This season’s Eternal Roots was held in Detroit.
The streets were packed with people. Chock full, seething like an insect colony, and they all smiled and laughed and yelled at each other.
Sir Pax made his way to the main street where all the ceremonies and performances would be held. Everyone wanted to say hi and not always for the right reasons. He shook hands, was cordial, but made it clear he had somewhere to be.
He had information. He had to decide if he was going to share it with one or more of his brothers here. Emilie had left it up to him to decide.
After walking a block or so, he reached the main square in Campus Martius, where an enormous stage was set up right in the center of the square. There were several spectator boxes set up around the perimeter, and generous standing space in front of the stage.
Sir Pax took the stairs to one of the boxes, where he was immediately accosted by the occupants.
A Chad-looking Suitor extended a hand.
“Sir Sweet the Sweetest, at your service,” he said.
“Sir Pax the Unreasonable, at yours.”
Sir Pax took a seat and palavered with Sir Sweet and Sir Hazlehurst the Blue. They toked on classy pipes and talked smart.
“Not a white face in sight,” said Sir Sweet, gazing out at the throngs. “Beautiful thing.”
They discussed the two questions of immortal life — reproduction and rebirth. Should they reproduce? If they did, how would that be done, since they were merely avatars without their reproductive organs intact? Then there was rebirth. Should they download dead people? If they did that, at a certain point, everyone from the past would exist and be reunited.
Sir Pax, a Christian, believed this was the destiny of humanity. Kingdom come. But the conversation shifted to Trials and the parallels between heavyspace and phasespace.
“The Request to Approach,” said Sir Hazlehurst. “You offering the Anodyne a nation sack. That’s what that is.”
“That hasn’t been a thing since before The Long Surrender,” said Sir Sweet.
“I've always preferred The Great Acceleration, but that’s just me.”
Sir Pax looked down on the seething square, all the merrymaking and the self-righteousness.
“Are we gonna hold onto this forever? In this miracle?”
“Yes,” said Sir Sweet without hesitation. “If we don’t the Repentants will take the world back.”
“You think you the first nigga to ask that question?” said Sir Hazlehurst.
“This festival is called Eternal Roots,” said Sir Pax. “All ethnicities have their own seasonal Eternal Roots, except Repentants, of course. But if you go back far enough, all our roots intertwine.”
“The fuck you on about now?” Sir Hazlehurst asked.
“Is this how we were meant to spend eternity?” Sir Pax asked, spreading his arms. “Decadence? Ignorance? Consumption? Having a fucking block party four times a year talking about how great we are?”
“Works for me,” said Sir Sweet. “And in between, we do whatever we want whenever we want. Eternal freedom.”
“Freedom from what?”
“Want,” said Sir Sweet. “Pain. Suffering. Negligence. Why do you care?”
“Because we are still God’s creation. And we are still part of His plan.”
“God’s been awfully quiet these past few seasons,” said Sir Hazlehurst.
“We were the same thing and we will be the same thing again,” said Sir Pax with confidence.
“Oh my god, that’s not what this is about and you know it,” said Sir Hazlehurst.
“Singing evolved because of pattern recognition,” said Sir Pax. “Pattern recognition was humanity’s first key code. Our first reality cheat, if you will. The Maya is our latest and final cheat.”
“Majors thinks singing evolved because because of sexual noises.”
“Yeah, that’s what Majors thinks. He’s got something to sell.”
“That I can believe,” said Sir Hazlehurst. “He won’t even come out for this. He won’t even show us this much support.”
Sir Sweet shook his head, snorted.
“You and your little political movement,” he said to Sir Pax. “You can’t just sit and enjoy the light. You gotta be up there with those fucking rabble-rousers, talking about eternity like it’s something to be looked upon.”
“The prudent sees danger and hides himself, but the simple go on and suffer for it,” said Sir Pax. “Proverbs 22:3.”
“Yeah, and you in one booth in one faction of one gala trying to change minds.”
“I’m not tryin, nigga, I’m doin’,” snapped Sir Pax.
For a second Sir Sweet stared back at him and tension mounted. Then he leaned back and hit his pipe again.
“I see why they call you unreasonable,” he said with a chuckle.
“Get yourself some food, Sir Pax,” said Sir Hazlehurst, pounding Pax on the shoulder. “Make yourself at home. Loosen the fuck up. Brother Stokely’s giving the commencement this season, so it’s gonna be all fire and ice.”
Sir Pax had a drink and nothing else. Indulgence was weak.
A few moments later, a tall man with a full head of hair and eyes like sinister lanterns started off the evening with a sermon. He spoke from a stage down on the square, and the city was so quiet you could hear the very air.
“On a day like today, on the eve of another seasonal shift… where we commemorate the continuous passage of time and the miracle of our ability to witness it… my mind is rent by thoughts… thoughts of time. Thoughts of the past. Thoughts of the present. And thoughts of the future. The present and the future, we can now say, belong to us. The past, however, will never belong to us.”
The crowd was very vocal. They murmured agreement.
“Imagine, if you will, a world where white men, what the world now calls Repentants, imagine a world where their very existence held sway over your existence.”
There was more murmuring, angrier this time.
“That word — repent. It is an eternal task. It is a never ending task. They will repent forever. Both the ones that participated and the ones that stood idly by. They MUST repent forever.”
There was applause, louder murmuring.
“They must repent. They will be reminded of their inability to occupy the higher reaches of civilized thought.”
Applause. Loud murmuring. Some yells.
“Imagine the type of shit police got away with! Imagine the type of shit a white man could say that would change the life of a black man forever! Imagine the children lost and the young men lost and the young women defiled… imagine the suffering, the plight, the plunder. All throughout time. All throughout heavyspace.”
Everyone nodded and agreed. “That’s right!” and “Preach, man, preach!” Someone down near the stage kept yelling, “Come on now!” in an encouraging way, as if he was praising a child who was running a race.
“They were dangerous. Fat, repulsive, disconnected. They were ignorant of how dangerous they were. The unwitting winners of a centuries long game of blood and corrosion, a civilization built on bones and dust. No longer!”
The responses went up another notch.
“The Passing of the Veil wasn’t just the destruction of heavyspace. It was the destruction of their world. The world they created. The world the white man set up and governed and benefited from. Heavyspace belonged to the white man. And it bears the white man’s mark. It bears his seal. The depletion, the lifelessness, the emptiness, the void. And that’s why so many of them are still there. Where they belong. Do not weep for them! There is no saving them!”
The responses were now bordering on psychotic. Sir Pax hated this.
“The arrival of white sails carrying pale skinned humans was as much an apocalypse for anyone. They were the original apocalypse for everyone else. And that’s why now that we are free, they must be kept contained.”
“Contain the apocalypse,” roared the crowd.
“We were living through an apocalypse long before the Veil. The apocalypse of heavyspace was our salvation. It was the end of our apocalypse.”
“Contain,” roared the crowd. “Take! End the apocalypse!”
“We will TAKE what we need from the world they created. We will TAKE what we have become familiar with. We will TAKE BACK what they took from us.”
The crowd was yelling back now. The animal indulgence of it. No inhibitions.
“It’s over now,” he roared. “It’s over for them. They understand their place now. If they wanna share this new reality, they gotta submit. They gotta understand where we ALL are coming from! They gotta understand THEIR PLACE. Not only understand it, they have got to LIVE it. They have got to LIVE it! We have received a gift from God. Us and all the other oppressed peoples of the world. It’s been a looooong time coming! But it is here. It is here. We have reached the Promised Land!”
Cheers, wild cheers.
Sweat ran down the preacher’s forehead as he screamed.
“We own ourselves now. We own the culture. We took it back. It’s ours now. It was always ours. All of it. We just leased it out for a couple years. White heroes and white saviors replacing the black bodies that actually did the work.”
Roars and cheers. If one wasn’t familiar with the context, the crowd’s response could have been misconstrued as riotous and unruly instead of excited. They sounded like troops ready for battle.
“We never wanted their acceptance. We never wanted their love. We wanted equality. If we think about you at all, it’s with the same pity we’d have for a rabid dog. A wretched creature unaware of the damage it does. Capital letter White!”
The place was crazy. Sir Pax could hear Sir Hazlehursr yelling, “Capital letter white! Capital white!” Everyone yelling their own individual contribution to the cacophony. Sir Pax stayed silent.
“I love that we celebrate us. We are worthy of celebration. WE ARE STILL HERE. WE WERE HERE FIRST. WE WILL BE HERE FOREVER. WE ARE STILL STANDING. WE OWN THIS SHIT NOW. WE GOT WHAT WE DESERVED, AND SO DID THEY! AND WE AIN’T NEVER GIVIN’ IT UP.”
The preacher dropped the mic and walked back to his seat.
The standing ovation lasted for ten minutes.
The music started, a band phasing onto the stage as the podium phased off. The place immediately went quiet again.
Frank Ocean walked out.
“Just haints,” said Sir Hazlehurst.
The music was handclaps and star-scatter of synth hits.
It was soul-arresting. Sir Pax sat transfixed, swaying with everyone else as Ocean displayed his angelic falsetto.
“Allah, allah, allah!” chorused the crowd, a cry for witnessing the eternal.
Ocean blazed through a half hour set.
Marvin Gaye was on second, opening with Heard It Through the Grapevine and transitioning into Sexual Healing. Later on, he did an incredible piano-only rendition of Sarah McLachlan’s Angel.
The stage was entirely theirs.
Girls danced on Sir Pax and with everyone else in the vicinity. Sir Pax barely noticed.
After Gaye, Tupac Shakur came out, opening with Hail Mary, Kendrick Lamar and Nipsey Hussle making appearances on the Kastro and Young Noble verses. He performed shirtless (duh), with gold chains around his neck, barreling through song after song, each performance bleeding into the next. He finished his set with Changes and a double middle finger.
After Tupac, the stage was dark for a few moments. The entire city went silent. Sir Pax looked around. There wasn’t a cough, nor even the sound of movement. The air was dead heavy and still.
Billie Holliday, Lady Day herself, emerged. There was no cheering, only the most revered of silences.
“To remind ourselves how far we’ve come,” Holliday intoned into a gleaming silver microphone. She held a cocktail.
She sang. The entire city joined her.
Southern trees bear strange fruit
Onstage a Repentant appeared, naked and afraid. Pax knew the man had been paid for doing this — or would be paid, rather. He’d be paid with companionship, time spent with others. Repentants would do anything to spend time with someone else. They were kept isolated and would do anything for human connection. To belong.
Muscle-bound black men tied the Repentant to a splintery pole in the stage’s center and gagged him with a pristine white rag.
Blood on the leaves and blood at the root
Behind the Repentant was a figure dressed all in black, including a hood with emotionless eyes behind it. In the figure’s hand was an uncoiled whip. The whip looked like a black snake.
Black bodies swinging in the southern breeze
The snake struck again and venom seared across the Repentant’s shoulders. He screamed again, the pain leaving him through his vocal cords, tears from his eyes and saliva oozing around the gag and down his chin.
Strange fruit hanging from the poplar trees
The snake struck again and again. It hit on the slow rhythm of the song. Lash after lash. The Repentant’s eyes rolled in his skull, his head lolled on his shoulders, blood ran in a warm, thin syrup down his legs.
The crowd chanted at him, in a giant collective voice.
Pastoral scene of the gallant south
REPENT, yelled the crowd. REPENT.
With each strike came the chant.
The bulging eyes and the twisted mouth
REPENT. Strike. REPENT. Strike.
Scent of magnolias, sweet and fresh
Then the sudden smell of burning flesh
Here is fruit for the crows to pluck
His back reduced to hanging strips of flesh, his legs soaked with blood and piss, the Repentant was untied and lowered to the ground by rough hands.
Lady Day kept singing. The chant continued.
For the rain to gather, for the wind to suck
The Repentant was adjusted, put on his knees, barely conscious, head swelling and back shredded. They tied a rope around his neck.
For the sun to rot, for the trees to drop
The rope tightened, closing its straw-smelling fingers around the Repentant’s neck. He rose, his feet touching air.
Here is a strange and bitter crop
He was suspended, blood and piss dripping off his curled toes, swaying. He felt someone grab his ankles and lash them together. He kicked like a swimmer, eyes bulging, lungs aflame, throat numb.
“A sacrifice,” Lady Day announced, her voice echoing over the many upturned heads. “A sacrifice, for our people.”
“Excelsior,” they all replied.
“The suffering of our people.”
“The eternal life which gives us breath.”
“Energy never dies.”
With those three words, the ceremony was complete, and the Repentant respawned.
The festival burst into applause and the revelry started up again.
“You niggas embarrass yourselves before our lady eternity,” Sir Pax murmured from his spot in the spectator box.
He stared at the stage, at the puddles of blood and piss where the Repentant had been tortured.
“Now what is it?” Sir Sweet said. “You never had a problem with that part of the ceremony before.”
“We are filling our own karma coffers just as they did,” said Sir Pax. “And we will pay for it just as they are now. Someone must break the cycle.”
“And who’s gonna do that?”
Sir Pax decided to tell him the information.
“There’s a witness.”
“A witness? That’s a fucking folk tale.”
“No. There’s a witness, and he’s immersed. He might’ve already even been to the Palace one or twice. I don’t know.”
“How have we not noticed him? The Commons would’ve blown up the second he — “
“They weren’t looking. He’s probably invisible to us… I think he’s a Repentant.”
“No fucking way. That prophecy or whatever — “
“The prophecy isn’t a prophecy. It’s a written code. And it’s correct.”
“Well, it explicitly states that any witness would be descended from the first mothers. That means he’s a brother. Or at least brown-skinned. Ain’t no way — “
“ALL races are descended from the first mothers. That’ what makes them the first mothers. All humans descended from the first humans evolved in Africa. if you niggas would get out of your own heads for a fucking half-second you’d have realized all this.”
The revelry raged around them.
Sir Sweet shook his head.
“Sir Pax the Unreasonable,” he said. “What exactly do you want me to do with that information?”
“Spread it,” said Sir Pax.
Sir Sweet nodded grimly, understanding.
“This came from Emilie, didn’t it? That kiwi bitch…”
“Watch your tongue, nigga,” snapped Sir Pax. “That’s my Allegiant you’re talking about.”
Sir Sweet held his hands up as Sir Hazlehurst came over, jar of moonshine in his hand.
“Drink up, brothers,” he said, offering.
“Sir Pax says there’s a witness,” said Sir Sweet, accepting the bottle.
“A witness?” said Sir Hazlehurst. “Like, from the Palace legend?”
“But Majors made that up!”
Sir Pax shrugged.
“Big things have small beginnings. All cultural movements, the universe itself, started as an idea. I have been instructed to spread this one.”
“By Emilie Dawn,” said Sir Sweet to Sir Hazlehurst.
“And I’ve chosen you two to start it,” said Sir Pax. “And you will do so now.”
“What will happen once the info is spread?”
Sir Pax smiled.
“A new day will come.”