Chapter Thirty Six
"The master of the present and future will constantly have to
keep on adding new skills to old. What was valid yesterday is
--Erich von Daniken
Dot burst out of the building which housed her, now ex-, jury
room and dashed across to the K-S cab which stood waiting nearby.
She quickly thumbed the 'plate beside the vehicle's door, which
slid aside instantly, and dashed inside. She had barely sat down
before the door wooshed shut and the cab started on its way.
These cabs did not contain complex portable computers, but
merely kept in touch with a central computer at their base. Since
this particular cab belonged to the fleet owned by Sharon Kelly
and Graeme Skildon themselves, that computer was more
sophisticated than any of their rival companies.
All computer-navigated public taxis contained a portable
Terminal on which to type your destination. Most also offered a
map screen and stylus which could be used for the same purpose.
At this moment, however, only those cabs operated by Kelly and
Skildon themselves offered an actual VAS as a third alternative -
allowing the passenger to simply talk with the 'driver' - the
system answering to the name 'Kay-Ess.'
The design of the cab, both interior and exterior, made the
presence of a VAS obvious, so Dot was instantly certain that she
would receive a response when she asked, "K-S, where are you
The VAS replied, instantly, "I have been directed to take you to
your home address, Dot."
"Good," Dot replied. She considered adding, "And make it as fast
as you can," but realised that it would be useless - the
computer-navigated cab would always take the quickest route, and
cover it as quickly as was safely possible. That was the whole
point of using a computer.
The eighteen minute journey came to a halt, some twenty years
later, and Dot - from habit - glanced at the meter before she got
out. Puzzled, she asked, despite her hurry, "K-S, why does the
fare meter still read zero?"
"Because the fare has already been pre-paid by Absolaam Wye,
"K-S, pass a message of thanks to him from me."
Dot barely heard the VAS's reply of "Sure, Dot" before she was
out of the cab and rushing at her home. She thumbed the 'plate
beside the front door, which slid open at her touch, then stepped
inside. There were sounds coming from the kitchen, so she headed
in that direction.
In the kitchen, Gerald was busily preparing the evening meal,
while the twins were setting the table. The boys, Adam and Shaun,
glanced up to see their mother. The smiled and started to wander
in her direction until they saw her moving towards their father,
obviously in a hurry.
"Oh, Gerald!" she cried as she embraced her husband. After
holding him close a moment, kissing him fiercely, Dot pulled back
a little to examine Gerald's face and body. "Are you alright?"
she asked, concerned. When he nodded, and replied that he was,
her attitude changed entirely.
"Why didn't you tell me?" she shouted, "Let me know what had
happened?" She started hitting him, repeatedly but lightly, on
the chest - close to hysteria. Only the presence of their young
children held her back, and caused her to - fairly quickly - calm
down once more.
"I'm sorry, love," Gerald said, warmly, "But I didn't want to
worry you over nothing. The boys have been wonderful, you know,"
he added, with warm gratitude in his voice. A quick jerk of his
head brought Shaun and Adam over to join them in the embrace.
Dot bent down to kiss their two sons on the cheek - they were
already becoming too old for more demonstrative motherly
displays. "The Dictator says he tried to get you to interrupt the
trial," she said to Gerald.
Dot's husband laughed. Then, "Well, I suppose he did - in his
way," he said, "But all the time he was saying I should let you
know what had happened, he had that terrible worried look on his
face - it was bloody obvious that he would have hated splitting
up your jury before the third trial case was over with."
Dot's face bore a confused expression, so Gerald explained, "The
big test jury - oh, no, of course. You wouldn't know, would you?
Well, Sol and the other two have been having a big row about
whether or not a fundamentalist Christian could function as a
juror. He said that one could, they claimed he couldn't.
"From what I've been hearing from Sol about your test cases, it
looks like he won the argument. Did the priest really vote 'Not
Guilty' on that last case?" he asked, seriously.
"Of course he did," his wife replied, slightly puzzled, "It was
the only verdict that made any sense."
Gerry laughed again, the sound cheering Dot up no end, before
answering. "Take a second look at the first trial, dear," he
said, "I think you've been too close to the trees - you're
missing the wood entirely."
Dot's forehead betrayed her thoughts as she reconsidered the
first trial. Then a wave of realisation flooded her features as
she tried - and failed - to reconcile the old 'Reverend Sessions'
with the new 'David.'
Her mind quickly turned back to Gerald's experiences, however,
as she asked, "So - what happened up there, dear?"
Gerry stepped back then paced over to the kettle. As he made two
cups of tea and two of coffee - the twins preferred coffee - he
slowly outlined the events of the accident. "...As it turned
out," he added, with some feeling, "Sally had no need to blame
Sally was the astronaut whose job had been to check that the
cables were attached correctly. It was discovered later that the
cable hadn't snapped because it was under too much tension - it
had been sheared right through by a million-to-one accident.
Later on, the video records of the time of the accident were
closely examined, and they clearly showed a piece of space junk -
presumably left over from one of the old USA or USSR space
missions - slicing through the cable. How that piece of junk came
to be in that unfortunate place at that unfortunate time was
never discovered - but one guess was that one or more
micrometeorite impacts moved the thing around until, by a piece
of extraordinarily bad luck, it intersected the Phoenix's orbit.
The scene at the time of the accident was confused. People were
using their dry ice push-tubes to manoeuver towards those whose
suits had been punctured by the cable - or, in some cases, by
pieces of their companions's exploded EVA suits. Once those in
difficulties had been reached, a crude meteorite patch was
slapped on the tears and then that person had to be towed back to
the safety of the Mayfly.
Since all of the injured were within a fairly small area of the
Phoenix, it was always going to be difficult, even for those with
plenty of experience in handling push tubes, to avoid collisions
as they moved. The problem was compounded, however, by the need
to avoid the still-lashing cable. Even though its movements had
slowed dramatically, as its energy potential due to the tension
it had been under was dissipated into kinetic energy in smaller
and ever smaller chunks, it was still moving quickly enough to
shred the suits of the unwary.
All this was problem enough, but still further difficulties were
caused by those who nausea, on seeing the exploded remnants of
their friends, had got the better of them. Those people, the
insides of their faceplates fogged with what had been the
contents of their stomachs, had to be towed back to the Mayfly
Not only to remove the navigation hazards they provided for
their comrades, but also to get them out of their suits before
they choked on their own puke - a real danger ordinarily, made
more real, and more likely, in free fall.
The long push back to their quarters was simpler than the fine
manoeuvering required to negotiate the cables and girders of the
Phoenix, so Gerald, as a relatively-inexperienced tuber (push-
tube user), quickly began the task of conveying the vomit-blinded
to the Mayfly. His first job, then, was to quickly lash them
together for towing.
This he achieved in split-seconds, merely grabbing his human
cargo as his friends pushed them in his direction. As soon as
they were gathered, a quick pass around with a line enabled them
to be taken across the gap to the orbiting barracks and bundled
into the airlock.
The lock cycled and the group of three be-splattered men were
pushed into the Mayfly's interior, where Gerald expertly stripped
each man's helmet from his head - the fact that the vomit stayed
where it was, rather than floating around in great globules,
making him grateful once again for the pseudo-gravity imparted by
the craft's spin.
The three men - helmets removed, and their mouths cleared of
detritus - then had plastic tubes passed down into their airways.
These tubes were designed to allow them to breathe, while
preventing the clogging of those airways with either vomit or the
man's tongue. Each suit carried such a tube in the pocket on the
right thigh - the outer end of each tube designed to allow it to
be connected to the pure oxygen tanks in the Mayfly.
As Gerald worked, he called the others on their suit radios -
asking that "The Doc" be brought in as quickly as possible. "The
Doc" was so called because he was the only one of the crew with a
fairly-detailed medical knowledge. They had all had some medical
training, but for something like this they really needed The Doc.
Gerald was shocked to learn that one of the exploding suits he
had seen on his way over to the Phoenix had belonged to The Doc.
Even now, his training did not desert him.
He rushed to the Mayfly-to-Ground video-link and informed the
ground crew of the accident. They, as it happened, were already
aware of it - having received video transmissions from orbit as a
matter of course - and told Gerald that doctors and a surgeon
were already on their way. And would be at Ecuador Ground Base in
a matter of minutes.
"Just get the operating theatre ready," Gerald was told, "Open
it up and we'll check the radio- and video-links while we're
waiting, and make doubly sure that it's well-stocked and
everything's in working order." The voice from the Earth sounded
on the edge of panic but, though he couldn't see what could be
done if the operating theatre on the Mayfly was not well-stocked,
Gerald nonetheless went through the checklist. He was grateful to
have something to do. Something to occupy his mind.
The operating theatre on board the Mayfly was fairly
rudimentary. It wasn't really equipped for an accident of this
magnitude, but was intended to allow an emergency appendectomy or
such like operations to be performed in orbit if that proved
absolutely necessary. All instruments were waldoes, controlled by
links to surgeons operating back on the Earth's surface.
As Gerald contacted Ecuador Ground Base, he heard the airlock
cycling again and again until everybody who could be recovered
had been returned to the confines of the Mayfly. Once the system
checks on the operating theatre had been completed, he turned to
see what he could do to assist his fellow astronauts. The scene
which confronted Gerald was reminiscent of an abattoir.
The floor of the Mayfly was covered by men and women groaning in
pain, and - which was worse - many who made no sound at all. Each
of the wounded had been stripped of their EVA suit, and was
attended by at least one fellow astronaut, trying desperately to
stem the flow of blood, restart a stopped heart, administer - via
airway tubes - artificial respiration, or simply to whisper words
of comfort and encouragement.
In the mess of blood which seemed to cover everybody, it was
difficult to see at first glance who were the injured and who
were their rescuers. To add to Gerald's disorientation, several
of his wounded friends were lying on what - to him - appeared to
be the ceiling. There was no respite from the carnage -
regardless of the direction he cast his eyes, the wounded were
Gerald felt a need to go into that mess of bleeding bodies -
all, hopefully, still living - and try to help out however he was
able. He knew, though, that the video-link to Ground Base had to
be kept manned, in waiting for the doctors to arrive down there.
He spent what little waiting time remained in linking up the
portable camera to enable those on Earth to view the wounded, and
thus form some opinion on which people were in most urgent need
By the time the camera was hooked up, the doctors had arrived.
Their faces betrayed their fears as they observed the injured men
and women on board the Mayfly, but their decisions were swift and
sure. Two who, to Gerald's untrained eye, looked little worse
than their fellows - one looked, to Gerald, to be in rather
better shape than some others - were quickly transported to the
pair of operating tables on the orbiting craft.
Their companions followed, two by two, until all were done. The
operations themselves, which included three limb amputations and
one piece of delicate eye-surgery performed using a rapid-pulse
laser originally intended as a surveying tool, were tensely
watched by the men and women of the Mayfly. Though they were
forced to stand by helplessly as instruments were directed long-
distance by more expert hands, stand by they did.
The final count was five dead - the five who had depressurised
in the first moments after the cable snapped. Thanks to quick
thinking, and rapid action, everybody who had made it back to the
Mayfly had survived. Not unharmed - everybody there bore some
scars, whether emotional or physical - but alive.
By the time he had finished related the events of that day,
Gerald was in tears - sobbing uncontrollably, his face buried in
his wife's breast as she tried, with some small success, to
Dot was shocked when she learned that - despite that experience
- her husband fully intended to return to space in a few short
months. When asked "WHY?" he replied, deliberately and with some
"For the sake of the human race - and particularly for the five
who died. Deaths in space are terrible - death anywhere can be
terrible. But, if I had been one of those who had died that day,
I wouldn't want the dream to die with me. I wouldn't want my
death to be for nothing.
"And if we gave up now, then those five friends would have died
for nothing. The Dream must go on.
"They would have wanted it to."
Two days later, Dot and Gerald were walking in to the main
assembly hall of their twin sons's school, ready for the
presentation ceremony, when they passed the headteacher and
another pair of parents arguing in the corridor.
"I appreciate your point, Mister O'Brien..." the harassed
teacher began, not for the first time.
As on previous occasions, the father merely continued on with
his protestations: "I refuse," he demanded, stridently, "As a
good Christian, I refuse to allow my daughter to participate in
these kinds of unholy lessons!" His face was turning a bright red
in his righteous rage.
"You have no choice in the matter, I'm afraid, Mister O'Brien.
Sex education lessons are mandatory at this stage..." the
headteacher tried to say, once again.
"Nonsense!" O'Brien said loudly, causing his wife - who was
standing, quietly and uncomplaining, by his side - to wince
slightly, "Mary is MY daughter and I won't allow it!"
"Shut up!" shouted the headteacher, causing a few heads to turn
in interest. Mr O'Brien was so infuriated at this that he
actually was silenced for a little while. The teacher took every
advantage of this opportunity, as he continued:
"Firstly, Mister O'Brien, Mary is not 'your daughter.' On the
contrary, you are Mary's father, Mister O'Brien. You do not own
Mary, and you have no rights over her. All that you have are
responsibilities towards Mary. Do...You...Under...stand...This?"
he concluded, slowly, deliberately - and extremely loudly.
More and more heads were turning by this time, and a small crowd
was beginning to gather around, both interested and amused by the
argument. The crowd was disappointed, as the forty-three year-old
father of Mary was stunned entirely into speechlessness by the
sheer audacity of the headteacher's words.
And so, O'Brien's response to the head ushering him into the
hall, before striding confidently up to the podium on the stage,
was relatively meek and fairly mild. The following week, however,
was notable for two things:
To start with, Mrs O'Brien took to slapping on thick gobs of
make-up foundation, and began to wear heavy scarves and long-
sleeved tops. Secondly, Mary O'Brien was absent from from school
Edna O'Brien was long-used to her husband's violence, and was
unwilling to do anything about it. Mary, however, was coming to
realise - despite her enforced absences - that her experiences at
home did not seem to match up with her friends's reports of their
family life. When one of the school's psychologists was sent out
to have a word with Mr O'Brien, he kept his eyes open and his
mouth shut until he could talk with the young girl herself.
By the end of January, Mr O'Brien had been charged with breaking
the First Agreement (not to physically harm another person) with
respect to his wife, and breaking the Twelfth Agreement (not to
unreasonably interfere with the education of another person) with
respect to his daughter.
Shortly afterwards, Mr O'Brien was sentenced to rehabilitation
in the form of psychotherapy and retribution in the form of three
months loss of MoneyCard privileges. The restitution portion of
his sentence took the form of the redirection of eighty percent
of his income into his wife's MoneyCard account, the remaining
fifth going into his young daughter's account, until further
notice. The income mentioned was his presumed income, a loan to
be repaid once his sentence was completed.
Less than one week into his sentence, Mr O'Brien attacked his
wife again - the psychologists who were trying to assist her via
trauma therapy had been unsuccessful in their attempts to
dissuade her from allowing her husband back into the family home.
Following this latest unprovoked attack, Mrs O'Brien's husband
was sentenced to one year in the Lochbroom prison exile colony,
to be followed by further therapy. As it turned out, O'Brien died
six months into his exile, during a bare-knuckle fight with a
Following his death, the loan debt to that point was cancelled
immediately. Since agreements were not in operation within the
prison exile colonies, no actions were taken against his
Despite her continuing therapy, Mrs O'Brien's second husband
proved as abusive as her first.
Since that second marriage lay five years more into the future,
and Mary had by that time attained full adult Card status and
chosen to move out, no legal action could be taken unless Mrs
Restgeld - as she then was - filed a complaint herself. Mary's
mother refused, in the face of her daughter's pleas, to file such
Mrs Edna Restgeld was murdered by her second husband in the
spring of the year 2010. Thus, her second husband followed her
first into Lochbroom prison exile. He, too, never served his
entire sentence - this time, for ten years - but died, ironically
enough, in the same manner and at the same hand as her first
The bare-knuckle fighter concerned never learned of this
connection between two of his, now deceased, opponents. He also,
as a 'lifer,' never left the Lochbroom area - continuing his
fights until, eventually, he, too, was bested.
All this lay in the future, however - a future which included a
twenty-eight year old Mary O'Brien's winning of the Wye/Network
Prize in psychology for her work on what came to be known as 'the
At that moment, in January 2003, the headteacher was standing at
the podium on the school's stage, about to start his speech.
"People," the headteacher began, taking in all adults and
children of both sexes, "People," he repeated, spreading his arms
wide as if to encompass everybody there, "Welcome.
"Welcome on this day - Graduation Day for the thirty-seven young
people who today pass the first landmark on their road to
adulthood. Travelling this far is difficult - each of these," his
arm swept to indicate the thirty-seven seven and eight year olds
sitting to the left of the stage, "Every one is here because they
have demonstrated some measure of their worth - of their
readiness to progress to the next stage of their development into
At these words, there was strong applause from the ranks of
family and friends of the children. "Thus far," their teacher
continued, once the applause had calmed down, "Their brains alone
have been trained. As you are all aware, this day marks the
beginning of that more difficult educational process - as they
learn how to handle and guide their own emotional development.
"Until today, these young people have learned abstract concepts
in rudimentary classes on ethical philosophy and comparative
Until today, their emotional development has been limited to
learning to respect, empathise and feel compassion towards others
and - just as importantly - to respect and like themselves. To
come to terms with their own limitations as their curiosity about
the world about them grew: as their reasoning powers grew.
"After today, however, their emotional development comes to the
fore. Starting tomorrow, SWORD education begins in earnest with
their first sex education classes..."
The SWORD education system, as the head teacher explained it in
his speech, stood for Sex, self-Worth, Others, Religion and
Death, which were the five main pillars on which the system was
based. The classes began after Graduation Day and continued until
Maturity Day, when the child received a full adult status Card of
their own, as a mark of their achievement.
Maturity Day ordinarily arrived just before, or on the cusp of,
puberty, in order to allow the turmoils of adolescence to be
understood before they were encountered. And to prepare the
teenager with the mental equipment - both intellectual and
emotional - to best deal with that period of his or her life.
The sex segment of the SWORD system involved a gradual
progression of sex education - from a study of the changes of
puberty, and the reasons for them, through to the mechanics of
the various types and positions of intercourse. No emphasis was
placed on any particular sexual behaviour or orientation, though
three points were strongly stressed.
The first of these points had already been emphasised throughout
the students's education up to this point: That, while each
individual was free to behave in any manner he or she chose, any
agreements which existed between two individuals must be
respected. Particular emphasis was laid on the First, Seventh and
Twelfth Agreements - which prohibited harming another person
physically, emotionally or intellectually, respectively, except
where necessary to protect yourself from such harm from that
The second point stressed related to contraception and
prophylaxis. Disease prevention was stressed often in all health
education lessons, but extra emphasis was laid on this point in
the sex education classes.
The other point which was stressed on frequent occasions
consisted of two simple statements: "You only lose your virginity
once" and "Most people find that sex is better between two people
who care for each other." The students were encouraged to hold
numerous discussions on the implications, if any, of these
statements over the years until they reached their Maturity Day.
The ninety-odd percent of students who remained in full-time
education until the age of eighteen generally continued such
Considering the wide availability of both male and female
prostitutes, the universality of sex education, the free
provision of contraceptives, the relative-prevalence of
pornographic material, the 'age of consent' being set at anybody
with full adult Card status and the growing liberal attitude
towards sex amongst the young, it is perhaps surprising that the
rate of teenage pregnancy plummeted and the average age of first
intercourse rose markedly. But, then, perhaps it's not so
The fifth element of the SWORD system was Death - in fact, the
system was sometimes erroneously called the 'Sex and Death
classes.' In addition to seminars concerning grief counselling,
these classes included training to manufacture, maintain and use
a wide variety of weapons - progressing slowly from catapults,
slingshots and bows. Then came firearms training, ranging from
air pistols and rifles, through 9mm pistols, a variety of rifles
and shotguns and culminating in the study of semi-automatic and
Each person was taught how to strip, and reassemble, each type
of weapon for inspection and cleaning as well as how to fire that
weapon. A particularly effective demonstration was the 'human'
dummies used for the first target practice session with a
In that first session, the target consisted of a realistic-
looking human dummy, made up to look like the individual firing
the gun. The target, which traced its ancestry back to the
relatively-primitive crash dummies developed by the automotive
industry, behaved when hit as a human would. When the target was
hit, it reacted with profuse bleeding, disgorging of internal
organs and screaming.
Though the opportunity was always available to repeat that
particular demonstration, few chose to do so - the point (that
guns are fucking DANGEROUS things) was well made.
As well as long-range weapons, the Death segment of the SWORD
training also encompassed such diverse subjects as sword-
fighting, unarmed combat and manufacturing bombs. The major
points of all of this training were twofold: firstly, to ensure
that each citizen was able to defend him/herself - and, secondly,
as a method of teaching each student the nature of
It has been said that an armed society is a polite society. Such
appeared to be the case in twentieth century Switzerland, where
students were allowed to take home a semi-automatic weapon during
the holidays. And as time went by in Wye's Britain, as more and
more students reached Maturity Day, violent crime - already
reduced as cannabis replaced alcohol as the usual drug of choice
- diminished further and further.
The second and third elements of SWORD - self-Worth and Others -
were explored via courses in the various branches of psychology
and philosophy, with emphasis placed on "Know Thyself!" in the
former, and on ethical philosophy in the latter. Classes in
genetics also formed a part of the self-Worth segment, classes in
which students were encouraged to interpret their own genetic
chart, and in which the bogus and compassionless philosophy of
eugenics was shown up for what it was, and was discredited once
and for all.
It was in the ethical philosophy classes that students learned
about their country's legal system, and particularly about the
Three-R sentencing system, while history lessons - which tended
to study motivations and results of actions more than names and
dates - were used to teach both general and more specific lessons
in politics, sociology and economics.
Finally, the fourth element of SWORD was reflected in the
comparative Religion lessons which began as soon as a child could
talk, and merely intensified after Graduation Day. One popular
experiment, post-Graduation Day, was to encourage a group to try
to believe passionately in a different religion each week for a
year, inventing their own if and when they ran out of religions.
That is, those experiments were popular with the students - not,
usually, with the parents. Not until about twenty years later, in
fact, did parents appreciate their children playing such
experimental mind games with religions - and, then, only because
they had themselves performed the same games when they were
The headteacher spent half an hour explaining the SWORD system
to his audience before calling the first child up to the stage.
Solemnly, the teacher received the offered gold MoneyCard from
his student, though the children usually accepted the yellow-
striped black MoneyCard with rather less solemnity before giving
their own acceptance performance.
These performances varied from child to child, and from ceremony
to ceremony. A yellow Card was earned by learning to read and
write, the red Card replaced the yellow when the child gave their
first public presentation - and was in turn replaced by a blue
Card four presentations later. From that point on there were no
rules - and the only guideline (seldom rigidly enforced) was a
five minute time limit.
Thus, a four year old boy might perform a song on receiving his
bronze Card, then - six months later - do some kind of stand-up
comedy routine when the bronze was replaced by a silver Card. The
transition from silver Card to gold might then result in the
reading of a poem.
The major leap from the child's solid coloured Card to the first
black MoneyCard, even though striped with the colours of
childhood, quickly became notorious, however, as did the second
major leap into adulthood at Maturity Day - when a gold-striped
black Card was replaced by a full adult status matt-black Card.
At their Maturity Day ceremony, the new adult's presentation
would usually be as childish and immature as possible - in a
"last fling" of childhood. At Graduation Day, however,
individuals often merely recited aloud a dry essay, the full show
coming at the end of the ceremony when everybody had received
their new Card. At that point, the children would present a play
which they themselves had written.
These plays tended to be deliberately badly written - usually
because the seven and eight year-olds were already becoming aware
that they lacked both experience and technique for really good
work, and so parodied their worst efforts by trying - often
desperately - to out-do the previous group's Graduation Day for
sheer tackiness. Naff costumes, tacky music, over-blown words and
over-the-top acting abounded.
It was already generally accepted as being bad form for the
audience to show any sign of recognising the "unintentionally"
funny moments which were habitually deliberately written into
these plays, and so Mary O'Brien found herself excruciatingly
embarrassed by her father's loud, braying laughs.
Once Adam and Shaun's Graduation Day ceremony was over, Wye -
who, since a friend's children were graduating that day, had been
observing the event by video - turned to face Deborah and Graham.
Deborah had observed the tensing of the Dictator's shoulders
when the SWORD system - especially the 'D' segment - had been
explained by the headteacher, and so she was prepared to put off
answering Wye's questions.
"All will be revealed, in time, Absolaam," she had said, her
husband nodding as they each smiled, broadly, in a manner
designed to irritate the Dictator as much as possible.
"In the meantime, General, try to work it out for yourself.
Consider Lord Vetinari," he added, cryptically.
Wye, recognising the ploy he himself had used with regard to his
own plans for organised religion, merely grinned his acknowledged
defeat - but resolved to get to the bottom of Graham's enigmatic
hint before the answer could be revealed to him.
Chapter Thirty Seven
"The philosophers who dare to turn against the tide of
accepted beliefs - men who dare to be alone - these are the
--George Mikes, How To Be A Guru
In the thirteenth day of the month of February in the year
twenty-oh-three of the common era, General Absolaam Wye's Sang
Real program - which had been initiated back on October the
twelfth of the previous year - ground to its conclusion: All
government financing of religious organisations was halted.
The possibility of outcries from the people were reduced by
three actions on the part of that computer program. Firstly, it
was made clear that the funding which had been provided had come
from the Dictator's private Card account, rather from the
government's account - thus removing the need for a national vote
to be taken on whether that funding should be continued.
Secondly, to take the self-righteous wind from some religious
sails, the funds were not simply 'clawed back' by Wye. Instead,
the money was pumped into the National Health Service. The NHS
had already benefitted massively, both from Wye's chipping away
at government bureaucracy and from his programmes of scientific
research. Nonetheless, providing the NHS with still more money -
to the tune of an extra six billion pounds per year - was seen as
a further act of generosity by the Dictator.
Finally, and the major cause of the four month delay between the
initiation and completion of Sang Real, a subtle propaganda
campaign had been used to manipulate public opinion in favour of
just this move. "Why," the campaign had asked, "Should organised
religion - increasingly a minority pursuit - be provided with
these generous funds? Particularly when the money could be better
One immediate effect of the cessation of this funding was as Lao
Tzi had foreseen three years earlier: Organised religion in the
British Isles collapsed under its own weight. The Tar Baby
effect, as Wye liked to phrase it.
By this time, Lao Tzi's Church of Wye was the only quasi-
religious body able to muster its members's support to the degree
required to mount a trawling operation. The operation was
undertaken even before the other religions collapsed - indeed,
may well have contributed to that collapse - and so Lao Tzi
gathered in the splintered remnants of the Christian churches.
For some reason, probably related to their not being involved
with the British Liberation Army, islam and judaism's collapses
were on a far smaller scale to that of the Christian churches.
More minor religions and cults - Luciferans, the Church of Mummu,
and the like - had their collapse accelerated by their inability
to accumulate sufficient funds from their members, at such short
notice, to remain in existence.
Two exceptions were to be found in the less authoritarian sects,
which required little money to remain in existence, and the
Church of Scientology.
As the Roman Catholic Church had done in the months following
the Phaelon incident, the Church of Scientology was able to
extract their stop-gap funding from overseas until their British
members could be persuaded to pay their own way. As had happened
with the RC Church, however, those members, were largely
unwilling to pay up in sufficient numbers. And so Dianetics
By the end of the year 2003 CE, the Church of Wye claimed its
membership as better than fifty percent of the British
population. Of those remaining outside the CofW, only five
percent subscribed to any religion at all - and almost all of
those belonged to Jewish or Islamic organisations.
To return to February of 2003: On the day after the funding for
religious organisations was halted, the Netherlands vote was
taken. Ninety-three percent of the Dutch population voted to
extend the Network to their country, and work began on the
expansion within hours of the vote's result being announced.
Since the small village of Staphorst, in the Northern reaches of
the country, had voted unanimously against the Network extension,
it was decided that they could be excluded if they wished. When a
second vote was taken in that village, however, they decided to
follow the wishes of the majority.
As in the British Isles, the educational system was
simultaneously modified to take account of the new circumstances
provided by the Network, the financial system was centralised and
the legal system was re-codified along the lines of the British
model. Netherlands's politicians were astounded by the number of
Netherlanders-specific agreements which were overwhelmingly
rejected by their public.
By the time the Netherlands extension was completed, on November
the twenty-third of the following year, the literacy of the Dutch
people - in both Dutch and English - had been brought up to the
levels in Wye's British Isles. And the Dutch legal system had
become practically identical to that which operated in the rest
of the Network.
As further years went by, the Netherlanders voted to repeal each
of the Netherlands-specific agreements, one by one, until the
Network in the Netherlands used the same system as that in
Britain. By that time, however, the Network had expanded further
- and it was five years more before the system of agreements was
identical in all its parts.
May 8, 2003, was the fifteenth anniversary of the death of
Robert Anson Heinlein.
On the recommendation of Gerald, a great admirer of Heinlein's
writings, Wye had organised the building of a monument to that
great American science fiction writer. In tribute to his tireless
advocacy of space exploration, a monument was to be erected on
Originally carved on Earth, the statue was shipped to orbit to
be re-cast from molten moonrock before being transported to the
surface of the moon - along with one or two other items - and
erected on a simply-carved plinth of native moon rock, ready to
be unveiled on a live broadcast, directed at the whole globe, on
May the eighth.
The moment came, and Gerald was the person selected to unveil
the monument. For an instant, Gerald was outlined against the
sharp, jagged horizon of the moon's surface, dwarved by the
cloth-shrouded monument. In the sky behind him, spinning rapidly,
the slender tube which was the orbiting smelting plant could be
That plant's main purpose was to refine ore mined on the lunar
surface into metals usable in the construction of the Phoenix and
her fleet of spacecraft. Since the smelting plant was in orbit,
gravity could not be used to separate the constituent parts of
the ore - as happened in similar Earth-based processes. It was
for this reason that the entire plant tumbled, end over end, to
act as a centrifuge in order to perform the same task. The molten
moonrock, from which the Heinlein Memorial had been cast, was
produced as a mere by-product of this process.
As Gerald reached upwards to grasp a corner of the cloth, the
sun could be seen reflected in the opaque visor of his suit. A
grasp and a tug and the Heinlein memorial was revealed. Gerald
had tugged a little too hard, and found himself spinning
backwards for a minute or two - but that didn't matter, because
nobody was looking at him anymore.
The monument was huge. Though twenty feet tall, it looked still
taller due to the relative-nearness of the moon's horizon - and
with no humans close by to provide a sense of scale, it appeared
as a second colossus. Exactly, in short, the effect which the
artist had been aiming for.
The statue showed Robert A. Heinlein, as he looked at the age of
thirty-three, with every line of his pencil-thin moustache and
receding hairline lovingly etched in clay and carefully cast from
the molten moonrock. His expression was one of wise benevolence -
though, and arguments persisted as to how the sculptor had
managed this feat, his eyes seemed to burn with enthusiasm and
hope as they gazed on the lunar landscape.
Heinlein's left hand was clutching a sealed, perspex cylinder
which contained sea water - since he had been cremated and his
ashes scattered at sea, the sea water was intended to symbolise
The statue's right arm was outstretched, its palm held flat to
support five scale models of spacecraft. Nearest to Heinlein's
wrist was a model of the Russia Sputnik, the first man-made
object to reach orbit. Beside the Sputnik was a model of the
Vostok, which had carried Yuri Gagarin, the first man in space.
On the other side of the Vostok was a model of the Eagle landing
module of NASA's Apollo 11, which had carried the first men to
the surface of the moon, and beyond that model were the Phaelon -
the first British craft. And the Phoenix, as she would look when
she was finished, completed the quintet.
At the feet of the statue was a bronze-cast shipping tag,
inscribed with Robert Louis Stevenson's poem, Requiem. The plinth
itself had - carved into the moon rock in inch-deep letters - a
list of names, commemorating the memory of those who have died on
the Final Frontier:
27/1/67 Virgil "Gus" Grissom
24/4/67 Vladimir Komarov
28/1/86 Francis Scobee
After these names, came a record of the deaths of Eunice Johnson
and Dave Bowman on the Phaelon on the 22/7/2001. Then was a list
of the names of the five men and women who were killed in the
Phoenix accident on the 12/1/2003.
Below this roster of the dead was a short, simple pledge. In the
live broadcast, the names scanned past slowly against the
background of Also Sprach Zarathrustra, the music reaching its
climax with the sustained shot of the pledge, which read:
They did not die in vain - Humanity shall have the stars
The broadcast finished on a close shot of this pledge, blended
with an image of the statue as a whole with the British, USA and
USSR flags also digitally blended, barely-visibly, into the solid
blackness of the night sky.
Heinlein's shadow, crisp and sharp on the airless moon, pointed
away from the full-Earth, hanging overhead. Heinlein's
outstretched right arm seemed to be pointing outward.
To the stars.
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