In N.K Jemisin’s The Fifth Season, there are frequent mentions of shakes or earthquakes, and the orogenes being able to quell “shakes” instinctually even from birth. The novel’s main government city Yumenes houses the Fulcrum which is a government-run facility (much like boot camps in the military) that trains orogenes to use and control their powers in a useful way for the Fulcrum to exploit. We as readers follow Damaya through rigorous training to move up the metaphorical ladder and gain status through “rings”. We are immediately shown the hatred of orogenes or “roggas” by the non-orogenes or “stills”. The stills are taught to fear and hate the orogenes because they are powerful and without control, unpredictable.
Earthquakes in this world are constantly happening even if the stills cannot feel all of them. “Here us the Stillness, which is not still even on a good day.” (The Fifth Season, p. 7) The end of this world is also set off because a huge earthquake in the North triggers a Season, making it an incredibly important geological event, considering the entire story is about the end of the world for the last time. “So he reaches deep and takes hold of the humming tapping bustling reverberating rippling vastness of the city, and the quieter bedrock beneath it, and the roiling churn of heat and pressure beneath that. Then he reaches wide, taking hold of the great sliding-puzzle piece of earthshell on which the continent sits. Lastly, he reaches up. For power. He takes all that, the strata and the magma and the people and the power, in his imaginary hands. Everything. He holds it. He is not alone. The earth is with him. Then he breaks it.” (The Fifth Season, p. 7) It is incredibly interesting the way that Jemisin uses this non-linear timeline to build an unstable world of “The Stillness”, immediately throwing the reader into the tension between the orogenes and stills. We as readers immediately sympathize with our orogene characters; Essun, Syenite, and Damaya. Jemisin shows the horror of a world constantly afraid of the world ending and another Season beginning. In this world, “The Stillness” which is sarcastically named as such, is constantly moving. The plates are moving and causing shakes that threaten the livelihood of all the communities or comms of the stills or “normal” people during the Season.
To control this constant movement in “The Stillness” the Fulcrum trains these orogenes. However, chapter eight shows the reader a less polished version of the Fulcrum. In this chapter Syenite and Alabaster are traveling to Allia on a mission and Alabaster senses an issue with a nearby node station. The pair detour to the node station to check it out and Syenite, who has never seen a node station before, is faced with the horror of such a system implemented by the Fulcrum to exploit those orogenes that are unable to learn control. This revelation is not only the first example of the Fulcrum’s violence towards orogenes for Syenite but also for us as readers. “The chamber beyond is high and vaulted and dim, but empty-except at the room’s center, where there’s a big… thing. She would call it a chair, if it was made of anything but wires and straps. Not very comfortable- looking, except in that it seems to hold its occupant at an easy recline. The node maintainer is seated in it, anyway, so it must be-” (The Fifth Season, p. 139) This draws the reader in, wondering what a node maintainer looks like. Unluckily for both us as readers and Syenite, the grotesque imagery highlights the violence from the Fulcrum in this little body. Even Alabaster mentions to Syenite, “Even the least of us must serve the greater good,” (The Fifth Season, p. 139) “The body in the node maintainer’s chair is small, and naked. Thin, its limbs atrophied. Hairless. There are things- tubes and pipes and things, she has no words for them- going into the stick-arms, down the goggle-throat, across the narrow crotch. There’s a flexible bag on the corpse’s belly, attached to its belly somehow, and it’s full of- ugh,” (The Fifth Season, p. 139) This reveals to the reader the true horror that the Fulcrum is doing to these children. Stripping them of not only their choice and self-control but also not even giving them privacy with dressing them in clothing.
These children are used and abused by the Fulcrum because they questioned the Fulcrum and were unable to achieve those set standards. Syenite analyzes the contraption at the node station to try and understand the reason that the Fulcrum would do something so wretched despite being shown only positive propaganda all her life. “THe wire framework is a particular bit of genius; there’s a crank and a handle nearby, so the whole apparatus can be flipped over to facilitate cleaning. The wire minimizes bedsores, maybe. There’s a stench of sickness in the air, but nearby is a whole shelf of bottled tinctures and pills; understandable, since it would take more than ordinary comm-made penicillin to do something like this. Perhaps one of the tube things is for putting that medicine into the node maintainer. And this one is for pushing in food, and that one is for taking away urine, or, and that cloth wrapping is for sopping up drool.” (The Fifth Season, p. 140) This produces an incredibly vivid picture of what the Fulcrum has done to this child, what we learn of later, is one of Alabaster’s children to make them “useful” rather than a waste of orogeny.
Alabaster, who knew about node stations before this chapter, wraps up the situation of the node child quite succinctly with several lines of dialogue between pages 141 and 143. “ ‘It’s a simple matter to apply a lesion here and there that severs a rogga’s self-control completely, while still allowing its instinctive use. Assuming the rogga survives the operation.’ ” (The Fifth Season, p. 141) “ ‘ Drug away the infections and so forth, keep him alive enough to function, and you’ve got the one thing even the Fulcrum can’t provide: a reliable, harmless, completely beneficial source of orogeny.” (The Fifth Season, p. 142) “ ‘Problem is, the node maintainers feel terrible pain whenever they use orogeny. The lesion, see. Since they can’t stop themselves from reacting to every shake in the vicinity, even the microshakes, it’s considered humane to keep them completely sedated.’ ” (The Fifth Season, p. 142) “The ultimate proof of the world’s hatred dead and cold and stinking between them, she can’t even flinch this time. Because. If the Fulcrum can do this, or the Guardians or the Yumenescence Leadership or the geomests or whoever came up with this nightmare, then there’s no point in dressing up what people like Syenite and Alabaster really are.” (The Fifth Season, p. 143) The reality of this world is constantly moving, which means that the Fulcrum is creating these stations where children… children are constantly in pain controlling not only the larger shakes but also the microshakes and that there is nothing that they can do to make it stop. No wonder Alabaster has been quelling the shakes constantly throughout their journey to Allia.
As a reader, this revelation of the node maintainers and what the Fulcrum does to these innocent children hit me really hard. I had to set the book aside and have a good cry at the horror of this fictional reality. It was a necessary thing to add to show the reader the reasoning behind Syenite’s betrayal of the Fulcrum later on. But it was incredibly disheartening to have to believe that someone could do such a horrible thing to an innocent child.