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Cats cradle, p.12
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       Cat's Cradle, p.12

           Kurt Vonnegut
 
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  "That was the effect of drugs," Castle declared. "He's at the point now where drugs and pain just about balance out. More drugs would kill him."

  "I'd kill myself, I think," murmured Newt. He was sitting on a sort of folding high chair he took with him when he went visiting. It was made of aluminum tubing and canvas. "It beats sitting on a dictionary, an atlas, and a telephone book," he'd said when he erected it.

  "That's what Corporal McCabe did, of course," said Castle. "He named his major-domo as his successor, then he shot himself."

  "Cancer, too?" I asked.

  "I can't be sure; I don't think so, though. Unrelieved villainy just wore him out, is my guess. That was all before my time."

  "This certainly is a cheerful conversation," said Angela.

  "I think everybody would agree that these are cheerful times," said Castle.

  "Well," I said to him, "I'd think you would have more reasons for being cheerful than most, doing what you are doing with your life."

  "I once had a yacht, too, you know."

  "I don't follow you."

  "Having a yacht is a reason for being more cheerful than most, too."

  "If you aren't "Papa's" doctor," I said, "who is?"

  "One of my staff, a Dr. Schlichter von Koenigswald."

  "A German?"

  "Vaguely. He was in the S.S. for fourteen years. He was a camp physician at Auschwitz for six of those years."

  "Doing penance at the House of Hope and Mercy is he?"

  "Yes," said Castle, "and making great strides, too, saving lives right and left."

  "Good for him."

  "Yes. If he keeps going at his present rate, working night and day, the number of people he's saved will equal the number of people he let die--in the year 3010."

  So there's another member of my karass: Dr. Schlichter von Koenigswald.

  84

  BLACKOUT

  THREE HOURS AFTER SUPPER Frank still hadn't come home. Julian Castle excused himself and went back to the House of Hope and Mercy in the Jungle.

  Angela and Newt and I sat on the cantilevered terrace. The lights of Bolivar were lovely below us. There was a great, illuminated cross on top of the administration building of Monzano Airport. It was motor-driven, turning slowly, boxing the compass with electric piety.

  There were other bright places on the island, too, to the north of us. Mountains prevented our seeing them directly, but we could see in the sky their balloons of light. I asked Stanley, Frank Hoenikker's major-domo, to identify for me the sources of the auroras.

  He pointed them out, counterclockwise. "House of Hope and Mercy in the Jungle, 'Papa's' palace, and Fort Jesus."

  "Fort Jesus?"

  "The training camp for our soldiers."

  "It's named after Jesus Christ?"

  "Sure. Why not?"

  There was a new balloon of light growing quickly to the north. Before I could ask what it was, it revealed itself as headlights topping a ridge. The headlights were coming toward us. They belonged to a convoy.

  The convoy was composed of five American-made army trucks. Machine gunners manned ring mounts on the tops of the cabs.

  The convoy stopped in Frank's driveway. Soldiers dismounted at once. They set to work on the grounds, digging foxholes and machine-gun pits. I went out with Frank's major-domo to ask the officer in charge what was going on.

  "We have been ordered to protect the next President of San Lorenzo," said the officer in island dialect.

  "He isn't here now," I informed him.

  "I don't know anything about it," he said. "My orders are to dig in here. That's all I know."

  I told Angela and Newt about it.

  "Do you think there's any real danger?" Angela asked me.

  "I'm a stranger here myself," I said.

  At that moment there was a power failure. Every electric light in San Lorenzo went out.

  85

  A PACK OF FOMA

  FRANK'S SERVANTS brought us gasoline lanterns; told us that power failures were common in San Lorenzo, that there was no cause for alarm. I found that disquiet was hard for me to set aside, however, since Frank had spoken of my zah-mah-ki-bo.

  He had made me feel as though my own free will were as irrelevant as the free will of a piggy-wig arriving at the Chicago stockyards.

  I remembered again the stone angel in Ilium.

  And I listened to the soldiers outside--to their clinking, chunking, murmuring labors.

  I was unable to concentrate on the conversation of Angela and Newt, though they got onto a fairly interesting subject. They told me that their father had had an identical twin. They had never met him. His name was Rudolph. The last they had heard of him, he was a music-box manufacturer in Zurich, Switzerland.

  "Father hardly ever mentioned him," said Angela.

  "Father hardly ever mentioned anybody," Newt declared.

  There was a sister of the old man, too, they told me. Her name was Celia. She raised giant schnauzers on Shelter Island, New York.

  "She always sends a Christmas card," said Angela.

  "With a picture of a giant schnauzer on it," said little Newt.

  "It sure is funny how different people in different families turn out," Angela observed.

  "That's very true and well said," I agreed. I excused myself from the glittering company, and I asked Stanley, the major-domo, if there happened to be a copy of The Books of Bokonon about the house.

  Stanley pretended not to know what I was talking about. And then he grumbled that The Books of Bokonon were filth. And then he insisted that anyone who read them should die on the hook. And then he brought me a copy from Frank's bedside table.

  It was a heavy thing, about the size of an unabridged dictionary. It was written by hand. I trundled it off to my bedroom, to my slab of rubber on living rock.

  There was no index, so my search for the implications of zah-mah-ki-bo was difficult; was, in fact, fruitless that night.

  I learned some things, but they were scarcely helpful. I learned of the Bokononist cosmogony, for instance, wherein Borasisi, the sun, held Pabu, the moon, in his arms, and hoped that Pabu would bear him a fiery child.

  But poor Pabu gave birth to children that were cold, that did not burn; and Borasisi threw them away in disgust. These were the planets, who circled their terrible father at a safe distance.

  Then poor Pabu herself was cast away, and she went to live with her favorite child, which was Earth. Earth was Pabu's favorite because it had people on it; and the people looked up at her and loved her and sympathized.

  And what opinion did Bokonon hold of his own cosmogony?

  "Foma! Lies!" he wrote. "A pack of foma!"

  86

  TWO LITTLE JUGS

  IT'S HARD TO BELIEVE that I slept at all, but I must have--for, otherwise, how could I have found myself awakened by a series of bangs and a flood of light?

  I rolled out of bed at the first bang and ran to the heart of the house in the brainless ecstasy of a volunteer fireman.

  I found myself rushing headlong at Newt and Angela, who were fleeing from beds of their own.

  We all stopped short, sheepishly analyzing the nightmarish sounds around us, sorting them out as coming from a radio, from an electric dishwasher, from a pump--all restored to noisy life by the return of electric power.

  The three of us awakened enough to realize that there was humor in our situation, that we had reacted in amusingly human ways to a situation that seemed mortal but wasn't. And, to demonstrate my mastery over my illusory fate, I turned the radio off.

  We all chuckled.

  And we all vied, in saving face, to be the greatest student of human nature, the person with the quickest sense of humor.

  Newt was the quickest; he pointed out to me that I had my passport and my billfold and my wristwatch in my hands. I had no idea what I'd grabbed in the face of death--didn't know I'd grabbed anything.

  I countered hilariously by asking Angela and Newt why it was that they b
oth carried little Thermos jugs, identical red-and-gray jugs capable of holding about three cups of coffee.

  It was news to them both that they were carrying such jugs. They were shocked to find them in their hands.

  They were spared making an explanation by more banging outside. I was bound to find out what the banging was right away; and, with a brazenness as unjustified as my earlier panic, I investigated, found Frank Hoenikker outside tinkering with a motor-generator set mounted on a truck.

  The generator was the new source of our electricity. The gasoline motor that drove it was backfiring and smoking. Frank was trying to fix it.

  He had the heavenly Mona with him. She was watching him, as always, gravely.

  "Boy, have I got news for you!" he yelled at me, and he led the way back into the house.

  Angela and Newt were still in the living room, but, somehow, somewhere, they had managed to get rid of their peculiar Thermos jugs.

  The contents of those jugs, of course, were parts of the legacies from Dr. Felix Hoenikker, were parts of the wampeter of my karass, were chips of ice-nine.

  Frank took me aside. "How awake are you?"

  "As awake as I ever was."

  "I hope you're really wide awake, because we've got to have a talk right now."

  "Start talking."

  "Let's get some privacy." Frank told Mona to make herself comfortable. "We'll call you if we need you."

  I looked at Mona, meltingly, and I thought that I had never needed anyone as much as I needed her.

  87

  THE CUT OF MY JIB

  ABOUT THIS FRANKLIN HOENIKKER--the pinch-faced child spoke with the timbre and conviction of a kazoo. I had heard it said in the Army that such and such a man spoke like a man with a paper rectum. Such a man was General Hoenikker. Poor Frank had had almost no experience in talking to anyone, having spent a furtive childhood as Secret Agent X-9.

  Now, hoping to be hearty and persuasive, he said tinny things to me, things like, "I like the cut of your jib!" and "I want to talk cold turkey to you, man to man!"

  And he took me down to what he called his "den" in order that we might, "... call a spade a spade, and let the chips fall where they may."

  So we went down steps cut into a cliff and into a natural cave that was beneath and behind the waterfall. There were a couple of drawing tables down there; three pale, bare-boned Scandinavian chairs; a bookcase containing books on architecture, books in German, French, Finnish, Italian, English.

  All was lit by electric lights, lights that pulsed with the panting of the motor-generator set.

  And the most striking thing about the cave was that there were pictures painted on the walls, painted with kindergarten boldness, painted with the flat clay, earth, and charcoal colors of very early man. I did not have to ask Frank how old the cave paintings were. I was able to date them by their subject. The paintings were not of mammoths or saber-toothed tigers or ithyphallic cave bears.

  The paintings treated endlessly the aspects of Mona Aamons Monzano as a little girl.

  "This--this is where Mona's father worked?" I asked.

  "That's right. He was the Finn who designed the House of Hope and Mercy in the Jungle."

  "I know."

  "That isn't what I brought you down here to talk about."

  "This is something about your father?"

  "This is about you." Frank put his hand on my shoulder and he looked me in the eye. The effect was dismaying. Frank meant to inspire camaraderie, but his head looked to me like a bizarre little owl, blinded by light and perched on a tall white post.

  "Maybe you'd better come to the point."

  "There's no sense in beating around the bush," he said. "I'm a pretty good judge of character, if I do say so myself, and I like the cut of your jib."

  "Thank you."

  "I think you and I could really hit it off."

  "I have no doubt of it."

  "We've both got things that mesh."

  I was grateful when he took his hand from my shoulder. He meshed the fingers of his hands like gear teeth. One hand represented him, I suppose, and the other represented me.

  "We need each other." He wiggled his fingers to show me how gears worked.

  I was silent for some time, though outwardly friendly.

  "Do you get my meaning?" asked Frank at last.

  "You and I--we're going to do something together?"

  "That's right!" Frank clapped his hands. "You're a worldly person, used to meeting the public; and I'm a technical person, used to working behind the scenes, making things go."

  "How can you possibly know what kind of a person I am? We've just met."

  "Your clothes, the way you talk." He put his hand on my shoulder again. "I like the cut of your jib!"

  "So you said."

  Frank was frantic for me to complete his thought, to do it enthusiastically, but I was still at sea. "Am I to understand that ... that you are offering me some kind of job here, here in San Lorenzo?"

  He clapped his hands. He was delighted. "That's right! What would you say to a hundred thousand dollars a year?"

  "Good God!" I cried. "What would I have to do for that?"

  "Practically nothing. And you'd drink out of gold goblets every night and eat off of gold plates and have a palace all your own."

  "What's the job?"

  "President of the Republic of San Lorenzo."

  88

  WHY FRANK COULDN'T BE PRESIDENT

  "ME? PRESIDENT?" I gasped.

  "Who else is there?"

  "Nuts!"

  "Don't say no until you've really thought about it." Frank watched me anxiously.

  "No!"

  "You haven't really thought about it."

  "Enough to know it's crazy."

  Frank made his fingers into gears again. "We'd work together. I'd be backing you up all the time."

  "Good. So, if I got plugged from the front you'd get it, too."

  "Plugged?"

  "Shot! Assassinated!"

  Frank was mystified. "Why would anybody shoot you?"

  "So he could get to be President."

  Frank shook his head. "Nobody in San Lorenzo wants to be President," he promised me. "It's against their religion."

  "It's against your religion, too? I thought you were going to be the next President."

  "I ..." he said, and found it hard to go on. He looked haunted.

  "You what?" I asked.

  He faced the sheet of water that curtained the cave. "Maturity, the way I understand it," he told me, "is knowing what your limitations are."

  He wasn't far from Bokonon in defining maturity. "Maturity," Bokonon tells us, "is a bitter disappointment for which no remedy exists, unless laughter can be said to remedy anything."

  "I know I've got limitations," Frank continued. "They're the same limitations my father had."

  "Oh?"

  "I've got a lot of very good ideas, just the way my father did," Frank told me and the waterfall, "but he was no good at facing the public, and neither am I."

  89

  DUFFLE

  "YOU'LL TAKE THE JOB?" Frank inquired anxiously.

  "No," I told him.

  "Do you know anybody who might want the job?" Frank was giving a classic illustration of what Bokonon calls duffle. Duffle, in the Bokononist sense, is the destiny of thousands upon thousands of persons when placed in the hands of a stuppa. A stuppa is a fogbound child.

  I laughed.

  "Something's funny?"

  "Pay no attention when I laugh," I begged him. "I'm a notorious pervert in that respect."

  "Are you laughing at me?"

  I shook my head. "No."

  "Word of honor?"

  "Word of honor."

  "People used to make fun of me all the time."

  "You must have imagined that."

  "They used to yell things at me. I didn't imagine that."

  "People are unkind sometimes without meaning to be," I suggested. I wouldn't have g
iven him my word of honor on that.

  "You know what they used to yell at me?"

  "No."

  "They used to yell at me, 'Hey, X-9, where you going?'"

  "That doesn't seem too bad."

  "That's what they used to call me," said Frank in sulky reminiscence, " 'Secret Agent X-9.'"

  I didn't tell him I knew that already.

  " 'Where are you going, X-9?'" Frank echoed again.

  I imagined what the taunters had been like, imagined where Fate had eventually goosed and chivvied them to. The wits who had yelled at Frank were surely nicely settled in deathlike jobs at General Forge and Foundry, at Ilium Power and Light, at the Telephone Company....

  And here, by God, was Secret Agent X-9, a Major General, offering to make me king ... in a cave that was curtained by a tropical waterfall.

  "They really would have been surprised if I'd stopped and told them where I was going."

  "You mean you had some premonition you'd end up here?" It was a Bokononist question.

  "I was going to Jack's Hobby Shop," he said, with no sense of anticlimax.

  "Oh."

  "They all knew I was going there, but they didn't know what really went on there. They would have been really surprised--especially the girls--if they'd found out what really went on. The girls didn't think I knew anything about girls."

  "What really went on?"

  "I was screwing Jack's wife every day. That's how come I fell asleep all the time in high school. That's how come I never achieved my full potential."

  He roused himself from this sordid recollection. "Come on. Be President of San Lorenzo. You'd be real good at it, with your personality. Please?"

  90

  ONLY ONE CATCH

  AND THE TIME OF NIGHT and the cave and the waterfall--and the stone angel in Ilium....

  And 250,000 cigarettes and 3,000 quarts of booze, and two wives and no wife....

  And no love waiting for me anywhere....

  And the listless life of an ink-stained hack....

  And Pabu, the moon, and Borasisi, the sun, and their children....

  All things conspired to form one cosmic vin-dit, one mighty shove into Bokononism, into the belief that God was running my life and that He had work for me to do.

  And, inwardly, I sarooned, which is to say that I acquiesced to the seeming demands of my vin-dit.

  Inwardly, I agreed to become the next President of San Lorenzo.

  Outwardly, I was still guarded, suspicious. "There must be a catch," I hedged.

  "There isn't."

 
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