A New Story, A New Voice
March 9, 2012
The way the sunlight streams through the cross on top of the Belltower of the Martyr always makes me stop and catch my breath. Just a bit. It’s one of the few signs of beauty in the world I trudge through every day. The world of Johannasberg and grinding machines of industry, the world of former mechanical analysts and computational engineers, the world of the Locke Plague.
Two years ago, I was a data engineer. I worked on the computer systems that make up the backbone of most of the business on the planet. Johannasberg isn’t even the largest modern city that uses the contraptions; Islington, Rochester Mason, and Lar Ichbon were the largest commerce cities. I wasn’t a very well paid, or a high profile, technician. Just doing what I could do with the various database systems, the users who needed support with their terminals, and ensuring that only the right users could get to the right data. Two years ago, though, was when that changed.
There’s a condition sweeping all of Soras, the country I live in. It fogs the mind, it bends the joints, and makes moving painful. The only treatments that work are only available on the black market. Its official name is Atypical Neurological Pain Response Complex E, but everyone calls it the Locke Plague, after Captain Arresta Locke, the first person to contract it. Even now she’s surrounded by doctors trying to figure it out, to figure out how its transmitted, and who it affects. It isn’t by touch, it isn’t by air, and there’s no infections or alterations to the blood. Still, though, it’s sweeping the country. One in eight people now suffer from it. I’m one of those one in eight.
One morning before work, I tried to roll out of bed to find my leathers but I felt my joints rolling around each other, cracking and thundering through my body. My head started to pound with a dull ache, each movement sending shards of pain through my mind. Eventually, I dropped into a chair in my meeting room and had my automaton call work, tell them that I can’t come in. A mobile medical automaton is sent to my flat, to examine me. I thought I had some kind of flu, but when I was told I would be quarantined until further notice I knew the truth; Locke Plague.
I was immediately put on medical leave. For now I still get a stipend, part from our government and part from my employer, since the Plague prevents me from working. I can’t drive my car anymore, so I walk most places. My family hasn’t been able to help much but they did send a cane for me when they found out. My friends can’t afford to take me in but they bring me the one treatment that works, when they can afford it, dreamweed. The government continues to restrict any of the doctors that want to study it, figure out why many Lock Plague sufferers feel relief when smoking the dreamweed, but there’s no study. No investigation. Occasionally when the medical automaton that monitors me comes by, it brings some dreamweed from my primary physician in the city hospital.
Now I spend most of my days walking around the local business, spending time at the cafes, working on some of my drawings. I’ve sketched the skyline of the city fifty times, probably, since I found out about the Plague. Most people avoid me, knowing that I’m hobbled by it. Afraid to catch it. So instead I draw. I’ve started taking pictures of the drawings and putting them on the global networks, setting them up so other artists can see them. So far, though, most people pass them by. Not even bothering to look for long. A few have tossed me a few coins, a few have stopped and remarked on the pieces but never for very long.
This morning, when I got up, I had smoked some of the dreamweed I have and took a shower, got dressed in one of my more comfortable suits, and checked the mail. There was a notice from the medical department of the state that my stipend would run out soon and advised that I call friends and family for continued support. My employer had released me from medical leave; their insurer would no longer cover me. I checked the balance on my banking card and sighed – not even enough left to pay the rent on my flat. Enough to feed myself if I accepted that I was homeless soon. Enough to have my things stored. Luckily with Gariton, my automaton, nothing would be too hard to move.
That afternoon I had everything stored. I spent the night sitting on the floor of my now empty flat, a carton of Rajjashi food next to me and my dreamweed pipe in my hand as I watched the stars. “This is what hopelessness feels like, I guess.” I spoke to no one in particular. Gariton was in storage with everything else, fending off rats and ensuring the tablecloths were folded still. That my laundry was clean and well cared for. It couldn’t know any better than that, it didn’t think. I feel asleep like that, back against the wall, wondering what I would do now. Wondering what could be done.
The next morning I left my home, empty now, and walked to the cafe. On the way I noticed the Belltower of the Martyr, its gleaming cross at the very top, and stopped once again. Something struck me, though. About the story of the Martyr. It was an old children’s story, one I couldn’t remember all of the lines to anymore, except a few.
“Now I must return with my wives and band,”
He said, heart heavy and eyes watering
“But I leave you with hope in hand.
When you discover the secret of the tower,
Then salvation once again will come to this land.”
It was a common game among children to try to figure out what he meant, what he was talking about. The Tower had stood for hundreds of years, though, since he had come out of the mists in the Porannian Empire and gave us freedom, taught us logic, and stamped out the ancient death-cults of most of the world. When he returned to what he called Earth, where the people were like us but different. Looking at the tower now, though, I think I figure out what he was talking about.
The cross itself wasn’t a cross. It wasn’t meant for religion. It wasn’t meant for worship. It’s a weapon, waiting to free people from a system caught in sludge and decay. It was a blade to cut the bonds, a sword for a leader. “Patience Argyle,” I said to myself, “You’re no leader.”
But someone has to try.