The Savior – Snippet 08
Staff Sergeant Silverstein and the three others who had been killed lay wrapped in their own wax tarps. Temporary sergeants had been appointed, and the platoon had eaten breakfast and packed while a detail dug a hole in the middle of the trampled barley field.
Presiding was the squad sergeant who had given Abel the hard cider the night before. He was platoon staff sergeant now, in charge of the entire twenty-five men of the second platoon. Abel learned his name was Grimmett. He had a calf wound, which was treated and bound, but blood still seeped into the bandage and formed a red splotch on the side of his leg. Grimmett had tied his sandal straps over the wound and was going to make the day’s march with his men.
Derek Ogilvy, the company captain, was present. They’d been waiting for brigade command staff to arrive. The staff sergeant called his men to attention.
Abel straightened himself as well. Coming to attention was a relief. He had been hunched and tight from watching the interrogation and then the crucifixion, his muscles tensing vicariously with each pulled joint and hammered stake. He raised his right arm diagonally across his breast in the Guardian salute.
“Would the major say a few words?” Ogilvy asked him. This was ceremonial, de rigeur. The highest ranking officer present must speak the eulogy.
After a moment of silence by the open grave, Abel spoke the words he’d learned his first year at the Academy in Marching Order and Protocols.
“We are but wheat in the fields of the Law. We are grain in the hands of Zentrum. Let these who have served the Edicts and the Stasis faithfully be commended to the ground.”
Abel turned to the assembled men.
“Repeat after me,” he said. “We are the harvest.”
“We are the harvest.”
“We are the Land and the Land is us.”
“We are the Land and the Land is us.”
And the codes, spoken by Abel alone: “To serve Zentrum is to serve the Land. To serve the Laws of Zentrum is to serve the Land.”
Abel made the circled pyramid sign of Zentrum over each of the bodies with his right hand.
“As it is now, it always was, and ever shall be, Stasis without end.” He looked up, faced the men. “Alaha Zentrum.”
“Alaha Zentrum,” they returned. And it was done.
The burial detail dragged each of the dead men by their tarps and, with a yank, dumped them into the hole. The detail carefully folded the tarps and packed them away. A good wax tarp was not an item to part with.
The detail went to work with a will and filled the grave quickly, while the remainder of the platoon looked on until the task was complete. The men of the burial detail then took their place back in formation.
“Shoulder arms!” called the sergeant.
With a clank of metal and wood, the assembled men raised their musket to marching position.
The men turned.
“By the left, double-march!”
With two abreast, the staff sergeant marched them over the fresh grave in the barley three times, each time stamping the earth down more. No one would disturb these bones, for there would be only a flat bit of bare ground in a field after they were through, soon overgrown with grain. The bodies of the dead would feed the Land. The dead would serve Zentrum’s divine purpose even in decay.
Then the sergeant marched them to the road, careful to join it south of the spot where the Hurthmen hung crucified.
When the platoon passed the crucified prisoners, the Guardian troops barely glanced aside. None stopped to gape or gloat. Abel wondered if even his Treville Scouts would show such restraint. He doubted it.
The same did not apply to the crucified men. Although they could make only grunts and groans, their agonized eyes followed Abel as he moved past them. Bara, the youth, hung crookedly, like a shield that had been carelessly placed on a peg, his tendonless elbow distended on his right arm.
Abel could feel the young man’s eyes lingering on his back. He had never so badly wanted to go against the utilitarian path his head told him he must follow.
The boy’s agony, his desire to see his mother again, tugged at Abel’s heart.
He’s like me. He never will.
He glanced back.
I could break his legs; I could cut his throat quickly, Abel thought.
Not advised, said Center. Observe:
No matter how carefully Abel did it, there was a witness. He was seen and reported. He’d given the Hurthman an easy way out. He’d disobeyed orders.
The following day, he was brought up on charges. Flanked by two Guardians, Abel found his sword removed, his weapons stowed.
Then Abel was forced to gaze into the suffering eyes of von Hoff as the colonel pronounced judgment on his protégé. There was nothing von Hoff could do. Orders were orders.
Abel’s sword was brought forward. Von Hoff laid it next to a stone and broke it with a quick kick to the flat of the blade.
Abel was turned over to Timon for punishment. Friend or not, Timon did not shirk when delivering the one hundred lashes. He could not.
Then, with his back torn to ribbons, Abel was forced to complete the day’s march. He was put in ranks and did as his sergeant bid him. He was a private now.
And when the Progar campaign was done, he was nothing at all. For then Abel lay on the field of battle, a minié slug in his brain.
Projection sixty-eight point four percent accuracy, with a seventy-five percent accuracy on similar variations.
A private. So what? Abel thought. So I’m busted to ranks? And there’s a thirty-six percent chance I won’t be killed.
Even so, any chance of your death greater than fifty percent is unacceptable, said Center dryly.
To hell with our present purpose! Abel thought. Our purpose has always meant Center’s purpose, anyway. He did not preverbalize the thought, the way he did mind-speech that was directed at Center and Raj.
There was a place within Abel’s mind that he believed Center and Raj could not reach. It was a quiet, preverbal way of thinking. He’d tested them several times on it, and he was fairly sure he’d succeeded at keeping his secrets. He’d thought things he knew would always get a reaction from either Raj or Center, but not brought those thoughts to the edge of speech. No reaction. Abel called this place within himself the “Hideout.”
Still, he could never be sure that pretending not to “overhear” Abel’s innermost thoughts while in the Hideout was part of a long game by Center. Yet he believed this was not the case.
When he spoke directly to them, the words were always as if on the tip of his tongue. Not now. Despite his affection for his inner voices, he had spent years perfecting his ability to keep his thoughts from the presences in his mind. The truth was, in the past few years, and after all he’d been exposed to in the capital, they had begun to sound a bit old-fashioned to Abel. A relic of his childhood. As unreal as the Carnadon Man.
In his better moments, he knew this not to be the case, but there were times he couldn’t help pondering the possibilities.
This was definitely a train of thought Abel didn’t preverbalize. Raj and Center possessed the key to motor control of his muscles, both voluntary and involuntary, even if they did not subjugate his will. They could shut Abel down if they deemed it necessary.