Lensman: Who’s Bad (at Being Bad)?

Triplanetary 8 – Chapter 3: The Fall of Rome

Welcome to the read! Like the previous chapter, this one is divided into three parts, starting with the Eddorian perspective on this aspect of the conflict.

1. Eddore

Like two high executives of a Tellurian corporation discussing business affairs during a chance meeting at one of their clubs, Eddore’s All Highest and Gharlane, his second in command, were having the Eddorian equivalent of an after-business-hours chat.

I mentioned before that I don’t like this very cozy humanization of the incomprehensible alien beings, and that’s still true.

“You did a nice job on Tellus,” the All-Highest commended. “On the other three, too, of course, but Tellus was so far and away the worst of the lot that the excellence of the work stands out. When the Atlantean nations destroyed each other so thoroughly I thought that this thing called ‘democracy’ was done away with forever, but it seems to be mighty hard to kill. 

I do like that the Eddorians are apparently so unfamiliar with the concept of democracy that they don’t seem to have a word for it and have to refer to it indirectly. Their political history has been so heavily weighted towards dictatorship that they never developed the term, even for theory.

However, I take it that you have this Rome situation entirely under control?”

The Roman Republic was designed to be a compromise between the various recognized political powers (the commoners, the aristocracy, the military, etc.) and was only kind of democratic even after correcting for ancient patriarchy. I’m guessing the author chose it over a purer ancient democracy (e.g. Athens) simply because Rome was better known, although I can see an argument that the Republic’s greater success and scope than its more democratic competitors could have done a better job of spreading democratic principles, had it not become an Empire.

“Definitely. Mithradates of Pontus was mine. So were both Sulla and Marius. Through them and others I killed practically all of the brains and ability of Rome, and reduced that so-called ‘democracy’ to a howling, aimless mob.

Earlier references to the use of mental force suggest that Gharlane used some degree of mind-control to work through these people, although the extent is left unclear. Sulla and Marius are good fits for his stated goals, as they led the Republic into two civil wars that killed a great many Romans and paved the way for Julius Caesar’s dictatorship. Mithradates of Pontus was one of the greatest of Rome’s enemies, fighting three wars with them, and in particular killing tens of thousands of Roman settlers. Gharlane seems to have arranged for these acts to disproportionately eliminate future Roman talent.

My Nero will end it. Rome will go on by momentum—outwardly, will even appear to grow—for a few generations, but what Nero will do can never be undone.”

Nero is famous for being an insane and incompetent ruler, although the historicity of that is controversial. However, since this is (obviously) an alternate timeline, we can accept a dreadful Nero as accurate. Now, a case could be made that a dreadful Nero was a key figure in the fall of the Western Empire, but it would seem that he would do so in such a way as to undermine the system of Imperial rule, first by being an incompetent tyrant, and second by ending the Caesarian line of succession and reducing the perceived legitimacy of later emperors. On the other hand, the historian Tacitus reported that Nero’s misrule inspired a conspiracy to restore the Republic, which was discovered and wiped out; in this case that could have been an intentional strategy of Gharlane’s to reduce the reservoir of Republican sentiment below some critical threshold.

On a side note, Nero reigns from 54-68 CE, so the time-skip between this chapter and the last is somewhere between 9500 and 9600 years. It’s not ~(2X10^9) like it was between chapters one and two, but it’s still significantly longer than most chapter breaks.

“Good. A difficult task, truly.”

“Not difficult, exactly… but it’s so damned steady.” Gharlane’s thought was bitter. “But that’s the hell of working with such short-lived races. Since each creature lives only a minute or so, they change so fast that a man can’t take his mind off of them for a second.

On some level it makes sense for the Arisians to have tweaked humanity for a faster generational turnover, partly so they get more generations for their breeding program, and also so that when they get a chance to promote their politics, the generations who were raised solely in the Eddorian context fall away more quickly.

I’ve been wanting to take a little vacation trip back to our old time-space, but it doesn’t look as though I’ll be able to do it until after they get some age and settle down.”

“That won’t be too long. Life-spans lengthen, you know, as races approach their norms.”

I don’t think there’s any actual biology behind this statement (what would a ‘norm’ even be in that context?), it’s probably just a setting conceit to explain why the elder aliens live more or less forever.

“Yes. But none of the others is having half the trouble that I am. Most of them, in fact, have things coming along just about the way they want them. My four planets are raising more hell than all the rest of both galaxies put together, and I know that it isn’t me—next to you, I’m the most efficient operator we’ve got.

From this perspective, the limited scope of Arisian operations seems like an error because it makes the very few areas they’ve spent the most energy on stand out all the more. If they’d given more help to more planets, that would have been better camouflage (and better altruism), but I guess they don’t have enough people with the skills to be covert Moulders.

What I’m wondering about is why I happen to be the goat.”

“Precisely because you are our most efficient operator.”

This does make sense. Gharlane took on the most troublesome planets because he was the best for the job. That the planets remain troublesome despite his efforts suggests an underlying cause not being addressed. We know that cause is the Arisians, but how do the Eddorians account for it, if they do?

If an Eddorian can be said to smile, the All-Highest smiled. “You know, as well as I do, the findings of the Integrator.”

“Yes, but I am wondering more and more as to whether to believe them unreservedly or not. Spores from an extinct life-form—suitable environments—operation of the laws of chance—Tommyrot!

I assume the Integrator is a hyper-advanced form of the mechanical calculators used in Atlantis, where they can feed in data and get answers that match the criteria. But unless it’s something like true AI, it can only respond with answers in its database, and while that’s apparently pretty extensive, it presumably can’t give them an answer they’re incapable of admitting and therefore can’t program into it. So the Integrator can’t help them, and to a certain extent works against them by providing plausible cover for the Arisians.

What’s interesting is that Gharlane seems to have intuited that the Integrator has failed, but the supposedly superior All-Highest has not. This could be a simple matter of ego: Gharlane can’t accept that his failure is caused by the proposed factors, probably especially once he was made aware of those possibilities and could compensate for them. On the other hand, he is right and the All-Highest is wrong, and this is the continuation of a pattern where Gharlane is portrayed much more competently than his boss.

We’ve seen the All-Highest fail to even harm Enphilistor, and get thoroughly owned by the Arisian Elders, and we’ve seen Gharlane defeat an entire planet by himself. Obviously, those were against very different classes of opposition, but total failure compared to total (if temporary) success is still a track record. Now we see that Gharlane is apparently out-thinking his boss as well. It paints a picture.

I am beginning to suspect that chance is being strained beyond its elastic limit, for my particular benefit, and as soon as I can find out who is doing that straining there will be one empty place in the Innermost Circle.”

This is pretty good. Even if the Eddorians could admit the existence of the Arisians to themselves, when faced with mysterious opposition it’s far more plausible for that opposition to come from the ancient super-species they know exists. Gharlane thinks one of the other Circle members is messing with him, presumably to take his place as Master Number Two.

“Have a care, Gharlane!” All levity, all casualness disappeared. “Whom do you suspect? Whom do you accuse?”

“Nobody, as yet. The true angle never occurred to me until just now, while I have been discussing the thing with you. Nor shall I either suspect or accuse, ever. I shall determine, then I shall act.”

“In defiance of me? Of my orders?” the All-Highest demanded, his short temper flaring.

“Say, rather, in support,” the lieutenant shot back, unabashed. “If some one is working on me through my job, what position are you probably already in, without knowing it?

Again, the All-Highest comes off second-best. He’s short-tempered, and his attempts to establish authority come off as desperate because Gharlane shows no deference, no sense that the All-Highest holds the power in this exchange. Gharlane is decisive, direct, committed, and already working to recruit the All-Highest. He’s showing power.

Remember that the difference between the capabilities of the All-Highest and his Inner Circle is supposed to be ‘infinitesimal.’ He should not be getting steamrolled like this.

Assume that I am right, that these four planets of mine got the way they are because of monkey business inside the Circle. Who would be next? And how sure are you that there isn’t something similar, but not so far advanced, already aimed at you? It seems to me that serious thought is in order.”

“Perhaps so…. You may be right…. There have been a few nonconformable items. Taken separately, they did not seem to be of any importance; but together, and considered in this new light….”

Thus was borne out the conclusion of the Arisian Elders that the Eddorians would not at that time deduce Arisia; and thus Eddore lost its chance to begin in time the forging of a weapon with which to oppose effectively Arisia’s—Civilization’s—Galactic Patrol, so soon to come into being.

This conclusion doesn’t make a whole lot of sense to me on a couple of levels.

First: I will buy that these two are diverted by paranoia for a while, but the idea that they’d be diverted for thousands of years is ridiculous. If there were actually a secret plot against them that was at an unknown stage of progression, they should move pretty fast to make sure it doesn’t come to fruition – and one of them is the actual dictator of their society, he can just have his suspects imprisoned and interrogated at will, the very efficiency their system exists to promote. This secret plot delusion should be debunked in a very short time, and then the Eddorians would be looking for new explanations again. Intra-Eddorian suspicion would be a great cover for more obvious Arisian activity in one of these prequel chapters. More than that, and the Eddorians look badly incompetent.

Second: I’m really not clear what kind of weapon is being discussed or why it would take so long to make. The Arisians have to work slowly because they’re being covert and also breeding creatures with human lifespans (among others). The Eddorians, on the other hand, have already built an enormous intergalactic empire, and have hyper-advanced technology. It’s really unclear what keeps them from using their massive advantages in resources, manpower, and technology to just annihilate the Galactic Patrol whenever it shows up. I’ll raise this again when it becomes relevant.

If either of the two had been less suspicious, less jealous, less arrogant and domineering—in other words, had not been Eddorians—this History of Civilization might never have been written; or written very differently and by another hand.

Both were, however, Eddorians.

My concerns for this section have been mostly narrative, but here’s a nice little opportunity to talk about social matters that goes right back to the problems of genetically inherent morality I brought up in an earlier post. Protip: if you have written a passage about a people, and if you were to replace that people’s name with ‘Jews’ the resulting passage would look like something written by Nazis, rewrite.

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