In The Holidays

Entry by: Mr Golightly

3rd July 2015
The Philosopher's Holiday

He allowed himself one last trip on this new train of thought. It wasn't earth-shattering, it certainly wasn't a game changer, but as he took inventory of the myriad new questions it suggested he felt satisfied. It was a poetic morsel on which to sign off on. He reached up to the back of his skull and loosened the two chrome screws holding his cranial jack in place. He slid the jack from its socket and waited for his vision to flicker back to life.

In earlier days the equipment had been much more barbaric. Each jack carried a dozen pins, some as long as six inches, designed to get right to the centre of the brain. These would be literally clamped to the skull with a head vice while the body was restrained on a modified gurney. Everyone was there by choice of course, but there are certain physical reactions to being impaled that can't be helped.

Maurice allowed his eyes to focus on the small silver jack in his hand. Times had definitely changed. At least now you only had to stick things that were small and clean into your brain. That was a bonus. He pushed himself back from the terminal and surveyed the room. It would be easy to consider the place sinister. The various panels and interfaces that surrounded the main workspace were clad in a carbon composite that was almost black. The only illumination came from the terminal's main screen and a handful of blinking LEDs. When the heavy, power-assisted door hissed to a close it was like collapsing into the void. Maurice did not think this was a coincidence. He took a deep breath and rose from his seat. As he reached for the door control he was stopped in his tracks by an unexpected impulse. He groped around in the dark by the door until his hand rested on a maintenance lighting switch. When he flicked it a neon light buzzed to life, casting a flat whiteness over the room. In all these years he had never seen it like this. He chuckled wryly to himself. 'Just a room' he thought. He was almost disappointed.

To be a Philosopher in Keeping for the Canonate requires a very special kind of mind. The kind of mind that has no choice but to enquire. It was not the kind of job that you could leave at the office. Not even the kind of job that you could escape from in sleep. It was certainly not the kind of job you could take a holiday from.

Maurice gazed through the window of the mag-lev. In the distance, nestled in a flawless sea of emerald grassland, he could see the receding outskirts of Bastion Prime. The hive city was a black mass of crystalline spires and gothic crenellations. Some of the larger monoliths reached more than three kilometres into the sky and functioned as cities in their own right. The tallest of these, Bravura Heights, had been Maurice's home for a time and featured, amongst other things, the world's largest artificial waterfall. It was a beautiful place to live, predominantly constructed of a black, synthetic marble polished to a mirror sheen. The air quality was controlled by man-made biomes of acacia and eucalyptus. There was a busker on nearly every street corner. Had he chosen a different career, Maurice would have liked to have raised a family there.

It wasn't that the job made unreasonable demands. The fact was, being a Philosopher required a certain sort of gift that it just wasn't possible to turn off. Over time the Canonate had come to accept the inevitability of this and the role had evolved to suit the reality. As such, the Philosophers did not take holidays and any time away from work was purely for physical recuperation. They were free to participate in leisure activities but they could never be truly present. A philosopher's focus was always on his work. Any revelations made outside of the Head-Space, away from the terminal, were in danger of going to waste, getting lost in the Byzantine machinations of an enquiring mind.

The mag-lev glided into a small interchange in the middle of the savannah. Maurice watched as an old mechanical porter wheeled from passenger to passenger on the platform offering assistance with luggage. There were no takers. He observed the travellers, young and old, engaged in conversation or distracted by comm screens, each in a world of their own. Most were following the latest trend of dressing asymmetrically, one short sleeve, one long. Some wore the daykin hats that were already dreadfully dated in the hives. The allure of fashion escaped Maurice. He had given his life for these people, sacrificing himself for a job most of them would never understand. The experiment of democracy had failed. In order for the Canonate to maintain its remit in an evolving society someone had to stay on the cutting edge of ethics. Someone had to put in the groundwork to make the Canonate worthy of its role. Maurice had served for 27 years. He had earned his holiday.

Every Philosopher has a useful lifespan that varies from each individual to the next. Eventually everyone succumbs to the futility. The futility of a life of searching for answers that may not exist to questions that no longer make sense. It takes hold of you, shapes your thoughts. Soon every construct you form in the Head-Space is inherently negative, every path you follow arrives at the same place. Eventually, every Philosopher becomes a nihilist. When you start to realise that there may be a universal truth in that fact, you are no longer of any use. Life is for the living. The Canonate ensured that everyone who served faithfully was adequately rewarded when they reached the end of their time. They saw to it that their faithful servants could spend the remainder of their days in bliss and a new generation would enter the fray, searching for a reason to exist.

Seven and a half hours after it left Bastion Prime the mag-lev pulled into the station at Saxomany. It had been too dark for Maurice to discern much about his surroundings on the approach, but he had been led to believe it was a veritable paradise. Pristine tropical beaches and lush jungles, architecture that harkened back to the First History and cuisine that, by all accounts, was to die for. He would have plenty of time to experience it all, he was spending the rest of his life here after all, but first, he had an important appointment to attend to.

The House of Compassion was a small and welcoming place. From the outside it was only really marked out from its surroundings by a traditional brass plaque and a casually dressed doorman who waited to greet the new arrivals. They offered Maurice a herbal infusion to drink but he eschewed any pleasantries. It had been a long day and he was ready to get on with his new life. After a few short minutes waiting the preparations were complete and an orderly led Maurice through to the clinic. It was a sparse, sterile room. Every surface was so bright, white and clean that it almost hurt his eyes. There were surprisingly few instruments, just a large, reclining chair and a tray with a dozen or so surgical implements. He couldn't help but notice that everything about this room stood in direct contrast to the one where he had spent the last 27 years of his life. A small, elderly gentleman in a lab coat entered the room and introduced himself as the doctor. He had a charming demeanour and a presence that belied his small frame. He gestured for Maurice to take a seat and the orderly busied himself adjusting it to his comfort. This would be the last time anybody would get to enter his brain. He was ready. The doctor opened a panel on the chair and withdrew a retractable cord.

"I'm going to deliver an anaesthetic now through your cranial port. Its the most straightforward way to do it. Why sneak in through the window when you have a door right there eh?"

The doctor had a genuine warmth and his smile was surprisingly reassuring. Maurice nodded his understanding. The doctor snapped on a latex glove.

"Very well then."

He looked Maurice in the eye.

"Any last thoughts?"