| To The Primitive Man
© Curt Jeffreys, Artwork by Linnea Sinclair
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(Click Here For Printable Version) (May contains strong language and situations)
The room was electric with anticipation, like the air during a springtime thunderstorm. Monks hovered together in small groups, mostly by series, each group of clones hunched together gossiping, speculating. The big day was at hand: who was to be the Chosen One? The Arthur series had their hopes on Brother Luke -- no one was better prepared than he, no one more intelligent. And no one but Father Michael was as old as he, was the counter argument from the Maubry clones. Others said it would be Brother Thomas, but just as many had their doubts.
Brother Peter sat at the far end of the Great Hall, alone, nerves tingling, stomach aching, debating the merits of vomiting versus fainting. The Brothers paid him little heed, as was their habit, instead preferring their deep discussions amongst their cliques, leaving the young one to himself as they oft times did. Ever the outsider, ever alone, that was Brother Peter's lot. He didn't mind, for secretly he was proud to have come from outside stock. Being different was a badge of honor few of the Brothers could ever know. If only they knew what he knew.
When Father Michael finally took the rostrum the monks quieted down and the room fell into a strained silence. all eyes on the ancient priest.
"Brothers," Father Michael's voice echoed through the Great Hall in a surprisingly strong baritone, "tomorrow is Assessment Day. We have been looking forward to this day for a long time. Most of you are too young to remember the last Assessment a generation ago; I myself was only a child at the time." Restrained chuckles filled the hall. "The future of mankind is determined by Assessment," he continued. "Are the Dark times over? Is mankind ready for the return of Technology? These questions are to be answered by one of our own who will go out into the world, sojourning amongst the common man. His findings will become the basis of our course of action for the next generation."
This was it. Brother Peter swallowed hard and held his breath.
"Will Brother Peter please rise?"
The young monk stood slowly. He closed his eyes and tried not to faint. He could feel the disbelieving stares hot against his face, could hear the furtive whispers.
"Brother Peter has been appointed Assessor of the Generation," the old priest said with an authority that hushed the monks. "Brother," Father Michael went on, his voice solemn, "do you swear by all that you hold sacred to perform the duties of Assessor in an impartial, non-prejudicial manner and to uphold the code of honor and ethics of the Brotherhood of the Cistern?"
Brother Peter opened his eyes. "Yes, Father," he squeaked. "I swear."
The brothers slapped their chests with open palms, signifying their support -- Father Michael's decision was final; the Chosen One had been named. "Then I hereby command you to prepare yourself for your journey," Father Michael said. "You may go."
Brother Carl and Brother Fredrick were in his cell, waiting for him. Each man had a large box at his feet full of equipment for Brother Peter's journey.
Peter removed his robe and stood in silence, arms held out from his sides. The two worked quickly and efficiently.
"You are familiar with this equipment?" Brother Carl asked.
"Yes, Brother. Brother Fredrick can vouch for me."
"A most excellent pupil," Brother Frederick smiled, helping Peter into his cooling suit. "He'll do just fine."
Brother Carl placed a pair of night vision goggles around the younger monk's neck. "You'll be traveling by night so use these," it was an order not a suggestion. Brother Peter sensed the man's disapproval of Father Michael's decision. "I'm also fitting you with a sub-vocal receiver-transmitter," Brother Carl continued, placing a small flesh colored device in Brother Peter's right ear. "All you have to do is whisper and we'll hear you and you can hear us. And," he reached into his box and removed a small medallion on a chain, "with this we will see all that you see. You can't possibly foul things up. All you have to do is walk around so we can observe."
Brother Peter slipped the medallion over his head. "Is that it? Anything else?" He was anxious to be done with this cranky old monk.
Brother Frederick smiled and pulled an ugly looking syringe out of his box. "Bend over, laddie," he laughed. "These wee beasties will protect you from any nasties you might pick up out there."
Brother Peter winced as the needle slid through soft flesh, a slow moving warmth spreading from the injection site as millions of nanos entered his blood stream, already on patrol for foreign organisms.
Brother Peter was buttoning his robe when Father Michael walked in.
"You are ready?" the old man asked.
"Yes, Father," Brother Peter knelt before his master.
"My son," Father Michael smiled, "tonight you go out into the world as the emissary of our Brotherhood; you are the Chosen One. I have given you all that you need. Nothing has been withheld from you."
The priest bade him rise.
"Look at me, my son," he said. "I do not wish to mislead you: The outside world can be a dangerous place, a frightening place. You know that the last Assessor never returned. You can bow out now and I can appoint another in your place."
"No, Father," Brother Peter said. "I am ready."
"I know you are." The priest touched his cheek softly. "I knew from the day you were born you would be the Chosen One. Who better to assess the world than someone from the world." the old man smiled. "You are so much like your mother, Peter. You have her strength, her character. I thank God daily that she managed to stumble upon this monastery, heavy with child as she was. You have been a blessing to me, my son, and to the others."
Peter doubted the others felt very blessed, but he could never doubt the old man's sincerity. Father Michael had been the only father he'd ever known, raising him, teaching him and, after his mother died, taking him as an apprentice to the Cistern.
The priest smiled warmly. "Go now, my son."
Brother Peter bowed and was gone.
Brother Lionel set the small craft down twenty kilometers from the nearest settlement, still well within the foothills.
"Best of luck, Brother. I'll meet you here when you summon me."
He waved as Brother Peter stepped out into the darkness. He would walk from here; they could not risk the aircraft being seen or heard by the locals. Brother Peter watched as the small craft disappeared over the Haunted Mountains, heading back to the dome, back to the safety of the monastery and the only home he'd ever known.
He had never been this far out before, never alone, never at night. His night-vision goggles painted the world in eerie green light. He looked around: low rolling foothills to the east with the flatlands further on. To the west, the Haunted Mountains -- and home. He steeled his will, set his mind on his goal and started walking east.
"Father, are you there?" he spoke softly.
"Yes, my son," Father Michael assured him through the sub-vocal in his right ear. "I am with you."
He walked on through the night, following the long unused road bed, anxious to make the first village by daybreak.
The sun was up, full and fat, the temperature well into the nineties when he spotted the village. His cooling suit had kicked in an hour earlier but the heat still seeped in, tapping his strength. How did these people survive this hell without Technology?
Bordertown was not much to look at; the fortifications were ramshackle and the construction of the buildings was so haphazard it was a wonder they managed to stay upright at all. His knock at the gate was answered by a filthy, malformed face peering through a small opening.
"What?" the face asked.
"I am a traveler. I seek food and water."
The face studied him, suspicious, perhaps frightened.
"You got money?"
"Yes." Brother Peter jangled a leather bag hanging from his belt.
A dirty hand, minus two fingers, replaced the face. Four gold coins later, the gate swung open on rusting hinges, revealing the town square just inside teaming with the early morning activity of village life.
Peter walked through, keenly aware of eyes upon him, trying to walk confidently, his stomach churning. The gate closed behind him with a loud clank.
Smoke from dung fires curled around decaying buildings like tongues of mist, clinging to everything, gagging him. He discretely slipped a pair of purifiers into his nostrils, making sure to breathe only through his nose.
He went to the cleanest of several small open-air food stalls.
"How much?" he asked the old hag behind a table lined with cakes of coarse black bread.
The old woman stared up at him with wide eyes, her mouth working silently, wrinkled hands making hex signs. She disappeared into a lean-to, the door slamming behind her.
What? What had he done wrong? He was trying to act natural, as if he belonged, but he was obviously doing something wrong. A crowd had gathered at a safe distance, staring and pointing, their whispers floating to him in incomprehensible snatches. Several children pushed their way through to stand around him in a half-circle. He smiled, but received only blank stares in return.
He turned back to the square, the children following at a safe distance, joined now by a tall thin boy wearing a knowing smile.
A group of men carrying farm tools approached from the far side of the square. A tall gaunt man stepped forward, his face all angles and corners, burnt dark red by years of hard work under the relentless UV.
"We don't want no trouble here," he said flatly.
"I'm a traveler," Brother Peter explained. "I'm no trouble."
"We don't want no trouble here," the man repeated. "We don't want nothin' to do with Black Magic." He pointed at Brother Peter's head.
"What?" Brother Peter reached up slowly. His goggles! He'd flipped them up when the sun rose, never giving them a second thought.
"We want no part of the devil or his machinery. Now git!" the man yelled, waving his axe, egged on by shouts from his companions and the restless crowd.
Sincerely believing now that discretion was indeed the better part of valor, Brother Peter made a quick retreat, the crowd close behind yelling obscenities, pelting his back with rocks. He stumbled through as the gate swung open, the crowd hurling curses and stones at his retreating backside. The gate slammed shut behind him.
He sat for some time in the shade of an outbuilding some distance from the town walls, safe from the stones of the townspeople. Their hatred tempered by fear, they refused to leave the safety of their walls.
His skin itched as the nanos worked to repair the bruises and lacerations on his back. Thank God for his cooling suit; it had absorbed the brunt of the blows.
He felt no animosity toward the villagers, after all his mother might have come from Bordertown. It was conceivable he had family in there. Maybe a second cousin had thrown rocks at him not knowing Peter was of the same blood. The thought darkened his mood: he had let the villagers down just as much as he had Father Michael and the Brothers. How could he have been so stupid?
"My son," Father Michael's voice startled him. "You must continue on to the next town, Silas. There you will continue the Assessment. All is not lost."
"But you saw how stupidly I behaved!" Peter whined. "I know better than to display Technology to these people! Let me come home. Send someone else. Please?"
"You are the Chosen One," the priest said. "You will finish what you have begun. I have faith in you. Now you must have faith in yourself."
He struggled to his feet and circled Bordertown at a safe distance, following the main road east to Silas. He had just topped a rise in the road when he noticed the tall thin boy from the crowd following him. He motioned the boy to join him.
"I saw you back at the village," he said as the gangly youngster approached. Fourteen, maybe fifteen years old, the boy was bone thin and gangly. He was filthy, dressed in rags.
The boy pointed to Brother Peter's robes. "You're a monk, aren't you?"
"Yes. How did you know that?" The boy was far too young to have ever met a Brother of the Cistern and with an average life-span of thirty-two, neither had his parents.
"I am Brother Peter. What's your name?"
"Yeah, like in 'chicken', 'cause I gots the chicken legs." The boy waggled a leg.
Brother Peter laughed and Chick laughed too.
"Pleased to meet you, Chick." He clasped arms with the boy. "Are you traveling my way?"
"Yep," the boy said. "I live in Silas, so I figured I'd walk with you."
"So why aren't you afraid of me, Chick?" he asked as they resumed walking.
"Bordertown folks are dumber than dumb," the boy explained. "Everybody knows that. They're afraid of everything."
"And you're not?"
"Nah, I'm from Silas, the big city. I'm not a country boy."
City boy or not, there was no way this boy could know about monks.
"But how did you know I'm a monk?"
"There's this guy in Silas," the boy said. "He's just like you."
"Like me? What do you mean?" Brother Peter asked, curious.
"He's real smart, he knows stuff. He's a monk, like you."
Brother Peter stopped walking.
"He's a monk?" he asked. "Are you sure?"
"Yeah, sure I'm sure." Chick said, surprised by the monk's reaction. "He knows things, lots of things, and he can do stuff."
Brother Peter's heart pounded. "Can I meet him?" he asked. "Can you take me to him?"
"Sure," the boy said. "Bet he'd like to meet you. Everybody's scared of him. Nobody talks to him but me. He gets lonely, I think."
"Why do people fear him? Is he unclean?"
"Nah, he's clean as you and me. They're just scared 'cause he's so smart," Chick said in a geez-you're-dumb tone of voice. "People don't like smart people: They kill them."
A chill ran through the young monk, a river of ice-water a meter wide.
The boy resumed walking, kicking a rock down the dusty road. "There's talk in Silas he's a sorcerer, you know, black magic. That's what most people think. They say he's done a deal with the Devil, that he's going to bring Technology back. I think there's lots of folks in Silas who'd rather see him dead as not."
Peter nodded. Technology had blasted these people back to the iron-age and they had every reason to fear its return. That's why the Brothers remained hidden in the Blasted Lands, keeping Technology alive until the time when mankind would welcome its return.
Brother Peter had expected Silas to be somehow different from Bordertown. Chick had given him the impression it was a real city, but what he saw under-whelmed him; except for being larger, Silas was indistinguishable from Bordertown -- same filth, same poverty.
The city gates stood open and they entered unchallenged. Security seemed much more lax than at Bordertown. Brother Peter wondered why until he noticed a dozen or so large, well-fed men with long pikes patrolling the square: Silas had a militia to keep things peaceful.
Chick lead him down a series of twisting, turning alleyways and back streets choking with people and animals and waste from both. The monk was thoroughly disoriented by the time they stopped. He prayed Father Michael was able to track him.
"Over here," the boy said at last, pointing to a large well kept and very out of place white-washed building. "He's in here."
The boy knocked on the massive wooden door. "Master! It's me, Chick!"
The door swung open, revealing the oldest man Brother Peter had ever seen, dressed in a snow white robe, just like Father Michael's.
The boy smiled. "Look, Master, I brought a visitor!"
The old man squinted up at Brother Peter.
"Do I know you?" he asked in a rusty castrato.
Brother Peter took a step toward the old man, extending his arm. The old man took a step back.
"I am Brother Peter."
"You're a Sister," the old man squeaked.
"A Cistern," Brother Peter corrected. "I'm a Brother of the Cistern. Cistern as in 'reservoir', a reservoir of knowledge...."
"Sister, Cistern," the old man spat. "I know all about you and I know why you're here. I've been expecting you. You better come in off the street before somebody sees you," he said, motioning them in.
The room they entered was large and dimly lit. Brother Peter stumbled and banged his knees on something large and hard as he entered.
"Mind that!" the old man barked. "That's worth more than your hide."
Brother Peter gasped in amazement as his eyes adjusted to the light. The room was full of crates and piles of objects and scientific instruments. And shelves! Shelves lining every wall, floor to ceiling, filled with hundreds of books! And paintings, fine art prints, oils and pastels.
"Surprised?" the old man cackled. "Didn't expect such a thing, did you? You sisters think you've cornered the market on knowledge and taste. Well you haven't. Not yet, anyway. Not as long as old Andrew has breath in his chest. I'm the sharpest arrow in this quiver, by a long shot," he cackled. "The monkeys have no idea what I can do, the things I'm capable of. If they did, they'd kill me for certain."
"Monkeys?" Brother Peter asked.
The old man waved his arms. "Monkeys! Monkeys! I'm surrounded by monkeys! They're just this side of a warm rock when it comes to brain power. I tolerate them only because they are useful to me as servants and menial laborers."
Brother Peter was speechless.
"What's the matter, little sister?"
"I...I just don't know what to say," Bother Peter stuttered. "I never expected...." He was at a loss for words. "How have you done this? This is impossible!"
The old man laughed. "You are easily impressed, my ignorant young monk." He pressed a bony hand against the wall beside him.
Suddenly the room was ablaze in light -- electric light!
The old man laughed as the monk worked his way through shock to amazement.
Chick laughed, clapping in delight as if a magician had pulled a rabbit out of a hat.
"Father," Brother Peter whispered. "Do you see this?"
"Yes, my son. I see it."
"Surprised?" the old man laughed. "Didn't think it possible? Still think we're all barbarians wasting away in the wilderness?"
"But how?" Brother Peter asked at Father Michael's prompting.
"He captures the sunlight," Chick explained eagerly. "Like water in a bucket! He lets it out whenever he wants."
"How do you know such things, Chick?" Peter asked.
"The boy is my apprentice," the old man said, ruffling the boy's hair. "He learns quickly." Chick looked up with absolute devotion.
Brother Peter shook his head in disbelief. "But photo-voltaics and storage batteries are not possible at your level of development," he said. "How could..."
"You're such a cocky twit!" the old man shouted. "There's nothing so special about you. I was a monk once, too. Oh, it was long ago, before you were born. I'll wager there's no one left in the Cistern who remembers Brother Andrew!"
Father Michael's voice buzzed. "But Brother Andrew died performing the last Assessment! I was but a child then...."
"Tell your priest I am Brother Andrew," the old man interrupted, "last duly appointed Assessor of the Cistern, the last 'Chosen One'!"
"But how did you know he..." Peter started to ask.
"I know the procedure, little sister," the old man cackled. "You and your priest are in constant communication through a little bug in your ear. And more than that, he's probably watching me right now." He pointed to the medallion hanging from Peter's neck.
So it was true, this old relic really had been a Brother of the Cistern. Worse than that, he'd been an Assessor.
"But I still don't understand," Peter said. "How did you end up here, when all this time you were thought dead?"
The old man poured himself a cup of water from a clay jar and drank deeply, not offering to share. "When I was appointed Assessor of the Generation I truly felt honored. I was eager to serve the Cistern, to play my role. But all that changed when I actually got out here. That's when I saw the truth. I realized the Brotherhood had no clue, no inkling, of the power they possessed. We were meant to be rulers, little sister, not servants. We are gods, not mere mortals." He laughed gleefully, rubbing bony hands together in pure joy. "And then there's the sex. Do you know what sex feels like, Brother? Of course you don't. Well I do. No asexual cloning for me! Give me raw animal sex any day!" he cackled. "So damn the Brotherhood! What had they ever done for me?"
The old man eased himself into a chair. "There is no difference between technology and magic to the primitive man, little sister, and I am surrounded by primitives. What I do is magic to these monkeys. I am a god to them!"
"But you're not magic!" Brother Peter protested. "You have no power! Eventually these people will figure that out and they'll kill you." He remembered his hasty departure from Bordertown. "I don't know why they haven't stoned you yet."
"Don't fear for me, little sister," the old man smiled, pointing a bony hand to a rack of ugly looking hardware hanging on a wall. "I can handle any situation."
"Weapons," Father Michael's voice said calmly. Brother Peter had read about such things.
"But what you are doing is wrong. Technology is a tool to help man; it shouldn't be used against him! Have you learned nothing from the past?"
"Pretty words from a pretty sister!" the old man rose from his chair. "If you care so much for the monkeys, why don't you share your knowledge, share your Technology? You won't, will you? Because you're just the same as me. We're not different at all, little sister. Not different at all!"
"Have faith, my son," Father Michael's calm words reassured the young monk. "You know the truth. This man is evil. Leave him now, there is nothing to be gained here."
"I have to go," Brother Peter said suddenly.
"Go!" the old man shouted. "Run back to your monastery to your little cell with your books and your knowledge! But now you know the truth! You'll be back! You'll see! You'll be back to join me!!!"
Brother Peter found the door and made his way out to the street, Chick at his side, confused.
"We're going," he told the boy.
"But why?" the boy asked. "I thought you and Andrew would like each other. You're so alike!"
"No, Chick," Brother Peter said. "We're nothing alike."
"Chick!" the old man shouted from his doorway. "You are my apprentice: You stay with me!"
Brother Peter took the boy by the shoulders. "You can't stay here, Chick. Andrew is evil! You don't want to be like him! Come with me, back to the Cistern. I will teach you! You will learn the Truth!"
"Sister!" the old man barked. "Behold my power!" He opened his robe, revealing one of the weapons from the wall.
A crowd had gathered at the sound of shouting, eager to witness a fight. The old man brandished the gun over his head.
"Behold the power of your god!" he shouted to the crowd. He lowered the weapon and pointed it at a man in a gray robe standing several meters away. There was a small click, a clap of thunder, a flash of lightning and then silence. The man in gray now lay on the ground in a pool of blood, a hole the size of a melon exposing his entrails.
The crowd stood silent, Andrew standing before them, waving his weapon in triumph. "To the primitive man..." he shouted to Brother Peter as a large stone struck the side of his head. He staggered back, dropping the gun as another rock struck him, then another, and another. The crowd surged forward, anger at long last boiling over their fear.
"Leave now, Brother! Before the militiamen arrive!" Father Michael commanded. "Run!"
Peter grabbed the boy and pushed through the mob. Chick quickly regained his senses and they disappeared into the alleyways before the mob could associate them with the old man. Brother Peter looked back to see smoke rising from the old man's house. The books, the paintings, gone forever.
"Why did Andrew do that?" Chick asked as they left the walls of Silas behind them. "Why did he kill that man?"
"He was drunk," Peter answered. "Intoxicated by power. Sometimes it's easy to think yourself superior to others when you have something they don't. Andrew had the gift of Technology but he didn't understand the Truth, that Technology is a tool; it is not evil or good in itself -- it is man that makes it so. Andrew had a lot to offer the world, but he wanted to keep it all to himself."
"But he said the Brothers don't share what they have either," the boy said.
"He was right," Brother Peter admitted, "we don't share, not yet. But we will, when the time is right, when the people are ready, when they're not so afraid. The world was almost destroyed by men like Andrew and it will take a long, long time before people forget that."
"Well said, my son," Father Michael's words rang gently in the young monk's ear.
Brother Peter put an arm on the boy's shoulder. "You were promised an apprenticeship," he said. "So how about coming with me? We can teach you the Truth and the Way. We need new blood and I think you'll make a fine Brother of the Cistern."
The boy grinned.
"And we'll put some meat on you." Brother Peter added. "No more chicken legs."
The boy grinned, and together they set out toward the hills and the waiting Brotherhood.[ end ]
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