The Heretic – Snippet 38
Abel stood up, and Eisenach, as well, as if he were the one about to be dismissed — which he was.
Abel spit on his hand. “Ten wagons to return with me tomorrow? I’ll meet them here on my way home. And the barges sent after to Garangipore.”
“It will be done,” Eisenach said. “And your promise, as the son of your father?”
“You have my word as a Scout and a Dashian,” Abel replied. “Nothing will be sent to Lindron if we see that gunpowder.”
Eisenach spit on his own palm and the two men shook hands.
“I’m glad we can do business,” Eisenach said. “It’s so much more pleasant this way.”
“And would you mind releasing my assayer on your way out?” Eisenach said. “I’m going to put him in charge of your arrangements.”
“No problem, friend director,” Abel answered. He bowed slightly, turned to leave, then called over his shoulder. “Besides, I’m fairly certain I’ll have need of that knife on a few Redlander necks. Maybe even the very ones that you need killed, as well.” He stalked to the door. “Nice doing business with you.”
And then he was outside. When he extracted the knife from the wood, the assayer made a pleasant thunk as he fell to the ground.
* * *
While we must not underestimate Zentrum, we must also remember that he has set a difficult goal for the Land. Center had been lecturing for what seemed to Abel like hours. Days, even.
Abel rode easily upon Spet, who shuffled forward at a slow pace. The return home had taken an additional six days due to the trail of ten gunpowder-filled wagons that he and Golitsin were shepherding back to the Hestinga garrison. A group of militiamen had accompanied them as guards, among them the two Scouts he had braced with his whip at the Cascade arsenal. Both had expressed a desire to transfer to Treville after they returned the empty wagons, and Abel had told them he would see what he could do about the matter.
Center droned on with the lesson which, though important, was not anything Abel didn’t already know: Zentrum wishes all possibility for scientific or political advance destroyed and yet he cannot allow the barbarians to entirely obliterate the culture of the Valley, lest there no longer be any Stasis to maintain. There must be conquest and domination, but there must also be assimilation.
You are talking about the death of thousands of people. Women raped, children spitted. Donts with their legs hacked off or forever broken.
Not to mention the various forms of asphyxiation, excruciation, and sadistic torment the Blaskoye employ against their adult male enemies, Center replied dryly. The human toll is of no consequence to Zentrum.
Nor to you.
Nor to me, that is true, Center conceded. But for those who do care about such matters, at least for the moment our mutual interests align.
Comforting to know a cold thing like you is looking out for my interests.
Your taunts are pointless and misplaced, Center replied. I am as incapable of being insulted as is a rock beside the road.
My taunts make me feel better. Anyway, go on.
To achieve this balance I was speaking of, Zentrum needs the invasion to be slow and thorough rather than lightning quick. This will, of course, create even more suffering, and of a more agonizing nature. But it will also permit the invaders to be drawn into the local populace, to acquire some measure of local ways as they cement their conquest. And it will make them so weary of the battle that by the time they get to Lindron, they are ready for the compromise Zentrum will offer them: conquest and rule, but with Zentrum firmly in place as advisor.
And that means he cannot allow the Militia to collapse and lose its fight too soon, Raj put in. Zentrum will even encourage bravery and hard-fighting, and a degree of innovation, if he knows that in the end he can stamp it all out as the barbarians emerge triumphant.
If we can anticipate his timing, we can disrupt him without giving away the game too soon — that there is active resistance that’s aware of Zentrum’s ultimate aim. He will, sooner or later, arrive at this conclusion. He’s no idiot.
The inflection points will be several innovation thresholds, both in technology and tactics, Center continued.
And what am I supposed to do at these inflection points of yours?
Easy, answered Raj. Ramp the innovation. Exploit every invention. Adopt new tactics for each advance.
Why don’t you just tell me how to build all the things you’ve spoken of? Your laser cannons, your tactical nukes?
You know the answer to that, lad.
You need an industrial base. Abel recited the oft-repeated lesson wearily. Such devices don’t spring from the air by wish alone.
Precisely, Center said. Zentrum remains powerful. He created the Land for his own preservation. All we have is you. For the moment.
One heretic, trying to bring about a future nobody can hope for because they can’t even imagine it.
You will have one advantage fairly soon, said Raj.
And what’s that? You two, I suppose?
Raj’s low and wicked laugh. Breech-loading rifles, he replied.
* * *
Abel had imagined a triumphal return and an understated, but impressive, parade through Hestinga with his wagons full of powder. Instead, a single rider met him a league from the eastern gate of Hestinga.
It was one of the cadets, Holman, who had been preparing for a billet with the Regulars. He galloped up on dontback and reined his mount to a stop in a cloud of dust. Abel trotted up to meet him.
“The commander sent me to find you,” Holman said through a fit of coughing.
“Find me? I sent a flitter with news of our return. Don’t tell me it didn’t arrive?”
“He knows you’re coming, and he knows what you’re bringing,” Holman said. “He sent me to tell you to get back as fast as possible with the powder — expend the pack animals if you have to, and even your own mounts.”
“Why? What has happened?”
“You haven’t yet heard?”
“No,” Abel said, raising his voice, trying not to shout in frustration. “I have not. What is it?”
“The Blaskoye are in the Valley,” said Holman. “Lilleheim has fallen.”