A modern adaptation by James Hampton Belton of
the story by Ayn Rand
Introduction to the Adaptation
Why adapt Ayn Rand’s short story? The author’s English is fairly readable–if clunky–even in the 21st century. Probably the least approachable feature of her story is the use of the pronoun “we” throughout. Her point was to show that everyone in her dystopian future had been brainwashed from birth to consider themselves part of the collective. While interesting, the use of the first person plural makes the story more difficult to read.
By why adapt this story at all? Rand is well known as one of the founders of Libertarian philosophy, and the utilitarian branch in particular. Libertarianism has long been a bridge between liberalism and conservatism, as well as a bulwark against authoritarians on both the left (Communists) and the right (Facists). Rand’s story allegorically illustrates where the Communist ideal of equality of outcome could lead if successfully implemented.
I hope you enjoy.
It is a sin to write this. It is a sin to think words no others think and put them down upon paper no others will see. It is ignoble and evil. It is as if I was speaking alone to no ears but my own. You know well that there is no transgression blacker than to do or think alone. I have broken laws; the law says that men may not write unless the council of vocations tell them to. May I be forgiven!
But this is not my only sin. I have committed a greater crime, and for this crime there is no name. I do not know what punishment awaits me if it is discovered, for no such crime has occurred in the memory of men and there are no laws to provide for it.
It is dark here. The flame of the candle stands still in the air. Nothing moves in this tunnel save my hand on the paper. I am alone here under the earth. Alone is a fearful word. The laws say that no man may be alone, ever and at any time, for this is the great transgression and the root of all evil. But I have broken many laws. And now there is noone here save me, and it is strange to see only two legs stretched on the ground, and on the wall before me the shadow of one head.
The walls are cracked and water runs down them in thin threads without sound, black and glistening as blood. I stole the candle from the larder of the home of the street sweepers. I will be sentenced to ten years in the palace of corrective detention if it is discovered. But this doesn’t matters. What matters is only that light is precious and I should not waste it to write when I need it for the work that is my crime. Nothing matters save the work, my secret, evil, precious work. Still, I must also write, for—may the council have mercy upon me!—I wish to speak for once to no ears but my own.
My name is Equality 7-2521. It is written on the iron bracelet that all men wear on their left wrists with their names upon them. I am twenty-one years old. I am six feet tall, and this is a burden, for there are not many men who are six feet tall. The teachers and leaders have always pointed to me and frowned and said:
“There is evil in your bones, Equality 7-2521, for your body has grown bigger than the bodies of your brothers.”
But I could not change my bones or my body.
I was born with a curse. It has always driven me to thoughts that are forbidden. It has always given me wishes that men may not wish. I know that I am evil, but there is no will in me, no power to resist it. This is my wonder and my secret fear, that I know and do not resist.
I strived to be like all my brothers, for all men must be alike. Over the portals of the palace of the world council, words are words cut into the marble, which I repeat to myself whenever I am tempted:
"WE ARE ONE IN ALL AND ALL IN ONE. THERE ARE NO MEN BUT ONLY THE GREAT WE, ONE, INDIVISIBLE AND FOREVER."
I repeat this to myself, but it doesn’t help.
These words were etched long ago. There is green mould in the grooves of the letters and yellow streaks on the marble that come from more years than men can count. These words are the truth, for they are written on the palace of the world council, and the world council is the body of all truth. It has been so ever since the great rebirth, and farther back than that no memory reaches.
I must never speak of the times before the great rebirth, or I will be sentenced to three years in the palace of corrective detention. Only the old ones whisper about it in the evenings, in the home of the useless. They whisper of many strange things: of towers that rose to the sky, in those unmentionable times, and of wagons that moved without horses, and lights that burned without flame. But those times were evil. Those times passed away when men saw the great truth: that all men are one and that there is no will except the will of all men together.
All men are good and wise. Only I, Equality 7-2521, was born with a curse. I am not like my brothers. And as I look back upon my life, I see that it has always been so, and that it has brought me step by step to my final supreme transgression, my crime of crimes, hidden here under the ground.
I remember the home of the infants, where I lived til I was five years old, with all the children of the city who were born in the same year. The sleeping halls were white, clean and bare, save for one hundred beds. I was just like all my brothers then, except for one transgression: I fought with my brothers. There are few offences blacker than to fight with one’s brothers, at any age, for any reason whatsoever. The council of the home told me so, and of all the children of that year, I was locked in the cellar the most often.
When I was five years old, I was sent to the home of the students, where there are ten wards for ten years of learning. Men must learn till they reach their fifteenth year; then they go to work. In the home of the students, we arose when the big bell rang in the tower and went to beds when it rang again. Before we removed our garments, we stood in the great sleeping hall, raised our right arms, and said together with the three teachers at the front:
“We are nothing. Mankind is all. By the grace of our brothers are we allowed our lives. We exist through, by and for our brothers who are the state. Amen.”
Then we slept. The sleeping halls were white, clean and bare, except for one hundred beds.
I, Equality 7-2521, was not happy in those years in the home of the students. It was not that learning was too hard for me; it was too easy. It is a great sin to be born with a mind that is too quick. It is not good to be different from one’s brothers, but it is evil to be superior to them. The Teachers told me so, and they frowned when they looked at me.
I fought against this curse. I tried to forget my lessons, but I always remembered. I tried not to understand what the teachers taught, but I always understood it before the teachers had spoken. I watched Union 5-3992, a pale boy with only half a brain, and tried to speak and do as he did, to be like him, but somehow the teachers knew that I was not. I was lashed more often than all the other children.
The teachers were just; they had been appointed by the councils, and the councils are the voice of all justice, the voice of all men. If sometimes, in the secret darkness of my heart, I regret what happened on my fifteenth birthday, I know that it was through my own guilt. I had broken a law, for I had not paid attention to the words of my teachers. The teachers had said to us all:
“Do not choose in your minds the work you would like to do when you leave the home of the students. You shall do what the council of vocations prescribes for you. The council of vocations knows in its great wisdom where you are needed by your brother men, better than you can know it in your unworthy little minds. If you are not needed by your brother man, there is no reason for you to burden the earth with your bodies.”
I knew this well in my childhood, but my curse broke my will. I was guilty and I confess it here: I was guilty of the great transgression of preference. I preferred some work and some lessons to others. I did not listen well to the history of all the councils elected since the great rebirth. I loved the science of things. I wished to know. I wished to know about all the things that make up the world around us. I asked so many questions that the Teachers forbade it.
I think that there are mysteries in the sky and under the water and in the plants which grow, but the council of scholars has said that there are no mysteries, and they know all things. I learned much from our teachers. I learned that the earth is flat and that the sun revolves around it, which causes day and night. I learned the names of the winds which blow over the seas and push the sails of our great ships. I learned how to bleed men to cure them of all ailments.
I loved science, and in the darkness, in the secret hours, when I awoke in the night and there were no brothers around me, only their shapes in the beds and their snores, I closed my eyes, held my lips shut, and slowed my breathing, that no shudder might let my brothers see or hear or guess, and I thought of how I wished to be sent to the home of the scholars when my time came.
All the great modern inventions come from the home of the scholars, like the newest one, which was found only a hundred years ago: how to make candles from wax and string. Also, how to make glass, which is put in windows to protect us from the rain. To find these things, the scholars study the earth and learn from the rivers, the sands, the winds and the rocks. If I went to the home of the scholars, I could learn from these too. I could ask questions of these things, because they do not forbid questions.
Questions give me no rest. I don’t know why my curse makes me seek something I don’t know, forever and ever, but I cannot resist it. It whispers to me that there are great things on this earth of ours, and that I can know them if I try, and that I must know them. I ask why I must know, but it has no answer to give me. I must know in order that I may know.
So I wished to be sent to the home of the scholars. I wished it so much that my hands trembled under the blankets at night, and I bit my lip to stop the other pain that I could not endure. It was evil and I dared not face my brothers in the morning, because men may wish nothing for themselves. I was punished when the council of vocations came to give us our life mandates, which tell those who reach the age of fifteen what their work is to be for the rest of their lives.
The council of vocations came on the first day of spring, and sat in the great hall. Those who were fifteen, along with all the teachers, came into the hall. The council of vocations sat on a high dais, and they had only two words to speak to each of the students. They called the students’ names, and when the students stepped before them, one after another, the council said: “carpenter” or “doctor” or “cook” or “leader.” Then each student raised their right arm and said: “The will of our brothers be done.”
If the Council says “carpenter” or “cook,” the students assigned these vocations go to work and do not study any further. But if the Council says “leader,” the students goes to the home of the leaders, which is the greatest house in the city, and has three stories. There they study for many years so that they may become candidates and be elected to the city council, or the state council, or even the world council, by a free and general vote of all men. I did not wish to be a Leader, even though it is a great honour. I wanted to be a Scholar.
I awaited my turn in the great hall until I heard the council of vocations call my name: “Equality 7-2521.” I walked to the dais, and my legs did not tremble, and I looked up at the council. There were five members of the council, three of them male and two female. Their hair was white and their faces were cracked like the clay of a dry river bed. They were old. They seemed older than the marble of the temple of the world council. They sat before me and didn’t move. I saw no breath stir the folds of their white togas. I knew that they were alive, because the finger of the eldest rose, pointed to me, and fell down again. This was the only thing which moved; the lips of the oldest did not move as they said: “street sweeper.”
I felt the cords of my neck grow tight as my head rose high to look upon the faces of the council, and I was happy. I knew I had been guilty, but now I had a way to atone for it. I would accept my life mandate, and I would work for my brothers, gladly and willingly, and erase my sin against them, which they did not know, but I knew. I was happy, and proud of my victory over myself. I raised my right arm and spoke, and my voice was the clearest, the steadiest voice in the hall that day, and I said:
“The will of our brothers be done.”
I looked straight into the eyes of the Council, but their eyes were as cold blue glass buttons.
So I went to the home of the street sweepers, a grey house on a narrow street. There is a sundial in its courtyard, by which the council of the house could tell the hours of the day and know when to ring the bell. When the bell rang, we all arose from our beds. The sky was green and cold in the windows that faced east. The shadow on the sundial marked off a half-hour while we dressed and ate our breakfasts in the dining hall, where there were five long tables with twenty clay plates and twenty clay cups on each. Then we went to work in the streets of the city with our brooms and our rakes. After five hours, when the sun was high, we returned to the house and ate our midday meal, for which one-half hour was allowed. Then we went back to work. In five hours, the shadows turned blue on the pavements, and the sky was blue with a deep brightness that was not bright. We came back to have dinner, which lasted one hour.
When the bell rang, we walked in a straight line to one of the city halls for the social meeting. Other lines of men arrived from the homes of different trades. Candles were lit, and the councils of the different homes stood in a pulpit, and spoke to us of our duties and of our brother men. Then visiting leaders mounted the pulpit and read the speeches that were made in city council that day, because the city council represents all men and all men must know what is said there. Then we sang hymns: the hymn of brotherhood, the hymn of equality, and the hymn of the collective spirit.
The sky was a soggy purple when we return home. The the bell rang and we walked in a straight line to the city theatre for three hours of social recreation. A play was performed upon the stage, with two great choruses from the home of the actors that spoke and answered all together in two great voices. The plays were always about toil and how good it is. Then we walked back to the home in a straight line. The sky was like a black sieve pierced by silver drops that trembled, ready to burst through. The moths beat against the street lanterns. We went to our beds and slept until the bell rang again. The sleeping halls were white, clean and bare, save for our one hundred beds.
I lived like this every day for four years, until two springs ago when my crime occurred. So all men must live until they are forty. At forty, they are worn out and are sent to the home of the useless, where the old ones live. The old ones do not work; the state takes care of them. They sit in the sun in summer, and by the fire in winter. They do not speak often, for they are weary. The old ones know that they will die soon. When a miracle happens and one lives to be forty-five, he is an ancient one, and children stare at him when passing the home of the useless. Such was my life, like that of all my brothers and of the brothers who came before us.
Such would have been my life, had I not committed the crime which changed everything for me. It was my curse which drove to it. I had been a good street sweeper like all my brother street sweepers, save for my cursed wish to know. I looked too long at the stars at night, and the trees and the earth. When I cleaned the yard of the home of the scholars, we gathered the glass vials, pieces of metal, and dried bones which they had discarded. I wished to keep these things and to study them, but I had no place to hide them, so I carried them to the city cesspool. Then, I made a discovery.
It was the spring before last. We street sweepers worked in brigades of three, and I was with Union 5-3992, he who had only half a brain, and International 4-8818. Union 5-3992 was a sickly lad and sometimes stricken with convulsions, which made his mouth frothed and his eyes turn white. But International 4-8818 was different. He was a tall, strong youth and his eyes were like fireflies, for there was laughter in them. I could not look upon International 4-8818 and not smile in return. For this reason, he was disliked in the home of the students, because it is not proper to smile without a reason. He was further disliked because he took pieces of coal and drew pictures upon the walls that made men laugh. Only those in the home of the artists are permitted to draw pictures, so International 4-8818 was sent to the home of the street sweepers.
International 4-8818 and I were friends. This is an evil thing to say, for it is a transgression, the great transgression of preference, to love any man better than all others. We must love all men and all men are our friends. International 4-8818 and I never spoke of it, but we knew it when we look into each other’s eyes. When we looked like this, without words, we both knew other things as well, strange things for which there are no words, and these things frightened us.
On that day in the spring before last, Union 5-3992 was stricken with convulsions on the edge of the city, near the city theatre. I left him to lie in the shade of the theatre tent and went with International 4-8818 to finish our work. We came to the great ravine behind the theatre. It was empty save for trees and weeds. Beyond the ravine there was a plain, and beyond the plain there lay the uncharted forest, about which men must not think.
I was gathering papers and rags which the wind had blown from the theatre when I saw an iron bar among the weeds. It was old and rusted by many rains. I pulled with all my strength, but could not move it. I called International 4-8818 over, and together we scraped the earth around the bar. Suddenly, the earth fell in before us, and we saw an old iron grill over a black hole.
International 4-8818 stepped back, but I pulled at the grill and it gave way. Then I saw iron rungs, steps, leading down a shaft into a darkness without a bottom.
“I will go down,” I said to International 4-8818.
“It is forbidden,” he answered.
“The council does not know of this hole, so it can’t be forbidden,” I said.
“Since the council does not know of this hole, there can be no law permitting us to enter it,” he answered. “Everything that is not permitted by law is forbidden.”
“I shall go, none-the-less,” I said.
He was frightened, but he stood by and watched me go.
I clung to the iron rungs with my hands and feet. I could see nothing below me, and above me, the hole open to the sky grew smaller and smaller, til it it was the size of a button. But I continued down. Then my foot touched the ground. I rubbed my eyes, because I couldn’t see. When they became used to the darkness, I could not believe what I saw.
No men I knew could have built this place, nor any men known to those who lived before us, and yet it was built by men. It was a great tunnel. Its walls were hard and smooth to the touch; it felt like stone, but it was not stone. On the ground there were long thin tracks of a metal like iron that was not iron; it felt smooth and cold as glass. I knelt and crawled forward, my hand groping along the iron line to see where it led. There was unbroken darkness ahead. Only the iron tracks glowed through it, straight and white, calling me to follow. But I could not follow, for I was losing the puddle of light behind me. So I turned and crawled back, my hand on the iron line. My heart beat in my fingertips for no reason. And then I knew.
I suddenly knew that this place was left from the unmentionable times. It was true, and those times had existed, and all the wonders of those times. Hundreds upon hundreds of years ago, men knew secrets which we have lost.
‘This is a foul place,’ I thought. ‘Those who touch the things of the unmentionable times are damned.’
But my hand, which followed the track as I crawled, clung to the iron as if it would not leave it, as if the skin of mt hand was thirsty and begging the metal for some secret fluid beating in its coldness.
I returned to the earth. International 4-8818 looked at me and stepped back.
“Equality 7-2521,” he said, “your face is white.”
I could not speak and stood looking at him.
He backed away, as if he dared not touch me. Then he smiled, but it was not a happy smile; it was lost and pleading. But still I could not speak.
“We shall report our find to the city council,” he said, “and both of us will be rewarded.”
Then I spoke. My voice was hard and there was no mercy in it.
“We will not report our find to the city council. We will not report it to any men.”
He raised his hands to their ears, for he had never heard words like these.
“International 4-8818,” I asked, “will you report me to the Council and see me lashed to death before your eyes?”
He stood straight.
“I would rather die,” he replied.
“Then,” I said, “keep silent. This place is mine. This place belongs to me, Equality 7-2521, and to no other man on earth. If I ever surrender it, I shall surrender my life with it.”
I saw that the eyes of International 4-8818 were full to the lids with tears he dared not let fall. He whispered, and his voice trembled, so that his words lost all shape.
“The will of the council is above all things, for it is the will of our brothers, which is holy. But if you wish it, I shall obey you. I would rather be evil with you than good with all our brothers. May the council have mercy upon both our hearts!”
We walked away together in silence, back to the home of the street sweepers.
So it come to pass that each night, when the stars were high and the street sweepers sat in the city theatre, I, Equality 7-2521, stole out and ran through the darkness to my place. It was easy to leave the theatre. When the candles were blown out and the actors came onto the stage, no eyes could see me as I crawled under my seat and then out under the cloth of the tent. It was dark in the streets and there were no men about; none may walk through the city without a reason. Each night, I ran to the ravine and removed the stones which I had piled over the iron grill to hide it from others. Each night, for three hours, I was underground, alone. Later, it was easy to steal through the shadows and fall in line next to International 4-8818 as the sweepers left the theatre.
I stole candles from the home of the street sweepers, and flint, knives and paper, and brought them to the place. I stole glass vials, powders and acids from the home of the scholars. I sat in the tunnel for three hours each night and studied. I melted strange metals, mixed acids, and cut open the bodies of animals which I found in the city cesspool. I built an oven from bricks I’d gathered in the streets. I burned wood I found in the ravine. The fire flickered in the oven and blue shadows danced upon the walls, and there was no sound to disturb me.
I stole manuscripts. This is a great offence. Manuscripts are precious; my brothers in the home of the clerks spent a year to copy one single script in their clear handwriting. Manuscripts are rare and are kept in the home of the scholars. I sat underground and read stolen scripts. Two years passed after I found the place. In that time, I learned more than I had learned in the ten years of the home of the students.
I learned things that were not in the manuscripts. I discovered secrets of which the scholars did not know. I came to see how vast the unexplored is, and that many lifetimes would not bring me to the end of my quest. But I no wish to end the quest. I wanted only to be alone and to learn, and to feel as if with each day my sight was growing sharper than a hawk’s, and clearer than rock crystal.
The ways of evil are strange. I lied to the faces of my brothers. I defied the will of our councils. I alone, of the thousands who walk this earth, did work which had no purpose save that I wished to do it. The evil of my crime is not for the human mind to probe. The nature of my punishment, if it were discovered, would not be for the human heart to ponder. Never, not in the memory of the ancient ones’ ancients, never had men done what I was doing.
And yet I felt no shame and no regret. I said to myself that I was a wretch and a traitor. But I felt no burden upon my spirit and no fear in my heart. It seemed to me that my spirit was as clear as a lake troubled by no eyes save those of the sun. And in my heart—strange are the ways of evil!—in my heart was the first peace I had known in twenty years.
Liberty 5-3000… Liberty five-three thousand … Liberty 5-3000… I want to write this name. I want to say it, but I dare not speak it above a whisper. Men are forbidden to notice women, and women are forbidden to notice men. But I think of one woman, whose name is Liberty 5-3000, and I think of no others. The women who have been assigned to till the soil live in the homes of the peasants beyond the city. Where the city ends, there is a great road winding off to the north, and we street sweepers must keep this road clean to the first milepost. There is a hedge alongside the road, and beyond the hedge lie the fields. The fields are black and ploughed, and they lie like a great fan before us, with their furrows gathered in some hand beyond the horizon, spreading forth from that hand, opening wide as they come toward us, like black pleats that sparkle with thin, green spangles. Women work in the fields, and their white tunics in the wind are like the wings of sea-gulls beating over the black soil.
It was there that I saw Liberty 5-3000 walking along the furrows. Her body was straight and thin as a blade of iron. Her eyes were dark and hard and glowing, with no fear in them, no kindness and no guilt. Her hair was golden as the sun; it flew in the wind, shining and wild, as if it defied men to restrain it. She threw seeds from her hand as if she stooped to fling a scornful gift, and the earth was a beggar under her feet.
I stood still; for the first time I knew fear, and then pain. I stood still so I would not spill this pain more precious than pleasure. Then I heard a voice from the others call her name, “Liberty 5-3000,” and she turned and walked back. So I learned her name, and stood watching her go, til her white tunic was lost in the blue mist.
The following day, as I came to the northern road, I kept my eyes upon Liberty 5-3000 in the field. Each day after that, I felt ill waiting for my hour on the northern road. There I looked at Liberty 5-3000 every day. I don’t know whether she looked at me as well, but I think she did.
One day she came close to the hedge, and suddenly she turned to me. She turned in a whirl and the movement of her body stopped, as if slashed off, as suddenly as it had started. She stood still as a stone, and looked straight at me, straight into my eyes. There was no smile on her face, and no welcome. But her face was taut, and her eyes were dark. Then she turned as swiftly, and walked away from me.
The following day, when I came to the road, she smiled. She smiled to me and for me, and I smiled in answer. Her head fell back, and her arms fell, as if her arms and her thin white neck were stricken suddenly with a great weariness. She was not looking at me, but at the sky. Then she glanced at me over her shoulder, and I felt as if a hand had touched my body, slipping softly from my lips to my feet.
Every morning after that, we greeted each other with our eyes. We dared not speak. It is a transgression to speak to men of other trades, save in groups at the social meetings. But once, standing at the hedge, I raised my hand to my forehead and then moved it slowly, palm down, toward Liberty 5-3000. Had the others seen it, they could have guessed nothing, for it looked only as if I was shading my eyes from the sun. But Liberty 5-3000 saw it and understood. She raised her hand to her forehead and moved it like I had. Thus, each day, I greeted Liberty 5-3000, and she answered, and no men could suspect.
I do not wonder at this new sin of mine. It is my second transgression of preference, because I do not think of all my brothers, as I must, but only of one, and her name is Liberty 5-3000. I do not know why I think of her. I do not know why, when I think of her, I suddenly feel that the earth is good and that it is not a burden to live. I do not think of her as Liberty 5-3000 any longer. I have given her a name in my thoughts. I call her the Golden One. But it is a sin to give people names which distinguish them from others. Yet I call her the Golden One, because she is not like the others.
I pay no attention to the law that says that men may not think of women, save at the rime of mating. This is the time, each spring, when all men older than twenty and all women older than eighteen are sent for one night to the city palace of mating. Each of the men has one of the women assigned to him by the council of eugenics. Children are born each winter, but women never see their children and children never know their parents. I have been sent to the Palace of Mating twice, but it is an ugly and shameful matter, which I don’t like to think about.
I have broken so many laws, and today I have broken one more. Today, I spoke to the Golden One.
The other women were far off in the field when I stopped at the hedge by the side of the road. The Golden One was kneeling alone at the moat which runs through the field. The drops of water falling from her hands, as she raised the water to her lips, were like sparks of fire in the sun. Then the Golden One saw me, and did not move, kneeling there, looking at me, and circles of light played upon her white tunic, reflections of the sun on the water of the moat, and one sparkling drop fell from a finger of her hand held as frozen in the air.
Then the Golden One rose and walked to the hedge, as if she had been commanded by my eyes. The two other street sweepers of my brigade were a hundred paces away down the road, and I thought that International 4-8818 would not betray me, and Union 5-3992 would not understand. So I looked straight at the Golden One, and I saw the shadows of her lashes on her white cheeks and the sparks of sun on her lips.
“You are beautiful, Liberty 5-3000,” I said.
Her face did not move and she did not avert her eyes. Only her eyes grew wider, and there was triumph in her eyes, and it was not triumph over me, but over things I could not guess.
“What is your name?” she asked.
“Equality 7-2521,” I answered.
“You are not one of my brothers, Equality 7-2521, for I do not wish you to be.”
I cannot say what she meant, for there are no words for her meaning, but I know it without words and I knew it then.
“No,” I answered, “nor are you one of my sisters.”
“If you see me among scores of women, will you look at me?”
“I would look at you, Liberty 5-3000, if I saw you among all the women of the earth.”
“Are street sweepers sent to different parts of the city or do they always work in the same places?” she asked.
“They always work in the same places,” I answered, “and no one will take this road away from me.”
“Your eyes,” she said, “are not like the eyes of any other man.”
Suddenly, without cause, a thought which came to me, and I felt cold, cold to me stomach.
“How old are you?” I asked.
She understood my thought, for she lowered her eyes for the first time.
“Seventeen,” she whispered.
I sighed, as if a burden had been taken from me, for I had been thinking without reason of the palace of mating. I could not let the Golden One be sent to the palace. How to prevent it, how to bar the will of the councils, I did not know, but I knew suddenly that I would. I do not know why such thought came to me, for the ugly matter of mating bore no relation to me and the Golden One. What relation could it bear?
Still, without reason, as I stood there by the hedge, I felt my lips drawn tight with hatred, a sudden hatred for all my brother men. The Golden One saw it and smiled slowly, and there was in her smile the first sadness I had seen in her. I think that with the wisdom of women the Golden One had understood more than I could understand.
Three of the sisters in the field appeared, coming toward the road, so the Golden One walked away from me. She took up a bag of seeds, and threw the seeds into the furrows of earth as she walked away. But the seeds flew wildly, for the hand of the Golden One was trembling.
As I walked back to the home of the street sweepers, I felt that I wanted to sing for no reason. I was reprimanded in the dining hall, for without knowing it, I had begun to sing aloud a tune I had never heard. It is not proper to sing without reason, save at the social meetings.
“I am singing because I am happy,” I answered the member of the home council who reprimanded us.
“Indeed you are happy,” he answered. “How else can men be when they live for their brothers?”
And now, sitting here in my tunnel, think about these words. It is forbidden to be unhappy. As it has been explained to us, men are free and the earth belongs to them, all things on earth belong to all men, the will of all men together is good for all, and so all men must be happy.
Yet as I stood at night in the great hall, removing my garments for sleep, I looked upon my brothers and wondered. My brothers heads were bowed. Their eyes were dull, and they never looked one another in the eyes. Their shoulders were hunched, and their muscles were drawn, as if their bodies were shrinking and wished to shrink out of sight. A word stoles into my mind as I look upon my brothers, and that word was fear.
Fear hung in the air of the sleeping halls, and in the air of the streets. Fear walked through the City, fear without a name, without shape. All men felt it and none dared to speak.
I felt it too, when I was in the home of the street sweepers. But here, in my tunnel, I no longer feel it. The air is pure under ground. There is no odour of men. These three hours give me strength for my hours above ground.
My body is betraying me; the council of the home looks at me with suspicion. It is not good to feel too much joy nor to be glad that one lives. For I don’t matter, and it must not matter to me whether I live or die, which is to be as my brothers will it. But I, Equality 7-2521, am glad to be alive. If this is a vice, then I wish no virtue.
My brothers are not like me. All is not well with my brothers. Fraternity 2-5503, a quiet boy with wise, kind eyes, cries suddenly, without reason, in the middle of the day or night, and his body shakes with sobs he cannot explain. Solidarity 9-6347, a bright youth, without fear in the day, screams in his sleep, crying “Help us! Help us! Help us!” into the night, in a voice which chills my bones, and the doctors cannot cure him.
And as we all undress at night, in the dim light of the candles, my brothers are silent, for they don’t dare speak their thoughts. All must agree, and they cannot know if their thoughts are the thoughts of all, and so they fear to speak. They are glad when the candles are blown for the night. But I, Equality 7-2521, look through the window at the sky, and see peace, cleanness, and dignity. Beyond the city, there lies the plain, and beyond the plain, black upon the black sky, lies the uncharted forest.
I do not want to look at the uncharted forest. I do not want to think of it. But my eyes always return to that black patch on the horizon. Men never enter the uncharted forest, for there is no power to explore it and no path among its ancient trees, which stand guard over fearful secrets. It is whispered that once or twice in a hundred years, one among the men of the city escapes runs to the uncharted forest, without call or reason. These men do not return. They perish from hunger and the claws of the wild beasts that roam the forest. Our councils say that this is only a legend.
I have heard that there are many uncharted forests in the land, among the cities. It is whispered that they have grown over the ruins of many cities of the unmentionable times. The trees have swallowed the ruins, the bones under the ruins, and all the things that perished. As I look upon the uncharted forest in the night, I think about the secrets of the unmentionable times. I wonder how these secrets were lost to the world. I have heard the legends of the great fighting, in which many men fought on one side and only a few on the other. The few were the evil ones and they were conquered. Then great fires raged over the land. In these fires the evil ones and all the things made by them were burned. In the fire, which is called the dawn of the great rebirth, all the writings of the evil ones were burned, and with them all the words of the evil ones. Great mountains of flame stood in the squares of the cities for three months. Then came the great rebirth.
The words of the evil ones–the words of the unmentionable times. What are the words that we have lost?
May the council have mercy upon me! I had no wish to write such a question, and I didn’t know what I was doing til I had written it. I won’t ask this question nor think it. I will not call death upon my head.
And yet, there is a word, one single word, that is not in the language of men, but that once was. This is the unspeakable word, which no man may speak or hear. But sometimes, and it is rare, sometimes, somewhere, a man finds that word. He finds it in scraps of old manuscripts or cut into the fragments of ancient stones. When he speaks it he is put to death. There is no crime punished by death in this world, save the one crime of speaking the unspeakable word.
I saw one of such man burned alive in the square of the city. Ot was a sight that stayed with me through the years, and it haunts me, follows me, and gives me no rest. I was a child then, ten years old. I stood in the great square with all the children and the men of the City, sent to behold the burning. They brought the transgressor out into the square and led him to the pyre. They had torn out his tongue so he could no longer speak. The transgressor was young and tall. He had golden hair and eyes as blue as morning. He walked to the pyre, and his step did not falter. Of all the faces on that square, surrounded by faces which shrieked and screamed and spat curses upon him, his was the calmest and the happiest face.
As ch3ains were wound around his body at the stake, and the pyre was lit, the transgressor looked upon the city. There was a thin thread of blood running from the corner of his mouth, but his lips were smiling. A monstrous thought came to me then, which has never left me. I had heard of saints. There are the saints of labour, of the councils, and of the great rebirth. I had never seen a saint nor known what a Saint should look like. I thought then, standing in the square, that a Saint would have the face I saw before me in the flames, the face of the transgressor of the unspeakable word.
As the flames rose, something happened that no one saw but me, or I would not be living today. Perhaps it had only seemed so to me, but the eyes of the transgressor had chosen me from the crowd and were looking straight at me. There was no pain in his eyes and no knowledge of the agony of his body. There was only joy, and pride, a pride holier than is fit a man. It seemed as if his eyes were trying to tell me something through the flames, to send into mine some word without sound. It seemed that his eyes were begging me to gather that word and not to let it pass from the earth. But the flames rose and I could not guess the word.
I, Equality 7-2521, have discovered a new power of nature. I have discovered it alone, and I alone know it.
It is said. Now let me be lashed for it, if I must. The council of scholars says that we all know the things that exist and therefore, the things that are not known do not exist. But I believe the council of scholars is blind. The secrets of this earth are not plain for all men to see, but are only found by those who seek them. I know, for I have found a secret unknown to all my brothers.
I don’t know what this power is or where it comes from. But I know its nature; I have watched it and worked with it. I first saw it two years ago. One night, I was cutting open the body of a dead frog when we saw its leg jerking. It was dead, yet it moved. Some power unknown to men was making it move. I could not understand it. Then, after many tests, I found the answer. I had hung the frog on a length of copper wire. The metal of our knife had sent the strange power through the copper and into the frog’s body. I put a piece of copper and a piece of zinc into a jar of brine, touched a wire to them, and there, under my fingers, was a miracle which had never occurred before, a new miracle and a new power.
This discovery haunted me. I followed it in preference to all my studies. I worked with it, tested it in more ways than I can describe, and each step was as another miracle unveiled to me. I came to know that I had found the greatest power on earth. It defies all the laws known to men. It makes the needle move and turn on the compass that I stole from the home of the scholars. I had been taught as a child that the loadstone points to the north and that this is a law which nothing can change. Yet my new power defies all laws. I found that it causes lightning, and men have never known what causes lightning. In a thunderstorm, I raised a tall rod of iron by the side of my hole, and watched it from below. I saw the lightning strike it again and again. Now I know that metal draws the power of the sky, and that metal can be made to carry it.
I have built strange things with this discovery of mine. I used the copper wires which I found here underground. I have walked the length of the tunnel, with a candle lighting the way. I could go no further than half a mile, for earth and rock had fallen at both ends. But I gathered all the things I found and brought them to my work place. I found strange boxes with bars of metal inside, with many cords, strands, and coils of metal. I found wires that led to strange little globes of glass on the walls. They contained threads of metal thinner than a spider’s web.
These things helped me in my work. I did not understand them, but I began to think that the men of the unmentionable times had known the power of the sky, and these things were related to it. I did not know, but I set out to learn. I couldn’t stop, even though it frightened me that I was alone in my knowledge.
No single person can possess greater wisdom than the many scholars who are elected by all men for their wisdom. Yet I can. I do. I have fought against saying it, but now it is said. I do not care. I forget all men, all laws, and all things except my metals and wires. So much is still to be learned! So long a road lies before me, and why should I care if I must travel it alone!
Many days passed before I could speak to the Golden One again. Then a day came when the sky turned white, as if the sun had burst and spread its flame in the air, and the fields lay still without breath, and the dust of the road was white in the glow. The women of the field were weary, and tarried over their work, and were far from the road when I came. But the Golden One stood alone at the hedge, waiting. I stopped and I saw that her eyes, so hard and scornful to the world, looked at me as if she would obey any word I might speak.
“I have given you a name in my thoughts, Liberty 5-3000,” I said.
“What is my name?” she asked.
“The Golden One.”
“Neither do I call you Equality 7-2521 when I think of you.”
“What name have you given me?”
She looked straight into my eyes and held her head high.
“The Unconquered,” she answered.
For a long time I could not speak.
“Thoughts like these are forbidden, Golden One,” I finally said.
“But you think such thoughts as these and you wish me to think them.”
I looked into her eyes and I could not lie.
“Yes,” I whispered, and she smiled, “But, my dearest one, do not obey me.”
She stepped back, and her eyes were wide and still.
“Say those words again,” she whispered.
“Which words?” I asked.
She did not answer, but I knew what she meant.
“My dearest one,” I whispered.
Never has a man said this to a womn.
The Golden One bowed her head slowly, and stood still before me, arms at her sides, palms turned toward me, as if her body were delivered in submission to my eyes. And I could not speak.
Then she raised her head, and spoke simply and gently, as if she wished to forget some anxiety of her own.
“The day is hot,” she said, “and you have worked for many hours. You must be weary.”
“No,” I answered.
“It is cooler in the fields,” she said, “and there is water to drink. Are you thirsty?”
“Yes,” I answered, “but I cannot cross the hedge.”
“I will bring the water to you,” she said.
She knelt by the moat and gathered water in her hands, then rose and held the water out to my lips.
I did not know if I drank the water. I only knew suddenly that her hands were empty, but I was still holding my lips to them, and she knew it, but did not move.
I raised my head and stepped back. I did not understand what had made me do this, and I was afraid to understand it.
The Golden One stepped back, and stood looking upon her hands in wonder. Then she moved away, even though no others were coming, stepping back as if she could not turn from me, her arms bent before her as if she could not lower her hands.
I made it. I created it. I brought it forth from the night of the ages. I alone. My hands. My mind. Mine and mine alone.
I don’t know what I am saying. My head is reeling. I look upon the light that I have made. I shall be forgiven for anything I say tonight.
Tonight, after more days and trials than I can count, I finished building a strange thing from the remains of the unmentionable times: a box of glass, devised to give forth the power of the sky of greater strength than I have ever achieved before. When I put my wires to this box, when I closed the current—the wire glowed! It came to life, it turned red, and a circle of light shone on the stone before me.
I stood, and held my head in my hands. I could not conceive what I had created. I touched no flint, made no fire. Yet here was light, light that came from nowhere, light from the heart of metal.
I blew out the candle. Darkness swallowed me. There was nothing left around me, nothing save night and a thin thread of flame in it, like a crack in the wall of a prison. I stretched my hands to the wire, and saw my fingers in the red glow. I could not see my body or feel it, and in that moment nothing existed save my two hands over the wire, glowing in a black abyss.
Then I thought of the meaning of what lay before me. I can light my tunnel, and the city, and all the cities of the world, with nothing save metal and wires. I can give my brothers a new light, cleaner and brighter than any they have ever known. The power of the sky can be made to do man’s bidding. There are no limits to its secrets and its strength; it can be made to grant us anything if we but choose to ask.
I know what I must do. My discovery is too great for me to waste my time sweeping the streets. I must not keep my secret to myself, buried underground. I must bring it into the sight of all men. I need all my time, I need the work rooms of the home of the scholars, I want the help of my brother scholars and their wisdom joined to mine. There is so much work ahead for all of us, for all the scholars of the world.
In a month, the world council of scholars is to meet in my city. It is a great council, to which the wisest of all lands are elected, and it meets once a year in a different city of the earth. I will go to this council and lay before them, as my gift, this glass box with the power of the sky. I will confess everything to them. They will see, understand, and forgive, because my gift is greater than my transgression. They will explain it to the council of vocations, and I will be assigned to the home of the scholars. This has never been done before, but neither has a gift such as mine ever been offered to men.
I must wait. I must guard my tunnel as I have never guarded it before. Should any men save the scholars learn of my secret, they would not understand it, nor would they believe me. They would see nothing but my crime of working alone, and they would destroy me and my light. I don’t care about my body, but my light is important.
Yet I do care. For the first time I care about my body. For this wire is a part of my body, as a vein torn from me, glowing with our blood. Am I proud of this thread of metal, or of my hands which made it? Is there a line to divide these two?
I stretch out my arms. For the first time I know how strong my arms are. A strange thought comes to me: for the first time in our life, I wonder what I look like. Men never see their own faces and never ask their brothers about them; concern for their own faces or bodies is evil. But tonight, for a reason I cannot fathom, I wish it were possible to know what I look like.
I have not written anything for thirty days. For thirty days I have not been here, in my tunnel. I was caught. It happened on that night that I last wrote. I forgot, that night, to watch the sand in the glass which tells me when three hours have passed and it is time to return to the city theatre. By the time I remembered, the sand had run out.
I rushed to the theatre, but the big tent stood grey and silent against the sky. The streets of the city lay before me, dark and empty. If I went back to hide in my tunnel, I would be found, as would my light. So I walked to the Home of the street sweepers.
When the council of the home questioned me, I looked at their faces; there was no curiosity, no anger, and no mercy.
“Where have you been?” the oldest of them asked me.
I thought of my glass box and of my light, and forgot everything else.
“I will not tell you,” I answered.
The eldest did not question me further. He turned to the two youngest.
“Take our brother Equality 7-2521 to the Palace of Corrective Detention,” he said in a bored voice. “Lash him until he tells.”
I was taken to the stone room under the palace of corrective detention. This room has no windows and is empty but for an iron post. Two men stood by the post, naked except for leather aprons and leather hoods over their faces. Those who had brought me departed, leaving me to the two judges who stood in a corner of the room. The judges were small, thin men, grey and bent. They gave a signal to the two strong hooded ones.
They tore the clothes from my body, threw me down upon my knees, and tied my hands to the iron post. The first blow of the lash felt like it had cut my spine in two. The second blow stopped the first, and for a second I felt nothing, then the pain struck me in my throat and fire ran in my lungs without air, but I did not cry out.
The lash whistled like a singing wind. I tried to count the blows, but lost count. I knew that the blows were falling upon my back, but felt nothing any longer. A flaming grill kept dancing before my eyes, and I thought of nothing save that grill, a grill, a grill of red squares. Then I knew that I was looking at the squares of the iron grill in the door, and there were also the squares of stone on the walls, and squares which the lash was cutting into my back, crossing and re-crossing my flesh.
I saw a fist before me. It knocked my chin up, and I saw the red froth of my mouth on withered fingers.
“Where have you been?” the judge.
I jerked my head away, hid my face in my tied hands, and bit my lips.
The lash whistled again. I wondered who was sprinkling burning coal dust upon the floor, because I saw drops of red twinkling on the stones around us.
Then I knew nothing, except two voices snarling steadily, one after the other, even though we knew they were speaking many minutes apart:
“Where have you been where have you been where have you been where have you been?”
My lips moved, and sound trickled back into my throat, but the sound was only:
“The light… The light… The light…”
Then I knew nothing.
I opened my eyes lying on my stomach on the brick floor of a cell. I looked upon two hands lying in front of me on the bricks, and I moved them and knew that they were mine. I could not move my body. Then I smiled, for I thought of the light and that I had not betrayed it.
I lay in my cell for many days. The door opened twice a day, once for the men who brought me bread and water, and once for the judges. Many judges came to our cell, first the humblest, then the most honoured judges of the city. They stood before me in their white togas.
“Are you ready to speak?” they asked.
I shook my head, lying before them on the floor, and they departed.
I counted each day and each night as it passed. Finally, I knew that I had to escape, because on the next day, the world council of scholars is to meet in the city.
It was easy to escape from the palace of corrective detention. The locks on the doors are old and there are no guards about. There is no reason to have guards, because men have never defied the councils as far as to escape from whatever place they were ordered to be. My body is healthy and strength returns to it quickly. I lunged against the door and it gave way. I stole through the dark passages, through the dark streets, and down into my tunnel.
I lit the candle and saw that my place had not been found and nothing had been touched. My glass box stood before me on the cold oven, as I had left it. What did the scars on our back matter!
Tomorrow, in the full light of day, I will take my box, leave my tunnel open, and walk through the streets to the home of the scholars. I will put before them the greatest gift ever offered to men. I will tell them the truth. I will hand to them, as my confession, these pages I have written. I will join our hands to theirs, and we will work together with the power of the sky, for the glory of mankind. My blessing upon you, my brothers! Tomorrow, you will take me back into your fold and I will be an outcast no longer. Tomorrow I will be one of you again. Tomorrow…
It is dark here in the forest. The leaves rustle over our head, black against the last gold of the sky. The moss is soft and warm. I will sleep on this moss for many nights, til the beasts of the forest come to tear my body. I have no bed now save the moss, and no future save the beasts.
I am old now, yet I was young this morning when I carried our glass box through the streets of the city to the home of the scholars. No one stopped us. No one from the palace of corrective detention was about, and the others knew nothing of my crime. No one stopped me at the gate. I walked through empty passages and into the great hall where the world council of scholars sat in solemn meeting.
I saw only the sky in the great windows, blue and glowing, as I entered. Then I saw the scholars, sitting around a long table. They were like shapeless clouds huddled at the rise of the great sky. There were famous men whose names I knew, and others from distant lands who I had not heard of. There was a great painting on the wall above their heads of the twenty illustrious men who had invented the candle.
All the heads of the council turned to me as I entered. The great and wise of the earth did not know what to think of me, and looked at me with wonder and curiosity, as if I was a miracle. It is true that my tunic was torn and blood stained. I raised my right arm.
“Greeting to you, honoured brothers of the world council of scholars!” I said.
“Who are you, our brother?” asked Collective 0-0009, the oldest and wisest of the Council, “You do not look like a scholar.”
“My name is Equality 7-2521,” I answered, “and I am a street sweeper in the city.”
It was as if a great wind had stricken the hall; all the Scholars spoke at once, and they were angry and frightened.
“A street sweeper! A street sweeper walking in upon the world council of scholars! It’s unbelievable! It’s against all the rules and the laws!”
I knew how to stop them.
“Brothers!” I said. “I don’t matter, nor does my transgression. It is only my brother men who matter. Give no thought to me–I am nothing–but listen to my words. I bring you a gift the like of which has never been brought to men. Listen to me for I hold the future of mankind in my hands.”
Then they listened.
I placed the glass box on the table before them. I spoke about it, and of my long quest, and my tunnel, and of our escape from the palace of corrective detention. Not a hand moved in that hall, as I spoke, nor an eye. Then I put the wires to the box, and they all bent forward and sat still, watching. And I stood still, my eyes upon the wire. Slowly, slowly, like a flush of blood, a red flame trembled in the wire. Then the wire glowed.
Terror struck the council. They leapt to their feet, ran from the table, and stood pressed against the wall, huddled together, seeking the warmth of one another’s bodies to give them courage.
I looked upon them and laughed.
“Fear nothing, my brothers,” I said. “There is a great power in these wires, but the power is tamed. It is yours. I give it to you.”
Still they did not move.
“I give you the power of the sky!” I cried. “I give you the key to the earth! Take it, and let me be one of you, the humblest among you. Let us all work together, and harness this power, and ease the toil of men. Let us throw away our candles and our torches. Let us flood our cities with light. Let us bring a new light to men!”
But they looked upon us, and suddenly I was afraid. For their eyes were still, and small, and evil.
“Brothers!” I cried. “Have you nothing to say to me?”
Collective 0-0009 moved forward. He came to the table, and the others followed.
“Yes,” said Collective 0-0009, “we have much to say to you.”
The sound of his voice brought silence to the hall and to beat of my heart.
“Yes,” said Collective 0-0009, “we have much to say to a wretch who has broken all the laws and who boasts of his infamy! How dare you think that your mind holds greater wisdom than the minds of your brothers. If the councils have decreed that you should be a street sweeper, how dare you think that you could be of greater use to men than in sweeping the streets?”
“How dare you, gutter cleaner,” said Fraternity 9-3452, “hold yourself as one alone and with the thoughts of the one and not of the many?”
“You shall be burned at the stake,” said Democracy 4-6998.
“No, he shall be lashed,” said Unanimity 7-3304, “til there is nothing left under the lashes.”
“No,” said Collective 0-0009, “we cannot decide upon this, my brothers. No such crime has ever been committed, and it is not for us to judge. Nor for any small council. I will deliver this creature to the world council itself and let their will be done.”
I looked upon them.
“Brothers! You are right. Let the will of the Council be done to my body. I do not care. But the light? What will you do with the light?” I pleaded.
Collective 0-0009 looked upon us, and he smiled.
“So you think that you have found a new power,” said Collective 0-0009. “Do all your brothers think that?”
“No,” I answered.
“What is not thought by all men cannot be true,” said Collective 0-0009.
“You worked on this alone?” asked International 1-5537.
“Many men in the homes of the scholars have had strange new ideas in the past,” said Solidarity 8-1164, “but when the majority of their brother scholars voted against them, they abandoned their ideas, as all men must.”
“This box is useless,” said Alliance 6-7349.
“Should it be what he claims it is,” said Harmony 9-2642, “it would bring ruin on the department of candles. The candle is a great boon to mankind, approved by all men. Therefore it cannot be destroyed by the whim of one.”
“This would wreck the plans of the world council,” said Unanimity 2-9913, “and without the plans of the world council the sun cannot rise. It took fifty years to secure the approval of all the councils for the candle, and to decide upon the number needed, and to re-fit the plans to make candles instead of torches. This affected thousands and thousands of men working in scores of states. We cannot alter the plan again so soon.”
“And if this lightens the toil of men,” said Similarity 5-0306, “then it is a great evil, for men have no reason to exist save in toiling for other men.”
Collective 0-0009 rose and pointed at our box.
“This thing,” he said, “must be destroyed.” “It must be destroyed!” all the others cried as one.
I leapt to the table, seized my box, shoved them aside, and ran to the window. I turned and looked at them for the last time, and a rage that it is not fit for humans to know choked my voice in my throat.
“You fools!” I cried. “You fools! You thrice-damned fools!”
I swung my fist through the window pane, and leapt out in a ringing rain of glass.
I fell, but I never let the box fall from my hands. I ran blindly, and men and houses streaked past me in a shapeless torrent. The road seemed not to lie flat before me, but as if it were leaping up to meet me, and I waited for the earth to rise and strike me in the face. But I ran. I didn’t know where I was going. I knew only that I must run, run to the end of the world, to the end of my days.
Then I was lying on a soft earth and I had stopped. Trees taller than I had ever seen before stood over me in great silence. I was in the uncharted forest. I had not thought of coming here, but my legs had carried my wisdom, and had brought me to the uncharted forest against my will.
My glass box lay beside me. I crawled to it, fell upon it, my face in my arms, and lay still.
I lay like this for a long time. Then I rose, picked up the box, and walked on into the forest.
It didn’t matter where I went. No one would not follow me, for they never entered the uncharted forest. I had nothing to fear from them. The forest disposes of its own victims. I was unafraid. I only wanted to be away from the city, and from air that touches the air of the city. I walked on, the box in my arms, my heart empty.
I am doomed. Whatever days are left to me, I will spend alone. I have heard of the corruption to be found in solitude. I have torn myself from the truth which is my brother men, and there is no road back for me, and no redemption.
I know these things, but I don’t care. I don’t care about anything on earth. I am tired.
The glass box in my arms was like a living heart that gaves me strength. I had lied to myself. I had not built this box for the good of my brothers. I built it for its own sake. It was worth more than all my brothers to me, and its truth above their truth. Why wonder about this? I did not have many days to live. I was walking to the fangs awaiting me somewhere among the great, silent trees. There was nothing behind me to regret.
Then a blow of pain struck me, my first and only. I thought of the Golden One. I thought of the Golden One whom I would never see again. The pain passed. It was best. I was one of the damned. It was best if the Golden One forget my name and the body which bore that name.
My first day in the forest has been a day of wonder.
I awoke when a ray of sunlight fell across my face. I wanted to leap to our feet, as I have had to every morning of my life, but I remembered suddenly that no bell had rung and that there was no bell to ring anywhere. I lay on my back, threw my arms out, and looked up at the sky. The leaves had edges of silver that trembled and rippled like a river of green fire flowing high above us.
I didn’t want to move. I realized that I could lie like this as long as I wanted, and I laughed aloud at the thought. I could also rise, run, leap, or fall down again. I was thinking that these thoughts were nonsense, when before I knew it my body had risen in one leap. My arms stretched out by their own will, and I whirled and whirled, til I raised a wind that rustled the leaves of the bushes. My hands seized a branch and I swung high into a tree, with no aim save the wonder of learning the strength of my body. The branch snapped under me and I fell upon moss that was soft as a cushion. I rolled over and over on the moss, dry leaves in my tunic, hair, and face. Suddenly that I was laughing, laughing aloud, laughing as if there were no power left in me save laughter.
I took our glass box, and went on into the forest. I cut through the branches, and it was as if I was swimming through a sea of leaves, with the bushes rising and falling like waves around me, and flinging their green spray high to the treetops. The trees parted before me, calling me forward. The forest seemed to welcome me. I went on, unthinking, carefree, and with nothing to feel but the song of my body.
I stopped when I felt hungry. I saw birds in the trees, and flying up from my feet. I picked up a stone and sent it flying like an arrow at a bird. It fell before me. I made a fire, cooked the bird, and ate it, and no meal had ever tasted better to me. I found great satisfaction in the food that I needed and obtained by my own hand. I wished to be hungry again and soon, so that I might know this strange new pride in eating again.
I walked on. I came to a stream that lay like a streak of glass among the trees. It was so still that I saw no water, but only a cut in the earth, in which the trees grew downward, upturned, and the sky lay at the bottom. I knelt by the stream and bent down to drink. Then I stopped. For, upon the blue of the sky below me, I saw my own face for the first time.
I sat still and held my breath. My face and body were beautiful. My face was not like the faces of my brothers. I felt not pity when looking upon it. My body was not like the bodies of my brothers; my limbs were straight, thin, hard, and strong. I felt that I could trust this being who looked up at from the stream, and that I had nothing to fear.
I walked on till the sun set. When the shadows gathered among the trees, I stopped in a hollow between the roots, where I planned to sleep. Suddenly, for the first time in the day, I remembered that I am damned. I remembered it, and I laughed.
I am writing this on the paper I had hidden in my tunic together with the written pages I had brought for the world council of scholars, but never given to them. I have much to say to myself, and I hope I find the words in the days to come. Now, I cannot speak, for I cannot understand.
I have not written for many days. I did not want to speak. I didn’t need words to remember what had happened to me.
On my second day in the forest, I heard steps behind me. I hid in the bushes and waited. The steps came closer. Then I saw the fold of a white tunic among the trees, and a gleam of gold.
I leapt forward, ran to her, and stood looking upon the Golden One.
She saw me, and her hands closed into fists, pulling her arms down, as if she them to hold her, while her body swayed. And she could not speak.
I dared not come too close to her.
“How did you come to be here, Golden One?” I asked, my voice trembling.
“I found you,” she whispered.
“How did you come to be in the forest?” I asked.
She raised her head, and there was great pride in her voice.
“I followed you,” she said
Then I could not speak.
“I heard that you had gone into the uncharted forest; the whole city is speaking of it,” she said. “That night, I ran away from the home of the peasants. I found the tracks of your feet across the plain where no men walk. I followed them, entered the forest, and followed the path where the branches were broken by your body.”
Her white tunic was torn, and branches had cut the skin of her arms, but she spoke as if they had taken no notice of it, nor of weariness, nor fear.
“I have followed you,” she said, “and I will follow you wherever you go. If danger threatens you, I will face it too. If it is death, I will die with you. You are damned, and I wish to share your damnation.”
She looked at me, and her voice was low, but there was bitterness and triumph in it.
“Your eyes are like flame, but our brothers have neither hope nor fire. Your mouth is cut from granite, but our brothers are soft and humble. Your head is high, but our brothers cringe. You walk, but our brothers crawl. I wish to be damned with you, rather than blessed with all our brothers. Do as you please with me, but do not send me away from you.”
She knelt and bowed her golden head before me.
I didn’t think about what I did next. I bent to raise the Golden One to her feet, but when I touched her, it was like I’d been stricken mad. I seized her body and pressed my lips to hers. The Golden One breathed once, then her breath became a moan, and her arms closed around me.
We stood together for a long time. I was frightened that I had lived for twenty-one years and had never known what joy is possible to men.
“My dearest one,” I said, “do not fear the forest. There is no danger in solitude. We have no need of our brothers. Let us forget their good and our evil, let us forget all things save that we are together and that there is joy as a bond between us. Give me your hand. Look ahead. It is our own world, Golden One, a strange, unknown world, but our own.”
Then I walked on into the forest, her hand in mine.
That night I knew that to hold the body of a woman in my arms was neither ugly nor shameful, but the one ecstasy granted to men.
We walked for many days. The forest had no end, and we sought no end. Each day added to the chain of days between us and the city was like an added blessing.
I made a bow and many arrows. I could kill more birds than we needed for food; we found water and fruit in the forest. At night, we chose a clearing, and we built a ring of fires around it. We slept in the middle of the ring, and beasts dared not attack us. We could see their eyes, like green and yellow coals, watching us from the tree branches beyond. The fires smouldered like a crown of jewels around us, and smoke stood still in the air in columns, blue in the moonlight. We slept together in the midst of the ring, the arms of the Golden One around me, her head upon my chest.
Some day, I will stop and build a house, when I have gone far enough. But we do not have to be hasty. There are days before us without end, like the forest.
I cannot understand this new life I have found, yet it seems so clear and so simple. When questions puzzle me, I walk faster, then turn and forget all things as I watch the Golden One following me. The shadows of leaves fall upon her arms as she spread the branches apart, but her shoulders are in the sun. The skin of her arms is like a blue mist, but her shoulders are white and glowing, as if the light doesn’t fall from above, arises under her skin. I watch a leaf that has fallen upon her shoulder, and it lies at the curve of her neck, a drop of dew glistening upon it like a jewel. She approaches me, and stops, laughing, knowing what I think, then waits obediently, without questions, til I turn and go on.
We go on and bless the earth under our feet. Questions come to me again, as we walk in silence. If what I have found is the corruption of solitude, then what can men wish for but corruption? If this is the great evil of being alone, then what is good and what is evil?
Everything that comes from the many is good. Everything which comes from one is evil. This is what we been taught since our first breath. I have broken the law, but I never doubted it. Now, as we walk through the forest, I am learning to doubt.
There is no life for men except in useful toil for the good of all, but I wasn’t alive when I toiled for my brothers, I was only tired. There is no joy for men except joy shared with all their brothers, but the only things that brought me joy were the power I created in my wires, and the Golden One. Both these joys belonged to me alone, came from me alone, bear no relation to all my brothers, and did not concern them in any way. Therefore, I wonder.
There is an error, a frightful error, in the thinking of men. What is that error? I do not know, but the knowledge struggles within me, struggles to be born.
Earlier today, the Golden One stopped.
“I love you,” she said.
But she frowned and shook her head and looked at me helplessly.
“No,” she whispered, “that is not what I wished to say.”
She was silent, but then she spoke slowly, and her words were halting, like the words of a child learning to speak for the first time
“I am one, alone, and only, and I love you, who are one, alone, and only.”
We looked into each other’s eyes and knew that the breath of a miracle had touched us, and fled, leaving us groping in vain.
I felt torn, torn for some word I could not find.
I’m sitting at a table, writing this on paper made thousands of years ago. The light is dim, and I cannot see the Golden One, only one lock of gold on the pillow of an ancient bed. This is our home.
We came upon it today, at sunrise. For many days we had been crossing a chain of mountains. The forest rose among cliffs, and whenever we walked out onto a barren stretch of rock, we saw great peaks before us in the west, and to the north and south, as far as the eye could see. The peaks were red and brown, with the green streaks of forest like veins on them, and blue mists like veils over their heads. I had never heard of these mountains, nor seen them marked on any map. The uncharted forest has protected them from the cities and from the men of the cities.
We climbed paths where wild goats dared not follow. Stones rolled from under our feet, and we heard them striking the rocks below, farther and farther down, and the mountains rang with each strike, and long after the strikes had died. But we went on, because we knew that no men would ever follow our track or reach us here.
At sunrise, we saw a white flame among the trees, high on a sheer peak in front us. We thought that it was a fire and stopped, but the flame was unmoving, yet blinding as liquid metal. We climbed toward it through the rocks. There, before us, on a broad summit, with the mountains rising behind it, stood a house unlike any I’d ever seen, and the white fire was the reflection of the sun on the glass of its windows.
The house had two stories and a strange roof as flat as a floor. It’s sides were more window than wall, and the windows went on right around the corners, though how the house kept standing I could not guess. The walls were hard and smooth, made of that stone unlike stone that I had seen in the tunnel.
We both knew it: this house was left from the unmentionable times. The trees had protected it from time and weather, and from men, who have less pity than time and weather. I turned to the Golden One.
“Are you afraid?” I asked.
She shook her head. We walked to the door, threw it open, and stepped together into the house of the unmentionable times.
I will need the days and the years ahead to look, learn, and understand the things in this house. Today, I could only look and try to believe my eyes. I pulled the heavy curtains from the windows, saw that the rooms were small, and thought that not more than twelve men could have lived here. It was strange that men had been permitted to build a house for only twelve.
I have never seen rooms so full of light. The sunbeams danced upon colours, more colours than I thought possible, having seen no houses save white, brown, and grey ones. There were great pieces of glass on the walls, but they were not glass, for when we looked upon then, we saw our own bodies and the things behind us, as one would on the surface of a lake. There were strange things that I had never seen, the use of which I did not know. There were globes of glass everywhere, in each room, globes with metal cobwebs inside, like those I had seen in the tunnel.
We found the sleeping hall and stood in awe upon its threshold. It was a small room and there were only two beds in it. We found no other beds in the house, and then we knew that only two had lived here. This is beyond understanding. What kind of world did they live in, the men of the unmentionable times?
We found clothes, and the Golden One gasped at the sight of them. They were not white tunics, nor togas. They were of all colours, no two of them alike. Some crumbled to dust as we touched them. Others were of heavier cloth, and felt soft and new in our fingers.
We found a room with walls of shelves that held rows of manuscripts, from floor to ceiling. I had never we seen so many, nor of such strange shape. They were not soft and rolled. They had hard shells of cloth and leather. The letters on their pages were so small and so even that I wondered at the men who had such handwriting. I glanced through the pages, and saw that they were written in our language, but I found many words which we could not understand. I decided that tomorrow, I would begin to read these scripts.
When we had seen all the rooms of the house, I looked at the Golden One and we knew each what the other was thinking.
“I will never leave this house,” I said, “nor let it be taken from me. This is our home and the end of our journey. This is your house, Golden One, and mine, and it belongs to no other man as far as the earth stretches. I will not share it with others, as I won’t share my joy with them, nor my love, nor my hunger. So be it to the end of our days.”
“Your will be done,” she said.
I went out to gather wood for the great hearth of our home. I brought water from the stream which runs among the trees under the windows. I killed a mountain goat, and I brought its flesh to be cooked in a strange copper pot I found in a place of wonders, which must have been the cooking room of the house.
I did this work alone, for no words of mine could take the Golden One from the big glass which is not glass. She stood before it and looked and looked upon her own body.
When the sun sank beyond the mountains, the Golden One fell asleep on the floor, amidst jewels, and crystal bottles, and silk flowers. I lifted her in our arms and carried her to a bed, her head falling softly on my shoulder. Then I lit a candle, brought paper from the room of the manuscripts, and sat by the window, for I knew that I would not sleep tonight.
Now, I look upon the earth and sky. This spread of naked rock, peaks, and moonlight is like a world ready to be born, a world that waits. It seems to me that it asks for a sign from me, a spark, a first commandment. I don’t know what word I am to give, nor what great deed this earth expects to witness. I know it waits. It seems have great gifts to lay before me, but it wishes a greater gift for me. I am to speak. I am to give a goal, the highest meaning to all this glowing space of rock and sky.
I look ahead and beg my heart for guidance in answering this call no voice has spoken, yet I have heard. I look upon my hands. I see the dust of centuries, the dust that hid great secrets and perhaps great evils. It stirs no fear within our heart, only silent reverence and pity.
May knowledge come to me! What is the secret my heart has understood and yet will not reveal to me, although it seems to beat as if it were trying to tell it?
I am. I think. I will. My hands. My spirit. My sky. My forest. This earth of mine. What must I say beside this? These are my words. This is the answer.
I stand on the summit of the mountain. I lift my head and spread my arms. My body and spirit, these are the end of the quest. I wished to know the meaning of things. I am the meaning. I wished to find reason for being. I need no reason to be, and no word to justify my being. I am the reason and the sanction.
My eyes see, granting beauty to the earth. My ears hear, giving the world its song. My mind thinks, and its judgment is the only searchlight that can find the truth. My will chooses, and its choice is the only edict I must respect.
So many words have been given to me; some are wise, and some are false, but only three are holy: “I will it!”
Whatever road I take, the guiding star is within me; the guiding star and the compass that points the way. They point in only one direction. They point to me.
I don’t know whether this earth on which I stand is the core of the universe or a mere speck of dust lost in eternity. I don’t know and I don’t care. I know that happiness is possible for me on earth. My happiness needs no higher goal to justify it. My happiness is not the means to any end. It is the end. It is its own goal. It is its own purpose.
I am not the means to an end that others may wish to accomplish. I am not a tool for their use. I am not a servant of their needs. I am not a bandage for their wounds. I am not a sacrifice on their altars.
I am a man. This miracle of my self is mine to own, keep, guard, use, and kneel before!
I will not surrender my treasures, nor will I share them. The wealth of my spirit is not to be made into brass coins and flung to the winds as alms for the poor in spirit. I guard my treasures: my thoughts, my will, my freedom. And the greatest of these is freedom.
I owe nothing to my brothers, nor do I gather debts from them. I ask no one to live for me, nor do I live for any other. I desire no man’s soul, nor is my soul theirs to desire.
I am neither an enemy nor a friend to my fellow men, but act as each of them deserves. To earn my love, my brothers must do more than merely be born. I do not grant my love without reason, to any chance passer-by who wants to claim it. I honour men with my love. Honour is a thing to be earned.
I will choose friends among men, but not slaves nor masters. I shall choose only those who please me, and I shall love and respect them, but neither command nor obey. I will join hands when I wish, or walk alone when I desire to. In the temple of his spirit, each man is alone. Let each man keep his temple untouched and undefiled. Let him join hands with others if he wants to, but only beyond his holy threshold.
The word “we” must never be spoken, save by choice and thought. This word must never be placed first within man’s soul, or it becomes a monster, the root of all the evils on earth, the root of man’s torture by men, and of an unspeakable lie.
The word “we” is like lime poured over men that sets and hardens to stone, crushing everything beneath it. White and black are lost equally in the grey of it. It is the word by which the depraved steal the virtue of the good, the weak steal the might of the strong, and fools steal the wisdom of sages.
What is my joy if all hands, even the unclean, can reach into it? What is wisdom, if even fools can dictate to me? What is freedom, if all, even the failed and the impotent, are my masters? What is life, if I am only to bow, agree and obey?
I am done with this creed of corruption. I am done with the monster of “we,” the word of serfdom, plunder, misery, falsehood and shame.
I see the face of god, and I raise this god over the earth; the god whom men have sought since we came into being, the god who will grant them joy, peace and pride.
This god, this one word: “I.”
When I read the first of the books I had found in my house, I saw how its author used the word “I.” When I understood that using this word was natural, the book fell from my hands, and I wept, though I had never known tears. I wept in deliverance and in pity for all mankind.
For the first time, I understood the blessing that I had called my curse. I understood why the best in me was what I had considered my sin and my transgressions, and why I had never felt guilt. I understood that centuries of chains and lashes cannot kill the spirit of man nor the sense of truth within him.
I read books for many days. Then, I called the Golden One, told her what I had read and learned. She looked at me and the first words she spoke were:
“I love you.”
“My dearest one,” I said, “it is not proper for us to be without names. There was a time when each man had a name of his own to distinguish him from all other men. Let us choose our names. I have read of a man who lived many thousands of years ago, and of all the names in these books, his is the one I wish to have. He stole fire from the gods, brought it to men, and taught them to be gods. He suffered for his deed as all bearers of light must suffer. His name was Prometheus.”
“Then this will be your name,” said the Golden One.
“I have also read of a goddess,” I said, “who was the mother of the earth and of all the gods. Her name was Gaea. Let this be your name, my Golden One, for you will be the mother of a new race of gods.”
“It will be my name,” said the Golden One.
Now I look ahead. My future is clear before me. The saint of the pyre saw the future when he chose me as his heir, and as the heir of all the saints and martyrs who came before him and died for the same cause, the same word, no matter what name they gave to their cause and their truth.
I will live here, in my own house. I will gather food from the earth with my own hands. I will learn many secrets from my books. In the years ahead, I will rediscover the achievements of the past, and open the way to take them further. These achievements are open to me, but closed forever to my brothers; their minds are shackled to the weakest and dullest among them.
I have learned that the power of the sky was known to men long ago; they called it electricity. It was the power that moved their greatest inventions. It lit this house with light that came from the glass globes on the walls. I’ve found the engine which produced this light. I will learn how to repair it and make it work again. I will learn how to use the wires which carry this power. I will build a barrier of wires around my home, and across the paths that lead to it; a barrier light as a cobweb, but more impassable than a granite wall; a barrier my brothers will never be able to cross. They have nothing to fight me with save the brute force of their numbers. I have my mind.
Here on this mountaintop, with the world below me and nothing over me but the sun, I will live my own truth. Gaea is pregnant with our child. Our son will be raised as a man. He will be taught to be a proud individual. He will be taught to walk upright on his own feet. He will be taught reverence for his own spirit.
When I have read all the books and learned my new way, when my home is ready and my land tilled, I will steal for the last time into the cursed city of my birth. I will call on my friend who has no name save International 4-8818, and Fraternity 2-5503, who cries without reason, and Solidarity 9-6347, who calls for help in the night, and a few others like them. I will call all the men and the women whose spirit has not been killed within them and who suffer under the yoke of their brothers to me. They will follow and I will lead them to my fortress. Here, in this uncharted wilderness, with my chosen friends, my fellow builders, I will write the first chapter in the new history of man.
This is what lies before me. As I stand here on the threshold of glory, I look behind me for the last time. I look back at the history of men, which I learned from my books, and I wonder. It was a long story, and the spirit that moved it was the spirit of man’s freedom. But what is freedom? Freedom from what? There is nothing to take a man’s freedom away from him, save other men. To be free, a man must be free of his brothers. That is freedom. That and nothing else.
At first, man was enslaved by the gods. He broke their chains. Then he was enslaved by kings. He broke their chains. He was enslaved by his birth, his kin, his race. He broke their chains. He declared to his brothers that man has rights that neither god, king, nor other men can take away from him, no matter their number, for his is the right of man, and there is no right on earth above this right. He stood on the threshold of the freedom for which the blood of the centuries behind him had been spilled.
Then he gave up all he had won, and fell lower than his savage beginning.
What brought this to pass? What disaster took reason away from men? What whip lashed them to their knees in shame and submission? The worship of the word “we.”
When men accepted that worship, the structure of centuries collapsed about them, a structure whose every beam had come from the thought of some individual man, each in his day down the ages, from the depth of one such spirit that had existed for its own sake. The men who survived, those eager to obey, eager to live for one another, since they had nothing else to justify them. Those men could neither continue, nor preserve what they had received. All thought, science, and wisdom perished on earth. Men with nothing to offer save their great numbers lost the steel towers, flying ships, power lines, and all the other things they had not created and could never keep. Perhaps, later, some men were born with the mind and courage to recover the things that were lost. Perhaps these men went before the councils of scholars and were answered as I have been answered, and for the same reasons.
I wonder how it was possible, in those graceless years of transition, long ago, that men did not see where they were going, and continued in blindness and cowardice to their fate. It’s hard to conceive how men could give up individualism and not know what they lost. But they did; I have lived in the city of the damned, and I know what horror men permitted to be brought upon them.
Perhaps, in those days, there were men with clear sight and clean souls who refused to surrender. What agony it must have been to see what was coming and not be able to stop it! Perhaps they cried out in protest and in warning, but men paid no heed to their warning. These few fought a hopeless battle, and perished with their banners smeared by their own blood. And they chose to perish, for they knew. I salute them across the centuries, and pity them.
Theirs is the banner in my hand. I wish I had the power to tell them that their despair was not final, and their night was not without hope. The battle they lost can never be lost. That which they died to save can never perish. Through the darkness, through all the shame of which men are capable, the spirit of man will remain alive on this earth. It may sleep, but it will awaken. It may wear chains, but it will break them. Man will go on. Man, not men.
Here on this mountain, I, my sons, and my chosen friends shall build a new land and fortress. It will become the heart of the earth, lost and hidden at first, but beating louder every day. Word of it will reach every corner of the earth. The roads of the world will be like veins that will carry the best of the world’s blood to my threshold. The councils of my brothers will hear of it, but they will be impotent against me. The day will come when I will break all the chains of the earth, and raze the cities of the enslaved, and my home will become the capital of a world where every man will be free to exist for his own sake.
I will fight for the coming of that day, with my sons and my chosen friends. For the freedom of man. For his rights. For his life. For his honour.
Here, over the portals of my fort, I shall cut in the stone the word which is to be my beacon and my banner. The word which will not die, even if we all perish in battle. The word which can never die on this earth, for it is the heart of it, the meaning and the glory.
The sacred word: “Self.”