Chapter 1 Summary
Writing is now a sin, and thinking or doing something alone is the worst imaginable sin. No one may write without the permission of the Council of Vocations, and there is no other movement in the dark tunnel. It is against the law to be alone anymore, ever, for this is the root of all evil; and he has broken many laws.
He stole the candle from the storeroom of the Home of the Street Sweepers; if he is caught, he will spend ten years in the Palace of Corrective Detention. His name is Equality 7-2521. That is what is written on the iron bracelet that every man wears on his left wrist. He is twenty-one years old and six feet tall, something very few others are. Teachers and Leaders always point him out as having evil in his bones because his body has grown more than any of his brothers. Equality 7-2521 was born with a curse: he always has had forbidden thoughts and wishes that others do not have.
All men must be the same. Above the doors of the Palace of the World Council are ancient words that men often recite: “We are one in all and all in one. There are no men but only the great WE, One indivisible and forever.” The World Council has been the home of all truth since the Great Rebirth. Thinking about the times before the Great Rebirth is punishable by three years in the Palace of Corrective Detention.
The Old Ones living in the Home of the Useless whisper about such things as the evil Unmentionable Times—wagons that moved without horses and lights that burned without flame. Those times have been absorbed into the Great Truth that “all men are one and that there is no will save the will of all men together.”
All other men are good and wise; only Equality 7-2521 is cursed. Born in the Home of Infants, Equality 7-2521 lived there with all the other children of the City until he was five. His greatest crime was fighting with his brothers, and Equality 7-2521 was locked in the cellar for committing this offense. He was sent to the Home of Students (a hundred beds and stark white walls, with all movements regulated by bells), where he had to progress through ten wards of learning.
Equality 7-2521 was miserable in the Home of Students because learning was too easy for him; his great sin was to be too different from the others. He tried to forget his lessons but always remembered; he knew each lesson before the Teachers had finished speaking. He tried to be like Union 5-3992, who had only half a brain, but he could not.
Every student had to become what the Council of Vocations decided, but Equality 7-2521 was guilty of the great Transgression of Preference; he preferred some tasks over others and loved the Science of Things. He thought mysteries existed, even though the Council of Scholars claimed there were no mysteries. All the “great modern inventions” came from the Home of the Scholars, including making candles from wax and string.
Equality 7-2521 believed there were great things yet to be learned, so he wanted to be sent to the Home of the Scholars. When the Council of Vocations made him a Street Sweeper, Equality 7-2521 went to the Home of the Street Sweepers and lived a monotonous, unproductive existence until he committed the crime.
At forty, all men are worn out and sent to the Home of the Useless; the Ancient Ones miraculously live until the age of forty-five. As a Street Sweeper, he gathers all the discarded bits from the House of the Useless to examine later; when he hides them, he makes the discovery. The other Street Sweepers in his group are International 4-8818, an artist who is here as punishment for appreciating beauty, and Union 5-3992, the half-brain.
Equality 7-2521 discovers an old iron grill covering a black hole. Everything not permitted by law is forbidden, so no one should go down the hole; nevertheless, Equality 7-2521 descends. Although the tunnel clearly was built by men, it could not have been built by anyone in recent history. Immediately he knows this tunnel is from the Unmentionable Times, many...
(The entire section is 7,848 words.)