The Heretic – Snippet 12

Abel liked donts, and, like most military brats, had been around them all his life and figured he understood their ways far better than any civilian.  Herd and territory were everything to a dont.  When you could see the world in those terms, you could almost always get why donts did whatever they did.  Mostly though, Abel knew that a Scout’s life depended on picking out good dont-flesh from bad, and he aimed to become an expert, because he aimed to become a Scout.

Abel passed the corral and arrived at the large building of black River brick that served as District Command Headquarters.  The entranceway was strung with a beadwork screen of Delta shells to keep out the flies, and it rattled as Abel passed through into the cool interior.  An outer room held his father’s staff and his adjutant, Lieutenant Terian Courtemanche. Courtemanche was everything the puffy featured Milovich was not — hardfaced, impatient with nonsense, and muscled like a fighter.  Abel admired him, but was also a little afraid of him.

“Cadet Dashian reporting,” Abel said, pulling himself to attention.

Courtemanche looked up from a scroll he was proofreading for errors.  He motioned Abel past him.  “Go on in,” he said.  “I think the old man has a bin of filing for you to tackle.”  Abel groaned, which caused Courtemanche to indulge in the slightest smile.  Then he returned to checking the scroll — and ignoring the presence of a lowly cadet.

Abel passed through another bead curtain and entered the office of District Commander Joab Dashian, his father.

Joab was not alone.  There was a man in tan pants and belted overshirt.  On a nearby table, a pith helmet rested, the mark of a civil engineer. Abel knew him slightly, but couldn’t remember his name.

Sigismund Reidel.

Okay. Thanks.

Reidel and Abel’s father were examining a plan for what looked like, at a glance, an extension of the Hestinga irrigation system. Abel had seen (and filed) many such plans before.  This one was drawn on a rolled-out scrolled weighted down on either end by smooth river stones.  Light from a skylight covered by a translucent section of herbidak hide poured down from directly above the deployed plan.

“So the water ram would go here,” Joab said and pointed at a spot on the plan.  “But that’s a bit far downstream.  Will there be enough water remaining to raise it to the second plateau on the Escarpment?”

“I’m fairly certain there will be,” Reidel answered, but from quavering tone of his voice, even Abel could tell he was very much not so sure.


“It seems the best place.”

Joab sighed.  “Politically, you mean.”  He looked the engineer calmly in the eyes, then pointed to the plan. “This is Hornburg land, isn’t it?”

“I believe so,” the engineer replied, “but there are no ownership boundaries on the plan, as you can see.  It’s a district project, after all.”

Joab shook his head.  “Believe me, after five years serving here, the boundaries are etched in my mind.  Move the ram upstream to the original location.”

“But –”

Joab held up a hand to cut Reidel off.  “I understand. I will deal with the Hornburgs.  This is no longer your problem.”

After a moment of tension, the engineer nodded.  He lifted the edge of his robe and used it to wipe a bit of sweat from his face.  “We should double check the flow, commander.”

Joab smiled, nodded toward the plan.  “Let’s go over the figures again, Sigis,” he said.  The two men began discussing ditch widths and flow rates, and Abel tuned them out.  The pile of scrolls to be filed was on a broad table that his father used to spread out the really large maps, and Abel began to sort them by type.  An upper border dipped in green pigment was command.  Ochre was the color of logistics, and yellow represented communications with the local temple.  Red was for messages sent and received by semaphore flag or courier.  Secret documents were sealed with wax and scarab marking.

Abel sorted the scrolls, about fifty in all, into their various baskets according to content.  The baskets would be delivered and filed by date in the large company library adjacent to headquarters.  Abel was occasionally assigned that job when a soldier who was literate could not be located.  It happened more often than Abel would have liked.  He hated filing.

After more wrangling, the Reidel received his instructions and left the office.  Joab rolled up the irrigation plan.

“File that,” he said to Abel, “under trouble.”

“Yes, sir.  Ochre, sir?”

His father nodded, and Abel began to carefully roll up the scroll.

“So how was class?”  Joab settled into the chair behind his desk and poured himself a cup of wine from a clay pitcher.


“Just okay?”

“Calculating land areas.”


“Yeah, I guess.” Abel didn’t look over at his father.  Was this the time to ask?  Maybe.  Maybe not.  “Why did you have the water ram moved, Father?”

“Oh you were listening in, were you?  Good.” His father took a sip of the wine. “The Hornburgs put pressure on the builders to move the ram downstream.”

“Where there’s less water in the irrigation ditch,” replied Abel.

“A ram needs lots of water moving fast to push a smaller amount of water uphill.”

“I know that, Father.”

Joab smiled. “Of course you do, Abel, but most don’t have the faintest idea how the things work.  Matlan Hornburg, for instance.  I’m sure he doesn’t know and doesn’t care.”

“Then why did he want the ram on his family lands?”

Joab looked at Abel, sighed, and took another, longer drink of wine.  “Why?  So the Hornburgs can control the water supply to the second Escarpment, that’s why. In a couple of years, that plateau is going to be filled with barley fields.  Imagine if you have the power to cut off the water to all those fields from one point.  Those farmers are going to do anything you ask.”