The Savior – Snippet 27
Where was this place within him? It was not the Hideout. There were portions of himself he could cut off from Center and Raj — at least he believed he could. Clearly there were portions of his mind that they had cordoned off from his personal awareness, as well.
Of course they have their panic rooms, their secret caches within me.
He had realized even when he was a child that he was as much a construct as Center and Raj. When they entered his mind in the nishterlaub warehouse so long ago, they had rewritten his mental makeup. Raj had told him as much — out of respect — and Center had afterwards confirmed this basic fact of Abel’s existence.
Suddenly he felt himself rising out of the well and toward the light. There was a tingling in his body, as if he were being dragged through a thicket of particularly sharp Redland pricklebrush. Portions of him were being scraped away and left behind.
Memory sequestration complete. Implanted engrams activated, said a voice. At least Abel thought it was a voice.
Not one he recognized. Maybe it was Zentrum.
Suddenly his senses returned.
Returned from where? What had happened? The last thing he remembered was touching the Eye of Zentrum. He was amazed and deeply ashamed of himself. How could he have doubted for a moment? Who was he to question the Creator himself?
Zentrum was Lord. Zentrum was God.
Abel could not move, but if he could have, he would have fallen to his knees in worship.
He viewed his life as if it were a story playing out in shadow form, in flickering firelight before his eyes.
Confess your shortcomings.
He would confess all.
I believe myself more intelligent than most of the people I meet. In fact, showing appropriate respect to those I consider mentally inferior is often an irritation.
This is understandable. Show me more. Show me all, Abel Dashian.
My father is one I respect above all others. He has taught me that only the Land matters. That is where my loyalty will always lie.
I have not understood that to be dedicated to the Land is to be dedicated to you, Lord. Now I do.
That is well. The reason for your nomination is your excellent performance at the Academy, your skilled completion of your duties at command planning, and, most of all, your leadership of the Treville Scouts during the battle with the Blaskoye incursion of Treville that occurred five years ago. Yet there was heresy at the heart of this defense.
Yes, Lord. I understand that now.
These nishterlaub weapons you employed — do you understand how they threaten the Stasis?
Victory is not worth the price of blasphemy. All means must lead to the end of balance. Your Laws and Edicts are just and right, and there is no other truth that need be revealed to man.
Heresy upsets the balance. It’s a striving of individual men to be like God.
And what must be done with the heretic, Abel Dashian?
“He should burn,” Abel said aloud.
You were close to the heretic priest.
There was no point in denying this to a being who knew all. “Yes, Lord.”
You accepted the breaking guns.
“I made myself believe all was well. They came from a priest, the chief priestsmith of Treville. I should have questioned this extraordinary development, but I was eager to destroy the Blaskoye.”
And you did.
Yes. We did.
Now, considering all that has come afterward, what do you have to say of your actions?
Abel agonized. Before this moment, before he knew the reality of Zentrum’s existence, he might have answered differently. In his heart of hearts, he had wanted to win, and would do anything to achieve victory for the Land and his father. Now everything was different.
“Better that I die before I break the Edicts of Zentrum. To put myself before your Law is to exile myself from the Land itself. Your will sustains the people and Land. Nothing else is of consequence.”
Very good. I can see the faith burning brightly within you, Abel Dashian. This is why a greater revelation will be yours. Behold:
He was soaring over the River, flying like a flitterdak, moving up-River. And as he traveled, the Land changed. Wheat, barley, rice gave way to barren terrain. Clumps of men clinging to existence in tiny enclaves. So little to eat. So short and bloody each single life. The world fallen to ruin. Humanity brought so low that all hope was gone.
A dark age that might last a thousand years. Perhaps a hundred thousand.
Then he was down among these people. He was one of them.
Behold the past:
He is a young man leading children, the oldest survivor after disease has taken his parents. Five brothers and two sisters. Starving. Desperate. The others dependent on him.
They wander endlessly among the ruined hills. His baby sister is crying constantly. She cannot stop no matter how he rocks her. His youngest sister’s stomach is distended terribly. She has not eaten for eight days, and then only a few swallows of rotten meat he himself has shared with her.
I have not eaten in eight days. The thought echoes, repeats itself in his mind like a taunt, a prophesy of doom.
Ahead, he sees an overturned cart. He and the children hurry to it. It is a handcart, empty. Beside it a man lies on the ground. Someone has ambushed and robbed him.
He looks around wildly to be sure the attackers are no longer here. The only sound is the wind blowing over the broken stones of the ravaged world.
The man is alive, barely. A leg has been smash and a portion of bone juts from the skin. The man looks up at Abel.
“Water,” he croaks. “Please.”
Abel, the boy, considers for a moment. He might pass by. He might lead his desperate little band onward.
But he is so very, very hungry.
With a growl, Abel lifts a nearby stone. It is not a particularly large stone, but almost more than he can handle in his feeble state.
The man sees what he is doing, cries out, and tries to twist out of the way.
The stone crashes down upon his skull. Abel hits the man again to be sure.
He looks up. His brothers and sisters have gathered around him and the man. They stand in a circle, silent, anticipating.
Abel tosses the rock aside. He looks down at the man’s ruined head. He can’t help himself. He is unable to think of this as a man he has murdered.
All he sees is food.
With a ragged roar, he scoops his hands into the skull cavity, pulls out the bloody matter, and begins to eat.
As if on signal, his siblings run to the corpse and follow their brother’s lead.
Behold the Past before the Past:
He is soaring again, farther up the River, to its source. Buildings as tall as mountains. Men dwelling in them, walking among them. Strange animals whizzing to and fro. No, these are the machines of men. Men who are convinced they are at the apex of civilization. Nishterlaub, nishterlaub everywhere.
They deserved what they got.
He can hear the screams as the buildings fall down around them, as all they knew crumbles to ruin in ten blinks of the eye.
From this egotistical height of technological wonder to eating manflesh in one generation. This is the state from which I raised you humans. All of you. Do you see what heresy breeds?
The desires of men are like the River at flood. They must be regulated and contained. At times the Land must burn so that civilization can be renewed. Do you understand, Abel Dashian?
Yes, Lord. The Blood Winds. They are a part of your will, as are all things.
Better that thousands die than civilization fall into the hungry darkness again.
There are more important things than winning a battle — or even a war.
“I repent of all I have done contrary to your will, Lord Zentrum. You have raised me from nothing. All praise is yours. I should never have touched the breechloaders. I should have killed the priest with my own hands. From this day forward, I will accept defeat before heresy.”
You have learned, Abel Dashian. That is well.
“You have shown me. I never knew. I never knew.” He felt tears welling in his eyes. His whole being resounded with anguish at his shortcomings, with ardor for his newfound convictions. “May your will be done now and forever. Alaha Zentrum!”
He stumbled back as he was released from the crystalline wall and his bond with Zentrum.
You are acceptable in my sight, Abel Dashian. You may go now.
“Thank you, Lord.”
A low bow.
Something inside him is quivering, something being born. What is this?
What’s happening to me?
I am —
Not this quivering, frightened me. No!
I am —
The new man. The second coming of knowledge.
Welcome back, lad, Raj said. Give it a moment and the rest will flow into you.
But I…but the Lord Zentrum…
Zentrum is not God, Abel.
You dare…you dare…
And then he really was back, reconstituted. He was standing at the doorway, breathing hard.
I…believed. You made me totally believe all of it, all the bullshit. It was so…
Yes, that, too.
What Raj said was true. But moments before he had completely believed every word from Zentrum.
How can I know you are not lying to me, too? Maybe you’re all lying, and the truth is something entirely different.
You’ve asked the question before, and we’ve given you the only answer we have.
Choose the truth that will most help the people of my world survive.
That’s right. It’s the only answer we can give you. Kind of refreshing after listening to all that nonsense from a Mark XV computer that thinks it’s God, no?
There is one thing Zentrum is right about, though. War is a means, never an end in itself. Forget that, and you’re doomed to repeat the cycle of destruction over and over again.
Wonderful. Can we get the cold hell out of here, General?
Aye, we can. And welcome to high command. You’re about to be the DMC of Cascade.