memories of long ago:

Solla’s clever tricks.

Progeny stared at the walls of his cell, now completely covered with diagrams and itemized lists and broken fragments of text. The place of honour, opposite his bunk, was a trisected circle filled with scribbled words. He underlined several words in red.

"Why three sections?" Solla asked. "For mystical reasons?" He seemed to be whispering in Progeny's ear.

"Because fantasy-class power, despite the best efforts of rebels, reformers, and revolutionaries, goes on forever; though the authorities change over the centuries, the fact and the nature of authority does not, because its power rests on a stable tripod of human desires. These are the central obsessions of the human race: death, sex, and money."

"Do you think so?" Solla spoke in the manner of a psychiatrist with a patient.

"Haven't you seen the tabloids? They play in every spaceport. Death, sex, and money. In banner headlines. Besides, the first two relate to the most basic instincts of every species--survival and reproduction--and are reflected in every work of art. All High Art is about death, and all Popular Art is about love, and those works which live forever, like Romeo and Juliet and most of the operas, are about both. The third--money, or some kind of trade--is necessary in human society to obtain the food and shelter without which survival and reproduction are impossible. To put it another way: the survival of the individual, the survival of the species, and the survival of the pack."

"Go on," said Solla.

"Each of these desires is managed by a central institution of society." He underlined some more. "The church claims to be the great authority on death and its meaning, the family is the unit in which reproduction is supposed to take place, and the government controls access to money. Every society has its own particular set of official fantasies regarding these institutions, which are used to control the individual.

"They do this through a process of escalating selfishness. It begins with an obsession with genetics: your own offspring must survive, even if it means destroying the future well-being of someone else’s offspring. Then it moves on to greed: the best way to give your offspring the advantage is to amass as much wealth and power as possible. Then the rich and powerful join forces to create a government to help them steal more efficiently and hold onto their power longer, and a religion to give their crimes divine authority. Government was never designed to serve, protect, and defend the people; it was designed to serve, protect, and defend the fantasy class who invented government in the first place.

"According to the Nineteenth Century libertarian philosopher Albert Jay Nock, government was created by the process of conquest and confiscation, to protect conquerors from insurrection on the part of the conquered. Nock said there are only two ways to make a living: the production and exchange of wealth, which he called the economic means; and the appropriation of the wealth of others, which he called the political means. Basically, he saw no difference between government and a professional criminal class. Or, as Voltaire said more succinctly, the state is a device for taking money out of one set of pockets and putting it in another.

"Even if you have free elections, multiple candidates, public debates, and an uncensored press in place, it's clear to me that the fantasy class still controls the entire process through the party system. You aren’t taken seriously as a candidate unless you have the support of a major party, and you don’t get to advance in the party unless you have the support of the fantasy class. The debates are entirely on questions invented by the fantasy class, and the press helps the public seize on these questions as if they have meaning. The candidates argue over them, and other conflicts of their own invention, as if they constitute a philosophical difference between the parties.

Elections are a confidence game in which the voters’ emotional buttons are pushed by experts in manipulating public opinion. I know how it works; I’ve done it. The con-game has been evolving for centuries now; it rests on that stable tripod of powerful human needs, with their roots in three great sacred myths of civilization. Each myth gains strength from the others, and each is part of a woven tapestry of official fantasy in which the most patently absurd statements are presented as such sacred truth that perfectly reasonable people will react violently if they’re so much as questioned. Ordinarily decent folk will commit the most horrible atrocities imaginable in their name and will not only glow with pride, they’ll turn on anyone who refuses to join in. These are..." He circled three words in his trisected circle. "...patriotism, religion, and the family. All political speeches turn on these three concepts. If you’re going to create a society free from the power of the fantasy class, you have to free yourself from the three main sources of conflict between individuals, which the fantasy class uses to divide and control us."

"Has it occurred to you," Solla asked, "that you failed miserably in all three of these arenas in your youth? Maybe that's why you find them so distasteful."

 "You mean: the whole Martian rebellion comes down to my own failure as an individual?" Progeny chuckled. "Well, Solla, perhaps you're right. But the three greatest evils, to my mind..." He scribbled some more. "...are ignorance, cruelty, and hypocrisy. Ignorance thrives in religion. Religion is based in ignorance, and religion promotes ignorance to maintain its power. Cruelty is nurtured in the family and passed down to generation after generation. Hypocrisy is the business of government. The government is exempt from the laws it creates for others, and those laws increase its own power at the expense of those it claims to serve.

"And so, my goal is to free Martian society from greed, bigotry, and sexual jealousy."

"Good luck with that," Solla said.

"Well, perhaps you can’t entirely eliminate these emotions from the human psyche. But it’s politics that makes greed dangerous. And it’s religion that legitimizes bigotry. And as for sex..."

"Yes? Go on."

"A matriarchal society. It has to be. The women choose, the men compete. That’s only natural. But if there is no desperation in the competition, because the males have plenty of opportunity for sex and the females don’t have to complicate their mating instincts with desperate economic decisions... And if the children are everyone’s children, nurtured and educated by all, without the need to compete for wealth and power with the offspring of others..." Progeny lost his train of thought.

"That’s enough for now, Progeny. I’m going to bed. You should get some sleep, too. We’ll continue tomorrow."

Solla pressed a button and a sedative flowed into Progeny’s veins. The walls of his Martian cell vanished, and the prisoner drifted off in mid-thought. He lay in complete sensory deprivation--floating on his back in body-temperature water, in total darkness, his sense of touch deadened by drugs so he could not even feel the padded cuffs on his wrists and ankles, or the wash of water over his naked body when he moved. There was nothing in his universe but his own thoughts and memories, and the occasional words of Armand Solla. Already, as planned, his last thought before drifting off to sleep was how much he was looking forward to hearing his captor’s voice again.


"The whole city is talking about you," Solla said, and Progeny started with pleasure at the sound of his voice. "It looks like you're famous from here to the Rockies. Every day visitors come in from the hinterland with new rumours about you. It’s amazing. Too bad no-one knows you’re here; they’d be demanding your release."

"I'm sure that would have no effect whatsoever on the High Companies,” Progeny said. “In fact, I imagine it would make them more determined than ever to hold me. That's why you mention this, isn’t it: to convince me there is no escape? What do your masters want done with me?"

Solla would be sitting beside the tank, he guessed, or perhaps he was in his own office or living quarters, where he could tune in to Progeny's babblings anytime he wished. Progeny listened carefully to each word of Solla's, trying to deduce his body language from the sound of his voice.

"Well, we can't kill you. That would make you a martyr. And we can't let you go. We'd look weak. On the other hand, the longer we keep you, the more famous you'll become." He chuckled. "It's a dilemma, all right, and my employers are still arguing about it."

"I suppose you've got all the information you need."

"A long time ago. You didn't really have much information to give, as I suspected, though we'll leave those chips in your head for a while. Eventually, I'll suggest that the only way to use your capture for our benefit is to make you turn against your own revolution or seem to. Your followers are already quite cynical, thanks to you. We'll make them think you've sold out."

Progeny laughed. "If they're that cynical, they're no followers of mine, or anybody else. I hope I've taught them enough about the nature of power to understand that whatever I do or say, particularly under duress, doesn't mean a thing."

"I'm not so sure. You're a charismatic leader, Progeny, whether you like it or not, and to see you living in luxury in the bosom of the High Companies and making statements in our interest will have some effect."

"Are you threatening me with luxury?"

"We do know where your beautiful wife is, you know. She's been bought by a particularly nasty landowner in the Virginias. He'll use her as a sex-slave till she's no longer attractive, and then torture her to death." He did not mention the fact that Cavallo was missing, and his estate was a smouldering ruin, but something in his voice told Progeny he was speaking less than the truth, and the prisoner felt relieved. "We can bring her here before too much damage has been done to her, and she can be part of that luxury you so despise."

"Is there that much difference between one prison and another, between a short brutal prison life and a long languishing one?"

Solla was determined to hold onto his temper, but a slight note of irritation crept into his voice. "Don't wax philosophical with me, my friend. We can make life for you and everyone you love so unbearable that death would be much better. We have people who are extremely creative in that regard and love their work very much."

"It's always the same story, isn't it? Thousands of years of fantasy-class power, and it’s always the same. You're not content with stealing every penny you can get your hands on. You're not content with destroying the health and happiness of thousands to build your fantasy palaces. You're not even content with the power to control what we see and hear and say and do. You've got to have the power of life and death itself, don't you? You invented God to control the rest of us, and you’re always trying to usurp His power. But you know what? Despite all your power and wealth, despite the fact that you control the entire planet by now and are doing your best to control the rest of the solar system, everyone knows you for the same petty, greedy, insecure, twisted, strutting little shits you’ve always been."

Solla did his best to control himself, but Progeny noted the increased irritation in his voice. "Then tell me something, Doctor Progeny Brown. You could have lived quite happily in exile on Earth, growing old in some pretty little commune in the mountains, with a couple of young wives and a bunch of children at your feet. You've done your bit for Mars and you could have cultivated your garden for the rest of your life like the philosopher you pretend to be and would still have been loved and admired as a great man. So why did you put yourself and everybody you care for in danger to spread your anarchist message all the way across the continent? Don't pretend to me that you despise power. When you stand up in front of a crowd of admirers and hold them in the palm of your hand with your trained voice and your poetic words, you've got more power than I’ll ever have, and you just love it."

Progeny laughed out loud. "Solla, you've got me there. I have to admit that I do love an audience. But there's one problem with your theory. I couldn't really have lived happily ever after, like you say, because I'm dying, even as we speak."

Progeny could almost see the gloating smile fading from Solla's lips. "What did you say?"

"You're now the only human being on Earth who knows, except for my wife. It's terminal and incurable. It seems I got a lethal dose of radiation when I was hiding out on Mars. We have some decent doctors in the Rebellion, you know, and they’ve assured me that not even the High Companies can reverse the process of cellular decay. So, when you drove me from Mars and I saw the way this world had gone, I realized I still had work to do. I realized Earth needs to be free of the power you represent even more than Mars does. I'm sorry to have to tell you this, Solla, but I'll likely be dead in a matter of weeks and the whole solar system will think you killed me. The only thing better than that, as far as I'm concerned, would be for me to walk out of here, so the whole solar system would think you couldn't hold me."

     He fell silent, listening to the sounds of cell-door bolts being thrown back.

"Progeny," Solla said, "what’s happening now? What do you see?" The interrogator sat up in his chair. Progeny had drifted off into some corner of his mind again. This was happening more frequently now. "Progeny? Where are you?"

The door opened and a man stood there. He was dark and bearded, dressed in Martian camouflage, holding an automatic pistol in his hand. Shadowy figures ran down the corridor behind him, opening cell-doors.

"I'm Aaron Ben David," he said. "I’ve been hired by the Ancilius Group."

"What’s that?" Progeny was suddenly conscious of his unshaven face and filthy clothing, and he felt ashamed.

"It’s a splinter of the MLF. The Martian Liberation Front."

"I don’t know what that is either."

"Really? You founded it. Look, there’s no time. We have to get you out of here."

"Progeny," Solla said. "What’s happening in that mind of yours? Where are you?"

Progeny looked at the walls about him, taking one more glance at his circles and his scribbled notes. He tossed his charcoal on the bunk and followed Ben David down the corridor.



     To many, the Martian landscape would seem barren and harsh, and the interior of the sand-rover cramped and claustrophobic, but to Progeny the former was a heart-stoppingly beautiful landscape, a subtle and complex palette of reds and blacks and pinks, and the latter was freedom itself. Some would say he was still a prisoner in isolation, wandering the surface like a beggar or a monk and seldom sleeping in the same place two nights in a row, but Progeny was the intimate friend of thousands, the lover of hundreds, the son and brother and father of a million, and he never felt alone.

The small collection of domes and dishes, tucked into the rim of the crater, hinted at the vast warren of mines and tunnels and cosy caverns underneath. In the setting sun, the interior of the dome sparkled with an inviting green translucency, starkly etched against the red sky.

The rover trundled up to a hatch and the lock was pressurized; he could see excited young faces through the viewport nearby, and he waved. The hatch opened and he stepped into a crowd of a dozen people, ranging in age from babes in arms to elderly matriarchs. The people pressed about him, touching him, kissing him, holding up babies for him to admire. Soon he was sitting among them, enjoying their food and jokes, small children sitting contentedly in his lap, youngsters stroking his hair and shoulders, young adults sprawled at his feet, and people of his own age and older watching proudly, or bustling about in the fragrant kitchen.

"The family," he said, "is the linchpin of political power."

"The linchpin?" Solla repeated.

"Yes. It keeps the state's wheels from falling off." The colonists laughed at his joke, but whether in genuine amusement or out of admiration he neither knew nor cared. "The only reason people put up with the insolence of office in the first place is to protect their families. Soldiers don't crawl through the mud with bullets whizzing over their heads for the flag, you know, despite what their officers say; they do it to keep their children from being tossed on the enemy's bayonets. And people don't drop their hard-earned coin in the collection plate because of some abstract notion of God and eternity; they do it because they think their children will turn out to be drug-addicts and murderers unless they get dressed up and dragged to church, so the minister can warn them they'll burn in Hell unless they obey their parents.

"The authorities have always claimed the family is in grave moral danger, and only more police, more laws, and more power in the hands of the state can save it. In fact, though, the only real threat it's ever faced was the neglect, exploitation, and meddling of its self-styled protectors."

"What do you mean, exactly?"

"The family is not some fragile young flower that has to be nurtured by the state. It has survived unchanged in anything but the most trifling details since the beginning of the human race. The oversized human brain requires a long period of post-partum development in a state of extreme helplessness; a strong pair-bond, a remarkably powerful human sexuality, and a nurturing instinct in both sexes are major reproductive advantages. There's nothing more human than sex, love, and raising babies, and these activities have never been in danger of losing their appeal, though governments have always tinkered with the system. They've always tried to create the kind of family they need and then declared it natural and God-given.

"When the Imperial powers of Europe needed the patrimonial household, with caste, property, and feudal obligation determined by the male head, lots of servants and armed warriors connected to the house, and the women traded off for political alliance through marriage, that's what we had. When the bureaucratic nation-state and international capitalism arose, and defence was centred in the government instead of the feudal home, the large patrimonial household posed a threat to the state, so the nuclear family was discovered. Politically arranged marriages could be dangerous, and so the individual marriage-market appeared, based on love and romance instead of economics and politics.

"Later on, as the multinational corporation was evolving into the High Companies, they needed a more flexible and mobile kind of family--working women, easy divorce, marriage-contracts, informal cohabitation--and though conservatives fought it tooth and nail, we got that too. After all, modern warfare was increasingly dependent on high technology, and that sort of family was perfect for the industries that produced such technology. The state was created for war and organized for that purpose; the patriarchal family, in all of its variations, has always been part of that organization.

"The real difference between man's work and woman's work has always been that his can easily be converted to warfare. If the tribe is attacked, or wants to attack another tribe, the all-male hunting party can be turned into a war party very easily. Civilization has not changed this...” Progeny looked up and noticed a young girl sitting across the table, watching him with a strange expression in her green-flecked eyes--not the usual sort of flirtatious attention, but more like parental pride, as if he belonged to her in some way, as if she had known him for lifetimes. She tossed her head in self-conscious shyness when she caught him studying her, and he admired her unusually long golden hair.

"Go on," Solla said, interrupting his reverie.

"The Martian clan has evolved in response to the special conditions of Mars. The kind of sexual tension and dysfunction that Terran family life is rife with would be fatal in our isolated caverns, so we modelled our family life on that of certain Polynesian islands before the unfortunate arrival of the missionaries, including a matriarchy to settle family disputes. We have no sense of patriotism because we do not own the land. We love our desert despite its monotony and its dangers, as a sailor might love the sea, but think of ourselves as figures in the landscape, not its possessors. Our loyalty is only to each other. We come from a hundred different religions, but we think of them as personal revelations, not public crusades. To the best of our ability, we have tried to create a society free from the most powerful sources of human conflict: greed, politics, religious strife, sexual jealousy..."

"What do you mean, we?" Solla said. "You have done all this yourself, Progeny, with your con-man charm. You’re just another charismatic religious leader, and when you die, either your society will fall to pieces without you, or you will be deified by those hoping to inherit your power. In the end, you will have created just another revolution, just another religion, just another state."

"No, Solla. It’s different this time.” But his voice sounded petulant in his ears.

"Progeny is tired now," one of the elders said. "He must rest."

He was led to a room in the warren, where he stripped and crawled into one of the simple, yet comfortable beds. In a few minutes, the door opened and the young girl with the long hair entered. She tucked him in, her hair brushing the bedclothes as she bent to tuck in the corners. Then she leaned over and kissed him on the lips, her hair fragrant as it brushed his face.

"Aren’t you a little young for this?" he asked.

"I’m only seeing to your comfort, Progeny," she laughed. "This is my room, after all."

"You gave up your room for me?"

"It’s an honour. I’ll sleep with one of my sisters. Or perhaps with one of the boys; he won’t mind. But if you want to settle down here, in Tharsis, and take me as your third wife when I come of age, that would be all right."

"Is this a proposal...? What’s your name, anyway?"

"I’m Teresa. And this is not an official proposal. I have to wait my turn." She kissed him again, turned out the light, and left. Progeny began to drift off to sleep, but was awakened a few minutes later, when the door opened, and two women entered.

He heard the sound of their homespun robes sliding down their bodies in the dark and felt their warmth as they slipped into bed on either side of him. They introduced themselves as Terry’s older sisters and apologized for the unseemly haste of the courtship, but they knew Progeny would be leaving the next day, and who could say how long it might be before he could return?

They proposed to him all night.


Progeny peered out the rover’s viewport at the approaching storm. The swirling wall of dust was racing across the canyon floor like a living thing, glowing with static, as the rover sped for cover, bouncing over the rock-strewn plain on its enormous tires. It was only at the last minute that he realized he would not make it. The rover veered too close to the canyon wall and was struck by the strong downslope winds of the narrow Labyrinthus canyons. An avalanche of cascading dust struck the rover and it slammed toppled, only meters from the beckoning cave-mouth. The port became opaque with dust.

Progeny rose and made his way aft, examining the vehicle car by car. There were no leaks, apparently, but the rover was lying on its side, and was rapidly being buried. Unless the winds shifted and uncovered it partly before the storm ended, he might never be able to climb out in his pressure-suit, right the vehicle again, and get under way once more. The chances of anyone finding him were slim to none. There was, in fact, nothing he could do but wait and see.

The lights flickered with the static electricity of billions of fine dust-grains sweeping over the rover, and he turned off as many systems as he dared to conserve power. It might be a long time before the solar collectors saw the sun again. Then he sat down to eat. After all, he was certainly not going to run out of food before he ran out of air, so he might as well keep up his strength and enjoy himself. The commune had packed him a wonderful basket of dainties to supplement his rover-rations, and he knew for a fact that some items had been packed with Teresa’s little hands.

Hours passed, and the storm continued to howl. Well, it was not like he hadn’t been alone before. Except that he wasn’t alone.

"I know you’re there," he said.

There was silence.

Antarctic explorers, and people lost in the desert or at sea, have often reported the impression that there was one more person in the party than could be accounted for. On Mars, this was a common occurrence; the planet was a perfect breeding-ground for hallucination, religious experience, madness.

"Who are you supposed to be? A guardian angel? Satan? Fucking God, for Christ’s sake?"

Still there was no response. The hours stretched on, and the air became stale and thick. Breathing was an effort. Perhaps, he thought, he would never be found. He would have just driven off, one day, and disappeared.

"A fitting end, for the Messiah," said a voice.

"There you are, at last. Are you supposed to take my soul somewhere? Toward a white light? That’s bullshit, and you know it."

In the too-stale air of the rover, he slumped in his seat, nearly asphyxiated by his own exhalations, dehydrated and exhausted and near death. It seemed that something brushed by his face--a feather, perhaps, or long hair. It was too bad he would not live long enough to see Terry grow into marriageable age. Progeny never played favourites, for he really did feel that all the Martians were his children, and he had been proposed to many times; there were a hundred communes where he could settle down and marry the women there, but there was something special about Terry.

There it was again: a touch upon his face, and a gentle breeze, as if generated by a ceiling fan or an angel's wings. Suddenly there was cool air flowing into his lungs and strength flowing into his limbs, as if a pair of lips had touched his own and breathed life into him.

Progeny shook his head, or at least he attempted to, in his restraints. "No, Solla. It wasn't like that at all."

"Come now," said the Voice. "Don't you feel it was something more than mere hallucination, that time in the Labyrinthus?"

"Everyone hallucinates out there, Solla," Progeny muttered. "You want me to believe I was saved by God, chosen for this mission? Why does everything good have to sent from somewhere, Solla? Why does every talent have to be a gift, every misfortune a punishment? If you think I'm going to start believing in my own divinity and turn against everything..."

"Everyone feels your touch, Proj. People. Animals. Even machines. You damn near touched me, for God's sake. Don't you ever feel the power flowing out of you into your listeners when you speak to them, when you hold them spellbound, when you find yourself convincing them to reject everything they've ever believed?"

"That's not what happens. I just give them permission to believe in themselves instead of the authorities that they know have been lying to them. It's not difficult. I don't have to try nearly as hard as you're trying right now."

Solla hesitated and Progeny knew, vaguely, that he had scored another point in this interminable game. Solla's goal: to return Progeny to Mars with a full-blown messianic complex. Progeny's goal: to retain his sanity long enough to die before that could happen. He pressed his advantage.

"Besides, Solla, Jesus wasn't saved in the wilderness; he was tempted in the wilderness. Tempted with riches and power and glory and everything you've promised to me. You know what that makes you, Solla? It makes you Satan." Progeny laughed, and Solla noted with approval the keen knife-edge of madness in the sound. It would not be long now. Solla shut off the comm, leaving Progeny alone with his thoughts.

Dimly, in his oxygen-deprived brain, Progeny heard the monster crawling through the ductwork beneath the floor of the rover. It must have been a monster, he reasoned, as the ducts were too small for a man. He heard the clank of a hatch opening and saw the demonic figure crawling out of the hole. It removed its helmet and bent over him; oxygen from the pressure-suit washed over his face and he breathed it in with a gasp. A long blond braid fell across his chest.

"I’m in," said Terry. "He’s still alive." He heard the static scratch of a comm transmission: "We’ll have the rear hatch uncovered soon. Keep him breathing." Terry touched his lips with hers and let the oxygen wash over him again.

"Not a monster. Another angel," he mumbled.

"What was that, Progeny? Keep talking, and breathe deep after each word, okay?"

"An angel kissed me a few hours ago, and gave me breath, like you're doing now. I recognized her."

"Really? Anyone I know?" Terry spoke distractedly, fiddling with the oxygen-controls of her suit.

"No, it was a woman I saw only briefly, long ago. A pregnant concubine. I tried to save her. It was probably the first unselfish act of my life. It changed me, in more ways than one. It sent me to Mars, but there was something else--something in her eyes--that I never forgot. For the first time, I saw human unhappiness as something other than a weakness to be exploited. I often wonder what happened to her child later."

No comments

Leave your comment

In reply to Some User