A SEASON IN HELL
And Man said, Let there be a hut in the midst of the plains
and let it protect me from the weather
And Man made the hut, and planted crops, and kept animals
and divided the world which was without the wall
from the world which was within the wall, and it was so
And Man called the hut Home
and it was the morning and the evening of the second Age
And Man said, Let the huts be gathered together
and let the City appear, and it was so
And Man called the city Ours,
and the others he called Theirs
and Man thought that it was good
And Man said, Let the City bring forth Writing,
the idea bearing seed, and the sciences,
yielding fruit after their own kind, whose seed is in itself, within the mind, and it was so.
And it was the morning and the evening of the third Age.
And Man said, Let there be Kings to give laws
unto the people
And Man made two types: the Kings to rule the land,
and the slaves to work upon it; he made the clerks too.
And Man set the Kings in palaces to be gods
and to rule over the slaves even after death,
and to divide the wealth from the people,
and Man thought it was good
And it was the morning and the evening of the fourth Age
Poems for Earth
Long ago it was:
A conman sent off to Mars
changed it forever.
Progeny awoke, as always, at the call of the muezzin piped into his cell. It had awakened him from a dream of distant horizons in the moonlight. He could hear the shuffling up and down the cellblock as Muslim prisoners fell to their knees for morning prayers, and the grumbling of Christian prisoners as they rolled over to try to catch another few minutes of sleep.
He rose and squatted on the toilet beside his bunk, then washed his face and teeth over the tiny sink. He glanced at the horoscope chalked on the wall and chuckled. Today was to be a momentous day, apparently--Mars transiting his midheaven sextile Earth in the twelfth house. Perhaps, he thought with a snort of derision, he would be pardoned today, and set free. It was hardly likely; the murder conviction was not important, but the charge of sedition that had been trumped up to get him out of the way would be with him forever.
Well, he had never believed in astrology anyway. He knew how gullible the human race could be, having been trained in his youth by a master mountebank, and having more than once made his living by the fact. He knew how easily reality could be manipulated to conform to one’s wishes. The survival of astrology into the Space Age was due to its apparent reliance on certain cold facts--the planets rose and set, conjuncted and moved on, inexorably, apparently beyond human question--and yet he knew how interpretation could be shaped to fit the needs of the moment. Still, the prisoners--and their guards--were a superstitious lot and the Royal Art had long provided him with spending-money in this place. He should be grateful.
With a clang, the cell-doors flew back, up and down the cellblock, and Progeny fell into line. The prisoners marched along the bright steel corridors, guards with needle-guns trotting beside them, and emerged into sunlight. Apparently, they were to plant rice today. The terraced gardens fell away down the hillside, and the farms stretched in patchwork to the far end of the cylinder. In the blue, cloud-flecked sky above, the other two valleys hung surrealistically, divided by great expanses of glass panelling through which the sun glinted off an angled mirror.
The orchards and timber-stands of Valley Three were green and inviting. They would not be working there today. The Administrative Valley, where the wardens and guards and bureaucrats lived amid pools and groves and pleasant meadows, was lovely. The warden’s palace was white, its courtyards green and cool with fountains--said to be a small copy of his own palace back home in High Africa. Through the glass paneling that arced up into the clouds above the hills to his right, sighting past the mirror, he could see the other cylinder, twin to this one, and both Earth and Luna revolving below. This was Lagrange Two, a gravitational eddy in the earth-moon system that kept the colony orbiting eternally in opposition to Earth.
It was no wonder that Earth had, almost of itself, taken on a new meaning in his peculiar brand of horoscopy--a symbol of the unattainable, of freedom. For thousands of years, while civilizations rose and fell, astrology had remained Ptolemaic and geocentric, and then Man had gone into space, and the soothsayers, undaunted, had revised their art, placing Luna or Mars or one of the Galilean moons in the centre of the chart and devising a complex symbology of rulership for the Earthstar itself.
At Ell-Two, Progeny had adapted a Lunar-based ephemeris to his needs--not so complex as the Galilean variety, in which all of Jupiter’s major satellites and the Red Spot besides had their own meanings, but complex enough, in that Earth and Moon switched roles and the chart had twenty-eight mansions instead of twelve houses. Here, of course, on this madly spinning cylinder, the horoscope revolved in a few minutes instead of twenty-four hours, but he had found a way to cope with that. Progeny marvelled at the perverse ingenuity of Man: he set up housekeeping among the stars and adapted ancient forms of divination to his new environment; he built vast gardens in the sky and used prisoners as slave-labour to cultivate them.
The prisoners trotted down the path and were placed in formation, ordered to shed their slippers and roll up their pant-legs. For the rest of the day, they bent over in the hot sun, planting rice in the muddy water at their feet. Sometimes the air-currents in the cylinder played tricks. There were moments when he could hear the shouts and splashing of children in the pools of the palace, five kilometres away in the sky. A trusty gave them water occasionally, and at noon, when the sun’s reflection halted for a moment above them before the mirror began to close again, a meal was brought down from the end-cap. This back-breaking work, of course, could have been done at night by artificial light, when the mirrors were closed, but such concerns for the prisoners’ comfort would not have occurred to anyone. And the guards standing about with needle-guns and hand-held sonic cannons--where did they expect the prisoners to run to?
A fellow prisoner called Beast because of his huge size and the fact that his number was 666, sat down beside Progeny with his food-tray.
"What the stars tell you about me today?" he asked. He took a few joysticks from his breast pocket and slipped them into Progeny’s. I used to charge a lot more than that, Progeny thought; I made a better living selling good luck than I did selling salvation. Besides, the stars would tell him nothing until he had ascertained the man’s time, date, and place of birth, and had spent several minutes at a computer, but he was too tired to explain that, and Beast, though he had always seemed gentle enough, was huge and powerful. Progeny bent down and drew some figures in the dirt with his forefinger.
"Let me see," Progeny said. "You were born on Mars..."
The big man’s jaw dropped. "How you know that?"
"The stars tell all," Progeny said. Not to mention the man’s gait, his accent, and the burned face and pale body of a man who had lived most of his life underground and felt the sun’s heat only through the faceplate of a pressure-suit.
"You are concerned about something," Progeny went on, noticing the man’s nervous gestures. "Some news you are waiting to hear."
"Yes. Is true."
Progeny peered at him. The Beast was obviously the Cancer type; he had the barrel body, the short limbs, the chubby face. He was a great, gentle baby of a man, who had probably hurt someone by accident, not knowing his own strength, and ended up in this place because the law simply didn't care. Loved his mother, no doubt, loved food and drink too much, a home-loving sort...
Suddenly he realized there could be only one thing the man was waiting to hear.
"You are wondering if you will be among those transported to Mars this cycle."
The Beast’s eyes grew wide with surprise, fear, respect. Probably he would be chosen--he was strong and adapted to the environment, had been on his best behaviour. Here, in artificial gravity equal to Earth’s, he was not as useful as he could be--tired too easily, became listless in the unaccustomed humidity. Surely, they would ship him back to Mars for the rest of his sentence, where his strength would produce more revenue.
"Do not fear," Progeny said. "You will be chosen."
Tears of gratitude filled the big man’s eyes, as if Progeny himself had chosen him.
"But I must warn you," he went on, "against trying to escape to your home colony once you get there. You will only bring trouble to your family. They suffer enough for your absence."
"Yes. Is true."
"You must be patient and wait for the end of your sentence."
The Beast sighed.
"I see much danger," Progeny said, "and I see great joy. I see the possibility of reunion with your mother."
That was safe enough. If his mother was alive, Progeny was predicting a reduction in his sentence; if she was dead, he was warning of the danger of attempted escape.
"Thank you, Stargazer,” the Beast said, nearly crushing his hand with a squeeze. "I remember what you say."
Progeny should have paid more attention to his own future. Halfway through the afternoon, there was a visit from the Warden himself. He rode up on a white stallion, dressed in his formal robes, accompanied by several mounted guards and a carriage-load of dignitaries. He was also accompanied by his visibly pregnant concubine, a beautiful young girl of what appeared to be Greek and African extraction. Precisely what kind of business deal the Sultan was trying to make, Progeny had no idea--probably something about renting out prison-labour to other High Company habitats--and all he could think about was the girl. It was obvious that her unhappiness was so deep and overwhelming that neither her imminent motherhood, nor her status as the Sultan’s favourite could assuage it. Her exquisitely beautiful eyes happened to meet his and his heart, hard as it was, went out to her.
"Here, with Luna blocking much of the interference from Earth, our scientists can use the new telescope without interference," the Sultan said. "In the other cylinder, the research community is safely separated from the convicts, and the convicts can repay their debt to society by growing food for the research institute. Doctor Feronia, you might want to use this system on Venus. The planet is still so little studied and explored, and the surface is a perfect place to incarcerate the worst offenders--even more difficult to escape from than Mars."
As they turned to go, one of the prisoners disturbed a water snake, and it darted across the road directly in front of the concubine’s horse. Progeny had travelled extensively in swamp-country, and he was in motion even before the horse began to rear. The girl slipped sideways off the saddle and slid to the ground beneath the horse’s feet. Progeny threw himself across her body and the sharp hooves came down upon his shoulder and the back of his head. He slipped into unconsciousness.
He came to in the infirmary, with a cast on his shoulder and a bandage on his head. One male nurse attended to him, checking his pulse and peering into his eyes; the other left, and returned a few minutes later with the Sultan, flanked by guards.
"How is the girl?" Progeny asked quickly, but whether out of genuine concern for the girl or because it was the politic thing to do, not even Progeny knew.
"She is dead," said the Sultan, "killed in the fall, but thanks to you, my unborn son is alive. She has been shipped back to High Africa, where a machine will keep her body alive until his birth."
"Good news, with the bad." A non-committal answer.
"You are Progeny, known as Progeny al-Sharrib. Progeny the Drunkard."
"I prefer Progeny the Mad," he said, smiling to show that he was not talking back, but only joining in the joke on himself.
"No doubt you do. And as your crimes include both intoxication and rebellion, as well as murder, both monikers may be apt."
"The intoxication runs in my family," Progeny said. "Telling the truth does not, and this is often taken for rebellion."
"The man you killed was a religious man."
"He was a mountebank and a thief. That was his religion."
"No better than you."
"Oh, much worse than me. Much worse."
"You are well-educated--a professor of many disciplines, though some of your credentials may be fraudulent." The Sultan observed him in silence for a moment. "I offer you the opportunity," he said, "to reduce your sentence."
Despite the pain, Progeny sat up straight, and the guards jerked their sonic cannons toward him in reflex action.
"As you probably know," the Sultan went on, "since you seem to know everything that goes on here, we are looking for Martian colonists. The work is hard, but the gravity is slight. You are under Martian gravity here, in the infirmary. I don’t need to tell you that conditions there are hazardous, but if you survive, for which you will need stamina as well as wit, your sentence will be reduced to a few years' labour in the mines and a contract to settle in a colony. You will be free within the constraints of the environment, and you may live longer there."
"If one looks at it from another point of view," Progeny said, unable as usual to hold his tongue, "it's hardly a reduction of sentence. After a few decades in Martian gravity, one can no longer return to Earth. Mars becomes a prison itself, and the sentence is life."
"Is Earth that wonderful a place?"
No, Progeny thought, it is an ecological wasteland, thanks to people like you. "Your point is well taken. I must accept your offer."
Manacled and in leg-irons, as if he might escape, Progeny rode the elevator, flanked by guards. Weight fell from him as they reached the axis, and a door opened. The guards grabbed handholds, and gripping him by the crook of the elbows, they pulled their way down a corridor toward the shuttle-bay. More prisoners were ahead of them, hanging on straps, waiting to board, and a huge figure waved at him.
"Stargazer! I see you come too."
A guard struck the Beast with a whip, but he seemed not to notice. He grinned amiably at Progeny, and Progeny had to grin back.
The prisoners drifted one by one into the shuttle and were strapped to acceleration couches. There was a clank and a hiss as the airlocks released, and a slight acceleration as Ell-Two fell away behind them. There were windows in the shuttle--obviously, it was used for purposes other than transporting prisoners--and Progeny could see the twin revolving cylinders, mirrors open like petals to the sun, green landscapes visible through the solars. The guards stared straight ahead, but the prisoners craned their necks in their couches for a last look at the orbiting prison--each one silent, but all of them thinking the same thoughts. Slowly Earth began to shrink and fall behind and the shuttle buzzed with whispers. The sight was both awesome and heart-breaking, for many of them would never see Earth again.
Gradually, one star in the sky grew brighter and became a ship--a colossal fusion-drive interplanetary freighter. Progeny noticed the radiator-finned drivers, separated from the living quarters by great distance and thick shielding. Its name was printed on the bow: Grim-Visaged Ares. The shuttle matched orbit with the giant, dropped down across its bow, and slipped into the shuttle bay. In a moment, the prisoners were released from their couches and hauled in a chain down a long passageway toward the stern.
As the ship revolved about them, providing artificial gravity for the first-class accommodations in the circumference, they heard sounds through open hatches as they passed--livestock bellowing, children’s voices, shouted military orders. In the stern, they were locked into cells on the Mars-normal gravity-level. They were closest to the radiation shields, the cattle farthest away, clearly showing which was more valuable.
Progeny’s cellmate was a young African, clean-shaven and stocky. "I am Salim Malik. And you?"
"Ah! Progeny the Unbeliever."
"That’s one of the things they call me."
"I am a follower of the Mahdi, myself."
There's not enough conflict between the Sunnis and the Shiites on Earth, Progeny thought; somebody has to declare himself the Mahdi and start another schism. "Then what are you doing here? I thought you Mahdiites were all pacifists. Forget your beliefs in a rash moment?"
"On the contrary. I remembered my beliefs all too well. I refused to serve in the Afghan War when called upon to do so."
Progeny sincerely hoped he was not going to be stuck with a religious fanatic as a cellmate. Probably it would be best not to discuss religious matters with him. "Doesn’t it strike you as a little ironic that the sect your Mahdi founded has become so imperial and warlike that it persecutes his followers for imitating him?"
"It is ironic, but not surprising. The same thing happened to Jesus, did it not?"
"I’m afraid it did."
Apparently, they had reached some sort of stalemate, and the subject could be changed. "We’ll be accelerating soon," Malik said. "Are you looking forward to seeing Mars?"
"I’m looking forward to freedom."
"I’m sure you’re just as likely to find it there, as on Earth."
"Don’t depress me."
The siren sounded for acceleration, and they strapped into their bunks.
"Hey, Stargazer," a voice shouted down the row of cells.
"We going to Mars. Yes?"
"Yes, Beast. We going to Mars in a hand-basket."
Locked in their cells, or confined to their exercise corridors, the prisoners saw nothing of space. Their first glimpse of Mars was through a port as they were marched to the shuttle, soon after the Ares had docked. Outside the port was the dusty, grey surface of Deimos, the larger potato-shaped moon of Mars, and just over the close horizon was the red planet itself--all desert except for the badlands, as far as Progeny could tell. The Beast fairly wept with joy.
"Is it not beautiful, Stargazer?"
"Yes, it is," Progeny replied. It was the ugliest sight he had ever seen--even more desolate, he thought, than Luna, for Luna did not add insult to its barren injury with dust-storms of demonic intensity. Progeny glanced upward and saw High Mars gleaming like an emerald in the sky--all glass, cloud-forest, and blue lakes. Its excessive waste of water was like a slap in the face to Martians.
Billions of years ago, an asteroid of great size had crashed in the southern hemisphere with an impact that must have rung Mars like a bell as it pushed up two mountain ranges--the Nereidum and Charitum--both rich in the metals that later space-faring civilizations would covet. The work of extracting these metals was backbreaking and dangerous. After a day of such labour, most prisoners did not care to speak; they only sat in the dingy mess-hall, stuffing their tasteless food into their sweat-stained faces, glad only to have removed their pressure-suits for the day. Malik, however, insisted on engaging Progeny in serious conversation.
"I overheard you doing that chart for the guard. Why sixteen signs?"
"Because the sun passes through those sixteen constellations during the course of the Martian year. Besides, sixteen is a good number: four times four. The ratio of movement of Phobos to Deimos is sixteen to one. The synodic period of Deimos is five and a third days. Three such cycles make a sixteen-day week. This gives you 42 weeks of sixteen days, or sixteen months of 42 days. Either way, 672 days. You drop one each quarter to match the 668-day solar cycle. It’s very orderly.”
"Frankly," Malik said, "I find it hard to believe that an intelligent person like yourself would believe in divination."
"Who says I believe in it?"
"Ah, I see. It is what you would call a scam."
Progeny managed a chuckle. "Not necessarily. I guess my position is midway between yours and the Beast’s. He thinks I’m an oracle who knows all things. You think I’m either misguided or a charlatan."
"I would not say that."
"No, but you think it. You can see no mechanism whereby the movement of the planets could possibly influence human fate or behaviour or character. Well, neither do I, frankly. Theories have ranged from the whim of the gods to planetary orbits influencing sunspot patterns to alter the magnetic field of the human brain, but none of that matters to astrologers. They shrug their shoulders and go on studying their little mandalas. Most of their clients don’t care either; they just want some cosmic approval for what they intend to do anyway. The fact is, Malik, human beings seldom consult even their own intelligence before making decisions; they act on instinct and use their brains to rationalize their behaviour afterwards."
"So, you use the chart as a mandala with which to focus your meditation, and you give advice based on your rather extensive understanding of human nature."
"That’s a perfectly good way of looking at it. I did exactly the same thing as a lay preacher, without a shred of belief in the divine on my part, and I was good at that too."
"You are a most exasperating and slippery individual, do you know that, Stargazer? Aren’t you just a little tempted to believe in some divine plan."
"Sometimes, but I resist the temptation. I say, 'Get thee behind me, Satan.' No, seriously, Malik. If you tell me there is order in the universe, I have to agree, though I think it’s the human mind that creates most of it, whether it’s really there or not. If you tell me that the order was created by some divine intelligence, I say there’s not a shred of evidence for this, outside of a handful of obviously fictional texts. And if you tell me that this intelligence is benevolent and will suspend the laws of physics to effect changes in my life in response to my prayer, I say that God is a myth, religious believers are deluded, if not mentally ill, and that religion is a great con-game. I know. I participated in it."
"You have just called me a madman, Progeny. Why am I not offended?"
"Because I’m mad, myself. Progeny the Mad. Look, Malik, if you really believe the human race was created by some divine intelligence, you must believe that there was a purpose to this creation--some role that our species is to play in the unfolding of the universe. Yes?"
"Yes, of course. Why create us otherwise?"
"In that case, it would seem logical to assume that the special attributes of the human race--those aspects of our species that set us apart from the rest of brute creation--have been created to help us fill this role, just as the cheetah's speed and the eagle's vision help them to fill an ecological niche unavailable to others. It seems to me that certain conclusions follow logically from this:
"One: our superior brain is meant to be used. Therefore, people who think for themselves are more pleasing to God than those who blindly follow authority in matters of faith or anything else.
"Two: the individual's conscience is there to be heeded. Therefore, those who defy authority when its laws contradict their own concept of right and wrong are more beloved of God than those who obey such laws.
"Three: human sexuality is far more subtle and complex than the reproductive drive of most other animals and must have been given to us with more than the simple reproduction of the species in mind. Therefore, those who express their sexuality are more beloved of God than those who repress theirs.
"Four: variations in the human species--skin-colours, deviations, exceptional talents and abilities--are congenital and were created for a reason. Therefore, such people are to be sought out and celebrated, their stories heard, and their lessons learned. Hatred of such people just because they are different from the majority would have to be profoundly displeasing to God.
"What could be more simple? If God gave us intelligence, conscience, sexuality, and individuality, nothing could be more pleasing to Him than for us to use our intelligence, heed our conscience, express our sexuality, and celebrate our differences. For thousands of years, however, one religion after another has bent over backwards and turned itself inside-out to convince us that God wants us to abandon our reason, stifle our conscience, suppress our sexuality, and exclude the deviant. In other words, though God has given us these marvellous liberal gifts, we should ignore them and support the religious conservative agenda. My conclusion is that religion is an instrument of conservative secular authority, not of God's will, and if you believe in God, you have to believe that religion is His enemy."
The prisoners at adjoining tables had been listening with rapt attention; some had even stopped eating. There was a chorus of laughter and catcalls, and a smattering of applause.
"You tell him, Preacher," one said. From that moment on, Progeny was no longer Stargazer; he was Preacher.
The caverns rang with alarms and the cell-doors slid open. Progeny sat up in his bunk as Malik tossed him a rifle. "Come on, Preacher, now is our chance."
Progeny threw on his pants and checked the rifle. "What’s happening, Malik? What the hell have you done?"
"The guards have been called to the other end of the warren by a little disturbance I arranged for. Come on, Beast has a sand-rover waiting."
"You can’t be serious. His term is almost up."
"But we couldn’t get far on the surface without him. We need his experience."
"You talked him into helping you escape."
"No, I talked him into helping you escape."
"Jesus, Malik..." But Progeny was hurrying down the corridor in Malik's wake. They found Beast waiting at the hangar by the airlock. At the sight of them, he ducked into the rover and began to start the engine. Progeny noticed a pair of guards trussed up in the corner of the hangar. As he stepped aboard the vehicle, he saw another guard rounding the corner from the far corridor, needle-gun drawn. Malik shot him.
"Some pacifist," Progeny muttered. But he climbed aboard and sealed the hatch, the Beast cycled through the hangar lock-system, and in a moment, they were racing across the frozen, sun-baked surface, the huge balloon tires kicking up dust.
"We head South," the Beast said. "Polar cap at maximum now. Not far. We hide in crevasse. Rover well-stocked for trip to Hellespontus." He beamed at Progeny. "I teach you all about Mars," he said. "You learn to love my world."
The High Companies learned to hate Mars. The rebels would appear out of dust storms, their rovers and their pressure-suits and their weapons painted in salmon and black camouflage colours. They would attack without warning, destroying installations, stealing food and medical supplies and more weapons, freeing prisoners. They would vanish as swiftly as they came, and any Quasi-Police who dared to follow them into the swirling dust-clouds would vanish too, as if the planet had eaten them.
The giant dust-devils were the worst, everyone agreed--kilometres wide and tens of kilometres high, with tornado-like winds, and the damned things glowed in the dark. If you were caught in one of those, your engine died and your lights went out, and your hair stood on end, as much from the spine-tingling moan of the winds as from the static electricity. Wraith-like clouds of Saint Elmo’s Fire drifted about inside your vehicle and caressed your face with a cold, ghostly touch. Martian prisoners insisted, with a straight face, that these were the ghosts of the Ancient Martians, rising to wreak revenge on those who disturbed their rest with their mining equipment.
The High Companies brought airpower to bear, shipping in a dozen spaceplanes from Earth. From the spaceport atop Pavonis Mons, fourteen kilometres above the equator, they ranged over the surface of the planet. Now and then an innocent sand-rover would be fired upon, and innocent Martians killed, but that was a small price to pay. Now and then a rebel was captured and tortured in sensory deprivation, but there was little useful information extracted, for the rebels knew almost nothing about other cells. The rebellion was spontaneous, shapeless, anarchistic, and the High Companies, obsessed with order and discipline, seemed unable to respond effectively. The head of Martian Security turned one day to terrorism; he had an entire mining colony executed. But that resulted in work-stoppages all over the planet, a few outright riots, increased rebel attacks, and a devastating loss of revenue for the quarter. The Security head was transferred to Venus.
The rover waited just inside the crater rim; Malik and the Beast were playing cards, but Progeny was nervous, and he sat in the pilot’s cab, staring out at the setting sun. Black shadows sped across the canyon floor as the sign of Orion appeared in the darkening sky. Phobos raced backward across its belt.
"Relax, Preacher," Malik said. "They’re free-traders. Not surprising they’re a little late."
"Here they are."
The delta-winged ship descended on a cloud of plasma, kicked up a second cloud of red dust, and settled daintily on the crater floor.
"Good evening, gentlemen," said a dulcet-toned voice over the rover’s comm, "may I have the password, please?"
"Bowed by the weight of centuries he leans upon his hoe and gazes at the ground," Progeny said.
"The emptiness of ages in his face and on his back the burden of the world," the ship replied.
The rover trundled forward into the ship’s shadow and mated with the lock. It hissed open and the rebels climbed through the hatch. A long-haired man and woman met them.
"I’m Wog," the man said, "and this is Gay. Meet Fancy Dancer."
"Pleased to meet you," the ship purred.
"I trust you have the items we ordered," Malik said.
"Right this way. Company-issue stun-bombs, needle-guns..."
There was something about Wog’s eyes! Progeny could not say exactly what was wrong, but he had looked into a lot of eyes in his career, searching for clues to the nature of the mind behind them. The man was nervous, and the thing that was making him nervous was not in the cargo-hold, but in the adjoining cabin. Progeny decided to test his theory; he started to walk toward the door in question.
The man who called himself Wog put out his hand as if to stop him. Why would he do that, when Fancy Dancer was in control of every door and port on the ship? Progeny turned and threw a punch at Wog’s head. His fist connected with the man’s jaw, and he dropped like a stone, with not a word of warning or protest from the ship’s computer.
"They’re not Free Traders," he shouted. "It’s a trap."
The door opened and a needle thudded into his neck. As Progeny went down, he saw Malik and the Beast collapse in a heap. Men in Quasi uniforms appeared--the last sight before Progeny slipped into unconsciousness.
The man was dressed in a Quasi Captain’s uniform. He sat in the doorway, flanked by guards, as Progeny looked about, trying to focus his eyes and his thoughts.
"My name is Solla," he said. "Newly in charge of Security on Mars. You’re very clever to have realized we were controlling the Free Traders you contracted with. But you’re a brilliant man, aren’t you?"
"I don’t feel so brilliant at the moment. Where are Malik and Beast, if I may ask?"
"Your companions are on their way to Venus. And why, you ask, are you not going there as well? I’m not entirely sure myself. You see, I was appointed to this position because I don’t think too much. I work entirely on instinct, and it was thought that I could respond more effectively to your anarchist revolt than the disciplined military thinkers that preceded me. But it may be because every three-man cell in your ragtag army appears to have one who thinks, one who acts, and one who feels. I don’t know why--I seriously doubt if you’ve actually planned it that way--but that’s how it works out. Since you are the one who thinks, you are the most dangerous, and I would like to keep you close to me."
Solla looked around at the small prison-cell--a toilet, a cramped bunk, two meters to pace in, and no window. "This is a solitary confinement cell. The guards who slip your food in the door will not speak to you. There will be no human contact for you until I decide to visit you, and I don’t know when that will be. Here."
He tossed a package of charcoal crayons to Progeny, who looked at him quizzically.
"These are for writing or drawing on the walls. There are four such walls, as you can see, newly painted and perfectly clean. When I come back, I want you to show me everything you know, in black and white."
"What makes you think I’ll do that?"
"I don’t think you’ll do that; I know you’ll do that, given enough time."
Solla rose and left, the guards bolted the door behind him with at least half a dozen bolts. Progeny sat quietly at first. About two days later, he began to pace, and in a week he was talking to himself. A week later, he was arguing vociferously with himself. He held out about one more day, and then began to draw his circles on the wall.