home   |   -   |   A-Z   |  


Chapter 5

Not that Bill didn't try to break the grip, but it was hopeless. He wriggled in the skeleton-white claws that clutched him and tried futilely to pry them from his arms, all the time uttering helpless little bleats like a lamb in an eagle's talons. Thrashing ineffectually, he was drawn backward through the mighty portal which swung shut without the agency of human hands.

Welcome.. . a sepulchral voice said, and Bill staggered as the restraining grasp was removed, then whirled about to face the large white robot, now immobile. Next to the robot stood a small man in a white jacket who sported a large, bald head and a serious expression.

You don't have to tell me your name, the small man said, not unless you want to. But I am Inspector Jeyes. Have you come seeking sanctuary? Are you offering it? Bill asked dubiously.

Interesting point, most interesting. Jeyes rubbed his chapped hands together with a dry, rustling sound. But we shall have no theological arguments now, tempting as they are, I assure you, so I think it might be best to make a statement, yes indeed. There is a sanctuary here-have you come to avail yourself of it? Bill, now that he had recovered from his first shock, was being a little crafty, remembering all the trouble he had gotten into by opening his big wug.

Listen, I don't even know who you are or where I am or what kind of strings are attached to this sanctuary business. Very proper, my mistake, I assure you, since I took you for one of the city's deplanned, though now I notice that the rags you are wearing were once a trooper's dress uniform and that the oxidized shard of pot metal on your chest is the remains of a noble decoration. Welcome to Helior, the Imperial Planet, and how is the war coming? Fine, fine-but what's this all about? I am Inspector Jeyes of the City Department of Sanitation. I can see, and I sincerely hope you will pardon the indiscretion, that you are in a bit of trouble, out of uniform, your plan gone, perhaps even your ID card vanished. He watched Bill's uneasy motion with shrewd, birdlike eyes. But it doesn't have to be that way. Accept sanctuary. We will provide for you, give you a good job, a new uniform, even a new ID card. And all I have to do is become a garbage man! Bill sneered.

We prefer the term G-man, Inspector Jeyes answered humbly.

I'll think about it, Bill said coldly.

Might I help you make up your mind? the inspector asked, and pressed a button on the wall. The portal into outer blackness squealed open once again, and the robot grabbed Bill and started to push.

Sanctuary! Bill squealed, then pouted when the robot had released him and the door was resealed. I was just going to say that anyway, you didn't have to throw your weight around. A thousand pardons, we want you to feel happy here. Welcome to the D of S.

At the risk of embarrassment, may I ask if you will need a new ID card? Many of our recruits like to start life afresh down here in the department, and we have a vast selection of cards to choose from. We get everything eventually you must remember, bodies and emptied wastebaskets included, and you would be surprised at the number of cards we collect that way. If you'll just step into this elevator The D of S did have a lot of cards, cases and cases of them, all neatly filed and alphabetized. In no time at all Bill had found one with a description that fitted him fairly closely, issued in the name of one Wilhelm Stuzzicadenti, and showed it to the inspector.

Very good, glad to have you with us, Villy Just call me Bill. .. . and welcome to the service, Bill, we are always undermanned down here, and you can have your pick of jobs, yes indeed, depending of course upon your talents-and your interests. When you think of sanitation what comes to your mind? Garbage. The inspector sighed. That's the usual reaction, but I had expected better of you. Garbage is just one thing our Collection Division has to deal with, in addition there are Refuse, Waste, and Rubbish. Then there are whole other departments, Hall Cleaning, Plumbing Repair, Research, Sewage Disposal That last one sounds real interesting. Before I was forcefully enlisted I was taking a correspondence course in Technical Fertilizer Operating. Why that's wonderful! You must tell me more about it, but sit down first, get comfortable. He led Bill to a deep, upholstered chair, then turned away to extract two plastic cartons from a dispenser. And have a cooling Alco-Jolt while you're talking. There's not much to say. I never finished my course, and it appears now I will never satisfy my lifelong ambition and operate fertilizer. Maybe your Sewage Disposal department? I'm sorry. It is heartbreaking, since that's right down your alley too, so to speak, but if there is one operation that doesn't give us any problem, it's sewage, because it's mostly automated. We're proud of our sewage record because it's a big one; there must be over 150 billion people on Helior WOW! .. . you're right, I can see that glow in your eye. That is a lot of sewage, and I hope sometime to have the honor of showing you through our plant.

But remember, where there is sewage there must be food, and with Helior importing all its food we have a closed-circle operation here that is a sanitary engineer's dream. Ships from the agricultural planets bring in the processed food which goes out to the populace where it starts through, what might be called the chain of command. We get the effluvium and process it, the usual settling and chemical treatments, anaerobic bacteria and the likeI'm not boring you am I? No, please Bill said, smiling and flicking away a tear with a knuckle, it's just that I'm so happy, I haven't had an intelligent conversation in so long I can well imagine-it must be brutalizing in the service, he clapped Bill on the shoulder, a hearty stout-fellow-well-met gesture. Forget all that, you're among friends now. Where was I? Oh yes, the bacteria, then dehydration and compression. We produce one of the finest bricks of condensed fertilizer in the civilized galaxy and I'll stand up to any man on that I'm sure you do! Bill agreed fervently.

-and automated belts and lifts carry the bricks to the spaceports where they are loaded into the spaceships as fast as they are emptied. A full load for a full load, that's our motto. And I've heard that on some poor-soiled planets they cheer when the ships come home. No, we can't complain about our, sewage operation; it is in the other departments that we have our problems. Inspector Jeyes drained his container and sat scowling, his pleasure drained just as fast. No, don't do that! he barked as Bill finished his drink and started to pitch the empty container at the wall-disposal chute.

Didn't mean to snap, the inspector apologized, but that's our big problem.

Refuse. Did you ever think how many newspapers 150 billion people throw away every day? Or how many dispos-a-steins? Or dinner plates? We're working on this problem in research, day and night, but it's getting ahead of us. It's a nightmare. That Alco-Jolt container you're holding is one of our answers, but it's just a drop of water in the ocean. As the last drops of liquid evaporated from the container it began to writhe obscenely in Bill's hand, and, horrified, he dropped it to the floor, where it continued to twitch and change form, collapsing and flattening before his eyes.

We have to thank the mathematicians for that one, the inspector said. To a topologist a phonograph record or a teacup or a drink container all have the same shape, a solid with a hole in it, and any one can be deformed into any of the others by a continuous one-to-one transformation. So we made the containers out of memory plastic that return to their original shape once they're dry-there, you see. The container had finished its struggles and now lay quietly on the floor, a flat and finely grooved disk with a hole in the center. Inspector Jeyes picked it up and peeled the Alco-Jolt label off, and Bill could now read the other label that had been concealed, underneath. LOVE IN ORBIT, BOING! BOING!

BOING! SUNG BY THE COLEOPTERAE.

Ingenious, isn't it? The container has transformed itself into a phonograph record of one of the more obnoxious top tunes, an object that no Alco-Jolt addict could possibly discard. It is taken away and cherished and not dropped down a chute to make another problem for us. Inspector Jeyes took both of Bill's hands in his, and when he looked him directly in the eyes his own were more than a little damp. Say you'll do it, Bill-go into research. We have such a shortage of skilled, trained men, men who understand our problems. Maybe you didn't finish your fertilizeroperating course, but you can help, a fresh mind with fresh ideas. A new broom to help sweep things clean, hey? I'll do it, Bill said with determination. Refuse research is the sort of work a man can get his teeth into. It's yours. Room, board, and uniform, plus a handsome salary and all the refuse and rubbish you want. You'll never regret this A warbling siren interrupted him, and an instant later a sweating, excited man ran into the room.

Inspector, the rocket has really gone up this time. Operation Flying Saucer has failed! There is a team just down from astronomy, and they are fighting with our research team, just rolling over and over on the floor like animals Inspector Jeyes was out of the door before the messenger finished, and Bill ran after him, dropping down a pig-chute just on his heels. They had to take a chairway, but it was too slow for the inspector, and he bounded along like a rabbit from chair back to chair back, with Bill close behind. Then they burst into a laboratory filled with complex electronic equipment and writhing, fighting men rolling and kicking in a hopeless tangle.

Stop it at once, stop it! the inspector screamed, but no one listened.

Maybe I can help, Bill said, we sort of learned about this kind of thing in the troopers. Which ones are our G-men? The brown tunics- Say no more! Bill, humming cheerfully, waded into the grunting mob and with a rabbit punch here, a kidney crunch there, and maybe just a few of the karate blows that destroy the larynx he restored order to the room. None of the writhing intellectuals were physical types, and he went through them like a dose of salts, then began to extricate his new-found comrades from the mess.

What is it, Basurero, what has happened? Inspector Jeyes asked.

Them, sir, they barge in, shouting, telling us to call off Operation Flying Saucer just when we have upped our disposal record, we found that we can almost double the input rate What is Operation Flying Saucer? Bill asked, greatly confused as to what was going on. None of the astronomers were awake yet, though one was moaning, so the inspector took time to explain, pointing to a gigantic apparatus that filled one end of the room.

It may be the answer to our problems, he said. It's all those damn dispos-a-steins and trays from prepared dinners and the rest. I don't dare tell you how many cubic feet of them we have piled up! I might better say cubic miles. But Basurero here happened to be glancing through a magazine one day and found an article on a matter transmitter, and we put through an appropriation and bought the biggest model they had. We hooked it up to a belt and loaders-he opened a panel in the side of the machine, and Bill saw a torrent of used plastic utensils tearing by at a great clip-and fed all the damned crockery into the input end of the matter transmitter, and it has worked like a dream ever since. Bill was still baffled. But-where do they go? Where is the output end of the transmitter? An intelligent question, that was our big problem. At first we just lifted them into space but Astronomy said too many were coming back as meteorites and ruining their stellar observation. We upped the power and put them further out into orbit, but Navigation said we were committing a nuisance in space, creating a navigation hazard, and we had to look further. Basurero finally got the co-ordinates of the nearest star from Astronomy, and since then we have just been dumping them into the star and no problems and everyone is satisfied.

You fool, one of the astronomers said through puffed lips as he staggered to his feet, your damned flying garbage has started a nova in that starl We couldn't figure out what had triggered it until we found your request for information in the files and tracked down your harebrained operation here- Watch your language or it's back to sleep for you, bowb Bill growled.

The astronomer recoiled and paled, then continued in a milder tone.

Look, you must understand what has happened. You just can't feed all those carbon and hydrogen atoms into a sun and get away with it. The thing has gone nova, and I hear that they didn't manage to evacuate some bases on the inner planets completely Refuse removal is not without its occupational hazards. At least they died in the service of mankind. Well, yes, that's easy for you to say. What's done is done. But you have to stop your Flying Saucer operationat once! Why? Inspector Jeyes asked. I'll admit this little matter of a nova was unexpected, but it's over now and there is not much we can do about it. And you heard Basurero say that he has doubled the output rate here; we'll be into our backlog soon Why do you think your rate doubled? the astronomer snarled. You've got that star so unstable that it is consuming everything and is ready to turn into a supernova that will not only wipe out all the planets there but may reach as far as Helior and-this sun. Stop your infernal machine at once! The inspector sighed, then waved his hand in a tired yet final fashion. Turn it off, Basurero I should have known it was too good to last But, sir, the big engineer was wringing his hands in despair. We'll be back where we started, it'll begin to pile up again- Do as you are ordered! With a resigned sigh Basurero dragged over to the control board and threw a master switch. The clanging and rattling of the conveyors died away, and whining generators moaned down into silence. All about the room the sanitation men stood in huddled, depressed groups while the astronomers crawled back to consciousness and helped one another from the room. As the last one left he turned and, baring his teeth, spat out the words Garbage men! A hurled wrench clanged against the closed door and defeat was complete.

Well, you can't win them all, Inspector Jeyes said energetically, though his words had ahollow ring. Anyway, I've brought you some fresh blood, Basurero. This is Bill, a young fellow with bright ideas for your research staff. A pleasure, Basurero said, and swamped Bill's hands in one of his large paws. He was a big man, wide and fat and tall with olive skin and jet black hair that he wore almost -to his shoulders. C'mon, we're going to knock off for chow now; you come with me, and I'll sorta put you in the picture here and you tell me about yourself. They walked the pristine halls of the D of S while Bill filled his new boss in on his background. Basurero was so interested that he took a wrong turning and opened a door without looking. A torrent of plastic trays and beakers rushed out and reached up to his knees before he and Bill could force it shut again.

Do you see? he asked with barely restrained rage. We're swamped. All the available storage space used and still the stuff piles up. I swear to Krishna I don't know what's going to happen, we just don't have any more place to put it. He pulled a silver whistle from his pocket and blew fiercely on it. It made no sound at all. Bill slid over a bit, looking at him suspiciously, and Basurero scowled in return.

Don't look so damned frightened-I haven't stripped my gears. This is a Supersonic Robot Whistle, too high-pitched for the human ear, though the robots can hear it well enoughsee? With a humming of wheels a rubbish robot-a rubbot-rolled up and with quick motions of its pick-up arms began loading the plastic rubbish into its container.

That's a great idea, the whistle I mean, Bill said. Call a robot just like that whenever you want one. Do you think I could get one, now that I'm a G-man like you and all the rest? They're kind of special, Basurero told him, pushing through the correct door into the canteen. Hard to get, if you know what I mean. No I don't know what you mean. Do I get one or don't I? Basurero ignored him, peering closely at the menu, then dialing a number.

The quick-frozen redi-meal slid out, and he pushed it into the radar heater.

Well? Bill said.

If you must know, Basurero said, a little embarrassed, we get them out of breakfast-cereal boxes. They're really doggie whistles for the kiddies. I'll show you where the box dump is, and you can look for one for yourself. I'll do that, I want to call robots too. They took their heated meals to one of the tables, and between forkfuls Basurero scowled at the plastic tray he was eating out of, then stabbed it spitefully. See that, he said. We contribute to our own downfall. Wait until you see how these mount up now with the matter transmitter turned off. Have you tried dumping them in the ocean? Project Big Splash is working on that. I can't tell you much, since the whole thing is classified. You gotta realize that the oceans on this damned planet are covered over like everything else, and they're pretty grim by now, I tell you. We dumped into them as long as we could, until we raised the water level so high that waves came out of the inspection hatches at high tide.

We're still dumping, but at a much reduced rate. How could you possibly? Bill gaped.

Basurero looked around carefully, then leaned across the table, laid his index finger beside his nose, winked, smiled, and said shhhh in a hushed whisper.

Is it a secret? Bill asked.

You guessed it. Meteorology would be on us in a second if they found out.

What we do is evaporate and collect the sea water and dump the salt back into the ocean. Then we have secretly converted certain waste pipes to run the other way! As soon as we hear it is raining topside we pump our water up and let it spill out with the rain. We got Meteorology going half nuts. Every year since we started Project Big Splash the annual rainfall in the temperate zones has increased by three inches, and snowfall is so heavy at the poles that some of the top levels are collapsing under the weight. But Roll on the Refusel we keep dumping all the time! You won't say anything about this, classified you know. Not a word. It sure is a great idea. Smiling pridefully, Basurero cleaned his tray and reached over and pushed it into a disposal slot in the wall; but when he did this fourteen other trays came cascading out over the table. See! He grated his teeth, depressed in an instant. This is where the buck ends. We're the bottom level and everything dumped on every level up above ends up here, and we're being swamped with no place to store it and no way to get rid of it. I gotta run now. We'll have to put Emergency Plan Big Flea into action at once. He rose, and Bill followed him out the door.

Is Big Flea classified too? It won't be once it hits the fan. We've got a Health Department inspector bribed to find evidence of insect infestation in one of the dormitory blocks-one of the big ones, a mile high, a mile wide, a mile thick. Just think of that, 147,725,952,000 cubic feet of rubbish dump going to waste. They clean everyone out to fumigate the place and before they can get back in we fill it up with plastic trays. Don't they complain? Of course they complain, but what good does it do them? We just blame it on departmental error and tell them to send the complaint through channels, and channels on this planet really means something. You figure a tento twentyyear wait on most paper work. Here's your office. He pointed to an open doorway.

You settle down and study the records and see if you can come up with any ideas by the next shift. He hurried away.

It was a small office, but Bill was proud of it. He closed the door and admired the files, the desk, the swivel chair, the lamp, all made from a variety of discarded bottles, cans, boxes, casters, coasters, and such. But there would be plenty of time to appreciate it; now he had to get to work: He hauled open the top drawer in the file cabinet and stared at the blackclothed, mat-bearded, pasty-faced corpse that was jammed in there. He slammed the drawer shut and retreated quickly.

Here, here, he told himself firmly. You've seen enough bodies before, trooper, there's no need to get nervous over this one. He walked back and hauled the file open again and the corpse opened beady, gummy eyes and stared at him intensely.


Chapter 4 | Bill, the Galactic Hero | Chapter 6



Loading...