Saturday, January 1, 2011

Very Short Story: The Three "I's"

The Three sat motionless, their black robes hanging straight down as if weighted at the seams, as rigid as the tunics on the marble statues that lined the dais.

They were sometimes compared to the Sun, around which everything moved in precisely predictable orbits.  But after clerking for them, the Three seemed more than ever like a trio of black holes, toward which everything inevitably fell.

Nothing escaped the reach of their opinions.  And so it was a citizen’s prime duty to understand them.

Long before the Three, judges had based their conclusions on general rules, couching them in the language of universal principles applied to the particular circumstances at hand.

The country was a bustling place then, where people interacted under a regime of mutual freedom.  But that freedom led to many different kinds of legal proceedings.

And as the number of judicial decisions grew, the larger became the palate from which the Three could choose the colors with which to draw their decisions that would bind us all on their canvas.  And so their decisions came to resemble portraits of themselves more closely than ever.  The Three became the Law.

This was to the benefit of all, we were taught.  No longer would citizens have to stake their liberty on predictions based on the application of abstract principle.  Now they could focus their attention on adhering to the decisions of the Three alone.

The bailiff called the court to order.

Today’s trial began as usual.  The claims were brought against the defendants under the Article of the three I’s, each “I” representing one of the Three and symbolizing their collective expression of societal will.

There were two defendants, both wearing the traditional white jumpsuits that symbolize their appearance as two blank slates on which the Three would write their will.

The Three recognized the Citers of Precedent, a corps of professionals dedicated to reminding each of the Three of their previous opinions.  The Citers studied in grand universities, and were tasked with memorizing the Three’s written decisions and contributing toward the Great Academic Project: the synthesis of each of the Three’s opinions into a unified theory capable of predicting their future will, and thereby charting a path within which the citizenry could safely walk.

One of the Citers stated the facts of the case: the defendants considered themselves to be married, and bound by their own vows.

A collective gasp rippled like a gas leak through the spectator galleries.

The two people before the court, said the Citer, were found holding themselves out to their fellow citizens as being bound by their own commitments to each other, when the Precedents had long been understood to negate the practice.  In the estimation of the Three, marriage was an archaic commitment to maintain rules that their own personal experience had revealed to be unwise over time.

“We shall consider the precedents,” said the three in unison, and they retired to their chambers.

We clerks gathered in the library to collect the precedents on which the Three’s decisions would be rendered.

The rows of precedent books wound their way through the library.  The newer volumes, bound in moist shiny leather, gradually gave way to the much older tomes, whose dried covers had wilted whole pages of parched paper, littering the floor in forgotten corners of the building.

I walked over to return some of the fallen pages, and happened to glance at what they contained.  I had apparently found some very early precedent that appeared to cite an Article that preceded the Article of the Three “I’s.”

It was the Article of the One “I.”

I brought the page back to my fellow clerks and asked them if we should include these older precedents in our recommendation to the Three, as it might nudge them into upholding the marriage of the committed couple whose fate the Three held in their hands.

Indeed, the old precedents I had found seemed to resonate with the married couples’ notion that they had built their own household on a foundation that only they could alter -- not the Three or anyone else.  These precedents described how this Article of the One “I” was once part of a larger plan agreed to many years ago.  Under this long-forgotten “Article I,” the laws would be made by those in a “House” composed of “Representatives” chosen by “the People.”  The people in the House would agree on the laws, and those laws would bind everyone until the people in the House agreed to change them.  Not the Three.  The People.

My fellow clerks laughed.  I chuckled, too, and returned the page to its long-forgotten tome.