The Savior – Snippet 09
Center took me inside the mind of Bara. Now I know a person is dying in agony, not just an enemy.
Of course he doubted if Bara would give a damn in cold hell if their places were reversed and it were Abel nailed to the cross.
But that wasn’t the point, was it?
Will you stop me if I do it? Abel thought-spoke, this time aloud to the presences.
A man become a brute won’t be of much use to us, said Raj. Abel realized he was speaking to Center, giving Abel the benefit of hearing their reasoning together, which must normally take place in the millionth part of an eyeblink. After all, human instincts have to be part of the plan, or we’re no better than that benighted computer in Lindron.
A moment’s pause. A long moment.
Center had once told him: I am a fifth-generation artificial intelligence running on a one hundred gigacubit quantum superimposition engine. I complete more calculations per one of your eyeblinks than all the computers of the first millennium of the Information Age could produce together if all of them ran at full power for each of those thousand years. It would be best if you took my projections seriously.
For Center, a long moment was practically an eternity.
To disregard Center was to open the future. Since he was six years old, he’d lived with Center’s plan and his own destiny within it. To step away from that plan…was it madness?
Of course it was.
In the usual future of the Land, all roads led to Stasis. Freedom was an illusion. Zentrum shaped all.
But to do this one thing on his own, to do it because it was right and not because it was a means toward an end…
Couldn’t he have that chance as a man? Shouldn’t he?
Finally, Center spoke. No. I will not stop you, Abel.
Abel quickly left ranks, spun around, and trotted back down the road south. They’d already marched a half a league, and it was a long way back.
All of the Hurthmen were still alive when he got there. Bara’s head was two elbs above Abel. The sun was risen fully now, and Bara was attempting to squeeze his eyes shut against it.
Too far to reach if I want to make a clean cut with a knife.
As Abel stood and considered, he could tell the passing ranks of Guardians were noticing him from the corners of their eyes, considering what this major might be up to.
There is no doubt whatsoever that that is what they are doing, said Center.
Abel looked back at the youth. Bara opened his eyes, saw Abel for the first time. He tried to say something, perhaps deliver a curse, but the crossbow bolt in his tongue prevented it.
In case you are wondering, Raj said, the best method is a bayonet strike through the stomach and into the heart.
Abel unslung his rifle from the strap on his shoulder. He let his pack drop to the ground in the same motion. With practiced speed, he removed the bayonet from its stowage under the barrel, pushed it into its socket, and twisted the stop pin into the slot on the locking ring.
He looked at Bara. The man was watching him now. Abel considered speaking, maybe attempting to explain, but there was really nothing to say.
He either gets it, or he’ll die confused. Either way, the suffering will be over.
Abel put a hand behind the butt of his rifle, and with a hard thrust did exactly as Raj had suggested.
Slicing into the stomach was not difficult, but the bayonet lodged in the thicker muscle of the diaphragm. The crucified man attempted to writhe away from the penetrating blade, but it was no use.
Abel gave another strong push. After the blade cut through the tough muscle, the going became easier. Abel pushed through, no doubt, a lung — and into the heart. A gasp from the stabbed man, nothing more. Abel withdrew the blade. It was followed by a gush of bright arterial blood flowing from the stomach wound, and Abel knew he’d struck home.
When he looked back up, Bara’s eyes were fixed in death.
It was a terrible sight. He’d seen many terrible sights in war and skirmishes. Yet this was one that Abel knew would join the personal, hellish collection that contained the special moments of horror that he could not forget.
I knew his name, Abel thought. I don’t know the others of these Hurthmen. But, curse it, now I’ve got to do the same to them.
He didn’t fool himself into believing any of them would be grateful.
He moved down the line and one by one pierced the crucified men. Only one gave him any struggle, and that was easily dealt with by a wicked twist, then rocking his weight back and forth on the rifle handle.
Soon they were all dead. Abel stood breathing hard. He’d moved quickly, and he was winded. Exhausted.
He had not slept in over a day.
A shadow fell across his back.
On a large dont with a huge crest of feathers sat Colonel Zachary von Hoff.
Von Hoff held his mount, which the men called Big Green, still, and, with a hand to his own chin, considered Abel.
“I could have you flogged, Major, and sent to ranks,” he said. “I expect you know that.”
“I would even be within my rights to have you executed.”
Abel knew military law as well as anyone. What the colonel said was true. “Yes, sir, you could.”
Again von Hoff was silent. He shook his head. “But could I do without the man who won the Battle of the Canal? That is the question.”
“That was my father, sir.”
“That’s not the way Joab Dashian tells it,” said von Hoff. “No, I think for my own purposes, I can’t you spare you, Major. Don’t be fooled. It is a selfish decision on my part.”
“Now clean yourself off as best you can and go find a mount in the train. You look like you’re ready to collapse in that bloody dirt.”
“Then you will join me at the vanguard,” he said. “I’ll require your counsel in the days to come, and any example you make by personally marching with the men is now complete.”
“We have more killing to do shortly, Dashian. Some in battle, but most of it is going to be pure murder.” Von Hoff glanced over at the crucified, now hanging heart-stabbed and dead. “It looks as if you’ve got a start at that.”
After another long look at Abel, the colonel spurred his dont and turned to the north.
Abel stood for a moment until his breathing was under control. He took the bayonet off his rifle, wiped it as clean as he could on one of the dead men’s thighs, and slid it back into stowed position. His tunic sleeves were bloody, but it would dry and flake away. He daubed it with a moistened handkerchief.
A thirty-six percent eventuality, said Center. Remarkable.
We roll the bones, take our chances, Raj put in with a low rumble of laughter.
Abel pulled on his pack and slung the rifle back over his shoulder.
Corpsmen marched by in their eights. More and more.
When Abel turned for a last glance at the line of crucified men, the blood on the ground and on their torsos and legs was already covered by a layer of dust kicked up by the sandals and boots of the passing Guardians.