Depths of Perception
Part II: Auctrix
She who gave birth to me was an Auctor. My earliest memories are of her crooning to me, her voice seeming to drift unaware out of her heavily covered body.
Because I, too, was born an Auctor, I learned the old words mother and song, though the low-pitched sonar calls apparently held little similarity to what the Histories described.
Just like my mother, from the moment of my birth I was wrapped in layers of woven plasti-cloth and hidden from all sight – the citizens, the Auctors, and myself. But because my mother was an Auctor, I learned at a very young age why. From her I received mental images showing me the different features between humans and us – well, them, at any rate. The other castes.
But when I was just over four city-cycles old, or years, I was given to the head Auctor, he who, within our caste, was known as the Auctrix. Though my earliest memory is of my mother, my most vivid memory is of his hands.
Like any child of the city, I had spent time in behavior classes, enviously watching the other children swim freely, unencumbered by layers of veils like myself. I was young, my thoughts-sentences still simple, so I didn’t pay attention to the subtle differences of webbing and pinnulas and scale patterns.
When I asked why I wasn’t allowed to swim unencumbered, I was punished, left alone in one of the smallest chambers to think and reflect on my actions until I figured out what I had done incorrectly. Only then could I leave.
Though angry, I forced myself to relive the encounter. I hadn’t disobeyed, that was clear. My wrappings remained secured around me. So it must have been something I had wanted to do. All I could think of was wanting to swim with the other children, to play as one of them. Ah, but to truly be one of them, I must uncover myself. And to do so would reveal my differences. Which I could never do.
When I had reached this realization, I understood why I had been punished. I mindcalled my mother. When she entered, her body as obscured as mine, and simply waited for me to speak.
We cannot play with them because then we couldn’t do our duties. And because they would want to know why I was covered up. But I can’t tell them.
She hadn’t praised or encouraged me in response to my simple sentences. She’d merely nodded and gestured for me to leave. It was hard to understand why, because even compared to the other Auctor children, I was restricted more than most. It was only years later, when the Auctrix died, that I understood that I was always meant to shoulder heavy burdens alone. From the time of my birth, I was presented with obstacle after obstacle, forced to work harder, study longer, train later, because my genetic make-up pointed me in only one direction.
Thus, when I was four, I officially became his acolyte, the only one he had, for none others had been born with a specific type of deoxyribonucleic acid, the recessive alleles in my genetics combining in such a way as to produce the distinctive features that marked a true genetic recombination.
But that I learned much later. In truth, my first years under the Auctrix’s tutelage were learning and relearning the physical characteristics of the other castes so that I would understand what I saw whenever one ventured inside the Complex to consult with the Auctors. Not that I would ever deal with them directly – that was not to be my role. But I must be able to understand their place within the city, their duties, so that I could understand my own.
The first rule the Auctor taught me was the rule of Order. It must always be held in mind when making decisions for the city. The castes must be held separate, must be kept to their places, must not question their duties. They must work and serve the city, because Atalaens was always one disaster away from annihilation. Citizens must never question their duties. Auctors were at the top because we alone had the capacity for deep thought and learning. Not because we were better, but because we were unexpected results, leaving us free from the strictures of caste and particular genetic predispositions.
It was only over time that I understood that I was outside even that hierarchy.
Auctrix, may I query.
Of course, acolyte.
The castes… they are all single-gendered?
Yes. All except us.
So only our caste can be male or female?
Yes. Now then, if you have figured that out, list the castes and their appropriate genders for me in order from lowest to highest genus.
Lautus-male. Coloni-male. Nutritor-female. Praeceptor-female. Praesidium-male. Obliquator-male or female. Auctor-male or female. But obliquators don’t really count, do they?
No, acolyte, they are simply a way for us to explain the inconsistencies in our city’s progeny.
You mean to lie?
To carry out the will of our ancestors.
What did they do?
Not yet, acolyte. First you must complete your genomic studies.
When will that be?
It must be soon.
Do any others study this?
No. Just you.
Not yet, acolyte.
Though he refused to tell me everything, we spent long hours learning subject after subject. He often tested me on what I was learning, setting aside two hours of every cycle to review what we had spent the previous twelve hours studying. We always began with a discussion of the citizens in the city.
What is the single most important characteristic of lautus, coloni, and praesidium.
They are all male.
Why is that?
Because fertile females of all castes save Auctors are nutritors.
What do the non-fertile females become?
Outside the castes, anomalies, not suffered to live. Sent to the Auctors for disposal.
Because only we know why they are born deviant.
Why do only we know?
That is our duty – to serve.
Only the city. Only the ancients’ work. Never a single citizen.
No matter the circumstances?
No. Auctors must only care for the good of the entire city. Obliquaturs threaten that stability.
And the duty of an Auctrix alone?
My duty to serve.
No. Your duty is to preserve. It is a difference you will come to understand in time. For now, know that you are not Auctor. You are acolyte to the Auctrix. Your work will always be greater than theirs. Now, what is your duty?
My duty… to preserve.