The first letter was tucked underneath a dirty dinner plate on the kitchen counter. The thief had arrived and departed in the time it took to buy food from the market, stealing only the papers from the top shelf of Simon's filing cabinet. Simon could recognize the standard legal paper of his office, complete with the Dramery imprint, stamped in flourishes that spoke to long held traditions, across the top-middle of the page. This is old, Simon thought, standing in sandals in a pile of broken glass that was otherwise the only other sign of a break-in. His name, nowhere to be found on what was most likely a case that he had worked on, had grown. He had become a partner in his firm since then, a star at the zenith of his career. Yellowed with sun exposure and dust, this brief message about a case he could no longer remember had nothing to say about those achievements.
But it was soothing to reminisce. Simon Randalph felt surprisingly steady for being the victim of a burglary.
More interesting than the fact that it was a legal document from his office was the note scrawled on the back.
We exist in a world with no death,
yet we live with fear.
You've made your career building
laws as if they were scripture.
How does an ice sculpture stand up to
the advent of the sun?"
Beyond the fact that he lived in Somatis, a perpetually icy city that never received sunlight but loved law and democracy, Simon could not envision this writing making sense. The penmanship was quite good, however--whoever had written it appeared to have focused on maintaining straight edges of letters in a masculine way. Either the original author had poor handwriting or was a woman.
Simon reflected that all that had been stolen was old legal cases. If he reported the theft, it would reflect poorly on him that the personal information of some hundreds of clients had leaked out from his own home, in a filing cabinet not even secured with a lock and key. Since there was little taken or broken, Simon sighed and decided to sweep up the shattered glass and make dinner.
Maybe his thief would come again.
The second letter had a fragrance that Simon could not quite place. The penmanship is different this time, he thought, noting that each word had slightly more of a flourish. Perhaps the thief had expected more of a reaction the first time around. What is this smell? He wondered.
"We love our constitution.
'Freedom of Speech' it cried,
subtly changed to 'Freedom of Communication'
followed by 'Freedom to Express a Respectful Opinion'.
Now 'Freedom to Speak When Appropriate'.
How many iterations of a lie are necessary
when words are carefully governed?
Does anything here ever really change?
Look upon your sins."
The second cabinet shelf down had been emptied, completely. Those were heavy papers, Simon realized, looking at the floor to see if tracks could be found from the thief. At least five thousand thick pages of tax codes, building codes, common laws, and relevant court decisions on most of the cases in Simon's career were all stored in that drawer. Sure enough, long, curved lines stretched across the floor where small black wheels had given scuff marks, leading towards the front door. Simon followed them down his front steps, into the street. It would be easy to follow these tracks, Simon considered. The snow was thin that night, and the tracks were large and dark over the pavement.
But he was tired. Straining to recall that faint aroma on the letter had given him a headache. Who could "M" be? What does he or she want? Why do they keep breaking through my back door when the front door is unlocked? Simon had questions, but he put them in the back of his mind as he shuffled home to sleep. He decided to inform an officer of the law should anymore documents be taken.
Somatis' Juris District was the largest part of town, in one of the largest cities in the new world. Cobblestone walkways adorned ornate streets with black lampposts dotting the sidewalks. Colossal columns held up massive stone buildings with intricate high-relief depictions of legendary heroes and myths and lawmakers augmenting these cold surfaces.
Once upon a time, immortality meant having someone to carry your works into the future and carve your own depiction in such a stone, most likely wearing a sweeping cape with one leg arched to stand atop a monster acting as a symbolic representation of all of your struggles. Walking home from work, Simon laughed out loud. He was less mortal than any of those famous figures simply because he was alive today.
Architecture was a popular career choice in Somatis. The city always seemed to have a building being torn down while another one, just like the older one, was being built. In a sense, Simon could agree with the central theme of the letters he had received- the city had a kind of stagnation to it. People were afraid of change. Simon's job could be looked at as one way to enforce the citizens' rights to deny change.
There was one woman. An architect by the name of Sarah Malloy. She had snatched construction materials from torn down buildings to build temporary shelters at the city limits for the numerous homeless people living in Somatis. Her luck ran out after a time. A wooden support beam from one torn down office space fell struck her in the back of the head while she was rummaging for parts for her latest project. Rather than sending her in for medical examination, the company contracted to rebuild on that particular site detained her. They summoned an officer of the law to collect her from the premises.
Simon was called in to legally support her, although he could not comprehend her personal motive for altruistically gathering materials from dangerous places. Just because death was not a risk did not imply that brain trauma was impossible.
Sarah was wild-eyed at their legal briefing, glancing at Simon's pen, the table top, her shoes, the ceiling fan, and with a sudden fervor, Simon's eyes; Simon wondered if she really had knocked her head a little too hard.
"We'll need to process you as a trespasser, Miss Malloy. The procedure for this is very simple and will require an abbreviated detention time, during which you can receive a proper medical examination for free."
"How long will I be detained?" She asked, in an unwavering alto pitch that seemed alien coming from a head adorned with curly, dirty hazel hair and pale green eyes.
"It depends upon your cooperation. Several companies have come to protest your removal of materials from their sites. I've done everything I can to stretch the construction statutes in your favor, so you'll be free to go shortly with only a minimum number of demerits on your work record, but you need to inform me or another officer of the previous sites at which you have used your materials."
From under her curls, two livid eyes stared back at Simon. "To what purpose?"
"They will likely be dismantled. The people living within them will be given sixty days to live in communal housing while they look for gainful employment."
"And what measures are being used to give them a fair chance at such employment?"
Simon flipped through his briefs. It hadn't been mentioned. Could I bluff her? Should I? "The city will probably employ a civil servant to propose notable work opportunities to these people. Honestly, I am more concerned about you right now," Simon replied.
"I could give a damn about your concern. If you think you are doing me a favor by telling me that, with my cooperation, you'll willingly destroy the livelihoods of people that I have spent ten years protecting and supporting, building a future for them from the ground up only to watch it get shredded in the hands of bureaucrats, you are mad."
"Please Miss Malloy--"
"No. You act like you have come to help me, but you're really just wasting our time. Let them give me the maximum demerits!" she stormed, standing up and stomping out of the room. In her wake, she left a faint aroma of lavender. Was it coming from her clothes? Simon wondered.
With that, it was out of Simon's hands. I tried, he told himself. He found out later that she had somehow escaped the detention facility. Simon may have lost a night or two of sleep in the week that followed after hearing about it--his sleeplessness was equal parts guilt and concern, for being unable to help the woman receive a proper trial.
Becoming suddenly aware of the present, it clicked in Simon's head that he may already be acquainted with his paper thief. He quickened his walk down those icy cobblestone streets masked by the ever present darkness. His breaths hung in the air like hesitant witnesses in the discoveries he was about to make.
Walking through his front door, Simon stepped over the newly broken glass from what was most likely a third theft and moved towards his small desk. In the drawer, he had stashed both of the first two letters he had received. The second letter came from the first drawer of his filing cabinet- he was certain of this. The first letter's case was Sarah Malloy's legal file--the same one that was shared with her the day he met her.
Lavender. He realized. The letters smell like lavender.
A sharp pain stabbed through the back of his head. Flashes of light and miniature explosions leapt through Simon's vision while his face plummeted to the floor.
When he opened his eyes, he was laying in a wheelbarrow with his knees propped over the lip where the handles were, legs dangling against the one who was driving him through the snow. Throbbing hot vibrations rippled across his skull, making him wince while he tried to get a look at his driver.
Underneath a dark hood, two green orbs of fire glared at him.
"Huh?" he said.
"Hush," she whispered. The wheelbarrow rolled through alleyways and tight spaces--parts of town that Simon was certain, if his head was on straight, that he had never visited. "You were not a man before. You were a system."
"Hush." Snow crystals began to form on Simon's cheeks. How long have I been unconscious? "A system. A perpetual motion machine that runs on jurisprudence and the frozen ideation of an undead world. I will show you where to find life. I will show you where you can learn to be a man."
Simon did not know Sarah Malloy as a person. He did not know what drove her to be the kind of person that could club a lawyer in his own house and drag him through the streets in a wheelbarrow.
He did not know these things, but he considered the possibility of his escape extremely unlikely. Wherever she was taking him, he was stuck. The prisoner of a quite possibly unstable woman. Suddenly, Simon found himself longing for the monotony of his job and the stone reliefs of heroes that decorated every building in his little corner of Somatis.
"You will learn."