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THE OEDIPUS HEX.

PAUL DENNITHORNE JOHNSTON [*]

NOW, AT LONG LAST, the mission to save Earth was truly underway. Dictator Mack E. O'Wally had ordered up the volunteers: the young clone Pang Lawws, Galactic cafe owner Dolly Darling, twin sisters Reggie and Veggie, and the gender-free person Heimloch Satorious.

The unhappy crew now gathered at a docking bay inside O'Wally's enormous Executive Space Ship My Air Force One. Here, a Semicompact Utility Vessel waited to take them to rendezvous with rogue asteroid 2202 Bluto, which was on a collision course with Earth.

O'Wally had decreed a press conference. Lenses, microphones, sniffers, feelers, and other holocaster sensors, looking much like the faces of pigs and jackals, focused greedily on our heroes. The dictator needed a good show. He especially wanted to irritate his nemesis, Lord BullJohn Croissant, CEO of EuroEngland Limited. O'Wally was CEO of America and Environs, and his outfit would save Earth, while the wimps at EuroEngland held another parliamentary debate.

O'Wally particularly hated BullJohn Croissant because, not only did Lord BullJohn own slightly more of the Earth and surrounding planetary space than O'Wally, he was also a legitimate aristocrat, a descendant of English and European Royal lineage with a certified family tree and several pages in DeBrett's Guide to the Peerage From Here to the End of the Universe. The mighty O'Wally had a very dubious background, which he had so far succeeded in covering up.

Long ago, O'Wally had given standing orders for his media empire to censor all news about Lord BullJohn and EuroEngland. Therefore, many citizens and clones under his domain did not know of the existence of this powerful economic bloc on the other side of Earth with its own collection of artificial planets orbiting above the continents that it owned.

As the press conference began, our heroes stood miserably beside Semicompact Utility [Vessel.sub.40479] on a platform decorated with flags bearing O'Wally's coat of arms (O'Wally had bought the copyright from the impoverished Earl of Oxford). O'Wally attempted a rousing speech but his heart wasn't in it because he felt so ill. He kept flashing hot and cold, and waves of nausea swept over him. O'Wally cut the ceremony short, ordered the travelers aboard, turned, and strode away before the smart hatch had shut itself.

Back in his quarters, O'Wally decided some golf might make him feel better, and he waved at a sensor to summon his current assistant, Euphram Refraser.

"Where's My Air Force Ten," [less than] CLICK HERE 1 [greater than] yelled O'Wally "I want to play golf."

[less than]1[greater than] The use of terms such as "My Air Force One," "My Air Force Two," etc., is an example of a general semantics technique called indexing, i.e., using index numbers to show the uniqueness of things and events that have a similar label or name. O'Wally had in fact banned general semantics because his advisors had said it encouraged better thinking, and possibly democracy. (If O'Wally had known he'd used something from general semantics, he'd have been furious enough to fire anyone who came into the room. Or worse.)

"My Air Force Ten is, ah, parked some distance away, ah, as you requested, Sir," said Refraser in a voice that sounded like someone gargling.

"Get it here. NOW! I want to play golf."

"It will take a day or so, Sir," said Euphram Refraser, trembling because for once he could think of no way to euphemistically say what he had to say.

"If that asteroid does collide with Earth, my assets won't be worth a plugged pickle," said O'Wally miserably. "Good thing I have a backup plan."

"You could re-categorize it as a safe asteroid," said Euphram Refraser. "It's small. You could name it The Toy Asteroid. That has a homey sound to it."

O'Wally jumped up. "You think changing the name of the damn thing will make it harmless?" he yelled contemptuously.

"We could try, Sir," mumbled Refraser, backing away from O'Wally's wrath as if it were a physical force.

"I'm surrounded by idiots," snarled O'Wally. "Only things and people I own change when I change their names." Overcome with dizziness, he grasped the side of his desk and sat down. He felt clammy now. He knew he was really sick, and this made him sick with fear.

"I need a woman to take care of me," he whimpered.

"A wife, Sir?" asked Refraser, thankful for a change of subject.

"That's what I said, didn't I?" retorted O'Wally nastily. If he summoned enough venom, perhaps he'd start feeling his old self again. "Announce this on all my media. I will pay a billion cybercredits to the woman I select to marry me. Spendable only on O'WallyNet Home Shopping, of course."

"Very good, Sir."

"I want five hundred beautiful candidates. I'll choose the winning bride just before the wedding, live on all holocaster channels. Ratings need a boost."

"A highly original idea, Sir. I'll get on it right away, Sir."

"You will," said O'Wally ominously. "Have you got My Air Force Ten here yet?"

"Not quite, Sir. Very soon, Sir," said Refraser, backing toward the door.

O'Wally felt so sick, he had to destroy something. "Cancel the Unspeakable Project," he snarled. "Whoever thought up that dumb idea, anyway?"

"Quite so, Sir," said Refraser, leaving hurriedly.

Some time earlier, bored with cybergolf, O'Wally had ordered construction of a thirty-six hole UPGA golf course aboard one of his Executive Space Ships, the aging My Air Force Ten. Expansion of the course to another thirty-six holes would take another five years to complete.

Meanwhile, inside My Air Force One, Semicompact Utility [Vessel.sub.40479] eased through the airlock and out into the vacuum of space. Such journeys required no dramatic bursts of fire and smoke for "lift-off." In zero gravity, space travel was often characterized by silence and almost imperceptible changes in motion. The utility vessel required little power to nudge it out of the host ship and propel it toward a point that intersected with the course of rogue asteroid 2202 Bluto. Acceleration would be slow, steady, and continuous until about half way through the journey, when slow deceleration would begin.

Aboard an automated craft, with no duties and little entertainment, the occupants felt much like anticipants in a dentist's waiting room. For a time, Pang amused himself in the little galley by counting peanut-butter sandwiches. These sandwiches had come from old inventory and were dumb sandwiches, unlike the smart sandwiches [less than]CLICK HERE 2[greater than] he'd eaten on My Air Fore One.

[less than]2[greater than] Smart sandwiches were bio-engineered so that their fat and carbohydrate molecules would sense when the fat cells inside the host (the person eating such a sandwich) reached an optimum level. Then, these molecules would convert themselves into nonfood matter. Thus people consuming smart sandwiches could not get fat, no matter how greedily they overate.

Although the fuel-saver computer had turned off the artificial gravity, the ship's continuous acceleration provided enough of the inertial equivalent of gravity (the Clarke phenomenon) to hold passengers relatively stationary if they didn't move their appendages very much. A quick gesture could send a person hurtling dangerously across the cabin.

Our space travelers must use the words "down," "up," "floor," "ceiling," etc., with caution. The slight "gravitational" effect of acceleration pushed mass toward the rear of their craft, and the forward-facing surface of a bulkhead temporarily became a floor or deck, temporarily known as [deck.sub.acceleration], or [deck.sub.a]. During deceleration, the situation was reversed, and the sternward-facing surface of a bulkhead became a walking surface, known as [deck.sub.deceleration], or [deck.sub.d]. When a small vessel lay moored in a "horizontal" orientation inside a host ship which had its own artificial gravity in operation, then a wall became the floor, known as [deck.sub.moored], or [deck.sub.m].

While those who lived on Earth might find relative gravity somewhat confusing, those accustomed to living in space hardly thought about it and used the terminology as easily as everyday slang.

Veggie was absorbed by her new biography of Galileo Galilei. When she read that Galileo was forced to recant because his scientific work conflicted with accepted church doctrine, she became outraged. She stormed into the rec room (not easily done in near-zero gravity) and demanded that everyone become as angry as she was.

"Listen to this crap," cried Veggie. "This is what they made him swear."

I, Galileo, swear that I have always believed, believe now and, with God's help, will in the future believe all that the Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church doth hold, preach and teach.

Veggie paused for breath, her face red with rage, then sputtered on. "They made him say this, too."

... having been admonished by this Holy Office to abandon the false opinion that the sun is the center of the Universe and immovable, and that the Earth is not the center of the same and that it moves ... neither to hold, defend, nor teach in any manner whatsoever, either orally or in writing, the said false doctrine.

Veggie screwed up her face in disgust. "It makes me so mad. They made him swear that Earth is the center of the universe, even though he believed otherwise. False doctrine. Pooh."

The air movements caused by Veggie's violent entry into the rec room had unseated the gender-free Heimloch Satorious, who now hovered in the air, still in the lotus position, eyes closed, apparently still meditating.

Reggie, involved in calculations of 2202 Bluto's changing trajectory, listened impatiently, then muttered "Old hat. Everyone knows that."

Pang, eating a peanut-butter sandwich, absorbed every word with childlike seriousness, and for a moment he felt as angry as Veggie.

Dolly made a dismissive gesture. "That happens before a paradigm shift," she said. "The new knowledge threatens the old knowledge which of course supports the status quo as well as those in the power structure. But science wins in the end. You can't make an omelet without breaking legs."

"There's more," yelled Reggie, peering indignantly into her book. "And I quote,"

I abjure with a sincere heart and unfeigned faith these errors and heresies, and I curse and detest them as well as any other error, heresy or ...

"Yuk. They made him curse his own scientific discovers..."

... for the future I shall neither say nor assert orally or in writing such things as may bring upon me similar suspicions; and if I know any heretic, or one suspected of heresy, I will denounce him ...

"He had to accept a gag order. It makes me sick."

"What else is new?" challenged Reggie.

"Didn't they know the value of science?" cried Veggie. "It's as bad as the twenty-first century when politics and religion kept stomping science down."

"And doesn't anybody do that now?" inquired Reggie sweetly.

Veggie ignored her sister and read on, then suddenly she cackled with triumphant laughter. "They didn't break his spirit," she yelled. "The church power-brokers insisted that the sun and planets revolved around a stationary earth. The earth was the center of the universe, they claimed, and it did not move. But when Galileo was forced to recant, he stamped his foot on the earth and he muttered something under his breath. He said, 'Eppur si muove,' He said, 'But it still moves!' So there. Nuts to all of you!"

Turning to her sister, Veggie stuck out her tongue.

"So he had the last word," said Reggie scathingly. "It didn't get him out of house arrest, did it? Some historians hold he never said that, anyway."

"It moves. Eppur si muove. It still moves," taunted Veggie, and she stamped the deck. "The earth moves." The recoil from her low-gravity foot stamping caused Veggie to sail rapidly across the cabin, and she only avoided colliding with a locker by throwing out her hands.

Veggie pulled herself into a seat. As she began to regain her composure, a tiny particle of space debris punched a small hole in the ship's triple hull near where Pang sat peeling the transparent wrapper from a peanut-butter sandwich. Immediately, the air began flowing out of the cabin into the vacuum of space. The occupants sat momentarily frozen in horror. Pang let go of his sandwich and it floated slowly toward the hole. He scrambled after his sandwich, bumped into a locker, floated backwards across the cabin, flapping his arms helplessly, until his posterior slammed into the outer hull wall, blocking the small puncture hole.

The automated life-support system soon replaced the breathing mixture that had escaped. Sensing disorder in the cabin, the artificial gravity turned itself on, and the occupants slowly settled onto "horizontal" surfaces.

"Pang saved us. He placed his body over the hole," cried Veggie.

"He's a hero," exclaimed Reggie.

"A hero," echoed Veggie, for once agreeing with her sister.

Dolly smiled, but said nothing. Satorious, now sitting cross-legged on a table, continued to meditate, eyes closed.

"I'm going to report this heroic act in my report," said Veggie reverently.

"Me too," said Reggie.

"I thought of it first," snapped Veggie sulkily.

The sisters began arguing about who would write the report and what it would say. Thus occurred the first of several events that would later result in a legend extolling the heroic qualities of the clone Pang Lawws.

Pang winced as he removed his posterior from the wall. (The incident had given him a painful cutaneous contusion, known scientifically as a hickey, that would trouble him for some time.) The air began to hiss out again. Pang put himself back over the hole, retrieved his peanut-butter sandwich and gradually slid the sandwich between himself and the wall. He then pulled slowly away. The hissing ceased as peanut butter congealed inside the puncture. Later, Dolly found an official patching kit. She removed the sandwich, which Pang ate immediately, and spread more stable repair resin over the hole.

For a time, Veggie and Reggie regarded Pang with a mild hero worship, and they competed with one another for his attention. Dolly found this both amusing and irritating. Pang, who thought only of the Princess Graceful and of Dolly, ignored the sisters' attentiveness. The gender-free Heimloch Satorious, who seemed much detached from the interactions of these gender-bound personalities, continued to look meditative and enigmatic. (See Installment Twelve of The Clone Chronicles for an account of gender-free persons.)

Pang, who thought his one-and-only love was both Dolly and the Princess Graceful, felt no inner conflict with this contradiction. He had become skilled in the art of doublelogic, that is, sincerely holding two opposing beliefs at the same time.

The excitement of the life-threatening situation left everyone feeling tired. The sisters began arguing again. Veggie said geology was an empirical science and therefore superior to mathematics. Reggie said she had equations that proved Veggie was a ninny and a nincompoop.

"You didn't know how to prevent the rogue asteroid from annihilating Earth," yelled Reggie spitefully.

"Asteroid 2202 Bluto is a rock," retorted Veggie, a professional diamond cutter. "I've seen reports of its structure. When I examine it, I'll know where to strike to make it cleave. You can't do that with mathematical abstractions. People have to inspect the territory first hand."

"This isn't one of your stupid diamonds, it's a big big big rock," screamed Reggie. "Without math, you can't calculate where to put explosives or how much to use."

"We won't need explosives. I'll make the asteroid cleave with a little tap at the point of critical separation. The two pieces will go off in different directions and they won't collide with Earth."

"But you can't do it without math," grumbled Reggie, although she didn't feel convinced because she knew her sister was very good at cleaving rocks exactly as predicted.

"With your math, you discovered the rogue asteroid is going to hit Earth," said Veggie with a conciliatory smile. "Without your math, we'd soon be dead."

"I guess we really need both observation of the territory and good mathematical maps," replied Reggie magnanimously, returning her sister's smile.

About this time, the life-support system decided it was night, dimmed the lights, told passengers to go to bed, and began playing a Cole Porter song. A planet's rotation provides night and day; without this, night becomes an arbitrary notion. Basically night occurred when the computer said so. Pang went to his cabin and got his night-vision glasses, then sneaked into Dolly's quarters, his eyes misty with memories of their one night of love. To create the right mood, he offered to order a cup of tea. Dolly replied tensely that she did not want tea, or anything else. Pang made a clumsy attempt to caress Dolly but she pushed him away.

"We can't," she cried.

"But why? I love you, Dolly."

Dolly felt tears welling up and struggled to avoid sobbing. She had not cried for many years.

"You don't know who I am," she said sadly.

"You're Dolly, the woman I love."

"I know who you are, Pang. When I first met you and we made love, I didn't know but I should have known. You had your name on your suit. But I thought it was just a common name, not you."

"What do you mean?" exclaimed Pang in bewilderment.

"I wasn't always Dolly. I used to have other lives, other names. Once, I worked as a technician aboard the Baseball Planet. My job was cloning clones."

"What?"

"I was a cloning engineer responsible for creating clones and monitoring their development in the cloning capsule."

"It's a job," said Pang. "Somebody has to do it."

"Pang, the first time you came into my bedroom, you accidentally hit some keys on my computer. You erased one of my files containing secret and illegal DNA data. Pang, that was the only record of your own DNA that you destroyed."

"I destroyed the DNA that I myself came from?"

"Yes, the only existing record."

"I killed my own father?"

"Not exactly."

"I committed patricide."

"When I worked aboard the Baseball Planet, I wasn't called Dolly, I was known as Jane. I've even seen my name in O'Wally's secret investigative files. 'The person Jane' they call me."

"You broke into O'Wally's secret files?" asked Pang in astonishment.

"It was nothing," said Dolly impatiently.

"Killing your own father is the worst crime in Heaven and Barth," groaned Pang dramatically.

"Pang, when I was the person Jane I decided to make a clone that would have no preexisting memories so it could do original thinking and ultimately have free will. It all began because I discovered that a clone in my care had actually produced an original thought. Before I could save my clone, the system automatically sent it to Terminate and Recycle, as protocols require of any clone that produces an original thought. The system killed my own child, or as much of a child as I'll ever have. So I decided to make a new clone, using the best DNA from the most intelligent, best looking, most powerful and dynamic individuals in civilization. I spent ages stealing and compiling that DNA. I combined it to create a new clone that was not indoctrinated with preexisting memories. In secret, I did all this. I secretly sent that clone to abandoned asteroid 2202 Bluto where it would grow up under the care and education of the robot Cal. But Cal malfunctioned and never taught you language until you were nineteen years of age. Pang, I am the person who created you."

"Mother!"

"Not exactly."

Pang ripped off his night-vision glasses, threw them to the deck and jumped on them, shattering the lenses into small pieces. The artificial gravity was still on, so Pang's violent movements did not send him crashing into the ceiling.

"I'm blind," he screamed. "I killed my father and made love to my mother. I'm punished for my terrible crime. I've got the Oedipus hex." He ran to the shower, hurled himself inside and collapsed onto the floor.

Dolly turned on the cold water. "Cut the crap," she snarled. "You think life is books and holodramas. Old mythology doesn't apply to you. Your DNA came from countless different individuals. You never had a father or a mother."

Pang struggled to his feet. Programmed to save water, the shower was already turning itself off. He motioned at the autodrier, turned slowly to Dolly, and asked thoughtfully.

"If I didn't kill my father and you're not my mother, then why can't we?"

Dolly mused for a moment, then said, "I think we can make love any time we want."

After a time, the SUV [Semicompact Utility Vessel] arrived at asteroid 2202 Bluto and negotiated its way into an underground docking bay. Reggie, Veggie, and Satorious suited up and disembarked to examine the rogue asteroid, looking for ways to demolish it, in order to prevent it from destroying Earth. Dolly and Pang also left the utility vessel, looking for a private place to make love.

In Pang's old living quarters, they found themselves in a torrent of raging passion so powerful that all the universe disappeared. In their own microcosm, they felt explosion follow explosion, until at last they lay weak, exhausted, and filled with inner peace.

Eventually, one of them spoke. "The asteroid moved."

"Yes," said the other. "The asteroid moved."

While Dolly and Pang were making love, Reggie and Veggie explored a cavern deep underground, arguing about how to demolish the asteroid. Satorious followed but seemed lost in thought, apparently attempting to destroy the deadly asteroid by contemplation. As the sisters argued, Veggie became increasingly frustrated because Reggie would not believe that she could sense the asteroid vibrating.

"The cleavage fault runs right along here," said Veggie, drawing a line in the dust with her foot. "I can feel the movement. Not really feel it exactly, it's too subtle for that. But I can sense it, somehow."

"You're dreaming," scoffed Reggie.

"Eppur si muove!" screamed Veggie, and she stamped her foot hard on the ground. "But it does move!"

Soon after Veggie's foot struck the ground, it began to split apart with a deafening grating, creaking, and rumbling. Reggie, who had one foot on each side of the widening chasm, leapt sideways and grabbed Veggie by the arm.

"It is moving," she exclaimed.

"Back to the SUV. Run for your life," screamed Veggie.

It was at this moment that Pang and Dolly had correctly inferred that the asteroid had indeed moved.

Reggie, Veggie, and Satorious raced back to the utility vessel, which was on their side of the fractured asteroid. They climbed aboard, assuming that Pang and Dolly had never left, put the SUV in hyperdrive, and escaped, narrowly avoiding a catastrophic rollover as they careened out of the docking bay. As predicted, the two parts of the cloven asteroid went off harmlessly in different directions. Thus, our heroes saved the Earth.

Pang and Dolly had just donned their space suits when the moving fracture line reached their abode. The room split apart, leaving Dolly on one side and Pang on the other. Pang watched in horror as Dolly drifted away, clinging to a hatch and yelling angrily.

Once again, the lovers were separated, in imminent danger of losing their lives.

As his hunk of rock spun slowly through space and Dolly disappeared from view, Pang hung desperately onto the side of a cliff which had not even existed a few moments before.

(*.) Paul Dennithorne Johnston, future humorist, serves as Executive Director of ISGS. He continues to explore post-modern science fiction as a means of reconnoitering general semantics as well as thinking outside the box. Copyright [R] 2000 Paul D. Johnston.
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Author:JOHNSTON, PAUL DENNITHORNE
Publication:ETC.: A Review of General Semantics
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Sep 22, 2000
Words:3949
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