Veikko Rekunen

The Conscience of Mankind

I suppose I never really learnt to know Jericho, although you can safely say that I was his closest man. I do not suppose anyone could ever have really learnt to know what he was like, that modest and prematurely bowed man, whose life ended far too soon and still - though the very thought abhors me - right on time and in the right way.

I first learnt to know Jericho when we both joined the Planet Army, and only I was with him when his life took the new course that I have tried to follow after him. Perhaps only I have been able to understand the thoughts that raced through his mind at the time. Only we two could see what total war and total disregard of other beings can cause.

Why then did I not change, I have been asked. I do not know. Possibly I was never such a strong person, possibly I could never be that committed to a cause. I have always been happy just being an aide. And though fate has temporarily made me a leader, I would have been happier just to follow in Jericho's footsteps. I never had his talent for persuading people and raising masses - save once.

And still, all things considered, I must have changed, too. 

The Third Interplanetary Symposium in Luna City was on its sixth day. The suspense amongst ourselves was almost unbearable - but for Jericho, whose calm had stayed unperturbed. Though today he was destined to give his first address as the newly-elect Councilman, he showed no signs of the pressure I knew I was feeling. Had it been possible, the Chair would have denied him the right to speak, for fear of unrest.

And I was afraid of them as well. And fruitless as I knew it, I had tried to make Jericho give up his right of speech.

"Now look", I told him the last moment before he stepped on the rostrum, "you know those letters were not meant as jokes."

"Leo, Leo", he laughed and shook his grey head. "If I now start to worry about assassins, I might just as well go home and stay there."

"But think what will happen to our movement if you get yourself killed", I tried once again, but he merely smiled warmly.

"Well, we'll still have you then, Leo", he said, patted me on the shoulder and stepped on the rostrum.

From my seat among the Councilmen I tried to see whether any strangers were present, but as the three thousand seats of the Hall were packed with audience, my nervously flitting eyes could see no would-be assassins. I tried to stay alert, because I well remembered the attempt on Jericho's life in Mars only six months ago.

What made things even more difficult was that Jericho had agreed to no security measures at all. The organisers had not been too keen to arrange any, either, because most of the powerful people of the System were dead set against Jericho's ideas. They believed that man was the most important being in the entire universe - a view Jericho had a thousand times proved wrong. That is why the people were beginning to support us.

The people's opinion has seldom affected the leaders, so I knew that most Councilmen were suspicious of our cause. I also knew that any insignificant incident might turn them for us - or against us.

Jericho had reached the rostrum and started his speech. I knew every word he was going to say by heart. We had been working on the speech for the past three weeks. But do not misunderstand me; Jericho always wrote his own speeches, but he almost always asked for my opinion. Sometimes he took it, sometimes he did not.

What I did not know was what went on in his mind as he spoke. Was he, like I was, remembering the distant past as he went on with his introduction:

"You all know, for it has been said a thousand times and again a thousand, what really has brought me here before you," he said, and though his words sounded metallic over the loudspeakers, I was sure that everyone could feel the human warmth he put into his every word.

Yes; everyone knew what had brought him there, what had started the life that had brought him here to speak. It had brought me here, too, and I knew it better than any being in the entire universe, save for Jericho.

I had been there myself. 

No one knew what the Hordi had been like, what their plans had been and how long they had been on Ganymede. And now, as their first starship was coming closer to the Earth far beyond the orbit of Pluto, there was a chance we might never find that out. The proposition made on the very first day of the Symposium called for a warship to meet the Hordi and destroy them before they reached Neptune. Jericho's universal appeal had forced the Chair to put the vote off till today, after his speech. I knew that he would propose sending a peace ship to meet the Hordi.

Twenty years ago we had both been recruits in the Planet Army. We had been drawn by thoughts of free and active life in the military, and neither the badmouthing of superior officers nor extra duty in the kitchen had at the time completely discarded the glory we had been learning from television since boyhood. And when the Commander made it known that we would leave for an aggressive assault against the Hordi, we were happy to be heading for Ganymede.

Six months ago the great Iovian Expedition had discovered an alien base on Ganymede. Captain Sorenson had notified that the First Contact was very near and that he would send a delegation to meet the aliens he had for one reason or another called the Hordi.

That was the last people heard from the expedition in seven years.

The conclusion was self-evident: the Hordi had destroyed the expedition. The Planet Command made a quick decision. The aliens had to taught a lesson; they had to be destroyed.

The Klymainestra was closest to Ganymede, and so the assignment was given to us. Because our Commander was afraid that we might experience the same fate as the expedition, he launched the neutron missiles as soon as he had learnt the exact location of the alien base.

The neutron weapons had only been used in the war of 2016, after the East European unrest had ended and alliances were fighting for their position. The war had once and for all solved our overpopulation problems and with them most of the pollution problems. We did not know very well the results of their use, but the most important was that they left material targets untouched. Scientists would find it easy to examine the artifacts left by the Hordi. And after the neutron bombs had done their work, the Commander sent a small vessel down to inspect the area.

Being a cautious man he assigned a two-man patrol, and the roster had our names: Jericho as the NCO in charge of the vessel and I, Leo Olg, as the crew.

We circled the entire area. As there might still be some neutron activity, we had been ordered to observe the area from flight.

There was no sign of the Hordi. Neither was there any signs of the Iovian Expedition, not even ships. But the most significant information was that there were no weapons of any description, nothing that could have destroyed the expedition.

Nothing at all.

Oh yes, I have read the reports listing the weapons found by the Klymainestra. They are forged, their purpose was to justify the destruction of the alien base. I was there. I saw no weapons. Neither did Jericho.

But things are easily forgotten, and so was the destruction too . Until outer probes noticed an alien starship approaching. It was coming straight at Ganymede. It had to be the Hordi.

Jericho, however, did not forget. He remembered, resigned and became the conscience of mankind.

And, as always, I went with him. 

"But we all know now, as we have known for many, many years," Jericho continued his speech, and I was suddenly back in today, "that a crime was committed in the Hordi base, a crime even more terrible than almost two centuries ago, when a man called Hitler destroyed millions of people. A crime more terrible than the shortest and most devastating war in the history of mankind in 2016. Then ten billion people were destroyed; then material damages were so small that our present living has been dearly bought with the lives of the greater part of humanity. Then it finally dawned upon us that man cannot keep destroying his own kind without the whole system suffering. We must all protect our own species, but not at whatever the cost. The Hordi were destroyed for the wrong reasons. The case was never examined, it was based on suppositions. The result: a panic solution that has been covered ever since.

"As we all here know, and as we all must know; seven years after the destruction the Iovian Expedition returned, safe and sound. We had destroyed our contact with another intelligent being for the wrong reasons."

Jericho paused for just the right moment and looked around the Hall. Then he went on, but I was back in the past. 

The powers-that-be found the news of the expedition's return disturbing. The Universalist movement had, thanks to Jericho, got a foothold in our political system. The leaders could be certain that Jericho would make use of the opportunity.

They were right, of course. The government tried to make the expedition admit that they had been harassed by the Hordi, but Captain Sorenson remained thoroughly honest. He said that the hyperdrive had jammed and flung them far away to space. They had needed two years to repair the damages and the rest of the time to return back home. The Iovian magnetic field had jammed their broadcasts and prevented the probes from noticing what had really happened.

Jericho worked hard. He gave speeches all around the system and though all the travelling was expensive, he was always prepared to go. I have seen him sell everything he owned just to go and talk in Mars - and the worst was that he made me do the same, not by violence, by the powers of persuasion he knew so well how to use.

People tried to declare him mad, but they never succeeded. Once they locked him in an asylum, but we tricked the robot guards and took him away. That was probably the worst mistake the government could have done, because now people came to hear Jericho's speeches in such crowds that we were almost inundated by new members. It also helped financially so much that we could buy time on Planet Network and talk to all the people in the System. There were attempts to prove that Jericho had used his time in the networks unconstitutionally, but they always failed. That has probably been my greatest personal triumph so far.

All the twenty years the memory of the destruction of the aliens had kept Jericho going. I am the only person who ever saw his moments of despair, when everything seemed lost. But he had faith in his cause, and being a loyal supporter, I tried to support him as best I could.

The latest election had been a victory to us. We had got over thirty per cent of the votes, but our careful strategy of concentrating candidates in certain election districts had paid off and we had got almost half of the seats in the Symposium. Jericho and I had managed to be elected Councilmen which improved our odds. It gave us a certain amount of time to address the Symposium. I had given my time to Jericho - stretching the rules almost too far - so that he could at this moment, the most important in his life, use all his powers to persuade people to accept our views.

Jericho had reached the finale. He had plenty of time left, but we had decided not to stretch our luck. The Chair had the right to cut the microphones if the Councilman spoke too long, and in Jericho's case they were sure to use their right.

"Now we have heard that a Hordi Ship - or a ship from some other race - is approaching our System again. My colleagues in the Council have proposed that we send warships to destroy it before it reaches the System. But are we really willing to repeat the same mistake as before? Are we ready to be known throughout the universe as the race that allows no one to approach its borders? Are we really prepared to be known as a race that hates all other races? Do we really want all the races and peoples in the universe to know us as a race whose hatred and suspicion knows no bounds? Do we wish to be feared so much that all the other races will join their forces against us? Do we wish to be destroyed simply because everyone is too afraid of us?"

I could hear the silence descending heavy in the Hall. I could see how Jericho's words had hit the brains of everyone. I could see that this was our chance. Blood was pulsing in my head as I wanted to shout out: "Go on, Jericho, go on!"

A man leapt forward from the first row. I knew what was coming, but I also knew I was too slow. I tried to call out, but my throat was dry.

"Traitor of Mankind!" The man's cry hang above us for a moment. From under his coat he pulled a gun, which the security men should have noticed in the checkpoint, and aimed at Jericho.

Power returned to my legs. Blindly I rushed at my friend who had ample time to duck behind the pulpit. But he stood still calmly and looked straight in the eyes of the man who was about to kill him.

And I swear he was... smiling.

I was ten metres from him when the man fired.

I had never heard such a noise since my days in the army. I understood why the security men had not found it. It was a clever trick, bringing in an old-fashioned handgun. They had been searching for modern plastic explosives and laser guns. But that of course mattered no more.

The man fired a second time, and I saw how Jericho jerked as the bullet hit him. I reached him as he fell slowly on the rostrum, and from the corner of my eye I saw how the man was seized, now, too late. Then I was kneeling beside my friend.

His eyes were open and he was still smiling. It was hard for him to speak, but we had been together so long that I understood him.

"Remember how I said that the smallest incident could turn the people to our side?" he asked as blood was gushing from his mouth.

I nodded, unable to speak. Tears fell from my eyes on his face. I had not cried in forty years.

"This is it, Leo", he went on, still smiling. I marvelled how that bowed man could still talk about his cause at the moment of his death.

I could see he was dying. His eyes closed, but he opened them once more and whispered words I rather sensed than heard: "Go on. Talk to them, Leo, my friend. I cannot s..."

He died.

For a moment I kept kneeling beside him. I understood what he had meant, and I believe that his indomitable spirit gave me strength.

Slowly I stood up. The Hall was quiet in the face of death. My tears welled forth freely as I grabbed the microphone. I could not see whether it was open, but I spoke nevertheless.

"He is dead. How many more must die before you see? How many races and individuals must die until you believe that mankind has only one way: the way to peace, not to war?"

Then, for that brief, fleeting moment I was Jericho, not Leo Olg. Then, for that one brief, fleeting moment I had his powers of persuasion.

"We do not have to put it to the vote. I propose we send a ship of peace to meet the Hordi, not a warship. There must be no more killing! Who's in favour?"

For a moment everything was silent, and I could only hear my own heart beat. Then the roof almost fell in as the entire Symposium leapt up. And their cry must still be travelling towards the end of time: "We want peace!"

I turned and looked at Jericho. And though life had escaped, it seemed that he winked at me.

I was calm again. What could have been a better time for Jericho to die than this, when his dream was coming true. And though it was sad that he had to die to fulfill his dream. I do not think he would have been unhappy about it.

"Leo," he once said in deep despair, "if I knew that by dying I could make the rest of mankind free, I would die. And it is not noble, it is selfish. For how could the death of one free all mankind?" 

The Hordi looked awful, but that did not matter. His eyes shone with peace and wisdom as he bent down to place flowers on Jericho's grave.

"This is an Earth custom," he said, "but a beautiful one. Perhaps we could adopt it in our planet."

"It is now possible," I said, "because matters have been settled and there is peace between our two races."

"You are a young race," the Hordi said and with his three eyes looked at the flowers he had put on Jericho's grave. "I never knew him of course, but I have a feeling he was much older than the rest, older than us Hordi even. We had our difficulties in our time, but in the course of time we learnt to settle them peacefully."

"Perhaps we can now do the same," I said, "thanks to Jericho. He was a truly good man."

The Hordi was silent for a moment and then turned smoothly around on his only leg. "I never, as I said, met him, but on the basis of what I have read I could say more. He was not only a good man, he would also have been a good Hordi."

"And what does that mean?" I asked.

"It means that he would have known the secrets of the universe and the purpose of all that is."

"And what does that mean?"

The Hordi was silent for a moment. And when we started walking along the sand path, I plodding on my two legs, he jumping smoothly on his only leg, he said, without looking back: "I do not know. But I have a feeling he could have told me."

And as we stepped through the gates the red sun of Hordi rose to shine on the inscription on Jericho's grave, on which upon our arrival the greatest of their three moons had shone so brightly.

And above us was a gigantic cluster of stars, beyond which opened the vast and uncharted expanse of space. 

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