July 6, 2017

MARTIAN HOLIDAY 105: Paolo At Burroughs Dome

On a well-settled Mars, the five major city Council regimes struggle to meld into a stable, working government. Embracing an official Unified Faith In Humanity, the Councils are teetering on the verge of pogrom directed against Christians, Molesters, Jews, Rapists, Buddhists, Murderers, Muslims, Thieves, Hindu, Embezzlers and Artificial Humans – anyone who threatens the official Faith and the consolidating power of the Councils. It makes good sense, right – get rid of religion and Human divisiveness on a societal level will disappear? An instrument of such a pogrom might just be a Roman holiday...To see the rest of the chapters, go to SCIENCE FICTION: Martian Holiday on the right and scroll to the bottom for the first story. If you’d like to read it from beginning to end (70,000+ words as of now), drop me a line and I’ll send you the unedited version.

The blue man, OrcAH, curator of the small museum, nodded slowly, making a subtle gesture with his left index finger. “I will give it some more thought. Where might I find you?”

Paolo said, “Around,” pausing, he added, “But don’t wait too long, I’ll be leaving soon.”

“How soon?”

“As soon as I figure out who betrayed me and confront them.” He turned and walked out of the museum. He expected to be grabbed by the Dome police or a band of rogue Artificial Human. When neither appeared immediately, he started back down the corridor leading to Burroughs Grand Plaza.

It didn’t take long to get there and he’d been to it a number of times – but the sheer scale and audacity of the place still boggled his mind. Twice the size of the Aeropagus on which is was modeled in Robinson, it was ostentatious in a way that might have been ugly, but was instead, overwhelming. He smiled when he realized that Burroughs bred audacity. OrcAH was no different in that than the Mayor of Burroughs, who styled herself  Citizen Council Director Haman. While she headed The District Council of fifteen men, women and genneuts, she pretended to a representative government, but her real powers were the same as every other Mayor: absolute.

Burroughs also renamed their floating rock the Court of Eleusinian Mysteries. Pretentious, but appropriate, Paolo thought. Wildly different smells roared around him: baking bread, aromatic woods burning, flowers, rotten melons of every variety, machine oil, and fried bread grease. The noise pummeled his ears after the silence of his hike from the rover: at least six languages, transuranic rock music, and a brass band thundering louder than ever in counterpoint to a literal thunder of air moving in an immense space.

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 an Artificial Human child-minder which said as it passed him, “…stop young learners, will be the sewage reclamation plant…”. Multiple groans followed after them.

Still on the wide avenue that circled the Court, 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 Redwood spread its branches over the stone of the Court. The landscape was dry, mimicking the habitat of the massive tree. Scattered over it were gold sand concrete benches, chairs, patches of Earth cacti and countless fat blue pillows. Men, women, children, robots, androids and holograms reclined, talked, argued, sang and gestured widely. He took a deep breath.

As in Robinson, the church, synagogue, Buddhist temple, the Rationalist Forum and other religious shrines and places were closed. As always, the softly glowing mural with the subdued humaniform logo of the Unified Faith in Humanity stood in benign ascendance over the scene. Paulo blew out a breath. There were still enough underground believers – both on Earth and Mars – to equip a small army. But there would be no war. That would only make things worse. Unlike before, he was working alone and desperately needed a connection to the Christian underground here. This time, he risked his life. Burroughs was NOT Robinson. Burroughs had thrown dissidents out the airlocks and called it “cleansing”. They still did it on occasion.

He needed to get to Cydonia and his marsbug was not doing well. He needed people who would both support him and pray for him.

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 Burroughs Dome, 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 carbon and organic plastic 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 the you stick tight together in just about every way.” He held his breath then plunged ahead, “That’s why I was surprised when I heard that you so strongly support the Unified Faith in Humanity.” Grumbling mutters in those gathered. The old woman frowned faintly. He pursed his lips, then added, “Even to the point of removing those who have diverse and contrary views.”

“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.” He had their attention – even that of a group of young adults who had been playing cricket not far away. They’d left their game to listen. “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.

People drifted away, but some stayed. A man with two children approached him and lowering his voice said, “Get moving, young man. Some have gone to fetch the mind police.” He snorted softly. “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.” He turned and hurried away.

Farther on, another man watched, lifting his arm, first two fingers together, pointing up; the other three clenched to the palm. Paolo dipped his chin and set off across the floating platform.

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