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Mr. Mueller's Eighth Grade


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Welcome to Mr. Mueller's Eighth Grade Language Arts website. Below you will find links to the short stories and the last link is a pattern for your dodecahedrons.





Short Stories

The Secret Life of Walter
      Mitty
There Will Come Soft
      Rains

Coming of Age
The Leave-Taking
A Lifetime of Chances
All Summer in a Day
True Love
Light Verse
Strikebreaker




Dodecahedron Pattern

Digital Pattern
   
Strikebreaker
By Isaac Asimov


     Elvis Blei rubbed his plump hands and said, "Self-containment is the word." He smiled uneasily as he helped Steven Lamorak of Earth to a light. There was uneasiness all over his smooth face with its small, wide-set eyes.
     Lamorak puffed smoke appreciatively and crossed his lanky legs. His hair was powdered with gray and he had a large and powerful jawbone. "Home-grown?" he asked, staring critically at the cigarette. He tried to hide his own disturbance at the other's tension.
     "Quite," said Blei.
     "I wonder," said Lamorak, "that you have room on your small world for such luxuries."
     (Lamorak thought of his first view of Elsevere from the spaceship visiplate. It was a jagged, airless planetoid, some hundred miles in diameter--just a dust-gray, rough-hewn rock, glimmering dully in the light of its sun, 200,000,000 miles distant. It was the only object more than a mile in diameter that circled that sun, and now men had burrowed into that miniature world and constructed a society within it. And he himself, as a sociologist, had come to study the world and see how humanity had made itself fit into that queerly specialized niche.
     Blei's polite fixed smile expanded a hair. He said, "We are not a small world, Dr. Lamorak; you judge us by two-dimensional standards. The surface area of Elsevere is only three quarters that of the State of New York, but that's irrelevant. Remember, we can occupy, if we wish, the entire interior of Elsevere. A sphere of 50 miles radius has a volume of well over half a million cubic miles. If all of Elsevere were occupied by levels 50 feet apart, the total surface area within the planetoid would be 56,000,000 square miles, and that is equal to the total land area of Earth. And none of these square miles, Doctor, would be unproductive."
     Lamorak said, “Good Lord!” and stared blankly for a moment. “Yes, of course you’re right. Strange I never thought of it that way. But then, Elsevere is the only thoroughly exploited planetoid world in the Galaxy; the rest of us simply can’t get away from thinking of two-dimensional surfaces, as you pointed out. Well, I’m more than ever glad that your Council has been so cooperative as to give me a free hand in this investigation of mine.”
     Blei nodded convulsively at that.
     Lamorak frowned slightly and thought: He acts for all the world as though he wished I had not come. Something’s wrong.
     Blei said, ”Of course, you understand that we are actually much smaller than we could be; only minor portions of Elsevere have as yet been hollowed out and occupied. Nor are we particularly anxious to expand, except very slowly. To a certain extent we are limited by the capacity of our pseudo-gravity engines and solar energy converters.”
     “I understand. But tell me, Councillor Blei—as a matter of personal curiosity, and not because it is of prime importance to my project—could I view some of your farming and herding levels first? I am fascinated by the thought of fields of wheat and herds of cattle inside a planetoid.”
     “You’ll find the cattle small by your standards, Doctor, and we don’t have much wheat. We grow yeast to a much greater extent. But there will be some wheat to show you. Some cotton and some tobacco, too. Even fruit trees.”
     “Wonderful. As you say, self-containment. You recirculate everything, I imagine.”
     Lamorak’s sharp eyes did not miss the fact that this last remark twinged Blei. The Elseverian’s eyes narrowed to slits that hid his expression.
     He said, “We must recirculate, yes. Air, water, food, minerals,--everything that is used up--must be restored to its original state; waste products are converted to raw materials. All that is needed is energy, and we have enough of that. We don’t manage with one hundred percent efficiency, of course; there is a certain seepage. We import a small amount of water each year; and if our needs grow, we may have to import some coal and oxygen.”
     Lamorak said, “When can we start our tour, Councillor Blei?”
     Blei’s smile lost some negligible warmth. “As soon as we can, Doctor. There are some routine matters that must be arranged.”
     Lamorak nodded, and having finished his cigarette, snuffed it out.
     Routine matters? There was none of this hesitancy during the preliminary corespondence. Elsevere had seemed proud that its unique planetoid existence had attracted the attention of the Galaxy.
     He said, “I realize I would be a disturbing influence in a tightly knit society," and watched grimly as Blei leaped at the explanation and made it his own.
     "Yes," said Blei, "we feel marked off from the rest of the Galaxy. We have our own customs. Each individual Elseverian fits into a comfortable niche. The appearance of a stranger without fixed caste is unsettling."
     "The caste system does involve a certain inflexibility."
     "Granted," said Blei quickly; "but there is also a certain self-assurance. We have firm rules of intermarriage and rigid inheritance of occupation. Each man, woman and child knows his place, accepts it, and is accepted in it; we have virtually no neurosis or mental illness."
     "And are there no misfits?" asked Lamorak. Blei shaped his mouth as though to say no, then clamped it suddenly shut, biting the word into silence; a frown deepened on his forehead. He said, at length, “I will arrange for the tour, Doctor. Meanwhile, I imagine you would welcome a chance to freshen up and to sleep. "
     They rose together and left the room, Blei politely motioning the Earthman to precede him out the door.
     Lamorak felt oppressed by the vague feeling of crisis that had pervaded his discussion with Blei.
     The newspaper reinforced that feeling. He read it carefully before getting into bed, with what was at first merely a clinical interest. It was an eight-page tabloid of synthetic paper. One quarter of its items consisted of "personals": births, marriages, deaths, record quotas, expanding habitable volume (not area! three dimensions!). The remainder included scholarly essays, educational material, and fiction. Of news, in the sense to which Lamorak was accustomed, there was virtually nothing.
     One item only could be so considered and that was chilling in its incompleteness.
     It said, under a small headline: DEMANDS UNCHANGED: There has been no change in his attitude of yesterday. The Chief Councilor, after a second interview, announced that his demands remain completely unreasonable and cannot be met under any circumstances.
     Then, in parenthesis, and in different type, there was the statement: The editors of this paper agree that Elsevere cannot and will not jump to his whistle, come what may.
     Lamorak read it over three times. His attitude. His demands. His whistle.
     Whose?
     He slept uneasily, that night.

***

     He had no time for newspapers in the days that followed; but spasmodically, the matter returned to his thoughts.
     Blei, who remained his guide and companion for most of the tour, grew ever more withdrawn.
     On the third day (quite artificially clock-set in an Earthlike twenty- four-hour pattern), Blei stopped at one point, and said, "Now this level is devoted entirely to chemical industries. That section is not important--"
     But he turned away a shade too rapidly, and Lamorak seized his arm. "What are the products of that section?"
     "Fertilizers. Certain…organics," said Blei stiffly.
     Lamorak held him back, looking for what sight Blei might be evading. His gaze swept over the close-by horizons of lined rock and the buildings squeezed and layered between the levels.
     Lamorak said, "Isn't that a private residence there?"
     Blei did not look in the indicated direction.
     Lamorak said, "I think that's the largest one I've seen yet. Why is it here on a factory level?" That alone made it noteworthy. He had already seen that the levels on Elsevere were divided rigidly among the residential, the agricultural and the industrial.
     He looked back and called, "Councillor Blei!"
     The councilor was walking away and Lamorak pursued him with hasty steps. "Is there something wrong, sir?"
     Blei muttered, "I am rude, I know. I am sorry. There are matters that prey on my mind--" He kept up his rapid pace.
     "Concerning his demands."
     Blei came to a full halt. "What do you know about that?"
     "No more than I've said. I read that much in the newspaper."
     Blei muttered something to himself.
     Lamorak said, "Ragusnik? What's that?"
     Blei sighed heavily. "I suppose you ought to be told. It's humiliating, deeply embarrassing. The Council thought that matters would certainly be arranged shortly and that your visit need not be interfered with, that you need not know or be concerned. But it is almost a week now. I don't know what will happen and, appearances notwithstanding, it might be best for you to leave. No reason for an Outworlder to risk death."
     The Earthman smiled incredulously. "Risk death? In this little world, so peaceful and busy. I can't believe it."
     The Elseverian councilor said, "I can explain. I think it best I should." He turned his head away. "As I told you, everything on Elsevere must recirculate. You understand that."
     "Yes."
     "That includes--uh, human wastes."
     "I assumed so," said Lamorak.
     "Water is reclaimed from it by distillation and absorption. What remains is converted into fertilizer for yeast use; some of it is used as a source of fine organics and other by-products. These factories you see are devoted to this."
     "Well?" Lamorak had experienced a certain difficulty in the drinking of water when he first landed on Elsevere, because he had been realistic enough to know what it must be reclaimed from; but he had conquered the feeling easily enough. Even on Earth, water was reclaimed by natural processes from all sorts of unpalatable substances.
     Blei, with increasing difficulty, said, "Igor Ragusnik is the man who is in charge of the industrial processes immediately involving the wastes. The position has been in his family since Elsevere was first colonized. One of the original settlers was Mikhail Ragusnik and he…he…"
     "Was in charge of waste reclamation."
     "Yes. Now that residence you singled out is the Ragusnik residence; it is the best and most elaborate on the planetoid. Ragusnik gets many privileges the rest of us do not have; but, after all,”--passion entered the councillor's voice with great suddenness –“we cannot speak to him."
     "What?"
     "He demands full social equality. He wants his children to mingle with ours, and our wives to visit--oh!" It was a groan of utter disgust.
     Lamorak thought of the newspaper item that could not even bring itself to mention Ragusnik's name in print, or to say anything specific about his demands. He said, "I take it he's an outcast because of his job."
     "Naturally. Human wastes and--" Words fail Blei. After a pause, he said more quietly, "As an Earthman, I suppose you don't understand. "
     "As a sociologist, I think I do." Lamorak thought of the Untouchables in ancient India, the ones who handled corpses. He thought of the position of swineherds in ancient Judea.
     He went on, "I gather Elsevere will not give in to those demands."
     "Never," said Blei, energetically. "Never."
     "And so?"
     "Ragusnik has threatened to cease operations."
     "Go on strike, in other words."
     "Yes.”
     "Would that be serious?"
     "We have enough food and water to last quite a while; reclamation is not essential in that sense. But the wastes would accumulate; they would infect the planetoid. After generations of careful disease control, we have low natural resistance to germ diseases. Once an epidemic started--and one would--we would drop by the hundreds."
     "Is Ragusnik aware of this?"
     "Yes, of course."
     "Do you think he is likely to go through with his threat, then?"
     "He is mad. He has already stopped working; there has been no waste reclamation since the day before you landed." Blei's bulbous nose sniffed at the air as though it already caught the whiff of excrement. Lamorak sniffed mechanically at that, but smelled nothing.
     Blei said, "So you see why it might be wise for you to leave. We are humiliated, of course, to have to suggest it."
     But Lamorak said, "Wait; not just yet. Good Lord, this is a matter of great interest to me professionally. May I speak to the Ragusnik?" "On no account," said Blei, alarmed.
     "But I would like to understand the situation. The sociological conditions here are unique and not to be duplicated elsewhere. In the name of science-"
     "How do you mean, speak? Would image-reception do?"
     "Yes.”
     "I will ask the Council," muttered Blei.
     They sat about Lamorak uneasily, their austere and dignified expressions badly marred with anxiety. Blei, seated in the midst of them, studiously avoided the Earthman's eyes.
     The Chief Councilor, gray-haired, his face harshly wrinkled, his neck scrawny, said in a soft voice, "If in any way you can persuade him, sir, out of your own convictions, we will welcome that. In no case, however, are you to imply that we will, in any way, yield."
     A gauzy curtain fell between the Council and Lamorak. He could make out the individual councillors still, but now he turned sharply toward the receiver before him. It glowed to life.
     A head appeared in it, in natural color and with great realism. A strong dark head, with massive chin faintly stubbled, and thick, red lips set into a firm horizontal line.
     The image said, suspiciously, "Who are you?" Lamorak said, "My name is Steven Lamorak; I am an Earthman."
     "An Outworlder?"
     "That's right. I am visiting Elsevere. You are Ragusnik?"
     "Igor Ragusnik, at your service," said the image, mockingly. "Except that there is no service and will be none until my family and I are treated like human beings."
     Lamorak said, "Do you realize the danger that Elsevere is in? The possibility of epidemic disease?" "In twenty-four hours, the situation can be made normal, if they allow me humanity. The situation is theirs to correct."
     "You sound like an educated man, Ragusnik."
     "So?"
     "I am told you're denied no material comforts. You are housed and clothed and fed better than anyone on Elsevere. Your children are the best educated."
     "Granted. But all by servo-mechanism. And motherless girl-babies are sent us to care for until they grow to be our wives. And they die young for loneliness. Why?" There was sudden passion in his voice. "Why must we live in isolation as if we were all monsters, unfit for human beings to be near? Aren't we human beings like others, with the same needs and desires and feelings? Don't we perform an honorable and useful function?"
     There was a rustling of sighs from behind Lamorak. Ragusnik heard it, and raised his voice. "I see you of the Council behind there. Answer me: Isn't it an honorable and useful function? It is your waste made into food for you. Is the man who purifies corruption worse than the man who produces it? Listen, councillors, I will not give in. Let all of Elsevere die of disease--including myself and my son, if necessary--but I will not give in. My family will be better dead of disease, than living as now."
     Lamorak interrupted. "You've led this life since birth, haven't you?"
     "And if I have?"
     "Surely you're used to it."
     "Never. Resigned, perhaps. My father was resigned, and I was resigned for a while; but I have watched my son, my only son, with no other little boy to play with. My brother and I had each other, but my son will never have anyone, and I am no longer resigned. I am through with Elsevere and through with talking." The receiver went dead.
     The Chief Councilor’s face had paled to an aged yellow. He and Blei were the only ones of the group left with Lamorak. The Chief Councillor said, "The man is deranged; I do not know how to force him. He had a glass of wine at his side; as he lifted it to his lips, he spilled a few drops that stained his white trousers with purple splotches.
     Lamorak said, "Are his demands so unreasonable? Why can't he be accepted into society?"
     There was momentary rage in Blei's eyes. "A dealer in excrement!” Then he shrugged. "You are from Earth." Incongruously, Lamorak thought of another unacceptable, one of the numerous classic creations of the medieval cartoonist Al Capp. The variously named "inside man at the skonk works."
     He said, "Does Ragusnik really deal with excrement? I mean, is there physical contact? Surely, it is all handled by automatic machinery.”
     "Of course," said the Chief Councillor.
     "Then exactly what is Ragusnik's function?"
     "He manually adjusts the various controls that assure the proper functioning of the machinery. He shifts units to allow repairs to be made; he alters functional rates with the time of day; he varies end production with demand." He added sadly, "If we had the space to make the machinery ten times as complex, all this could be done automatically; but that would be such needless waste."
     "But even so," insisted Lamorak, "all Ragusnik does he does simply by pressing buttons or closing contacts or things like that."
     "Yes.”
     "Then his work is no different from any Elseverian's."
     Blei said, stiffly, "You don't understand."
     "And for that you will risk the death of your children?"
     "We have no other choice," said Blei. There was enough agony in his voice to assure Lamorak that the situation was torture for him, but that he had no other choice indeed.
     Lamorak shrugged in disgust. "Then break the strike. Force him."
     "How?" said the Chief Councillor. "Who would touch him or go near him? And if we kill him by blasting from a distance, how will that help us?"
     Lamorak said, thoughtfully, "Would you know how to run his machinery?"
     The Chief Councilor came to his feet. "I?” he howled. "I don't mean you," cried Lamorak at once. "I used the pronoun in its indefinite sense. Could someone learn how to handle Ragusnik's machinery?"
     Slowly, the passion drained out of the Chief Councillor. "It is in the handbooks, I am certain--though I assure you I have never concerned myself with it."
     "Then couldn't someone learn the procedure and substitute for Ragusnik until the man gives in?" Blei said, "Who would agree to do such a thing? Not I, under any circumstances. "
     Lamorak thought fleetingly of Earthly taboos that might be almost as strong. He thought of cannibalism, incest, a pious man cursing God. He said, "But you must have made provision for vacancy in the Ragusnik job. Suppose he died."
     "Then his son would automatically succeed to his job, or his nearest other relative," said Blei. "What if he had no adult relatives? What if all his family died at once?"
     "That has never happened; it will never happen." The Chief Councilor added, "If there were danger of it, we might, perhaps, place a baby or two with the Ragusniks and have it raised to the profession."
     "Ah. And how would you choose that baby?"
     "From among children of mothers who died in childbirth, as we choose the future Ragusnik bride."
     "Then choose a substitute Ragusnik now, by lot," said Lamorak. The Chief Councilor said, 'No! Impossible! How can you suggest that? If we select a baby, that baby is brought up to the life; it knows no other. At this point, it would be necessary to choose an adult and subject him to Ragusnik-hood. No, Dr. Lamorak, we are neither monsters nor abandoned brutes."
     No use, thought Lamorak helplessly. No use, unless-- He couldn't bring himself to face that unless just yet.

***

     That night, Lamorak slept scarcely at all. Ragusnik asked for only the basic elements of humanity. But opposing that were thirty thousand Elseverians who faced death.
     The welfare of thirty thousand on one side; the just demands of one family on the other. Could one say that thirty thousand who would support such injustice deserved to die? Injustice by what standards? Earth’s? Elsevere's? And who was Lamorak that he should judge?
     And Ragusnik? He was willing to let thirty thousand die, including men and women who merely accepted a situation they had been taught to accept and could not change if they wished to. And children who had nothing at all to do with it.
     Thirty thousand on one side; a single family on the other. Lamorak made his decision in something that was almost despair; in the morning he called the Chief Councillor. He said, "Sir, if you can find a substitute, Ragusnik will see that he has lost all chance to force a decision in his favor and will return to work." "There can be no substitute," sighed the Chief Councillor. "I have explained that."
     "No substitute among the Elseverians, but I am not an Elseverian; it doesn't matter to me. I will substitute."

***

     They were excited, much more excited than Lamorak himself. A dozen times they asked him if be was serious.
     Lamorak had not shaved, and he felt sick. "Certainly, I'm serious. And any time Ragusnik acts like this, you can always import a substitute. No other world has the taboo and there will always be plenty of temporary substitutes available if you pay enough." (He was betraying a brutally exploited man, and he knew it. But he told himself desperately: Except for ostracism, he's very well treated. Very well.) They gave him the handbooks and he spent six hours, reading and rereading. There was no use asking questions. None of the Elseverians knew anything about the job, except for what was in the handbook; and all seemed uncomfortable if the details were as much as mentioned.
     "Maintain zero reading of galvanometer A-2 at all times during red signal of the Lunge-howler," read Lamorak. "Now what's a Lunge- howler?"
     "There will be a sign," muttered Blei, and the Elseverians looked at each other hangdog and bent their heads to stare at their fingerends.
     They left him long before he reached the small rooms that were the central headquarters of generations of working Ragusniks, serving their world. He had specific instructions concerning which turnings to take and what level to reach, but they hung back and let him proceed alone.
     He went through the rooms painstakingly, identifying the instruments and controls, following the schematic diagrams in the handbook.
     There's a Lunge-howler, he thought, with gloomy satisfaction. The sign did indeed say so. It had a semicircular face bitten into holes that were obviously designed to glow in separate colors. Why a "howler" then?
     He didn't know.
     Somewhere, thought Lamorak, somewhere wastes are accumulating, pushing against gears and exits, pipelines and stills, waiting to be handled in half a hundred ways. Now they just accumulate.
     Not without a tremor, he pulled the first switch as indicated by the handbook in its directions for "Initiation." A gentle murmur of life made itself felt through the floors and walls. He turned a knob and fights went on.
     At each step, he consulted the handbook, though he knew it by heart; and with each step, the rooms brightened and the dial indicators sprang into motion and a humming grew louder.
     Somewhere deep in the factories, the accumulated wastes were being drawn into the proper channels. A high-pitched signal sounded and startled Lamorak out of his painful concentration. It was the communications signal and Lamorak fumbled his receiver into action.
     Ragusnik's head showed, startled; then slowly, the incredulity and outright shock faded from his eyes. “That's how it is, then."
     "I'm not an Elseverian, Ragusnik; I don't mind doing this."
     "But what business is it of yours? Why do you interfere?"
     "I'm on your side, Ragusnik, but I must do this."
     "Why, if you're on my side? Do they treat people on your world as they treat me here?"
     "Not any longer. But even if you are right, there are thirty thousand people on Elsevere to be considered."
     "They would have given in; you've ruined my only chance."
     "They would not have given in. And in a way, you've won; they know now that you're dissatisfied. Until now, they never dreamed a Ragusnik could be unhappy, that he could make trouble."
     "What if they know? Now all they need do is hire an Outworlder anytime."
     Lamorak shook his head violently. He had thought this through in these last bitter hours. "The fact that they know means that the Elseverians will begin to think about you; some will begin to wonder if it's right to treat a human so. And if Outworlders are hired, they’ll spread the word that this goes on upon Elsevere and Galactic public opinion will be in your favor."
     "And?"
     "Things will improve. In your son's time, things will be much better."
     "In my son's time," said Ragusnik, his cheeks sagging. "I might have had it now. Well, I lose. I'll go back to the job."
     Lamorak felt an overwhelming relief. "If you'll come here now, sir, you may have your job and I'll consider it an honor to shake your hand."
     Ragusnik's head snapped up and filled with a gloomy pride. "You call me 'sir' and offer to shake my hand. Go about your business, Earthman, and leave me to my work, for I would not shake yours."
     Lamorak returned the way he had come, relieved that the crisis was over, and profoundly depressed, too.
     He stopped in surprise when he found a section of corridor cordoned off, so he could not pass. He looked about for alternate routes, then startled at a magnified voice above his head. "Dr. Lamorak, do you hear me? This is Councilor Blei." Lamorak looked up. The voice came over some sort of public address system, but he saw no sign of an outlet.
     He called out, "Is anything wrong? Can you hear me?" "I hear you."
     Instinctively, Lamorak was shouting. "Is anything wrong? There seems to be a block here. Are there complications with Ragusnik?"
     "Ragusnik has gone to work," came Blei's voice. "The crisis is over, and you must make ready to leave."
     "Leave?"
     "Leave Elsevere; a ship is being made ready for you now."
     "But wait a bit." Lamorak was confused by this sudden leap of events. "I haven't completed my gathering of data."
     Blei's voice said, "This cannot be helped. You will be directed to the ship and your belongings will be sent after you by servo-mechanisms. We trust…we trust…"
     Something was becoming clear to Lamorak. "You trust what?"
     "We trust you will make no attempt to see or speak directly to any Elseverian. And of course we hope you will avoid embarrassment by not attempting to return to Elsevere at any time in the future. A colleague of yours would be welcome if further data concerning us is needed." "I understand," said Lamorak, tonelessly. Obviously, he had himself become a Ragusnik. He had handled the controls that in turn had handled the wastes; he was ostracized. He was a corpse-handler, a swineherd, an inside man at the skonk works.
     He said, "Good-bye."
     Blei's voice said, "Before we direct you, Dr. Lamorak--on behalf of the Council of Elsevere, I thank you for your help in this crisis."
     "You're welcome," said Lamorak bitterly.





~Complaint Department~





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