Last Updated on May 7, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 3054
It is August 1994 in a United Nations colony on Mars where families get rations of water for their home use from a canal, including neighboring families the Bohlens and the Steiners. Jack Bohlen, a repairman, receives a call from his father in New York City saying that he wants to come to Mars to research a real estate deal. Jack copters out to a job and sees along the way Lewistown, the second most successful colony on Mars—the one for the Water Workers’ union people who control the canals. The most successful colony is New Israel.
Arnie Kott, head of the Water Workers’ union, enjoys the luxury of a steam bath while discussing with his minions some land in the F.D.R. Mountains. He also complains about the UN demands that he improve the wages of the Bleekmen, the indigenous Martian tribe, who are used as laborers in the mines. Beside a New York Times newspaper ad for prospective colonists for Mars, touting the opportunities for those who have only a bachelor’s degree and thus cannot get a job on Earth, Arnie sees an article about the Colonial Safety Committee on Mars that irritates him, especially since his ex-wife is on the committee. On his way to see her, his helicopter pilot gets a message asking for aid for some stranded Bleekmen. Jack hears the same emergency call and is the first to arrive and give food and water to the Bleekmen who reward him with a water witch. Arnie’s pilot also provides water even though Arnie protests because he does not consider Bleekmen to be people.
Norbert Steiner, who runs a black-market food operation, goes to Camp Ben-Gurion, a home for “anomalous children,” where his son Manfred is a resident. Having an autistic son is considered shameful, but he can talk to Anne Esterhazy, who also has a child at Camp B-G. She tells him about a bill under consideration at the UN that would kill the anomalous children in an effort “to keep the race pure.” Although at first horrified by the news, Norbert wonders if such action might be best for children like his son who cannot communicate. The institute’s psychiatrist, Dr. Milton Glaub, tells Norbert about a new theory that looks at how autism speeds up time and the possibility of being able to communicate with autistic children if they were able to slow down sights and sounds. Norbert dismisses Milton’s ideas as idealistic nonsense. He then goes to a bar where the owner rants about how the freaks like those at Camp B-G should be destroyed. Norbert reveals that his son lives at the camp, and the bar owner becomes angry that Norbert never told him before. In despair from all this conflict, Norbert suddenly decides to kill himself and steps in front of a bus.
UN policemen come to the Steiner home to tell the family that Norbert has died. Silvia babysits the four Steiner girls and learns of the existence of Manfred. Arnie learns about Norbert’s death when he and Anne have lunch together. She then tells him of the possible closure of Camp B-G, and even though he and Anne have a son there, he thinks it is better for Mars not to have a place like Camp B-G. Milton hears about Norbert’s suicide, and the implication that he might have said something to drive Norbert to it makes Milton worry about his position. Silvia calls Jack to tell him about Norbert and to ask him to come home early because she is caring for the girls. However, Mr. Yee will not let Jack go and sends him to a job at the Public School.
Jack is unnerved by the Public School. As he repairs one of the mechanical teachers, he speculates about the function of the Public School within the society on Mars and how people with autism and schizophrenia are feared and rejected. Jack then recalls his own bout with schizophrenia back on Earth. Right before he left for Mars, Jack hallucinated that his boss was a machine and that everything around him was lifeless and mechanical. It was then he realized he was sick and needed help. Jack thinks now that the reason the Teaching Machines make him so uncomfortable is that they remind him of this hallucination.
Arnie calls Yee and specifically requests that Jack come to repair his encoder device. He thinks about rumors that the UN is buying up some of the F.D.R. Mountains and how they will become very valuable. He needs to know what part of the mountains, so he begins wondering if there might be a precognitive schizophrenic living at Camp B-G who would be able to tell him. An aide tells Arnie to ask Milton. Meanwhile, Otto Zitte sits in a storage shed in the F.D.R. Mountains where Norbert keeps the black-market food. He wonders where Norbert is and why it is taking him so long to return. He thinks about how he ended up working for Norbert after he lost his union membership and failed at his own black-market business. Jack arrives at Arnie’s and meets Doreen Anderton, to whom Jack is instantly attracted. Arnie invites Jack to go with him and Doreen to meet Milton for drinks. Arnie explains that he needs to find a precognitive schizophrenic, and Jack reveals that he is himself a schizophrenic. Arnie wants to know if Jack can see the future, but Jack says he cannot. Arnie does not believe him.
On his way to meet Arnie, Milton muses about how much money he will make when he is on Arnie’s payroll. He assumes Arnie must need his services to deal with an onset of schizophrenia, and he is excited about the large opportunity this presents. Then he learns that Arnie wants to know if he has an advanced schizophrenic at Camp B-G. Milton tells them about Manfred. Arnie becomes convinced that if Jack can build a machine that can communicate with this child, then Manfred will be able to tell them the future. Arnie puts Jack on his payroll, but not Milton. Sitting at the table, Jack begins to have a schizophrenic episode. Doreen notices and takes him away. As they walk, Doreen tells Jack that her brother is schizophrenic, and Jack confides to Doreen about the nature of his visions. He decides to take the job with Arnie, and he vows to keep fighting off his schizophrenia. Later that night, Arnie decides to start up his own black-market food business now that Steiner is gone. Jack considers calling Doreen. He decides against it, but then Doreen calls to ask him over. She assures Jack that she will tell Arnie, who will not object. So Jack goes.
Leo Bohlen arrives on Mars. As they spend some family time, Leo asks Jack about his relationship with Silvia and his mental state. He can tell Jack is withdrawn. He wants Jack to go in on the land deal with him, but Jack is not interested. Leo confronts Jack about his affair with Doreen, but Jack says he has everything under control. Silvia, in her drug-induced haze before sleep, wonders why Jack has changed recently and why he is distant from her. Meanwhile, Manfred has a terrifying vision of meat-eating birds and large, wet worms. He tries to run, but the steps give way underneath his feet. He starts to fly up, but the birds eat his head off. He is then standing on a bridge over a sea where sharks try to attack him. He is then strangled with a loop of shark teeth that cuts off his head. He is trapped in a decaying world without a voice. At Arnie’s, Doreen is told about a land speculator who arrived on Mars that day, and Arnie expresses excitement about Manfred’s potential to help him get ahead of the game and make a fortune. Doreen is tired and wants to sleep, but Arnie wants sex, and he is the boss.
Jack, Leo, and Manfred fly over the F.D.R. Mountains. Leo explains to Jack that the UN is planning to build a huge co-op there, and Leo wants the UN to have to buy the land from him at a huge profit. Leo tells Jack not to share this information. They see some Bleekmen below them, and Jack wonders what it would be like for Manfred to live among them. Jack lands the ‘copter and he and Leo drive a stake into the ground, claiming ownership. They notice that Manfred is drawing a picture of what the co-op will look like when it is old and crumbling. He writes the word “AM-WEB” on the building, but only says “gubbish.” Jack begins to understand Manfred’s visions and how limiting and awful they are. Manfred later has a vision of his own future. He is eighty-three with no teeth or eyes. He sees himself interned at AM-WEB for a hundred and twenty-three years, where most of his body is removed or artificial. When Arnie asks him what he sees, the only response Manfred has is “gubble, gubble.”
Jack, Doreen, and Manfred are at Arnie’s having drinks. Arnie tries to play a tape but has the wrong one. Arnie inquires about Jack’s progress with Manfred, but he does not get the answer he wants. Jack has not built the machine, but he does show Arnie Manfred’s drawing. He explains what the picture means and relays the information about the co-op that he learned from his dad. Arnie realizes that it is already too late for him to get in on the deal; he has lost out. He seems to take it surprisingly well, and even though Jack feels badly about how things turned out, Arnie does not blame Jack or even want to fire him. Suddenly, Jack, Leo, and Manfred are flying away from the F.D.R. Mountains again. Jack calls Arnie and tells him that he will see him that night, and he somehow knows he will show Arnie the drawing and will tell him everything he knows. He asks Manfred to draw a picture of what will happen that evening, and Manfred draws one man punching another in the eye. Jack drops his father off then watches Manfred change his drawing so one of the men falls and dies. Jack does not know if it will be him or Arnie.
Once again, Jack, Doreen, and Manfred are at Arnie’s having drinks. Arnie tries to play a tape but has the wrong one. Arnie inquires about Jack’s progress with Manfred, but he does not get the answer he wants. Jack is having a schizophrenic hallucination in which Doreen decays and rots away. He hears only the word “gubble” in his head. He turns up the music very loud to try to clear his head.
It is the afternoon again, and Jack has just dropped off his dad. He and Manfred fly to Doreen’s apartment. He tells Doreen that he knows things are not going to go well that night at Arnie’s, and Doreen tries to convince him to send Manfred back to Camp B-G and forget the whole thing before he loses his mind, but Jack says he has to go through with it. Jack then goes to the Public School to pick up David, taking Manfred with him.
Once again, Jack, Doreen, and Manfred are at Arnie’s having drinks. In this hallucination, Doreen’s clothes are infested, and she rips them off her body. Arnie sees her stripping, pulls her to the floor, and they have sex. Doreen can tell something is watching them. It is the afternoon again, and Jack and Manfred arrive at the Public School. Jack realizes that Manfred’s presence is leading him into schizophrenia and that he is on the verge of going permanently insane. Meanwhile, Silvia sits in June Henessy’s kitchen, gossiping about the Steiner family. June talks about her current affair, and Silvia wonders what it would be like to cheat on Jack and what it would be like if Jack cheated on her. Otto comes to the door selling health food and black-market goods. Silvia is intrigued by him and asks him to come by her house later. Over at Milton’s office, Milton is looking over Sam Esterhazy’s file. He decides he can get back at Arnie by sending Sam home. Milton tells Anne that Sam can no longer stay at Camp B-G, but she counters by saying that she will cease to object to the closing of Camp B-G if Sam leaves. Knowing her influence, Milton realizes that he is defeated. At the Public School, Jack searches for Manfred. When Jack finds him, Manfred is clearly distressed, and the teaching machines are all saying “gubble.” Jack realizes that Manfred’s presence has disrupted the entire school system.
It is evening again, and Manfred sits on the floor of Arnie’s living room. The sights and sounds are harsh and overwhelming to him. He hears the voice of Heliogabalus, Arnie’s Bleekman servant, in his head. To escape the overload, Manfred uses his mind to look into the future, where once again he is two hundred years old and interned at AM-WEB. Everything is falling apart, and the only thing holding it together is Manfred. Arnie inquires about Jack’s progress with Manfred, but he is not getting the answer he wants. Jack start to hallucinate; suddenly, the evening is over, and he and Doreen are walking in Lewistown. Doreen is discussing the events of the night that Jack does not remember.
Otto goes to Silvia’s house ostensibly to sell black-market items but also to seduce Silvia, and he succeeds. That same morning, Jack wakes up at Doreen’s. Doreen talks about their shaky future with Arnie, assuming that he will fire Jack and dump her once he knows about her affair with Jack. Milton visits Anne in hopes that she can prevent Arnie from harming Jack in his scheme with Manfred. Arnie learns that Helio can communicate telepathically with Manfred. Helio tells Arnie that Manfred’s attention wanders because of his dread of his old age and death. Arnie tells Helio that he thinks Manfred can control time. Helio warns Arnie not to hurt Jack. That afternoon, Jack finds out that Arnie bought his work contract from Mr. Yee.
Otto leaves Silvia’s. She feels hatred for him then disgust for herself, but she calls June and tells her every detail. Otto goes back to the mountains to find his storage shed destroyed, his goods stolen, and a warning note from Arnie. Otto swears he will get back at Arnie. Meanwhile, Helio explains to Arnie that he must go on a pilgrimage to the Bleekman sanctuary in the F.D.R. Mountains with Manfred if Arnie wants to be able to go back in time to beat Leo to the land deal. Arnie and Manfred set out in Arnie’s car, but Anne and Milton catch up to them trying to plead about Jack. Arnie’s goons and Jack arrive in helicopters, and, while everyone is fighting, Arnie drives away.
With Jack and Doreen hovering overhead in the ‘copter, Arnie and Manfred climb up to Dirty Knobby where they bribe a Bleekman priest to let them visit the shrine alone for an hour. Arnie then follows the step-by-step instruction given him by Helio, which includes Arnie’s taking a drug and promising Manfred that he will be spared from AM-WEB if Manfred will take them back about three weeks in time. Arnie next finds himself back in his steam room going through the exact same actions as before. He decides not to keep Norbert from killing himself because he wants the black-market business. The only things he will change is getting a deed to the F.D.R. land and getting back at Jack. However, things start changing on Arnie as he experiences schizophrenic symptoms. His paper blurs and is full of “gubbish” and people have no faces. All his attempts to communicate his desire to buy the mountain land fail, and he finally has to get a stake and fly out to make the claim himself.
Arnie’s trip to the mountains is interrupted by an emergency call to assist some Bleekmen. Arnie realizes that the event when he first meets Jack will be repeated. So he asks Jack to step over to the ‘copter and then points a gun at him. A Bleekman notices and fires a poisoned arrow into Arnie’s chest. Arnie realizes that the Bleekmen knew what would happen the first time they had this encounter and that is why they gave Jack the water witch. Arnie fears he is dying, and, in his mind, Arnie begs Manfred to bring him back to the right time, promising to give up on his revenge and getting the land. Everything goes black, but then Arnie wakes with the priest standing over him. Manfred is gone, but Arnie intends to keep all his promises. He heads to a ‘copter, but instead of Jack, Otto comes running towards Arnie and shoots him. Jack arrives, but Otto gets away. Arnie tries to tell Jack this is all just another hallucination, but he dies on the way to the hospital. Jack does not worry about Manfred because he knows it was inevitable that Manfred would join the Bleekmen. Indeed, Manfred finds a tribal group and asks to join them. As he walks away with them, he feels himself transforming. Doreen realizes that with Arnie gone, everything will change, so, despite their feelings, they part, and Jack heads home to his family where he and Silvia agree to give their marriage another try and resume a life of everyday calm and normalcy. A scream draws them to the Steiner house where an old Manfred from the future has stopped by to say goodbye to his mother. He has had a happy life.