Soldier, Ask NotGordon R. Dickson
SOLDIER, ASK NOT
Gordon R. Dickson
Copyright o 1967 by Gordon R. Dickson
Cover art by Royo
First Tor edition: April 1993
Menin aeide thea, Peleiadeo Achileos -begins the Iliad of Homer, and its story of thirty-four hundred years ago. This is the story of the wrath of Achilles.-And this is the story of my wrath; I, Earthman, against the people of the two worlds so-called The Friendlies, the conscript, fanatic, black-clad soldiers of Harmony and Association. Nor is it the story of any small anger. For like Achilles, I am a man of Earth.
That does not impress you? Not in these days when the sons of the younger worlds are taller, stronger, more skilled and clever than we of the Old World? Then, how little you know Earth, and the sons of Earth. Leave your younger worlds and come back to the Mother Planet, once, and touch her. She is still here and still the same. Her sun still shines on the waters of the Red Sea that parted before the Children of the Lord. The wind still blows in the Pass of Thermopylae, where Leonidas with the Spartan Three Hundred held back the hosts of Xerxes, King of the Persians, and changed history. Here, men fought and died and bred and buried and built for more than five hundred thousand years before your newer worlds were even dreamed of by man. Do you think those five centuries of tens-of-centuries, generation upon generation, between the same sky and soil left no special mark on us in blood and bone and soul?
The men of the Dorsai may be warriors above imagining. The Exotics of Mara and Kultis may be robed magicians who can turn a man inside out and find answers outside philosophy. The researchers in hard sciences on Newton and Venus may have traveled so far beyond ordinary humans that they can talk to us only haltingly, nowadays. But we-we duller, shorter, simpler men of Old Earth still have something more than any of these. For we are still the whole being of man, the basic stock, of which they are only the refined parts-flashing, fine-honed, scintillant parts. But parts.
But, if you still are one of those, like my uncle Mathias Olyn, who think us utterly bypassed, then I direct you to the Exotic-supported Enclave at St. Louis, where forty-two years ago, an Earthman named Mark Torre, a man of great vision, first began the building of what a hundred years from now will be The Final Encyclopedia. Sixty years from now will see it too massive and complicated and delicate to endure Earth's surface. You will start to find it then in orbit about the Mother Planet. A hundred years from now and it will-but no one knows for sure what it will do. Mark Torre's theory is that it will show us the back of our heads-some hidden part of the basic Earth human soul and being that those of the younger worlds have lost, or are not able to know.
But see for yourself. Go there now, to the St. Louis Enclave, and join one of the tours that take you through the chambers and research rooms of the Encyclopedia Project; and finally into the mighty Index Room at their very center, where the vast, curving walls of that chamber are already beginning to be charged with leads to the knowledge of the centuries. When the whole expanse of that great sphere's interior is finally charged, a hundred years from now, connections will be made between bits of knowledge that never have been connected, that never could have been connected, by a human mind before. And in this final knowledge we will see-what?
The back of our heads?
But as I say, never mind that now. Simply visit the Index Room-that is all I ask you to do. Visit it, with the rest of the tour. Stand in the center of it, and do as the guide tells you.
Listen. Stand silent and strain your ears. Listen- you will hear nothing. And then finally the guide will break the reaching, almost unendurable silence, and tell you why he asked you to listen.
Only one man or woman in millions ever hears anything. Only one in millions-of those born here on Earth.
But none-no one-of all those born on the younger worlds who has ever come here to listen has ever heard a thing.
It still proves nothing, you think? Then you think wrong, my friend. For I have been one of those who heard -what there was to hear-and the hearing changed my life, as witness what I have done, arming me with self-knowledge of power with which I later turned in fury to plan the destruction of the peoples of two Friendly worlds.
So do not laugh if I compare my wrath to the wrath of Achilles, bitter and apart among the boats of his Myrmidons, before the walls of Troy. For there are other likenesses between us. Tam Olyn is my name and my ancestry is more Irish than otherwise; but it was on the Peloponnesus of Greece that I, like Achilles, grew to be what I became.
In the very shadow of the ruins of the Parthenon, white over the city of Athens, our souls were darkened by the uncle who should have set them free to grow in the sun. My soul-and that of my younger sister, Eileen.
It was her idea-my sister Eileen's-that we visit the Final Encyclopedia that day, using my new travel pass as a worker in Communications. Ordinarily, perhaps, I might have wondered why she wanted to go there. But in this instance, even as she suggested it, the prospect struck forth a feeling in me, deep and heavy as the sudden note of a gong-a feeling I had never felt before-of something like dread.
But it was not just dread, nothing so simple as that. It was not even wholly unpleasant. Mostly, it resembled that hollow, keyed-up sensation that comes just before the moment of being put to some great test. And yet, it was this-but somehow much more as well. A feeling as of a dragon in my path.
For just a second it touched me; but that was enough. And, because the Encyclopedia, in theory, represented all hope for those Earth-born and my
uncle Mathias had always represented to us all hopelessness, I connected the feeling with him, with the challenge he had posed me during all the years of our living together. And this made me suddenly determined to go, overriding whatever other, little reasons there might be.
Besides, the trip fitted the moment like a celebration. I did not usually take Eileen places; but I had just signed a trainee work-contract with the Interstellar News Services at their Headquarters Unit here on Earth. This, only two weeks after my graduation from the Geneva University of Communications. True, that University was first among those like it on the sixteen worlds of men, including Earth; and my scholastic record there had been the best in its history. But such job offers came to young men straight out of school once in twenty years-if that often.
So I did not stop to question my seventeen-year-old sister as to why she might want me to take her to the Final Encyclopedia, on just that particular day and hour she specified. I suppose perhaps, as I look back on it now, I told myself she only wanted to get away from the dark house of our uncle, for the day. And that, in itself, was reason enough for me.
For it had been Mathias, my father's brother, who had taken us in, Eileen and me, two orphan children after the death of our parents in the same air-car crash. And it was he who had broken us during our growing years that followed. Not
that he had ever laid a finger on us physically. Not that he had been guilty of any overt or deliberate cruelty. He did not have to be.
He had only to give us the richest of homes, the choicest of food, clothing and care-and make sure that we shared it all with him, whose heart was as sunless as his own great, unpierced block of a house, sunless as a cave below the earth's surface that has never felt the daylight, and whose soul was as cold as a stone within that cave.
His bible was the writings of that old twenty-first century saint or devil, Walter Blunt-whose motto was "DESTRUCT!"-and whose Chantry Guild later gave birth to the Exotic culture on the younger worlds of Mara and Kultis. Never mind that the Exotics had always read Blunt's writings with a difference, seeing the message in them to be one of tearing up the weeds of the present, so that there would be room for the flowers of the future to grow. Mathias, our uncle, saw only as far as the tearing; and day by day, in that dark house, he drummed it into us.
But enough about Mathias. He was perfect in his emptiness and his belief that the younger worlds had already left us of Earth behind them to dwindle and die, like any dead limb or atrophied part. But neither Eileen nor I could match him in that cold philosophy, for all we tried as children. So, each in our own way, we fought to escape from him and it; and our escape routes brought us, that day, together to the Exotic Enclave at St. Louis, and the Final Encyclopedia.
We took a shuttle flight from Athens to St. Louis and the subway from St. Louis to the Enclave. An airbus took us to the Encyclopedia courtyard; and I remember that, somehow, I was last off the bus. As I stepped to the circle of concrete, it struck again, that deep, sudden gong-note of feeling inside me. I stopped dead, like a man struck into a trance.
"-Pardon me?" said a voice behind me. "You're part of the tour, aren't you? Will you join the rest over here? I'm your guide."
I turned sharply, and found myself looking down into the brown eyes of a girl in the blue robes of an Exotic. She stood there, as fresh as the sunlight about her-but something in her did not match.
"You're not an Exotic!" I said suddenly. No more she was. The Exotic-born have their difference plain about them. Their faces are more still than other people's. Their eyes look more deeply into you. They are like Gods of Peace who sit always with one hand on a sleeping thunderbolt they do not seem to know is there.
"I'm a co-worker," she answered. "Lisa Kant's my name.-And you're right. I'm not a born Exotic." She did not seem bothered by my penetrating her difference from the robe she wore. She was shorter than my sister, who was tall-as I am tall- for a man from Earth. Eileen was silver-blond, while, even then, my hair was dark. It was the same color as hers when our parents died; but it darkened over the years in Mathias' house. But this girl, Lisa, was brown-haired, pretty and smiling. She intrigued me with her good looks and Exotic robes-and she nettled me a little as well. She seemed so certain of herself.
I watched her, therefore, as she went about rounding up the other people who were waiting for the guided tour through the Encyclopedia; and once the tour itself was underway, I fell into step beside her and got her talking to me, between lecture spots.
She showed no hesitation in speaking about herself. She had been born in the North American Midwest, just outside of St. Louis, she told me. She had gone to primary and secondary schools in the Enclave and became convinced of the Exotic philosophies. So she had adopted their work and their ways. I thought it seemed like a waste of a girl as attractive as herself-and bluntly I told her so.
"How can I be wasting myself," she said, smiling at me, "when I'm using my energies to the full this way-and for the best purposes?"
I thought that perhaps she was laughing at me. I did not like that-even in those days, I was no one to laugh at.
"What best purposes?" I asked as brutally as I could. "Contemplating your navel?"
Her smile went away and she looked at me strangely, so strangely that I always remembered that look, afterward.
It was as if she had suddenly become aware of me-as of someone floating and adrift in a night time sea beyond the firm rock shore on which she stood. And she reached out with her hand, as if she would touch me, then dropped her hand again, as if suddenly remembering where we were.
* 'We are always here,'' she answered me, strangely. "Remember that. We are always here."
She turned away and led us on through the spread-out complex of structures that was the Encyclopedia. These, once moved into space, she said, speaking to us all now as she led us on, would fold together to form a roughly spherical shape, in orbit a hundred and fifty miles above the Earth's surface. She told us what a vast expense it would be to move the structure into orbit like that, as one unit. Then she explained how, expensive as this was, the cost was justified by the savings during the first hundred years of construction and information-charging, which could be done more economically here on the ground.
For the Final Encyclopedia, she said, was not to be just a storehouse of feet. It would store facts, but only as a means to an end-that end being the establishment and discovery of relationships between those facts. Each knowledge item was to be linked to other knowledge items by energy pulses holding the code of the relationship, until these interconnections were carried to the fullest extent possible. Until, finally, the great interconnected body of man's information about himself and his universe would begin to show its shape as a whole, in a way man had never been able to observe it before.
At this point, Earth would then have in the Encyclopedia a mighty stockpile of immediately available, interrelated information about the human race and its history. This could be traded for the hard science knowledge of worlds like Venus and Newton, for the psychological sciences of the Exotic Worlds-and all the other specialized information of the younger worlds that Earth needed. By this alone, in a multi-world human culture in which the currency between worlds was itself the trading of skilled minds, the Encyclopedia would eventually pay for itself.
But the hope that had led Earth to undertake its building was for more than this. It was Earth's hope-the hope of all the people of Earth, except for such as Mathias, who had given up all hope-that the true payment from the Encyclopedia would come from its use as a tool to explore Mark Torre's theory.
And Torre's theory, as we all should know, was a theory which postulated that there was a dark area in Man's knowledge of himself, an area where man's vision had always failed, as the viewing of any perceptive device fails in the blind area where it, itself, exists. Into man's blind area, Torre theorized, the Final Encyclopedia would be able to explore by inference, from the shape and body of total known knowledge. And in that area, said Torre, we would find something-a quality, ability or strength-in the basic human stock of Earth that was theirs alone, something which had been lost or was not available to the human splinter types on the younger worlds that now seemed to be fast out-stripping our parent breed in strength of body or mind.
Hearing all this, for some reason I found myself remembering the strange look and odd words of Lisa to me earlier. I looked around the strange and crowded rooms, where everything from heavy construction to delicate laboratory work was going on, as we passed; and the odd, dread-like feeling began to come back on me. It not only came back, it stayed and grew, until it was a sort of consciousness, a feeling as if the whole Encyclopedia had become one mighty living organism, with me at its center.
I fought against it, instinctively; for what I had always wanted most in life was to be free-to be swallowed by nothing, human or mechanical. But still it grew on me; and it was still growing as we came at last to the Index Room, which in space would be at the Encyclopedia's exact center.
The room was in the shape of a huge globe so vast that, as we entered it, its farther wall was lost in dimness, except for the faint twinkling of firefly lights that signaled the establishment of new facts and associations of fact within the sensitive recording fabric of its inner surface, that endless surface curving about us which was at once walls, ceili
ng and floor.
The whole reaching interior of this enormous spherical room was empty; but cantilevered ramps led out and up from the entrances to the room, stretching in graceful curves to a circular platform poised in the midst of the empty space, at the exact center of the chamber.
It was up one of these ramps that Lisa led us now until we came to the platform, which was perhaps twenty feet in diameter.
"... Here, where we're now standing," said Lisa as we halted on the platform, "is what will be known as the Transit Point. In space, all connections will be made not only around the walls of the Index Room, but also through this central point. And it's from this central point that those handling the Encyclopedia then will try to use it according to Mark Torre's theory, to see if they can uncover the hidden knowledge of our Earth-human minds."
She paused and turned around to locate everyone in the group.
"Gather in closely, please," she said. For a second her gaze brushed mine-and without warning, the wave of feeling inside me about the Encyclopedia suddenly crested. A cold sensation like fear washed through me, and I stiffened.
"Now," she went on, when we were all standing close together, "I want you all to keep absolutely still for sixty seconds and listen. Just listen, and see if you hear anything.''
The others stopped talking and the vast, untouchable silence of that huge chamber closed in about us. It wrapped about us, and the feeling in me sang suddenly up to a high pitch of anxiety. I had never been bothered by heights or distances, but suddenly now I was wildly aware of the long emptiness below the platform, of all the space enclosing me. My head began to swim and my heart pounded. I felt dizziness threatening me.
"And what're we supposed to hear?" I broke in loudly, not for the question's sake, but to snap the vertiginous sensation that seemed to be trying to sweep me away. I was standing almost behind Lisa as I said it. She turned and looked up at me. There was a shadow in her eyes again of that strange look she had given me earlier.
"Nothing," she said. And then, still watching me strangely, she hesitated. "Or maybe-something, though the odds are billions to one against it. You'll know if you hear it, and I'll explain after the sixty seconds are up." She touched me lightly, requestingly on the arm with one hand. "Now, please be quiet-for the sake of the others, even if you don't want to listen yourself."