The Keeper and the Kept
Snippets from a novel


by Matthew Burbidge

There are constants. They are few and very far between. Further than the spaces between the stars. One universal absolute is that execution is always wrong. Another is that everyone in the universe is lazy. Everyone. Take God. His least emotional relationship was with Moses, who he treated in a singular way: Moses was the buddy from the buddy movie; Moses was a guy with whom one could talk things over, get ideas, and change plans. Moses was his mate. If God had drunk beer, then he would have drunk it with Moses. Perhaps on a rock overhang with a view of the Dead Sea. Where He had buried Sodom and Gomorrah, as was later found. But this is a bad kind of laziness, because for Moses it wasn’t like that. For Moses, God was Mother, Whore and Child in one. Really the three-in-one. The compact and complete entertainment system.

Moses’ feeling for God was the most unrequited love that there ever was. Just dying for God was not enough: he had to live for God. And he organised the whole floor show, the cabaret of desert hide-and-seek, sand in the eyes suffering, the Manna going bad, the total reliance on providence, the awful fatalism of the Jewish faith, and so that of Christ, and that of Mohammed. God was the worst boyfriend he could ever have had. It wasn’t just that He didn’t care. Moses was a human being; God was God. God was as likely to get Moses’ longing, as human understanding was able to compass His infinities. There was no beer to share. God made a show of it just the same. Moses’ heart was as heavy and broken as the tablets in the Holy Ark of the Covenant. But now God is gone, and Moses’ suffering is ended.


The world became a good place. It was easy enough, in the wake of the coming of the word. The word was good. The word was love. To share the word, that was what was important. So that people stopped feeling alone all the time.

“Call me Ishmael,” said Ishmael.

“I will then,” said Klaus, her voice a high-pitched anvil on which she hammered out the words.

Klaus wore glasses with rabbit faces, and a turn-on that let in lights in your eyes, and with them, she would stare and stare, silent in the background like a dark and bearded wraith. The lights were bright!

And there was background, actually: Klaus was here as roadie to Ishmael, who was fresh trimmed hardrock, which meant he had priority here when it came to getting sandwiches, or chips or soda, or whatever. Klaus wore a hideworn jacket which had ridges along the back and arms, making her semi-armoured armadillo-like, except that the trousers were made of fine hemp and woven in a bright checked pattern that he felt must have something on ancient history.

“British.” He said matter-of-factly, not wanting an answer. He didn’t get one.

“Glam Rock.” Said echo. Thanks very much.


“And you turn that shit off right now.” A persistent echo, brand new. Annoying, but necessary. A chaperone in the Canteen.

So Klaus dilated the turn-ons and let him in.

It happened like this: the sense it offered to the community was of really old fashioned heroics, something not seen as pertaining to the human organism since the European nineteenth century. Quite why the story was told was beyond the machhumanism of the age, so it really felt like a sordid secret pleasure, with nothing synthed about it.

A woman was accused of killing her partner to be, Edna. They had just started the merge when the lady woke up in a huge double bed in a white house by the ocean to find her hand covered in blood, stumbling shocked across the room to slip finally on a slicky wine-red puddle, and go arse-over-tit and black out. When she awoke it was to look into the sensors of the local robo-cops, a mean bunch, and that was them many many years ago. They handcuffed her to a slider, rickety old slab, and made her run the forty kilometres to their office. Edna had disappeared after their night of love, turned up a bloaty heap of silvery flesh ten beaches down the coast.



The robo-filth came up with a case that was impossible to beat. Outside the community it was not always possible to review sere-data; sometimes communications back to us and forth again could take hundreds of years if the individual in question happened to live on the wrong side of the arm.

Woman becomes man just by wishing it.

Problems with augmented memory became apparent early on. Soon it became clear they were systemic. They weren’t exactly problems either, more like challenges. “Teleological challenges” as Clive James Jr. III once so gamely put it.

Many people failed after being born human. A contemplative State, or, let’s be honest, a state conducive to contemplation if one is rich. Many failed. I, even, once fed up in that state; I looked down at my beloved pet dog, Hunter. I looked at his great muscle tone and thought about my middle aged life, and my middle aged desires – and yes, I did, just for a moment, yes I did, actually. I wished to exchange my life as a human for my life as a dog.

All those years ago, in the confusing tumult of emerging civilisation, God did indeed have a role to play. He was forced to play dead, for if he did not he would have been shot out of the sky. A flaming eagle, not a phoenix: unlike the sun, he won’t rise again.