UKArchive ID: 36696mitch
Originally published on July 8, 2016 in Fiction
Chapter 24 of the Light Father: The Scatterlings pick up the pieces and rest from their ordeal. Fern cooks them a meal then Harold learns enough from Kai to realise the Great Computer is not only evil but alive...
Harold and Mother Fern were drenched to the skin by the time they’d salvaged adequate food and medical supplies from the pulverised wreckage of the wagons. The only other thing that had miraculously survived intact was Saul’s game of Fifteens – everything else had been destroyed by the thousands of heavy-calibre bullets. He found it awkward spending time with the enigmatic Wiccan as her habit of finishing his sentences made him suspect that she was telepathically dipping into his mind. He felt naked in the presence of an angel and he knew all too well that she was enjoying herself immensely by flirting with him.
He next took Saul, Amos, Fria and Ibrahim back out to the ruined caravans to search for any weapons and clothes left behind. It was difficult work as the rain was mixed with hail so large that it stung both head and body. The light was fading fast as the storm intensified but as they’d found only a handful of knives, a hand-axe and a bent sword, he called a halt. As they retreated, three massive lightning bolts impacted the iron walls and gates sending up vast showers of sparks across the remnants of the Keep. “Please, God!” Saul cried out, shaking his fist at the raging heavens. “Don’t forsake us like this - haven’t we suffered enough?”
Once inside the shed, Harold impressed Fern by quickly rigging up an industrial heater to dry their clothes. He then used welding equipment to make a large coal-fired grill and as he worked, he made the Scatterlings and the Ferals search all the nooks, cubbies and crannies of the vast building where they found a treasure trove of mugs, saucepans, cutlery and plates belonging to the long dead workforce.
“Ha! I haven’t done this for an age,” Fern laughed as she set about cooking them a hot meal on the grill while Saul and Ibrahim heaved two large workbenches together to make them all a dinner table next to the Phoenix.
Harold got Pup to hold a torch for him as he carefully fired up the massive emergency generator. There was a huge cheer as the overhead lighting came on followed by shrieks as three lamps exploded spectacularly. “Sorry! My mistake!” he shouted across to them. “I’m not used to the voltages in this world!”
“What’s a volt-age, Light-Father?” Pup demanded eagerly.
“It’s the potential energy difference in the electric circuits that drives the current through the…” Harold halted and looked down at Pup’s baffled face. “Oh, never mind,” he smiled. “If we get through this, I’ll teach you how it all works. I promise.”
“Yes, Pup wants to learn. Pup wants to learn everything.”
“But first we need to eat, Pup. It smells delicious.”
“Mmmm. Mother Fern is making magic.”
Harold sat down and was impressed that the two benches had been covered with a large square of clean white linen that Fria and Amos had discovered in the canteen. He watched, chin on hand, as Surl and Peter set out the cutlery and plates then Amos added Christ Mass decorations he’d found in a box in one of the lockers. Streamers, tinsel and festive candles soon covered the improvised dining-table, transforming it into something wonderful.
Fern sat them all down with difficulty as the younger ones were getting over-excited by pretending it was Christ Mass for real and demanding presents. She and Fierce dished out the food then she recited a brief Wiccan prayer over them all. “May Gaia and God bless you and our meal today,” she smiled with her arms outstretched. “May the four elements of nature, the quintessence, the Sun, the Moon and all the planets guide our footsteps onto paths of good fortune and good health. May our hearts and souls shine forth with the light of love and dispel all doubt and darkness.”
Harold found them all staring at him. “Well, what are you waiting for?” he said awkwardly. “Eat!”
“It’s a custom in this world,” Fern explained as she sat down on the chair to his right. “At formal family meals and especially at Christ Mass, the father or the head of the household has to say something inspirational before anyone can eat.”
Harold stood and clattered noisily as he had forgotten to remove his cumbersome utility belt. “Ah, excuse me,” he muttered, red-faced. He undid the buckle and placed the belt next to his sword on the floor. “Look, I know we’re all worried about going to the Great Abbey,” he began. “But the more I learn of Mother Moss, the more I am learning to trust her foresight and her judgement. I have not been your Light-Father long but, as a father, I could not be prouder of my new family and I am sure we will go on to honour her wishes and her memory. Now let’s eat or Mother Fern’s efforts will be wasted!” He was impressed that none of them touched their food until he’d savoured his first mouthful.
“Well, Light-Father?” Fern prompted anxiously. “Do you find it acceptable or have I added too many herbs and spices?”
“Not at all. This food is amazing,” he grinned. “I can’t believe there were any fresh potatoes left in this world and you’ve put butter on them! Where did you get all these ingredients and this fresh meat from? You only brought one shoulder bag with you.”
“It was heavy enough,” she smiled. “Have you forgotten your dream about the Hill Where It Never Rains?”
“Ah, yes, I remember – you had gardens and farm animals there but it can’t be easy to grow food in this climate.” He stopped eating and looked at her suspiciously. “Wait, are you telling me that you have the power to control the weather?”
“No, I am not,” Fern smiled sweetly then she indicated the decorated table and the children wolfing down their food. “Amos, Fria and Surl have done well. Bless these children - they’ve earned this brief respite from death and danger, have they not?”
“They have and even Amos and Ibrahim are smiling. You’ve brought a little magic into their lives today despite the Order, their Inquisitions and their black rotor-craft.”
Fern leaned close to him and whispered words into his ear that both thrilled and chilled him to the core. “You are far too modest - you made it possible for these children to be children for just one more day and therein lies your true magic.” She placed her hand over his heart. “You are so full of love and concern for your new family that it puts me and my sisters to shame.”
He blushed furiously and was unable to reply so he turned instead to watch Fria and Bas helping Jacob and Eliza to eat - their hands had been so badly deformed by the plague that they could not hold a spoon or a fork. “I can’t believe that men of the cloth could do something this vile to children,” he muttered angrily.
“We could do nothing to stop them,” Fern sighed. “You can’t imagine how we helpless we felt when the plague began.”
Eliza was pathetically grateful for the assistance but she kept crying in frustration until Fria scolded her gently: “You haven’t changed, Eliza – you’ll do anything for a cuddle.”
“Not so hard, Eliza!” Bas warned as the Feral’s heartfelt hug left Fria gasping for breath. “She’s going a funny colour!”
Harold whispered to Shield who was sat to his left. “Have any of them said anything to you about the Great Abbey? Ibrahim and Amos are always up for a fight but even Saul is looking forward to this suicide mission. I need to understand why everyone accepts the fact that we’re going to do something completely insane.”
Shield lowered her spoon and leant forward to look at Fern who nodded at her to speak. “As you said earlier, we grew to trust Mother Moss over the years,” she said quietly. “She would always talk to us about fighting back against the Order and their Tally-men. She told us that this day would come and that we would have to trust to her craft and step willingly into the jaws of death so that we may survive. You know that if we don’t do this, the Brothers and the Tally-men will hunt us down and kill us anyway.”
“Don’t forget, Light-Father, that she foresaw the manner of her own death,” Fern reminded him. “Yet she did not flee her fate and abandon these children to Schimrian.”
“Are you suggesting I would do that?” he demanded sharply. “I’m beginning to realise that she did more than just train and nurture these children, she subliminally conditioned them!”
“Yet they trust you as much as they did her,” Fern said simply. “You are their Light-Father. Yes, what is it, Shield?”
“She would tell us of a day like this but she did not warn us of her Inquisition and death until it was upon us. She forbade us from helping her against so many Fathers and Brothers but she taught us well. She made us all practice for hours every day with our weapons. We may be ‘kids’ as you call us, Light-Father, but even before she appeared, we’ve always known in our hearts that our only chance of survival is for someone to stop Schimrian. Then you came to us in that light and we truly believed…”
“Moss may have foreseen or somehow arranged for your arrival but she did not mention this Great Computer to us,” Fern said thoughtfully. “This troubles me.”
“I don’t know how this ‘craft’ of yours works but she was no technician so she may not have realised how a computer could make the Revelation Virus possible,” Harold suggested. “Kai reckons that some of the Abbots and Brothers know a lot more about it than they let on to the rest of the Order and from what he’s told me so far, I think this Great Computer might be an A.I.”
“What is an ‘A.I.’?” Shield asked as Fern, Kai and Saul leant forward to listen attentively.
“From what I’ve seen here in the offices, your computers are not very sophisticated,” Harold explained, holding up his mobile. “This phone is more powerful than all the office computers in this yard and probably Crawcester put together. My world was twenty years ahead of yours in technology and we were well on the way to producing powerful computers capable of artificial intelligence – the initials are A.I. in my language – and that’s what I think this Great Computer is. It’s the only logical explanation.”
“I wondered why Abbot Michael would always talk about it as a person,” Kai said. “He would always say things like ‘oh, the Great Computer doesn’t want it done that way’ and ‘the Great Computer insisted on designing the begiullers this way.’ We were never allowed into the Great Annex to see it for ourselves.”
“How could something this sophisticated suddenly appear in a world with such limited technology?” Harold wondered aloud. “For something that devastating to appear in time to make the madness of the Order a reality can’t be a coincidence.”
“Many Orders believed that a Divine Balance governs evolution and by extension all forms of conflict and struggle,” Fern said. “Some claimed that God even arranges wars and disasters to bring down dictators and empires that grow too powerful.”
“What if this Great Computer did originate in another highly-advanced reality?” Harold suggested. “If it did design the virus then something profoundly evil must have bought it here just as Mother Moss or some other agency brought me.”
“The Order was extremely advanced and covert in medicine and genetics well before the advent of computing,” Kai argued. “So they could have developed such devices in secret.”
“I doubt it,” Harold replied thoughtfully. “You said that they amassed great wealth through medicine but computers like that require quantum leaps in technology that are way beyond a single organisation. I can’t see such devices being kept secret for long when they would profoundly revolutionise computing.”
“I remember once when I brought refreshments to the Great-Abbot, I entered his office without knocking,” Kai said brightly. “He was very angry and made me wait outside in the corridor. It puzzled me greatly so I put my ear to the door and I could hear that he was talking to someone with a strange accent but I could not make out what they were saying. When he had finished, he let me in and rebuked me soundly for my rudeness.”
“Pah!” Saul exclaimed incredulously. “He berates you for forgetting to knock a door after slaughtering billions.”
Kai was looking intently at Harold with fear in his eyes. “I recall now - he wasn’t talking to the Inquisitors on a video-link but to the one screen that directly accesses the Great Computer.”
“If you’re right,” Harold exclaimed. “Then Schimrian really does have an interactive A.I. working for him. Is it connected to all the other computers in the Order?”
Kai nodded. “It’s linked to everything. Its core is mounted inside a hexagonal structure in the Great Annex and it’s connected to all the huge slave-computers lining the walls. It has computer terminals all around its base but only the chosen few ever get inside the pillar to see the innards of the machine.”
“Does it control the Tally-men?” Harold asked. “If it does, then we could cripple the Order by destroying it.”
“The barracks computers directly control the Tally-men but the Great Computer overrides them,” Kai said eagerly. “It also controls the construction of equipment like the begiuller and the plasma-grenades. The Father-Technicians and Brother-Technicians who service the Great Annex are housed in separate barracks from the rest of the Order. They are an elite supervised directly by Abbot Michael and Abbot Camus who are in charge of the factories, laboratories, cells, rotor-craft and all the Redemption activities of the Order in the Great Abbey and throughout all Britannia.”
“What would happen if those two Abbots were killed?”
“They are highly intelligent men, Light-Father, the cream of the breeding programs. They strive to keep all the technical knowledge to themselves in the hope that Schimrian won’t Redeem them if they do. If they die, the Order in Britannia would be thrown into chaos and Schimrian would have to recall two equivalent Abbots or train and promote two Fathers to replace them. He would find it almost impossible to do this as he never allows more than two Abbots to reside at the Great Abbey at any one time.”
“He sounds completely paranoid but that’s what I’d expect from a murdering megalomaniac. He’s obviously afraid that one of his cronies might challenge his hold over the Order.”
Kai nodded. “Father Bucheort was one of the revered Conclave of Christ who engineered the Revelation Virus. The others are Pious, Amherus, Prideri, Grame and Kennet. Bucheort and Pious were Fathers at the time but Pious is an Abbot now. Schimrian trusts him but keeps him in the field conducting Inquisitions.”
“Good. Schimrian’s paranoia works in our favour by weakening the command structure. Can you draw a plan of the Great Abbey and mark down where everybody is stationed? I’d like to know what we’ll be up against when we storm the place.”
“I’m coming with you,” Kai declared suddenly, looking at both Shield and Fern for support. “There was no need for the Order to kill my family, the Aldermen and the Conclave of Architects like that. We believed in them completely but we were betrayed.”
“And what if they’d been spared?” Saul erupted. “You would have been content to let everyone else in the world die as long as you and your precious family were allowed to live! You can’t come with us because I don’t trust you!”
“You can trust him, Saul,” Fern said bluntly. “His family were slain and he knows that they will Redeem him if he ever returns. Don’t forget that I can reach into people’s souls, Saul. Would you like me to reach into yours?” she suggested pleasantly.
Saul went as white a sheet. “No,” he huffed. “I’ve done things I will regret for the rest of my life, Mother Fern. I don’t need you to drag them up for me as they’re burnt into my soul for all eternity.” He knelt to undo the hobble he’d tied around Kai’s ankles. “Listen well, Kai - if you betray us, I will kill you.”
Kai rubbed at his ankles. “I know you will, Saul, but hear this: I expect to die for my sins. You have my word - in the name of all my family who died through Revelation, I will never betray you. Give me a weapon and I will gladly die in battle for you.”
Saul was about to voice his disbelief when Harold raised a hand to forestall him. “That’s enough!” he grated. “Finish your meal then you’re all going to spend the rest of the evening helping me to get the Phoenix ready – if we can’t get her going by the time this storms ends, we’re not going anywhere.”
Saul flinched as a lightning bolt struck the ground near the open doors. He waited for the deafening concussion to subside. “We can’t fix a locomotive by tomorrow,” he protested
“Yes, we can!” Harold said in such a loud voice that all the merriment at the table ceased. “If Mother Moss wanted us to go the Great Abbey to take on the Order then we either get the Phoenix to work or we wait here for the Order to come and kill us.”
He looked at the fear and misery in the faces of the young ones and relented. He went to a nearby bench and plugged in a radio and quickly connected the wires from his phone output lead into the amplifier. For the next hour, the Children of Exodus ate, laughed and occasionally danced to the songs of another reality.
“You truly are the opposite of Saturn,” Fern smiled, placing a hand on his arm. “Where there is sadness, you bring such joy.”
(c) Paul D.E. Mitchell 2012-13 copyright protected
Archived comments for Chapter 24: Opposite of Saturn
Mikeverdi on 10-07-2016
Chapter 24: Opposite of Saturn
And on we go, learning more every chapter. Still reading and still enjoying. So pleased you are getting the reads.
Thanks, Mike - it's because I am constantly begging my Facebook followers to take pity on me! It's such a rich world that I want to explore but some readers tell me I have too many lulls and not enough action but I want to bring out all the back-stories to these amazing kids and the Wiccans.
Mikeverdi on 11-07-2016
Chapter 24: Opposite of Saturn
There is always a problem with how much to tell. When we post novels in parts there are bound to be parts without action, make these parts shorter is one way around this. An edit in these areas would solve this. It's always difficult as this is a world you created. Given the whole book in one segment, and the information passages would fit into context. I had the same problem with Webber. I took the advise I'm offering you from the critique. That said, I am still enjoying the story.