There was, of course, no hierarchy in the Historical Museum. Projects were organised on a co-operative basis; at most a team would elect a convenor, and such posts were normally rotated. All those working in the Museum were either guild-registered historians or apprentices. Most of the jobs that in an earlier age would have been regarded as routine, menial or quite simply obnoxious were done by machines; those that could not be done by machines had to be done, on a basis of appropriate sharing, by the historians themselves.
So it happened that one afternoon in early August Rhedyn and Kulina found themselves cleaning a teaching room. A visiting child had vomited copiously on the floor; it was not clear whether his nausea had been caused by eating too much ice cream, or by the film he had been watching at the time – On the Dole in Britain in the 1980s. Most of the job could be done quite rapidly by use of a suction cleaner, but where the offending matter had seeped around fixed furniture or the base of the video-screen, it was necessary to sponge by hand.
At last the work was finished; Rhedyn and Kulina went to the showers and air-driers and in five minutes all trace of their squalid task had been eradicated. Then they went back to the research room, where Huelva was already working. The schedule for the video-book was now very tight. There was still some empirical material to be gathered and checked, but, more vitally, the chapters of political analysis had to be discussed and drafted. Kulina had been given the job of drafting a text on George Cook and the Labour Party, and he was having some difficulty with it.
‘I just do not understand,’ he said, ‘why George was constantly drawn back to the Labour Party. I’ve looked at quite a few books about the Labour Party between 1945 and 1985. It used the army to break strikes – far oftener than the Conservatives ever did. It built a welfare state of sorts in the fifties – but in the seventies it undermined its own achievements. It seems to have been opposed to everything that George stood for.
‘And the argument that it was the party of the working class won’t stand up either. From 1945 on the working class gave it less and less support – certainly in terms of active involvement. Just after the war the Labour Party had a million members; by the time of George’s death it was down to around three hundred thousand. The vote declined at nearly every election. Labour used to have a daily paper, The Daily Herald. The members wouldn’t support it so they sold it off and it was turned into The Sun, a paper with Tory policies and bare nipples – mainly the latter.’
(Pignola, thought Kulina, would have loved The Sun. But he didn’t want to mention that name; it would reopen a scarcely healed wound.)
‘And yet,’ he continued, ‘George joined the Labour Party three times. He was still a member when he died.’
‘Yes,’ said Rhedyn, ‘that’s true – technically.’
‘You have to remember,’ said Rhedyn, ‘the occasions when he joined the Labour Party. The first time was in 1945, when people were out dancing in the streets to celebrate the first majority Labour Government ever. Then he joined again in 1960. There was a mass movement for nuclear disarmament. At the Labour Party Conference that year the left passed a resolution in favour of disarmament. The right-wing leadership of the Party refused to accept it. The left rested on its constitutional laurels; the right started to organise in the wards and the union branches. George saw what was going on and decided to get inside and fight. And again in 1978, when young people from the anti-racist movement were being drawn into the Labour Party, George thought it might be possible to work with them to change things.
‘What you have to remember is the enormous attractive power the Labour Party exercised over people who were radicalised by one campaign or another. Because there just wasn’t any political alternative to it.’
‘So,’ Kulina said, ‘George went back like a dog to its vomit.’
‘If that kid had returned to its vomit,’ said Rhedyn, ‘we shouldn’t have had to clean up after it.’
They laughed, but behind the merriment there was a brittleness, a sense of unresolved tension. It was now a week since the Assembly meeting. In the days following it Kulina and Huelva had succeeded in soothing Rhedyn and making her act like a civilised human being. She had sought solace in work, which in itself was a good thing, since the Cook project was behind schedule. But the whole question of the budget debate was simply left in suspension.
Secretly, inside his skull, Kulina was hoping that Rhedyn would become reconciled to defeat and that the whole matter would be forgotten. Such a scenario, he thought, would provide by far the best chance for him when he renewed his proposal of the world tour. Obviously, if she should carry on the campaign he would not try to dissuade her; for the moment he was happy to let a sleeping dog lie.
But Rhedyn was very far from giving up. She continued to care passionately about the cause she had devoted so much energy to. She believed in the work that the Museum was doing. She loathed Chilgrove and believed that if people of her sort began to gain influence in society then the whole of humanity would be moving along the wrong strip. And she was still grieving for Richmond, whom she had greatly loved in the short time she knew him; she could not abandon a struggle for ideals which had meant so much to him. These were the thoughts that swirled ceaselessly around Rhedyn’s head, day and night, waking and fitfully sleeping, except when she managed to chase them away with the drug of work. But she could see no way forward, no tactic that would resolve the problem, and so could not bring herself to speak about it.
Typically, it was Huelva who broke the ice. ‘It’s a week now since the Assembly,’ she said, ‘and we really ought to work out where we are.’
Rhedyn looked tense. Huelva had been afraid she might fly into a fury and make all further discussion impossible, but instead she simply stared at the floor, allowing Huelva to carry on.
‘The way I see the situation is this,’ Huelva said. ‘Chilgrove has said publicly that she now supports Pignola. There are a small but significant number of undecided votes at the Central Assembly, enough to swing the result one way or the other. Chilgrove’s authority and experience – plus the fact that the Museum is on her patch – mean she almost certainly will be able to swing the Assembly the way she wants it to go. And that isn’t the way we want it to go. The Central Assembly that will make the decision is in the second week of September, just over five weeks from now. There are no more local assembly meetings, here or anywhere else, planned before then.
‘So,’ she concluded , ‘if we do nothing, we lose.’
Rhedyn gnawed the back of her wrist, then nodded. Her head felt like a bladder distended to bursting point, but she determined to hold her anger back and not let it gush out. She knew that to face the situation calmly and politically was the only way to win, and she wanted to win.
‘So,’ Huelva went on, ‘we have to do something.’
‘What?’ asked Rhedyn.
‘You have to speak to Chilgrove.’
‘Speak to that vomit-sack. Never. Why should I?’
Huelva quickly assessed the situation. If she backed off in face of Rhedyn’s anger then they would return to the brittle, futile silence of a few minutes ago. She had to meet aggression with aggression, force Rhedyn to face the situation in a responsible manner.
‘Look, Rhedyn,’ she said in a tone of firmness rarely heard from her, ‘this has got to stop. This is not a personal vendetta between you and Chilgrove. Nobody’s going to vote for you on that basis; she’s got a nicer personality than you have. If you want a private fight with her, then wait till this is all over and challenge her to a duel. Mud-wrestling at dawn. I won’t be your second. Maybe Kulina will. But just now we’re talking about the budget debate. I don’t know about you but I happen to want to win it. That matters a lot more to me than your emotions.’
Rhedyn looked chastened. ‘So what do I say in this
‘Chilgrove is the delegate from the local assembly that you belong to,’ Huelva explained. ‘She promised support for a proposal that you had put forward. Now’s she’s withdrawn that support. So you have to confront her and ask her to convene a special meeting of the Assembly where the whole issue can be discussed. If we get her to do that there’s at least a chance that we can force her to resign her delegacy.’
* * *
Rhedyn sat at the telescreen and tapped out Chilgrove’s number. She was hoping that Chilgrove would be out, or would have set her screen at ‘Not to be Disturbed’. Then all Rhedyn could do would be to leave a printed message asking her to call back. Anything that delayed the unwanted confrontation would be welcome, and besides Rhedyn felt that if the argument was thrust on her suddenly by a call from Chilgrove, it would be a little easier than having to speak the first words herself.
No such luck. Almost immediately Chilgrove’s face emerged from the screen. ‘Why, Rhedyn, what a surprise. How nice to see you. What can I do for you?’
Rhedyn made a huge effort to be calm and friendly. ‘I just wanted to talk to you about last week’s Assembly. Until then you had been publicly supporting the Museum’s proposal for an increased budget. All of a sudden you announced that you had changed your mind, right at the end of the meeting, when it was impossible for anyone to challenge you. Don’t you think it would be more democratic to call a special meeting to discuss the whole question, before the Central Assembly meets in September? Obviously at the last meeting everyone was preoccupied with the earthquake…and with…with the deaths. And anyhow the way you timed it didn’t allow anyone else to put their point of view.’
‘I’m sure you’re right in principle, Rhedyn,’ said Chilgrove in an ingratiating tone. ‘I’m sure that in an ideal system there would be a chance for yet another discussion. But most people don’t seem to want endless meetings.
‘And anyhow there are difficulties about having a meeting at this time of year. A lot of people take their holidays in August. I know people like you are terribly dedicated and stay at work, but unfortunately you aren’t typical. And then there are some big sporting events this month; we couldn’t have an Assembly clashing with one of them. So unfortunately it just isn’t practicable.’
‘Surely if a thing is right,’ said Rhedyn,’ we have to make it practicable.’
‘Always the idealist,’ said Chilgrove with just a trace of a sneer. ‘But that isn’t really the main point. If I were convinced that a special Assembly was justified, then of course I would call one. You know that. But I’m not answerable to you personally, Rhedyn. I’m answerable to the whole Assembly, and that Assembly elected me as delegate. It expressed its trust in me, and while it did take an advisory vote on the budget debate, it chose not to mandate me. It expressed confidence that I would act appropriately in the light of changed circumstances. Which is what I’ve done.’
‘But,’ Rhedyn objected, ‘you told us that we couldn’t mandate you.’
‘I said no such thing,’ replied Chilgrove, a touch of sharpness emerging through her smooth tones. ‘Check the video for what I said. I said that it was not “normal procedure” to mandate delegates. And of course it isn’t normal procedure – you know that as well as I do. Democracy is about collective decision-making, not about counting heads. If every delegate were mandated then we might as well have referendums and not call assemblies at all. Everyone could just press a button on the telescreen. Like “secret ballots” in the bad old days. You don’t want that any more than I do, unless I’ve totally misunderstood you. So it isn’t normal procedure to mandate delegates. But there is a clause in the Constitution which says that a delegate may be given binding instructions by the assembly that elects himrer. The Assembly didn’t choose to exercise that particular right. We have a very democratic constitution, you know. Much more democratic than in the twentieth century you’re so fond of.’ Chilgrove could not resist this final sneer, though she did not really want to provoke Rhedyn.
‘You didn’t tell us about that clause at the Assembly.’
‘It’s not my job to read the Constitution for you. That’s the trouble with having new delegates all the time, continually chopping and changing. They don’t have the experience and they don’t know the Constitution.’
Rhedyn found nothing to say. She could only gape with anger.
‘So I don’t see any point in prolonging the discussion,’ said Chilgrove, and switched off the telescreen. There was no point arguing with Rhedyn any more. She really was getting obsessive about this budget debate, and wasn’t prepared to give in even when it was obvious that she had lost.
Chilgrove reflected ruefully that when she had first discussed the matter with Pignola last April, she had never imagined that it would have taken up so much time. Personally, Chilgrove didn’t care much one way or the other about the issue at stake – she found historical research and enhanced orgasms equally unappealing. There were much more important things to be talked about.
Chilgrove thought of some of the statistical projections she had seen at the last Central Assembly. In eight years from now various productivity improvements would make their full impact. The work that was now being accomplished on the basis of a standard twenty-hour labour-week could then be done with no more than a twelve-hour week. That would open up a range of options that would make the present debate look like pathetic, piddling nonsense.
And when that debate opened up, it was important that there should be people on the Central Assembly who had some experience and judgment, people who could make decisions that would be both popular and beneficial. Chilgrove wanted to be in on that debate, and that meant getting herself established as someone who was known and trusted, someone who was indispensable. To an idealist like Rhedyn that would seem terribly manipulative. But unfortunately, that was what politics was all about…
* * *
Rhedyn, meanwhile, was still staring at the blank screen. Now that the interview was over she could let her feelings take over. And her anger was intensified by the realisation that there were things she could have said but which she had thought of to late. She should have challenged the myth that everyone was on holiday in August. Certainly quite a few people were away from the Museum. But even there the staff numbers didn’t fall too much, since at this time of year there were many visitors from abroad and the displays had to be maintained. People still ate, fell ill and rode the strips in August. So a very large proportion of people were still available; enough to take a decision that would be much more democratic than that taken by a solitary individual who had invited trust in order to abuse it. Rhedyn worked and reworked the arguments, but it was all futile. The confrontation was over and she could not reopen it. So she slid from anger into bleak depression
* * *
The next morning Rhedyn, Huelva and Kulina were all at work early. They knew of how Chilgrove had rebuffed Rhedyn, but none of them had any clear idea of what the next step should be. For all three it was a welcome relief to bury themselves in the past, reliving George Cook’s life as a means of not living their own. They were still working their way through the police tapes, to see if there was anything that might modify the picture they had formed. They had picked up some valuable bits of information from the tapes, but useful items were few and far between. It was like eating a very large, stodgy cake with only a few succulent raisins in it.
So they all sat there with their earphones on, physically and symbolically sealed off from each other. Huelva, for instance, had to listen to all of the fifteen calls made by George when he wanted to get a broken window mended.
Many of the conversations recorded were patently irrelevant to their enquiries, and they had time while listening to pursue their own preoccupations. Kulina was secretly pleased by the most recent developments. It looked as though Rhedyn was going to have to start getting used to the idea that she had lost. She was very weary and would be even wearier by the time the video-book was finished. The idea of taking a year off to travel the world would seem quite attractive. Of course Kulina would have to watch his step.He dare not suggest that defeat was inevitable before Rhedyn had come to terms with the reality herself. That would lay him open to her anger and scorn.
Meanwhile Huelva still wanted to win. Above all because she believed in the Museum and all it stood for; she had no thought of ever following another profession. But also because she wanted to hold on to Rhedyn. She knew of Kulina’s invitation, and she had worked through the logic of his position, so she knew that he was more likely to get his way if the budget debate was lost. She knew too that Rhedyn and Kulina had made love. She was not normally a jealous person; she loved Rhedyn as a friend and she liked to have sex with her from time to time. She knew Rhedyn enjoyed sleeping with men as well – that sort of thing didn’t appeal to Huelva much – and did not grudge it, but she liked to feel she had first claim on her. So she felt very miserable at the thought of Rhedyn being away for a whole year,
But on top of that, Huelva was distressed by the budget debate. She hated meetings, hated even more having to stand up and speak, and detested situations of anger and confrontation. To work hard in the day, eat well and make love in the evening, that was Huelva’s idea of the good life. The present situation left her feeling very tense.
Rhedyn had a fair idea of what both Huelva and Kulina were thinking. She liked Kulina, liked him a lot, but she was in no way minded to give up the fight. To have two possessive lovers competing for her favours might seem flattering, but it imposed a strain. When that was added to the budget impasse it was intolerable. She felt like a football being kicked violently around between Kulina, Huelva and Chilgrove. Her whole body seemed to ache from the pressure.
Listening to the tapes was a wearying task, and they had agreed that after two hours they would take off their headphones and compare notes. Rhedyn stood up from her desk and went to sit on a settee by the window, saying that there had been nothing new on what she had been listening to. Kulina walked over to the settee and sat down next to her. She, feeling relaxed after two hours with headphones on, smiled affectionately at him, not realising that Huelva was staring intently at them.
‘Excuse me a moment,’ said Huelva in an icy tone of voice, and walked out of the room.
Kulina expected she would be back in a couple of minutes, and commented that there had been little of interest on his tapes either. But Huelva did not reappear and he decided that he would risk another invitation to the world tour. While he couldn’t push Rhedyn into expecting defeat, he could ensure that the option was firmly established in her mind when it became relevant.
‘Have you thought any more about that idea of mine for a trip round the world?’ he asked. ‘If we win the budget it would be a wonderful way to celebrate; and if we lose…’
Rhedyn looked at him. There was an almost pathetic look on his face, and it was beginning to irritate her. ‘Please, Kulina,’ she said, ‘don’t pester me about that. I just can’t think about it yet.’ And more in order to shut him up than because she had thought through the implications of it she added: ‘I promise you, when the Central Assembly has made the decision, you can ask me again, if you still want to, and I’ll give you an answer.’
They talked in a desultory fashion about George Cook and after a good few minutes Huelva reappeared.
‘Where have you been?’ asked Rhedyn. ‘We were supposed to be discussing the tapes.’
‘I’ve been having a piss,’ said Huelva. ‘This isn’t a factory in the twentieth century. I can piss when I want to.’ But the red marks round her eyes suggested that she had been shedding quite a different body fluid.
‘It must have been a bloody long piss,’ said Rhedyn, ‘you were gone twenty minutes.’
‘There were people in the twentieth century like you,’ retorted Huelva. ‘”Efficiency experts” with stop-watches seeing how long people took to piss.’
‘Piss on your boots for all I care,’ snapped Rhedyn.
‘It’s as well I didn’t come back earlier,’ said Huelva, ‘I might have disturbed you two screwing on the floor.’
After this edifying exchange there seemed nothing for any of them to do except put the headphones on again and carry on working in silence.
* * *
Kulina went home early that evening. He felt weary from the efforts of the last two months. But above all he felt frustrated. To spend all day working within a few feet of Rhedyn’s desired body was imposing an unbearable strain on him. He could not forget the one time they had made love; but Rhedyn had made it quite clear this afternoon that he could hope for no repetition of it before the Central Assembly had met. A good five weeks of waiting and frustration. Everywhere he looked in his room in the cluster-house he seemed to see her face, her body.
He turned on the juke-speaker for some music. He tapped out the code for a piece by the Ufita collective, one of the most original of the young groups of composer-performers. They were electronic woodwind virtuosos, but the subtle discords which normally gave Kulina so much pleasure left him cold. He cancelled the piece before it was finished. Would some classic music from the old days be more palatable? He tried Beethoven, Louis Armstrong, the Clash – none of them made any impression on him and he turned off the speaker.
Would reading be any more satisfying? He picked a book, almost at random, from his shelf: Classic Dramatists of the Past. He turned to the first play – Sartre’s In Camera. He read a few pages. Two women and a man were imprisoned for all eternity in a single room. This plot was too much like real life to make enjoyable reading. He flipped over the pages to see if there was a happy ending and came to the statement: ‘Hell is other people’.
Was it true, he wondered? We had abolished so many hells since Sartre’s time – the hell of poverty, the hell of starvation, the hells of pollution and nuclear war. But did that just leave us in a situation where we were free to make hell for each other?
Books and music could do nothing for him. He felt weary and climbed into bed. But he could not sleep and Rhedyn’s face and form continued to haunt him. He felt a burning lust that could not be assuaged. Eventually he turned to the only possible remedy and grasping his erect prick he visualised Rhedyn’s naked body until he reached the shuddering, relieving climax of ejaculation.
He felt no guilt at what he had done, only sadness that instead of spurting into Rhedyn’s open body the damp sperm was swimming on his own skin. He remembered the absurd legends (doubtless George had heard them as a child) that masturbation would make you go blind. And he remembered how, in the twentieth century, ‘wanker’ had been a term of abuse. George had noted in his diary that, when he was selling the Daily Worker on street-corners, passers-by would look at him and say ‘daily wanker, more like.’ Some, with a touch more wit, added ‘that must take a lot out of you.’ But what George had noted was that each one looked so pleased with himself, as if he had been the first ever to think of the jibe.
Kulina still could not sleep. How would he endure this terrible yearning for Rhedyn? Would he go to the health centre for sexual therapy? Various forms of therapy – including full intercourse if desired – were available for any citizen with discretion but without shame. Kulina himself had never gone for sexual therapy, but he had known many people who had. Those who did seek it were often, but not always, the old, the unattractive, the shy. One middle-aged woman he had known in Yorkshire went regularly once a week for years. The therapy services also catered for those who desired strange fantasies, and who, if they could not satisfy them, might suffer serious psychological disturbance. Kulina had known a number of historians, in London and in Yorkshire, whose craft had intruded on their sexuality to produce bizarre obsessions. One man needed to believe that he was the disciple John and that the person buggering him was Jesus Christ. Another could only make it with women who enacted forbidding viragoes of the past – Catherine the Great, Queen Victoria, Margaret Thatcher. A third, fascinated by the twentieth century system of warning of nuclear attack, had to believe that he was making love for the last time ever before the destruction of humanity. He began at the sound of a siren; if he had not reached climax without four minutes there was a recorded explosion and he had to withdraw. The therapy service encouraged such fantasies unless it was likely to lead to dangerous or anti-social behaviour, in which case other treatment was prescribed.
There had been much controversy about whether such services should be provided. Kulina had once heard a long argument between a health-centre worker and a young woman who had vehemently insisted that it was simply a revived form of prostitution and should be banned. The health-centre worker had replied that it was in no way similar to prostitution; no money was involved, obviously, and the people who provided the services were not like the men and women of the past who were forced into prostitution by economic necessity, but had chosen it as a form of work. Society, he had argued, had a duty to correct the injustices of nature; some people, for physical or psychological reasons, found sexual satisfaction difficult to obtain.
Kulina wondered what sort of people volunteered to provide such therapy. They could not simply be oversexed people (whatever that might mean), for such people could seek help from therapy rather than volunteering to provide it. Would it die out at some point in the future? Who could tell? Would sexual variants multiply or collapse into a single normality? Would lust itself eventually vanish? Asking such unanswerable questions Kulina finally drifted off to sleep.
* * *
Meanwhile Rhedyn had stayed late at the Museum, and by the time she got into the cluster-house it was well after eleven. Her only object was to sleep but passing through the communal rooms she again encountered Penticton.
‘How’s your debate about the budget getting on?’
Rhedyn briefly outlined the situation in formal terms, but without saying anything of Chilgrove’s intrigues or of her own recent confrontation with Chilgrove.
‘Why is there there so much fuss about it?’ asked Penticton. ‘Couldn’t they do both schemes?’
Rhedyn explained that in this society, as in any society, there were finite resources and therefore priorities had to be determined. Democracy was all about setting priorities.
‘Well, why not just split fifty-fifty?’
Again Rhedyn had to explain that each proposal had a certain content to it, and that to cut it below a certain level would make it meaningless. Both schemes were already pilot schemes; further reduced they would not be worth doing. It had to be one or the other.
‘Why don’t they have a referendum and let everyone vote?’
Democracy, Rhedyn answered, was not about counting votes; it was about people coming together to discuss and decide. So the best possible type of democracy was where people got together with those they knew because they worked alongside them day in and day out, and then sent delegates to an assembly which would make a collective decision.
‘But why is this debate important anyhow?’ Penticton persisted.
Rhedyn tried to set out the arguments, simply but forcefully. She began by pointing out that history was a continuous process; the present was the product of decisions taken in the past. The fact that people now travelled by strip rather than by dirty and dangerous motor vehicles, the fact the electric power came from the tides rather than from potentially explosive nuclear power-stations – these were the result of decisions taken, often after bitter struggles, in the past.
Of course there had been major turning-points in history – the first towns, the Renaissance, the great revolutions of the twenty-first century. But these were precisely that – turning-points, not breaks. A hinge only had any value if it remained connected to both the door and the wall – a turning-point was a link and not a break.
Rhedyn went on to talk of the suffering of people in the past – the misery of starvation, of unemployment, of working on an assembly-line, the degradation of women with too many children and not enough money. Surely they did not deserve to be simply forgotten, to be condemned to the refuse-slot of history. And she recalled that many thousands of men and women had fought against the suffering; they had founded secret trade unions and clandestine political organisations, faced jail and torture. Their fight had produced the present we now enjoyed; without them we should not have the democratic structure we now had. To understand ourselves we had to know where we had come from.
Finally, Rhedyn said, history was not over yet. New turning-points lay ahead. Humanity now had the potential to greatly increase its control over nature, and thus make far more resources available. This put new choices before humanity. Would the resources be devoted to increasing pleasure or to extending understanding? The debate between Hedonists and Historians was just the first skirmish in what could be a major war of ideas in the future.
When Rhedyn had finished her exposition, Penticton looked a bit bemused but impressed: ‘I’m not sure I understood all that, but what I did understand I thought was pretty good. If I had a vote on this debate it would go your way.’
* * *
The next morning Rhedyn woke up feeling good. This was so unusual that she was quite surprised and for a few moments couldn’t think what she had to feel good about. Then she remembered the conversation with Penticton. It had been possible, by putting the arguments clearly and simply, to convince someone who knew nothing of the situation and who, to be honest, was not incredibly bright. If Penticton could be persuaded, then so could others. If only it was three months earlier,they could have built a base of support that Chilgrove could not have disregarded.
But, she thought, it was not too late. They had concentrated too much on the Central Assembly itself, and there, certainly, Chilgrove was in a powerful position. But that position depended on the base. If that base could be pulled from under Chilgrove’s feet, then the whole situation would be different. If Chilgrove would not submit herself to re-election, as she had made plain that she would not, then she must be recalled.
The right of recall, Rhedyn remembered, was after all a fundamental component of the democratic order. It was something she never omitted to mention when she gave lectures on the Paris Commune or the Russian soviets. She remembered how George Cook had demanded the recall of a Member of Parliament, and how he had scrupulously presented himself for re-election as a shop steward after calling an unsuccessful strike. Rhedyn thought of cases in her own experience when a delegate had been recalled, generally for absenteeism or negligence. Usually such delegates would accept the reprimand and resign without too much bother. Chilgrove would be a very different case.
Rhedyn remembered Chilgrove’s comments about delegates who hadn’t read the Constitution. She carefully checked the appropriate clause. ‘Any elected delegate may be recalled at any time by the assembly or workplace hearshy represents. A meeting to recall a delegate may be requisitioned at any time by ten per cent of the appropriate constituency.’
When Rhedyn got in to the Museum Kulina and Huelva were already in the research room. She asked them to stop working and explained her plan for requisitioning a special Assembly to recall Chilgrove.
‘So what do we do?’ asked Huelva, ‘contact the delegates to the local Assembly and find twenty-five who will support us?’
‘We could do that,’ said Rhedyn, ‘and I think we’d find twenty-five who’d sign a requisition without too much difficulty. But if we do that I don’t think we’ll carry the recall through the meeting. Delegates will tend to say they’ve heard it all before and that it’s just a personal vendetta between me and Chilgrove. But if we can show that there is some rank-and-file feeling on the issue, then we can swing the Assembly. So what we have to do is to get workplaces to requisition a special Assembly. If a workplace passes a resolution calling for a special Assembly, then that counts for as many signatures as it has delegates to the Assembly. We need twenty-five altogether. We’ll get six with no difficulty from the Museum. The other nineteen we have to work for.’
‘How do we get workplaces to pass resolutions?’ asked Kulina.
‘We contact the delegates and ask them to fix a meeting which we can speak to. Then we go along and put the arguments. We may get some of the other people from the Museum to speak, but basically it’s the three of us who’ve got to carry the meetings.
‘The time-scale is very tight. The Central Assembly meets in the second week of September. So a recall meeting would have to be in the first week at the very latest. According to rule we have to give fourteen days notice of a requisition so the meeting can be properly announced. So we have to fix the workplace meetings and get round and speak to them within the next thirteen days. It’s going to be hectic.’
‘Are we still trying to finish the video-book by September as well?’ asked Kulina. ‘Because that’s really going to be a burden.’
‘Too right we are,’ said Rhedyn. ‘We must have the video-book out for the Central Assembly. That’ll show in practice the sort of work we want to do. You’ll have to drink lots of black coffee. You can hibernate all winter afterwards.’
All the tensions that had existed the previous day seemed to have faded now that they had a clear goal ahead of them. Rhedyn started to draw up a list of workplaces they should aim to speak at. There was obviously not much point going to the carpet-factory, nor to the small plant making ornamental jewellery where Pignola worked. But there were plenty of other workplaces where they could expect at least a sympathetic hearing.
* * *
Rhedyn arrived at the power-station and was led to the canteen where the meeting was due to take place. They had been a little reluctant to hold the meeting and had agreed only on the basis that it would last no more than half an hour. So Rhedyn had just ten minutes to set out the case.
She began by briefly outlining the History project, and explaining the kind of work done by the Museum. She explained what arguments had been used at the Assembly and ended by describing Chilgrove’s conduct. She attempted to do this calmly and objectively, but at the same time to arouse sufficient indignation to provoke demands for recall.
Rhedyn had high hopes of the power-station. It was worth five votes, being a large plant that covered maintenance of supplies to a substantial area. But when the questions began they were largely hostile. The first came from a very old woman called Yarnscombe. ‘You talk about keeping the past alive,’ she said, ‘but I was born before the civil war. I remember those terrible years when the economy collapsed; when they closed the hospitals because there was no money and people were left to die in the streets; when there were ten million unemployed, and prices doubled between breakfast and tea-time. I lived through it all and I say forget it. Let the dead bury their dead. I’m old but I want to live.’
She was followed by an earnest young engineer who argued that Rhedyn’s view of history was preoccupied with insignificant individuals. ‘Surely history is the history of technology, of new inventions like the strips which have changed the shape and quality of human life?’
Rhedyn pointed out that history was not simply the history of technology. Many of the technical devices used nowadays had already existed in the twentieth century, but they had a completely different meaning in a world based on private property. For example, the possibility for any individual to reproduce books or pieces of music had been there a century and a half ago, but the owners of copyright had done their best to prevent people extending their access to culture.
Then one of the delegates said that he had voted for Rhedyn’s proposal and that he personally would support the recall of Chilgrove. Finally it was agreed that the delegates would be free to vote as they liked if a special meeting were held, but that the power-station would not support the demand for a requisition.
* * *
Kulina walked through the food factory. On one side of him a large machine was turning out thousands of identical loaves of bread. On the other side a number of people at tables were preparing iced cakes, each one with an individual design never to be repeated.
Kulina was still suffering from a profound dilemma. He was still hoping that Rhedyn would lose, but he knew that he must be seen to strive hard for victory. So he put the case as eloquently as he could, citing some of Rhedyn’s choicest phrases like ‘our debt to the past’. But he seemed to make little impression on the food-workers. The first who spoke asserted that the need for pleasure was a part of human nature and that pleasure was based on the immediacy of experience. Kulina got very little support and the meeting agreed to take no action on the matter.
* * *
I feel so rotten I ought to be here as a patient, thought Huelva as she walked into the health centre. It was a massive complex of buildings, covering not only care of the sick and old, but preventive medicine, research, and a range of other activities including some forms of sport and many varieties of therapy. Altogether some two thousand people were employed there, so it was worth ten votes.
Obviously not all two thousand turned out for the meeting. Ambulance drivers were permanently in the air, and the wards could not be left unattended. And some of the workers currently off-duty had not bothered to come in for the meeting. But as Huelva was led into the hall where the meeting was to be held, there were something like a thousand people present. Huelva had never spoken to an audience of that size before. And she knew how important it was. After the failures by Rhedyn and Kulina, they had to have these ten votes, or it would become virtually impossible to get the target figure.
Huelva felt her whole gut from the waist downwards turn to liquid. She just hoped that what she felt happening was not a physical reality; it would not enhance her credibility to have shit sliding down her legs as she spoke. Rhedyn had told her she would only speak well if she felt nervous. On that basis, she thought, she was going to be bloody brilliant.
While it would be an exaggeration to describe the speech she made as brilliant, it was certainly competent, lucid and concise. When she had finished a young woman came to the microphone. ‘Part of my work here,’ she said, ‘is terminal counselling, helping people who are on their deathbeds. For a lot of them it’s very important to know their life is part of a historical process, that the world they leave behind them is a better place than the one they were born into. Visiting the Historical Museum has helped me a lot with my work. I think that what the Museum’s doing should be expanded. And I think what Chilgrove has done is a disgrace.’
There was a round of applause. From now on the tide was going Huelva’s way, and it was soon agreed that the health centre’s ten votes would support the requisition.
* * *
Rhedyn and Kulina were trying to work, but every few seconds they looked up at the telescreen. Not that they could fail to notice a message if one came, but they didn’t want to miss the first flicker of light that indicated that the screen was about to illuminate.
It was the afternoon of the last day on which names of workplaces could be submitted to the elected convenor of the local assembly, whose job it would be to call a special meeting. 4.00 p.m. was the last possible time at which a requisition could be put forward, if a meeting was to be held before the Central Assembly.
It was now 3.15 p.m. Rhedyn had a list of twenty-two votes. There were ten from the health centre and six from the Museum itself. In addition Rhedyn had spoken at an education centre and got four votes, and Kulina had cajoled two out of a group of park-workers. Three more were needed.
Another forty minutes and it’s the end of the road, thought Rhedyn. Fair enough, she had said to Penticton that it was only the first skirmish of a major war, and she knew quite enough history to know that many wars had seen sharp reversals from the initial
victory. But that was little consolation, just as it was little consolation for those who were dying in the early stages of a war.
Kulina was trying hard to conceal his secret satisfaction. Only thirty-seven minutes to go and it was all over. If they failed to requisition a meeting then there was nothing more to be done. They could simply sit back and wait for news from the Central Assembly.
This afternoon Huelva had been speaking to a meeting of Strip Guards. Because of the dispersed nature of the work and the complex shift system it had been difficult to fix up a meeting, and today had been the earliest time one could be fixed.
But she had promised to communicate a result by 3.30 at the latest, and it was by now nearly twenty to four. Obviously if she had lost she might feel too demoralised to contact them; after all, there would be no urgency about that message.
Then, just after 3.45 the screen lit up and Huelva’s face appeared. She looked tense and was talking very quickly.
‘I’m sorry I’m late,’ she said, ‘the meeting went on a long time because there were such a lot of questions. But it’s all right; they’ve given us four votes for the requisition. They’re all really nice people and they were ever so interested and there were some very tricky questions they raised, but people in the audience helped me, like one young man who said…’
‘For God’s sake shut up and get off the screen,’ snapped Rhedyn,’I’ve only got thirteen minutes to get this requisition through to the convenor.’