think so," Diamond said. Simion nodded.
"Between the miracle weapons from Da Vinci Heights and the talents of the Heeb and Skitz saints," Annette said, "we should be able to offer more than token resistance."
Miss Hibbler said, "If we could get the full names of the invaders we could cast numerological charts of them, discover their weak points. Or if we had their exact birthdates --"
"I think," Annette interrupted, "that the weapons of the Manses, plus the organizing powers of the Pares, in conjunction with the Heeb and Skitz unnaturals, will be somewhat more useful."
"Thank you," Jacob Simion said, "for not sacrificing Gandhitown." He gazed in mute appreciation at Gabriel Baines.
For the first time in months, perhaps even years, Baines felt his defenses melt; he enjoyed -- briefly -- a ense of relaxation, of near- euphoria. Someone liked him. And even if it was only a Heeb it meant a lot.
It reminded him of his childhood. Before he had found the Pare solution.