Frankie Fey

by Rigby Taylor

Chapter 16


The somewhat bleak modernist architecture of the Rationalist University was softened by sensitive landscaping. The front was traditional; a driveway ending in a turning circle, in the centre of which bloomed roses and other pretty annuals. Topiary hedges and trees added further strict formality, and so it was a surprise to pass through an archway cut in the tall neatly trimmed hedge on the north side and discover a dozen grass tennis courts, several sealed basketball courts, a cricket ground, athletics track, football fields and an Olympic sized swimming pool, all surrounded by shade trees, lawns and shrubs. Service buildings were all semi-rustic and blended with the landscaping.

Directly behind the main block that contained lecture rooms, laboratories and studios, was a large grass and tree-filled quadrangle bounded on the other three sides by the halls of residence. Beyond them and to the western side lay the so-called Elysian Fields. Five hectares of carefully planned gardens based on those of Fontainebleau. They included a parterre and maze, alleys of trees with statues at intersections, and at the bottom of a gentle slope, the Recreation Pool. A free-form miniature lake, surrounded by terracotta tiles and lawn, shaded by evergreen trees, shielded from wind by a tall hedge, and made even more romantic by a pair of naked cherubs holding a large fish spouting water from it's mouth into the clear waters of the pool. To the south of these gardens a wild forest offered escape from orderliness and predictability.

Socially, the university was a gender-neutral space. Each student assessed on their merits, not their gender. To this end the founders designed a social environment in which males and females mixed, learned, played and relaxed as equals, unaware of gender differences. At least that was the theory.

The two hundred students; one hundred females and one hundred males, were housed in the three residential blocks surrounding the quadrangle. Each student enjoyed a comfortable suite consisting of a bedroom, sitting room with kitchenette, and a bathroom. Gender non-specificity was ensured by alternating the gender of the occupants. Thus each female had a male in the suites on each side, and each male had a female in the suites on each side.

Public facilities in the rest of the complex, including lounges and toilets, were unisex. All lecture rooms, laboratories, gymnasia and studios were capacious, well lit, and fitted with the most up to date apparatus. Frankie was delighted with the theatre, which could seat five hundred, had a deep stage, two-storey flies, and computer operated lighting and sound systems.

His delight in the university lasted until his third philosophy lecture when he learned that as well as Scientific Rationalism, in which opinions and actions are based on the three firm foundations of Reason, Experience and Knowledge, the curriculum also included both Philosophical Rationalism, which declares that reason alone is the foundation of certainty in knowledge, and Theological Rationalism, which rejects facts and empirical evidence as of no value in religious discourse!

After a debate in which the argument that there must be a God because it was unreasonable to think the universe arrived on its own, was judged as valid as a scientifically rational argument casting doubt on the idea, Frankie visited the head of the Philosophy Department, introduced himself, and said he could not remain a student in her faculty when facts and evidence could be considered irrelevant in discussion and debate. The elderly woman's face crinkled into a real smile and Frankie liked her immediately.

She wore no makeup or facial ornament, her hair was short, wiry and naturally grey, her cream, unfussy long-sleeved blouse was buttoned to the neck, her calf-length linen skirt was full enough to be comfortable but not a nuisance, and her shoes were low heeled, comfortable soft leather.

'I'm Lydia Ivanovna,' she replied, extending a leathery, wrinkled, liver-spotted hand - the unembellished fingers of which terminated in short unvarnished nails.

Frankie took the hand and shook it manfully, surprised at the strength of her grip.

'That would be a valid concern if it was the case in important decisions,' she said seriously. 'My reason for including all three definitions of rationality is that only by comparing them can we judge for ourselves which is the most useful. My job is to assist students to educate themselves by giving them the tools with which to research, think, reason and argue. As a general rule, humans will believe what they want to believe and strongly resist being told what to believe. My hope is that after analysing the results of all three types of reasoning they will see the superiority of the scientific method, and might modify their approach to problem solving. I say might, because people who are prepared to modify their opinions and beliefs are as common as hens' teeth.'

'Hens' teeth?' Frankie asked, bewildered.

'Exceedingly rare. If, for example, students were assigned the task of using the tools of scientific rationalism to prove there were ghosts, then they might, perhaps, begin to see the flaws in the belief that reason alone, regardless of facts, reality and experience, can prove the unprovable. But I wouldn't count on it,' she laughed.

Frankie's face registered his relief. 'Thanks Miss Ivanovna.'

'Everyone calls me Lydia.'

'Thanks, Lydia. You're not like I expected a head of Department to be.'

'I'm not like I expected either.' With a croaky laugh she swung her swivel chair back towards the desk, picked up a pen and began writing in a large book as if alone in the room. Wondering if he'd somehow annoyed her, Frankie quietly left the office and closed the door.

Other students were friendly in class, but in his free hours, although participating in several activities, he still felt like an outsider. The other male students all seemed to be on their guard. Against what he had no idea so began to observe carefully and take notes. His conclusions after only a few days were surprising - unisex facilities had some odd effects on male student behaviour, while exaggerating normal female behaviour.

Males seemed unwilling to speak or offer opinions in class, while females seemed noisier, more assertive, not to say aggressive, and had loud opinions on everything. Males wore dull coloured loose jeans, T-shirts and sneakers, even in the hottest weather, while females wore the standard colourful and exotically flimsy bits and pieces designed to arouse sexual interest.

When relaxing outside, females gathered in groups and laughed, making loud, often derogatory comments about passing males. Males who ignored them were loudly labelled queers, and if they objected to the personal comments were called potential wife bashers. Any male brave enough to attempt to sit with them was told to stop perving and piss off.

When young men gathered in small groups, females would very soon rudely plonk themselves in the middle, interrupt the conversation and try to take over the discussion. If asked to leave they'd loudly announce their right to be wherever they chose… it was a gender-free campus so to discriminate because they were female was sexism and could earn the young men a fine from the equal opportunity department. Furthermore, if guys didn't want females to join them they were obviously queer and therefore sex-mad child molesters setting themselves up in opposition to the laws of God.

In keeping with the Founders' aims, half of all lecturers, secretaries, librarians, maintenance staff, cooks, cleaners, gardeners… were female, and half male.

Not only were all toilets and changing rooms unisex, but so was every sport, club or discussion group. In order to be officially registered they had to have more or less equal numbers of female and male members. Non-registered, single-sex groups were never able to find a space to gather.

Frankie was impressed by the quality of the teaching staff and learned a great deal from the lectures and discussions in all his chosen subjects; Philosophy, Art History, Drama and Literature—a selection roundly applauded by Karmai, but considered one-sided by Sylvan, who persuaded him to add Financial Theory and the History of Money. Ingenio and Con didn't think it mattered what Frankie studied as long as he was happy.

In the Financial Theory lectures, Frankie paired with Prudence, a young woman as eccentric, scientifically rational and self-absorbed as himself. Short of stature, wiry of limb, with dead straight light brown hair, prominent nose, determined jaw and a parsimonious smile, Prudence was blessed with a brain the equal of Frankie's, and similar physical stamina and coordination. While engaged in research for a treatise on the social effects of government fiscal policies, both were outraged to learn that what Constantine had told Frankie was in fact true! The value of a nation's assets was decided by gambling on the future prospects of stocks and shares in the Stock Exchange. Fortunes were made and lost on the basis of hope, whim, rumour, price manipulation or mere speculation, but seldom on the actual real productivity, record, or prospects of the company.

Even more alarming was learning that instead of being simply a convenient tool of exchange, money was considered a commodity to be traded in the same way as wool, timber, oil or other genuinely useful goods. How could this be, they wondered, when currency is merely a promise to pay, not a tradeable good. Upsetting was the realisation that the value of those paper promises-to-pay changed every hour at the whim of corporate money traders, so the value of Frankie's hoarded cash could drop to zero pretty fast. Prudence, whose family was not wealthy, became increasingly irate, realising she would soon be on the streets unless she found one of the increasingly rare, well-paid jobs.

Being smart, rational and adventurous they decided to profit from their superior intelligence and insight, and became online traders, soon accumulating in the digital 'vaults' of banking institutions, vast virtual quantities of potentially worthless dollars, converting them as soon as possible into intrinsically valuable, productive rural and city real estate that would bring in a good steady income and have lasting value. Such a buffer of certain, real wealth was essential for anyone who wanted to live as they intended, unconcerned by the prejudice, irrationality and foolishness of others.

Prudence was delighted by the wealth; Frankie, to whom wealth was no longer a novelty, by the success of their experiment.

Time seemed to speed up and suddenly Frankie was eighteen and the summer break was over and he was well into his second year at the Rationalist University.

During Wednesday night of the eighth week of the second term, a second-year student leaped from the roof of his residence hall and splashed himself over the paved courtyard between the art department and the administration wing. Another young male was discovered the following morning hanging from the exposed rafters in the library, and the following night a good-looking young man from Frankie's acting group, tied rocks to his waist and jumped into the diving pool, from which he was fished out by the pool attendant when skimming the water at sunrise.

Because the bodies were discovered and cleaned away before most students were out of bed, it wasn't until three days later via cleaning staff gossip, that students learned the reason the young men had been missing lectures. There was no public announcement. No police or parents appeared. No religious or other services were held, and a pall of silent fear descended.

This totally irrational behaviour on the part of the administration annoyed Frankie, because ignorance breeds fear and distrust. When he said as much to Lydia, she shrugged.

'We are as ignorant as you about the suicides,' she said calmly. 'No one knows anything. The boys left no notes. Didn't tell their friends of their intentions—obviously, or they'd have been stopped.' She turned a cool eye on her student. 'Autopsies showed no violence. The young men weren't forced; they did it alone, willingly. Clearly they'd had enough and wanted out, but could see no way of getting out apart from death. Does it matter?'

Frankie grinned. He should have expected that question; similar ones had been churning in his head since the deaths. 'It doesn't matter to them, of course,' he said cheerfully. 'Dead is dead. But it matters to people who liked or depended on them, because they'll feel guilty, sad, all those things.'

'Does it matter that they feel like that?'

'Only to them. The guys clearly wanted not to live, so everyone should be happy that they got what they wanted. And the deaths were quick so they wouldn't have suffered much.'

'So we needn't do anything about them?'

'Rationally, that would make sense, but if we accept that humans are mostly irrational imitators, then we realise it's essential to put schemes in place to prevent a spate of copy-cat suicides.'

'Have you any ideas?'

'There's no point in planning programmes until we know the reasons for the suicides. Someone or something was making those guys so miserable they didn't want to live. That is the tragedy. The misery of their lives! That is what must be eliminated.

'So the only essential thing for us to do is discover their reasons for what they did, and fix it?'


'What about counselling?'

'For me?'

'For the others.'

'None of the students I've met appear troubled by the deaths. Lots of girls wail sentimental drivel and ooze crocodile tears, but that's an act because they think it's expected of them and makes them appear sensitive. I suspect several guys do feel it deeply, but hide their emotions and shrug. Some are a bit jealous, I think, of their friends' bravery. Not many young people here are happy, Lydia. Their parents pile on the pressure and there's fear of the future. It's easy to wonder if life is worth all the trouble—at least when we have time to think rationally.

'I know that if I were faced with danger, survival instincts would cut in and I'd do everything I could to survive. But that's just reflexes. Rational suicide is an intelligent solution to intractable problems. A woman in her forties living next door to us when I was ten, had severe Multiple Sclerosis. Couldn't do anything much. She got pneumonia and would have quietly and pleasantly died if her sister hadn't arrived, called an ambulance and insisted on resuscitation. The poor lady wept for days afterwards and never forgave her sister for forcing her to endure more horrible years. She refused to ever see her again. The sister never understood because she was terrified of dying herself, and imagined everyone else was, at least that's according to my mother.'

'A sad tale. So, what are you going to do about the current case?'

'I'll let you know when I've done it.'

'Thank you.'

Frankie spent the rest of the term gently interviewing the young men's friends, explaining that reasons must be sought for the suicides, the causes established, and measures taken to ensure no repeat performances. He learned that the three young men were not friends, but had participated in extra curricular activity to do with their common subject, the Psychology of Religion.

Mr. Bland, a guidance counsellor, denied all knowledge of the young men because they had been allocated to his associate, Mrs. Glossop. Her response when Frankie asked if she'd noticed erratic behaviour in the students, was unexpectedly callous.

'They were obviously impatient to meet their maker.'

'Humans grow, Mrs. Glossop, they aren't made. And do you honestly think dead humans can arrange meetings?' Frankie's charming smile didn't soften his sarcasm. 'You were their counsellor, so you must have some inkling of their reasons.'

'At the compulsory counselling session at the beginning of term, all three boys refused to speak to me, let alone communicate their feelings.'

'Then you should have sent them to Mr. Bland!'

'Why? They gave no indication they were troubled. You ought to be careful, young man,' she warned. 'You are on dangerous ground suggesting that a woman is not as competent as a man at counselling.'

'I am suggesting that men are different from women and need men to talk to, that's all!'

'You're an ignorant puppy! Men and women are equal and similar in all respects. It is only men who want to maintain their supremacy, who demean women by saying they are not competent! Get out of my office before I report you to the director.'

Frankie got out but didn't give up. He cornered several students who were in the same classes as the suicides and learned that all three had been deeply religious, believing in the absolute truth of the Christian bible, and had taken part in a special program run by two assistant lecturers in the religious studies department, Mr. Rios and Miss Taykin. They used to go away for weekend field trips with the two teachers, researching stuff for their Psychology of Religion course.

But he learned nothing more. It seemed to be an 'Inner Circle' thing. He would have to join to know more. Preferring to keep his sanity, Frankie stopped asking questions of people who knew nothing and had nothing to say – or nothing they were willing to say.

He concentrated on his studies, wrote assignments, prepared dissertations and enjoyed his new sport—archery. Not with a modern bow replete with pulleys and levers making it possible for a child to tension and hold the most powerful device, but a simple recurve longbow carved from ironbark that required considerable strength to use. He set up a target in the adjoining forest and practised for hours, taking time out every quarter hour to meditate, allowing his body to recover and his ideas to float, swirl and coalesce. Each time he returned from archery practice he felt more relaxed, calm and focussed.

There was an archery club with competitions, of course—humans are very competitive, but he wasn't interested in seeing how he compared to others, his sole aim to improve his own ability. After six weeks he was able to fire all six arrows at four-second intervals. The accuracy wasn't that hot, but a speedy reload of ammunition also seemed important. To improve his fitness he started doing press-ups and going for runs at sunrise, joined by three other male students who were content to jog along in silence, listening to the birds, smelling the fresh air and feeling at one with the world. But then female students insisted on joining them and the sounds and smells of nature were replaced by deodorants and perfume and constant chatter. So Frankie began running at random hours on his own and enjoying the exercise again.

Although every student had a private room, male students didn't visit other males in their rooms because there was always at least one female in the corridor, which meant there were no secrets. And as everyone knows, when men gather in groups it either means they're queer or planning to gang rape a defenceless female. It was fine for girls to visit girls, because females gained strength and support from other females, to cope with living in this male dominated world where females are downtrodden and abused and raped and beaten and murdered by men. Every day. Somewhere.

Proof of the success of the Rationalist University's unisex policy was the fact that not one female student had been raped or abused or murdered. According to the Director, it showed that the system taught men to respect women, to accept that they are every bit as good as men and sometimes better, and that females will not tolerate being treated as less important or inferior in any way. The university was fully supported in this approach by teachers and parents whose liberal ideas and beliefs were daily challenged by Internet porn, the collapse of the family and the destruction of traditional values such as church marriage as the sacrament in which their morality, ethics and culture were rooted.

Brief discussions with female students in his classes about the suicides, suggested to Frankie that they had not the slightest interest in men's intrinsic needs and differences. They just kept repeating the mantra that males and females are identical and should be treated the same. That males need females to put them on the right path. If young men go to male guidance counsellors, they will probably become wife beaters or mass murderers. The guys who suicided were obviously unhinged, so it was better that they killed themselves rather than attack and murder innocent females.

To Frankie it became increasingly clear that the lack of close contact with other men on whom they could unburden themselves, was a serious problem for some male students.

The official history of the Rationalist University, available on its website, suggested that a group of feminists had controlled the board of governors for the first ten years, and it was they who had insisted on non segregated dormitories, the rationale being that segregated living accommodation would allow males to gang up on women and plot their subservience.

Frankie shook his head in despair. Couldn't they see the obvious consequence? That young men would find it very difficult to find the 'special' friend that all men need? This was certainly true for himself. After seven months drenched in non-sexist ideology, he had been unable to get close to any other male student, and had come to the conclusion that the youths killed themselves because they didn't dare make a close male friend in whom they could confide their problems.

Even in the lounges, where young men should have felt at ease to argue, speak and discuss, they felt constantly monitored by females who would join in, turn the discussion to their interests, and when the men complained, declared themselves contemptuous of male psychological weakness.

Young men who attempted to make friends with female students soon regretted it, because looking at any part of a female, apart from her eyes, was harassment. Remarks about her appearance, work, qualifications, abilities… any comment whatsoever about a female was harassment. If positive it was patronising. If negative it was aggression. Failure to dance at a social event was anti female. Holding the partner too close was groping. Too far apart was an insult. Not going to social events was anti female. Refusal to dance with a female who demanded it, was gross disrespect. Failure to instantly stop kissing, petting or any other sexual activity when the female said 'stop', was aggravated rape.

If a young man with problems requested a male counsellor, he was reprimanded for infringing the gender-free system.

Frankie typed up his report, saved it to a memory stick and handed it to Lydia Ivanovna, who agreed to read it over the holidays. After wishing him a pleasant break, she informed him that the three suicides were not the first. Six male suicides per year, was the average; usually in the second term; always swept under the carpet of respectability with the connivance of the parents. They could cope with the death of their son, but not with the disgrace of having a suicide in the family.

On the first Saturday of the four week winter holiday, Frankie set off home. He'd intended to leave the previous afternoon, but after the last lecture was overcome by such lassitude he thought it dangerous to drive. His brain felt like a grinding dynamo. Ideas, thoughts, plans, worries, questions, all charging around inside his head. He had to stop thinking. Mental rest had become urgent. So on Friday afternoon instead of packing his car he jogged into the forest with his archery gear. Everyone else had gone home so he wouldn't be disturbed. At a small stream he stripped, cooled his overheated body and head in the fast-flowing water, spent half an hour firing arrows into a target to focus his uncooperative brain, then spread his shirt, lay under a tree and stopped thinking.

An hour later, cold brought him to his senses. Refreshed, he returned to his room and slept deeply until morning when, without a glance back he drove quietly away, his car stuffed with belongings; the bow and quiver full of arrows resting safely on the passenger seat beside him.

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