tagNovels and NovellasBattle for the Known Unknown Ch. 08

Battle for the Known Unknown Ch. 08

bybradley_stoke©

Chapter Eight
Ecstasy - 3750 C.E.


The flight from Godwin to the colony of Ecstasy in Neptune orbit marked the first time that Paul had ever left the comforts of his cylindrical world. And this first stage of his journey to Earth alone would take over three months. Although such a voyage was something he'd always dreamed of, it really wasn't especially enjoyable. The lengthy and incapacitating process of the skeletal refit prescribed by his doctor confined him to his room for the first half of the flight and the recovery from the operation debilitated him for almost all the remainder.

So, although here he was heading closer to the Sun than he'd ever done before, Paul had to spend most of his time in a cabin surrounded by surgical instruments where his only company were the space ship's doctor and his robotic nurses.

"It's a fairly routine procedure," the doctor told him. "And seeing as this is your third time, you must know exactly what to expect. You'll also undergo a renal regeneration and some minor cuticle enhancement. I'm afraid this won't be a pleasure cruise for you."

Paul nodded, although he was aware that for the majority of passengers on the luxury space cruiser that was exactly what they had every right to expect. However, he couldn't even visit his favourite virtual world and he soon got bored of what on-board entertainment was available to someone who was horizontal on his back. The price he had to pay for a long and youthful life!

"Why a luxury cruiser?" he asked the Dean of his university when his passage was booked.

"There are few enough vessels that pass by our colony," said the Dean. "This one travels to several other colonies and so you should expect fairly mixed company."

"But why should a luxury cruiser to Ecstasy bother to stop here? It's not as if we use money in the Godwin colony, so there's nothing any of us can buy there."

"It's true that ours isn't a colony troubled by the financial commerce that corrupts most of the solar system, but although there is no need and certainly no way to spend money here there are some citizens such as artists, musicians, mathematicians and the like who've gained wealth by selling products beyond the colony. For many of them the colony of Ecstasy is the ideal place to go and spend the proceeds of this commerce."

Ecstasy's reputation as one of the best holiday destinations in the Outer Solar System was mostly earned by its reputation of providing visitors with the many illicit pleasures that were either rather less freely available in the Kuiper Belt or, as in Godwin, absent altogether. Paul was actually looking forward to visiting a settlement where sexual pleasure was widely available and where he could indulge in the vices of alcohol, marijuana, MDMA and other drugs which he'd only ever known from their virtual simulation. However, as he lay on his bed in a room rather smaller than his bedroom on Godwin, he wasn't sure he'd have the energy to take advantage of what Ecstasy promised for him. And when he was well enough to get out of bed, his treatment demanded so much physical exertion on the exercise machines that his regenerated strength was soon drained from him.

The few days Paul was able to wander about the Space Ship Byzantium were wholly unsatisfactory. He didn't know any of the other passengers because he'd missed the opportunity to make friends and acquaintances by virtue of being bedbound. In any case, his utilitarian Godwinian garb looked totally out of place compared to the often extravagant outfits worn by many other passengers. It would have been difficult enough for any of Godwin's citizens to merge in with the space ship's hedonistic passengers, but Paul was socially inept by even the low standards of his own society.

There were few things available for the naïve space tourist on the space ship other than roam the long corridors or admire the art collections or sit in an audience to watch some incomprehensible cabaret entertainment. The only thing that held any fascination to a man whose previous ventures into space had been no further than a day-trip around the Godwin colony was to visit one of the watch-towers that protruded at hundred metre intervals along the space ship's five kilometre length.

As Paul soon discovered, these transparent domes provided very little distraction for the space tourist. The boring fact that Paul had already learnt on his few excursions away from Godwin was that deep space really did mostly consist of absolutely nothing. There was a distant Kuiper Belt Object around which the colony circled but although the potato-shaped object's mass was greater than that of its satellite, its diameter of ten kilometres was actually less than the colony's length. The asteroid's only use was to serve as an emergency supply of water should there ever be a need for it in a community designed to be as self-sufficient as possible.

The acceleration and associated deceleration of the space ship was sufficiently great that it applied a force on the floor of its external domes either in or against the direction of the ship's motion that was roughly the equivalent to that exerted by a small planetoid like Pluto or Orcus. As Paul had never visited such places and wasn't intending ever to do so, this was the nearest to low gravity he'd so far experienced. The view from the Byzantium's domes was actually less rather than more interesting than the view from outside Godwin where he'd at least had the opportunity to appreciate the true shape of the world in which he lived. All the view from here confirmed was what he already knew. And this was that the space ship was an awfully long way from anywhere else. That included the Sun which was still not much more than just the brightest star in the sky.

The space ship had several stops on its journey, although they weren't exactly stops in the sense that the space ship came to a dead halt. That would require a huge and costly expenditure in energy. In fact, large space vehicles very rarely ever came to a halt anywhere during their working life. The nearest equivalent was to orbit around a satellite and, only then, at a very safe distance.

Paul had missed most of these stops as he was still recovering from the agony of his regenerative treatment, but there was one last such before the Byzantium settled into orbit around the Ecstasy colony. Disappointingly, this was at one of the many refuelling depots scattered about the Kuiper Belt whose existence was entirely dependent on the presence of space ships like the Byzantium. This wasn't going to be as exciting or interesting as the brief sling-shot orbit around the Quaoar planetoid or the wealthy colony of the Krishna Republic. All that would happen was that the space ship would slow down as it passed through the huge hole inside the doughnut ring of a colony that housed barely ten thousand people. This was somewhat less than Godwin's population of a million or the much more extensive Krishna Republic's ten million.

It was all over in the blink of an eye and in any case could only be seen from holo-screens inside the ship. It was far too risky to extend the viewing towers when the ship was performing manoeuvres. There was no sensation inside the ship's cylindrical decks to indicate that the space ship had changed its speed or direction, so it was a disappointment from even that perspective. All that happened was that the refuelling depot delivered fresh oxygen, water and food, while the space ship reciprocated by delivering a small proportion of the interplanetary post that was its most commercially viable payload. Although this exercise was a wonder of coordination at high speed, it was over so fast that Paul saw nothing much at all.

Nevertheless, this was Paul's first ever sight of a space community other than the anarchosyndicalist Godwin colony. He'd only ever visited virtual representations of such places. The real thing was both less well rendered but, given the vastness of space, more impressive than the computer-generated colonies he'd visited in virtual space.

The Byzantium finally reached its final orbit around the colony of Ecstasy where it would circle for a full month before carrying its passengers back home to their homes elsewhere in the Kuiper Belt. Paul boarded a shuttle that took him and several thousand others to the colony. He would also be there for only a month or so, until another space ship was scheduled to carry him deeper within the Solar System.

A brightly lit road stretched ahead of Paul when he exited the spaceport where he'd disembarked. It was Ecstasy Avenue, which to Paul was both totally new and totally familiar. It was new, because he'd never before been in a road in an immense congested city that was so wide, so long and on either side shadowed by buildings several hundred metres high. It was also familiar because, in one virtual rendition or another, Paul had often visited simulations of Ecstasy and its most famous pleasure boulevards.

Ecstasy was the most ancient colony this far out in the solar system. It had been built on an earlier design for human colonies where the emphasis was rather less on building a sustainable ecosystem than on cramming as many million people as was possible into the confines of a space colony. And sustainable the colony most certainly had never been. Its continued survival relied heavily on machinery to manufacture its atmosphere and biosphere. As this was very quickly consumed, the colony depended on regular replenishment from the smaller satellites of Neptune and even from the noxious chemicals extracted from the gas giant's atmosphere.

There was a hubbub of human activity along Ecstasy Avenue as tourists gazed in awe at the tall buildings and the riches on display in the many shop windows. Scattered along the dimly lit road were garish holographic lights that promoted sex shops, virtual sex emporiums and brothels. This was a colony that promised all those sinful pursuits that Paul, like many men, had secretly fantasised about and which in the Outer Solar System were generally either absent altogether, as in Godwin, or existed only in carefully controlled areas. Here almost every imaginable vice was freely available. Or free in the sense that there was no restriction on its access, but certainly not so in a monetary sense.

The Interplanetary Union granted Paul a reasonably generous budget, but his credit wasn't unlimited. Nevertheless, even the concept of credit was alien to Paul, who now for the first time in his life had the opportunity to spend it.

Paul's main concern as he travelled to his modest hotel on the upper levels of one of the colossal buildings was the bag handcuffed to his wrist in which he carried the precious data crystals that mostly justified his journey. Before he even saw the room where he'd be staying for the next month or so, he had to take his bag to a secure safe that was encased in strong nano-carbon walls that only a nuclear device could shatter. The security that accompanied the deposit of his precious bag was well beyond that available on Godwin, which had no tradition of keeping secrets or guarding property.

"I don't know what's in your bag," the hotel manager remarked as he escorted Paul to his room, "but it must be worth an absolute fortune. This is the strongest and more secure hold on the entire colony and normally stores irreplaceable works of art and rare fossils. We even had an Australopithecus skull here once!"

For his first few days on Ecstasy Paul made a point of visiting all the tourist sites. These were mostly famous because many were nearly a thousand years old and were relics from an earlier age in human history when even having a permanent settlement so far out in the Solar System was considered achievement enough. The founders of Ecstasy had high hopes for their new settlement, which they didn't call by its modern name but by the far grander appellation of the Foundation. It was the first foothold in a grandiose scheme to extend human colonisation well beyond the Solar System and towards the distant stars. Much effort had been expended on gigantic statuary, colossal palaces, awe-inspiring monuments and paradisial pleasure gardens. This was all with the objective of stressing mankind's achievement in having now reached a triumphal apex which it fully expected to exceed.

Sadly, all these high hopes came to an anticlimactic end less than two centuries after the colony was founded when the delicate ecosystem collapsed catastrophically with the associated demise of tens of millions of colonists. Eventually the colony had to be abandoned altogether. For most of the colony's subsequent thousand-year existence it was a lifeless shell with no working atmosphere and no working machines. The colony's future existence was in doubt as a consequence of the dramatic decay that resulted when the temperature dropped to only a few Kelvins above absolute zero. Its salvation came only two centuries ago when the colony was bought up by a consortium of wealthy individuals and transformed from a lifeless museum to the Outer Solar System's most celebrated pleasure resort. Now, after governments had risen and fallen and the nature of space colonisation had changed beyond recognition from those earlier profligate days, it was now more a quaint reminder of an earlier optimistic age than the foundation of an interstellar empire.

Although it had always been Paul's ambition to see for real the architecture and art of the 27th century, he also nursed a lesser ambition. And this was to experience Ecstasy's many illicit pleasures. His credit ratings, although phenomenal by Godwinian standards, were just not sufficient for him to sample more than a modest selection of the pleasures around him. He tasted alcohol and the many other drugs on offer. And in the progress he discovered what he'd never before properly understood which was the toll such substance abuse could inflict on his body. Every morning, he felt as bad as he ever had when he underwent a skeletal refit. Although he countered it with medicinal relief, there was no doubt that his days of Epicureanism would most likely result in rather more future neuronal regeneration than he'd anticipated. Unlike the virtual hallucinations he'd experienced in Nudeworld, real drug-induced mental psychosis was frightening, disorientating and not something that could be switched off by just a single command.

He also sampled prostitution: a practise that made no sense on Godwin where no human could ever be viewed as a commodity to be bought or sold. Here on Ecstasy there were many men and women from those parts of the Solar System where people still relied on the fruits of their labour to survive and who chose to make a living by selling their bodies for other people's sexual satisfaction.

Paul soon also discovered that he was not a man who could reliably rise to every opportunity.

"Don't worry," said Candy, the blue-skinned woman whose service he'd purchased. She had eyes twice the size than could ever be natural and a bosom that was several times larger than her head. "Not everyone can be a stud!"

Paul resolved to see what drugs or non-invasive treatment might be available that could correct his libidinal problems, but after an hour of fruitless search on Ecstasy's computer systems he wasn't sure that it was a medical issue that could ever be satisfactorily addressed.

It was with the all too recent memories of his sexual shortcomings that he wandered into the bar on the 12th level in which he was to meet his future wife, Beatrice.

He wasn't seeking a sexual partner. He'd sworn to repeat this experiment only much later when enough time had elapsed for the humiliation and shame of his carnal ineptitude to be forgotten or in some way corrected. What he really wanted was the blessed relief afforded by a full glass of that peculiar alcoholic concoction known as beer and the opportunity to sit in a kind of anonymity in a busy place. It was inevitable that sex was on offer. The bar's ambience promised as much. A naked woman was dancing under strobe lights on a bare stage. Paul had already got so jaded by the sight of nudity that he didn't even raise his gaze towards the podium. Naked bodies were so common on Ecstasy. He was wondering rather whether after his several months of absence, he should once again revisit Nudeworld. He also wondered how different it might be now he was so much closer to the virtual universe's host servers.

He almost didn't look up when a woman sat down in the bar stool next to him. The fact that she was unclothed was no longer an unusual sight, but he did think that with so many other empty bar stools it was an unnecessary invasion of his space. He wondered whether he should ask for another drink or venture again into the crowded street outside. This bar, unlike those in Nudeworld, was staffed not by an attractive nude barmaid but by a functional serving robot that automatically identified Paul's credit account just by looking at him.

"Haven't I seen you before?" the woman asked.

Paul turned his head and for the first time properly appraised the naked figure beside him. She wouldn't look out of place in Nudeworld, although she was probably actually even more perfect than the denizens of that carefully rendered world. Her bosom was larger than the human average, which was quite normal in Paul's favourite virtual universe, and her figure was a pleasing but not over-exaggerated hourglass. Her face had the smoothness of a child's but her lips were fuller, her eyes larger and her facial expression altogether more fascinating. Her smile was broad and welcoming, and she was nowhere near as threatening as the blue-skinned prostitute.

"I don't think so," Paul replied. He was too naïve to recognise the question as a standard chat-up line. "I'm a tourist. I've never visited this quarter of Ecstasy before."

"You're from Godwin, aren't you?" the woman asked, with a delighted chuckle. "I can tell from the accent and, of course, your clothes. You don't see many people from that colony here? What brings you to Neptune orbit?"

Paul had to be careful here. He was under strict instructions, which were reiterated on many occasions, to give no hint to anyone, even close friends, as to the true nature of his journey. "I'm on my way to Earth," he replied, keeping as much to the truth as he thought advisable. "There are no direct flights from Godwin to Earth, so I'm travelling on a series of space ships. I'm waiting for the next flight to Saturn orbit."

"So, you're not here for... for what Ecstasy offers?"

"Not really," said Paul. "It's all very odd to me. We don't have bars or brothels or floor shows or drugs or any of those things on Godwin."

"So, I've heard," said the woman. "Godwin is a very peculiar kind of place. But fascinating too. No government. No taxes. No money. How do you manage?"

"Very easily," said Paul. "We have everything we need and what we don't need we simply can't have. A huge proportion of most colonies' economy is dedicated to commerce and trade. Once you subtract those non-essential activities then people are free to do what they want as long as it doesn't harm anyone else and as long as they are willing to do what's necessary to keep the colony going."

"No shops. No money. No crime, I suppose. It sounds wonderful! Why can't all colonies be like that?" said the woman. "By the way, my name's Beatrice. What's yours?"

Paul told her and, drawn in by Beatrice's enthusiasm, he was soon entertaining her with an account of what life was like in Godwin. At least, he hoped his account was entertaining, though he did have a tendency to go on rather too much on topics of mostly academic interest. His monologue was soon wandering towards the rather less fascinating features of Godwinian life, such as the structure of the anarchist syndicates, the way in which society was regulated without the need for a legal system, and the difficulty of finding representatives to serve international bodies when the colony had no government or state apparatus. During all this Beatrice continued to smile and ask pertinent questions that showed an astonishing degree of attention.

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