Under the Violet Sun

by Roderick T. Long

[I wrote this “dystopia of justice” while in college, around age 18 (it was published in the Hallowe’en 1982 issue of the Mather House Anti-Literary Review) and thus at the height of my Randian period – which certainly shows, in both style and content. But I find the story less wince-inducing than some of my other Rand-oriented stories from that period, mainly because a certain ambivalence of tone and perspective relieves and even undercuts the hypermoralism of the theme; the Decider’s point of view is not unambiguously endorsed, and so the story avoids, I think (hope), falling into the kind of vindictive De Spectaculis to which Randians can be all too prone.

Since then, others have apparently also hit on the title “Under the Violet Sun,” or variants thereof. (See, e.g., here, here, and here.) But if anyone wants to sue me, I have my copy of the original 1982 publication; so there.]

The Decider’s back is to me, and I cannot read his lips. I can see the suppliant, though, kneeling at the Decider’s feet, pleading his case. And it is only the suppliant that I need see, only his side of the conversation that I need record. The Decider’s answer is always obvious; it is either “yes” or “no,” and by his actions the suppliant will tell you which it is. Does he leap up, giving profuse thanks, weeping tears of joy? Or does he slowly crumble and collapse, like a building whose last support has given way? No, the Decider’s answer is never difficult to deduce. And there is always another suppliant ... and another ... and another ....

They are broken and threadbare, these suppliants: spiritless. They come from a hundred worlds scattered among the three dozen star systems that comprise the Federation of Man. A hundred worlds, a thousand cultures, ten thousand walks of life. But there is one thing these suppliants have in common, one attribute they share, a golden chain that binds them together on the red dust of this ugly world. All are parasites: parasites of the flesh and parasites of the spirit; and this place is Redemption.

The suppliant is telling the Decider that, on Regulon IV, he was a ruler of men, an iron dictator who built an iron empire on the bones of the innocent, ruling minds by fear, power and extortion. It is a funny sort of confession; the man is such a small man, with a little face and an empty heart; there is nothing in him at all. Whatever he was, was wrenched from the souls of those he ruled. The fiery winds of this place have blown his mask away, leaving a pleading shell. Redemption is not a pleasant planet; nor was it intended to be.

I have learned, the little man tells the silent Decider, who knows all. I have learned. I repent! I will live as a man, not as a beast, he says, grovelling. May I leave?

The former prince of souls has finished pleading, is starting hopefully up at the Decider, and, beyond him, to the great empty ship which stands waiting to take the redeemed back to the world.

The Decider answers. I cannot hear him. I do not need to. The little man trudges away, quiet, defeated; I am relieved. I need no longer watch his moving mouth, his weak eyes, his pale hands fluttering. Until the next time.

The line moves forward.

They built the Decider, those early founders of the Federation. They built him, and his ship, and they rather sloppily terraformed a bleak, rocky world, and called it Redemption. A civilised society, they said, must be protected, not only from physical aggression without, but from moral sabotage within as well. Those who preyed on others, exploited others, sacrificed others, lived off the products of minds they could not equal and would not acknowledge, would be removed. The Decider sought them out in the high, grey concrete towers of the corporate worlds, in the seedy ports of the teeming cargo worlds, in the moss-lit dachas of the hunting worlds, in the fields of the primitive agricultural worlds. He sought them out and brought them to Redemption.

And when he brought them, he told them, contemptuously but courteously, in that way machines have, “Some of you killed quickly, with a knife, or slowly, with money. Some stole wealth, with a vault-blaster, or simply expropriated someone elses achievements. Whatever you have done, it is unjust. I represent the Principle of Justice; you will not leave me or my planet until you have not only repented but reformed. Justice can forgivem but it only forgives the innocent. Through chemical reconstruction, you have been freed from hunger, free from sleep, freed from age, freed from death. You have the rest of eternity to become innocent.” And that was the last anyone would hear from him, except “yes” or “no.”

And so they stand in line, that endless circling line of souls, enduring the harsh violet sunlight, the stinging monsoons, the whirling, biting desert winds, the bitter frost, and then the violet glare once more. And yet they stand, for what else can they do?

The line has moved forward, and a new suppliant stands, unkneeling, before the Decider. She is arrogant, self-assured; she has not been a dictator, she tells the Decider. She has killed no one. She talks excitedly, quickly; she moves her hands in a way that might seem enchantingly impulsive in a ballroom on Rigel VII. Here, it seems only agitated. She is new to this place.

I have exploited no masses, she explains. My sin is a very little one. I cheated on the entrance exam to the Engineers’ Guild, she tells the Decider, who already knows, who knows the depth of her soul, who looks with eyes that see what mortal eyes cannot, who does not need to listen to her justifications to form his absolute judgement. I realise that what I did was wrong, she continues, too hastily. Someone else who was more qualified, who deserved to get in, was rejected. If you let me go, I will atone for my evil. May I leave?

I am close enough now to hear the Decider’s reply. It is “no.” His voice is utterly just, utterly merciless, like natural law. She turns away, head held awkwardly, eyes cast down, to join the numbers of the disappointed. The ship stands empty, waiting. The Decider stares ahead with loveless vision. The line moves forward.

I stand in the line, with hundreds before me and millions behind me, waiting for my turn to come. And when it comes, I shall ask the Decider, “May I leave?” And if he answers “no,” I will return to the end of the line, and wait again.

The question is always the same: “May I leave?” And the answer is always the same: “No.” And yet we hope, for what else can we do?

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