We were too shattered by the experience to speak much after our expulsion from the Hymen-bower but we hastily arranged to meet again the following morning. However, when I presented myself at the desk of the building where Xinthia was staying, the attendant handed me a photo-message.
‘Xinthia leave must. See Yilkin Y-57 soon. No-speak anyone last night. Supra-important. Trust Yilkin. Xinthia
The photo-signature was an animated one, and before my eyes the round face passed into a smile while the right hand came up to touch her well-chiselled lip. Then the entire missive blew up scattering blue smoke and spangles.
* * * * * *
A couple of days later I came across Dyrithan in one of the straylkha suites. I had seen very little of him during the winter season and in effect we had been tacitly avoiding each other. I thought he looked very much the worse for wear (though he was about fifteen years younger than I was): indeed, there was something shifty about him. I had seen him in a dual where he completely outclassed a new player from Glaciolyia who had been lauded as a budding talent and did not mind setting himself up against a player under darstillya. I complimented him on this performance, but he said that at present he was playing very little straylkha — he had more important things to do. I asked what things, and at first he looked away without answering. Then he waited a moment or two until the group at the next table moved off.
‘Where do you stand on the question of neutrax?’ he asked abruptly.
Rather surprised by the question I said that I viewed them as a threat just like everyone else, but didn’t see what could be done about the situation.
‘There are things that can be done,’ announced Dyrithan emphatically. ‘But only if we can get together enough determined people to resist invasion. For it is no less than that. By the last count there are eight and a half times more neutrax on Sarwhirlia than higher biologicals — do you realize that?’
‘I think I have heard something similar. It’s disgraceful. On the other hand…’
‘There’s no other hand,’ interrupted Dyrithan. ‘The way things are going at present, we shall be phased out of our own planet within the next parthenogenic span. There’ll be a nice clean cosmos free of bio-form — higher bio-form anyway. There’ll be nothing except a few ants and bumble-bees: all the rest will be metals. This is an issue that affects both genders.’
‘Well, yes.’ I flipped my hands open.
‘We in our cluster have made certain protests on the matter to the Regional Interdominant Concilium,’ I added.
‘And what sort of answer did you get?’
‘That current production levels require the presence of AEEs in certain posts — that sort of thing.’
‘So what are you going to do about it? Just take it sitting down?’
I looked at Dyrithan with some concern. Since the summer he had obviously undergone some sort of conversion but in precisely the opposite direction to myself. While I had withdrawn inwards and taken less and less interest in mundane concerns, Dyrithan had apparently got linked up with one of these underground political organisations that were starting to spring up all over the place at the moment.
‘There’s practically nothing we can do about it,’ I said wearily, ‘except possibly to point-blank refuse to accept any neutrax in our cluster — and we are not in any position to do that since none of us has any inside knowledge about ozone levels, oxygen veils and that sort of thing. Half the work in our cluster is carried out by neutrax who are remote-controlled from the Regional Base as you know as well as I do. I hate the set-up as much or more than you do, but I feel ourselves to be impotent.’
Dyrithan paused and gulped down hastily a glass of skihl.
‘Listen, I speak to you in confidence, understand, but during the last year a new movement has been formed known as Solemnin, and it has nothing at all to do with old sleepy organisations such as Bio-Sarwhirl and Lattisvlan. We really intend to do something for the planet and the species before it is too late. There is actually an open meeting this afternoon — anyone can go as long as they’re introduced by someone who’s a member as I am. I’d like you to come along and see what you think. There’s no commitment, it’s basically just an informal get-together for people who feel concerned about the issue. Full members meet privately and the regional organisers meet in places that even I don’t know about. I think you owe it to us to come at least to a single meeting, Yilkin, since Solemnin is about the only organisation at present that is working for your betterment and protection against the metals.’
I thought for a while.
‘Where do you meet?’
‘Small groups sometimes meet near the pagoda on the South Side of the Mintar Lake. But…’ Dyrithan looked slightly embarrassed for a moment. ‘This meeting’s going to take place in one of the Pentror Hymen-Bowers. The Regional Direction think it a useful ploy to pretend to be an exchange-ring — less likely to get surveillance that way.’
I laughed out loud. The idea of the earnest members of a new-fangled subversive organisation posing as ring-exchangers struck me as being hilarious.1
‘Aren’t you afraid those present might get carried away by the excitement of the moment?’
‘No, I’m not,’ said Dyrithan curtly. ‘This is no laughing matter, Yilkin.’
I put on a serious face and reluctantly agreed to attend. I was pretty sure there was no risk of surveillance anyway but didn’t feel inclined to argue with Dyrithan on the subject — if he and his organisation wanted to play espionage to give themselves importance, that was their affair.
I went back to my rooms to change into more casual dress and at the appointed time I met Dyrithan outside the Pentror building.
‘Go right on up,’ said the thick-set brown-haired fam at the desk, ‘your partners are already waiting. It’s Suite 267 and the décor is Egyptian.’
I was at least thankful that so far none of the employees in such buildings were non-biologicals, though of late ‘AEE hominoids’ had been making an appearance here and there and they are very difficult to distinguish from humans at a distance of more than two metres. When all was said Dyrithan did have a point.
We pushed open the padded semi-circular doors to find ourselves in a long low room with rows of animal headed Egyptian gods and goddesses against the walls. Some twenty or so persons of mixed gender were sprawling about in various stages of undress — though I have no doubt that inhabitants of your era would not find the spectacle at all unseemly (or exciting). I did for a moment wonder if I had wandered into an exchange-ring and recoiled visibly, though I at once tried to correct myself. I considered myself ‘unfrae’ (because of Xinthia) but even apart from that I was not eager to participate in any such events currently. In my experience collective encounters, though tempting enough in theory, are rarely successful since it only takes one person with a particularly negative psyche to transform shared ecstasy into shared nightmare. This is true of course of a single individual as well but one can usually sense whether one person is compatible or not, while it is impossible to come to a spot decision about a dozen or more. We, in our society, are even more vulnerable to such mishaps than you are, since most people view exchanging more as a neural activity than a strictly physical one.
‘Are we all present?’ barked a tall subdominant with very short brown hair who seemed to be the spokesperson.
Everyone stopped talking at once. The ranks of stiff animal-headed deities from 5, 000 years ago looking down on us added to the solemnity of the occasion.
‘You are all presumably aware of the object of this open meeting. It is, in a word, to tell you that the long-suffering higher biological masses during the latter part of the Age of the Parthenogens have at long last found a worthy defender in the recently constituted organisation, Solemnin, which has sent me to address this gathering. Solemnin is a Katylin term which means Arousal. As such it encapsulates the spirit of our movement, for we have decided to have nothing at all to do with Bio-Sarwhirl, Lattisvlan, and all other crypto-technicist movements that have betrayed the confidence of the labouring higher biological masses…’
A solidly built, sandy-haired mefam wearing glasses (which we no longer use much) came up to me from behind and asked for my name, identification numeral and resident cluster. He apologised for being so officious but said that it was necessary to guard against infiltration, given the very serious circumstances that at present prevailed throughout Sarwhirlia. I told him what he wanted to know after some hesitation. He asked who had brought me to the meeting and I pointed to Dyrithan, now seated in full view of everyone on a stool alongside the speaker. My interlocutor entered my details into a miniature memorial he had dangling from his neck, and assured me that in the event of his arrest and subsequent interrogation he would erase the data store immediately, claiming to be able to do this by remote control. I said nothing, becoming increasingly irritated by this ambiance of ‘raincoat and revolver’.
‘…As I said a few moments ago, Solemnin means Arousal. Also, the Katylin root has a secondary meaning of ‘Self-Denial’ which I need hardly say is most appropriate. Solemnin represents a completely new phase in the annals of our species’ struggle, since only now, under this banner, are the higher biologicals organising themselves effectively against the metals. We will not allow our beautiful staryll planet to be defiled and penetrated by presumptuous AEEs! No, a thousand times, no. We will defend Sarwhirlia to our last drop of human essence, be it fam or mefam; we will bring about a return to the happy days when no AEE was tolerated in a position that could be filled by a biological! Is this the situation now? Certainly, it is not. Throughout the clusters, fam as well as mefam, we are witnessing the introduction of AEEs into areas where we, higher biologicals, are entirely adequate, if not superior. We are outnumbered eight and a half times to one by our species’ enemies: we must redress the balance, fellow biologicals, we must accelerate our reproduction rates even if we are obliged to have recourse to outmoded and unconventional methods. To all young fam in this gathering, I have a simple message: find a cluster sympathetic to the cause, join it and make yourselves fertile as soon as possible, procure spermatic essence from an authenticated Solemnin member, inject it into your body and instil into the eventual offspring biologically correct ways of thinking. To those others, incapable of giving birth or donating living essence, take heart from the very existence of this great movement and prepare yourselves for the approaching armed conflict when the future of Sarwhirlia and the Conglomerate will be decided once and for all. Which side do you intend to be on when the last synthetic trumpet sounds? Will you be with us, the champions of the warm-blooded hairy entities, or will you be found hiding behind the plyne and metal flanks of our enemies? Let it not be said that we, who incarnate the best and purest instincts of so many militants throughout the ages, in any way disdain lawful methods of contestation: we do and shall employ petition, collective deposition, memorandising, rallying, patient demonstration. Our movement has no desire whatsoever to depart from the hallowed principles laid down in the Scisterl Code and which have for so long brought peace and prosperity to the Conglomerate. But, higher biologicals, the hour is late and the situation dire. We will not shrink from employing more extreme methods should they be appropriate, we will not be intimidated by the technicists and the AEEists who have recently infiltrated the Interdominant Concilium and have misled our noble dominants into countenancing misguided policies which are bringing abject unemployment and consequent distress throughout Sarwhirlia…’
At this point I turned off — or rather turned on a miniature transmitter I was wearing to drown out the flood of verbiage.
‘…Are there any questions?’
Various pseudo-debauchees raised themselves from their beds of crylth to address the chair — for, on concluding her speech (which she had delivered standing), the spokesperson had ousted an Egyptian deity and settled herself into the vacant wooden throne.
Someone wanted to know when and where the movement Solemnin had started and how many members it had so far, while someone else asked about its internal organisation. To Q1 the speaker replied, ‘Seven months ago’, to Q2, ‘About eight hundred’. To Q3 she gave an evasive answer, claiming that for security reasons she could not go into the details. ‘But rest assured that our organisation combines all that is the very best in the traditions of hierarchical and participatory procedures respectively,’ she concluded.
A powerfully-built mefam who looked as if he might be a devilion-fighter asked if the movement had an Auto-Defence Corps as yet and, if so, whether it intended carrying out any actions in the immediate future ‘to teach the metals a lesson’. The speaker frowned and said that she did not feel able to reply to this question in full at an open meeting, but that in any case the leaders of a movement such as Solemnin were responsible people and were not to be confused with anti-technicist hooligans and adventurers.
The devilion-fighter murmured something inaudible and got to his feet, apparently aiming for the exit, but the sandy-haired official intervened and asked him politely but firmly to remain until the meeting had been brought to a close. After some glowering, he resumed his bed of crylth.
Someone else asked whether there were any local groups on Mortalysium and Naroube. The speaker looked across at Dyrithan interrogatively, and he got to his feet obviously abashed at being suddenly thrust into the limelight despite having performed countless times on the cone. He said that, as far as he knew, there was as yet no group on Naroube but a small cenacle existed amongst the Morellasts of Mortalysium. The spokesfam explained that, owing to the relatively small number of AEEs on the two orbs, the issue was a much less burning one for the inhabitants. ‘We are, most fortunately, still a long way from having AEEs replacing our worthy Progenitressesi and direct birthers which doubtless explains the relative non-combativity of the Sarwhellanii on Naroube,’ she informed us. ‘Nonetheless, even in this area, the utmost vigilance is necessary,’ she added darkly.
A shrill-voiced but for all that extremely pretty subdominant asked if the officials were sure that the Aphro-acclimatiser was at zero. The sandy-haired official hastily consulted a dial hidden behind a screen and assured her that it was. This, however, opened up a whole can of worms.
A dignified, somewhat age-advanced fam said that the whole idea of posing as an exchange-ring was humiliating and ridiculous, and she proposed that in future meetings should be uni-gender. Having delivered this salvo, she laced on her arm-guards in silence. The sandy-haired official said that he fully understood the member’s reactions and that he himself had been somewhat surprised by the directive, but the Regional Committee had apparently decided on the locale because they had reason to believe surveillance would be much less severe here than anywhere else at Lunkod. The fam in question replied that she did not believe there was any danger of surveillance in the first place, since the only people who interested MSS (Magnatte Security and Surveillance) were ex-zinn-coursers and other admirers of Aruella. The sandy-haired mefam said that he sincerely wished he could share the member’s optimism on this point but had to confess that he did not.
Another fam then observed sharply that it was all very well for him to prate on about security requirements but he, unlike all fam present, was not suffering from any loss of distoya by this odious simulacrum of a mixed exchange-ring. The spokesfam replied that Solemnin was reluctant to hold uni-gender meetings because one of the most important aspects of the AEE issue was ‘that it transcends all socio-specific themes such as gender’.
The meeting was beginning to get out of control and so, to forestall people taking the law into their own hands, the spokesfam declared that the consensus of the present gathering seemed to be that everyone should return to normal dress. Fam hastily fitted on trongays and laced on arm-guards though two subdominants remained defiantly naked.
A distinguished-looking subdominant, obviously an instructress in one of the élite clusters, said that she saw little hope of any popular movement having the slightest effect on current policy concerning AEEs. The only feasible plan of action was to infiltrate the Interdominant Concilium since only they had the power to bring about real changes on Sarwhirlia. Instead of opting out of the Higher Controls, as dissidents were now doing, or, having achieved them declining to take Interdominant status (as she herself had done), it would be far better for militants to join the power structure and change it from within.
‘We require,’ she said, ‘dedicated individuals, most likely destined to remain completely unknown to posterity, who will enter the ranks of the Interdominants, taking vows that they have no intention of fulfilling. It may well prove necessary for them to pretend to be technicists and repressors, and be execrated by the very persons they aim to help. They will act in silence and without subordinates or aides: in this way they will avoid detection.’
The spokesfam said that no member of Solemnin would baulk at such sacrifices, but that the organisation believed more in the combativity of the biological masses than in the role of the individual or sub-group. We must not forget the maxim of one of our forerunners, ‘History is not made by the few, it is made by the many’,’ she concluded.
Someone enquired about the organisation’s attitude to DETP. This drew forth a voluble reply.
‘Solemnin’s attitude to the question is far from being one of unconditional acceptance, but at the same time we are anxious to distance ourselves from the Yther, whose blanket disapproval has an entirely mystical basis. It is completely to misunderstand the dialectics of species struggle to concentrate on the nature of the energy source, rather than on the question ‘Who profits from it?’ It is this last question that every active member of Solemnin must ask her/himself at every minute of the day when confronted with the most banal artefact. Who made it? For whom? And whom does it primarily profit? Now the immediate beneficiaries of DETP are the Cleoi, since it is they who planned the entire operation. We of Solemnin are holding our breath – or rather our verdict – with respect to the Cleoi. One point that is undeniably in their favour is that they are principally biological entities, though they possess an electro-synthetic nervous system. This places them in a very different category to the AEEs as a group. Thus, to sum up, we do not on the one hand reject DETP out of hand, but neither do we give it our whole-hearted stamp of approval: we feel that more careful research into its possible dangers needs to be undertaken. Does that answer your question?’
Someone else asked if the movement had considered asking for help from Aruella. The spokesfam replied curtly that this was out of the question. ‘Solemnin steers a middle course between the Scylla of technicism and the Charybdis of primitivism of which Aruella is currently the main exponent.’
A serious-looking fam observed that it was all very well talking in the abstract about getting rid of the neutrax but that at present a large number of unpleasant jobs on Sarwhirlia, from patrolling jungle regions to shifting sewage, were carried out by them.
‘Are we ready and willing to take their places? I suggest that each person present make a list of her/his capabilities, so that we can form a reasonable idea of the level of life the movement might eventually be able to maintain. I need hardly say that I am not tempted by the ideology of the Yther movement: nonetheless on the economic and practical domain we could do worse than take the movement as a model. You are doubtless aware that the Yther produces all its own food and clothing and is virtually autonomous with regard to energy.’
I applauded this speech as just about the only observation that one could actually act upon and which got to the crux of the whole business. However, I was virtually alone in my reaction.
The spokesperson thanked the last speaker for bringing the meeting back to a concern with material realities, and said that she would recommend that membership scripts sent out on memorial include queries about the qualifications and abilities of prospective members. ‘But I must add that I cannot subscribe to the sentiments expressed concerning the Yther, which is a wholly retrograde movement from which Solemnin has absolutely nothing to learn. The archaism of the Yther, allied to its incomprehensible and ridiculous doctrines, in effect plays into the hands of the technicists and indirectly aids the forces of reaction. We of Solemnin are not opposed to industry and advanced technology as such: even, it may be, a small (very small) place will one day be allocated to AEEs within our society provided none of them carries out a task that a biological can just as well fulfil. Solemnin is a movement resolutely opposed to the inhumanities and injustices of the present era, but our gaze is just as firmly fixed towards the future rather than towards the distant past. I hope I have made myself completely clear on this point.
As no more questions were forthcoming, the spokesperson declared the meeting closed. The sandy-haired mefam went round pouring out rather second-rate skihl into minute glasses which he held out to anyone who felt inclined to take one — I didn’t. I went straight across to the fam who had spoken about self-sufficiency and complimented her on what she had said. Dyrithan, probably because he wanted to cut short the conversation, came over and said he would like to see me later in one of the straylkha suites. He added that he was going on with the Travelling Overseer (the speaker) to another meeting, this one mercifully held in the open air alongside the Mintar Lake where the political activists were presumably going to pose as picnickers rather than as hardened debauchees. I agreed to meet him two hours later in the Dryalkhin Suite.
i Progenitresses are specialised fam living on the natal orb, Naroube, where they give birth to hundreds of selected offspring during their active lives.
ii The Sarwhellan, a powerful professional caste with virtual Interdominant status, are in charge of birthing and post-natal care on Naroube. They owe their exalted status to the tradition which claims that the Sarlang, the first Parthenogens, were originally midwives by profession. ‘Sarwhellan’ is a Katylin term which means literally ‘Easy-birth(ing)’.