The Savior – Snippet 26
Two years later
472 Post Tercium
After Abel’s years at the Academy, he’d gotten used to the Tabernacle of Zentrum and even begun to think of the Tabernacle complex, which included the military academy and the administration offices for the priesthood and army, as familiar ground. His ground. There were other adjuncts: the secret-service prison, cut into the rock below, a barracks for academy students, and a row of housing for the prelates and instructors.
Then, of course, there were the carnadon pools surrounding the Tabernacle pyramid itself and, terraced down the bluff to the River, four fieldmarches below the outcrop of quartz-veined sandstone on which the compound was built.
He’d first seen the carnadon pools as a kid, and been suitably impressed and terrified. Now he had a history with them. He had stood up to the carnadon gambling ring at school when they’d come for him. He even knew some of the carnadons on sight.
Several of them had been named after the more annoying Academy instructors. He liked watching the beasts churn and swirl after the sacrificial meat, cleaned from the outer temple, was tossed in at feeding time. This was the main purpose for keeping the carnadons, after all.
Yet Abel didn’t for a moment believe that his regard for them was mutual. During his sojourn at the Academy, people had lost hands and whole arms. Two Academy cadets had been torn to pieces. Of course, that was mainly their own fault.
Even the town people, who should have known better, were not immune to foolishness. A year ago, a teenage boy trying to impress his friends by walking along an edge of the enclosures had misjudged just how high a carnadon could leap into the air chasing prey. He was gone before anyone could cry for help. Abel had served as honor guard for the priest who was sent to inform the parents. If the dead boy had not been a First Family scion, he doubted the parents would have even been notified by the Tabernacle, much less received a personal messenger.
But the royal treatment didn’t make the boy any less dead. Whether you were First Family or a Delta farmhand, it did not pay to mess with carnadons.
In the midst of the pools, the step pyramid rose. It was double the height of any other building in Lindron. It seemed to be made of impregnable crystal. Each stone was a slightly different hue, and from within the structure of the stones themselves, lights shone. The effect was muted during the day, but at night the pyramid glowed. What was more, the lights alternated on and off, and blinked in changing patterns. It was said that they represented the thoughts of Zentrum, and any who stared into the lights long enough would either become a saint — or go mad.
A portico opened on the pyramid’s side. A hall led past ceremonial chambers, a guard station, and Abbot Goldfrank’s personal chapel. It terminated in the Inner Sanctum, the place that housed The Eye of Zentrum. Most assumed that Zentrum somehow lived in the Inner Sanctum, perhaps as a spirit. But Center had set Abel right on that score: Zentrum’s programming was contained in the structure of the entire pyramid. The colored lights were, in a literal sense, his mind at work.
The Inner Sanctum was an interface device keyed to human neurological patterns. In the Inner Sanctum, you didn’t need the communication wafer used by provincial prelates. Zentrum could impress himself upon your mind directly.
Abel bowed, walked inside, and performed the First Chamber oblation. As a full Guardian, he was expected to sacrifice something of himself whenever he visited Zentrum. He’d consulted with a former instructor, who had told him a lock of hair was the customary offering.
No doubt for DNA analysis and confirmation of identity, Center commented.
Zentrum is nothing if not careful, Raj put in.
But he can’t read my thoughts yet?
Zentrum has a limited range over which he can engage quantum induction. He will be able to project thought before he can access yours.
Not like you.
I have considerably more advanced features. The AZ12-i11-e Mark XV is an early model A.I. It was used primarily for planet-based military activity, almost exclusively terrestrial, Center said. It is an anomaly that this one was hardened against the nanotech plague that brought down the empire. In fact, it would be very interesting to learn how that came to happen.
Irisobrian, Abel thought. Zentrum’s mother. Could she have been one of those…tenders of the computers? Maybe she did it.
That is a most interesting idea. It is obvious now that you state it clearly.
Iris O’Brian. A name handed down verbally over many generations.
Raj laughed. All those billions and billions of quantum computing whatnots and you didn’t see that? I had it figured out years ago.
Why did you say nothing?
Didn’t seem important. Besides, I thought it was apparent.
I am good at math. I was not designed for word play.
Can we just pay attention to where we are? This is the most dangerous spot on the planet to all three of us, after all.
Abel had left his weapons outside in the first guard station. There was a sacrificing knife on the dais, however, and he used it to cut off a hank of hair. This he laid on the table, and the knife alongside it.
The dais began to glow. Then it changed colors repeatedly for a few blinks of the eye. When it was done, the shank of hair was gone.
There is a small trapdoor opening on the dais concealing an analysis mechanism beneath, Center said. The trapdoor appears to be nanotech activated and returns to being part of the stone itself when not in use.
Abel continued down the central passage. He passed several side chapels and priests’ stations along the way: the Tabernacle pyramid was huge. The passageway began sloping downward, and its walls spread out. Two Guardians stood in the hallway in front of a side doorway. Each man stood at attention and spoke no word when Abel arrived, although he recognized Sutherlin, a former classmate, serving as the right-hand sentinel.
This was the Abbot’s Station, although Abbot Goldfrank was not always present there, by any means. It was, however, manned by a high-ranking priest day and night. Today Goldfrank was performing the ceremonial duties, and he emerged from his post. Abel bowed, and Goldfrank nodded. With another nod, he beckoned Abel to follow him farther down the hallway. Goldfrank moved at a stately pace, his orange priest’s robe trailing on the sandstone floor behind him and making a tiny scratching sound in the general silence.
The passageway sloped farther down. After what seemed a walk of another fifty paces, it terminated at a doorway. The Abbot stood to one side.
“Behold the Beating Heart of the Land,” he said. “Behold the All-seeing Eye.”
“Do I have permission to enter the Inner Sanctum, Law-heir?”
Goldfrank made a slight bow. “I find you at one with Law and Edict. Go forward.”
Abel stepped past Goldfrank and through the doorway. He entered a large room. It was three-sided, pyramid shaped, and the apex must have been twenty elbs above. Two of the walls were stone. The third wall, the one directly across from the entrance, seemed to be one enormous crystal. It pulsed with dancing lights of changing colors.
The air was cold. Abel could see his own breath.
Air-conditioning for the language-processing electronics. Primitive by Empire standards. This planet was truly a backwater: Zentrum was likely purchased used. The entire pyramid itself serves the secondary function of heat dispersal from nano-generation.
There was a throbbing sound that filled the chamber. Abel realized his heart was beating along to this rhythm.
Are you sure this is going to work?
Chances are high that it will succeed.
Which meant that there was also a chance that it would not. They were planning to temporarily remake a human mind, after all. There was nothing to do but to go forward.
Enter my presence, Major Abel Dashian.
The voice seemed to come from both within and without. It resonated within him in both high and low levels, as if he were a set of chimes through which a strong wind had passed.
Abel walked to the center of the chamber and hesitated.
Approach. Lay your hands upon the Eye.
He crossed over to the blinking crystalline wall.
He touched his palms to the crystal. It was quite warm. The flashing lights gathered around his points of contact.
Analysis proceeding. Please do not disengage.
He remained still.
Analysis complete. DNA records retrieved. Identity confirmed.
Abel realized he’d been holding his breath. He let it out, took a deep breath.
“I await your bidding, Lord Zentrum,” he said, repeating the litany he’d been drilled with from his first Thursday school class onward. “It is my honor to do your will.”
Very good. The general staff with the consent of the Abbot has recommended your appointment as district military commander for the Cascade region.
You are quite young to be considered for such a position of responsibility.
“There have been others younger than me. Pliny in the Delta, in 235 P.C., von Stubbe in Cascade itself in 193. According to the scrolls, each served with distinction.”
Yes, I remember them well.
“Should you find me worthy, I will walk in their footsteps to maintain the Stasis.”
This is pleasing to me. Now it is time for your examination. It will go easier if you open your mind to me, Abel Dashian. Hold nothing back, for I must and will seek into all corners, and if I must pry open a door held shut in your mind, it will cause damage, great or small, to your psyche. Some have gone mad.
“I will strive to do as you bid, Lord Zentrum.”
Then the examination will commence.
Center’s voice immediately cut in following the throbbing pronouncement of Zentrum.
I am initiating the consciousness sequestration routine. Expect to lose ninety percent of sensory awareness until modifications are in place. Center sounded thin, less powerful than the booming presence of Lord Zentrum.
Abel had the sensation of falling, although he did not move. His field of vision became a line, then a circle the size of Levot, and then the circle closed down to a dot. He felt as if he were standing in a deep well looking upward — a well from which there was no hope of escape without aid.