Deathworld

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Chapter 28

"What do we do now?" Meta asked. Her voice was troubled, questioning. She voiced the thoughts of all the Pyrrans in the room, and the thousands who watched in their screens.

"What will we do?" They turned to Jason, waiting for an answer. For the moment their differences were forgotten. The people from the city were staring expectantly at him, as were the crossbowmen with half-lowered weapons. This stranger had confused and changed the old world they had known, and presented them with a newer and stranger one, with alien problems.

"Hold on," he said, raising his hand. "I'm no doctor of social ills. I'm not going to try and cure this planet full of muscle-bound sharpshooters. I've just squeezed through up to now, and by the law of averages I should be ten times dead."

"Even if all you say is true, Jason," Meta said, "you are still the only person who can help us. What will the future be like?"

Suddenly weary, Jason slumped into the pilot's chair. He glanced around at the circle of people. They seemed sincere. None of them even appeared to have noticed that he no longer had his hand on the pump switch. For the moment at least, the war between city and farm was forgotten.

"I'll give you my conclusions," Jason said, twisting in the chair, trying to find a comfortable position for his aching bones. "I've been doing a lot of thinking the last day or two, searching for the answer. The very first thing I realized, was that the perfect and logical solution wouldn't do at all. I'm afraid the old ideal of the lion lying down with the lamb doesn't work out in practice. About all it does is make a fast lunch for the lion. Ideally, now that you all know the real causes of your trouble, you should tear down the perimeter and have the city and forest people mingle in brotherly love. Makes just as pretty a picture as the one of lion and lamb. And would undoubtedly have the same result. Someone would remember how really filthy the grubbers are, or how stupid junkmen can be, and there would be a fresh corpse cooling. The fight would spread and the victors would be eaten by the wildlife that swarmed over the undefended perimeter. No, the answer isn't that easy."

As the Pyrrans listened to him they realized where they were, and glanced around uneasily. The guards raised their crossbows again, and the prisoners stepped back to the wall and looked surly.

"See what I mean?" Jason asked. "Didn't take long did it?" They all looked a little sheepish at their unthinking reactions.

"If we're going to find a decent plan for the future, we'll have to take inertia into consideration. Mental inertia for one. Just because you know a thing is true in theory, doesn't make it true in fact. The barbaric religions of primitive worlds hold not a germ of scientific fact, though they claim to explain all. Yet if one of these savages has all the logical ground for his beliefs taken away—he doesn't stop believing. He then calls his mistaken beliefs 'faith' because he knows they are right. And he knows they are right because he has faith. This is an unbreakable circle of false logic that can't be touched. In reality, it is plain mental inertia. A case of thinking 'what always was' will also 'always be.' And not wanting to blast the thinking patterns out of the old rut.

"Mental inertia alone is not going to cause trouble—there is cultural inertia, too. Some of you in this room believe my conclusions and would like to change. But will all your people change? The unthinking ones, the habit-ridden, reflex-formed people who know what is now, will always be. They'll act like a drag on whatever plans you make, whatever attempts you undertake to progress with the new knowledge you have."

"Then it's useless—there's no hope for our world?" Rhes asked.

 

"I didn't say that," Jason answered. "I merely mean that your troubles won't end by throwing some kind of mental switch. I see three courses open for the future, and the chances are that all three will be going on at the same time.

"First—and best—will be the rejoining of city and farm Pyrrans into the single human group they came from. Each is incomplete now, and has something the other one needs. In the city here you have science and contact with the rest of the galaxy. You also have a deadly war. Out there in the jungle, your first cousins live at peace with the world, but lack medicine and the other benefits of scientific knowledge, as well as any kind of cultural contact with the rest of mankind. You'll both have to join together and benefit from the exchange. At the same time you'll have to forget the superstitious hatred you have of each other. This will only be done outside of the city, away from the war. Every one of you who is capable should go out voluntarily, bringing some fraction of the knowledge that needs sharing. You won't be harmed if you go in good faith. And you will learn how to live with this planet, rather than against it. Eventually you'll have civilized communities that won't be either 'grubber' or 'junkman.' They'll be Pyrran."

"But what about our city here?" Kerk asked.

"It'll stay right here—and probably won't change in the slightest. In the beginning you'll need your perimeter and defenses to stay alive, while the people are leaving. And after that it will keep going because there are going to be any number of people here who you won't convince. They'll stay and fight and eventually die. Perhaps you will be able to do a better job in educating their children. What the eventual end of the city will be, I have no idea."

They were silent as they thought about the future. On the floor Skop groaned but did not move. "Those are two ways," Meta said. "What is the third?"

"The third possibility is my own pet scheme," Jason smiled. "And I hope I can find enough people to go along with me. I'm going to take my money and spend it all on outfitting the best and most modern spacer, with every weapon and piece of scientific equipment I can get my hands on. Then I'm going to ask for Pyrran volunteers to go with me."

"What in the world for?" Meta frowned.

"Not for charity, I expect to make my investment back, and more. You see, after these past few months, I can't possibly return to my old occupation. Not only do I have enough money now to make it a waste of time, but I think it would be an unending bore. One thing about Pyrrus—if you live—is that it spoils you for the quieter places. So I'd like to take this ship that I mentioned and go into the business of opening up new worlds. There are thousands of planets where men would like to settle, only getting a foothold on them is too rough or rugged for the usual settlers. Can you imagine a planet a Pyrran couldn't lick after the training you've had here? And enjoy doing it?

"There would be more than pleasure involved, though. In the city your lives have been geared for continual deadly warfare. Now you're faced with the choice of a fairly peaceful future, or staying in the city to fight an unnecessary and foolish war. I offer the third alternative of the occupation you know best, that would let you accomplish something constructive at the same time.

"Those are the choices. Whatever you decide is up to each of you personally."

 

Before anyone could answer, livid pain circled Jason's throat. Skop had regained consciousness and surged up from the floor. He pulled Jason from the chair with a single motion, holding him by the neck, throttling him.

"Kerk! Meta!" Skop shouted hoarsely. "Grab guns! Open the locks—our people'll be here, kill the grubbers and their lies!"

Jason tore at the fingers that were choking the life out of him, but it was like pulling at bent steel bars. He couldn't talk and the blood hammered in his ears.

Meta hurtled forward like an uncoiled spring and the crossbows twanged. One bolt caught her in the leg, the other transfixed her upper arm. But she had been shot as she jumped and her inertia carried her across the room, to her fellow Pyrran and the dying off-worlder.

She raised her good arm and chopped down with the edge of her hand.

It caught Skop a hard blow on the biceps and his arm jumped spasmodically, his hand leaping from Jason's throat.

"What are you doing?" he shouted in strange terror to the wounded girl who fell against him. He pushed her away, still clutching Jason with his other hand. She didn't answer. Instead she chopped again, hard and true, the edge of her hand catching Skop across the windpipe, crushing it. He dropped Jason and fell to the floor, retching and gasping.

Jason watched the end through a haze, barely conscious.

Skop struggled to his feet, turned pain-filled eyes to his friends.

"You're wrong," Kerk said. "Don't do it."

The sound the wounded man made was more animal than human. When he dived towards the guns on the far side of the room the crossbows twanged like harps of death.

When Brucco went over to help Meta no one interfered. Jason gasped air back into his lungs, breathing in life. The watching glass eye of the viewer carried the scene to everyone in the city.

"Thanks, Meta … for understanding … as well as helping." Jason had to force the words out.

"Skop was wrong and you were right, Jason," she said. Her voice broke for a second as Brucco snapped off the feathered end of the steel bolt with his fingers, and pulled the shaft out of her arm. "I can't stay in the city, only people who feel as Skop did will be able to do that. And I'm afraid I can't go into the forest—you saw what luck I had with the stingwing. If it's all right I'd like to come with you. I'd like to very much."

It hurt when he talked so Jason could only smile, but she knew what he meant.

Kerk looked down in unhappiness at the body of the dead man. "He was wrong—but I know how he felt. I can't leave the city, not yet. Someone will have to keep things in hand while the changes are taking place. Your ship is a good idea, Jason, you'll have no shortage of volunteers. Though I doubt if you'll get Brucco to go with you."

"Of course not," Brucco snapped, not looking up from the compression bandage he was tying. "There's enough to do right here on Pyrrus. The animal life, quite a study to be made, probably have every ecologist in the galaxy visiting here."

Kerk walked slowly to the screen overlooking the city. No one attempted to stop him. He looked out at the buildings, the smoke still curling up from the perimeter, and the limitless sweep of green jungle beyond.

"You've changed it all, Jason," he said. "We can't see it now, but Pyrrus will never be the way it was before you came. For better or worse."

"Better," Jason croaked, and rubbed his aching throat. "Now get together and end this war so people will really believe it."

Rhes turned and after an instant's hesitation, extended his hand to Kerk. The gray-haired Pyrran felt the same repugnance himself about touching a grubber.

They shook hands then because they were both strong men.

 

THE END

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