White mars by Brian W. Aldiss & Roger Penrose. Chapter 8, 9

White mars. Chapter 8, 9


The Saccharine/Strychnine Drip

Meanwhile our humdrum lives in the domes were continuing, but I at least was filled with optimism regarding our plans, which ripened day by day.

Adminex circulated our findings on the Ambient and published them on impounded EUPACUS printers. We emphasised that people must be clear on what was acceptable. We invited suggestions for guiding principles.

We suggested a common meeting for discussion in Hindenburg every morning, which anyone might attend.

We placed a high priority on tolerance and the cultivation of empathy.

We concluded by saying, What Cannot be Avoided Must Be Endured.

I received a message back on my Ambient link, saying, ‘Be practical, will you? We need more toilets, boss. What cannot be endured must be avoided.’ I recognised Beau Stephens’s voice.

In those days, I became too busy to think about myself. There was much to organise. Yet some things organised themselves. Among them, sport and music.

I was jo-joing back from the new hospital wing when I saw the freshly invented game of skyball being played in the sports arena. I stopped to watch. Aktau Badawi was with me.

Skyball was a team game played with two balls the size of footballs. One ball, painted blue, was half filled with helium so that, when kicked into the air, its descent was slow. Play could continue only when the blue ball was in the air. Grouping and positioning went on while it was descending. The blue ball could not be handled, unlike the other ball, which was brown.

‘Thankfully, we are too old to play, Tom,’ said Aktau.

A young man turned from the watching crowd and offered to explain the subtleties of the game to us.

We laughingly said we did not wish to know. We would never play.

‘Nor would I,’ the man said, ‘but I in fact invented the blue ball in honour of our lighter gravity. My name is Guenz Kanli, and I wish to speak to you about another innovation I have in mind.’

He fell in with us and we walked back to my office.

Guenz Kanli had a curious physiognomy. The flesh of his face seemed not to fit well over his skull, which came to a peak at the rear. This strange-looking man came from Kazakstan in Central Asia. He was a YEA who, at twenty years of age, had fallen in love with the desolation of the Martian landscape. His eyes were bloodshot, his cheeks so mottled with tiny veins they resembled an indecipherable map.

He lived at the top of one of our spicules, which gave him a good outlook on the Martian surface. He described it in eloquent terms.

‘It’s all so variable. The wispy clouds take strange forms. You could watch them all day. There are fogs, and I have seen tiny snow falls – or maybe frost it was. The desert can be white or grey or almost black, or brown, or even bright orange in the sun.

Then there are many kinds of dust storm, from little dust devils to massive storms like avalanches.

‘None of this can we touch. It’s like a form of music to me. You teach people to look inward on themselves, Tom Jefferies. Maybe looking outward is good too.

‘We need more of a special music. It exists already, part sad, part joyful.

‘If I may, I will take you to hear the wonderful Beza this evening.’

Guenz Kanli was enthusiastic to a remarkable degree, which was perhaps what commended him to me in the first place. I dreaded that a mood of irreversible depression would descend on us if the ships did not soon return.

That evening, we went to hear Beza play.

I was seized with Guenz’s idea, although I never entirely saw the connection, as he did, between Beza’s gipsy music and the Martian landscape.

There was always music playing somewhere in the domes – classical, jazz, popular, or something in between. But, from that evening on, one of our favourite musicians was Beza, an old Romanian gypsy. I persuaded the leading YEAs to listen – Kissorian, May Porter, Suung Saybin, and others. They were taken by it, and from then on Beza was in fashion.

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Categories: Aldiss, Brian