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Ever Less, Ever More
The Unpardonable Crime of Edgar Valencia
© 2013 James LaFond
The late May snow was heavy and wet, weighting the budding tree limbs which hung above the ancient razor wire; which in turn enclosed the even more ancient diagonal-grid fence; which in its turn enclosed the ages’ old wall of crumbling stone. The night was barely cold enough for the snow to cling to the fence top, but not to the wires or razors, down which it sloughed ever so slowly, at a pace barely discernable to the eye. The snow yet fell, the deep gray clouds above hiding Luna from sight. The sky was, however, lit by the dull silver strobes of the Hyman Shield buoys as they orbited The City just above the sheltered skyline described by the highest domes.
Edgar was attired in his Company issued tights; fully reactive in all but the most severe weather. His companion though, shivered and shook in the cold wet night, dressed only in archival attire. The bent old man did not complain, which added to the esteem in which Edgar held him. Edward had been configured by Mother to be an all weather urban educator; the first line in the fight against the rising tide of ignorance, ferality and miasma; all criminal precursors. Hence, as an educator, he was a law enforcement agent, and knew well the municipal codes and corporate oaths he was about to break—not to mention his matrilineal fealty—all for this fragile reactionary man hunched before him.
Edgar began to wonder about his companion, about the many ancient notions that surely remained unspoken within his once keen mind. Even though the man was in rapidly failing health and had recently begun suffering from spells of intellectual incontinence, he had been Edgar’s mentor, educator of the educators, and the much younger man held him in awe, “Norman are you well in this cold? Would you like to borrow my tights, my boots at least?”
Norman was bent for want of a skeletal upgrade, and had been short, big-headed and slight to begin with. Edgar worried deeply about his old friend. He worried the more as to their purpose here, in this ancient and forbidden precinct. He had promised his friend to keep confidence. Edgar had also agreed to see him through his odd criminal errand without recourse to the guidance, mobility, or advisory means available to him through the transportation terminals. This in itself was a treasonous act. Educators were only permitted recourse to Tech One guidance or mobility in case of unrest or natural disaster. And any unassigned act was never to be undertaken without an advisory interface.
Releasing an archivist is a high crime in the first place. Everything else is simply an extenuation.
Yes I am lost, a traitor for this man, my friend…
Norman’s unsteady voice seemed so dry against the moist air, “Edgar, I understand…ah um, the moral burden…you have shouldered, on my behalf. I…would not, would not have, asked this, of you…not…would…not have… if, I had not, certain knowledge that—yes… That, it is this very act, this thing you do, that shall ultimately free you from all burdens.”
His mind is breaking. Simply listening to his degraded speech is sorrowful. He was an intellectual giant.
Despite his worry, and even foreboding, Edgar could not help but grin down at the old man who had yet to turn, still gazing ahead in wonder, “You are being incontinent again my friend?”
The bent and narrowed shoulders shrugged lazily, “Indeed my friend…indeed! I, am not, failing, Edgar. This, this is not, a psychotic episode, no dementia. I have awakened… the end…of—how darkly cloaked have been my muses—the, no this, poorly illuminated day, which has…sadly…constituted my life.”
The elder archivist stood, breathless it seemed from the strain of speaking, and let a wan grin crease his soft wrinkled face, “I haven’t…considered how. How Edgar?” and he shivered as he regarded the whirls of razor wire and the obstacles beyond.
Edgar advanced before the small man shivering in the wet snow pulling him in his wake with his left glove, as he reformatted his right glove into its multi-tool configuration he had so often used to breach the housing of vandalized educational terminals. His old friend tottered in his wake as he worked to his front, only, after passing, to turn and mend the barriers he had breached.
Ever Less
At last he had hauled his friend, now dripping from the wet snow, over the wall. Before them now sprawled a vast anachronism; a stunted forest of vainly-etched stone made eerie by the distant dawn light, refracted by the Hyman Shield buoys. He knew intuitively what it was that stretched out before him, across what was once a series of low hillsides; a pre-reclamation bio-disposal yard. But he had never been given a name, had never even dared access the relevant database. And, upon attempting to illicit a verbal answer from Old Norman here, down in the bowels of the chronocrypt, he had stepped, all those months ago, on this unalterable path.
Edgar squeezed the archivist’s shoulders in the crook of his left arm, “You never gave me a name, a description, Norman.”
Norman no longer halted his speech, seemingly now like a sparrow twittering at the birdbath, “Your will, my boy, is strong. I trusted you to resist the notion to blurt out my whispered treasons during your debriefings. But your REM interfaces posed a threat. An introduction of such an incorrect concept, etched with phonic imagery in your mind, would have reached out to Mother. You shall have betrayed me in your sleep, and been scrubbed for your crime.”
He felt the wet snow running from his face—no, he was shedding tears, “What was it Norman?”
The wizened voice came even more alive, at last being able to fulfill its holistic function of informing the truly curious, “The earliest societies would have named it a ‘burial ground’, a repository for the bones of their predecessors and a sanctuary for the notion of the departed’s informed and inextinguishable state-of-being. A person was thought to possess an existential spark that might linger as a residual presence, and it was thought prudent to provide these a ‘home’. Our altruistic notion of community ‘spirit’, and our colloquial term for informed computation ‘the company ghost’, and even the avatars you employ to educate the techs, they are all evolutions of this animistic concept.”
Is he mad?
Am I just indulging a friend’s psychosis?
His thoughts must have betrayed themselves on his face as Norman snorted and took his hand, and they began walking as one along the overgrown paved path, “As much as Mother, and even her masters, might choose to discontinue ancient information strands, we humans are remarkably tenacious in our notions, even in spite of our Creators’ injunctions. The first civilizations called this a ‘necropolis’, literally ‘death city’—I know, a frighteningly superstitious notion. An intermediate term was ‘cemetery’. Later on, during humanity’s precipitous slide toward a managed state it was typically called a graveyard; essentially a bio-junkyard. This wasteful sentiment eventually resulted in the Reclamatory Creed.”
He felt as if he had been struck in the stomach, and turned to look with pained eyes down into Norman’s weary ones, “Our Creed is not ‘natural’ and ‘inalienable’?”
Norman winced, “Our ‘Creed’ is ‘decreed’ boy, by our creators, not by dint of any natural preexisting ethos. We are nothing but bots.”
As this chilling revelation sunk into the pit of Edgar’s stomach Norman came alive, pointing along the path like an avatar promoting the latest sim to passersby at the education terminals that Edgar had so often serviced, “Look there, in the distance, down at the center of this lost city!”
Edgar followed the line indicated by the shaking twig of a finger to a stone building, along the lines of a corporate sanctuary, but starkly primitive, “That is a tomb—note the maternal entomology—yet a house of death, the corporate HQ of this city of death. And closer, look see: in the foreground, the statues and great etched slabs of stone. These family monoliths radiate out from the center. They become smaller and less ornate toward the middle ground. And here, on the periphery, we have only slabs—name tags if you will, with dates of inception and expiration, labeling those whose remains rest beneath our feet.”
Edgar felt some justification for the order he served, and stuck up for Mother and The Others in the face of this opinionated old Incontinent, “So ancient society was evil and unbalanced, placing power in the hands of the few—honored with grace at the center—while the many languished on the outside looking in?”
Norman seemed pleased to have a foil on which to turn his lecture into a debate. With the promise of winning—a promise denied the lecturer—Norman flashed now bright though sagging eyes at Edgar, “Excellent hypothesis! But, this is not a static model of human society, ancient, corrupt or corporate, but a chronological one. The earliest societies set aside much for the dead, some even contriving lethal combats at the tomb door to honor the passing of an elite. Eventually, and over the ages, that portion of such offerings set aside for use by the living ate into the share left the dead. Until, one day, all the dead ever received was a burial or cremation. The lesson of Pre-Reclamatory Creed Humanity was this: ‘Ever Less for The Dead’, Ever More for The Living’.”
Now, it was as if he had been slapped with an ice cold hand, “Yes Norman, I understand. But I don’t want to. Enough of the tour, I understand now that your rejection of Reclamation is ethically based. I might feel better, but I’m still nauseous about it.”
Norman all of a sudden seemed like a child wondering through Sim Indus for the first time, “Look! Look there.”
They looked and walked, drawn ever near the stone sphere. When they drew close they discovered it was a monument to all of the infants that perished in a pandemic. Norman was shaking with empathy, “Oh my babies; all of you babies.”
Edgar found the thought of all of that infant death too troubling to ponder, and looked along the walk at some of the eroded dates chiseled into the stones, “It is a shame we will not have time to catalogue the expiration dates; conduct a study; find the last resident admitted to this city of yours…”
Ever More
Edgar had used his multi-tool to access the tomb, even as dawn broke over the eastern horizon and the Hyman Shield powered down, rendering the morning in a slightly lighter shade of gray than the preceding night. Norman was shivering, not just from the cold, but from his uncoupling with his medical link the previous evening. Edgar was wracked with guilt that his old friend, his only true teacher—and only real friend for that matter—was essentially dying at Edgar’s own hand. For, even a raging iconoclast like Norman was not sufficiently psychotic to terminate his own medical link. Mother had built too much empathy into all of them, particularly her archivists and educators.
They stood just within the mouth of the tomb, lit by the iris of Edgar’s multi-tool. Norman was smiling a wonder-struck smile as he tore off his clothes in a last desperate act, panting in ragged rattling breaths as Edgar considered the wasted bodies, denied the living, denied to the future, that surely filled the two-meter deep slots behind the inscribed panels.
I am a criminal. My dear friend has eradicated my community spirit, corrupted my corporate ethics; severed me forever from Mother.
And I love him still. Look how pale and pathetic he is there, standing above his damp uniform. Look at the cereal box top!
He could not suppress the laugh that blurted from his mouth like a belch when he noticed that Old Norman had smuggled a cereal box top out of Corporate.
How he got the barcode past the egress avatar must be a story in and of itself!
Norman grinned back in response, and hissed, “I never even liked Antarctic Crunch. But her picture on the box was the closest I was ever going to get to the real girl of my dreams. Archivists never earn citations or go up for the Nobel Prize, so it’s not like I was going to get an all-inclusive to…”
Norman began coughing up mucus and hunched, clutching at the box-top plastic image of the brown-eyed beauty that every man of his generation seemed to be enthralled with. Edgar rushed to his side, the light from his multi-tool’s iris playing weirdly across the interior as he fumbled with his old friend’s failing body, to ease him down on the cold hard floor, cushioned only by his own damp clothes.
Edgar un-zipped his boots and placed them under Norman’s large frail head, “Relax Norman, you are here, where you have dreamed of finding your peace.”
Norman flashed him a mischievous grin, which would have been so uncharacteristic of the man in life, but seemed to fit him here, now, “Who would a thunk yer old archivist schlep was a crook huh?”
The strange diction caught Edgar off guard, but he got the gist as Norman began to convulse, “Norman, I just wish we had enough time left so that you could explain the entomology of that last sentence!”
Norman then gritted his teeth against some deep pain and snarled, like some goon tossing disorderlies in the downs, “I beat dat old bitch—gots ma baby too…”
With those words Norman’s entire frame rattled and then seemed to relax as he closed his eyes and pursed his lips. Edgar’s hand was on his chest and felt the faint heartbeat no more. The educator kneeled over the expired archivist for a few moments, and then surrendered to the impulse to kiss his old friend on the cheek.
Yes, Norman would have been insulted by a kiss to the forehead and disgusted by a kiss on the lips.
Edgar looked down at his right hand, at the multi-tool that grew like a living thing from the sleeve of his tights.
When they apprehend me the EPGs will be able to deconstruct my actions through the tool and place my progress through the residual HSB trace.
“Damn it Norman, its cold out!”
Edgar Valencia stood above the forever-to-be-unreclaimed body of his one and only friend, and stripped, covering the smaller man’s corpse with his only possession, his corporate tights. The attire was only active so long as it interfaced with him, and the trace HSB he knew evaporated as soon as he stripped.
“With a friend like you Norman…”
“…I’m sure there is an old saying that you could relate out of the archives that would apply.”
“I hope it’s all you dreamed it was.”
Ever After
The morning air hung heavy and cold, even as the snowfall dissipated. He had spent the better part of an hour resealing the tomb without the aid of his multi-tool, as he froze his ass off in the dim morning light. Eventually he stood like a man just born, at the mouth of the maternal-sounding stone sanctuary for the dead. Images of his pursuit, capture, incarceration, deconstruction and reclamation flooded his mind like a terrible gaming matrix; a sim for the insane.
Somehow, he could not bear to look back the way he had come. He looked instead into the rising sun that was just now showing through the eastern gate of this melancholy city of the past.
Perhaps one of those old rusty bars can be pried loose and used to negotiate the fence and wire—the wall is no real obstacle.
After I escape into The City, what then?
Forget, forget about him. Don’t let the EPGs pry his location from your mind.
Yes, do not surrender. Make them kill me.
“Thanks Norman. I’m screwed you know.”
Even as he spoke he was already walking into the long shadow cast by the gatehouse.
Author’s Note
When I bought a house in Northeast Baltimore in 1981, and moved in the last piece of furniture, I looked out on the sidewalk and noticed my grandmother looking far off down the street. I came to her side and she pointed to Holy Redeemer Cemetery a quarter mile down the street, “Your brother is buried down there, with the babies, right at the foot of this street.”
My brother Gerard had died at birth. My grandmother’s haunting statement stuck with me. While recuperating from various injuries I periodically walked the ancient-looking lanes of the Catholic necropolis. I eventually met Raphael there while he was walking to rehab a kick-boxing injury. George, another man I interviewed for my Harm City books, was employed as a gravedigger there. I had numerous relatives buried in that cemetery, and, when my second son came along, this is where he would learn to read; holding my hand at age five and reading tombstones as he asked me about what life had been like for the people on them. The cemetery is one of numerous old Catholic graveyards in Baltimore, and was used as a filming location on HBO’s The Wire, in three episodes that I recall.
Twelve years after I moved into the neighborhood above the cemetery a young coworker of mine drove me home from work after a long frustrating night. The man was an embittered social activist and a committed atheist. I cannot recall his exact words. He railed against graveyards, invoked Ayan Rand and declared that cemeteries should be outlawed at least, and preferably reclaimed—one stone at a time—for use by The Living. Ever since the sight and sound of that rabid young atheist railing against The Dead, I knew I would write this story. I just did not know when. It came to me this morning when I woke up and saw the first strong spring sunrise of the year filtering through the curtains.
James LaFond
Friday, March 29, 2013
First Contact #7
The Sunset Saga Series Sketch
thriving in bad places
winter of a fighting life
menthol rampage
night city
honor among men
by the wine dark sea
logic of force
the lesser angels of our nature
z-pill forever
the combat space
advent america
the greatest boxer
masculine axis
blue eyed daughter of zeus
on combat
when you're food
dark, distant futures
taboo you
under the god of things
the sunset saga complete
your trojan whorse
logic of steel
the first boxers
solo boxing
fiction anthology one
song of the secret gardener
book of nightmares
orphan nation
songs of aryas
on the overton railroad
into leviathan’s maw
the gods of boxing
the year the world took the z-pill
time & cosmos
the fighting edge
the greatest lie ever sold
within leviathan’s craw
barbarism versus civilization
america the brutal
son of a lesser god
let the world fend for itself
broken dance
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