The Last Church:
Have fun at your St Mary’s thing. We’ll go to the movies when you get back... :) Chris smiled as he read Justina’s text on his phone. She was one of the few who still refused to use text speak; nobody else used the apostrophe anymore. He looked around the bus at the other eleven history majors.
They were all seniors from his high school, all wearing their best suits. Some were listening to music, some talked to each other quietly.
He turned to look out through the steel mesh that covered the windows. For security reasons they were all travelling together in a single armoured minibus. The trip south into the city was 2 hours long, half of which would be spent travelling through the dilapidated outskirts of Sydney. The cheaper suburbs on the limits of Sydney had become home to what was now called the service class.
Chris recited that particular history lesson as the bus made its way down the highway, flanked by cliffs on either side.
As neoliberalism swept the globe at the end of the cold war, outsourcing had been the death of the working class as factory and farming jobs were outsourced to the developing world. Instead, people whose education finished at high school were destined to find employment in the service industry.
They became waiters, janitors, gardeners and maids, poorly paid with little job security. These 21st century servants were nicknamed the service class.
Those that made it into university would find employment as specialists in the major transnational corporations. They became essential to the running of the world economy and were handsomely paid as a result. As the workers were mostly valued for their specialist knowledge they became known as the knowledge class. In New South Wales most of the knowledge class lived in the wealthy north-eastern suburbs of Sydney, called the ‘Globalist Arc’ or just the Arc, and worked in the CBD. Those that didn’t live in the Arc tended to cluster together around the state in what became known as enclaves as they were usually surrounded or mixed with the service class.
Inequality had increased with time as the two classes became more detached from each other. It was only a matter of time before the service class got fed up with their lot in life. Anti-capitalist organisations started to spring up and violent incidents became more common. The government dedicated plenty of resources to keeping the Arc safe but the enclaves were effectively left to their own devices. Hence the armoured bus to get into the city, it was safer than the trains.
The bus moved into the outer suburbs and Chris could see the effects of the knowledge economy for himself. Fiberglass shack after fiberglass shack whizzed past, the occasional local trudging along on the walkway. At one point three kids came running out, throwing small stones at the bus. How could we expect them to like us? Chris thought as the stones bounced harmlessly off the steel mesh.
They continued on until they reached Chatswood which formed the northern limit of the Arc along with Macquarie Park. The police presence in Chatswood was clear but not overbearing. The barrier between the two classes was invisible yet you knew where it was when you crossed it.
The buildings inside the Arc were a combination of glass towers, sandstone apartment blocks and sprawling gardens. The people wore crisp, clean business suits or smart-casual clothing. The towers grew ever taller as they reached the Central Business District before they reached the pleasant greenery of Hyde Park. As they came around the park they could see an old gothic construct which was both monolithic and yet dwarfed by the corporate spires around it: Saint Mary’s Cathedral, the subject of today’s excursion.
The Cathedral was built in the geometric decorated gothic style, inspired by the famous Notre Dame de Paris. The bus came to a stop in front of a long water feature surrounded by dark grey tiles. The water feature led to the stairs in front of the main entrance to the cathedral. The students alighted and the bus left to find a park. Everyone’s heads swivelled upwards to admire the intricate stone work, the ancient painted glass. A common motif in the stonework was the waratah, the floral emblem of New South Wales. Slowly the students made their way inside through the giant wooden doors into the cathedral itself.
Once inside the group huddled around their teacher, Mr Taylor. This was basically a treat for the advanced stream of history students and it was by no means compulsory. They were free to wander the cathedral and they would rendezvous at midday for lunch. The group split up, some walking together in pairs, others like Chris walked alone. He took his phone out of his chest pocket and began to read from his background notes on the cathedral.
The knowledge class was predominantly atheist; while personal faith was respected it was mostly kept out of public life. As a result almost every church inside the Arc had been bought, demolished and turned into something more commercially sound. Saint Mary’s had been kept for its history and architectural beauty. The Cardinal still held mass occasionally but most of the church’s remaining funds went into maintaining the building. Chris had seen a couple of small churches in the service class areas on the way into the city. Evidently religion was still the opium of the masses; at least Marx had got something right.
Poor old Marx, Chris thought to himself as he walked among the columns to the side of the pews.
The Marxists had their own version of the end of history but this probably wasn’t what they imagined. That’s what the history textbooks called it, the end of history, the final society, the end of societal evolution. The energy crisis had caused Russia to collapse and be rebuilt in the west’s image.
China had made too much money from the transition to a knowledge economy to ever resist the world order. The west had no more enemies so this was presumably the shape of the world forevermore: wealthy technocrats and their servants.
There was resistance of course, not just among the service class. The third world was still mostly unchanged from the 20th century. Corporations would build factories and farms, hiring the locals for even lower cost than the service class. The corporations’ cultural and political influence inspired resistance in the form of terrorism and so on but they were never going to defeat the armies of the developed world. Besides, the military mostly consisted of service class personnel anyway-
‘Why are you always so serious?’ said Jonathon Cam, walking up behind him and breaking his inner monologue. He had been absently staring up at the golden mural behind the altar.
‘I have a nasty habit of letting my mind wonder. I started with my notes on the secularisation of society and ended up pondering the end of history.’
‘Ah the big question, how it all ends.’ Jon smiled, standing next to him and leaning on the rail in front of the steps of the altar. Jon had Chinese parents, brown hair, brown eyes and a decent tan, he was mostly into the hard sciences but he had an annoying talent for history, one of those people who could get high grades with little effort.
‘Is it really a question at this point? The west has won. Game over.’
‘I guess so. You don’t sound too happy about it.’ Jon said, looking at him.
‘We have the most to benefit from it after all. Cheer up. Sounds like you need some lunch.’
‘It’s not midday yet.’
‘So? I know a place, come on.’ Jon said, walking back down the pews towards the entrance. Chris followed, gazing down at the silver statue of the Unknown Soldier on his way out.
Outside Jon bounded down the stairs and headed into Hyde Park, Chris followed somewhat more slowly. They walked for a while past the business people and the joggers until they came to a café in a corner of the park.
‘I saw this from the bus on the way in.’ Jon said. ‘Stock up on some carbs.’
Chris ordered a small chips, Jon ordered a large potato salad, chocolate milkshake and a banana.
‘I swear you eat next to nothing.’ Jon said as they took their seats. ‘Nearly eighteen and you’re thin as a rake.’
‘With all the supplements they give us at school I don’t see the point in eating too much.’ Chris said.
Jon shook his head in disagreement. ‘Supplements are only going to do so much. They make you tall and keep you from becoming fat or sick but they won’t build your muscles for you. You gotta eat more. Eat more and train until it hurts.’
‘Ugh, I hate training.’ Chris said, resting his cheek on one hand. The private schooling of the knowledge class, especially in the enclave areas, tended to include a physical education focused on self-defence. Knowledge class parents didn’t want their children getting knifed by disgruntled service workers on the way home from school. Chris had done the minimum to pass the classes, a weightless exercise routine every morning and jogging every Friday. Jon had done a lot more and the results had spoken for themselves whenever they sparred in class.
The waitress came over, ‘Small chips?’ she asked cheerily with a well-practiced smile.
‘Right here.’ Chris said.
‘Aaand potato salad?’
‘That’s mine, and the milkshake.’ Jon said.
The waitress unloaded the box with the container on it. ‘I’ll just grab your banana.’
Chris and Jon smiled pleasantly as she walked away.
‘I was this close to using that as a euphemism.’ Jon said.
‘I was thinking of saying ”Be gentle with it.”’ Chris said, opening his box of chips as she returned.
She placed the banana down, smiled, nodded and left. She must have been at least two years older than them but they would have towered over her if they had been standing. It was a testament to the quality of the supplements Chris had mentioned earlier, the average Australian knowledge class male was 185cm fully grown, 4 inches taller than the average service class male. Even the knowledge class women grew to be around 175cm. The dichotomy between public and private healthcare was accentuating the differences between the two classes.
‘Speaking of girls and bananas how is Justina?’ Jon asked with a grin between spoonsful of potato.
‘She’s good. She’s got circus society today. I’m thinking of getting her tickets to cirque du soleil, they’ll be in town next month.’
‘How romantic.’ Jon said, deadpan. ‘How far have you two gone?’
‘Shall I use the baseball metaphor?’
‘Everyone has a different version of the baseball metaphor. Just spit it out.’
‘We’ve kissed. With tongue.’
‘Damn single sex private schooling. I guess you haven’t had enough time together to do anything else.’
‘Too true. She’s pretty keen on taking thing’s slowly anyway.’
‘Ah.’ Jon said understandingly.
‘And you? Anything happening?’
‘Not at the moment no. I’m not too worried though. College is co-ed, thing’s will pick up then.’
‘Assuming we make it in.’ Chris said, licking the salt off his fingers.
‘Are you kidding? It’s our duty to the human race. Humanity needs knowledge workers to guide it.
You’ve read the Manifesto.’
‘Of course, but I’m more motivated by my family, personally. We’ve been in the knowledge class for two generations; I don’t want to be the one to stuff up.’
‘Well none of us want to disappoint our families. You’re bright, you’ll get in.’
‘Here’s hoping.’ Chris looked towards the park to see their classmates walking over with Mr Taylor.
Mr Taylor, in true form, didn’t lecture them for walking off instead he just told them that the bus would leave at 1pm and walked on to order his lunch.
Chris leant back in his chair, crossed his feet and his mind wandered again. It was true that in just two generations his family had created a kind of tradition, a set of criteria that was to be met. Both his father and grandfather had graduated university; both had served in the Vietnam and Second World Wars respectively. Both had married respectable knowledge class women and both had large stock portfolios that they managed personally. It was an unspoken rule that he was expected to do the same.
It was good to have you’re path set out for you in some ways. He was given a trust fund at birth and had been taught how to manage it from the age of ten. There was also plenty of freedom, there were no restrictions on what degree he could do or what branch of the military he would serve in. He wasn’t sure he wanted to serve in any of them however.
‘And he’s gone again.’ Jon said, watching Chris’ eyes glaze out of focus. ‘What are you pondering this time?’
‘Just thinking about the family and how everything is set out for me.’
‘For us you mean.’ said Jon. ‘We all have our parents looking over our shoulders.’
‘You never struck me as someone who struggles with family expectations.’
‘Of course I do. We all do, the birth rate is so low that we’re all only children so everything depends on us. The wealthy parents always send their children to private schools so most knowledge class families develop into these long dynasties and so now it’s our turn to carry on the tradition.’
Chris smiled, impressed. ‘You’re more than a pretty face aren’t you?’
‘I personally like the system. It gives us a purpose.’
‘A raison d’etre.’ Chris added.
‘Precisely.’ Jon said, pointing at Chris and finishing his milkshake.
‘You’re right I guess. Life is pretty good; I don’t know why I’m so unsettled about it all.’
‘Probably the notion of military service. You’re not exactly the action type.’
‘Well when you’re asked to risk your life to defend a system it does make you ask if it’s worth dying for.’
‘It’s a pretty small risk though. Assuming you graduate college you’ll become an officer. Officers don’t see much action these days anyway. Shall we go for a walk?’
‘Sure.’ They got up and began walking down the main avenue of Hyde Park while the waitress cleared the table behind them.
‘Surely life in the Army is still dangerous, even for officers.’ Chris asked after a while.
‘At worst you’ll become a lieutenant, second in command of a company of 200 men. You’ll be snug as a bug at base camp, busily strategizing.’
‘So no front line work? How do you know all this stuff anyway? I thought you were into the sciences.’
‘I have a cousin in the special forces. The ADF has an unofficial policy of keeping knowledge class personnel well out of harm’s way, the Special Forces being the only exception of course. So you’re thinking of the army after college?’
‘Certainly not. The physical standards are too high. I’ll probably go for the air force or navy.’
Jon chuckled. ‘Are you sure you’ve read the Manifesto? Did you skip the part about the knowledge class having to prove itself? That we can’t just assume we are better than the service class we have to show it in all three ways?’
”The scholar’s, courtier’s, soldier’s, eye, tongue and sword.” Chris quoted with a smile. ‘Only Joseph Carpathia could politicise Shakespeare.’
‘But he does have a point.’ Jon said. ‘We can’t afford to become some kind of oligarchy, relying on our privileges in order to rule. We have to convince each other as well as our inferiors that we are worthy of our rank.’
Chris noted the fire that had emerged in Jon’s brown eyes as he spoke. Chris envied his loyalty to the system, envied his faith. Chris looked around the park as they walked, at the grand old trees and lamp posts that flanked the avenue. Occasionally they would pass a bench with nicely dressed middle class people drinking and relaxing or working on their tablet PCs. Some of them were accompanied by shorter service class assistants in equally pleasant, slightly cheaper clothes.
‘I never realised Jon. You’re quite the philosopher.’ Chris remarked as they walked onto the area around the Archibald fountain, the centrepiece of the park.
‘On top of being devilishly handsome and a scientific genius you mean.’ Jon said, hands in pockets, looking at the bronze statue of Theseus and the Minotaur.
This time Chris chuckled. ‘You’ve given me something to ponder in any case.’
An amazingly loud whistle echoed down the avenue behind them. They didn’t have to look, they recognised Mr Taylor’s signal to regroup. It was time to find the bus and go home.
They made their way back towards the café, cutting across the grass to meet up with their classmates on the way to the front of the cathedral. As they waited for the bus to come and collect them Jon and Chris noticed an Indian man, maybe 21 years old, with shiny black hair sitting on the steps of the cathedral. He wore an exquisite charcoal black suit with a white shirt and red tie. A girl in an all red skirt suit with golden brown hair was lying with her head on his lap, he had his hand on her belly. She was short however, presumably his secretary.
‘Clearly we can fraternize with our inferiors.’ Chris said to Jon with a grin as the bus arrived.
‘If half the stories about life after college are true, we have a lot to look forward to.’ Jon said as he climbed aboard.
‘How do you mean?’ Chris said, following Jon and taking the seat in front of him.
‘Well it seems traditional for graduates to move out of college together and pitch in for a service worker like a maid or whatever. Eventually each graduate earns enough to have their own personal assistant and “fraternization” is quite common.’
‘We are absolutely doing that.’ Chris said, leaning over the back of his seat, fist extended.
‘Yeah we are.’ Jon agreed.
They bumped fists and Chris turned back around to sit down. Jon would start listening to his awful taste in music soon and Chris’ mind began to wander again.
Fraternization with the service class was apparently possible but Chris had never heard of a proper relationship between the two classes, like marriage. It was probably due to the intellectual and financial differences between the two classes were becoming too extreme. That and of course marriage between the two classes implied that the two classes were in fact equal, contrary to the Manifesto. Chris had to admit that in the face of Justina’s determination to go slow on the physical aspect of their relationship, their similarities in interest and wit had kept him interested for the past three months. Perhaps Joseph Carpathia did know what he was talking about, he was a fellow Australian for what it was worth.
The man himself was undeniably brilliant. Born into a modest financial empire, he had graduated with a master of international relations at the University of Newcastle.
He made his fortune selling oil stocks during the Israeli attack on Iran's nuclear program. He poured the profits into a renewable energy investment scheme which was later regarded as Australia's saving grace during the economic chaos of the Saudi-Iranian war 8 years later. This earned him fame, fortune and an advisory role to the Prime Minister.
As the world made the chaotic transition away from fossil fuels, the Australian economy seemed destined to collapse. Carpathia had been instrumental in transitioning Australia towards a new knowledge based economy and the subsequent restructuring of Australian society according to the 'trinity values' which were inspired by Plato's Republic. Carpathia welcomed the new society in a speech during the celebrations following Australia's independence from Britain. The speech had found its way onto YouTube and eventually became the bestselling book 'The Manifesto'.
As the bus took the central coast exit from the highway Chris concluded that no matter how much the knowledge class wished to be rid of superstitions one still had to have faith of some kind. Chris remembered Jon’s wholehearted loyalty to the system, his complete certitude that he was leading a good life. It drove him to train and study hard and was doing his family proud as a result.
The bus arrived at the top of the hill on which his private school was situated. Justina was there waiting for him, the girls’ school was literally around the corner. She wore what appeared to be pyjama pants and a purple top with a white cardigan, her ash blonde hair tied back in a ponytail. Jon gave Chris a thump on the back as they exited the bus and waved them both goodbye, heading left.
Chris and Justina held hands, exchanged a quick kiss and started walking right, towards the local cinema.
‘So how was it?’ Justina asked.
‘Epiphanic.’ Chris said. ‘I never knew Jon could be so deep. How was the circus?’
‘Jon? Deep?’ Justina looked at him and laughed. ‘Circus was awesome. I’ve never been so high before.’
‘I trust you’re talking about the corde lisse.’
‘Of course. I can nearly reach the roof now. Whatever else would I mean?’ she grinned.
‘Well it’s a good thing you are because I’ve hatched a merry plot.’ He said releasing her hand and wrapping his arm around her waist.
‘I’m thinking I’ll buy us tickets to Cirque du-‘
‘G’day chums.’ A gruff voice interrupted from behind them.
They both turned around but before they could react Chris doubled over as a knife plunged into his diaphragm. The assailant, a man in his mid-twenties with blonde hair and a black T-shirt, service class height, wrenched the knife out of Chris and took a step back. Chris collapsed to his knees, hands clutching at the wound, eyes to the floor.
Above him the assailant swung lazily at Justina, aiming to cut rather than stab. Justina grabbed the man’s wrist with her left hand and punched him where his knife arm met his chest with her right hand. The man’s knife arm went limp temporarily and she quickly thrust a spear hand strike at his throat. With a crushed larynx the man dropped like a stone.
‘Fuck. Chris are you okay?!’ Justina cried, dropping to her knees. She held Chris’ head in her hands, he was pale, his eyes didn’t seem to focus.
He could see her though, he could see her blue-green eyes, they were the last thing he saw as he blacked out.
‘CHRIS!’ Justina screamed.
© Copyright 2016 cmcdonogh. All rights reserved.