Suneday, M 5, D 26, 427 AP
I’m a woman, definitely a woman. Pretty. Petite. Very pale, unlike my own brownish skin. My hair is dark, and my face is round with dark slanted eyes. I only know this because I stare in a mirror. There are others who look just like me, and some who look slightly different. A terrible song plays. I am nauseated because the smell makes me think of death and rotting flesh. Yet people are eating.
Shepherd Jaques told me that Allan figured out something about his past self.
Shepherd Jaques’s grim stare sent chills up my spine. We rarely talk about my dreams or violin. I think he has retraced my problems to Allan.
My brother has tried to break it off with Maria. The woman that he loves. The woman that he wants to marry.
“Your brother is Root-reaching. It’s something an Original does when he finds out his past life and tries to cling to it.”
“My brother’s an Original?” Allan had told me, but I wanted to act surprised, but Shepherd Jaques narrowed his eyes, probably assuming that Allan had told me.
“Only Originals are allowed to work at the Institution.”
I wanted to ask why, but something else was more important.
“What is he reaching for?”
Shepherd Jaques wouldn’t tell me anything, but he searched my eyes like he wanted to. He returned to looking at his notes, quill in hand, pretending to write though I know he was only doodling.
“Something has come up, and I’m afraid your brother will be left out of the discussion. I think you should know… since you’re his brother.”
Then he told me. I’ve felt my spine tingle before, usually right before and during a solo or when my work is being evaluated for its worth. But never like this. The tremors moved up my spine and through my limbs. An undistinguishable feeling (fear maybe?) curled around my stomach like a cord until it was knotted.
There’s a boy. A baby, basically. He fell before onto one of the railways that lead from East Alexandria to the Alexandrian Plaza. His life was salvaged, but he lost an arm. Only an arm. But he was a musician for all of his past lives. A pianist.
“They want to… Reestablish the boy.”
“What does reestablish mean?”
“It’s like Relocation, only… prior to natural causes.”
“What?” I asked. I was gripping the armrests of the chair. “What is that?”
“Relocation is when someone dies. Their living data from the right cerebral hemisphere is relocated to a different family. A different life. Their rebirth. It’s how we insure humanity’s survival… until the cure for sterility… Did not your brother speak to you about this, Master Avery?”
“So what is Reestablish?”
“It’s… uh.” Shepherd Jaques stopped writing. He stared at that space on the ground between our chairs. I could tell he was thinking because his lips were moving very slightly without any words emerging. He does that sometimes. “It’s a new term.” He finally looked at me, but his expression was masked. “It’s – um, they want to do away with this copy and replace him… with…” He stopped talking. His eyes moved back and forth between mine.
I was in disbelief. Am still in disbelief. He told me that the father was an Original. A man named Amadeus Shakespeare. He and his wife, they know about the cloning process. They claim that their child – their own child – never actually dies. And so to replace it with another copy, after doing away with this “damaged” one.
Alexandria is built on people who contribute. People who aren’t burdens. We all are just photocopies anyway. Why not? Why not just kill a handicap kid, so his parents and his future copy get to live happy lives!
“The father has good arguments, and…” His old face looked so tired yet unmovable. Like a sad granite statue. “The cure to infertility is so close, Master Avery –”
“Are you defending this?” My hands were shaking. “Is this why my brother was so upset?”
“No – not exactly…”
Allan wanted to find the cure as quickly as possible, so the Counsel of Originals would have no choice on the matter but to let the boy live. The cure had apparently almost been found by a Michaelangelo Jackson. But it had been lost. Allan was forbidden to go through his files, so he did it anyway in secret.
“Your brother… he discovered something that he was never meant to know.” Shepherd Jaques’s dark eyes turned glossy. That image of him will always stain my mind. A sad, tired, helpless old man.
Allan wasn’t in our space, so I wandered the halls of the Institution. I met lots of other Inscapes (we’re identified from the Monitors and Originals and other workers who get to leave by our golden badge shaped like an I with an S in the background. To me it resembles Nehushtan, the golden snake climbing the pole from the Bible)
I met a girl named Johanna Monet, a painter. Thirteen years old. She was sitting in a room full of little egg-like things. I stood and watched her through the glass door watching holograms. She saw me. Those egg-like things are called orisons, and they’re early versions of minervas.
“I watch them to get inspiration for art. You know, they’re actually how we rediscovered different languages and those things. Too bad we can’t actually go out in the world and discover those things for ourselves.”
We had looked at each other knowingly. She wanted me to stay and watch, but I had to find my brother. She slipped an orison in my hand. It’s one that has taught her a lot about the world prior to Alexandria from the point of view of a Prescient – an early word for an Original.
“Bring it back when you’re done. I’ve not finished it, but I have too much inspiration right now. I don’t want to ruin it.” She has a pretty smile.
I found Chief Williams with some other Originals turning a corner at the same time I did. Allan was in the back of the line staring straight ahead with gloomy, dull eyes.
“Who’s to say he isn’t right? I don’t think Richard is any closer today than he was yesterday or a year ago. He’s very content, I’m sorry to say. He’s more interested in pursuing art. I’m trying to push him towards Maria, but he doesn’t seem interested in her either. I don’t know how to motivate him – Frederick Avery.”
That fake smile resurfaced, but I was too busy staring at my brother, whose face had turned a shade paler when Chief Williams mentioned Maria.
Our Maria? Our Richard?
“So you’re Richard’s father?”
“Oh! Um, that is correct, young man.”
I talk to Richard a lot, and he always rolls his eyes and smiles when I ask about his dad. This would make sense.
Allan turned and walked away from the group with his head down. The seven Originals and I turned and watched him. He was wearing a golden Inscape badge.
“There’s something I need to talk to you about, Young Avery,” Chief Williams said, still staring after Allan. “Jaques has told me much of your conversations.”
“I can’t tell you anything until you tell me everything that you know.” I crossed my arms. He’s about half a foot taller than me, but I wasn’t budging. My insides were shaking. “Or are you going to kill me too, under the guise that I no longer play the violin very well?” The Originals glanced at each other, and Chief Williams closed his eyes slowly and sighed.
“Alright,” he muttered. “First, it’s not killing–”
“Ah yes. Reestablishing a life doesn’t constitute murder.”
His eyes darkened. “Young man, you have no authority in this place. It is not your decision to decide what is best for mankind.”
“But you and your friends get to decide? In the old days, didn’t they vote? Why don’t we let Alexandria decide what’s–”
“Alright,” he growled, grabbing my arm, much stronger than I would expect for an old man with graying hair. He pulled me around the corner they had just rounded and through a door into what looked like a lab space. He let me go and glared down at me. “Where are we, Frederick?”
“The laboratory, Frederick, of Jonathan Vaughn, and now of your brother Allan Avery.” He pulled a drawer open, pulled something out, and slammed it shut. “I knew better than to let him back into the Institution, but my son wouldn’t have it any other way. I thought it might inspire him. Look at this.”
“What is it?”
“A frozen holograph from an early version of a minerva. What do you see?”
I saw me, as a boy, standing next to what looked like Allan. A much older Allan, who stood next to a very pretty woman with very light skin and blonde hair. We were smiling.
“What is this?” I repeat, my hands shaking.
“An Original and his family. This girl,” he pointed to the woman, “was able to bear a child before being treated. You. Unfortunately, the Plague got her before the cure could be administered. This man, who you now know as Allan Avery, was your father.” When I said nothing, he continued. “We thought it would be best to give him a responsibility to look after. One that was closer to home than his wife and child from his previous life, but an actual blood-relative. That rarely happens. But Allan was too young, and Artemis and Vincent, the volunteer Originals for the Relocation of Jonathan Vaughn, were unwilling to have another child, seeing they were much too old to raise it. When Allan began acting in a concerning manner, we took matters into our own hands.” He crossed his arms.
“Jonathan Vaughn,” I muttered, clutching the frozen holograph. “You mean…” I looked at him, the tears beginning to blur my vision, but Chief Williams seemed unmoved.
“So Jaques has already told you.”
Jonathan Vaughn was my brother’s past cloned self. Michaelangelo Shakespeare was his colleague, the man who discovered the cure because he was so in love with his wife Ada Wordsworth Shakespeare that he wanted to have an actual child with her. Jonathan knew that the Relocation process would end once the cure was found, and he tried to dissuade his colleague. But Michaelangelo succeeded. Jonathan abandoned everything, even his wife Juliet and child Rosanna at the time, in order to take over Alexandria and ensure the Gilgamesh Project never ended.
“What hurt Jonathan is that he did not have a following. He’s known as the madman who wanted to live forever,” Chief Williams told me.
Jonathan murdered Michaelangelo through poison, poison that destroys the internal organs. The first murder case in Alexandrian history. And he destroyed the cure, trying to burn everything in the lab. He then tried to destroy the saved data of Michaelangelo so he could never be reborn, but they had managed to salvage some data from Michaelangelo’s teeth and eyes. Jonathan and Michaelangelo had been the two main Original Prescients to discover the cure for the Plague. They couldn’t just terminate Jonathan’s life permanently. Especially with only 1,997 humans remaining. He had been a good man for his previous lives. So Artemis and Vincent Avery agreed to be his Relocated parents, despite being in their sixties.
“Since Jonathan had abandoned his previous family, we decided to use you, his bloodborne relative, to lessen the chance of that happening again. We wanted to wait a least another generation before allowing him back into the Institution, until all evidence of Jonathan had been destroyed.”
“And Ada, the past copy of Maria, she died after her husband.”
“Yes. Jonathan took care of that. Accidentally, but it happened nonetheless.”
“And me, I died shortly after Jonathan?”
Chief Williams stared at me. Unblinkingly. “Unfortunately, no. You were living in Eastern Alexandria, young, punkish, only writing a few mediocre songs when your rent came due.”
“What does that mean?” My hands were beginning to shake. “What… what did you do?”
“You had to be Reestablished.”
“You killed me?” It emerged as a little more than a whisper. His eyes already dark eyes turned black like coals burning through my skin.
“You did not die, Frederick. You were simply reborn. It was in the best interest of what should be done.”
I stumbled backwards into the counter and looked around at all the science instruments that I couldn’t recognize.
“Shepherd Jaques let you do that?”
My heart throbbed against my chest so hard that I thought I would throw up. I ran past him, out of the laboratory, past the other dazed Originals, past the library. I made it to my space in time to empty the contents of my stomach.
I laid for an hour on my bed and stared at the ceiling. It still hurts to breathe, like the wind has been knocked out of my stomach and can never be replaced.
That handicap boy will die.
(Photo: Karl Fredrick)
The links to the previous parts are at the top of this post.