“Augean as our task may be, we have risen to the challenge time and again…” Autumn Spring’s familiar voice shocked Shattered. He hadn’t heard her in over a couple years, or, by her reference, a decade. The strangeness of familiarity struck him as both completely odd and entirely normal. The odd, the outlier, the abnormal and the usual, prosaic and normal seemed to intermingle with wild abandon. This had become his experience of life; the margins folded into the center, and the center floated beyond, somewhere far away from where it ought to be found. The word ought lost its relevancy. Things ought not be this or that way – he had ruminated this recursive pattern for years. He almost didn’t know that he upheld and fought ought with all his might; he cursed his lot in life, and he had perspectives that were shattered. All of that faded into the recesses of what was and was not, of what is and is not, of what will be and will be not. Ought is a word reserved for those who see the past as a statue, something immutable mixed with the queer notion that time is something with a teleology and a purpose for them; a purpose that went wrong. But these ideas held no purchase in a place where future and past congeal into the the thickness of the present. Where’s the outcome of an ought when the present is tied up, knot like? When time is a manifold vibrating, entangled, jelly-like substance on the surface of nothingness?
Shattered had spent the night sleeping on Mar’s sofa. He couldn’t recall how he got to her apartment after his intense conversation with Councillor Wright the night before, nor could he recollect how that conversation ended, for a conversation never ends so neatly as the last images and sounds that stood in his mind, agreeing to work with an Inner Councillor. Mar had already gone to her lab; Shattered held a cup of coffee in his hands and sat looking at the Earth. Mar’s apartment had thick windows and grey walls. Although it was large by Moon-base standards, its modesty paled in comparison to Inner Councillor Wright’s home. His mind drifted to this difference, and memories of his disoriented morning coffee, as Autumn Spring spoke. Then her speech ended. She walked off the semi-circular stage that curved downwards on both sides.
Members of the Inner Council stood at desks that floated; some allowed their arms to rest on the soft, hovering tables, some sat in chairs, and a couple hung in the air about a meter above the ground. All fifty-seven members were present in the large, dark oval room. It seemed as if it was an inner extension of outer space. As though the depths of the void had come in. The floor – whatever that might be – grounded Shattered. Yet he couldn’t make out the dimensions of the vaguely lit room; a giant ovoid with bits of illumination, in varied colors, scattered here and there. Violet, lavender, crimson, several well-preserved pieces – a Rembrandt self-portrait and two Dai Xi’s.
Dr Elohim-Jade Wright had invited Shattered as her guest. He forgot this until the moment he saw Dai Xi’s Portraits of Scholars in the Qing Dynasty. He forgot how he arrived at the center of outside. His mind wandered vast and wide, over mountains of time and rivers of people flowing to places in a process of becoming that he found immaculate. His focus returned to the present.
Inner Councillors had a great deal of latitude in what they could do: pursue investigations, run research projects, make diplomatic overtures to those off-world. Autumn Spring had just proposed a research station be built and sent to orbit one of Jupiter’s moons. It would have a crew of five hundred; like the Mars orbital station, it would be fully equipped with green spaces, Earth sea-level gravity, and would accommodate families. The Council agreed to give resources to this project. From ordering wagons to be built to this… – Shattered mused. The quick rise of Autumn Spring did not sit entirely well with him. He liked Autumn, yet he did not understand her motives, and Mar had been evasive on the topic. The Inner Council had no leader, yet this young woman of thirty-and-five years old seemed to be a kind of to its spoke. And the wheels of governance often turned on her will alone.
“Shattered! I am so glad to see you,” Autumn approached him, and they both embraced. She smelt of lavender oil. She wore a jet-black wrap around her head, making her skin seem even whiter. Her age showed a little. Ten years had passed over her body. And ten years had expanded her mind beyond its already expansive reaches. She held several conversations in her mind with various diplomats and members of her consortium; presently she was conversing in Mandarin, Haitian Creole, Finnish and English – twice – with her spouse, Joyful Paine, and with Shattered. Neurological augmentations, quite experimental, allowed Autumn to be Winter, Spring, Summer and Autumn, all at once and over again. She was all seasons to all people. Her mind’s neural implants created a zero-space multi-temporal, multi-spacial template so she could maximize her cerebral abilities. Many Autumn Springs existed, all ostensibly united to the original.
“Councillor Elohim-Jade Wright, mightn’t I take Shattered away from you for a bit?” Autumn Spring put her arm around Shattered’s shoulder. Why does she want to speak with me? To catch up? We were never really close. But we are both from Park. I guess…
“Of course, but know he’s working for me.” Dr Wright said this very matter of fact, without a hint of emotion. That’s how politics is played in the Inner Council. The cold detachment necessary for dealing with the trauma of a planet recovering from shambles; the ability to compartmentalize feelings, judgements, and even beliefs to make decisions and form alliances.
“I wouldn’t dare try to take him from you. Just want to catch up with a former fellow denizen of Park, and a rather famous one at that! Shattered, I don’t suppose you realize you have quite a fan-club of sorts? Among the people who really know you, you are quite popular. Or at least, you’re interesting. Time-traveler, post-calamity orphan, lover of the renowned Dr Olanrewaju… Come! Come!” They left the large ovoid chamber and walked through a rectangular antechamber and out into a large, grey trapezoid corridor. They walked for a long time. Autumn Spring did most of the speaking.
“You know that the unification process is difficult. I am sure you can see the conflicts. The major conflicts get filtered through the Outer Council and the Administration, where Kyoto and Dr Smithson… I mean, Mar, forgive me, work. Of course, I don’t mean anything like war, but we are facing a crisis. There is a motion to bring Morph Zed before a Tribunal. The point of the Tribunal will be to decide whether or not to send him to Iceland. He let people die when he could have saved them. He let the New Confederacy exist; he even traded some agricultural equipment with them, using them as a kind of buffer between the outside and Marin, the same way he used Park. Listen, Shattered…” He turned to look at her directly, they both stood in the long, empty hallway. “Morph Zed and I worked together, but the man sat for decades and let every sort of cruelty play out until… Well, as a citizen of Marin, I was eligible to run against him. He lost and I became the Premier of Marin and the Administrator of Park. At that point my central focus became reconnecting humanity. He stayed on as a kind of second Premier. Yet, he was reluctant to give me the information I needed. The suffering they passively watched in Marin, and they did nothing. I can’t justify it. But Morph Zed… ahhhh.”
“I don’t understand. He let people, within a two day’s walk from his little utopia, be enslaved. Why is there even a debate?” Shattered said this, desperately trying to get every word out as when one is in a nightmare and can’t yell at an approaching menace.
“There is always a debate, but that’s not the point. I am almost certain he will end up in Iceland, and they will kill him because they think he’s responsible for their demise. Of course, they are partly right yet mostly wrong. Technologically, his family’s wealth held up a massive investment that would allow others to take down those New Confederates, but he did nothing to them for decades, and then Marin only acted at my command.”
The way Autumn Spring said my command made Shattered feel both unnerved and relieved. He was, of course, repelled by power-seeking. But he also found himself attracted to power’s very rare lightning-bolts of righteousness like a moth to a lit lamp.
“Come to see me and Joy soon… She’s on Earth, soon to be at the Mar’s orbital. Oh, I forgot I wanted to tell you a bit about the compilation of the Inner Council. You should hear it from an old friend. The Federated Cities of China, because of the incredibly organized and populous city-states they represent, automatically have twenty-five seats. They are quite autonomous, and by far the most organized group. There are other alliances. Dr Wright, whom you now work for, she represents the Historically Oppressed Peoples’ Alliance. They have thirteen members. Most of the rest of us are independent of any alliance. I am loosely associated with the Extremophiles’ Movement.”
At this point they had resumed walking, yet when Autumn Spring noted her involvement in the aforementioned alliance, Shattered stopped. At that point, they looked at each other directly, nearly as equals; yet, Autumn Spring would always feel a sense of loss, inferiority and hunger in the presence of a person she called, in her most private quarters, that pathetic orphan. Shattered noticed his companion’s left eye glowing a soft, green. Autumn Spring collected herself, with a few deep breaths; she continued, her eye returning to its usual color, “Yes, they are, we are, a group that wants to expand, not just exponentially but by orders of magnitude, consciousness across the multiverse. For us this Morph Zed issue isn’t all that important. Of course, don’t tell Councillor Wright I said that. Removing him, it’s really just a matter of administration–the real inflection point will come later, understand?” Autumn Spring put her soft, warm right hand on Shattered’s cheek. He nodded in vague agreement. “I must go, good to see you. Stay open.”
“Stay Shattered?” He laughed in response.
“Isn’t that the same,” She responded, her head slightly turned back as she walked away several meters. Gel engulfed her body; horizontally, she glided off down the heavy hallway.
*featured image: Dai Xi’s Portraits of Scholars in the Qing Dynasty, Courtesy Wikipedia.