Thursday, November 29, 2007

Memory, Part Four

Casey gestured weakly. He was surrounded by doctors, family, and well-wishers. At his motion, most of them moved away reluctantly. Another, brusquer wave of his hand was required to deal with the doctors.

Then, through eyes dimmed by age, he saw a familiar face at the doorway. Pressing a button, Casey whispered into the intercom, "Admit the Josephs." After a moment's delay, four of them shuffled in: three men and a women. The man at their fore bore the greatest resemblance to the Joseph Casey had known, but all of them showed some sign of it.

"I hadn't expected you to visit me," Casey told the Josephs through a voice weak but strengthened by iron determination. "After all these years, no-one would have blamed you. But I suppose I shouldn't be surprised. It's only returning a favor, for you."

"We've heard about the deathbed visit, but that's not in our genetic memory," one of the male Josephs told him. "Our parents were conceived before, so we don't remember it."

Another Joseph interrupted the first. "Some of the other Josephs don't like you, because of what you've done as Cardinal. Well... a lot of them don't like you. But we respect you, not just because of what you did for our progenitor, but for your character, and your policies... when it doesn't come to us, sadly. That's why we came to pay our respects."

Casey smiled weakly. "I suppose you have your own names?"

They did. The men were named Eric, Kevin, and Thomas (that last being in a wheelchair); the woman was named Tina. "Joseph the Youngest was going to come, but there was a storm outside Westroad. He'll be here tomorrow, hopefully," explained Eric.

"You know I've never approved of your experiment, I hope," Casey told them. "Every one of you is an innocent child murdered to dilute one soul further, generation after generation. Just as you've inspired too many others to do. You never really justified that - to me, or, I think, to yourselves."

Kevin drew back guiltily; the others looked annoyed. "We aren't the first Joseph," Tina told him with the sort of tone that implied she'd said it many times before. "I'm not even the same gender! We have his memories, sure, just as we have the memories of his son, and our parents'. But diluted so, that's all they are: memories, dating back sixty years. Genetics and circumstances and time have shaped us. We're not Joseph."

Casey's eyes focused on her. "You're saying you choose to ignore those memories? To forget everything you know and try to make a new life from scratch? I find this hard to believe."

"We've had to learn to," Tina told Casey. "Even when there was just one Joseph, things were hard enough. We all remember his experiences in the home of his mother/wife, and how hard it was for him to assume his former life. But there are over a dozen of us now. Ignoring the obvious problems of displacing our own parents, we'd have to squabble between each-other... it's stupid, wasteful. So we accept that the memory of our parents' life is just that, and make our own way, with their help."

Casey's eyes turned to Thomas, who'd remained quiet through the discussion. "Do the other experiments follow your practices, too? The Jacksons, and the Marlows, and the Heathers... it's hard for me to believe they all possess this perfect selflessness you suggest."

Thomas stayed silent for a moment. Then he answered. "It's hardly 'perfect selflessness', but... yes, some of the other have problems with succession. The Jacksons are the worst, from what I hear. We gave them some advice, but everyone and every family has to figure it out themselves, in the end. With so many going through the process these days, we could hardly guide them all to our current practices, even did either we or they want to."

"You're tearing society apart," Casey told them. "I'm old and half-deaf, but I still hear the news. New pure-only theaters and nightclubs. Enclaves with barbed wire fences and armed guards, no reborns allowed. Legislation for different taxes on reborns, and they're working on a different set of civil laws next?"

Kevin nodded. His face was twisted.

"My parents were the first ones off the boat," Casey told the Josephs. "I've been here from nearly the beginning of the colony, and I saw it all: the '47 riots, the appointment of the Consuls, the first stormfarms, the growth of City from near-town to metropolis... We've only been here for a hundred years. We were near starvation when I was a child. I saw the '47 riots! And the changes you're causing will do it again." He settled back into his bed, momentarily exhausted by his outburst.

Three of the Josephs stepped back, unsure of what to say to the man they respected who would, on his deathbed, so vehemently disagree with them. Tina stayed where she was. "It's painful now, sure... but it can't last," she told Casey. "The genes are dominant. Always. It has to spread. There's some discrimination now... but back when the stormfarms were starting up, like you were saying, there was legal discrimination against them, in favor of the old fusion reactors in Citycore. When they became common and powerful enough, that just stopped. The same will happen with the Eidetics, or the reborns, if you prefer. Within two generations, the Forgetful will be a tiny minority - it's inevitable. And once people realize that, most of the discrimination will stop."

Casey sighed. "Inevitable. Yes, I suppose I can see that... unless someone launched a campaign of genocide against an enemy indistinguishable from the pure, the colony will be filled with reborns. A nation of sinners, cursed by a crime no less recent than their own birth; every woman an Eve, every man a Cain. Will there be a church, in the nation of your grandchildren?" he asked Tina.

"Of course!" she replied, supported by a chorus of the other Josephs. "You see us here. We will hold to the Church, as colonists have ever done. The Eidetic have no less faith than the Forgetful."

Casey pulled himself to a sitting position, slowly, awkwardly. The Josephs gasped, and urged him down; Casey refused to listen. Once upright, he turned to look at all the Josephs, one by one. They met his eyes. "You've been evading me on this from the very beginning," he told them. "Twice in this discussion alone. I told you, forty years ago, that our argument would wait for another day." The Josephs took a moment to recognize his reference; then, one by one, they nodded. "I have no more days in me, I'm afraid. So I ask you now: How do you justify yourselves? How do you say, It is right that, in my birth, an innocent baby was overwritten by the memory of a man who has lived three lives already; It is right that, when I marry, all my spouse's children will be killed to make more replicas of myself?"

Kevin, shamefacedly, agreed. "You're right. I don't know... I want to be me. I want to be who I am; and I remember that my parents felt the same way. But I can't... I can't agree with them. I can't say that I'm any better than that unborn child. I just don't know."

Casey's eyes stared out, accusing.

"Our parents - the ones who weren't Josephs - they knew who they were when they married," Eric argued. "They knew the choice, and they took it."

"But what about the child?" Casey asked.

Eric stepped back.

Thomas made to open his mouth; then, with Casey's eyes upon him, closed it again.

Casey's eyes fell on Tina.

Tina spoke.

"I am Tina Smith. I am the daughter of Rachel Smith and Ellis Jones, granddaughter of Joseph the Second and Elspeth Miller, great-granddaughter of Joseph the First. I am that which I am."

"I believe in God. I believe in a loving God, who created us, his creatures, with infinite benevolence, and watches over us the same. He sees our sins, and forgives us; he sees our triumphs and feels pride."

"Joseph's creation, the Memory, is a gift."

"Everyone is born through a series of failures. Their mother and father fail to be interested in those who have crushes on them, fail to interest those they have crushes upon, fail to marry, fail to conceive - until us. Every one of those failures, if you choose to see it so, is an infinity of dead babies. An opportunity cost of monstrous proportions."

"I refuse to believe this. I refuse to believe that any loving God would allow us. And thus I, like my mother and her father before me, was born; like his father, and his father, and all those who came before me. I am the one choice taken: and if it is a more constrained choice than most, what of it? Others' genes say, this one will have black hair, this one will have green eyes, this one will have an inherited disease." Casey winced at the reminder, with Thomas sitting in his wheelchair not five feet away. "Mine said that I was born with the memories of my parents; with their knowledge, their wisdom, and their faith. I am not living in someone else's body. I am not some unintentional abomination. This is who I am, who I was born to be. I am that which I am."

Silence fell. Casey considered and discarded counterarguments. Then, slowly, he lay back down. With one hand, he waved, ordering the Josephs out. Three left.

Tina spoke, quietly now. "The bull still stands, against all the reborn. Forbidden to wear the vestments; forbidden to take Communion." She looked at Casey pleadingly.

"And it would help to ease the changes to come, is that what you're going to say next?" Casey asked shrewdly. Tina nodded, and Casey sighed. "I'll consider it."

In the silence, before a nurse came in to check on him a few minutes later, Casey thought about the bull, and about the Josephs, and their ancestor, dead when Casey was just under thirty, before he'd even been ordained. When the nurse entered, fussing over the damage Casey had done with his reckless movement, the old man was lost in memories.



King Kessler said...

People are always rational in your stories. Wouldn't Casey hold onto his beliefs for a bit longer than a few paragraphs, IRL, considering the length of time he's held them and the things he's done because of them?

Or maybe I'm silly!

Cavalcadeofcats said...

He's not completely convinced, but he feels like the counterarguments he can think of off the top of his head would be counterproductive. (Because they're a little bit lame compared to that speech.)

Nothing in the story says whether or not he does lift the bull.

And, of course, he's got some history with Joseph, so that changes things.

King Kessler said...

Maybe I'm silly!