Monthly Archives: April 2016

140. I Have a Bad Feeling

For the explorers returning to Earth from Cyan, seven and one half years have passed, but that perspective comes from twin journeys at near lightspeed. Twenty-five years have passed on Earth, and there have been changes.

Tasmeen was at the controls; Stephan stood behind her with his toes hooked under her seat.  He said, “Stand by to cut.  Cut!” 

The torch died, weightlessness returned, and the static that had been a soft background accompaniment to their actions became understandable speech.  Sort of.

“Bellig-acq.  Akno ID.  Bellig-acq, hype.”

“Huh?”

Gus said, “I would have expected to understand her better than that, even after twenty-five years.”

Stephan said, “That sounded more like code.”

“Or military jargon.  Roger-wilco kind of stuff.”

The message was repeated, and the tone of voice was more harsh.

“We’re still several light minutes away,” Stephan said. “Those messages were sent when our torch was still burning. Any minute they’ll figure out who we are and we’ll get a message that makes more sense.”

Sure enough, the grating, official voice now said: “Unidentified craft approaching Ganymede, are you the Darwin? If you are, acknowledge and proceed according to agreed flight plan. If you are not the Darwin, identify yourself quickly or we will assume belligerence.” The message repeated.

“Bellig-acq. Akno ID,” Tasmeen mused. “Belligerent acquisition, acknowledge identity?”

Stephan cut the gain and said, “That doesn’t sound very friendly. I wonder what happened to Ganymede Station?” He keyed the mike and spoke into it, “Ganymede Station, this is Darwin returning from Procyon system. Our trajectory is nominal for the approach we agreed upon twenty-five years ago. If you want any changes made, tell us quickly. We don’t have much delta-V to play around with. Are your ready to receive a flash synopsis of what we found?”

Stephan increased the gain again. The voice of Ganymede Station droned on while Stephan’s reply ran past it at the speed of light. Keir looked at the viewscreen, but there was nothing to see but stars. Even the sun was just a fat, bright dot in the sky. 

“Darwin, Darwin. We copy your message. Do not, I repeat, do not make uncoded transmissions.  Utilize protocol 7Y4B. Your old flight plan is fine. We are kicking a freighter out of her berth, but we’ll have a place cleared for you by the time you arrive. Welcome back.”

There was little welcome in the voice that said it.

“Jesus Christ, is that all they have to say?” Angrily, Stephan punched the mike key and said, “Ganymede, I will be glad to utilize protocol 7Y4B or whatever makes you happy, as soon as you tell me what the hell it is. What’s gotten into you people? Go get the NASA site administrator.”

Even as Stephan was speaking, Ganymede Station was replaced by another, more pleasant voice.

“Welcome home, Darwin. You will find the language of this year somewhat different than it was when you left. When the Dog Star returned in 2088, we found that it would be best to train comtechs in the jargon of your departure year, and that is the reason for this tape. I know you’re as full of questions as we are, so I’ll save you a time lag. No, we don’t have FTL drive yet. Relativity falls deeper into disrepute every year but no one has come up with a comprehensive theory to replace it. Yes, Dog Star, Europa, and Magellan have all returned. Dog Star found what would have been an Earth type planet, except that it has a Uranian inclination to the ecliptic. They call it Stormking, for obvious reasons . . .”

The tape cut out and the original voice returned. “Darwin, Darwin. Stand by to copy at flash, protocol 7Y4B.” Tasmeen made the connections. There was a high pitched whine as the flash transmission was fed into the computer. Then the tape resumed where it had been interrupted.

“. . . Europa and Magellan both found prime planets. We’ll fill you in on them later.

“The biggest change you will have to be ready for is that NASA no longer exists . . .”

Again the tape was interrupted by the voice of Ganymede. “Darwin, Darwin, copy this carefully. There is no NASA site administrator. You may continue transmitting in clear, but restrict yourselves to necessary navigational queries and replies. No other transmissions will be responded to.”

“. . . because after the general elections of 2103 the people of North America decided to combine all space efforts into one military organization. You are all now members of the Federated Space Service.”

Tasmeen said, “I have a bad feeling about this.”

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Jandrax 24

Margaret was all dry-eyed business. She looked down at Mama and said, “I saw Jennie. She’s dead.”

It was a flat pronouncement, with no more emotion than a discussion of the weather. At first it didn’t sink in, then Mama began to cry, open-eyed, open-mouthed, a mad, rising sound. I shut it out, shut out my sister’s memory, and fled down toward the fighting.

I rounded the comer and looked out across the village square, keeping down. Bodies littered the ground. Some were twisted grotesquely or bore visible wounds. Those I could accept. It was the ones who lay quietly as if in repose, their wounds hidden, that bothered me most. I knew them all, first-shippers and newcomers alike, both Dannelites and Pertoskans.

A group of men leaped up and charged my position.

I swung Papa’s gun around then recognized Papa in the lead. Dust danced near their feet and I swung back toward the snipers, fired, hit nothing. They broke over me and took cover behind the same overturned cart I had sheltered in.

Papa’s face was smeared and bloody. He spared me only one comment, “Reload, dammit!” Shocked back to attention, I did so.

We waited behind the cart. Occasionally one of us or one of them tried a shot, most of which went wild. One of theirs burned Sabine Conners’ shoulder. Probably we did no more damage than that.

After a while my father turned to me and asked, “Are your mother and the children safe?”

“Mother and Alan are at the house.”

“Where’s Jennie?”

I gestured, “Out there . . . dead.”

For a moment he said nothing, then he leaped up and fired, releasing rounds in a single roar of sound until his automatic was empty. He screamed. Three shots came from the enemy; two missed. The third hit the cart just before Papa and exploded a board into a hundred splinters, all of which hit him. He went down, cursing and bleeding wildly. Sabine and I were on him in a moment, but his wounds, though numerous, were superficial. We caught him up and retreated to the house.

***

Damn this cold planet for dredging up memories. Still, I could probably have forgiven, could probably react to these people around me as people, not simply as Monists, if there were no sequel to the memory. But in the end it is not what happens to us, but what we do ourselves, that affects us most.

***

Daniel Andrax, my father, came to Hallam’s World on the first ship, worked hard, built a place for himself and his family, and aided in the building of the community. He proposed and largely supported the drive to raise money for the importation of fruit trees. He fought cannys – deadly, persistent predators – and was in the forefront of the drive to bring in the dogs that finally finished them off.

Daniel Andrax was a deeply religious man, a Danneline Monist and a minister of that faith. He was a brilliant leader, bath religious and secular, a good provider, and a good father. He was also a zealot with little time for opinions other than his own, but that is not an uncommon failing.

He was not unlike Marcel Dumezil.

A decade after Hallam’s World was settled, the second shipload of colonists arrived. Natural increase had already doubled the population of the original colony. For the Ministers of Colonization this is the prime index of success, and in the next decade twelve more colony ships arrived. In the influx Daniel Andrax could have easily lost his preeminence, but he did not.

A conflict based on the doctrinal differences between the two Monist denominations did develop, and Baylor became the Pertoskan champion.

139. D-i-v-o-r-c-e

DIVORCE

If you don’t recognize the reference, D-I-V-O-R-C-E, sung spelled-out with a powerful twang, was a country western song from my childhood. It dealt with the horrors of divorce as a sad lament. If you wonder what it has to do with science fiction or A Writing Life, hang on until I set the stage and I’ll tell you all about it.

I have been married forty-six years (so far) to the love of my life. My marriage is the most important thing to me – more than my writing, my education, or my teaching career.

I equally believe, firmly and unalterably, in the healing power of divorce.

I was twenty-one when we married. It was the end of the sixties. People were beginning to live together without marriage. If we had done that, we would still be together. We stayed together because we wanted to, not because we had to.

Marriage between the right two people is the greatest thing on Earth. Marriage between the wrong two people is sheer hell. I’m sure you’ve seen examples of both.

***

When the issue of gay marriage arose, I was largely unmoved. Of course I thought, “Yes!” It seemed inevitable and right. It reminded me of arguments about racially mixed marriages during the sixties and seventies. What was shocking then, goes unnoticed today.

However, in those states where gay couples had all meaningful rights except the name marriage, I had to shake my head at all uproar. Advocates of gay marriage and those opposed to gay marriage both seemed to be missing the point.

After gay marriage, then what? Triads? Quartets? Hockey teams?

And if marriage is a bond between one man and one woman, then what man and what woman? Siblings? First cousins? Second cousins? Blacks and whites? Catholics and protestants? Jews and Muslims? 49er fans and Raider fans?

The plain fact is that when any two people say marriage, chances are they are talking about two different institutions. Marriage is undefined – or rather, it has a thousand definitions.

It’s all about property . . . and children . . . and wills, and power of attorney , and hospital visitation and . . . and sex . . . and infidelity. It’s about growing old together . . . or not. It’s about financial rights while you’re married, and who get’s the dog when you divorce. Or who gets the kids. Or which kids inherit when you die. (Remember that old fashioned term illegitimate child?)

There are rules about this, but they vary from state to state and from decade to decade. When Heinlein and his wife-to-be Virginia  were essentially married while waiting for his divorce from his previous wife, they had to hide out because it was illegal to have sex with someone you weren’t married to, and getting caught at it would have screwed up the divorce. This was not that long before Stranger in a Strange Land, the sixties, and free love.

Polygamy was once such a horror to “right thinking Americans” that the Mormon church removed it from its doctrines. Then the sixties came along and any number could play, as long as you didn’t get married.

Talk to any woman old enough to have fought her way through the feminist movement about what marriage meant in 1916. You will hear horror stories of domestic slavery, about an absence of financial rights, an absence of the rights to have or not have children, and about laws that did not consider forced sex to be rape, as long as it was done by the husband. The next time you hear the words traditional marriage, think back more than a decade or two.

Talk to any man who has divorced outside of a no-fault state, and he will tell you that marriage is still slavery of a financial kind. But don’t mention the word alimony.

There is an answer to all this confusion, but it doesn’t have emotional resonance, so it’s a hard sell. Marriage has two components. It has the deep seated comfort and life affirming excitement of loving people sharing their lives. And it has the rights and obligations that go along with the joy, which have to be spelled out during marriage, and litigated if the marriage ends. In my opinion, only the latter is the business of the government.

It’s time to stop pretending that one size fits all, that traditional marriage ever existed as a stable entity, or the the government can define the undefinable. Let there be contracts with choices of clauses to protect the rights of those involved. Let them be written down, debated, agreed to, and ultimately, signed or refused. Call them what you want, but don’t call them marriage.

Then let let every Baptist and Jew and Muslim and Catholic and unreconstituted hippie call whatever floats their boat marriage if they want to. Let them wrangle and argue to their heart’s content, but outside of the courts.

Do you think that will ever fly? I don’t. People would rather pretend that their answer is the answer, and force everyone else into their mold.

If it did fly, then two women, three men, and a transgender going either direction could write a contract that met their needs and call it marriage. Others could disagree as a loudly as they wanted. The Catholic church could excommunicate them, the Baptists could damn them to Hell, and it wouldn’t matter. The contract would go on independent of the in-fighting, spelling out and protecting the rights of those in the group.

Jandrax 23

Then Baylor struck my father – or my father struck Baylor. I have never been quite sure who struck the first blow, nor are my impressions of the melee that followed clear. In seconds the entire village was engaged in a general brawl. I rushed to my father’s aid and was promptly smashed down, whether by friend or foe I am not sure. He and Baylor stood toe to toe trading blows with their staves until Baylor fell. I remember staggering to my feet and being caught up in my father’s arms as he retreated with me.

He dropped me to the dirt floor inside our house, and I sat holding my head while he and my mother argued. He was rummaging in his chest, that same chest he had carried two decades earlier when he emigrated. I could make little sense of my mother’s words for she was hysterical. I stood, swayed, leaned against a table and watched as my father pulled out the automatic pistol he had taken as plunder in some war. He checked its load, drew back the cocking bar and strode out. I can see his face as if it were before me and even now, as then, the expression is unreadable.

He left the house at a run and I heard the bullroar of a heavy rifle. My father was not the only one to have gone for better weapons. Then I heard a scream and it went on and on, high-pitched, mad, the cry of a woman bereaved. More shots echoed, different pitches distinguishing different weapons, some of which I recognized. I heard more screams as I staggered outside. Buildings intervened between me and the fighting, but I could see flames where someone’s house was burning. My mother caught my arm and held me back.

The flames had spread to other buildings, or were being spread. Alan crouched beside my mother; he was ten. I realized that Jennie was not with us. Someone ran up our street, staggered, and fell. Then he began to crawl forward, and when he raised his head I recognized him. Mr. Thoms! I broke away and ran to him. He had been shot through the leg and was bleeding badly. I stopped the wound and helped him drag himself inside the house. Wounds were nothing new to me, even then, for Hallam was still a frontier world.

His face was white from shock and loss of blood.

“Anna,” he said, gripping my mother’s arm, “it’s terrible. Those damned new people . . . ” He broke off, too angry to continue. The smell of smoke had reached us now. Firing was sporadic, but unrelenting. Apparently both sides had taken cover to snipe at one another. Two women herded a group of children into sight, heading toward us. Our house was one of the town’s original structures, of full hewn logs set on a mound with an open field of fire, a relic of first ship days when the cannys had not yet been killed off. It was apparent that they intended to take shelter here. I took down Papa’s single-shot hunting rifle and loaded it, cursing myself for not having remembered it sooner, and went down to help.

The women were Mrs. Thoms and her daughter Margaret, but the children were a mixed lot, her own and a round dozen from other families. She saw her man as she entered the house and ran to him with tears of relief on her face. Margaret was all dry-eyed business, herding the children to an inner room and threatening dire punishment if they whimpered or left its security. Then she came back and walked to where Mama and Alan were crouched. Her face was white; she seemed in greater shock than her father, though there was no wound on her. She looked down at Mama and said, “I saw Jennie. She’s dead.”

138. Alone, and more alone

In the novel Cyan, due out shortly from EDGE, the starship Darwin carries ten explorers at relativistic speeds to explore the Procyon system.

Ten explorers working eleven light years from Earth. As the only humans on the entire planet Cyan, the death of any one is sure to send shock waves reverberating through the group.

Keir Delacroix, groundside leader of the explorers tried to put this into perspective upon the death of one of his colleagues. You will note a deleted name, to avoid a spoiler.

It seems to me that funerals are for the living, for saying things that we already know, to put life and death in perspective and find some comfort.

“We are alone here. We are more alone than any other humans have ever been. When one of us hurts, we all hurt. When one of us dies, a piece of the whole dies. We must be very careful with one another, because we are all we have.

“We come from an Earth that is overflowing with people. One death there is nothing. Had (***) stayed behind, and died, no one would have noticed. Here, her death puts our whole world out of balance. And that is why we are on Cyan — to find a world where individual lives can be valuable again. At least, that is why I am here. Not as a scientist; not even as an explorer; but as a man searching for a place where humanity can find its soul again.

Death is a hungry beast, seldom satisfied with just one victim. And exploring a new planet is no safe endeavor.

***

When pioneers arrived on the east coast of North America, the forest they faced was vast. It was later said that a squirrel could travel from the Atlantic to the Mississippi without ever having to touch the ground. That forest is no more.

When Heinlein’s pioneers reached the stars, flaming laser axes in hand, they wrought similar destruction. Today’s reader knows better.

I wrote Cyan as an exercise in seeing, not what could happen, but what probably would happen, in near-term stellar exploration. That includes both the pressures for colonization from an overcrowded Earth, and a knowledge of the ecological disasters which need to be avoided.

The explorers on Cyan are careful in their daily actions and in planning for future colonization, but they are not prepared to find a truly half-human species. Viki Johanssen, crew anthropologist, demands that Cyan be placed off limits to colonization for their sake. Keir disagrees, and colonization plans go forward.

Viki is faced with a decision. Being one of so few is a lonely thought, but could she survive being truly alone? What if she stayed behind when the Darwin returned, to study these creatures while they were still pristine, before human colonists came in.

What would you do, if you knew that mankind’s only chance to study this half-human species was at hand, but you would have to become the sole inhabitant of an entire planet, certainly for decades, perhaps forever?

Would you choose to stay behind?

Jandrax 22

Chapter 6
Interlude: Incident on Hallam’s World

“Andrax, you can’t seriously contend that crucifixion is a viable part of the Monomythos. It is a barbaric concept, not a true part of the Word.” The speaker was angry, as was my father’s reply.

“It is not my place to advise God on what is and is not proper. Crucifixion, the self-sacrifice of God for Man, is a part of a vast array of religions from Zulis to the Christ. Who are we to throw it out?”

They stood face to face, poised like fighting cocks, two small men with pretensions to power, each secure in his own theology. This I know now, but then I only saw that my father was threatened by the heretic Baylor and that, insofar as he was threatened, I was likewise threatened. I was twelve years old.

I remember the incident clearly still. It was the last argument that Baylor and my father had. I had been schooled in the Danneline Monomythos and I believed it implicitly. There was no room for doubt in my small, ordered world.

The sun was warm; flowers were blooming in the village square on the imported fruit trees that were our village’s special pride. The grass was green after a long winter of brown and the pond at the base of the muddy main street was clear blue again, having shed its winter coat of ice. All these details are made more poignant by the intervening years and the comparison they offer to this cold hell-planet. Hallam, or Hallam’s World as it is often called, is a prime property.

A crowd gathered as the argument continued, each man gesturing with the staff he carried to kill the poisonous reptiles then prevalent. Baylor’s supporters were almost exclusively newcomers to Hallam, the company of a ship that had planeted only two years back. They were followers of the Pertoskan Monomythos, demons to me then. Now I recognize that the difference in doctrine between their people and mine was small.

When Louis Dumezil collated the earth’s religions into one grand scheme, he had hoped to put an end to religious persecution by deriving a universal religion. Scholars are uncertain today whether or not he believed in his teachings himself; it is a common theory among historians that he was not a religious man, merely a man of peace working through religion to attain his ends. If that is so, he failed miserably, for there has never been a more fractious group than the Universal Monists.

By the time the argument had continued for ten minutes, most of the village had gathered, each group of adherents separating from the other. My father was red-faced; Baylor had gone white. Each was gesturing, shouting, cutting off his opponent, making personal slurs. Then Baylor struck my father – or my father struck Baylor. I have never been quite sure who struck the first blow.

*****

I wrote Jandrax in 1976, less than a year after completing my first master’s thesis. It shows. I won’t ever rewrite Jandrax, but if I did, the end of the third paragraph is an example of what needs help.

This I know now, but then I only saw that my father was threatened by the heretic Baylor and that, insofar as he was threatened, I was likewise threatened.

If I were rewriting, I would replace it with:

And what threatened my father, threatened me.

Ah, the joys of hindsight.

137. We Reserve the Right

we reserveIt’s Sunday morning, April 10, 2016. I’ve been watching the news, and that always stirs me up. I refuse to get sidetracked into politics again, but I am a science fiction writer, after all, so I’m going to give you a time travel story. Let’s go a year into the future, on a timeline where Ted Cruz wins the presidency, a grandson of Oral Roberts becomes a Supreme Court Justice, and the North Carolina Religious Liberty law is not found unconstitutional.

A few news reports from
Sunday, April 9, 2017
timeline HAB38766J.

Protesters spent a tenth day in front of a bakery in mid-town today. The proprietor, a devout Muslim, continues to refuse service to women who try to enter his shop with their heads uncovered, citing his religious liberty to refuse service to those who do not follow appropriate behavior. “They are scandalous, and I will not allow them in my establishment,” Mr. Hamid said. Sign carrying members of the local Christian Interfaith community said that they would continue to march in protest indefinitely.

***

Anderson’s Pharmacy on the west side continues its controversial policy of requiring all patrons to have proof of their religious affiliation on file. Mrs. Anderson, the owner, said, “I don’t care who buys opiates, or bandaids, or foot powder, but I won’t fill prescriptions for contraceptives intended for Catholics. All the other religions can go to Hell however they please, but I won’t help Catholics defy the Pope.”

***

Owens, Jennings, and Philbrick Bank on the south side defied Federal authorities again today over their lending policies. “The Bible is very clear,” said Enos Philbrick, “that a woman should be subservient to a man. Federal regulators have been giving us trouble, trying to deny us our God-given constitutional rights, by saying we won’t lend to women. That is utter nonsense. Any woman who wants a loan is welcome in our bank, as long as her husband is willing to co-sign the loan.

Of course we don’t think divorced women are a good risk. It’s simple logic; if they ran out on their husbands, they would probably default on a loan.

Unmarried women? They need to get married, not get a bank loan.”

***

On a recent radio interview, Harvey Carter said, “Of course I’m not a racist. Any black man, or woman, or family can come and sit down in my restaurant any time they want. They’re all welcome. And any white man, or white woman, or white family – they’re equally welcome. There’s no prejudice here. But if a black man wants to sit down with a white woman, well that’s just wrong. God said stay with your own kind, and I’m not going to serve any mixed race couple. It’s my God-given right!”

A follow-up caller asked the radio station if the restaurant owner was white or black, but they had to admit that they did not know.

***

Okay, I think I’ve heard enough from that timeline. How about you?