I went into the foyer of the Committee Hall in Second Sector, and quite a big silent crowd was standing there, gawping. There were messenger bees too, and zoom-scanners zooming in from the nearest Flash Center, since I and my fate were exciting news, the first bit of drama for sixty rorls or whatever it was.
“Please follow me,” said a tactful Q-R. “I’m sure you’d prefer to do this in private.”
“No, thanks,” I said. “I’ll give my decision publicly, out here. After all, everybody’s so enthralled.”
It was a grandiose and gloomy occasion. The Q-R slowly went away, and presently the others from the Inquiry came shoveling out, led by the spokesman in gold.
I won’t say I wasn’t shaking all over, and I won’t, in fact, say any more about the state of my mind and my nerves, because they were fairly serious. But somewhere in me was a rod of steel to which I clung. I’d had a vision, as good as any vision given to any poet, sage, or prophet in the past. I wasn’t elated, I wasn’t confident even, but somehow, I knew, and with the end of doubt had come the death of despair.
“Fine,” I said, when I saw their depressed, executioners’ faces. “I hope everybody can hear me, and I hope the Flash Center is getting it too, because what I want to say is important, and it’s just about time someone did say it. I’m only embarrassed it took this pseudo-trial to push me into making a move.”
The Q-Rs began to look bothered. Was I going to create yet another disturbance? I went on fast, before they could start ordering sprays. “My decision is this: I’m heading into the desert.”
There was an interruption at this point. The crowd set up a lot of noise, even the Q-Rs seemed to be buzzing, in the region of their necks. Then everyone was saying shut up, shut up, to each other, since they could see I hadn’t finished. So I bowed, and continued:
“You think I’ve gone mad, and that’s probably a logical assumption on your part. I’m scared, I’ll admit, at what I’m going to do. But I tell you, we live here like a lot of embryos in a breeding tank. Every need is catered for. The Committee wipes our noses for us and picks us up when we fall down. Outside the domes we have a planet which actually belongs to us, and which half of us have never seen and would rather not see. I have seen it, and I like what I saw better than the sort of style and judgment you can see in Four BEE.” I looked at the Q-Rs. “So I’ve got the list of my requirements drawn up, and, brace yourselves, it’s a long one. And I’m ready, when you Q-R gentlemen are ready, to get down to it.”
The gold Q-R said extremely clearly, as if explaining to an imbecile: “We hope you have not been hasty. This is serious.”
“Don’t I know it. I told you, I’ve made my choice. If you think you have some damn right to give me an alternative like the alternative you gave me, I think I have a right to pick which course I accept. I’ll take the desert, and you can take Limbo PD and shove it right up your electronic valves.”
I felt I was unfair to those Q-Rs, who were blindly serving the community, or attempting to, as their programming ensured they must. But then, how could anyone ask me to be otherwise? Nobody expects the condemned to embrace the axe.
But nobody expected either, at least I don’t think they did (certainly I didn’t), the cheer that went belting up from the crowd in the Hall. Even the people cheering seemed unnerved. They were cheering me. Not so much for my speech but for that very thing which so appalled them normally. Because I had defied the System, bitten again at the burning sun.
The cheers faded. A self-conscious void followed. Into the void, I spoke.
“Come on, then. Here’s my list, a whole boxload of it. Let’s not grak about.”