Tuesday, November 17, 2020


     The first freedom is not freedom of expression, but rather freedom of movement: to go where one pleases, when and how one pleases, limited only by the rights of others. The imperative necessity of that freedom is what has animated the inventors of the wheel, the saddle, the horse-drawn buggy, the automobile, the train, the boat, the airplane, the helicopter, and the spacecraft. If a man’s freedom to move can be taken from him – with emphasis on his freedom to elude those who wish to control him – he can be made a slave: helplessly dependent on those who have confined him.

     This is a large part of the reason why freedom has been steadily sliced away since the closing of the land frontier. How does one get away from the tyrants today? Unless you have an ocean-going vessel and considerable skills, it’s all but impossible. So – I’m tempted to say “needless to say” – the would-be tyrants have been working to impede our freedom of movement at least since the invention of the automobile.

     Now read this:

     In October 2020, NASA’s Planetary Science and Astrobiology Decadal Survey committee received a manifesto from its Equity, Diversity and Inclusion Working Group (EDIWG). Written by NASA Ames Research Center public-communications specialist Frank Tavares — along with a group of eleven co-authors including noted activists drawn from the fields of anthropology, ethics, philosophy, decolonial theory, and women’s studies — and supported by a list of 109 signatories, “Ethical Exploration and the Role of Planetary Protection in Disrupting Colonial Practices” lacks technical merit. It is, nevertheless of great clinical interest, as it brilliantly demonstrates how the ideologies responsible for the destruction of university liberal-arts education can be put to work to abort space exploration as well.

     With praiseworthy clarity as to their bias and intent, the EDIWG authors say that human space exploration must be stopped because it represents a continuation of the West’s tradition of resource development through free enterprise. “All of humanity is a stakeholder in how we, the planetary science and astrobiology community, engage with other worlds,” they say. “Violent colonial practices and structures — genocide, land appropriation, resource extraction, environmental devastation, and more — have governed exploration on Earth, and if not actively dismantled, will define the methodologies and mindsets we carry forward into space exploration....It is critical that ethics and anticolonial practices are a central consideration of planetary protection. We must actively work to prevent capitalist extraction on other worlds, respect and preserve their environmental systems, and acknowledge the sovereignty and interconnectivity of all life.”

     It can’t get any plainer than that, Gentle Reader. Please don’t dismiss it as a few cranks and crazies. These people have big resources behind them.

     Our would-be gaolers think their victory is in sight. Can’t let space travel actually mature to the point where people could flee this tyrant-infested ball of rock, should they choose. So they’ve mobilized one of their auxiliaries in an attempt to foreclose the option before it becomes practical – possibly to forestall the development of the technology that would make it practical.

     With that as the theme, allow me to present a segment of my novel Freedom’s Scion. It originally appeared as a short story, so you may have seen it already.


     For fifteen months Liberty's Torch plodded onward at slightly over Michelson seven. The power from its fusion engine was insufficient to force swifter passage.
     Althea was near the limit of her endurance when the ship at last entered the cometary zone around her target star. She disengaged the permittivity drive, engaged the reaction drive, and activated the lidar scanners and broad-spectrum receivers.
     The receivers immediately caught a spread of multiply modulated signals in the microwave and higher frequencies. The lidar returns hinted at an artificial structure in orbit around the third planet of the system.
     Hope's first interstellar explorer had reached her intended destination. It appeared to be inhabited by a race as advanced as Man on Hope, if not more so. And she had no clear idea how to proceed.

* * *

     When Liberty’s Torch reached the outer margins of the K-class star’s system of planets, Althea slowed to 50 miles per second. The signals and lidar returns she had interpreted as evidence of habitation by intelligent life while in the cometary zone had grown far stronger. A large spherical mass with a visible-light reflectance of nearly 100% orbited the third planet from the primary. She corrected course minutely, slowed still further, and observed closely.
     The object was without detectable external features. Its orbit was coplanar with that of the third planet from the system’s primary. It appeared not to rotate around any axis. Its smoothness and spherical perfection spoke of high power sources and extreme craftsmanship flawlessly executed in zero gravity. It was all too obviously a space station.
     The station was emitting electromagnetic radiation in regularly spaced pulses, at a wavelength of 1215 angstroms. Liberty’s Torch’s receivers classified it as a probable attempt to communicate. Althea braked still further and activated the recorders, but made no immediate attempt to interpret the signal stream.
     Should I reciprocate? It might be no more intelligible to them.
     She activated the communications laser, set the modulation to unencrypted analog, and spliced in the voice output.
     “To the entity or entities aboard the space station,” she intoned, “This is Althea Morelon, mistress of interstellar vessel Liberty’s Torch. My people call our world Hope. Our system is about...” She paused for thought. “About as far from here as light will travel in eleven of your revolutions around your primary star. My intentions are peaceful. I wish to make contact, but I’m uncertain how to proceed. If you can interpret this message, please respond in kind with your rules for a visit to your system and for docking with your station. Liberty’s Torch will loiter here until I hear from you.” She disconnected the voice output and waited.
     Martin's exhortation to avoid what risks she could rose to her thoughts.
     If they can tight-beam Lyman-alpha radiation that I can detect from the cometary belt, they have to have one helluva power source aboard that station. I’d better play very, very nice.
     The answer arrived at once, in a musical alto voice.
     “Welcome to Loioc system, Mistress Morelon. We have awaited your arrival with much pleasure. Please brake to approximately 1/5 of your current velocity while we analyze your vessel’s hull and compose docking instructions.”
     Althea put a tight rein on her rising excitement and complied.

* * *

     The Loioc were bipedal and humanoid. Unless the pair that awaited Althea in the station’s docking bay were non-representative, they stood somewhat shorter than Earth-derived Man. The more closely she focused on either one, the more apparent were the subtle deviations that marked their departures from Terrestrial humanity. Their proportions were slightly different, possibly owing to having adapted to a stronger or weaker gravity. The resting angles of their limbs diverged slightly as well. Their faces were exquisitely beautiful, as human as anyone could wish, with smiles as welcoming as any she had ever seen.
     She doffed her helmet and took her first breath of their air. It was rich with oxygen, and carried a subtle hint of sweetness.
     “Yes,” the one on the left said, “our respiratory needs are a good match for yours as well. Welcome to our home, Mistress Morelon. How may we make you comfortable?”
     “Well,” Althea said, “for starters, you could tell me how to address you.” And maybe fill me in about how you learned to speak English.
     The one on the left nodded. “I am called Efthis. My husband,” she said, turning to her left, “is named Vellis.” She took his hand, and he gazed at her in evident affection. “No doubt you are curious about my mastery of the English language.”
     Althea chuckled. “Well, yes.”
     “These past thirteen hundred years,” Efthis said, “Hope has emitted radio signals of sufficient variety for us to deduce virtually the whole of your tongue. Indeed, we have watched your race from well before your ancestors’ flight from Earth. We have long looked forward to meeting you.”
     “Is yours a spacefaring race,” Althea said, “apart from this station?”
     “It was once,” Efthis replied. “No longer. In fact, this is the only offworld presence our race maintains.”
     Althea frowned. “Why?”
     Efthis’s gentle smile acquired a hint of world-weariness. “Let us say we saw all that we wished to see, and somewhat more.” She glanced at her husband and nodded toward the interior, and he nodded in response. “Come, let us refresh ourselves together, and I shall tell you whatever you might wish to know.”
     They turned as one, and Althea followed them into the depths of the station.

* * *

     “I don’t believe it,” Althea said.
     Efthis cocked a hair-thin eyebrow. “Surely your people enjoy a warm bath after a day of exertion?” She swiftly divested herself of her coverall. Vellis followed suit, and the two climbed into what was plainly a large hot tub.
     But in company with a couple of aliens? All right, they seem to be very nice aliens...so far, anyway.
     Oh, what the hell.

     She unzipped her vacuum suit, stepped out of it, groped for her gunbelt and realized, to her displeasure, that in the excitement of first contact she’d forgotten to arm herself.
     Probably wouldn’t matter anyway. A race that could build this station and give it nearly a gee of gravity without spinning it would laugh at a Wolzman needler.
     She removed her coverall, tossed it aside, climbed carefully over the side of the tub, and took a seat facing her hosts.
     Vellis’s eyes immediately fixed upon her, wide in undisguised fascination. He looked pleadingly at his wife. She studied him for a moment, then turned to Althea with a faintly mysterious expression.
     “Vellis would like to touch you,” she said. “Would you permit it?”
     “Uh...” Oh, why not? They’re probably puzzled that I’m not just as curious about their bodies. “Sure, okay.”
     Efthis nodded to Vellis, who flowed across the water between him and Althea so swiftly that he was upon her before she realized it.
     “Upon her,” indeed. The Loioc male wrapped himself around Althea, arms and legs both. He squirmed against her in a powerfully erotic fashion. His erection probed for her vagina with no pretense to the contrary. The surprise of it paralyzed her.
     “Efthis,” she croaked, counter-squirming to keep Vellis’s phallus from finding the orifice it sought, “just what is Vellis doing?”
     Efthis frowned. “He’s trying to merge with you. I would have thought that was obvious. Are you offended?”
     “Uh, no, but...” Are you? “Why?” And why hasn’t he said a word since I arrived here?
     “You’re very beautiful,” Efthis said. “Wouldn’t a male of Hope want to merge with you? Or is it not permitted for some reason?”
     “Well, uh, yes, it’s...permitted,” Althea said. You think I’m beautiful? Vellis’s squirming was becoming frenzied. He had begun to whimper. “But this is...a bit sudden.”
     Efthis shrugged. “It’s up to you. Enjoy him as you wish, and for as long as you wish.” She smiled. “If you’d like to test whether he can impregnate you, I have no objection to it.”
     “Uh, not just now, but thanks for the...hospitality. Maybe later.” She forced her arms between her and the squirming Loioc male and thrust him forcibly away. Vellis shrieked at the separation. He wriggled frantically, lashing the water into little waves of anguish, in an attempt to re-establish the embrace. Althea held him at arm’s length with only modest effort.
     I’ve got to ask.
     “Efthis,” she said in a carefully controlled tone, “Vellis is mute, isn’t he?”
     Efthis frowned again. “Of course. Isn’t it obvious?”
     There’s too much obvious stuff going on here. I shouldn’t have relaxed.
     Althea nodded, holding the agitated male firmly away from her. “Is it by accident, or was he born that way?”
     The Loioc’s frown deepened further. “Born that way, of course.” She emitted a whistle of elaborate modulation. Vellis immediately ceased to struggle against Althea’s restraint. She relaxed her grip, and he returned to Efthis’s side reluctantly and with a look of frustration.
     “Well,” Althea said, “you must love him very much.”
     “Love?” Efthis said. “How does one love a nonsentient?”
     “Vellis is incapable of rational thought. He’s been conditioned to be loyal to me. He knows nothing of love, no more than an animal of the field.”
     “But...” Althea groped for words. “Your husband?
     The Loioc woman nodded. “Yes. He husbands me. He fertilizes my eggs, when and as I permit. He need not be sentient for that.” She leaned forward to peer more closely into Althea’s face. “All our males are nonsentient. Just as yours will be, in time.”

* * *

     Vellis protested with a whimper that was nearly a howl, but Efthis spoke sharply and stamped one delicate foot, and the Loioc male became submissive. At his mistress’s direction, he went reluctantly into a room whose sole furnishings were a thin mattress, a hassock, and a large box filled with some crumbly substance, sat upon the hassock in a peculiarly canine fashion, and bowed his head. Efthis swung the room’s door, a grate of closely spaced metal bars, closed with a muted clang and twisted a knob that sent a deadbolt home. She turned back to Althea with an air of chagrin.
     “I must beg your pardon,” the Loioc said. “Despite all the study we have made of Hope and its people, I had momentarily forgotten that you allow your males to remain sentient. Indeed, that fact has caused no small amount of consternation among our people. We have awaited true, bidirectional intercourse with you with great eagerness for that reason among others.”
     We allow our males to remain sentient?
     “I had assumed,” she said, measuring out the words, “that this...condition was a consequence of some unfortunate cosmic phenomenon. Maybe a radiation field that swept over your home world, or something like that. You...engineered it? Genetically?”
     Efthis had led her to a rather conventional-looking kitchenette, complete with sink, faucet, counter, table, and chairs, and bade her to sit. The Loioc pulled open a large metal cabinet, extracted a pitcher and two glasses, and brought them to the table.
     “This is called kiara,” Efthis said. “It’s a fruit juice, moderately sweet, with a mildly acidic tang. You might enjoy it. Would you like to try it?”
     “Efthis...” Althea said, “I do appreciate your hospitality, but how do I know it’s not toxic to me? Just because we look alike?”
     Efthis smiled. “I had your body chemistry analyzed while you were in the bath with us. Our metabolisms are nearly perfectly identical. What would poison you would be equally lethal to me, if not more so.”
     “Why did you do that?”
     The Loioc gestured at the pitcher. “To know whether we could do this, for one thing.” She poured generous helpings of juice into both glasses and passed one to Althea. “For another, so that I could be certain that our body-maintenance devices can repair you, should you come to any harm while you are my guest.”
     Althea started to say got my own, thanks, and held her tongue.
     “So you’re completely self-sufficient here? Food, clothing, energy, medicine, diversions all taken care of?” She sniffed at the glass of kiara. Its aroma was as Efthis had described it: moderately sweet, with a citrus-like tang. Unsure of the proprieties but unwilling to proceed solely on Efthis’s assurances, she set the glass down and pushed it a little away.
     Efthis nodded. “Completely. It was a condition of the assignment. To be supplied with our necessities from groundside, with all the complexities and intrusions that would entail, would be entirely too troublesome for all concerned.”
     “But you could return to the planetary surface if you chose, couldn’t you?”
     “Oh yes,” Efthis said. “We have a one-way vehicle docked on the other side of the station.” She smiled. “Believe me, from time to time these past eight years, I’ve felt the urge to return. However, my relief won’t be ready to assume her duties for another two years, so it would be viewed with disfavor.”
     She and her...husband must have a lot of ways to keep occupied.
     “Concerning your earlier question,” the Loioc said, “yes, we quenched the sentience of our males by decision and design. What we learned from comparable races, to say nothing of our own experiences, made it imperative.
     “Before we did so, our world was riven by every kind of strife and madness. Loioc males were quite as aggressive and proprietary as yours, and we females could do little to mitigate their tendencies toward violence and destruction. The nations of our world were almost continuously at war.
     “Your ancestors on Earth provided a fertile field for study,” Efthis said. “Were you aware that over the two millennia that preceded your people’s departure from that system, your planet of origin had known peace—real peace, not merely a temporary lull in the slaughters—for a grand total of three days? That throughout the rest of that interval of history, Earth males had been killing and being killed, laying waste to whatever they could reach?
     “You, Althea, are the beneficiary of what progress your race could achieve despite the continuity of slaughter. Your achievements and those of your kindred began from the plateau of knowledge and technology build by those who preceded you—those who managed not to fall as the ordnance flew around them. By our measures, you of Hope have reached a technological level perhaps seventy-five percent as high as we Loioc have attained. At that, Hope has not progressed as far as the Earthly societies from which it was derived. I shall not denigrate it, even so. But have you ever contemplated how much higher your world would have risen—how much greater your own achievements would have been, Althea—had Earth known the blessings of peace?
     “About twenty-two hundred of your years ago, a great geneticist isolated the constellation of genes and alleles that give rise to a brain capable of sentience and rational thought. It was well that she was female and discreet. She immediately conceived of the application to the pacification of our race, and set about assembling a team that would construct a nanite that would unmake the sentience constellation in our male progeny. As soon as they were certain it was effective and safe, they flooded the waters of our world with the devices. Within fifty years, there was virtually no violence among us.”
     She glanced back at the door of Vellis’s cell. “My husband is typical of Loioc males. His brain masses to about sixty percent of mine. His ability to communicate is limited to what he can absorb through conditioning: simple sounds and simple gestures. He’s not the sort of companion with whom I could have a conversation such as this.” Efthis smiled. “But he essays no violence. He recognizes females—Loioc females, at least—as his superiors by inborn instinct, and submits to us without hesitation. Now that he’s been conditioned for personal loyalty, he does as I command him, and nothing more.
     “We had a few regrets, of course. Society was more dynamic, and more interesting, before we unmade our males’ minds. But the consensus was that a degree of social and economic stasis would be a small price to pay for the elimination of the horrors male aggression had brought us. At any rate, that door is closed forever. The nanites are self-replicating. The waters of our world are saturated with them, and they can never be seined out.”
     Althea suppressed her desire to shudder and did her best to smile.
     “If you had asked your men whether they would agree to be...pacified that way,” she said pleasantly, “do you think any great number of them would have said yes, do it?”
     Efthis shrugged. “Possibly not, but what does it matter? The moral imperative was too obvious to permit any resistance. We had learned all too well what develops when male aggression is permitted to operate unchecked.” She waved an elfin hand. “You would not find a Loioc anywhere below who’s unsatisfied with the arrangement.”
     Except the ones who can no longer say so.
     “I think the women of Hope would have a different opinion,” Althea said. “We love our men as they are. I can’t imagine perpetrating the sort of...adjustment on them that you’ve inflicted upon yours. In fact, among us what your great geneticist did would constitute an unimaginably vile crime, the rape of an entire species. She would be ostracized for life if she were even to suggest it.”
     Althea paused for a moment of reflection, and smiled. “Hope has never known war, or mass violence of any other sort. We left that sort of madness behind us when we set out from Earth. I doubt my sisters could bring themselves to think as yours do, no matter how eloquently you might argue it to them.”
     Efthis raised an eyebrow. “No war or mass violence, you say? Then why does nearly every denizen of your world go armed whenever he ventures beyond his home?”
     Althea shrugged. “Simple caution. Men—humans, both sexes, have free will and the capacity for evil. Besides, you never know what might come up.”
     “And from where might some threat that requires an armed response arise, Althea?” Efthis’s smile acquired a predatory edge. “Which of the two sexes are you being cautious about?”
     Althea’s temper strained against her leash. “We like our men as they are,” she grated. “They’re our partners in...” What did Martin call it? “...in the adventure of life. Not a threat we have to defend ourselves against at all costs.” She hardened her expression into lines of defiance. “You can keep those clever little nanites for yourselves.”
     Efthis smiled slyly. “Is that why you haven’t touched your kiara, Althea?”
     Despite her resolution to maintain her reserve, Althea felt a snarl form on her features.
     “What do you think, Mistress Efthis?”
     “I think you need not deprive yourself,” Efthis said. “You’ve been thoroughly infused with the nanites since a few seconds after you stepped into the bath. We are no more willing to allow your males than ours to pollute our galactic neighborhood with their violent ways. You will be the instrument of their gentling.”
     A tidal wave of fury surged within Althea Morelon. She reeled from her sudden, all but overpowering desire to smash, kill, and lay waste around her.
     “When I return to Hope,” Althea ground out, “the men of my world will very likely construct and commission an expeditionary fleet—a well armed fleet—and send it here. I can’t be certain what they’ll do when they get here, but I doubt you and your sisters groundside will find it pleasant.”
     The Loioc’s smile turned superior.
     “Then you will not be returning to Hope.”
     “Oh? Do you have a way to stop me?”
     Efthis rose from the table, turned toward a dim corridor into the station, and indicated with a negligent wave of her hand that Althea should follow.

* * *

     “The mechanism you see via this viewscreen,” Efthis said, “occupies most of the volume of this station. It generates a high-intensity muon flux that permeates the galactic disk for two hundred light-years around. It’s powered by our sun, it’s self-repairing, and it cannot be turned off. Alone of all the children of Earth, you have learned how to negate the effects of that flux and relax the so-called speed-of-light limitation. But since you passed within the cometary belt, the flux has been far too intense for your ship’s superluminal drive to countervail. Nor will it avail you to exit our system on your reaction drive alone, for the suppressor has already infiltrated and taken command of your drive. You will not achieve interstellar velocities again unless I permit it.”
     Althea gazed in silence at the huge, faintly humming machine that held her prisoner.
     I never thought I’d find a machine that’s an abomination, all by itself, just because of what it can do.
     She closed her eyes, set her viewpoint free of her body, and sped it into the vast machine.
     The thing was complex beyond Althea’s understanding. It possessed hundreds of interlinked subsystems, only a few of which resembled anything she knew. She thought she could identify radiation sources and targets, direct-and-deflect conduits, baffles for stray emissions and sinks for excess heat. But far more assemblages were completely opaque to her comprehension. Some of them, though they appeared to be as unitary as gemstones, possessed internal structures of bewildering intricacy. She could not even be certain where any component began and ended. The whole hinted at properties of space-time and modes of matter-energy interaction beyond her attainments.
     She tested her telekinesis against a handful of the smaller pieces. None of them moved detectably, even when she exerted her full power.
     It doesn’t matter. I can’t just wrench a few bits of this contraption loose telekinetically and call the job finished. Not as long as it might retain the ability to fix itself, or if the Loioc might discover the damage and repair it...and not as long as I don’t really know what I’m doing.
     The whole thing has to go.

     “What’s the price for my freedom?” she said at last.
     Efthis turned toward her, a glittering metallic torque in one hand.
     “You must agree to wear this. It contains an advanced artificial intelligence, equipped with a full suite of environmental sensors, that will sense any attempt to violate the ethical constraints programmed into it. It also contains a generator capable of shocking you into unconsciousness, which will activate at any attempt, even a dubious one, to commit a violation or to remove it from your body.”
     Althea peered at the gleaming thing. “You have artificial intelligences that can read a person’s body language and forestall undesirable actions?”
     “Not entirely body language, Althea,” Efthis said. “Look at the inner surface of the torque.”
     Althea leaned in for a close inspection. At close range, a great many filaments, each one finer than a hair, became visible. “Neural probes?”
     Efthis nodded. “Quite sensitive ones. They give the onboard intelligence a way to anticipate the wearer’s actions, as well as react to his current ones. It’s how we restrain our few remaining lawbreakers without having to incarcerate them.” She smiled.
     Althea had seen that smile before. It was that of a woman who knows, beyond all possibility of contradiction, that she holds all the trumps. Her blood rose. She answered the Loioc’s smile with one of her own.
     “How clever,” Althea said. “I suppose I’ve no choice. But may I ask a question first?”
     Efthis cocked an eyebrow.
     “How do your sisters travel the galaxy?”
     The Loioc frowned. “We don’t. The suppressor’s speed-of-light restriction binds us as firmly as any other world within the machine’s radius of effect.”
     Althea widened her eyes. “But a race as advanced as yours must be working on some alternative, surely?”
     Darkness touched Efthis’s features. “Of course. We’ve been researching teleportation for centuries, but so far it’s remained out of reach. Entropic effects arising from the energies required fatally disorder anything we try to teleport.”
     “I see,” Althea said. “Has it ever occurred to you that those effects might be due to an even more advanced race’s suppression of your desire to wander the stars?” She gestured at the viewscreen. “Just as you’ve used that machine in there to confine the peoples around you?”
     Efthis’s mouth dropped open. She glanced at the huge machine, Althea moved with sudden, violent speed, and the Loioc fell to the floor unconscious.
     “Bitch,” Althea muttered as she hoisted the smaller woman into a fireman’s carry. “Never tell a Morelon there’s something he can’t do. Now just where do you keep your stash of rope?”

* * *

     It took a while to locate the reentry vehicle Efthis had mentioned and secure the unconscious Loioc female in one of its seats. It took still longer to persuade the badly frightened Vellis that Althea meant him no harm, that it was safe to leave his cell and go where she directed him. Eventually she had the two properly strapped into their anti-acceleration chairs and ready for launch.
     One more thing to see to.
     She returned to Liberty’s Torch, powered up her voice recorder, and dictated a brief message.
     “This is Althea Morelon, mistress of interstellar vessel Liberty’s Torch from Hope, approximately eleven light-years out toward the galactic rim. I’ll be returning to Hope in just a little while, to tell my compatriots all about your society. I expect my reports will make them very angry. I expect that they’ll decide to do something about you...and that the time you’ll have to brace yourselves for our next visit will be a lot shorter than you’d like.
     “As you can see, I’ve returned your sentinels—excuse me, your gaolers to your loving arms. Don’t treat them too harshly. They did their best. They just didn’t reckon with having to face a Morelon. Anyway, try to smile about it all. I’m leaving you a present. Before I depart your system, you’ll have the same interstellar potential I’ve contrived for us of Hope. Think you’ll be able to make use of it without the help of your menfolk?
     “That’s all for now. Althea Morelon signing out.”
     She transferred the recording to a memory cartridge, returned to the reentry craft, and tucked it into a pocket of Efthis’s coverall. As she made to leave, Vellis looked up at her and whimpered.
     “Sorry, fella,” she murmured. “I can’t do a thing for you. Maybe we’ll be back to help your kids, some day.”
     She stepped out of the hatch and closed it behind her.

* * *

     When Liberty’s Torch’s sensors showed the reentry craft to be safely beyond Efthis’s station, Althea seated herself at the command console and strove to compose herself for her next moves. She checked the ship’s tanks of reaction mass, did a swift mental calculation, reached for the reaction drive igniter, and took a deep breath.
     It had to be Loioc men who built this abomination. The women would never have dared. The dangers of large-scale construction in space are far too great. They probably used collars like the one Efthis threatened me with to compel them to comply.
     But were they derationalized creatures like Vellis, or were they intact men? If the former, how could they have coped with the complexities? If the latter, what did the women promise them for their cooperation? A homeland of their own, where they could live as they pleased to their dying days? Or a privileged status of some sort among their derationalized brethren?

     Her thoughts veered toward an even less pleasant subject.
     An isolated group of genes responsible for sentience? Just one group that can be removed without damaging the rest of the genetic code? Not bloody likely. I should have probed for more details. What did the excision of the sentience constellation do to the rest of the male physiognomy? Was their strength reduced? Their dexterity? Their endurance? Their lifespan? What sort of process did the “great geneticist” go through in deciding that the tradeoff would be worthwhile?
     She tried to imagine Martin reaved of his intellect and reduced to a well-conditioned slave. To a mindless, soulless thing, good only for what his sinews could do and his heart and lungs could endure. The thought was enough to revive her fury. It burned white hot at the center of her soul—a soul whose reality she could no longer doubt, a soul uniquely and indissolubly hers beyond any possibility of separation.
     Only a part of her in direct contact with the moral laws of the universe could have flamed into such righteous rage.
     What right did they have? How on Hope—strike that; how in the galaxy did they convince themselves that this was their prerogative?
     Women have been civilizing the men of Hope for thirteen centuries. We’ve never needed to geld them. They’ve fought no wars. They’ve taken no slaves. They’ve erected no States, which is where all the other horrible ideas always came from. Maybe doing it our way, with love and devotion and lives filled with family and enterprise and riches, just seemed to the Loioc women like too much work.
     The more fools they.

     Another unpleasant possibility rose to bedevil her.
     Will the menfolk of Hope burn as fiercely as I do over this obscenity, or will it fall to Clan Morelon to arrange vengeance and salvation for their cousins on the world below?
     Will it fall to me?
     It doesn’t matter. If no one else will lead the expedition, I’ll do it myself. Strike that: I’ll do it, period. I’ll craft the warships, invent the weapons, and build the armada. I’ll train the leadership cadre and inspire the troops. I’ll bring the hammer of vengeance down on these arrogant bitches. And I’ll make a thorough job of it.

     She engaged the reaction drive, opened the exhaust baffles wide, sent power to the attitude jets, and slowly circumnavigated the station.
     She bathed the Loioc space station from end to end in the fusion plume. The station was tough; it had to be to accept, contain, and direct the energies required for its duties. But it wasn’t nearly tough enough to resist temperatures kindled in the heart of a star. Within minutes, the shell of the station had softened and turned to slag. The shell and all its contents were no more than plasma shortly thereafter.
     It never occurred to you that a mere female might have a little violence in her soul, did it, Efthis? Enough to deal with you and turn the door of your jail cell into a cloud of incandescent gas? Enough to return with a fleet of ships and weapons sufficient to deliver your menfolk from bondage and treat you and your sisters to the fate you’ve earned?
     In time, bitch. In time. I have a little more physics to do, and a lot more planning. But I’ll be back. With a fleet and a gaggle of angry companions...some of them women.

     When she could see that the destruction was complete, Althea nodded in satisfaction, damped the main drive, constricted the exhaust baffles, pulsed the attitude thrusters to reorient the ship for system exit, and headed for the cometary belt to top off the ship’s reaction mass tanks.
     When Liberty’s Torch had ingested enough cometary ice to bring her reaction-mass reserves to maximum, she went to high thrust and swiftly left the last objects in the outer system well behind. A few hours later, the densitometers declared that the vacuum was thin enough to go superluminal. She disengaged the reaction drive and briefly contemplated the return journey.
     An elaborate procedure was required to prepare the ship for an automated return to Hope system. She’d allowed for the possibility that it might be needed and had designed the necessary control linkages and software to make it possible, but of course had never tried it out.
     No help for it. As soon as I’m under superluminal drive and properly headed up, I’m getting into the medipod. With luck, it will find the nanites and strain them out of me. Without...God, be with me.
     She had to be certain she’d been thoroughly purged of them before she would allow herself to return to the surface of Hope.


Copyright © 2013 Francis W. Porretto. All Rights Reserved Worldwide.

1 comment:

furball said...

I read this years ago, Fran. But your line:
"They’ve erected no States, which is where all the other horrible ideas always came from."
resonated with me this time far more than efore.