live in a society of haves and have-nots. There are those of us with
jobs, and wealth, and influence...and there are those of us without.
It isn’t a rigid structure. Not
by design, at least. But it is a structure that exists. And it is one
that too easily defines us. As people. As individuals.
In my novel Swipe,
I’ve written about this system in the context of the American Union,
where passing judgment is easier than ever before; where you are either
a person with rights and opportunities, treated with basic fairness and
respect, or you are not; and where it all comes down to a simple Mark
of citizenship that is either earned--or not.
In a culture that too eagerly
idolizes the richest and most powerful among us, it has become easy to
ignore those of us have-nots on the other end of the scale--to
trivialize and marginalize their status, to label them failures in
terms defined by people least able to walk in their shoes, and to
generalize their hardship so that we may forget about them. By
stripping these people of their individuality, we relieve ourselves of
the burden to help, or even of the obligation to care.
But to paraphrase what Leo
Tolstoy said in his banned pre-Unity era classic Anna Karenina: Marked
people are all alike; every Unmarked person is Unmarked in his own way.
In this column, I’d like to
profile a series of Markless individuals living in the American Union.
Because their stories are extraordinary. And because we’d do well, as a
nation, not to forget them.
Today, I want to take a look at
Wallace. You might have read about him in my description of Logan’s
visit to Slog Row in Swipe--he was the man Logan
fed with the leftovers of his school lunch. But you haven’t yet heard
the story of Wallace’s life, so I’d like to tell you a little about it
Wallace was born Wallace Gregory
Martin, son of James Martin and Leigh Martin. He was raised in the
worst throes of the States War, long after catastrophic environmental
devastation forced us to fight over land, water, food...long after
countrymen turned on one another and the old America proved once and
for all that states could never be united, that by their very nature
they were separate and incompatible, that the only solution was true
Wallace grew up in the small
town of Champaign, Iowa, back when it was still known as such. He lived
on a three-acre plot of land, heavily wooded, and his
fondest childhood memory was one
of a bright, brisk December afternoon, when Wallace scrambled happily
onto a plastic blue sled and his father pulled him by a rope through
the brush out back, through all those trees, to follow deer tracks in
the snow. Those tracks led them to the alcove of a brook in a little
clearing behind a stone wall, and Wallace stood on the frozen ice of
it, breathing the crisp air, listening to the water babbling
underneath, and forgetting entirely about the States War and the deadly
battle that raged even in that very moment just a few miles away.
father James was killed the following January, defending the house he
had built with his own hands from a traveling gang of pilfers. He was
shot through the window of his own home, just before he could finish
boarding it up.
Wallace was nine years old that
January, old enough that his mother couldn’t carry him as she fled with
him out the back door, and the thing Wallace remembered most about that
morning was the pain in his shoulder as his mother dragged him through
those same back woods, where she hid with him by that same frozen
brook. But Wallace couldn’t hear the babbling water that day.
he was twelve, Wallace
enlisted in the Iowan militia, which happened to have been a pacifist
branch. Its sole purpose was to defend the Iowan borders from the
advances of surrounding
and caravan attackers. Wallace fought
with this militia, with the same band of men and women, for eight
years. By the time the fighting stopped, every last one of its four
hundred members had been killed except Wallace, who was the medic of
his band. Nearly every one of those men and women died in his arms.
When the war finally ended and
Unity came, Wallace, as with all States War veterans, was given
preference in receiving the Mark of citizenship for the new American
Union. He was first in line over those who hadn’t fought, as General
Lamson was most anxious to Unite his many disparate soldiers. But
somehow Wallace never made it all the way to his nearest Pledging
Center, in the town of Spokie outside what now was New Chicago. Oh, he
made it to Spokie, all right, but once there, Wallace just orbited. He
thought of those four hundred last breaths. He thought of the familiar
weight against his arms when the breathing stopped, and somehow that
must have been just about all he could think of anymore, because one
way or another, Wallace never did end up getting his Mark.
So instead he found his way to
Slog Row, on the outskirts of Spokie, by the time he was thirty. And
that’s where he stayed, on the first floor of a condemned, pre-Unity
firehouse, counting his breaths.
His first few years on that Row,
Wallace frequented the local hospital in Spokie. He looked for work in
the town’s shops and restaurants. He visited the nearby schools. But
because he was Unmarked, Wallace never did receive treatment for the
traumas he’d suffered in the war. He never was able to buy or rent his
own home, or to return to school, or ask a doctor about his rapidly
failing health. He couldn’t buy food, so he starved slowly. He couldn’t
work, so he retreated into his own mind. He couldn’t vote, so his
government forgot about him. He asked for help until he was sure that
no one was listening, and then he stopped that silly charade.
My name is Evan Angler. I live
among the Markless. And looking at Wallace’s life, there is another
quote of which I can’t help but be reminded: “Whatever you do to the
least of my brothers that is what you have done to me.”
And then I think about all of
us, right now, and I consider how we treat the least of our brothers.