Here begins a happy day in 2381. The morning sun is high enough to touch the uppermost fifty stories of Urban Monad 116. Soon the building’s entire eastern face will glitter like the bosom of the sea at daybreak. Charles Mattern’s window, activated by the dawn’s early photons, deopaques. He stirs. God bless, he thinks. His wife yawns and stretches. His four children, who have been awake for hours, now can officially start their day. They rise and parade around the bedroom, singing: God bless, god bless, god bless!
God bless us every one!
God bless Daddo, god bless Mommo, god bless you and me!
God bless us all, the short and tall,
Give us fer- til- i-tee!
They rush toward their parents’ sleeping platform. Mattern rises and embraces them. Indra is eight, Sandor is seven, Marx is five, Cleo is three. It is Charles Mattern’s secret shame that his family is so small. Can a man with only four children truly be said to have reverence for life? But Principessa’s womb no longer flowers. The medics have declared that she will not bear again. At twenty-seven she is sterile. Mattern is thinking of taking in a second woman. He longs to hear the yowls of an infant again; in any case, a man must do his duty to god.
Sandor says, “Daddo, Siegmund is still here.”
The child points. Mattern sees. On Principessa’s side of the sleeping platform, curled against the inflation pedal, lies fourteen-year-old Siegmund Kluver, who had entered the Mattern home several hours after midnight to exercise his rights of propinquity. Siegmund is fond of older women. He has become quite notorious in the past few months. Now he snores; he has had a good workout. Mattern nudges him. “Siegmund? Siegmund, it’s morning!” The young man’s eyes open. He smiles at Mattern, sits up, reaches for his wrap. He is quite handsome. He lives on the 787th floor and already has one child and another on the way.
“Sorry,” says Siegmund. “I overslept Principessa really drains me. A savage, she is!”
“Yes, she’s quite passionate,” Mattern agrees. So is Siegmund’s wife, Mamelon, according to what Mattern has heard. When she is a little older, Mattern plans to try her. Next spring, perhaps.
Siegmund sticks his head under the molecular cleanser. Principessa now has left the bed. Nodding faintly to her husband, she kicks the pedal and the platform deflates swiftly. She begins to program breakfast. Indra, reaching forth a pale, almost transparent little hand, switches on the screen. The wall blossoms with light and color. “Good morning,” says the screen heartily. “The external temperature, if anybody’s interested, is 28°. Today’s population figure at Urbmon 116 is 881,115, which is +102 since yesterday and +14,187 since the first of the year. God bless, but we’re slowing down! Across the way at Urbmon 117 they’ve added 131 since yesterday, including quads for Mrs. Hula Jabotinsky. She’s eigh teen and has had seven previous. A servant of god, isn’t she? The time is now 0620. In exactly forty minutes Urbmon 116 will be honored by the presence of Nicanor Gortman, the visiting sociocomputator from Hell, who can be recognized by his distinctive outbuilding costume in crimson and ultra violet. Dr. Gortman will be the guest of the Charles Mat-terns of the 799th floor. Of course we’ll treat him with the same friendly blessmanship we show one another. God bless Nicanor Gortman! Turning now to news from the lower levels of Urbmon 116—”
Principessa says, “Hear that, children? We’ll have a guest, and we must be blessworthy toward him. Come and eat.”
When he has cleansed himself, dressed, and breakfasted, Charles Mattern goes to the thousandth- .oor landing stage to meet Nicanor Gortman. As he rises through the building to the summit, Mattern passes the .oors on which his brothers and sisters and their families live. Three brothers, three sisters. Four of them younger than he, two older. All quite successful. One brother died, unpleasantly, young. Jeffrey. Mattern rarely thinks of Jeffrey. Now he is passing through the .oors that make up Louisville, the administrative sector. In a moment he will meet his guest. Gortman has been touring the tropics and is about to visit a typical urban monad in the temperate zone. Mattern is honored to have been named the of.cial host. He steps out on the landing stage, which is at the very tip of Urbmon 116. A force- .eld shields him from the .erce winds that sweep the lofty spire. He looks to his left and sees the western face of Urban Monad 115 still in darkness. To his right, Urbmon 117’s eastern windows sparkle. Bless Mrs. Hula Jabotinsky and her eleven littles, Mattern thinks. Mattern can see other urbmons in the row, stretching on and on toward the horizon, towers of superstressed concrete three kilometers high, tapering ever so gracefully. It is a thrilling sight. God bless, he thinks. God bless, god bless, god bless!
He hears a cheerful hum of rotors. A quickboat is landing. Out steps a tall, sturdy man dressed in high- spectrum garb. He must surely be the visiting sociocomputator from Hell.
“Nicanor Gortman?” Mattern asks.
“Bless god. Charles Mattern?”
“God bless, yes. Come.”
Hell is one of the eleven cities of Venus, which man has reshaped to suit himself. Gortman has never been on Earth before. He speaks in a slow, stolid way, no lilt in his voice at all; the in.ection reminds Mattern of the way they talk in Urbmon 84, which Mattern once visited on a .eld trip. He has read Gortman’s papers: solid stuff, closely reasoned. “I particularly liked ‘Dynamics of the Hunting Ethic,’ ” Mattern tells him while they are in the dropshaft. “Remarkable. A revelation.”
“You really mean that?” Gortman asks, flattered.
“Of course. I try to keep up with the better Venusian journals. It’s so fascinating to read about alien customs. Such as hunting wild animals.”
“There are none on Earth?”
“God bless, no,” Mattern says. “We couldn’t allow that! But I love gaining insight into different ways of life.”
“My essays are escape literature for you?” asks Gortman.
Mattern looks at him strangely. “I don’t understand the reference.”
“Escape literature. What you read to make life on Earth more bearable for yourself.”
“Oh, no. Life on Earth is quite bearable, let me assure you. There’s no need for escape literature. I study offworld journals for amusement. And to obtain a necessary parallax, you know, for my own work,” says Mattern. They have reached the 799th level. “Let me show you my home .rst.” He steps from the drop- shaft and beckons to Gortman. “This is Shanghai. I mean, that’s what we call this block of forty .oors, from 761 to 800. I’m in the next- to- top level of Shanghai, which is a mark of my professional status. We’ve got twenty- .ve cities altogether in Urbmon 116. Reykjavik’s on the bottom and Louisville’s on the top.”
“What determines the names?”
“Citizen vote. Shanghai used to be Calcutta, which I personally prefer, but a little bunch of malcontents on the 778th floor rammed through a referendum in ’75.”
“I thought you had no malcontents in the urban monads,” Gortman says.
Mattern smiles. “Not in the usual sense. But we allow certain conflicts to exist. Man wouldn’t be man without conflicts, eh? Even here. Eh?”
They are walking down the eastbound corridor toward Mattern’s home. It is now 0710, and children are streaming from their apartments in groups of three and four, rushing to get to school Mattern waves to them. They sing as they run along. Mattern says, “We average 6.2 children per family on this .oor. It’s one of the lowest figures in the building, I have to admit. High-status people don’t seem to breed well. They’ve got a floor in Prague—I think it’s 117— that averages 9.9 per family! Isn’t that glorious?”
“You are speaking with irony?” Gortman asks.
“Not at all.” Mattern feels an uptake of tension. “We like children. We approve of breeding. Surely you realized that before you set out on this tour of—”
“Yes, yes,” says Gortman, hastily. “I was aware of the general cultural dynamic. But I thought perhaps your own attitude—”
“Ran counter to norm? Just because I have a scholar’s detachment, you shouldn’t assume that I disapprove in any way of my cultural matrix. Perhaps you’re guilty of projecting your own disapproval, eh?”
“I regret the implication. And please don’t think I feel the slightest negative attitudes in relation to your matrix, although I admit your world seems quite strange to me. Bless god, let us not have strife, Charles.”
“God bless, Nicanor. I didn’t mean to seem touchy.”
They smile. Mattern is dismayed by his show of irritability.
Gortman says, “What is the population of the 799th floor?”
“805, last I heard.”
“And of Shanghai?”
“And of Urbmon 116?”
“And there are fifty urban monads in this constellation of houses?”
“Making some 40,000,000 people,” Gortman says. “Or somewhat more than the entire human population of Venus. Remarkable!”
“And this isn’t the biggest constellation, not by any means!” Mattern’s voice rings with pride. “Sansan is bigger, and so is Boshwash! And there are several larger ones in Europe—Berpar, Wienbud, I think two others. With more being planned!”
“A global population of—”
“—75,000,000,000,” Mattern cries. “God bless! There’s never been anything like it! No one goes hungry! Everybody happy! Plenty of open space! God’s been good to us, Nicanor!” He pauses before a door labeled 79915. “Here’s my home. What I have is yours, dear guest” They go in.
Mattern’s home is quite adequate. He has nearly ninety square meters of .oor space. The sleeping platform deflates; the children’s cots retract; the furniture can easily be moved to provide play area. Most of the room, in fact, is empty. The screen and the data terminal occupy two-dimensional areas of wall that in an earlier era had to be taken up by bulky television sets, bookcases, desks, .le drawers, and other encumbrances. It is an airy, spacious environment, particularly for a family of just six.
The children have not yet left for school; Principessa has held them back, to meet the guest, and so they are restless. As Mattern enters, Sandor and Indra are struggling over a cherished toy, the dream- stirrer. Mattern is astounded. Con.ict in the home? Silently, so their mother will not notice, they .ght.
Sandor hammers his shoes into his sister’s shins. Indra, wincing, claws her brother’s cheek. “God bless,” Mattern says sharply. “Somebody wants to go down the chute, eh?” The children gasp. The toy drops. Everyone stands at attention. Principessa looks up, brushing a lock of dark hair from her eyes; she has been busy with the youngest child and has not even heard them come in.
Mattern says, “Con.ict sterilizes. Apologize to each other.”
Indra and Sandor kiss and smile. Meekly Indra picks up the toy and hands it to Mattern, who gives it to his younger son, Marx. They are all staring now at the guest. Mattern says to Gortman, “What I have is yours, friend.” He makes introductions. Wife, children. The scene of con.ict has unnerved him a little, but he is relieved when Gortman produces four small boxes and distributes them to the children. Toys. A blessful gesture. Mattern points to the de.ated sleeping platform. “This is where we sleep,” he explains. “There’s ample room for three. We wash at the cleanser, here. Do you like privacy when voiding waste matter?”
“You press this button for the privacy shield. We excrete in this. Urine here, feces there. Everything is reprocessed, you understand. We’re a thrifty folk in the urbmons.”
“Of course,” Gortman says.
Principessa says, “Do you prefer that we use the shield when we excrete? I understand some outbuilding people do.”
“I would not want to impose my customs on you,” says Gortman.
Smiling, Mattern says, “We’re a post- privacy culture, naturally. But it wouldn’t be any trouble for us to press the button, if—” He falters. A troublesome new thought. “There’s no general nudity taboo on Venus, is there? I mean, we have only this one room, and—”
“I am adaptable,” Gortman insists. “A trained sociocomputator must be a cultural relativist, of course!”
“Of course,” Mattern agrees, and he laughs ner vous ly.
Principessa excuses herself from the conversation and sends the children, still clutching their new toys, off to school.
Mattern says, “Forgive me for being overobvious, but I must bring up the matter of your sexual prerogatives. We three will share a single platform. My wife is available to you, as am I. Within the urbmon it is improper to refuse any reasonable request, so long as no injury is involved. Avoidance of frustration, you see, is the primary rule of a society such as ours, where even minor frictions could lead to uncontrollable oscillations of disharmony. And do you know our custom of nightwalking?”
“I’m afraid I—”
“Doors are not locked in Urbmon 116. We have no personal property worth guarding, and we all are socially adjusted. At night it is quite proper to enter other homes. We exchange partners in this way all the time; usually wives stay home and husbands migrate, though not necessarily. Each of us has access at any time to any other adult member of our community.”
“Strange,” says Gortman. “I’d think that in a society where there are so many people living so close together, an exaggerated respect for privacy would develop, rather than a communal freedom.”
“In the beginning we had many notions of privacy. God bless, they were allowed to erode! Avoidance of frustration must be our goal, otherwise impossible tensions develop. And privacy is frustration.”
“So you can go into any room in this whole gigantic building and sleep with—”
“Not the whole building,” Mattern says, interrupting. “Only Shanghai. We frown on nightwalking beyond one’s own city.” He chuckles. “We do impose a few little restrictions on ourselves, you see, so that our freedoms don’t pall.”
Gortman turns toward Principessa. She wears a loinband and a metallic cup over her left breast. She is slender but voluptuously constructed, and even though her childbearing days are over she has not lost the sensual glow of young womanhood. Mattern is proud of her, despite everything.
Mattern says, “Shall we begin our tour of the building?”
They go toward the door. Gortman bows gracefully to Principessa as he and Mattern leave. In the corridor, the visitor says, “Your family is smaller than the norm, I see.”
It is an excruciatingly impolite statement, but Mattern is able to be tolerant of his guest’s faux pas. Mildly he replies, “We would have had more children, but my wife’s fertility had to be terminated surgically. It was a great tragedy for us.”
“You have always valued large families here?”
“We value life. To create new life is the highest virtue. To prevent life from coming into being is the darkest sin. We all love our big bustling world. Does it seem unendurable to you? Do we seem unhappy?”
“You seem surprisingly well adjusted,” Gortman says. “Considering that—” He stops.
“Go on.” Excerpted from The World Inside by Robert Silverberg.
Copyright © 1971 by Agberg, Ltd.
Published in March 2010 by Tom Doherty Associates, LLC.
All rights reserved. This work is protected under copyright laws and reproduction
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Winner of four Hugo Awards and five Nebula Awards, Robert Silverberg is one of the giants of science fiction and fantasy. A Science Fiction Writers of America Grand Master, he has written countless short stories, nonfiction books, and novels, including Dying Inside, A Time of Changes, and the bestselling Lord Valentine’s Castle. Silverberg lives in Oakland, California, with his wife, writer Karen Haber.