Slave Planet
Chapter 11

Public Domain

The work went on, for Cadnan as well as for the masters. Days passed and he began to improve slightly: he received no further discipline, and he was beginning to settle into a routine. Only thoughts of Dara disturbed him—those, and the presence of Marvor, who was still apparently waiting to make good his incomprehensible threat.

Marvor had said he was going to leave, but he still appeared every evening in the same room. Cadnan had hardly dared to question him, for fear of being drawn into the plan, whatever it was: he could only wait and watch and wish for someone to talk to. But, of course, there was no one.

And then, one day during the first part of his working shift, a master came into the room, the very master who had gone with Cadnan through his training. “You’re Cadnan?” he asked.

Cadnan said: “I am Cadnan.”

The master beckoned through the open door of Cadnan’s working-room, and two more masters appeared, strange ones, leading between them an elder. The elder, Cadnan saw at once, had lived through many matings: the green skin of his arms was turning to silver, and his eye was no longer bright, but dulling fast with age. He looked at the working-room and at the young Albert with blank caution.

“This one is called Gornom,” the master said. “He’ll be with you when you work. He’s going to help you work—you can teach him all he has to know. Just make sure you don’t let him handle the buttons until we give you the word. All right?”

Cadnan understood. “All right,” he said, and the three masters left the room without more words. The door shut behind them and Gornom visibly relaxed. Yet there was still wariness behind the old eye. “I work in the field,” he said after a second. “I am good worker in the field.”

Cadnan knew from gossip about the field: that was the place where the metal lay. Alberts worked there, digging it up and bringing it to the buildings where Cadnan and many like him took over the job. He nodded slowly, bending his body from the waist instead of from the neck like the masters, or Marvor. “If you are in the field,” he said, “why do you come here? This is not a place for diggers.”

“I am brought here,” Gornom said. “I am an elder many times. What the masters say, I do. Now they say I come here, and I come.”

Cadnan looked doubtful. “You are to work with me?”

“So the masters say.” That was unanswerable, and Cadnan accepted it. He flicked a glance at the TV screen which showed him the smelting process, and leaped for the buttons. After a few minutes of action he was finished: there was a slight breathing-space.

“I am to tell you what to do,” he said.

Gornom looked grave. “I see what it is you do,” he said. “It is a lesson. When you act for the masters, the great machines obey you.”

“It is true,” Cadnan said.

“This is the lesson,” Gornom said slowly, as if it were truly important. “We are shown the machines so that we may learn to be like the machines. When the master tells us what to do, we are to do it. There is nothing else.”

Cadnan thought about that. It made sense: it made a structure he could understand, and it made the world a less confusing place. “You have said a truth,” he judged at last.

“It is one of many truths,” Gornom said. And that was an invitation, Cadnan recognized. He hesitated no more than a second.

“Where may I learn the others?” But Gornom didn’t answer, and Cadnan’s breathing-space was over. He had to be back at the board, pushing buttons, watching carefully. Gornom stood behind him, peering over his shoulder with a cloudy eye. Neither said a word until the new spell of work was over. Then Cadnan repeated his question.

“It is not for all,” Gornom said distantly. “One must be chosen.”

“You have come to me,” Cadnan said. “You have been sent to me. Is this what you call chosen?”

It was the right answer, perhaps the only right answer. Gornom pretended to consider the matter for a minute, but his mind was already made up. “We are above you, on the floor over yours,” he said. “When our work is finished I will take you there.”

Cadnan imagined a parade of new truths, a store of knowledge that would lay all his questions to rest and leave him, as after a meal, entirely satisfied. He went back to work and contemplated the first of the truths: he was to be like the machine. He promised himself he would try to imitate the machine, doing only what the masters ordered. And for the rest of that day, indeed, life seemed to make perfect calming sense.

But, after all, Gornom was only an elder and not a master. He could be wrong.

The doubt appeared at the end of the day, but by then Gornom had the younger Albert in tow. They took the elevator up one flight and went to Gornom’s room: the novelty of all of this excited Cadnan so that he nearly forgot his new doubts. They shrank perceptibly without disappearing altogether.

Gornom opened the door of the new room. Inside, Cadnan saw six elders, sitting in a circle on the floor. The circle, incomplete, was open toward the door, and all six big eyes were staring at the newcomers. The floor was nearly bare: the leaves had been brushed into mounds that lay in the corners.

Without a word, Gornom sat in the circle and motioned Cadnan to a place beside him. Moving slowly and uncertainly, Cadnan came forward and sat down. There was a second of absolute silence.

One of the other elders said: “You bring a new one to us?”

“I bring a new one,” Gornom said.

The other elder, leaning forward from the waist, peered at Cadnan. His eye was larger than normal, and glittering cold. Cadnan, awestruck, neither spoke nor moved, and the elder regarded him for a time and then said abruptly: “Not all are called to the truth.”

“He has been called,” Gornom said. “He has been chosen.”

“How is he chosen?”

Gornom explained. When he had finished, a silence thick as velvet descended upon the room. Then, very suddenly, all the elders spoke at once.

“May the masters live forever.”

Cadnan, by this time, was nearly paralyzed with fright. He sat very still. The elders continued, in a slow, leaden chorus:

“May the masters live forever.

“May the words live forever.

“May the lessons live forever.

“May the truths live forever.”

Then the velvet silence came down again, but the words rang through it faintly until Gornom broke the spell with speech.

“The young one has come to learn. He has come to know the truths.” He looked around at the others and then went on: “His name is Cadnan. He wishes to have your names. Let him have your names.”

The elder who had spoken first identified himself as Lonak. The others gave their names in order: Dalor, Puna, Grudoc, Burlog, Montun. Cadnan stared with fascinated eyes at Puna, who was older than anyone he had ever seen. His skin was nearly all white, and in the dim room it seemed to have a faint shine. His voice was very high and thin, like a wind sighing in tall tree-branches. Cadnan shivered, but didn’t take his eye from Puna until, as if at a signal, all the elders rose. Awkwardly, then, Cadnan rose with them, again confused and still frightened.

He saw Gornom raise his hands over his head and chant: “Tall are the masters.”

All the others repeated the words.

“Wise are the masters.”

Cadnan, this time, repeated the phrase with the elders.

“Good are the masters.”

When the antiphon had been delivered Gornom waited a full second and then fell prostrate to the floor. The others followed his example, except for Cadnan, who, afraid to let himself fall on bare metal, crouched down slowly instead.

“Weak are the slaves,” Gornom whispered.

The answer was a whisper, too.

“Small are the slaves.”

The others whispered.

“They are like small ones all the days of their lives, and only the masters are elders.”

“The masters are elders.”

“As the machine obeys,” Gornom said, “so the slave obeys. As the tree obeys, so the slave obeys. As the metal obeys, so the slave obeys. As the ground obeys, so the slave obeys.”

“So the slave obeys.”

Then there was silence again, not as profound as before. Through it, Cadnan could hear the others whispering, but he couldn’t quite catch their words. He was later told what praying was, though he never had a chance to practice it.

And then everyone returned to the original circle, and squatted. In what was almost a normal tone Gornom said: “Here is our new one. He must be told.”

Puna himself rose. “I will tell him.” And Cadnan, frightened by the very look of the elder, could do nothing but follow him as he beckoned and went to a corner near a mound of leaves. The others, scattered, were eating. Cadnan picked up a leaf, but Puna took it gently out of his hand.

“We do not eat until it is over,” he said quietly.

Cadnan accepted this without words, and Puna told him the legend. During the entire tale, Cadnan, stock-still, didn’t even think of interrupting. At first his attention wandered to the leaves, but as Puna’s voice went on he listened more and more closely, and even his fright began to leave him under the legend’s fascination.

“Long ago, the masters come to the world, sent by the Great Elder. We are no more than children. We do not work, we do nothing except eat and sleep and live out our lives in the world. The Great Elder makes us the gift of talking and the gift of trees, and he makes the rules of the trees.

“Then he does nothing more for us. First we must become more than children, more than small ones.

“For this he sends the masters.

“The masters are good because they show us work and give us machines that have power. Our power is over the masters because of the machines. But we may not use such power. They are elder to us: they are wiser than we are. Only when we become so wise we use power against them, and in that day master and slave are one. In that day the Great Elder returns to his small ones.

“In this time there is the work, and the work makes us always more like the masters. We live in the buildings like masters. We work with machines like masters. We do what the masters say. Soon we are all the same.

“No one can tell when we are like masters in all things. We know of it when the Great Elder returns to us. All must watch and wait for that day. In this time, we only remember and tell ourselves the truths over and over. There are many truths and some I can not speak. Here are the others:

“The masters are our elders.

“The machines are under obedience to us while we obey the masters.

“The Great Elder wishes our obedience to the masters.

“If we disobey the masters the machines and the trees will not obey us, and there will be no more work and no small ones. For this is the order of the world: some obeying and some to be obeyed. It is visible and plain. When the chain is broken all the chain breaks.”

Puna paused, and then repeated the last sentence.

“When the chain is broken all the chain breaks.”

“It is true,” Cadnan said excitedly. “It is true. Yet there is more truth—”

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