The Heretic – Snippet 10


The classroom was stuffy and smelled of dont piss.  It had once been a stable, and there were no windows and the floor sand was not packed, much less paved over.  Bits of straw from the its previous life as a stall could still be kicked up, and Abel suspected this was where the urine odor still resided.  Abel knew he ought to feel lucky. Most of the people of the Land, even those from First Families, never learned to read, and resorted to an abacus when numbers began to move much past twenty. With his father’s permission, the officers with children had pooled their resources to hire a teacher and had rented the space from the military garrison.

Reading had come easily to Abel.  Math had not.

With class a half day on Mondays and Fridays, and, of course instruction in the Law and Stasis taking up all of Thursday, Abel had begun to spend a great deal of time inside his thoughts talking to the voices he still was not quite sure were real, but that he knew had proved to be quite helpful at times.

But the voices, Raj and Center, would not give him the damn answers.  At least they hadn’t yet.  He was determined to keep asking for help, because wheedling was easier than attempting another meaningless word problem of the sort the instructor, Lieutenant Milovich, seemed to take such pleasure in assigning.

I hope you know us better than that now, lad, Raj said. We’re here to give you more options, not turn you into a suckling babe again.

Yeah, right, thought Abel.  Prove you want to help by doing this math problem for me.  What’s the angle of the triangle Lieutenant Milovich wants us to calculate?  I’ve got two angles and a side.  It’s not a right angle, so how do I do it?

If we told you, how would that help you learn trigonometry?

You could just put it in my head.

That is correct, Center put in.  I could instantly provide you with the answer to this question.  But I could not condition you sufficiently so that you will know how to work out the problem for yourself, or how to approach future problems.

Give me the answer.


I don’t care about ballistics or land surveying.  I care about being a Scout.

And do you not think knowing how to estimate land areas might come in useful out there is the wastes of the Redlands.

No.  Abel considered.  Well, I don’t know.  Give me the answer anyway.


I know about the Redlands, but if you tell me the answer, it will get me out of this stuffy garrison taking lessons from a junior officer with too much time on his puffy little rich-boy hands.

The lieutenant’s hand swelling is from hypothyroidism.  He’ll be dead before he’s thirty from autoimmune system collapse, Center said.  A Fibonacci projection using Seldon values for social normatives does indicate an upper class upbringing, however.  Reconstruction of formative moments should be possible —

Center took longer than usual before he spoke again.  Abel had learned that this usually indicated he was performing some sort of extremely complex calculation.

Yes, I have it now. Observe:

Milovich as a boy Abel’s age, standing next to a window in the upper stories of a residence in Lindron.  He was sipping a steaming liquid (smell was present in the vision) and Abel detected the odor of cured yerba mate.  Milovich — or the boy as Abel had to think of him now — was wearing a linen wrap twisted about one shoulder and clasped at the hip by a belt of well-tanned carnadon leather.

Just what I figured, Abel thought.  Sipping mate and clothed in carnadon.


The boy suddenly broke into a smile and turned from the window.  He spoke to a young girl who sat in a corner working at a loom.

Servant or concubine?

Try sister.

“Father’s home,” said the boy.

His sister nodded placidly, but remained at her work.  The boy rattled down the stairs and emerged in a finely furnished receiving room below.  He waited nervously as the door swung open.


A man in the door in the blue robes of the high priesthood’s service.  A dark scowl on his face.  “What’s this?” he said.  “What the hell have you done?”

The boy glanced down at his father’s hands.  They held a creation of balsa and glue that had taken the boy a full day of labor to create.

His father lifted this creation in front of the boy’s face.

“It’s. . .it’s a glider,” said the boy.  “One of the boys at school showed me some scroll drawings.  I just looked at them and figured out how to make one and I wanted you to –”

“You wanted me to what?”

“I worked really hard on it,” the boy said, desperation slipping into his voice.  “Because. . .I know you think I can’t do anything right. I wanted to show you I can, I mean sometimes –”

“You left it on the stoop.”

“So you’d see it,” replied the boy, “when you got home, I mean.”

“And the neighbors? Did you consider that they might see it?”

“I didn’t think about that.”

“Of course you didn’t, you stupid fuck,” said the father.  “Of course you didn’t.”

Shaking with anger, he crushed the balsa flyer in front of the boy’s eyes.  “You could’ve gotten me fired.  You could’ve gotten you and your sister dragged away.  Do you see what you’ve done?”

“But I –”

The boy didn’t have the opportunity to finish his sentence.  His father lashed out with a backhand and sent him spinning across the room.  And when he fell, his father stepped up and kicked him hard in the abdomen.