A bowl bigger than earth, p.1
A Bowl Bigger Than Earth, p.1Philip José Farmer
A BOWL BIGGER THAN EARTH
Philip José Farmer
(If, September, 1967)
Illustrated by Gaughan
He didn't remember how he had
come to this planet. He only
remembered that he was dead!
No squeeze. No pain. Death has a wide pelvis, he thought -- much later, when he had time to reflect.
Now he was screaming.
He had had an impression of awakening from his deathbed, of being shot outwards over the edge of a bowl bigger than Earth seen from a space capsule. Sprawling outwards, he landed on his hands and knees on a gentle slope. So gentle it was. He did not tear his hands and knees but slid smoothly onward and downward on the great curve. The material on which be accelerated looked much like brass and felt frictionless. Though he did not think of it then he was too panic-sticken to do anything but react -- he knew later that the brassy stuff had even less resistance than oil become a solid. And the brass, or whatever it was, formed a solid seamless sheet.
The only break was in the center, where the sheet ended. There, far ahead and far below, the bowl curved briefly upward.
Gathering speed, he slipped along the gigantic chute. He tried to stay on his hands and knees; but when he twisted his body to see behind him, he shifted his weight. Over he went onto his side. Squawling, he thrashed around, and he tried to dig his nails into the brass. No use. He met no resistance, and he began spinning around, around. He did see, during his whirlings, the rim from which he had been shoved. But he could see only the rim itself and, beyond, the blue cloudless sky.
Overhead was the sun, looking just like the Terrestrial sun.
He rolled over on his back and succeeded during the maneuver in stopping the rotations. He also mailaged to see his own body. He began screaming again, the first terror driven out and replaced by -- or added to as a higher harmonic -- the terror of finding himself in a sexless body.
Smooth. Projectionless. Hairless. His legs hairless, too. No navel. His skin a dark brown like an Apache's.
Morfiks screamed and screamed, and he gripped his face and the top of his head. Then he screamed higher and higher. The face was not the one he knew (the ridge of bone above the eyes and the broken nose were not there), and his head was smooth as an egg.
Later, although it could not have been much later, he came to his senses. Overhead was the bright sun and beneath him was the cool nonfriction.
He turned his face to one side, saw the same brass and had no sensation of sliding because he had no reference point. For a moment he thought he might be at the end of his descent. But on lifting his head he saw that the bottom of the bowl was closer, that it was rushing at him.
His heart was leaping in his chest as if trying to batter itself to a second death. But it did not fail. It just drove the blood through his ears until he could hear its roar even above the air rushing by.
He lowered his head until its back was supported by the brass, and he closed his eyes against the sun. Never in all his life (lives?) had he felt so helpless. More helpless than a newborn babe, who does not know he is helpless and who cannot think and who will be taken care of if he cries.
He had screamed, but no one was running to take care of him.
Downward he slipped, brass-yellow curving away on both sides of him, no sensation of heat against his back where the skin should have burned off a long time ago and his muscles should now be burning.
The incline began to be less downward, to straighten out. He shot across a flat space which he had no means of estimating because he was going too fast.
The flatness gave away to a curving upwards. He felt that he was slowing down; he hoped so. If he continued at the same rate of speed, he would shoot far out and over the center of the bowL
Here it came! The rim!
He went up with just enough velocity to rise perhaps seven feet above the edge. Then, falling, he glimpsed a city of brass beyond the people gathered on the shore of a river, but lost sight of these in the green waters rushing up towards him directly below.
He bellowed in anguish, tried to straighten out, and flailed his arms and legs. In vain. The water struck him on his left side. Half-stunned, he plunged into the cool and dark waters.
By the time he had broken the surface again, he had regained his senses. There was only one thing to do. Behind him, the brassy wall reared at least thirty feet straight up. He had to swim to the shore, which was about four hundred yards away.
What if he had not been able to swim? What if he chose to drown now rather than face the unknown on the beach?
A boat was his answer. A flat-bottomed boat of brass rowed with brass oars by a brown-skinned man (man?). In the bow stood a similar creature (similar? exactly alike) extending a long pole of brass.
The manlike thing in the bow called out, "Grab hold, and I'll pull you in."
Morfiks replied with an obscenity and began swimming toward the beach. The fellow with the pole howled, "A trouble-maker, heh? We'll have no antisocial actions here, citizen!"
He brought the butt of the pole down with all his strength.
It was then that Morfiks found that he was relatively invulnerable. The pole, even if made of material as light as aluminum and hollow, should have stunned him and cut his scalp open. But it had bounced off with much less effect than the fall into the river.
"Come into the boat," said the poleman. "Or nobody here will like you."
It was this threat that cowed Morfiks. After climbing into the boat, he sat down on the bench in front of the rower and examined the two. No doubt of it. They were twins. Same height (both were sitting now) as himself. Hairless, except for long curling black eyelashes. Same features. High foreheads. Smooth hairless brows. Straight noses. Full lips. Well developed chins. Regular, almost classical features, delicate, looking both feminine and masculine. Their eyes were the same shade of dark brown. Their skins were heavily tanned. Their bodies were slimly built and quite human except for the disconcerting lack of sex, navel and nipples on the masculine chests.
"Where am I?" said Morfiks. "In the fourth dimension?"
He had read about that in the Sunday supplements and some of the more easily digesteds.
"Or in Hell?" he added, which would have been his first question if he had been in his Terrestrial body. Nothing that had happened so far made him think he was in Heaven.
The pole rapped him in the mouth, and be thought that either the poleman was pulling his punches or else his new flesh was less sensitive than his Terrestrial. The last must be it. His lips felt almost as numb as when the dentist gave him novocaine before pulling a tooth. And his meager buttocks did not hurt from sitting on the hard brass.
Moreover, he had all his teeth. There were no fillings or bridges in his mouth.
"You will not use that word," said the poleman. "It's not nice, and it's not true. The protectors do not like that word and will take one hundred per cent effective measures to punish anybody responsible for offending the public taste with it."
"You mean the word beginning with H?" said Morfiks cautiously.
"You're catching on fast, citizen."
"What do you call this . . . place?"
"Home. Just plain home. Allow me to introduce myself. I'm one of the official greeters. I have no name; nobody here does. Citizen is good enough for me and for you. However, being a greeter doesn't make me one whit better than you, citizen. It's just my job, that's all. We all have jobs here, all equally. important. We're all on the same level, citizen. No cause for envy or strife."
"No name?" Morfiks said.
"Forget that nonsense. A name means you're trying to set
"I'm here for . . . how long?" Morfiks said.
"Forever?" Morfiks said dismally.
The end of the pole butted into his lips. His head rocked back, but he did not hurt much.
"Just think of the present, citizen. Because that is all that exists. The past doesn't exist; the future can't. Only the present exists."
"There's no future?"
Again, the butt of the pole.
"Forget that word. We use it on the river when we're breaking in immigrants. But once on the shore, we're through with it. Here, we're practical. We don't indulge in fantasy."
"I get your message," Morfiks said. He damped the impulse to leap at the poleman's throat. Better to wait until he found out what the setup was, what a man could or could not get away with.
The rower said, "Coming ashore, citizens."
Morfiks noticed that the two had voices exactly alike. and he supposed his own was the same as theirs. But be had a secret triumph. His voice would sound different to himself; he had that much edge on the bastards.
The boat nudged onto the beach, and Morfiks followed the other two onto the sand. He looked quickly behind him and now saw that there were many boats up and down the river. Here and there a body shot up over the rim of the brassy cliff and tumbled down into the waters as he had a few minutes ago.
Beyond the lip of the cliff rose the swell of the brass slide down which he had hurtled. The slide extended so far that he could not see the human figures that undoubtedly must be standing on the edge where he had stood and must just now be in the act of being pushed from behind. Five miles away, at least, five miles he had slid.
A colossal building project, he thought.
Beyond the city of brass rose another incline. He understood now that he had been mistaken in believing the city was in the middle of a bowl. As far as he could see, there was the river and the city and the cliffs and slides on both sides. And he supposed that there was another river on the other side of the city.
The city reminded him of the suburban tract in which he had lived on Earth. Rows on rows of square brass houses, exactly alike, facing each other across twenty-foot wide streets. Earth house was about twelve feet wide. Each had a flat roof and a door in front and back, a strip of windows which circled the house like a transparent belt. There were no yards. A space of two feet separated each house from its neighbor.
A person stepped out of the crowd standing on the beach. This one differed from the others only in having a band of some black metal around the biceps of its right arm.
"Officer of the Day," it said in voice exactly like the two in the boat. "Your turn will come to act in this capacity. No favorites here."
It was then that Morfiks recognized the possibilities of individualism in voice, of recognizing others. Even if everybody had identical dimensions in larynxes and the resonating chambers of palate and nasal passages, they must retain their habits of intonation and choice of pitch and words. Also, despite identical bodies and legs, they must keep some of their peculiar gestures and methods of walking.
"Any complaints about treatment so far?" said the O.D.
"Yes," said Morfiks. "This jerk hit me three times with its pole."
"Only because we love it," said the poleman. "We struck it -- oh, very lightly! -- to correct its ways. As a father -- pardon the word -- punishes a child he loves. Or an older brother his little brother. We are all brothers. . . ."
"We are guilty of antisocial behavior," said the O.D. sternly. "We're very very sorry, but we must report this incident to the Protectors. Believe us, it hurt us. . . ."
"Worse than it hurts us," said the poleman wearily. "We know."
"We'll have to add cynicism to the charge," said the O.D. "K.P. for several months if we know the Protectors. Should anybody be guilty again -- "
The O.D. told Morfiks to walk with it, and it briefed Morfiks as they went through the streets. These were made of a pale violet rubbery substance only slightly warm to the feet despite the sun beating down upon it. Morfiks would be given his own home. He was lord and master there and could do whatever he wished in it as long as he did not break any rules of public morality.
"You mean I can invite anybody I want to and can keep out anybody I want to?"
"Well, you can invite anybody you want. But don't throw anybody out who comes in uninvited. This is, unless the uninvited behaves antisocially. In which case, notify the O.D., and we'll notify a Protector."
"How can I be master of my house if I can't choose my guests?" Morfiks said.
"The citizen doesn't understand," said the O.D. "A citizen should not want to keep another citizen out of his house. Doing so is saying that a citizen doesn't love all citizens as brothers and sisters. It's not nice. We want to be nice, don't we?"
Morfiks replied that had always been known as a nice guy, and he continued to listen to the O.D. But, on passing an area where a large field coated with the violet rubber broke the monotonous rows of houses, he said, "Looks like a children's playground with all those swings, seesaws, games, trampolines. Where are the kids? And how --"
"Only the Protectors know what happens to the children who come from We-Know-Where," said the O.D. "It's better, much, much better, not to ask them about it. In fact, it's very good not to see or talk to a Protector.
"No, the playgrounds are for the amusement of us citizens. However, the Protectors have been thinking about taking them down. Too many citizens quarrel about who gets to use them, instead of amicably arranging predecedence and turns. They actually dare to fight each other even if fighting's forbidden. And they manage, somehow, to hurt each other. We don't want anybody to get hurt, do we?"
"I guess not. What do you do for entertainment, otherwise?"
"First things first, citizen. We don't like to use any of the personal pronouns except we, of course, and us and our and ours. I, me, they, you all differentiate. Better to forget personal differences here, heh? After all, we're just one big happy family, heh?"
"Sure," Morfiks said. "But there must be times when a citizen has to point out somebody. How do I -- we -- identify someone guilty of, say, antisocial behavior?"
"It doesn't matter," said the O.D. "Point out anyone. Yourself -- if you'll pardon the word -- for instance. We all share in the punishment, so it makes no difference."
"You mean I have to be punished for someone else's crime? That isn't fair!"
"It may not seem so to us at first," said the O.D. "But consider. We're brothers, not only under the skin, but on the skin. If a crime is committed, the guilt is shared by all because, actually, all are responsible. And if punishment is given to all, then all will try to prevent crime. Simple, isn't it? And fair, too."
"But you -- we -- said that the poleman would be given K.P. Does that mean we all go on K.P.?"
"We did not commit a felony, only a misdemeanor. If we do it again, we are a felon. And we suffer. It's the only nice thing to do, to share, right?"
Morfiks did not like it. He was the one hit in the teeth, so why should he, the victim, have to take the punishment of the aggressor?
But he said nothing. He had gotten far on We-Know-Where by keeping his mouth shut. lt paid off; everybody had thought he was a nice guy. And he was a nice guy.
There did seem to be one fallacy in the setup. If being a stool pgeon meant you, too, suffered, why turn anybody in? Wouldn't it be smarter to keep quiet and inflict the punishment yourself on the aggressor?
"Don't do it, citizen," said the O.D.
The O.D. smiled and said, "No, we can't read minds. But every immigrant thinks the same thing when told about the system. Keeping quiet only results in double punishment. The Protectors -- whom this citizen has never seen face to face and doesn't want to -- have some means of monitoring our behavior.
To keep himself from bursting into outraged denunciation of the system, Morfiks asked more questions.
Yes, he would be confined to this neighborhood. If he traveled outside it, he might find himself in an area where his language was not spoken. That would result in his feeling inferior and different because he was a foreigner. Or, worse, superior. Anyway, why travel? Any place looked like every place.
A Bowl Bigger Than Earth by Philip José Farmer / Fantasy / Science Fiction have rating 3 out of 5 / Based on18 votes