Cauldron of Ghosts – Snippet 27


“My own ancestors — and Honor’s, of course” he nodded at his niece “– ended up in command of the Rescue Fleet. In a way, since the League grew out of the relief effort and the kick in the pants that gave to interstellar commerce and travel in general, you could say the present day Sollies are at least partly our family’s fault, I suppose. On the other hand, there’s more than enough blame to go around where that minor problem’s concerned, so I don’t intend to dwell on it. But the lesson Beowulf and most of the rest of the human race took away from the Final War was that they never — ever — wanted to face that sort of nightmare again. And the ‘super soldiers’ and, possibly even more, the mindset of the Ukrainian supremacists, was almost worse than the gene-engineered diseases.”

 Several of the others looked a bit surprised by his last sentence and he snorted.

“I know. Compared to the Asian Confederacy’s nightmares, the Scrags were actually almost benign, weren’t they?” He gestured at Yana. “I mean, look at her. Then look at Honor. Not a lot to choose between them, is there?”

Yana and his niece looked at each other for a moment. Then Honor smiled slowly and shook her head.

“No, not a lot at all,” she murmured.

“But the idea behind the Ukrainians was even worse,” Benton-Ramirez y Chou said softly. “The Confederacy had seen its super soldiers as weapons systems, tools that wouldn’t be allowed to reproduce and certainly weren’t any sort of pattern for the future of humanity. But the Ukrainians had intended all along to force the evolution of the next step, of Homo superior, and that was what had initiated the entire conflict. All of the carnage, all of the destruction and the billions of lives which had been lost, started in the Ukrainian ideal of designed genetic uplift. The further weaponization of biotechnology, and of nanotechnology, made the devastation immeasurably worse, but the people trying to dig the human race’s homeworld out of what had become a mass grave were determined that it wasn’t going to happen again. The Beowulf Biosciences Code evolved directly out of the Final War. That’s why it unequivocally outlaws any weaponization of biotech in general . . . and why it places such stringent limits on acceptable genetic modification of humans.”

“And Mesa doesn’t agree with that, obviously,” Victor said.

“No, it doesn’t.” Benton-Ramirez y Chou agreed. “Leonard Detweiler thought it was a hysterical overreaction to a disaster, an isolated incident which, for all its horror, had after all been limited to a single star system. Mind you, the bio weapons had jumped the fire breaks between Old Earth, Luna, and Mars, but even at their worst, they’d never gotten beyond Sol’s Oort cloud, and the human race had lots of star systems by then. And even if that hadn’t been the case, then surely humanity had learned its lesson. Besides, he didn’t have any real objection to outlawing weaponized biotech — or he said he didn’t, at any rate. It was the Code’s decision to turn its back on targeted improvement of the human genotype, to renounce the right to take our genetic destiny into our own hands, that infuriated him. ‘Small minds are always terrified by great opportunities,’ he said. He simply couldn’t believe any rational species would turn its back on the opportunity to become all that it could possibly be.”

He paused for a long moment, then sighed deeply.

“And the truth is, in a lot of ways, Detweiler was right,” he admitted. “Again, look at Honor and Yana. Nothing horrible there, is there? Or in any of a dozen — two dozen — specific planetary environment genetic mods I could rattle off. Even you Graysons.” He smiled at the Mayhews and shook his head. “Without the genetic mods your founders put into place so secretly, you wouldn’t have survived. But what Detweiler never understood — or accepted, anyway — was that what the mainstream Beowulfan perspective rejected was the intentional design of a genotype which was intended from the beginning to produce a superior human, a better human . . . what lunatics from Adolph Hitler to the Ukrainian supremacists to the Malsathan unbeatables have all sought — a master race. For all intents and purposes, a separate species which, by virtue of its obvious and designed superiority to all other varieties of human being must inevitably exercise that superiority.

“Detweiler never understood that. He never understood that his fellow Beowulfers were repelled by the reemergence of what had once been called racism which was inherent in his proposals.”

 Several members of his audience looked puzzled, and he snorted and looked at Catherine Montaigne.

“I’m sure your friend DuHavel could explain the concept,” he said.

“And he’s done it often enough,” Montagne agreed just a bit sourly, and glanced around at the other table guests. “What Jacques is talking about is the belief that certain genetic characteristics — silly things like skin color, hair color, eye color — denoted inherent superiority or inferiority. As Web is fond of pointing out, once upon a time Empress Elizabeth would have been considered naturally inferior because of her complexion and relegated by her inferiority to slave status.”

“That’s ridiculous!” Elaine Mayhew said sharply, and Benton-Ramirez y Chou chuckled with very little humor.

“Of course it is. It’s the sort of concept that belongs to primitive history. But the problem, Elaine, is that what Detweiler was proposing would have reanimated the concept of inherent inferiority because it would have been true. It would have been something which could have been demonstrated, measured, placed on a sliding scale. Of course, exactly what constituted ‘superiority’ might have been open to competing interpretations, which could only have made the situation even worse. We Beowulfers are fiercely meritocratic, but we’re also fanatically devoted to the concepts of social and legal equality, and what Detweiler and his clique wanted struck at the very heart of those concepts.

“So we told him no. Rather emphatically, in fact. So emphatically that if he had attempted to put his theories into practice on Beowulf, he would have been stripped of his license to practice medicine and imprisoned.”

Benton-Ramirez y Chou shrugged. “I suppose it’s possible our ancestors overreacted, although I’d argue they had good reason to. On the other hand, Detweiler was damned arrogant about his own position. He was deeply and profoundly pissed off by how . . . firmly his arguments were rejected, and it would appear the present-day members of this ‘Mesan Alignment’ have taken his own overreaction to truly awesome heights. When he shook the dust of Beowulf from his sandals and emigrated to Mesa, he took with him a sizable chunk of the Beowulfan medical establishment. A larger one, really, than the rest of Beowulf ever anticipated would follow him into exile, although it was still only a tiny minority of the total planetary population. And that, Catherine,” he smiled wryly at Catherine Mayhew, “is exactly why the enmity between Mesa and Beowulf has been so intense for so long. You could say that Mesa is Beowulf’s equivalent of Masada‘s Faithful, and you wouldn’t be far wrong. In fact, you’d be even closer to correct than most of us have imagined over the last five or six centuries.”

“That’s . . . a bit of an understatement, if you don’t mind my saying so,” Zilwicki observed, and Benton-Ramirez y Chou nodded.

“Absolutely. I’ve been thinking about it a lot since you dropped McBryde’s bombshell on us, and I’ve come to the conclusion that what’s really behind this entire master plan of theirs — assuming McBryde got it right, of course — is more than simply finally accomplishing Leonard Detweiler’s dream of creating a genetically superior species. That’s obviously part of it, but looking at what we did already know about Mesa and Mesans, I’d say an equally big part of it is proving they were right all along. It’s been a long, long time since the Final War. The feelings of revulsion and horror it generated have largely faded, and the prejudice against ‘genies’ is far weaker than it used to be. In fact, I would argue that if it weren’t for the existence of genetic slavery, that prejudice probably would have completely ceased to exist by now. If this Alignment had been willing to take even a fraction of the resources it must have invested in its conspiracies and its infiltration and the development of the technology that made Oyster Bay possible and spend it on propaganda — on education, for God’s sake — it almost certainly could have convinced a large minority, possibly even a majority, of the rest of the human race to go along with it. To embark, even if more gradually and more cautiously than the Alignment might prefer, on the deliberate improvement of the human genome. For that matter, in the existence of people like Honor and Yana we’ve already deliberately improved on that genome! But I don’t think it ever really occurred to them to take that approach. I think they locked themselves into the idea that their vision had to be imposed on the rest of us and that as the people whose ancestors had seen that division so clearly so much sooner than anyone else, it’s their destiny to do just that. Which is one reason I compared them to the Faithful, Catherine. Their whole purpose — or the way they’ve chosen to go about achieving it, at least — is fundamentally irrational, and only someone as fanatical as the people who built ‘doomsday bombs’ to destroy their entire planet in order to ‘save it’ from Benjamin the Great and the rest of the moderates could possibly have invested so much in that irrationality.”

“I agree,” Honor said softly, her eyes dark. “I agree entirely. And that’s what truly scares me when I think about this. Because if they really are religious fanatics in some sort of Church of Genetic Superiority, then God only knows how far they are truly prepared to go to drag us all kicking and screaming into their version of Zion.”