Footprints – Part VI

by Gaston Prereth

Ruben stood up from Frederick’s bed and felt an impulse to squeeze his body away from the world around him, to pull his limbs into his torso and hold himself as small as possible.  Years of indoctrination by childhood prayers and sermons pressed down upon him from the recesses of his memory, but he fought against them.  He waved an arm out in front of himself in a dismissive swipe and watched with satisfaction as Frederick took a step back in surprise, his mask of anger falling from his face revealing the unease it had hidden beneath.

“I’ve come to speak to you, hello Frederick.”

“I have nothing to say to you.”

“Then listen, maybe it will provide you with some inspiration.”

“You fucking… you fucking wirecut. Get out of my room. “

“Just listen to me Frederick.”

“Brother Frederick. At least have the decency to call me by what you forced me to be.”

“I, force you?” Ruben felt the chasm of history and old grievances open before him. He teetered on the edge, stared down into its dark depths, and took a step back. He sat down on Frederick’s bed and dropped his eyes to the floor. He followed the hairline cracks of the paving slabs for a moment, keeping his breaths regular. “We can argue about the past later, Brother Frederick, but right now we don’t have time.”  He swung is eyes back up off the floor and stared directly at Frederick. “Something is happening and unless you can put your dislike for me aside, I don’t know what bad things are going to happen, but I’m certain they will change our world forever and make our petty feuds inconsequential.”

“Petty?”

“Yes. Petty. Everything is petty in comparison to the whole universe.  The world is dying, or something. Something is going wrong and if you won’t help me, I… I…” Words ran from Ruben like startled spiders. It was too soon to voice what he thought.  It was too soon to put the feeling of foreboding into words. That would make it real.  He couldn’t handle that yet. He needed to deal with vague feelings and unease for now. He wasn’t ready for it to all be real.

“What do you mean the world is dying?” Asked Frederick his voice still sharp, but his face had gone as pale as the brightest of white diodes.

“I found a dead spider.  I don’t mean a crushed or damaged spider, it was still intact, but it had just stopped moving.”

“And? One dead spider doesn’t make an apocalypse.  Joining the technicians must have weakened your spirit Ruben.” Said Frederick, clinging to his dislike of Ruben to hold him steady as the rest of his mind panicked.

“I think there have been more.  I took it to the council and they shrugged it off. They ignored it.  So I went back through our records.  Do you know we haven’t logged anything going wrong for the last four months? Nothing.  Not one light going out, not one door stopping working.”

“Well if it is things going wrong you need, Brother Compton is sat in the hallway as we speak because his cell door won’t open. Not to mention the Medic in block C complained last month that the contraceptive dispenser was no longer recognising people’s scans and giving them their required nutrition pills. Everyone had to use Block B instead.”

“I know, but it wasn’t in the log.”

“Maybe your boys missed it,” Fredrick said with an affected sneer, “no doubt sleeping on the job. Really Ruben, you came here just to tell me you technicians are incompetent.  I knew that already.  I knew that the day they let you join their order.”

Ruben Sighed and stood up. He looked around the small room.  The slim single bed, the tiny desk pressed into the corner, the naked walls and the lone railing that held Frederick’s habits. The room was cold, empty, and devoid of life.  He pressed his arms to his side, trying to force himself as far away from the sterility as possible.

“If you won’t help me, then I don’t know what I can do. I have come here for guidance. I thought the Church might be able to provide answers where my order has only found questions. We have prided ourselves on understanding. Now we have found something, something too big for us to comprehend. My order are panicking and trying to hide from it.  I hoped the Church would be different, you are used to dealing with the unknowable.”

“Then why come to me. Why not go to the Deacon?”

“Because I thought you would understand. I thought there would still be some trust between us, something that would mean we could work together when our masters cannot.”

Frederick smoothed a hand down over his leg and let his teeth grate against the inside of his cheek.   The words of the Deacon repeated in his mind. ‘The church will say that it is part of God’s plan. Things that are no longer needed are no longer getting repaired. This is what I must believe, it is what your Brothers must believe, but I hope it is something that you are unable to.’

Ruben was right that the Church and the technicians would never work together, no matter how large the problem.  They had centuries of history between them. He and Ruben only had half a lifetime’s worth that kept them apart, and he needed help. He couldn’t understand what was happening through his teachings alone.  He needed Ruben, whether he wanted his help or not.

“Have you ever picked a flower” said Frederick in a quite tone, a tone Ruben recognised from their childhood.

“No, you know I haven’t. The only flowers are the ones in the cloister and the ones out in the fields.”

“Well I have.  When you pick a flower, it becomes severed from the world.  It loses its connection to God.  It looks fine for a time, just like it did before you picked it, but before long its leaves start to droop, its petals become wrinkled and begin to turn brown.  After a while, the flower becomes completely shrivelled and the stalk turns soft and loses its deep green hue.  Left long enough, it ceases to look like a flower at all and crumbles into dust when you touch it.”

As Fredrick had been speaking, Ruben had sat back down onto the bed.  There was a sadness in Frederick’s voice that cut through any remaining tension and spoke directly to Ruben as a young boy.

“The Church has noticed things going wrong too, but they are shackled by the history of their faith.  They see it as God simplifying the world, cutting out what is no longer needed, but that doesn’t make sense to me. There are more of us than there ever has been, our needs are increasing rather than getting fewer.  If anything, the world should be getting more complicated. As far as I can see, there is only one explanation that fits with all that we know.”

Frederick sat down on his bed next to Ruben, but didn’t look at him. He kept his eyes down on the floor, holding his hands on his lap like a grieving widow.

“If the world is dying, then it can mean only one thing, we have lost our connection to God.  We are like a flower that has been plucked from the soil. Everything is crumbling to dust.”

 

Continued in part VII

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