We found the others engaged in a heated argument over who'd originally developed the system of birth control in universal use on both planets.
"I know I read somewhere that it was a religious cult," Will was insisting.
Kiri scoffed. "How could a religious cult come up with technology like that? Even if the original virus was a random mutation, the antibodies are engineered to fit it like a glove. I still think it was some kind of Virrin technology they got hold of."
"A religious cult?" I interrupted. I hadn't heard this particular bit of lore before.
"It's so long ago that the details are uncertain," Gelhinda explained, "even before space travel between the two planets. Similar to what your archaeologists do and don't know about ancient Mesopotamia. It was at a time when Qozernon was starting to face severe overpopulation. Somehow a plague of childlessness started spreading across the planet, and no one could stop it. It looked as though the entire human race would die out within another two hundred years at most, at least on Qozernon."
Kiri picked up the thread. "Then a religious cult is supposed to have announced that it was the result of widespread wickedness, and that only those who repented and joined them would be allowed by the Virrin to reproduce."
"So this was while the Virrin were still here?" I said. It didn't make a lot of sense.
"No," Gelhinda explained patiently. "This cult worshipped the long-gone Virrin as gods, claiming they'd risen into the heavens and were watching over them from the spirit world."
"I see," I said. My mother looked absolutely fascinated.
"Those who joined the cult and swore allegiance to the Virrin-gods," Kiri continued, "and, more importantly, to the cult's human leaders, went through a ritual that somehow rendered them able to conceive children again. The ritual was complicated, but among other things involved drinking a 'magic potion.' "
"Since the only way to undergo the ritual was to join the cult and swear allegiance," Gelhinda said, "it became extremely powerful and in fact ruled the planet with an iron hand, and a very greedy one. But then someone discovered that the key to the whole thing was the potion, and smuggled out the formula for making it. When the truth emerged there was a terrible retribution, which ultimately ended with the cult's leaders being hunted down and slaughtered. The administration of the antibodies was put in the hands of the government, which saw an ideal way to control population growth, and it's been there ever since."
"So what's the problem?" I asked, remembering the heated argument in progress when we'd arrived.
"No trace of the original formula still exists," Gelhinda sighed. "It's been analyzed and researched for so many centuries since then that what we have now is relatively recent technological data. But we have no idea what information the original cult used to invent the stuff, and whether someone somehow stumbled on it by accident or found something the Virrin left behind."
"So it's an argument that can't be settled," I said in disgust.
"That's what I told them," Rann confirmed wearily.
Mention of the Virrin reminded me of what my mother had said the day before about the three Virrin worlds.
"Do you really maroon criminals on a prison planet?" I asked. "It sounds so inhumane."
I had to wait for an answer. Kiri looked rather uncomfortable, and several times Will looked as though he were going to say something, then thought better of it.
"When we have to," she said finally. "It's not something we're proud of, and we generally try any and all alternatives first. But sometimes it becomes necessary."
"Alternatives?" I asked. "Like what?" I think I'd felt safer in Deshti, including walking the streets late at night with Rann, than I ever had on Earth. Back in Las Vegas my mother wouldn't have considered leaving the house unlocked, even when we were home, but here virtually anyone could walk into the palace, up the back stairs and to any room they wanted to, without much danger of being apprehended.
I'd once asked Rann if there was any way to lock my door. He'd looked at me in astonishment. "Just close it," he'd said. "No one here would dream of opening someone else's door without permission, except in an emergency." Such as screams in the night, I thought.
"Alternatives," Kiri mused. "Well, first of all, we police ourselves. Someone actually witnessing a criminal act would never think of walking away and pretending they hadn't seen anything, especially if a life were at risk. But it happens so rarely, because that's just not how we're raised. Respecting another person's rights, whether to privacy or safety, is something ingrained in us from the time we're born."
"Still, you will get people who break the laws. We try to avoid imprisonment as a punishment, as it usually does more harm than good. An offense that would warrant a sentence of less than a year or two is much better handled through other means, and imprisoning someone for longer than that causes measurable brain damage. We'd prefer not to get that barbaric."
"Instead, people are fined according to a percentage of their means, and they may also be required to do community service in their free time. Most of the ex-Brizali will spend anywhere from a month to ten years helping rebuild the planet's infrastructure to make up for what they did. If someone is hurt because of their actions, they're also expected to make full restitution to the victims."
"Sometimes you do get someone who, for whatever reasons, simply chooses to knowingly wrong their fellow citizen. They may have to be imprisoned and provided with counseling until they're considered to be rehabilitated. It's rare for that to require more than six months or so. We don't confine offenders together; one look at Earth's prison systems makes the reasons for that pretty evident."
She paused. "Sadly, one thing we've realized over the centuries, after subscribing to one philosophy after another, is that there really are people who are simply evil, who enjoy doing evil for the sake of evil, and who no counseling or punishment can save. These people are offered a choice. They can be psychologically adjusted, using a device similar to the one once used on poor Will here. We do not--ever--subject someone to that without their consent, no matter what the crime. Instead, we offer them the alternative of being left on a prison planet to fend for themselves, to make their own way, deal with others like themselves, and survive or not as chance allows."
"You've already encountered the shock waves one person like that can trigger. That person was Jack Lucie. If anyone ever truly deserved the death penalty, he did."
Just before we fell asleep that night, Rann hesitantly asked me again if I'd move in with him.
"You bet," I told him. "How about tomorrow?" There was a very long silence, and I grinned to myself in the dark, picturing him feeling like someone who throws themselves at a locked door only to have it open an instant before they hit. Be careful what you wish for, Rann, I thought wickedly.
"Will your mother be okay by herself?" he finally croaked.
"She'll be fine," I said confidently.
This page last updated 2/5/2010.|