Remigio switched tiles and grumbled; now the mosaic looked worse than before. He stood up and backed away, taking in the whole work. The geometric design spanned the patio which swept the entire width of his unfinished stone house, overlooking the cliff and the misty green valley below. His neck ached and he kicked at the dusty tiles. Something wasn’t quite right with the execution of his design that looked so lovely in his head. He bent back down to reconfigure the central double swirl and lost himself in the problem until his concentration was broken by a faraway chorus of voices. He wiped the sweat from his neck and went to the balustrade. Winding their way along the meandering valley road was a troupe of youngsters. They wore the kimonos and baggy knee pants affected by the Ninth Generation.
“Humph.” He watched as they got closer and then leaned over the balustrade and called down, “Haro! Haro! Haro!”
The kids looked up and waved, smiling. Still singing, they climbed the network of terraces Remigio had carved out of the cliff face long ago to house his almonds, figs and grapes.
The children emerged one by one through the stone arch marking the entrance to his patio. None looked to be even thirty.
“In what may we be of service, O Silver Survivor? We throw ourselves at your feet.”
Living alone for so long, Remigio had not gotten into the habits of the excessive politeness of today’s youth. Slightly embarrassed by his gruffness, he motioned towards his unfinished house, slinging his long silver braid over his back, unwilling to draw attention to his status.
“It’s my house. I could use some help lifting the lintel. You on your way to do your Love Labor? You can start here.”
“With pleasure, eldest brother.” At that the girls started patting him as though he were a child or rare beast. He swallowed a rude grumble and led them to the doorway of the house where a long carved stone lintel lay.
One of the youth said with a hand flourish and a slight bow, “I am Ezekiel. And this is Jontel, and that is Germania, and there you see Devai and H’sieh H’sieh. We are all your children and at your command.”
“Remigio.” Then he remembered to add, “At your service, equally. Can we get a good grip on the lintel, on either side here, stepping up on the stone platform there to lift it into place?”
The lintel went up in one smooth movement. Set in place, the doorway was magnificent, the broad beckoning approach to his house that he had been envisioning these many years. His irritation melted away. At least one thing went right today.
“Thank you. And you must forgive me my rudeness, my generation never had the social graces yours has developed. And I’ve been struggling with a whopper of a problem. I can’t get the mosaic design to come out right. Started this thirty years ago and still can’t get a true balance.”
“There is nothing to forgive,” they all chimed in and bowed, and then crowded around to study the incomplete double spiral.
Germania coughed politely into her hand and said, “My eyes must be faulty this day. This does not appear to be a Fibonacci progression. No doubt the morning mist obscures my poor perception.”
“No, not precisely. I was trying to work out a double swirl-you see there and there? Two mirror images spiraling out laterally. I had to depart from the Fibonacci progression to make it work but something’s amiss.”
“Such an approach no doubt springs from true wisdom. But forgive me, my youthful ignorance prevents me from seeing the orthodoxy in such a departure.” Devai wrung his hands in an exaggerated gesture of misery.
Jontel cleared his throat and said, “Our Eldest brother is of the time of the Scrolls and knows better than we do the saying, ‘Nothing out of harmony can ever truly succeed.’ Therefore we would never even think of lecturing a Silver Survivor on the principles of beauty and truth. We must humbly apologize for even appearing to coming close to such a suggestion. Time and the years which we have not yet attained will instruct us that this is not in totality a departure from the Laws. Is it not said that Wisdom is proved righteous by its works? Forgive us.”
The kids all softly assented.
Remigio felt the rebuke like a slap across the face. For children to accuse him of disharmony! He bowed twice and thanked them for their labor and kind expressions of friendship. He watched them depart, singing ‘In Praise of the Beloved Cattle’.
‘What’s wrong with this world, anyway,’ he grumbled. ‘Children lecturing me on orthodoxy all the while singing a song that borders on idolatry. Most likely they’re drinking milk and eating cheese too. Why not almond milk, I’d like to know. There’s no diet deficiency to justify animal products. And all this silliness over decorating and parading cattle. That’s it.” Remigio threw down the chisel and wiped his hands. “I’m going to see the Chieftain.”
Remigio arrived at the city three days later, dusty and grateful for the Travelers Station. He bathed, washed his clothes and rested before heading to the Center. A handful of people waited outside on the vine sheltered benches. All were recent generations. At the sight of his silver hair, they all bowed and yielded the first place by the door to him. Late in the day he was ushered in to the Chieftain’s room. There were five serving as Chieftain today; all survivors, of course. Three he knew; he bowed to Karl and Jared and Ontelijewo and politely inquired the names of the other two. Pak Lin and Hirosori bowed in return.
“Our dearest brother, what brings you to the city?” Jared smiled broadly. All composed themselves to listen.
It was a pleasure to talk to other survivors. One could be direct and to the point. None of the elaborate formalities invented by the generations were expected among the peers.
“Something funny is going on with these kids nowadays. Can it really be that nobody cares that people are drinking milk? Animal products? Is that really harmonious?”
Jared nodded sympathetically. “It does take some getting used to, doesn’t it?”
“Then why doesn’t the Chieftain say anything, do anything about it? Have you all just abandoned your responsibilities completely? Because that’s what it’s been looking like from my end.”
Ontelijewo rested one hand on Remigio’s hand. “Brother, some decisions are complex and distressing. We must not exceed. The Chieftain has been discussing this since the Eighth Generation and as distasteful as it may seem to us, nothing was written in the Scrolls expressly forbidding drinking milk.”
“How about this? ‘You must not exploit any animal for your own selfish advantage?’ That’s pretty clear, isn’t it?” Remigio turned purple.
“But brother, the Eighth and Ninth Generations aver that they do not in any way exploit cattle. They love them and treat them gently, like children. They have furnished proofs that the cattle are treated with utmost respect and walk about at liberty. They give the milk of their own free will, loving the young people equally in return.”
Remigio banged the table with his fist, visibly startling the members of the Chieftaincy. “But that’s the point! Have you been blind? Have you seen their festivals? They adorn the cattle in garlands, weave ribbons around their horns and parade them, singing to them! Where is the rationality in that? Do you want to see a wholesale return to superstition?”
Jared shook his head sorrowfully. “Brother Remigio, we beg that you do not let your excessive zeal for the Scrolls lead you into a disharmonious interpretation. The children must be allowed their individual freedom of expression. As long as no principle is violated, we must all allow each other to pursue harmony and unity in our own ways. Go home, meditate on the matter. You will see it differently, then.”
“So that’s that.” Remigio stood, gave a stiff cursory bow to the Chieftain body and left most discourteously. As he walked home, his right shoulder kept jerking, a sign of defiance and anger that had taken him three hundred years to extinguish. And these kids had brought it all back.
A day’s journey homeward brought him to his sister Maura’s orchard. As he turned in the lane, he could hear her singing to her bees. She recognized him from afar and ran to meet him, kissing him on the cheek. She led him to cool bower under the vines and poured mead for him.
“What’s troubling you, Remigito? I have not seen your face like this for many, many years.”
“Things are falling apart, Maura. The unity is gone. Kids aren’t like they used to be, now they’re into weird, scary things and the Chieftain doesn’t care.” He told her about the cattle and the singing and the parading. “They eat animal products nowadays. Would we have attained this age if we did such things? They’re going to poison the whole world with disharmony.”
“Disharmony is a grave thing. But Remigio, I miss the point. Bees are animals. You have never refused honey and you are drinking mead with pleasure right now. How is this any different than milk?”
Remigio flushed and pushed the mead away. “It is different, somehow. I don’t know. I can feel it. I haven’t been this angry in centuries. You see what these kids are doing to me? Anger can make you die!”
Maura pulled her chair close by Remigio’s and took his hand. She stroked his face and said, “You must calm your heart. Yes, your anger puts you in grave danger at this moment. The carbon dioxide canopy which protects us from gamma rays and free radicals, and yes our diet have extended our lives tremendously. But no less important is the peace and unity we practice. Brother, what has happened to your peace? There must be more to it than these silly children. Have you been meditating?”
Remigio jerked away. “Nobody meditates more than I do. Which is why I’m so concerned. I can’t believe you’d be so indifferent to something so flagrantly wrong. Things have gotten much worse than I realized. I have spent too much time alone.”
Maura nodded sadly. “In this observation I find agreement. Do not go. At least do not go angry.”
“I’m not angry. I’m concerned.” Remigio stalked away and turned homewards.
He went over it again and again in his mind, checking to make sure that he was in the right. Hadn’t he adopted the Principles even before the Crash, even before the Scrolls were written down? Who sacrificed his personal life, never even remarrying so that he could work whole souled for the Harmony? Who led the clean up afterwards? Who risked everything to decommission the weapons of war? Had they ever asked him to sit on the Chieftaincy? Who deserved it more than he? And not even once had he ever complained or asserted himself or did the smallest disharmonious gesture in the face of the ongoing lack of appreciation. Let’s face it, it was and is an insult. There’s no other way to look at it. Really, he had been blinding himself to the snub all these many years.
“Hard work and selflessness. Pah!”
Remigio took his time getting home, stopping to talk to everyone he met. Some agreed, some shied away. He had to open people’s eyes to what was going on and he never imagined that it would be so difficult. How complacency blinds people! When he got home, he found Jared waiting for him, sitting in the shade of a fig tree and peeling almonds.
“At last, my brother!” Jared stood up and dusted himself off, smiling and bowing.
“So the Chieftain comes to my humble home.” Remigio was wary. This could be a good sign or a bad one.
“No, not at all. My rotation is over for the year. Come, you know that. I just stopped by because the Body felt that, well since I was familiar with the matter I would be the best one to talk to you.” He threw his arm around Remigio’s shoulders. “Stopped by Maura’s for some mead? Haven’t had any in years. Isn’t it delicious!”
“Oh. Now you’re spying on me.”
“Not that either. People talk. I would say that I’ve been worried about you.”
“I wish you’d be worried instead about the disintegration of the community. Jared, I had nothing to complain about the Chieftain for ages. You used to do well managing things. But since the population has grown, with each generation, you’ve lost it. You’re out of touch and you’re making a mess of things.”
Jared nodded. “Well, thank you for sharing your honest thoughts with me. That’s a start at least. But have you considered that the things you’ve been saying and doing might be more dangerous to the Harmony than a small thing like food?”
“That’s just the sort of thing I’d expect you to say. Divert attention away from your incompetence to blame me for trying to correct the situation. You want to cover things up, make everything look nice on the surface when it isn’t. You’re opening my eyes Jared. You’re right, the problem isn’t what the kids are doing. The real problem is the Chieftain.”
Jared got up and walked over to the unfinished mosaic and seemed to change the subject. “This is quite a project. How long have you been working on it?”
Remigio, disconcerted at the abruptness of the conversation change, said, “Thirty years and more. Why?”
“This is an unfamiliar geometry. It doesn’t seem organic. What is it?”
“Now you’re accusing me of heresy? Perverted science? I would never embrace unlawful mathematics. This is merely a novel exploration of the Golden Ratio, not a departure. Call it an expansion if you will. Don’t worry, it isn’t anything that would lead to a machine.”
Jared flinched at the obscenity. “I wonder if so much time trying to alter the Universal Algorithm might have affected you. Pushed you out of alignment.” Jared reached out and took Remigio by the arm. “We’re not immortal, you know. Survivors have died. You know that every single one that did was out of alignment with the Harmony. No human can long survive as a single unit. I’m worried about you, Remigio.”
“And I’m worried about you, Jared. Open your eyes. Pull out of that corrupt Chieftaincy. Stand up for what is right. Help me clean up this mess. Don’t you see where this is heading? People abandoning the Principles? Don’t you remember the Carbon Age? The Earth befouled with petrochemicals? The whole human race sick in body and mind, endocrine disruption, epidemics of abnormal children being born? Don’t think just because the oil ran out that people can’t return to ancient evils. Where there’s a will there’s a way. And all of this failure will be laid at the Chieftain’s door. ”
“I’m sorry. Here I have to say good bye.” Jared bowed regretfully and left.
That night, Remigio couldn’t sleep. His mind surged and raced, possibilities and ideas flaring up one after another. It wasn’t so much that he ought to do something. He kept seeing what he ought to do and how to do it. He knew! And only he had the knowledge to do it. ‘This is how I know I’m on the right track,’ he thought. His mind was hurtling through time and space, seeing things long forgotten, putting odds and ends together in bursts of enlightenment. When dawn came, he packed a shoulder bag full of dried fruits and nuts and set off on a journey.
Every step brought him renewed energy, as though some powerful drug was racing through his body. He skirted the Inhabited land and crossed over into the Forbidden Forest. He found the great river, the river of the Three Nuclear Power Plants, the land that may not be inhabited for ten thousand years.
“And here too we were wrong,” said Remigio as he build a small boat. “Look at the oaks, the hemlocks, soaring to sixty feet, a hundred.’ Eagles screamed, otters and muskrats played in abundance. A herd of elk forded the river near Berwick. The old concrete relic was vine covered and inert. “This is good land. We’ll settle here after I’ve done what I’ve come to do.”
He drifted downriver past Three Mile Island and Peach Bottom, ancient abodes of evil, until he came to the Proving Grounds. He pulled up to a rusty dock and let the boat drift away. He wouldn’t need it. He spent that day and night and the next day climbing over the wreckage of machinery, choked with vines and pierced with locust and sumac. He prodded and pulled and then he found it. It was just as he remembered it, untouched by time.
“Beautiful,” he breathed and ran his hand appreciatively over the massive titanium ovoid. Gold and silver bands ran its length. “I remember it was so beautiful that I couldn’t bear to destroy it, if I even knew how”. This had to be a prototype, a one of a kind in weaponry. Somewhere there was an access panel. He patted every segment of the gold banding until one gave. A hiss, and then the ovoid split apart, revealing a seat. “Unbelievable. We really knew how to build things in those days. Incredible things.”
Remigio climbed in and the ovoid closed. The display hummed to life. He felt the power of the machine, the thrum thrilled him. He touched a control and the ovoid lifted ever so slightly off the ground.
“I remember, I remember. It hovered, not flew. The point was to keep below radar. What an eternity of time ago that was. And still it can suit my purpose. What it must have cost to build this! Gold and silver, the platinum circuitry. But they didn’t care back then. Money and energy meant nothing when it came to the military.”
Remigio guided the ovoid back to the river and flew upriver, through the headwaters of the Forbidden Forest, until he came to the Inhabited Land. Here he dawdled, and at every home and settlement he stopped and let the crowds gather.
“Is that a –“? And they’d stop themselves, reluctant to utter the word.
“No, of course not. Look, it doesn’t have any moving parts. It’s a work of art, that’s all. How does it float? That’s just air displacement. Perfectly natural, I assure you.”
Those that displayed real curiosity, that didn’t draw their children away in abrupt horror, he fed more information.
“Can you imagine what they’d say about this at the City? Of course, when have they ever shown any imagination? Did you ever think of it, ten thousand people, teachers, counselors, administrators, living off your labor, controlling your lives? How free you’d be if there were no City.”
“but the Body-“ someone would say.
“We’re the Body. You’re the Body. The Body will never perish.” If there was a survivor or a First Gen in the crowd, he’d ask questions. “Did you know the City has a name?”
Someone would remember. “It’s Wark.”
“And what does Wark mean? It means City of War. What did you learn about cities in school?”
Everyone knew this one. “Cities are evil.”
“And so they are. Especially ones dedicated to War.”
At one place only did someone call him on this. John Harris, a survivor he knew well, called out, “It doesn’t have anything to do with War. Wark means dairy farm in old English.” And the foolish crowd followed John as he turned his back on Remigio and went away. But in other places he drew interest, awe, admiration. By the time he reached the plain outside City the crowd that followed him numbered in the hundreds. Some came out of curiosity, others carrying a grievance.
“The City. Look at it.” Remigio addressed the crowd. “No walls, bars or doors. Such arrogant overconfidence. They have you so subjugated that they take you completely for granted. Well, I’m about to set you free. I will restore orthodoxy, enforce the Principles and end all the nonsense. Watch me.”
Remigio climbed back into the ovoid and closed the hatch. He centered himself comfortably in the seat and slowly, luxuriously, opened a port. He smiled at the blinking button. “You’ve been waiting a long, long time for this. And come to think of it, so have I.” He pressed his thumb square down on the button with all the ceremony and deliberation he could muster.
For a long minute, nothing at all happened. Perhaps for a moment Remigio might have feared that the device had outlived its usefulness. But he was soon reassured as the entire body of the ovoid began to hum and crackle. Static electricity built up on its hull and the crowd gathered round to gape at the glowing wonder. The sky suddenly darkened and the ovoid, now a gigantic electric field, pulled lightning out of the sky and exploded in a deafening roar. Everything within a hundred meters was obliterated.
It took several days for the site to cool enough for the Chieftaincy to approach for an inspection. Not a trace could be found of the crowd, the ovoid or Remigio. They sent for Jared. It was well known that he had been a Navy Pilot back in the day.
“I heard the descriptions of the craft from those that saw it on his way here. Sounds to me like one of the Suicide Attack Modules they started building in the last days, the days of desperation. I heard talk that we were going to be sent out in them. But it never got that far, and I hightailed it out of there first chance I got. Barely made it into the Harmony before the Crash. Poor Remigio.”