Julia Maciel had barely slept during the two nights since her lakeside chat with Godfrey. How could he have known about Martina’s kids? Martina was tabloid-famous, yes, but her kids were born years after the founding of New Dagreb. This little snow-globe-paradise was supposed to be entirely cut off from media, except when new members managed to find the pneumatic tube.
Could Isabel or Kenyatta have said something?
After bojutsu training, Julia pulled Isabel aside. “Isabel? Do you have a minute?”
“Yeah,” answered Isabel, toweling off her neck.
“Well, I sort of need to ask you in private.”
“I have no secrets from anyone here, do you?”
“Uh, not exactly, but…”
“Then why don’t we stay right here?”
Julia sighed. “All right.”
Julia paused, waiting for the last of the bojutsu stragglers to sidle away, then whispered, “I realize this is going to sound silly, but…have you spoken to anyone about me or my family?”
“What do you mean?”
“Godfrey mentioned that my sister has two kids. How could he know that?”
“Why would he bring that up?”
Julia was afraid of this. In the peculiar culture of New Dagreb, the answer to that question would sound like Julia was trying to one-up Isabel. “I’m not sure, but do you know if you told him or anyone anything like that?”
“I think you are sure.” Isabel stiffened. “I think he mentioned it because he wants to be closer to you.”
“Well,” said Julia carefully, “Be that as it may, do you know…”
“Be that as it may!” Isabel interrupted, looking as though Julia had grown a second head. She turned her back to Julia and faced the temple at the end of the plaza. “Be that as it may!” she repeated even more incredulously.
Julia stood waiting. A few Dagrebians milled around the plaza. Isabel continued to keep her back turned.
Julia put a hand on Isabel’s shoulder. “Isabel, I’m just…”
Isabel whirled around and slapped Julia hard in the face. Everyone in the plaza froze as though paralyzed. In a town of sworn pacifists, a slap was as rare a sighting as a shooting star.
“Why don’t you know how lucky you are?” Isabel shouted, as if explaining the slap to the onlookers. “You’ve been chosen!”
“So have you,” Julia whispered.
“Not the same way. I would have done anything for what Godfrey offered you. Most of the women here would have. Do you have any idea what they’ve gone through?”
Julia didn’t know what Isabel was talking about. “What do you mean?”
“Of course you don’t, because you think you’re better than the rest of us.”
“I don’t think that’s fair…”
“Oh, you think you know what’s fair, do you? Look, I didn’t tell anyone anything about you or your stupid family!” With that, Isabel marched away.
Julia stood in the plaza, feeling all eyes on her. Normally she left the bojutsu sessions with a bouncy gait; now she slumped her shoulders and shuffled out of the area. She was supposed to report to farming, but the harvest was meager and could wait a few more minutes.
Julia felt she needed to see the leader. One wasn’t supposed to just walk up and knock, but…he would know why Isabel had acted that way, he would know about Godfrey, he would make everything all right. She walked the few minutes to the leader’s mansion.
It was a kind of a veggie-Versailles, every wall gently draped by flower-sprouting vines. In the front courtyard, ivy and hydrangeas delicately encircled several classically sculpted ornate statue-fountains…European beauty hybridized with a rainforest aesthetic.
Julia entered the small guest-house to the side of the front walkway, staffed only by the leader’s personal secretary, Bridget, who looked like…well, a little like Martina, thin, leggy, and blonde, though with a larger bust. Julia wanted to kill her for what she’d done with Kenyatta, but she hoped to successfully affect an air of indifference.
“Hello,” Julia tried to say casually, “I’d like to see the leader.”
“Why?” asked Bridget without intonation.
“Well…someone just struck me.” Julia didn’t consider herself a tattle-tale, and she wasn’t really that bothered about being slapped, but she thought that statement would get her in to see Aquinas.
“Oh.” Bridget looked over Julia and wrote by hand on a notepad, almost as though she were noting aspects of Julia’s appearance. “You may go ahead and knock on the front door.”
Julia admitted to herself that she was genuinely thrilled to come to Aquinas’ front door. Petraeus Aquinas! The old-fashioned door had balsam wood and hinges; as Julia knocked, she felt a tingle as she heard the thick wood reverberate.
“Julia!” Dr. Aquinas opened the door himself. “Thank you so much for coming.”
“Thank you for seeing me, leader.”
“Please, come in, come in.”
The inside of Dr. Aquinas’ house was pretty much a large art gallery, the walls decorated ceiling-to-floor with paintings and and screen art. There was also a staggering amount of sculptures, including many of the old kind, made with regular clay. Aquinas seemed to have a thing for nude women.
Petraeus Aquinas led her into an interior courtyard that was about 50 meters by 50 meters, surrounded almost entirely by Aquinas’ manse, except for a passage into a back garden. There were no holograms out here, only a French sort of landscaping. It was all grass and symmetrical pathways, including an X that crossed in the middle of the space. That middle was its own 2-meter-by-2-meter square, and in each corner of that interior square stood life-size statues of people whom Julia didn’t recognize, dressed in relatively modern clothes. All four of them were facing into the center of the courtyard.
In that center, Julia saw a statue of someone she did recognize: Aquinas himself. He was posed with his hands together, as if in prayer, but raised above his head. His fixed expression was enigmatic and knowing. The statue was about half again his actual size, and it stood upon a large cubic block of granite that was about as tall as Julia. Incongruously, a couple of plush, leathery, even ergonomic chairs stood right in front of the statue. Next to these was a small glass table where Aquinas had apparently left a pitcher and a couple of glasses.
“Lemonade?” Aquinas asked Julia.
He poured two glasses’ worth and handed her one. “Sit down?”
“Yes, thank you.”
They sat in the plush chairs. “Someone struck you?”
“Well, yes, but…”
“But that’s not really why you’re here.” As he said this she smiled. “Ah, Julia. Do you know why you’re here?”
That could have meant a lot of things. “To become an instrument of peace?”
“Yes!” Aquinas laughed. “But why here now, today?”
“Does it matter?”
“It does, my child…and it doesn’t. Let me ask you something. Why do you think I named this place New Dagreb?”
“Well, it’s not for me to question the leader’s choices.”
“Yes, but it is for you to answer the leader’s questions.”
“Ah…well, I suppose there might be some place on Earth called Dagreb.”
“Oh, people assume so. Zagreb is the capital of Croatia. People around here probably reckon that my ancestry goes back to Eastern Europe, much like Tesla, and why disabuse them of that notion?” He was waiting for her. “But I bet you have another guess.”
“Well, I did have an idea, but it’s silly to admit it.”
“Except when I tell you to admit it.”
“Well…you see, my grandmother lived in Hollywood, and she liked old musicals, and I grew up on the ones she sent, and there’s one called Brigadoon. At one point I had a thought that perhaps New Dagreb is the same word spelled backwards…but then I realized it isn’t.”
“The reason is that New Dagirb didn’t roll off the tongue,” Aquinas laughed again. “You deduced my secret, Julia. Now, do you remember the story of Brigadoon?”
“I have to admit, I only know the songs, but…isn’t Brigadoon some kind of mythical city that only appears once a century or something?”
“Exactly right. So that it will never be corrupted or destroyed by the outside world.” Julia nodded at this, sipped her lemonade, then realized that the leader was waiting for her to say more.
“Uh…doesn’t someone fall in love with someone?”
“Well, it is a musical, isn’t it?” And they both laughed. “I’m a shade disappointed, Julia. You see, there are rules to love in Brigadoon.”
“Uh…what are they?” Julia was bracing herself for something that would lead to an attempted kiss. Which sounded half-crazy, half…desirable.
“Well, you see, the only way an outsider can truly join the village is to love someone there more than they love everything else outside it.”
“Ah.” Julia looked at the last few sips of her lemonade.
“Julia, look at me.” She did. “I don’t doubt your affinity for peace. That is a genuinely beautiful thing to see. However, you’re too attached to your old life. Your parents, your sister, and, frankly, Kenyatta.”
“You know, you’re not like your mother. You’re not like your sister.” How would he know? “You seem to have almost a fear of yourself, or a reluctance to take power, perhaps a reluctance to commit yourself to anything.” This was taking a strange turn.
“Why did you really come here?” continued Aquinas, perhaps sensing her discomfort. “As a favor to Kenyatta? To escape the war? To bother your mother? Have you ever really forced yourself to answer that question?”
Well, maybe I haven’t, Julia thought. She said, “What would you have me do?”
“I want you to let go of the past, let go of all your old attachments. I want you to appreciate what you have here in New Dagreb. I need you to see what’s right in front of your face. I need you to reach out and take it.”
This guru, this oracle in the darkness, this more-than-man who would be remembered for 1000 years…she leaned in to kiss his face.
He pulled his face away and even got out of his chair. “No, no, not me. Godfrey, for New Dagreb’s sake!”
“Godfrey?” She stood up as well, not wanting to seem inappropriate. “But…uh…leader, I feel…”
“You’re not attracted to me, Julia!” Aquinas paced.
“Well, I hate to disagree with my leader, but…”
“You see, that’s the whole thing! Your leader. Oh, sit down, Julia.” She sat. “People say they want a lot of different forms of government, but you know what they really want, deep down? They want a benevolent dictator. They want a nice daddy. Just like the websites say.”
“Yes but that’s…that’s not what your website says.”
“Oh, you don’t think I write that, do you?” Dr. Aquinas sighed, sat, and continued. “How do you think all these corporations that are the Mars Senate made their money in the first place? Not by shareholder votes, I’ll tell you that. Every successful company has a CEO who is a cult figure, you know? His employees and shareholders don’t want him to test-market everything to death. They want him to act.
“Long ago, I recognized that my employees were worshipping at the cult of me. I wanted to do something good with that, you know? I got so sick of people speaking as though Mars has to be in a perpetual state of war just because it happened to be named after the wrong old Roman god. So I began talking about peace, which is something I truly believe in. Well, I became so strident that I lost a lot of employees. But I also gained a lot of other employees…and I could tell they would follow me anywhere. Off a cliff. Or into a volcano.” Suddenly Julia realized how naïve she’d sounded, how naïve she’d been. Something about this place and this man had made her…not her mother’s daughter.
“You may not believe this, but I really didn’t plan to be leading a cult. I didn’t expect to give speeches every morning. I didn’t ask to be called leader. I didn’t think…all these girls would throw themselves at me. These things just happened very organically as we settled here.”
“Organically?” asked Julia, even as she noticed the enormous statue of him. Her whole body felt weird, tingling and numb at the same time.
“Yes. People may say they want freedom, but they really want freedom with certain guarantees. And governments have done such a wángbā job over the last, let’s say, 500 years, that they would rather trust one decent person than a hundred elected officials, or worse, all internet users.”
“What about the volcano? Do you really believe that’s the life force of the planet?”
“Yes, probably. I do believe everything is connected. Don’t you?”
Julia’s mind was as tempestuous as a dust storm. Now she thought about how right he was, how much sense this man made…
“Don’t give me that look!” Dr. Aquinas suddenly cried. “I don’t deserve it. I’m old enough to be your father.”
“Grandfather,” said Julia.
“Exactly! But I know I’m not.” He seemed to think of something, then dismiss it. “Julia, I’m just an ordinary man. I have this halo around me because of terraforming Mars. And I’m sick of it. And…it keeps every decent woman away from my son.”
Or maybe your son’s unattractiveness keeps them away, Julia thought.
“You’re here to answer one question, Julia.” Julia bit her lip. “Do you think you could ever find it in your heart to…love my son Godfrey?”
Julia didn’t know what to say. “Can I ask you something, leader?”
“Why now? What’s the urgency?”
“Julia, child, didn’t you tell us that a war is coming to Mars any day now?”
“Yes, I did.”
“Well, what if something were to happen to me? It would be nice to know that my son had certain things…well, arranged.”
“I had hoped that in the last six months, you would come to him organically. Nurturing that hope, I stayed far away from you. But now that the war is…presumably here, you leave me little choice but to ask you directly. A question you still haven’t answered.”
“I thought…” Julia could feel her heart pounding like a thoroughbred, “…you weren’t afraid of the war coming to Olympus Mons.”
“Life is full of uncertainty. You could bring an old man a little comfort.”
“But leader, why me?”
“He wants you. I think he’s always wanted you. And he thinks…you owe yourself to him, ever since that hide-and-seek game 18 years ago.”
Okay, that’s crazy, Julia thought. “Leader, do you think anyone…ever comes to love anyone in the way you’re suggesting?”
“It’s possible. What we know is impossible is you being with me first. We’ve tried and failed at that.”
Julia felt simultaneously sweaty and freezing. “Leader, this is a lot to take in. Aside from everything else, now you have me worried about the war. I thought we’d be safe here.”
Aquinas straightened in his chair. “I still think we will be. Certainly, they can’t take us easily. We have a secret weapon that they can hardly counter.”
“Of course, it’s the volcano itself, under the regulation of my ED-210. If their planes come in here, I have the power to cause a mini-eruption. The planes aren’t going to like being covered in hot lava.”
“What will that do to New Dagreb?”
“Remember, Julia, this snow globe was built to preserve itself and its gravity orientation even while in space. At worst, we’d be tossed around under the lava bed in the volcano a little. But again, I don’t expect it will come to that.”
Yet he wants me to love Godfrey, she thought. She couldn’t lose the sense that there was something the leader wasn’t saying. She clinked the ice cubes around in her glass.
“Leader, I…think I know why I came here. You see, I’ve always been a big talker, you know, about peace. And I didn’t want to be a hypocrite any longer. But as much as I talk, you see, I have this fear of things I can’t control.”
“This should have already come up in confession. Go on.”
“Being overwhelmed by too many soldiers is one fear. Something like a bear is another. And…committing fully to New Dagreb. To life controlled by a volcano.”
“I control it, and it’s not just any volcano. The largest one in the solar system. The life force of the planet.” The leader looked as though he’d had an epiphany. “You know, my child, only two people in the universe know how to work my remote-control ED-210, and that’s me and Godfrey. But if you were to…show interest in him…perhaps we could add a third person to that list.”
“Really?” Julia was beside herself.
Aquinas stood up. “Would you like to see the machine?”
Julia shot up like her seat was on fire. “YES!” The remote-control machine was a big secret in town. Only a select few, like Dr. Ramsey, had even set eyes on it.
“On one condition,” said Dr. Aquinas. “I need you to let go of your past life, truly, and accept the possibility that Godfrey could make you as happy as you’ve ever been.”
What could she say? This was the leader. “Yes.”
“I’ll wait until you truly mean it.”
“Leader…I’m still getting over Kenyatta. I also wouldn’t want to hurt him.”
“I see. What if, just hypothetically, Kenyatta approved? Or if he wasn’t around?”
Aquinas was a prophet of peace, thus he couldn’t mean anything truly harmful coming to Kenyatta. Instead, she could regard it as a true hypothetical.
She loved her family, but she’d always been the black sheep. Why hadn’t her mother even tried to find her here? Too busy making war. Always too busy with that. And Daddy and Martina always helping. There were many wonderful people in New Dagreb. And Godfrey…perhaps she hadn’t seen all of him. Some of his father had to be in him somewhere.
“I accept the possibility,” Julia almost whispered.
Aquinas smiled and tapped his ring.
The front of the base of the statue suddenly slid out of place, like a sliding-glass door, to reveal a machine that looked like an original N.A.S.A. motherboard, with dials and screens and levers and balance knobs.
“What is all this?” asked a bewildered Julia. “Can’t this be done more easily by computer?”
“This is a computer. Geo-thermal energy isn’t harnessed as easily as you might think. Each of the four panels of the ED-210 controls a different fourth of the volcano. Sometimes the volcano offers a bit of feedback, and that’s when you need a physical lever to feel out the old girl and bring her to heel.”
Julia was stunned. With this closet-sized machine, Aquinas controlled two worlds. Or at least, the parts of them that mattered. The life-force of nature that could still live in harmony with humanity.
Aquinas guided Julia’s right hand to one of the levers.