September 03, 2005

Chapter 18

Matthew couldn't sleep. Gregory's notebook grew stranger and more compelling the more he read. First he praised himself, then he blasted everyone else, and then he ranted about the dangers of his least favorite subject: religion.

Religion nearly destroyed this city at the outset. The first six years were a disaster. The city was founded without religion, but the people brought it with them. A mix of this and that, without coherence. News of the battles in the outside world created tensions, even violence among the staff, whenever religion was involved.

The thirteen knew this couldn't continue. When they created their team they excluded everyone with religious beliefs. When they rebuilt the city, they barred religion. Recognizing that they might need an understanding of these matters to deal with other cities, they locked religious texts in a restricted section of the archive. Only the chief archivist and the leader were allowed access to anything more than the most general materials. Interest in religion was immediate grounds for exile, and, if necessary, execution. There have been three outbreaks of religion since, though only one has led to an execution.

Chief Archivist Luke was found distributing the Bible to other citizens 350 years ago. He was immediately exiled along with two others he had contaminated, but returned claiming that converting the city was his task. He was executed before he had a chance to complete that task.

The second outbreak came during the creation of the farm community. Citizens encountered the village and its residents' religious fervor. After intensive debate and communications with other cities about how best to set up farming communities, the city decided - very wrongly I believe now - to let the villagers keep their religion. Some of the citizens involved in creating the farm community fell prey to religion. They were exiled, but simply joined the farm community, an acceptable answer at the time.

The third outbreak occurred early during my rule, and is no doubt the worst stain on my record. We weren't paying close enough attention to our staff dealing with the farmers, and one of them became too friendly, absorbing their doctrine and changing sides.

Matthew shook his head. John hadn't known anything about religion - he'd fallen in love with Rachel. Fallen hard, probably hard enough that he'd listen to her talk about anything, but Matthew doubted that John's original interest was ever really about religion. John had changed dramatically, though - a new bounce in his step, more smiles every time he saw her, until he was arrested and exiled, that change attributed to religion rather than Rachel.

In a routine audit of the department, Catherine discovered John's treachery, and worse, that others were covering for John's error. Time he spent away from his proper duties trading wasn't cataloged, and only the recordings told the true story. At his trial, we convicted him easily and exiled him immediately, but his accomplices remained in the city despite my best efforts to remove them. They have kept their heads down since, but this cancer may linger, ready to strike again. Stephen, Matthew, and Helena - all bear watching.

"I guess I know why I need to watch myself," Matthew muttered. "Poor Gregory never did understand love." Matthew had heard that the love survived the memory purge the city had performed on John at Gregory's insistence, and wondered what Gregory had thought of John's becoming a farmer with Rachel as his wife. Matthew would now have to sort out what to do with John returned as a citizen - no doubt Gregory would have loathed that situation.

He sat back in the chair. Catherine's deep mistrust at least made sense now, and Gregory's doubts in him might even have been grounded, at least if Matthew had ever thought of himself as an accomplice. No one had ever told him of these suspicions, though. Apparently Gregory's doubts weren't enough to begin a formal inquiry.

There was more, of course.

Developing the farmers was a popular move, substantially improving our food, energy, and trading situations, but their community exposes us to more and more risk over time. Their religion binds them together, for now, and keeps them from violence, but if the history of other cities bound by religion is any guide this cannot remain stable forever. Even though we've taught them our model of exile, eventually disagreements will arise and the city will no longer be able to count on a unified outide community.

The farmers' religion also exposes us to religious contamination, as was proven so dreadfully in John's case. While the leader may need access to religious materials for dealing with other cities, having an entire religious community next door perpetually endangers the strict secularism the wise thirteen chose to safeguard our world.

It is too late to change the farmers, unless they discover the dangers themselves through strife. While I would prefer to see the farmers living according to the expectations and values of the city, that change would no doubt take generations, and cause major disruption along the way.

I have chosen to keep a core set of religious texts in my office chamber, thereby minimizing the number of interactions the chief archivist must have with this dangerous material. You may wish to continue this practice. Do not, however, read the texts unless there is clear need. A leader with a religious vision for this city may yet prove to be our undoing.

Given the fruitlessness of Matthew's exploration of Leviticus, that didn't seem like much of a risk, even if Gregory would probably have been furious to see Matthew leader. Matthew turned the page, coming to Gregory's thoughts on another disruptive force: love.

When the thirteen rebuilt the city, they also chose to subdue another force which had caused tremendous difficulties during the first six years. Love, romantic attachments of all kinds, had created difficult problems among the original crew. Strong bonds of love united pairs against everyone else, while unrequited affection created resentment, anger, and sorrow.

On their return, the thirteen vowed that love would never again be so disruptive. While recognizing that it cannot be entirely stamped out, they set about creating a culture that would focus on the survival of the group, not the temporary needs of amorous citizens or family bonds.

They shifted reproduction from direct parenting to artificial means, with children raised by specialists. They set up the trysting rooms in order that citizens could gratify their needs, but taught that the overuse of these rooms, especially with the same partner repeatedly, was dangerous both physically and emotionally.

Matthew was stunned. He'd thought John's rapture over Rachel was silly, and that the farmers' accepting treatment of such matters was strange. It had never occurred to him that the city's approach had been created deliberately, or represented a change from the way things had always been. They'd always been that way here for 700 years or so. He read on.

While love has continued to be an occasionally disruptive force, it has little potential to unite a large group of people. Informal pairing of citizens has been tolerated for centuries, provided it didn't interfere with the operation of the city, and the medical staff provide counseling when such pairs come to an end.

There have, however, been four cases where intense bonds between citizens created problems. In every case, the threat of exile for the pair unless both renounce their love has been effective. One wavers and the other becomes disgusted, and eventually the bond is broken. Much to the leaders' relief, fellow citizens have shown little sympathy for these pairs, except to welcome them back when the ordeal was over. Teaching citizens early that love is dangerous and survival is paramount seems to make it easier to break bonds when necessary.

None of these incidents took place under my leadership, I am happy to report. Love may resurface, but I am proud of our ability to contain and weaken it.

Gregory didn't seem to have counted John's case as one of love, but maybe it was just too difficult for Gregory to conceive of the farmers as anything more than dangerous trading partners.

Matthew fell back in the chair exhausted, and fell asleep.

Posted by simon at September 3, 2005 08:43 PM
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