Perhaps that is why we must, by law, keep a record. A public journal, testifying to those who will never die and those who are yet to be born, as to why we human beings do the things we do. We are instructed to write down not just our deeds but our feelings, because it must be known that we do have feelings. Remorse. Regret. Sorrow too great to bear. Because if we didn't feel those things, what monsters would we be?
The growth of civilization was complete. Everyone knew it. When it came to the human race, there was no more left to learn. Nothing about our own existence to decipher. Which meant that no one person was more important than any other. In fact, in the grand scheme of things, everyone was equally useless.
Suddenly Kohl thrust his hand out, grabbing Rowan's and holding it tightly. Rowan allowed it. He wasn't family; he wasn't even Kohl's friend before today—but what was the saying? Death makes the whole world kin. Rowan wondered if a world without death would then make everyone strangers.
She assumed she would go to college, get a degree in something pleasant, then settle into a comfortable job, meet a comfortable guy, and have a nice, unremarkable life. It's not that she longed for such an existence, but it was expected. Not just of her, but of everyone. With nothing to really aspire to, life had become about maintenance.
When it was decided that people needed to die in order to ease the tide of population growth, it was also decided that this must be the responsibility of humans. Bridge repair and urban planning could be handled by the Thunderhead, but taking a life was an act of conscience and consciousness. Since it could not be proven that the Thunderhead had either, the Scythedom was born.
The idea that not all scythes were good was something neither Rowan or Citra had ever considered. It was widely accepted that scythes adhered to the highest moral and ethical standards. They were wise in their dealings and fair in their choices. Even the ones who sought celebrity were seen to deserve it. The idea that some scythes might not be as honorable as Scythe Faraday did not sit well with either of his new apprentices.
"But people could read it. The Scythe Archive is open to everyone."
"Yeah," said Rowan, "like the Thunderhead. People can read anything, but no one does. All they do is play games and watch cat holograms."
He clicked on each name and brought up four pictures. He immediately regretted it, because the moment those names had faces, they became people instead of parameters.
They removed their raincoats to reveal robes of all colors, all textures. It was a rainbow that summoned forth anything but thoughts of death. This, Citra realized, was intentional. Scythes wished to be seen as the many facets of light, not of darkness.
The Scythedom uses the Thunderhead for countless tasks—but to us, it's simply a database. A tool, nothing more. As an entity—as a mind—the Thunderhead does not exist for us.
And yet it does, and we know it.
Estrangement from the collective consciousness of humanity's wisdom is just one more thing that sets scythes apart from others.
"Every scythe has his or her own method. That happens to be mine. In the Age of Mortality, death would often come with no warning. It is our task to mimic what we've stolen from nature—and so that is the face of death I've chosen to recreate. My gleanings are always instantaneous and always public, lest people forget what we do, and why we must do it."
"We believe in the Great Vibration, and that it will free us from being stagnant."
It was the word Scythe Curie used to describe the people she chose to glean.
"Never lose your humanity," Scythe Faraday had told him, "or you'll be nothing more than a killing machine." He had used the word "killing" rather than "gleaning." Rowan hadn't thought much of it at the time, but now he understood; it stopped being gleaning the moment one became desensitized to the act.
"Embrace it, Rowan. Suckle at its transformative breast. You may think gleaning is an acquired taste, but it's not. The thrill of the hunt and the joy of the kill simmers in all of us. Bring it to the surface and then you'll be the kind of scythe this world needs."
"I was headstrong and stupid in my early days. I thought that by gleaning just the right people at just the right time, I could change the world for the better. I believed, in my arrogance, that I had a keen grasp of the big picture that others lack. But of course, I was just as limited as everyone else."
Would the Thunderhead grieve our passing, I wonder? And if so, would it grieve as the child who has lost a parent, or as the parent who could not save a petulant child from its own poor choices?
Tyger left with the other professional party people, with whom he seemed to share much more in common now than with Rowan. Rowan wondered if there was anyone from his old life he could relate to anymore.
"But if this really is a scandal in the Scythedom—"
"—then your best possible position would be to achieve scythehood yourself, and fight it from the inside."
With each gleaning I commit, with each life taken for the good of humanity, I mourn for the boy I once was, whose name I sometimes struggle to remember. And I long for a place beyond immortality where I can, in some small measure, resurrect the wonder, and be that boy again.
My greatest wish for humanity is not for peace or comfort or joy. It is that we all still die a little inside every time we witness the death of another. For only the pain of empathy will keep us human. There's no version of God that can help us if we ever lose that.
It was then it occurred to her that every scythe, since the Scythedom began, had to take this test. Every single one of them was forced to take the life of someone they loved. Yes, that person would be revived, but it didn't change the cold-blooded act. A person's subconscious mind can't differentiate between permanent and temporary killings.
"Had she lived, who knows what she might have done. Perhaps she could have changed the world and redeemed her family name. I choose to be Scythe Anastasia. I vow to become the change that might have been."