The Heretic – Snippet 03

And I guess for some storehouses, Abel thought.

Anyway, you normally didn’t need windows in the Land.  Strong gusts sometimes blew up the Valley before the spring floods, but usually the winds of the Land were light.  Abel had never seen any rain, but his mother had sung him jingles about it.  The songs were about water falling from the sky, as strange as that sounded.  It wasn’t that he didn’t believe in rain, it was more that he had a hard time picturing it.  Abel imagined rain as thick and syrupy, falling brown and silty like the River’s water, and leaving everything with a fine coating of mud.

After his eyes adjusted, Abel stepped farther inside the storehouse.  It was a large room, large enough to contain an average sized house.  The ceiling stretched a good twenty spans above him.  The official residence he and his father shared could fit in here easily with space to spare for an outhouse and stable.

This is sure no granary.

All about him were shapes.  Twisted, strange shapes like midnight shadows.  Large, square shapes.  The glint of iron and copper and steel.  Glass.  Wood.  In front of him, a white-colored pipe stretching out perpendicular from some sort of box with what looked like dead briars curling out.  Odd.  The pipe glinted almost a bit like metal, a bit like glass.

He reached out and touched it —

And recoiled in shock.  Plastic.

The pipe was nishterlaub.  Abel looked around again and realization dawned.  The pipe, the strange shapes, everything in the storehouse.  It was all nishterlaub.

His immediate thought was to turn tail and run, find a priest or his father, tell them what he’d found.

But that’s stupid, he thought.  The priests know the nishterlaub is here.  They must have put it here.  But I’ll bet I will still get in trouble.

Was it wrong for him to be here?

Most of his friends from Lindron would sure think so.  Of course, most of them wouldn’t have opened the door in the first place.  He’d barely been able to convince those guys to leave the alley behind the married officer’s quarters.  He’d dared them to go out and explore, and when nobody accompanied him, he’d gone himself.

Abel felt the familiar pain of remembering Lindron.  Lindron was the before life.  All gone.

Gone with Mamma.

She’d called him her brave boy, her little Carnadon Man.  Was he still brave without her?

He would try to be.  And the priests could give him a hiding if they wanted, he didn’t care.  Besides, he knew he’d start wondering about the nishterlaub and have to come back to have a look at it sooner or later. He’d be back.

So might as well look around now.

Interesting, said a voice.  It was a dry voice, high pitched.  Abel was unable to tell if it had come from a man or woman.  He spun around.  Nothing.  No one there.

He moved deeper into the storage house.

A likely lad, maybe, another voice said, this one deeper and definitely male. Then again, maybe not.

* * *

Abel lifted the rock he carried in his hands to his shoulder, ready to strike.

“Who’s there?” he said, trying not to let his voice quiver with the fright her felt.

No one answered.

After a moment, Abel decided he must have heard soldiers speaking outside.  The storage house was next to the temple guard exercise yard, after all.  Maybe a platoon had shown up for morning duty.

But the voices had sounded close.  Very close.

Okay, it’s time to get out of here.

Abel turned to go.

But all this nishterlaub, he thought.  I have to see it.

He looked to his right, to the strange box-shaped thing growing briars with the white plastic pipe emerging from it.

Not briars.  Not anything that grew from the earth.  Abel stooped down, looked closer.  They were like vines, yet unlike.  A sheath of colorful skin covered a core that glinted reddish-brown, like copper.  No, it was copper, somehow.

Electrical wires, the high pitched voice said.  To carry a fluid that is more powerful than gunpowder, than water gathered into a ram.  You could think of it as liquid sunlight.  The liquid sun brought the machine alive and it —

Show him, said the low, gruff voice.

Very well.  Observe:

Suddenly, the nishterlaub was alive.  It beeped like some kind of strange, wounded flitter or an insectoid in the trees at night.  Flames like evening glowflies flickered across its surface.

Abel gasped, stumbled back.

This is a simulation. It’s a picture painted inside your mind, child.  Observe:

And Abel did observe. He was in the room, but not in the room, and the machine, the nishterlaub, was different.

It was fixed.  It worked.

The machine chimed, a door slid open in its side and from it emerged. . .

Made things.  Wonderful things.  Like an oven that baked bread in all sorts of shapes, only this oven baked useful items.  Tools.  A procession of items emerge:  hammers, rakes, shoes, scissors, pens . . .and then other things whose names began to flood Abel’s mind:  simple navigation computer, powerpack for kitchen appliances, medical diagnostic meter, pellet gun, wristwatch.

This thing was the Oven of Zentrum.  It baked . .  .nishterlaub!

And then it stopped.  The vision disappeared, and the ancient machine stood before him, as destroyed as it had been moments before.

One of many such three dimensional printers, said the dry, high-pitched voice.  Nothing special to those who came before the Collapse.  Resolution moderate to low.  Production value self-limiting.  Cheap goods, made to become obsolete quickly.  Unfortunately, no independent power source remains and key metallic elements have been removed and destroyed or repurposed.  Quite useless.

Abel started back.  The voice again.  He picked up his rock, which had fallen to his feet when he’d touched the. . .now he knew its name. . .the three dimensional printer.

No one was here.

Who was speaking?