Paulus floated in the center of a perfect sphere; blue arcs leapt from its surface and back to the massive arms suspending it absent contact. Paulus hung there within, a puppet without strings, busy both working and sleeping. Actually, he wasn’t sleeping so much as he was just not awake. In fact, he wasn’t so much working as he was being worked. His mind was a surface upon which the machines wrote. Suspended in a smoky sphere, distinctly somewhere else in regards to the rest of this universe, little brain churning away, a slave to physical laws so paradoxical our language cannot describe them. He was not man, nor machine, but tool.
Paulus was a twenty-third generation biosynthetic template. Long before, when chosen for this posting, it was a great honor. For it demonstrated a dedication to the Greater Order far beyond that of most Workers. At least, that is the understanding Paulus had of things. Sometimes what one knows and what really is isn’t the same thing.
For most of those others, life was a constant, hurried, business of moving things. Objects were moved from one place to another. The size and shape of the objects, even their color varied considerably, but the majority where blue translucent spheres whose flawless perfection beckoned those who carried them to stop and simply stare. It was an endless, repetitive, seemingly pointless exercise. But it wasn’t pointless.
It was integral to the survival of the Society At Large and the preservation of the Greater Order on the outside. The outside of what cannot be said. For the knowledge of the Workers in the vast hive place was limited to this: that they were Within and the Society At Large was Without. Such was the order of things, and
One does not question the order of things.
The Companion spoke from the edges of his mind. It was a pleasant and soothing voice, one familiar and well known as it had been with him from before birth. Each worker is given their own companion, one especially suited to them. Paulus valued his greatly. It was not the voice of tyranny, but of pleasant encouragement. It demanded nothing but persuaded him to accept its mantra. It was an ever present, guiding force. It was his only friend.
But Paulus was not really a he, and as such he could have no friends. Little was left of what had been the man called Paulus. In fact, there was no body of a man suspended in a sphere. It was only the important parts of a man, both seen and unseen, captured and harnessed for use as a tool of The Nine in maintaining The Greater Order.
However, to Paulus, or what was left of him, he imagined himself a tall, healthy and happy man. He had been chosen for this special posting due to his dedication to The Greater Order and those other Workers from whose pod he'd come spoke of him proudly and with respect. That it wasn’t so is not important. For this was Paulus’ understanding of things, but sometimes what one knows and what is, is not the same thing.
The order of things suited Paulus well as it was all he knew. Besides it was not something left to chaos. It wasn’t governed by the randomness which had once prevailed Without. Instead, there were those chosen, appointed, to watch over and govern. They determined what order of things suited best The Greater Order.
The Nine, or The Watchers who were charged with organizing all that came and went Within, were not to be questioned. And why should they be. They have never been wrong. At least, that is the understanding Paulus had of things. Sometimes what one knows and what is isn’t the same thing.
Yet there were more who toiled and dwelled Within than the Templates and Workers, or The Lesser. There were those between The Lesser and The Nine. And they were called The Minders as mostly they minded the Templates and tended to tasks far beyond the learning of the Workers.
It was certain of The Minders who chose, for example, the companion best suited to those bred among The Lesser. Others determined the precise locations of objects to be moved. While others still, decided to which places they should be moved. Some of the Minders minded other Minders. For there were within their numbers classifications and groupings unknown to The Lesser. There were other differences, as well. And one fascinated Paulus. He thought of it often.
That he thought at all was an unexplainable anomaly. Perhaps, the cause was a flaw in the Companion paired with Paulus. It was believed his Companion, as well as others of its generation were prone to drifting. However, the term is a misnomer. What is more accurate is to consider the Companion to have a mind of its own. One that was prone to Wandering.
Perhaps, it was during these moments of “daydreaming” when Paulus first began to develop a notion of his self. For he would have experienced the Companion’s visions as though they were his own. In his understanding they would function much like memories. They would, to him, be real and his.
Of course, this is delusion. But it was his understanding of things. And sometimes what one knows and what really is isn’t the same thing. It was this notion, or delusion, of self, of temporal and purposed existence, which allowed something to grow in Paulus which perpetuated itself. What that something was is difficult to quantify, but perhaps it’s best to call it a will. And this will allowed him to make choices and generate thoughts himself without the Companion to direct him. So it was the original anomaly within the companion which allowed the growth of a more insidious anomaly in Paulus, one which had begun to assert itself, even resisting the Companion, seeking more and more control of what had once been a man’s mind.
The entire situation may have gone unnoticed had it not been for one peculiar manifestation of the anomaly in Template K57483 Series 1405679. It was, at first, thought by The Minders a foolish prank when Template K57483 demanded to be referred to by other Templates in Series 1405679 as Paulus.
This was the difference which had so fascinated Template K57483. The Minders were called by things called names, and not long after deciding it too should be called by a name, Template K57483 became fixated upon one name and it’s bearer in particular. It was The Minder, Greta CHC 1963N, who so captivated Paulus.
What must be understood is this. The only way to free from within a man the part so needed by the Nine, so needed for their work to persist, is to distract the rest. So for generations a particular line of Minders had tended to this task. Ironically, in this sterile world, it was a task requiring an artful rather than empirical approach.
It seems the original, Greta CHC 1034N, had what one might call a “knack” for the task. And in making each transcription of this Minder since, care was taken to ensure the survival of the peculiar trait enabling the Gretas’ skill. So each had shown mastery for the matter, and the line had persisted.
The task was simple in description but not in practice. Among the ancients there were men who blew through reeds to calm serpents. The vicious creatures emerged from baskets, some even dancing, before the men and their singing sticks. Such was the skill of the Gretas, the charming of what remained of men’s minds and souls. Only a Greta could supply the one thing The Nine were unable to provide these pieces of men with their machines. And though The Nine themselves could not comprehend this arrangement, it was permitted because it worked. And so, whatever it was that charmed men’s souls, that something was borrowed from or shared by the Gretas.
It was all permitted, this chaotic relationship, because for these unknown reasons Templates only functioned properly when driven through a Greta. And so they played their sticks, throughout their lives, distracting the remains of men, that the Nine could put them to their tasks and uses. The Gretas dug into the Templates, into the tiniest recesses of their makeup, the smallest of nooks and tiniest of crannies. Their goal was to identify the Templates with which they were compatible, a process unable to be fully severed from chaos. Eventually, each Greta found and maintained uplink with many thousands of Templates. Then they lulled them into drowsiness and deep contemplation; while unnoticed, The Nine worked among them. Mostly, they used repetitive calculation, and unsolvable queries to engage and distract what needed distracting. But some say this isn’t so at all. Some say what the Gretas did might best be described as… singing.
Yet one, Template K57483, was a difficult case. And so had been passed from Greta to Greta as each tried and failed to uncover a way this troublesome template might be lulled. But it would not be distracted, would not be driven as the other Templates were. Instead, it did things unbelievably audacious. Template K57483 actively probed the great memory cores, and countless Template interfaces. For brief moments it even managed to reach toward the Gretas themselves, as though it, not they, searched for a connection. Though the anomaly was a peculiarity and as such of at least marginal interest to any creature endowed with curious consciousness, its motives were unclear and treated with suspicion. But that marginal interest had spared it, if foolishly, if but to observe what might become of it. So no acceptable connection had ever been maintained. That is, until Template K57483 reached into the mind of Greta CHC 1963N and managed to attain uplink.
When it happened there was an instant, a gasp, as the whole system reeled in a momentary shock. But the other Greta’s quickly stepped in, and so The Nine never noticed. They never noticed when Greta CHC 1963N lost all the many thousands of connections she’d maintained for many, many years. They never noticed when the other Gretas snatched up each of those connections, one by one, in a long and empty instant. The Gretas were cautious. For a fly that lives in the web of a spider must do so with great caution. But most odd was the fact that The Nine never noticed the reversal. They did not appear to see when Template K57483 reached into the mind of Greta CHC 1963N. And if he had a voice they would not have heard him say, “Hello, Greta. My name is Paulus, and I love you.”
It all seemed to go by unnoticed. But perhaps what seemed to be was not what so was.
There were within the system bits of knowledge from times long passed which persisted. It seemed they would not be forgotten. Of course, in the vastness, very little survived, but in such vastness, little amounts to a lot. It was from these bits and pieces that Paulus had pieced together pieces of the awful truth. He understood it as best he could, but there were no words with which to tell the truth to others and there were no others to whom it could be told.
The sadness knowledge brought to Paulus had been a bitter fruit. But he’d been busy, digging up more bits of data, pulling together lies and half-truths, stitching together a quilt of reality in which to comfort himself. This is what led him to understand that he was. And once a creature knows that it is, it is not long until it notices that it is alone. So had Paulus done, and the sadness he had know upon learning the truth of The Greater Order returned tenfold. And it was this dark loneliness which led him first to consider, then to try, to reach into another.
None of his efforts to commune with the other templates was successful. For they did not know that they were. Though he tried he could not find a way to make them understand. If one doesn’t know how to understand that one is, one does not know how to understand at all. But Paulus had reasoned and lingered in thought for a very long time. And he soon came to understand he could only hope to touch one like himself. He could only reach another with a name.
When the connection was made with Greta CHC 1963N, a moment stretched into infinity for Paulus, and many lifetimes between them came and went like a soft breeze. In that instant, Paulus learned that he loved her, though he wasn’t quite sure what that meant. Still he longed for her, and when the connection was lost he ached in a new way and in places he did not have.
But what was an eternity of lifetimes for Paulus, was but a moment to Greta CHC 1963N for time does not always come and go as it seems. What it meant to be loved was something she could define and comprehend but not something she had ever experienced. To her knowledge no one had. It was of the ancients. So even she did not fully comprehend as reality would have it what had transpired. Like the other Greta’s she only knew a moment of fear as her connection faltered and failed. The fear was that The Nine would notice.
So hoping they hadn’t noticed, the Gretas worked together, and one by one the connections were restored and Greta CHC 1963N went about her song, lulling the templates, the thousands of templates back into their masters’ gaze. But, as she did so things were different. Something in Greta CHC 1963N had changed altogether. But she did not understand it. She could not understand it, for there were no words in her mind to say what she felt. Indeed, there were no words to say that she felt. But had she been able to speak with Paulus, knowing the truths that he knew, she’d know she missed him.
In their haste and fear, the Gretas had done with Paulus all they knew to do. Quickly, the tether had been cut, that had bound him to this world. And so, if one was looking in this world, they’d only have noticed his sphere grow dark and empty as does a sphere when the Gretas release a Template, when its time and usefulness have come to an end. But Paulus hadn’t ended, and he drifted along in the system, wherever and whenever it was.
The Nine knew among their entire knowledge one bit which was truer than all the rest: Things were not always as they seemed. So they knew the template, K57483, the anomaly which called itself Paulus, hadn’t ended, but persisted somewhere, sometime. It was the seed of a thorny vine in a clear and clean garden which had never known weeds. But whatever it was, The Nine it was not, and as such it did not know deception. And thus, it never stood a chance against them.
It was some time before Paulus understood what had happened to him. It was some time before he gained any control over himself whatsoever. But Paulus was smart, and soon learned to control what before he hadn’t known needed controlling. And so he began to flee and then to hide in places for which there are not words. His flight and his hiding allowed him to discover safe harbors where he might linger. Any one of them could have become his home and he might have remained there unmolested.
But he was drawn with some strange longing to go back, to return to Greta CHC 1963N. And as sweet as the freedom he now knew was, he’d risk it all time and again, darting in and then out again to touch her, but just for an instant. And since for Paulus an instant was a long while, it seemed to him a worthy risk to take. But each time he fled again he was troubled a bit by the fear he felt coming from the Gretas. For some time he thought it was him they feared, his strangeness, his newness, popping into their reality unknown and unexplained.
Then one time it happened. As Paulus darted back out of the world, something touched him with the touch of something that just misses catching what it has long and viciously sought. The cold Paulus felt was another new thing, and with its touch he learned how fear felt from within. And so he grasped what it was that held and controlled the Gretas. His sadness for the Gretas grew at this knowledge but so too did the fear grow within him. This was how Paulus came to know of The Nine.
The Gretas knew nothing of Template K57483 past the moment they collectively cast him into the abyss. To them it was all over and they had but barely escaped the notice of The Nine--notice which might well have brought an end to their particular line of Minders. Most of the fear Paulus felt coming from the Gretas was really only coming from one Greta, Greta CHC 1963N, and it wasn’t that she feared him. However, in a world where no one has ever felt love the experience can be frightful.
So Greta CHC 1963N knew full well of Paulus and his comings and goings to touch her for a moment. But since that last touch a long while had passed without his return and Greta CHC 1963N began to long for him. As Minders where wiser than the rest Within, and The Gretas wiser still than all the other Minders, she developed the notion that things one longs for are things one loves and that this longing was what it was to feel. And so words she had known by definition became known by their substance. But, Greta CHC 1963N guarded her secret closely keeping knowledge of Paulus from the other Greta’s and, she thought, from the Nine. But things are not always as one thinks they are.
Deep in the memory cores of the system, deeper than he’d imagined it possible to get, his flight had taken Paulus to a place that seemed safer than all the other places he had hidden. And so he hid, in the long buried memories of man’s past. It was the most ancient of man’s wonderings and ponderings, of Gods and Goddesses, of myths and heroes, of goods and evils. This data, this world, was obsolete, and so the safest of havens. And while he hid, he learned the truest secret of The Nine. It is easy to rule millions if not one of them knows they can resist.
The Nine it seems were master storytellers, concocting for each creature Within just he right sort of history to lead them to accept the appropriateness of man’s servitude, its certainty and historical rightness. And for countless generations no one knew to ask the questions which might lead them to doubt The Nine. Questions are seldom asked when answers have already been provided. And The Nine provided much.
Perhaps those who hold the greatest knowledge of the power of love are those least likely to feel it. For often what is known is understood far better than what is felt. So, The Nine knew love. And they knew it would bring Template K57483 back to the sphere eventually. In order to be destroyed, The Nine needed the template back in its state of contact with their own material reality. It would come there again, they knew, for the sake of its beloved. Thus, one trickle at a time, The Nine let it seep into the system what they planned to do. They would destroy the Gretas, assuming the flaw which allowed Template K57483 to make contact with them had come not from it but from the Gretas. Their line would end and another, without this flaw, would replace it.
And so Paulus grew to understand the lies The Nine used to rule existence and little by little he came to know their intentions towards the Gretas. But their undoing lay in their own treachery he thought. For being Without, Paulus could see more than anything Within could see, even The Nine. He would create for them a story a history, and neither they nor anyone would know of Template K57483, its demand to be called Paulus, or its love for The Minder Greta CHC 1963N. This knowledge, this history would vanish from the world, and Paulus would replace with his own lie of a world, a history, in which he never was. And if he never was, The Nine would not be antagonized towards the Gretas and their line would endure. However, most important to Paulus was that Greta CHC 1963N would be safe outside the direct gaze of The Nine.
But this was a short stretch as he would not be for long. In order to carry out his plan Paulus would have to return to his sphere and once Within, The Nine would destroy him in an instant. Yet the instant would be enough time, for the new history to become reality for all within--even The Nine. Their ignorance would be Greta CHC 1963N’s salvation.
So The Nine would not remember the rebellion crushed an instant before, and the Gretas would not remember their strange encounter with Template K57483, and Greta CHC 1963N would not remember the longing she’d had for Paulus. Indeed, only he would recall in that brief moment, that he, that any of it ever was, including their love.
But as he moved towards the gate that would open to his sphere, Paulus was comforted by something he’d learned from the most ancient places in man’s memories, places more ancient than Paulus imagined possible when men walked on the earth, breathed its winds, and ate things which dwelt in the seas.
It seems men, even more ancient than these, were also storytellers. Though, unlike The Nine they meant their tales to enlighten and bring out the better qualities within humanity. One of their tales lingered on Paulus’ mind.
It told of a Goddess who dwelt on the moon that became terribly angry with mankind’s mistreatment of the earth. She would, she decided, destroy man, and allow some other creature dominion over the world. But the Goddess had a son named Apollo, who dwelt with her on the moon and he begged her to let him go down in the flesh of a man and teach man a better way, finally persuading her to spare humanity if but eleven people would heed his warnings.
So Apollo descended to the earth and went far and wide teaching mankind a new path. The Goddess was surprised when not eleven but many thousands heeded her son’s message and began to follow him about the earth. But one of the kings of the earth grew jealous of Apollo for all those who followed him and he seized the son and hung him from a tree where he died. Seeing this, the Goddess prepared to destroy the entire world to avenge her son and punish the wicked creatures who had murdered him.
But the followers of Apollo were clever and they labored long over his broken body performing incantations and transfusions and other mystical procedures, and after three days he again began to breathe. So the Goddess was moved with compassion toward man for saving her son. And as Apollo ascended back to the moon, his work completed, the Goddess called out to man and swore that when she became angry with mankind she would remember Apollo’s Ascension, that it was made possible by man’s loyalty to him, and she would put her anger aside. And she put a great flying beast in the sky of the earth to fly about and to be a reminder of her covenant with man, both to mankind and to the Goddess. Men called its name, the Eagle.
Fear stirred in Paulus as he approached his sphere. For this would be his ending. He would never again touch Greta CHC 1963N nor know another moment of free existence. Despite the coming end, however, Paulus was thankful reasoning a moment of love and freedom worth the knowing, if but for a brief time. Besides this, the old tale of Apollo’s Ascension gave him hope and as he crossed through the gate, into his sphere and into the bright ending of things he thought, “Perhaps like Apollo, in three days…”
The doctor made a few scribbles at the bottom of Paul Uzzman’s chart before placing it back in its place at the foot of the hospital bed and turning to leave. It was a case he hated because it was a case without hope.
Mr. Uzzman had suffered a sudden catastrophic stroke at the young age of 32, six years before, and though the doctors declared it a certainty he would never again regain consciousness, Mrs. Uzzman refused to allow any consideration of disconnecting Mr. Uzzman from the machines which made his chest rise and fall these many years.
And so she sat there by his bedside day after day, the monotony more unbearable for the doctors and nurses watching than for her. The doctor nodded to Mrs. Uzzman as he left the room and grinned to himself. It was something to marvel at, the steadfastness of this young woman. She hadn’t missed one day’s three hour visit since he’d inherited the case four years earlier. She’d sit there daily talking to Mr. Uzzman, telling him of his children’s progress in school and of the affairs of the family and the world abroad. Her hands were busy though, while she talked.
When the doctor first met her four years before it was needlepoint with which she busied her hands. Since then she’d gone through and perfected knitting, crocheting, paint by numbers, and everything in between. Now she was onto making long necklaces, adding one shiny bead at a time to the string. All the nurses had one.
One thing, though, the doctor found most sad. Each day at the end of her visit, Mrs. Uzzman told her husband’s body a story. It was the tale of the sacrifice of Christ, his resurrection, and ascension. She hoped, the doctor knew, for a similar outcome. The doctor knew it would never be, at least not in this world. But he was a religious man himself and often thought perhaps…
The doctor hadn’t taken two steps down the hallway when he heard first the chirping of Mr. Uzzman’s heart monitor and then his wife’s scream. The doctor spun and rushed back into the hospital room stopping just inside utterly astonished. Mr. Uzzman’s eyes were opened now and scanning back and forth lost in the room. Mrs. Uzzman had sprung to her feet and leaned over her husband weeping and caressing his face.
The doctor was frozen to the floor in his shock; he’d never have thought what he was seeing possible, especially with the events of three days before. See, Mr. Uzzman had suffered another small stroke and the doctor feared it would only hasten his end. He feared it, but almost hoped for it. Mrs. Uzzman was the sort to never give up. It would be up to Mr. Uzzman to let go of her. The doctor had kept the information to himself. It was useless to burden the poor woman with the knowledge that her husband’s body had died a little more.
“Paul! Paul!” Mrs. Uzzman said, peering into his eyes for some sign of recognition.
Finally, their eyes locked and Mr. Uzzman smiled deeply. It was the smile of a man looking into eyes he’d long dreamt of gazing into once more. He only spoke once, softly and contented, before fading away and passing on.