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Across the Zodiac by Percy Greg

It must be decided by the Campta or Suzerain


"A

good many facts to which I could testify," he replied, "are in this world confessed impossibilities, and if my neighbours witnessed them they would pronounce them to be either impostures or illusions."

"Then," said I, somewhat indignantly, "they must prefer inferences from facts to facts themselves, and the deductions of logic to the evidence of their senses. Yet, if that evidence be wanting in certainty, then, since no chain can be stronger than its weakest point, inferences are doubly uncertain; first, because they are drawn from facts reported by sense, and, secondly, because a flaw in the logic is always possible."

"Do not repeat that out of doors," he answered, smiling. "It is not permitted here to doubt the infallibility of science; and any one who ventures to affirm persistently a story which science pronounces impossible (like your voyage through space), if he do not fall at once a victim to popular piety, would be consigned to the worse than living death of life-long confinement in a lunatic hospital."

"In that case I fear very much that I have little chance of being put under the protection of your laws, since, whatever may be the impression of those who have seen me, every one else must inevitably pronounce me non-existent; and a nonentity can hardly be the subject of legal wrong or have a right to legal redress."

"Nor," he replied,

"can there be any need or any right to annihilate that which does not exist. This alternative may occupy our Courts of Justice, for aught I know, longer than you or I can hope to live. What I have asked is that, till these have decided between two contradictory absurdities, you shall be provisionally and without prejudice considered as a human reality and an object of legal protection."

"And who," I asked, "has authority _ad interim_ to decide this point?"

"It was submitted," he answered, "in the first place, to the Astynta (captain, president) who governs this district; but, as I expected, he declined to pronounce upon it, and referred it to the Mepta (governor) of the province. Half-an-hour's argument so bewildered the latter that he sent the question immediately to the Zampta (Regent) of this dominion, and he, after hearing by telegraph the opening of the case, at once pronounced that, as affecting the entire planet, it must be decided by the Campta or Suzerain. Now this gentleman is impatient of the dogmatism of the philosophers, who have tried recently to impose upon him one or two new theoretical rules which would limit the amount of what he calls free will that he practically enjoys; and as the philosophers are all against you, and as, moreover, he has a strong though secret hankering after curious phenomena--it would not do to say, after impossibilities--I do not think he will allow you to be destroyed, at least till he has seen you."

"Is it possible," I said, "that even your monarch cherishes a belief in the incredible or logically impossible, and yet escapes the lunatic asylum with which you threaten me?"

"I should not escape grave consequences were I to attribute to him a heresy so detestable," said my host. "Even the Campta would not be rash enough to let it be said that he doubts the infallibility of science, or of public opinion as its exponent. But as it is the worst of offences to suggest the existence of that which is pronounced impossible or unscientific, the supreme authority can always, in virtue of the enormity of the guilt, insist on undertaking himself the executive investigation of all such cases; and generally contrives to have the impossibility, if a tangible one, brought into the presence either as evidence or as accomplice."


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