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The Stars Do Not Lie

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The Stars Do Not Lie

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Author: Jay Lake
Publisher: Lightspeed Magazine, 2016
Phoenix Pick, 2013
Asimov's Science Fiction, 2012
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Book Type: Novella
Genre: Science-Fiction
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Synopsis

Hugo- and Nebula-nominated Novella

Jay Lake's critically acclaimed novella takes a new look at a classic theme. A world strictly governed by religious dogma is challenged by a scientist who has discovered a key piece of information challenging long-held beliefs. An intricately created alternate world provides a fascinating backdrop and a new twist to this classic dilemma.


Excerpt

In the beginnings, the Increate did reach down into the world and where They laid Their hand was all life touched and blossomed and brought forth from water, fire, earth and air. In eight gardens were the Increate's children raised, each to have dominion over one of the eight points of the Earth. The Increate gave to men Their will, Their word, and Their love. These we Their children have carried forward into the opening of the world down all the years of men since those first days.

- Librum Vita, Beginnings 1:1-4; being the Book of Life and word entire of the Increate


Morgan Abutti; B. Sc. Bio. ; M. Sc. Arch. ; Ph. D. Astr. & Nat, Sci. ; 4th degree Thalassocrete; Member, Planetary Society; and Associate Fellow of the New Garaden Institute, stared at the map that covered the interior wall of his tiny office in the Institute's substantial brownstone in downtown Highpassage. The new electricks were still being installed by brawny, nimble-fingered men of crafty purpose who often smelled a bit of smoke and burnt cloth. Thus his view was dominated by a flickering quality of light that would have done justice to a smoldering hearth, or a wandering planet low in the pre-dawn sky. The gaslamp men were complaining of the innovations, demonstrating under Lateran banners each morning down by the Thalassojustity Palace in their unruly droves.

He despised the rudeness of the laboring classes. Almost to a man, they were pale-faced fools who expected something for nothing, as if simply picking up a wrench could grant a man worth.

Turning his attentions away from the larger issues of political economy and surplus value, he focused once more on history.

Or religion.

Honestly, Morgan was never quite certain of the difference any more.

Judging from the notes and diagrams limned up and down the side of the wide rosewood panel in their charmingly archaic style, the map had been painted about a century earlier for some long-dead theohistoriographer. The Eight Gardens of the Increate were called out in tiny citrons that somehow had survived the intervening years without being looted by hungry servants or thirsty undergraduates. Morgan traced his hand over the map, fingers sliding across the pitted patina of varnish and oil soap marking the attentions of generations of charwomen.

Wy'east.

The homes of man. Archaeological science was clear enough. Thanks to the work of natural scientists of the past century, so was the ethnography. The Increate had placed the human race upon this Earth. That was absolutely clear. Just as the priests of the Lateran had always taught, nothing of humanity was older than the villages of the Gardens of the Increate.

Sick at heart, Morgan turned back to his photographic plates, their silver salts bearing indubitable evidence of the ephemeral nature of such faith in the Increate.

The stars do not lie.

"Gentlemen of the Planetary Society..." Morgan Abutti let his voice trail off a moment. His next words, once uttered, could never be taken back. Not before this august assemblage of the greatest scientific minds of the modern era. He drew in a deep breath and plunged recklessly onward. "On examination of considerable evidence from fields as varied as paleontology, archaeology, and astronomy, I have been compelled to confront the distinct likelihood that we, the human race, are not of this world."

He paused to give the audience a moment to consider the proposition. The racket of the city of Highpassage echoed from outside the Society's Plenary Hall - steam whistles, horses, motorcars, the grumble of the new diesel engines powering the latest generations of airships. The seven hundred faces staring at him included a scattering of the paler-skinned northern folk, who were finally entering academe and the sciences thanks to the same progressive policies that had helped pave Morgan's own way to the exclusive University of Highpassage. That women had been allowed to study a generation earlier had cracked open the door that later admitted the traditionally inferior white race.

The world was growing more open-minded by the decade in spite of itself. Were his colleagues in the Planetary Society ready for this, his grand conclusion?

What he'd thought to be shocked silence degraded into murmuring, muttering, even outright laughter in a few corners. Some delegates rose from their seats, ready to move onward to more fruitful pursuits. Others struck up conversations with their seatmates, or commenced making notes, in some cases with deliberate ostentation.

Morgan had lost the audience, waiting for their reaction to his news.

"I have ...have assembled a précis of the evidence..." he began, but his voice trailed off. A moment later Doctor Professor the Revered Lucan Matroit, Secretary-General of the Planetary Society, plucked at Morgan's sleeve.

"My deepest regrets, ah ...Doctor Abutti," Lucan said quietly, his tone as formal and disinterested as if the two of them had never met before. "The Society thanks you for your contributions." He quite effectively twisted Morgan's arm and propelled him toward the heavy maroon velvet curtains marking stage left.

"Dear ones," Lucan called out to the audience, which immediately stilled its unrest at his piercing voice. "Let us now offer praise to the Increate, as redress to Them for the caprice and irresponsibilities of free will..."

Morgan did not hear the rest of the invocative prayer. Two of the Society's burly porters - like most of their fellows, former Thalassojustity Marines - seized him by the upper arms, shoved his despatch case into his hands, jammed his bowler hat upon his head, and escorted him to a service entrance from which he was summarily ejected into a dung-spattered alley under the doleful gaze of a brace of hinnies hitched to a rag man's cart.

At least they had not thrown him bodily into the muck. No, even that embarrassment had been trumped with a few mere words from Lucan Matroit.

Gathering the shreds of his dignity, Morgan resolved to retreat to the shelter of his office at the New Garaden Institute. The Avenida Tram line ran past the Plenary Hall, and would deposit him within two blocks of his destination.

Waiting for the next street car to arrive, Morgan noticed one of the porters watching him. The man leaned on a pillar of the rococo façade of the Plenary Hall, smoking a fat cigar and making no effort to hide himself or pretend interest in anything but Morgan. After adjusting his collar tabs and fussing with his shirt front, Morgan held his leather case to his chest as if it could armor him, and waited among the ladies' maids and bankers' daughters for the tram.

Riding among a crowd consisting mostly of servants summoned memories that Morgan had expended some effort setting aside. The human odor of painfully starched cleanliness and faint malnutrition within the tram was far too reminiscent of his own childhood. He stared out at the streets of Highpassage, ignoring the people around him with their muted gossip, and wondered what he'd been about.

Seeking truth, science, had been his path out of ungenteel poverty. That the good universities admitted scholarship boys at all was still a strange novelty when Morgan had first enrolled. He'd studied beyond reason to qualify, understanding perfectly clearly he would have to do twice as well to be thought half as good as someone of monied birth and good family.

Even now, with his doctorate and his post at the New Garaden Institute, far too few listened with ears of reason. People only saw and heard what they wished. If he'd been a titled scion of some ancient house, Matroit would not have been able to rush him out of the Planetary Society.

The most important discovery of the modern age was being crushed by pettiness. No different from the rough back alley games of his youth. The strongest ones, the ones with the most friends, always prevailed.

Head pressed against the glass, feeling the shudder of the tracks through the tram's iron wheels, Morgan almost wept to realize the world's unfairness had no end. He could never be good enough, never have possession of enough facts, to surpass that barrier.

The New Garaden Institute's offices occupied the majority of an elegant building that had been designed and constructed during the height of the Neoclassical Revival at the beginning of the previous century. It had been one of the first structures in Highpassage built with the intention of being gas lit and centrally heated. Plumbing stacks, gas valve closets, ventilation shafts for the introduction of fresh air to the innermost precincts of the structure - the building had been a truly visionary project from the century's most famous architect, Kingdom Obasa. A brilliant Iberiard educated outside the top-ranked university system, Obasa had very much gone his own way in both engineering and aesthetics. As a result, for all of its brownstone glory, the New Garaden Institute nonetheless resembled nothing so much as a cathedral that had been partially melted.

The recent addition of an array of rooftop electrickal signaling devices for the propagation and reception of radio waves had done nothing to alleviate the building's strangeness.

Stung, embittered, saddened by his setback, but firmly in command of himself once more, Morgan stumbled through the vestibule into the receiving parlor only to find the Desk Porter in close consultation with a pair of on-duty Thalassojustity Marines. His view of the wide expanse of maroon carpet, delicate settees, and brass rails telescoped into a horrified vision of another ejection from his barely attained positions of privilege. The Marines' formal red tunics contrasted oddly with the firearms borne by both of the large men. While Morgan had little familiarity with weapons, even he could see that these were not the long-barreled, wooden-stocked rifles carried on parade, but rather short, snub-nosed bits of machined steel slung tight on well-worn leather straps. Businesslike tools of violence, in other words.

"Ah, Dr. Abutti," one of the Marines said, even before he'd turned from the Desk Porter's podium. The man's purple-blue eyes were like grapes squeezed into the unnaturally pale, ruddy flesh of his face.

Morgan was impressed for about three beats, until he realized the Marine had seen his reflection in the glassed-over painting of the Battle of Mino Harbor behind the podium.

"Indeed. I do not believe we have been introduced." Morgan glanced pointedly at the Desk Porter. The Desk Porter - was his name Philas? Phelps? - just as pointedly failed to meet Morgan's eye.

"No need, sir. You're to come with us. Thalassojustity business. You're being called before the Lesser Bench, sir." The Marine favored Morgan with a warm smile that did not meet the eyes. His fellow favored Morgan with the blank stare of a gun barrel casually swung to bear.

"Now?" Morgan asked with an involuntary swallow.

"Now." And after a moment too long, "Sir."

"I may be some time," Morgan told the Desk Porter.

"I'll make a note, Doctor." This time he did raise his eyes with a faint flash of malice.

Copyright © 2012 by Jay Lake


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