White mars. Chapter 14, 15, 16
‘Public Hangman Wanted’
Tom was unwell after the Peters debate. He became withdrawn and easily irritated. His answers were brief. I wanted to take him up into the Lushan Mountains in China, to fresh air and solitude. It was the first time I had longed for Earth, with its sensuous landscapes.
When I said this to him, he told me – quite politely – to go away.
I took to painting the mountains in watercolour, to amuse myself as well as Alpha. I talked to her about the mountains, the mists in early morning, and the beautiful clouds, the temples looking out over precipices. All this, as it later transpired, was a mistake; it planted a seed of longing in her mind.
My counterpart in Chengdu sent me a beautiful sexual fantasy, in which a ship somehow enfolded me. We flew through the blue air and I was its engine.
One day we received a message on our Ambient terminal, as did everyone else on Mars. The harsh voice of Jarvis Feneloni spoke:
We have amused ourselves too long with the foolish Utopian schemes of our elders. By beaming all our debates to Earth, the terrestrials become sedated. They see no reason to hurry and rescue us. Our broadcasts must cease forthwith.
I am not alone in being bored by VR representations of beaches, seas and palm trees. I want the real thing again. I can’t live without my home and family.
If we broadcast once more, it should be only to send strongly worded demands to terrestrial powers to come and get us out of this dump. Otherwise, I predict mayhem here.
‘I must speak to everyone,’ Tom said.
‘You are not well,’ said Guenz. ‘If I may, I will address them. I believe I am a fluent speaker.’
He did so. Tom seemed relieved to have the duty taken from him. Guenz said that there were times when everyone was tired of the hardships they endured.
Nevertheless, those hardships were endured communally. It was that which made them bearable, even ennobling.
But the hardships were an essential. There was an old Latin saying he remembered from his university days, Sine efflictione nulla salus – ‘Without suffering, no salvation.’ They were reaching towards salvation, in an unprecedented attempt to build what he might call, to use an old Chinese term ‘a spiritual civilisation’.
‘All of us are a part of this challenging task. The weaker-minded among us are fortunate in being able to enjoy VR simulations of an easier life, of palm trees and golden beaches. For the rest of us, our unreal reality is enough, and the building of a just society reward enough.
‘I will tell you something I believe with all my heart. That when the ships finally return here, and those of us who wish to leave go back to Earth, we shall never forget this momentous time, this brave time, when we struggled with ourselves to create a better way of social existence – and triumphed. And we shall never again find such happiness as we have here, so far from the Sun.’
There was some applause for what many regarded as a final peroration. But, delighted by his success as an orator, Guenz puffed out his cheeks until their capillaries began to resemble an imaginary map of the planet, and started again.
‘Some of us don’t dream hard enough. Some of us think they don’t need a Utopia. But it’s inevitable. It has already been born—’
From the front row, Jarvis Feneloni rose to interrupt. ‘And is already threatened by that monstrous barnacle—’
From the rear of the hall a violin sounded. Guenz’s rhetoric and Feneloni’s interruption alike were swept away on a torrent of Baza’s music.
Many were the suggestions of how punishment should be meted out, both in the present case of Peters and in any possible future cases. For a while the idea of penitential suits was popular; stocks were suggested, but the humiliation of a wrongdoer, it was decided, only increased his animus against society.
Confinement with civilised treatment won the day, the malefactor to meet with a mentatropist every day, and with a number of ordinary people once a week for conversation, topics to be confined to everyday events and not directed against the prisoner.