Sunday, October 4, 2009

4. Beryllium


A Beryl as Big as the Ritz

On the Gem Planet, the rarest and most valued of all substances is dirt. Just the scrapings from beneath a hobo's nails would bring enough to support him for a year.

Across the desert plains of sheer diamond wealthy tourists come. They wear slitted goggles to protect themselves from the blinding reflections of the sun. There is a red glint ahead. That is their goal.

Hexagonal in cross-section, it is the largest outcrop of pure beryl on the planet. Artisans have carved rooms into it, with fluted columns and elaborate fireplaces, and there are banquet halls and ballrooms as well. At the break of day, when the sun shines through the Ruby Mountains and dawn lases across the plains, the guests are escorted to basement safe-rooms carved from darkest emerald. Even there, the walls glimmer elegantly.

But it is not beauty that brings visitors to the Ritz-Beryllium. Beauty, for them, is so common as to be invisible.

They come for the squalor.

At the Ritz-Beryllium, maids place dust-bunnies under the beds each morning. There is always a film of grime on the bureaus and the smudgy patina of fingerprints on the mirrors. The bathtubs all have rings.

It costs a fortune to stay there but, oh, it's worth it! Nowhere else on the Gem Planet can you experience uncleanliness in such joyous profusion. Many people spend a lifetime saving, in order to exult for a weekend in the kind of slovenliness that only the Ritz-Beryllium can provide. Not a one has ever been known to regret the expenditure.

On the Gem Planet, if you call somebody a filthy name, they smile and thank you.

© 2002 by Michael Swanwick and SCIFI.COM.


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