Thursday, October 15, 2009

"Shadow", Chapter 12, Part 2

"I ought to hate you," she said.

I had to lean over her to catch the words. "It's all right," I said.

"But I don't. Not for your sake... if I hate my last friend, what would be left?"

There was nothing to say to that, so I said nothing.

"Do you know what it was like? It was a long time before I could think of it."

Her right hand was creeping upward, toward her eyes. I caught it and forced it back.

"I thought I saw my worst enemy, a kind of demon. And it was me."

Her scalp was bleeding. I put clean lint there and taped it down, though I knew it would soon be gone. Curling, dark hairs were entangled in her fingers.

"Since then, I can't control my hands... I can if I think about it, if I know what they're doing. But it is so hard, and I'm getting tired." She rolled her head away and spat blood. "I bite myself. Bite the lining of my cheeks, and my tongue and lips. Once my hands tried to strangle me, and I thought oh good, I will die now. But I only lost consciousness, and they must have lost their strength, because I woke. It's like that machine, isn't it?"

I said, "Allowin's necklace."

"But worse. My hands are trying to blind me now, to tear my eyelids away. Will I be blind?"

"Yes," I said.

"How long before I die?"

"A month, perhaps. The thing in you that hates you will weaken as you weaken. The revolutionary brought it to life, but its energy is your energy, and in the end you will die together."



"I see," she said. And then, "It is a thing from Erebus, from Abaia, a fit companion for me. Vodalus..."

I leaned closer, but I could not hear. At last I said, "I tried to save you. I wanted to. I stole a knife, and spent the night watching for a chance. But only a master can take a prisoner from a cell, and I would have had to kill--"

"Your friends."

"Yes, my friends."

Her hands were moving again, and blood trickled from her mouth. "Will you bring me the knife?"

"I have it here," I said, and drew it from under my cloak. It was a common cook's knife with a span or so of blade.

"It looks sharp."

"It is," I said. "I know how to treat an edge, and I sharpened it carefully." That was the last thing I said to her. I put the knife into her right hand and went out.

For a time, I knew, her will would hold it back. A thousand times one thought recurred: I could reenter her cell, take back the knife, and no one would know. I would be able to live out my life in the guild.

If her throat rattled, I did not hear it; but after I had stared at the door of her cell for a long while, a little crimson rivulet crept from under it. I went to Master Gurloes then, and told him what I had done.

This is how Wolfe answers my question from the last post, here stated in a different form: What would the Inquisitors invent if they were in a much more technologically advanced society? Although according to a wikipedia article on Inquisition, I'm off base here: "Additionally, the restrictions on torture in the inquisitorial courts were much more stringent than those that regulated the torture in the secular courts. Torture was only used for extracting confessions during a trial and was not used as punishment after sentencing. If torture was utilized, the accused was required to repeat their repentance freely and without torture" The torture of Thecla is not for a confession, it is punitive, as well as a political message. The machine that did this to her is called "the revolutionary" - what despot wouldn't want a machine that makes their enemies hate themselves? Actually, I guess it is a form of confession and repentance, forced upon her. But not in a constructive way, a completely destructive way that could only be a message to other revolutionaries. This is consistent with the inquisition: "A 1578 handbook for inquisitors spelled out the purpose of inquisitorial penalties: ...[Translation from the Latin: '... for punishment does not take place primarily and per se for the correction and good of the person punished, but for the public good in order that others may become terrified and weaned away from the evils they would commit.'" If this seems harsh to you, maybe you should wonder how many of our own laws have been passed for this reason. If this logic is correct, and that's how crime is actually prevented, how harsh would an "acceptable sentence" be? I don't know if it's true or not, though. It's an interesting question.

I was not aware that secular courts made even more use of torture than the church. Maybe the reason people dislike lawyers is just historical inertia from the Middle Ages.

I still think the Orwellian "punishment" is still the scariest scenario of how people of the future are going to deal with revolutionaries. If you can build a machine that can make them hate themselves, why not just build a machine that can make them think exactly as you do? That's why I put "punishment" in quotes - the ex-revolutionary doesn't even think of it that way. Frightening.

I think this is the key point in Severian's life. With this act of mercy, he splits with the torturers and starts to find his own path. How an assisted suicide fits in with the Catholic subtext, I don't know. I assume it means that Wolfe may disagree with certain points of doctrine.

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