Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 868
Malachi Constant arrives at the Rumfoord estate to witness a materialization. Winston Niles Rumfoord, who is chrono-synclastic infundibula, scatters everywhere between the sun and Betelgeuse and appears various places sporadically. He is to materialize and Constant is invited to witness. Constant is a billionaire playboy who inherits his father Noel’s estate.
Rumfoord materializes and tells Constant that he, Constant, will eventually go to Mars, Mercury, back to Earth, then to Titan. He and Beatrice, Rumfoord’s wife, will have a child named Chrono. Chrono will pick up a good-luck piece on Mars and carry it to Titan. Beatrice and Constant are chary of their union. Constant sells the company that owns the only known transportation to Mars, which is a spaceship called The Whale, which Beatrice buys. This buying and selling, along with Constant’s fifty-six-day party, which ends with him giving away all his oil wells, ruins Constant financially, and Beatrice is likewise ruined financially.
Upon losing all his money, Constant is open for options. Secret agents from Mars recruit him for the Martian army. Beatrice is surreptitiously recruited. On the spaceship to Mars, Constant rapes Beatrice. When on Mars, they are separated and their memories are erased from their brains.
Constant begins as an officer but after eight years he is made a private and is nicknamed Unk. His first act after having his memory cleared out for the seventh time is to execute his best friend Stony Stevenson in front of ten thousand Martian soldiers. Before Unk strangles Stevenson, Stevenson manages to tell him, “Blue stone . . . Barrack twelve . . . letter.” Unk finds the stone and the letter. Written on it are things about Stevenson; about the antennas under the soldiers’ skulls, which make them do whatever the commanders want; about Beatrice and Chrono; and about the Martian army and its plans to make war on Earth. It informs Unk that Boaz, a private first class in the army, does not have an antenna in his head and that he is the one who gives pain to everyone and controls everyone in Unk’s squad. The letter is signed by Unk.
The war on Earth is a complete disaster from the Martian point of view. Before boarding the spaceship, Unk deserts the army and finds Beatrice and Chrono. They do not know him or care about him. Unk is returned to his unit, where he and Boaz are put on a spaceship designed by Rumfoord to go to Mercury instead of Earth and thus Unk and Boaz miss the war.
Unk and Boaz are stranded deep in a cavern on Mercury where there is no life except for harmoniums, small creatures that live by eating vibrations. Boaz is especially attached to the harmoniums. He plays music from the ship’s tape collection, and he allows his favorite harmoniums to feed from his own pulse. Rumfoord occasionally arranges harmoniums on the walls of the caves to give Unk and Boaz messages. The final message is to turn the ship upside down and it will fly out. Boaz stays with the harmoniums and Unk travels on to Earth, where he is greeted as the Space Wanderer, the messiah of the Church of God the Utterly Indifferent. Rumfoord knows of many events that will transpire in future times and prophesied that Unk will arrive on Earth, exactly as he does, and that when he is asked what happened to him he will reply, “I was a victim of a series of accidents, as are we all.” As Unk does exactly what was forecast, the religion Rumfoord set up becomes...
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even stronger, as the only one on Earth in which predictions actually came to pass.
Rumfoord stages an elaborate ceremony in which Unk is told by Rumfoord that he strangled Stevenson. This is Unk’s final blow, as he wished, since reading the message, to find his best friend. Rumfoord explains to Unk that he was Constant before becoming Unk and that Constant is the symbol of evil to the Church of God the Utterly Indifferent. With Beatrice and Chrono, Unk is martyred and sent away in exile to live out his life on Titan.
Upon arrival in Titan, Rumfoord informs Salo, the Tralfamadorian machine long stranded, that the replacement part for his spaceship is now there, in the form of Chrono’s good-luck piece. Salo does not realize that the entire history of human life on Earth is for his sake. Human life is made to exist by the Tralfamadorians, who are working to get Salo the replacement part as quickly as they can.
Rumfoord disappears and Beatrice moves into his home on Titan. Salo self-destructs and Constant lives in Salo’s spaceship. Chrono goes to live with the giant blue birds of Titan, the most noble creatures on the planet. Chrono’s final gesture to Constant and Beatrice is to show appreciation for them having given him life.
Beatrice dies and Salo comes back to life. Salo gives Constant a ride to Earth, where he dies on a street corner. His last thought is a posthypnotic illusion, placed in his mind by Salo, that makes him believe that Stevenson comes to greet him and take him to paradise.