Authors: John Russell Fearn
Copyright Â© 1955 by John Russell Fearn
Copyright Â© 2011 by Philip Harbottle
Originally published under the pen name, Vargo Statten.
To the Memory of Florence Rose Fearn
THERE had come a time in the affairs of men when absolute dictatorship was not only being questioned, but completely destroyed. The people of Earth were no longer inclined to accept one man and his retinue of chosen adherents as the deciders of their habits, actions, and future. As a direct consequence of this there had been revolutionânot the ruthless massacre of bombs and bloodâbut the insidious inroads of clever politics, which, by vote alone had deposed the Dictator and his retinue from absolute power, and instead placed them at the mercy of the Supreme Court of Earth.
This master of the Earth who had gained such absolute control was known as Rigilus I. By the dual use of politics and resort to arms be had not only conquered the World but had gained the complete mastery of every colonized body in the Solar Systemâ¦. At least for a time. Now had come the inversion of policy with Rigilus I called to account.
Not that he looked particularly troubled on this summer morning in the twenty-third century, as with the dozen men and women who had been his loyal supporters he sat in the Box of the Accused and surveyed the grim faces of his persecutors with a complete and proud arrogance. Rigilus the First looked and had been every inch a ruler. There was no sentiment in that ruggedly cut face; very little sign of the more delicate of human feelings in that harshly chiselled mouth. Here was a man born to dominate, and dominate he had until his decrees had gone beyond what the peoples of the Earth and the Solar System considered reasonable. Now there was a People's Government intent on only one thingâthe dispensation of just punishment for the twenty odd years of power which Rigilus I had maintained.
“For such as you,” said the People's Prosecutor, from his position high up in the mighty amphitheatre, “Nothing less than complete banishment will suffice. Your high position and that of those who have been gathered about you make it necessary that you should be granted a certain amount of clemency and for that reason the ultimate sentence of Death is not passed upon you. We feel, after due deliberation among ourselves, that banishment is quite the most fitting punishment that can be meted out to such as you. You who love power and authority and the control of helpless millions will be utterly subjected if forced to lead the rest of your life in comparative solitude, unable to dominate, isolated completely from those worlds which you have ruled so long.
“For the effectual implication of your sentence, therefore, we have decided that you shall be banished to the Deeps of Outer Space in the region of the nearest StarâAlpha Centauri. You are being sent, Rigilus I, on a journey which, for you at least, there can be no end. Alpha Centauri being so far away that you cannot possibly reach it in your lÃfetime, or indeed in a dozen lifetimes. Have you anything to say as to why this sentence should not be passed upon you?”
Rigilus rose to his feet, an insolently erect figure. With proud disdain he surveyed the faces all turned in his direction.
“I have only this to say,” he said, quietly, “that the banishment of my colleagues and myself to the distant regions of Alpha Centauri only means the ridding of Earth of myself and the sect in which I believe for something like fifteen generations. For believe me the power of Rigilus I will not be broken merely by banishing me to Alpha Centauri. Others will come after me, my sons and daughters and their sons and daughters, all of whom will be educated to believe that this monstrous injustice must one day be avenged.
“Putting it more briefly there will come a time, maybe fifteen, twenty, or maybe thirty generations hence, when the sentence you have passed here this day will recoil upon you, or at least your descendants, with such shattering effect that those who follow you will bemoan the fact that you ever dared to tear down the dictatorship of myself and my colleagues. Speaking less personally, I find it difficult to conceive what you find so wrong about me and those that have been so loyal to me. We have served you well, we have given you every amenity, we have built up science to a supreme peak and given you a civilisation of which you can be justifiably proud.
“Add to this the fact that every colonised body in the Solar System from our Moon to the largest moon of Saturn has been brought under our aegis, and yet you are still not satisfied and must tear down the mind and the hands that conceived it. Why? At least, I am surely entitled to know that.”
Upon which Rigilus sat down again and his comrades around him nodded in silent confirmation.
The People's Prosecutor looked about him and cleared his throat. It was obvious that for the moment he did not quite know what he ought to reply, and the sardonic smile being directed towards him from Rigilus did not altogether help matters, either.
“Our reason for deposing you,” he said at length, “is one that should be more or less evident to you. You have, in the course of your many years of office, paid little heed to the individual desires of the men and women you controlled, with the result that they have become little better than robots. Any attempt at them exerting an individuality of their own has been ruthlessly snuffed out, and whatever progress we have made has been entirely the work of yourself or those immediately under you. For that reason, that men and women may regain their own initiative before it is too late, we have felt it necessary to remove from you the absolute power that you have wielded. There is nothing more that can be said, Rigilus I. We are decided what shall be done, and the details relevant to your banishment are given you herewith....”
There was a rustle of paper as the Prosecutor went through his notes, then after considering them carefully he looked up again and across the vast space where Rigilus sat waiting in stony calm.
For Rigilus this whole thing was vastly disturbing. Much that the Prosecutor had said had been nothing else but liesâor if not that, a trumped-up story. No man could have done more in the past twenty years than Rigilus for the advancement of science and the comfort of the human race in general. The main reason for his deposition had not been because of the ruthless nature of his edicts, but because of that jealous strain in human nature that refuses to give credit to anything cleverer than itself. For that reason and none other, Rigilus and his comrades were now faced with the ultimate punishmentâbanishment.
“It has been decided,” the People's Prosecutor continued after a moment or two, “that you will have placed at your disposal one of our largest space machines. As far as accommodation is concerned it equals the size of any small city, and has therein every amenity one would expect to find in such a city. This, together with all the necessary synthesising apparatus for the making of foods, clothes and other essentials should prove entirely suitable for your practically endless voyage. You will be permitted to take with you whomever you choose from amongst your own retinue, but nobody else. Since your retinue is composed of men and women, all of them married, you will perceive therein a certain clemency in our sense of justice. In other words, there can be future generations to carry on the colossal voyage that you will start, and which, providing you make the entire trip without any cosmic disaster, will take you 1,000 years! There is surely nothing in that, Rigilus, with which you can find fault?”
“One thousand years seems an absurdly long time,” Rigilus commented. “Surely if our ship was to maintain a constant acceleration, it could in time build its speed up to an appreciable fraction of that of light itself? With such a velocity that time could be vastly reduced, even allowing for deceleration at the other end.”
is the operative word,” replied the People's Prosecutor, with a certain acid satisfaction. “However, the acceleration will
be constant! It will build up to a certain speed, and when that speed is reached, the atomic engine will be switched off. Thereafter your vessel will coast in free space at a constant velocity, until you near your destination. The controls are mathematically pre-set to carry you through the void straight to the region of Alpha Centauri. The distance and the time taken to cover that distanceâone thousand yearsâhas been mathematically calculated and linked by an electronic brain to the controls. That means that the controls will only become free when you are within measurable distance of the Alpha Centauri System. That is something that you will have to teach your successors, for the time will inevitably come when they will be compelled to understand the controlling of the vessel if they are to make a safe landing and not crash upon some infinitely distant world. The main thing that we are concerned about is that you never return.”
Rigilus digested this shattering information for a moment or two, then gave a shrug. “I can only repeat what I said earlier, namelyâthat the day will come when you will deeply regret the dispensation of sentence now accorded to me. Since my colleagues are completely allied to me there can be no doubt that I am also expressing their sentiments.”
Rigilus looked round upon his immediate retinue and they nodded their heads in silent assent, High up on his seat of office the People's Prosecutor looked somewhat relieved that he had managed to hurdle this most difficult of all situations. In himself he did not entirely agree either with the sentence or with the deposition of Rigilus, but he was in the unfortunate position of having to do exactly as he was told.
“There is nothing further then to be said,” the People's Prosecutor commented after a while. “The decision has been taken and nothing remains but for it to be carried out. For the time being, Rigilus, you and your colleagues will be under what is technically known as House-arrestâinsofar as you will be confined to your particular dwellings under close guardâand at midnight tomorrow you will assemble aboard the space liner which will carry you to your destination unknown.”
“Just one more thing,” Rigilus said, rising to his feet again. “Have I your permission to ask a question of the First in Astronomy?”
“Permission granted,” the Prosecutor assented.
Rigilus turned and looked towards the man who was acknowledged to be the leading authority on astronomical subjects throughout the world.
“Of late years,” Rigilus said, “I have not found it possible to conduct a very thorough study of astronomyâhaving left all of it to the experts in that particular field. But it now becomes essential that I know of certain facts before I am launched out into the void along with my colleagues. I am, of course, an expert in the control of a space machine, but my knowledge of the void is limited to the Solar System. What lies beyond I do not know. I therefore call upon you, the First in Astronomy, to tell me whether at the end of this colossal 1,000-year voyage, there is likely to be any goal that we may seekâany resting place where we may at last cease our eternal vigil in the void. Or, at least, that our successors might find?”
The First in Astronomy did not hesitate over giving his reply.
“According to our close examination of the spatial regions around Alpha Centauri and Proxima Centauri, there does exist the possibility of a planetary system and even the added possibility of worlds not unlike Earth. By that, I mean that their atmospheres and general gravity correspond fairly closely to that of this world. It should be possible for you to locate one of those worlds and land upon it. What you do after that is no concern of oursâindeed it can never be since 1,000 years hence we who are here today will no longer be concerned with the situation.”
“Thank you,” Rigilus responded, with regal calm. “And now, People's Prosecutor, one other question. Are we to be allowed absolute freedom in the space machine which has been assigned to us?”
“Certainly, but there is the one proviso I have already mentioned. You can have all the liberty that you require and may mould your lives exactly as you wish, but you will never be able to interfere with the controls of the space machine itself. By that I mean that you will not be able to guide it in any way, to perhaps return in due course to wreak this vengeance that you speak of.”
“In the course of years, and with very little else to do,” Rigilus said, slowly, “there will be nothing to prevent us taking the electronic brain to pieces and thereby gaining control of the space machine to do with as we will. Had you, in your supreme wisdom, considered that possibility?”
“Definitely we had,” the Prosecutor replied, “and for that reason we have taken special precautions. Each part of the electronic brain is so designed that if any part of it is removed, that part will inevitably be destroyed. The design is such that there are no machine-instruments aboard the vessel for you to make a fresh piece, therefore, any tampering with the electronic brain will mean that you automatically destroy it.
“Further, if you do destroy the electronic brain the ship will be completely out of control and consequently at the mercy of any meteorites or foreign bodies there may be in space. Also it would make it impossible for you to make a landing upon another planet. You would simply crash and that would be the end. From all of this you will have gathered that tampering with the electronic brain is not to be recommended.”
Rigilus said no more. Everything had evidently been thought out well in advance and there was nothing that he and his colleagues could do to alter the situation....
Just how completely everything had been planned they realised the following night at midnight, when they were conducted aboard the space liner. It was one of the biggest and latest machines in the huge Earth-Space Travel Combine, and, as the People's Prosecutor had said, was supplied with every possible necessity for an indefinite journey. Entering its airlock, Rigilus and his colleagues found themselves within a tremendous control room from which led the main passageway off which again were the doors of the ship's various departments. The space machine was indeed a travelling city within itself, and containing everything that the banished travellers could possibly need.