Overall, though, he had to admit that the scenery here was less beautiful than he’d seen in, well, quite a few other places. He had expected mind-boggling landscapes, canyons shrouded in swirling mists, tropical swamps teeming with exotic new wildlife. It suddenly occurred to him that this world might be quite a dowdy one compared to his own. And the poignancy of that thought made him feel a rush of love for the people who lived here and knew no better.
…This was a world where aesthetic niceties weren’t wanted and utilitarianism ruled. It shouldn’t bother him, but it did. All along, he’d assumed that the church he would build here should be simple and unpretentious, to give the message that its outward form didn’t matter, only the souls inside; but now he was inclined to make it a thing of beauty.
…How strange it was to be inside a machine again! All his life he’d been inside machines, whether he realized it or not. Modern houses were machines. Shopping centers were machines. Schools. Cars. Trains. Cities. They were all sophisticated technological constructs, wired up with lights and motors. You switched them on, and didn’t spare them a thought while they pampered you with unnatural services.
…In order to imitate the sounds they produced, he’d probably need to rip his own head off and gargle through the stump. Whereas the Oasans, thanks to the pioneering efforts of Tartaglione and Kurtzberg, and to the zeal of their own faith, had made extraordinary progress in English—a language they were as unsuited to learn as a lamb was unsuited to climb a ladder. Yet they climbed, and Peter felt keenly the pathos of their strivings. He could tell, from the Bible verses they’d managed to memorize, that Kurtzberg had made no concessions to their physical handicaps: whatever was printed in Scripture was what they must voice.
…Oasans handled sewing-needles with the same care and respect that humans might handle chainsaws or blowtorches. Each stitch was such a ponderous ritual that he couldn’t bear to watch.
…”What did he die of? What happened?” Lover Five stroked herself perfunctorily over her arms, chest and midriff, to indicate the entire body. “InSide him, many thingS gone the wrong way. Clean thingS became foul. SProng thingS became weak. Full thingS became empPy. CloSed thingS became open. Open thingS became cloSed. Dry thingS became filled with waPer. Many other thingS alSo. I have no wordS for all the thingS.”
…Halfway into his stay, Peter went through a strange phase which, looking back on it afterward, he could only call the Crying Jag. It happened during one of the long, long nights and he woke up somewhere in the middle of it with tears in his eyes, not knowing what he had dreamt to make him weep. Then, for hours and hours, he continued to cry. Upsurges of sorrow just kept pumping through his bloodstream, as if administered at medically supervised intervals by a gadget inside his body. He cried about the weirdest things, things he had long forgotten, things he would not have imagined could rank very high in his roll-call of griefs. He cried for the tadpoles he’d kept in a jar when he was a kid, the ones that might have grown into frogs if he’d left them safe in their pond instead of watching them turn to gray sludge.
…For years, that poisonous repetition of “If genuine …” festered in his mind, proof of everything that was creepy and cold about his father. By the time Peter was ready to understand that the quarrel was bluster and that his dad had simply been hurt, the old man was in his grave. About all these things and more, Peter wept. Then he felt better, as if purged.