Author’s Note: A lot of times when I write a scene, I feel compelled to make the point of view of the scene clear right away, to show who is telling the story at that point. In this case, I didn’t, and then after months away, I said “ah, that, must fix.”
Then I reread it, preferring the sort of “surprise” of it the second time. I now find myself going back and forth about it.
Their perfect society was dying.
The people were strong, healthy, with no awareness of how close to the end they truly were. It was not an outside threat. It would crumble quietly, but when it did, it would shatter all the foundations and rock the entire world, leaving nothing standing to aide them.
“The truth is unavoidable,” the leader began, his arms folded behind his back as he paced the room. His skin had taken on a purplish hue—a clear sign that he was agitated. The orange markings on his face stood out more than usual. The others watched, waiting. “Millenias have passed since the last birth of one with the natural gift to do this. We must face the fact that the order has died, that our society will no longer continue as it has done. Indeed, our very world is ending.”
“Must we speak only of doom and gloom? Have we not any other options left to us before washing our hands of our own fate and succumbing to this calamitous future that you see for us?” the other minister asked, shaking his head. He leaned forward in his chair, placing his hands on the table. His skin remained the natural pale blue, still calm. “What if it is not as bad as you fear?”
“How can it not be?” the oldest one among them demanded, her voice harsh as she got to her feet. “Do not be a fool. Our entire lives, our existence, is based upon the idea that no crime can ever go unpunished. There has been no crime in thousands of years. We do not know how to cope with the people knowing that we cannot access the memories anymore.”
“That is not true. There is still a collector.”
“One! He cannot cover an entire planet, and you know this as well as I do. It has been a long pretense, one that used to serve us well, but it is over now. We cannot hold this together any longer. No one has been born with even the slightest bit of the genetic components needed to learn how to access the planet’s fabrics, and those who would teach these ones are all but gone as well.”
“You are both so convinced that everything will end when they learn the truth. You don’t know that it will end like that.”
The leader shook his head. “Today the last of the trainers died, and we have but one collector. Milayan is right. We cannot use him for an entire planet. He is in no shape to do that—far overworked and close to the mental illness that claims them all in the end. These people have been bred out of our society, and our attempts at breeding them back in have proved unsuccessful.”
“Then what do you call our collector? Nothing?”
“You know what was supposed to happen with him, and you know what we got instead.”
“I am in the room, you know,” the collector said, his voice quiet yet compelling enough to cause the group to look at him. “Even if I were not, I could come here later and learn what you were saying and how you felt. You have no secrets from me.”
“Forgive us. You understand our distress.”
He nodded. “I am the last. When I die, there will be no others. The world as you know it will end. However, what concerns you more than my death is what proceeds it—the inevitable loss of my mind.”
“The planet has probably bred your gift out of existence for that reason.”
“You cannot know what the planet wants.”
“No, but he can. He can communicate with it in a way that has never been fully understood by our scientists. The genetics are a part of it, but it requires more than that.”
The collector regarded them all, his gaze cold. They had trained him, yes. He had been bred with only one thought in mind—making a collector—and he was nothing to them besides it, for all of the posturing and deference that they showed him. He often found himself preferring the company of the memories, of the planet itself. “Perhaps instead of debating what you already know, you should take action.”
The leader nodded. “That is why we asked you here. Though Termlin is against it, Milayan and I both feel that we must ask you to find the old laws for us.”
“Those are so old that you will cause him to go into madness. Do not agree to this, Collector. Give us time to find another option.”
“Now you would give me a choice?” he asked, shaking his head. “Do not patronize me. I have been a slave to this life since I was born. Were it up to me, you would get nothing. Let this world fall.”
The leader shook his head in protest. They wanted this life. They wanted to keep it together. They did not see how much their perfection cost others. “People do not kill. They do not steal. They do not rape. There is no crime. People simply do not hurt each other. This is a good life for everyone.”
“Except the collectors. Your perfect society is perpetuated on slavery.”
“Not all of you felt that way,” they disagreed. “The role of a collector was a privilege, a position many aspired to, and they did so without being forced. It was—and still is—an honor.”
“No, it used to be. Before the collectors stopped being born and you had to create them,” he corrected, getting to his feet. “You cannot deny that I had little choice in the matter, having been engineered to this life and trained to it from birth. Still… It is petty of me to leave this world with nothing but chaos after I am gone—or my mind is.”
“Then you will find the old laws in the memories?”
He hesitated. He would not promise them anything. “The ancestors were foolish not to write anything down. There should be records.”
“We had the collectors,” Termlin said, his voice full of bitterness as always. “What use did we have for records? The memories would always be there, always a part of the world, for us to get later. We cannot change what the ancestors did.”
“No, but you had better learn from this. Records will have to be made now. You don’t have forever.”
I like this overview of the world, the stakes. This whole piece is just crackling with tension.
There’s not much holding this world together, and he’s just about it, all they have. 🙂
I like looking at “utopian” worlds and finding the cracks, the truth behind the facade. After all, utopia comes from words meaning “no place,” so it’s almost always an illusion.