The Heretic – Snippet 34

And got hold of it.  The disk.  The host.

And, with the hermit screaming bloody murder, Abel pulled the disk out.  He clenched his palm, holding it there.  “Got it,” he said.  “By the Lady’s Bones, I got it!”

Suddenly, the hermit ceased struggling.  He lay utterly still.  At a concerned glance from Golitsin, the two men simultaneously lessened the pressure of the musket barrel across Freidman’s throat.

And then the hermit began to sob.  Great wracking sobs that echoed underneath the buildings.  “No, no,” he cried.  “Gone, gone, forever gone.”

Golitsin shook his head.  “Poor fellow,” he said.

Abel held out his palm, showing the spit-wet, bloodstain disk.  “Look at this thing,” he said.  “What is it?”

Golitsin shook his head.  “I really don’t know,” he said. “There are rumors.  Tales of what it means to be elevated to prelate.  I always thought those stories were all dakshit.  But now –”

A Mark 9 ZhUdRp5 quantum transceiver, said Center. This is the ZhUd model prior to the Mark 10, which was auto-tuning.  The Mark 9 cannot be used alone, but is dependent upon a hub, which is probably contained somewhere in the Tabernacle of Lindron.  It was necessary to condition the disk and the individual user’s neural pathways using a separate nanotechnological infusion known as a cerebral serrate.  Without the introduction of the serrate, which obvious Friedman did not receive, the transceiver would have used whatever brain to skin pathways that existed and were available.  Uncontrolled on either receiving or transmission ends. 

Friedman stole the disk, looks upon the Mind of God bare, and it drives him dakshit crazy, thought Abel.

Imprecise formulation, but a close enough metaphorical approximation, Center replied dryly.

What are going to do about it?

There is little to do. His neural pathways are scrambled, with an eighty four point six chance that they are damaged beyond repair. He is in not state to travel, and he will lose whatever sense he has within the next few hours.

“We have to get him somewhere safe,” said Golitsin.  “Find someone to take care of him.”

“Who?” said Abel.

“I’m not sure, but we can’t just –”

With a roar, Friedman threw himself forward against the now lightly held musket and flung them both to the side with the power of his movement.

Golitsin recovered first, and leapt after the hermit, to no avail.  Friedman was already away as Golitsin’s fingers grazed the heel of the fleeing priest.

“Friedman,” Golitsin called.  “Brother!”

Then Abel saw where Golitsin was looking.  Down the slope of the bank.  Friedman was running full tilt down into the darkness toward the sound of the rushing water.

Golitsin turned around, reached for a lamp, but Abel knocked his hand away.  “I have to go after him,” said Golitsin.

“No,” Abel said.

“But –”

“No,” Abel said, and steadied his grip on the priest’s arm.  No matter what, he was not going to let go now.

Then from below came the cry.  It almost sounded like joy.  “Alaha Zentrum!”

Then the carnadon roar.  The scrape of scales.  The flat flap of a mighty tail against the muddy Land.

Then the screams.  The human screams.

Then those screams stopped and there was only the scrape of scales and the low grunts of satiation.

“Do you think he made it to the water, at least?” Golitsin asked.

“Do you?”


They sat within the square of lamps for a time, until all was silent once more.

“He said there was a better way up,” Golitsin said.

“Yes,” Abel said.  He nodded toward one side of the square.  “I see a trail.”

Golitsin followed his gaze.  “Scout’s eyes,” he finally said.  “I don’t see anything.”

“Good thing you’re not a Scout, then,” Abel said.  “And I am not a priest.”

Abel reached out his hand with the wafer in it.

I think this is best for now, he thought.

Perhaps, said Center. The max and min optimals become very difficult to calculate from such a nexus.

Abel is right, Raj said. It is best. For now.

How about that? He called me directly by my name and not “the lad,” Abel thought — but he carefully kept the thought from reaching the state of mental expression.

“Will you take this?” Abel said to Golitsin.  “And will you promise not to use it?”

Golitsin required a moment to realize what Abel meant.  Then Abel opened his hand and revealed the quantum communication disk.

“Maybe I shouldn’t take it,” the priest said.

“I think you should,” Abel replied.  “You said it yourself: you may be a bad priest, but you’re not that kind of bad priest.  You’ll keep it safe.”

Golitsin considered a moment more.  “All right,” he finally said.  He reached out a hand and Abel dropped it into his palm.  The priest withdrew his hand and found a place to tuck it within his robes.  Evidently there were quite a few pockets therein of which Abel had previously been unaware.

Golitsin turned upslope.  “So Scout, do your scouting,” he said.  “Get us the hell out of here.”

“My pleasure,” Abel replied. And, after a moment of reading the muddy ground, he had the trail all right, the shortcut, and led them upward toward the day.

They emerged, as Abel had suspected they might, through the seat of a public toilet, greatly surprising a washer woman who had her hand on the door to enter when it flew open and two men emerged from the privy — a soldier and a priest.

“By the Stasis,” she exclaimed as they rushed past her, begging her pardon, and lost themselves in the crowded street.