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Hamin was studying his pipe. Olos looked very serious.
Gurgeh held out his hands in a gesture of resigned helplessness. 'What more can I say?'
'Would you be prepared to& cooperate, though?' Olos said.
Gurgeh looked inquisitive. Olos reached slowly over and tapped the rim of Gurgeh's glass. 'Something
that would& ring true,' he said softly.
Gurgeh watched the two apices exchange glances. He waited for them to make their play.
'Documentary evidence,' Hamin said after a moment, talking to his pipe. 'Film of you looking worried
over a bad board-position. Maybe even an interview. We could arrange these things without your
cooperation, naturally, but it would be easier, less fraught for all concerned, with your aid.' The old apex
sucked on his pipe. Olos drank, glancing at the romantic antics of the dance troupe.
Gurgeh looked surprised. 'You mean, lie? Participate in the construction of your false reality?'
'Ourreal reality, Gurgeh,' Olos said quietly. 'The official version; the one that will have documentary
evidence to support it& the one that will be believed.'
Gurgeh grinned broadly. 'I'd be delighted to help. Of course; I shall regard it as a challenge to produce
a definitively abject interview for popular consumption. I'll even help you work out positions so awful
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even I can't get out of them.' He raised his glass to them. 'After all; it's the game that matters, is it not?'
Hamin snorted, his shoulders shook. He sucked on the pipe again and through a veil of smoke said, 'No
true game-player could say more.' He patted Gurgeh on the shoulder. 'Mr Gurgeh, even if you choose
not to avail yourself of the facilities my house has to offer, I hope you'll stay with us for a while. I should
enjoy talking with you. Will you stay?'
'Why not?' Gurgeh said, and he and Hamin raised their glasses to each other; Olos sat back, laughing
silently. Together the three turned to watch the dancers, who had now formed a copulatorily
complicated pattern of bodies in a carnal jigsaw, still keeping, Gurgeh was impressed to note, to the beat
of the music.
He stayed at the house for the next fifteen days. He talked, guardedly, with the old rector during that
time. He still felt they didn't really know each other when he left, but perhaps they knew a little more of
each other's societies.
Hamin obviously found it hard to believe the Culture really did do without money. 'But what if Ido want
something unreasonable?'
'What?'
'My own planet?' Hamin wheezed with laughter.
'How can you own a planet?' Gurgeh shook his head.
'But supposing I wanted one?'
'I suppose if you found an unoccupied one you could land without anybody becoming annoyed&
perhaps that would work. But how would you stop other people landing there too?'
'Could I not buy a fleet of warships?'
'All our ships are sentient. You could certainlytry telling a ship what to do& but I don't think you'd get
very far.'
'Your ships think they're sentient!' Hamin chuckled.
'A common delusion shared by some of our human citizens.'
Hamin found the Culture's sexual mores even more fascinating. He was at once delighted and outraged
that the Culture regarded homosexuality, incest, sex-changing, hermaphrodicy and sexual characteristic
alteration as just something else people did, like going on a cruise or changing their hair-style.
Hamin thought this must take all the fun out of things. Didn't the Culture forbidanything ?
Gurgeh attempted to explain there were no written laws, but almost no crime anyway. There was the
occasional crime of passion (as Hamin chose to call it), but little else. It was difficult to get away with
anything anyway, when everybody had a terminal, but there were very few motives left, too.
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'But if someone kills somebody else?'
Gurgeh shrugged. 'They're slap-droned.'
'Ah! This sounds more like it. What does this drone do?'
'Follows you around and makes sure you never do it again.'
'Is that all?'
'What more do you want? Social death, Hamin; you don't get invited to too many parties.'
'Ah; but in your Culture, can't you gatecrash?'
'I suppose so,' Gurgeh conceded. 'But nobody'd talk to you.'
As for what Hamin told Gurgeh about the Empire, it only made him appreciate what Shohobohaum Za
had said; that it was a gem, however vicious and indiscriminate its cutting edges might be. It was not so
difficult to understand the warped view the Azadians had of what they called 'human nature' - the phrase
they used whenever they had to justify something inhuman and unnatural - when they were surrounded
and subsumed by the self-created monster that was the Empire of Azad, and which displayed such a
fierce instinct (Gurgeh could think of no other word) for self-preservation.
The Empirewanted to survive; it was like an animal, a massive, powerful body that would only let certain
cells or viruses survive within it and as a matter of course killed off any and all others, automatically and
unthinkingly. Hamin himself used this analogy when he compared revolutionaries to cancer. Gurgeh tried
to say that single cells were single cells, while a conscious collection of hundreds of billions of them - or a
conscious device made from arrays of picocircuitry, for that matter - was simply incomparable& but
Hamin refused to listen. It was Gurgeh, not he, who'd missed the point.
The rest of the time Gurgeh spent walking in the forest, or swimming in the warm, slack sea. The slow
rhythm of Hamin's house was built around meals, and Gurgeh learned to take great care in dressing for
these, eating them, talking to the guests - old and new, as people came and went - and relaxing
afterwards, bloated and spacy, continuing to talk, and watching the deliberate entertainment of - usually -
erotic dances, and the involuntary cabaret of changing sexual alliances amongst the guests, dancers,
servants and house staff. Gurgeh was enticed many times, but never tempted. He found the Azadian
females more and more attractive all the time, and not just physically& but used his genofixed glands in a
negative, even contrary way, to stay carnally sober in the midst of the subtly exhibited orgy around him.
A pleasant enough few days. The rings did not jab him, and nobody shot at him. He and Flere-Imsaho
got back safely to the module on the roof of the Grand Hotel a couple of days before the Imperial Fleet
was due to depart for Echronedal. Gurgeh and the drone would have preferred to take the module,
which was perfectly capable of making the crossing by itself, but Contact had forbidden that - the effect
on the Admiralty of discovering that something no larger than a lifeboat could outstrip their battlecruisers
was not something to be contemplated - and the Empire had refused permission for the alien machine to
be conveyed inside an imperial craft. So Gurgeh would have to make the journey with the Fleet like
everybody else.
'You thinkyou've got problems,' Flere-Imsaho said bitterly. 'They'll be watching us all the time; on the
liner during the crossing and then once we're in the castle. That means I've got to stay inside this
ridiculous disguise all day and all night until the games are over. Why couldn't you have lost in the first
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round like you were supposed to? We could have told them where to insert their Fire Planet and been
back on a GSV by now.'
'Oh, shut up, machine.'
As it turned out, they needn't have returned to the module; there was nothing more to take or pack. He [ Pobierz całość w formacie PDF ]