The earth pulled him down, tugging at him like a burdensome friend. Richard Bulero felt trapped as he looked up at the stars, cut off from the openness of space. Earth's turbulent ocean of air was the cloudy lens of a giant eye, sun-blinded by day, astigmatic by night. Even here in the desert, the stars lacked the brilliance he had come to know on the moon.
The planet was nervously alive around him, enveloping his body in an aura of sounds, smells, and dust, pushing against his skin, trying to make him fit in again. The physical adjustments of coming home were a nuisance; his adaptation to Luna's gentle pull conflicted with his muscle-memory of earth's stronger attraction, even though he had kept in shape through exercise.
He missed the moon's stillness. A year at Plato University had made him a stranger on the home world, and at home.
He had not come back to New Mexico just to attend this evening's party for his father and Bulero Enterprises. Margot had been first in his plans, and he was anxious to get away from the celebration as soon as possible. He had not seen her for over six months, ever since she had completed her field work on the moon and had returned to Princeton to continue her studies in biology.
He was looking forward to personal talks with his uncle Sam and with Orton Blackfriar; they would at least notice his progress. Sam's courses in philosophy had been the brightest part of his first two years at Princeton, opening his mind to problems beyond those of family and self-concern. Sam and Orton would be in New York during the next two weeks, and he had a dinner date with them. He would stay with Margot until then, and return to the moon by the first of May.
He was impatient for the party to be over. Richard turned away from the terrace railing and hesitated. There was no point in going back inside; his parents were monopolizing Sam and Orton, and he had lost his taste for starting pointless conversations with strangers. He was tired of playing the promising son of a man who had not spoken to him for most of the evening and whose presence seemed to destroy the possibility of genuine conversation.
Richard took a deep breath of the night air. He stretched, feeling a pleasant ache as his muscles adjusted to the earth's pull. It was like coming back to life. Nevertheless, the dry, starry silence of the walled lunar plain at Plato made possible a clarity of thought which was missing here. There he could look out into the vast cave of stars with a measured emotion, with a sense of the future, while here on earth his thoughts longed for sunlight and warm water, and lovemaking. There the lunar shadows were sharp, eliciting clear distinctions in his mind, cutting away the jungle growth of his emotions; here his feelings grew in a jumble, obscuring his goals, weakening him.
He missed the spirit of consensus among Plato's scientists and teachers, as well as the cooperativeness of the lunar colonists; it was the same, he had been told, among the L-5 colonists of Asterome, and on Mars and Ganymede. The colonies were a new branch of humanity, joined to their environment through a problem-solving struggle which demanded of them the resolve to work through disagreements to the best possible conclusion, whatever that might turn out to be; the openness of free space was matched by the openness of inquiring minds. Failure in maintaining this attitude could result in costly disasters and loss of life.
Those who lived permanently on the moon, Mars, or Ganymede, could never return to the high gravity of earth without powered external support harnesses or wheelchairs; much of this growing population had no desire ever to visit earth. Asterome maintained an earthlike gravity, but even so the colonists had more in common with sunspace humanity than with earth. He wondered if he and Margot could cut themselves off from earth, begin a new life elsewhere in the solar system's growing family of environments; he wondered if he could ever cut himself off from the fact of his family name.
How will I ever introduce Margot? he asked himself as he started toward the terrace door. He stopped again, startled by the thought that he did not know what his parents were like within themselves. He knew their faces, the gaze of their eyes, their manner of speech and dress; but he did not know them as he knew Margot. He had never known anyone as he knew Margot. He knew Sam; Orton was easy to understand.
Margot was lucky not to have her parents; her past was gone, leaving her free to grow in her own way, without having to measure herself by it constantly. The past was not conspiring to enlist her in its service; his was waiting to swallow him with its complexities of money and responsibility. He knew that he might never be able to accomplish anything to match the wealth of his family or its corporate power. His intellectual and scientific achievements would be respected only if they resulted in practical consequences; a treatise, or a theory, would not be enough. Even his mother, who missed him genuinely, took little notice of his work in philosophy and science.
There had been a time, only a few years ago, when he and Sam could still get above their lives in discussion; they could stand off, independent and all knowing, from the family's affairs, and talk about the dangers to personal happiness and achievement posed by the past. Sam Bulero had taken the most painful path, selling his shares in the company after setting up an annuity. His brother, Jack, made constant fun of him for this, even though the annuity provided Sam with less than what Princeton paid him. Sam's work, however, was real, and a source of enduring fame. Jack Bulero was an elaborate fake, but known as such only to family and close associates. My father, Richard thought. Not an evil man, just someone who's not what he claims to be.
How long before 1 put my hand in to take a share? In time Richard Bulero would become a device for the servicing and preservation of Bulero Enterprises; his needs and desires would be met in return. He would be able to help Margot, show her the world, and much more; he would like that, he admitted, hating himself. If his work in physics and the philosophy of science came to nothing, he would have no choice but to try and accomplish something within the company; and if he failed at that, he thought bitterly, the cushion would be there to catch him again, for the last time.
What else could there be for him? He envied the space colonists; they had real work to do. On Asterome they were looking forward to a society that would be free of planets. Somewhere there had to be something for him to give himself to--an enterprise that would combine his love of knowing with flesh-and-blood concerns, with issues and human needs that would put as much love and caring into his life as he felt toward Margot.
His family was pulling him down more strongly than the earth, and he wondered if he could ever break free for long. I've got to get moving. I'm twenty years old and just beginning to wake up. I've got to escape, permanently, into my own kind of world. He looked up at the Bulero Orbital Factory as it passed overhead. Three hundred miles out, with a period of two hours, it was the brightest object in the sky. As he watched its familiar, lazy passage, the sudden feeling came over him that he was too late, that all the forces necessary to crush his hopes were already in motion, advancing toward him out of a distant past, and that he had somehow missed the moment that would have resolved his problems.
He took another deep breath, set his face into a mask, and went inside.
Smoke, billowing, churning gray and black; protean shapes fleeing through the thickening flux; russet masses constrained within a contorted internal space; swelling densities struggling to escape through narrowing fissures in the earth. It was cold in the dream. She struggled to open her eyes. . . .
A glow spread through the cumulus, revealing for a moment the titanic shoulders and limbs of something fighting to be born.
She saw dashes of light--measured electrical activity in the deepest layers of her brain--dreams seen from outside. . . .
She opened her eyes. The sun burned in an abyss, waiting for her to fall in. . . .
A misshapen finger of lightning pierced the ground. The sky darkened and a giant moon cast its indifferent white light through a cancerous opening in the clouds, only to be covered by a black shape gliding toward the dawn, where the sun crouched below the storm, a beast ready to lash out at the world with a scorching tongue.
The rain whispered and fell in a rush of crystalline droplets which still held starlight in their structures. The fissures drank the flood, and dead things floated to the surface. The flapping sound of a large bird came up behind her; sharp talons entered her neck and a ragged beak dipped to drink her blood. . . .
The universe collapsed into a throbbing point inside her head.
A hammer blow struck stone. She cried out. . . .
Pieces of the dream echoed within her as she stood on the stone terrace. The sky was strewn with searingly bright stars, the ones she had come to love as a girl. Here in New Mexico, she had escaped the cotton fog of cities; the clouds had broken to reveal these stars--a universe coming into being, a new immensity for her thoughts; in twenty-five years, she had not tired of its sanctuary.
She reached out across the cathedral of space-time to those hopelessly distant candle-furnaces, where all the material elements had been forged again and again inside the generation of suns, where alien sun-spaces were certain to contain other humanities, however different, and she wondered if someone there might be her friend.
The cold air made her shiver, as if in reply, and she turned to go back into the house. The door slid open and she stepped inside.
I'm alone, Janet Bulero thought. She stepped forward and grasped the bulerite railing that circled the pit of the sunken living room, where the aftermath of the party was still alive.
Her only child was a man now. Richard was sitting alone on the sofa in the center of the room. She had watched him grow, become graceful and serious, a quieter version of his father. Sometimes she had worried that his loyalty would go to Jack, but Richard had always been too independent for that to happen; Jack had not tried to win him over, and Richard had not seemed to care.
Behind the huge felt sofa, a slightly drunk Jack Bulero stood with a drink in his left hand. His brother Sam nodded lazily as Jack waved his free hand. Janet recognized the old arguments and self-justifications, wishing that Sam would learn not to be baited into a discussion.
There was still a considerable pride in Jack's six-foot frame, more than he needed or deserved. His tan and his loose-fitting blue suit were hiding overweight and bad posture. His eyes looked up at the ceiling as he spoke, as if he were struggling to look up into his head; his lips tightened and relaxed as he stooped to hear his brother. Janet felt a moment of superiority.
Samuel Bulero's tan reflected a genuine vitality, she told herself, examining him as if he were a stranger. Why had she encouraged this stocky and muscular man, she wondered as she looked at his streaked brown hair and bushy eyebrows. Was it just another way to hang on to Jack?
At her left, halfway around the raised level, Orton Blackfriar sat puffing on a Cuban cigar as he listened to the Beethoven quartet floating out of the high-backed chair's hidden speakers. As she observed his large, familiar shape, the entire mood of coming in from the clear, quiet night was shattered. She looked at Jack. Their formal marriage contract had expired five years before, bringing the informal option into effect; that last link would expire today. As her one-time lawyer, Orton knew the significance of the evening, but had made no comment yet.
For a wild instant this morning, she had dreamed that Jack would send her a confidential record of his declaration as a surprise. She turned from the rail and walked toward Orton.
"I'm thinking of all the work on my desk," he said, shifting as she came near. He's trying to avoid the subject. She sat down on the cushion at his right and listened to the music.
Orton was too good to be governor, she thought. He had not assumed the job from any of the usual motives, but he did it well. He had taken all the wretched cases during his law practice, finding it difficult to blame anyone but the powerful for social problems; as governor he tried to use the public trust of wealth and power to make a difference in individual lives. There were limits to that, he had found.
"You didn't have to do this," Orton said.
She looked up at him. "I'm not really disappointed."
"He did come, after all."
"To reinforce his own view of himself," she said. "To have it reported that he was present at the anniversary celebration of Carlos Bulero's gift to the world."
She had once toyed with the idea of writing down the truth about Jack, especially after she had learned how little could be proved about the Buleros. The documentary broadcast viewed by the guests earlier tonight had been at least one-third fiction. She had found it difficult to remind herself of the truth after the telecast. That's because I'm part of the lie.
It was Carlos Bulero, son of a country doctor from a small village in Ecuador, who had made the family rich through his discovery of bulerite--the family element, she thought, common to us all. Carlos had been a major physicist; his son, Jack, had only dabbled in physics, a businessman taking credit for the work of his employed scientists. It was not known outside the family that Jack had altered his father's records to give himself a large share in the discovery of bulerite and all the credit for the structural applications of the building material. Since all the records were in computer storage, even that much could not be proved, unless Jack produced the written records, but he denied their existence; only Sam had claimed, privately, to know what was in them. Carlos had not cared much for publishing his results.
In recent years, control of the Bulero multinational had begun to slip away from Jack, but he did not seem to care as long as he was not deprived of his wealth, fame, and influence. She looked at Jack's face, noticing the sudden loss of confidence, as if Sam had said something cutting. Gone was the smugness that she had seen at the financial meeting, where she had given her annual report as internal-program auditor. He looked up, noticed her scrutiny, and turned his back as he answered Sam, producing a dead spot in her feelings. To reveal the truth about Jack would make no difference, except as a matter of curiosity; the Bulero stock might dip a point, Jack would issue a denial, and the incident would be forgotten.
There was not much that Jack could do to her; her share of the wealth was safe. No one would object if she chose to do nothing for the rest of her life; with new interests coming into the company, she doubted if she would be missed. She was good at her job, but others were just as good. As Jack was fond of saying, the Buleros had done their bit for the world and should be permitted to live as they pleased.
She had never thought of it in overly dramatic terms, but in a very real sense the skeleton and much of the sinew of the present world had been born in a Bulero brain; that much of the documentary had been true. In the final years of the last century, amid famine and ecocrises, the world had been rebuilt; not perfectly, not completely, but well enough for a new start. The richer nations had divided themselves into ecologically manageable provinces and had built new cities--upward. The open towers, cubes, and pyramids were shelf like latticeworks, into which the remains of the old cities had been moved, preserving the best of the older architectures. She liked to think that there was something of ancient Inca strength in bulerite. Among the superstitious rich, the dream substance had long ago replaced copper and bronze as a material for bracelets and chains.
Every major human settlement in sunspace---on earth, on the moon, Mars, the satellites of Jupiter and Saturn--was built up with the virtually indestructible material, which could be prefabricated into parts of any shape and size, and fitted together permanently on contact.
Abandoning the two-dimensional spread of twentieth-century cities, arcologies housed up to a million people comfortably on a thousand-acre base, in varied structures rising more than a mile into the sky, leaving the countryside to renew itself. Waste was removed through giant vertical chutes, letting the passive action of gravity do the work of carrying it to underground processing plants; these were now fusion torches, vaporizing everything into atoms of pure elements, the ultimate in the recycling of nonrenewable raw materials, while providing clean energy at the same time. Planet-scarring activities such as strip mining, forestry, coal mining, and oil drilling had been cut down to sane proportions. Every decade saw the building of fusion-powered arcologies in the world's needy areas. Janet knew the whole success story; no one in Bulero Enterprises was ever permitted to forget it.
But still, the world belonged to North America, EuroSov, and Japan. They continued to keep AfroAsia and South America down to mid-twentieth-century levels, as much as that was possible. Properly developed, this other world could easily become their equal. The documentary had avoided this point, ignoring the inevitable, even desirable, conclusion as to the world's direction. The lines had been drawn and redrawn throughout her life, always to include more of the world in the center of influence, always modifying the dominant cultural styles. As the world's wealth had increased, the inducements to be destructively greedy had grown weaker. The old middle was now the bottom; the old top was now the middle; and the top might one day, with luck, be the whole future. Only power was still hoarded, subtly, with a few traces of wisdom, she thought.
Nevertheless, she could not help feeling pride. It was the peace of the West that had made the world stable, the culture of the West that had led to science and the ideals of democracy (though not yet to democracy itself); it was the West that had given out its riches, however reluctantly, and was now drawing the world into an economic involvement which would lead to an energy-rich sunspace by the end of the century. Perhaps by then the national pride she felt would be harmless, and power without accomplishment meaningless.
Mike Basil, the research chief of Bulero Enterprises, entered the room below. He went up to Jack and whispered something in his ear. Jack waved him away impatiently. Basil walked around the sofa and sat down next to Richard.
Her son would have been a prince in another time, she thought, noting the look of deference in Mike's face as he tried to make conversation.
There was a grim expression on Sam's face, the look of a university professor who had failed to convey his view of things to a student. Sam was usually content with personal rewards, the satisfactions of his theoretical work, with seeing those he had taught go on to success in the world. She felt the strain between the two brothers, who had been talking for two hours behind the sofa and for an hour before in the kitchen. They rarely met outside of family occasions. Sam had never visited the company headquarters, and Jack avoided meeting Sam at Princeton. They're each other's judges, she thought, and they accept it.
She could no longer feel what Jack was like inside. The last time she had been able to do so had been at Christmas twelve years ago; and before that when he had been a young man. The thought turned into fear, and then into a quiet panic. She wanted him to run up the stairs to her and say anything to show that he was still the person she had known. "It's still me inside, Janet" she imagined him saying. "Don't you know me?"
But Jack was opaque, vague, a scarecrow making fragmented gestures. She stared at him carefully now, almost with an astonished good humor, and still he would not look up. For a moment she believed that he could make all his pretenses real, simulate anything, appear in any way he wished; there was no safe way to expose him.
Wealth held the family together and freed them all from one another. It was easy to be polite and cheerful at a distance. Suddenly looking back, she trembled on the edge of hatred; the world was a dungeon around her, with walls of family and fear.
She looked up at the haze of blue smoke hanging over Orton. The circulating air was slowly whipping the top of the cloud away as the Beethoven quartet rushed toward a frenzied finale.