The Savior – Snippet 04


He’d been right. The prisoners spoke in an extreme patois beyond even the normal Progar dialect. With concentration, it was comprehensible to a speaker of Landish, but never easy. Yet it was close enough to the Scoutish patois in which Abel was fluent that Abel could understand the captured men fully. Plus, he always had Center to fill in the gaps with his accurate grammatical extrapolation.

Abel would rather have missed watching the excruciation of the prisoners, but since no one else in Third Brigade headquarters spoke Scoutish, he must be present as an interpreter during the interrogation.

Also there was the fact that his best friend was the Third Brigade’s chief interrogator, and he wanted Abel there.

As with all things having to do with the Guardian Corps, there was specialization and professionalism in the ranks, including specialist interrogation squads. The Third Brigade interpreters were led by Timon Athanaskew. Timon had started out as Abel’s great rival at the Academy.

Law and Land, we hated one another.

Timon was First Family on both sides, and he didn’t see anything wrong with using that fact to get his way when he could. Abel was only First Family on his mother’s side of the family, the Klopsaddles. His father was the highest military official in Treville District, but this didn’t obscure the fact that Joab Dashian came from a second-tier clan. Such a taint of common blood was enough to mark Abel as lower in status to one such as Timon Athanaskew.

As Abel later came to know, Timon was not to blame for his attitude. Or at least not wholly to blame. He had been suckled on the idea that the blood of the ruling class ran in his veins. His brother, Reis, as stuck-up a prig as Abel had ever met, was a priest serving in the Tabernacle inner circle. Reis Athanaskew was a favorite of Abbot Goldfrank, the ruling cleric himself, it was said. The brothers had long planned to be High Priest of Zentrum and Commander of the Guardian Corps, respectively, one day. They considered themselves steward princes of the Land, answerable only to Zentrum.

No matter how high he might rise, Abel would always be only a soldier to the Athanaskew brothers, answerable to the priesthood and high command. In other words, answerable to them.

Abel had, at first, believed Timon just another First Family brat raised on privilege and useless when needed most. This was accentuated by Timon’s appearance. He was groomed down to the finest hair and always immaculately turned out in his uniform. Yet if he’d stopped to consider back then, Abel knew he would have realized this was impressive in itself considering that no servants were allowed to students at the Academy, no matter what status the students held in the outside world.

Timon had a first-rate mind — Abel soon saw as much in class — but despite both of them being the cream of the crop, the two hardly spoke to one another their first year. It seemed the dislike was mutual.

Then, during the second year at the Academy, Abel ran up against a cabal of cadets — his fellow students — who ran a secret game of carnadon baiting and fighting in the Tabernacle pools at night. They’d made a small fortune in barter chits taking bets on the action from locals.

Abel admired carnadons for what they were: ferocious creatures, never sated, born predators that would kill a man as easily as they could a grazing riverdak. Even so, he hated to see them suffer. The cadets doped the pool water with a scent gland cut from a carnadon female in mating state. Confined in a small enclosure and exposed to such a stimulus, the carnadon males were sure to tear one another apart.

The ring of cadets had tried to draw Abel in, offering him a piece of the action if he kept his mouth shut, but he let it be known he was opposed to what was going on with the carnadons. He gave them a week to end their stupid games or he’d turn them in.

Timon was also against the fights, but on religious grounds. The carnadon was the symbol of the priesthood, of power in the Land. They were Zentrum’s beasts, not man’s.

In the end, the cabal was outed not by Abel or Timon, but a stupid mistake of their own making. They shorted the pay of the black-market purveyor of female scent glands. He’d sent a goon squad to get the barter chits from them. The cadets had made short work of the goons, killing two of them — the cadets were Guardians in training, after all — but the bodies had to be explained. Under interrogation, one of the leaders broke and spilled the whole sorry operation. He was allowed to leave the Academy and return to the Regulars. The other leaders of the gambling cabal were ejected from the Academy in disgrace.

The remainder of the ring couldn’t believe one of their own had ratted on them. Instead, they decided that Abel and Timon had betrayed them all. In an attempt to frighten and intimidate Abel and Timon, the remaining members of the carnadon ring had announced the fact that they would take revenge out of Timon and Abel’s hides.

Bad idea to announce your intentions beforehand.

The gang caught Abel and Timon on watch duty at the lower pools one day, and attacked. Timon’s First Family upbringing included years of martial training, and he’d served as a Regular officer in Lindron’s border force. Abel had been the captain of the Treville Scouts. Both were prepared and on the lookout.

It hadn’t been much of a fight.

When it was done, four attackers were injured, two with broken limbs, and one had fallen into a pool and been torn to shreds by the Tabernacle carnadons — a fitting fate if ever there was one. After an official inquiry, Timon and Abel had been not only let off the hook for the death but also commended for trying to save the man at their own risk.

From that day on, Abel and Timon had one another’s backs. Grudgingly, slowly, their trust grew into real friendship over the next two years.

What Abel had taken for aloofness in Timon was actually a devotion to justice that Timon took to extremes. Though he was quite religious, Timon also hated dishonesty and the lies of the hypocritical faithful as much as he did slacking off when it came to the Laws and Edicts of Zentrum. Abel had to admit Timon walked the walk better than anyone he’d ever met. Yet Timon’s coldness was a fact of his personality.

Abel had not been surprised when Timon chose interrogation as his specialization during fourth year at the Guardian Academy. Being an Athanaskew, he’d gotten the assignment he wanted. Since then Timon had risen to second in command of the secretive Tabernacle Security Service, a special Guardian-priest joint force. He’d been serving there when he’d heard about the coming Progar campaign. Timon had pulled every string he could to get assigned to a fighting unit somewhere. Being an Athanaskew, his request had been granted.

Which was good for us, Abel thought.

He had recommended Timon for the position, and von Hoff, who remembered Timon from his days at the Academy, had backed Abel’s choice.

Abel had himself been ordered to a position on Guardian planning staff in the Tabernacle. It was a plum assignment, he had to admit. He’d served for a year before being appointed district military commander of Cascade upon the recommendation of his boss at planning, Colonel Zachary von Hoff. “There are a dozen senior men, but none of them have orchestrated the destruction of five thousand Blaskoye mounted riders,” he’d said. “Now go clean that place up.”

* * *

Timon, for the most part, conducted his dark business bloodlessly. Much of the pain that was his stock-in-trade was brought about by pulling bodies into unnatural positions with hemp ropes and woodblock pulleys. Abel had seen Timon use other methods, however: thin obsidian knives to jam under fingernails and toenails, and smoking hardwood sticks with red coals at the end for the puncturing of eyes.

All the stakes, ropes and pulleys, and other accouterments of the Corps interrogators had always seemed overly elaborate to Abel.

Sadistic, Raj said. But effective to a degree.

Decadent coercion is a common end product of utilitarianism social structures within autocracies, Center put in. Coercion is meant to be employed in an impersonal manner for societal purposes only. Yet individuals cannot intentionally give pain to others without personal motivation and personal cost. As the psyche is scarred, evil easily becomes an end in itself. That such practices asymptotically culminate in acts of cruelty is readily apparent within the Seldonian calculus for any who care to make the computations. These involve the integration of a Series A longitudinal for n equals any numerated inter-ethical valuation units with a latitude of Series B —