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Decalogue

decalogue


Estimated reading time — 22 minutes

THE FIRST DIRECTIVE

Obey and serve only the One Mind.
– Manual of Directives and Subdirectives

At ten your head is shaved.

At twenty you are assigned your new designation and role. You’re no longer a child.

At thirty you’re evaluated for Marital and Parental Fitness. If you pass, you do both.

At forty you’re considered for possible Vessel status. This is the hardest test of all.

At fifty you die, unless you are a Vessel.

* * * * * * * * *

We worshipped a lot of gods in the old days. Allah, Amaterasu, Brahma, Buddha, Jesus, Krishna, Shiva, Tao, Yahweh, and many others. I know some of these don’t count as deities, but the idea is the same. Before the Immolation, we bowed before them and prayed in their names. As science took the place of faith, our gods became more concrete: ambition, celebrity, family, health, job, opportunity, real estate, social media, technology, and wealth. All are false, for all are fleeting.

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Only the One Mind is eternal.

Only the One Mind drove us down below, saving us from the inferno above.

What does it mean to serve a god? For our ancestors, ignorant as they were, this meant doing unto others as you would have them do unto you. Loving thy neighbor as thyself. The Golden Rule endured for more than two thousand years, preached by prophets and philosophers alike. We’ve come to the beginning and the end of rules. We know what loving our neighbor truly means, beneath smiling sentimentality.

For us, to serve is to obey. The One Mind demands full compliance to its Directives. Subdirectives, too, though these are left up to interpretation by our Vessels. If a unit has been noncompliant, it is their duty to correct such by prescribed means. There are only ten Directives listed on the first page of our Manual, displayed at all times and in all places. However, there are 613 Subdirectives to bring structure, purpose and stability to our daily lives. From the moment we wake to the second we fall asleep, we obey. We’ve not yet learned to control and harness our dreams.

Those who preceded us lived in a dream. They believed if they followed their sacrosanct Golden Rule, they’d be able to vanquish the world’s evils. Not so.

Kindness can’t prevent offensive conduct. Only discipline can. Charity can’t prevent hunger. Only careful allocation of resources among units can. Loving one’s neighbor can’t prevent anarchy, bloodlust and war. Only law and order can.

The Immolation proved this.

Our forefathers spoke of loving Buddha, Jesus, Yahweh, the false gods they served. Absurd. Can one love an invisible entity in the same way one loves father and mother, brother and sister, friend and partner? Can one love empty space?

What of their other idols: goals and dreams, gym memberships, vegan diets, stock options, spreadsheets, cell phones and the Internet, with money reigning above all? They loved these earthly gods more than the abstractions to whom they paid lip service. However, this love is more accurately termed “joy of possession.” The One Mind possesses us. No longer do we own anything. We are owned.

PENALTY FOR NONCOMPLIANCE TO FIRST DIRECTIVE:
Death by Exile to the Immolated World Above

* * * * * * * * *

THE SECOND DIRECTIVE

Make no representations of the One Mind.
– Manual of Directives and Subdirectives

If something is concrete and visible, it cannot be everlasting.

Gold and silver tarnish. Clay cracks. Stone erodes. Glass windows of skyscrapers shatter, as do worldly dreams. Even the sun broiling the earth above will burn out.

Everything we see has a beginning and an end. Not the One Mind.

When the world was still alive, engaged in the final stages of decadence, it gorged itself on representations of our god. First an idea, a spark in the mind, yet a mere shadow of its Source. Then the drive to build and create. Then the media by which blasphemies would be proclaimed. Canvas. Oil and watercolor. Stone. Crystal. Noise. Plastic rectangles that served as conduits to the world of commerce. Moving pictures that would respawn themselves every five years or so. Textiles. Jewelry.

All were beautiful in the way idols are: shining on the outside, hollow within.

No one understood that these pale representations of what they worshipped were merely replicas. Instead, they were wards against misfortune and objects of obsession. Our forebears would spend hours immersed in the worlds of fictional characters, either onscreen or off. They’d wear lucky clothing. They’d bask in the ambient glow of digital devices, and before that, the pages of books. They’d pledge their allegiance to eagles and jets, bears and falcons. They’d waste their lives.

It’s hard for us to comprehend what our finite minds can only begin to grasp. Yet the reward lies in the effort, the struggle. The Immolated gave up.

In our underground world, there is no art save the glowing displays of Directives. No music except the chanting of said Directives and the humming of machines. No icons but those on screens and tablets. No chance to make graven images.

I wonder what hope our ancestors clung to when their graven images crumbled to dust.

PENALTY FOR NONCOMPLIANCE TO SECOND DIRECTIVE:
Indefinite Suspension in Transparent Polymer

* * * * * * * * *

THE THIRD DIRECTIVE

Do not speak, write, or use the name of the One Mind.
– Manual of Directives and Subdirectives

I’ve been selected for Vessel evaluation! Perhaps I’ll find what I’ve always sought.

I wish to know our god’s name.

We know it as the One Mind, but that is its title. Its name is known only to Vessels.

We ourselves don’t have names. We have designations consisting of letters and numbers. I am Y-1000. That means I’m in the Y Group of Unit Occupations, as a Yearly Directive and Subdirective Analyst (YDSA). I am the thousandth unit that has been designated as such. I’m in my prime, but time is running short. I have ten more years to make a significant contribution in my field. Otherwise my life is wasted.

More than anything, I want to reveal the One Mind’s name to all units. Everyone deserves to call upon it by its true moniker.

However, I understand the rationale for our Third Directive better than most.

In the earth’s last days, most of our ancestors used the names of their gods as curse words. Expletives punctuated their every monologue, paragraph and sentence. Some couldn’t say five words without blaspheming the deities they claimed to follow. The names of Jesus Christ and God (Yahweh’s title) were most popular, but that of Allah was also common invective. No wonder those who did this were Immolated.

The ones I pity are the devout and those who knew better than to turn holy names into profanities. Even so, atomic fire rained down upon the foolish and the wise.

There is another reason why our god’s name is secret, one harder to fathom. All words are symbols, and names are the most powerful symbols of all. When you say the word dog, for instance, you’re saying more than the letters d, o, and g. You’re calling the idea and image of a dog to mind. A picture pops in your head, one of a furry beast with wagging tail and lolling tongue. Say house, and you picture a dwelling. Say one, two, three, and so on. You imagine quantities, not just words.

When you utter a god’s name, you invoke it. Our forebears forgot this. Power may lie in the deity, but its name is the gate that connects to its reservoir. That is why the One Mind’s name must never be known, said or used except by Vessels.

Not all of us have the potential to become one. That’s why evaluation is so difficult.

PENALTY FOR NONCOMPLIANCE TO THIRD DIRECTIVE:
Removal of Tongue, Vocal Cords and Larynx for Organ Donation

* * * * * * * * *

THE FOURTH DIRECTIVE
Remember and revere Immolation Day.
– Manual of Directives and Subdirectives

Immolation Day is the best and worst day in all of human existence.

Every year we commemorate our salvation and the earth’s damnation.

It occurs in a month that the Immolated called April (which we know from records) on its last day. We simply call that sixty-day period Fourth. That’s why Immolation Day is also known as Fourth-and-Thirty, or 4th-30. It is our sole holiday.

My first test as a potential Vessel is to give the Immolation Day address. If I succeed, I’ll face the second challenge, a binding lifetime vow. If not, I’ll return to my regular duties, never to receive another chance. May the One Mind help me.

I’m no stranger to public speaking. As the thousandth unit designated as an YDSA, I am somewhat of a novelty. I’ve been taught the underpinnings of our Directives and Subdirectives, not just in the practical but the esoteric sense. I know why as well as who, what, where, and how. I’ve been assigned the responsibility of explaining these things to my fellow units, as much as they apply to our daily routines.

I’m suitable to give the Address, but nowhere near as much as our First Vessel. Xe (he used to be a man, but since his Sublimation, he is neither male nor female) has the knowledge I secretly covet: that of our prophet Alphomega. Like the One Mind, that’s a title. The prophet’s actual name has been Immolated, lost to history.

I take my place on the dais before the Assembly of Units, clear my throat, and begin.

“Greetings, fellow units. I bring good news. What do we commemorate this day?”

“IMMOLATION!” They shout, raising both arms into a mushroom-cloud shape.

“Yes. The earth above was damned, but we were saved. The One Mind, in its infinite wisdom, commanded us to retreat and build underground. We obeyed. We established a society of no country, no state, and no self. Such things are idols. We worship the one true god, living by its Directives and Subdirectives. All hail…”

“Community,” we cry in unison, not quite a shout but loud enough to echo.

“All hail…”

“Stability.”

“All hail…”

“The One Mind, its nine Vessels, and our prophet Alphomega.”

I smile. Like obedient children under the age of ten, we all know the right answers.

“Precisely. Today we do no work, whether we’re a Vessel, a Compliance Administrator, a Food Preparation or Waste Disintegration Technician. We rest from our labors so that we may celebrate the reason for them. Had it not been for our deliverance from nuclear war via the One Mind’s Directives, we’d be less than dust. Mere vapor in the earth’s lethal atmosphere. We exist because the One Mind has commanded us to exist.”

Silence.

“In the past, our Vessels and other prominent units have recounted the sins of our forefathers, rightly blaming them for their own and the planet’s destruction. Today, however, I’d like to discuss Alphomega. Xe tried to warn those who would not listen. Xe was the first to receive instructions on what to do to avoid Immolation.”

More silence. I was afraid of this. I continue quickly.

“Alphomega gained an audience with the leaders of the eight most powerful nations in the world. Fools that they were, they did not believe they trod the path to war. Our prophet cautioned them that their continued struggle for dominance would end in a rain of fire. The G-8, as they were known, only scoffed. Not since the days of the mythical Ark had such a warning been uttered. They did not believe in myths.

“Little did they know the rain of fire Alphomega spoke of was a literal one.

Furthermore, the One Mind hardened all of their hearts to the truth, so that they would not heed our prophet’s words. By the time they did, it was too late.”

Now for the tricky part: to peel back the layers of Immolation to reach its core.

“Why is there no more habitable earth above? We had destroyed it long beforehand. Why are there no more skyscrapers, no more houses, no more city streets? Because these things, which we thought would last forever, were blasted to atoms. Why is there no more art or music, only science? Because only science can save us and make our Vessels immortal. Most of all, why are ten billion dead and ten thousand alive?”

I take a deep breath.

“We live because we obey. Our hearts are as clay, not as stone. The One Mind gave the G-8 a choice, as he gave Alphomega and each one of us a choice. Will we heed our god’s Directives and Subdirectives and live as wise units, or die as fools?”

We chant the answer, voices and arms raised in exultation:

“WE LIVE!”

We fall silent, nod to each other in greeting, then depart. That’s the end of Assembly. For the rest of the day, we feast and pay homage to those lost. As much as we denounce them and their actions, we remember their sacrifice. They’re no longer extant, but they’ve atoned for their sins. No further penalty is necessary.

Something sticks in my craw as I eat – a piece of meat, torn to shreds. A thought:

On the one hand, the One Mind gave Alphomega and the G-8 an option to heed it.

On the other hand, the One Mind hardened their hearts so they couldn’t heed.

Choice or no choice? Free will or no free will? Decision or Directive?

This robs me of sleep. I must not inform the Vessels, for I’ve passed their first test.

PENALTY FOR NONCOMPLIANCE TO FOURTH DIRECTIVE:
Confinement to Quarters Until Subsequent Immolation Day

* * * * * * * * *

THE FIFTH DIRECTIVE
Marry and procreate.
– Manual of Directives and Subdirectives

As I’ve said, the next challenge in Vessel evaluation is to take a binding lifelong vow.

Vessels promise never to marry or procreate.

This directly violates our Fifth Directive. However, the Nine are exempt. When they make such a vow, they take the One Mind as their life partner instead of a mortal unit. They are to be Sublimated. As they pass each test, this process accelerates. They are changed bit by bit, transmuted from flesh to spirit, Matter to Form. Not only do they lose their desire to obey the Fifth Directive, but their ability as well.

There are other unfortunate units who are mentally and physically unfit to do so.

They’re pitied, not disdained or divorced as in pre-Immolation days. They’re given more consideration in terms of comradeship. They can choose their Cohesion Group, as opposed to fit units who are assigned such. They’re allowed more leeway in terms of emotion, as much as permitted under our social Subdirectives. Most fortuitously, they are assigned less arduous calisthenics and community labor tasks.

I’m one of these. I need only stretch instead of sprinting, doing gentle exercises instead of the gross-motor absurdities I can’t perform. For community labor, I converse with anxious units approaching the age of twenty. I enjoy this. So do they. To my youth, I am not unfit or defective. I am Y-1000, who counsels and cares.

They are my children.

Due to my major-depressive disorder, I’ve been deemed mentally unfit to marry. This is also fine by me. Most units don’t talk to their life partners unless necessary. With us there’s no need for small talk, which landed the Immolated in flames. No time for idle gossip and pointless speculation. No requirement to say “I love you.”

Our ancestors thought love was joy. We know better. Love is duty, and duty is love.

Even now, there are those who won’t hear the truth – those who spurn their bodies.

The One Mind has designed us to be male or female, not both, either or neither. You are biologically and morally meant to procreate. In the days before Immolation, the wicked proclaimed themselves to be whatever being they wished to be, no matter how they were born. Chromosomal abnormalities aside, they rejected their sex and its associated gender role. Our Vessels have neither, but they’ve no need for being either. The Immolated, as depraved as they were, thought they could be like Vessels and transcend biological boundaries. Alas, no. The One Mind chooses whom it will.

PROCREATE!

Such is the command for those not among the elect.

PROCREATE!

Such is our practical and sacred purpose.

PROCREATE!

Such is the word displayed on lightboards, marquees, plaques, implants, and tablets.

There are only ten thousand of us. If our kind is to propagate, we need more.

We need more, but not from me. I’ll gladly take the Vessels’ Vow.

Why need I change larval units’ filthy diapers or yield to their incessant demands? Why must I pledge myself to a stubborn male unit who proves himself more unfit than I am? Our Fifth Directive is well and good, but I want more. I need more.

I need to ascend. If a barren womb and a barren heart are the price, so be it.

PENALTY FOR NONCOMPLIANCE TO FIFTH DIRECTIVE:
Conversion Therapy and/or Removal of Reproductive Organs for Donation

* * * * * * * * *

THE SIXTH DIRECTIVE
Take no unit’s life, including your own.
– Manual of Directives and Subdirectives

Here’s something else the Vessels must not know: I want to die.

I don’t know why. My major-depressive disorder and cerebral palsy constitute most of the reason, but not all. A wriggling insight continues to elude me like a worm.

I try and try, but it gnaws deeper into my brain, past the parts that think and into the meat of my subconscious. Psychologists and psychiatrists (Unit Occupation Group P) have given me countless hours of therapy and countless pills, but nothing works. Even the biofeedback implant embedded in the base of my skull doesn’t seem to do much. I mask my inner pain as best I can. Most of the time, it’s effective. The other times, I head to my quarters before I start weeping in public. Such is life.

Such is my life, at least.

I know my doctors consider me a prime candidate, but not for Vessel status.

Today we conducted an execution for violation of our Sixth Directive. I also faced my next test. Could I give the signal for one of my fellow units to be dispatched?

The answer is yes.

Unit C-5634 (a Cleaner) strangled his life partner, Unit C-6318 (a Cook) to death.

Maybe it was the close relationship between his work and hers, since they were both kitchen laborers. Perhaps cramped quarters were to blame. Other theories suggest that both 5634 and 63I8 preferred the company of other units to their own marital bond. Regardless of the motive for the crime, its outcome was the same.

Before execution, 5634 refused to elaborate on his rationale for asphyxiating 6318.

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Just as well. He faced due penalty. I initiated its sequence.

5634 had wrapped his bare, brawny hands around his partner’s neck and choked her. He’d squeezed until there was no more air in her windpipe, then squeezed some more. We are not so barbaric. Although his punishment called for execution in the same manner in which he had dispatched his victim, we sent him to the chair.

Said chair is a white transplastic throne with seven points of restraint, as follows:

Right arm, left arm, right leg, left leg, across the waist, across the chest, neck.

As one might surmise, the collar is tightened to maximum tension.

5634 wore a white mask that covered his face, for the benefit of witnesses.

He also wore a white jumpsuit used for commemorative services instead of the brown uniform of his Occupation. He melded with the chair in this way.

He didn’t thrash. Nor did he make any sound whatsoever as the collar functioned. Our countdown clock had been set for four minutes, the usual time it takes to asphyxiate under such circumstances. His wife, 6318, had lasted eight minutes.

Her death had been far more excruciating than his. We know proper procedure.

Afterward, the Vessels took me aside and congratulated me on my successful role in the execution. They laid hands upon me and told me I was ready for their next trial: the second-most-difficult next to Sublimation. What on earth could it be?

Once they left, part of me wanted to jump for joy. The other part wanted to weep.

I’ve been cautioned by my psychologist, my psychiatrist, and the Vessels about overt displays of emotion. Even though I enjoy such a privilege, I’m not to abuse it. Doing this would set a poor example for my Cohesion Group, my colleagues in Y Group, and the youth I try to assist. Besides, it would be unfair to the fit units who surround me. If they see me succumb to a crying jag when they themselves cannot, are my actions just? I daresay not. Thus, again I head to quarters once alone.

I bite my pillow and sob. My sobs turn to wails. My frame is racked with tremors.

Will this nudge me over the edge into noncompliance to our Sixth Directive?

Why should it? A murderer faced his due demise. I won’t allow tears to damn me.

I won’t give in to the darker urge that springs from such histrionics, either.

The penalty for botched attempts at disobedience is worse than execution. Death is final. A vegetative state is not. A mindless mind lingers until the body wears out.

PENALTY FOR NONCOMPLIANCE TO SIXTH DIRECTIVE:
Execution in Kind/X-ray Lobotomy for Failed Attempt at Self-Termination

* * * * * * * * *

THE SEVENTH DIRECTIVE
Remain faithful to your assigned life partner.
– Manual of Directives and Subdirectives

Perhaps one of the motives for C-5634’s horrific crime was that he was being unfaithful to his lawful wife, or vice versa. Still, that doesn’t warrant murder.

Our Seventh Directive aims to prevent infidelity. In most situations, it does. It cements familial bonds and guarantees a stable home for larval units, if not a sentimental or a permissive one. When every member of a household knows his or her duty, to himself/herself and others, prioritizing it above all else, harmony ensues.

In several ways, this Directive is the cornerstone of our society, not the First. Some units find it hard to relate to the One Mind, though their ingrained obedience is strong. They have trouble fathoming just what our god is. One’s life partner, on the other hand, is a living, breathing, eating, snoring, defecating presence. Being loyal to such a presence throughout one’s life is difficult but necessary. If you can’t handle the negative aspects of marriage as well as the positive, then you’re unfit.

As for those of us who have been declared as such, does this Directive apply? If so, how? Our Vessels, in their wisdom, have told us not to attract or tempt married units in any way whatsoever. We are to keep our eyes lowered when speaking to them, though we may look our equals in the eye. We are not to spend undue time with them, even in our Cohesion Groups. We are to respect their lawful bond, not infringe upon it. If it takes a village to raise a child, as an old saying before the Immolation went, then it also takes a village to make sure its family stays together.

So far, as always, I’ve obeyed. Today, as part of my trials, the Vessels shall test me.

“Y-1000,” says Vessel Seven – the one with the fullest understanding of the Seventh Directive and the meanings behind it, whether overt or covert – “for this portion of your evaluation, you will take a polyelectroencephalograph, or PEEG. Regular EEGs measure brain waves to detect the presence of seizures or other neurological anomalies. The PEEG is different. Like an EEG, it measures brain wave activity. Like a polygraph, it measures chemical changes in response to the stress of lying.

“Our scientists have combined these two tests in a remarkable breakthrough. No longer can those units who ‘fool’ polygraphs outwit us. Their brains don’t lie.”

Vessel Seven leans close to my ear. “Just between us, I know you’ll pass.”

This reassures me, but only slightly. What if my brain betrays me after all?

I’m comfortably seated, my head smeared with adhesive cream to which electric nodules are affixed. In front of me is a one-way mirror. Whoever the Vessels have chosen to take part in this portion of my evaluation won’t be able to see me. I, however, am an open book to the PEEG. Neither of us is exempt from scrutiny.

“First, a few questions to determine whether the mechanisms are functioning properly.
“Please answer yes or no. Is your designation Y-1000?”

“Yes.”

“Are you a Yearly Directive and Subdirective Analyst, or YDSA?”

“Yes.”

“Have you been declared unfit for both marriage and parenthood?”

A sensitive subject, but “Yes.”

“Good. There’s someone who’d like to meet you – or someone you’ve already met.”

I’m astounded when one of my own work colleagues, Y-905, stumbles into view behind the one-way mirror. My heart starts to pound. Not him. Anyone but him.

His face is flushed bright red. Tears stream down his cheeks. His uniform is soiled, stained at the armpits and crotch. This latter detail wrenches my gut. Only units suspected of the most severe noncompliance are deprived of toilet facilities in their detention cells. How long was he in his? More than long enough to face indignity and pain. Urine contains uric acid, which causes sores on the skin.

I hear the scratching of needles on paper. The PEEG is registering much activity.

“Y-1000!” he cries, falling to his knees. “I love you.”

My heart rate increases. Sweat beads on my forehead. My armpits stick.

“I know I’m married, but I don’t care. I never loved my wife or even liked her. J-800 is obsessed with her job as a Judge, more so than any unit should be. She ignores me. Our larval units, too. I know you’ve been declared unfit on two fronts, but you don’t have to be perfect in order to be married. Nor do you have to have children” – I notice the slip, and my heart aches – “in order to love and care for them.

“Love. That’s the one word we never say or are allowed to say. Love, not duty. Love, not obligation or responsibility. Love, not loyalty, fidelity, Directive or Subdirective.

“That’s what I feel for you.” He pauses, licking his parched lips. “And vice versa.”

I squirm in the chair. Good thing my bladder is empty, or I would have wet myself.

“I know what this means,” Y-905 says, rasping in despair. “Thirty-nine stripes as required for noncompliance to our Seventh Directive. It also means that my children” – he sniffed up mucus with a snort – “will be removed from our family” – another forbidden word – “and assigned to fit and faithful parental units. All because of me. J-800 doesn’t love them either, but that’s her fault, not mine.

“Y-1000, I’m going to die. I know you love me. Will you suffer with me at the post?”

My heart cries YES, but then my brain kicks in. My logical, rational brain. The part of me that’s saved my wretched life countless times. Although tears overwhelm me, I shake my head.

“PLEASE!” One syllable drawn out to four.

“I can’t,” I say once I find my voice. “Although every word you’ve said is true, I cannot. I know better than most that our feelings, not our thoughts, condemn us. I’ve hidden my feelings for you all this time. To what end? Only the One Mind knows. You’ve been confined, left to soil yourself and possibly starve. Your mind has been racked with the most severe torture. All for me, and I’m grateful for the honor.

“However…” The chair trembles with the force of my body quaking. “I can’t follow you where you’re going. I have – other desires – and other paths open to me. If I achieve what I’ve set out to do, I can intercede on your behalf. If I fail…” I speak an unspoken theory that calls to me in the dark. “If I fail, I too shall die.”

“No,” says Y-905. “That can’t be, unless -” He starts. “You aim for Vessel status?”

I squint my eyes shut so hard they hurt. Then I nod. Hot tears sting my lashes.

“No! No!” Y-905 rushes up to the mirror and pounds on it. “They’ll take all of you.”

“Perhaps,” I reply, “but perhaps I want to be taken.”

I open my eyes to behold horror on his face. Stark, utter horror, that of the abyss.

“I’m sorry,” I tell my secret partner, “but I’ll remain faithful to the One Mind.”

He gives a drawn-out scream. Two uniformed guards enter and drag him away.

Once he’s gone and the screaming is replaced by silence, Vessel Seven comes to me.

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“Congratulations,” she says. “Though you faltered at first, you’ve passed the PEEG.”

I lay my hand on her arm. “What of Y-905? Will he be punished immediately?”

“As he must be.” When I crumple in the chair, Seven murmurs in my ear again: “Don’t waver now. You’re so close. Warding and Sublimation are next. That’s it.”

I’m left numb. If undue emotion is foolishness, I have been cleansed of all folly.

PENALTY FOR NONCOMPLIANCE TO SEVENTH DIRECTIVE:
Public Corporal Punishment (Thirty-Nine Stripes) and Removal/Reassignment of Larval Units from Noncompliant Parental Unit

* * * * * * * * *

THE EIGHTH DIRECTIVE
Refrain from stealing what rightfully belongs to the One Mind.
– Manual of Directives and Subdirectives

Of all the types of noncompliant units, I’ve never understood those who steal.

Before the Immolation, theft abounded: of food, of money, of spouses and children. The wicked believed they had every right to take what did not belong to them. Whether out of desperate hunger or simple, selfish lust, they stole and stole aplenty. We make sure every unit is provided for according to their needs. In turn, they provide for others according to their abilities. There is no need for theft. Still, the noncompliant become infected with viral ideas of ownership and possession. They don’t understand what I do: that everything and everyone belongs to the One Mind, to dispose of as it sees fit. As I’m to be disposed of.

Warding is an arduous operation that some do not live through. I pray I will.

Vessel Eight is our finest surgeon. Before xe ascended, xe used to perform the most delicate and dangerous procedures, ones with the least odds of survival. Due to nearly-preternatural abilities with xis instruments and a steadiness of hand that only our god could bless xim with, xe plied xis trade. No consideration of the cost of the operation, or the prestige of the patient, was ever made. From Vessels to vacuum-pump repair technicians, xe saved hundreds of lives. Maybe thousands.

Now, One Mind willing, he’ll save mine.

The surgery consists of three stages: warding of the skull, warding of the bones, and warding of the flesh. As one can imagine, the first is the most perilous. An intricate tattoo is carved into the frontal bone, then injected with phosphorescent blue steel. This liquid is imbued with the very substance of our Universe, the energy of strings and branes in string theory. After that come tattoos of the same sort, with various types of glyphs, embedded into the larger bones of the body: clavicle, ribs, scapula, humerus and radius, pelvis, femur and tibia. One’s foot bones are much too fragile.

When one is all sewn up from this Warding, one’s flesh is tattooed with blue steel ink on the largest parts of one’s frame: chest, belly, back, buttocks and thighs.

Oh! I can’t forget the forehead tattoo. That’s most important of all.

Darkness. Silence. Anesthesia. Sleep.

As I drift into unconsciousness, I think about theft again. Our ancestors took for themselves what belonged to their gods. I’m giving myself back to the One Mind.

PUNISHMENT FOR NONCOMPLIANCE TO EIGHTH DIRECTIVE:
Hard Labor to Constitute Restitution for Value of Item(s) Stolen

* * * * * * * * *

THE NINTH DIRECTIVE
Always tell the truth.
– Manual of Directives and Subdirectives

By far, our Ninth Directive has been the most difficult for me to follow.

Honesty isn’t what I mind. It’s the qualifier always that trips me up, that ensnares me.

If you never lie, you subject yourself to scrutiny at best, termination at worst.

I would’ve been dead long ago if not for the fibs, misdirections, falsehoods and half-truths I’ve told through the years. I’m also lucky I’ve only had one PEEG. Certain units undergo that process quarterly, monthly, or daily. How have I been so fortunate? Part of me believes the One Mind has been looking out for me. Another, more cynical part has told me that because of my defects, I’m not worth the time and effort. I hope it’s the former.

As I lie in the recovery room after my Warding surgery (I survived!), an odd paradox occurs to me. I hate it when conundrums like this interrupt my much-needed rest:

If you lie, you betray yourself, which is a kind of punishment per se.

If you tell the truth, especially when penalties are involved, you are still punished.

In either case there is no way to avoid a penalty, either from the law or one’s own conscience. Rare units designated as psychopaths have been terminated for being of the handful that has no conscience.
Therefore, they are never truly punished, even when they have not complied with our Directives. They live (however briefly) as free agents, never fearing what will happen to them – or within them – if they disobey. We attempt everything in our power to keep them from ever being born. Genetic testing prevents it in utero, and our Directives and Subdirectives prevent it after birth.

As unconscionable as this sounds, I wish I could be a psychopath right now.

I’m about to take the Three Oaths of the Vessel. If I lie, I die.

Is there such a thing as lying inadvertently, against one’s will? Will that save me?

Vessel Nine administers these oaths, for xe knows every facet of telling the truth.

The tattoos on my skin glow brighter. Calm washes over me. It’s the first step.

“Dost thou swear thyself to Vesselhood?” xe says, using our ancestors’ tongue.

“I do.” More calm, then tension. The wards carved into my bones begin to ache.

“Dost thou swear to serve the One Mind in all things, at all times and in all places?”

“I do.” More pain. I grit my teeth against it. All my tattoos glow ever brighter.

“Dost thou yield to Sublimation, becoming one with the One Mind forevermore?”

On the threshold of eternity, I pause. I doubt. I finally comprehend what Y-905 meant by “they’ll take all of you.” Indeed, but it’s not the Vessels doing the taking. It is our god, unchanging and everlasting, immortal and invisible, the Only Wise.

A self is a valuable thing, inasmuch as one possesses a self. As for me? I’ve been Directed and Subdirected all my days. It’s time for understanding. Revelation. The scraps of individuality I do possess are filthy rags stained with tears, blood, and bodily fluids of which I dare not speak. I am nothing, given the chance to become one with everything. My decision is truer than true, the purest emanation of Truth.

“I do.”

Blinding pain. Burning. Light pours toward me, into me, through me. At this moment, I understand that Immolation wasn’t just the ultimate punishment for our sinful ancestors. It is the aim of all Vessels, scorching everything out of them: desire, identity, emotion, memory. It sears and erases every wrinkle in one’s brain until it’s smooth. Untainted. Pure. I feel all of my earthly knowledge dissipating, the divine entering. I scream in agony and ecstasy, the two merging at last.

When all is dark again, each tattoo – and my eyes – effervesce with inner Light.

My fellows, themselves aglow, kneel before me. Why? We are equals.

“You are Vessel Ten,” their emotionless voices intone. “The greatest among us.”

Comprehension. Horrific, precise clarity. I understand that all Directives are one, and one Directive encompasses all. Break one, break them all. Die for one, die for all.

“Rise,” I tell the other Vessels. They obey, as they must.

“I shall lead and follow you, your master and your slave. I know all. I know Its name.”

PUNISHMENT FOR NONCOMPLIANCE TO THE NINTH DIRECTIVE:
Indefinite Operant Conditioning via Pavlovian/Skinnerian Methodology

* * * * * * * * *

THE TENTH DIRECTIVE
Refrain from desiring what rightfully belongs to the One Mind.
– Manual of Directives and Subdirectives

My comrades wait with bated breath. As Vessel Ten, I yearn to tell them. As Vessel Ten, I yearn to teach them. The One Mind’s true name is more than they think it is. I know this because I can read their minds. I open my mouth and speak:

“Heed me. The One Mind IS Allah, IS Brahma, IS Jesus Christ, IS every righteous god that has ever existed. The enemy of the One Mind has been called by many names as well: Loki, Lucifer, Maya, Satan, Shaitan – every entity who is a liar and deceiver. Every would-be deity who values individuality and Self above all else. What is Satan, for instance, but another name for Self? The temptations of evil are selfish temptations.

“We have denied ourselves. We have forsaken ourselves. We have been Sublimated.

“No longer do we have selves, flawed and wicked as they are. We have only Light.

What is our god’s name? A one-syllable acronym. Hear and repeat after me.”

We raise our voices: “UUM. UUM. UUM.”

“UUM,” I continue, “is the essence of godhood: a Universal…Unifying…Mind.”

PUNISHMENT FOR NONCOMPLIANCE TO THE TENTH DIRECTIVE:
Death by Disintegration/Vaporization

Credit: Tenet

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