Iam an indexer. The indexer, if you will. “Exalted Imperial Indexer” by official title. People bow to me on the street. I want for nothing. I am the most honored man in the empire. I was chosen for my position only following the most exhaustive testing. Although my upbringing, it seems to me on retrospect, was not special or differing from that of my childhood peers, something equipped me for my task.
True, from an early age I was a Candidate. A process of winnowing candidates through increasingly fine filters: the thousands then the hundreds, then the ten (the ten candidates were allowed the honorific title “Candidate” (the capitol letter worth much) for the duration of their candidacy. Then the three, raised to the honored position of “Imperial Indexer”, if not “Exalted Imperial Indexer.” That title reserved for one — yours truly.
The two Imperial Indexers wait in the wings, should I falter. Not physically: we are in the best physical condition the “Conditioners” of the Empire can provide; our physiques are the envy of athletes. (One reason, among others, we are not allowed to compete in the Empiric Games.) However, it is our mental prowess, our fitness to withstand the mental challenges of our work, which is supremely important. It is for a faltering on my part here that the others wait. Do they hope that I will fail? It is against the rules to engage in such conjecture. Yet one with my supreme mental prowess — the same that awarded me the position — discerns much. Number Two, as I think of the First Replacement (his semi-official title), because he practices discretion, believes he is inscrutable. Believes wrongly. Maybe that is why I am Number One, as I think of myself in affectionate preference to “Exalted Imperial Indexer, ” and he is “Potential Imperial Indexer of the Empire Number One” — his (cumbersome) official title (he dotes on it), when officialdom is required. He waits, he hopes, he covets, but I am convinced he waits and hopes and covets in vain. Yet there are moments when I would readily relinquish the post. However, there is no relinquishing of the post by will, only by physical or mental breakdown. Sometimes (we meet but rarely) I detect him studying me for signs of faltering. He does this on the sly, of course. Respectfully, ever. He believes I do not discern, but I discern. I am of the opinion that not for nothing am I Imperial Indexer and he First Replacement.
Second Replacement appears to me not to covet my position — nor even that of First Replacement. His placidness is a goad. Yet he is enjoyable to be with, in our brief “togethernesses.” The Authorities are convinced that occasional meetings between the Indexer and the Replacements facilitate the situation. That perhaps they will absorb my skills? Who knows, I do not set policy. I index.
What do I index? I index lost worlds. The “Refiner,” the Authorities’ name for the mechanism, receives the light from dead worlds which orbited dead stars which ceased to exist billions of years ago. When the light reaches the Empire, the “Refiner” collects it. I view it. I view lost civilizations: their people, their rulers, their wars, their peace, their balls and banquets, their burial rites. Only a person with a rigorous brain like mine could withstand being sucked into those worlds like a passing object sucked into a black hole.
Then I catalogue. I suggested once, humorously, that my official title should be “Exalted Imperial Indexer and Cataloguer.” The Authorities failed to see the humor. Humor is frowned on by the Authorities. In my case they overlook it since any change to my fine-tuned mental structure could be detrimental to my position and thus to the Empire. (I enjoy the other worlds’ humor on the sly, keeping this pastime from my Replacements who might seize on it to my detriment, particularly First Replacement. Which is why I have mastered the silent laugh.) I index and catalogue according to Galaxy, Star System, Planet. The most interesting tidbits (pardon the word) I prepare for viewing by the Authorities. I do not know if they view for enlightenment or for enjoyment; they keep their cards close to their vest — a quaint description I retained from the vocabulary, seemingly low-level, in currency on one of the planets, whose name escapes me. (Quaintness is permitted; slang is severely punished.)
I am not present at the viewings. Perhaps the Authorities do not trust me; more likely, they do not want me to see their reactions. If there is a certain aspect of what they view that they do not comprehend, or are particularly interested in, they summon me. Like every loyal citizen of the Empire, I am available every moment of the day or night should the Authorities need me. They rarely call upon me. And when they do, they see me. I do not see them. They sit on a kind of balcony, behind a molecular curtain which lets them see me while I cannot see them. I am not especially interested in seeing them, though my exquisitely developed senses allow me to perceive one woman among them, whom I would like to see. The Authorities do not know I am drawn to certain women from the lost civilizations. Perhaps because Imperial Indexers are forbidden to marry. We have, of course, the choice of women for temporary pleasure. This luxury pleased me until I began to see the advantages of the permanent relationships practiced by some of the civilizations, not to speak of the singular beauty of some of their women! (Yes, a rare usage on my part of the explanation mark, albeit that excessiveness in grammar is discouraged, as in all things.)
Although I suspect the Authorities try to disguise it (by unnecessary summonings), I am convinced they have certain interests in viewing the “images”, as everyone refers to the replications. Non-authority viewings are occasionally allowed the populace — on public holidays. Very popular, though what the Authorities allow, for the most part, are sporting events and gala balls, sometimes riots, to keep the populace in place. The Authorities themselves seem interested in governmental aspects — the successes and, especially, the failures. Sometimes they ask me what I think about the failures. I am cautious. Like the ancient (of course) oracle on — which planet? — “The Persians the Greeks will destroy.” I memorized this formulation, brilliant. The Authorities are not fools, but they accept my formulations without prodding. Either because they need me, or fear disturbing my exquisitely-tuned mental balance. Who else in the Empire could withstand seeing so many civilizations and their downfalls? Perhaps that is why I can accept the downfall of the Empire, should it come. Yes, I see signs of it. The precedents are there and I have seen countless precedents. I do not warn the Authorities. Firstly, it would be presumptuous. I am an Indexer, not a Decider (the Authorities’ official title in their decision-making function). Secondly, I am ready for it, almost hope for it. It could be that I identify more with them — the lost civilizations — than I do with my own.
I believe the First Replacement and the Second Replacement will never replace me. The Empire will destroy itself first. I discern more and more uncertainty and nervousness among the Authorities when I am summoned, and I am increasingly summoned.
It is but a matter of time.
I wait, with expectancy.
Perhaps in the far future, someone waits to index me.