See also: Absolutely Positive; Things Unsaid; Sixteen Hours
Also included this week:
A Story Across Years: Chapter nine. "Tradition, of course. I wonder when it started."
Land of Ten Thousand Faces
You are a Man Aside. A man aside from the mobs. A man aside from the concerns of the petty. A man aside from disorder, aside from destruction.
They call you the secret police. You know better, enough to understand how they can be right when they are so wrong.
You police the secrets. The dark corners, where fiends and malevolent stalk. There are demons in the world, you know, but there are men who would put them to shame. You are a man aside from such men.
You are a man aside from men, a man aside from yourself. For there is no Self among the Men Aside.
And when you don the mask of they that you will be, you put away your fears and jealousies to become something else.
They see a man in black and red. They see a man with a gun, with knives, with the claws and codes and authority to condemn them to darkness forever. They see your mask, and think you a faceless enforcer of the authority that dare not speak its name.
They see you, and they do not understand that you are a Man Aside from all of that.
You are Tizifone, who was surnamed Vengeful. She who was put to slavery for her parents’ debts and bought the both of them back. She who stood proud at the bow of her fireship when she beckoned the lightning of the heavens to strike her down.
You follow in the shadows. Your hands drift along the walls and leave listening spiders in their wake. The metal bee in your ear carries the words to you, those treacherous words that the others speak, and you carve every syllable into your mind. You have no need for recorders, though the bee will remember as well. You will not forget.
There are lights that come and go over your eyes where only you can see. They tell you what you need to know, and how to know it. You move like a spirit, untouched, unseen, and your handler watches through your eyes in a place that is unknown to you.
You see them enter. And you wait. You are stone. You are the darkness that was before the world, and you are ever-patient.
They come back outside, and you receive your orders and the codes that authorize and release you. Not for all of them, but for one. For the one named John.
They scream. They beg. They plead.
But you are a Man Aside from mercy. And mercy may not rob justice.
They may wonder why the watchmen and spies are given to wear her face. So glorious. So heavy-laden with honor. They do not understand the privilege that it is to wear the red-streaked uniform that hearkens to the blood that stained her dress.
Your face is a woman’s, with tears that flow with white and red. Your mouth is a howl forever. And you remember what Tizifone said, where the temple to myriad gods now stands.
It’s your battle cry. It’s your watchword. You are a Man Aside, you are Tizifone, and it is the reason that you live.
So that her words will ever ring true.You are Auberon, who was rumored King over a thousand scattered islands of dream. He who was the brother of Merovius, the first of the astronomers. He whose kingdom was everywhere and nowhere, here and there, and judged men according to the justice of a world that should have been.
With uplifted hand, you call informants to speak. With twitched finger, you silence protesters. With the word of your mouth, you invite the defense of the one that stands before you and just as quickly destroy the lies that spew out.
You recognize who stands at trial. All the training in the world cannot keep you from recalling the traitor’s arrest, only days before. But John does not recognize you, nor John’s friends.
They would call it unfair. They would call it partial.
They do not understand that you are not the woman who struck his face or shackled his wrists. You did not present your license to him; that was another. You did not do these things, though they exist in some part of your memories that will only fully waken behind the face which they belong to.
They do not understand you became the face as swiftly as you donned it. They do not understand that this is no mask but your whole identity, and who you were is merely a body. Some facts may drift from face to face but they are untainted by any petty feeling.
You condemn John with a single sign, and no emotion has weighted your decision.
You are a Man Aside from humanity. As you are, you are incapable of prejudice.
They may wonder why the madman declares sentence upon the city’s enemies. They may wonder at the reason, and perhaps conclude that there is no such thing. But you declared yourself a voice of madness in a world of reason, and if the world is mad then what are you?
Your face is a man’s, with white wine staining your false beard. Laughter is spilled across the whole of it in an eternal moment of joy. And you remember that you are but a pilgrim here.
Your kingdom is elsewhere. You have no ties to this place, nor have you obligations to any man, but human love is fit to keep you.
Who better to sit in judgment, than one whose allegiance is only to the ideal of Love itself?You are Charu, which went forward to make the way for others. That sexless god which stood beside men at their births. That weeping god which took them softly in hand at their last departure.
You and John stand beside each other. John is haggard. Long nights in a temporary holding cell have not treated the conspirator well. There is still dried blood that you can see, and stitches up and down one arm. Bruises. Missing teeth. The tiny pinpricks that tell of worse, less physically damaging tortures.
John should have given them a confession when they had first requested it. Instead they had been forced to extract it.
The journey lasts for hours, before the rising of the sun and till after it has set. At times John breaks into screaming, fits that come and go without warning and last for any time at all. You stand aside from John at these times, and try to offer comfort as you can.
John raves at you when you do this, until you are forced to use your hammer. In time, you understand that speaking will hurt John more than silence, and you stand aside.
You are not here for John’s torment. You know this, though John may not believe it.
Later you will learn the reason for John’s outbursts, this madness born from terror that you witnessed in the conspirator. You will learn that John’s father had been sent to the very same place years before, and that the child had occasioned to see him only days before had had died and seen everything that Letois makes of a man. Or everything that Letois takes from a man.
You will not learn this for many years, at another time and with another face, but John’s face will come to you through the mist that separates your identities. And then, with the detachment that comes from such distance as you can wield, you will continue with the task at hand.
John has to be tranquilized before being handed over to the warden of the Island. John refuses to go peacefully. But few do.
Your face is blue, and your eyes are wide open. Not for you is the rejection of the world’s terrible cost. There are legends that say that Charu wept because the price of life was death, but that it created anyhow because a little life was better than none. And it promised the men of its creation that when they died it would go with them personally to the door which only they could pass through.
Your skin is pale. Your brow is heavy. Your uniform is torn and stained, a representation of a beggar’s rags. It is a reminder that you are not their lord but their servant, and what you do to some you do for all of them.
You do not weep, but the body that you wear produces tears behind your face.You are nameless. You are faceless.
Or rather, you have the only name and face which you can truly claim as your own.
The mask that you most recently wore rests on the bathroom counter, and you look at your face, this face, in the mirror.
You are not a Man Aside from anything, but only a man with a knife in his hand.
You wonder what you have done. You can remember only a little of it. Fragments and tatters. You are trained to not think of what those other faces have done while they wore your body. Even now, when you are trying to remember, something that is deeper inside you refuses.
But there are scraps that do come to mind. A face, most of all. A face, which has never shared its body with any other face, and a name that is called John.
Again and again, John appears to you, and you try to assemble the pieces with what you know as a mere man.
You are trained to not think, when you are on-duty, about the first face that this body wore. The face that this body wears now. But when you look in the mirror you can manage, just barely, to think about yourself and about all of the others who thought of themselves in this body.
So you look, and you stare.
Tizifone did not ask why she had to arrest John. Auberon did not ask if the evidence that he so dispassionately weighed was real. Charu did not ask if it was right to send men to such a place that could break their hearts with the mere mention of its name.
But you do. And you find that you cannot remember enough to answer.
You have dreams, sometimes. In some of them, you present yourself to this selfsame mirror, with this selfsame face, and remove it just as you have your other faces.
You look away from the mirror, and the training that they instilled in you makes you (lets you) forget such thoughts.
You dream that night, and do not understand why there is only a yawning void where your face should be.