I am walking to work one normal morning. I’m dressed in the usual way, I’ve had the usual breakfast, I’m thinking the usual thoughts. I pass into the central square and see several armed men in police uniforms in a knot over towards the other side. I furrow my brow and walk on, and there are more of them, strange men, women too, openly armed and in dark blue vests, standing guard or passing along the corridors.
At the office nobody is working. Most of them are here already, and they are standing in a group in the centre of the room, very near my desk, and talking excitedly about what they know. Jack is here; Percy arrives just after me; Mr Silva is standing at the edge of the group with a very serious face. Dr Chan is not here.
I put my bag on my chair and join them. They acknowledge me with their glances, but they are too busy talking to say good morning. Liu is recounting that the police arrived during the night; which is obvious, but he seems to be claiming access to some privileged source of factual information.
“I heard them!” Jiang says, and we all turn to him.
“I heard them going past my apartment early this morning. I heard their voices. They were – spreading out,” he finishes lamely.
“I think you’ll find they were already installed by that time,” says Liu, and he looks grimly at the group. “I hear they arrived at the dead of night, and someone here let them in, and before anyone realised they were here, they were already in control.”
I imagine their craft landing secretly outside the colony; it’s daytime outside at the moment, but it was night time on the clocks; then disgorging its passengers who swarm into the sleeping colony through all available airlocks, professional, precise, irresistible.
How did they manage to bring their craft all the way here without anyone noticing?
“But where have they come from?” someone asks. Another very good question.
“I heard they came from the asteroid belt,” says someone else, and that is indeed the closest settlement to Callisto.
“What, two astronomical units away?” That is, twice the distance from the Earth to the Sun. “When did they set out?”
Nobody knows how to answer that.
“I suppose they really are the police?” someone ventures. There’s a thought, goodness me.
We all look at each other.
“I suppose so,” says Jack. Anything seems possible at the moment.
I don’t think anybody here really knows anything, including Liu. It’s all rumour and speculation. I start to back away towards my seat. Mr Silva catches my eye and does the same, and gradually the group begins to disperse and drift apart.
I log on, but it’s not easy to concentrate on work. I think we are all having the same difficulty.
Mid-morning Dr Chan arrives. He has been to a meeting, and he calls one now. We all crowd into the room where we have our regular team meetings, some sitting, the rest standing.
“I have just come from the governor’s office,” he begins. “The colony is in a state of emergency, and there is an emergency governor. We are all called upon to remain calm and do our jobs in the normal way. I am assured that there will be no impact on the operation of Shanghai Exchanges. Or on the interplanetary championships,” he adds with a smile in my direction.
We are all bursting with questions, but Dr Chan fends them off.
“I am only able to tell you what I have been told myself this morning,” he says. “There will be further announcements, and in the meantime the emergency governor urges everyone to maintain order and calm and simply let the police do its job.”
“Who is the emergency governor?” someone wants to know.
“It’s Carlo Mazzone,” Dr Chan replies, a Callistoan businessman who, one assumes, has had no truck with the Way of Movement.
That is the only question Dr Chan answers. He dismisses us, and we all go back to our desks, murmuring to each other as we seep out of the meeting room and disperse across the office.
It’s just as hard to concentrate as it was before, but I do my best. I have some meeting notes to write up, and I have to keep re-reading them because I realise that I have looked at and read all the words without taking in any meaning.
I steal a glance at Percy, working opposite me. I know that Suresh is a part of the Way of Movement, and so I assume that Percy is too. It must be worrying for him.
Shortly before lunchtime the next bombshell explodes. Liu has received the news and forwards it to everyone in the office except Dr Chan: Henri Mbuka is in custody on allegations of sexual harassment and abuse.
“Is this defo true?” Jack replies to all.
“Yes,” is Liu’s entire reply and, indeed, apparently it is. A statement from his entourage is doing the rounds, regretting that the Prophet is currently unavailable and expressing confidence that he will soon be back with his friends and disciples.
We go for lunch to the usual canteen, and there is only one topic of conversation there. Normally people only talk here to their own colleagues from the same office, but today there are no boundaries and everyone in the whole room is discussing the situation with everyone else, with the composition of the group constantly changing as customers arrive and others leave, having finished their lunch. Some are saying that Mbuka is not yet in custody, merely answering questions, and apparently several other cult members are doing the same thing. In some firms individuals have not turned up to work at all, or have arrived late, having been invited early in the morning to assist the police with their enquiries.
In the afternoon Dr Chan comes out of his office to give us all a good telling-off.
“Can I please ask everyone to get on with their work!” he says in a loud and exasperated voice. “We’re not at school here. For goodness’ sake.”
We all give each other shamefaced looks as he turns and goes back into his office. We do try. There is less talking now, less whispering, fewer emails on today’s events. In the end I do manage to concentrate properly on what I am doing, which is to prepare a presentation for a meeting that I am attending in a couple of days, and it’s almost like a normal day.
In the evening I meet up with my sister. I have never seen her so angry. I let her into my apartment and she marches in, deposits her bag on a chair and turns to look at me. Her face is flushed with anger and I have to say, it suits her. She is even more beautiful than usual.
“Fascists!” is what she calls them: the police and those who have sent them.
I have made a cold rice salad with various chopped vegetables and some tofu secreted inconspicuously within it, for the protein. We eat it together at my table with tumblers of orange juice.
“Yes, he is under arrest,” she confirms when I ask about the Prophet. “It’s so outrageous. I have no words to describe how outrageous it is.”
But she has, and she doesn’t spare me them.
“It’s a complete fabrication,” is how she describes the allegations against him.
“Is it true,” I ask, “that there were similar allegations back on Earth?”
“Yes, there were,” she says, “and they were fabricated too. Amy, you have to understand: a man like the Prophet makes enemies. He wakes people up, he opens their eyes, he shows them where they have been going wrong, and many people don’t like it. They resist enlightenment, they prefer their ignorance and prejudice, they’d rather believe bad things about him even if they are scarcely credible, because then they don’t need to think about the truth that he is showing them. And some of them invent stories about him, to harm him and destroy him. They have no scruples. And some are jealous.”
I listen, and I think I have an expression of suspension of disbelief.
“He very obviously likes attractive women,” I point out.
“I didn’t say he was sexually inactive,” she says. “But harassment! Abuse! It’s a lie, Amy. A scandalous lie. Every woman who has opened herself to him has done so willingly and with a sense of privilege and honour.”
“Not just women, apparently,” I murmur. There have been a lot of emails today.
She looks straight at me again. Her knife and fork are lying on her plate.
“I don’t know anything about that,” she says. “You can’t stop hateful gossip. But even if it’s true, it will be the same thing. Anyone would be privileged and honoured to be chosen by the Prophet.”
There is an obvious question, but I don’t dare to ask it.
“Oh well,” I say. “We’ll find out now, anyway.”
“What do you mean?”
“Well, they’re investigating, aren’t they?”
She stares at me, and a little contempt is now mingled with her outrage.
“Are you really that naïve, Amy?” she says. “Investigating? Do you really think that this is an investigation?”
“Well, what –”
“It’s a pretext, Amy. It’s a pretext to take him out of circulation and smear his reputation. It’s political.”
“You’re saying they don’t actually believe –”
”They don’t care! They’re not interested in the allegations; the fascists. The allegations are just an excuse. They’re convenient. Without them, they’d just find something else. They’ve obviously been planning this for a long time.”
And with that last assessment, at least, a lot of people agree over the next few days.
People are saying that the cult must have been under surveillance for some time, and it had probably been infiltrated, probably while back on Earth.
“It’s the only explanation,” Jack tells us over lunch on the third day. “How else did they get here so soon after the ship from Earth arrived?”
We nod, and exchange glances.
“So what I say is,” Jack continues, “the authorities knew what the cult was planning. They knew what it was going to do when it got here. But they didn’t want to pounce before. They wanted to let the cult come out into the open and try to take over, and then come down on them. So everyone could see that the threat was real and they weren’t just imagining it, or making it up.”
I am imagining the two ships making their way towards Callisto. The big ship from Earth, full of gymnasts and officials and other travellers, and with the Prophet, holding court and enjoying the adulation of his followers; working out their plans and assigning tasks for the time after their arrival, amongst themselves and among his followers here on Callisto; and at the same time the police ship, secretly, silently, travelling a different path from wherever it has come from, and converging on the same place. And still travelling, approaching the end of its journey, as the Prophet and his people are putting their plans into effect here in the colony and not suspecting that there is a deadly foe coming and now nearly here.
There is a sombre mood now in the colony. It’s a different kind of sombreness from before. Before, it was a slightly sinister feeling, as one person after another emerged as an adherent of the Way and it became increasingly obvious that there was a hidden network of communication and decision-making that was controlling everything that happened here and was, presumably, all being coordinated by Henri Mbuka. Now we are under a rule that has been imposed from outside.
Mbuka himself has come from outside too, of course, and the followers that he has brought with him; but the ones forming this network and governing the colony were people here. It was a homegrown thing. Now an armed police force has swooped in from off-planet and imposed its rule through intimidation and the threat of violence.
It becomes clear that Mbuka is the only one still in custody. Other people were taken in for questioning on that first day, both members of his own group from Earth and people from here, but they have all been released now and are going about their business. Not all of them in the same roles as before, however. I already knew that the governor had been deposed, but a number of other senior Callistoans have been removed from their positions and replaced by people who seem to be untainted by association with Mbuka.
My sister calls it a reign of terror. That is hyperbole; but I agree with her that it’s extremely disquieting.
She calms down as the days pass, and she becomes more resigned. Of course she has her preparations to continue with.
I ask her how the cult is doing, bereft of its leader. I don’t call it a cult.
“Amy, we’re holding it together,” she says, “and just waiting for the Prophet to return to us.”
“Are there other leaders?” I ask.
“Not like him, obviously. But he has lieutenants, and they’re taking care of things in his absence.”
“Are they able to speak to him?”
“No. None of us has seen him since he was arrested.”
I look grave, and she hastens to correct a possible erroneous impression.
“He hasn’t disappeared,” she says. “He has a lawyer, one’s been assigned to him, from here, and some of us have spoken to the lawyer.”
“And what does he say?”
“Well, that he’s okay, and he’s not being mistreated. But it’s all a farce. It’s not about the charges.”
“What do you think will happen to him?”
She shrugs. “I suppose it depends on how complete they think their political victory is. But I can’t see them releasing him here. My guess is they’ll keep him in custody till after the championships and then put him on the ship back to Earth.”
“Amy, how should I know? They can try him here, they can try him on Earth, they can even try him while he’s on the ship, remotely. Or they can drop the charges. They’re trumped up anyway.”
She shakes her head.
“All they’re concerned about right now is making sure the championships pass off without a hitch. And your stock exchange. Once all that’s over and Callisto is out of the spotlight, who knows what the fascists will do.”
I’m wondering that too, though it’s not the way I’d choose to express it. Recent developments have not made me feel better about staying on Callisto.
Robert doesn’t seem to see a problem. His mood has brightened considerably, and he clearly feels he is on the right side of history. He’s very scornful about the Way of Movement and its adherents, and not just with me.
I find it jarring on me a little. He doesn’t need to be quite so contemptuous. Not everybody is solely focussed on business. Some people have other dimensions in their lives.
I wonder what the cult is doing these days. Obviously the gymnasts are preparing for the championships. But the rest of his entourage, what are they up to? Until a few days ago they were working with their local allies to take over Callisto. What are they doing with their time now?
“Amy, the movement has its normal, everyday life, and that continues,” my sister tells me. We are in her apartment this time, with the sweet scent of a candle hanging in the air of the living room. Elena is out again; I have hardly ever seen her.
“Hard to imagine,” I say.
“Why?” She pours me, and then herself, some tea. The pot and the cups are very obviously not from here.
“Well, it’s all so focussed on him.” I take a sip, and reflect. “You know, he reminds me of a nature film.” I remember a film I once saw about gorillas, and another about lions.
My sister looks at me with a quizzical expression. I put my cup down on the table; these cups have no handles and they are very hot to the hand.
“I mean he’s like the head animal in the group. The chief male. Surrounding himself with a string of females. Taking his pleasure whenever he wants, with whichever one he happens to fancy.”
My sister raises her eyebrows. I can see that I have made her feel defensive. Her expression is not quizzical any more.
“Do you disapprove?” she asks. I make a deprecating sound. “Do you think he ought to be celibate? Do you think his followers ought to be celibate?”
“Amy, this is just where those ridiculous allegations have their origin. It’s jealousy, and bigotry, and conventional thinking. Conventional people are unwilling to think outside their own prejudices.”
Is she talking about me?
“Well, you can see why, though,” I say.
“Why what?” Her eyes are flashing.
“Why people wonder. Whether it’s all okay.”
“I mean his relationship with his female followers. And – others. Whether there isn’t some, I don’t know, coercion.”
“Coercion!” She gives a bitter laugh. “Because it’s so hard to imagine that we feel love and reverence and affection for our Prophet? And that he feels love and affection for us? Because there’s something wrong with physical closeness, and sexual pleasure?”
“No, of course not.”
“Come on, Amy. Don’t be conventional. Don’t be hypocritical. Everyone knows you’re sleeping with Robert Georghiou.”
Oh my goodness, do they really?
“Very astute. A great political choice.”
I think about that, and I can feel that now my face is darkening.
“What do you mean by that?” I ask, and I am frowning.
We stare at each other across her table, and my sister’s face fills with horror.
“Oh, Amy, I’m so sorry,” she says. “That was a terrible thing to say. I don’t mean that at all.”
I look at her and don’t say anything. I can’t believe she said that.
She stands up and comes round the table, and she kneels in front of me and takes both of my hands and holds them in my lap. She looks up at me with an expression of penitent loveliness.
“I spoke without thinking,” she says. “I was wrong, and stupid. Please forgive me, Amy.”
I can’t refuse her. Not in this situation. How would that look? It’s impossible. I have to tell her that I forgive her, and make up with her.
But I resent, I really resent the way she is manipulating me. Again. With her way of movement.
She stands up and brings her chair halfway around the table so that we are facing each other across a corner, no longer on opposite sides. She pours us both some more tea, and wants to talk about Robert.
She is imagining a sisterly conversation in which I confide my feelings and thoughts, and she shares them with me and says what she thinks of him, the impression she has, and in which together we wonder what his true feelings for me are, whether we’re a match, what my true feelings are, and where it will all lead.
We’ve never talked about boys, all our lives, and I don’t want to do it now. I feel that I am being mean as I block her attempts to get into that conversation. But I can’t. I can’t do it.
I can’t talk to Lucid Thought as to a girlfriend, over some tea. There is too much baggage.
She’ll never be my best friend. It’s impossible.
She gives up in the end and looks away with a resigned expression as she leaves the subject.
I know she thinks she’s doing all that is necessary. That it’s not her fault. That all I have to do is walk over the bridge that she has built for me.
“Anyway,” says Lucid Thought, “you wanted to know what the Way of Movement is doing these days.”
“Yes, that’s right,” I say, grateful for a less fraught subject.
“In fact it’s not the first time the Prophet has been absent. He travels sometimes. He made a trip to America while I was at the academy last year, and he was gone for several weeks.”
I make an interested face.
“And he was never on Callisto before, and yet the Way of Movement was growing and flourishing here.”
“The Way of Movement has followers everywhere, and most of them have never seen the Prophet in person. Or maybe once, on a lecture tour.”
“Never seen him!”
“Well, there are videos. So they’ll have seen him, and heard him; just not in person. Anyway, what I’m saying is, his followers are doing the same things as they usually do, whether the Prophet is present in person or not. They must have been doing those things all this time on Callisto. Don’t you know?”
“I’ve told you a little about it myself, do you remember? We have various techniques that the Prophet has taught us. Some are more suitable for some people, others are more suitable for other people. But they all have the same objective: to help us to liberate our spirits from the shackles of false attachments, and to perceive and experience our own movement.”
So they can receive it. I know.
“The Prophet himself has learned much from earlier sages. Throughout the centuries there have been wise men, and women too, from all cultures and religions, who have sensed the same truth. They may have expressed it in different ways; they may even have thought they were on opposing sides; but in reality they are all showing us the same way. And the Prophet is our interpreter. He gathers the truth from across the ages and brings it to us. That’s why he’s the Prophet. He sees what we would otherwise not see, and helps us to see it too.”
This is all very vague again.
“So what do you actually do?” I ask.
She flashes me a slightly irritated look.
“As I said, Amy, there is a range of techniques, and we can choose those that are most suited to ourselves, individually. Some people meditate, for instance.”
“Yes. You squat on the floor with your legs folded beneath you – that is, that’s one way of doing it – and you focus your mind on one sound, or one word, or one image, and you allow your mind to empty itself of all other thoughts, and as you do that, the clutter and the busyness of your life recede and a higher awareness arises.”
“Is that what you do?”
“No. Well, yes, I’ve tried it. I’ve done it a few times. But it’s not really what works best for me.”
She leans back.
“I’m a gymnast, Amy, and a dancer. I’m most comfortable in my body when it’s moving.”
“Yes, I can understand that.”
“You know one of our techniques already, anyway.”
“Yes, you’ve done it yourself. On the ship, with Ella. Didn’t you do some meditative dances with her?”
I freeze, and stare at her as she carries on talking brightly about mystical dance.
“Do you know Ella?” I manage to ask, when she pauses for a moment.
“Yes, of course. I’ve known her for years. Didn’t she tell you?”
I shake my head.
“Yes, I met her on a voyage, years ago. Like you. She’s been to the academy too, but not at the same time as me. Before me.”
I am staring at her as she chatters away, but I’m not really taking anything in.
I thought Ella was mine. Now it turns out that, once again, Lucid Thought was there first.
The anguish of that sudden knowledge is piercing, hard as that is to justify with logic.
Why do I feel so betrayed?
All those months on the ship. I know, I didn’t say anything either, about whose sister I was. I can’t blame her.
But it’s all turned to ashes now.
I was trespassing. I walked into a room where all the people fell silent as I entered, and they’ll carry on as soon as I leave. I’m not welcome.
Am I making too much of a fuss about it? It’s a small thing, really. Looked at dispassionately.
I can’t help it. I can’t help how it makes me feel.
It’s not going to work. Today has not gone well for this project, of becoming real sisters. It’s not going to work.
When I talk to other people during those days, as the colony settles into being under this imposed rule, I hear more, different things, about what the cult is allegedly doing.
I hear that people have been taken in for questioning again, or possibly custody, it’s not entirely clear. This evidently has nothing to do with the sexual allegations against Mbuka. The cult was, after all, trying to take over Callisto; in fact it practically had taken it over; and now the authorities are investigating how much of that activity was actually illegal.
The governor and several other Callistoans have been sacked from their jobs, and now they are the subjects of a criminal investigation.
And there are rumours of covert resistance. I can’t really imagine what resistance looks like in these circumstances. But people are hinting that the cult isn’t simply taking this lying down.
I am going to a lot of external meetings these days, more than before, and this is where I hear most of these rumours. The exchange is nearly ready to open, and we have our candidates for flotation, local companies that will be placing their offerings on the market on its first day. I have been helping them to get their documentation ready, which means treading a fine line between assisting them, and sharing responsibility for the contents: that would never do.
And it’s at these meetings, or rather, at their fringes, that people sometimes talk about these things. While we are waiting for everyone to arrive so that the meeting can commence, or during a break for coffee or sandwiches, or after the meeting has finished and its participants have not yet dispersed.
It depends who is there, because one needs to be cautious. I don’t get the impression that people are particularly cautious of me, though I suppose I wouldn’t necessarily notice: I don’t know how they behave when I am not there. But they don’t clam up because of me, as they do when certain other people are present.
Clearly I am an outsider and have never had anything to do with the cult or its political ambitions, nor with the counter-blow that has now suppressed it. It’s well known that my sister is a member, but that division goes through a lot of families here and doesn’t in itself make people suspicious of me. And, indeed, the fact that I am linked in people’s minds with Robert Georghiou probably contributes.
I feel that I am understanding Robert better, or I am seeing him more clearly, and I’m not sure how I really feel about him. The way he talks about the Way of Movement and its followers, and not just them: anybody, really, who has any kind of moral reasoning behind what they do. He talks as if morality is something contemptible: something to be sneered at. I’ve even noticed myself beginning to take on his outlook as he talks when we’re alone: laughing with him at those deluded individuals who place their ideals above their material advantage. But when I get away from him and I’m on my own, or with other people, I look back, and I look at myself, and I ask myself what is happening to me. And whether I really want to be with someone who seems to have no morality and no scruples.
And it irritates me the way he always assumes that we are going to have sex whenever we meet. Now I don’t deny that it’s pleasurable for me too, even though I have the impression that his pleasure is greater than mine; and I wouldn’t mind him hoping that we are going to have sex; in fact I rather like that, and would be disappointed if he didn’t. But I don’t like him simply assuming it. It takes all the allure out of it, and turns it into just another thing that I am supposed to do, like the washing-up.
And there’s one more thing. Something that has been bothering me, at the back of my mind, since that first evening when we went out for a drink together, that turned into a date and finished up in my bed. It’s too late to do anything about it now, even if I wanted to, and I’m reluctant to use the obvious word, but I can’t escape from the fact that, well, technically, he didn’t have my consent. He can’t have had. I was in no state to give consent that night.
This is where I really wish I had a friend here to talk to.
I shouldn’t have had so much to drink. I don’t usually. I can’t hold it very well, that’s the problem. It was a long evening, with nothing to eat. And, oh yes, there was tequila. I don’t remember how much of that I had. I think I only sipped some of his. I recall thinking that it was very nice indeed, though I feel a bit ill now, remembering it.
I’m wondering what I really mean to him. Am I any more than just a body to have sex with, and a pair of ears to hold forth to afterwards until it’s time for me to go home?
I don’t think I am. And I think I might say I’m busy the next time he wants to meet.
A couple of days after tea with my sister there is a video message from Ella in my inbox. It’s very apologetic.
“Amy, I wanted to tell you,” she says. “I knew who you were before you even joined the ship. The crew all knew you were coming. But you obviously wanted to be anonymous, and I could understand that. I sympathised. I wanted to respect that. Especially after you talked to me about her, without mentioning who she was.”
She looks pleadingly into the camera.
“It was an impossible situation, Amy. I wanted to be your friend. I am your friend, if you’ll still let me. I’ve been dreading this.”
I suppose this is why my sister has been so friendly, and so concerned to repair our relationship. It was Ella’s intervention. It was just after I had arrived here and taken my leave of Ella that I got that first, astonishingly conciliatory video message from Lucid Thought.
Ah, and that is why Ella was studying Arabian history. Those Sufis were Arabian. It’s all to do with the cult.
I sit at my table at home, watching my device, and I listen to what she is saying. She hasn’t done anything wrong, that’s the thing. She’s right, it was an impossible situation. She has behaved impeccably in the circumstances.
And yet I still feel betrayed, illogically, unreasonably, and it feels like yet another example, yet another example, of how everything in my life that Lucid Thought touches turns to ashes.
I don’t hate her. I don’t think I do. But I hate – something. This whole situation, throughout our whole lives, that makes me feel so wretched.
It’s not her fault. I don’t know whose fault it is. Our parents’; mine; the cosmic consciousness; I don’t know. Nobody’s, probably.
I couldn’t possibly explain any of this to her. What would I say?
The next time I meet her she very obviously has no idea what has been going through my head in the meantime. Of course not.
“Come in, Amy,” she says, “and look what I’ve made!”
I close the door of her apartment behind me and follow her into her kitchen. She’s chopping up fruit and putting the pieces into a large bowl.
“Fruit salad,” I say. “And it’s all fresh. Wow.”
“All fresh. See, it does grow here. There’s no reason not to have fresh fruit and vegetables on Callisto.”
“I know it can grow here,” I say. “We just don’t usually see it. Oh – is it because of you lot?”
“Us lot; yes, I think it probably is. Somebody must have decided we merit decent food.”
She smiles at me, and I smile back.
“Are you all right with fruit salad for your meal?” she asks. “Or are you too hungry? I have some bread.”
“I had lunch,” I say. “Fruit salad is perfect. I’m looking forward to it.” My mouth is watering at the thought of it.
She finishes chopping up one last apple and gives me the bowl to carry in. I bring it into the main room and she follows me with dishes and spoons for us. We take our seats in the same places as last time, facing each other across the table.
“Amy, I’m going to ask you for your help,” she says as she ladles fruit into our bowls.
“Yes. I know you feel the same way as I do about what has happened here.”
I look at her with a slightly furrowed brow. What is she going to ask me for?
“Any decent person would,” she goes on. “It’s so outrageous.” She shakes her head and passes me my bowl. I wait for her to continue.
“You know we’re under investigation,” she says, and she drops her voice.
“The Way of Movement is under investigation, Amy. Of course you know that.”
“Oh, sorry, yes, I do know that.”
“Everybody who is associated with the Way is being investigated. People’s apartments have been searched. Their workplaces.”
“Not yet, Amy, but it may happen. They searched Mandy’s apartment yesterday. He wasn’t even at home.”
My mouth drops open.
“That’s appalling!” I say.
“Yes, it is. That’s the enemy we’re up against, Amy. They’re fascists. I’ve said it all along.”
What a warning this is to us all to keep our apartments tidy.
“Now it’s highly unlikely that they’ll investigate you,” she goes on.
I agree. Why would they investigate me?
“Nobody thinks you sympathise with the Way.”
“Well, I don’t.”
She flashes me a look, and continues.
“That’s how you can help us, Amy. Nobody will suspect you.”
“Suspect me of what?”
She stops again, and regards me for a moment.
“We have some confidential data,” she says. “It’s very important that it doesn’t fall into the wrong hands.”
“What sort of data?”
“Does that matter, Amy?”
Well, yes, of course it does.
“It’s data of a sensitive and private nature,” she says.
“You can’t just delete it?”
“No, because it’s very important. It’s only stored on one medium, and yes, it has been deleted everywhere else, but we have to preserve that one copy. And we can’t transmit it off-planet because we believe our communications are being monitored.”
I’m worried now.
“Amy, we want you to look after it for us.”
“What, on my computer?”
“No, don’t put it on your computer. It’s on a data stick. Very small. We want you to look after that data stick for us.”
“You want me to hide it from the police?”
“Yes, that’s exactly right.”
I stare at her.
“Is that illegal?”
“Amy, is that the right question? It’s about doing what’s right. You’ve seen what the fascists have done here, and what they’re still doing. It’s about striking a blow for freedom.”
I am silent, and sit there with furrowed brow.
“We’re all called on to do what we can, in our own small way. That’s how the fascists will lose, in the end.”
But what about the meantime? Yes, it’s unlikely that they’ll search my apartment, but you never know. You can’t rule it out.
“But what am I supposed to do with it? It’s pretty obvious if I stick it in my underwear drawer.”
“Well, no, we’ll have to find a better hiding place than that.” She smiles at me, but I don’t return the smile. “I’ll help you. I haven’t got it here.” Thank goodness for that. “I’ll bring it with me the next time I come to yours, and I’ll help you to hide it.”
I don’t like this at all. What if they do search my apartment, and find it?
I want to go away and not think about this. I don’t want to have anything to do with this.
“I might not be here much longer,” I point out. I’m prevaricating. “I’ll probably be going back to Mars.”
“Then you can take it with you. So much the better: then it’s completely out of their reach. And you can give it back to me later, or somebody else who comes to collect it. I’ll let you know who.”
I’m looking away from her. I don’t like it.
“I’ll think about it,” I mumble.
“Think about it?” She looks at me, astonished. “What is there to think about?”
“Well – you know –”
“Amy, free Callisto has been overthrown by a fascist police force. People are being suppressed in their exercise of their religious liberty. Innocent people are in custody. Their homes are being raided. Our Prophet has been arrested and is being persecuted on trumped-up charges. It’s a war on freedom.”
Or the authorities have clamped down on illegal activities by the cult, and they are genuinely investigating the harassment charges against Mbuka.
“Do you approve of what they are doing?”
“No, of course not –”
“Well then. If you love freedom and justice, you have to defend them when they are under attack.”
But are they?
She is exasperated. “Amy, do you have to ask that question? It can’t be any of us. Our apartments are being searched.”
“Yes, but it’s different for you.”
Because she is a gymnast and a celebrity, and nobody expects a reasoned analysis from her. If she is mixed up in something clandestine and conspiratorial, people will just shake their heads tolerantly and send her back to her gymnastics.
“I’m a lawyer. I’m expected to know these things.”
“The legal position. Legal or illegal, or criminal. I’m supposed to go through the proper channels.”
“The proper channels are out of service, Amy! Surely you can see that?”
“Well, I don’t know about that.”
“What are the proper channels for stopping the police from marching in here right now and searching this apartment? And searching me, and you? What are you going to do if they put your hands against the wall and search your body? What’s the proper channel for that?”
“Is that what they’re doing?”
She pauses. “Well, no, I haven’t heard that. But they do march into people’s homes and search them. And if they don’t find what they’re looking for, bodily searches are the next step.”
This is speculation.
“Well, it’s not my area of expertise,” I say. “But I daresay one could make a complaint.”
“A complaint! Who to?”
“I’m not exactly sure,” I admit. “But the police are answerable, they’re governed by the process of law –”
“The police are the process of law on Callisto today. Amy, I can’t believe how naïve you are. They will simply do what they want. And if they find what they’re looking for, what’s the use of a complaint after the event?”
“That’s the point, though, isn’t it? There’s something to find. Something you don’t want them to have.”
“Because it will help them to suppress us altogether! This is an oppressive, fascist regime and they want to crush us.”
“But isn’t it true that the cult was trying to take over Callisto?”
“Sorry, I mean the Way of Movement.”
She looks at me in silence, with a little distaste.
“Many prominent members of Callistoan society are followers of the Prophet,” she says. “People in charge on Callisto. Responsible for its government. The Prophet is our spiritual leader. Of course they spoke to him, and listened to him, and sought guidance from him. That is not the same thing as taking over Callisto. They were already in charge.”
But Mbuka wasn’t.
“And I am very disappointed in you, Amy, for using that word. This is the propaganda of our enemies. How can you thoughtlessly use it against us?”
“But it is a cult, though, isn’t it?” I say. I am stung. “It has all the hallmarks of one.”
“Oh, really? And what are they?”
That is easy to answer.
“It’s all centred on one spiritual leader,” I begin. “It sets itself apart from the rest of society. Has its own procedures and rituals. Inappropriate relationships between the leader and his followers. Daft beliefs.”
“I mean, from the point of view of mainstream society. Beliefs that most people don’t agree with.”
“Truth is not a matter of democratic vote.”
“No, but it can be tested.”
“It is tested! Amy, I’ve explained it to you –”
“Other ways of knowing. I know.”
“Ways of knowing that everybody has access to, Amy. That everybody uses, already.”
“So we can all verify it.”
“How does it communicate with us?”
“The cosmic consciousness. How does it communicate?”
“What are you talking about, Amy?”
“You and I are talking by means of sound waves. Disturbances in the air that travel from my mouth to your ears. When we communicate over long distances we use radio waves. Disturbances in a field that travel from one to the other. We can observe the field and measure the disturbances, we know their properties and what they do, and we know how to create them. When you are aware of the cosmic consciousness, and it is aware of you, how is that information transmitted?”
She looks at me with something like dislike.
“That’s the wrong question,” she says.
“It’s a perfectly good question.”
“You’re trying to explain something with science that is not measurable by science.”
“Why isn’t it? If communication is happening in the real universe, we ought to be able to observe it. Where is its energy source?”
“Amy, don’t try to make yourself out to be cleverer than you are. You’re not a scientist.”
“I know I’m not a scientist. But I went to school, and I was paying attention. You went to the same lessons.”
“Those lessons didn’t cover spiritual truth.”
“But they covered the physical world. How can something be spiritually true if it’s nonsense in physics?”
“There’s nothing nonsensical about it.”
“You only say that because you haven’t thought about it.” I shake my head. “You’ve just got carried away because it fits in with what you want to be true. You like the feeling that it gives you. You like the significance that it seems to give to what you do. You like feeling that you belong. You like –”
I stop. Even now, in my excitement and indignation, I hold back from saying that she likes the man Mbuka.
But does she think I haven’t seen how she looks at him?
She is listening to me with a thunderous expression.
“Amy, you are talking like a child,” she says. “You know nothing about this.”
“I know you.”
“I’ve explained to you what we do and how we reach enlightenment and wisdom, through methods that have been tried and tested throughout the ages. And without even trying it out for yourself, you think you know better than we do, you think you can tell without even trying it, that we believe in nonsense.”
“Well – yes. That’s right. I can.”
I have shocked myself by coming out with this statement, and I have certainly surprised my sister. She gasps in outrage, and stares at me.
“Closed-minded,” she brings out. “Arrogant. Bigoted. Small-minded.”
I wait, and she finds her usual articulacy.
“This is your trouble, Amy,” she says. “This is the fault at the ground of your being. You believe in authority. You’re like a good little schoolgirl. The highest joy for you is a gold star.”
“That’s not –” I begin, but she raises her hand, and I stop.
“I’ve tried to show you the way.” The Way. “Ella has tried to show you. Do you know why? To help you, Amy. We see you, enchained and benighted, imprisoned by the limitations of your imagination and your courage, and we know how you can be free, how you can liberate yourself, how your spirit can emerge into the light and grow along its true path. But you reject it. You’re in love with your prison.”
“And this is your trouble. Listen to yourself. Vague waffle. What does it mean? You don’t have any answers to my actual questions.”
“Because those questions are foolish.”
“No: ignoring them is foolish.” I shake my head again. “’Throughout the ages’.” That’s what she said. “Back then, in the Arabian desert, all those years ago, it might have made some sense. What did they know? Shepherds and farmers, looking up at the stars at night and not knowing what they are. But you’re a modern woman. You were born on Mars! You’ve travelled many times in space. You’re on a moon of Jupiter right now. Science has made that possible. Our understanding of the universe, how it operates. There’s no room for primitive superstitions.”
“Amy, I pity you. You don’t even see the prison that you’re in. Stay in your cage then, like a timid little mouse. The door is open, but you have to go through it. Freedom is outside, but you need courage to embrace it.”
“You’re doing it again. This is all just meaningless waffle.”
“Meaningless to you. Your eyes are closed, Amy. Open them to the truth.”
She takes a deep breath. “There is a path, Amy, and it’s not the path that you think you’re on. I look at you, with your small concerns, and your small fears, and your small hopes, and you are like a rat in a maze, scurrying about and never getting anywhere. True wisdom is to find your true path, and that you can only do through enlightenment. Not through school learning. Open your mind to what I have shown you, and you will grow and deepen and find true joy and peace. Or stay in your little cage and close your eyes to the light.”
“And this is exactly typical. Smug, patronising, impregnable in your – in your –. You’re always doing this. ‘True wisdom’. It’s laughable. You haven’t found true wisdom, you’ve just fallen for a stupid cult, and like everything else you’ve got enthusiastic about in your life, you think it’s the best thing ever. Well, newsflash: it’s not, and you’re a very poor judge.”
“Amy, you’re being childish.”
“No, you’re childish. You just swallow this rubbish, uncritically. Where are your critical faculties?”
“Where are yours? You haven’t even done the experiment. To put it in your terms.”
“It’s a stupid experiment. What’s it going to prove if I do a mystical dance and get some sort of mystical fuzzy feeling?”
“You’re talking like an ignorant child who thinks she knows all the answers.”
“Well, that’s one thing I’ve learned from you.”
“Nobody ever tells you the truth, do they? You come home with some new thing, and everybody pats you on the head and says Well done, Lucid Thought, and nobody tells you how silly and childish it is.”
There is silence after I have said this.
Even I can hear the sub-text in that statement.
We stare at each other for a long moment. When she speaks again her voice is lower and calmer, and resigned.
“How do you think it has been for me, Amy,” she says, “to grow up my whole life with an older sister who resents me as much as you do? How do you think that has made me feel?”
I scowl, because I know she is right and don’t want to admit it.
I can see that she is considering whether to expand on that theme. She is staring into space, considering.
“Anyway,” she says at last, “none of this has anything to do with the point at issue. Will you help us, Amy?”
I look at her, across her table and across our bowls of fruit salad, untouched for quite some time now.
“I don’t like what’s going on here any more than you do,” I say. I am prevaricating again.
“Of course you don’t.”
“Even if I don’t agree with the cult.”
She raises her eyebrows at that word, but she doesn’t say anything.
“It’s not fair. It’s not right.”
“So will you help us?”
I don’t like being put under pressure.
“I’ll think about it, Lucid Thought.”
She wants to say something scathing again, I can tell.
“Fine,” she says. “Think about it. Let me know your decision. Soon, please.”
“You should finish your fruit salad.”
“Yes.” I pick up my spoon. “It’s very good.”
“I know. Not my doing. It’s the ingredients.”
“I’ve never had anything like it on Callisto.”
“Just goes to show how nice it could be here.”
We eat, in silence. What do you say, after an explosion like that?
Not since we were small.
She offers me tea when we’ve finished. I decline.
“I’ll get back home,” I say.
She nods. “Okay.”
I get up. I pick up my bowl to carry it into the kitchen. She takes it from me and puts it with hers into the big salad bowl and carries it all in there.
I pick up my bag and hang it over my shoulder.
“I’ll let you know,” I say.
She nods again. “Good night, Amy.”
“Good night, Lucid Thought. Thanks for the salad.”
And I am out of her apartment, a lot earlier than I had expected, and I make my way back to mine through the darkened corridors. A bar in the distance is noisy and rowdy.
This was not a great way of persuading me to do something dangerous to help her and her friends.
But I want to be fair. I can’t let my decision depend on my feelings about my sister, in turmoil though they are. I’m supposed to be the rational one.
I can’t think about it for the rest of that evening. I don’t feel rational at all. I am shocked, stunned, by what has happened.
Next day I feel calmer. I go to work in the normal way, say hello to Percy, hang my bag over my chair, sit down and log on, and commence doing the normal things that I always do.
I try not to let myself be caught staring into space.
I don’t agree with the cult, but I don’t like what’s been done to it either. That’s what I told my sister.
I’m not sure that I was telling the truth. If the cult really was illicitly trying to take over, why shouldn’t the authorities react and stop it? And what alternative did they have to sending a police detachment here, assuming that the local police had already been subverted and couldn’t be relied upon?
On the other hand, if my sister is right and this is now a police state in which elementary rights have been suspended or abolished, then what she is asking me to do is even more dangerous than it would be under normal circumstances. We’re not talking about a rap on the knuckles and a setback for my career.
Why should I be the one to take these risks? What’s it got to do with me? I don’t want to be involved in this.
You are involved, Lucid Thought would say. What, by being your sister? No, she would say: by being here. By being a part of Callistoan society. You are affected, and you are responsible.
I understand the logic.
I’d feel better about helping them if their whole system of beliefs weren’t such nonsense. I don’t want to support that.
It’s not just us you’d be helping, she would say. You’d be striking a blow for freedom. You’d be helping Callisto, and freedom everywhere.
“Are you all right, Amy?” Jack asks me over lunch. We are in the usual canteen. Mr Silva is watching me with a concerned expression.
“Oh, yes, sorry,” I reply. “Just a bit preoccupied. Nothing important.” I smile.
Freedom everywhere. That’s how she sees it.
One not very important woman being asked to risk her prosperity and perhaps her liberty for something that is probably futile. That’s another way of looking at it.
I’m coming round to the view that Callisto is actually a horrible place. I’ve been attacked and called a whore; I’ve been raped; I haven’t any friends; not surprising if Caris is typical of how the women think here; all the people I know best, apart from the man who raped me, most of them, anyway, will be leaving soon; and I’m afraid that this attempt to rebuild my relationship with my sister is in ruins.
I want to go home.
I don’t know why I’m thinking so hard about my decision. It was obvious as soon as she asked me. Every part of me said no. There’s no way that I would do this. It’s completely out of the question.
All I have to do is tell her. It’s not fair to keep her waiting; keep them waiting. They’ll have to make other arrangements; find somewhere else to hide their data stick.
At least I won’t inform on them. I won’t tell anyone that there is a data stick.
Even that is probably illegal, and risky. But that’s what I’ll do. I’ll deny everything, if it ever comes up.
My mind is made up. Or, really, I recognise that my mind has been made up all along. Does Lucid Thought know that? Probably. Possibly. I don’t know. I wonder whether she does, what she’s expecting, as I cross the central square and walk down the passageways in the early evening after work to tell her my decision.
A Defeated City