The Long Way Back

By Melody Clark.

Blake's Prelude

He was not accustomed to wakefulness in the boy. Not, at least, in this boy. He had seen him pass along the hall, quiet as a memory, his tall form stilted with the weight of an obvious problem. It was not in the boy to be silent. He was a nineteen year old, prime yield of the Alpha Heart Stock, and they were not adept in the keeping of secrets, least of all their own.

Finally, one evening, as the world had become a very dark place for Sen Leusip, as he sat in his quarters with his fingers lightly circling the first page of the book, without heart enough to read, he sensed the boys presence, framed within the door. It was a warm transfusion to the cold, spare room. Leusip had loved that presence from the moment he first sensed it, several years before. Even then it bore the felt presence of the man the boy would become.

Doctor Leusip, the boy said softly, am I disturbing your study?

Hardly study, Roj. Of course you arent. The Academician reached for a stray chair and drew it into covenant with his. I was wondering when you would drift in to chat. I could not help noticing the ghost who bears a remarkable resemblance haunting your hallway to all hours. He tapped the chair. Sit, please. You ease my solitude.

The young man lowered himself slowly into the chair, then stretched his long legs out before him. He then took a deep breath, something passing through his expression before he lifted his eyes to Leusip. I was thinking of our discussion last week, he said.

Leusip sighed, closing the book he held. I thought as much, he said, feeling the weight of Rojs steady gaze, the moist brown eyes that gave report on every emotion passing through his heart. Leusip could not bear to look on them, but he could feel their conviction, given from Blakes heart, just as the other boy the very different boy could convey with one stolid glance the indictment of his mind.

You spoke of the original intent of the System, the boy said. He rubbed a hand at his brow. Its disheartening to think of something meant to free people enslaving them instead. Happens all the time, Roj. It is a paradox. Life is filled with them.

The boy let the moment escape, as if hoping for something more an apology, words of promise, an explanation to vindicate or chase the shadows away. When all that returned was silence, he moved forward in his chair. Professor Leusip, explain this to me, for pitys sake! Dont you see? Cant you understand? You created that thing, you built it from your dreams, from your vision... How could you make such a thing as that?

The first words that came forward to his mind were angry ones, but he took them back and counselled them with patience. Vision can be a sort of blindness, Roj, he said instead. I was young and the young are enamoured of the panacea. The error was not in my intent. At that time, we were a backwater world with a low standard of life. We were perfect picking grounds for wealthier economies of the nearby planets. There were a few aboriginals who profited from this, but they refused to share the wealth. And so we became a race of slaves at the mercy of the greed of the few.

And the System? Roj said, looking away.

The System, Leusip said, his voice softening, was a remedy to that. Or so I believed. A vehicle for perfect consistency, I thought, a way to delegate wealth and work according to justice. It would mechanize all the menial labours of man and free him to those efforts which were truly human. And it was styled to judge and context every act of government to ensure ethical consistency, to ensure, beyond the capriciousness of human minds, an inter-causal democracy.

Leusip took a deep breath, closing his eyes as if against an image of something terrible to behold. And then, I patched it into all the brain systems of Spaceworld, and then into Thirdworld a neighbouring satellite poorer than my own planet and instituted its sovereignty over all other forms of authority. He squeezed at the bridge of his nose. There would be only one overmind, the System.

But surely, Professor, the boy said, actively tempering the fire behind his words, Surely you designed a fail-safe for it.

Sen Leusip offered a smile of regret. So help me, Roj, it never occurred to me that I needed one.

Roj slumped back into his chair, a thoughtful sadness overtaking him. You gave it dominion over your own people. This thing you created.

I did.

And then?

And then, Leusip said, I instituted Primary Directive One.

Which was? Roj said, sharply, anxious.

Which was the induction of consistency, the drive to make everything conform to that system of ideas which I gave it as its own mind. And to its logic, that idea system became the very foundation of its existence. And conformity to it, a condition for survival. Where I envisioned harmony, it thirsted after obedience one vision, its own. And just like the human immune system, that which was inconsonant with this vision was nonsense. That which it could not convert, it destroyed. Usually, the latter.

Roj sank his large, veined hand deep into his dark curls, his face filled with the struggle of his mind shifting the scattering of pieces, seeking symmetry, his dark eyes aglow with the horror of mercy. But Professor, you created the System. You did...

Leusip finally regarded the boy directly Rojs long arms were woven tight across his broad chest, as if embracing something at risk of escape. And his eyes, regarded him with all the old man had feared. Something shattered. Some cunning composed from the dust of illusion. A sad understanding. Leusip knew that expression well from the eyes of the other boy the very different boy. But the eyes of Analog Blake had always watched him with patient affection, the trust of a disciple.

Yes, Roj.

And then you ran, Roj said.


Ran and hid, Roj said, finally jabbing the words in all the way and giving them a twist. Leusip reached across and touched the boys shoulder. What is it you want me to say? Give you excuses? I have none. Give you contrition? My life has been a ritual of it. What is it you would have had me do?

Stay! the boy roared back, dropping his arms like his last defence. Fight it! Kill it, if you had to!

Kill it, Roj? It isnt an organism. Its not alive.

Professor, you see my point, why do you evade its meaning? You were its mentor, you know its strengths and weaknesses. You would have known how to disable it better than anyone.

It wasnt as simple as that, Roj! Leusip said, his coolness finally caving through. He waited, composing himself again. What I did was simply give its grounding. It went on from there, fortifying itself with defence systems, forming an invulnerable hull to cloak its infrastructure. Any attempt to find a backdoor would be suicide.

Once again, the boy seemed incomparably sad. Its truly such a lost cause?

Only and truly that, I fear.

His sorrow remained in evidence only a moment, for Roj Blake, aged all of nineteen years, could redeem his lost causes with the conviction of a saint. No, he said simply, decided.

There are no lost causes. There is always a choice.

Perhaps there is, Leusip said reluctantly, then sighed. You would have had to know eventually.

Professor? Roj sat still, but his eyes sparked animation.

Our experiments with the rose, Leusip explained carefully, have emphasised a possibility that I had always hoped would come to pass. There was no need to mention the long disputes, the endless arguments as to which project should take precedence Buto, a native of Earth, had always preferred the Cygnus Alpha project. There is a way in which the System may be overcome.

By something equally powerful but of opposite nature?

The quickness of Rojs deduction was disconcerting, but then he already had the essential clue from the experiments. Leusip nodded, not wishing to reveal more. Enough. Ive said too much already.

As if to end the matter, the boy reached across to the book Leusip was holding so firmly in his fist, moving aside the cover to read the title.

The Little Prince, Roj read aloud, charging the room with his ready grin, offering it to Leusip like an apology. Is this a book about a diminutive despot?

Leusip laughed, in spite of it all. No, my boy. It is a book that asks the question of whether or not yes or no a sheep has eaten a rose. And why this is a matter of such very great importance.

Rojs eyebrows lifted quizzically. You are talking in abstractions, Professor Leusip. Youre beginning to sound like Kerr.

Leusip chuckled softly. It is a very, very old story. Old Calendar, in fact. When the Purge was carried out, people who considered it precious secreted it from harm, along with countless other works. It speaks to people. It speaks to me. And I need what it has to say. Especially today.

Why today especially?

The smile dissolved from Leusips mouth, his fingers articulating over the spine of the small book. Do you remember Buto?

Blakes face clouded with thought, his hand moving absently to the medallion dangling from a thin chain around his neck. Buto. Yes. He is Heart Stock, as I am.

Was Heart Stock, Im afraid.


Leusips knuckles whitened discernibly over the spine of the book. Ive just received word that Buto was murdered yesterday. Turned in by a Federation quisling named Dev Tarrant and shot by order of contingency execution. His voice finally wavered, the signal weakened. Shot down in his sleep, like a mad dog. The bastards.

Im sorry, Professor. He was a good man.

A good and decent man, Leusip said, with a faint and final smile. He was quite emotional, you know, as your people so often are. I once found it troubling, embarrassing, the way he spoke so bluntly of his love, the way he could touch. But, in the end, I envied his freedom. He paged once through the book. Strange that I have fought these years for the liberation of my people, when I have myself been content to live in a cage of my own convention. No need to reproach yourself, Professor. Reluctance to express affection is a common trait among the Apollonian Alpha grade. Roj paused, too long to make it seem insignificant, his fingers still conspiring with the disc at his throat. You are not inferior, just different.

Leusip smiled, thinking of what Buto once had called him to task for, his suggestion that the Heart Stock analog might not be the equal of the Apollonian. And here was Analog Blake comforting him in his self-loathing.

Yes, well, Buto would agree with you. Leusip extended the book towards Roj. Buto gave it to me. He helped me to understand it. I think it will speak to you as well. Perhaps more clearly than to anyone else.

But it was his gift to you. I cant take it.

All the more reason, Sen said, his eyes fogging vaguely. I thought reading it would give me comfort, but all it does is remind me I will never see him again.

You cant be certain of that.

Oh, but I can be.

There are numerous arguments from reason.

Leusip waved a hand, as if dismissing them all. He relinquished the book into the younger mans hands. Yes, well, time goes on, if nothing else. Take the book. Read it. May it give you comfort in the days to come.

Roj shook his head at the book in his expressive hands. No. It was a gift to you, from your friend. And Im in no need of comfort.

Leusip smiled up at him, eyes glowing with a patient affection. You are young, Roj. Give life time. It will find ways to wound you. And then he noticed the medallion Blake was pestering. Does Kerr know youre wearing his Lyceum medal?

Roj let it go immediately, his face tightening in offence. Kerr asked me to wear it. He is wearing my Cogito band. We exchanged them.

An even trade, then?

Roj smiled. No, Professor. A symbol, he said, slipping the medal into his shirt.

A symbol for what? Leusip asked, feeling a strange tightness deep inside.

For being... as you and Buto were, I assume. That is, you seemed to say that you loved him.

Leusip crimsoned. Yes, of course.

And he was not a genetic relative, or a bond one? Or perhaps he was only a friend. A Platonic friend, although given our studies of Plato and his time that seems an ironic phrase. Leusips expression sagged with utter confusion. The boy seemed to be doing as he often did, gently prodding for an answer to a question he could not convey. But it could not be he was asking what he seemed to be asking. It simply could not be. And yet an arctic fear was rising in Leusips heart.

Friend or relative, those are the only options, Roj, Leusip said brusquely, and he was never severe with Analog Blake.

You dont mean to say there are only two options for men who love? That is Aristotelian madness, Doctor Leusip.

Leusip could not reply, his mind stumbling blindly after any syllogism with which to dismiss the obscene implication Blake had brought forth. Where in hell had this come from? What on earth could he say?

What Buto and I were is none of your business, Leusip snapped.

Blake smiled, self-satisfied. I thought as much. Then you know yourself, Professor, there are no lost causes. Only unexercised options.

The sound of Analog Blakes footsteps moving with certainty again gave him a short moment of relief, then he remembered. Remembered his words. What the boy had told him, told him without telling him. And what he had known without Sen having spoken a word.

It could not be. Could not be.

Both boys had been meticulously screened for any possible deviations... The crude law of averages alone was on their side. Deviant substrates had been excised from the gross gene pool for two hundred years of Terran technosociobiology. Though there were sporadic regressions, they were rare.

But, there was always the ancient study of emergent properties, within the optic-gene-altered fruit fly. Without genetic data, the system repaired itself, somehow, reconstructing the genetic pattern of the optic system without any physical information and

(We cannot allow the possibility of too close a well, a sympathetic union between the two, his own voice swelled up from his memory like the risen tide. They cant fall in love with each other, Butos voice came in with his, cutting through his fractionations with the truth. We have to stay in control.)

a generation of eyeless Drosophila melanogaster, fruit flies, spawned a generation of sighted ones, normal in all respects, with unimpaired genetic

(Kerr Avon, a male, was the Apollonian Analog chosen. So, by necessity, they had selected a male Heart Stock analog. Yet, Analog Blake, by good fortune, had been the best candidate anyway. Both boys were brilliant, unparalleled specimens.)

structures. There was the mitigating factor of non-indigenous Alpha-classeds mating into Terran descent-Alphas. Alpha-classeds, as studies had shown, that seemed to be predisposed to bisexuality (Alpha-classeds like Sen Leusip). Idiotic, he insisted. Entirely absurd. Kerr Avon was the most abstemious child he had ever known.

But then, they were hardly children any longer, either of them. They were young men, with fully-formed libidinal urges, locked up within an artificial satellite with no one for company but two old men and each other. Was it any wonder they had formed a deep attachment? Such boyhood crushes were not uncommon, and there was always the polarity draw, the call of the forbidden. They were as different from each other as the most divergent aspects of the morning and the night. Analog Avon was hard, cynical, cold. And Blake?

Heart Stock to the marrow, as he was meant to be. There are no lost causes, he had said, with that damnable gleam in his eye, that limitlessness, that unswerving faith.

And now Leusip wondered darkly just what cause the boy had spoken of.

No lost causes indeed.

The delusion of youth, that. For there were lost causes, Leusip knew. All the time. Every hour. In every corner of that mad, insensate, Federated universe was yet another small and noble cause in the process of surrender. Every month, one more race of thinking, loving beings driven into extinction.

For that very reason, they had taken their oath long ago: that nothing would stop this. Once concurred, this magic would not be driven down. No matter the sacrifice to preserve the cause. No matter the price demanded for payment.

Project: Analog would not be lost.

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