Schrodinger’s Book Chapter Nineteen: The Last Temptation of Martin Langley

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“Resettle on earth?” Lang tried not to laugh but it was a hopeless cause and he found himself straining against the cuffs that held him in place as he doubled over in mirth. After a few seconds of that he started to get ahold of himself. Dex was laughing too, Priss had scooted over to one side and was watching them with a mix of concern  and amusement. “Do you even know what the spacer population is?”

“I haven’t the first clue what it might be,” Mond replied, apparently nonplussed in spite of Lang’s laughing in his face. “I’m sure we could absorb it, however. Environmental restoration has moved along very well over the past decade, we could find some way to resettle a few tens of thousands. There are one or two cities on most continents we’re looking to reactivate or expand.”

“Tens of-” The urge to run his hands over his face seemed to be all the stronger for the fact that he didn’t have used of his hands. “What kind of delusional nonsense is that?! The combined spacer population exceeds four billion – billion with a “b” – and there’s no way Earth could handle that many based on its last known population. Fifteen billion is unsustainable without significant terraforming adjustments. Or the addition of deepsea colonies. Did you ever get around to that?”

Mond nodded benevolently. “And this time, it is you who seem delusional. Earth does not have a population of eleven billion. It could never sustain such a mass of humanity safely. The population is four billion, though we are debating expanding it to five, as I said.”

Four billion?” Dex said, biting out the ‘b’ so hard he spit by accident. “What do you mean-”

“And building in the ocean would be a violation of the Environmental Restoration Act,” Mond added, running right over Dex with his weirdly calm and deliberate way of speaking. “Of course, after the martian extinction event we didn’t need new colonies or new cities, we had plenty of room for all.”

They kept running into this weird barrier, where the Terrans couldn’t seem to say anything that meshed with the world as he knew it. Lang mulled it over slowly, trying to figure out how they could get everyone on the same page. As always, he came back to one thing. “Tell me about this extinction event. What happened to the martians?”

“It’s hardly relevant anymore,” Mond said, waving a hand dismissively.

“Not relevant?” Priss shook her head in amazement. “How can the extinction of an intelligent hominid not be relevant to you?”

“I can see I’ve gone about this badly.” Mond stood up and paced around the equipment cart once, hands pressed together in front of his chest, a thoughtful look on his face, coming to a stop when he was even with his chair again. He rested one hand on the backrest and said, “You have to understand that in sapeins society we understand that, at its core, reality is a summation of the stories we tell ourselves. We have no interest in the causes of the martian extinction because we have no wish to tell those stories. We left that to the martians and now the martian story is ended. When I say that we wish to resettle you on Earth I mean we wish to bring the spacer – is that correct, spacer?”

“Sure,” Lang said. Technically it just referred to the people who had spent a year or more in space as a part of their calling, but he didn’t think Mond was terribly interested in the pedantry.

“When I say we’re interested in resettling the spacers on Earth, I’m not speaking about whatever population you believe exists,” Mond continued, stepping forward and looking solemnly at each of the three spacers in turn. “I am speaking in very immediate and personal terms. The three of you could settle here and be at peace, rather than constantly flitting about up there, in your tin can ships, wondering when something will give out and send you crashing to the ground.”

“That’s not what happened,” Dex said with a snort. “The Armstrong was shot down by your orbital defenses.”

“Sapiens are not in the habit of building defenses,” Mond said gently. “We have our hands full building our cities, our ecology and our culture.”

“I can almost believe that,” Priss said, having scooted herself back to a position to more naturally join the conversation. “They could have been older satellites, left over from old eras, but something was shooting at us from above on the way down. For that matter, there was an old hunter killer drone we ran into a couple of days ago. If you were going to go whole hog on this pacifist thing you might at least have rooted out all the old weapons out there and taken them apart.”

The elderly terran lowered himself slowly back into his chair, air leaking out between his lips making a sound much like a bad helmet seal on an evac suit. “I don’t think you appreciate all the effort it took to get us to this point, Ms. Hu. They say once a genie is free it is impossible to force it back into the bottle. But, with a great deal of time and patience that is exactly what we did with the specter of martian culture. Few now know the full depths of the depravity it sank to, we keep it here in this vault in the hopes that the poison will never spread again. It’s all we can do to keep the status quo, you can’t expect us to go out and clean up all of the poison you left in the world as well. It was our hope that the martian legacy would fall to pieces in time and leave us in peace. It seems your return to Earth was too soon for that to happen.”

Lang struggled to follow the line of logic. “So you didn’t take down the satellites because… what, you thought they would infect you?”

“That’s close enough, I suppose.” Mond’s fingers looped lazily like the line of a spring, describing an upward path. “The work of UNIGOV was incredibly difficult. Sapiens and martians were intermixed for a very, very long time. Even with the natural resistance of sapiens to martian culture it was still frighteningly easy for them to be drawn in by the ease and convenience of hard categories and othering narratives. We had to keep the allure of binary thinking from becoming set in our own narratives. We spend as little time on the history of conflict as we can.”

“Let me get this straight. Mussolini, Hitler, Churchill, Lincoln, the most influential figures of human history, you don’t talk about them because what… they might infect you?” Dex cocked his head to one side and gave Mond a skeptical look. “I dunno. That sounds stupid. And it leaves you incredibly vulnerable. What if Admiral Harrington decided to put down a full scale landing force? You don’t have anything like the equipment to repel it. It’s not like you can count on every spacer stopping at the local market for a quick bite of the knockout special.”

Mond sighed. “I’m not interested in debating what ifs. We’re not interested in talking about fighting, Mr. Halloway, that’s how the mistrust and unnecessary division starts. I know you tell yourself you belong to this great and untouchable ‘fleet’ because it calms your fears of being an insignificant person in an uncaring world. But the truth is, all people can-”

What are you babbling about?” Lang shook his head. “Fucking hell, did you people all go crazy after Departure and pass it down to your kids? The fleet is real, I’ve served on multiple ships in it. Hell, I’ve been to more planets than everyone in this room put together. You can’t just tell me I made all that up.”

To his surprise, Aubrey stepped forward around Mond and knelt down beside him. “Lang, I know this is all very strange to someone looking at it from a martian point of view. Things seen from the outside don’t always make sense.”

“This goes beyond not making-”

But that’s true from both points of view.” She looked up at him with eyes full of sympathy and warmth. “Lang, I saw what happened to you after the crash. You started off acting like an equal to Dex and Priss, you talked without tension, even laughed now and again. But they gave you that stupid mission log and put you in charge and you slowly changed. You couldn’t talk to them anymore, you had to make decisions on your own for priorities that didn’t make you happy or left you with no one to rely on. It’s how martian priorities always leave people. Lonely and tired.”

The sincerity with which she spoke was touching, even if the words were deeply off-putting. “Aubrey, I don’t care how strange it seems to you, I’m not abandoning my duty – my crew, my oath, never mind the motherfucking truth – because I’m a little tired. I buried all my buddies when I crashed on Minerva and let me tell you, that stressed me a lot more than anything I’ve seen on Earth. I didn’t give up then, I ain’t doing it now.”

“You don’t understand,” she said, a soothing hand resting on one knee. “They weren’t offering to take the burden off of your shoulders, they were going to pile it on until they buried you. We’re not like them, we’re sapiens. We aren’t here to break you down and take what’s yours. We’re offering you a place to thrive, a place to be at peace. We don’t have to assume things about each other because we can just ask with no condemnation. We don’t have to fight over things, we’ve learned to cooperate and meet each other’s needs. Lang, we’re not here to take away your life. We’re offering you a chance to live it to the fullest. Is that really such a bad offer?”

Put that way, he could understand how it certainly seemed like a good deal from their point of view.

“I understand how it is,” Mond added, his voice losing some of its warmth to a sense of sadness. “You think that by asking you to change how you think we’re asking you to abandoned everything you’ve lived for.” The brightness returned. “But I think you’ll find that what we’re offering you is not the death of who you were, but the opportunity to truly live as you were meant. Some sapiens believe martians cannot be more than the sum of their divisions. I believe you can overcome them. Won’t you stay with us and try?”

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