Read A Fisherman of the Inland Sea: Stories Online

Authors: Ursula K. Le Guin

Tags: #Fiction

A Fisherman of the Inland Sea: Stories (7 page)

“The question is this: To what extent does the concept of illusion usefully describe a shared experience with elements of
interactivity?”

“Well,” Jaime said, “the interactivity could itself be
illusory. Joan of Arc and her voices.” But there was no conviction in his own voice, and Helena, who seemed to have taken
over the leadership of the Emergency Committee, pursued: “What do you think of inviting some of our guests to sit in on this
meeting?”

“Hold on,” Ike said. “You say ‘shared experience,’ but it’s not a shared experience; I don’t share it; there are others who
don’t; and what justification have you for claiming it’s shared? If these phantoms, these ‘guests,’ are impalpable, vanish
when you approach, inaudible, they’re not guests, they’re ghosts, you’re abandoning any effort at rationality—”

“Ike, I’m sorry, but you can’t deny their existence because you are unable to perceive them.”

“On what sounder basis could I deny their existence?”

“But you deny that we can use the same basis for accepting it.”

“Lack of hallucinations is considered the basis from which one judges another person’s perceptions as hallucinations.”

“Call them hallucinations, then,” Helena said, “although I liked ghosts better. ‘Ghosts’ may be in fact quite accurate. But
we don’t know how to coexist with ghosts. It’s not something we were trained in. We have to learn how to do it as we go along.
And believe me, we have to. They are not going away. They are here, and what ‘here’ is is changing too. Maybe you could be
very useful to us, if you were willing to be, Ike, just because you aren’t aware of—of our guests, and the changes. But we
who are aware of them have to learn what kind of existence they have, and why. For you to go on denying that they have any
is obstructive to the work we’re trying to do.”

“Whom the gods would destroy they first drive mad,” Ike said, getting up from his seat at the conference table. Nobody else
said anything. They all looked embarrassed, looked down. He left the room in silence.

There was a group of people in CC Corridor running and laughing. “Head ‘em off at the pass!” yelled a big
man, Stiernen of Flight Engineering, waving his arms as if at some horde or crowd, and a woman shouted, “They’re bison! They’re
bison! Let ‘em go down C Corridor, there’s more room!” Ike walked straight ahead, looking straight ahead.

“There’s a vine growing by the front door,” Susan said at breakfast. Her tone was so complacent that he thought nothing of
it for a moment except that he was glad to hear her speak normally for once.

Then he said, “Sue—”

“What can I do about it, Ike? What do you want? You want me to lie, say nothing, pretend there isn’t a vine growing there?
But there is. It looks like a scarlet runner bean. It’s there.”

“Sue, vines grow in dirt. Earth. There is no earth in Spes.”

“I know that.”

“How can you both know it and deny it?”

“It’s going backwards, Dad,” Noah said in his new, slightly husky voice.

“What is?”

“Well, there were the people first. All those weird old women and cripples and things, remember, and then all the other kinds
of people. And then there started being animals, and now plants and stuff. Wow, did you know they saw whales in the Reservoirs,
Mom?”

She laughed. “I only saw the horses on the Common,” she said.

“They were really pretty,” Noah said.

“I didn’t see them,” Ike said, “I didn’t see horses on the Common.”

“There were a whole lot of them. They wouldn’t let you get anywhere near, though. I guess they were wild. There were some
really neat spotted ones. Appaloosa, Nina said.”

“I didn’t see horses,” Ike said. He put his face in his hands and began to cry.

“Hey, Dad,” he heard Noah’s voice, and then Susan’s, “It’s OK, No. It’s OK. Go on to school. It’s all right, sweetie.” The
door hissed.

Her hands were on his head, smoothing his hair, and on his shoulders, gently rocking and shaking him. “It’s OK, Ike… ”

“No, it’s not. It’s not OK. It’s not all right. It’s all gone crazy. It’s all ruined, ruined, wasted, wrong. Gone wrong.”

Susan was silent for a long time, kneading and rocking his shoulders. She said at last, “It scares me when I think about it,
Ike. It seems like something supernatural, and I don’t think there is anything supernatural. But if I don’t think about it
in words like that, if I just look at it, look at the people and the—the horses and the vine by the door—it makes sense. How
did we, how could we have thought we could just leave? Who do we think we are? All it is, is we brought ourselves with us
… The horses and the whales and the old women and the sick babies. They’re just us, we’re them, they’re here.”

He said nothing for a while. Finally he drew a long breath. “So,” he said. “Go with the flow. Embrace the unexplainable. Believe
because it’s unbelievable. Who cares about understanding, anyhow? Who needs it? Things make a lot better sense if you just
don’t think about them. Maybe we could all have lobotomies and really simplify life.”

She took her hands from his shoulders and moved away.

“After the lobotomy, I guess we can have electronic brain implants,” she said. “And sonar headbands. So we don’t bump into
ghosts. Is surgery the answer to all our problems?”

He turned around then, but her back was to him.

“I’m going to the hospital,” she said, and left.

“Hey! Look out!” they shouted. He did not know what they saw him walking into—a herd of sheep, a troop of naked dancing savages,
a cypress swamp—he did
not care. He saw the Common, the corridors, the cubes.

Noah came in to change his clothes that he said were mud-stained from tag football in the dirt that had covered all the astroturf
in the Common, but Ike walked on plastic grass through dustless, germless air. He walked through the great elms and chestnuts
that stood twenty meters high, not between them. He walked to the elevators and pressed the buttons and came to the Health
Center.

“Oh, but Esther was released this morning!” the nurse said, smiling.

“Released?”

“Yes. The little black girl came with your wife’s note, first thing this morning.”

“May I see the note?”

“Sure. It’s in her file, just hold on—” She handed it over. It was not a note from Susan. It was in Esther’s scrawling hand,
addressed to Isaac Rose. He unfolded it.

I am going up in the mountains for a while.

With love,
Esther.

Outside the Health Center he stood looking down the corridors. They ran to left, to right, and straight ahead. They were 2.2
meters high, 2.6 meters wide, painted light tan, with colored stripes on the grey floors. The blue stripes ended at the door
of the Health Center, or started there, ending and starting were the same thing, but the white arrows set in the blue stripes
every 3 meters pointed to the Health Center, not away from it, so they ended there, where he stood. The floors were light
grey, except for the colored stripes, and perfectly smooth and almost level, for in Area 8 the curvature of Spes was barely
perceptible. Lights shone from panels in the ceilings of the corridors at intervals of 5 meters. He knew all the intervals,
all the specifications, all the materials, all the relationships. He had them all in his mind. He had thought about them for
years. He had reasoned them. He had planned them.

Nobody could be lost in Spes. All the corridors led to known places. You came to those places following the arrows and the
colored stripes. If you followed every corridor and took every elevator, you would never get lost and always end up safe where
you started from. And you would never stumble, because all the floors were of smooth metal polished and painted light grey,
with colored stripes and white arrows guiding you to the desired end.

Ike took two steps and stumbled, falling violently forward. Under his hands was something rough, irregular, painful. A rock,
a boulder, protruded through the smooth metal floor of the corridor. It was dark brownish grey veined with white, pocked and
cracked; a little scurf of yellowish lichen grew near his hands. The heel of his right hand hurt, and he raised it to look
at it. He had grazed the skin in falling on the rock. He licked the tiny film of blood from the graze. Squatting there, he
looked at the rock and then past it. He saw nothing but the corridor. He would have nothing but the rock, until he found her.
The rock and the taste of his own blood. He stood up.

“Esther!”

His voice echoed faintly down the corridors.

“Esther, I can’t see. Show me how to see!”

There was no answer.

He set off, walking carefully around the rock, walking carefully forward. It was a long way and he was never sure he was not
lost. He was not sure where he was, though the climbing got steeper and harder and the air began to be very thin and cold.
He was not sure of anything until he heard his mother’s voice. “Isaac, dear, are you awake?” she asked rather sharply. He
turned and saw her sitting beside Esther on an outcropping of granite beside the steep, dusty trail. Behind them, across a
great dropping gulf of air, snow peaks shone in the high, clear light. Esther looked at him. Her eyes were clear also, but
dark, and she said, “Now we can go down.”

T
HE
A
SCENT OF THE
N
ORTH
F
ACE

From the diary of Simon Interthwaite of the First Lovejoy Street Expedition

2/21.
Robert has reached Base Camp with five Sherbets. He brought several copies of the
Times
from last month, which we devoured eagerly. Our team is now complete. Tomorrow the Advance Party goes up. Weather holds.

2/22.
Accompanied Advance Party as far as the col below The Verandah before turning back. Winds up to 40 mph in gusts, but weather
holds. Tonight Peter radioed all well at Verandah Camp.

The Sherbets are singing at their campfires.

2/23.
Making ready. Tightened gossels. Weather holds.

2/24.
Reached Verandah Camp easily in one day’s climb. Tricky bit where the lattice and tongue and groove join, but Advance Party
had left rope in place and we negotiated the overhang without real difficulty. Omu Ba used running jump and arrived earlier
than rest of party. Inventive but undisciplined. Bad example to other Sherbets. Verandah Camp is level, dry, sheltered, far
more comfortable than Base. Glad to be out of the endless rhododendrons. Snowing tonight.

2/25.
Immobilized by snow.

2/26.
Same.

2/27.
Same. Finished last sheets of
Times
(adverts).

2/28.
Derek, Nigel, Colin, and I went up in blinding snow and wind to plot course and drive pigils. Visibility very poor. Nigel
whined.

Turned back at noon, reached Verandah Camp at 3 pip emma.

2/29.
Driving rain and wind. Omu Ba drunk since 2/27. What on? Stove alcohol found to be low. Inventive but undisciplined. Chastisement
difficult in circumstances.

2/30.
Robert roped right up to the North-East Overhang. Forced to turn back by Sherbets’ dread of occupants. Insuperable superstition.
We must eliminate plans for that route and go straight for the Drain Pipe. We cannot endure much longer here crowded up in
this camp without newspapers. There is not room for six men in our tent, and we hear the sixteen Sherbets fighting continually
in theirs. I see now that the group is unnecessarily numerous even if some are under 5 foot 2 inches in height. Ten men, handpicked,
would be enough. Visibility zero all day. Snow, rain, wind.

2/31.
Hail, sleet, fog. Three Sherbets have gone missing.

3/1.
Out of Bovril. Derek very low.

3/4.
Missed entries during blizzard. Today bright sun, no wind. Snow dazzling on lower elevations; from here we cannot see the
heights. Sherbets returned from unexplained absence with Ovaltine. Spirits high. Digging out and making ready all day for
ascent (two groups) tomorrow.

3/5.
Success! We are on the Verandah Roof! View overwhelming. Unattained summit of 2618 clearly visible in the SE. Second Party
(Peter, Robert, eight Sherbets) not here yet. Windy and exposed campsite on steep slope. Shingles slippery with rain and sleet.

3/6.
Nigel and two Sherbets went back down to the North Edge to meet Second Party. Returned 4 pip emma without having sighted
them. They must have been delayed at Verandah Camp. Anxiety. Radio silent. Wind rising.

3/7.
Colin strained shoulder on rope climbing up to the Window. Stupid, childish prank. Whether or not there are occupants, the
Sherbets are very strong on not disturbing them. No sign of Second Party. Radio messages enigmatic, constant interference
from KWJJ Country Music Station. Windy, but clear weather holds.

3/8.
Resolved to go up tomorrow if weather holds. Mended doggles, replaced worn pigil-holders. Sherbets noncommittal.

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