White mars by Brian W. Aldiss & Roger Penrose. Chapter 6, 7

White mars. Chapter 6, 7


A Non-Zero Future!

Stranded on Mars! Although I wished only to mourn the death of Antonia, some force within me insisted that I should turn to the future and face the challenge of existence on a Mars isolated for an indefinite period.

This necessity became more urgent when we were confronted by a wave of suicides. There were those whose spirit was not strong enough to face this challenge. Whereas I saw it as an opportunity. Perhaps it was curiosity that drove me on.

Taking command, I ordered that there should be only one memorial service for all suicides, which numbered thirty-one, the majority of them single men in their thirties. I viewed the act of despair with some contempt and saw to it that the memorial service was kept short. At its conclusion the corpses were consigned to the biogas chambers below ground.

‘Now we are free to build our future constructively,’ I declared. ‘Our future lies in operating as a unit. If we fail to cooperate – zero future!’

The strange airless landscapes beyond our domes had only a remote relationship with our existences; our task was to make good what was inside, not outside, the domes. And since I had taken command – though not without opposition – a grand plan developed slowly in my mind: a plan to transform our society, and hence humanity itself.

I called people together. I wanted to address them direct and not through the Ambient.

‘I’m going to kick down a rotten door. I’m going to let light in on human society. I need your help to do it.’ That’s what I said. ‘I’m going to make us live as we dream of being – great and wise people, circumspect, daring, inventive, loving, just. The people we deserve to be.

‘All we have to do is dare to throw away the old and difficult crooked ways and leap towards the new and difficult and wonderful!’

I was determined that the collapse of EUPACUS and our subsequent isolation on Mars – for however long that might be – should not be viewed negatively. After the considerable sacrifices everyone had made to reach the Red Planet, we had to struggle to exist, to prove something. With the death of my beloved wife, I decided I would never leave Mars, but remain here all my days, finally to mingle my spirit with hers.

Ambient was already in place. Working with other technicians, we extended it so that everyone had a station. I now sent out a nine-point questionnaire, enquiring into which features of terrestrial life we who were temporarily stranded on Mars were most pleased to escape. I asked for a philosophical approach to the question; such factors as bad housing, uncertain climatic conditions, etc., were to be taken for granted.

Instead of isolating myself with any period of mourning, I set about analysing the responses I received. Remarkably, 91 per cent of the domes’ inhabitants answered my questionnaire.

Enlisting the assistance of able organisers, I announced that there would be a meeting to discuss the ways in which we might govern ourselves happily, in justice and truth. All Martian citizens were invited to attend.

At this momentous meeting, a great crowd assembled in our grandest meeting-place, Hindenburg Hall. I took the chair, with the distinguished scientist, Dreiser Hawkwood, at my right hand.

‘There is only one way in which we can survive the crisis of isolation,’ I said. ‘We must cooperate as never before. We do not know how long we will have to stay on Mars with our limited resources. It will be sensible to anticipate a long stay before world finances and the pieces of EUPACUS are put together again. We must make the best of this opportunity to work together as a species.

‘Do not let us regard ourselves as victims. We are proud representatives of the human race who have been granted an unique chance to enter into an unprecedented degree of cooperation. We shall make ourselves and our society anew – to turn a new page in human history, as befits the new circumstances in which we find ourselves.’

Dreiser Hawkwood rose. ‘On behalf of the scientific community, I welcome Tom Jefferies’s approach. We must work as a unit, setting aside nationality and self-interest. Without attributing intention to what looks like blind chance, we may be given this opportunity to put ourselves to a test, to see what miracles unity can work.

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Categories: Aldiss, Brian