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Title: Alpha Ralpha Boulevard

Date of first publication: 1961

Author: Paul Myron Anthony Linebarger (as Cordwainer Smith) (1913-1966)

Date first posted: Oct. 6, 2019

Date last updated: Oct. 6, 2019

Faded Page eBook #20191008

This eBook was produced by: Alex White & the online Distributed Proofreaders Canada team at https://www.pgdpcanada.net

Alpha Ralpha Boulevard



Cordwainer Smith

a pseudonym for

Paul Myron Anthony Linebarger


First published in The Magazine of Fantasy

and Science Fiction, June 1961.

We were drunk with happiness in those early years. Everybody was, especially the young people. These were the first years of the Rediscovery of Man, when the Instrumentality dug deep in the treasury, reconstructing the old cultures, the old languages, and even the old troubles. The nightmare of perfection had taken our forefathers to the edge of suicide. Now under the leadership of the Lord Jestocost and the Lady Alice More, the ancient civilizations were rising like great land masses out of the sea of the past.

I myself was the first man to put a postage stamp on a letter, after fourteen thousand years. I took Virginia to hear the first piano recital. We watched at the eye-machine when cholera was released in Tasmania, and we saw the Tasmanians dancing in the streets, now that they did not have to be protected any more. Everywhere, things became exciting. Everywhere, men and women worked with a wild will to build a more imperfect world.

I myself went into a hospital and came out French. Of course I remembered my early life; I remembered it, but it did not matter. Virginia was French, too, and we had the years of our future lying ahead of us like ripe fruit hanging in an orchard of perpetual summers. We had no idea when we would die. Formerly, I would be able to go to bed and think, “The government has given me four hundred years. Three hundred and seventy-four years from now, they will stop the stroon injections and I will then die.” Now I knew anything could happen. The safety devices had been turned off. The diseases ran free. With luck, and hope, and love, I might live a thousand years. Or I might die tomorrow. I was free.

We revelled in every moment of the day.

Virginia and I brought the first French newspaper to appear since the Most Ancient World fell. We found delight in the news, even in the advertisements. Some parts of the culture were hard to reconstruct. It was difficult to talk about foods of which only the names survived, but the homunculi and the machines, working tirelessly in Downdeep-downdeep, kept the surface of the world filled with enough novelties to fill anyone’s heart with hope. We knew that all of this was make-believe, and yet it was not. We knew that when the diseases had killed the statistically correct number of people, they would be turned off; when the accident rate rose too high, it would stop without our knowing why. We knew that over us all, the Instrumentality watched. We had confidence that the Lord Jestocost and the Lady Alice More would play with us as friends and not use us as victims of a game.

Take, for example, Virginia. She had been called Menerima, which represented the coded sounds of her birth number. She was small, verging on chubby; she was compact; her head was covered with tight brown curls; her eyes were a brown so deep and so rich that it took sunlight, with her squinting against it, to bring forth the treasures of her irises. I had known her well, but never known her. I had seen her often, but never seen her with my heart, until we met just outside the hospital, after becoming French.

I was pleased to see an old friend and started to speak in the Old Common Tongue, but the words jammed, and as I tried to speak it was not Menerima any longer, but someone of ancient beauty, rare and strange—someone who had wandered into these latter days from the treasure worlds of time past. All I could do was to stammer:

“What do you call yourself now?” And I said it in ancient French.

She answered in the same language, “Je m’appelle Virginie.”

Looking at her and falling in love was a single process. There was something strong, something wild in her, wrapped and hidden by the tenderness and youth of her girlish body. It was as though destiny spoke to me out of the certain brown eyes, eyes which questioned me surely and wonderingly, just as we both questioned the fresh new world which lay about us.

“May I?” said I, offering her my arm, as I had learned in the hours of hypnopedia. She took my arm and we walked away from the hospital.

I hummed a tune which had come into my mind, along with the ancient French language.

She tugged gently on my arm, and smiled up at me.

“What is it,” she asked, “or don’t you know?”

The words came soft and unbidden to my lips and I sang it very quietly, muting my voice in her curly hair, half-singing half-whispering the popular song which had poured into my mind with all the other things which the Rediscovery of Man had given me:

She wasn’t the woman I went to seek.

I met her by the merest chance.

She did not speak the French of France,

But the surded French of Martinique.


She wasn’t rich. She wasn’t chic.

She had a most entrancing glance,

And that was all . . .

Suddenly I ran out of words, “I seem to have forgotten the rest of it. It’s called ‘Macouba’ and it has something to do with a wonderful island which the ancient French called Martinique.”

“I know where that is,” she cried. She had been given the same memories that I had. “You can see it from Earthport!”

This was a sudden return to the world we had known. Earthport stood on its single pedestal, twelve miles high, at the eastern edge of the small continent. At the top of it, the lords worked amid machines which had no meaning any more. There the ships whispered their way in from the stars. I had seen pictures of it, but I had never been there. As a matter of fact, I had never known anyone who had actually been up Earthport. Why should we have gone? We might not have been welcome, and we could always see it just as well through the pictures on the eye-machine. For Menerima—familiar, dully pleasant, dear little Menerima—to have gone there was uncanny. It made me think that in the Old Perfect World things had not been as plain or forthright as they seemed.

Virginia, the new Menerima, tried to speak in the Old Common Tongue, but she gave up and used French instead:

“My aunt,” she said, meaning a kindred lady, since no one had had aunts for thousands of years, “was a Believer. She took me to the Abba-dingo. To get holiness and luck.”

The old me was a little shocked; the French me was disquieted by the fact that this girl had done something unusual even before mankind itself turned to the unusual. The Abba-dingo was a long-obsolete computer set part way up the column of Earthport. The homunculi treated it as a god, and occasionally people went to it. To do so was tedious and vulgar.

Or had been. Till all things became new again.

Keeping the annoyance out of my voice, I asked her:

“What was it like?”

She laughed lightly, yet there was a trill to her laughter which gave me a shiver. If the old Menerima had had secrets, what might the new Virginia do? I almost hated the fate which made me love her, which made me feel that the touch of her hand on my arm was a link between me and time-forever.

She smiled at me instead of answering my question. The surfaceway was under repair; we followed a ramp down to the level of the top underground, where it was legal for true persons and hominids and homunculi to walk.

I did not like the feeling; I had never gone more than twenty minutes’ trip from my birthplace. This ramp looked safe enough. There were few hominids around these days, men from the stars who (though of true human stock) had been changed to fit the conditions of a thousand worlds. The homunculi were morally repulsive, though many of them looked like very handsome people; bred from animals into the shape of men, they took over the tedious chores of working with machines where no real man would wish to go. It was whispered that some of them had even bred with actual people, and I would not want my Virginia to be exposed to the presence of such a creature.

She had been holding my arm. When we walked down the ramp to the busy passage, I slipped my arm free and put it over her shoulders, drawing her closer to me. It was light enough, bright enough to be clearer than the daylight which we had left behind, but it was strange and full of danger. In the old days, I would have turned around and gone home rather than to expose myself to the presence of such dreadful beings. At this time, in this moment, I could not bear to part from my new-found love, and I was afraid that if I went back to my own apartment in the tower, she might go to hers. Anyhow, being French gave a spice to danger.

Actually, the people in the traffic looked commonplace enough. There were many busy machines, some in human form and some not. I did not see a single hominid. Other people, whom I knew to be homunculi because they yielded the right of way to us, looked no different from the real human beings on the surface. A brilliantly beautiful girl gave me a look which I did not like—saucy, intelligent, provocative beyond all limits of flirtation. I suspected her of being a dog by origin. Among the homunculi, d’persons are the ones most apt to take liberties. They even have a dog-man philosopher who once produced a tape arguing that since dogs are the most ancient of men’s allies, they have the right to be closer to man than any other form of life. When I saw the tape, I thought it amusing that a dog should be bred into the form of a Socrates; here, in the top underground, I was not so sure at all. What would I do if one of them became insolent? Kill him? That meant a brush with the law and a talk with the subcommissioners of the Instrumentality.

Virginia noticed none of this.

She had not answered my question, but was asking me questions about the top underground instead. I had been there only once before, when I was small, but it was flattering to have her wondering, husky voice murmuring in my ear.

Then it happened.

At first I thought he was a man, foreshortened by some trick of the underground light. When he came closer, I saw that it was not. He must have been five feet across the shoulders. Ugly red scars on his forehead showed where the horns had been dug out of his skull. He was a homunculus, obviously derived from cattle stock. Frankly, I had never known that they left them that ill-formed.

And he was drunk.

As he came closer I could pick up the buzz of his mind. . . . they’re not people, they’re not hominids, and they’re not Us—what are they doing here? The words they think confuse me. He had never telepathed French before.

This was bad. For him to talk was common enough, but only a few of the homunculi were telepathic—those with special jobs, such as in the Downdeep-downdeep, where only telepathy could relay instructions.

Virginia clung to me.

Thought I, in clear Common Tongue: True men are we. You must let us pass.

There was no answer but a roar. I do not know where he got drunk, or on what, but he did not get my message.

I could see his thoughts forming up into panic, helplessness, hate. Then he charged, almost dancing toward us, as though he could crush our bodies.

My mind focused and I threw the stop order at him.

It did not work.

Horror-stricken, I realized that I had thought French at him.

Virginia screamed.

The bull-man was upon us.

At the last moment he swerved, passed us blindly, and let out a roar which filled the enormous passage. He had raced beyond us.

Still holding Virginia, I turned around to see what had made him pass us.

What I beheld was odd in the extreme.

Our figures ran down the corridor away from us—my black-purple cloak flying in the still air as my image ran, Virginia’s golden dress swimming out behind her as she ran with me. The images were perfect and the bull-man pursued them.

I stared around in bewilderment. We had been told that the safeguards no longer protected us.

A girl stood quietly next to the wall. I had almost mistaken her for a statue. Then she spoke,

“Come no closer. I am a cat. It was easy enough to fool him. You had better get back to the surface.”

“Thank you,” I said, “thank you. What is your name?”

“Does it matter?” said the girl. “I’m not a person.”

A little offended, I insisted, “I just wanted to thank you.” As I spoke to her I saw that she was as beautiful and as bright as a flame. Her skin was clear, the color of cream, and her hair—finer than any human hair could possibly be—was the wild golden orange of a Persian cat.

“I’m C’mell,” said the girl, “and I work at Earthport.”

That stopped both Virginia and me. Cat-people were below us, and should be shunned, but Earthport was above us, and had to be respected. Which was C’mell?

She smiled, and her smile was better suited for my eyes than for Virginia’s. It spoke a whole world of voluptuous knowledge. I knew she wasn’t trying to do anything to me; the rest of her manner showed that. Perhaps it was the only smile she knew.

“Don’t worry,” she said, “about the formalities. You’d better take these steps here. I hear him coming back.”

I spun around, looking for the drunken bull-man. He was not to be seen.

“Go up here,” urged C’mell, “They are emergency steps and you will be back on the surface. I can keep him from following. Was that French you were speaking?”

“Yes,” said I. “How did you—?”

“Get along,” she said. “Sorry I asked. Hurry!”

I entered the small door. A spiral staircase went to the surface. It was below our dignity as true people to use steps, but with C’mell urging me, there was nothing else I could do. I nodded goodbye to C’mell and drew Virginia after me up the stairs.

At the surface we stopped.

Virginia gasped, “Wasn’t it horrible?”

“We’re safe now,” said I.

“It’s not safety,” she said. “It’s the dirtiness of it. Imagine having to talk to her!”

Virginia meant that C’mell was worse than the drunken bull-man. She sensed my reserve because she said,

“The sad thing is, you’ll see her again . . .”

“What! How do you know that?”

“I don’t know it,” said Virginia. “I guess it. But I guess good, very good. After all, I went to the Abba-dingo.”

“I asked you, darling, to tell me what happened there.”

She shook her head mutely and began walking down the streetway. I had no choice but to follow her. It made me a little irritable.

I asked again, more crossly, “What was it like?”

With hurt girlish dignity she said, “Nothing, nothing. It was a long climb. The old woman made me go with her. It turned out that the machine was not talking that day, anyhow, so we got permission to drop down a shaft and to come back on the rolling road. It was just a wasted day.”

She had been talking straight ahead, not to me, as though the memory were a little ugly.

Then she turned her face to me. The brown eyes looked into my eyes as though she were searching for my soul. (Soul. There’s a word we have in French, and there is nothing quite like it in the Old Common Tongue.) She brightened and pleaded with me:

“Let’s not be dull on the new day. Let’s be good to the new us, Paul. Let’s do something really French, if that’s what we are to be.”

“A café,” I cried. “We need a café. And I know where one is.”


“Two undergrounds over. Where the machines come out and where they permit the homunculi to peer in the window.” The thought of homunculi peering at us struck the new me as amusing, though the old me had taken them as much for granted as windows or tables. The old me never met any, but knew that they weren’t exactly people, since they were bred from animals, but they looked just about like people, and they could talk. It took a Frenchman like the new me to realize that they could be ugly, or beautiful, or picturesque. More than picturesque: romantic.

Evidently Virginia now thought the same, for she said, “But they’re nette, just adorable. What is the café called?”

“The Greasy Cat,” said I.

The Greasy Cat. How was I to know that this led to a nightmare between high waters, and to the winds which cried? How was I to suppose that this had anything to do with Alpha Ralpha Boulevard?

No force in the world could have taken me there, if I had known.

Other new-French people had gotten to the café before us.

A waiter with a big brown moustache took our order. I looked closely at him to see if he might be a licensed homunculus, allowed to work among people because his services were indispensable; but he was not. He was pure machine, though his voice rang out with old-Parisian heartiness, and the designers had even built into him the nervous habit of mopping the back of his hand against his big moustache, and had fixed him so that little beads of sweat showed high up on his brow, just below the hairline.

“Mamselle? M’sieu? Beer? Coffee? Red wine next month. The sun will shine in the quarter after the hour and after the half-hour. At twenty minutes to the hour it will rain for five minutes so that you can enjoy these umbrellas. I am a native of Alsace. You may speak French or German to me.”

“Anything,” said Virginia. “You decide, Paul.”

“Beer, please,” said I. “Blonde beer for both of us.”

“But certainly, M’sieu,” said the waiter.

He left, waving his cloth wildly over his arm.

Virginia puckered up her eyes against the sun and said, “I wish it would rain now. I’ve never seen real rain.”

“Be patient, honey.”

She turned earnestly to me. “What is ‘German,’ Paul?”

“Another language, another culture. I read they will bring it to life next year. But don’t you like being French?”

“I like it fine,” she said. “Much better than being a number. But Paul—” And then she stopped, her eyes blurred with perplexity.

“Yes, darling?”

“Paul,” she said, and the statement of my name was a cry of hope from some depth of her mind beyond new me, beyond old me, beyond even the contrivances of the lords who moulded us. I reached for her hand.

Said I, “You can tell me, darling.”

“Paul,” she said, and it was almost weeping, “Paul, why does it all happen so fast? This is our first day, and we both feel that we may spend the rest of our lives together. There’s something about marriage, whatever that is, and we’re supposed to find a priest, and I don’t understand that, either. Paul, Paul, Paul, why does it happen so fast? I want to love you. I do love you. But I don’t want to be made to love you. I want it to be the real me,” and as she spoke, tears poured from her eyes though her voice remained steady enough.

Then it was that I said the wrong thing.

“You don’t have to worry, honey. I’m sure that the lords of the Instrumentality have programmed everything well.”

At that, she burst into tears, loudly and uncontrollably. I had never seen an adult weep before. It was strange and frightening.

A man from the next table came over and stood beside me, but I did not so much as glance at him.

“Darling,” said I, reasonably, “darling, we can work it out—”

“Paul, let me leave you, so that I may be yours. Let me go away for a few days or a few weeks or a few years. Then, if—if—if I do come back, you’ll know it’s me and not some program ordered by a machine. For God’s sake, Paul—for God’s sake!” In a different voice she said, “What is God, Paul? They gave us the words to speak, but I do not know what they mean.”

The man beside me spoke. “I can take you to God,” he said.

“Who are you?” said I. “And who asked you to interfere?” This was not the kind of language that we had ever used when speaking the Old Common Tongue—when they had given us a new language they had built in temperament as well.

The stranger kept his politeness—he was as French as we but he kept his temper well.

“My name,” he said, “is Maximilien Macht, and I used to be a Believer.”

Virginia’s eyes lit up. She wiped her face absent-mindedly while staring at the man. He was tall, lean, sunburned. (How could he have gotten sunburned so soon?) He had reddish hair and a moustache almost like that of the robot waiter.

“You asked about God, Mamselle,” said the stranger. “God is where he has always been—around us, near us, in us.”

This was strange talk from a man who looked worldly. I rose to my feet to bid him goodbye. Virginia guessed what I was doing and she said:

“That’s nice of you, Paul. Give him a chair.”

There was warmth in her voice.

The machine waiter came back with two conical beakers made of glass. They had a golden fluid in them with a cap of foam on top. I had never seen or heard of beer before, but I knew exactly how it would taste. I put imaginary money on the tray, received imaginary change, paid the waiter an imaginary tip. The Instrumentality had not yet figured out how to have separate kinds of money for all the new cultures, and of course you could not use real money to pay for food or drink. Food and drink are free.

The machine wiped his moustache, used his serviette (checked red and white) to dab the sweat off his brow, and then looked inquiringly at Monsieur Macht.

“M’sieu, you will sit here?”

“Indeed,” said Macht.

“Shall I serve you here?”

“But why not?” said Macht. “If these good people permit.”

“Very well,” said the machine, wiping his moustache with the back of his hand. He fled to the dark recesses of the bar.

All this time Virginia had not taken her eyes off Macht.

“You are a Believer?” she asked. “You are still a Believer, when you have been made French like us? How do you know you’re you? Why do I love Paul? Are the lords and their machines controlling everything in us? I want to be me. Do you know how to be me?”

“Not you, Mamselle,” said Macht, “that would be too great an honor. But I am learning how to be myself. You see,” he added, turning to me, “I have been French for two weeks now, and I know how much of me is myself, and how much has been added by this new process of giving us language and danger again.”

The waiter came back with a small beaker. It stood on a stem, so that it looked like an evil little miniature of Earthport. The fluid it contained was milky white.

Macht lifted his glass to us. “Your health!”

Virginia stared at him as if she were going to cry again. When he and I sipped, she blew her nose and put her handkerchief away. It was the first time I had ever seen a person perform that act of blowing the nose, but it seemed to go well with our new culture.

Macht smiled at both of us, as if he were going to begin a speech. The sun came out, right on time. It gave him a halo, and made him look like a devil or a saint.

But it was Virginia who spoke first.

“You have been there?”

Macht raised his eyebrows a little, frowned, and said, “Yes,” very quietly.

“Did you get a word?” she persisted.

“Yes.” He looked glum, and a little troubled.

“What did it say?”

For answer, he shook his head at her, as if there were things which should never be mentioned in public.

I wanted to break in, to find out what this was all about.

Virginia went on, heeding me not at all: “But it did say something!”

“Yes,” said Macht.

“Was it important?”

“Mamselle, let us not talk about it.”

“We must,” she cried. “It’s life or death.” Her hands were clenched so tightly together that her knuckles showed white. Her beer stood in front of her, untouched, growing warm in the sunlight.

“Very well,” said Macht, “you may ask . . . I cannot guarantee to answer.”

I controlled myself no longer. “What’s all this about?”

Virginia looked at me with scorn, but even her scorn was the scorn of a lover, not the cold remoteness of the past. “Please, Paul, you wouldn’t know. Wait a while. What did it say to you, M’sieu Macht?”

“That I, Maximilien Macht, would live or die with a brown-haired girl who was already betrothed.” He smiled wrily, “And I do not even quite know what ‘betrothed’ means.”

“We’ll find out,” said Virginia. “When did it say this?”

“Who is ‘it’?” I shouted at them. “For God’s sake, what is this all about?”

Macht looked at me and dropped his voice when he spoke: “The Abba-dingo.” To her he said, “Last week.”

Virginia turned white. “So it does work, it does, it does. Paul darling, it said nothing to me. But it said to my aunt something which I can’t ever forget!”

I held her arm firmly and tenderly and tried to look into her eyes, but she looked away. Said I, “What did it say?”

“Paul and Virginia.”

“So what?” said I.

I scarcely knew her. Her lips were tense and compressed. She was not angry. It was something different, worse. She was in the grip of tension. I suppose we had not seen that for thousands of years, either. “Paul, seize this simple fact, if you can grasp it. The machine gave that woman our names—but it gave them to her twelve years ago.”

Macht stood up so suddenly that his chair fell over, and the waiter began running toward us.

“That settles it,” he said. “We’re all going back.”

“Going where?” I said.

“To the Abba-dingo.”

“But why now?” said I; and, “Will it work?” said Virginia, both at the same time.

“It always works,” said Macht, “if you go on the northern side.”

“How do you get there?” said Virginia.

Macht frowned sadly, “There’s only one way. By Alpha Ralpha Boulevard.” Virginia stood up. And so did I.

Then, as I rose, I remembered. Alpha Ralpha Boulevard. It was a ruined street hanging in the sky, faint as a vapor trail. It had been a processional highway once, where conquerors came down and tribute went up. But it was ruined, lost in the clouds, closed to mankind for a hundred centuries.

“I know it,” said I. “It’s ruined.”

Macht said nothing, but he stared at me as if I were an outsider . . .

Virginia, very quiet and white of countenance, said, “Come along.”

“But why?” said I. “Why?”

“You fool,” she said, “if we don’t have a God, at least we have a machine. This is the only thing left on or off the world which the Instrumentality doesn’t understand. Maybe it tells the future. Maybe it’s an un-machine. It certainly comes from a different time. Can’t you use it, darling? If it says we’re us, we’re us.”

“And if it doesn’t?”

“Then we’re not.” Her face was sullen with grief.

“What do you mean?”

“If we’re not us,” she said, “we’re just toys, dolls, puppets that the lords have written on. You’re not you and I’m not me. But if the Abba-dingo, which knew the names Paul and Virginia twelve years before it happened—if the Abba-dingo says that we are us, I don’t care if it’s a predicting machine or a god or a devil or a what. I don’t care, but I’ll have the truth.”

What could I have answered to that? Macht led, she followed, and I walked third in single file. He left the sunlight of The Greasy Cat; just as we left, a light rain began to fall. The waiter, looking momentarily like the machine that he was, stared straight ahead. We crossed the lip of the underground and went down to the fast expressway.

When we came out, we were in a region of fine homes. All were in ruins. The trees had thrust their way into the buildings. Flowers rioted across the lawn, through the open doors, and blazed in the roofless rooms. Who needed a house in the open, when the population of Earth had dropped so that the cities were commodious and empty?

Once I thought I saw a family of homunculi, including little ones, peering at me as we trudged along the soft gravel road. Maybe the faces I had seen at the edge of the house were fantasies.

Macht said nothing.

Virginia and I held hands as we walked beside him. I could have been happy at this odd excursion, but her hand was tightly clenched in mine. She bit her lower lip from time to time. I knew it mattered to her—she was on a pilgrimage. (A pilgrimage was an ancient walk to some powerful place, very good for body and soul.) I didn’t mind going along. In fact, they could not have kept me from coming, once she and Macht decided to leave the café. But I didn’t have to take it seriously. Did I?

What did Macht want?

Who was Macht? What thoughts had that mind learned in two short weeks? How had he preceded us into a new world of danger and adventure? I did not trust him. For the first time in my life I felt alone. Always, always, up to now, I had only to think about the Instrumentality and some protector leaped fully armed into my mind. Telepathy guarded against all dangers, healed all hurts, carried each of us forward to the one hundred and forty-six thousand and ninety-seven days which had been allotted us. Now it was different. I did not know this man, and it was on him that I relied, not on the powers which had shielded and protected us.

We turned from the ruined road into an immense boulevard. The pavement was so smooth and unbroken that nothing grew on it, save where the wind and dust had deposited random little pockets of earth.

Macht stopped.

“This is it,” he said. “Alpha Ralpha Boulevard.”

We fell silent and looked at the causeway of forgotten empires.

To our left the boulevard disappeared in a gentle curve. It led far north of the city in which I had been reared. I knew that there was another city to the north, but I had forgotten its name. Why should I have remembered it? It was sure to be just like my own.

But to the right—

To the right the boulevard rose sharply, like a ramp. It disappeared into the clouds. Just at the edge of the cloud-line there was a hint of disaster. I could not see for sure, but it looked to me as though the whole boulevard had been sheared off by unimaginable forces. Somewhere beyond the clouds there stood the Abba-dingo, the place where all questions were answered . . .

Or so they thought.

Virginia cuddled close to me.

“Let’s turn back,” said I. “We are city people. We don’t know anything about ruins.”

“You can if you want to,” said Macht. “I was just trying to do you a favor.”

We both looked at Virginia.

She looked up at me with those brown eyes. From the eyes there came a plea older than woman or man, older than the human race. I knew what she was going to say before she said it. She was going to say that she had to know.

Macht was idly crushing some soft rocks near his foot.

At last Virginia spoke up: “Paul, I don’t want danger for its own sake. But I meant what I said back there. Isn’t there a chance that we were told to love each other? What sort of a life would it be if our happiness, our own selves, depended on a thread in a machine or on a mechanical voice which spoke to us when we were asleep and learning French? It may be fun to go back to the old world. I guess it is. I know that you give me a kind of happiness which I never even suspected before this day. If it’s really us, we have something wonderful, and we ought to know it. But if it isn’t—” She burst into sobs.

I wanted to say, “If it isn’t, it will seem just the same,” but the ominous sulky face of Macht looked at me over Virginia’s shoulder as I drew her to me. There was nothing to say.

I held her close.

From beneath Macht’s foot there flowed a trickle of blood. The dust drank it up.

“Macht,” said I, “are you hurt?”

Virginia turned around, too.

Macht raised his eyebrows at me and said with unconcern, “No. Why?”

“The blood. At your feet.”

He glanced down. “Oh, those,” he said, “they’re nothing. Just the eggs of some kind of an un-bird which does not even fly.”

“Stop it!” I shouted telepathically, using the Old Common Tongue. I did not even try to think in our new-learned French.

He stepped back a pace in surprise.

Out of nothing there came to me a message: thankyou thankyou goodgreat gohomeplease thankyou goodgreat goaway manbad manbad manbad . . . Somewhere an animal or bird was warning me against Macht. I thought a casual thanks to it and turned my attention to Macht.

He and I stared at each other. Was this what culture was? Were we now men? Did freedom always include the freedom to mistrust, to fear, to hate?

I liked him not at all. The words of forgotten crimes came into my mind: assassination, murder, abduction, insanity, rape, robbery . . .

We had known none of these things and yet I felt them all.

He spoke evenly to me. We had both been careful to guard our minds against being read telepathically, so that our only means of communication were empathy and French. “It’s your idea,” he said, most untruthfully, “or at least your lady’s . . .”

“Has lying already come into the world,” said I, “so that we walk into the clouds for no reason at all?”

“There is a reason,” said Macht.

I pushed Virginia gently aside and capped my mind so tightly that the anti-telepathy felt like a headache.

“Macht,” said I, and I myself could hear the snarl of an animal in my own voice, “tell me why you have brought us here or I will kill you.”

He did not retreat. He faced me, ready for a fight. He said, “Kill? You mean, to make me dead?” but his words did not carry conviction. Neither one of us knew how to fight, but he readied for defense and I for attack.

Underneath my thought shield an animal thought crept in: goodman goodman take him by the neck no-air he-aaah no-air he-aaah like broken egg . . .

I took the advice without worrying where it came from. It was simple. I walked over to Macht, reached my hands around his throat and squeezed. He tried to push my hands away. Then he tried to kick me. All I did was hang on to his throat. If I had been a lord or a Go-captain, I might have known about fighting. But I did not, and neither did he.

It ended when a sudden weight dragged at my hands.

Out of surprise, I let go.

Macht had become unconscious. Was that dead?

It could not have been, because he sat up. Virginia ran to him. He rubbed his throat and said with a rough voice:

“You should not have done that.”

This gave me courage. “Tell me,” I spat at him, “tell me why you wanted us to come, or I will do it again.”

Macht grinned weakly. He leaned his head against Virginia’s arm. “It’s fear,” he said. “Fear.”

“Fear?” I knew the word—peur—but not the meaning. Was it some kind of disquiet or animal alarm?

I had been thinking with my mind open; he thought back yes.

“But why do you like it?” I asked.

It is delicious, he thought. It makes me sick and thrilly and alive. It is like strong medicine, almost as good as stroon. I went there before. High up, I had much fear. It was wonderful and bad and good, all at the same time. I lived a thousand years in a single hour. I wanted more of it, but I thought it would be even more exciting with other people.

“Now I will kill you,” said I in French. “You are very—very . . .” I had to look for the word. “You are very evil.”

“No,” said Virginia, “let him talk.”

He thought at me, not bothering with words. This is what the lords of the Instrumentality never let us have. Fear. Reality. We were born in a stupor and we died in a dream. Even the underpeople, the animals, had more life than we did. The machines did not have fear. That’s what we were. Machines who thought they were men. And now we are free.

He saw the edge of raw, red anger in my mind, and he changed the subject. I did not lie to you. This is the way to the Abba-dingo. I have been there. It works. On this side, it always works.

“It works,” cried Virginia. “You see he says so. It works! He is telling the truth. Oh, Paul, do let’s go on!”

“All right,” said I, “we’ll go.”

I helped him rise. He looked embarrassed, like a man who has shown something of which he is ashamed.

We walked onto the surface of the indestructible boulevard. It was comfortable to the feet.

At the bottom of my mind the little unseen bird or animal babbled its thoughts at me: goodman goodman make him dead take water take water . . .

I paid no attention as I walked forward with her and him, Virginia between us. I paid no attention.

I wish I had.

We walked for a long time.

The process was new to us. There was something exhilarating in knowing that no one guarded us, that the air was free air, moving without benefit of weather machines. We saw many birds, and when I thought at them I found their minds startled and opaque; they were natural birds, the like of which I had never seen before. Virginia asked me their names, and I outrageously applied all the bird-names which we had learned in French without knowing whether they were historically right or not.

Maximilien Macht cheered up, too, and he even sang us a song, rather off key, to the effect that we would take the high road and he the low one, but that he would be in Scotland before us. It did not make sense, but the lilt was pleasant. Whenever he got a certain distance ahead of Virginia and me, I made up variations on “Macouba” and sang-whispered the phrases into her pretty ear:

She wasn’t the woman I went to seek.

I met her by the merest chance.

She did not speak the French of France,

But the surded French of Martinique.

We were happy in adventure and freedom, until we became hungry. Then our troubles began.

Virginia stepped up to a lamp-post, struck it lightly with her fist and said, “Feed me.” The post should either have opened, serving us a dinner, or else told us where, within the next few hundred yards, food was to be had. It did neither. It did nothing. It must have been broken.

With that, we began to make a game of hitting every single post.

Alpha Ralpha Boulevard had risen about half a kilometer above the surrounding countryside. The wild birds wheeled below us. There was less dust on the pavement, and fewer patches of weeds. The immense road, with no pylons below it, curved like an unsupported ribbon into the clouds.

We wearied of beating posts and there was neither food nor water.

Virginia became fretful: “It won’t do any good to go back now. Food is even farther the other way. I do wish you’d brought something.”

How should I have thought to carry food? Who ever carries food? Why would they carry it, when it is everywhere? My darling was unreasonable, but she was my darling and I loved her all the more for the sweet imperfections of her temper.

Macht kept tapping pillars, partly to keep out of our fight, and obtained an unexpected result.

At one moment I saw him leaning over to give the pillar of a large lamp the usual hearty but guarded whop—in the next instant he yelped like a dog and was sliding uphill at a high rate of speed. I heard him shout something, but could not make out the words, before he disappeared into the clouds ahead.

Virginia looked at me. “Do you want to go back now? Macht is gone. We can say that I got tired.”

“Are you serious?”

“Of course, darling.”

I laughed, a little angrily. She had insisted that we come, and now she was ready to turn around and give it up, just to please me.

“Never mind,” said I. “It can’t be far now. Let’s go on.”

“Paul . . .” She stood close to me. Her brown eyes were troubled, as though she were trying to see all the way into my mind through my eyes. I thought to her, Do you want to talk this way?

“No,” said she, in French. “I want to say things one at a time. Paul, I do want to go to the Abba-dingo. I need to go. It’s the biggest need in my life. But at the same time. I don’t want to go. There is something wrong up there. I would rather have you on the wrong terms than not have you at all. Something could happen.”

Edgily, I demanded, “Are you getting this ‘fear’ that Macht was talking about?”

“Oh, no, Paul, not at all. This feeling isn’t exciting. It feels like something broken in a machine—”

“Listen!” I interrupted her.

From far ahead, from within the clouds, there came a sound like an animal wailing. There were words in it. It must have been Macht. I thought I heard “take care.” When I sought him with my mind, the distance made circles and I got dizzy.

“Let’s follow, darling,” said I.

“Yes, Paul,” said she, and in her voice there was an unfathomable mixture of happiness, resignation, and despair . . .

Before we moved on, I looked carefully at her. She was my girl. The sky had turned yellow and the lights were not yet on. In the yellow rich sky her brown curls were tinted with gold, her brown eyes approached the black in their irises, her young and fate-haunted face seemed more meaningful than any other human face I had ever seen.

“You are mine,” I said.

“Yes, Paul,” She answered me and then smiled brightly. “You said it! That is doubly nice.”

A bird on the railing looked sharply at us and then left. Perhaps he did not approve of human nonsense, so flung himself downward into dark air. I saw him catch himself, far below, and ride lazily on his wings.

“We’re not as free as birds, darling,” I told Virginia, “but we are freer than people have been for a hundred centuries.”

For answer she hugged my arm and smiled at me.

“And now,” I added, “to follow Macht. Put your arms around me and hold me tight. I’ll try hitting that post. If we don’t get dinner we may get a ride.”

I felt her take hold tightly and then I struck the post.

Which post? An instant later the posts were sailing by us in a blur. The ground beneath our feet seemed steady, but we were moving at a fast rate. Even in the service underground I had never seen a roadway as fast as this. Virginia’s dress was blowing so hard that it made snapping sounds like the snap of fingers. In no time at all we were in the cloud and out of it again.

A new world surrounded us. The clouds lay below and above. Here and there blue sky shone through. We were steady. The ancient engineers must have devised the walkway cleverly. We rode up, up, up without getting dizzy.

Another cloud.

Then things happened so fast that the telling of them takes longer than the event.

Something dark rushed at me from up ahead. A violent blow hit me in the chest. Only much later did I realize that this was Macht’s arm trying to grab me before we went over the edge. Then we went into another cloud. Before I could even speak to Virginia a second blow struck me. The pain was terrible. I had never felt anything like that in all my life. For some reason, Virginia had fallen over me and beyond me. She was pulling at my hands.

I tried to tell her to stop pulling me, because it hurt, but I had no breath. Rather than argue, I tried to do what she wanted. I struggled toward her. Only then did I realize that there was nothing below my feet—no bridge, no jetway, nothing.

I was on the edge of the boulevard, the broken edge of the upper side. There was nothing below me except for some looped cables, and, far underneath them, a tiny ribbon which was either a river or a road.

We had jumped blindly across the great gap and I had fallen just far enough to catch the upper edge of the roadway on my chest.

It did not matter, the pain.

In a moment the doctor-robot would be there to repair me.

A look at Virginia’s face reminded me there was no doctor-robot, no world, no Instrumentality, nothing but wind and pain. She was crying. It took a moment for me to hear what she was saying.

“I did it, I did it, darling, are you dead?”

Neither one of us was sure what “dead” meant, because people always went away at their appointed time, but we knew that it meant a cessation of life. I tried to tell her that I was living, but she fluttered over me and kept dragging me farther from the edge of the drop.

I used my hands to push myself into a sitting position.

She knelt beside me and covered my face with kisses.

At last I was able to gasp, “Where’s Macht?”

She looked back. “I don’t see him.”

I tried to look too. Rather than have me struggle, she said, “You stay quiet. I’ll look again.”

Bravely she walked to the edge of the sheared-off boulevard. She looked over toward the lower side of the gap, peering through the clouds which drifted past us as rapidly as smoke sucked by a ventilator. Then she cried out:

“I see him. He looks so funny. Like an insect in the museum. He is crawling across on the cables.”

Struggling to my hands and knees, I neared her and looked too. There he was, a dot moving along a thread, with the birds soaring by beneath him. It looked very unsafe. Perhaps he was getting all the “fear” that he needed to keep himself happy. I did not want that “fear,” whatever it was. I wanted food, water, and a doctor-robot.

None of these were here.

I struggled to my feet. Virginia tried to help me but I was standing before she could do more than touch my sleeve.

“Let’s go on.”

“On?” she said.

“On to the Abba-dingo. There may be friendly machines up there. Here there is nothing but cold and wind, and the lights have not yet gone on.”

She frowned. “But Macht . . . ?”

“It will be hours before he gets here. We can come back.”

She obeyed.

Once again we went to the left of the boulevard. I told her to squeeze my waist while I struck the pillars, one by one. Surely there must have been a reactivating device for the passengers on the road.

The fourth time, it worked.

Once again the wind whipped our clothing as we raced upward on Alpha Ralpha Boulevard.

We almost fell as the road veered to the left. I caught my balance, only to have it veer the other way.

And then we stopped.

This was the Abba-dingo.

A walkway littered with white objects—knobs and rods and imperfectly formed balls about the size of my head.

Virginia stood beside me, silent.

About the size of my head? I kicked one of the objects aside and then knew, knew for sure, what it was. It was people. The inside parts. I had never seen such things before. And that, that on the ground, must once have been a hand. There were hundreds of such things along the walk.

“Come, Virginia,” said I, keeping my voice even, and my thoughts hidden.

She followed without saying a word. She was curious about the things on the ground, but she did not seem to recognize them.

For my part, I was watching the wall.

At last I found them—the little doors of Abba-dingo.

One said meteorological. It was not Old Common Tongue, nor was it French, but it was so close that I knew it had something to do with the behavior of air. I put my hand against the panel of the door. The panel became translucent and ancient writing showed through. There were numbers which meant nothing, words which meant nothing, and then:

Typhoon coming.

My French had not taught me what a “coming” was, but “typhoon” was plainly typhon, a major air disturbance. Thought I, let the weather machines take care of the matter. It had nothing to do with us.

“That’s no help,” said I.

“What does it mean?” she said.

“The air will be disturbed.”

“Oh,” said she. “That couldn’t matter to us, could it?”

“Of course not.”

I tried the next panel, which said food. When my hand touched the little door, there was an aching creak inside the wall, as though the whole tower retched. The door opened a little bit and a horrible odor came out of it. Then the door closed again.

The third door said help and when I touched it nothing happened. Perhaps it was some kind of tax-collecting device from the ancient days. It yielded nothing to my touch. The fourth door was larger and already partly open at the bottom. At the top, the name of the door was predictions. Plain enough, that one was, to anyone who knew Old French. The name at the bottom was more mysterious: put paper here it said, and I could not guess what it meant.

I tried telepathy. Nothing happened. The wind whistled past us. Some of the calcium balls and knobs rolled on the pavement. I tried again, trying my utmost for the imprint of long-departed thoughts. A scream entered my mind, a thin long scream which did not sound much like people. That was all.

Perhaps it did upset me. I did not feel “fear,” but I was worried about Virginia.

She was staring at the ground.

“Paul,” she said, “isn’t that a man’s coat on the ground among those funny things?”

Once I had seen an ancient X-ray in the museum, so I knew that the coat still surrounded the material which had provided the inner structure of the man. There was no ball there, so that I was quite sure he was dead. How could that have happened in the old days? Why did the Instrumentality let it happen? But then, the Instrumentality had always forbidden this side of the tower. Perhaps the violators had met their own punishment in some way I could not fathom.

“Look, Paul,” said Virginia. “I can put my hand in.”

Before I could stop her, she had thrust her hand into the flat open slot which said put paper here.

She screamed.

Her hand was caught.

I tried to pull at her arm, but it did not move. She began gasping with pain. Suddenly her hand came free.

Clear words were cut into the living skin. I tore my cloak off and wrapped her hand.

As she sobbed beside me I unbandaged her hand. As I did so she saw the words on her skin.

The words said, in clear French: You will love Paul all your life.

Virginia let me bandage her hand with my cloak and then she lifted her face to be kissed. “It was worth it,” she said; “it was worth all the trouble, Paul. Let’s see if we can get down. Now I know.”

I kissed her again and said, reassuringly, “You do know, don’t you?”

“Of course,” she smiled through her tears. “The Instrumentality could not have contrived this. What a clever old machine! Is it a god or a devil, Paul?”

I had not studied those words at that time, so I patted her instead of answering. We turned to leave.

At the last minute I realized that I had not tried predictions myself.

“Just a moment, darling. Let me tear a little piece off the bandage.”

She waited patiently. I tore a piece the size of my hand, and then I picked up one of the ex-person units on the ground. It may have been the front of an arm. I returned to push the cloth into the slot, but when I turned to the door, an enormous bird was sitting there.

I used my hand to push the bird aside, and he cawed at me. He even seemed to threaten me with his cries and his sharp beak. I could not dislodge him.

Then I tried telepathy. I am a true man. Go away!

The bird’s dim mind flashed back at me nothing but no-no-no-no-no!

With that I struck him so hard with my fist that he fluttered to the ground. He righted himself amid the white litter on the pavement and then, opening his wings, he let the wind carry him away.

I pushed in the scrap of cloth, counted to twenty in my mind, and pulled the scrap out.

The words were plain, but they meant nothing: You will love Virginia twenty-one more minutes.

Her happy voice, reassured by the prediction but still unsteady from the pain in her written-on hand, came to me as though it were far away. “What does it say, darling?”

Accidentally on purpose, I let the wind take the scrap. It fluttered away like a bird. Virginia saw it go.

“Oh,” she cried disappointedly. “We’ve lost it! What did it say?”

“Just what yours did.”

“But what words, Paul? How did it say it?”

With love and heartbreak and perhaps a little “fear,” I lied to her and whispered gently,

“It said, ‘Paul will always love Virginia.’ ”

She smiled at me radiantly. Her stocky, full figure stood firmly and happily against the wind. Once again she was the chubby, pretty Menerima whom I had noticed in our block when we both were children. And she was more than that. She was my new-found love in our new-found world. She was my mademoiselle from Martinique. The message was foolish. We had seen from the food-slot that the machine was broken.

“There’s no food or water here,” said I. Actually, there was a puddle of water near the railing, but it had been blown over the human structural elements on the ground, and I had no heart to drink it.

Virginia was so happy that, despite her wounded hand, her lack of water and her lack of food, she walked vigorously and cheerfully.

Thought I to myself, Twenty-one minutes. About six hours have passed. If we stay here we face unknown dangers.

Vigorously we walked downward, down Alpha Ralpha Boulevard. We had met the Abba-dingo and were still “alive.” I did not think that I was “dead,” but the words had been meaningless so long that it was hard to think them.

The ramp was so steep going down that we pranced like horses. The wind blew into our faces with incredible force. That’s what it was, wind, but I looked up the word vent only after it was all over.

We never did see the whole tower—just the wall at which the ancient jetway had deposited us. The rest of the tower was hidden by clouds which fluttered like torn rags as they raced past the heavy material.

The sky was red on one side and a dirty yellow on the other.

Big drops of water began to strike at us.

“The weather machines are broken,” I shouted to Virginia.

She tried to shout back to me but the wind carried her words away. I repeated what I had said about the weather machines. She nodded happily and warmly, though the wind was by now whipping her hair past her face and the pieces of water which fell from up above were spotting her flame-golden gown. It did not matter. She clung to my arm. Her happy face smiled at me as we stamped downward, bracing ourselves against the decline in the ramp. Her brown eyes were full of confidence and life. She saw me looking at her and she kissed me on the upper arm without losing step. She was my own girl forever, and she knew it.

The water-from-above, which I later knew was actual “rain,” came in increasing volume. Suddenly it included birds. A large bird flapped his way vigorously against the whistling air and managed to stand still in front of my face, though his air speed was many leagues per hour. He cawed in my face and then was carried away by the wind. No sooner had that one gone than another bird struck me in the body. I looked down at it but it too was carried away by the racing current of air. All I got was a telepathic echo from its bright blank mind: no-no-no-no!

Now what? thought I. A bird’s advice is not much to go upon.

Virginia grabbed my arm and stopped.

I too stopped.

The broken edge of Alpha Ralpha Boulevard was just ahead. Ugly yellow clouds swam through the break like poisonous fish hastening on an inexplicable errand.

Virginia was shouting.

I could not hear her, so I leaned down. That way her mouth could almost touch my ear.

“Where is Macht?” she shouted.

Carefully I took her to the left side of the road, where the railing gave us some protection against the heavy racing air, and against the water commingled with it. By now neither of us could see very far. I made her drop to her knees. I got down beside her. The falling water pelted our backs. The light around us had turned to a dark dirty yellow.

We could still see, but we could not see much.

I was willing to sit in the shelter of the railing, but she nudged me. She wanted us to do something about Macht. What anyone could do, that was beyond me. If he had found shelter, he was safe, but if he was out on those cables, the wild pushing air would soon carry him off and then there would be no more Maximilien Macht. He would be “dead” and his interior parts would bleach somewhere on the open ground.

Virginia insisted.

We crept to the edge.

A bird swept in, true as a bullet, aiming for my face. I flinched. A wing touched me. It stung against my cheek like fire. I did not know that feathers were so tough. The birds must all have damaged mental mechanisms, thought I, if they hit people on Alpha Ralpha. That is not the right way to behave toward true people.

At last we reached the edge, crawling on our bellies. I tried to dig the fingernails of my left hand into the stone-like material of the railing, but it was flat, and there was nothing much to hold to, save for the ornamental fluting. My right arm was around Virginia. It hurt me badly to crawl forward that way, because my body was still damaged from the blow against the edge of the road, on the way coming up. When I hesitated, Virginia thrust herself forward.

We saw nothing.

The gloom was around us.

The wind and the water beat at us like fists.

Her gown pulled at her like a dog worrying its master. I wanted to get her back into the shelter of the railing, where we could wait for the air-disturbance to end.

Abruptly, the light shone all around us. It was wild electricity, which the ancients called lightning. Later I found that it occurs quite frequently in the areas beyond the reach of the weather machines.

The bright quick light showed us a white face staring at us. He hung on the cables below us. His mouth was open, so he must have been shouting. I shall never know whether the expression on his face showed “fear” or great happiness. It was full of excitement. The bright light went out and I thought that I heard the echo of a call. I reached for his mind telepathically and there was nothing there. Just some dim, obstinate bird thinking at me, no-no-no-no-no!

Virginia tightened in my arms. She squirmed around. I shouted at her in French. She could not hear.

Then I called with my mind.

Someone else was there.

Virginia’s mind blazed at me, full of revulsion, The cat girl. She is going to touch me!

She twisted. My right arm was suddenly empty. I saw the gleam of a golden gown flash over the edge, even in the dim light. I reached with my mind, and I caught her cry:

“Paul, Paul, I love you. Paul . . . help me!”

The thoughts faded as her body dropped.

The someone else was C’mell, whom we had first met in the corridor.

I came to get you both, she thought at me; not that the birds cared about her.

What have the birds got to do with it?

You saved them. You saved their young, when the red-topped man was killing them all. All of us have been worried about what you true people would do to us when you were free. We found out. Some of you are bad and kill other kinds of life. Others of you are good and protect life.

Thought I, is that all there is to good and bad?

Perhaps I should not have left myself off guard. People did not have to understand fighting, but the homunculi did. They were bred amidst battle and they served through troubles. C’mell, cat-girl that she was, caught me on the chin with a pistonlike fist. She had no anesthesia and the only way—cat or no cat—that she could carry me across the cables in the “typhoon” was to have me unconscious and relaxed.

I awakened in my own room. I felt very well indeed. The robot-doctor was there. Said he:

“You’ve had a shock. I’ve already reached the sub-commissioner of the Instrumentality, and I can erase the memories of the last full day, if you want me to.”

His expression was pleasant.

Where was the racing wind? The air falling like stone around us? The water driving where no weather machines controlled it? Where was the golden gown and the wild fear-hungry face of Maximilien Macht?

I thought these things, but the robot-doctor, not being telepathic, caught none of it. I stared hard at him.

“Where,” I cried, “is my own true love?”

Robots cannot sneer, but this one attempted to do so. “The naked cat-girl with the blazing hair? She left to get some clothing.”

I stared at him.

His fuddy-duddy little machine mind cooked up its own nasty little thoughts, “I must say, sir, you ‘free people’ change very fast indeed . . .”

Who argues with a machine? It wasn’t worth answering him.

But that other machine? Twenty-one minutes. How could that work out? How could it have known? I did not want to argue with that other machine either. It must have been a very powerful left-over machine—perhaps something used in ancient wars. I had no intention of finding out. Some people might call it a god. I call it nothing. I do not need “fear” and I do not propose to go back to Alpha Ralpha Boulevard again.

But hear, oh heart of mine!—how can you ever visit the café again?

C’mell came in and the robot-doctor left.


Mis-spelled words and printer errors have been fixed.

[The end of Alpha Ralpha Boulevard by Paul Myron Anthony Linebarger (as Cordwainer Smith)]