Konrad pulled a book from the shelf and carefully turned its pages. It was a copy of East of Eden. He lay on his back, looking up at the yellowed paper with the same devotion he might have given the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel. A stamp on the faded cover read:
A Gift to the New York City Public Library, July, 2051.
Across the room, Ferdinand looked toward his friend.
“Quite the collection,” Konrad said, gesturing to the books on the shelves. “When you leave, what happens to them?”
Ferdinand smiled sadly, but his voice maintained a mischievous air. “They gather dust,” he told him.
Konrad handed his friend the book.
“Give them to a museum, I say. Put them on display for the people to see.”
Ferdinand took the book and, lovingly, turned the pages. He spoke with his eyes still fixed on the codex.
“All the books the people care to see are already on display,” he noted, “Say the museums.”
Konrad came into the study to find Ferdinand at his desk, gazing out through window over the cars in the courtyard below. The days were growing longer again. Below the greasy, black luster of the of the sky behind the Barrier, a faint glow of sunlight was smeared across the southern horizon.
The Vice Chairman set down his book and looked up at the Ambassador.
“The Chancellor is here,” Konrad told him. He did not enter the room, but lingered on the threshold.
Ferdinand nodded. “He’s early,” he said.
“So it would appear,” Konrad agreed. Ferdinand thought that he looked paler than usual; his clothes seemed worn and bare from overuse, particularly around the cuffs, which he had pushed above his elbows.
“He’s waiting in the sitting room,” Konrad added.
“Is Helena with him?” Ferdinand asked.
“Madame Vice Chairman has resigned to her boudoir,” the Ambassador explained indifferently. “She complained of lightheadedness.”
Ferdinand rose from his chair, his limbs suddenly nervous with guilt. “He’s alone, then?” he asked hurriedly.
“No,” Konrad corrected, gesturing for the Vice Chairman to calm himself. “Jordan is with him.”
“Oh good Lord,” Ferdinand exclaimed. “You left them alone together?”
“Of course not,” Konrad reassured him. “I’m not completely useless.”
He smiled dryly and leaned against the frame of the door. Even his silhouette looked tired in the half-light. “Marcus is there to keep them company.”
“Well, what are we waiting for?” Ferdinand demanded. “We must go down and save him from the two of them.”
JORDAN: Are you a bird enthusiast?
KONRAD (confused): What?
He looks around, taking a moment to remember the birds.
KONRAD (sheepishly): No. Enjoying the company, that’s all.
JORDAN: And the birds? Would they say the same, do you think?
Jordan sits very close to Konrad on the little bench. She reaches across his body and removes a canary from the cage. Leaning in toward Konrad, she admires the bird perched on her finger.
KONRAD: Canaries are gay creatures. In their eyes, the wit and whimsy of a man must seem exceptionally drab.
JORDAN: Perhaps not. They’re realists, you know.
JORDAN: Open the latch.
Konrad looks at her skeptically.
JORDAN: Go on. Open it.
Reluctantly, Konrad lifts the latch on the canaries’ cage. The door swings open. To his surprise, not a single bird takes flight. They continue to twitter and gossip, pecking at the scattered seed. Gently, Jordan returns the bird she has been petting to the highest rung within the cage.
JORDAN: You see?
KONRAD: How did you know they wouldn’t fly away?
JORDAN: Because I am also a realist.
Konrad does not reply. He looks again at the birds, content in their cage.
JORDAN (as an explanation): What is the point, sir, of trading one cage for another?
Konrad looks up at The Barrier, capping the town and walling off the sky.
KONRAD (thoughtfully): Anarchy and liberty are not the same. A great deal of freedom is gained in sacrificing fluidity for stability.
JORDAN (coyly, feigning humility): Of course. How simplistic to think that a man is either free or he is caged! I suppose only simple creatures like song birds—and ladies—would believe it. What good fortune that there are gracious gentlemen like yourself, to temper our colorful notions with shades of gray.