The next instalment of our serialisation of The Titan Kiss, by Clark Nida (2014, 2016). Another 3,000 words (or so) will appear tomorrow.
Jack arranges to visit the strange yet familiar groubian, who is apparently in business as a hooker. Kat pays him a visit, and clears up a little mystery from his last chat with Markus back on Earth.
NOW READ ON…
It was while Jack was exploring the TMG offices that he discovered a complete set of Areopedia. Not a computerised version—the entire 158th edition on paper, even down to it being bound in red Moroccan goatskin.
He decided to re-read the article on Groubians. Only when he’d done so did he discover a final paragraph over the page, which he hadn’t seen before. However had he missed it?
…the zygogeny, in spite of yielding a host of new individuals, had failed in its purpose. As a species, groubians had become extinct.
Belying their resemblance to gaian women in their twenties, it follows that every living groubian is of the same advanced age. Yet no groubian has ever volunteered a coherent account of her life further back than six or seven years. In spite of conferring impressive powers of medium-term memory, the groubian genome contains no mechanism capable of laying down long-term memories commensurate with its unnaturally extended lifespan. On the other hand a memory horizon is a plausible defence mechanism in a long-lived sentient organism, permitting it to endure the endless accumulation of painful experiences without being driven to despair and suicide. Groubians rely on spatio-color documents like the Book of Titan to give a sense of continuity, not to say meaning and purpose, to their literally interminable lives.
He shut the volume with a snap. It caused a ringing in his ears. So perhaps Tvoul really did not recognise him? Or perhaps she did—but couldn’t place him? Strange… that was the impression he’d received whilst talking to her on the hugglephone.
Well, he’d remind her. Oh yes—he’d remind her.
Sviatoslav came in with a new topic for Jack to research and they discussed it. Just as Sviatoslav was opening the door to leave, Jack said “Tell me something. The Master’s Genes: who exactly is The Master?”
“There isn’t one. Not yet.”
“Like the transman?”
“Yes, you could say that. In fact, if you think of those two concepts as one and the same, you have the essence of TMG.”
Jack was reminded of Jens’s assertion that TMG existed to populate the galaxy with the genes of just one person. But who was that person? He put the question to Sviatoslav point-blank.
“There are several candidates. Alexander—Jesus—Napoleon—Haile Selassie—Lenin—Einstein—Hitler… each of these has their own proponents within TMG. In recent years we’ve sent missions to Gaia to gather DNA from the relics and progeny of all these candidates.”
Jack lurched back in his chair. “Not Jesus, surely?”
“Oh yes—Jesus of Nazareth included. Like the Spanish say about witches: descendants of Jesus don’t exist… but you can find them. We senior people in TMG wonder if we can please all the partisans by an amalgam of the front-runners. But the fact remains—the post of Master is currently vacant.”
Sviatoslav came back and sat on the edge of Jack’s desk. “TMG was formed to promote the idea that the star-children—you should know the significance of that term by now—oughtn’t just to be bred at random from the people who happen to find themselves on board the first starship when it sets out. TMG’s founders believed that the human genome, which humanity is on the point of releasing in the wild out there, should have parameters of excellence. Not mediocrity.”
“Put like that, I can’t see anyone would disagree,” said Jack. “So what’s the problem?”
“Things aren’t so straightforward. Everyone would say: oh yes, let’s populate the universe with genes of excellence—but let them be mine. But the people who’ll win the day will be those who band together to propose someone else’s genes—provided enough of us can agree on precisely whose.”
“I’m beginning to get the idea,” said Jack. He recalled another of Jens’s assertions—that TMG was utterly unscrupulous. “So I guess a lot of in-fighting goes on?”
Sviatoslav pursed his lips and made little rapid nods. “It’s a scandal. The image of TMG as a united organisation having precise goals is a long way from being the case. So we have secret projects with PUG—and even with competitors like Boris.”
“Yes, I was going to ask about him. I’d like to meet up with Boris again and talk to him some more about my son. Would you have any objection to that?”
Sviatoslav thought for a moment. “No, I guess Boris won’t mistake you for our representative in the matter. He’ll be satisfied your interest is purely personal.”
He got up from his perch on the edge of Jack’s desk. Jack thought of a carrion crow taking off. “Still—be careful what you say to him. He’s very suspicious of us. Although TMG and Peretchelo have a joint project to come up with the transman, he suspects we’ve got our own candidate lined-up.” He turned to go.
Sviatoslav froze. Such simple questions seemed to give him problems. “It depends on whether we find your precious Tvoul in time.”
Jack gave him an open-mouthed frown. “But surely you’re not going to reward her crime by accepting her genome for the future star-children?”
“Not as it stands. A few extra genes will be spliced in here and there. Jesus… Hitler…”
Jack sprang to his feet. “That’s appalling!”
Sviatoslav stood gaping. “Jack, I’m surprised at you. Just suppose we do. Then the star-children will be in your direct line of descent. There isn’t a Martian alive who wouldn’t give their… ugh! Well, I don’t know what they wouldn’t give for the privilege.”
“Mebbes my priorities are different,” growled Jack.
Sviatoslav gazed at him as if trying to remember what he was about to say. Then he abruptly left the office.
Out of the texture of a Latin plainchant, a single limpid treble voice arose, singing a refrain in the M2 language:
Our Own True Mother suffered loss
Of Blesséd Only Son:
The Sword to pierce her heart came by
Her dearest, precious One.
Jack strode down the aisle of the old Jesuit mission of Our Lady Of The Nix, barely paying attention to the recorded hymn. He knocked on the sacristy door. From inside came a stern command. “Come in.”
“Ah, come in, come in!” Father O’Leary’s voice brightened in welcome the moment he saw who it was. “Forgive me—I thought you were the altar boy.”
“I’m sorry I’m a bit late, Father…”
“No matter. No matter. But we won’t have much time to talk now. As you see I’m getting ready for evening Mass. But if the clock runs out on us, please do come round to the presbytery afterwards and we can carry on. That’s if you won’t mind me waffling on with my mouth full.”
Jack shook his head with a smile. “Whatever you say, Father.”
“Tvoul Rainbow,” mused the priest. “Now there’s a fine catch for the Church. What a woman. And what a good wife for Harry. Though I must admit I had my doubts at first…”
“Why was that, Father?”
He stopped and frowned, as if he couldn’t remember the exact reason why he’d had his doubts. “I think it reassured me when Tvoul agreed to take instruction. She was an exemplary postulant. Always asking the right questions. A shrewd woman.”
“Was it Harry who pressed her into becoming a Catholic?”
The priest looked up in surprise from the sacred vessels. “What? Why, no. Harry wouldn’t have dreamed of it. He was all for Tvoul retaining her own beliefs—whatever those were. I’m not sure that groubians have ‘beliefs’ in the same way as we do. They’re old enough to have experienced everything that resides in their minds. Direct experience is obviously better than belief (though you try telling that to the Church Fathers.) But it was certainly the impression I gained from talking to her.”
He began to put on his vestments. “No—Tvoul volunteered to receive instruction herself. She came to me privately, before Harry even knew of it.”
As he straightened out his sleeves he said “It’s so nice to have a girl who’s done her homework. So many of them don’t know what they’re taking on when they marry a Catholic.”
“Maybe it was the other way round with Harry and Tvoul?”
Father O’Leary widened his eyes. “Why, what you mean?”
“Maybe my son didn’t know what he was taking on by marrying a groubian.”
The priest laughed dismissively. “Oh—I think he did. I think he did. Always a somewhat impulsive young man—if you don’t mind me saying?” (Jack nodded in agreement.) “But his heart’s in the right place. And no one can question his intelligence. Oh yes—Harry knew exactly what he was taking on.”
“Then perhaps you could explain it to me?” said Jack. “Harry tried to—and I went along with it at the time. But I did so because I loved my boy. Once he’d reached the age of responsibility he could do no wrong for me. But how was it—how was it—that they were proposing to have children? Perhaps they were too reticent to talk about it?”
“Quite the reverse. I must admit it was one of my chief worries. There’s much bad blood gone under that particular bridge, as you must know by now. I took a lot of reassuring. But in the end I decided that if Canon Law had known about groubians, it would have phrased its regulations to accommodate the groubian predicament. I have no doubt in my mind that they planned to have babies—by natural means.”
“It was a groubian wedding.”
Father O’Leary spilled the altar wine. “I beg your pardon? Did I hear you correctly?”
“It was a groubian wedding. Edulation took place. That might be natural for a groubian in the eyes of the Church. But to a gaian—it’s murder.”
The priest stood aghast. “Really, Mr Williams, I had no idea! I had no idea that that’s what they were proposing to do.” He came round the preparation table and laid his hand on Jack’s wrist. “Mr Williams—I’m so sorry. So very sorry. Where did it happen? On Mars? If so, the law is quite precise on the matter. And I assure you, the Church too…”
“It happened on Earth. In Brazil. Somewhere it would take a long time to establish the true facts of the matter. Long enough for Tvoul to make her escape from the planet and go into hiding.”
The old priest went round the table again, shaking and clutching his head. “Tvoul! Tvoul Rainbow! I just cannot believe it. I had no inkling of it. Mr Williams—if I’d had the slightest suspicion that that’s what they were planning, I’d have withdrawn my co-operation straightaway.”
It crossed Jack’s mind that, far from taking “a lot of reassuring”, Fr O’Leary must be quite otherworldly when it came to intimate matters between husband and wife. But who was not otherworldly, where groubians were concerned?
“What’s done is done,” he said. “Father, I don’t blame you in the least. They had us all fooled. What I want to know is this. Did Harry really have a clue what he was letting himself in for?”
“Harry is—I mean was—a bio-engineer. Tvoul is an expert in human reproduction. Human reproduction I said—not just gaian. Now it may be that she was able to delude Harry into believing they would consummate the marriage by coitus in the normal way…”
“Normal for gaians,” interposed Jack.
“No. Normal. The Church does not sanction edulation. It is a mortal sin. It is, after all, wilful murder.”
“So edulation might well have been Tvoul’s idea—and not Harry’s?”
Father O’Leary shut his eyes tight and stood for a few moments in thought. Presently he said “Your son Harry was a very intelligent man. In my heart of hearts I don’t suppose he’d have been fooled for one moment. To repeat what I said at the outset—Harry went into this with his eyes open. He must have known exactly what they were planning to do to consummate the marriage.”
Jack’s mind went back to the night he overheard Harry and Tvoul discussing intimate matters in an intimate embrace. It all chimed perfectly with what the priest had just said.
“In other words, my Harry was quite prepared for edulation, but both of them kept quiet about it, both to you and to us, in order to keep us sweet?”
The priest nodded his head in puzzlement. “It certainly seems like it…” He looked up at the clock. “But oh—the time! Where is that altar boy? I say, Mr Williams—could I ask you a favour? Would you be prepared to serve at Mass? …I—I suppose you are a Catholic? Dear me, I shouldn’t have asked that. Why, Harry…”
“Born into the Church,” said Jack. He tried to think of the last time he’d been to Mass. “But I haven’t served on the altar since I was a boy. I’d be grateful for a few hand-signals…”
“Oh don’t worry about that. I’m used to seeing that the altar boy is in the right place at the right time, with the right vessels in his hand. I’ll just have to remember not to haul you around by the ear.” He laughed. “But—do forgive me for asking. One can’t be sure of anything these days. And yet I should have known where Harry gets it from.”
He bent down and got a white surplice out of the drawer and gave it to Jack to don. “Harry was very devout,” he went on. “Never missed Mass on Sunday—and often came to weekday Mass. He was not a man to let his bio-expertise get in the way of his Faith.”
Back in the presbytery after the service, Father O’Leary explicitly invited Jack to follow him around in the kitchen whilst he microwaved a frozen dinner for himself. He offered one to Jack, who refused. Then, before sitting at the kitchen table, the old priest got out a bottle of wine and two glasses.
“As I was saying, Harry was very devout. And Tvoul seemed to lap it up. She picked up things very quickly during instruction. She soon grasped the idea of marriage as an institution. Groubians have something quite different, as you know.”
“That must be a thing of the past,” said Jack. “They haven’t had males to mate with for a long time.”
“True—true—but what I was thinking of has little to do with male and female. A zygogeny entailed nothing in the way of vows or commitments. Partners were assigned virtually at random. And of course… the partnership did not even last till the following morning.”
He topped-up his own glass and then Jack’s. “No—I was thinking of the institution of triada.”
“What is triada, exactly?”
“Not unlike marriage, strangely enough. Partners make vows for life, which can only be dissolved by the death of one of the three parties. And they stick to it, too. An example to us gaians.”
“But isn’t it something which people of the same sex enter into? It’s got to be, if you think about it.”
Father O’Leary, with his mouth full, waved his fork vigorously in denial. “No, no,” he said, once he had swallowed. “Any three people can form a triada, irrespective of gender. Or of species, for that matter.”
“So it’s a form of interspex?”
Again the question caught the priest with his mouth full. Again he waved his fork. “How I hate that word,” he said eventually. “The Catholic Church on Mars fully concurs with the will of the Strana to abolish the word species from all legal definitions governing human beings. Gaians and groubians are both human. The Church has no problem with that. Interspex is just another form of extra-marital sex, already forbidden by Canon Law, without having to go making a special sin of it.”
“So the Church doesn’t expressly forbid triadas?”
“Oh yes—it’s automatic excommunication for a Catholic to enter into one.”
“Then triadas are sinful?”
“It’s not so much the nature of the triada, it’s the fact they take binding oaths to each other which are not sanctified by the Church. Oaths of absolute obedience.”
Jack’s curiosity was piqued. “How do they manage that—when there’s three of them?”
“Quite simple. Obedience goes round in a circle—or a triangle, if you like. The express purpose is to achieve a binding group, with the cast-iron guarantee of no unwanted edulation. Think about it. If A swears absolute obedience to B, then B could abuse the position by commanding A to co-operate in been edulated. But now C is there to act as chaperone. A commands C—and C commands B. Whilst the triada stays together, no one party can abuse another. If one party dies, the triada automatically dissolves.”
The priest chuckled. “It’s an arrangement not lacking in appeal to some. Many gaians enter into triadas, although it is primarily a groubian institution. Mixed triadas of gaians and groubians are rare though…”
“I know of one,” interposed Jack.
Father O’Leary’s eyes lit up. “Do you now? Of course there is one very famous example—which you as a new immigrant from Gaia won’t have heard of. But maybe you’ve come across the name Shval Meteor?”
“That’s exactly the triada I was thinking of.”
“Why—bless me! However did you run into them?”
“They were travelling on the Oberon at the same time as I was. I only got to meet one of the triada: Hamish McDougall.”
“A nice experience that must have been for you.” Distaste stained the priest’s voice. “That’s got to be one of the most abominable liaisons I have come across in my entire ministry.”
“Why?—because it’s a mixed gaian-groubian one?”
“Not at all—not at all. It’s all down to whom they’ve chosen as the third person. If ‘person’ you can accept him to be.”
“The very same. I suppose you know that he’s a chimorg?”
…to be continued.