When I think about the transition to Empire, this is the story that gives me nightmares.
It is usually a bad sign when a very short story needs an introduction. Nonetheless, here are some links that might make this piece slightly less obscure.
The general historical scenario for this story is that of Spengler's Future. The Contents page for that book is here.
The politics and theology of the story are based, very loosely, on Hardt & Negri's cosmo-anarchist rhapsody, Empire. A review of that book is here
Another short story using the Spengler's Future scenario, but set 170 years later, is Ecumenical Twilight. You can find here
Alternatively, you can just read the text and make up your own background for it. I dare you.
After the Eighth Day
"Board of Lustration, Hearing No. D5647, Greater Chicago Western District. Is the applicant present?"
"Yes, Mr. Chairman."
"Mr. Smith, you have requested this hearing in order to dispose of any suspicions regarding your behavior prior to the Liberation. If your application is granted, you will have unimpeded access to all the privileges of citizenship. As you know, this is not an investigative body. We are limited to the material in the public record and to your own testimony, which is not even sworn. However, you must answer fully any question that the Board may ask. Do you understand?
"Yes, Mr. Chairman."
"Please state your name and place of residence for the record."
"My name is Winston Smith. Since the firestorm last May, I have been living in a hostel at my place of work."
"You are a supervisor at the Ecumenical Dictionary Foundation, are you not, Mr. Smith?"
"Yes, Mr. Chairman. In the Orthographic Reform Section. Abstract nouns, mostly."
"What is your date of birth?"
"2 June 2065. In the Year of the Lord."
"So you were just 15 years old at the beginning of the Day. Did you move with the Rave before then?"
"No, Mr. Chairman."
"But soon afterwards?"
"Yes, Mr. Chairman."
"Were you a regular participant?"
"Once or twice a month, before the Militia, I mean."
"Were you coerced to join the Rave in any way?"
"No, Mr. Chairman."
"Everyone I knew moved."
"Did you ever see a miracle?"
"How many and when, Mr. Smith?"
"Just twice, Mr. Chairman. The first time was at the beginning of Fourth Month, Year 2 of the Eighth Day."
"That was a local event?"
"Yes, sir. The city returned to normal by the next morning. Of course, I also saw Sixth Month, Year 4. Almost everyone did. By then people expected it."
"What did you think the first time?"
"I believed the First President. I thought reality was changing."
"Some people still think that way, Mr. Smith. That is why we have to hold these hearings for senior civil servants. What do you think of the First President now?"
"He lied, Mr. Chairman."
"Do you think he lied about everything?"
"Well, he certainly lied about the Eighth Day being eternity. He also lied when he said the only real democracy was direct democracy, with no bureaucracy or hierarchy. What he meant was that he did not want anything to be between him and us."
"Do you think he lied about the angels?"
"I don't know, Mr. Chairman. I do know that I don't want to see any more angels."
"The Board sees that you have several unusual notations in your permanent file. Let's start with the earliest one. Can you explain the entry about the principal at your senior high school?"
"We didn't hurt him, Mr. Chairman."
"As far as we know, but his neighborhood Rave moved against him and the body was never found. You were on the student council that called the student strike. Would you care to explain the circumstances?"
"He just was not enthusiastic about the City of Man. He took down all the American flags after the Day began, but the only City flag he put up was in the lobby. He always referred to the First President as 'Mister.' We just did not see what his problem was. Most of the world belonged to the City of Man; why not our high school?"
"Did it occur to you he might get in trouble?"
"No, I can honestly say it didn't. Besides, he capitulated immediately. The news hardly mentioned it."
"And nobody ever saw him after a week later. Did it occur to you there might be a connection?"
"Did it bother you?"
"No, I'm ashamed to say."
"How did it make you feel?"
"It was another miracle. That was what the Day was like. People just seemed to organize spontaneously. There was flow, not structure. Nobody gave orders."
"You sound almost nostalgic."
"Let's move on a bit. You served for 11 months in the Militia of the City of Man during year Four of the Eighth Day. Why not the standard eighteen months?"
"I was a communications-technician during the Caspian campaign, Mr. Chairman. That was about the time the standards began to disappear, even in the military. After the campaign ended, my unit just dissolved."
"You were discharged early?"
"It was more informal than that. The City of Man was everywhere, except for a few caves and jungles. The City was supposed to be self-similar, without a standing army separate from the people. That never applied to the elite units, but it did apply to support units and local auxiliaries. Most of us just made our way home."
"You stayed in the area for a while, though, did you not?"
"Well, not quite the same area. I studied descriptive linguistics in Jerusalem. That is what got me my present job."
"Did you take a degree?"
"I did the course work, but I decided against a degree."
"Why did you do that?"
"I was warned that advanced degrees might soon be regarded as marks of hierarchy."
"That was good advice, Mr. Smith. Do you recall who gave it to you?"
"No, Mr. Chairman."
"Did you move with the Rave at Jerusalem?"
"The Rave was prohibited in Jerusalem at that time."
"That's not quite what I asked."
"Mr. Chairman, not only did I not participate in the Rave, but I was already beginning to doubt the Day. I have given the Board documentation..."
"One thing at a time, Mr. Smith. Were you in Jerusalem during the incident at the Temple?"
"No, I came home to Chicago just a month before. Like most people, I did not even hear about the incident until 2096, when the Years of the Lord began again."
"In your application, you allege that you offered some aid to the Ecumenical underground during your stay in the Levant. A few purchases using your personal characteristic continued to be made in Jerusalem until the end of Year Five of the Eighth Day, months after you returned home."
"Yes, Mr. Chairman. I had made some friends in the underground; I saw no reason not to give them limited use of my credit."
"The Board notes, Mr. Smith, that all the Ecumenicals who might have used your characteristic disappeared during the Desolation, and are presumed dead. We also note that you filed a police complaint alleging identity theft in connection with those purchases."
"I had to maintain a cover story, Mr. Chairman. I don't claim to have been a hero. It was the least I could do."
"I see. Well, moving on, after you returned to the Midwest, you worked as a technical editor for the Chicago Tribune. Your records were destroyed during the firestorm. However, we do have a copy of the resume you submitted in Year 7 to the Word Collective, as your current employer was then called. In the resume, you make special mention of your movement with the Rave at the Tribune. You even give a list of persons against whom the Rave moved. Would you care to comment?"
"As you know, Mr. Chairman, the Rave by then was not really voluntary, especially not at a prominent media outlet. You will note that I never called a gathering. Certainly I never informed on anyone."
"It's a one-page resume, Mr. Smith. You don't give any specifics but the names. In any event, the list could not be complete. The Rave there moved frequently."
"It moved back and forth, Mr. Chairman. One month it moved to stamp out discrimination between all forms of life. Not long thereafter, it moved to support the 'single species' principle against food processors who took non-discrimination too literally. The names I listed were of people who seemed unlikely ever to be rehabilitated."
"Why did that seem unlikely?"
"They were guilty, of ordinary corruption and things like that."
"Very prudent, Mr. Smith. There is just one item about your time in the dictionary division that the Board has a question about. According to the office journal for 6 Second Month Year 14, the First President visited your office and spoke to you personally. Would you care to elaborate?"
"We're waiting, Mr. Smith."
"The Board cannot be serious. That was a dream. Lots of people imagined things like that, all through the Day. In any case, the Collective often did visualizations; the journal might just have noted the theme of one."
"Some people still have these dreams, Mr. Smith. Sometimes there is still independent corroboration, five years after the First President's death. It is the policy of the Ecumenical government to investigate all sitings with any corroboration that occurred during his lifetime, however improbable. So, what did you say to him, Mr. Smith? And what did he say to you?"
"The Board is asking me to remember a hallucination."
"The recollection isn't very clear, Mr. Chairman."
"Did he just say hello? Did he ask about your family? Did he talk about your work?"
"I can't even say whether the exchange was short or long. Most of what I remember was just friendly-boss stuff: How do you like the department, that kind of thing. Some of it was very specific, though."
"Well, he seemed to know everything I knew about lexicography. That's how I know it could not have been real."
"Did he say anything to you about the Day, Mr. Smith?"
"Nothing unusual, just typical City of Man propaganda from late in the Eighth Day, when things were starting to come apart."
"Please tell us exactly, Mr. Smith."
"He said there was no need to worry anymore, that I would always be with him in the City of Man. He said that, in the end, I would see nothing but the Eighth Day. What happened in ordinary time could no longer change that."
"And what did you think of that, Mr. Smith?"
"I thought it didn't happen. Even then."
"And if it did happen?"
"Then it was a lie. It was a lie whether it happened or not."
"I think that is all we need to hear about the matter."
[A pause; the Chairman continues.]
"We have no documentation at all about you between 2096 and the filing of your lustration application at the beginning of this year. That's not unusual; lots of things were lost during those three years. Do you have any comment about the period, Mr. Smith?"
"I think there are some things about the last 20 years we all want to lose, Mr. Chairman."
"The Board will probably concur, Mr. Smith. We'll let you know. This hearing is adjourned."
Copyright © 2002 by John J. Reilly