The Heretic – Snippet 07

The River itself originates near Chambers Pass in the Schnees and is the sole drainage for the western continent.  It flows south-southwest to the Braun Sea.  Duisberg is extraordinarily dry as settlement planets go, and there is no comparable hydrological system anywhere else, not in either hemisphere. The terrain created by the River provides the only planetary region capable of feudal style agriculture such as is practiced in the Land.

Your deserts and scrublands are herder territory, said Raj.  Fit only for nomads. And the Redlands will only support scraggly grazing animals at that, given the present condition of development. That’s one of the reasons that raiding has become such a way of life for those. . .what do you call the tribes outside the Land?

“Redlanders,” said Abel.  “Even talking to them can get you crucified.”

And yet talking goes on all the time, I’ll wager, answered Raj.

Correct, said Center.

“But if you touch a Redlander, you’ll get sick and die!” Abel exclaimed.

You never really believed that, did you, boy?

Raj was right.  When Abel mentioned the Redlander curse to his father, his father had nodded, but he’d smiled in the same way he did when Abel asked him if it was true swimming in a temple pool made a baby grow in a mommy’s tummy.

“I guess not.”

In fact the current aristocracy is made up of Redlander stock, said Center.  Observe.  The Land is merely two to three leagues across roughly east to west, but is over two hundred leagues long north to south.  It would take the better part of a Duisberg year to walk its length from the Delta to the upper cataracts.

A strategic weakness, said Raj.  Would be fatal if the scrub lands weren’t so poor.  So it is in the interest of Zentrum to keep them poor or at least to keep them sedated.  And he doesn’t care how he does it, either.  When the Redlanders have built up to any extent, he doesn’t just allow them to invade.  He practically invites them in.

Your people have myths of these nomadic invasions.  They are called the Blood Winds.

“I know about that,” said Abel, again returning to the spoken word to expresses a more complicated thought.  “Elder Newfeld taught us about it in Thursday school.”

The people of the Land had grown wicked and disobeyed the commandments of God, the elder had said.  So Zentrum, God’s voice, allowed their enemies to attack and destroy every other man, woman, and child.  Even the donts.  That was the part Abel particularly hated.

Zentrum made an accommodation with the invading Redlander tribes.  They were given lands, titles, wealth. They stayed, interbred — and were absorbed into the surviving populace. This has happened time and again.

It’s going to happen again, Abel, Raj said.  Soon.

What’s going to happen?

Blood Winds.  They’re coming.

Abel leaned back, slowed the flyer.  He suddenly felt sick at his stomach.  In the stories, the Redlanders hadn’t just killed the people of the Land.  They’d spitted babies on the ends of their spears.  They’d taken kids away to be slaves forever.

And worst of all, they tortured the riding donts before they slaughtered them.  Cut off their hoofpads.  Tied their mouths closed and plugged their blowholes so they couldn’t breathe.

Abel loved riding donts, loved everything about them.  It hurt him inside to hear a dont scream in pain.  It really bothered him if that pain came from a whip lashing or the kick of a glassrock spur.  If he hated one thing more than all else, it was people who were mean to donts.

“They’re going to kill the donts?  All of them?  They can’t do that!”

Maybe they can and maybe they can’t, Raj said, his tone softer. That’s part of why we’re here, Center and me.

You can stop it?  But you said God wants them to win, to —

Raj cut him off.  Zentrum.  Again, lad, Zentrum is not God.  God doesn’t care who wins or loses a fight.  Well, let’s just say God’s thinking on such matters is a bit hard to figure.  Zentrum, on the other hand, has a very simple plan.  Keep things the way they’ve always been.  Forever.  Maintain stasis.

He has achieved this aim on Duisberg for nearly 3,000 years by restricting the population to this peculiar blend of Neolithic and early industrial age technology.

Abel pictured the Land, the rolling fields of barley and flax he’d passed on the way from Lindron to Hestinga.  The flitter donts and the hardbacks and especially Mot, the little riding dont that was his special mount.

“What wrong with Stasis?  That’s what all the Laws and Edicts are supposed to be for.”

Can’t last, Raj said. And there’s no fallback.

Zentrum has made a fundamental miscalculation that will destine this planet to ruin, said Center. It was based on insufficient information.  After all, when the Collapse came, the slide was rapid due to nannite viral infection of electronica via the Tanachi Net.  A secured military or planetary defense computer of some sort, a being such as myself in original configuration, is often the only electronic suite that survived intact.  My kind can be an extremely protective, even paranoid, lot.

Creativity, innovation, people having a say in their own governance, said Raj.  Zentrum hates all that.

The words and their meanings again exploded in Abel’s mind.  He closed his eyes against the strain, but it didn’t seem to help.  This was not a headache.  It was more like a mind ache.

And within all the words, one shining, horrible, wondrous, amazing fact stood out.

What the voice said was true.

Zentrum was not God.  Not even the voice of God.

Zentrum was a mean Thursday school teacher who wanted you to sit up straight and recite the Law for watch after watch. Who never let you do anything that wasn’t Edict.  Who whacked you with the correction stick when you got out of Stasis for even one second.

In the Land, it’s Thursday forever, lad, said Raj.

When Abel opened his eyes again, he was hovering over the Fourth Cataract near the River’s headwaters as it cascaded out of the Schnee.

A village stretched below him.  Its rooftops not flat, as were all roofs Abel had ever seen so far.  These were oddly tilted and joined at the center in ridges.

They’re for shedding the autumn rains, lad, Raj said with a chuckle.  Never seen the like, have you?  Not only that, sometimes in midwinter they’re topped with snow.

White, like in the stories?

Yes, lad.  At least for a day.  Then the dusts settle in and browns it down.

Behold Orash, Progar District, said Center.  Behold the gateway of the Blood Wind.