by D. A. Madigan
The Ethicalist stared out into space blindly, the mind behind his bicameral eyes still overwhelmed with the implications of what it had just perceived. They’re going to do it, an inner voice kept chanting over and over again in despair. I’ve failed. They’re going to go through with it. And, almost as an afterthought, the worst realization of all came trailing the rest: Father would be so ashamed of me.
Behind the Ethicalist, the portal to the Observation Platform dilated. There was a brief shuddering roar as atmosphere billowed out from the inner chamber; the Ethicalist’s symbiosuit automatically extruded anchoring hooks into the tailored fungal growth covering the ship’s outer hull. Then the portal regained surface tension, its quicksilver façade becoming seamless once more. Crystals of condensed gasses swirled around the Ethicalist briefly like a capsule snowstorm, then blew off into space.
A presence loomed at the Ethicalist’s right; he knew without looking that it was the Chief Radiologist — knew, because the psuedomind in his symbiosuit was receiving the other’s recognition aura. The Chief would have come to offer comforting platitudes and yet another unconvincing rationalization. The Ethicalist wanted to be left alone, but could never voice such a subversive sentiment. Nonetheless, no social custom required he speak unless spoken to.
After a brief silence, the Chief Radiologist began. “It’s beautiful,” he said, waving to indicate the blueish green globe hanging off to their right, dominating the starfield in that direction.
The Ethicalist kept all tone from his reply. “It won’t be by the time we return,” he said, in measured cadence more machine-like than biological. “Without guidance, they’ll ruin it. Especially now.”
The Chief Radiologist sighed. “We’re giving them guidance. It just won’t be the kind of active, direct, interpersonal help we originally intended for them. No one expected this to happen... the Urms have never prematurely emerged from their cybernation cycle before. They’ve stripped three stellar regions already. We’re needed...”
The Ethicalist continued to stare out at the planet. “We should leave a team here. You know that.”
The Chief Radiologist made an irritated sound. “The recall orders are written for all of us. Leaving a team is not compatible...”
“We’re an exploratory module,” the Ethicalist interrupted, not caring about the breach of courtesy. “Our command cadre has discretionary ability and initiative capacity. We could leave a team.”
“That decision has been made.” If the Chief Radiologist was insulted by the Ethicalist’s rudeness, he hid it well. “Transit duration makes it impossible to know exactly what the Race will require by the time we arrive back in the Civil Sphere. Any of us may be crucial.”
The Ethicalist let a sarcastic tone enter his voice. “An Ethicalist? In time of war? How probable do you think it is that my services would possibly be useful, much less vital?”
The Chief Radiologist paused. After a moment, he went on. “All of that is immaterial. The decision has been made. We must have consensus.”
The Ethicalist wanted to scream in exasperation. Why wouldn’t these people listen? Why wouldn’t they understand? “The decision is an abomination,” he said quietly. “No matter how expedient it is, it’s simply wrong. Our own racial memory teaches us that. We barely survived the horror we’re inflicting on those poor, backwards creatures. How can anyone justify it? Am I the only one on this mission with any knowledge of history?”
The Chief Radiologist again made an irritated sound. “We’re all aware that there were excesses... even atrocities. But what is the alternative? They’re primitives! Just up out of the muck. How are we supposed to foster social harmony, when their own basic territoriality will lead to grievous anti-social actions like theft and assault and murder? How can we give them a chance at racial survival, at building a viable genetic foundation, when their own bestial urges will cause them to mate with whatever is immediately available, regardless of the consequences?”
Now the Ethicalist turned to his colleague, anger evident in his posture. “The alternative is to leave a team! To watch them, and guide them, and educate and teach them! To show them why they should respect each other’s property, why every murder is a terrible waste of potential, why close blood relations shouldn’t interbreed, why, at this point in their development, they can’t afford to waste sexual energy and material on activities that can’t produce offspring, or will produce defective ones! Making laws without giving them the reasons for those laws is more than foolish, it’s cruel! And using terror as a motivating force — introducing superstition as their primary social matrix...” The Ethicalist paused and made a visible effort to control his fury. “It’s beneath contempt.”
The Chief Radiologist controlled his own anger, and answered levelly. “We can’t leave a team. And given that, what would you have us do? They have barely achieved self-awareness. Discipline, self-control, higher moral thought, a basic social contract... all these things are generations away for them, even with active, consciously guided intervention. Without it, we have to give them a code of laws that will let them survive, give them a chance to evolve... and we have to give them a reason to obey those laws, when their every instinct wants to break them!”
The Chief Radiologist paused, then continued. “We have to make them afraid of something larger than themselves, something they can believe is watching them all the time, something they can’t escape from or evade, something that will punish them savagely when they break the laws they must follow to survive as tribal creatures!”
The Ethicalist abandoned his attempts to control his feelings; the rage felt good, burning inside him like a coalescing star. “I saw those... those things... you’re going to telepathically implant in their subconscious minds. That... creature...” A momentary image came to the Ethicalist’s mind and fueled his anger to higher peaks... a snarling, mountainous beast, clawed and fanged, wreathed in fire and lightning, staring down in wrath from a bank of turbulent storm clouds. “It makes me sick. You’re teaching them to be afraid of the sonic and photonic disturbances created by charged ion trails in their atmosphere! You’re teaching them to be frightened of basic thermal plasma! How can we ever expect them to discover the rudiments of scientific thought if they’re terrified of primary energy manifestations?”
The Chief Radiologist regarded the Ethicalist with understanding. “I know. It seems abusive... but remember, our own ancestors cowered in fear of the wrath of nature, and made up spirits and demons and devils through their own ignorance, and their need for some explanation of the world around them, however irrational. We built elaborate fantasy structures around such things, and we fought and conquered and killed and died for such myths. And eventually we outgrew them, and came out to the stars.”
The Ethicalist shuddered. “But millions died because of those fantasies! Millions were tortured, enslaved, gruesomely murdered! We only survived through blind favorable chance! How can we possibly inflict that on those poor creatures out there? They need guidance and nurturing, not fear and brutality!”
The Chief Radiologist drew himself up. “I see we’re no closer to convincing each other of our points than ever. But I didn’t seek you out to continue arguing with you. I came to tell you of a decision made by the command cadre after you left the meeting.”
The Ethicalist looked back to the planet. “Departure time? I don’t care. I’ll get it the next time my symbiosuit interfaces with the ship’s centermind...”
The Chief Radiologist smiled. “No. It was finally decided what to name the creatures. They’re still pre-linguistic, so the name will be added to the telepathic data programs we’re leaving behind. Eventually, they’ll adapt it into their primal languages; doubtless, they’ll still be using it when we return.”
“Ah.” That was mildly interesting; in times past, the Ethicalist had joined in with many of the spirited debates on just that subject. Who was currently dominant in the command cadre? Derylos... “Deryllians, I assume.”
The Chief Radiologist waved that off. “No. No, we’re naming them after your genefather. The greatest moral philosopher of our time. We know that you condemn our actions here, and he would, as well... but at least we’re giving them something you can respect, by naming them after Lord Huma.”
The Ethicalist continued to stare off into space. After several moments, the Chief Radiologist sighed heavily. “You really should start preparing for the voyage home. Biostasis is never pleasant...” Seeing there would be no reply, the Chief sighed again and turned away. This time, the Ethicalist did not even notice the roaring of the portal as his friend departed, leaving him alone on the outer hull, staring at the planet they would so soon abandon, after inflicting the greatest conceivable intellectual horror on.
I can’t help you, he thought sorrowfully. There is nothing I can do for you. I know what is right, but the Race won’t listen to me. I’m a failure... and you poor creatures will pay for my inadequacy.
The Ethicalist knew he should go back inside, and begin the preparations for the voyage home. Even by his race’s standards, the transit would take a lengthy period. If he survived the War, he planned to lead the party returning to this world... but that would not be for at least 100,000 of their orbital periods.
But before he went, he sent a final thought winging towards the planet hovering above him:
If you survive this curse we give you, if you can throw it off, and find science and reason and rational thought and recover the precious ability to question, to inquire, to dare to ask the universe “Why?”... If you do some day come out to meet us in the stars... perhaps, if you beat those odds, you will then be able to forgive us for burdening you, for crippling the development of your evolving sentience, with...
The Ethicalist paused, and like any rational, sentient being, shuddered as the repulsive word formed in his mind...
Copyright © 2005 by D. A. Madigan