Author: Julian Miles, Staff Writer
“Read for me the writing on the wall.”
We bow our heads and recite the words writ high above, engraved deep into unyielding stone. We have no need to see them, having recited the Second Law every morning and evening since the first day we could talk.
Of the First Law, they say it’s only told by the Hand of One to those who die faithful before they ascend. I never understood that. We’re told this world is everything: the one, all, and only. How can the dead go anywhere else?
“There is nothing new under the Hand.”
No punctuation up there. Guess putting a full stop on the end was considered inefficient.
‘Inefficient’. The dirtiest of condemnations, and so versatile: you can apply it to anything you don’t like. Even to typing approved words in unapproved ways. Everything that comes from human imagination is also considered inefficient.
I tried to argue that without imagination, the concepts we built our survival upon would not exist. They told me I was correct. In the times before the Hand of One, imagination was necessary for the visionaries of humanity to shepherd the unenlightened masses to the ‘ubiquity of utility’. Now we’ve arrived, we don’t need it anymore.
We toil to produce the shapes that disappear into the maws of the supply lines, or to unload the cubes of material we dismantle to reassemble into the shapes we push into the maws. Every day. From clock on to clock off.
What we do makes no sense. Who makes the Nutrigel we eat, the paste we dilute to make Drinkup? I’ve asked. They sent me to ‘contemplate my inefficiencies’ while cleaning out the waste trenches.
I should be upset, but I found caches down there. Cubby holes cut into the filthy walls, down where the Fingers won’t inspect. They’re filled with colourful, useless things. I like the little flowers on hollow stalks that spin in the breeze. I don’t know what they’re made of, but they still haven’t withered. Lots of people like them too. The Fingers don’t. We learned to keep them out of sight. I also found a block of coloured squares. If you twist it, you can get each side to be the same colour! I spent lots of clocked off working that out.
Then I found it. The box with the thing full of new words. I read it: learned about ‘book’ and ‘page’ and ‘plural’. Plus what was in the bottom of the box. How to use that, too. Learned about other things. I don’t understand them all, yet. I haven’t got all the ideas worked out. But I did work out the thing it suggested I do before I go.
The book told me where to find the other thing I needed. Last night, I put them both on and did it.
I stand in the left-hand maw and look up at my first visionary work: adding words to a Law.
There is nothing new under the Hand
and that is the problem.
There is more to this world. Look for it.
Get out from under the Hand!
Slinging the cutter across my back, I make sure the gravbelt is turned off, then walk into the maw. The book says this one leads to somewhere called ‘outside’.
I’m a long way away when I hear a lot of shouting from behind. Sounds like I started something. I hope I did.
Grinning into the darkness, I try out some new words as I jog towards a better day.
“Stop me if you can, Hand of One. I’m innovating.”