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Authors: Brian W. Aldiss

Enemies of the System

BOOK: Enemies of the System
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Enemies of the System

Brian W. Aldiss

For my esteemed friend Jon Bing in his Northern fastness

Have you heard

That silence where the birds are dead yet something

pipeth like a bird?

I

Inspirational music played as they moved from the terminal buildings into the ferry.

Without fuss, without pushing, they settled into relaxers and waited for the ferry to depart. Fifty-two of them took their places, the sexes about equally balanced. Their clothes were so similar in cut, and so subdued in color and material, as to resemble a uniform; their hair, whether male or female, was trimmed to approximately the same length; their faces were all bland, even blank. They sat without restlessness. They were the élite of the system, allowed to vacation on the Classified planet of Lysenka II.

The ferry rose silently, dead on time. World Peace City, the Earth itself, shrank behind them. They watched the planet dwindle, then turned and smiled circumspectly at each other. They were strangers and nobody knew who was who; even among the élite there were many power grades.

From the ferry, the passengers transferred to a gulfhopper awaiting them in a parking orbit round the Moon. As soon as the ferry dropped away, the gulfhopper established a charm-field and began its expensive cratobatics. Earth disappeared like an eyeball dropping down a drain; the sun was transformed into an icicle of light, and vanished. Time became a series of equations.

Oblivious to alarm, the tourists could now settle down and become acquainted with one another. The distance from the Solar System to the Lysenka System was 50.2 light years, in Ordinary Space terms, so passengers had forty hours on the transference from system to system in which to indulge in social intercourse or related activities.

The gulfhopper was a spacious craft, well provided with lounges, restaurants, view-chambers, an aquatics suite, and private rooms. Most of the tourists, being important people, kept their importance in repair by walking about the public rooms in a dignified manner. Hostesses in blue Gulfways uniform assisted some passengers to meet the partners that Extra-System selectors had chosen for them, if they had not had time to meet before embarking at World Peace City.

One of the smiling hostesses introduced two tall people, a man and a woman, who briefly touched fingertips and then stood regarding each other. Nodding, the hostess left them to themselves.

“My name is Jerezy Kordan, World Citizen 692,” the male said, smiling to soften the familiarity of using only his last three numbers on first meeting. “I am pleased that we are to be associated for this vacation.”

The female smiled back and was just as informal. “I'm World Citizen 194, Millia Sygiek. And I'm pleased that the selector picked you, Utopianist Kordan, since I know that we are going to be compatible.”

Kordan had a long serious face with thick lips which were generally pursed, and long grey eyes. He stood squarely before her, his hands hanging relaxedly by his side.

Sygiek was almost as tall as he, a woman with light brown hair and grey eyes. Her jaw was firm, her expression a little severe until she smiled. She folded her hands and held them at waist level as they talked.

“We could be nothing but compatible since the computer graded us for compatibility. Compatibility is a quality we both rate as desirable,” she said.

“Inevitably. Pleasure is stipulated as one of the factors of our vacation, and so compatibility is part of the guarantee. Don't you find compatibility a positive quality, a constructive quality?”

“I was meaning only to imply that some Progressives regard the male–female relationship as a little old-fashioned, even irrelevant to the needs of the system: they question the useful function of gender.”

He gestured slightly with his hands. “We tolerate Progressives in our world society.” He spoke without any particular emphasis. “But of course they form only approximately 1.45 per cent of the population.” He took her arm as if dismissing that subject.

They were on their way toward their private room when a tenor voice said softly over the artificial pulse-beats, “Remember that sexual intercourse is an approved social usage. It is pleasurable. Inevitably, it increases the physical and mental well-being of both partners, thus enhancing their value to the system. Associate with your partner as much as possible on the journey. Happy lying!”

Sygiek smiled. “You see, like good utopianists, our wishes run ahead of the official reminder.”

But, as they passed through one of the relaxation halls, they were distracted for a moment. A row of chessputers sat before a row of three-dimensional chess boards, waiting to play against any human who cared to challenge them. Each chessputer was smaller than a person's head; its single arm, of a flesh-like substance, folded down into its side when it was out of action. Someone had pushed two of the machines together and they were playing the complex game against each other.

As one game was won, the machines solemnly reset the pieces and moved straight into the next. Several tourists were watching.

Peering over the shoulder of one of the onlookers, Kordan said, “That's amusing! You see they exert their capacities merely to win against each other.”

The man in front of him—a stocky dark-featured man of less than average height—looked round and said, “It would be more amusing if one of them showed a little glee at winning.”

When they were settled in their comfortable room, Kordan said, “What could that man have meant, that it would have been more amusing if the machines showed a little pleasure at winning? How can a machine be expected to show pleasure?”

“‘Glee.' He said, ‘glee.'”

She began to undress.

He was following his own train of thought. “One does inevitably experience some pleasure in winning, yet ‘Our strength lies in our unity.' A valuable adage. Winning implies competition, whilst unity implies no competition. It is a slight paradox. Since we are privileged to vacation on Lysenka II, we are among the winners of the system. May I express it like that?”

“There is always privilege involved in visiting an extra solar planet. In the case of Lysenka II, I gather that it has been opened to tourism before complete conformity with cultural standards has been attained—simply in order to join in the anniversary celebrations.”

“It is true that the animal life has not been subdued, as it will inevitably have to be.” His lips twitched. “For me as an historian, with special interest in the pre-utopian world, I welcome a chance to see something of a planet where the animal societies, as I understand, approximate to what life used to be on Earth before Biocom.”

Sygiek removed her stockings as he began to slip out of his one-piece tunic. “My business is entirely with the present. I have no interest in the pre-utopian world, not even in this anniversary year.” She spoke briskly.

He smiled by pursing his lips. “Perhaps Lysenka II will awaken new interests. Undoubtedly, we shall see sights incompatible with civilization. So until then, let us refresh ourselves with some compatibility. Kindly move over and open your legs.”

She smiled and relaxed against the voluptuous cushions, readying herself for him like a mare for her rider. Unbidden, a picture of the man by the chessputers came to her mind.

“Let's have a little
glee
,” she said.

All too soon, the beautiful expensive structure had crossed that gulf of light which even the world state would never subjugate. It materialized in orbit about Lysenka II, while almost sub-vocal commentaries uttered facts about the sun, Lysenka, and its four attendant planets: three of them swirling globes of gas, and only II a world remotely suitable for the establishment of law and enlightenment.

In the ferry on the way down to Peace City, the one base so far constructed on Lysenka II, the commentaries welcomed their guests.

“We hope that you will be happy during your stay on Lysenka II, and your intellects fully engaged. Although this planet has been known to the world state for many centuries, it is only just being opened up for tourism. You may regard yourself as especially privileged to be here. For those of us who work in Lysenka II, it is an honor to greet you, knowing as we do that you are part of the special System-wide celebrations of the one millionth anniversary of the establishment of Biocom. The universal beneficial aspects of Biocom will never be more appreciated than on this planet, where everything is primitive, regressive, and of an entirely lower politico-evolutionary order.

“So we trust that you will enjoy your stay and be strengthened by it for further dedication to our beloved system. Welcome to Lysenka II.”

The passengers looked at each other. Some smiled guardedly.

Everyone was given booster and acupunctural shots to acclimatize them to the planet before they settled on alien soil. Down swooped the ferry. A moment of silence more dreadful than any gulf of light, and then great exit doors swung open. They opened too rapidly: the sky was a bright tan ceiling of cloud, enclosing the visitors on the new world. They blinked, unaccountably reluctant to move forward.

Hostesses, in red Outourist uniform instead of Gulfways blue, ushered the tourists into LDBs, smiling and reassuring them. As soon as a long-distance bus was full, it began to accelerate down one of the radial roads leading from Peace City into the wilderness.

The passengers took deep breaths and looked at each other, as if the new environment forced them to take fresh measure of themselves. In the unaccustomed light, the set of their faces was strange.

The bus arrived at Dunderzee in under an E-hour. Dunderzee was Lysenka's newly opened tourist resort. It stood on the edge of territory no human had explored from the ground.

BOOK: Enemies of the System
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