Forced to speak the truth
Before this mock tribunal,
Somewhere on the other side of the dark mountains, the lights of a city appeared out of the gloom ahead. They could hear the pilot speaking:
"Ambulance Four requesting permission to land."
"This is Lynchburg Hospital. Permission granted."
"Lynchburg," Shagrug said. "I don't like the sound of that."
The ship came in and landed in a grey courtyard, dropping past watch towers filled with armed guards. The prisoners were dragged out of the vehicle and forced inside, though Proj had to be carried, as he was only now regaining consciousness. They were frisked and patted down unceremoniously, the male guards paying particular attention to fondling Terry's breasts and pulling up her nightgown.
Karil's blood boiled, but he made no move. He did wonder in passing, though, what had happened to Terry's stiletto, as she was obviously not wearing it. He was visited with the same indignities by guards who apparently enjoyed fondling him as much as her. Then they were dragged off to what he expected to be prison cells, but which actually bore more resemblance to hospital rooms--if hospital rooms had bars on the windows and manacles on the headboard.
Of course! It was a mental hospital. The plan was to declare Progeny insane, on the basis of his views, and thus a danger to society. They could probably get away with that quite easily, Karil thought. And then someone came in and gave him an injection.
Things were a bit fuzzy after that. Karil found it difficult to think and the walls seemed to be alive. They loomed over him and sometimes they wept. People's faces were distorted, and their voices seemed to be coming from another room. He found himself coming around again, strapped to a gurney and being wheeled back to his room.
"Oh my God, I've been operated on."
"Nothing major," the nurse said. He was a pleasant-looking man with a ready smile, which gave Karil the creeps. "We've inserted a little chip in your brain."
He was helped off the gurney, nearly collapsed on rubbery legs, and was half-carried to his bed, where he was manacled again.
"Is it for torture?” he asked. He was too befuddled to be afraid.
"Oh, we could if we wanted to." The nurse took out a small black object with lighted buttons on it, pointed it at Karil and pressed a button. Pain exploded inside his brain, and he screamed, arching his back and quivering with the intensity of it. Then it was gone, and he collapsed in relief. "In fact, we can do anything we want to with you." The nurse pressed another button and Karil’s penis was instantly erect and throbbing. Then it was flaccid and shrivelled. He stared at his tormentor in horror. "But the main point," the man went on pleasantly, "is that we can totally eliminate censorship in your mind. Wipe it out. If we ask you a question, you will tell us the truth, even if you know your life depends on lying.
"This has eliminated the need for torture, interrogation, all that messy, time-consuming stuff. We can find out everything there is to know about you just by asking. However," he went on, sitting on the edge of the bed and chatting with Karil as if he was talking about the weather, "though it’s eliminated the need for torture as an interrogation technique, it hasn’t eliminated torture. For one thing, our employees like to torture people, and rape them, and kill them. We’d have to pay them a lot more if they couldn’t do that. And it helps to control them; sadism is a drug and as long as we can supply the pleasure of inflicting pain, they do as we say.
"For another thing, torture helps keep the populace terrified of being arrested. In fact, it works better now. In the old days, people might believe that they were safe from torture if they had no information to give, or if they did, the torture would stop when we had extracted it. In some cases, very strong-minded people would use the necessity of keeping silent to endure the pain; it gave them a certain amount of power over their interrogators. Now, everybody knows we can get their information, and then torture them just for the fun of it. Makes the whole thing even more terrifying, don’t you think?" He patted Karil’s cheek in a fatherly way, tucked him in, and left.
Karil lay staring into the dark, too terrified for his friends to notice that he feared more for them than himself.
Still dressed in their sleepwear, they were gathered together and taken to a conference room. Handcuffed, they sat at a table facing three men. The atmosphere was more akin to a hospital hearing room than a courtroom, except for the cameras recording the event.
"Institute of Moral Health, Commonwealth of the Virginias and Carolinas and the Southern Territories, Senator Roberts presiding. Do you understand why you are here?"
"We were kidnapped and brought here," Shagrug said.
"Strike that response. No, sir. The purpose of this meeting is to determine if you are a threat to yourselves or others due to mental illness, moral decay, or criminal intent. With me are the Reverend Doctor White and Colonel Maplewood of the Militia."
Reverend White was a chubby little man with a baby face and a smile. He wore a three-piece suit with a gold tie-pin. Colonel Maplewood was thin and dour and dressed in a crisp tan uniform. Judge Roberts was an elderly man with heavy jowls and a great unkempt shock of white hair. Though this was a mental hospital, there appeared to be no actual doctors on the panel. The Judge looked up at Progeny from behind bifocals perched on the end of his nose.
"You are Progeny Brown Jr., are you not?"
"You are the son of a Baptist minister, now deceased, and you were born in Knoxville, Tennessee."
"That is correct. The ministry was a family business. I was being raised, educated, and groomed to take control of it someday."
"And yet, you were transported to Mars for the crime of murder, were you not? The murder of said minister, your father?"
"Yes, Sir. I discovered that he was molesting the children of our parishioners, and I beat him severely. He died shortly thereafter, but more, I believe, of alcohol poisoning than of his injuries."
Reverend White spoke up, "Ask that his response be edited, as hearsay. It refers to an incident not relevant to these proceedings, and the record of that incident is closed."
"Approved. The second and third sentences will be erased. You are wanted on the planet Mars for the crimes of sedition, rebellion, terrorism, assault of a security officer, escaping custody, and being a fugitive from justice. Is that correct?"
"I am wanted on those charges, yes."
"Thank you. Now, My Dear..." The Judge looked over his glasses at Terry. Her hair had fallen over one eye and the strap of her nightgown had slipped down to reveal one creamy shoulder. The Judge smiled.
"You are Teresa--no last name--of the Tharsis Commune, Mars."
"What is your relation to Progeny?"
"I'm his wife."
Reverend White spoke up. "If I may, Your Honour? Teresa, were you married by a duly ordained minister, a Catholic priest, or any official representative of the Christian Church?"
"Then I'm afraid you cannot be considered his wife by this tribunal. You are his whore."
"Technically correct, Reverend White," said the Judge, "but hardly a gentlemanly way to speak to this young lady. Teresa, how many other wives does Progeny have?"
"How old are you?"
"Ten years, Sir."
Colonel Maplewood spoke up. "What was that? Ten years old?"
"Those are Martian years, Colonel," said the Judge. "She's about twenty. And how old are you, Mr. Brown?"
"In Earth years, forty-one."
"Then you are, in fact, old enough to be her father."
"Yes, I suppose I am."
"Can you tell if you are in fact her father?"
"I'm sorry. I don't understand the question."
"Well, as I understand it, Martian communal life involves unrestrained sex among all members, and the children do not know the names of their parents. Could not one of your other wives be her mother?"
"Your information is incorrect. Every child on Mars knows perfectly well who his or her mother is, and most of them quickly learn, if they wish to, the names of their fathers. Often, they seek them out for a special relationship. But it is not considered proper to dwell on the matter. Every child on Mars is precious and is treated like a son or daughter by every adult Martian."
"I see, and did you treat Terry like a daughter until you took her as a wife?"
"Martian communes are run by the women; we do not break up the matriarchal group unless we are beginning a new commune in a new location. Males do not marry within their birth-commune; they move to another and marry the females there. Consequently, I knew she was not my daughter, but I treated her exactly the same as all the other children until she asked me to take her as my third wife. I was thrilled and honoured."
"Then the answer is yes."
"I suppose it is."
"Is it true that all children born on Mars are called Progeny’s Children?"
"Yes, that refers to the Martian philosophy, which I was instrumental in creating. The phrase is meant to honour my contribution."
"How many natural children do you actually have, Mr. Brown?"
"I have no natural offspring, Senator. I am sterile because of radiation sickness."
"Thank you, Mr. Brown." The Judge seemed disappointed. "And you are called Shagrug."
"There is no record of your real name or place of birth. Why is that?"
"The records have been erased."
"From all the records of Earth and the High Companies? How is this possible?"
"It was done on my behalf by a shipmate."
"Your shipmate must know computers very well."
Colonel Maplewood spoke up. "The fact is, Mr. Rug, we are not interested in your real name or where you come from. But judging by your gait as you entered this room, you were born on Earth."
"And your speech suggests you were born on this continent. Is this so?"
"In that case you would have been called to serve in the last war. Did you serve, or did you avoid such service?"
"I was unable to avoid it, Sir. I served four years."
"And did you have your records erased because you had deserted?"
"Yes, among other reasons."
"I thought so. You abandoned your comrades in arms."
"No, I did not."
"How can you say that?"
"They were all dead. I was the only survivor of my platoon."
The Colonel's jaw dropped. "You were in the Forty Third?"
"But there were no survivors of the Denver Assault."
"There was one, Sir. Me. I put down my gun and walked to San Francisco, where I took ship for Luna and found work in the titanium mines. Nobody cared what my name was. But I remember the Denver Assault--I still dream about it sometimes--and I know why it was such a disaster."
The Colonel coughed discreetly. "Go ahead, Your Honour. I have no more questions. But I would like a chance to edit the record later, for reasons of national security."
"Very well. Mr. Rug, why did you come to Earth this time?"
"I was running guns for Progeny and helping him to hide from the authorities."
"Is this true, Mr. Brown?"
"Yes, it is."
"Thank you. And you are Ali Karil Stilbon, of High Africa."
"Your father is on the executive board of Martian Mining and Manufacturing, and other High Companies."
"He is, in fact, the Sultan of High Africa."
"You were raised in privileged surroundings, had a permanent position with the company, and were one of the top students in your class."
"But you left all that to join up with a smuggler and gunrunner, to face danger and discomfort and the loss of any reliable future prospects. Why did you do that?"
"I don't know, Sir."
"You realize you must answer this question."
"I don't have an answer. All I know is: I spoke to someone named Atalanta on my computer. She asked me if I wanted to join Rimbaud's army. I just felt like saying yes."
The Colonel spoke up. "Senator, I reserve the right to question these witnesses later, to determine who Rambo might be, and the strength of his army."
The troop-carrier pulled up beside the rover and Messer climbed out. He took his dogs from the back and approached the vehicle. The water had receded, but the rover was still mired to its hubcaps in the mud. He urged his dogs up into the hatch and swung up behind them into the cab, flashing his torch into all its nooks and crannies, opening storage bins, examining their contents.
Atalanta emitted a whistle too high for the man to hear, but his dogs began to howl and pull at the leash. "What the hell is the matter with you, Dogs? What's wrong?"
He found the ordnance and grinned at the prizes inside: some beautifully carved weapons, an excellent pistol, even a finely constructed crossbow. He reached for them and Atty emitted a subsonic hum, too low to be audible to the human ear. Messer snatched back his hand and looked about, startled by some unconscious feeling of unease. He drew his revolver and searched the vehicle, trying to quiet his now terrified dogs. He returned to the weapons rack and reached in, then snatched his hand back again as if it had been bitten. He flashed his light inside, wondering if he had somehow sensed the presence of a snake, but there was nothing there. Still, he could not bring himself to touch the weapons.
"I'll get them later," he said, half to himself and half to anyone who might be listening. He shuddered and went forward, then examined the vehicle's computer. It looked far more sophisticated than necessary. He reached out to touch it and his dogs let out a blood-curdling howl; they dragged him toward the hatch, their claws scrabbling on the deck in their overwhelming desire to leave. Messer was filled with a feeling of foreboding and dread that seemed to begin in his feet and race up his body to his brain. He succumbed to panic and scrambled out of the hatch, tripped, and measured his length on the ground. The dogs bolted, yanking the leashes from his hand; they raced for the truck, leaped into the back and lay cowering.
He stumbled to his feet and straightened his clothing. "I guess I'll come back tomorrow," he said loudly, and walked a little too quickly to his vehicle. He started it, turned it about, and raced off through the forest.
"Ass-hole," Atty said. She started her engine and began to shift gears, rocking carefully forward and backward. The dirt around her wheels began to loosen.
"I do not understand," said the Reverend White, "how you thought you could maintain a moral society without government and religion."
"Well, we couldn't. In fact, one purpose of dispensing with government and religion was to eliminate morality, so we could concentrate on ethics."
"I'm sorry, Mr. Brown. I do not follow your logic at all."
Progeny sighed. "We were trying to create a philosophy of ethics that would serve every individual and every commune on Mars. And morality, as defined by government and religion, extends only to the border; that is, one must not kill, rob, or cheat one's fellow citizen, but it’s generally quite acceptable to do these things to citizens of other countries, or believers in other faiths. Religion will tell you that morality is God-given and universal, and government will say it's natural and self-evident, but both authorities will retain the right to make exceptions, arbitrarily, in their own interests.
"In fact, religion and government can't survive without making exceptions to the natural inclination of human beings, which is to live and let live and mind their own business if nobody bothers them, just like the other primates. One of the basic themes in the history of civilization is that the law doesn't apply to the state and morality doesn't apply to the church. History reveals this again and again. We decided, in the end, to dispense with the concept of morality altogether, for this and for two more reasons.
"In the popular imagination, morality creates an artificial distinction between ethical behaviour in business and ethical behaviour in sex, and there really is no difference. Any act which is truly immoral, as opposed to being merely offensive to some, is so because it's unethical and not because it's sexual. For a parent to seduce his child, or a doctor his patient, or a boss his employee, is unethical because it is a breach of trust; whether one’s trust is betrayed for sexual satisfaction or for monetary gain is an irrelevant detail. Rape is an assault, not a sex-act; whether you're threatened and beaten for your wallet or your body is immaterial.
"And finally, the whole human race agrees on what constitutes unethical behaviour, and always has, but morality differs from one society to another, and it changes from decade to decade, with the changing needs of those who make their living from controlling, licensing, or selling forgiveness for whatever they define as immoral."
"Thank you, Mr. Brown," said the Senator, dryly, "for your views on morality. It has been most enlightening."
The troop-carrier sped through the forest, Cavallo at the wheel. "I don’t know what the hell could make you, of all people, turn tail and run."
"The dogs sensed it too," said Messer. "They dragged me right out of there. I couldn’t hold them. I tell you, Boss, there was something there, watching me. Something invisible."
"It was a Martian curse," said Messer.
"These Martians have strange powers. They’ve found the ruins of the ancient Martians and learned their secrets. I’ve worked on Mars. I’ve heard things."
"Who the hell told you that? Martian ruins. Secret powers."
"The Martian prisoners told us."
Cavallo looked at him in disgust. "You idiot!" The carrier screeched to a halt. They grabbed their shovels and pushed their way through the undergrowth.
The sand-rover was gone. The tire-tracks clearly showed that it had rocked loose, turned about, and sped off. The trail vanished into shallow water over the rocky streambed, a few meters upstream. It could have travelled for kilometres that way, moving swiftly over the rocks, any possible trail long since washed away. Cavallo and Messer peered uneasily into the dappled forest about them.
Progeny continued to dig himself deeper in the hole, as the Tribunal let him blither on, uncensored. "Why should we bother trying to hide the facts of life from our children, in our cramped caverns?" he said. "For a long time, it was hard for me to understand why a society might think sex is like some kind of poison and ought to be kept secret from the children. After all, the survival of the human race depends on it. The children themselves were created by it, and they'd better learn how to do it someday or our species will become extinct. Why shouldn't sex be taught like any other useful skill? Why should sex-practices not be discussed openly, like nutrition or hygiene?
"The answer is: because religion says so. And why is religion so antagonistic toward sex? That's not difficult to understand. It's because sex and religion are in direct competition."
"I'm sorry, Mr. Brown," said Reverend White. "Could you explain that to me?"
"There are three main reasons. First, religion maintains its power by use of the second most powerful drive in the human psyche, or indeed in that of any animate creature: fear of death. But sex is rooted in the only force more powerful than that: the desire to reproduce. Second, religion is in the business of peddling ersatz ecstasy; it wants you to believe that through faith, prayer, boredom, fasting, drugs, pain, and the rest of the panoply of religious techniques, it will put you in touch with ineffable joy, perfect love, the collective unconscious of the human race, and the ultimate meaning of the universe. But in reality, it hasn't got a hope in Hell of competing with such powerful and real human experiences as orgasm, childbirth, and your grandchild's first steps.
"Third, in order to promulgate the absurdities on which it's based, religion has to establish tighter control over the individual than the state can ever hope to achieve. The state may control your behaviour and achieve power over your life and death, but controlling your private thoughts, though it is the state's fondest wish, is beyond its ability. Religion's power begins where the state's leaves off; through the myth of the omniscient punishing god, it puts its censorious hand on our deepest desires and most private thoughts. Sex is so powerful and basic a generator of such desires and thoughts, and it makes us feel so joyous and so free, that it must, somehow, be controlled. People must be convinced that sex, despite the fact that it's just about everybody's favourite thing, is bad for them, because once you accept the idea that sex is dangerous, you can accept the idea that the state and the church ought to control it somehow, for the public good. Marriage was created to give them this control over sex and reproduction."
"Marriage is more than sex, Mr. Brown."
"No, that's not correct. Love is more than sex. Much more. Marriage is a license for it. Love and sex and making babies are the most powerful human instincts and the institutions of society want to make sure they control them, so church and state have joined in permitting sex only under their auspices.
"This is an important key to understanding morality. If sex is only for procreation, and birth is a holy miracle, then sex is holy and can be debased if used for something less noble, like reinforcing the pair-bond as nature intended in the first place, several million years before God was invented. An intelligent believer might well ask: why did God make it so much fun, if we are not to enjoy it? Why is the human body so liberally provided with erogenous zones, if we are not to use them? Why is the human being, so much closer to the angels than the rest of brute creation, so much hornier than they are, if sex is not the next thing to heaven? The fact is, the forces that shaped the human species have created this powerful human sexuality for many reasons, and not just for the creation of offspring. Like many aspects of human nature, sex has a social role as well as a reproductive one, and anyone who denies this is simply not paying attention.
"On Mars, we realized that children's life-long sex-habits are powerfully affected by their first cognizance of sex at an early age. We knew that trying to hide and hush up erotic material would only pique their interest, sending them to sources beyond our control. Further, there is a particular kind of sexual behaviour we wished to inculcate in our children--non-exploitative, mutually fulfilling, reproductively responsible, kind and gentle and joyous. We thought this was very important to the survival of our communes, and we discussed it for a long time. In the end, the conclusion was obvious: we began to produce erotica for our children."
There was general consternation on the tribunal. "Mr. Brown, I cannot believe you are saying this," Senator Roberts said.
"I can't help saying it, Your Honour. You've put a chip in my brain."
"Are you saying you produce pornographic material for the exclusive use of your children?"
"Yes, Reverend White. The adults find it much too tame."
"Well, sir, I am flabbergasted." But Reverend White was smiling broadly, having finally gotten what he wanted from the questioning.
Progeny shrugged. "We use their natural curiosity as an opportunity to educate our children about the facts of life, warn of the dangers involved, instil reproductive responsibility and sexual etiquette in young minds, and even teach a few useful skills, instead of letting them go off and try to figure it out for themselves in the caves; they still go off to the caves, of course, but they are armed with sufficient knowledge to prevent problems later on in life. If we want our children to develop certain sexual habits, like we want them to develop certain eating habits, and if we want them to have good sex, like good posture and good manners, we have to teach it to them.
"Prison was for me a marvellous opportunity to study human nature in tight quarters. I was particularly interested in the sex offenders, and I read some fascinating studies about them; they seemed to consider every picture the psychologists showed them to be titillating. What, I wondered, could have warped these poor souls so badly? It turned out every one of them had had a strict disciplinarian upbringing, in a religious household; they'd had no access to pornography of any kind during their puberty, and in fact, had often been punished brutally for masturbation. We produce erotica for our children, Dr. White, because we understand that pornography does not cause sex-crimes; religion does."
Armand Solla sat in his office in the Citadel at Nueva York. Through the window before him he could see across the waters to the drowned towers of Manhattan, their tops invisible in the haze under the sub-tropical sun.
His assistant’s face appeared on the screen. "Commander Solla. You’ll want to take a look at this."
A court-record appeared on the screen: Institute of Moral Health, Lynchburg, Commonwealth of the Virginias and Carolinas. Inquiry into the moral health of Progeny Brown, accused of spreading false, blasphemous, and unhealthy Martian ideas to the general populace.
"Get me a cruiser and six officers," Solla said. "Where the hell is this Lynchburg?"
“Well, Senator,” Progeny was saying, “we simply find that a commune works best when composed of a wide variety of ages, races, colours, beliefs, and experiences. I never understood the attraction of living in a society entirely made up of people just like me, but it seems to be a popular concept. Of course, it's much easier for the authorities to control thought in a society if everyone thinks alike.
“Someone once said: The human race is a coloured human race. It’s black and brown and red and yellow, with a thin scum of white on the top. When you study history, it’s obvious that the greatest evil therein was perpetrated by that thin scum of white upon the others...”
“I’m sorry, Mr. Brown, what was that?”
“There were exceptions, of course, on a small scale. The Pol Pot regime slaughtered other Cambodians, the Japanese enslaved the Chinese, and then there was Hindu versus Islam, and Shiite versus Sunni, etc., but on a planetary scale, it was white Europeans who clearly enslaved and despoiled the rest of the world the most efficiently, including all of Africa, North and South America, and the entire Pacific Ocean. They always had better weapons.
“On this continent, having already begun wiping out the indigenous population, they travelled all the way to Africa—a beautiful and preternatural place both ancient and young, and kidnapped the strongest and most beautiful people they could find, then brought them back and proceeded to breed them for even more strength and beauty, just as they did their horses, then, afraid that their womenfolk would prefer them, spent the next two centuries trying to wipe them out as efficiently as the natives.”
“I believe,” the Reverend White said, “we have heard enough. We can state our findings now.”
The Senator banged his gavel. "This tribunal finds that Progeny Brown is morally ill and that his views are dangerous to the moral health of others. We find that Shagrug, Teresa, and Karil are morally poisoned, and recommend that they be institutionalized until they can demonstrate their recovery. As for Mr. Brown..."
"Your Honour, as a friend of the tribunal, may I speak?"
It was Cavallo, rising and speaking from the back of the room.
"The tribunal recognizes Mr. Cavallo, whose good citizenship first brought these matters to our attention."
"I feel that this impressionable young lad and this innocent girl could benefit from fresh air and simple hard work in a wholesome environment. Even Shagrug, though a notorious smuggler and a des...though a smuggler, could derive some benefit. I would like to be awarded their custody. Particularly Teresa, whom I would like to adopt into my family."
"The tribunal so decrees, Mr. Cavallo. As for Progeny Brown, we believe his moral health is incurably damaged, and we feel the only way to ameliorate the effect of his infectious ideas is to eradicate those ideas. We therefore order that further surgery be performed..."
The door burst open, and Armand Solla strode into the room, surrounded by armed Quasi officers. "I’ll take care of his ideas, Senator."
"Who are you, Sir?"
"Commander Armand Solla, assigned to the correctional facilities of the Citadel, Nueva York, under order of the High Companies. This man is wanted on at least two planets and I'm taking him now."
"You can't do that. This is the sovereign nation of..."
Solla drew his pistol and put a put a hole in the wall three centimetres above the Senator's head. "I can do anything I damn well please, Senator, and you know it."
"Really, I must protest." Reverend White came forward, holding out his hands in a gesture of reasonableness. As he passed the prisoners, Progeny saw the gold tiepin on the preacher's rotund belly. It was an upside-down cross and three horizontal lines.
He leaped to his feet, vaulted over the table, bore the preacher to the ground, and began to choke him with his handcuffs. Solla pulled him off and felled him with a right cross.
"You can do what you like with the others for now; this one is mine."
He dragged Progeny up the aisle and out the door. The guards outside, like Colonel Maplewood, made no attempt to interfere. Reverend White picked himself up off the floor and straightened his clothing. "Move to edit the last incident from the record, Your Honour."
"They'll be a lot of editing of this one," Senator Roberts replied. "Mr. Cavallo, take your prisoners."
His men entered and dragged Karil, Shagrug, and Terry out into the courtyard. They caught a last glimpse of Solla's car banking above them and speeding off toward the northeast before they were thrown into a vehicle and shackled.