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´╗┐Title: The Rag and Bone Men
Author: Budrys, Algis
Language: English
As this book started as an ASCII text book there are no pictures available.
Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

*** Start of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "The Rag and Bone Men" ***

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                         THE RAG AND BONE MEN

                            By ALGIS BUDRYS

           [Transcriber's Note: This etext was produced from
                    Galaxy Magazine February 1962.
         Extensive research did not uncover any evidence that
         the U.S. copyright on this publication was renewed.]



                    Unfortunate castaway! Marooned
                    far from home--with nothing to
                   share his loneliness but humans!


The other one--Charpantier, he called himself--he and I were going back
up the hill to the Foundation, carrying our bags, when I happened to
remark I didn't think the Veld was sane anymore. (I call myself Maurer.)

Charpantier said nothing for a moment. We kept walking, up the gravel
path between the unimaginatively clipped hedges. But he was frowning a
little, and after a while he said in an absent way: "Now, how would one
determine that?" He looked straight into my eyes, which is something
that has always upset me, and challenged: "I don't think one could."

I felt the shock of inadequacy. Words come out of me--perfectly
accurate words, I know; but I never know how, and sometimes when asked
I forget.

Now I must be very lucid; I must be his kind of man, I thought, and
picked my way among my words. "These things he's had us get," I said,
putting the burlap bag down and stopping so as to hold Charpantier in
one place.

"He wants to build something unEarthly," Charpantier said, annoyed
because I was playing his kind of trick on him, and so baldly. "What
standards do you propose to judge by?"

But I was right and he was wrong. Now it remained to make him see how.
"Yes. He wants to build something unEarthly. Out of Earthly parts.
He wants to take six radio tubes for an Earthly radio, three pieces
of Earthly Lucite exactly 1/4 Earthly inch thick, a roll of Earthly
16-gauge wire, a General Electric heat lamp, and all these other
things--the polystyrene foam blocks, the polyurethane plastic sheeting,
the polyvinyl insulating tape; what have you in your bag, Charpantier?
Out of all this, he wants to make a Veldish thing."

"He's spent years learning about Earthly things," Charpantier pointed
out. "For years, we've brought him books. Men. Everything he needs.
Now he's learned what the Earthly equivalents of Veldish materials
are, and he's ready to make his new transporter." Charpantier had a
dark face--dark hair, dark beard, dark eyes. When his dark brows drew
together it was easy to see that his best expression was dark scorn.

       *       *       *       *       *

"I think he's desperate," I said. "I think he's learned all he can.
He's learned what the nearest Earthly equivalents to Veldish things
are. And he's learned that all Earth can give him nothing closer. I
don't see how he could do better. Even he. You cannot make apples of
cabbages. But he wants to get home--you know he wants so much to leave
here and get home--and now he's desperate, and is going to try making
a new transporter out of materials nothing like those in the one that
broke and marooned him here."

"And it won't function?" Charpantier asked. "There is that risk. But
why shouldn't he try? What's insane in that?"

"I fear it might work. I fear it might work in ways a transporter
should not." And I shivered, for if I say something I feel it, and I do
not feel anything I don't believe is right. I have been wrong, but not
often ... or perhaps I forget.

Charpantier smiled. "How should a Veld transporter work?"

"That's not the point!" I cried at Charpantier's obstinacy in being
Charpantier. "I don't have to know. The Veld has to know, and be insane
enough to try something different. Look--" I said, searching, being
my own kind of man, now, and letting the words come straight from the
images in my head. "Assume a man. Assume a man stranded on an island,
for years. Assume he has ways of realizing his heart's desire, if only
he can find the things to work with. But it's a small island. And while
it's a good island how can it give a marooned man not only comfort but
heart's desire? He searches. He perhaps send messengers, if he himself
cannot penetrate the jungle; such messengers as he can command. And,
in the end, after years, he knows he cannot have exactly what he wants.
But he can have something very near it. So, in the end, he takes a rag,
and a bone, and a hank of hair--"

"And makes a woman?" Charpantier laughed. "If he fails, what of it?"

"But if he succeeds, Charpantier! If he _succeeds_!" Couldn't he see?
"What sort of woman?"

Charpantier looked at me for a moment, but I hadn't made him see. He
saw only me, and I had taken up his time without delivering value. So
he chastised me.

"The Veld made me and you. Are you dissatisfied?"

He had that trick, Charpantier. If you tried to give him a problem he
couldn't solve, he gave you a greater problem of your own, to add to
the one you already carried.

I picked up my bag and followed him up the hill to the Foundation,
where the Veld timelessly waited.

It was dusk, and as I walked I turned my eyes up to the stars. One eye
was larger than the other, and a different color. My nose sat askew
on my lumpen face. Though Charpantier was a hunchback, and lacked a
finger, still he was a handsome hunchback. But I, whom the Veld had
made second, with Charpantier's example, was merely whole. And from my
eyes, tears.

       *       *       *       *       *

We entered the Foundation. It had been erected around the Veld, when he
first came and there were men who could question.

Now the building was neat and kept up, but all its many rooms were
empty, and all its many machines were still. Charpantier had his
cottage on the West--a very learned man had used it, while working with
the Veld--and I had mine on the East, where a military commander had
kept his family.

The Veld lived in the heart of the Foundation, in the odd-shaped room
whose walls traced the configuration he had been forced to assume when
his broken transporter had interrupted his journey between--where?--and
the home he pined for. Men came from the town below the hill to care
for the building, but Charpantier or I had to go fetch them. They no
longer questioned. They distressed us with their constant need for
commanding, and so every time they were finished with their work we
commanded them homeward. No Earthly creature lived on the hill.

The Veld was kindly, but an end comes to kindness. The time came when
the questioning of men would have led them, if answered, irrevocably
into Veldish ways.

It was perhaps a kindness, too, that the Veld did what he did to
questioning creatures. But however it may have been, now there were
only men to be commanded. Charpantier commanded in the West, and I in
the East, and the Veld, though he permitted us to question all men, and
each other, commanded us.

Charpantier and I did not often speak to each other while in the
Foundation. We were too near the Veld, and insufficiently full of
ourselves. But as we rode down the elevator, with its noise of metal
sliding all alone in the world, Charpantier looked at me. And I knew
what he looked.

I have thought to myself that Charpantier says of everything: "Why
is this thing not perfect?" while I say to myself: "Where is the
perfection in this thing?" Surely my thought is as potent as his. But
you see his advantage over me, for he was forever safe from what I
might look at him, but I, I was not safe.

We reached the chamber of the Veld. We opened the door and displayed
our accumulation to his perceptions.

"My-being reflects you," the Veld told us from his perception, and
seeing that he was become beautiful, I knew we had done well. "Now will
I make, and take my way, and you in your sorrow stay to see the world
restored."

This was as he had promised the world, and us, before he put an end
to questioning. Though only we remembered. But I wondered--I did not
question; I wondered--as I imagined his making of the new transporter,
taking my imagined thing from what I knew of how he had made us; I
wondered whether the world was safe.

I thought of the chamber beside this one, where we had been born. I
had often been there, only to look. There is the tank--the Rochester,
Minnesota, Biophysical Equipment Co. tank. And there is the Velikaya
Socialisticheskaya Rossiya coagulator, and the IBM 704, and the Braun,
Boveri heater. There stand the cabinets, with their Torsen, Held
Artztmetal refrigeration units. And the cabinets stand full of flasks
and ampules, and there is the autoclave full of Becton-Dickinson Yale
syringes, and dangling from the wall are the Waldos the Veld used to
manipulate all these things.

And of all these Earthly things, the Veld made men not entirely
Earthly, for the Veld is a Veld.

Now soon, the new transporter would take the Veld away--in ways I
wondered were perilous--and it would be Charpantier and I who stayed to
see the world restored.

Charpantier and I, who called ourselves, but had no names.

He commanded us to go and we went, I East, Charpantier West. I saw
Charpantier hurry down his side of the hill, handsome and hasty under
the stars. I walked--for me, to run is to risk--and I trembled,
for me to feel is to know, and the Veld was desperate. He slept at
night, secure from questions even though he slept, for his power once
exercised was irrevocable so long as he existed. But tonight he did not
sleep; he made.

I thought of my assumed man, on his assumed island, red-eyed and
tremulous of hand, bent over his pot, stirring, stirring, unable to
wait for morning. I thought of the light from his fire, shining on
the dumb eyes of his faithful messengers waiting at the edge of his
clearing. The messengers are dismissed from service, yet not quite sure
they are dismissed. And I thought of this Earth, and the Veld's old
promise to us that tomorrow it would wake knuckling its eyes, and need
a loving voice to say there was an end to nightmares.

I would speak and Charpantier would speak, but what would we say? And
in what voices, born of the Veld's touch on the Waldos? And would there
be more than speaking to do?

I did not think there was much I could do but speak. Charpantier lacks
a finger, but I ... I have hands, but I lack them.

Oh, but the stars were cold! The Moon in this season was a day Moon,
and now below the horizon. Stars, stars and galaxies, but beyond them,
where the Veldish beings lived, nothing I could see, and below the
stars, too, here where I reached the brow of the hill and clumsily
opened my wings, here, too, nothing, as I lurched into the night and in
great strain beat toward the places of men.

       *       *       *       *       *

I had a favorite place; the place I had chosen to begin to speak from.
It was small, as men measure things--a few lights in the darkness,
here the sheen of a lake, there the tiered wooliness of trees--a town
in which I had disposed those men who must first unbind themselves
from the years of no questioning. For unlike the Veld and his
transporter--and even the Veld needed a transporter--Charpantier and I
could not be everywhere.

It was my thought to reassure these men first, and have them go out
and reassure others, as older brothers will soothe the younger in the
night. I knew from an old argument that Charpantier planned the same.
But, of course, they would not be the same sort of men for Charpantier
as for me.

Still, they were all men. Once they had all rubbed the sleep from their
eyes they would tell each other what they saw, and in the end and all
men would have agreed on the shape of the world, so it would not matter
what imperfections Charpantier pointed out, or what implicit glories I
perceived.

If the Veld's hand did not tremble as he stirred his pot.

And yet it had--it had; Charpantier had said more than he thought, when
he thought to stop up my mouth with myself.

I faced away from the Foundation, now mile on mile behind me. But my
eyes turned inward, and in me my mind hovered over the Veld. I had no
actual distant eye--no way of seeing beyond the curve of the world or
through the haze of the air; no ear to listen to a sound so far away it
cannot urge the molecules of air my pinions grope at. But often it is
well enough to think, for any thought seems accurate enough to act on,
and in time thoughts grow so practiced that they might well be eyes.
And so I saw the Veld, though I did not see him, and I saw him falter.

In me, the Veld suddenly told: "I have made, and I go. Forgive me for
your sorrow." And I forgave him, as I had forgiven him long ago. For
his duty was to men, not to ourselves who were part of that duty. And
Charpantier, I knew, had nothing to forgive, for he was glad of his
sorrow.

The wind numbed my eyes. I wept.

Under the cold stars, my crude cheeks glistened. I hovered over the
town, where some men slept and some men worked, because some machines
run during the day and some run at night, and I listened for anything
else the Veld might have to tell, for he was my irrevocable commander
as long as he existed on this Earth. I also listened with the ear of
habituated thought.

And I heard. In my mind's eye, I saw the Veld use the Earthly
transporter, but it was not with my mind's ear alone that I heard what
I heard.

The pot erupts. The stranded man claws back in agony so great he
cannot even scream, arms, legs and face smoldering, and jounces on the
ground, to lie, to moan, to be a long mindless time dying. And at the
clearing's edge the little messengers have no one to say what could be
done to soothe him.

What now? Where to go, what to do, how to repair?

Oh, Veld, Veld, long-living Veld, what truly eternal sorrow!

I sank down through the air, bereft and graceless. What could I do for
the Veld? All that remained to me was what I could say to men. But I
knew as I landed among them that the Veld's promise could not be kept,
since the Veld was still here.

I cried out to the men: "Awake! Arise!" They stumbled out of their
houses, but when I said to the first of them: "Question me!" he
obediently answered: "How?"

       *       *       *       *       *

I go back to where the Foundation was, now and then. I bring doctors
with me, after each time it seems to me I have found a way to tell them
what to seek. The Veld lies where his chamber was, before the stone
decayed, and tells me nothing.

If he truly reflects me, as he is now, then I don't know if I can bear
to wait for the day when I can dash myself down from the outraged air
and surrender myself to the sea-speckled rocks. The doctors say that
if only someone would tell them what questions to ask about the Veld,
and if only someone would give them the answers to the questions, they
might be able to do something.

Charpantier is there sometimes, and mocks me. "You're getting crazier
every day, Maurer," he says. "Suppose you restore the Veld? Then what?
Does he make another transporter?" He shakes his head. "Poor Maurer.
What're you doing to these people you bring here? What do you want from
them? Something the Veld himself couldn't accomplish?"

I try. I try to tell them how to question, and I command them to
question. And I hope the Veld dies. But though Charpantier and I--even
Charpantier and I--are growing a little older, the Veld is only
moribund, and no more dead than he was before the days when thirty
generations of men battled to keep the southernmost edge of the
creeping ice from burying the Veld beyond the reach of hope.

For I hope--though I can see a sprig of silver, here and there, in
Charpantier's darkness now. The Veld must be accessible to my hope,
though I must command millions of men.

And I think Charpantier hopes, too, because so long as he can see me
failing he knows I am imperfect, but he wishes perfection for me. I
know he brings no doctors only because he has not yet found a way for a
man to respond to the command, "Be perfect!"

Each time the hope dies, I tell my men: "Go home, now. Rest." And
they go home. But I? I blunder about, thinking that perhaps if I
could kill the Veld, that would be an end to it. But nothing can kill
the Veld, unless it be something the Veld knows of. So first we must
heal the Veld. And healed he will once again seek his heart's desire,
hopelessly. As do I. As do I.





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