Chapter 4
It was the night of the full Moon, and Aurora was to be promoted. Hamilton read her note inviting him to the ceremony.
"Hamilton, you are to come to the Temple of Minerva tonight. Be there at 10 o’clock exactly, and enter through the service entrance at the back. But right before you go, take three showers using the enclosed soap, and then put on the enclosed clothes. Under no circumstances should you defecate between the time you shower and the time you come to the Temple. It is essential that you obey these instructions precisely.
Hamilton had done as he was instructed. The soap was very strong, but did not sting much after the first use. The clothes were made of an unusual fabric, and while within terrestrial norms were colored and cut in an indefinable way that somehow made him look a bit like a Minervan.
When he reached the Temple, he was admitted without a word through the service entrance and then seated behind a curtain off to the side of the main hall. From this position he could see the main podium but not the audience.
Without warning, the hall erupted in song as hundreds of female voices joined in singing the hymn to Minerva. Then as Hamilton watched, the twelve priestesses second class of the Minervan High Council advanced onto the stage holding torches. An older woman followed them. With shock, Hamilton realized it was the High Priestess Nendra herself. Then, wearing a white robe, with a shining golden laurel wreath wrapped around her hair, Aurora advanced onto the stage. Hamilton had never seen her so radiant. She knelt before the High Priestess, her eyes modestly downcast, but with a hint of a smile upon her face.
The music stopped, and the High Priestess spoke. "Sisters of Minerva," she intoned. "We are gathered here today on a most joyous occasion, to welcome into the ranks of the Holy Third Circle one who has in every way earned the love of the Goddess. Aurora, daughter of Melodia, daughter of Iris, daughter of Thetis, daughter of Atalanta, daughter of Artemisia: stand forth and face your sisters!"
Aurora rose to face the audience, and the hall erupted into joyous song. Light shone brilliantly from her laurel leaves, and her smile was even brighter. When the song stopped, the audience broke into applause.
The High Priestess let the clamor go on for about half a minute, and then raised her hands for silence. "Aurora," she said. "Welcome to the Holy Sisterhood of the Third Circle. Speak to us of your discoveries."
As Aurora mounted the podium, there were tears of happiness in her eyes. She faced the crowd. "Sisters," she said. "I give thanks to all on this glorious day. I thank my teachers, my mother, my grandmother, and my great grandmother. I thank our twelve great ones of the High Council, and you, divine High Priestess. Most of all, I give thanks to the Goddess Minerva herself, for all she has done for me and for all of us. Just think, ten years ago, we were wandering in darkness and in fear. Yet today, here we are, in the rebuilt Temple of the Goddess herself, living as free women in the holy land of our ancestors!"
The hall erupted into applause. When it subsided, Aurora continued: "As it was in the beginning, as it has been through the ages, we the Sisters of Minerva, have always been the guardians of Divine Reason, that faculty which alone distinguishes humans from beasts. Thus it is our custom, today as throughout the ages, that upon attaining the holy order of the Third Circle, one of our Sisterhood should present to all others a precis of the work by which she has advanced the cause of Reason. And thus, as did my mother, grandmother, and great grandmother, in their time, so I shall do tonight. This is the object of my study."
She paused, and suddenly Hamilton felt her thoughts inside his head. "Hamilton, walk onto the stage right now!"
Taken by surprise, Hamilton did nothing. Then Aurora touched her owl pendant and Hamilton felt a mild but startling electric shock in his genitals. "I said NOW!" her thought shouted again.
This time Hamilton moved. As he entered the dais, her thoughts came again. "Now stand with your feet on the two silver stars, and hold your arms spread wide."
The two stars were about a meter apart. Hamilton stood on them and stretched his arms. He looked out into the audience. Hundreds of female faces were staring at him with amused looks. He felt so embarrassed by their examination that, electric shock or no, he decided he’d had enough. But when he tried to leave, he discovered he could not move a muscle. He was paralyzed!
At this thought, the whole audience broke out into giggles. Aurora looked at him and smiled a mischievous smile. The she faced her audience. "This is the specimen, Sergeant Andrew Hamilton, collected by me while he was in the act of murdering a group of Minervans out picnicking in the country. I had him wash properly today, and as you can ascertain, his smell is now within acceptable bounds. To me, this indicates that the hideous stench of Earthlings is not genetic, but, in at least some cases, could be ameliorated by instruction in proper sanitary habits."
A murmur of surprise rippled through the audience.
"You will also notice, Sisters, that despite various unsightly mutilations, his physical characteristics, while markedly below Minervan standards, are not freakishly so." With that, she touched her owl again, and Hamilton’s clothes disappeared leaving him totally naked in front of the crowd. As he blushed in humiliation, the women all burst into laughter.
Aurora waited for the merriment to subside, then continued. "In fact, my measurements show that in composite relevant physical indices, the specimen falls roughly within the 5th percentile of Minervan males. My research also indicates that, however, he places within about the 95th percentile of Earthling males. So, the point is that he is no more than two standard deviations below the Minervan mean, and two standard deviations above the Earthling mean. Thus there is, in fact, an overlap between Minervan and Earthling male physiological characteristics, and the statistical difference is not more than four standard deviations apart."
There was a stunned silence in the hall. Then one of the Second Class priestesses on the dais spoke. "But that is only physical characteristics. Surely you don’t mean to imply that there is an intellectual overlap?"
Aurora bowed to the Second Class Priestess. "No, Your Eminence. Certainly not. Intelligence tests show true mental abilities nearly entirely lacking."
That comment got Hamilton mad. He couldn’t open his mouth to talk, but he thought as loudly as he could. "That’s not fair, Aurora. You know I have a brain!"
A titter of laughter surged across the hall, as everyone overheard Hamilton’s defiant thought. Aurora looked at him and smiled, and then continued her speech to the Sisters, saying, "As I shall now demonstrate."
She turned to Hamilton again. "Now Hamilton. Here is an elementary intelligence test. I’ll ask you three very simple questions. If you can get any of them right, I’ll set you free. So try as hard as you can. OK?"
Hamilton suddenly found his mouth was free to move. "OK," he said.
"Very good. Question number one. "Who played 7th base for the Pegasus Thunderbolts in the Galactic championship of 19,372?"
Aurora snickered. "You mean you don’t know?"
"Of course not…"
Aurora turned to the audience. "He doesn’t know!" Everyone laughed.
She turned back to Hamilton, "OK, question number two. On what planet was the twelfth of the Holy Owls born?"
"Earth?" Hamilton guessed. Everyone laughed again.
Aurora shook her head. "Well Hamilton, here is your last chance. If a man and woman enter the Temple of Minerva, what must the woman say before the man is allowed to speak?"
Hamilton thought hard. The Minervan religion was obviously matriarchal. The women were intermediaries between the males and the Goddess. He ventured a try. "She has to say, ‘Oh Great Goddess Minerva, condescend to grant this poor pathetic male the right to speak in your presence.’"
There was hushed silence in the hall for several seconds. Aurora raised an eyebrow. "Not bad, Hamilton. It’s not the right answer, but it’s got potential."
She turned back to her audience. "And that is my final point, potential. The specimen has almost no actual intelligence, but he exhibits significant potential intelligence. I would even go further. You will have observed, Sisters, the persistent heated thought in the specimen’s mind: ‘This is not fair.’ I have examined this concept of ‘fair’ and as near as I can determine, it is a crude approximation of the Minervan concept of ‘just.’ It must thus be considered a proto-rational thought."
The same Second Class Priestess who had spoken before spoke again. "My dear, don’t you think you are going a bit far with this speculation?"
Aurora looked respectfully at her senior, and said, "I know it may seem incredible, but may it please Your Eminence, I have done my research with diligence and this is my night to speak."
The High Priestess said, "Aurora, this is your night to speak, but this is also your time to conclude."
Aurora bowed. "Yes, divine one." She turned to face the audience for the last time. "So, to conclude, my research indicates that Earthlings may, and I underscore may, be potentially human. And while this hypothesis can only be considered tentative and will require a great deal of further work to substantiate, I believe that it indicates that, when it would not otherwise result in inconvenience or loss of amusement, we should seek to minimize the pain and suffering that our actions might cause among them."
A shocked silence filled the room. Then the High Priestess said: "Ah, the refreshing idealism of the young. In time it will be followed by wisdom. Let us rejoice."
All the women began to sing a final soaring hymn.
After it was all over, Aurora gave Hamilton another set of clothes and walked him home.
"So you see, Hamilton, I spoke up for you and your people before the entire Sisterhood. What do you think about that?"
"Oh, yeah. You were a regular Martin Luther King."
She peered at him, annoyed. "So now you’re sulking again. Just what is your problem?"
Hamilton turned to her enraged. "Aurora, you just humiliated me in front of every priestess in the city!"
"Oh, poor baby."
She held up her hand. "Hush, creature. You have no right to complain. I did everything possible to make you look good. I had you wash properly so you wouldn’t smell. I gave you decent clothes so you wouldn’t look ridiculous. I showed everyone your almost-normal physique so they would know that not all Earthlings are completely grotesque. I translated every word of the ceremony for you, so you would know what was going on. I chose the three easiest questions I could think of for your intelligence test, and even gave you a hint so you could score a few points. I removed your shell of arrogance, so everyone could see how cute your little psyche is."
"You mean you subjected me to ridicule in front of 600 Minervan women."
"So? Everyone had a great time. They all thought you were very funny, you know."
Hamilton drew himself up straight. "Aurora, I have to have my dignity."
Aurora looked at Hamilton, puzzled. "Why?"
"Because I am a human being."
The priestess smiled indulgently. "There you go again, making completely unsupported assertions. You’re not advancing your case with such nonsense."
"But I thought you told the gathering that…"
"I told them there was some evidence indicating you were potentially human. Don’t let that go to your head. There is a big difference between being potentially human and actually human. There is no evidence for the latter."
"How can you say that? Look at our cities. Look at our civilization!"
Aurora put a hand on Hamilton’s shoulder and looked at him with pity in her eyes. "Hamilton, you are so proud of your cities. But you should understand that, compared to how civilized people live throughout the galaxy, your habitations are just a collection of smelly hovels. Now it is true that your poverty of intellectual, artistic, architectural and technological accomplishments, while offering no evidence for your putative humanity, does not necessarily prove the opposite. But look at your behavior, how barbaric it is; not only in your futile and insane attacks upon us, but even in your treatment of your fellow Earthlings. Why just yesterday, your own government machine-gunned twenty of your people who were trying to escape the Kennewickian refugee camps to return to America to find work."
Hamilton’s eyes were downcast. "Yes, I know. That was wrong."
"So why should anyone believe that you are human?"
The soft sympathy in her voice made her indictment even more crushing. Hamilton wanted to cry. But he stifled the impulse and walked on for several minutes in silence. Then he was struck by a thought. He turned to the priestess.
"Aurora, this evening I heard you say that ten years ago you and your people were living in fear. Fear of who?"
Instantly, the look of sympathetic superiority vanished from the priestess’ face. In its place there appeared an expression of desperate terror.
"The evil ones. They tried to kill us all. They killed my parents, my sisters, and my brothers. I saw them do it! I was only a little girl at the time, but I still remember it. They tried to kill me too!"
She started to shake. Hamilton held her to comfort her. "How did you escape?"
She sniffled. "They were doing horrible things to my older sisters, and weren’t watching me. So I jumped out the window and hid in a barrel. I could hear them searching for me, but I was so small they couldn’t find me. I hid in the barrel for two days and two nights, listening to the screams as they photolysized hundreds of Minervans. Then space marines from the WGE hit the planet and I was rescued."
"What’s the WGE?"
"The Western Galactic Empire. They saved us. And then they brought us here."
"But who were these evil ones? And why did they want to kill you?"
"The evil ones. The Central Galactics. Worshippers of the false goddess Aphrodite."
Hamilton was puzzled. "Aphrodite? The goddess of Love?"
Aurora became hysterical. "Don’t believe it, Hamilton! Don’t believe it! It is not Love she stands for, but Passion, irrational passion. That is why she hates the true Goddess Minerva, the Goddess of Reason, and all of her people. That is why she had her followers try to kill us all!"
"But she is real then? You called her a false goddess."
"Oh, she is real alright. But she is not a goddess. She is…" Aurora held her hand over Hamilton’s head to extract a word. "She is satanic. And so are all her followers." She looked into the Ranger’s eyes with desperate sincerity. "Hamilton, worship your Christ or whatever other local totems you like. I’ll understand. But promise me this, that you will never join the cult of Aphrodite."
She seemed so vulnerable that Hamilton was deeply moved. "I promise," he said softly.
Aurora put her head on his shoulder and sobbed. He held her for a while, but then could not resist delivering his follow through.
"So, these Central Galactics, they were civilized humans then, with beautiful buildings and impressive technologies? Not primitives like us?"
Aurora backed away, and looked at Hamilton, her eyes tearful, yet determined. "Those who willingly abandon their humanity are much more to be despised than those who have never had it."
It took Hamilton a few seconds to absorb the meaning of this comment. Then he said: "So then, being civilized is not everything?"
Aurora shook her head. "No, I suppose not." She paused for a few seconds, and then managed to muster a weak smile. "Touche," she said.
They walked back the rest of the way to Hamilton’s cell in silence.
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