by J.S. Downing
Tess explains the necessity of killing.
| Chapter 5
Uncle Jory returned that night. The following morning he and Blaine discussed what I had been doing in his absence. Arrangements were made for us to fly out two days later, and my remaining time was my own. The days went faster than I wanted them to, and I filled the time feeding the baby lambs and wandering around the settlement. I wanted to take in everything I could one last time before we left. I felt like I was saying goodbye to a loved one.
When the time came, we had a short breakfast and flew out.
The flight was long, and by the time we landed I was ready to sleep. It was afternoon. We took a taxi from the airport and ended up in a gated community just west of Denver. The sight of it was relieving; knowing that there were walls between me and the rest of the world put me at ease. The camera buzzed us in and we were dropped off at a red house with black trim.
It took me a few months to get used to being back among regular people. Our community was one of many worldwide. There were twenty-six houses within the walls, and we had our own doctors, dentists, mechanics, lawyers, bankers and politicians without. None of the children were sent to school; instead they were educated by their Patrons and would later apply for GEDs if needed. Money was not exchanged between people within.
When we went out, everything felt familiar and foreign all at once. It was nice seeing malls and theaters, parks and festivals, races and shows. All of it had a different quality about it, though. We would walk through a mall and I would see employees standing in their stores, sitting and leaning with faces devoid of expression. I was excited to go to the movies, but every movie was dry, and had no real meaning. People would gather for shows or festivals, but they were just going through the motions with a veiled preoccupation of the next day, or week, or year.
I had nothing in common with the other children I interacted with. I remember going over to another girl's house when I was twelve. We had met at the grocery store. It was a slumber party, and there were two others that joined us. They talked about tv shows and songs I had never heard of, boys at school, being moms or nurses when they grew older, painting nails, hairstyles and clothes. I remained quiet through most of it. When they asked me what I liked to do for fun, I told them how my uncle and I would race to see who could take apart a carburetor and put it back together. I was not invited back.
The years went by and I grew up fast, and after a time it was Blaine that stood behind me, watching me work on projects. I was a fast learner, and it often came across as arrogant to anyone but him. He would simply watch me, smile, and remind others that while my approach was not tactful, I was right. I had fun, and enjoyed what I did. There was no conflict within me on what I wanted to become; I was simply me.
One night after a long session of wiring a house's outlets and fixtures, I finished early and decided to put off my other projects until the next day. I had been at it for ten hours, and desperately needed a shower. The walk home was always quiet and peaceful, and left me to my thoughts. It was interesting to think that just beyond those walls was the rest of the world, living their way while I lived my own way, separated by only bricks and mortar. They had no idea what went on in here. I often wondered what they thought about.
Exhausted, I returned home, throwing my dirty clothes in the hamper. I rested on the bed while the water warmed up for my shower. The air felt good against my skin. Blaine was busy and had been out all day. I had told him I was probably going to end up sleeping over at the house I was working on, but I decided I would rather shower and sleep at home. Jory was out of town on business, so it was me for the night.
I debated cooking a quick dinner when I was done, but decided against it. The comforter felt nice against me, and my body was craving sleep even more than food. Steam began coming out from the bathroom. I reluctantly rose, stretched long, and got into the shower. Hot water relaxed my sore muscles, and I stayed in for longer than I needed to.
There was a vase that rested precariously close to the front door. It was one of those things that you bumped every time you weren't paying attention, and it would wobble but it never quite fell. That night--when I was all alone in the house, naked and at my most vulnerable--it finally fell and broke downstairs. Startled, I turned off the water and stood listening. There was a shuffle of feet, multiple feet, and something scraping across the floor. Anyone that's ever seen a horror movie would understand the irrational dread I felt. I looked around the room for anything I could grab. The top drawer had a pair of scissors. Snatching them up, I crept slowly into the hallway. Whoever it was, the bastards wouldn't get me without a fight. A few more footsteps, and hushed whispers.
Peeking around the railing, I saw two figures in masks dragging a third toward the basement door. The floor creaked under me just then, and both looked up. I screamed.
"Tess?" Blaine pulled his mask off.
Jory pulled off the other. "Fuck."
* * *
"They were dragging a person?"
Tess nodded. "I was sixteen at the time. It was that night I figured out what my uncle did."
"So it was a man he was going to kill?"
Glade had been doodling on his pad of paper as he listened. He clicked the pen closed and set it neatly next to the pad before giving her his full attention. "Why?"
"There are many acceptable reasons for killing someone."
Tess examined him for a long moment in a way that made him uncomfortable. "Why would you kill a man, Glade?"
Surprised by the question, he frowned. "I would only kill a man if he was trying to kill me first."
"What if he was trying to kill someone you love?"
"I suppose I would then, too."
She leaned forward, her voice suddenly intense. "What if he was trying to kill a total stranger?"
Glade shrugged in aggravation. "I would try to stop him, of course."
"What if he had been justified in doing it?"
He scoffed at the notion. "That would have to be determined later, in court. It is not a civilian's place to kill another; whoever it was should have called the police instead."
"Bullshit," Tess said flatly, reaching across the table and grabbing his pad of paper and pen. She examined the drawing, a sloppy depiction of a cat eating a fish. Clicking the pen open, she began adding to it. "Police; civilian. Action; inaction. It's all a load of shit."
Blunt. "Care to elaborate?"
The pen strokes grew faster. "Where to begin? It is not a civilian's place to kill another; look at how deeply your society is embedded in you. People spout out appalling ideas every day without a second thought as to what they mean or where they came from, or more importantly, where they are taking them.
"You just clearly drew the line of what society means today. Two classes, in this case: police and civilian. One is the direct representative of the government. The other, its subject. The former is given unrestricted power; the latter has no power.
"What allows it? Righteousness and blind arrogance. People worship the government like a deity capable of smiting them for blaspheming. It is held higher than any person as an entity, and held accountable for nothing. Do you know the most ironic part, Glade? Do you have any idea?"
He shook his head, content to let her finish.
Tess slid the pad back to him. She had drawn a thought cloud coming from the fish around the cat that was eating it. Written below was O Theos den nkremisoume ta spitia ton andron, pou katastrefei to myalo tous kai na tous nkremisoun idioi.
"The government doesn't even exist."
Her posture was no longer carefree. As she watched him, he could see her jaw was clenched tight. Her shoulders were rigid. She looked like a viper ready to strike.
Glade leaned back, crossing his arms in front of his chest. "If you're waiting for an argument from me, you'll be waiting a while."
"It wasn't an argument I was waiting for."
He nodded. "You were cornering me with a truth, and you were waiting for me to realize it."
She glowered at that. "And you are evading it. I can see that much. What I can't see is if you are being stubborn or simply remaining objective."
"Maybe both," Glade began, examining the drawing. Her every action, a metaphor. "I can draw my own conclusions about what you mean when you say the government doesn't exist; but that would leave a lot up to interpretation, and through that, miscommunication. One thing you should know about me, if nothing else, is that I want to understand you. That is more than my job; it's who I am. I guess, in truth, I'm not a detective because I get paid to do it. I'm compelled to find clarity, and that is why being a detective suits me. In your own terms, I'm just being me."
Tess turned back to him. Her eyes told him that he had just affirmed what she was thinking. It made him feel more comfortable than he ought to.
"I know that about you; that's why I'm here. And you're right. If I'm not clear, it is your interpretation of me that will suffer.
"Government--or country, which is interchangeable--is a concept that people treat as a physical entity. It's an institution that's popularity and format has only been surpassed by religion. Think about the countless parallels between them. Governments have federal buildings; religions have churches. The former has police and politicians; the latter has priests and bishops. One has laws; the other, commandments. Both rely on followers to exist. Each controls its people through guilt and fear, yet proclaims to do it in the name of justice.
"People believe church and state to be opposites. In fact, they are two sides of the same coin. They battle each other, yet they stand for the same thing: control of the people. Their biggest supporters become wealthy off of them, and have a false sense of superior morality because of it. What's at the head of each? The President, the Queen, the Pope? No. There is God, and there is the Government. Two things that don't exist, that people live and die for.
"What would happen if people simply stopped believing in them?"
Glade raised an eyebrow. "Chaos."
The word hung in the air. For some reason it left a sour taste in his mouth. Tess was watching him silently, as though to punctuate the severity of his realization.
"Chaos is reality, and we have fought it with such righteous futility that we actually tricked ourselves into thinking we have defeated it. But it is only a story we tell ourselves to feel in control. That's the catalyst of every story ever told, the story of how we controlled circumstances and came out victorious. Every religious text on the being that has control over the universe, that has a plan for everything; every law and regulation trying to make rules the world will be bound by; fictions all. And at the end of the day, all this control we have exerted, will we be able to stop climate change? Super volcanoes? Our star exploding? Hell, even our own mortality?"
"So what are you saying? We should just give up?"
She shook her head. "No, what I'm saying is that we have already given up. We go through these rituals that are so damn important that we can't see the bigger picture. Our control has become our chains, and they weigh us down to the point of inaction. Fictions have overtaken truths, and everyone's view has become so muddied that we are slowly killing ourselves.
"Shall I list the various fictions we hold as truths? Governments do not exist; they simply provide people false justification or condemnation for every action. Borders are invisible lines between countries, made only in people's collective minds. Money is, in fact, paper and ink--and just as valuable. Laws are hallpasses to oppress in written form, and most have nothing to do with justice.
"Once you discard the fictions, you realize that only one thing has true value: knowledge. How to grow food, how to build shelter, how to create tools, and how to defend yourself. These are real things; concrete and tangible.
"People have forgotten what value is. They surrender their freedom because they no longer understand its place in society. Freedom is dangerous for the same reason that it's precious. Those that snuff it out destroy what it is to be alive; they see people only as cogs in some greater plan that was never their own. They use bureaucracy as a means of tempering their system of control. They worry only about taxes and how they are spent, rights people have within their system, whether they should increase defense spending or try building up their economy. All for their system, playing tug of war with every other system. In the meantime, the world around them is being destroyed, and the dumb bastards are more concerned with whose name should be the on it than how to save it."
Glade looked down at the drawing, taking in the words that were etched beneath it. "What did you write?"
Tess smiled ironically. "A proverb. God does not tear down men's homes; he ruins their minds so they will tear them down themselves. Which brings me back to my original point--what is the acceptable reason for killing a man?"
The thought suddenly hit him. "To stop him from destroying."