Shortly before the graying hours of evening began suppressing the light of the white sun, the ancient steel door creaked open. Three Wise Ones dressed in a fashion exclusive to their class quietly entered the chamber. Their sleeves concealed their hands, so perfectly aligned was one sleeve with the other to form a single, unending tube.
The three walked somberly towards Inercia’s cage, quiet as snakes preparing to poison or constrict a helpless mouse. Their feet did not make a sound.
Inercia glared at them, not scared of anything but the gleam in their eyes which she tried to match. The gleams displayed Tartaruses of wisdom whose depths were not easily probed. Behind the ephemera the Wise Ones displayed to Inercia, however, lay a hatred she felt could drill a hole in her, so weaponized were they.
The Wise Ones did little to hide that power. So accustomed were they to ruling others they no longer needed to disguise their intentions, unlike the early days of The Great Degeneration.
“Do you know who we are?” the first Wise One began, a youthful woman of middle age with long, white braids and flesh made bulgy by the selfish exertion of big bones. Her voice was so sensual it would have generated intimacy both physical and mental in any other context.
“Wise Ones,” sneered Inercia. “But where is Violencia. Oh yeah: she’s dead!”
Inercia made no effort to either amplify nor suppress her five minute giggling sesh. Not a single nerve twitched on the Wise Ones’ faces as her emotions ran wild. Just as it seemed like Inercia would never stop giggling, she stopped, gasping for breath.
“I am Carnalia,” introduced the woman, sensuously grasping her braid and moving her hand up and down with a delicate yet firm grasp. “This is Trepidatius, my scholarly source of carnal knowledge.”
Carnalia gestured to a short, angry, sharp-faced man beside her with short black hair. Inercia remembered seeing him beat a villager so harshly with a spiked metal rod the villager became severely crippled and died two weeks later. Inercia shuddered: if she remembered correctly, the villager had showcased unnecessary stupidity and needed it beaten out of him. Like her brother.
“And this is Genitalius. The source of carnal knowledge for Violencia.”
“He was her husband? The icky dicky teacher?”
“That’s right,” snapped Trepidatius. “And you will call him he-she, stupid girl. Not only does he-she enlighten you about your primary directive, he-she loved Violencia with all his and her heart.”
“Eww!” gasped Inercia. “They did kissy-kiss? He and Violencia? Gross!!”
“Now you shut up and act mature, slave!” shouted Trepidatius. Inercia stopped laughing. Something about his voice gave her the jitters.
“If you so much as giggle one more time – “
“Now now, Trepidatius, relax,” chimed in Carnalia, caressing his shoulder. “She needs to understand her innate inferiority first. Then she can be berated from dawn until dusk. Your…’direct’ methods weary me sometimes, do you know that?”
Trepidatius calmed down. Genitalius said nothing. His face was blank, neither happy nor sad.
“What is your name, female?” Carnalia continued.
“Do you know why you are here, Inercia?”
“I tricked Violencia. She’s stupid!”
“Why you little – “
“Hush, Trepidatius. Why did you trick Violencia? You realize you were stabbing yourself in the head, female? Without her, you possess no autonomy. Violencia was your calculator. Your luminary. Your conscience.”
“No she’s not!” cried Inercia. “She killed my brother and called him stupid. He was not stupid. He knew how to hunt rats. He made stable cob bricks for our house. He…he…”
Deep down in her precocious heart she knew her brother had his talents. He was always building something. Hunting something. But they were so busy working they never knew each other. No time was given, and when it was she had been nudged by her pup-mates – and, at times, by Violencia – to view her brothers’ interests as “stupid boy stuff.” In this way were the sexes definitively – and conveniently – separated.
Inercia and her brother had the same blood, but were complete strangers. And now she would never know him. The embarrassment nearly brought her to tears, but Inercia ferociously held them back.
“You all took him from me. Maybe I am stupid. But you are evil!”
Inercia hissed at the Wise Ones. Genitalius took a step back. The others remained still.
The Wise Ones conferred among themselves. They spoke Wise One dialect with slick rapidity, without the need to whisper. Inercia only caught names like hers and Violencias but understood nothing else.
Eventually they went quiet. Carnalia faced her and rested her solemn gaze upon Inercia’s ragged hair and smudgy face.
“For killing a Wise One, female, the penalty is steep. Nobody has killed a Wise One before. And nobody is as damned as you are because of it: indeed, I can see the horns poking right out of your head! There is a devil in you that has no place in our land. And yet, Violencia was wrong. You are not stupid. Your brother, maybe. But not you.”
Inercia said nothing.
“A cruel and unusual punishment will be devised for you in two weeks. Its construction will need at least another week. It will also give time for all the villagers to assemble. Everybody will bear witness to your fate. But you will not go smugly into the darkness. Your arrogance is a symptom of your innocence pertaining to the wide world; it seeks knowledge your brain has not the fortitude to bear.”
“Which is where we come in. We, in our capacity as Wise Ones and judicators of this land, sentence you to two weeks of Innocence Defilement. When three weeks are over, the pain of knowledge will begin to destroy you from the inside. You will want to be dead: you will beg for death from us.”
“I don’t believe you,” screeched Inercia. “You are all as stupid as Violencia. Kill yourselves first!”
“Tomorrow,” said Genitalius, speaking for the first time in a soft, almost childish voice, “you will learn about kissy-kiss.”
His-her voice alternated, from soprano to bass and back again with every syllable. As if two a cappella singers, male and female, were wrestling for control of his larynx.
“Without my beloved Violencia, I have nobody to kissy-kiss with. Now there’s just you.”
“Eww! Wise Ones are gross! Let me out!”
“The psychological torment slowly sets in once introduced into the psyche,” marveled Genitalius. “The body is fearful, like the ancient studies of Kinsey bore witness to. The mind is barely able to comprehend its own fear, and yet it has not the means to do anything about it.”
“So powerful knowledge can be,” Trepidatius concurred. “This peon was a fool to try and dip her toes into waters that are cool for us, yet hypothermic for her.”
“The human body is labyrinthine, but predictable,” Carnalia observed, coolly lachrymal. “In pain, anyway. With pleasure, it’s not always so certain. Come, Trepidatius. Let us study the unpredictable labyrinth of the body some more. Let us take pleasure while Inercia is in pain. We have a lot of study to do.”
“Anytime, my dear.” Trepidatius shook his massive fist at Inercia as the three Wise Ones left the chamber.
Inercia was alone again.
She shook the bars. They were made of a metal substance, like the door. It was weak and shaky, but wouldn’t budge.
“They want to teach me kissy-kiss,” thought Inercia out loud. “Manualia told me about it. Before she followed the men off Shaft-Smashed-In cliff…He…he-she…I won’t let them touch me!”
She banged on the bars, deploying her adolescent energy ceaselessly. Exasperated after what must have been hours of banging, she collapsed on the ground.
A moment later the moon shone through the small window, illuminating two bent prison bars. Then the moon vanished behind a silvery, translucent cloud.
Carnalia floated to the top of the room as the climax began, numb with pleasure. Then, relapsing with a trembling gasp, she rested her head upon Trepidatius’ pillowy chest. He fiddled with one of Carnalia’s braids as he looked at the wall in front of their cot. But said nothing.
“What is it dear? Don’t you take any pleasure in our studies tonight?”
He glanced passively at her.
“I don’t like that girl.”
“None of us do. She killed our sister in wisdom.”
“That’s not what I mean.”
“Then what do you mean? You’re always so nervous, even when you hide it and think I don’t notice.”
He said nothing for a moment.
“There’s something weird about her. She’s not like the other slaves. She’s so…indifferent. If the whole world was on fire, it would give her more ecstasy than I give you. She makes me angry.”
“Everything makes you angry.” Carnalia grinned wickedly, pulling his hand towards her sweaty, voluptuous chest. “Everything except this.”
He pushed her away.
“Fine,” she said in a huff. “I will study with Genitalius tonight.”
“You do that then. I’ll do what none of you ever care to do: make sure we aren’t being made to look like fools by a child with the IQ of a dodo-hen!”
“I refuse to fight with you when we are mourning our sister in wisdom.”
“Some mourner you are.”
Carnalia slammed the door as she left. Chuckling, Trepidatius dressed and went to the table. A flagon of wine in arms reach, his featherpen at the ready, he gazed at an empty scroll. It was time to brainstorm.
The Wise One spent the rest of the night thinking about the girl. She had shed their blood, the blood of authority. What were her motives? How lacking was her proper education. Did she have an in-built moral framework that detests murder, even righteous murder as Violencia did for the betterment of the specie? So unending the possibilities were!
A new challenge was upon them. A test. For centuries the Wise Ones had ruled over the slaves unchallenged. Guided them in their quest to restore the human condition. To transcend the ruins they lived in and create a better tomorrow.
But now, admitted Trepidatius to himself, the Wise Ones had gotten lazy. Rested too long on their laurels.
So convinced were they of the stupidity of the slaves – a reasonable assumption thanks to ancient genetic experiments resulting in the insurmountable Wise One-slave division – they hadn’t ever considered that the slaves might somehow become smart enough to affect the power balance. After all, reproduction between Wise Ones and slaves was strictly banned, except for the hands-on procreation education classes. It was no different from porking a pig.
What had gone wrong? And how many of the slaves were like Inercia? Was she an isolated case? Or were they all coming for them? It occurred to Trepidatius that at this point, their two dialects had converged to the point of incomprehensibility. Too far, thought the Wise One.
“We need to have a commune-wide meeting,” Trepidatius concluded out loud. “In our hub, the Ivory Castle of Condiscentio. Something is afoot in the land. The source of that change needs to be identified. And then the slaves need a reminder of who’s in charge. A reminder even their primitive brains will never forget.”
He was so resolute about the perceived threat that in the morning, when his servant came to inform him of Inercia’s escape, Trepidatius was hardly surprised. He’d told them not to put her in that cage, but the others hadn’t listened to him.
The obstinate Wise One, however, was not put off by that. It was to his benefit: according to their rules, he was now the leading Wise One for the next week. Or until the others intellectually trumped him before then, as he just did with the cage.
But that wasn’t going to happen.
“Bring me a large flagon of coffee and the breakfast platter, lackey,” ordered Trepidatius. “Then prepare my hovercoach and pegasi for immediate departure.”
“And the runaway?” asked the lackey.
Trepidatius’ smile oozed with the natural sadism symptomatic of knowledge turned decadent by the sour patch granulations of time.
“Tell the hunters to unleash the chimerae. With or without Innocence Defilement, Inercia will still be in for a world of pain. And very soon!”