Eden against the Colossus:
[Note: This is a preview of Mr. Stolyarov's newest science fiction novel, published in eBook form. The prologue to Eden against the Colossus can be found here. Any non-commercial reproduction of this chapter and the prologue is hereby authorized, provided that due credit is given to the author, no alterations are imposed, and a link is posted to the site where the work can be purchased: http://www.lulu.com/content/63699]
June 30, 2753,
- "And what gargantuan web have you entangled yourself in now, Aurelius Meltridge?" Apparently Margaret perceived nagging to be the means of "optimizing" the situation. "I had warned you to keep out of the political playpen, lest the sand there became lodged in your eyes..."
- "And the sand is intermingled with glass. You have employed that metafor all too frequently. As I see it you have nothing to fear and everything to gain. The man at the outer portal was a valet of the Lord Protector, a carrier of an oral message. He stated that the Protector has a job offer for my consideration, and supposes that the matter will be of great intrigue to me."
- "So now the most powerful man in the universe sends his private lackeys to beg an employment from my husband while he could only find the time to deliver a recorded address via virtual reality transmitter during the last meeting of the Intergalactic Parliament. He is a busy man with exacting standards, demands that you could never have envisioned on your own even with your workaholism. Whatever he has dragged you into, you can count that it is a matter of immense significance to him. Which establishes you as a target of the despicable little schemes and manipulations at his court. Why do you suppose he had not merely sent you a text message or one of his conventional recruitment propaganda projections?"
I had never considered that side of the matter. I did not respond, signaling to her to continue, skeptical though she was.
- "Let me refrase the question. Whom does he want not to discover about this arrangement? Every other means of sending a message could have been traced and apprehended by the numerous special interest factions who are infuriated with him for not moving a step toward granting them privileged status. If this were a matter in which he was confident to face his foes, he would have flaunted it in their faces, as he had during the creation of his self-funded promethium concern and the construction of that outrageously lavish palace from the profits. But this is an underground task, something he is either afraid or ashamed of exposing. And you are to venture into that area which he seeks to evade. This is not as simple, Aurelius, as was the management of Count Crentor's private laboratory or even your research and presentations for the Ministry of Exploration and Colonization. There are elements in this so powerful that they might just sweep you away..."
- "That is a risk which I acknowledge, yet it is inevitable at such heights which I intend to reach. One cannot attain a greater responsibility as a planetary biologist than a Protectorate Commission, nor is there in the entire universe a greater reward if it is carried out with success. This endeavor could present me with the resources I require to found a laboratory of my own and conduct in-depth studies of various biological structures to discover what has been a dream of mine for so long now..."
- "Is that truly of such enormous import to you? Why can you not realize that there are more important values than material wealth and more significant goals that your ascent on the meritocratic hierarchy?"
- "Give me an example of what you are attempting to uphold as more significant."
- "Love, Aurelius, a quality in which you can be quite deficient. Do you understand what strain it places upon me to witness you burn your brains out twenty-two hours every day dosed with who knows what mind warping poisons just so that you can accelerate your reaction speed? Why do you even bother with this pretense of being a family man when your work is your mistress? You are twenty-five years old, and few men can reach your prominence at this age. We have a respectable home and no one in the community can display even a hint of contempt toward us without being shown to all to be an irreparable fool. You may be well versed in your technicalities, but many a wiser man would have sought early retirement, realizing that there can be a cap and a boundary to how far one is willing to struggle during his own life. You have nothing more to want. You can eat six meals a day, yet you limit yourself to a pill you barely have time to swallow. You can live the next two hundred years of your life in utter bliss, and yet you perplex yourself with all your charts and books and drafts, and to add to all that those propaganda pamflets in favor of 'preserving the spirit of scientific reasoning' which someone needs for something I cannot quite discern. I pity what you do to yourself, and at the same time I yearn for your company and attentions. I cannot help attempting to remedy the situation. Sometimes I find myself shedding those tears which you cannot release even out of simple love for yourself..."
- "I love myself to a greater extent than you can imagine. That is the reason for my indifference to the opinion of my neighbors. They can revere me as a deity or direct at me the same scorn as at a leech, but I shall continue on my present course, carrying out that labor which enhances my life, granting me knowledge, competence to interact with the world, and the wealth needed to support my ventures, of which my present share is insufficient. Why live in a villa when I can custom design a castle? Why scramble to-and-fro as an errant for hire when I can forever secure my reputation, establish my own facilities, and receive clients in the comfort of my headquarters? Do you truly think, Margaret, that a man born bourgeois should remain bourgeois for the remainder of his years, simply because his world has lifted from him the concern of his stomach's immediate satiation? Is that the gray, lifeless constancy that you want permeating the air around you without any innovation, any amelioration until you lie on your deathbed and shed your tears of sorrow for passing from sameness self-inflicted to sameness eternal? If I had not loved you, Margaret, I would have been content to consign to you such perpetual boredom as you uphold to be ideal. But I understand that this robs our lives of purpose, and burdens them besides. Have you not read Goethe? 'That which moves not forward, goes backward.' The man was a prominent litterateur and scientist in one, whose legacy has lingered a millennium now. His approach is warranted, and his wisdom is proven by the filter of time. Would you rather have had your husband behave in the manner of a slothful degenerate like Conford?"
- "The Viscount Conford has the time at least to truly reflect upon greater issues in the manner of a genuinely detached man. I have read his most recent post on FAML, in which he describes how an attitude like yours within the Intergalactic culture and its predecessors has resulted in a universe on the brink of catastrofe because humans cannot find their place and play safer roles which separate them from their egos and cause them to abandon the bizarre notion of their own centrality. That is what he writes, at least."
- "If you did not view yourself as the core of the universe, I never would have married you. Was it resignation from worldly matters that served as the source of the handheld cell transformer? Was it instinct that led to the remedy for tens of malignancies and the virtual elimination of bodily imperfections?"
- "You married me in order to obtain preferential access to the patent and apply it to design those outlandish zoo creatures of yours."
- "Not precisely, but closer to the truth than your ethics would permit. I married you because you were the creator of a technological wonder, because of your ingenious mind and the enormous discipline and resolve which must have been exerted to yield such a product, and because of my admiration for those qualities. It was my most hopeful chance to become paired with an equal, because I never would have been attracted to my inferior."
- "Yet it remains that you love the creator of the transformer, not the woman behind the creation. You always give people your preferences for the gains that they can bring you."
- "Why do you see a dichotomy between the two entities? Did the transformer merely spring up out of an arbitrary void? The stamp of you, the person, is placed all over the invention. The qualities of your character had brought it into existence. If I did not admire you for those particular virtues, by what standard could I prefer you over one of those semi-conscious beauty parlor coquettes whose only logical concern is the matter of placing a diamond comb into their ten-story hairdos so as not to cause them to fall over? How could I love you if I disregarded all the superiorities of your condition? Would you rather that I had selected you by arbitrary chance, for no particular preference? Then you would have had the same chance to end up with a space pirate or a Neo-Daoist or any other specimen of human slime still untouched by civilization as with me. And if I considered you a hindrance or an inconvenience to my designs, why should I have chosen you? Of course I married you for personal gain, be it for the satisfaction of having a heroine for a wife or for your analytical skills, or for a greater ease in negotiating for the products of your mind. And of course I will return to you the value of those endowments, because you would not have arbitrarily allotted them to me had you not seen some prospects for yourself in the making. You shall live under conditions that will cause Christine of Expansia or even the Lady Protectress herself blush with shame at their own destitution… if only you abandon that nonsense about a career being a detriment to love or the separation of the spirit, or the imminent collapse of the universe spouted by the lips of that crackpot Rustain. We are our own masters; we have no scheme to follow but that which we deem optimal for ourselves. The universe is not an animate entity, a mystical, whimsical God whose scheme involves our destruction. It is our domain, and we shall have as much of it as we are worthy of receiving. And if it involves another calculated risk on my behalf, so be it."
- "Have you been reading Ayn Rand in your spare time again?" she asked in a lighter tone. Apparently my reasoning had reached her senses. "I am beginning to become jealous of the place that woman occupies in your life."
- "She is seven hundred seventy one years dead now, Margaret."
- "Yet you still take her advice over mine."
- "Consciously examine your true desires and voice them: you will realize that the two are not as divergent as you suppose. The survival of a technological society and of the aspiring human spirit could only have been managed on the grounds of her filosofy and the extrapolations that followed through the ages, which now must once again confront the fashionable idiocies of our time."
- "You justify yourself too well," she said, this time joking openly, kissing me on the cheek. "Go as you wish. But I will miss you. And I expect one of the jewels of the Protector’s collection tied around my neck by the time you return," she added as an afterthought.
- "You will likely have two," I replied, with her laughter as the response.
A small device within the palm of my hand opened a portal from the kitchen to the spot of public land of greatest proximity to the Legardium Palace, the primary fountain of the Protector’s Park with the statue of a burdenwing as its centerpiece. I examined its form for several brief seconds prior to stepping through the gateway. A massive, muscular back with several grooves following its colossal length served as the foundation for equipment packages also immortalized in marble, strapped onto the creature's firm stomach, while its head was supported by a disproportionately gargantuan neck, so designed since its throat contained pouches of oxygen for emergency use in an air-deficient environment. The first authentic genetically engineered species, it still possessed conventional animal features which left plenty to be desired. It feet were scrawny—modeled from a mule genome-- and its sole means of balance was their sheer quantity, six on each side. Its massive wings were those of a North American bald eagle, capable of spreading into a sweeping, dignified expanse. Employed as package animals in mountainous terrain frequently impassable to the average transportomaton during the terraformation of the Colonia Nova system in 2525, they were integral in shaping the first outpost erected by the Intergalactic Protectorate that rendered valid the adjective of its title. Since that day no longer did the Grand Dominion of Expansia hold a monopoly upon the resource markets of the Andromeda and Gordian Clusters. This particular image of the burdenwing displayed no ferocity in its features, merely a solemn, dignified subservience to the marble colonist tugging at its reins. This was, despite its appearance, a gentle and compliant creature, an animal understanding its utility as a servant of man, designed solely to carry his baggage, to endure menial hardships in the place of man, and to nod willingly. It exhibited scant initiative of his own, and as little sentience, which in itself explains its temperament. The symbolism of the work was manifest; that man's task is to shape nature to his ends, and nature's task is to comply without resistance. Oddly enough, no Protector prior to Maurice Legard had hatched the conception of elucidating a fundamental cultural tenet of the Intergalactic Protectorate along the avenue to his sanctuary, and none moreover possessed the audacity to sculpt the piece with his own hands. If one looked closer under the lustrous glassy screen of the colonist's helmet, one could see that the sparkle of its studious eyes and its lofty, definite smirk emerged from all too familiar features...
I waved to Margaret in sign of final farewell and stepped through the microscopically thin wormhole into the vegetated alley which stretched toward the palace gate. The path underneath me was ornamented with many a sunken relief of astronomical objects, carved to such elaborate detail and flawless to so great a magnification (and the layman's porta-lenses can enlarge or diminish one's view up to ten thousand times) that its material could only be Legardian Promethium, from the renowned smelters which continued to spring up in various spots within the universe like oases dotting a desert moonscape. Rumor holds it that our Prodigy Protector is enlarging his manufacturing capacity to the field of jewelry while exploring commercial uses for a compressing method to design a stone sturdier and more lustrous than diamond, herculeum, or even the most durable promethium to date. It may well be veritable, for his exploits have transformed him into the wealthiest man in all recorded history, yet having touched not a single credit in the Protectorate Treasury to initiate his endeavors. It is well known to the populace that his few inherited millions had been placed at the disposal of the government in exchange for an income tax cutback to 0.5%, and every morsel of his present means is self-generated. So were the fenomenal colonnades looming in front of me, obstructing sight of the sun itself. Nevertheless, some six thousand stories beyond the range of my unequipped vision, perceptible only at minimum magnification of the porta-lenses, gold-plated domes reflected solar rays through prism-like pillars to display a glamorous array of rainbow-colored beams illuminating the central path and crisscrossing each other in astoundingly complex geometric designs. The guard contingent stationed at the palace was of an army on the Protector’s personal payroll. These men conducted frequent tours of select portions of the palace, which extracted from visitors rather handsome fees: minimal, of course, in comparison to the scale of the accomplishment. I, however, was to enter for free, through select invitation.
I received a most uncommon reception at the gates, as beside the two silent halberdiers stood a man in the uniform of a General from the Fifth Intergalactic War, a bicorn hat with meter-long silver plume protruding from the pinnacle, along with a dark blue closed-collar jacket framed with golden epaulets and scarlet lace at the fringes, red trousers with black stripes stretching beneath the knee-length boots, all semi-concealed by a free-flowing iron-gray cape attached to the left shoulder by a monstrously-sized brass pin in the shape of the Protector’s top hat emblem. His complexion was wrinkled with experience, yet in an evenly-distributed, symmetrical manner. His hair had only faint traces of gray within it, and his pointed brown beard still held the gloss of youth. His penetrating blue eyes had always boasted of never requiring any manner of vision correctors, and still studied me with a meticulous concern, despite the fact that we had met on previous occasions. This man's energy never seemed to expire or require rejuvenation, yet the screeching twentieth-generation idlers in the Committees were turning their claims on the matter of "his need to retire" into a political scandal. What else could be expected from envious anachronisms of mediocrity in regard to an eighty-year-old such as him?
- "Dr. Meltridge, it is a pleasure to encounter you once again," he uttered in a slightly heavy tone, as if his mind were burdened with a dilemma which did not grant him a moment of reprieve.
- "I assure you that I share your sentiment, Minister," I replied, spotting behind him the same scrawny silver-haired valet that had first informed me of this prospect.
- "This is to take it that you are interested in the Lord Protector's proposition?" he spoke as vaguely as was possible, without presenting to me the slightest sign of its nature. "For this endeavor no less than a mind among the crème de la crème of the universe will do. It will be challenging to an extent that will cause you to become drenched with sweat or to shudder in fear, often perplexed, not able to discern a clear path in the midst of a thousand false leads, dead ends, and superfluous complications. Are you still interested?"
- "Indeed I am," I stated with confidence. "If a matter is beyond my present expertise or requires an extension of my capacities, then it is a threat to my ego, one which my intellect cannot tolerate and will tackle by whatever means I can devise. Be assured that the Lord Protector will not be disappointed in his choice."
- "Splendid," his complexion displayed a hearty, deep-rooted soldier's smile while a firm hand patted my back in approval. "Your character type is just the one required for this mission. Mr. Enridge," he motioned to the valet, "do kindly escort us into His Majesty's discussion chamber."
The gate floated some three meters into the air in order to allow us passage into the Inner Alley, while the halberds removed themselves from our path and their possessors saluted the Minister. Enridge walked several meters in front so as to remedy any inconveniences that could arise during our stroll.
- "The disruptor shield over this section of the palace should prevent any aerial drones from obtaining a recording of our discussion, yet it may be possible that they have one of those rare devices which can bypass the obstruction. Whatever the chances of that, I should withhold from you the primary briefing until we reach the soundproof confines of the chamber."
- "Is there a reason for the secrecy which you can reveal to me presently in however general terms you can permit yourself?"
- "Let me inquire into this, Doctor: have you read the Viscount Conford's most recent post, which has presently spread like a chain explosion through the databases of nearly every major ecological organization within our borders?"
- "That piece of contemptible rubbish!" I exclaimed, unable to withhold my resentment at a most superficial and deluded little statement achieving universal fame overnight.
- "But what firm base of support was required for news of it to linger and spread? If this man were merely a sniveling little retrograde leading an underground circle of Barrens, are you certain that his message would have reached a nationwide audience with thousands like it floating on the Intergalnet and millions of other political commentaries? This man possesses not merely the funds to launch an ideological proliferation effort, but also all the other resource prerequisites of a policy movement. If he is this potent at spreading information, what do you suppose his capacities are for obtaining it?"
- "But his funds are limited, even given his inheritance. Would a man who considers any sort of employment to be the function of 'merciless Takers' hold some sort of inexhaustible fount of gold to permit himself every manner of spy gadget emerging throughout the Universe in competition with the various shield systems that are developed just as rapidly?"
- "Judging by our past clashes, the man is amazingly well-informed. Some undetected leak had revealed to him my designs for the Corvus-34 Expedition in 2742, which his cronies had then deprived of funding by means of 'majority pressure' extracted from I can only suspect where. Since that time he has foiled my scheme for a permanent wormhole between Fort Righteous and Hermes Base to ease expansion logistics, and only a narrow evasion of a filibuster had allowed Dr. Nachtreiter to be dispatched to the Perifery for gathering of data on the frontier regions. Where can he obtain a constant flow of funds? It is well known that he collaborates with my other archrival, Dr. Dirk Rustain of the Collegium of Frontier Conservation. He had even managed to present that ruffian with a chair on the Funds Committee of the Ministry. And, let me merely suggest that he does not have to possess a lead in technological resources in order to probe into our activities. I cannot tell you more."
Yet the picture was nevertheless elucidated for me. It was a connection that should have formed within my mind two days earlier. The Collegium had been founded in 2736 by none other than the Protector's own most whimsical sister, the Lady Anne-Marie, once a renowned field biologist who had herself traversed the outer reaches of civilization to document instances of primitive alien plant and animal life, who had practically single-handedly classified the entire "First" genus of extraterrestrial greenery. Apparently, however, a passion for the organisms in and of themselves had clouded her appreciation of the search for truth and of scientific discovery, as she diverted continually amassing amounts of finances to purchase their habitats and leave them in an untouched condition. The situation from then on became a downward spiral. Having realized that "her beloved critters were still being apprehended by the too-far reaching colonists and imprisoned in zoos and laboratories like some sort of showpieces or curiosity trinkets", her "concern" impelled her to gradually shift her stance to the advocacy of "protection" measures beyond her own means or of the legislature of that time. Hence her establishment of a publicly funded entity cloaked under the associated label of "ecology" but in reality concerned with restrictive policy measures as a priority. During the 2740s it had resurrected the term "Wilderness Refuge" from the coffin of the ages and has already managed to brand thirty-two planets with such a designation, implemented despite numerous popular overrulings in related referenda. In the meantime the bureaucracy of the facility has expanded to such an extent and intricacy the even the Protector would remain unable to disband it through any action short of declaring martial law, and such a condition during peacetime has never been imposed in all the two hundred fifty years of Protectorate history.
Gradually, as the facility developed, the ecological movement obtained repute with a horde of adventurists seeking to earn a name within the scientific community without possessing scientific merit. Its overt legitimacy permitted an even darker and more radical sect to emerge into the foreground and gradually obtain positions of repute in the Collegium under the name of "fringe ecologists" (whom the dominant paradigm of "political correctness" could not afford to openly deny their demands), the Malthusians. As their dominance over the field of environmental study increased, into the forefront jumped cliques within this faction of increasing authoritarianism—from Tartmann's Controllers to Rustain's Forestallers to Conford's Ishmaelites—the next self-righteously deliberate perversion of what had begun as an attempt to contain several species for the purpose of study now turned into a campaign to curtail human acquisition of new sources of raw materials and grounds for habitat on a national scale.
Another group lurks still within the arcane channels of the ideological underground, but word of it has spread to an alarming extent in recent months. Its members are the open denouncers of initiatives upheld by the so-called "Greens" as insufficiently radical. Their sect relishes in the essence of the environmentalist movement, which its more reticent members seek to conceal. They have dubbed themselves the "Barrens". Their search is not for the preservation of animal species, nor "the tender guardianship that human beings must keep to maintain the perpetuation of their natural cycles", as the Lady Anne-Marie had once upheld, but rather the "untainted conservation of the surface of uninhabited planets to render them uninhabitable as beautiful embodiments of an intriguing prospect for implementation of nihilistic doctrines within this universe." Surprisingly enough, the coffers of the Collegium, despite its steady drift into lunacy, are regularly replenished, and the recent Parliamentary Budget displays a sum of expenditures toward its maintenance thrice that allocated at the time of its founding. In the meantime, its disciples have invaded not merely the MEC, but the Ministries of Justice and War. Some have even vied for positions in the Police Force, thankfully, rejected by the voters of their district.
Despite the movement's growing danger to the government itself and the principles of individual freedom and meritocracy that had laid the framework for the Intergalactic Protectorate itself, Lady Anne-Marie has remained silent in regard to their activities for over a decade, continuing to permit leeches like Conford to employ as a means of communication the "Friends of Anne-Marie Legard" forum (in naming which she had omitted her "egotistically elitist" title). She has herself withdrawn from scientific studies and not set a foot off Earth since a blunder of a journey to the Seeker-8 galaxy to collect several handfuls of distorted cosmic mushrooms in 2738. The most prominent innovators of industry and science have launched accusations against her for, in the words of interplanetary transportation magnate Ferdinand Winmer, "inconsiderately letting loose a monstrosity," comments whose impact she has pre-empted via the silent treatment. Nevertheless, even her brother had once let slip a mildly chastising remark that "unlike some relatives of mine, I pave the planets I purchase," in regard to his staunch refusal to expend personal finances for the benefit of the ecological movement.
The beginnings of Conford's association with the Collegium had coincided with his emergence as a major player on the political scene some thirteen years ago, when he merely appeared one day , firmly established in the bureaucracy, after having had a virtual void of a public past. It was a relationship which eventually carried numerous prominent "ecologists" into bureaucratic posts, but the Viscount's treasure pile would have reached its logical depletion following his massive regulation efforts and the propaganda which preceded them. Either the Collegium itself had granted him the means—which is unlikely, for its expenditures are designated by the Parliamentary Budget, and none would have bypassed a considerable sum labeled "To the coffers of the Viscount Conford". Or, as Minister Orthog had—with the utmost subtlety in order to avoid what he would have perceived as "dishonorable scheming against the Protector’s kin"—suggested to me, the primitivist's income was generated by no other than the still wealthy Anne-Marie Legard, which would explain his possession of not only updated equipment and intelligence, but also a more viable network of spies within and around the palace, originating from the source of the "monstrosity" herself.
The sealed metal doors of the palace were painted and ornamented in the manner of exquisitely carved wood with the Protector’s Top Hat as the piece de resistance and engravings of the Protector’s exploits as a general in the Fifth Intergalactic War as the periferal decorations. They receded before us, apparently in anticipation on the part of the footman at the controls on the inside. Enridge motioned for us to insert the soles of our footwear into the automatically fastening mechanism of the guest domestic travel boards, lined up in the hundreds along the sides of the checkerboard marble floor. Our particular transporters were pre-programmed to transfer us to the desired location, at a comfortable moderate speed, apparently existing as the default whenever the master of the house wished to relish the grandeur of his residence and bask in the glory of his ego.
Describing the interior of the Legardium would require a thousand-page commentary on every pillar and fresco, every soaring staircase, colonnade, and walkway, every fountain springing from the floor to fenomenal heights or, conversely, from the ceiling, while its droplets are prevented by artificial gravity controls from contacting the ground and thus can be conditioned to form every manner of exquisite shape, from the display of a jester juggling sferes rendered multicolored by streams of light emanating from the depths of the basins, to the keys of a grand piano seemingly behaving as if struck and spreading ripples upon a particularly strong impact. Bits of the palace glimmered and startled the eyes with a magnificent luster, and the inner sections of its spires and domes, constantly stretching upward, captivating by their sheer complexity and the grandeur of scale. It was as if the fantasy of some extraordinary child, refusing to accept the commonplace boundaries and caps on ornamentation imposed by "good taste", sneering at the degenerates' axiom that "less is more", had crafted this celestial sanctuary, which seemed to grow at every angle, to expand into another chamber or corridor or balcony or great hall from every discernible crevice and opening. A manner of purity and innocence permeated this lavish display, seeming to, through the radiant stone and glass, joyfully exclaim, "I am glorious, and this is what I can assemble!"
New sights entered my field of view as the board persisted in elevating us, and I observed the masterful contrasts of material, in columns of white alabaster and their capitals of raven-black obsidian, with colored geometric ornaments entwined around their slender cylinders. From someplace a gothic gargoyle stared at me with curious stone eyes, elsewhere a pattern of titanium triangles caught my eyes, spreading at even intervals from a single center in the style of the twenty-fourth century Mathematica Revival. At other places still, which, due to my avid enthusiasm in the career of biological studies, interested me most, a live chorus gryfons and basilisks, with color-shifted eyes engineered into them unlike any others I had ever witnessed, sang Wagner's "Ride of the Valkyries" (of all things!) in angelically high tones.
The boards at last ceased their climb somewhere in the fourth hundred of stories, twisting themselves toward a metal-plated tunnel with ivory railings at the sides to separate the passageway from the various instruments of utility and coded button pads along the walls. This sector of the palace, I realized, was more reminiscent of a remote military installation than an aristocratic residence. Perhaps the effect was intentional, another addition to the eclecticism of the structure. Or it was likely that this was a more mundane region, not attracting any tourists or other unwanted visitors by any distinction from a power plant or an arsenal. If spies were to await us, especially internal agents of the Lady Anne-Marie within the palace, they would likely expect us in a salon with a fireplace and luxurious reclining hoverchairs instead of here.
But here the discussion chamber was, concealed behind a steel door numbered by six digits and possessing no peculiar divergence from the other sternly uniform entryways stretching as far as I could see. Our means of transport halted in front of this portal, removing themselves from our footwear while the voice of a security automaton programmed into the doorhandle instructed Minister Orthog to relinquish his ruby-hilted sword and place it into a receptacle camouflaged to conform without detectable difference to the texture of the walls. It was an old gentlemen's law that prohibited the possession of weapons inside a discussion chamber, or the unleashing of any manner of force whatsoever upon anyone within such rooms, no matter what prior hostilities may have existed between the participants. As the walls were impervious to any listening device in existence (which would become distorted instantly if even attempting to overhear the conversation), the contents of one's propositions and deeds while inside could remain a mystery to the outside world for eternity until their author himself chose to divulge them. Thus, an uncompromising integrity was required in order to rely upon its features, and a man was expected to remain within proper bounds toward his most cherished friend and most despised foe alike. Negotiations had become much ameliorated since a weapons collecting mechanism was installed into nearly every prestigious chamber in order to monitor that the "inflict no harm" principle remained in practice.
The door receded before us, and we stepped into an interior possessing sufficiently lavish decor, the corners of its metal walls smoothed into what seemed like fragments of arches instead of ninety-degree junctions of planes. Ornamented curtains and Oriental rugs hanging upon them concealed most of the barren crudeness which pervaded this sector. The chairs were, too, reasonably cushioned and of ample height. At the opposite end of a polished redwood table stretching for nearly the length of the room, sat one who seemed to resemble a Victorian gentleman through his trim and thoroughly combed black hair thrown backward in a manner which had nearly glued it to his skull, garbed in an immaculate tuxedo suit with a scarlet vest protruding underneath over a snowy white dress shirt. On the table lay a silver-shaded cylindrical hat with a golden rim. Its possessor maintained an uncommon brand of dignity, one emanating from his every gesture and expression, as if a constant feature of his life. The concentrated upward gaze of his frigid blue eyes was coupled with a meditative pose of a hand underneath his bearded chin. His unwavering aura of confidence assured any who encountered him that he possessed no intention of degrading or abasing himself before remarks that his carriage was too arrogant, or the strain on his cheeks too great, or his slender jaw too prepared to respond to whatever words reached his well-proportioned ears. Even in an era as this when the aging process is dramatically retarded in all individuals and a man in his sixties might seem twice as young, the lack of wear upon his face caused him to be frequently labeled as having fewer years than I. Not a hint of gray showed in his hair, and, at forty, he seemed literally unchanged from his twenty-year-old appearance. His trim, angular fysiognomy showed no signs of senile slackening, and the bottom of his chin was as much a plane as his narrow, open forehead. He stood from his repose and faced us from an imposing height of two hundred thirty centimeters. There were men taller than he, but none could boast the peculiar effect one experienced in his presence, not an intimidated sting of midgetry as felt by the moderately tall in the vicinity of giants, but a sense of one's own elevation along with himself, as if he had unthinkingly, as a side effect, dragged nearby souls onto whatever platform or pedestal or column from which his dominance spread.
- "My friends," he proclaimed in a smooth, flowing, elegant tone of neither high nor low pitch, but a particular intonation which granted finality to every expression of his, "welcome. Dr. Meltridge, I trust you have had a stirring journey beside the features of my estate."
We faced him and responded with a punctual military salute to his own. The Protector's policy on bowing was one of complete disapproval. "I consider it a perversion of good manners that, for the sake of presenting with a courteous gesture another man, one must of his own will lower his stance," was his remark on the matter. He was not contemptuous of respects paid him and yearned for admiration and commendation, even of the ritual form, where it was deserved. But his policy on his subjects was never one advocating their deprivation for his sake. Men in his private employ are amply rewarded with currency units for scientific endeavors he commissions. The people in general, on the other hand, are his clients, delegating to him a minuscule portion of their income so that he may fund an army and police force for their protection, or support a justice system to resolve their quarrels. The miscellaneous services provided by the Estate of Maurice Legard have become separated from official association with the government. "My transportation networks, my promethium smelters, and my research laboratories need not extract mandatory fees from the populace. Should they deem such facilities more optimal than those of their competitors, they will pay for their own uses. Should they, on the other hand, prefer other ambitious entrepreneurs in these fields, then it would be a crime for me to cripple a fellow capitalist's superior endeavors through any manner of gratuitous funding presented to me from the people's wallets." The degree to which the Protector influenced the currents of Parliament and the power plays of his own relatives was the degree to which his vision of desired government corresponded with the frequently grimmer reality. Nevertheless it must be granted that, despite the grievous abomination that is the Collegium, the administrative spending of today is Lilliputian compared to every manner of bureaucratic infrastructure during the days of my childhood. The Protector’s private contributions to the Treasury have eliminated the need even for particular tax allocations for the military, police, and courts. The sole reason why any taxes persist are to fund that, which neither he nor I would wish to perpetuate.
- "I comprehend your desire to inquire into my... shall I say... incomplete approach toward informing you of the precise nature of your assignment. We are presently in a secure enough setting to discuss this." He extracted a slip of paper folded over several times from a pocket on his vest. "Minister Orthog had personally presented me with this letter sent to him by Dr. Nachtreiter, our Exploratory Supervisor within the westernmost Perifery.” I was well aware of the navigational conventions to which the Lord Protector was referring. Ever since the 2500s, when the geografy of single planets proved inadequate for expressing the relative locations of territories in the Protectorate, a three-dimensional Universal Euclidean System was devised, with six directions: North, South, East, West, Height, and Depth, and with the Earth’s core designated to be the system’s central point, relative to which all other locations in the universe could be expressed by a coordinate system.
- “This document has seen no eyes except its author's that are outside this chamber at the moment, and the scant data given here is reason enough for me to hire you in an undercover journey to the region,” the Lord Protector continued. “This is, as of the present, an entirely legal action, sanctioned by both the Minister of Exploration and Colonization and the Protector himself. The official documents concerning this commission are presently in my private storage, to be released only when any response to this mission will be rendered futile by the venture's overwhelming success. Read the letter, if you wish, and I shall elaborate from there." He handed me the unraveled silver sheet with glaring orange characters of a basic computerized font upon it, as was the preferential format for documentation along the frontiers. As I finished the text within the carrying capacity of the paper's area, the ink upon it molded itself into the characters which composed the second page, temporary electric interactions between the nanochips in the material's fibers and the electronic maintenance rovers within my cerebral cortex instructing the numerous tiny drones which carried a morsel of ink each to alter themselves in accordance with the program devised for them by Dr. Nachtreiter (although the user-accessibility of the technique has now rendered it a practice not exclusive to highly trained scientists). It was a most astonishing document, a historical account in itself, which I have since transcribed onto the foremost pages of this log detailing my venture.
- "Are you finished? Excellent. As it has been documented, we have stumbled upon the first entirely extraterrestrial sentient species since the Axztow Wars in Expansia during the twenty-fourth century. And these, at least as the description of their habits and fysique thus far informs us, are not parasites who thrive upon planting their larvae into the brains of human beings. There will be plenty of Collegium minions, with whom then Expansian dictator George Gakfield would have been pleased, who would state that mankind has proven itself utterly incapable of interacting civilly with creatures on 'its level of intelligence', which in their theories would serve as the warrant for affording us no more dignity or privilege than is granted growling, automatic beasts. Dr. Nachtreiter rightly fears that, should word of this discovery reach the Committees' ears, not merely will the planet be branded off limits to human beings, and we forced to bid farewell to any of our yearnings for systematic investigation of the region, but the entirety of nearby bases and towns shall become depopulated, with expropriation as the means to doing so. Conford will attach himself like a leech or an Axztow seeker queen to this cause for the sake of 'Ishmaelism' and 'fair species competition' as an excuse to blight entire planets. He will act on his exalted 'precautionary principle' to prevent any manner of the aliens' knowledge of our existence. Simultaneously, he will form a 'Friends of Planus nonvisualis' Party in order to 'assume guardianship' over entities we in the Protectorate will never even be permitted to glance upon! Alas, his base of support is too numerous for us to convey a successful direct blow to his scheme. I am not overly captivated by the prospect of the new generation of ranting university students departing from their campuses and forming monstrous dark swarms amid residential streets and plazas, where people teleport to attend to their own peaceful affairs. But what perturbs me to a greater extent is their potential utility of the enormous political leverage they had crafted for themselves during the past two decades, a campaign too subtle for me to have detected and terminated until it grew into a menace to even my survival. This is a most potent gamble I am undertaking. In the event of failure I risk deposition in as swift a manner as that of my one-time elevation up the chain of command to the rank of Protector Intergalacticus. If success is ours, however, we can grasp onto another foothold for human habitation in the universe, and, which is more significant, exchange knowledge with this odd new species. The aliens are likely to embrace with joy and eagerness the multitudes of technological advances our culture can offer them, for, as Dr. Nachtreiter had reported, their use of machinery is pitifully non-existent. In the meantime we will be much benefited by receiving their ideas concerning Magnetica's geografy and peculiar survival skills that may have to be undertaken. This is what your task shall aim toward. As a planetary biologist, and the best of your kind, you are fittest to refine our awareness of their consumption techniques, their exploitation of resources, their social structure, their language, and, which is our more immediate purpose, the terms under which they will consent to negotiations with arriving colonists. Along the journey to Magnetica, you are to station yourself for several days with Dr. Nachtreiter, the sole inhabitant of Hermes Base, with whom our secret is safe and who possesses valuable recordings and cartografic data which you will examine to advise settlement locations and initiatives of resource extraction. Afterward you will proceed alone to the planet itself, found a base within walking reach of the Glassy Plain, and initiate data compilation. Dr. Nachtreiter must remain at Hermes in order to ward off any suspicious notions that his absence would ignite. Nevertheless, we will provide you with longer-ranged communications satellites and a permanent wormcable from Magnetica to Hermes, however great an expenditure that will entail. The planet is to be officially declared sovereign territory of Mauricius, Protector Intergalacticus, but property of Maurice Legard, to be explored and utilized in my capacity as a private citizen. The land upon it could subsequently be purchased from my person by settlers and developers in all of its portions except the Glassy Plain, which belongs to the Planus nonvisualis until they are willing to annex themselves to us, which is also to be a worthy task for this mission. Our citizenship is open to all willing rational creatures, whether they are white, black, or magenta, tall, or short, angular or flat. You will be presented with standard equipment as well as any other tools that you deem necessary for the voyage. I will be generous with supplies and your salary, set, shall I say, at six million currency units daily, for the minimum length of one year that this mission shall encompass. Should the task become determined to require a longer stay I will deliberate increasing this. You can expect to receive any manner of updated version over conventional instruments should you request this, including numerous hyper-condensers and clipper droids to relay messages directly to my person. I would like you to ponder this evening over your precise needs and deliver to me a list. By nightfall I shall have my study connected with your residence by a private message tube, free of charge. You can drop your logistics sheet into the carrier vehicle, which will deliver it into a secret drawer in my desk. This is an innovation rendered possible by some of my research concerning the malleability of promethium, and our adversaries are not yet informed of its existence. It will be implemented by constructionbots, and thus you need not fear of any miscellaneous persons obtaining vital clues as to the nature of your assignment and our cooperation."
- "How will the trip itself and the transportation of equipment be carried out without detection by border guards?" I inquired for clarification purposes.
- "I have charted a probable course not nearing any outposts or settlements and advise that the ship be equipped with thirty Model Delta hyper-condensers, which should by several times exceed the amount required to transform you to Hermes Base within three days and renders any apprehension improbable," Orthog explained.
- "Very well, then, my objectives are understood, and I shall endeavor toward their realization," I assured them.
- "Splendid. Comprehending any man's need for mental preparation before embarking on such an unprecedented assignment, I would advise you to return home for the evening," the Protector stated. "In the meantime, I would like to grant you a small advance payment for this undertaking. I am confident that you will appreciate its value." He extracted a brittle powdery substance compressed into a cube from a compartment underneath the table. This object was decorated with blue food paint, and scarlet type atop it, beside a representation of the Protector’s Top Hat, displayed in slanted characters the word, "Progress Unyielding". "Throw this into the information receptacle near the foundation of your brain stem, and you will possess the opportunity to, at any time through the force of your will, present this musical performance in full scope to your senses and yours alone."
I had heard mention of music cubes, as well as image cubes and film cubes in the role of more readily accessible entertainment. They were the logical next step following the long-time popularization of Encyclopedia Chips and their derivations, Literature Chips, compact diskettes which permanently transferred fenomenal amounts of information to one's neurons via the wiring enhancements and transportation drones built into one's cerebrum in a matter of mere seconds.
The enhancement of men's erudition and processing capacity has enabled them to attain a level of sentience beyond the ancients' imagination. The average A.I.Q. (acquired intelligence quotient) of Protectorate citizens, hired as subjects of this year's independent scientific census, has reached the unprecedented level of 500. Reaction time has simultaneously been condensed to a hundredth of what even the quickest reflexes can boast without artificial enhancement. To supplement all this, Swift Pills had, during the 2720s, at last reached a national level of consumption, enabling an hour's work even under enhanced reaction circumstances to be completed in mere seconds, as one's own perception of time becomes delayed and the passage of milliseconds is perceived as a lengthy stretch by the equipped mind. Even as I am writing this presently, thoughts zoom from my head onto the paper at the speed of sound.
The retrogrades a la Conford consider these techniques to be detrimental "drugs distorting the natural purity of the pristine human organism", that is, if the "pure organism" defines a diseased, decomposing walking carcass of early senility, barely managing to stand upright and to manipulate its surroundings. They neglect the fact that these substances have been demonstrated in laboratories and in consumer usage not to result in any harmful side effects, as friendly and symbiotic with one's organic cells as the maintenance rovers which, in one form or another, have been traversing the systems of the ten most recent generations, every next model more aptly designed to repair atrofying structures and delay the aging process. Food Pills, Swift Pills, and now Esthetic Pills have in the meantime enhanced the health and substance of one's condition. I am glad to be living in this time.
- "The cultural condition of our country has been so tainted by the antiprogressive demagogues that many even conscientious anti-environmentalist laymen cannot recall the words to our national anthem. Here," Mauricius pointed me out with an outstretched hand, "is one man whom they will never indoctrinate into their neo-Daoist apathy. I remember, in the days of my youth, as a general on the front lines, witnessing a crack brigade of our troops resisting an onslaught by a horde of mutations devised by the Alliance of Northern Dictatorships, which threatened to overrun our positions and assail my chief swiftporter refueling base, thus destroying my means of retreat and reconsolidation. Already my supply dilemma was substantial, and this particular front had been subsisting on half-rations for several weeks, but this brigade’s commander directed the men’s attentions toward the plot of jagged iron which they were holding, and reminded them of the value of this land, its value to them, and the resources which would be theirs after they extracted them from it, and the territory which would be theirs to settle and to develop and use to fuel their aspirations. He proceeded to mention to them of the choking restrictions on land use in our enemies' lands and its plans to rob the Protectorate of its terrain not for purposes of exploitation, but of barrenness, to blight our capacity to compete with them economically by bringing about our forceful deprivation. Then he began to sing this old colonists' anthem, the one under the notes of which the first expeditions outside the Milky Way had hammered Protectorate flags into uncultivated rock."
His voice possessed tints of admiration and hope, but also of a certain nostalgic reminiscence. "The entire brigade took up his battle cry and, proudly, under the words of this creed, decimated the approaching waves of foes, simultaneously suffering only twelve injuries and no deaths. The news spread throughout the entire army, and singing, we began an offensive, driving the enemy back to his nearest fortified strongholds and overtaking those following a brief siege which terminated before nightfall." He laughed with a pure pride this time. "You expected us to behave like those sacrificial warriors in the past who had 'surrendered their own lives' in order to protect their positions, or distract the enemy, or cripple him. But it is their own lives the soldiers were defending, and Progress Unyielding taught them this truth precisely: that no man is ever to lay a claim on their self-generated fortunes and the existence they maintained by them, and that to the man who did they would respond with a concentrated beam. It is oft that this element of moral identification, what the ancients referred to as 'the spirit', is of a significance as immense as the cunning of one's battlefield tactics. Even the most adept scheme will fail if its executors act without a purpose, without a recognition of the reasons for their dedication to their struggle. But if they possess a solid determination to accomplish their objectives and bypass obstacles for their own good, evil will be rendered impotent in the face of the champions' radiant quest. Aside from the complexity of the piece, an intriguing challenge to one's perceptual mechanisms, listen to the lyrics, to stanza after stanza of lofty manifestation. That is what you will be defending; that shall be the cause which stands to benefit from your courageous and integral participation in this journey. May Reason be with you, Dr. Meltridge."
Our souls before these sights dwarfed shan't become.
Why bow to passive matter of antiquity?
What spreads from them is utter pandemonium;
Their barrenness is source for all iniquity.
'Tis in our minds the idols hatch,
Of stone for man to shape and mold.
Such logic does our hands attach
To this domain of lifeless cold,
To every cavern, crater, creek.
Damned is the man who'd preached the norm
That worlds are destined for the meek!
Our will and strength give matter form.
Who grovels tastes his obsequies;
We float into the void, oases craft.
We are not slaving tribal bees,
And no collective guides our raft.
We are not one, but many knights;
Each does himself his quest ordain,
We thrive on work, and work from rights.
Our well-earned profit's our domain.
This ground bears meaning solely to our aims.
Its monuments stem from our ingenuity.
Glory to him who savage wildlands tames,
And weeds out every incongruity!
What shall replace the brittle dune?
What shall refine this cratered scar?
Our pavement shall embrace it soon,
And spread to every spawn of star
Yet seen, and into others we shall gaze,
And thus apply the universe's stock.
This is not but one transient fase.
Forever shall we harness pristine rock!
Cosmos is Man's, its means and goal.
Its exiled heirs now seek its wreath:
Supremacy, from atom, oil, and coal.
Our claim to treasures underneath
These jagged lands shall never wane.
Always grand mechanisms will be our guide.
Who doubts their value is a despot most profane.
Inventors we exalt and vandals we deride!
Merit determines worth under our creed.
The self-made prodigy our government defends,
Does daily our endeavor by example lead,
And never harms one for another’s ends.
What is the trait we deem sublime?
The source which does all virtue render.
It, dauntless, conquers space and time,
And never can its plight surrender.
It is inside us, best within the great,
The ego, mind, one's self, one's soul,
Prerequisite to any proper state.
Maintain your own, and you've fulfilled your role.
No world beyond this life is real;
Its furthering's our sole concern.
No godly favor is to steal,
No mystic afterlife to earn.
God's not above us, but within;
The Self's the Lord, Reason, His rite.
We have a universe to win.
Join us, great men, in splendid flight!
G. Stolyarov II is an actuary, science fiction novelist, independent philosophical essayist, poet, amateur mathematician, composer, contributor to Enter Stage Right, Le Quebecois Libre, Rebirth of Reason, and the Ludwig von Mises Institute, Senior Writer for The Liberal Institute, former weekly columnist for GrasstopsUSA.com, and Editor-in-Chief of The Rational Argumentator, a magazine championing the principles of reason, rights, and progress. Mr. Stolyarov’s blog, The Progress of Liberty, offers a combination of commentary, multimedia presentations, educational materials, and suggestions for effective activism in favor of individual freedom. Mr. Stolyarov also publishes his articles on Helium.com and Associated Content to assist the spread of rational ideas. He holds the highest Clout Level (10) possible on Associated Content. Mr. Stolyarov has also written a science fiction novel, Eden against the Colossus, a non-fiction treatise, A Rational Cosmology, and a play, Implied Consent. You can watch his YouTube Videos. Mr. Stolyarov can be contacted at email@example.com.
Statement of Policy.
Learn about Mr. Stolyarov's novel, Eden against the Colossus, here.