Death In Florence
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by George Alec Effinger
Category: Science Fiction
Description: DEATH IN FLORENCE was also published as UTOPIA 3 In a wild and crazy novel composed equally of black humor and deep, humane insight, George Alec Effinger strips away the veneer of civilization, revealing the deep truths by which we all live. Without the culture we have accumulated, existence is sometimes a nightmare, sometimes absurd, sometimes courageous and wonderful. Utopia 3 is a movement spreading through the world, a project designed to mold everyone into people devoted to brotherhood and peace. A large portion of Europe is set aside for members of the pilot program. Each member is permitted to travel anywhere within the project, do anything, take anything without limit. Each person undergoes an indoctrination designed to prevent destructive or harmful acts. This is the meaning and hope of Utopia 3. This story focuses on three people: Eileen Brant, a weary young woman escaping the dead-end life she was leading; Justin Benarcek, a man who tries either too hard or not at all; and Bo Staefler, who, accompanied by a silent Arab boy, accidentally joins Utopia 3 by standing too near the genuine members at the wrong moment. These three people are caught up in a growing scheme, a deadly and evil plan that threatens to destroy the project and, ultimately, the entire world. A conflict greater than any war in history is about to be unleashed and only Brant, Benarcek and Staefler can hope to prevent it.
eBook Publisher: E-Reads/E-Reads, 1978
eBookwise Release Date: November 2011
Available eBook Formats: OEBFF Format (IMP) [306 KB]
Reading time: 188-264 min.
New Streets and Roads
* * * *
It was about five-thirty in the morning when Moore awoke. There was a harsh, blue-white light outside the window, shining through the dusty slats of the blinds. There were no signs of motion, nothing moving between the source of the light and the window. The light was very near, its glare unsoftened by distance. When Moore finally rubbed away the last bleary webs of sleep, he couldn't remember where he was. It seemed to him that he hadn't slept normally. It may have been that he had been drugged or tampered with, his brain rhythms may have been adjusted to induce a long coma, or nurses may have been bribed to feed him barbiturates over a period of months or even years. Where was he? How long had he been asleep? He swung his legs over the edge of the bed. He was naked. He walked to the window. When he got there, he hesitated for a few seconds, not wanting to be either stunned or disappointed too quickly. He left the exciting part for as long as he could, smiling to himself in the dimness. Then he raised one of the blind's metal ribs and stared out.
The ground was covered with snow. Tall pole lamps stood in parallel ranks about a white-covered parking lot. There were no cars out there. Innumerable specks of brightness shone on the crust of the snow. "Very lovely," thought Moore. "Where am I? Have I slept for centuries? Have I awakened in some strange culture, with which I will have nothing in common?" He ran a hand through his dark hair, pretending to be worried. He spent a few seconds trying bewilderment, being puzzled, attempting to be not immediately in possession of the facts. He wanted the feeling to last awhile, he wanted time for full development. It didn't work; he was too bored. "No," he thought, "tomorrow I'll be worried. That's soon enough." He yawned and let the slat fall back into place. His pale body was tiger-striped with shadows and blue-white brightness.
Now that he was awake, there was nothing else to do but dress and get ready to catch the bus. He looked around his room. It was a simple, bare college dormitory room. It had a low, uncomfortable bed with a thin mattress, a cheap, green-painted wooden chair, a wobbly desk, and a lamp. In the closet was a small dresser and a mirror. The bathroom was down the hall. He scooped up the clothes he had worn the day before and left the room. His feet slapped on the cold tiles of the hallway, and he stubbed his toe on the raised threshold of the bathroom. He went to the sink where he had left his toilet articles and began to shave. Many of the other men had already taken their showers, and he greeted them sleepily.
* * * *
Eileen Brant opened her eyes. The room was flooded with light. The window was open, and the salmon-colored drapes were billowing in the warm breeze. Beyond the window, Brant could see the curving tops of palm trees; from her point of view, an aluminum fence intercepted the trees before the trunks reached the nourishing earth. The fence marked the farther boundary of an asphalt-paved parking lot. There were no cars in the lot. Brant got out of bed and undid the ties of her nightgown. She yawned and tossed the garment onto the bed.
A pleasant fragrance came in through the window, smells of strange flowers and shrubs she had never seen before. There was also a rather loud noise, a generator in the back of the dormitory. As she became aware of the sound, she realized how much it irritated her. She smiled and shook off the feeling. She hummed to herself.
"I have been washed up on some foreign shore," she thought. "I am Nausicaa, a beautiful princess, and I am stranded on the golden sands of a wonderful dark island. My memory is still floating half-dead in the waves. I don't know where I am. I don't know who I am, other than Nausicaa, a highly prized royal daughter. And to make everything fitting, Odysseus must be playing a silly game of ball with his minions, who will all join in carrying me to his palace, where I will astound them with my lies and my athletic prowess."
Brant remembered that she was naked. She hurried to the closet and grabbed the clothes she had worn the day before. She threw them onto the bed and put on a quilted robe. She didn't see any reason to lock the door to her room when she left, and she went down to the lavatory to wash up before breakfast.
* * * *
The little Arab kid had left Staefler's supper on the wooden stool. Staefler just looked at it for a few seconds; the whole room seemed to have just two attributes: heat and odors. The wooden bowl of mutton stew added to both. Wisps of steam rose from the dark, viscous stuff. A heavy, almost noxious smell of grease and spices spread from the stew to fill the dark room. Staefler sighed and went toward the stool, but he changed his mind and instead sat back down on the edge of the bed. He decided to wait until he was a little hungrier.
The room was small and square, virtually empty of furniture. There was an old wooden fan on the ceiling that could not be made to operate. There was the bed and the stool and a small night stand with a porcelain basin of water. There was no mirror, no dresser, no chair for whatever visitor Staefler might persuade into his room. The walls had been white, but were now a cracked and peeling yellow. Rust-red stains made a kind of Moorish pattern around the room. Staefler wiped the sweat from his face and fell back on his pillow. He wondered what he could do to kill the rest of the evening.
There was a bar not too far away, run by a Hungarian immigrant. Staefler liked to go down there late at night, when all the casual drinkers and the wandering Europeans had drifted elsewhere. There was a pinball machine in the dark rear alcove. Staefler had a great store of competitive energy in him, and he tested himself against games. The women of the city laughed at him when they discovered how serious he was. "Hemingway shot things," he would say. "I play things." He meant it. The pinball machine was the only challenge that he acknowledged in the entire city of Al-Dur, and he was determined to turn it over.
He had almost beaten the machine the night before. Staefler had gone into the bar about eleven o'clock and gotten his usual absinthe Suissesse. He carried the drink back to the machine, which was called Hi-Lo Express, the letters of the name glowing in red and blue on the vertical backglass. He slipped a coin into the slot and hit the red reset button to clear the previous score. A ball popped in front of the spring plunger. The idea was to use the machine's flippers to keep the ball in play. He was aiming for the targets which would light the letters H-I L-0 E-X-P-R-E-S-S. If he completed the sequence, the other features on the playing area would increase in value. In over a week's playing, he had never been able to light all the letters.
Staefler had almost beaten the machine. His hands clenched as he remembered the frustration of the night before. He had needed fifty-five thousand points to win, and he had gotten fifty-one thousand. He had used his last coin, and he had walked back to his room in a bitter mood. What had made the situation worse was that he had watched a young native boy beat the machine easily. Staefler didn't like the way the natives slammed the pin-ball machine mercilessly, thinking it would help jar points on the Scoreboard. That was not finesse or skill, to Staefler's way of thinking. It didn't prove anything about one's maturity. When Staefler played, he barely jolted the machine. He used the flippers gently, sending the ball up to the bumpers in slow, easy arcs, instead of bashing the thing around in unpredictable, careening paths that often left the player hopeless when the ball shot by the flippers.
Staefler sat up again on his cot, unclenching his fists. He took a deep breath. Tonight, he knew, tonight he would win. He forgot the mutton stew completely. He checked his pockets and made sure that he had the coins for the machine and enough for the absinthe. Then he went out to the bar.
It was raining. The narrow brick streets were filling with dark water, and broken spouts sent cascades of cold rain onto the shoulders of the pedestrians. The rain did nothing to clean the air, though. The thick, hot smell of garbage and human wastes nauseated Staefler. He was grateful when he arrived at the bar and entered its cool, dimly lit rooms. He got his drink and went back to the alcove. The pinball machine was gone. In its place was a large, gaudy jukebox. Staefler just stared. Then he turned and walked quickly out of the bar and back to his room. He crossed the empty lot behind the auberge in which he was staying and ran up the back stairs of the building. He turned the key in the lock and pushed his door open with his shoulder; he went in and lay down on the bed. He closed his eyes, but he knew that he wouldn't be able to sleep. In the morning he would be on his way.
* * * *
Moore's plane landed at Orly. He ignored the flight attendants' insistent farewells and hurried through the terminal. He had packed everything in two small zippered bags so that he wouldn't have to wait for his luggage to be unloaded. He still had to go through customs, however, but that wasn't as much trouble as just getting through the security check before boarding. As he walked toward the main terminal, he heard his name being called on the public address system. "Mr. Norman Moore, please go to the white courtesy phones in the lobby. Mr. Norman Moore, please pick up any white courtesy telephone." Moore was very excited. He'd always wanted to be paged. There was a white phone on the wall just a few feet away. He straightened his posture and walked determinedly toward it.
"Hello, this is Norman Moore," he said into the phone, wondering who would answer.
"Ah, hello, Monsieur Moore," said a man's voice. "I am Etienne Crisafi, the representative here in Paris of Utopia 3."
"Yes, of course," said Moore. "I'm glad you contacted me. I didn't have any idea where I was supposed to go next."
"If you'll collect your things and wait by the sign that says Gentilly, right next to the newsstand as you came into the main lobby, I'll meet you and the others in about ten minutes."
"Fine," said Moore. He hung up the phone and looked around. He spotted the sign without any difficulty; there were already two men and three women waiting there. He shrugged and went over to join the group.