Cyclopaedia Chapter Thirteen: Miila Says
Eirik sat with Miila in her hut. The strong smell of grass and fire was pleasant. He'd been to remote places like this before, and he'd come to associate these pervasive odors, grass, smoke, mud, fish, fat, skin, as sensations that encapsulated the terms home, true, correct. There was no exact word or phrase for it in the Capital, but here they did have a word for it—llaKik, or literally "village nose".
The reaction to stronger sensations here was different than in cities and towns. The evidence of decay was repellent to the urban citizen. Not without reason of course. In the city Eirik would have to spend so much energy on the social structure, and so much energy on the physical and conceptual structure, that anything from outside that structure, anything that jarred this sense of investment in civilization was generally loathed. You could not admit decay. Decay was an enemy.
Not so in the village. In fact many of those things made life what it was, made life living and bearable, usually under environmental adversity. They were a reminder of life, that life continued, the reverse being seen as terrifying—absence, removal, a void, sterility. The broad flat, white expanses of winter were only tolerable because of the brutal cold and the unrelenting wind. If you were cold, you were alive. Their conception of eternal punishment was an underworld after death, of an infinite field of ice but with no wind and no cold. An eternal void where the punishment is absence. Whereas the damnation of urban dwellers was a theatrical convolution of unverifiable injustices, tortures and discomforts. What meant life to one meant the threat of barbarity and death to the other.
Miila stopped working when she and Eirik talked, she took the speaking seriously and gave him her entire attention as a courtesy. They spoke of the village. This was necessary, Eirik knew, all conversations began with speaking of the village. But what he wanted to talk about was Vermilion trade. How could he convince her that this should stop? What right did he have? None. What would they care about Compilers and their Oath? What would they care about the Cyclopaedia trying to catalog the world? Miila's world already made sense, they didn't need anything like that. It was arrogant of him to expect they did. For them, taking Vermilion wasn't a problem, it was simply another activity, sometimes medicinal. So, then, he thought, maybe there was another aspect of the drug trade he could argue with. Imagine, he thought, that I too was from this village, what would be important to me, what reason would I have to stop trading?
The more he thought about it, the less he could find any clear answer. The items they received for Vermilion would slowly poison them, they would slowly remove the sights, sounds, smells of the village. Would life be better with the items they obtained? He wasn't sure. It would be tremendous change, and the compelling argument he came up with was that Fox was this agent of change. It would extract all of the living elements from the village and replace them with static, temporary comfort, a sort of existential debt.
Eirik could make an argument that Fox was an agent of evil who wanted to destroy the village. The oldest story, and the oldest propaganda, good versus evil. He would have to cast Compiler Hedvin as mythological. The Fox, he thought, wanted to steal the village. But was this fair? He doubted that Compiler Hedvin, who Eirik had never met, wanted anything more specifically than Vermilion itself, he didn't really have any maniacal plan to destroy the village, the truth was in fact worse—Compiler Hedvin wasn't thinking of the consequences at all, he didn't care what happened to the village. The reality was not good versus evil but engagement versus apathy. How could Eirik express the actual danger of this institutionalized apathy to Miila without making it into a fable? For the village everything was narrative, everything was a story. Part of this had to with regular use of Vermilion, but the impulse was vastly older than that, and from what he'd seen the drug was only an amplifier.
Bird would have to stop Fox.
"I'm worried about Fox," Eirik said, "I think he's planning to steal the Village."
"The entire village?" Miila said, shocked.
"I think the Village itself, the basic thing called the Village. The soul of the Village," Eirik stated, regretting the word "soul" for which he didn't expect matching connotation.
"Well," Miila said, "Fox always has plans, that is Fox. I don't know how he could steal such a thing if he planned to. What would he do with it? Why would he want it?"
"He would imprison it. He would put it in a cage. He would make it frozen and lifeless. We both work for something that would help him do this, something that names things, something that captures things and freezes them forever."
"Compiler Eirik and Compiler Hedvin? So then why would he do this and you wouldn't? For Vermilion he trades things we like, clothes and pots and pans and so on, it's easy for us to make Vermilion," Miila said.
"I won't do that. Because now I see how it works, I know what the Village is. I won't do that. But Fox, by trading, Fox will. Soon you'll have all the clothes you need and all the pots and pans, and you'll want other things to trade, and eventually he'll ask for the Village. He'll take the Village." Eirik tried to make his point as simply as he could. Miila looked at him skeptically. Suddenly she laughed.
"We'll see Bird. We won't trade anything if it doesn't make sense to trade. Thank you for warning us. Fox is like that, we know we can't trust him. Soon enough he'll get tired of the village, and you will too."