A Lesson in Evil
Young firm flesh painted in blacklight colors writhed to the music that shook the walls under the ultraviolet lamps, by turns frenetic and languorous as the speed and the booze kicked in. Bright young things have the energy and metabolisms to party all night, but rarely the money to afford it. So at the edge of the stage and in the dark corners were the sugar daddies and mommas, watching their sweetmeats shift and gyrate, ready to dole out the next bump and measuring whether the chickens were ready to take home yet.
I worked my way into a corner, where the music was quieter and something older and stranger than this dance was watching the action. From a distance it looked like an astronaut in full space-walk suit had squeezed itself behind a table for two. It wasn’t until you got closer that you could make out the burnished chrome skulls, the rubber tubing simulating ribs, the deaths-heads and scarabs worked into each rivet, and the fishbowl helmet that look like a sphere of black crystal you could check your reflection in. Yet if you stared through your reflection, you could make out the shadowy sockets and bony cheeks of a skull…
The Necronaut was wearing a bright orange Hawai’ian shirt over his suit today, and had the fishbowl open a few inches so he could sip his umbrella drink through a twisty straw.
“Detective,” he said, flashing me a smile of steel teeth set in wrinkled gums. “What can I do for you tonight?”
I laid the evidence bag down with a clink. The Necronaut’s thick gloved fingers examined the amulet through the plastic. A skull-headed snake or dragon wrapped in a figure-of-eight around a pole inscribed with rows of cuneiform, the snake eating its own tail.
“Not good. I take it you have found an atrocity?”
I swallowed hard and nodded.
“Tell me, detective…do you believe in evil?”
“Only what people do.”
The Necronaut hissed. It was like a hyena’s aborted laughter.
“Yes. In this world, we do not see good or evil rewarded or punished. Not by supernatural agency. Believe in whatever gods and devils you wish and sin as you might, and no bolt will strike you from the heavens, no gold will fall from the sky. Except…”
His stubby finger traced the serpent’s head.
“Humans think that because of this, good and evil are subjective. A matter of cultural values, reasoned philosophy, or, more alarmingly, of personal taste. In certain empires long dead where rape was once a tool of judicial punishment, and thus considered a public good, for example, instead of the rather commonplace evil it is known as today. Heroes murder discriminately and are lauded, while villains who may have less blood on their hands are booed on the screens of the world. Such is the capriciousness of humanity!”
“Yet…imagine a world where this was not so. Where there were supernatural forces or entities with well-defined morality, and the power of cosmic laws. A world where an act of rape, or murder, or theft in the right place, in the right way, could cause a black miracle to occur. I do not, as a general rule, mean a single spontaneous event, though that is undoubtedly how it started. Nature itself gives rise to all manner of death, necrophilia, and incest as a matter of course, and early humans in this world would perhaps trace back their taboos to the dark things that followed after some particularly heinous act.”
“That, of course, was the problem. Imagine you were a young person back in the days of tribes, and you had witnessed or experienced your share of rape and bloodshed, and seen the horrors that came after—the spirit-torn corpses, the haints and ghouls, the blood running down the wall of the cave. Imagine the sudden flash of black inspiration at the idea that this could be reproduced, if only the circumstances and the crimes could be done over, exactly again.”
“So there arose the first scientists, of a kind. You can scarce imagine the will required, the methodology. Ten thousand variations on rape, incest, mutilation, murder, bestiality, cannibalism, necrophilia…and those are just the common, simple acts, void of any real depravity. Sole practitioners gave way to cults, the cults came together as an empire founded in blood, semen, and sin. This was science that needed no industrial revolution, only the keeping of careful records, and the kind of creativity that would earn a lethal injection or a place on the best-seller list in these modern times.”
“The first emperors were corpse-born, fetuses expelled from their mother’s wombs for three generations. They are the ones who first began to divine the names of the entities, testing syllables with each murder until the correct combination had been found. A wasteful, brute-force approach, but with each bit of knowledge their power grew… and they became black saints, ascetics in a way, building machines of pain and violation, exploring the moral laws that underwrote the universe.”
“It did not last, of course. We shall perhaps never know what savage alliance shattered that first unholy empire, what corruption and betrayals fueled its collapse. Yet its members escaped with what tablets and scrolls they had…incestuous clans that continued on their experiments in secret, recording their discoveries, perhaps meeting in dark hours and places. These were not the sabbats of Europe, but perhaps the memory of them inspired those more tepid and silly gatherings.”
“This,” the Necronaut tapped the amulet. “Is one of their devices. A thing of baby bone and virgin blood, sanctified with murder and violation. I will not go into the details of its construction, but if you have it then you have no doubt seen the results of one of their experiments.”
Clacking his steel teeth together, the Necronaut’s lips closed on the silly straw and sucked loudly.
“How do I beat them?”
The Necronaut smiled. “With fire and sword.”