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Spring Fair Moduli by Francis G Rayer
This short story first appeared in the magazine New Worlds Science Fiction, Issue Number l03, dated February l96l. Editor John Carnell.
Country of first publication: United Kingdom (Great Britain (England, Wales, Scotland) and Northern Ireland).
This work is Copyright. All rights are reserved.
Somewhere in the fair ground mass and motion balanced out and the excess energy went- where?
Spring Fair Moduli by Francis G. Rayer
Noise echoed over the square. An electronic organ on the helter-skelter blared and music thrummed from the super roundabout as it carried its spaceship carriages in dipping, whirling light. Youths, girls, men, women and children shouted and sang, temporarily submerged in the bustle and sound. The enormous giant wheel whirled and beyond it high swingboats outlined with coloured lights rose and fell, chariots oscillating from earth to the stars and back.
"Let's go on the roundabout!" Judy called.
Joe yelled agreement in her ear, guiding her past electric bumper cars which wove patterns over a hazard-dotted arena. Beyond, a mammoth cakewalk lunged, a live thing under the staggering feet of its hysterical load. Music roared from a loudspeaker, a late hit without meaning.
With one hand Judy pressed her tiny white, inverted half shell hat on her head. Her golden hair hung like a mane, her eyes shone, her lips were parted in an exclamation. Watching, Joe loved her.
They pushed through the shoving, shouting crowds. The spring fair lingered only two brief days in the usually drab streets. There was a concerted determination to do everything, see everything, ride everything. The roundabout was outlined with red, green, silver and gold fluorescent tubes. It was coming to a halt, its spaceship carriages ceasing their weaving pattern. People began climbing out over the inner chromed rails, laughing, faces hot and excited, hair disordered, gripping each other as if unsure of their return to earth.
Joe smiled, guiding Judy. He smiled seldom. His features were visibly dark under the glaring daylight tubes over the pay entrance, but not so dark that anyone gave him a second glance that night. Judy did not care that his skin had this mellowed hue of an alien- but sometimes others did. Tonight he wished to forget this deadly, subtle difference.
A short escalator carried them to the semi-circular platform, discharging them with fifty others. Holding hands, they pushed for a vivid green spaceship, almost fell into it, and squeezed into the double back seat. The roundabout moved a quarter revolution and stopped, loading other carriages. Diametrically opposite, across the vast inner diameter, a second semi-circular platform was loading its half of the carriages. Then the music started, a deep throbbing, warbling mixture of noise and rhythm. The roundabout began to gain speed.
"Hold my hat, Joe!" Judy shouted in his ear. She pressed close, holding him, pushing the fragile white plastic shell into his hand. "I'll lose it if you don't!"
He gripped her tightly round the waist. The roundabout was working up to its frightening maximum speed. Screams, joyous yet fearful, came briefly through the bedlam of music. The vivid green spaceship rose and fell, simultaneously rocking about its horizontal axis and oscillating about the joints of a vertical support. The carriages flew out under the tug of centrifugal force. The screams, shouts and music became louder. This was worse than any real space trip, Joe thought. But probably most people at the fair had never seen more of a spaceship than a silver mote boring skywards on its pillar of vapour.
The great machines of the fair oscillated, twirled, sang, howled and roared with their prescribed activities. The swingboats sped for the stars, hung poised, and dropped earthwards in an appalling trajectory. The cakewalk heaved at its protesting, yelling load. The big wheel streamed circles of light against the sky. Lesser roundabouts whirled, the electric cars sped in their patterns. Music throbbed, a string of swishback cars set off, coloured lights snaking up steep inclines and roaring down apparently fatal dips.
High in the green spaceship carriage, Joe could see it all Judy squeezed him.
"It's lovely, Joe!"
He yelled back, "Lovely!"
The motion was seeming to coalesce into something more infinite. There was a relentless rise and fall, twirl and sway of the spaceships, as the giant roundabout whirled along. Wind whistled in their faces. Judy's hair flew back, a mane in truth now. Joe gripped her tiny white hat to make sure he would not lose it.
Boats arced for the stars and fell, spent, but rising again. The spaceships whirled, particles in some giant, complex, unfathomable orbit. Swishback cars sped below, daringly near. Shouts, shocked faces, the clatter of wheels and flash of lights. Beyond sang and roared the other machines, vast, human-laden wheels in endless, repetitive pattern. Momentarily, the whole fair was an integrated whole, an oscillation and orbiting of power, where mass balanced mass, motion balanced motion, and each was part of the other.
Joe's arm abruptly held nothing. Shock ran through him. Judy had been there, then gone. He yelled her name, but it was lost in the noise, and there was no one to reply. Ahead, two people clung to each other, oblivious of the seat behind. Joe grasped the rail, leaning over the side of the vivid green spaceship carriage. Judy had taken the outer seat. She had wanted it.
Below was a sea of faces, stalls; booths, all sweeping past, sickening from this angle. He pulled himself back to the middle of the seat. Unconsciously his fingers tightened, and he saw he was holding her tiny white hat. But Judy had gone. And it seemed incredible she had fallen. Rails protected the outside of the spaceship. There was no opening that side, no way out except by him.
He yelled for them to stop the machine, but no one heard. The lighted carriages continued their endless circuit. The swingboats dashed; people called and screamed. Joe clung alone to the bar, face ashen, unable to think.
When the roundabout stopped he waited impatiently for his carriage to draw up to the platform. Two men were steadying the vehicles so that passengers could get out. As Joe's spaceship halted, one stared at him.
"We don't often see anyone riding alone, mister-" The other man gripped his companion's arm. "His sort ride alone- see the colour of his skin?"
The words on Joe's lips shrivelled into silence. He crammed Judy's hat in a pocket and strode to the escalator. Aliens who were obviously alien weren't hated. But his sort were so like Earthmen that humanity resented it- and bitterly. His urgent question about Judy was frozen by their antagonism and hate. He would search by himself, would not ask for their help.
The fair boomed, churned and raged around him. He walked the perimeter of the spinning roundabout. There was no indication of an accident, no group round a dazed or injured girl. He stopped people, questioning stall holders. No, they had not seen anyone fall, had not heard any commotion.
Distressed, puzzled, he tramped among the machines and booths of the spring fair. He wondered if Judy had purposely slipped away. But he could not believe it. No one could have left the spinning carriage. Nor would she want to go. She did not mind his origin, did not smirk, or whisper alien.
Hours passed. The fair drew to its climax, and then the crowds began to thin. Judy was still missing. Joe realised he should have informed the police immediately, but it had seemed difficult. How could he explain she had vanished from the carriage up there, high above the streets? And he had hoped to find her. A long time had passed, and he felt dazed.
He reminded himself that he would have to be at his teaching post at the technical school the next day, and that Judy's parents would be wondering where she was.
He left the fair, took an articulated bus, and rode to the end of the road where they lived. The fair was a distant hum, a moving glow against the sky. The river was near, silent, and cold under the night heavens. He decided to take the long way round. Perhaps the quiet, clear air would dispel the fatigue from his brain.
He walked slowly, reviewing the disaster for the tenth time. The riverside road ended at fields. He walked on past boat houses to where trees made a long arcade against the river. Judy and he had often come here, walking slowly as lovers would. At the end of the shadowy avenue he halted, turned, and began to retrace his way. Mr. and Mrs. Harrison would be waiting. He must tell them what had happened.
He was a long way from the end of the road when he saw a man coming rapidly towards him. Short, a trifle rotund, he walked quickly. Judy's father. Joe's step quickened. In the light of a street lamp beyond the trees, Joe saw the relief on Harrison's face, followed quickly by puzzlement. The elder man stopped.
"Where's Judy, Joe?"
Joe sought for words. It was not easy to explain.
"It's late," Harrison said. "You're not usually this late, Joe?"
Enquiry, perhaps condemnation, coloured his voice. Joe faced him, aware that his own lips twitched and that his throat felt rough.
"I lost her at the fair."
As he explained, he knew he was doing it badly, was not convincing Judy's father. The condemnation grew; anger shone in the elder man's eyes, increasing as he listened. He interrupted, incredulous.
"You don't think we're going to believe this, Joe-"
"But out of the carriage, in mid air!"
"That's the way it was," Joe admitted helplessly.
"And you haven't told the police?"
Harrison's face betrayed his inner battle: hope that it was some elaborate, rather silly joke, and yet a new uncertainty, as if this young man with the dark skin could no longer be trusted.
Joe scarcely knew how the next half hour passed. He repeated his story to Judy's mother, went with Harrison to report the disappearance, and made a plea that he wanted to search the fair again. He could no longer endure the way Judy's parents looked at him. Previously he had seen liking, trust. Now that was all gone. Instead was a hurt misery as they veiled their eyes from him. Misery- and distrust.
He searched the fair, knowing it was useless. People were going home. Machines were being blacked out, halted. On the next evening they would again be in action. Until then, they were steel skeletons without life.
Hours passed. He trod the side roads branching off the square. Down one road, a group of drunken louts began following him, nudging each other, growing loud-voiced. "Alien!" they cried. He hurried away from the sound of their hate.
It was very late when he left the silent fair. Here and there men worked, checking their machinery, preparing for sleep and the next day.
The last articulated bus had gone and Joe had to walk to his digs. He wondered why Earthmen hated his kind so much. There seemed to be no reason- only jealousy, illogical dislike because he was so like them, yet not of Earth.
He let himself in, went to his room and began to undress. Judy's tiny white hat was in his pocket. He looked at it pensively. It was a reminder that it had happened- he had entered the roundabout with the girl he loved, but come off alone.
He fell asleep wondering why Earthmen always hated his race.
The morning brought no news of Judy. A dour officer called early as Joe was shaving and enquired if there was anything further to add.
Joe took the humming shaver round the golden brown skin under his chin. "I've told you all I know. It was like I said."
The officer moved about the room, touching nothing but looking at everything. "You call yourself Dale," he said, halting near the window. "Isn't your true name Daill?" Joe started. How long since he had heard it said like that! He nodded.
"Perfectly true. Dale is simpler- more natural- here." He added the last word slowly. The police would, of course, be aware that he was not an Earthman. "As you say- more natural-- here," the officer agreed slowly. "Why have you never gone back to Arcturus? Your kind aren't too popular. You have technical qualifications. There'd be a free passage."
Joe nodded, sensing the officer's apparent slowness hid considerable penetration.
"I was left an orphan on this planet. An Arcturus ship burnt out. Most died, including my parents. When I was a kid Earth folk thought it kind to help me. I went to an Earth school." He put away the shaver, lips set with memories. "That was nice while I was small and until the other kids latched on. Then the fun began- for them. School was murder, college torment, but I could at least forget when working." He sighed. "The older I got, the more I noticed it. I was thinking of leaving for good- then I met Judy Harrison. She knew from the start, but didn't mind."
"I see." The officer moved on. "You think badly of us?"
"Perhaps not too badly. Back on Arcturus Earthmen are given hell if they try to drop unnoticed into some simple job. Long as you stand out, and cry I'm an alien' nobody minds. But soon as you get like the folk you live with, and begin to pass as one of them, there's no peace any more."
Judy and he had talked of it often. On Earth, as Mrs. Dale, Judy would have been happy- but Joe would not. On Arcturus, as Mr. Daill, Joe would have been content- but Judy would have endured hell. There had been no solution.
"It's always been like this," Joe said pensively. "I'm not trying to pass myself off as something I'm not. I don't try to hide my origin-"
He saw that the officer was not listening. In his hand was a shell-shaped piece of white plastic. His eyes met Joe's.
"You didn't mention this."
Joe felt guilty and hoped he did not show it. "Forgot, I suppose. Didn't seem worth while-"
He moved to take it back but the officer folded it and put it inside his coat. "You won't object if I show this to her parents for identification?"
A new, cold note in the voice- a note Joe had heard from old playmates and teachers. He froze as he heard it.
"Do take it," he said stiffly.
The officer moved to the door. "You'll be available if we need you?"
"Of course. I teach at the technical school."
The man gone, Joe frowned at his reflection. His face was smooth, looked young for twenty-five, had slightly high cheek bones, but not noticeably. Nor need the slightly golden brown skin cause a second glance- until someone knew, or guessed. He ate a scanty breakfast, let himself out, locked the door, and caught the usual bus to the college.
The day began as customary. His early work was with a group of selected students. All went as normal. At the back of his mind Joe wondered what had happened to Judy, and hoped she would soon be found. But something prompted that she would not.
A later period was with junior students. They were dealing with Kircholf's Law and Joe could do it with a quarter of his attention. The sum of currents entering a point, and the sum of currents leaving that point, equate to zero. He drew a circuit with three variable unknowns for them to work on and stood by the window.
Spring sun shone on the parking area outside. A police car had stopped and an officer entered the building. Joe wondered what his business was. He longed for evening to come so that he could search the fair again. On the morrow it would be gone. Its visit was annual.
He walked behind the desks, helping a youth whose three simultaneous equations were muddled. He had just finished when a tap came on the door.
A janitor was outside. "You're wanted in the principal's room, Mr. Dale."
Curiosity in his voice. Joe hesitated. "My class-"
"Someone will be sent to attend to it."
In the principal's room the whole affair began again: the questions, the doubt. Joe hated it, but admitted his explanation seemed unreasonable. No, she had not fallen. Yes, she had come into the carriage, but had not been there when he left. No, he had not reported it to the roundabout attendants. So far as he knew, no one had seen them enter the carriage together. No one would have noticed them as they were in the back seat. Put this way, it seemed flimsy.
When the questions were finished and the officer gone, Joe surprisingly found himself with nothing to do. A substitute would be taking his classes, he was told. He accepted the decision with apparently calm exterior and left the college.
It was odd to have a free afternoon. He ate a scanty meal, then returned to the streets where the fair lay dormant,
awaiting evening. The roundabout carriages hung motionless, their bars emphasising that no one could possibly leave by the wrong side. A man was oiling universal joints. Joe watched a moment.
"Hear anything about a girl falling off last night?" he asked at length.
The other looked down. "No, sir, no one falls off this roundabout." He pointed. "See them bars? Suppose some suicide thought it a good place to dive from? That would be bad for trade." He chuckled, returning to the joint. "No, sir, no one gets off when she's running!"
Joe watched him climb to the next carriage. He walked slowly round the huge perimeter of the machine. If Judy had fallen, had been dazed, even injured, that would have been known by now.
The swingboats, cakewalk, railway, big wheel, and scores of other brightly painted machines stood idle. Men were checking lights, power plants and driving gear. Idle sightseers stood about, or gaped at the booths, stalls and machines.
Joe wandered round the dormant fair for an hour. It straggled through two roads, but its main concentration was at the big wheel and other larger machines in the town square. Here, everything had been arranged like a jigsaw with no space to spare.
He walked by the river, going a long way to where it joined fields and woodland. Judy and he had come here sometimes, the previous summer.
Dark veiled the sky when he retraced his steps along the river. He realised the police might have been looking for him, but did not care.
The fair lights were on, to catch early customers. A boy hurried amid the machines, carrying a placard and yelling. Folk were stopping, buying papers. The boy came nearer.
"Local girl disappears! Alien from Arcturus questioned!"
Joe's stomach felt empty. He pushed forward, got a paper, thrust a coin into the lad's hand. No one looked at him.
The front page carried it. An old photo of Judy. Her parents. Headlines that promised much. Smaller print that told little, Joe moved into a backwater near a lamp, reading. Joe Daill, of the technical school, questioned. They'd got his real name. Then everything he had told the Harrisons, plus a few notes apparently gleaned from the police. "Girl's hat found in alien's apartment." Joe crushed the paper and crammed it in a pocket. The reports hinted he was in some way guilty. If he had killed Judy and hidden her body, they would read the same, Joe realised with a shock. Everything damning was there- his apparent wish to conceal Judy's hat, how Harrison had met him coming along the river path.
The fair was becoming noisy. Machines were running, though not yet packed. The sky was growing rapidly dark and the bedlam of music was building up. The second night of the spring fair was, if anything, more packed than the first.
He passed the miniature railway, searching for a glimpse of Judy's hair, never expecting to see it. The crowds dupli- cated the previous evening, pushing, shouting, hurrying to ride. Joe wandered amid them, not noticing how time fled. Behind it all, somewhere, must be an explanation. But he could not glimpse that either.
He passed a row of machines and stood under a fluorescent canopy outside a stall. He had barely halted when he became aware that two youths inside were pointing at him. One rose. The other followed. They came out from the sea of mushroom stools.
"Your name Daill?" one rasped.
Joe eyed him. "What's that to you?"
The pair exchanged glances. "It's him, all right," the second said. "He's the one who murdered that girl!"
Joe had half expected this when he saw them coming. He had decided it was useless to argue. People were halting, staring at the three of them. Joe poised upon the brink of explanation, argument- even fight.
"The alien who murdered the girl!" someone shouted at the edge of the moving crowd.
More people stopped. Someone tried to grab Joe's shoulder. He thrust off the hand and dived in among the crowd. Behind him arose an outcry audible even above the loud music.
"The alien who's murdered the girl! Catch the alien! It's him!
Momentarily he was out of range of their cries. but the words were taken up, passed from mouth to mouth. "The alien who killed the girl is here!" someone bellowed.
He began to run, dodging down a turning from the square. The noise of the fair boomed and echoed behind him, but underneath the music and bedlam was a new note of angry voices.
Running footfalls sounded behind him. He turned into a narrow alley, crossed a road, and emerged near stalls. Here was normality, but only momentarily. The cry was passing like a wave.
"The alien who killed the girl is here!"
Someone saw Joe, stared, pointed. Joe ran behind a stall. Garbage cans were concealed by striped canvas and he ducked from view.
A bustle passed him. Men talking. "The police want him!" Noise. "Found her hat in his room!" Hurrying feet. "Her father met him by the river- reckon he pushed her body in there!"
Joe shivered. Hate, because he was alien. Condemnation, because his explanation was so threadbare. More feet hurried by. Someone roared: "Get a rope from the jugglers' tent! We don't need to let the police finish this job for us, do we?"
There were shouts, surging feet. People brushed against the canvas, but did not lift it. The calling voices momentarily went farther away:
" Hang the murdering alien from the big wheel! He did her in by the river, they say!"
Joe wished he had gone to the police. There, at least, would have been a just trial- if just it could be, with a jury of Earthmen condemning him. Now, it was a witch hunt.
The noise of the fair grew. This was added excitement for the crowds, but the machines were still busy. In the distance was the clatter of the cakewalk, the hysterical cries of folk on its heaving platforms.
"I saw him last not far from here," a sharp voice said. Joe froze again. It was a woman, keen-tongued, certain. "I got a daughter of my own!" she said. "It ain't right his kind come here to harm girls!"
Footsteps passed and Joe knew he would soon be found. Better to make a break for it. He raised the canvas.
People were in view, but not looking at him. He slipped out and sauntered along behind the booth. It was safest where lights were coloured or dim. His golden brown skin might pass, if his high cheekbones did not attract a second look.
People were shouting in the distance. "They're going to hang the killer from the big wheel!" someone said loudly not far behind Joe. He did not look back.
The square was ahead. He knew, now, that there would be no escape. The hunt was great fun for the crowd and the shouting was growing nearer again. Words could be distinguished.
"He killed her by the river! "
A new, intense awareness had grown in Joe's mind. While crouched under the canvas he had thought of Kirchoff's Law. There was an equation, a balancing. Each circuit loop was an unknown, but you guessed current flow. When the simultaneous equations were worked, you merely got a negative sign if you were wrong. And here, at the fair, there seemed to be an over-fullness of action and of motion- an equation that did not balance.
Impulsively he began to hurry towards the roundabout. Judy had disappeared there, and momentarily the whole fair had seemed to be an integrated whole, complete, motion balanced against motion, mass against mass- except perhaps for one excess factor?
He paid for a ticket, gained the rising escalator, and was on the platform when a shout came from below.
"There's the alien! Catch him!"
Ignoring it, refusing to seem frightened, Joe climbed into the back seat of the green spaceship. He was glad that the other carriages were full and the roundabout already making its quarter turn so that the remaining carriages could load up from the diametrically opposite platforms.
He took the outer seat. A man jumped in by his side just as the carriage began to move. Below, faces stared up and fingers pointed.
"He's up there on the roundabout! Hang him when he comes down!"
The man next him in the twin seat frowned. "What they pointing at, mister?"
Joe shrugged. "Your guess is as good as mine."
Loaded, the roundabout gained speed. The other machines of the fair twirled, oscillated, sang and howled. The swingboats sped for the stars, hovered, and fell earthwards on their appalling courses. The cakewalk heaved at its yelling load. Circles of light streamed round the revolving big wheel, high against the sky. Lesser roundabouts whirled, the electric cars sped in their patterns about the hazards of the area below. Music throbbed and with a scream of steel wheels on rails a chain of swishback cars sped off, their coloured lights twinkling.
From high in the green spaceship carriage Joe could see it all. The noise of the machinery hid the voices, but he could see upturned faces. Men pointed and pushed, waiting to seize him when the roundabout halted.
The carriage rose and fell, twirling relentlessly as the roundabout sped on. The motion seemed to coalesce into something more infinite. It had an inevitability- a pattern which would never be repeated again, which depended on the jigsaw layout of machines, the motion and counter-motion of machinery and living beings. Wind whistled in Joe's face and he shivered.
He could do nothing more. Kirchoff's Law and all it represented, had been his only pointer. For that alone he had come up on the roundabout. And in doing so he had thrown away any chance of escape.
Men were forming a ring round the machine. Their wild chase had become organised. While he rode they had gripped the situation and prepared so that he could not elude them again.
Boats arced for the stars and fell, momentum spent. The mock spaceships whirled, particles in some giant, complex orbit. Switchback cars rattled below, very near. Shouts drifted intermittently. Astonished faces stared up at the roundabout. Beyond it sang and roared the other machines, vast, human-laden wheels in endless, repetitive pattern.
Momentarily the fair was an integrated whole, an oscillation and orbiting of power. Mass balanced mass, motion balanced motion, each integrated with the other. An equation of mass and motion. And Joe felt the excess. Too much: a compression into space.
Guess wrongly, and you just get a negative sign, he thought. It always worked out that way, never failed, could never fail. The roar of the fair ceased. He was the excess, space would not tolerate his continued presence. He felt the change, the motion, the compression, and his own headlong flight upon a path which was a tangent from the roundabout perimeter.
He landed on hands and knees in grass. No houses stood against the sky and the noise of the fair had gone. He rose. A Moon was high in the sky but somehow the terrain was familiar. Far away, where he would have expected, the river shone, a silvery snake threading woodland and slopes.
He began to walk slowly towards it. Movement helped him to feel sane. The wind against his face, the earth under his feet, were real.
A little way on he halted, looking back. All was quiet, but for an instant he seemed to catch a shadowy, unreal outline of a big wheel revolving against the sky, lights whirling, illuminated boats swinging- an ethereal, unsubstantial fair, removed from him by some change of dimension.
Bushes flanked the path. Ahead was a shape, and Joe realised it was a girl, walking quickly. She began to run and he ran too. They folded into each other's arms. She was sobbing and laughing.
"I hoped you'd guess, Joe! Oh, I hoped you'd guess!"
Joe felt chilled, knowing he might not have guessed, or only too late. Never again would the fair be laid out exactly as for this spring- never again could the interweaving motion be exactly reproduced.
"There are huts down by the river, Joe," she said, clinging to him. "The folk are kind. I waited here all last night, and today. I was beginning to be sure you'd never guess- never know what to do-"
He turned her and they walked on along the path. "I was slow working it all out, Judy." He smiled. The moon looked bright and young. "What sort of folk are they, down by the river?"
"Friendly." She laughed. "They'lll like you. You'll like it, too-if you can fish. If not- they'll show you!"
Joe smiled. "That'll be nice, to begin with. Perhaps later we'll become the teachers."
Francis G. Rayer
This work is Copyright. All rights are reserved. F.G. Rayer's Estate contacts: W Rayer and Q Rayer. May not be reprinted, republished, or duplicated elsewhere (including mirroring on the Internet) without consent.