When Mr. Lever appeared, even Overman took notice of it. Mr. Lever had what could best be described as an aura. The essence of his imperious persona occupied a tall yet unspectacular frame of a man of sixtyish. Perhaps it was his eyes— pastel blue like a clear, calm overhead sky at dusk. They were emotionless, calculating, evaluating everyone and everything with intensity. The eyes of those in his presence averted from his. Or perhaps his aura was due to his hairlessness. This was an attribute indicating high status. To the Overman, hair was undesirable and savage, but it was not couth to shave off all of it. To remove it entirely from ones skin, including scalp, arms and eyebrows, was regarded as ostentatious. Only one unflappably self-assured Overman would dare to go completely hairless. Mr. Lever was that Overman.
Lever’s lean frame was dressed in an oxblood overcoat of dissonant, paisley embroidery. It parted with each of his strides revealing a holstered, pearl-handled revolver. With the exception of those zip guns wielded by codex enforcement, revolvers were an anthropological relic. The sight of one tightened the sphincters of just about everyone. Just imagine someone stepping onto a public bus in the pre-Gaian era wielding a Samurai sword. To carry a high caliber pistol with a pearl handle meant only one thing… that you were made, a member of the ultimate caste, an elite.
Mr. Lever was indeed ‘made’. He had achieved the 33rd degree which was the highest degree attainable. Beyond that level, the measurement of status was defined secretly. No one below 33 had any idea of how many concentric, inner rings of elite castes there even were. A dozen? A hundred? No one knew except the very members themselves and they only knew how many castes existed outside theirs. The rankings of the highest of the high elites were closely guarded secrets.
Mr. Lever was employed by the Department of Social Engineering, which meant that he was secret police. But no one called it “secret police” as that held a pejorative connotation. Mr. Lever’s official job was to track down persons of extra-normal social influence who were, for whatever reason, spreading disharmony. Technically speaking, Mr. Lever’s title was that of Sunstein Agent, which meant that he was empowered to use any tools at his disposal to rein in those who were known as disharmonic social influencers.
Sunstein Agents were an ancient order that operated by a centuries old code. At one time, it was a very rigid code, which is to say that they originally eschewed any form of violence which was too often the hallmark of pre-Gaian social norms enforcement. The original Sunstein Code, Section 38, Paragraph 4, Sentence 1 states:
Instrumenting the subject’s desire is preferable to applying blunt instrumentation to the subject.
The original Agents utilized a school of tactics they called “The Nudge” which was deemed a more advanced and enlightened and civilized form of paternalism. The approach was to induce disharmonic subjects into voluntarily choosing the correct behavior in accordance with the democratically established norms. The Nudge involved an incentive-based approach where correct behavior was rewarded with material fulfillment, praise, promotions, and enhanced status.
The problem with the doctrine, as it was originally dreamed up by Ivy League intelligentsia, was that the humane, carrots-only approach was 1) democratically established norms were often irrational and contradictory and 2) it was soon learned by the serfs that the pathway to personal reward was paved by engaging in disharmonic behaviors. In other words, acting in opposition to the desired behavior became a pathway to prosperity. The Ivy League intelligentsia found themselves intellectually out-maneuvered by the self interest of the dumb masses whom they wished to control. Frustrated, the Sunstein Agents eventually had to reinsert the proverbial ‘stick’ back into the motivational equation so that the dumb masses could be prevented from exploiting the intelligentsia’s brilliant but delicate sociological system.
This change in tenor, from enlightened, non-coercive ‘nudging’ back to endorsing the application of violence, was reconciled on the grounds that the greater mass of the human herd simply lacked the humanity necessary to be treated humanely. Eventually, with their suspects sufficiently dehumanized, the non-coercive approaches were ditched altogether. After hundreds of years, the only aspect that remained of the original Sunstein Code was the mere words of the code itself.
Mr. Lever took a manicure and a shave every morning and was not to be denied these comforts just because he was aboard a filthy, undermen steam locomotive bound for some distant, savage, provincial shanty-town. He entered his mahogany berth and hung his oxblood coat on a hook. Soon after, there was a knock on his pocket door. He let in his manicurist, a eunuch by Lever’s special request. Lever took a seat and allowed the eunuch to trim his cuticles. When finished with those, the eunuch proceeded to Lever’s follicles. He lathered the greater portion of Lever’s face and scalp and tilted Lever’s head back into a porcelain bowl which had a smooth groove cut into it for the placement of the base of the skull. The eunuch sharpened his razor on a strip of leather fastened to the doorknob. Whisk. Whisk. Whisk. Up and down and up and down he sharpened it. Lever closed his eyes and the eunuch raised the blade, but Lever raised his right hand, ever so slightly, but enough that it faintly brushed the pant leg of the eunuch causing him to take notice that Lever’s arm was positioned in such fashion that it could quickly draw the pearl handled revolver dangling from its holster. Beads of sweat condensed on the eunuch’s brow.
With Lever’s head arched back into a porcelain pot, the eunuch brought down the blade gently, slowly, and just as it came within a centimeter of Lever’s scalp, Lever’s hand swept up to grab the eunuch’s wrists. Lever threw himself upwards in his chair, removed his white handkerchief from his breast pocket with his free hand and succumbed to a fit of coughing that lasted the better part of a minute. The shocked eunuch, hand still stayed by Lever’s and still grasping the razor, watched in horror as droplets of blood burst from Lever’s lungs, filling his white kerchief with crimson.
When the fit was over, Lever calmly rested his head back in the porcelain bowl, released the eunuch’s hand, and motioned him to proceed. With nervous trepidation, the eunuch began scraping the whiskers from Lever’s scalp.
Sure, Lever could have had his hair removed by electrolysis, but this was not the custom for high-ranking Overman. They found something spiritual in the ceremony of hair-removal-by-eunuch-wielding-a-straight-razor. The ritual represented a symbolic cleansing of the filthy beast that metastasizes on the surface of the skin. Shaving was a communal rite of sorts to the high Overman. The scraping blade peeled away the toxic grime of savage, restoring the perfected man… restoring the Overman. This daily mass was the closest that Mr. Lever ever got to religion.
And there Lever laid, head in a bowl, with an undermen eunuch scraping away on him with a straight razor. Lever wondered if the witless serf had the mental capacity to contemplate slicing Lever’s trachea open. It would be easy, like sectioning a celery stalk. One quick, forceful swipe! Lever surely would have contemplated it if the roles were reversed, but Lever was of superior intellect, ego, and self-control, and he knew he would not indulge such an urge unless it was rational to do so. Such ungreen thoughts rattling around in the brain of undermen, however, could bring them dangerously close to savagery. Lever felt pity for the feeble-minded eunuch.
When finished, the eunuch gathered up and cleansed his things and placed them back into his kit. He stood by the door waiting to be excused. Lever got up and examined his hairless, whiskerless, eyebrow-less, alabaster face in the cloudy chamber mirror. There was not one hair to be found except eyelashes. He noticed the serf’s glance in the reflection as he checked his nostrils.
“Ah yes,” Lever responded. “I have almost forgotten. Please pardon my lapse in good manners.” Lever turned to the undermen, approached him, and put his hand upon his shoulder. “Here’s what I have for you, lad…” Lever cleared his throat. “A guide to live by…” He stared into the eunuch’s dull eyes. “My friend, always consider that which is possible before taking any position with passion.” Lever punctuated his verbal tip with a warm grin, staring into the serf’s dull eyes, awaiting some flicker of acknowledgement. But none came. “Hmm… let me see. Perhaps that advice is not pertinent to someone of your caste. Perhaps this, then…” Lever cleared his throat once again. “Selfless effort for the advancement of the collective provides its own reward.” Lever raised his hairless eyebrows and brightened his face in anticipation. “Don’t you agree?”
The undermen simply aped Lever by raising his own bushy eyebrows in response, then smiled. Vanquished, Lever patted him on the shoulder, placed a 100 dianar note in his breast pocket, slid open the pocket door and nudged him out.
Returning to the mirror to complete his self-examination, Lever was pleased that he had at least attempted to impart some wisdom upon a moron that day. It was a noble deed to tip the poor eunuch with two high-minded insights. He was doubtful, however, that the eunuch would apply them.
He sat down and began his other daily ritual of disassembling and cleaning his pearl handled revolver.
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