Donald hesitated. But what he had in mind to say was far from restricted knowledge, and would at least give the impression that he was keeping the bargain he’d struck.
“I think not,” he said.
“Solukarta daren’t have prodgies. He’s carrying the gene of a rare disease called porphyria—the one that sent King George III of England out of his skull.”
“I didn’t know that!”
“He doesn’t like it noised around. And being recessive it’s easy to cover up. But if you check on the relatives he’s managed to—ah—lose since coming to power, you’ll find clues.”
Deirdre gave a thoughtful nod. “Well, anyhow,” she resumed. “My guess is that with the available resources—no matter how many pupils Sugaiguntung has trained at the university—Yatakang can’t afford anything better than some sort of selective breeding.”
“If they try it,” Donald said, “they’re headed for trouble.”
“It limits the gene-pool. If we have any claim to be boss species on this ball of mud, it’s founded on the fact that we have the largest available gene-pool of any animal or plant whatever. We can cross-fertilise from one pole to the other. And the ability to cross our lines out is the thing that really entitles us to vaunt our supremacy over creatures that vastly outnumber us, like ants and nematodes.”
He noticed that Deirdre stiffened a trifle at that. Small wonder. Just as Israel had become almost fascist in its racialism during the last century, black South Africans had become fanatical on the subject during this one. He thought of Norman and hurried on.
“Well, take it as read that we don’t possess enough information to optimise our genetic endowment on a simple breeding basis. We’re more likely to run into the kind of trouble which turned the Afrikaners paranoid.” That relaxed Deirdre again, he noticed with amusement.
“But in the second part of the programme Solukarta’s proposing a fourth method, and this is where the crunch comes. Actually tailoring the genes in a fertilised human ovum so that the resulting baby will have specified talents, some of them—by implication—unprecedented in human history. That’s what’s excited the public’s imagination in my country. How about you?”
Deirdre sighed. “Same is true in Asia. Most of the people around here are still conditioned by ancestor-worship, in spite of the propaganda against it. They like the idea of having two or three healthy, long-lived children instead of a crowd of sickly ones, because they’re more likely to survive and take care of their old helpless parents, so they’re amenable to eugenic legislation. But the promise of having children with brand-new talents fascinates them. It would mean—by implication, as you just said—that those children would be exceptionally grateful to the ancestors who endowed them with their special abilities.”
“How about back home, among your own people?” Donald ventured.
“I’ll be frank, as much as I can,” Deirdre said after a moment’s hesitation. “Despite having taken our country back from the white baas, despite having run it far more efficiently, we tend to nurse a suspicion of our own inferiority. To be able to prove scientifically that our children would be not only the equal of anyone else’s but actually ahead of them…”
She let the words die away and gave a shrug.
Graft on to that the European reaction, especially in countries as densely populated as Holland and Flanders which lack the spillage zone enjoyed by the French-speaking Walloons …
Donald sighed. Somehow, the entire human race seemed momentarily united in a single entrancing dream—the hope that the next generation they would bequeath to Mother Earth would be whole, healthy, sane, capable of making amends for the rape they had inflicted in olden days.
The tantalising promise had been made. And it looked as though the promise was a lie.
Abruptly, awareness of the time shattered his musing, and he jumped to his feet.
“I shouldn’t worry about being punctual for appointments here,” Deirdre said sourly. “They’ve kept me hanging around often enough—they deserve some of their own medicine for a change.”
THE PROS AND CONS OF A LUNATIC SOCIETY
“Thank you for that kind introduction, Madam Chairman. Well, ladies and gentlemen—you will forgive me for sitting down while I address you, I’m sure, because coming home from Moonbase Zero after a long stay is rather like getting up after being bedridden for a month and carrying one’s own weight under six times the lunar gravity is a tiring task.
“I thought I might begin by answering some of the questions which people most commonly ask me, and to which I assume the answers aren’t very widely known or else they wouldn’t crop up so often. As you know, my speciality is psychology, so people very often say to me, ‘Isn’t it a terrible strain living up there on the Moon—isn’t it a hostile, terrifying environment?’
“They’re always surprised when I say no, not nearly as bad as right here on Earth. But that’s the literal truth. You see, on the Moon you know exactly how the environment can be hostile to you. You know that if you puncture a tunnel-wall, or snag your suit, you’re in danger of death, or at least of losing a limb to dehydratory gangrene when the sphincter at the next joint inwards seals off the empty section of the suit. You know that if you forget to switch your suit to reflecting before crossing a patch of open ground in full sunlight you’ll bake before you return to shadow, and if you don’t cut in your heaters when you go out at night your feet will be frostbitten within fifty metres.
“More important than that, though, you know you’re in an environment where co-operation is essential to survival.
“There are no strangers on the Moon. I’ve had my life saved three separate times by people I’d never met before and one of them was a Chinese. I’ve done the same—and this is not in any sense boasting because it’s a fact of lunar existence—for two people, one a professional colleague and one a novice I hadn’t even spoken to since his arrival a week earlier.
“Living-space is at a premium, of course, and we’re all jammed together in a sort of immobile submarine, but we’re hand-picked for our ability to make allowances for the failings of our fellow human beings, and anyone who doesn’t measure up to the intensive demands of the lunar base is shipped home fast. Perhaps some of you have seen a play called ‘Macbeth of Moonbase Zero’, Hank Sodley’s remake of the Shakespeare original, in which this paranoid establishes contact with aliens who can predict the future? The whole thing’s a nonsense, because paranoia loses its meaning on the Moon. You are being threatened, and you can learn and control the forces threatening you.
“Down here on Earth, though, you may walk around the corner and find yourself confronting a mucker with an axe or a gun. You may catch a strain of antibiotic-resistant germs. You may—especially here on the West Coast—run into one of the little pranks invented by the funny people who treat sabotage as an amusing hobby. You have absolutely no way of telling whether that innocuous stranger over there is about to haul out a weapon and attack you, or blow a disease your way, or explode an incendiary bomb in your disposall tube.
“In short, life on the Moon is much more like Bushman society prior to European contamination, or the basal culture of the Zuñi, than it is like life here in California or Moscow or Peking.
“That’s why we Lunatics don’t regard our environment as intolerable. Muckers don’t develop where people feel that everyone else is on their own side rather than out to undermine them. Diseases can be controlled almost down to single organisms because we have the finest sterilisation facilities imaginable—just let a little space and raw sunlight in, and you’ve cooked every known terrestrial germ to a faretheewell. Lunar-native organisms, of course, can’t infect human bodies. And as for playing dangerous pranks with sabotage gadgets, this is literally unthinkable.