This piece was written shortly after the mass-murders in New York City and elsewhere in America. It was written quickly and in anger. Perhaps I have lost my Faith, but the events of recent days have left me with an inescapable sense that corrupted religion is mankind's most fundamental problem, and the root of what happened. I realise that the assertions here might upset some people, and I'm not even sure that I like them myself. I apologise, but I found myself compelled to write this, and now I feel the same compulsion to share it.
I know that I will never again believe that God can forgive all my sins. To be absolved from all sin is to be detached from human responsibility, and thus from Humanity itself. We saw this happen through the crimes committed by the terrorists; let's pray that we don't see it again in a Western backlash.
Slammer cut a striking figure in the playground, with his olive-coloured skin, his jet black hair and impenetrable dark eyes. He was confident and assertive for one so young, and there was something about him that branded him as deeply dangerous.
Angle felt it too, though he didn't like to admit such prejudices to himself. He was rather older than the lithe young man, and his hair was an unhealthy blond. The general pallor of his complexion marked him out as English, and his self-doubt underlined the point. Some others in his peer-group still retained something of the arrogance of their youth, but Angle had split from them quite some time ago.
Angle and his former soul-mates were occasionally prone to violent confrontation, but their estrangement was nothing compared to the studied alienation of Slammer. Angle found much of the youngster's behaviour disturbing and repugnant; his treatment of the girls among his kind, the aggression and intolerance with which he sometimes expressed his views. It was difficult to avoid the conclusion that Slammer had secured influence beyond the limits of his maturity. It was difficult even for Angle, who took pains never to condemn anybody.
Certainly there were other self-confident and self-possessed characters in the playground. There was Bud, for example, who seemed light and carefree, sometimes almost to the point of total detachment. There was Hin, another advocate of simplicity who seemed to have mellowed, relaxing the dubious adherence to social heirarchies which characterised his youth. There were many others; Heb among them, though he could hardly be described as self-confident. Older than all of them, he was nonetheless prone to paranoia, and he loathed Slammer. Their confrontations were notorious, and sometimes disrupted the entire school.
Angle surveyed the scene and tried to remain hopeful. The Code that governed the playground and guided them all was Good, he felt sure of it. It didn't actually matter that different people followed different Codes. They all amounted to the same thing; they all shared the same values.
It was at that moment that Angle noticed the figure beyond the fence. For a moment he thought that it was a child, but then he realised that the man was much older. Indeterminately old, though with a lightness of spirit that conferred the child-like quality. He was smiling at Angle through the railings. Unbeckoned, Angle couldn't help walking towards him.
'You're a Prefect here, aren't you?'
said the strange man beyond the fence.
replied Angle simply.
'What are you doing out there?'
'I stepped outside a long time ago.'
replied the man. In some indefinable way the simplicity of his answer seemed to outweigh the simplicity of Angle's.
There was a silence, as Angle wrestled with his thoughts. Proselytising was something of a forgotten habit with him, but he managed to ask:
'Wouldn't you like to come back?'
The man grinned alarmingly.
he said, in a tone which was kindly but at the same time quite decisive.
'I think you've lost it in there, I'm afraid. Too many incompatible principles. Too much intolerance from some, too much appeasement from others. You're not educating your people any more; you're just trying to patch up your society. Sorry.'
Angle didn't know whether the final word of apology conveyed pity or contrition, but he was finding the intensity of the man's gaze disconcerting. Then he realised that Slammer was staring broodily in their direction, and his discomfiture mounted to a jangling peak.
The man's expression changed without the movement of a single facial muscle. The hint of a wry smile became a faintly quizzical look.
'You're frightened of him, aren't you?'
There was incredulity in the question.
No words would come out of Angle's mouth. He nodded in confusion and shame.
'He's no more hot-headed than you were at his age.'
said the man, sternly.
'You weren't above beating people, even deliberately burning them, back then. Anyone who didn't agree with your views, or didn't conform with your way of living, was likely to get hurt.'
Angle knew that it was true, but he didn't know what to say in return.
The man beyond the fence sighed.
'I've seen it too many times.'
'Each and every one of you starts out with zeal and a sense of revelation. You cut a swathe of righteous destruction through everyone else's lives, and then you decline into apologetic decadence having achieved nothing.'
'There has to be a Code.'
Angle was surprised that he managed to say it all, though he was dismayed by the uncertainty in his own voice.
'Oh, there's a Code alright.'
declared the man beyond the fence, seeming almost angry now.
'It just works by different rules to the Codes that you conceive. It evolves, for a start. The true Code is based on the premise that the thoughts we have today are better than those we had yesterday, because Humanity is a growing spirit. Every one of your Codes venerates the fossil doctrines of an ancient time, when so-called prophets were ignorant compared with your modern selves. Their creeds were simplistic, crude and corrupt, but you are too blinded to see that. You could bring youselves to Salvation by rewriting your Code for today, and by utterly disowning the obsolescent disciples of the past. You never will; you can never break your fixation with the Dead Codes. Even when those Codes tell you to breed till the world bursts, or to hate all of Humanity beyond your own borders.'
Angle stared open-mouthed at the man, and at the same time he felt the malice of Slammer focussed on his back.
'You must be wrong!'
'It can't be like you say it is.'
But the man was already walking into a far distance which no-one in the playground knew. Slammer glowered in Angle's direction, before sloping away. Angle struggled to contain his terror. A new Code, with a cruel and luxurious new tyrant, was loose in the world. The Divine Cycle of blood and pain began another revolution.....