Chapter 6.

11 Feb

The Rialto Theater in the artists’ district was chosen as the site of the verbal duel between Quio and Damo. Resplendent and ornate, with fancy decorations on all the walls, this was an odd setting for a debate concerned with exploration of the void and travel to other planets. Intricate fretwork of kingwood, teconawood, and fiddlewood framed the gold-painted scagliola of the shining interior. The furnishings shone and gleamed with centuries-old magnificence. Few buildings could have been more impressive. None was more expensive in its decorations.

An overflow crowd of the interested swiftly filled the large auditorium the evening of the event. Quio was the first contender to arrive, taking a chair to the right of the speaker’s podium. From where he sat, Oba was visible in the first row of the audience. The hum of the assembled public grew into a loud buzz as his distant relative entered the hall and made his way through supporters and well-wishers to the stairs leading up to the stage. Damo said not a word to Quio, though the latter gave his opponent a nod of the head. That there was going to be a serious battle, everyone realized. There was nothing trivial or frivolous in the evening’s business. It was going to be of historical importance.

The director of the Rialto suddenly appeared and took control of the podium to announce the start of the debate. The first to make a presentation was Quio Absum, followed by the rebuttal of Damo Absum. A plea was made for the public to stay quiet and civil, allowing both participants to state their cases without interruption.

As the director disappeared, Quio rose and stepped forward to start his address. He began slowly, but soon found the voice he needed in order to speak with force and confidence.

“Let me first answer the question of why inhabitants of Velvet should be interested in traveling to neighboring Piute, or farther on to Xystos, Gnosis, or Capet. What is out there to see that cannot be viewed through telescopes and specula? Let me answer that first, because I know that many of you want an answer to it at once.

“We know that these planets are devoid of humans. We can therefore foresee their settlement by future generations from Velvet. Who can describe the underground treasures that explorers will surely discover on the twenty-one planets rotating about our stellar? What infinite crops of teosinte and triticum will be cultivated by immigrants there?

“Think of the prosperity and development that will come from travel through the void. That is the frontier where we will fulfill our hopes and dreams…”

Quio went on to describe the technical gains he could predict would result from exploration of space, then abruptly ended his speech. He had a sense of the coldness of most of the audience to what he was saying. The majority remained as unconvinced as when they entered the Rialto.  A sense of failure filled the stage as he ended his argument. No minds had been changed.

A hushed expectancy prevailed as Damo moved to the rostrum and started to talk quietly.

“Let me ask my opponent one simple question. Our planet, Velvet, is a telepathic world. Our social and economic life depends on nets of psychic communication. The basis of most of our technology is telesthesia. But I put this question forward: how can our capabilities be extended to Piute, Xystos, Gnosis, Capet, or elsewhere? Doesn’t our friend here realize that the empty void of space is a wall of silence that precludes the transmission of anything whatsoever from the mind? Where shall the sendings from out of Velvet go?

“I ask the eloquent speaker to tell us how he plans to send messages to other planets, or even to voidships traversing the emptiness of space?

“Science tells us that telepathy cannot be galactic or universal, or even interplanetary. I do not believe that journeys in space are possible. But if they were, they would entail the loss of the travelers’ psychic capacities to link up to Velvet. Is anyone here tonight willing to give up our most precious gift as residents of this orb? I accuse our friend here of planning to deprive us of our identity as telepathic beings. What would we be then?”

It was while Damo paused to gauge what effect he was having on his audience that a disorder broke out. Rough booing that increased in volume each moment was aimed specifically at Quio, who sat passively, compelled to take it as best he could.

Many spectators rose in their seats and made unfriendly, even obscene gestures at him. Faces reddened with anger, arms moved and swung with implied threats. Unruly turbulence reigned, growing in virulence. The contagion spread until hardly anyone was untouched by the unrestrained emotions released. Noisy uproar threatened to become murderous riot.

Several partisans in the front row began to pelt the area in which Quio sat with hesperidia, solana and other fruit and vegetables. They had entered with these concealed on their persons.

Frightened and horrified, Oba ran to the side of the stage and climbed the steps to the curtain.

“Get off and come with me, Quio,” she shouted. “It is over for now.”

Damo, a mocking grin on his mouth, stared triumphantly at his foe across the stage.

A soft, rotting sitomate tomato suddenly hit the side of Quio’s head, leaving a red stain after it bounced to the stage floor.

Deciding his position was hopeless, the assaulted youth stood up and walked over to where Oba was. Together, with stubborn dignity, the pair made their way off the stage to an exit. The pandemonium continued in the Rialto Theater.

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