Authors: Piers Anthony
Tags: #Fantasy, #Science Fiction
Bio of a Space Tyrant 3 - Politician
This is the third of five manuscripts to be published following the death of Hope Hubris, the so-called Tyrant of Jupiter, detailing his private impressions of his ascent through the political currents of the planet.
The first manuscript covers his traumatic experience as a Hispanic refugee in space at age fifteen; the second covers the period of his enlistment in the Jupiter Navy. He has in all these narratives neglected or glossed over many of the technical details, such as hard-nosed quid-pro-quo bargaining or necessary political compromises or tedious research on issues and rivals. It is evident that his true interest was not in these things, though he was competent in all of them and always did what he needed to prevail.
Fortunately, much of that material is available in the open record, while the purely personal aspect is not.
It has been too easy for historians to forget that the Tyrant was in fact an intensely personal man, by no means arbitrary or cold-blooded in his dealings with others. This volume should help correct that misimpression, however else it may be faulted. It also clarifies the basis of such things as the “Sancho”
situation, the mystery of “Dorian Gray,” and the secret of how the Tyrant learned to speak Russian, and it offers hints of his nature that in retrospect make his tenure as the Tyrant less perplexing. Of course, no one realized, in the period that this manuscript covers, that he was destined to assume that power. He was merely a Hispanic politician.
H. M. H.
I woke in squalor. The stench tried to choke me; I found myself trying to breathe only out, never in, but of course, that was futile.
Where was I? Darkness pressed in about me, absolute, impenetrable, horrifying. Slowly my disgust at the odor faded as my alarm at the gloom gained. Was I incarcerated in some deep subterranean cell, doomed never to see light again?
My panic gave way in turn to some common sense. Subterranean cells were rare, for in this age of space, mankind existed mostly in pressurized bubbles that orbited in interplanetary reaches or floated in planetary atmosphere or adhered to the surfaces of moons or fragments. Only in the last case was there any terrain to delve beneath—and that was generally used only for secure anchorage, being too precious to waste on mere people. If someone needed confinement it was easier to put him in a cage than to excavate a hole in a frozen moon. I was not even cold; the temperature was neutral. So, if I was buried it was in the bowel of some city or ship, and others of my kind were close by.
My mind focused on this problem, as I seemed to have nothing better to do at the moment, and it distracted me from the discomfort of my situation. If I assumed I was in a city—what city might that be?
Well, where had I last been? Again panic welled up. I could not remember! My past was blank. I had a general knowledge of solar geography but could not place myself within it. It was as if I did not exist.
Of course I existed, I reassured myself. I was here, wasn't I? Surely I had not formed spontaneously in the sludge of the Nile! I was an adult human being.
The Nile—that was on Planet Earth, the location of the origin of man. My kind had evolved there, learned to prevail over the restrictions of nature, and increased its population at the expense of other creatures and the natural environment until over five billion human beings crowded the single planet. Then the development of gravity shielding had enabled man to travel cheaply to other parts of the Solar System and to colonize them. It was simply a matter of building bubbles, which were giant spheres, hermetically sealed, pressurized to normal Earth-surface atmosphere, spun to generate centrifugal pseudogravity—simply termed gee—and stocked with necessary equipment and supplies. Then these bubbles were loaded with people and shielded from the effect of planetary gravity so that they floated free of the ground and, indeed, free of the atmosphere. If gravity diffusion is sufficient to reduce the effective weight of an object to one percent of its normal weight, a propulsive force of one percent will do the job of lifting that otherwise requires a hundred percent. That makes it relatively easy to escape the gravity well of a planet. Of course, mass, as contrasted to weight, is unchanged; acceleration in space still requires full force. But the enormous problem of planetary escape had been solved. Man utilized gravity shielding to spread explosively across the Solar System. He has not spread out into the wider galaxy because the shielding does not facilitate that; the ancient Einsteinian limits hold.
When the flow of gravitrons is focused instead of diffused, the effective weight of an object in that field of focus is increased. In this manner man was able to generate full Earth-gee in selected spots on the surfaces of smaller bodies, such as the moons of Jupiter. The city of Maraud, on Callisto, is an example; I had spent my childhood there....
Callisto! I had just located myself on a body in the Solar System. My obscure past was beginning to clarify!
But my memory remained fogged. I had, as it were, spied Callisto peripherally; when my full mental gaze fixed on it, I could not perceive it. But at least I had gained something. Obviously I had been memory-washed....
Memory-washed! Why should such a thing have happened to me? I was just a poor Hispanic serf who had lost his parents in space, and...
Lost my parents? Sudden sorrow swept over me. But again, as I focused it was gone. Memory-wash is like that; it blots out all recent experience, leaving only the early, and even that suffers depletion. The victim remembers the language, culture, schooling, and childhood, but not the events immediately preceding the wash. Only time could restore it all; months and years are required for the final details.
Mem-wash is an electrochemical treatment that stuns rather than obliterates the key processes of recollection, but in the first few weeks it really makes little difference to the subject. He has been born again in innocence.
Such treatment is, of course, illegal. That meant that I was the victim of pirates or foreign agents, because ordinary people did not have the equipment or expertise for such a procedure. I must have done something or known something that—no, the wash is not a good interrogative technique, since it obliterates anything an interrogator might wish to know. So it wasn't any secret that my captor wanted of me.
What, then? It had to be something important but not anything ordinary. Had I learned something, such as a military secret, that had to be erased? Surely it would have been easier to kill me. Was I a criminal being reconditioned? That did not account for the filth I was mired in, for no legitimate rehabilitation institution would have permitted this. I was being deliberately degraded.
Well, in time I would remember. Meanwhile my best prospect seemed to be to figure out my present location, as that might offer some insight. I had started to do that before, but my mind had wandered, as a washed brain is apt to do. Suppose I was in a city? Maybe one of the bubble-cities of the Jupiter atmosphere, floating a current. If so, I should be able to tell my general location within it by my weight. A spinning sphere is not a perfect place to reside. Only a narrow band around the inside of the equator of the bubble can be set at gee; that is, precisely Earth gravity. Of course, this can be broadened by using a secant, cutting off a segment with a curved plane—um, I see that seems nonsensical. It's a plane running east-west but curved north-south or vice-versa; an effectively level band circling the inside of the bubble, really a cylinder. That cylinder can vastly increase the area of gee within the bubble, and all of the residential section of a city is on it. The heavy machinery is mostly below (i.e., farther from the center), occupying the region of gee-plus, while the gee-minus region above is left for air and light. So if I were in a cell in such a city, I would be normal weight only on that surface. In the upper section of a tall structure (one reaching in toward the bubble-center) I would weigh less, and down in the nether region I would weigh more. In a small bubble the divergence from gee is sharp; in a large one, slight. But it is detectable, for the human body is a finely tuned apparatus and quickly feels the effect of changed gee.
I concluded that I was at or very near gee, for my body felt normal in this respect despite my discomfort.
I must have been here for several days, at least, for it was my own excrement that I squatted in. Each person's stink of refuse is different, and I knew my own. I had had time to feel any divergence from the Earth norm, and there seemed to be none.
If the excrement was my own, why had it so assaulted my nostrils as I woke? If I had been here for days, my nose should have been numb long since, as it was numbing now. Therefore I must have been away and then abruptly returned here—immediately after my memory-wash. Was that useful information? Perhaps not, but I would file it for reference.
The residential level of a city is not a place for private incarceration. For one thing gee-level is expensive real estate—about a dollar per square foot per month. That's just for the area, before charges for air, water, light, and services. Very few individuals would care to waste such area on excrement. Also, the smell, if it got out, would quickly attract the attention of a sanitation squad. And what if the prisoner banged on the wall? A secret operation could not remain secret long.
I was, therefore, probably not in an occupied city. However, there were agricultural bubbles with animals and manure. One of these might—
Light flared blindingly. I cowered away from it, clamping my eyes shut, covering them with soiled hands.
A panel above had abruptly opened, illuminating my cell.
“Out, Hubris,” a man's voice called. “Time for treatment.”
Hubris! That was my name! I knew it, of course, yet had not thought of it. But what was this
“treatment”? I distrusted that. Obviously I had already had the mem-wash treatment.
“Move it, Hubris,” the voice snapped. I realize it isn't quite correct to personify the voice that way, but that was all I had to go on. It was masculine and unfamiliar.
No hand touched me. I suspected this was because I was naked and filthy, an untouchable. I pushed myself slowly to my feet, my eyes adjusting. My cell was small, a cube about four feet on a side. I had not tried to stand or stretch before; if I had done so I would have banged into the unseen limits.
As I got upright I felt light-headed. This could have been from the release from a cramped position, of course, but it could also signify a lessened gee. In that case this was no large city or agricultural sphere; it was a small bubble or a ship. Could I be aboard a naval vessel?
Goaded by the voice, I climbed out of the cell, into a passage. Yes, it was a ship, gee lessened in the walkway above the cells. I proceeded to a shower stall where I was efficiently hosed down. All water is recycled, so there is no waste in a liquid shower, though normally sonic cleaning is used instead.
Obviously strenuous cleansing was required for me. In a moment I was free of filth. Then the sonics came on, prying free whatever contamination might remain.
Next, still naked, I was taken to a clean cell whose walls were padded. I was strapped into a padded chair. I did not like this at all, but it seemed pointless to resist until I knew more about my situation. If I broke and ran where could I run to on a ship in space?
The man who had seen to my preparation departed, and a new one entered the chamber. Evidently he was of greater authority. He fetched a small console that had buttons and dials. He twisted a dial and punched a button—and suddenly I was in pain. It felt as if my left foot were being crushed under an immense crate. I cried out and looked at it, for I could not jerk it away. There was nothing. Just the confining strap and the pain.
The man touched another button, and the agony shifted to my right foot, easing in my left. “That's a torture console!” I gasped, catching on.
The man did not respond. He touched another button, and the pain was in my right hand. Another, and the left hand. It felt as if my fingers were being pressed in a vice; in my mind's eye I almost saw the flesh splitting open and the blood bursting out. Yet I was not being touched.
“You don't need to do that!” I cried. “Just tell me what you want of me!”
The man ignored me. He changed the setting, and it was like being punched in the stomach. I gasped and fought for breath and tried to retch all at once, but only succeeded in drooling on myself.
“Why?” I rasped as the pain eased, but there was no answer.
The agony moved into my chest, and I thought I was having a heart attack. I strained at my bonds, unable even to scream. It felt like eternity but must have been only a few seconds.
Finally the torture struck my head. The brain feels no pain, but the blood vessels do. The pain blossomed in my skull like bursting arteries, and I sank into an agony of darkness.
I woke in my filthy cell, in more darkness. I did not know how long the interval had been; perhaps only a few minutes. Almost worse than the memory of the pain was the bafflement. Why had the torture been inflicted? I had offered no resistance, not even verbal retort, yet I had been tortured. In what way had I gone wrong? How could I avoid further pain? I did not know.
Why was I here? I did not know that, either. What was my position in life? That, too, was opaque. My captors seemed to be interested only in degradation and agony.
At least I now had a clearer notion where I was. Definitely a ship and not a civilian one. I had spent time in the Jupiter Navy, and...
There was another fragment of memory. The Navy! But that awareness, like the others, faded as I realized it. Now all I had was the memory of my recollection; it was as if someone had told me, “You were once in the Navy,” without providing further detail, so that I had no context.
At any rate, I knew ships, and the little I had seen of this one was enough to narrow the possibilities considerably. It was a military vessel but not a standard one. It was too small to be a battleship, cruiser, or carrier; too big for a gunboat. It was silent; no motors hummed. That was peculiar. The only small ship designed for silence while in operation was—
A sub was a very special type of ship. It was a military vessel dedicated to secrecy, to virtual invisibility in space. In the historic days, most naval vessels floated on the surface of Earth's oceans of water (what a mind-staggering concept: all that water!), plainly visible, protecting themselves with armor and armament.
Subs—actually, originally, submarines, being submersible in the fluid of the sea—were largely undetectable and so represented a formidable menace to surface ships. They carried torpedoes that could hole other vessels that never perceived the threat against them until too late, and later they carried missiles that even menaced land targets. This was especially true in the nuclear age of the twentieth century, about seven hundred years ago—how time flies!—and I suspect was one of the factors that spurred man's colonization of the Solar System. After all, what sensible person would care to reside on a planet whose cities were subject to obliteration by missiles launched elsewhere on that same planet? It's bad enough as it is now, when the threat of annihilation is merely interplanetary. Today we have greater warning.
Or do we? Today's subs are very similar to the ancient waterbound ones. In fact, any spaceship resembles the old. submarine, in that it is tightly sealed against a hostile exterior environment. Then that environment was water under high pressure, always threatening to implode the vessel and crush everything inside to pulp. Today it is the vacuum of space, threatening, as it were, to suck everything out.