Roman holiday: entertainment acquired at the expense of others' suffering, or a spectacle yielding such entertainment (Webster's New World Collegiate Dictionary @2009)
Paulo Marcillon brushed ochre dust from his outsuit but froze mid-motion. Words of Jesus leaped into his head: “…shake the dust off your feet…it will be more tolerable for Sodom and Gomorrah than this city…”
He wasn’t ready to write off Robinson City just yet. Burroughs, Clarketown and Bradbury had pushed a few dozen Christians out their airlocks without suits since the Pogrom began. But not RC.
Shuddering and sloughing dust, he skinned from his outsuit, hanging it with the others. A moment later, the inner airlock irised like an old-fashioned camera shutter and he stepped through. Wildly different smells roared around him: baking bread, incense, flowers, too-strong perfume, rotten potatoes, machine oil, French fry grease. The noise pummeled his ears after the silence of his hike from the rover: at least six languages, transuranic rock music, squeal of a pulley belt, thunder of air moving in an immense space. The door closed behind him and if it weren’t for his disguise, everyone would know who he was.
The Areopagus of Robinson City, modeled on one idea of its ancient counterpart outside of Athens, Greece on Earth, was a “big piece of rock”. The city founders had carved an immense disk of sandstone from the surface of Mars, polished, sealed it and kept it floating a meter off the ground with an antigrav field. A school cluster of children boiled like chattering steam after their android teacher as it said, “…stop young learners, will be the hydroponic farms…” past him.
Paulo slipped through the crowds, making for the disk where it floated over a hectare of space. He stopped to stare at it and around the edge of the giant park. A massive Earth oak spread its branches over the stone of the Areopagus. Scattered over it were gold sand concrete benches, chairs, patches of Earth grass and countless fat blue pillows. Men, women, children, robots, androids and holograms reclined, talked, argued, sang and gestured widely. He took a deep breath.
When he was a ten-year-old, Dad and Dad had brought him here after they’d immigrated from Earth. Then, Solar enhancing lights added to the pale light of the distant Sun hanging in the dark blue sky. There’d been a church with spectacular circle of blue and red stained glass on one side, a synagogue with a brushed iron menorah over there; a Buddhist temple with a lovingly carved façade of wood imported at great cost from Earth beside it; standing not far away had been the elegant, perfectly square polished basalt entryway to the Rationalist Forum. All were closed now. In the place of the Forum was a softly glowing mural with the subdued humaniform logo of the Unified Faith in Humanity. Paulo blew out a breath. Mars had resisted the proclamation of UFH from Earth, choosing to remain eclectic in its religious tastes. They fancied themselves homo post-hominem and flexibly tolerant. But Earth had had enough of religious fanaticism, so it banned and outlawed all religions, merging spiritual beliefs into one, non-proselytizing faith in Humanity.
Then FirstDome of Mars blew up and killed eighteen hundred and twenty-six men, women and children. An evangelical Christian gang and a radical Buddhist gang were having a turf war and a Jewish gang and a Muslim gang had gotten drawn into it. There was an accident. The media spun the gang war into an intentional terrorist attack. Mars panicked and attacked, the resulting pogrom making Earth’s legal maneuver look reserved by comparison.
Today? Paulo took a deep breath. There were still enough underground believers – both on Earth and Mars – to equip a small army. But they wouldn’t fight. That would only make things worse. So he’d been chosen: to talk. To the people of Robinson City. He stood at the edge of the Aeropagus,
He looked down at his feet. Unlike his namesake, he had a cloak of invisibility, a device that would slowly short-circuit the anti-gravity grid holding up the Areopagus disk and a few other tricks up his sleeve just in case. He walked up the steps, kept going until he found an open bench and sat, his heart pounding. He held his breath as people noticed and those who might want to hear what he had to say stepped toward him. When he had a polite crowd, he waved to the mural and said, “People of Robison City, I can see you’re a spiritual people.”
There were nods. An elderly woman approached, flanked by a young woman. She sat in a grav chair, nodded to him and smiled as her chair settled. Encouraged, Paulo said, “I know, from traveling over Mars that no one else produces as much oxygen and iron from the sand as you do. I’ve heard that innovation is encouraged here in a way that it’s not encouraged anywhere else. Last of all, I know you celebrate each other and stick tight together in just about every way.” He’d have been surprised if anyone had argued. Robinson City WAS well known for all of those things. He held his breath then plunged ahead, “That’s why I was surprised when I heard that you readily joined the Unified Faith in Humanity.” Grumbling mutters in those gathered. The old woman frowned faintly.
“Why it surprises me is that in order to get everything to work so well here, you have to have met the challenges face-to-face. You had to understand the nature of Humanity better than anyone else in order to get people to work together so well. You had to know more about people than they knew about themselves.” Surprised silence. Every eye on him, focused and listening right now as he said, “That’s why I have no doubt that you understand that Humanity is made up of more than just the body, mind and heart. It has a soul that belongs to something outside of itself.” Several people had joined the outer fringes and a pair of teenagers crawled between the feet of their elders. Paulo said, “I’m here to say that the soul belongs to the Water God – who, like a pot of snow on a hot stove is solid, liquid and gas yet water all the same, the God of Heaven is Father forever, Son crucified and alive again and Spirit of unimaginable power yet all the same. That’s who we belong to.” There was laughter, angry mutters and words that sounded like “slavery” and “haters” and “terrorists”. Rather than shouting over them though, Paulo’s voice lowered as he said, “God wants us to turn away from evil and come to Him.” He stood abruptly, ending his session.
Many people drifted away, but some stayed. The woman in the floater approached him and raised herself up until they were face-to-face. She said, “You should leave here quickly, young man. Some have gone to fetch the mind police.” She smiled faintly. “You know, even your Christian forebears had friends in high places who believed that people should be able to choose for themselves what they believe. Some of them never became Christians themselves.” She waved gently. “Go, son. Go! You have other places to share your gospel.”
He hurried back to the lock and slid into his outsuit. Dust still clung to it. Biting his lower lip, he sealed the helmet and careful not to knock the dust from his boots, he cycled out and back on to the surface of Mars.