The Vacuum-Tight Suitcase
Excerpts from The Vacuum-Tight Suitcase by K. Joan Durrell
"Stuffy" is the only word. I take it back; there are plenty of other words -- pompous, officious, snobbish, puritanical, head-wedged, dour. Not, of course, that they are all like that. But that's the tone of all the establishments, and you seldom step out of an establishment while you are in a city. Gaiety here had better be dry or sly, and it had better be decorous.
Not that the place is totalitarian, mind you, like Outback. No, no one is above criticism on Aurelius, least of all the government, but the grounds for criticism, besides the usual incompetence, are impropriety or poor form.
All the automation is either obsequious or overbearing; the chip-class machines say "yes ma'am," "yes sir," to everything. The smarter ones explain in condescending tones why your request is impossible, which it often is, usually for reasons of etiquette. Whenever they can, the machines address you by all the titles you've got.
Of course, the people do the same thing, giving a quaint, Prussian style to formal conversations: "Professor Doctor Weaselcough, do you agree?" "Manager Bachelor Tete-de-Choux, please send the daily report." "Administrator Deacon Gropst, what is your opinion?" "Thank you, Citizen Studge." They seldom use more than two. Ecclesiastical titles come closest to the name, then academic degrees, then job titles. "Citizen" is only semi-formal and can be used as a half-insult. If you are a tourist, they can't even call you that, and will go through considerable acrobatics to either find out what titles you have or avoid referring to you by name.
City architecture is very uniform. Buildings are either brown sandstone, gray granite, or red brick with white trim and black roofs. Inside, they use lots of marble and brass and glass. So far, it sounds rather Victorian, but the Victorians went in for riots of curly-queish gingerbread, with floral themes. The Aurelians prefer more ordered, geometrical designs that remind me of medieval Arabic decor. Also, they will relieve the ornamentation with blank intervals of clean, open space, or minimalist work. I don't like Stoa or any other Aurelian city, but I admit they are all beautifully made and maintained, and they have variety of a sort -- you can find the spacious, the cozy, the exhilirating, the peaceful, the light, the dark. But never the lush or the riotous. That would be anti-Apollonian and un-Aurelian.
Out in the small towns and countryside, it is more relaxed and varied. It all looks very normal, really, for a colony -- older homes made in hobbit-hole design in part or in full, newer homes looking very Earthlike. A surprising tidiness and a touch of spareness is all that's left of the Apollonian esthetic.
The Apollonian ethic is a little more in evidence. People use titles, though not as much as in the city -- usually no more than one at a time. People tend to be on their dignity and expect children, neo-beasts, and machines to know their places. (Dogs and horses are the only common neo-beasts on Aurelius. The cats, apes, and dolphins don't fit in.) Respectability is the order of the day. But there is more toleration of eccentrics.
The state religion is Apollonian Temple of Common Worship, of course. I come from the USA, where state religion is a political no-no, so perhaps I found the Apollonian denomination more visible and intrusive than, say, a Briton would. But it *is* intrusive.
BY LAW, no community may incorporate as a city, town, or village unless it has an Apollonian temple in it. No one may serve in elected public office unless they are a member in good standing of the Apollonian temple. (You can be appointed to office without being Apollonian. I think this was an accidental loophole. It has had some amusing consequences.)
Other religions are tolerated (thanks to the heavy hand of United Earth back in the founding days), but grudgingly. You can vote and do business without being Apollonian, but part of your tax money funds the Apollonian temple and no other. Aurelian cities have many careful regulations about the physical appearance of buildings, and these usually force other places of worship to look like small office buildings. If someone tries to proselytize you for any religion, you can have them arrested for creating a public nuissance. (And of course the Apollonians don't have to do much proselytizing. If they do, they are seldom arrested for it. If they are arrested, the charge seldom sticks.) Above all the legal constraints, there's strong, deep-rooted, unofficial prejudice again the "untempled." And the feeling is even stronger against other denominations of Templar, who are called simply "heretics."
And what really got my goat was the public dress code, known as the "sumptuary laws." It was strictest when the colony started -- the only colors permitted were black, white, gray, and the more muted tones of green, blue, and brown. No trim, no patterns, no jewelry. No hair styling, or make-up, or cosmetic mutations. Men had to be clean-shaven.
I am happy to report that the Aurelians are human enough to have fashions, and one of the big social events of the year is the annual sumptuary plebecite, when they revise the dress code. Of course, easing out of strict simplicity makes the code very much more complicated. When last I visited, you could wear any color, but still no patterns. Trim was allowed; whether or not this included lace at hems, collars, and cuffs was a hot issue, and you could be fined for wearing lace in the stuffier communities. Men had long since been permitted beards, so long as the cut was not "extravagant." They also legalize non-"extravagant" hair-styles. Modest bits of jewelry are also legal.
Which sounds very fine until you ask yourself where these starch-bottles get off telling you how to dress in the first place. You still can't wear a plaid or luminous jewelry or make-up or any "unnatural" cosmetic mutation. If you have red hair, you may be asked if you were born with it.
Recent breakthrough: You can wear hems above the knee, so long as your legs are wrapped in something opaque.
I'd go to Aurelius again, but to see the planet itself, or rather Iris. Aurelius is not strictly a planet at all; it's a moon of Iris, a small warm gas-giant. The primary dominates the sky of the inner hemisphere, a gigantic crescent banded and swirled in white, blue, pale gold and violet, and turquoise. That's in the day. At night, all the colors become more intense, turquoise becomes green and violet, red. By then the crescent is a full disc, or at least gibbous. In the dark section, Iris sparkles with the flares of lightning bolts, each able to destroy a city but diminished to a firefly flicker by distance. The other moons appear, steely and pearly dots always on a line bisecting the great arc of Iris's limb, an invisible arrow to this bow.
The Aurelians, bless their tight little hearts, have built their capital city, Stoa, on the outer hemisphere, where these indecorously romantic skies are never visible. But all over the planet, you can see the enormous shimmering auroras spawned by Iris's mighty magnetic field. (Aurelius has its own field, but hand-held compasses always line up on Iris.)
Aurelius circles Iris once every 16.3 Earth-days. That means you have eight days of light and eight days of dark. Twice a year, the inner hemisphere has a dark day in the middle of the light, when Iris eclipses the sun.
The Aurelians run their lives by clocks synchronized with Greenwich and refer to local day and night as "day-week" and "night-week." A day-week followed by a night-week is a revolution or "rev." Individual revs have no names, and the day- and night-weeks have nothing to do with the the weeks that begin on Sunday and end on Saturday. Times are named exactly as on Earth, though Aurelian calendars usually note local dawn, dusk, noon, and midnight, the way Earthly calendars note the phases of the moon.
The weather changes in the course of a rev. By the time dawn is near, it may be snowing anywhere on the planet; eight days later, near dusk, it is actually summery in the temperate zones and hot on the equator. As a result, Aurelian wildlife is very resistant to temperature change, or very good at hibernating, or very good at estivating. A number of animals and plants undergo a degree of metamorphosis twice every rev. Earthly crops can only be grown in greenhouses.
The plants on Aurelius use a purple pigment instead of chlorophyl, so all the leaves are shades of purple and lavender. There are no equivalents to flowers or grass. No grass means a lot of erosion, though it's tempered by a lot of low-growing herbage. No flowers means no pollinators and a lack of color, but I guess that's Aurelius for you.
The local equivalent of insects are soft-bodied, slug-like creatures. They lack legs, but many of them have insectile wings, and many can move pretty quickly with an galloping, inch-worm motion. They have even more eyestalks and feelers than Earthly slugs and snails, from one to three pairs of each. They range in size from nearly microscopic to the size of your finger, and some are brilliantly colored.
The big animals of Aurelius are not quite vertebrates. Instead of a spine and rib cage, they keep their viscera in a barrel-like chamber of one to three segments, walled in something like cartilage, only with a wider range of stiffness. As a result, these animals are a little less flexible than their Terran counterparts, but maybe a little tougher.
More obviously, they all have beaks, three eyes, and a jointed rear limb instead of a tail. Their fur varies from yellow through green to aqua, and through white, gray and black. They are all hermaphrodite, though some are both sexes at once and others alternate, and they all lay eggs,though some incubate them in marsupial-style pouches.
A good example of a basic Aurelian animal is the quid pig. It's a little burrow-dwelling browser, roughly equivalent to a gopher. It weighs half a kilo to a kilo and is covered with silvery-gray fur. Its beak is parrot-like and black. All three eyes and all five limbs are virtually identical. It is crepuscular, meaning it's active during the long twilights between day-week and night-week. In the early morning and late afternoon, when it's dark and cold but the quid pig is still active, the animal extends its fur, giving itself a longer, heavier coat; in late morning and early afternoon, when it's warm, it pulls the fur into the follicles, effectively thinning the coat.
The next step up is the puffhog. It's a thirty-kilo beast with three beady eyes, a short, ducklike beak and a rear limb specialized for digging and defense. It eats most kinds of vegetation, grinding fruits, nuts, and roots in its beak, fending off predators with its claws. In the day-week, it's rather lean and long-legged, with a short white coat. In the night-week, it deflates various air sacks in its legs and body -- similar to the ones running through a Terran bird -- and extends its fur. It is now tubby and short-legged, with a thick, fluffy, grizzled black coat, well adapted to the chilly night.
The treebrat is the Aurelian equivalent of a monkey. It has a parrot-like head and brilliant, metallically shiny fur in gold and silver, with black accents. It wears its third eye on its forehead, like Shiva, and its rear limb is a fully developed arm, the longest of all five limbs, equipped with a two-thumbed hand that lets it hang from limbs very easily. It incubates a single egg at a time in a pouch, and is fast, agile, and cheeky. It is diurnal, going into near hibernation during the long nights, in secluded arboreal groups patrolled by low-status members of the troop, who chivvy each other to stay awake in shifts.
The jilldaw is a well-known Aurelian bird analog. Its white body, black extrminites, and general crowlike outline make it look like a jackdaw. But close up, you see that the "tail" is that rear limb, the toes webbed to act as steering vanes; the coat is fur, not feathers; and the wings are batlike. It wears its third eye just above the beak, where it acts as a rangefinder, specialized to judge distance by focal depth. The jilldaw is diurnal.
On the nocturnal side we have the silver sentinel. It looks very owl-like, perched rigidly on a branch, but it is standing on only one leg, the rear one. The other two legs are folded into its fur, flashing out to seize prey in a move more like a mantis than an owl. The vast eyes are owl-like, too, but there is a third one, on the top and slightly pointing to the rear, so the animal can scan nearly 360 degrees, in 3D, continuously, without moving its head.
The griffin, also known as the falcat, is the best-known Aurelian animal, virtually a piece of the planet's heraldry, like the kangaroo for Australia. In night-week, it's the falcat, of wolfish proportions, with two owlish eyes, a dark, wooly coat, hawklike beak, and a long rear limb, sharply taloned. With that rear limb, it strikes overhead or to the side, like a scorpion.
In day-week, it lengthens its legs and torso, becoming cheetah-like in proportion. The wooly night-coat gets pulled in and out comes the metallically silver day-coat, with its golden crest and black accents. It's now a griffin. It shuts its night eyes, opens its multi-colored day eye, and may seek out a lek -- a spot for courtship displays, where the hermaphrodite griffins seek to impress each other.
The colonists were on Aurelius for four years before they realized the falcat and the griffin were the same animal.
Like every colony, Aurelius has rumors of undiscovered natives. Here, they're called "shifties." They are supposed to be able to mimic human form and infiltrate Aurelian society -- apparently just to observe or spy. In the tales that circulate about them, they are usually uncovered when it is noticed that the supposed human doesn't weight enough, or by inconsistencies in appearance from one moment to the next. In the most spectacular tales, they then turn into a winged version of a griffin and fly away. As you would guess, the classic shifty tale is not taken very seriously by cryptozoologists, much less by mainstream science.
In concert with the other colonies, Aurelius withdrew from United Earth in 2370, and joined the League of Free Earth Colonies in 2378, in response to the invasion of Hellene. Thus it became a founding member of the Terran Space Treaty Organization when the Free Colonies became TSTO in 2506.
Aurelius sent troops to the assistance of Centauri at the Battle of Chiron in 2380, and was invaded by the Hundred Cities on Earthfall Day, 7 February 2381. The Psi Lords established a groundhold at Cicero and spread out to capture nearby towns and cities and harrass Stoa. The enemy was forced off the planet in the Battle of Aurelius in 2382, the first battle involving multi-colonial forces: Aurelian, Kun Lunese, and Capeknik.
In 2391, six years after the Psi War ended, legislation came before the Aurelian parliament for regulating the practice and teaching of psychic talent. Aurelian society generally accepted psychic talent and technology, but some felt deeply threatened by psi; these now formed into groups and demonstrated for prohibiting or restricting psi. Naturally, this stimulated the formation of opposing groups.
The parliament, following average opinion, merely provided for the licensing of mindsmiths and psi-coaches, and extended the privacy laws to cover telepathy and clairvoyance. The prestige of Aurelius's own wartime hero-psychics made anything else impossible. Unsatisfied, many anti-psi people formed their own heavily-psilenced no-psi monasteries and apartment blocks, starting with Purehaven, founded in 2409.
The conflict betwen anti-psychics and psi-defenders continued to escalate In 2423, the Exorcistic and Free Practice factions appeared as formal bodies within the Apollonian Temple. Two years later, the Privacy League (or "Privateers," desiring strict limitation of ESP) and the Psi-Free Society (or "Hushers," the official body of the psilence- dwellers) founded bodies in the Temple.
2442 saw the overture for the later "Witch Hunts" -- Exorcistic extremists vandalized psi schools and mindsmith shops, and attacked mind-smiths and prominent psychics. The psychics were generally able to defend themselves, and the Exorcistics simply alienated most of Aurelius. In 2458, they were declared illegal and appeared to vanish.
But, in 2462, the "Witch Hunts" began in earnest. Unlike the namesake hunts of the Renaissance, these were opposed by religion and government, and it was the hunters, not the "witches" (a name few Aurelian psychics accepted) who were the secret conspirators. The Exorcistics carried out individual and mass assassinations. Their first major blow was their worst; they completely wiped out the faculty and students of the Diogenes Mentalist Institute, in a smoothly orchestrated attack with bombs, snipers, and military psilencers. They tried similar attacks on many other schools; the Psionic Therapy Clinic in Stoa and the Cicero Mages' College suffered crippling massacres and disbanded. Many prominent psychics fled the planet.
Most Aurelians despised the fanatical Exorcistics. But a rash of anti-psychic rumors circulated at this time. The two commonest were that many psychics were "piercers," able to work despite psilence, and that there was a secret group of "piercing teachers" spreading this unpopular ability. Both stories were false.
By 2466, the Aurelian police had caught most of the Exorcistics and broken their organizational structure. The pogroms stopped. Some of the self-exiled psychics returned. Eventually, all that was left were a few Husher communities. Other Aurelians used psi to further Aurelian discipline, as an aid to patharchy, to maintain the strict mental and emotional standards of Apollonian monastics, or to form austere gestalts.
©1984, 1994, 2005 Earl Wajenberg. All Rights Reserved.