Lightspeed: Edited by John Joseph Adams




The Mars Convention

Gesta waddled through the lobby of the Charenton Hotel Mars, masking his revulsion as best he could. The whole place had that cheesy charm that humans had so adored. Mindless plants grew in containers here and there. A large excavation filled with water, a “swimming pool,” lapped gently at the edge of the registration slab, giving off a faint trace of chlorine. Not enough chlorine to intoxicate, but it did give the air a pleasant tang.

Everywhere—on the balconies; in the bar; in the corridors; even, incredibly, in the pool—were Struvei, Buhrmice, and Gleansians costumed as humans. And this Conference claimed to be a scholarly gathering!

The hotel lobby offered a battlefield of warring sensations. The whole infrared glared with excessive energy, lacking any of the clarity he knew on his reasonably sized ice moon circling a proper gas giant. But what could be expected from this crowded, warm, rocky little planet so close to the star? The star the humans had called Sun.

The personal odors would take, in Gesta’s opinion, considerable adaptation. He did not dislike the other spacefaring species; he found them interesting. But it had to be admitted: They smelled funny.

He asked the desk clerk for a more effective atmosphere filter.

In the elevating cubicle, he tried to relax his inner tentacles. Sixty meripips of gravitation bore down on him. Ten times the Miseran normal. He wondered if humans had been so self-deceptive, so fraudulent, because their lives had been so burdensome under the much greater gravitation of their home planet?

Assuming that the seething, molten third planet of this system really was the fabled Earth.

• • • •

Two fundamentalists, one a Noresht and the other a fellow Miseraph, blocked the corridor to his room.

“Look, the stories in the Chronicles don’t even agree with each other!” the Noresht insisted, branches waving wildly and roots taking firm hold of the flooring. “Some of them have to be forgeries. How can the trees grow so easily in ‘The Green Morning’ but the whole planet be as dry and empty as in ‘The Silent Town’ and the ‘Million Year Picnic’? You’ve got to be able to weed out the obviously false texts.”

“If we start throwing out texts in order to reconcile them, how will you stop? How will you know which are sacred and . . .”

Sensing him, they fell silent. The Imperium’s representative, with the power to ban their publications, shouldn’t hear them bickering.

Not that it mattered, because Gesta’s speech to the Convention, and his report for the Imperium, were both nearly complete. Nothing these foolish humanophiles would decide had any bearing on his decision. This nonsense must be brought to a close, before it poisoned all of history.

The suite seemed narrow, probably meant for Mino-sodni with their practically two-dimensional bodies. The trailing edges of his wings kept dragging on the walls. Even first-class resorts like this found it difficult to accommodate all nine spacefaring species. Laying topsoil on the floor for Noreshtae, then replacing it with ice for the Schra’a’lengi, and swapping atmospheres from oxygen to chlorine to fluorine must cost a fortune.

Gesta scanned the conference program. Just as he expected—one misguided attempt at scholarly rationalization after another. “Lensmen, Stranger, Ylla or Cacciaguida: Are all Martians from the same Mars?”; “Deriving the Geography of Narnia, Avalon, and the Grey Havens”; “Evidence for Identifying Mahasamatman as a Scion of Count Dracula of Transylvania”; “Probable Tralfamadorian Intervention in Orr’s Voluntary Therapeutic Treatment and the Grasshopper Lies Heavy Oracle”; and these so-called studies were supposed to produce a definitive agreement on the history of the human race, by reconciling the apparent differences among the various sacred texts of science fiction.

No two scholars here, of the two thousand invitees to this half-marsyear conference, agreed on any interpretation of the canon. But they expected to send a signed and sealed conventicle, the Mars Convention, to the Imperium. It was, to use a humanism, hogwash!

There’d been fifty days of preliminary lectures before Gesta’s arrival, and he spent the afternoon oozing off landing-lag and running through the summaries. So much effort, so little truth.

Not that Human Studies had much to work with, to be sure. The hard evidence was limited to a few bits of meteor-pelted metal on the surface of this planet, four moons of the sixth planet, and the tenth planet; some “satellites” wandering in cometary orbits; and the remains of two human habitats. In both habitats were found the artifacts that had caught the attention of starfaring culture: books. Thin rectangles with symbols embedded on flexible ceramic leaves. About a hundred codices depending on how you counted them. Several repeats. Almost all bearing the phrase “science fiction” on the cover, along with impressive portraits of this remarkably active and muscular race.

Most of the other artifacts had decayed beyond study. Only the books, some posters, and one phonograph record were intelligible.

The search for the humans had been going full-tilt ever since.

• • • •

Gesta woke from a “dreamless sleep.” As the preening acid warmed in the toilet cubicle, he wondered for the thousandth time just what the humans had meant by “dreaming.” Only three of the nine spacefaring species slept, and they had no experience of these strange events that troubled sleeping humans, and which seemed outside time. If only the work on the subject by human Freud had survived.

Reclining in the public eating rooms, he surveyed the cliques grouped here and there. In the far corner huddled the four fictomathematicians who’d been invited to speak. Two Tafkapalites, one Miseraph, and a Gleans, probably representing the four differing schools of fictomathematic interpretation. Most of their work centered on the two apparently mathematical texts: human Lorentz’s Human Michelson’s Interference Experiment and human Einstein’s The Foundation of the General Theory of Relativity. Texts which revealed, according to your preference: that human physics was amusingly flawed; or deeply perceptive in some yet-unknown way; or a symbol system having little to do with physics; or magical formulae.

Gesta himself had no opinion. His report would leave fictomathematics out.

The hotel food was palatable, but lacking in brutality. His attention wandered until Sharia came sliding down an aisle, straight to Gesta’s couch. “Miseraph Gesta of the Imperium! I heard you’d joined us.” Sharia made all the right mudras, with only a couple of pseudohuman touches thrown in.

Gesta reluctantly greeted his major philosophical opponent. This whole Conference had sprung from the proposals of schra’a’leng Sharia, who admittedly had a gift for squeezing funds out of cold gases for scholarly studies. Sharia coiled her long, flexible body around a support post. Gesta never trusted Schra’a’lengi, or their scholarship. A body that can twist in every direction, in his opinion, produced arguments that did the same.

Sharia made a conspiratorial gesture. “Come to tell us we’re all idiots, I presume?”

Gesta had not expected such bluntness. “I have come to see if there has been any critical progress on the canon of science fiction.”

“The sacred canon of science fiction,” corrected Sharia. “It’s been fairly bleak, so far. Last week’s highlight was esprow Kervantz arguing ‘that old head-to-toe scarred Ahab was really Frankenstein’s Monster, offended at the white whale for belittling his non-god-made existence’ or something. I was appalled at the inventiveness of it.”

Sharia uncoiled and began to slither off, but said in parting, “I’ve arranged to give you the last word. Your speech is the day before the negotiating begins on the Convention.”

My report to the Imperium will be the last word, Gesta thought. But the encounter puzzled him. Did Sharia not respect the Reconciliation movement, either? How hypocritical was she?

• • • •

He attended the lecture “Were Bodices Ever Intact?: Human Clothing in Prose and Illustration.” The galleries were packed with humanophiles interested in “costuming.” “Philes” abounded at the Conference, maybe three times the number of the scholars. Parts of Gesta liquefied at the cost of moving all these folks across parsecs of space for this absurd exercise in . . .

He hesitated to express the pointlessness of it all, even to himself. But that was what he’d come for. To declare science fiction utterly, dangerously, and even criminally pointless.

Scanning the gallery, he noted the rich solecisms of attire. Chain mail and ray guns. High Transylvanian capes and deerstalker caps. Hobbit jerkins and red eye caps. The worst was a Struvei in a swallowtail tuxedo, steel-plated bra, spurred boots, and a broadsword dangling unsheathed from a hide belt.

He left.

• • • •

Despite his antipathy to the Conference, Gesta enjoyed the experience of total immersion in the various Human Studies. He knew their books to be misleading and unsound, but that didn’t obliterate the questions their study raised. What had happened to them? Was this really their home system? How did the third planet turn into a molten ball, this late in the system’s age, and without completely slagging its moon? What did all these books really mean? And most of all, what had made humans “tick,” as they once said? What had they wanted?

The philes, of course, seemed entranced by these questions, but not to the point of trying to solve them. The “human experience” interested them more—and they pursued it through costumes, public book readings, art shows, surgical alterations, and the endless playing of the Glass Bead Game.

Gesta was highly suspicious of the clearly dangerous tendencies of the Glass Bead Game. Many a fine mind had been distracted by it, and many a career sidetracked into its all-encompassing complications. Glass Bead Game players and fans lived in self-created worlds of their own, which they claimed had significant connections to the mundane world, but which Gesta found dangerously simplistic or sometimes wholly false.

Even the rules were not as human Hesse had portrayed them. The current rage was collectable playing tiles, which had no textual basis at all. But the artifact arcades were filled with tile vendors.

The annual Imperiate Festival Game had been shifted here to Mars in honor of the Conference; and half the philes were playing in it—and most of the scholars. Those who weren’t probably wished they were.

The theme for this game, appropriately, was the question of Human Destiny. Humans had many gifts unknown to us, and powers we yet do not understand, claimed the Festival Game Audience Guide. They could be invisible, travel in time, and communicate instantly across vast stretches of the galaxy. They could exceed the speed of light without swapping mass from the destination point. They could create matter ex nihilo, and read minds. They could murder without regret, steal without embarrassment, and by the simple mention of a small city’s name could recast events.

“Antwerp,” Gesta muttered, but the universe did not change.

Some even attained immortality by birth, blood consumption or medical wisdom. Humans, with few exceptions, were strong, wise, and unusually lucky. Their sexual attractiveness is the envy of the galaxy.

What fate, what destiny, awaited such a race? This year’s game will follow this question, moving from the tenets of physics and the list of human virtues, and exploring the many ends to which they may have come. The Game Question is: “Where Are They Right Now, and What Are They Doing?”

• • • •

“Honorable Councilor,” said gleans JoNikt, with that disrespectful edge that long association permitted him to use, “what’s a miserable Miseraph like you doing, shaking your head at our Game?” Gesta had been listening to a pointless debate between two players, one insisting that Leibowitz held moral priority over all other revelations, the other holding out for Star Maker. “Really, you should come down off your professional throne and give it a try.”

“I have seen too many promising careers lost when your Game sucked . . .”

The Gleans straightened his Player’s robe with a carelessly extended talon. “True, Councilor, anything as fascinating as this can tempt one into over-indulgence, and over-indulgence in anything, your own taste for efflorescent fluorine for example, is dangerous. But it’s the most challenging intellectual exercise I know.”

“It’s more an addiction than an exercise.”

“The Glass Bead Game is nothing but the association of ideas, presented as a dramatic metaphor. It tempts the players to think, to think in original ways and in new patterns. I would assume you’d find that admirable!”

“I would if I believed in these . . . stories.”

“Perhaps, dear Gesta, if you were to put your disbelief into suspension . . . ?”

“Suspension!? Disbelief is the cornerstone of Science. To give it up is to choose insanity!” Gesta heard his voice squeak embarrassingly with emotion.

Gleans JoNikt’s skull ring incandesced with amusement and affection. “You have always been an intolerable old grump, miseraph Gesta.”

“And you have always been . . . how did the humans say it? . . . a cheeky scoundrel.”

• • • •

Gesta’s own great-great-ancestor, enthralled with the human canon, had led an expedition to search through six other stellar systems hoping to find the real Earth, and there to excavate the ruins of Dotheboys Hall (her dream being to stand where human John Browdie had stood, at the final breaking up of that place; the greatest emblematic moment in human history, in her opinion, and the opinion of many others), before sadly concluding that this was, indeed, the Solar System—and the molten planet, Earth.

It had broken the honorable ancestor’s spirit. Nothing would console her. Her mate had clung to the belief that the humans had gone into another dimension, that they were all there, all still living, retelling the old tales of human heroism. But he could not convince her; she would have none of it.

• • • •

Three bodies, with just one brain between them, Gesta thought. An Esprow whose nametags said “Rewawk.” Its thinking body had just asked his opinion of the human homeland. The eating body was working its way down the buffet table, a large platter in each claw. The reproductive body lounged against the bandstand, assessing the possibilities.

Gesta turned the question back to Rewawk, knowing the Esprow was more interested in spouting his own opinion than in listening to another’s. Esprows experienced too much dialecticism in their own triune lives. In other things, they wanted clear certainties. “I think they’ve retreated,” Rewawk propounded. “I’m convinced they’re living in the center of Earth, possibly waiting for beings as adventurous as themselves to come find them. We must demand funding to create a probe that will go down through all that molten stone and find them. I call it the Nautilus Program, after . . .”

“Yes, of course.” Why did the nitwits always admire Nemo so much? On his cynical days, Gesta felt that their real interest in humans was the human admiration for mass killers who had found a plausible excuse. On those days, Gesta was sure what the meaning of the molten third planet had to be. Very sure.

• • • •

He discussed encountering the esprow Rewawk over late dinner, with gleans JoNikt and two other colleagues from the Imperial War College. “Interesting. I heard from Holubo that this same Rewawk was touting the theory this morning that they had all been sucked into a black hole of their own devising. And that only the day before he had insisted with equal vigor that the humans were now disembodied spirits watching over us and keeping us from harm.”

“He’s been using his feeding brain too much, I fear,” snorted Gesta.

“At least he is willing to consider more than one point of view,” snipped JoNikt, as though he thought that was a virtue.

The two colleagues, both Mino-sodni, hastened to redirect the conversation. “We’ve just come from the ‘Memoirs Found In a Bathtub: History or Forgery’ panel,” said the higher ranked of the two. “Most interesting,” observed his junior.

“So which did they decide?”

“Pardon, Councilor?”

Gesta flipped his disemboweling scoop from side to side to indicate the choices. “History? Forgery?”

“Oh, they veered off the topic almost immediately,” the lesser one explained. “We got onto the Game question. The panelists seem to think that humans are extinct.”

“And what,” asked JoNikt, over a beaker of smoking blood, “do you believe?”

The junior officer gathered his thoughts as though for an exam question. “I persist in believing that humans discovered, or were given, faster-than-light drive. Seeking the Grey Havens, or Arrakis, or perhaps pursuing the Dragon’s Egg, they left.”

The senior Mino-sodni interrupted. “I think F-T-L should be seen as an emblem of the spacelessness of human consciousness . . .”

“Excuse me, sir,” Gesta impatiently quashed the officer’s philosophical speculation. “But your colleague used an interesting expression. ‘Persist’ you said ‘in believing.’ Why, if I may ask, do you ‘persist’?”

“Because,” the officer admitted with foodbeingish candor, “if I believe it, I can still seek them. If I do not believe, I must give up the adventure. I must abandon all hope.”

• • • •

In summary, the very concept of Reconciliation of the so-called “sacred” texts of science fiction is based on a false premise. The books in our possession are not a seamless garment fabricated by a single garmentshrubbery, and scholars could spend infinite amounts of energy, money, and mutual vituperation without ever coming to an honest consensus on how the books fit together into a whole, Gesta dictated to his textwriter. The texts of science fiction are each individual. They do not form a whole, nor are they the same things. Human Darwin’s purposes in composing science fiction, if it is that, are undoubtedly quite different from human Clarke’s. Trying to make them one thing is inherently self-defeating.

But this is not the most dangerous false premise. The idea that these works present an accurate portrayal of human affairs and human history . . . A gentle knock at the door interrupted. How quaintly human, he thought. The inspection scope revealed Sharia and three other members of the Steering Committee furling and unfurling their appendages in the corridor.

“I can’t invite you in,” he said. “There’s no room in here.”

“Could we meet in the executive ice tubs, then?” asked Jivannee. Gesta considered this blithering Struvei to be the worst form of bureaucratic cretin. Gesta had read his papers. Sub-idiotic. Deca-moronic. “In half an hour?”

Even Sharia seemed honestly solicitous. “We would like to discuss the Convention, if you don’t mind. Your attitude is key.”

At least they had that right, Gesta thought.

Fools. Self-deluded fools.

• • • •

Gesta luxuriated in his pool of liquid chloromethane. If they were trying to soften him up, meeting in the ice tubs was good strategy. Sharia lay coiled on a sheet of water ice. The others had cool metallic crystals of their own preference. Billed to their Universities, he assumed.

Sharia cut quickly to the gonads of the issue. “We would like you to tell us the gist of your presentation, so that we can try to persuade you to drop your opposition to the Mars Convention, or at least to the idea. You do intend to oppose it, I assume?”

“I intend to take my cue from a passage in human Melville,” he said. “In chapter nine, where it adjures us ‘To preach the Truth to the face of Falsehood.’ That is what I intend to do.”

Jivannee made a tolerant mudra. “And what Truth do you wish to preach,” he asked, “in the face of which Falsehood?”

Gesta knew these four had their whole lives’ work invested in Human Studies, and as silly as much of their product was, it didn’t please him to puncture their air-sacs. But he would be making the same points in just a few days, and then again before the Imperium, and probably over and over for the rest of his cycles.

He simply summarized. “I think that no archaeological remains have been found of Trantor, or the Empire, not because they are in another galaxy, or time, or dimension, but because there never was an Empire. Or a Culture. I don’t think humans could find new realms on the other side of mirrors, or chifforobes, or windmills, or in computer networks. I do not think any of their gods ever existed. I don’t think the Earth is molten because another planet collided with it. I do not think human King Arthur will come again.

“My premise is that science fiction is not ‘fiction’ in the first sense, as the Galactic Human Dictionary has it: ‘An archetypical historic event, written down to preserve the glory of said event for future generations.’ I think scholars have willfully misled themselves since the books were first discovered. The second sense, ‘A similar story, possibly false,’ covers this case. I actually think the whole first definition is wishful thinking. I think the only definition of ‘fiction’ is ‘falsehood.’”

He expected anger from them. There was none. Sharia flashed the mudra of complete concurrence. “Just so,” she said. “Of course. Well put.”

“Quite,” agreed Jivannee. “Quite,” repeated the others.

Gesta, taken aback by the sudden capitulation, hesitated to continue. What depth of hypocrisy was here? What trap? “And so I think the Convention can serve no purpose. It should be rejected, in any form.”

Riosto, a Noresht, slowly flowered in its tub of crystals and asked, “Do you think Human Studies should be abandoned, Councilor?”

“Not entirely. But the texts should be de-sacralized. And the search for humans abandoned, of course.”


“Because they are all dead.”

Riosto went briefly to seed. “Do you find no value in these texts, beyond their existence as artifacts, Councilor?”

Gesta could not frame a reply, at first, and Sharia spoke. “Look at the stories these humans told themselves, Councilor. We tell stories of slow steady growth, calm maturation, sensible decline. All our stories come to nothing in the end, because we know that we all come to nothing in the end. But humans, these long-dead humans, told stories of a different sort. Most of their stories had happy endings. Their stories are full of choices, conflicts, and individuals making a difference in their own worlds; not in endless generations, but in a single lifetime, or a day, an hour, sometimes an instant.” Sharia uncoiled for emphasis. “In their stories, love sometimes triumphs over hate.”

“But it’s made up,” Gesta protested. “It’s all made up!”

Sharia, forming the mudra of ambiguity, replied, “Councilor, everything is made up, both the false and the true. Every significant part of the nine cultures has been ‘made up.’“

She coiled again. “I will tell you what we think. We think that the humans created these works in order to amuse themselves, clearly; to deceive themselves, possibly; and to think ahead. This was their most important characteristic, an urge to imagine what was not, what might yet be. They met adversity with creativity. The relics of no dead species have caught our imaginations like these humans and their science fiction, because imagination is their hallmark. I would hate to be the one to condemn such a body of work, merely because it was not factual.”

“But they failed,” Gesta insisted, quietly. “Their imagination must have been a gripless blade. Look at their home.”

“Indeed they did fail,” noresht Riosto agreed, dropping early fruit. “Indeed, they came to nothing, as in our stories. No happy ending. Failed as we will fail, leaving a few broken tools and their works of the imagination.”

“And all that makes thinking beings different from foodbeings,” hissed Sharia, “is the works of the imagination.”

Gesta found this assertion confusing, but challenging. “What,” he finally asked, “do you want of me?”

“We want you to give your lecture, taking an entire day if need be. We want you to call gods suspect, the Glass Bead Game unhistorical, and the sacred texts of science fiction to be so much space opera. But then you should be perfectly honest with yourself and your audience. This is great stuff. It has already changed the way we imagine ourselves. Why not admit it?”

• • • •

Gesta felt physically soothed by the bath, but mentally agitated by the blatant attempt to get him to abandon his principles. He waddled through the main lounge, now filled with flirting conventioneers, and past the Space Beagle Bar & Zanzibar Ice-Cream Stand. The only talk scheduled for this late hour was something billed as “The Three Laws in Our Time” that sounded revoltingly moralistic. He chose, instead, to explore the Artifact Arcade.

Artifact Arcades, a universal fixture wherever philes gathered, had neither human artifacts nor arched roofs, but they were legitimately interesting anyway. Hundreds of different editions, in all the known scripts, of the canonical texts; thousands of dramatic renditions in all the standard viewing formats; and tens of thousands of trinkets filled the tables and stalls.

Things, he thought, objects had such significance for them. The instruments and regalia of power were clearly the dynamic center of most of their books. It was reflected here in the swords, the magic wands, the armor, the uniforms, the models and pictures of warships, the cards and yarrow stalks for foretelling the future, the time-machines for exploring the past, the garments that gave their women such overwhelming magnetism, and above all by the guns. Many of the objects were quite beautiful, but power was their essence.

Our material world was bland before we discovered theirs, he admitted.

In the Great Gallery of the arcade hung a pair of magnificent chitonotapestries, huge things that almost filled the largest wall. They weren’t even for sale, the works of gleans Emekel were all commissioned and rarely changed hands. These were being shown off to the public before disappearing into a private collection, never to be seen again.

They embodied everything wrong with the Reconciliation movement. The artist had tried to unite all the varying stories of the human canon into one, both allegorically and historically. The two panels formed a single work, dominated by huge disks of planets hanging like enormous blue aspirin tablets at each end. The Earth of When Worlds Collide hung at the right end, and Bellus hung at the left. Also on the left panel was Troy, with human Priam’s hundred sons manning the ramparts. They looked down on one of the Martian projectiles opening up. Elsewhere the tripods were already deployed and moving in the direction of the right panel.

Just above the disk of Earth on the right were the Achaians, and if one looked carefully you could see human Homer down by the beach, cataloging the ships. News of the Martian invasion spread across this panel, men sweating over hot wireless sets trying to get the message out. Also on this panel were primitive humans, trying to discover fire by striking the first match against the sandpaper side of the matchbox, while others discovered agriculture (as shown by their squeezing what might have been castor oil from some round green seeds.) On the left panel were dinosaurs and dragons and jealous gods just waiting to take these benefits away.

The tapestries were beautifully embellished with a double-helix motif, with different gems indicating the four bases that formed the structural pairs. Informed opinion held that life was impossible with less than six bases, pace human Watson. Had the error originated with Holmes? Gesta wondered, then caught himself.

From the ray-gun in human Hector’s hand it seemed that Emekel accepted the theory that Iliad, When Worlds Collide, and War of the Worlds recorded the same events, and appear different only due to sloppy interpretation.

Hundreds of different stories, intricately interlaced, filled the space of the two panels. Gesta noted that they did effectively portray the most chilling thing about humans, the thing that tied so many of their stories together. They were generally about winning. About two forces in conflict and one annihilating the other.

All his life, he had been disturbed by this recurrent theme. It made for great drama, for gripping narration; but Gesta could not bring himself to admire annihilation.

Standing further back, he spent some minutes taking the work in, knowing that he stood before one of the most beautiful creations of civilization. Why doesn’t our history inspire such creativity? he wondered. Why did we need the human lies?

He asked a docent what the work was entitled.

The Atrocity Exhibition.

• • • •

Near the climax of his address, Gesta was concluding a long list of absurd events in the sacred canon. “All of this is untrue. And I will say so in my report to the Imperium.

“Likewise, I will report that it is foolishness to spend official funds on questions like the probable anatomy of the upright tom cat in human Bulgakov’s Master and Margarita, or whether there were ever potatoes of prey.”

The audience had quieted from polite silence to the stillness of a deep subterranean burial chamber. He raised his eyes from the illuminated screen of his textwriter, and surveyed the audience. They had packed the auditorium to hear his remarks, knowing that he had the power not only to eliminate research funding but even to ban their meetings if he so decided.

It occurred to Gesta that this was a profoundly human moment. He held the power to annihilate this misguided nonsense, and the time had come to use it.

The pause grew longer. Sounds of polite retching began here and there. A few small children had to be stifled.

His tentacle tapped gently on the podium, and then, almost by itself, slid the MODE toggle from DISPLAY to RECORD.

“But . . .” Gesta heard himself begin, “while I don’t think we should believe in orcs, it doesn’t hurt to keep an eye out for them.” There were chortles of disbelief from the hall. “Nor does it hurt to know, in advance, which side we intend to take should the Dark Lord, or Big Brother, or the Mule ever re-appear.

“Works of the imagination allow us to consider such things, and it would be . . . it would be dishonest to pretend that this has no value. Works of the imagination touch our internal organs, without dangerous surgery; and often do more effective work there than our best physicians.

“I will tell the Imperium that believing these works to be the truth is pernicious. But I will also say that the time spent reading these works is not wasted, far from it.

“I will tell them that books were the greatest instrument of power in the human arsenal, imbued with more meaning than any other of their artifacts. I will tell them that these works were the best gift humanity could have left for us, and should be widely read, greatly enjoyed and lovingly preserved.”

He firmly moved the MODE toggle to OFF.

Moments later there wasn’t a hooked bodice in the house.

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Timons Esaias

Timons Esaias

Timons Esaias is a satirist, writer and poet living in Pittsburgh. His works, ranging from literary to genre, have been published in nineteen languages. He has also been a finalist for the British Science Fiction Award, and won the Asimov’s Readers Award. His story “Norbert and the System” has appeared in a textbook, and in college curricula. His SF short story “Sadness” was selected for three Year’s Best anthologies in 2015. His News Nots satire column appeared in seven newspapers, and convinced many readers that the Vatican was relocating to St. Louis; that the Pittsburgh Sewer & Water Authority had decided to add Prozac to the water supply (along with sodium pentothal at tax time); and that several cities had chosen to re-zone by residents’ floor-covering preferences only, since that is what truly divides us. He is Adjunct Faculty at Seton Hill University, in the Writing Popular Fiction MFA Program.