I am thinking of making one last attempt to leave town, see if the Möbius curve that brought me back has any doors or even windows I can slip out of. If Region 2021 is our future, there is a chance, Helen, that you are there. That was where I tried to go the first time when I tried to get a train ticket. I won’t try that again. I’m just hiking out of here, down the tracks like I used to when I was a kid. I don’t think I’ve any better chance of making it this time than I did with Bertha. But I just can’t bring myself to give up yet. Since you died first, you should have been here first, but time isn’t linear. Nothing else is, either. Here goes, Babe. See you on the flip side. 2021 or bust.
Day 165: Reese’s Journal Entry 9: Bertha at the Border
I got fired from my driver job. Another escape attempt. I thought, if I can’t walk out of Möbius town, maybe Bertha can. Well, no. She reached some invisible fence or something at the crest of the ridge just outside of town and just stopped. I got out of the wagon and tried to reason with her, but after all, it she is just a horse. So, I figured, what the hell, let’s go back. But she wouldn’t budge. I was miles from town and sure as hell didn’t want to walk back — not without the wagon and especially not without Bertha. Sam, the Stable Master, would have a fit.
To tell the truth, Helen, I’d been wondering if there even was another region. This whole Möbius-town thing smacked of something out of M. C. Escher. Today, the Möbius-strip didn’t curve back on itself. Today there was just an invisible wall, one only Bertha could see. And of course, this not being my first day, Charley didn’t send his pigeon along. Tickle wasn’t there to tell her ‘Help, Tickle’ which would send her back to her roost, signaling I was stuck on my route somewhere. But word must have gotten around that I was out there stuck on the road. Amber came to get me on her bike. (I know, right? She could have “appeared” there without it.) I decided not to argue with her. We tossed her bike in the back of the wagon, and she took the reigns. One light tug on the reigns and Bertha turns around, and we’re headed back.
We didn’t say anything for a while.
“You thought I’d given up?” I asked. At first she didn’t reply. Then she asked when I was going to understand that I was not going to have things my own way.
“You think this is about me?” I asked. “It’s about Helen. Why isn’t she here? You’ve got people who were born before we were born and after. People who died before she did and after. Hell, you’ve got…”
“I know you well enough.”
“Don’t get me wrong. I love Charley. But that’s all the more reason why Helen should be here.”
“This is not a eugenics experiment.”
“Not that. I didn’t mean that Charley has Downs.”
“Charley can ask to be changed any time he wants to.”
“Oh. I never meant that, anyway. It’s just that Sam and Charley have each other. When I make deliveries, I see couples reunited who had lost babies they get to raise now. I’ve seen whole families of several generations all in one place. So where’s Helen?”
Amber didn’t say anything. “Look, if you’re not going to tell me anything, I have to find out on my own. I’m not going to stop looking for her.”
Then she said, “The problem is, Reese, you’re looking for the wrong reasons.”
“Wrong reasons?” I said. “What do you know about loving somebody?” I could see when I said that I’d hurt her feelings. “I’m sorry,” I said. Then I asked her: “How can a Zoë understand longing? Loneliness? Incompleteness?” Then she started crying. I thought Zoës were like angels — perfect beings. “Did I hurt your feelings?” I said.
“No,” she said. “I’m crying for you.”
That was pretty nice of her, don’t you think, Helen?
Day 165: Amber’s Journal Entry 3: Bertha at the Border
Reese tried to get to region 1819 using the horse that his pulls wagon, thinking the horse wouldn’t know any better. Of course the horse stopped before leaving the Region. And then, with God’s “no” stuck in its horse brain, it wouldn’t move. I borrowed a bicycle and rode out to release the horse. The horse is home again, happy in its stable. But Reese lost his job over it. And this time, he is restricted to his home until we are sure he will not wander again.
“Where would I go?” he asked, but we both knew exactly where: Region 2021. “The horses don’t deliver to that region, and I’m not going to get access to an automobile.” It saddened me to hear him lie like that. If he had the horse, he’d try to ride it out to 2021. If he had a car, he might try the same thing. If he thought he could take the train or even walk, he would. That’s how much of a one-track mind he has about finding Helen. How do I tell him that she doesn’t exist as he knew her? How do I tell him what it means to be transfigured? Literally born anew, not only a new body but also a new kind of body? To know that the limits imposed by embodiment are self-imposed and can be put on and taken off like clothing? To be able to stand in the presence of the Creator God, the ground plane of existence, the Love that undergirds reality and makes everything possible? To lose Self in Love and let Love be Self? Words fail me, become poor stand-ins. But there is no way to express what this is like. How do I tell any of this to Reese? I can’t dangle being a Zoë in front of him like a carrot, a reward for being good. It isn’t that. It never was. I can’t tell him I was/am Helen as well as Amber. There is no browbeating him into genuine consent. All I can do is wait.
Day 164 Reese’s Journal Entry 8: Good Enough for Chamber Music
Something odd happened today. Amber, my Zoë, said something you used to say. We were working the community garden together, planting something — I don’t know what — and Amber said, “good enough for chamber music.” Not ‘good enough for government work’ or ‘good enough for the union’ or the Kingdom or anything like that. Chamber music. And when she said it I looked up and I swear it was you there in that garden. Even her voice sounded like you when she said that. Then I blinked and it was Amber again, a Zoë, and being who has eternal life, who can stand naked in the presence of God. Not an air breathing, food gathering, warm-blooded mammal like us.
I say ‘like us’ because I know you’re going to show up. You’ll awaken in Resurrectorium 1920 tomorrow, or the next day, but you will awaken. And if not in 1920, then another one. 2021 maybe.
Well. I’d better stop. Thinking this way, I feel like I let you down, Helen. Maybe you did awaken in 2021 or in 1819, and they won’t let you leave town, either. I should try again to get to you. I must be developing Stockholm Syndrome.
Day 164: Amber’s Journal Entry 2: Good Enough for Chamber Music
Reese doesn’t know me as Helen, and I can’t tell him. I want to so badly. I want to tell him that his Zoë Amber is, or was, his Helen. It pains me, and pain is something I thought I would never know again. Pain is something I wouldn’t know but for him. My Lord, I long to be in your presence where there isn’t any pain, in heaven again. I still remember meeting you there. Letting go of my life was only difficult because of Reese. I moved and breathed and lived in pain and was so ready to let go of my body, of life as I knew it. When I couldn’t hold on any longer and came to you…I remember each moment as if it was etched into my being…
Reese looked at me for a second like he knew me as Helen. I said something about chamber music that touched a memory in him and I saw his face light up bright as a star then it went dark and he looked at me as I am now. He saw his Zoë, Amber, whom he seems to like at times and treats as a jailor other times.
It hurt. I’ve been thinking about what my Lord said to me: Be wise. Reese is too focused on Helen, on the life he once led. He is not focused on others. The Lord was right, of course. That is the basic flaw that Reese brought back with him, a form of self-centeredness that even when he was pouring all kinds of love out on me, right up to the minute I died, he was doing it to protect himself from loneliness, to secure my love, afraid that without all his efforts I might take my love from him. Nothing I said to the contrary was able to get through to him. It was why he returned as a Bio.
And in some ways, this extended separation now is continuing that. He’s so fixed on Helen’s return that he can insult or ignore Amber, and not only me, but his neighbors. He got fired from his job translating. I suppose as a driver he’ll be fine. But he’s not engaging as many people that way, not in a way that can break through and make him start to live for other people.
So I wait. I am surprised to find part of me wants to be Helen for him again. Show him the ‘me’ he remembers. Love him again because he is so lonely. But that would be like spraying a fixative on the rough sketch of his spirit: He would never grow the way he needs to in order to become a Zoë. That’s why he’s here. That’s why they’re all here. The God of Second Chances. He may be the God of a Thousand Chances — that is beyond my knowing. How many do I give Reese? How long do I leave him to grow on his own like a seedling? I always killed my plants by overwatering. Lord, let me not do that now.
A crowd-sourced novel you can participate in writing.
I wasn’t too impressed with the latest guy they sent me, Reese Smith. Maybe not a troublemaker but he is troublesome. Troubled. You know. He asked me about Charley. People ask about Charley all the time. More now than in the old world. Everyone’s suppose to be perfect now. I think Charley is perfect. Always did. Before he was born the ultrasound showed the Downs. Emily and I never thought we might abort him. We named him that day. Charlie Gordon Sprecher after the character Charlie Gordon in the movie she liked Charley who was retarded and then became a genius. Our Charley was never going to be a genius. We knew that. Emily was a great Mom. I hope to meet her here some day. My Zoë Gary says I will. That I’m well on my way. And I think most of the time I am. Until someone comes along all meaning well and asks about Charley. Why is Charley retarded. Then I tell them again its because Charley wanted it that way. That’s what Charley says and Gary says I should take that at face value. Charley remembers asking and that’s that. I guess the problem is when I woke up in the resurrectorium I wanted Emily and Charley with me. But once I found out that in the resurrection people are made whole I was ready to get Charley back with his genes fixed so he’d be Charley without the Downs syndrome.
I know it’s going to sound like I don’t love Charley as he is. I’d break any man’s jaw who told me I didn’t love my son. But the life I had with Charley wasn’t the same as the life I expected to have and good as it was well Charley is a loving, wonderful, kind gentle kid. All of that but it wasn’t good the way I had hope for. People say your kids aren’t suppose to be your friends and I get that. But Well I thought I’d have a Charley more like other sons this time around. A fresh start. I’m still working it out. Maybe that’s why Charley came back the way he did. Maybe that’s why Emily isn’t along yet. I’m holding everybody up. And Reese Smith just reminded me of that. He’s OK otherwise. Charley and Bertha like him. Charley’s got good sense about people. Smarter than most people are about people. Em said it was God’s gift to help Charley in a harsh world.
It’s not that harsh a world now. Charlie likes it. He says the love is more real. I don’t know. I hope he’s right.
It’s been a while since I’ve written a journal. Time seems funny here, Helen. Remember in my last entry when I mentioned that I couldn’t steal a bike in order to leave Möbius town, and I hadn’t earned enough yet to buy my own wheels? Well, there are jobs here. I guess it would make sense, because without work people aren’t their best.
I had to get another job. You see, working with people as a Cultural Translator, day in and day out, made it harder to ignore you not being here. I’d see someone else alone, missing their mate, or worse I’d see a couple reunited, sometimes whole families all happy as can be. It just got to be too much.
So I’m a driver. Kind of funny, but remember I was working a delivery truck for a living when we met. Now I drive a horse-drawn wagon.
The people at the resurrectorium called me yesterday and said some guy named Wayne could use another driver and Wayne sent me to see Sam today. Sam runs the stable in the middle of town. I could smell hay and horses long before I entered. It was nice and cool inside. Someone at the back was turning over hay to air it out.
“Are you Sam?” I asked.
The boy chuckled. He must have been all of fifteen. Fleshy but muscled underneath. And he had Downs.
“Sam is my father,” he said. “He will be back very soon. Do you need to borrow a horse?”
“I’m supposed to work for your dad.”
“We can always use help with the horses,” he said. “But you have to be nice to them. They’ll be nice to you.”
“I’m sure they will.”
“Hello!” someone called. I turned to see a man with a broad straw hat at the door of the stable. “I see you met Charley,” he said, extending a hand. Solid handshake. I could feel the calluses. “I’m Sam.” Sam was old for a guy who’d been resurrected. Most resurrectees are in their twenties. Sam was at least mid-thirties, maybe early forties. Some wrinkles. Sun-aged skin. “Charley, Reese is going to drive a wagon. I think Bertha would be good for him.”
Charley smiled. “Bertha is always good for everybody.”
“Come on in the office, Reese, and I’ll give you your route and some instructions. Ever drive a wagon?”
In the office, Sam picked up a clipboard, pulled a pile of bills of lading and a map from a corner of the desk and, clipping them to the board handed it to me.
“Go ahead and ask,” he said.
“The papers aren’t self-explanatory?”
“About Charley. You were wondering about Charley.”
It was true. It was Charley who wasn’t self-explanatory.
“I’m glad your son is here with you,” I said.
“But…” Sam continued for me.
“Okay. But why does he have Down syndrome? I thought all that was supposed to be fixed when we’re resurrected.”
“It’s what he wanted.”
“It’s what he wanted?”
Sam must have seen the look on my face a thousand times. “In heaven, Jesus asked him. And Charley said he liked who he was just fine.”
“Retarded?” Charley said.
He’d been listening in the doorway.
“I’m sorry, Charley, I didn’t mean…”
“I told Jesus in heaven that my heart is not retarded. He smiled at me. I told him ‘make me the same again. I don’t want to have a retarded heart.’ So, here I am. And pop and I are okay. Right pop?”
“Right, Charley,” Sam said.
He handed me the clipboard. I looked at his sunburned hand. I didn’t pry further, but I’m guessing Sam is the same age he was when Charley knew him best, back in the world that was.
“Martha knows the way to the loading stops,” Sam said. “Hardware, feed store… After that, follow the list and the map. Charley, is it okay if we send Tickle along with Reese today?”
“Tickle?” I asked.
“My pigeon!” Charley said. “She doesn’t need a cage any more. She stays on the wagon until she comes home. If you have trouble, just say ‘Help, Tickle.’ We will come get you, Pop and me and Tickle.”
So, Bertha and I headed out. One light flick of the reigns so she’d know I was ready, and we were off. Tickle, too, sitting on the bench next to me or sometimes pacing. She flew off after my first few deliveries, came back later, then was off and back all day.
So, Helen, let me tell you about the job.
A horse-drawn wagon is like a self-driving truck, or nearly so. Bertha only drives herself home at the end of the day, but that’s when you most appreciate it. We did fine right off the bat. Not bad for a guy who never rode a horse. I drive the wagon back and forth across town, meet nice people, and get exercise unloading it. I like it. It’s usually sunny… I didn’t tell you about that, did I? We had a thunderstorm the other day, and it blew down the big tree in the town square.
Some people got really upset about it. Not that it doesn’t rain. Sometimes we get a real soaker. It was that the storm did damage to something. One of them got mad at me when I said big thunderstorms are part of perfection. So the Zoës held a regional meeting to explain that storms are part of God’s order or something. I stopped listening after a few minutes. I just scanned the faces looking to see if you were there and my Zoë hadn’t told me.
But you weren’t there. You’re not working at any of the places I deliver to. You’re not walking down the sidewalk or in the lane, not looking out of any of the windows I pass. I’d recognize you, the way I recognized you back at that service station when we were first alive and still young. I know you remember that because we often talked about how we met in that snowstorm by chance, each not knowing the other was back in town. You said later you recognized me by the laugh lines around my eyes. You hugged me and left the scent of Cinnabar perfume on my coat. My partner on the run that day kept laughing. “You got it bad,” he’d say. “You got it bad.” And all I could do was smile, because he was right. All the rest of that day I couldn’t think of anything else but calling you up. My hand would go to the note with your phone number and I’d look at it and he would say “Yep. It’s happening.” And it was, even then. We left had town years before to our different destinies, and we parted friends. Somehow, I knew meeting you in the snowstorm that day there would be more. I wanted more. I wanted you.
I want you now. Here in this Resurrection. Where are you, babe?
I haven’t written a journal in a couple of months. Too busy. Arjun told me that the gal who ran the New Harmony Delivery Company had “gone Zoë.” I never met her myself, but I gather she was well liked. I guess that’s how you make the transition: Butter everyone up, treat them with kid gloves… I could hear it in my head: White Glove Customer Service. That was going to be my company motto.
Arjun said New Harmony Delivery Company did intra-regional delivery.
“So who handles the inter-regional delivery?” I asked him.
“No one.” Sometimes I think he answers before he thinks.
“No one? I’ve traveled much of the region and there are no factories here, but we’ve got a lot of manufactured goods. They come from somewhere.”
“I see,” he replied. “Yes, no factories here or in 1819 or 1718 and below for that matter. Well, not many. Only ones situated near streams to use water power. But we didn’t want to recreate the pollution of the technology from the 20th and earlier centuries. The factories in 2021 are clean and mostly automated.”
“How nice. I’d love to see them.”
“So you say. Back to my original question. Who handles the inter-regional delivery?”
“You have Zoës unloading goods at the depot? Angelic beings huffing crates off boxcars? Is that supposed to be credible?”
“Oh, I see what you’re asking. No, we have Bios do that, mostly.”
“Bios from 2021?”
He shook his head ‘yes.’
“So some Bios can be trusted to move between regions?”
“Yes. No. It’s not about trust. It’s about contam… We have them work at night to prevent culture shock by anyone in 1920.”
I knew there wouldn’t be any culture shock. Only the shock of finding out some people could go between regions and others were stuck in Möbiusville.
“Why not have us deliver to 1819?” I asked.
“You have no manufacturing, so there is less to deliver.”
“What if I came up with something? Manufactured something. Could we deliver it?”
“You mean, build a factory?”
“Sure. We’ve got streams. We could build a factory that’s green.”
“The labor wouldn’t be green. It would require laborers.”
“And 2021 doesn’t?”
“No. It would be automated. Once they set it up, the factory is automatic and self-regulating.”
“We’re off topic,” he said.
I can imagine what Edward would think of our conversation. After that we returned to the topic of the New Harmony Delivery Company. With a brief tour or the warehouse and transfer dock by the tracks, I was able to size it up. She ran the place with 9 to 5 hours. Deliveries from 2021 were brought in after closing. Although the city did not have a curfew, people weren’t to loiter around the dock or warehouse after hours. We were also a place where local truck farms could bring goods to be distributed throughout the region.
Yep. I’m looking at the entry and I still shake my head at it. Mind you, I knew long before today that there were few autos in Region 1920. And that makes it weird compared to the world most of us came from. Even the make-believe paradise of Mayberry on The Andy Griffith Show had cars and radios.
“We need to get a fleet of trucks,” I said to Arjun when we got to the warehouse.
“Sorry, but that would necessitate a fleet of fuel trucks delivering fuel to petrol stations throughout the region.”
“The automobile is not a clean technology.”
“And horses are? With all their horse shit and the flies? That’s clean?”
“For now, the Region will retain animal-based transport except for the interurban and vehicles deemed essential, such as fire, ambulance, and other essential services.”
I didn’t recall seeing the Fire Station ever go into action. And what exactly is ‘essential’?
“Then it actually isn’t Region 1920, is it?” I said. “I have to tell you, it was more than a bit of culture shock for me to find out there were no cars, no computers, cell phones, no Internet. And no TV for God’s sake. What do we have that 1819 doesn’t?”
“The electric lamp and the telephone. And refrigeration. That’s a big thing you know.”
“But those are mostly 19th century technologies, aren’t they?”
“True, but only as the 19th century was about to become the 20th. And the appliances. You do not see them because they are ubiquitous when you were alive. Someone from 1819 would not be used to all your electric gadgets.”
“Damn. I’d hate to live in a region without power.”
“All regions have power. Animal or water or wind power perhaps. But power nonetheless. 1819 has enough electricity for the telegraph.”
I looked around me as if seeing this place for the first time. While I was doing the gardening and little more, it was like being on an extended vacation. I was content to have a “get away from it all” mentality, so no phones, computers, none of that bothered me. My commune childhood fit nicely here. But to run a delivery company with horse-drawn technology?
“Wayne, I can see this is making you uncomfortable,” Arjun said. “Perhaps something less… Perhaps where the interface of commerce and technology is less acute.”
“No, I said. This will do. I’ve been lollygagging around too long.”
So, I became the new boss. The other bios who worked there, Nancy and Arny, weren’t interested in running the place. As if it would be too much to hold all this in their heads. As if the stress and deadlines of a horse-powered delivery company would be too much for them. Nancy would be right at home on Mom’s commune. Arny should be in art school. That way he could stare at clouds all day, paint brush in hand. What kind of world could they build?
Arjun introduced me as the new manager. The word “boss” never came up. He left me to find my way right after that. The hardest part of taking over was figuring out the books in an age of pencil and paper. Nancy helped with that.
“We’re short handed,” Arny said when the first wagon was loaded and he was about to set out on his route.
“What do you mean?”
“We have two routes. When Ann went Zoë, I started doing Louie’s route as well as mine. But today, I won’t have time. Most days I won’t.”
“What happened to Louie?” I asked. Arny shrugged his shoulders then turned away, gave the reins a light flick and clicked a couple times, and he and his horse and wagon took off.
Nancy said to call the resurrectorium.
“Is Louie dead?” I asked.
“No, that’s how you reach Arjun. Tell him you need a new driver.”
The switchboard at the resurrectorium said they’d take care of it, and a few hours later, Reese showed up.
“Long time no see,” I said, but I didn’t extend my hand. Reese had gone native, wearing only a loin cloth.
“Problem?” Reese asked. Reading my face and body language didn’t require expertise. I wanted to telegraph my displeasure. ‘Problem?’ he asks. Where do I begin? If this was the old world, there’s no way I’d give this guy a job. Here, I didn’t even know if hiring decisions were my own. I felt like such a rube not knowing the basics of how to run a company. I didn’t even know if it was my company to run. Who owns this gig, anyway?
“No,” I said, “though the job will require loading and unloaded a wagon, and you’re not dressed to do that. Plus, you represent the company with customers.”
“Oh. I’ve got a jumpsuit I can wear.”
I wanted to say ‘Then why the hell aren’t you wearing that?’ but again, what are the rules here in commune-land?
“Good,” I said. “Consider your jumpsuit your work uniform. I know for certain there are some in the region who are scandalized by the lack of standards.”
“My last job was as a Cultural Translator, so I know about the problem most people have with nudity.”
“Yet you showed up here nearly naked?”
“I haven’t got the job yet.”
“Do you want the job, Reese?”
He straighten up a bit and some of the commune attitude fell away.
“I’ve been going through a rough patch,” he said. “Amber, my Zoë, thinks this job would be good for me.”
“I don’t care what Amber thinks. I may not be here to make money. God knows, no one can get ahead here. But I’ve been asked to run this company, and I plan to run it well. So, if we agree the job is for you, show up for work in your jumpsuit.” I could see that got to him, so he wasn’t a full-blown commune slacker.
“Have you ever handled a horse-drawn wagon?” I asked, moving on from his appearance.
“Nope. Never met anyone in my life who did. Can you?”
“Yes, but that’s besides the point.”
“That is the point.”
He was right, and I had already forgotten my shock when Arjun brought me here.
“Okay,” I said. I decided that he’d figure out how to drive a wagon soon enough. “You’ve got the job. Do you know where the stable is?”
“Go there tomorrow morning, and they’ll get you set up. Come here with your rig, and in your jumpsuit mind you, and we’ll get you started on your route.”
He extended his hand and I shook it.
This wasn’t the same Reese I’d met before, the one that Edward was so impressed with. ‘Möbius man,’ Edward had called him. Reese seemed worn down. Maybe he’d been running the Möbius loop all this time. I remembered a comic book from when I was a kid. A man was running on a treadmill in the sky, clouds and the earth far below him, running as hard and fast as he could, because if he stopped or slipped he’d fall. There were a lot of times when my old life had felt like that. Investment banking could be like that at times. When the markets turned bearish, it was a struggle. I saw that kind of struggle on Reese. I wondered if they sent him to me because they thought he needed a low-stress job. Well, he’s got it. Welcome to commune world, Wayne.
They have mates, but you’re not here. It comes down to that, really. I’d see someone else alone, missing their mate, or worse I’d see a couple reunited, sometimes whole families all happy as can be. It just got to be too much. I‘ve lost count, Helen, of the number of reunions I’ve seen, and as a Cultural Translator, I meet most of the resurrectees.
I wonder what Amber was thinking when she arranged this job for me. Zoës don’t seem to have much of a grasp of human psychology. Okay, I should have seen myself in the first few weeks. So I almost made my “90 day review,” if there was such a thing. 85 days. I hate to be a quiitter, but I’ve had it.
It’s my fault, I suppose. I would always, always ask recently reunited couples how long they were apart. Days. One waited a week. I’m on day one hundred and fifty three, Helen. I tried leaving to see if you were in another twon, but that’s forbidden. I’ve tried waiting patiently, but that’s not my nature. Rock, meet hard place — the one at the top of my skull. I was never very good at changing who I am. I can’t refashion myself into a paragon of patience.
The most recent couple had been married a year longer than we had. Nosy me, I had to ask them, because when she said “forty six years” of marriage I felt something in my stomach twist up. Some couples get reunited. Some were only married a short while, but they got to be reunited. Not us. I know it isn’t anything you did. So I’ve been trying to figure out what I did that’s keeping them from resurrecting you. Even if it’s because I tried leaving town and we’re both being punished, what about those first sixty seven days? What were they waiting for then? So, I broke a rule on the sixty eighth day — an unwritten, unspoken rule — that we’re not to leave the region. Thanks, Amber, for the heads up. So eighty five days later they’re still punishing us?
Okay, enough of that. Rehearsing my anger isn’t going to solve anything. I’ll find another job. That’s one of the great things about this place. There’s no rat race.
Not much had been happening since my last post, so I left off journaling. But I was between jobs again and was working New Harmony Gardens, and today I finally met Edward. He was and wasn’t what I expected. He’s… I hate to use the word petite, but he’s a short slim guy, and like a lot of guys smaller than normal, he’s a live wire. And he’s clearly an operator. That comes off right away. He’s the kind of guy you want on your negotiating team when you’re talking to those hard-headed Swiss or the Chinese, who are more dangerous as Capitalists than they ever were as Communists. But Edward’s also not the kind of guy you want on your team if you don’t have the time to keep tabs on him. Otherwise you’ll find out the hard way he’s gone over to the other side. Any other side will do with a guy like that, as long as what’s in it for him is more than what you’re offering.
I asked him if he knew about Reese’s Möbius-town experience.
“Oh, yeah. I expected that. Divide and conquer and all that.”
“We can travel to other parts of the region,” I said.
“Maybe this is all there is,” he replied. “We only have their word in it.”
“So you don’t trust them?”
“Trust them?” He snorted his distaste. “I know what they say about themselves in that pamphlet. Life of God and all that. I know what a pamphlet like that is for. I used pamphlets to sell time-shares in Florida. But there weren’t any time shares, get it? Only the addresses were real — shitty swampland real or abandoned sink-hole–land real. No, believe you me there’s something else going on here. I don’t want to say just yet what it is, but I have my theories. All I’ll say right now is ‘look up.’ Look up at the night sky.”
Joe was watching the whole exchange. Edward looked over at him.
“My shadow,” he said. “I hear he gets all the tough cases.”
I’ve not entered anything in a journal for over a year. I don’t know why I stopped keeping any journal for so long. At first I just told myself I was too busy, and there was some truth in that. After the disaster of The Committee for Law’s simplistic attempt to recreate the genius of Moses and James Madison failed and with it the Ninety Day Republic, The Emergency Committee Eddy reconstituted has been running things. I’m chaffing under their rule worse than anything under the Zoës. It’s worse because, once again, I’m part of it. Eddy appointed me to the Truth Commission.
If Act One ended with the Zoës, and Act two with the Ninety Day Republic, Act Three started when The Emergency Committee arrested Alex and Zelda for Conspiracy Against Bios Rule. I could see Zelda’s arrest coming, and even as a member of The Truth Committee, I couldn’t stop it.
I had warned her Eddy was fuming over her editorials. Each one got more strident. The news section of the expanded paper was storied with bad news. The first complaints were minor and unofficial. It was like the old days, several people said to me. I could see what they meant. The first one that caught my eye was a report of a stolen bicycle, since it reminded me of why one of my escape attempts backfired. There were lots of reports of rude behavior. I thought that odd, and less than newsworthy. I asked Zelda about it, because it seemed like a cross between sour grapes and a low-grade, itching powder kind of incitement, to use a word bandied about at Truth Commission meetings.
“It’s news because this stuff never happened when the Zoës were in charge,” she said.
“I’m sure it did,” I said. “You just never reported it.”
“is that a fact? Who was rude, except for Eddy and his friends?” she replied.
“Are you including me in that?”
“I know you were in the hardware store with Eddy when the tornado hit.”
“Guilt by association. Isn’t that the kind of thing you’ve been campaigning against?”
She dropped her gaze. “You’re right. Sorry about that, Reese. See how easy it is now?”
I thought about the bicycle. She saw me thinking her comment over.
“Sin,” she said.
“I’m reporting on something that used to be rare. That used to be fixed right away, at the source. Sin. Here’s a nugget: When people were rude back then, and it was rare, they’d catch themselves and say ‘sorry’ and you’d say ‘don’t mention it’ and it stopped there. Now, if they even notice themselves being rude, doing little things that hurt in some way, they ignore it. Hide from it and hope it will go away. It can’t. Sin is like black mold. Instead of getting smaller because we put light on it, it’s growing because we keep it in the dark. That’s true personally and corporately.”
“I’m surprised you didn’t leave in the Exodus. “
“It was tempting. I saw this coming. But I’m a reporter. People need honest journalism more as things get worse.”
Honest journalism. It got more rare in the old world the worse that world got. I was glad to hear that the concept had been resurrected. As things under The Emergency Committee spiraled downward, I was more glad for that honesty with each turn of the screw. The Committee, obviously, was not. Members began to point fingers at me. When the warrant came out, I was surprised, relieved, and a bit disappointed to find that my name wasn’t on it.
I think Alex was targeted because he was paying for Zelda’s printing costs out of the profit from his hardware store. That made him a co-conspirator. Ever since Eddy’s men came in and confiscated the nails and hammers (never returned) for the election posters, he’d been a vocal opponent of Eddy and all he did. Long after Eddy won the election (it wasn’t even close), Alex kept his Gabby poster up, even though Gabby was Eddy’s second in command. Gabby had to come by and ask for him to take the posters down. Then Alex had Zelda print up a poster with the original Seven Laws of the “The Ninety Day Republic,” which was a dig at the Executive Committee. To everyone who asked and many who didn’t, it was to show that things had been working out just fine with only a few laws. He’d left off the law number eight (the first enacted after I left the Committee) about not leaving town (we couldn’t leave the region under the Zoës). That was another dig at Eddy and the Sheriff. ‘Libertarian principles’ he’d say and take out a diagram he’d been working on that ‘proved’ nearly everyone who entered his shop secretly agreed with him over Eddy.
I arrived at their trial in a borrowed orange jumpsuit. I didn’t want to prejudice Zelda since both of us had attracted unwanted attention by not wearing “the orange.” I took a seat near the back of the hall and watched it fill with people. Since attendance at meetings having gone from ‘a good idea’ to a punishable offense to miss, the jumpsuits were soon wall to wall. Looking over the ubiquitous orange, I realized there was nowhere in the region that many jumpsuits could come from. Region 1920, nearly half unpeopled, could never have made them. Before the Zoës left, we were getting things through trade. So where did all the jumpsuits come from now that we were cut off? Was the mold Zelda spoke of creeping into the other regions? It was as if things were created by magic or invisible Morlocks.
At the Bench, acting as a panel of judges, were Eddy, Gabby, and four others I had seen before but didn’t know. Zelda and Alex were brought before the Bench in orange jumpsuits, their hands bound behind them with cotton–rope handcuffs and one of the Sheriff’s black-jumpsuited deputies holding on to each of them. The sight shocked me, because I could not imagine anyone in the world that the Zoës ran needing to be handcuffed. Then the glaring exception came to mind: Mortimer. Even in the Zoë’s world, we had crime.
Two tables had been set up in front of the bench: prosecution and defense, and Zelda and Alex were seated at one bench. The other was vacant. On the other side of the prosecution’s table were twelve chairs in a roped off area. More I didn’t know. Eddy was drawing jurors from other sections of Region 1920.
Eddy stood and gaveled the meeting to order.
“This trial will come to order. For the record, and because I have been accused of bias…” The crowd interrupted Eddy with boos and calls of support. “Thank you. I have been accused of bias so I want the record to show I am stepping down from the Bench for this trial and will not be part of the Judgment Team. I will, however, be acting in the capacity of prosecuting attorney.” With that, Eddy handed the gavel to Gabby and stepped down from the Bench and the dais and sat at the prosecution table.
Gabby stood and banged the gavel. “This trial will come to order. The honorable Gabriel Stamford presiding. Let the record show that Edward Parker has recused himself from the panel of judges and will act as Prosecuting Attorney. Let the record further show that no one was willing to stand as Defense Attorney and the Defendants will therefore represent themselves.”
I would have been willing to stand as Defense Attorney if I had been asked, but I couldn’t imagine I could do as well as Zelda.
Judge Stamford turned to the jury. “Ladies and gentlemen of the jury, you are hereby sworn in and charged with bringing an honest verdict when the evidence is presented.” He banged the gavel again, said, “This court is in session. This trial is underway” and took his seat at the bench. “The prosecution may open its case,” he said.
Eddy stood. “Ladies and gentlemen of the Jury. The prosecution will prove that the defendants, Zelda Hackmeijer and Alex Fromm have been willfully and knowingly acting against Bios rule. They have supported rule by Zoës, directly and indirectly, and are thus guilty of conspiracy against Bios rule, that is, rule by you, the people. We will prove that beyond a reasonable doubt with physical evidence and sworn testimony. The Prosecution rests, Your Honors.”
Eddy loved it, I could tell. His natural bent toward political grandstanding really shined. This was theater to him. This was letting power flow through him directly in a way he craved, a way he missed as the head of the Executive Committee where what he did was behind the scenes and only indirectly awesome to those he lead. Here, he got to strut his power before the whole region.
“The Defense will present its case,” Gabby said.
Zelda rose and raised her bound hands together and with a look said do you intend me to plead my case while bound?
“The deputies will remove the Defendants’ restraints,” Gabby said. One of the deputies removed a large knife from its sheath, reached across the table and cut the cord binding Zelda’s hands, then cut the cord on Alex’s hands, leaving them to work the bindings loose while he and the other deputy stood to the side of the room, within easy reach of their table.
It took a while to work the rope loose. Zelda stood the whole time, and the Bench and Prosecutor became uncomfortable. It was a misstep: Struggling with the bindings sent a message of thuggery on the part of the State. When the last cords fell, Zelda swept them off the table and onto the floor, pinning Eddy with a glare that made him look down at his table, shamed. In a way, I was a bit encouraged to see Eddy could be shamed. Maybe that’s why the Zoës brought resurrected him in the first place.
“My fellow citizens,” Zelda began. “Ladies and gentlemen of the Jury. The Prosecution will show you the same newspapers you have all read. My case is already before you, already something you’ve long talked about, something you knew because you bought my newspaper each week to see what I had to say next and to see the ways in which we aren’t treating each other the way we used to. They will tell you that my codefendant, Alex Fromm, is guilty of conspiring with me to undermine the order of this region, to undermine your freedom and our democracy and return you to the rule by Zoës. But the evidence they will present, The 1920 Sentinel stories and editorials I wrote and Mr. Fromm supported, will show nothing of the kind. I did not call for the return of Zoë rule; we did nothing to undermine the good order of this region. We merely printed the truth and reflected on our condition. We did nothing to abuse the freedom of the press.”
Zelda sat down and I saw her first tactical mistake. There is no law, no constitutional amendment, under The Articles of Emergency that guarantees freedom of the press. If she tries to build a case on The Articles of Emergency, not only will the legal part implode, it will remind the Jury of the chaos and rancor that precipitated the end of the Ninety Day Republic.
Eddy rose from his table. “The Prosecution enters into evidence this edition of The 1920 Sentinel, reserving the right to enter all publications past and present.”
“I object, your Honors,” Zelda said. “The 1920 Sentinel has been in continuous publication for five hundred years, and only in the recent past have I had sole editorial responsibility.”
“Overruled,” Judge Gabby said.
Eddy continued: “I direct the Jury’s attention to an Editorial printed two months ago. Please note the name affixed at the end is that of one of the defendants, Zelda Hackmeijer. The editorial lists a series of small social faux pas then concludes as follows:
What have we become then since we asked our brothers and sisters of spiritual nature to leave us to our own devices? Since then we have had increasing rudeness, thefts, even public assaults. With what we see in the open degenerating so rapidly from that balanced and growing state we were once in, perhaps there are crimes that go unreported? With fistfights and thuggery gone public, can rape be far behind? Is it already happening?
“That’s what the Editor in Chief of The 1920 Sentinel thinks of you, ladies and gentlemen of the jury, people of Region 1920. You are rude, worse than that, you are thugs; you are hiding rapists in your midst. Here is another one:
We have, collectively, recapitulated the Fall [and she capitalized the ‘F’ in fall to link it to the Zoës’ religious bent] and tilted the moral plane downward. What can we do to fix ourselves? The old term ‘bootstrapping’ comes to mind.
“’Bootstrapping,’ in case you don’t remember, is the technique of starting with existing resources to create something more complex and effective. Not bad, if that’s what you mean by it. But she goes on:
But while we may be able to pull on a boot by its straps, we cannot pull ourselves up by our own efforts. We have no lever, nowhere to stand. Our state will continue to decline.
“’Our state will continue to decline.’ Why? Because as it was originally understood and as the Defendant was using the term, ‘bootstrapping’ means doing the impossible, lifting your whole body off the ground by the strap on your boot. The answer then, implied in this editorial, is to have the Zoës come back, isn’t it? Restore us? Lift us up? Rule us?”
Eddy continued pulling out editorials and articles, which the Jury was already familiar with, and one after another showing them in this new light, interpreting the words as a call for the return of Zoë rule. It wasn’t hard to do. I knew Zelda wanted it, or at least was pretty sure that if I’d asked her, she’d have said so. And watching the Jury, I got the sense they were going Eddy’s way. He must have thought so, for when he said The Prosecution rests, he turned to Zelda and smiled.
Zelda rose. “The Defense calls Reese Smith to the stand.”
I wasn’t expecting that. There was no seat near the Bench, since this had never been a courtroom before, so I stood. Zelda looked to the Bench but Gabby didn’t seem to notice he had a role.
“Do you promise to tell the truth, Reese?” Zelda asked.
‘Is that satisfactory, your honor?”
Gabby seemed to realize what was being asked. “You’re sworn in then,” he said.
After a pause, Zelda asked, “Reese, you were asked to serve on the Truth Commission. Is that right?”
“And you are a member of that Commission now. Is that right?”
“And the Commission serves under The Articles of Emergency. Is that right?”
“Do The Articles of Emergency overturn the Laws of the Ninety Day Republic?”
“I object Your Honors, to the term Ninety Day Republic. The Defense is belittling our valiant attempts to create home rule from scratch.”
“Objection sustained,” Gabby said. “The Defense will use no pejorative terms when describing the government.”
“I will restate, Your Honors. Reese, do The Articles of Emergency overturn the laws of the Republic?”
“I don’t know.”
“You serve in the committee that brought the indictment against me and against Alex, and you don’t know whether The Articles of Emergency overturn the laws of the Republic?”
“That’s right. It was never mentioned. There was never any discussion of the status of the laws of the Republic under The Articles of Emergency.”
“And is that not the gist of this article in The 1920 Sentinel? The one that, and I quote to show how vague this all is, ‘among many others,’ is named in the indictment? For the Jury: ‘…that the Defendant did print or aid in the printing of an article calling into question the validity of The Articles of Emergency.’ The article in question simply states what you just stated under oath, that, and I quote you now, Reese, ‘there was never any discussion of the status of the laws of the Republic under The Articles of Emergency.’ There was never any public discussion, which is what the article in question asserts, and apparently, ladies and gentlemen of the Jury, there was never any discussion in the Commission that brought the indictment against the Defendants who stand trial today.”
“I object,” Eddy said from his table.
“Overruled,” Gabby said.
“What? You’re not supposed….” Gabby slammed the gavel hard and Eddy shut up.
“Reese,” Zelda said, barely suppressing a smile, “you were on the committee that drafted the first of the laws of the Republic, is that correct?”
“And what is the very first law? The law your committee felt was the basis of all laws, was more important than the laws against murder and theft and usury, because those all flowed from breaking that first law. Could you state for the record what the first law was?”
“No falsehood. The first law is no falsehood. Do you, as a member of the Truth Commission that brought changes against the Defendants assert that the articles written by me and published by The 1920 Sentinel contain falsehoods?”
“I do not.”
“Did other members of the Commission feel they contained falsehoods?”
I was sorry she asked that. I expect a more experienced attorney would have gone over my testimony with me in advance. Zelda was a reporter acting as an attorney. Even the people attending the trial could see it was a mistake. Gabby brought the trial to order.
“Ms. Hackmeijer, do you rest?”
“No, your Honor. Sorry. Reese, you spoke with me shortly before the indictment came down. Do you recall what we talked about?”
“Sin and reporting bad news.”
“Reporting bad news is one of the crimes I and my codefendant are accused of. So when I explained to you why I reported bad news, what did I say was that reason?”
“You said reporting bad news was shining a light on sin. That when people sinned back when Zoës were in charge, they apologized immediately, and sin was stopped at its source. But now, if people even notice they have sinned, they pretend they didn’t; they hide.”
“And what analogy did I use? To describe sin, what analogy did I use?”
“You said sin was like a black mold. It grew in the dark. But when you put light on it, it grew smaller.”
“Do you think it is a fair analogy to what the articles under exhibit are doing, shining a light on our situation.”
“Thank you. The Defense rests.”
“Is the Prosecution ready to give its summation?” Gabby asked.
“Yes, your Honors,” Eddy said to the Bench. Eddy rose. “Ladies and gentlemen of the Jury. The Prosecution has delivered for your consideration articles in The 1920 Sentinel that call into question our society, that call for a return of the despots who ruled over us, the Zoës. The Defense does not question that these articles were written and paid for by the Defendants. By their own admission, the Defendants assert the lie that Zoë rule was better than Bios rule, that under our own rule we’re just a bunch of sinners, that morally we’re a black mold in need of guidance by the…enlightened? angelic? No! MYSTERIOUS AND CAPRICIOUS! Zoës. They are, by their own admission, guilty as charged of conspiracy against Bios rule. And that question, whether together they did agitate against Bios Rule, is the only question before you, as you will hear the presiding Judge inform you when he charges you with your task.” He sat down. “The Prosecution rests, your Honors.”
“Is the Defense ready to give its summation?” Gabby asked.
“Yes, your Honors,” Zelda said to the Bench.
When Zelda rose in her orange jumpsuit, I was reminded of our former, Zoë ruled state. Before the revolution, we were a community. Honest about our faults with each other. As the orange jumpsuits became the new norm, so did hiding the truth from each other, which was Adam’s first reaction to believing the Lie that he could be like God, knowing good from evil without participating in the evil. He hid himself.
“Ladies and gentlemen of the Jury,” Zelda began, “the Prosecution has declared that we are ‘guilty of conspiracy against Bios rule.’ And there are your two keywords: ‘conspiracy’ and ‘Bios.’ That we opposed Governor Eddy and The Articles of Emergency is clear from the newspapers I wrote and my co-Defendant supported. Many of us do as well, as I know from conversations I’ve had throughout Region 1920. What the Prosecution has done is conflate their rule by decree with ‘Bios’ rule, as if there could be no other rule. But before there was Governor Eddy and The Articles of Emergency we had our short-lived Republic. Whether by design or incompetence, it failed.”
She looked at me when she said that. And she was right, even though it hurt to hear it said.
“But rather than fix those laws or give the new Republic time to work, Governor Eddy, who also happens to be our esteemed Prosecutor, seized power and declared a State of Emergency. We are now under The Articles of Emergency, but they are secret. Unpublished. I ought to know. If they were going to publish them, they’d do it through my newspaper, and Alex’s hardware would have been confiscated to nail them to our lampposts and trees.
“So the first charge is bogus: We do not oppose Bios rule in principle, even if we think it has gone wrong. We oppose The Articles of Emergency in general and Governor Eddy in particular. As for the second charge, ‘conspiracy,’ my codefendant, Alex Fromm, has been subsidizing the printing costs of The 1920 Sentinel. But he has done so openly. Even a cursory examination of our books will show that Alex actually and openly paid for each free copy of The Sentinel. He did that so The Sentinel would remain free to you, as it has been for over five hundred years. So there was no conspiracy, just a free and public gift to you of what so many of you had come to think of as your public newspaper. I was, and am, grateful to Mr. Fromm for this generous, public and civic subsidy. The Defense rests, Your Honors.”
When Zelda sat down, Judge Gabby waited and the courtroom brought itself to order without a gavel.
“Ladies and gentlemen of the Jury,” he said. “The Defendants are charged with Conspiracy Against Bios Rule. You have heard the evidence; you have heard the Prosecution and the Defense lay out their cases regarding the guilt or innocence of the Defendants. The question before you is whether the Defendants have violated Article 23 of The Articles of Emergency that states “all criticism of The Articles of Emergency must be cleared by the Truth Commission in advance of publication.” You must now retire and return with a verdict. Sheriff, please escort the Jury to Samuel Room where they will remain until they call for you to let you know they have reached their verdict. You will then escort them back where their foreman will read that verdict out. This court is in recess until then.”
Zelda stared straight ahead until a deputy grabbed her arm and raised her from her seat. Judge Gabby had at the last second unofficially but completely changed the charges against Alex and Zelda. I was on the Truth Commission, and I never heard of an Article 23. Zelda was right: The Articles of Emergency are not public. Gabby could have made Article 23 up on the spot and we’d never know.
The Sheriff would not let me in to see Zelda. I could hear yelling from the Samuel Room. Several more deputies showed up and cleared the public from the Meeting Hall. I was allowed to stay because I was a member of The Truth Commission. The deputies remained on guard at the doors. I saw Gabby go into the Jury room. I don’t know if that was ethical or not. Shortly after he left, the Jury returned. Zelda’s face dropped when she saw the empty Meeting Room. I think she knew what was coming down. The Jury filed in. Eddy took his seat at the Prosecutor’s table, then the Judges were seated. Gabby gaveled the trial into session.
“Has the Jury reached a verdict?”
“We have, Your Honors,” said a woman in the back row.
“Please stand and read your verdict.”
“On the first count, conspiracy, we find the Defendants not guilty. On the second count, opposition to Bios rule, we find the Defendants not guilty. On the third count, criticism of The Articles of Emergency, we find the Defendants guilty.”
Zelda said jumped up from the table. “I object Your Honors!”
Gabby banged the gavel. “Sheriff, seat the Defendant!”
A deputy thrust Zelda back into her seat. “Your Honors, this third charge was not specified in the indictment.”
“The third charge is implied in the indictment and therefore was included in the lawful directions from this bench to the jury.” Gabby banged the gavel. “Ladies and gentlemen of the Jury. You have discharged your duty. You are dismissed. Sheriff, please clear the Jury from the court.”
With so many additional deputies than the two the trial started with, the Jury was very quickly escorted from the room. I hung back, out of view of the Bench. Gabby banged the gavel.
“The verdict having been delivered as guilty on one count each of criticism of The Articles of Emergency, sentence will now be entered into the record.” Gabby cleared his throat. “You have been found guilty of criticism of The Articles of Emergency, a crime against the well being of society, a crime which undermines society at its root. You are therefore sentenced to death. You will be taken from this place to the Regional Security Building where you will be hanged tomorrow morning at 10:00 until you are dead. This trial is concluded.” Gabby banged the gavel and the bench rose to leave.
“No!” Alex shouted. “That’s not right!” He was still shouting when two deputies grabbed his arms and tied them behind his back. He continued shouting through the black bag they placed over his head. Zelda said nothing and was allowed to walk out of the courtroom with her hands tied behind her back and her head bare. She was enraged but had nowhere to aim it.