“Where is Staley?” Indigo pondered on his way out of church.
Staley never did make it to services that Sabbath. He slept in an abandoned house four blocks away while Indigo observed the communal offering to the Great Mother.
There were many, many abandoned buildings in and around Hegeltown. The population was once four times what it now was but the long, sustained depopulation of Hegeltown had taken the numbers well below the critical mass required to fill the residential vacancies.
The resolution of the abandoned structure problem plagued the bureaucrats pitting the clan of those who preferred to have them demolished against those who preferred to leave them to decay naturally. Many heated arguments broke out where long, impassioned speeches were given and vile insults were hurled by one party against the other. The town cleaved into two opposing factions, each holding the other in utter contempt. It seemed as though there could be no reconciliation between the competing paradigms of destruction.
One day, one villager suggested that the abandoned structures be homesteaded by undermen immigrants whose population boost might reinvigorate the town. For his ungreen thinking, he was taken outside and beaten by members of both factions to within an inch of his life. Thankfully, a compromise solution was offered by visiting Highlands District administrators who proposed that the vacant structures be both booby-trapped with explosives and left to rot. Both sides thus got their way and the partisan v partisan chaos, which included vandalism, arson, kidnappings and gang rapes abruptly ended. Normalcy, tranquility, harmony was restored by enlightened government solution.
Staley quickly figured out the booby traps and let himself in to one such abandoned structure, a farmhouse near the edge of the village, where he shot all but one kernel of his opiates. He had passed out on a broken down sofa with his head resting on the arm and cuddling a bundle of his personal effects. By the afternoon, the sun’s transit brought a beam of light into a fractured window pane and the warm bright rays resurrected Staley from his coma. His eyes struggled open. He wearily pulled himself upright. With the aid of the sofa he pushed himself onto his feet. He gathered his things and headed out of the farmhouse on a walk. It was going to be a long walk, he decided.
Staley strode out with his bundle onto the dirt Main Street and then north, taking in the weathered facades of the vacant Seeds and Grain store and the Livery. A little further down the avenue he passed a sturdy stone building of marble, romanesque columns— The JPGSRothschild Bank. Next door to that stood a Lodge which was built of solid granite. No other buildings on Main Street were built of stone or brick except the government office which housed the town’s pod of authorities and legion of codex enforcers.
The codex enforces were the worst forms of undermanity, in Staley’s view. Their job was to pose as peace keepers and collect revenue by issuing fines for civil code infractions like parking a burro within fifty feet of a thicket of endangered highland sage weed or being too fat or using more than six squares of toilet paper at a sitting. They were power drunk, busy-body, tax collectors armed with revolvers, tasers and ticket books. What made them even worse was that, almost to a man, they were afflicted with delusions of grandeur. Each believed he was on a career path that would lead them into the brotherhood of Motherland Security— the big boys who wielded big bad energy weapons and walked in big, bold strides aided by bursts of high intensity sound waves. No provincial codex cop was ever known, anywhere, to get promoted into Motherland Security yet they were, each and every one, convinced they would make it to the big-time.
Staley walked on, briskly, right on out of town, passing out of it unnoticed. He crossed over a failing wooden bridge which spanned an icy creek and, once on the other side of it, he could no longer be seen by any curious townsfolk at all. Everyone was too busy scurrying around, showing off their Sabbath Mao tunics and pant suits to notice him, anyway, but he was relieved to be out of their line of sight.
The train was coming to town that day bringing its assortment of consumable goods to be exchanged for the produce of the townsfolk. The serfs were industriously preparing for this event which they called the bazaar. Staley was a little disappointed he would miss it. They always ended with drama.
The dirt road took Staley to the west. He played a little game with himself as he walked pretending that he might turn into a pillar of salt if he were to look back. He only looked back thirteen times during his hike, focusing his energy mostly on his pace, the weight of his pack, and his pervasive checking and rechecking of his tunic pocket for the last kernel of opiate making sure that it had not accidently fallen out as he made haste.
It was afternoon when Staley caught a sliver of white on the horizon which was the top surface of the Great Gunnison Glacier coming into view. The sheet of ice blocked any passage further west, beyond. This sight invigorated him and he quickened his pace. Within an hour, he came upon the glacier’s moraine and followed the rivulets of melt water to the foot of the edge of the icy monolith.
There it was, standing before him, a five hundred foot wall of jagged white and blue within blue ice. The leviathan was advancing towards him, an ominous thought, advancing the breakneck pace of .4 inches per hour. Obviously slow enough for Staley to keep out of its way, but fast enough that the District’s engineering bureaucrats were panicking over its encroachment upon the rail line a mere mile to the north. The ice moved, oblivious to the ordinances and resolutions passed by the bureaucrats who did little else other than wish its path of eminent destruction was not what it was.
The Gunnison glacier thickened while it moved, too. Glaciers were growing everywhere, coinciding with the terrestrial cooling. The shortened summers and longer winters were much colder than Staley remembered when he was a tenderfoot member of the Green Scouts.
Ice had became a national symbol of triumph. Ice was revered in commercials and public service announcements. The return of the ice was deemed a miracle and a blessing. Ice had saved the earth!
Staley knew better. For him, ice was good for nothing except chilling drinks and preserving bodies. Ice consumed the pasturelands and potato fields with nothingness. It filled in the lush, green valleys with its sterile, frozen white. Men can’t eat ice. Men can’t even drink it or water a garden with it without hauling blocks of it off for melting in some cistern. Ice, in natural form, is mostly useless and often worse. Had ice saved the earth? Staley pondered. Saved the earth from what? From mankind? The global cooling did nothing for mankind except trigger continental crop failures and mass starvation. Warm is preferable to cold, Staley argued. He pondered this as he scooped up a palm full of pure melt water and poured it into his parched mouth. Why did the Overmen celebrate something so destructive?
Staley walked the edge where the glacier scraped the green life off the world. Great white boulders of it had calved off from its sheer face and littered the muddy earth at its base. Between those giant blocks, grasses and small saplings poked up from the mud. Their lives would be short as Mother Nature’s great razor would sheer them off at their trunks or bury them in a matter of weeks or months. But they grew nevertheless, climbing up from the soil in their desperate way, striving for a life however fleeting. They did not get to choose where they were born, but they made the most of their chance at life.
“How pointless,” Staley thought. He felt for his immortality locket. His recent brain dump brought him little comfort. What point would there be in resurrection? To be tormented for eternity?
He recalled Mars. There, the ice exists only at the poles. The two thousand foot thick glaciers there do not melt into spinney moraines and habitats for desperate saplings. No. On Mars, the boiling point of water is so low, due to the lack of atmospheric pressure, that no liquid water exists. The glaciers simply boil away from ice into vapor. There is no surface water on Mars, just an inhospitably dry, dusty, life-siphoning vacuum. The only lifelike amusements on Mars were the dust devils.
The wind whipped down through the valley and chilled as it rolled off the surface of the glacier. The blast of cold crawled up into Staley’s sleeves and down into his collar. summer nights were still cold at this altitude and when the sun went down the temperature dropped precipitously. Staley buttoned the highest button of his tunic and made for the trees.
A competent naturalist would have staked out a camp on the leeward side of the glacier and would have embarked on a wood gathering expedition at this late point in the day. But Staley was not to be bothered with any of that. He touched his shirt pocket, feeling for the opiate again. It was there. He moved on.
Upwards he climbed, alongside the glacier and into the trees. The evergreens closed in behind him, veiling the ice from his view. Upwards and upwards he pushed. His heart was pounding. His quadriceps burned. Upwards, ever upwards. The further he scrambled, the steeper and more rugged the terrain became. He finally stopped out of sheer exhaustion.
A gray buck with its ornamental antlers covered in velvet raised his head to listen. Staley froze when he spotted him. He had never seen a wild deer up close before, having been raised in the antiseptic metropolis of Malthusville— an urban center of five million. There was no need to ever leave the city. Besides, sojourns into the wild lands were strongly discouraged by licensing requirements, manufactured fear of wild animals, and extremely prohibitive cost. The high elites did not want millions of lowly citizens stampeding about and spoiling the pristine wilderness preserved for them.
Staley stared in breathless wonderment as the buck stared back at him, nostrils dilating, ears flicking. It didn’t seem to be too worried about Staley’s presence. The buck eventually wandered off to find more tender shoots to pluck. Staley was happy to have experienced the animal, if for only a minute and for only once in a lifetime.
He continued on a few more steps. The sky dimmed to gray and the bright and shimmering Lucifer appeared in the west. Staley stopped to rest and to gaze at the brilliant Light Bearer. Perhaps he might change his mind, he thought. Perhaps he was being too rash. Perhaps his life would not be awful if he was to return to the village. Perhaps his wounds of torment would heal. He only needed to embrace his proper role… his proper place in the world. He only needed to embrace the life he was assigned and his existence would have new meaning and purpose.
The sun set and the sky illuminated as if God had dipped heaven’s edge into a cauldron of brilliant hues. The gray sky drew up the colors into a grand, celestial fresco of oranges and golds. Staley clutched at his immortality locket. He decided that he did not expect any resurrection. They never resurrect suicides.
It was getting quite cold and Staley decided that he could go no further. He took out his paraphernalia and set it on a stone. He emptied the contents of his pack and put on his spacesuit. He retrieved his opiate kernel and placed it on the spoon where he heated it until it liquefied. He took out his needle, drew up the elixir and injected it carefully into a vein in his neck. It was a large dose, more than enough to stop his heart. Lastly, he put on his space helmet and watched the brilliant, motionless dance of sunset as the colors cooled from orange to pink and pink to red and red to purple and purple to blue and blue to black.
He thought of Athena and her last words to him as he closed the flash visor of his space helmet.