The Only Freedom

Outside the peephole, Dioh was setting again. It would be dark soon. Jovah stood at the sill, his index finger slowly encircling the periphery of the circular peephole. Outside, the wind was picking up once again and a storm was on the rise. Dust, pebbles, rocks... men: nothing would be left unstirred in a couple of minutes. To remain outside would be to die, and yet some people were thinking of using this phenomenon for transportation. Jovah? No, he wasn't thinking about the wind; he was thinking about the clanging noise in his head.

"Now, what?"

"I don't know. We wait for the others."

"When will they come? They should have been here an hour ago."

"Natan. The Dioh is going down. They're probably just following the storm, just behind it. So it will take at least three and a half hours till the storm leaves this place; before the Dioh rises again. They will be here."

"And what about the gor?"

"Let it... him, sleep. He needs the rest. He has a whole new life before him."

Natan sat on a chair, his arms folded so he could rest his head on them, on the table. He was tall, taller than Jovah, but Jovah was sturdier.

"Do you think he'll be happy?"

"He'll be free"

"But, will he be happy... to be free?"

Jovah turned around and looked at Natan. His eyebrows came together and creases fromed on his forehead. He was, at once, surprised, angry and bewildered.

"Wouldn't you?"

"I suppose I wou..."

"Or would you prefer clames around your ankles, your entire life? Or would be not possible for you to go without your daily faire of whipping? Of course he'll be happy. Any man would. To be enslaved, to be bound by another's will. Could you live like that?"

"Any man would, but he's noman. These gors have lived like this for centuries. Maybe it is in their best interest to be slavs."

"So you expect it to be a part of their fucking DNA? There are no born slavs. My God, man. You're talking like the ancient Portuguese. You, of all people. Back then you would have been a slav."

"Hey, calm down, man. I'm not the fucking rovary, you are. You want to change the world. I just take you where you want to go. You want to free gors and yet you know so little about them?"

"I may not know much about gors, but I want to help them. At least I'm doing something. And as a nav who has seen the worlds, you don't feel that there are things that should be changed?"

"Sure they must. But these gors... they wouldn't know what to do. Without us... them... the factories, they wouldn't be able to live. The factories get them food. If they were freed they wouldn't have food, plana or shelter. They would die."

"They were brought here, it is chronicled. They can be taken back."

"What? And remove an entire race of twosones from their planet? That wouldn't be right."

"And this was?"

"Two wrongs!"

Jovah turned back to the peephole. The winds had picked up and Jovah could see silhouettes of boulders rolling across the jagged surface as dust tore through the air, spraying on anything in its way like a constant stream of bullets. Light from Jovah, the night star after which he had been named, struggled to penetrate this dust storm. Everything outside looked deep reddish-brown.

Transportation, Ha! Thought Jovah. He turned back to Natan.

"They need our help. They have to be given rights. The Concilarry could give them an uninhabited planet, or they could be made a part of society."

"A part of society? Do you think that the universe would walk shoulder to shoulder with a race that they stepped on?"

"Isn't it time the universe stepped off them, then?"

An eerie silence pervaded the room. Jovah looked out the peephole, searching for light, perhaps for inspiration; any sign of the fact that what he had done was right. Natan say with his head still resting on his arms, thinking of something to say.

Thud.

Jovah turned around to face the door that lead to the room inside; the room where the gor lay.

Natan smiled sardonically. "The stun has worn has probably worn off. Go tell him that he's free. Go go. You've been waiting for this all your life!"

The mock emphasis had little effect on Jovah. For a moment, he hesitated; wondering if he should leave the door locked and wait for the others.

No, he thought. Too many people might frighten the gor. This, he had to all by himself. He walked away from the sill, taking ill spaced, uneasy steps towards the door. Almost theatrically, he leant forward towards the knob from a little too far away, and turned it.

"Careful" warned Natan. "He's got a sharp thumb. And now he's probably free to use it."

*

Jovah entered the room to find the bed of grass before him, empty. The room was flooded with light, but not a soul was in sight. He walked up to the bed and gave it a little shove with his feet, his stun in right hand. He turned around and sat down on the bed, resting his back on the wall.

"Come down," he said gently, looking up at the corner of the ceiling, to the little creature that crouched at the corner just above the door, shivering. The gors feared the stun. They had been brought to up to fear it.

"Boss," the gor acknowledged a command. He nimbly walked down the wall and crouched into the corner.

Jovah looked at him, smiled and waved. A sign of affection might help ease the gors fears, thought Jovah. The gor looked puzzled. It did not understand this command.

"What is your name?"

"Coris, boss. Number 7M32413"

"A 7M, eh? How old are you, Coris? A hundred odd years?"

The gor looked at once uncertain and afraid. He eyed the stun. A long, thick finger, where the thumb should have been twitched fleetingly, but he pulled it back. Natan had said that the nail at the end of it was poisonous, and that the gors, centuries ago, had used it as an only weapon against the forces of the then CAP. Needless to say, it had been a one sided fight, and the gors surrendered meekly.

"Boss" mumbled the gor, his eyes on the floor.

"Coris, call me Jovah. That is my name."

"Yes, boss, Jovah boss."

"No, no boss... Jovah. Just Jovah. Do you know why we brought you here Coris?"

"No b... Jovah b..."

"To free you. You are free."

"Free, b... Jovah?"

"Yes. You are free. Free to do what you want."

"What I want, Jovah?"

"Yes." Jovah smiled. "What do you want to do Coris?"

"What do I want to do?"

Coris frowned, bewildered, and as he did, his upper lip touched his nose. He looked worried.

"What do you want to do, Coris? You are free."

"Free, boss?"

"You can go anywhere you like. Do anything you want. My friends will be arriving soon, and we can take send you off this planet. Where would you like to go, Coris?"

"What do I say? To... home, boss. Back."

"Home? To your planet?"

"Home, boss, to work. I have to work, boss."

Jovah stood up, shocked. His right hand left his stun and clasped his forehead.

"Go back? Are you mad?" Coris slunk deeper into his corner, his thumb-finger twitching incessantly. "Why would you want to go back? Back, to the chain and the clames and the whipping? You are free, gor. You should be happy, not scared. You should be jumping for joy, not slinking into a corner. I am not going to harm you, nobody is. You have the chance that no other gor has had for centuries. You are FREE, for God's sake."

Coris sat in the corner, with his hand at the back of his neck. As Jovah took a step towards him, he scampered up towards the opposite corner of the ceiling.

"Come down, Coris"

"Boss" said Coris, and obeyed.

"Coris. You are free to do what you like. You don't have to do what I tell you to do. You have a choice."

"Do you understand choice, Coris?"

"Yes, boss."

"Good. Now, you have a choice, Coris. What do you want to do?"

Coris stood up, and bowed. His hands met behind his back and he said, mechanically: "I will do what you tell me to do, boss."

It was almost as if the statement had been fed to him as a staple diet. The way he said it, it seemed his only choice. Your wish is my command: the effect of an indoctrination of servitude; generation after generation, century after century. A being without choice. A race that no longer knew freedom.

"Coris. You shall never go back again. You are free, and others will be freed as well. You will never go to those mines, to that factory. You will never be told what to do. You are free to do what you want."

"What do I do, boss?"

"What you want to do."

A blank look came over Coris' face. He looked up at the ceiling, as Jovah stood, watching him. He did know what he wanted to do, he did not know what to choose, or even how to choose. He looked Jovah in the eye, now free of all burden of choice:

"I will do what you tell me to do, boss."

Jovah felt helpless. Had he done the right thing? Had he done the wrong thing? Should this gor have been freed? Will he survive all by himself? Or, for his own sake, should he be sent back to the factory?

He wished the others were around to confirm that what he had done was right. He felt alone, and suddenly longed for the company. Maybe someone else should talk to Coris. Maybe Coris should be sent back. Maybe...

"Coris. You can do whatever you want to do. I am going out, now, and I will leave you here to think about what you want to do. We want to take you off this planet, to take you to see the universe, to see the press so that we can fight for your rights. We want to free your people, so that you can live in freedom, like we do. I want you to think about this... it is your choice. The fate of your people lies in your hands."

Coris climbed up to the ceiling, and slunk into the corner, his hand at the back of his neck.

*

Jovah opened the door and left the room. The storm was raging outside in full fury. Natan still sat, resting his head on the table.

"So, how's he taking it?"

"Not too well, I'm afraid. But I don't blame him. He doesn't know what it's like to be free."

"He's not free yet, is he? He's in your custody."

"He can leave if he wants to."

"Before the others come"

"No. They would want to talk to him too. He wants to go back."

"Of course he would. He has nothing to do here. That's what they'd done, you know. Work them till they die or kill themselves, and the gors will never have time to plot freedom. So, all their lives, they've not had time to think."

"Kill themselves? They do that?"

"When they're old, or they're injured, they're given the command to kill themselves. The new guards do it just for fun. Then they get sick of it after a while, and make the gors do other things, like fight each other or hump, even though they cant. And the gors: they do it too. They have to. It's in their system"

"But wouldn't that be a loss? A waste? Killing a productive worker?"

"Oh, they reproduce like mad. A gor lays an egg a week, and you have a new worker ready every week. High birth rate and a high death rate. It all balances out. Sometimes the gors, they do it themselves. Some of them get so tired sometimes that they just decide to end it. They get depressed and don't know if they can go on like this, or if they're starving and haven't been given anything to eat for three or four days. They just stick their thumb into the back of their neck, and that's that. That's the one freedom they have."

Thud! came the sound from inside the room. Something had hit the floor.
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