The Heretic – Snippet 05

Zentrum is stuck, lad.

We have come to unstick the unit.  More importantly, we have come to reintegrate Duisberg into the reconstituted Galactic Republic.

“Zentrum?” replied Abel, confused.  “But Zentrum’s just a special name for God.”

Zentrum is not a god and he is not God.  He is a computer.

It is the being your priests serve, boy, said the gruff voice.

Zentrum was the word for God that the priests used when they were talking about the Laws.  The Edicts.  The Stasis.  All the stuff you learned in Thursday school.

Whatever. It was the most boring stuff in the world. He wanted to fly, to keep flying, forever.  This was so much fun!

The wind was whipping past him and, in the process, making a terrible din, like a storm.  He leaned to his left.  The flyer tilted sharply with him, and Abel quickly straightened back up.  Too much.  “How do I steer this thing, anyway?” he shouted.

Quiet lad, said the gruff voice with a laugh.  You’ll accidentally summon the guards.  Remember, you are actually still in the storehouse.  You needn’t speak.  We can hear words if you think about saying them.

Can you hear this? Abel thought.

Yes, boy.

Abel didn’t know if he liked the fact that the nishterlaub voices could eavesdrop on his inner thought.  But for the moment, all he really cared about was keeping this trip going, to fly like a flitterdont across the landscape.

I dreamed of this.  The day before Mamma died.

The sickness had grown worse and she was wrapped up and shivering on her pallet even though it was a hot day outside. And that night, he’d dreamed of flying with his mother beside him, her flowing robes trailing behind her as they both laughed and zoomed over Lindron, over the River, and into the beyond.

But that dream was nothing compared to this!

He shifted his balance slowly and carefully to the left again.  The flyer reacted by swooping into a graceful arc.

I can do this!  I can steer this thing like a reed boat.

He leaned to the right, almost overbalanced, but caught himself, pulled the flyer into a sweeping curve.

I want more, he thought/said to the voices.  I want to go farther.  Let’s go.  Show me!  Show me everything!

Done, said the high pitched voice.

Abel leaned back and, yes, the flyer titled up as he’d hoped it would, climbed higher.  The River was now in view below him, as were both sides of the Valley.  It wasn’t at all straight, but twisted like a legless dont whipping through the dust.

How high am I?

In local terms?  Approximately half a league.  Seven thousand feet.  You are at the maximum recommended altitude for an uncovered flyer such as this.  But this should be sufficient for the purpose.

What do you see below you, boy? the gruff voice asked.

The River.  There’s Garangipore to the north where the main canal and the River meet.  I see the Valley.  The Land.  But not all of it.

You couldn’t see all of the Land, not unless you flew nearly to orbit, out of the air itself.

Air ends somewhere in the sky?  That’s a lie. Has to be.

What I say to you will never be a lie, Abel.


He looked back down.

Like a map.  Like one of my father’s maps.  I love maps.  I can almost read, you know.  Mamma taught me a lot.  And Father has taught me all about maps, too.

We are aware of your strong literacy skill set, replied the high pitched voice. This is one among several latent abilities, some of which you do not yet realize you possess.  As you see, the Valley here at the branch-point of the Treville salient is at its widest.  To the southwest, it becomes narrower until it finally reaches the capital of Lindron and then Mims, the city just above the River Delta.  At Mims, the River widens, drops its alluvium to form the Delta islands and the tidal estuaries, and then flows into the Braun Sea.  The average width of the Valley is two day’s travel on foot.

The Valley is hardly twenty leagues across at its widest, said the gruff voice.  But its length from the top of the cataracts to Fyrpahatet on the coast — now that’s another story.  In fact, that’s the whole story of the Land and why things are the way they are.

I don’t get it.

Wouldn’t expect you to, boy.  You’ve never known anything else.  The River drains the whole of the western continent on this planet, northeast to southwest.

Don’t know what he’s talking about and don’t care, Abel thought and tried to keep the thought to himself. He had a feeling the gruff voice could be just as impatient with what he viewed as foolishness as his father. Just let me keep flying!

He must have at least partially formed the words in his mind, however, because the gruff voice stopped short, let out a growl.

You either care or you’ll be made to care, lad, the voice grumbled.  Center, impress upon our young charge what it means that we are inside his thoughts.

Are you certain that’s wise?

We have to push now. If the lad’s what we’re looking for, he’ll survive it.

Agreed, said the high pitched voice, which must be “Center,” the possessor of the high pitched voice that the gruff voice was speaking to. This may prove disorienting.  I will physically alter certain neuronal firing sequences within your brain and impart to you sufficient strata of term denotations to enable you to understand otherwise undefined referents.

Didn’t sound good.  Not good at all.  Whoever or whatever this Center was, it or he or she was about to alter his thoughts.  Could it alter his memories?  Everything?

Cause him to forget.



I’m afraid this will be necessary.

I’ll jump.  I’ll fall and die.

You are, in actuality, already standing on the floor.