1.12 Silk and Money
1.12.1 Alenby and Ada in a Land Glowing with Silk and Money
En route from Roissy to Colombey-les-Deux-Eglises
About 11 am Wednesday 2 April 1987
Following Ada's directions Alenby took back roads in a generally south-easterly direction. Always conscious of safety, he drove slowly and particularly carefully until he got acquainted with the hycell's handling characteristics: Torque exceptionally high from a standing start, fading rapidly with increasing speed. Cornering quick, precise. Road-feel instantly adjustable to suit conditions. Wide-track tweels hint at off-road capability....
Checking out the new vehicle claimed Alenby's attention for a time, but did little to raise his spirits. The forced abandonment of his Borstal had been a crushing blow. He was further given to despair at the realization that oyster, most esteemed of molluscs, was off his menu. And now, as little as ten or twenty kilometers from the airport, his mood was further darkened by his perception of a scene of desolation.
In u, it seemed, the environs of Paris were either far less developed than in U, or were in a far more advanced state of demolition. Where he remembered signs of healthy commercial growth--the hum of aircraft overhead, the roar and back-up beeps of trucks, the thud of wrecking balls knocking down tall buildings in preparation for erecting taller ones--he saw only cultivated fields and greenhouses. Where he remembered traffic clogged on smooth asphalt, he saw empty roadways, for the most part unsealed and poorly maintained.
In contrast to Alenby's mood, Ada's bubbled over with good feeling. She had a word of approval for everything in sight--the birds, the blue sky, and especially the people running along he well-maintained foot paths alongside the road. "Running has become more and more popular in recent years," she told him. "In fact, the pedestrian Tour de France now outshines the traditional velocipedian event. Perfectly natural, really. People enjoy doing what they are naturally good at, and the human body is particularly well adapted to running. Although myself, I prefer swimming...."
Alenby also preferred swimming--he'd been quite good at it in high school. But he refused to be mollified. He had such good reason to be surly, it would be a pity to waste it. So he dredged up a remark from the bottom of his reservoir of ill-feeling: "Don't these...runners have any work to attend to? So his only response was a noncommittal "hm." But his outlook brightened a little way further on, where the sealed roadway gave way to gravel. He was elated to hear the crunch of gravel under the tweels. Like any professional stunt driver, he knew that a looser surface often presented the possibility of making skidding stunt-turns that were at once spectacular and perfectly safe.
"A pleasant morning for a drive," he said in a comparatively cheerful tone. "To your country house, Château Mourey, in Chezelet, I believe you said?"
"Yes, we’ll move in tomorrow morning," said Ada. "But for now, Colombey-les-Deux-Eglises. I made a reservation for lunch at a charming, out-of-the-way restaurant there. You'll love it!"
"Colombey-les-Deux-Eglises," Alenby repeated reflectively. "That means—Restaurant Les Dhuits!" He slammed the gear lever into second, toggled the SSS to ON and accelerated sharply--not as sharply as he was wont, but enough so to cause the car to squat for an instant, then spring forward with a satisfying, albeit simulated, snarl of power.
Lunch at the charming Restaurant Les Dhuits--an attractive thought. But in u, could the place still be charming? His last visit came to mind: a pair of sardines grilled crisp and golden brown, side slashes chewy and salty at the edges, and inside steaming ivory.... But now, it seemed, such simple pleasures lay outside the law. One expected about as much charm as a Rotarians' prayer breakfast .
To ease the pain of that thought he focused on the thing he did well--driving. He set the hycell threading rapidly among back roads leading east-south-east towards Colombey-les-Deux-Eglises. From time to time he slowed down and put the car through a few sharp turns to further check its handling. The verdict: good--good enough to offset the vehicle's sluggish acceleration. He flipped off the simulated engine sound—didn’t need it any more, for the subdued rumble of tweels on gravel was enough to put him in rapport with the machine and the road. He would have been happy if there had been a nice lunch in prospect. He glanced at Ada, noted the smile playing about her lips, and he thought: she’s happy, because she doesn’t know any better. Or perhaps she's having another aftershock....
Presently they entered the gently undulating, chalky countryside of southern Champagne—an extended patchwork of beige and off-white fields, some smooth, some striated in cultivation in a way that emphasized their swelling contours, all irregularly mottled in the distance by cloud shadows. Ada’s gaze swept the unfolding scene. "Ah, Alenby," she burst out. "These--these are the vasty fields of France! This is a land glowing with silk and money."
"Excuse me—glowing? Don’t you mean flowing? Flowing with milk and—?"
Ada clapped her hands to her ears. "Please, Alenby—the ancient scribes referred
to tribal people's use of animals' bodily fluids and excreta as food, but the thought of consuming such inappropriate substances is offensive to modern
"Inappropriate?!" Alenby burst out. "I don't know about honey, but milk? Milk is nature's perfect food! Vitamin D fortified, loaded with calcium for strong bones and teeth, lactose-free, packed with high-quality protein to make kids big and strong--"
"Oh, I didn't mean that they were inappropriate foods in a tribal setting," Ada assured him. "It's just that, now in the modern world, our circumstances are vastly different. Individuals' physical size and strength are of relatively little importance nowadays. Nowadays reason and science call for a shift of ethos, a shift away from the tribal model of the ancient writings. Instead big strong kids, we need small healthy kids."
"Well," said Alenby, "I don’t see how this reason and science business has done you u-people much good. Where is everybody? Where are the signs of economic growth and vitality? Where are the bustle of commerce, the laughing throngs en route to lunch?"
"Oh, it must be fun in U, so exciting, to have such growth and vitality! But science and reason warn of limitations. The world's maximum sustainable human population is a couple of billion. We've passed that already. Now we have to cut back."
Alenby smiled. Now she's on to the old population bomb thing, he thought. The bomb that nobody can do anything about. "Speaking of bombs," he continued aloud, "I have a notion Les Dhuites offers an acceptable bombe glacée."
"Oh, I do hope you're right!" cried Ada. "I adore bombe glacée! A shell of frozen banana purée, packed with minced fruits and Kirsch--scrumptious!
"But to get back to the population--it is coming under control since President Eleanor Roosevelt pushed through the United States Polyandry Initiative. It limits procreation to women, preferably short thin women, who are eminently capable of motherhood--giving birth, caring for and home-schooling their young and all that, with the aid of two or more husbands of her choice.., or more as required. Other UN member nations followed suit....
"That's all very well and good," said Alenby, forbearing to correct her errors on the content of topic of bombe glacée (as every U-person is aware, not minced fruits and Kirsch, but lightly cooked egg yolks and cream and Kirsch), "but this Polyandry thing will backfire. Too many slow-moving old folk, too few young workers.... Waitresses for instance. A long wait between courses can be a damnably--"
"Yes, yes, you're right about that," Ada interrupted with a frown. "Polyandry coupled with Prohibition has indeed created an unfortunate demographic imbalance."
"Worse than that," Alenby pursued. "From what I see--a lot of empty space perfectly suited to exploitation, a few stunted, emaciated pedestrians plodding along by the roadside--it looks like the aftermath of famine or epidemic. Or a crippling war—World War II, perhaps?"
"Oh, nothing like that. There was talk of another war, but they called it off. The leaders of the major European powers were in Paris for the 1939 Chanel show, and they happened to meet up at the Café Deux Magots. That's when Eva Braun--the German Chancellor at the time--she asked what about returning the Ruhr to Germany. Prime Minister Jessica Mitford and Premier Simone de Beauvoir both agreed to check with the holder of the purse strings at the time, President Eleanor Roosevelt.... Oh, there was a lot of negotiation, but everyone agreed. It's called the Deux Magots Accord...."
Alenby might have responded to this but it seemed too absurd, it took his breath away. The weaker sex running things? Eleanor Roosevelt holding the purse strings? Loopy leftish Jessica Mitford? And Eva Braun! The likes of Eva Braun in charge of a powerful nation? Unsafe, surely.
Still troubled by shortness of breath, and aware of Ada's concerned glances, Alenby was beginning to think of stopping to take a one or other of his meds for safe temporary relief from that condition, when they came on a tricky, twisted stretch of loose gravel that put more demands on his driving skills. As he rounded one sharp, slippery corner after another, without noticeable slackening of speed yet maintaining ample margin of safety, his discomfort faded. Breathing easier, he returned to a question that had been troubling him since his very first minutes in the universe u:
"Ada, tell me, why are those pedestrians back there, and just about all the people in u, and the wine bottles and everything--why are they so damnably small?"
"Oh, the achievement of smallness is one of the triumphs of science and reason in the service of Gaea," said Ada. "To reduce the earth's burden of human biomass to a sustainable level, we had to reduce not only the population but also the average individual mass. For a person to shed excess weight--that's not so easy!
"Hmm, I can relate to that," Alenby put in, recalling his experience with his Low Carbohydrate, or LOCO, diet.
"Yes, well when Prohibition kicked in back in the 20s and 30s, that helped some," Ada continued, slightly clangingly. "The virtual elimination of animal products in diet, that was a good start. And the upcoming extension of Prohibition to sugary snacks and drinks, as advocated by XPROW, will undoubtedly lead to further reductions in average individual mass.
"But those measures are not enough. You have to understand the body's signal to stop eating. You get that 'full' feeling only after taking in sufficient nutrients as well as sufficient calories to keep the body running properly. So if you eat food whose total nutrient content is less than commensurate with its calorie content, you will continue to feel hungry even after taking in too many calories. Likely result: you pack on the poundage. To avoid this, you have to use will power, or avoid high calorie / nutrient foods like pasta, bread--"
"Bread," said Alenby, starting fully aware to what she was saying. "Ah, like a fresh-baked yeasty crusty baguette from Beauvallet & Julien in the 6th arrondissement...mmm, I could eat the whole thing in one go!"
"Precisely my point," Ada said. "And the insidious thing is that the attraction of foods is amplified in a primitive mind-set than that glorifies big helpings and consequently big kids and big people. Basically a woman wants a big man, a man wants a woman with big breasts, people want a big leader. Humanity had been stuck in this bigger-is-better rut as recently as the Early Prohibition era...."
Alenby nodded approvingly. A woman wants a big man. Quite right, he thought, Ada got that right. How often in youth had he responded to a girl's interested glance, only to discover it had been aimed at the big guy behind him!
"But President Edith Bollin found a way out," Ada continued warmly. "She pushed a public relations drive glorifying the small--small things of all kinds, small people. Small children loved it. Ah, how well I remember, in childhood, chanting:
'Small is small
Small is best
Small below all
Less is less.'
Pure propaganda, of course," she went on--in full rhetorical flight now--"but unlike much propaganda through the ages, it worked in a good cause. Pro-small sentiment gradually took hold. It became fashionable, penetrated the very fabric of our lives--our manners, our way of speech, our food habits. People went for nutrient-rich foods like Swiss chard, broccoli, kale and collard greens, and of course babies thrived on human milk. Mothers generally took to breast feeding babies up to age one, sometimes two years. It was strange at first, but now that people are generally accustomed to science and reason, it all seems perfectly normal--Alenby, what are you doing?"
He didn't answer. He was concentrating all his faculties on the flawless execution of the stunt-driver's blue ribbon maneuver--the one-lane U-turn and proceed in reverse.
1.12.2 Cleopatra Kirwan Makes Ready
Restaurant Les Dhuits, Colombey-les-Deux-Eglises
12 noon Wednesday 2 April 1987
Standing alert at her post in the as-yet vacant dining, neatly turned out in black dress and white starched cap and apron, Cleo appeared the epitome of neatness and efficiency in her role as a French waitress. No casual observer would have guessed that she was only now about to make her debut in that capacity.
So far, everything was going well. It had not been without effort--effort and good luck. In order to get to the the restaurant comfortably in advance of Ada Lynche, she'd had to put on quite a hustle--out of the airport within minutes of the touch-down, by train to Bas-sur-Aude by way of Troyes, then a 10 kilometer run to Colombey-les-Deux-Eglises. The good luck was the waitress shortage--she got the job right away, no questions asked.
Yet the petite Bennett-High senior had plenty of misgivings.
Topping her worry list was her near-total ignorance of French restaurant customs. While she had visited France several times with one or other of her fathers, none of them had allowed her inside a restaurant. They had their different rationales--low nutrient / calorie restaurant food might set back her chances of qualifying for Motherhood or the Pedestrian Tour de France or getting into Harvard--but they all led to the same result: Cleo was left with no knowledge of French eating-out traditions like tipping, or green-stemmed goblets for Alsace white wines, or setting a special knife for seaweed and other popular seafood dishes. And it was an unpleasant surprise that, as a waitress, she had to wear dorky black shiny shoes with the strap over instead of sneakers, and leave off the tangerine colored hair ribbon that was so right with her toasted-pumpernickel complexion.
She just hoped she could get close to Ada Lynche--close enough to find out where she was headed next--and without raising her suspicions.
Cleo heard her employer calling for her.
"Je viens, madame!" she responded, putting a little extra oomph in her enunciation so that her voice rang clearly as struck crystal. Like the other languages in which she was fluent, Cleo's French was well up to the basic level demanded by science and reason--usually about ten years of home plus high school instruction--but in her case a summer study camp on Isle Saint Pierre had lent to her French speech the splashy élan of utter self-confidence.
Madame gave her a reservation card to set on the best table. In Cleo's hand the card jumped in time with her pulse, but she made out the name clearly enough: Dr Ada Lynche, two covers.