Battle for the Known Unknown Ch. 10bybradley_stoke©
Chomsky - 3750 C.E.
"Marriage," repeated Comrade Doctorow incredulously. "Are you telling me you've never heard of the institution of marriage?"
"Well, yes," said Paul. "I've heard of it. There's no way I couldn't have heard of it after having studied so much about the third millennium. It's just not something practised on Godwin."
"You know nothing about matrimony between two people who love one another?" wondered Comrade Leopold Doctorow. "You know nothing about husbands and wives?"
"I always assumed it was just an ancient practise that had dropped out of use centuries ago," said Paul, not at all happy at being quizzed in this way by the government minister. This wasn't why he'd come to Chomsky: the most recently constructed colony in the extensive Socialist Republics of Saturn.
The minister scratched his shaven pate. "I've been married six times. I've had six different husbands. I'm not exactly the best advertisement for the benefits of marriage, but I'd no idea that you anarchists had actually dropped the institution altogether. There can't be very many other colonies in the Solar System who've gone that far. Nevertheless, whatever strange customs you might have in your rustic corner of the Kuiper Belt, the fact is that everywhere else the institution of marriage is still very much alive. And I tell you again that if you wish your lover, your ... erm ... girlfriend, to accompany you for the rest of your voyage it is absolutely imperative that you and she should get married."
Paul gazed lovingly at Beatrice as she clasped his hand tightly in hers. "Well, I'm sure neither of us has any objection to getting 'married', have we?" he asked her. "We could just sign whatever documents that need to be signed now if that's not a problem. What do you think, dear?"
"As you say, I have no objection," agreed Beatrice with a broad grin. "Can't we just do it now and get it over with?"
Comrade Leopold Doctorow sighed. "Neither of you seem to know much about matrimony, do you? Do you have no weddings on Ecstasy either?"
"Weddings?" wondered Beatrice. "People do have them. They come from all over the Solar System to do that. Are they also associated with marriage?"
"I despair!" exclaimed the minister as he leaned back in his leather chair. "Yes, a wedding is a solemn exchange of vows and it formalises the state of marriage after you have been engaged. I take it that you don't even consider your lover to be your fiancée?"
"I'm not sure," said Paul, a little puzzled. "What's a fiancée?"
Comrade Doctorow raised his eyebrows and looked over at his husband, whose head like most Saturnians was also shaved. "Okay! Okay! I admit that I'm not really the best person to instruct you in the sacred traditions of marriage. Just be aware that throughout the Solar System it's taken very seriously indeed: especially here in the Socialist Republics of Saturn. It would just not be considered proper for you and Beatrice to travel together under the protection of the Interplanetary Union unless your relationship was officially sanctioned. My secretary will make the proper arrangements and you will be married before you travel on to the Jovian Asteroid Belt. The alternative is that you won't be able to travel with your lover at all. Although the Socialist Republics are tolerant and understanding, there are other nations within the Interplanetary Union who won't countenance that you travel together on such an important mission without a formal union. Do you understand?"
"I suppose so," said Paul, who still didn't comprehend what the fuss was all about.
The majority of Paul's audience with the minister was a rather bland, but it was fascinating to Paul who'd never before had a conversation of any kind with an individual who was designated as belonging to a higher status than him. In Godwin, there were no hierarchies and certainly not formal ones. It wasn't so much that everyone was considered equal: it was just that no one had any claim to be anything else. The very notion of equality, like liberty and fraternity, was so taken for granted that nobody ever made a fuss about it. Paul had assumed that the Socialist Republics of Saturn, a loose confederation of moons, asteroids and colonies united by ideology and planetary orbit, would be similar in that regard, but although everywhere he and Beatrice roamed about Chomsky there were constant reminders of the state's socialist politics, there was also a great deal of evidence that this wasn't entirely a community of equals.
Not only was there rank and status, although everyone was addressed as 'comrade', there were laws and regulations that were also equally alien to Paul. There was even a thriving capitalist economy, together with such financial instruments as a stock exchange, public limited companies and a significant disparity of wealth. But at least nobody was poor. In fact, by Saturnian standards, it was Paul who was poor. However sincerely the Socialist Republics expounded their shared ideology, it seemed that the pursuit of wealth took a rather higher priority. There was some evidence that this kind of mixed economy was some kind of a formula for material success. The nations in Saturn orbit were the wealthiest in the Solar System having overtaken the nations in Earth orbit on most economic measurements just over a century earlier and as the decades passed had further extended their lead in terms of Gross National and Domestic Products. This was despite Earth's unique historical advantage that was once thought to be unsurpassable.
A millennium and a half separated the Socialist Republics from the abominations that masqueraded as socialist societies in the Age of Extremes, but the memory of those decades was still routinely used to discredit Socialist ideology by nations that had adopted opposing economic or political models. Godwin's main criticism of the Socialist Republics was that the society was too homogenous. As far as Paul could see, this homogeneity was most apparent in the fashion for shaven heads (and undoubtedly the rest of the body as well) that was sported by all but a small minority of the population.
Another common aspect of Saturnian culture was the prevalence towards homosexuality, although this tendency didn't seem to have much to do with the tenets of Socialism. Although Paul had many gay and bisexual friends and acquaintances, rather less than a fifth of the population of Godwin were in single sex relationships. In the marble-lined malls and elegant parks of Chomsky, it seemed that the ratio was pretty much totally reversed. Paul thought it was fascinating evidence of the success of social engineering as a response to over-population.
"What difference does it make?" Beatrice asked when Paul confessed to his secret discomfort at being surrounded by male couples (and less so, he had to admit, by the equal number of female ones).
"None," said Paul hurriedly, anxious not to appear homophobic. "None at all. But would there be so many same sex couples if there were fewer incentives to be so? Every film, play and song seems to take it for granted that the most normal relationship is that between a man and another man. Or between a woman and another woman."
"Isn't it just the same thing everywhere else, only the other way round?" remarked Beatrice. "Although there are plenty of places on Ecstasy where women can meet women and men other men, homosexual relationships are in the minority. What's so unnatural that it should be the other way round in Saturn?"
"That's just it!" moaned Paul, aware that his was a losing battle. "Is it really natural at all?"
"Is it natural to wear clothes? Is it natural to live in space? Is it natural to have holographic telecommunications wherever you go? I think that being natural stopped being a fact of life for human beings as soon as they started living in parts of Earth where they had to wear warm clothes and eat cooked food. And that was a long time before humans invented space flight."
Beatrice and Paul attracted the inquisitive stares of almost everyone and it wasn't simply because they were an openly heterosexual couple. It was also because they dressed very differently to the shaven headed comrades. Both Paul's loose clothes and Beatrice's scanty ones contrasted with the tight trousers and suits worn by Saturnians, that emphasised body shape whilst hiding from sight all but the hands, calves and face. Although the clothes were egalitarian in design, there was evidence of social distinction in the understated variation in the quality of the cloth and the elegance of the trimming.
Now that he was on Chomsky Paul began to feel for sure that he was, indeed, on a Very Important Mission, even though he still didn't believe that he deserved such an honour. He still believed that he was something of a fraud even though the authorities in the Interplanetary Union had deemed otherwise. He'd still not been given a clear explanation as to why he was considered such a Very Important Person. No Godwinian was ever considered any more important than anyone else and such an elevated status didn't sit easily on Paul. Even if he hadn't spent all his life in an anarchist colony, it was a role that Paul was never likely to be comfortable with.
All the same, right from the moment he arrived at Chomsky's splendid spaceport, Paul was constantly reminded of his newfound importance. The men and women who'd welcomed him were high ranking ministers, business-people and celebrities whose hands he had to shake and who blandly disguised their opinions of Paul's plain clothes and of Beatrice's near absence of them. It was Beatrice, as always, who accorded herself most gracefully in these situations. She demonstrated her skill at charming the dignitaries who flocked around the couple. This sheltered Paul from the consequences of his many faux pas and embarrassing blunders, but it also added to his discomfort. This was especially so when Beatrice exercised her charms on the women who were so obviously seduced by her beauty and grace.
"Do you really want to get married?" Paul asked Beatrice as they cuddled up together on the huge mattress in their luxurious hotel suite.
"If that's a proposal, then the answer is yes," said Beatrice without hesitation.
Paul had intended it to be more of a speculative question, but he was rather relieved that the troublesome business of courtship was over with so easily. The lovemaking that followed this proposal was torrid and much more prolonged. Paul's testicles were left swollen and bruised for many hours after. Beatrice insisted that the couple enjoy the variants of sexual pleasure that Paul mostly reserved for his virtual lovers.
Beatrice's anus was both tighter and looser than Blanche's. Her oral technique was messier and called for a much more liberal application of spit and saliva. She lacked Blanche's inhuman ability to stay balanced in whatever position Paul put her in but she brought him to spasms of ecstasy that his virtual lover could never equal. She also had an appetite of her own—not one wholly predicated on Paul's lust—that made their lovemaking many times more satisfying.
Needless to say, Paul knew almost none of the wedding guests. His parents had the opportunity to attend as holographic avatars, although they would be out of phase by several light hours, but as they were just as uncomprehending as Paul of what the ceremony signified they responded with rather puzzled comments and the statement that if being 'married' was what Paul wanted then they wished him all the best. They hadn't seen one another for seventy years and were surprised to be reminded that they had any lingering responsibility towards their son. The other wedding guests were chosen more by virtue of their status on Chomsky. Embarrassingly, Paul had difficulty in remembering their names and how to pronounce them.
The wedding overseer was a tall oriental woman called Comrade Natasha Smith. She sat in front of the happy couple and constantly referred to a holographic screen that hovered beside her on which there was a formal list of questions.
"Are you religious?" she asked.
"No. I don't think so. It's not something I've ever thought about. There aren't many religious people on Godwin and most of those are Buddhist. They don't believe in a God either, do they?"
"I'm an atheist myself," said the wedding overseer, "so I'm not an authority on such matters. But I have to ask. There are some very peculiar requirements for religious weddings. I'm just grateful that there are so few religious people in the Socialist Republics. And how about you, Beatrice? Do you profess to a faith?"
"I see. Do either of you have a preference as to the nature of the wedding ceremony?"
Paul shook his head. He hadn't been aware that there was any difference between one kind of wedding and another.
"What about you, Beatrice? Your records say that you originally came from Venus. Do you want a Venusian wedding? It might be more appropriate for a heterosexual union. It's a long time since I married a man and a woman."
"I might come from Venus," said Beatrice, "but as far as marriage is concerned I might as well come from Mars. Or Saturn for that matter. I'm quite happy to have a standard Saturnian wedding."
"Well, that makes life a lot easier. Venusian weddings are fussy affairs. And I'm sure we can adapt the Saturnian ceremony for a heterosexual couple. I just have to alter the words a little. Okay, what about family concerns? I know about Paul's family. How about you, Beatrice? Do you want your family to attend? Not in person, of course. Venus is too far away for that. It wouldn't be too difficult to arrange a holographic presence. Conversation might be difficult, but it's the significance of their being there that counts."
"I have no family," said Beatrice, with no hint of sadness or regret.
"Are they deceased?"
"I've just never known a family."
The wedding overseer glanced at her holographic screen. "Well, that assertion is corroborated by your official records, but again I am obliged to ask. I'm sorry to hear that though, dear. It must be tragic not to have known the pleasures of having two mothers or two fathers. Though on Venus I guess that would have been a mother and a father. How about friends? Have either of you got friends who you'd like to see attend the wedding?"
"I don't think any of my friends would understand what it was about," Paul remarked sadly. He was beginning to feel quite isolated on this alien world.
"My friends wouldn't understand either," Beatrice said.
"That's a shame," sighed Comrade Natasha Smith. "I'm afraid then that those who'll attend will do so more for reasons of official obligation than because they genuinely wish that your union should bring you happiness for the rest of your days."
And so it was to be.
Neither Paul nor Beatrice made any preparations for the wedding. This was all done for them by Chomsky's marital experts who assured the happy couple how honoured the Interplanetary Union was to officiate such an auspicious occasion. Paul didn't doubt their sincerity and he was more than happy to be excused from the obligation of doing anything himself. Almost all he needed to do was choose a uniform from the limited selection on offer and learn something about the wedding ceremony. He had trouble in performing either duty with very much earnestness. The uniform he chose was uncomfortable. It was a black outfit that was much tighter than anything he'd ever worn before. He was adamant that his shoulder length hair shouldn't be cut even a centimetre shorter and most certainly not shaved off. When he attended the practice session, he thought the vows he was supposed to keep were absurd and ridiculous. How could anyone be expected to stay with the same partner for all his or her life? With a lifespan of well over a century and the likelihood of being sexually active for almost all of it, such a vow was completely unrealistic. This opinion seemed to be verified by Saturn's rather high divorce and remarriage rate.
It didn't seem to be any more natural to Beatrice who had to wear many more clothes for the ceremony than she usually did, although she was rather better than Paul at memorising the formal words of the ceremony. In fact, she even claimed to be looking forward to the event.
As far as Paul was concerned, the only value he'd get from the whole palaver was the official formalisation of the couple's relationship. But as this would be the very first formal event of his life he had no idea what real value that might be.
There wasn't much time to wait for the wedding. The space ship that would carry the newlyweds towards the Jovian Asteroid Belt was due to leave in just over a week. The couple's honeymoon would be spent on a relatively unglamorous cruiser that was more often used by Saturnian businesspeople and government officials than by those in the first flush of matrimonial bliss.
The couple had plenty of time to look around Chomsky while they waited for the day of the wedding. The colony was several times larger than Godwin and consisted of two concentric cylinders, the inner one of which was mostly sea water and the outer one was half wilderness and half cityscape. Paul wondered whether he could ever again be satisfied with life in the rather less splendid and often chaotic world of Godwin. That was, of course, if he even had a return ticket from the Very Important Mission to which he had been summoned.
The dawn of the wedding day began like every day in Chomsky. Paul admired the view from the third floor luxury suite where he and Beatrice were staying. It was a delightful vista of parks and woodland in which a pair of regenerated pterosaurs was soaring over the lake. Paul could also see other regenerated wildlife from Earth's prehistoric past, such as a plesiosaur, a mastodon and a hyracotherium. They were obviously not selected for their prehistoric contemporaneity.
"So, we will soon be married," giggled Beatrice as she applied her lips to Paul's erect penis. "This will be the last time I can do this before we are man and wife." She cupped his testicles in her palm and pushed his penis deep inside her throat. Paul gasped as his penis spurted semen into her mouth and over her chin.
"Well, at least it won't be as man and husband," remarked Paul. He pointed over the balcony at a male couple who were sitting by the lake and kissing one another under the shadow of a gliding ramphoryncus.
The ceremony was to take place in a wedding centre built specifically for the purpose and which had been modelled on a variety of religious places of worship. It had a tower, was constructed of shiny grey-blue marble, and had a doorway many times larger than was necessary for even the tallest guest. In fact it was large enough to admit the mastodon that grazed contentedly outside the couple's hotel. The spacious chamber was divided into two sets of comfortably appointed satin seats divided by a wide aisle. The only people Paul recognised were those dignitaries and ministers he'd already met either at the spaceport or at the many tedious receptions he'd attended whose only real attraction for him was the plentiful supply of weak alcoholic beverages.
Paul and Beatrice were led along the aisle accompanied, as was traditional, by a bridesmaid and groom. The bridesmaid walked arm-in-arm with Paul and the groom with Beatrice. Paul had never met his bridesmaid before. She was a tall slender woman, probably from a low gravity satellite such as Titan or Iapetus, who was perfectly at ease in her role, unlike Paul who clung to Beatrice's hand as much for security as comfort.
The ceremony was long and tedious and, despite all his coaching, Paul stumbled over his words and confused his oath of allegiance to his betrothed with his promise to abide by the laws governing the Socialist Republics. Beatrice made no such errors. She was word-perfect and only seemed out of place at all by virtue of the long blonde hair that she'd insisted, like Paul, in keeping untrimmed. Despite Paul's clumsiness, the ceremony seemed to be going very smoothly. The wedding overseer, Comrade Smith, smiled sympathetically as Paul garbled the words of devotion and struggled to squeeze his hand through the golden bracelet that was the secular tie to their eternal union.