Everyone on the car learned the lesson well.
'Who killed me?� he would ask.
And everybody knew the answer, which was this: �Billy Pilgrim.�
Listen� on the tenth night the peg was pulled out of the hasp on Billy's boxcar door,
and the door was opened. Billy Pilgrim was lying at an angle on the corner-brace, self-
crucified, holding himself there with a blue and ivory claw hooked over the sill of the
ventilator. Billy coughed when the door was opened, and when he coughed he shit thin
gruel. This was in accordance with the Third Law of Motion according to Sir Isaac
Newton. This law tells us that for every action there is a reaction which is equal and
opposite in direction.
This can be useful in rocketry.
The train had arrived on a siding by a prison which was originally constructed as an
extermination camp for Russian prisoners of war.
The guards peeked inside Billy's car owlishly, cooed cahningly. They had never dealt
with Americans before, but they surely understood this general sort of freight. They knew
that it was essentially a liquid which could be induced to flow slowly toward cooing and
light. It was nighttime.
The only light outside came from a single bulb which hung from a pole-high and far
away. All was quiet outside, except for the guards, who cooed like doves. And the liquid
began to flow. Gobs of it built up in the doorway, plopped to the ground.
Billy was the next-to-last human being to reach the door. The hobo was the last. The
hobo could not flow, could not plop. He wasn't liquid any more. He was stone. So it goes.
Billy didn�t want to drop from the car to the ground. He sincerely believed that he
would shatter like glass. So the guards helped him down, cooing still. They set him down
facing the train. It was such a dinky train now.
There was a locomotive, a tender, and three little boxcars. The last boxcar was the
railroad guards� heaven on wheels. Again� in that heaven on wheels� the table was set.
Dinner was served.
At the base of the pole from which the light bulb hung were three seeming haystacks.
The Americans were wheedled and teased over to those three stacks, which weren't hay
after all. They were overcoats taken from prisoners who were dead. So it goes.
It was the guards' firmly expressed wish that every American without an overcoat
should take one. The coats were cemented together with ice, so the guards used their
bayonets as ice picks, pricking free collars and hems and sleeves and so on, then peeling
off coats and handing them out at random. The coats were stiff and dome-shaped, having
conformed to their piles.
The coat that Billy Pilgrim got had been crumpled and frozen in such a way, and was
so small, that it appeared to be not a coat but a sort of large black, three-cornered hat.
There were gummy stains on it, too, like crankcase drainings or old strawberry jam.
There seemed to be a dead, furry animal frozen to it. The animal was in fact the coat's fur
Billy glanced dully at the coats of his neighbors. Their coats all had brass buttons or
tinsel or piping or numbers or stripes or eagles or moons or stars dangling from them.
They were soldiers' coats. Billy was the only one who had a coat from a dead civilian. So
And Billy and the rest were encouraged to shuffle around their dinky train and into the
prison camp. There wasn't anything wann or lively to attract them-merely long, low,
narrow sheds by the thousands, with no lights inside.
Somewhere a dog barked. With the help of fear and echoes and winter silences, that
dog had a voice like a big bronze gong.
Billy and the rest were wooed through gate after gate, and Billy saw his first Russian.
The man was all alone in the night-a ragbag with a round, flat face that glowed like a
Billy passed within a yard of him. There was barbed wire between them. The Russian
did not wave or speak, but he looked directly into Billy's soul with sweet hopefulness, as
though Billy might have good news for him-news he might be too stupid to understand,
but good news all the same.
Billy blacked out as he walked through gate after gate. He came to what he thought
might be a building on Tralfamadore. It was shrilly lit and lined with white tiles. It was
on Earth, though. It was a delousing station through which all new prisoners had to pass.
Billy did as he was told, took off his clothes. That was the first thing they told him to
do on Tralfamadore, too.
A German measured Billy's upper right arm with his thumb and forefinger, asked a
companion what sort of an army would send a weakling like that to the front. They
looked at the other American bodies now, pointed out a lot more that were nearly as bad
One of the best bodies belonged to the oldest American by far, a high school teacher
from Indianapolis. His name was Edgar Derby. He hadn�t been in Billy's boxcar. He�d
been in Roland Weary's car, had cradled Weary's head while he died. So it goes. Derby
was forty-four years old. He was so old he had a son who was a marine in the Pacific
theater of war.
Derby had pulled political wires to get into the army at his age. The subject he had
taught in Indianapolis was Contemporary Problems in Western Civilization. He also
coached the tennis team, and took very good care of his body.
Derby's son would survive the war. Derby wouldn�t. That good body of his would be
filled with holes by a firing squad in Dresden in sixty-eight days. So it goes.
The worst American body wasn�t Billy's. The worst body belonged to a car thief from
Cicero, Illinois. Ms name was Paul Lazzaro. He was tiny, and not only were his bones
and teeth rotten, but his skin was disgusting. Lazzaro was polka-dotted all over with
dime-sized scars. He had had many plagues of boils.
Lazzaro, too, had been on Roland Weary's boxcar, and had given his word of honor to
Weary that he would find some way to make Billy Pilgrim pay for Weary's death. He was
looking around now, wondering which naked human being was Billy.
The naked Americans took their places under many showerheads along a white-tiled
wall. There were no faucets they could control. They could only wait for whatever was
coming. Their penises were shriveled and their balls were retracted. Reproduction was
not the main business of the evening.
An unseen hand turned a master valve. Out of the showerheads gushed scalding rain.
The rain was a blow-torch that did not wann. It jazzed and jangled Billy's skin without
thawing the ice in the marrow of his long bones.
The Americans' clothes were meanwhile passing through poison gas. Body lice and
bacteria and fleas were dying by the billions. So it goes.
And Billy zoomed back in time to his infancy. He was a baby who had just been
bathed by his mother. Now his mother wrapped him in a towel, carried him into a rosy
room that was filled with sunshine. She unwrapped him, laid him on the tickling towel,
powdered him between his legs, joked with him, patted his little jelly belly. Her palm on
his little jelly belly made potching sounds.
Billy gurgled and cooed.
And then Billy was a middle-aged optometrist again, playing hacker's golf this time-
on a blazing summer Sunday morning. Billy never went to church any more. He was
hacking with three other optometrists. Billy was on the green in seven strokes, and it was
his turn to putt.
It was an eight-foot putt and he made it. He bent over to take the ball out of the cup,
and the sun went behind a cloud. Billy was momentarily dizzy. When he recovered, he
wasn�t on the golf course any more. He was strapped to a yellow contour chair in a white
chamber aboard a flying saucer, which was bound for Tralfamadore.
'Where am I?' said Billy Pilgrim.
'Trapped in another blob of amber, Mr. Pilgrim. We are where we have to be just now-
three hundred million miles from Earth, bound for a time warp which will get us to
Tralfamadore in hours rather than centuries.'
'How-how did I get here?'
'It would take another Earthling to explain it to you. Earthlings are the great explainers,
explaining why this event is structured as it is, telling how other events may be achieved
or avoided. I am a Tralfamadorian, seeing all time as you might see a stretch of Rocky
Mountains. All time is all time. It does not change. It does not lend itself to warnings or
explanations. It simply is. Take it moment by moment, and you will find that we are all,
as I've said before, bugs in amber.'
'You sound to me as though you don�t believe in free will,' said Billy Pilgrim.
'If I hadn�t spent so much time studying Earthlings,' said the Tralfamadorian, 'I
wouldn't have any idea what was meant by "free will." I've visited thirty-one inhabited
planets in the universe, and I have studied reports on one hundred more. Only on Earth is
there any talk of free will.'
Billy Pilgrim says that the Universe does not look like a lot of bright little dots to the
creatures from Tralfamadore. The creatures can see where each star has been and where it
is going, so that the heavens are filled with rarefied, luminous spaghetti. And
Tralfamadorians don�t see human beings as two-legged creatures, either. They see them
as great millipedes with babies' legs at one end and old people's legs at the other,' says
Billy asked for something to read on the trip to Tralfamadore. His captors had five
million Earthling books on microfilm, but no way to project them in Billy's cabin. They
had only one actual book in English, which would be placed in a Tralfamadorian
museum. It was Valley of the Dolls, by Jacqueline Susann.
Billy read it, thought it was pretty good in spots. The people in it certainly had their
ups-and-downs, ups-and-downs. But Billy didn�t want to read about the same ups-and-
downs over and over again. He asked if there wasn�t, please, some other reading matters
'Only Tralfamadorian novels, which I'm afraid you couldn't begin to understand,' said
the speaker on the wall.
'Let me look at one anyway.'
So they sent him in several. They were little things. A dozen of them might have had
the bulk of Valley of the Dolls-with all its ups-and-downs, up-and-downs.
Billy couldn�t read Tralfamadorian, of course, but he could at least see how the books
were laid out-in brief clumps of symbols separated by stars. Billy commented that the
clumps might be telegrams.
'Exactly,' said the voice.
'They are telegrams?�
'There are no telegrams on Tralfamadore. But you're right: each clump of-symbols is a
brief, urgent message describing a situation, a scene, We Tralfamadorians read them all at
once, not one after the other. There isn't any particular relationship between all the
messages, except that the author has chosen them carefully, so that, when seen all at
once, they produce an image of life that is beautiful and surprising and deep. There is no
beginning, no middle, no end, no suspense, no moral, no causes, no effects. What we
love in our books are the depths of many marvelous moments seen all at one time.�
Moments after that, the saucer entered a time warp, and Billy was flung back into his
childhood. He was twelve years old, quaking as he stood with his mother and father on
Bright Angel Point, at the rim of Grand Canyon. The little human family was staring at
the floor of the canyon, one mile straight down.
'Well,' said Billy's father, manfully kicking a pebble into space, 'there it is. ' They had
come to this famous place by automobile. They had had several blowouts on the way.
'It was worth the trip,' said Billy's mother raptly. 'Oh, God was it ever worth it.'
Billy hated the canyon. He was sure that he was going to fall in.
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