The Heretic – Snippet 06

Don’t poke inside me, I mean it!

I will perform only necessary poking.

Please!  No!

I’m. . .sorry, Abel.

“Wait!” Abel screamed, this time sure to do so aloud.  Maybe he could summon the priests or a guard.  The gruff voice had cautioned him against shouting.  Maybe he could use this against them.  “I’ll yell!”

No, said Center, you won’t.

Abel’s opened his mouth to prove Center wrong.  Not a sound came out.  He struggled to shout.  Nothing, not even a voiceless puff of air.

Okay, Abel said.  Okay, you win. It’s going to hurt.  It’s going to hurt, isn’t it?

Yes, said Center.

And suddenly his head exploded in pain.

And understanding.  Continent.  Orbit.  Energy. Northern hemisphere.  He began to comprehend.

The world is round!


And the Land is not all of the world.  Not by a long shot.

The Land and its surrounding desert reaches which stretch to the Schnee Mountains in the east and the Braun Sea to the west, are the only portion of Duisberg inhabited by humans.

You keep saying Duisberg.  That’s the name of this. . .planet? asked Abel.


And there are lots of other planets?

Lots, said Center.  And other suns.

And he was made to understand.

That’s what the stars are.


“Why should I believe you?” said Abel, speaking aloud.  The thought was too hard to form completely without hearing it first.  “You’re probably lying to get me to do something, like those beggar boys in Lindron who said they’d show me a hardback riverdak out of its shell.  What they really wanted was to steal the slingshot Father made me.  I had to fight six at once when they chased me to the barracks row.”

And did you win, lad? asked the gruff voice.

“Nope,” Abel replied.  “They got the slingshot.  But it took all six of them to lick me.”

Abel leaned hard to the left, then hard to the right.  The flyer yawed and he could feel a buzz as the invisible stabilization fields, whatever they were, gripped him tight.  He leaned to the left again, attempting to rock the flyer into capsizing.

If I’m not really flying, then I can turn this over. . . and fall!  I won’t die because I’m really in the storehouse.  But maybe that’ll get them out of my head.

Another gruff laugh. Good try, lad.

General Whitehall, we have much to accomplish today, said Center.  Foundations must be laid.  It, he — Abel decided Center sounded more male than female — seemed irritated.

Almost.  The flyer was almost tipped over on the right side.  One more hard rocking motion and —


The flyer froze in place. If he’d been on the edge of a cliff, Abel’s momentum would have made him fall.  Instead, the stabilization fields seemed to absorb his motion like a down pillow.

We must decide if this child is the one, the gruff voice said.  If so, then agreed, we will proceed.  If not. . .the voice trailed off.

That doesn’t sound good.  That’s the kind of voice father uses just before he takes out his sharpening strop.

Abel stopped rocking, and ceased trying to end the flying simulation.  Besides, he really didn’t want to, not yet.  It was time, however, to change the subject.  “So you, the squeaky one who sounds like a cross between a three year old and a priest, you’re Center?”


“And the other, you with the mean voice, you’re General White-something?”

Call me Raj, lad, the gruff voice replied.  It’s my first name.  I have a feeling we’re going to get along fine.  May even be friends.

You wish! But Abel did his best to keep his misgivings to himself and tried not to let them form into a full thought. He found it help if he considered other things at the same time.  Feeling like a flitterdont flapping around.  The wind in his face.  Clouds.

It did seem that the two voices couldn’t know exactly what he was thinking unless a thought was so complete he was on the verge of speaking it out loud.

At least so he hoped.

Well, Raj, you can call me Abel, he said, and I don’t think we’re going to be friends.  He hoped the tone of defiance was clear in his thought-speech.

From Raj’s quite chuckle afterward, he figured it had been.

Abel turned his attention back to flying.  He’d now reached the River.  He’d approached from the east and he leaned to his right to tilt the flyer into a north-northwest direction, parallel to the general trend upriver, although the water’s course itself wound back and forth in a completely crazy fashion.

The wind whipped by his ears and caused his hair, plaited by the nanny into a single pigtail, to stick out like a riding dont’s neck plumage.  He leaned forward and, to his delight, this increased the flyer’s speed.

You’ll notice that there are very few clouds to obscure your view of the Valley below, Center intoned.

Yeah, so?

Precisely, said Center.  There are never many clouds.  Due to the extreme height of the Schnee formation — we are still not level with the smallest peaks, even at this altitude — almost all westerly wind current is blocked on the eastern side of the massif.  The prevailing winds on this side of the continent are strong northeasterlies, channeling up from the Braun Sea to the wastes above the River’s springs and, ultimately, flowing through the high passes and into Duisberg’s Arctic, where what moisture there is becomes locked up in snowfall and ultimately ice.  The northern glaciers calve into the Braun, and the cycle continues, for this geological moment, at least.




Abel winced as each of the unfamiliar words Center was using seemed to twist and squirm inside him before they locked onto a set of meanings.  Every moment of new knowledge acquisition was also a moment of pain.  Center had not lied.  It hurt.  But in the end, he made sense, or believed he made sense, of what the voice was saying.  He understood.