A Curious Omission
I awoke, strangely uneasy. Disoriented, I plotted a course to the Hall of Memory. As I entered the dark hall, a pod lid opened invitingly. I climbed in and the lid closed. The familiar, friendly voice asked me what I desired, and I said I wanted to look at a dictionary. I flew through the D’s: “desist,” “desk,” “despicable,” “despise…” I consulted other dictionaries—in vain. Finally, nearly hopeless, I tried the OED. The result was the same: the word “despair” and its cognate forms did not exist. I tried Orwell and Arendt once again, and even Perry Miller. The result was the same in each case: “No Matching Entries.” I returned to the mini-ship and set a course for the CEO Club. Everything seemed just as I had left it. As I passed amid the throng of revelers, I sought some glimpse of Sulkie, even stopping one or two Joracians to ask for word of her. No one seemed to have any recollection of who she was. Someone pressed an orange hyböl on me. I could not refuse it. When nobody was looking, I deposited it in a potted shrub. On an impulse, I asked for directions to The Starlight Roof.
As I reached the site of our last meeting, shadows were deepening. One or two gray figures moved at the periphery of my vision. The Roof was otherwise unoccupied. I sat down at the table—the same table where Sulkie had warned me about the Ortho-Aesthetic Body—and began to wonder what was happening. At that moment I started to realize that I didn’t have a clue when, from nowhere, my ears detected the most beautiful choral music: an eclectic sorrowful singing of many female voices, floating about my ears, singing in a language I could not understand; yet somehow the sounds were familiar, as if I had heard them in a dream long ago. I sat transfixed, listening to the rapturous sounds until they passed away and were replaced by a solo jazz piano, reminiscent of Bill Evans.
By the time I returned downstairs to the Club, hardly anyone was left. I fell in behind a group of straggling Joracians, who seemed excited about something. “Where’re we headed?” I asked. One of the fellows looked at me as if I were insane.
“To the Feast of the Ortho-Aesthetic Body!” he exclaimed, somewhat annoyed.
We were led down a narrow hall, cool air rising up the darkened steps. Finally arriving at an enormous sunken amphitheater, I was amazed by the lavish spread arrayed on a great circular table, set for at least a hundred diners. A white tablecloth, gorgeously shimmering, serenely draped the table, each setting perfectly appointed. I felt a tug at my elbow and was surprised to see my mentor.
“I knew you’d find your way here, Sam!” He invited me to sit with him. Everyone hastily took their seats, as an exotic, high-pitched bell chimed eight times. A hushed silence filled the room. All chatter stopped.
The company consisted of both male and female Joracians, made up exclusively of elite members of the Third Level, the most powerful representatives of the Communicator class. I detected an edge to everyone’s anticipation, which I attributed to the company’s collective appetite. Servers from the lower class, of both sexes, began pouring a fruity white wine, leaving full decanters spaced at even intervals around the table.
The feast consisted of several courses of small but delicate dishes; I particularly liked one, a paper-thin crust stuffed with lightly seasoned bits of fish or fowl. Sautéed vegetables, cut into such curious designs that I could not identify them, comprised a second course; and yet a third of soups, both hot and cold. We took numerous breaks from eating, so that no one would get too bloated before the main course. By the time we started the second wine, a robust Merlot, I was ravenous.
We did not have to wait long. A silence now of reverence or awe came over the group as huge steaming trays were wheeled out on carts and each diner quickly served up a heap of red meat, astonishingly seasoned with peppers, curry, ginger and saffron (to name only the herbs and spices I could readily identify), and dripping with a thick red sauce that tasted like fire to my lips and tongue! The entire party of eaters tore into their banquet with frenzy and, for several long minutes, we were all absorbed by our own hunger.
“What do you call this meat?” I inquired of Àkbä.
“Boorp-BÃH-Hakk-io!” he snarled at me, with a wild-eyed look I had never before seen. For some reason, it made me want to laugh; but somehow I was able to restrain my mirth. All returned to their busy occupation of consuming, reminding me of nothing so much as a dog at his bowl. Perhaps the wine had gone to my head, but I seemed to notice quite a number of guests with their heads bent away from the tablecloth, retching onto the floor.
When the main course had been devoured, a floorshow commenced as servers poured a delicate champagne. At first, I thought I was watching a fashion show, as several healthy-looking Joracians of both genders paraded, one at a time, down a runway at the center of the round table. The diners became quite animated and I saw them jot down notes on little chits of paper, which they handed to servers from time to time. Eventually, I noticed that each of the participants was scantily cladthe men in white loincloths, the women in white bikini tops and thongsand suddenly I became disgusted. This was no fashion show, but…a-a beauty contest, pure and simple.
How degrading, I felt, but kept the thought to myself. When they got the contestants down to just two winners, the whole thing came to an end (the two finalists did not look very happy about this, either; both wore rather lugubrious expressions, it seemed to me). As I turned around, Àkbä was handing his chit to a server.
“If you have no other plans, Sam,” my mentor said; and invited me to accompany him to a sports recreation, something he called The Eek-O-Blast. My curiosity piqued by a new feature of Joracian culture, I agreed to go along.
On our way out, a Joracian hailed Àkbä. “What did you think of the ritual and nominating process?” My mentor admitted that he thought the entire experience had been rewarding. “I especially enjoyed the female we elected,” he added, cryptically.
“Tasty,” the other confessed, licking his lips. “Very tasty.”