Footprints – Part XV

by Gaston Prereth

This is the final chapter of Footprints.  I would like to thank everybody who has been reading it and I hope you have enjoyed wandering around with Frederick and Ruben. As this is the last post, I would be very grateful for any comments you might have. As I was writing this on a weekly basis with little more than an idea in my head of where things were heading, it was an unusual process for me, but I hope that I still managed to give you something that was interesting and exciting. I plan to post a few stand alone stories for a few weeks and to mix up the genres a bit to keep things fresh. 

This chapter is a little longer than the others as I felt the momentum of the ending would be broken if I broke it into two posts.

There was a loud crunch and then the sound of a thousand splinters breaking free into the world. Seven villagers were pressing their full weight against a metal bar which they had slid between the doors of the chapel. One of the criers had broken away from his duties and was counting in each additional effort. With every “heave” the villagers threw more of their weight against the bar and were rewarded with snaps and cracks from the big doors.

“Oh Lord, give us the strength to believe. Protect us from those who denounce your mechanism. Help us understand the path you wish us to take and shield us from the thoughts that corrupt our fragile bodies. Take pity on us, oh Lord, and forgive our lack of order. Take pity on us, oh Lord, and provide us with the light to see your creation in all its glory.”

“We need to shut those damned monks up,” called one of the villagers at the back of the huddle over the continuing prayer cycle. “They need to be stopped. They are going to ruin Cristden’s plans.”

The crier let out another yell and the villagers pushed hard against the bar. With a muscle tightening rupture, the doors of the chapel sprang open and the villagers holding the metal bar let it drop to the floor as the crowd behind them pushed forward. No one was thinking any more, they were no longer individuals. They moved like a swarm of bees charging out of a smashed hive.

 

The tunnel had continued for another five hundred metres. Frederick had had to go alone as Ruben was still kneeling on the floor amid the dead spiders. After the lights had come on, Ruben had fallen into a deep silence. His held the broken bodies of the metallic arachnids in cupped hands, letting them slide between his fingers before scooping up another handful. Despite all his attempts, he no longer noticed Frederick and had refused to get up from the floor.

As Frederick had moved forward, the mechanical sounds had  become louder. The floor of the tunnel shook with the throbbing of machines. There had been no doubt in Frederick’s mind that when he reached the end of the tunnel he would see what made their world work. He would see the belly of God’s creation, not the superficial features that blessed the technician’s wall of diodes.

One thing had played on his mind as he left Ruben, a broken man. Why hadn’t Brother Douglas done something or told someone about this place? Was it out of spite for being banished? Had he hated them all so much for expelling him from the village that he took delight in knowing what was going to happen? Frederick didn’t understand. He didn’t know how anyone could put their own personal feelings before true knowledge. Showing the village the right path, had to be more important than any persecution that he had felt.

After the five hundred metres the tunnel had turned right and Fredrick found himself standing in a large cavern. Around the walls hung tapestries of wires and diodes.  At regular intervals along the walls were large fans at right angles to sea of electronics.  They turned in thumping pulses creating a swirling wind that almost knocked Frederick off his feet. The wind whipped around the cavern, flicking the bodies of spiders around with it. Frederick pushed, with his eyes closed, through the torrent of air and was relieved to find beyond the fans the air was once again still and calm.

In the centre of the cavern, beyond the rushing wall of wind, were banks of machines arranged like bookshelves in library. They reminded Frederick of the mechanisms that he and Ruben had found in Brother Douglas’ shack.  Only these machines were giants in comparison and all of them were moving. As he watched, Frederick could see every sound that he had been listening too on his subterranean journey. Every moving arm or spinning wheel contributed to the symphony around him.  If it hadn’t been for the swirling wind around the cavern’s edge, the sound may well have been audible in the fields, if not the village itself. As it was, as soon as Frederick stepped through the gale, he started to drown in the trapped ocean of noise.

 

The villagers had lined up all of the monks. Once they had got into the chapel, they had swarmed through the maze of buildings and rounded up the monks with relative ease. Most of them had been in their cells, praying in silence.  Only the Deacon and Brother Compton had been in the control room with the microphone. The Deacon had been reciting the prayer cycle with his eyes closed and Brother Compton had been prostrated at his feet, repeating the Deacon’s words with the deadpan tone of pure reverence.

Now all the monks were stood in the cloister. They were encircled by a silent crowd. No one wished to speak. The villagers had been possessed by a group consciousness as they had rounded up the monks, no one thinking for themselves and everyone acting on instinct informed by their nearest neighbour’s behaviour. Now they had the monks cornered and the blood had stopped surging through them with such vigour, they had lost their purpose and were unsure of how to act. None of them wanted to be the first to move. None of them were sure of what their next move should be.

They all stood and stared at the monks. Most of the monks stood erect, arms to their sides their eyes glazed and emotionless, but Brother Compton was kneeling.  He spoke in soft tones as he continued the prayer cycles, occasionally exclaiming the words ‘Oh Lord’ and ‘Forgive us’ loud enough that they echoed around the cloister.

Some of the villagers parted as Cristden stepped onto the grass.  He turned slowly, allowing the crowd to see his soft smile before he addressed the monks. He stepped before Brother Compton, but did not look down. Instead Cristden spoke to the Deacon over the head of the muttering monk.

“I am sorry Deacon. I truly am. I had hoped you would see the wisdom in my plan and would assist us.”

“Plan?” said the Deacon, his voice stilted as it escaped his rigid body. “What plan? All you’ve given us so far are decrees and orders, you’ve not told us what you intend to do. What folly you expect these villagers to enact.”

“You still don’t understand, do you?” Cristden wandered away from Brother Compton, turning to the crowd as he spoke. “The villagers don’t want your help any more. They don’t need you to protect them or tell them what to do. They can make their own decisions.”

“As long as they decide what you want them to.”

“You think this is about me? He still thinks this is a battle between me and him. You are pathetic, Deacon. This isn’t about you and me. This isn’t about technician’s and monks. This is about the village and what is best for us. If you had spent your time with the villagers rather than isolating yourself off and dictating to them, you would see that things have changed. Your doctrine is out of date, we need to do something new. Something radical.  When will you monks understand that it is our actions toward God that are important, not our words. You’re too detached from the village. You are blinded by your own ego and desire to be right. I, on the other hand, am humble enough to see when I am mistaken, and choose a better path.”

“Oh forgive us Lord for failing to understand the infinite and being trapped in finite bodies and finite thoughts. Help us transcend the physical and…” Brother Compton spoke louder, apparently unaware of Cristden’s presence.

“What grand path do you have for us then? Tells us and maybe we will agree it is the right course of action.”

“It is too late for that. The villagers can no longer trust you. They don’t believe you have their welfare in your hearts, only your own self interest.” He turned his back to the Deacon, “Isn’t that right?”

A mumbled chorus of ascent rippled around the villagers. They all stood like statues. Even the children, clinging to their parents legs or sitting in their arms, were motionless. As they had once given over their thoughts to the church and the Deacon, now they followed Cristden without reflection. Whatever individual thoughts had started to form in their minds drifted away as they put their devoted trust in the confident technician before them. What he said made sense, it made things seem so simple and clear.

“You’re wrong Cristden. This isn’t about what the villagers want or who they trust. Once again that is your selfish inward looking philosophy making you think that everything has to be about the physical and revolve around control. This isn’t about the villagers, this is about God. It is about what God wants and whom he trusts. The more you pull yourself away from the Church, and that is what he is doing,” the Deacon raised his voice, “Cristden is doing nothing other than arguing against me and trying to draw power from your fear and desire to blame someone. But as you pull further away from the Church Cristden, you are pulling further away from God and damning not just yourself but everybody in the whole village.”

“The Church, the church, the church.” Cristden threw his arms up in the air and then started to stride purposefully towards the Deacon.  “The church isn’t God. You arrogant monks don’t hold the keys to God. God is all around us. I can’t take myself or the villages away from him any more than I can take them away from the air. I am saving everyone but taking them away from the Church, not from God.”  Cristden waved his hand around the blank faces of the villagers as he continued.

“I will save us all. At twelve noon my technician’s and I will cut the main chord that feeds the Hall of stars. We have discovered that this wire is the only wire which goes into the ground rather than through the village.  It is the line from God which gives our village life. My technician’s have discovered this after centuries of work and it is no coincidence that we have discovered it at a time like this. God has shown us the way.  We are going to sever our link to God.”

The crowd started muttering. No words came from the mass of people, but a general swell of panic and fear emanated from them. Cristden held up his hands. “We are only going to do it for a moment. My technician’s will be able to reconnect us almost instantly. I know this to be right. We need to show God that we can survive on our own. Even if it just for half a second, we need to show him we are not as fragile as we once were.”

“This is madness. You don’t know what you’re doing.” shouted the Deacon.

“God has shown us in a thousand signs that this is what he wishes. He has stopped some of our machines working, asking us to cope without their help. When we survived, he started stopping more of them. Clearly he is testing us, and the only way we can survive the test is to cut our link and show him we are not the weak and feeble biological creatures we once were. We will feel his joy. Think of the love he will bestow upon us when he realises how much we have learnt from him.”

“You’re going to kill us all.” Said the Deacon, but no one heard him. As he spoke a roar erupted from the floor and Brother Compton leapt to his feet. He sprang over the grass and fell upon Cristden. The first punch landed across Cristden’s mouth, the second hit his temple, and then the crowd descended upon them like a thousand angry ants.

 

Fredrick moved between the banks of machines.  He stopped before one that towered above the rest.  It was a huge windowless column with hundreds of pipes curling round it. It had fewer moving parts than the other machines but as Frederick stepped towards it he could feel the vibrations it was sending through the ground. Every now and then it would make a ‘whoosh’ sound followed by a hiss and a gurgle.

Set into one side of the great monolith was a bright blue monitor. A mass of numbers and letters rolled up the screen, constantly changing.  They meant nothing to Frederick but he was certain they were important. Every now and then one number would flash red and the rolling text would start to move quicker and larger numbers would appear, getting larger and larger until the machine let out another ‘whoosh’ and the whole cycle would begin again.

After a few moments, Frederick moved on. He made is way towards the centre of the cavern. There were clear paths around the giant machines, all littered with the carcasses of dead spiders. Frederick felt numb. He didn’t understand what he was seeing or where he was. As he made his way through the labyrinth of mechanical monsters, he felt like he was floating through a dream.

It was as if he was walking through the Land of God. Was this what the prophetic monks had talked about?  It wasn’t exactly like Frederick had been taught, The Land of God was meant to be a giant village, populated by billions of machines that crawled around the base of towering buildings. It wasn’t meant to be built of giant machines. Yet still, maybe that was just how the stories had been interpreted. Maybe this really was the Land of God.

Frederick walked between two large rectangular structures, flashing in brightly coloured diodes.  Each had a pair of pistons erupting from their sides and they clunked and clicked in rhythm with each other. As he passed by them, the centre of the cavern opened up before him. It was a clear circular space, drifts of dead spiders covering the floor like sand dunes, but that wasn’t what sucked Frederick’s attention.  In the centre of the clearing was a giant bee like creature. It was about the size of the chapel in the village, maybe larger.  Its wings stuck out from its flanks, but they looked rigid and unmoving. If it was a giant bee, it must already be dead.

From its rear, where you would normally expect to see the cluster of pollen, a thick metallic sheet descended to the ground. A walkway. Frederick moved around towards it, his eyes locked on the giant bee. As he moved he tripped over the dunes of spiders and his legs became scratched and knitted with hundreds of tiny little seams of blood.

Frederick couldn’t hear the cacophony of sound any more. It was still thumping around him, but his mind had shut away everything but the ramp leading down from the bee. The pains in his legs, the cold air wrapping around him, the monstrous sounds of the machines. None of them troubled him. None of them were important.

 

Cristden had intended to allow the villagers to watch. He’d wanted them to see his great triumphant moment when he broke their connection with God. He had the power to connect and disconnect them from God at will. He had the power to do anything he wanted, and he wanted the villagers to witness the dawn of the new era. The new era of man’s power over the universe and over God. His power over God.

He had wanted them to see, but the monks had ruined everything. He should have known they would. He had expected them to resist and to try to stop him, but he had expected them to do it passively and to further separate themselves. He had forgotten about the speakers, and had not anticipated the villagers’ reaction to the monks opposition. They were his mistakes, and they had made him less confident.

“The cutter is ready, sir.” said one of the senior technicians. He was kneeling next to a giant cable, around the size of a man’s torso. Over the cable was a ten foot high scaffold holding a sharpened blade. The contraption had been designed for maximum effect rather than efficiency.  The blade was heavily weighted along its top and when released it would fall at a searing pace and, hopefully, slice though the cable in one smooth motion. They had tested it on a variety of materials, but who knew what the cable was actually made of. It was unknowns like this that kept Cristden nervous. These were things even he couldn’t be sure about.

“How long until noon?” he asked the technician,

“Two minutes sir.”

“At last, my time is here. This is it boy. You are going to be one of the few witnesses to the greatest moment in our history. To the greatest moment in the whole of the universe.” Cristden picked up the long thin wire that was attached to the blade’s release mechanism. He twisted it around his hand and gave it a soft tug to remove the slack. He could feel the power running through him. He could feel his destiny calling him.

 

The cloister was silent save for the background hum of the universe.  There were no bees buzzing around the lone peach tree. There was no half comprehensible words drifting into the enclosed square from the monk’s cells. There was no soft bustling lapping over the walls from the village beyond. Everything was silent.

The flowers in the south east corner had just started to poke their spear shaped heads out of the lush green grass. They pointed their young buds towards the sky, reaching towards the warmth and light. The dark green of their stems melted into thin yellow lines around the tips of their buds. A promise of a bright summer. A whisper of their potential beauty.

Next to them, the bodies lay in an unceremonious heap. Blood spread across exposed limbs. The soft fabric of their clothing still dripped deep velvet red and stained the grass around them.  The  blood was everywhere.

Two bodies had been left separate from the pile. They were barely recognisable. The Deacon was missing an eye and the skin of one of his cheeks had been clawed from his face, but that was nothing to the mutilated remains of Brother Compton.  Both of his arms were broken and his hands were a deep midnight purple. There was an unmistakable shape of a foot indented across his face, where the villagers had, in turn, stamped down upon him once he was already dead.  He had dared lay a hand on Cristden and the villagers had exacted their revenge for their saviour.

 

As Frederick made his way to the base of the ramp leading up into the giant bee, a bright glint caught his eye. It was a metallic sparkle, but unlike the silver flashes from the spiders legs or the sun off the buildings of the village, this was golden and glowed with warmth.  Frederick glanced up into the dark void to which the ramp led, but then knelt before the glinting metal and, mumbling a prayer, swept away the spiders from the floor.

Below his hands a rectangular piece of gold appeared. It shone in the light of the cavern and felt bitterly cold to the touch. As Frederick brushed away the detritus, he noticed faint markings on the gold sheet. Two impressions and below them a simple inscription. It was a plaque, some sort of sign or memorial. He traced his fingers over the faded lettering, mouthing out the words as he did so.

“Captain Marshal. May his first steps lead the way to a bright and flourishing colony. March first twenty sixty
one.”

Frederick sat back on his legs and looked up the ramp into the darkness. Captain. Captain. Ca-P-Tain. P’tain. A faint smile flickered across his lips. He looked back down to the plaque, and ran his fingers over the marks above the writing. There was no doubt. They were the shape of two footprints. They were the first steps of a human on this world. He had come from somewhere else, he had not been made on this world. Fredrick started to laugh. His whole body quivered and shook as the last reaming energy he had erupted from his chest and sprang to join the commotion of the thumping machines.

 

“Thirty Seconds, sir.”

Cristden smiled. And tightened the wire around his hand. Soon he would have severed their world’s connection with God and he would be able to rule. He would be the one to be praised and worshipped.

 

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5 Responses to “Footprints – Part XV”

  1. Enjoyable to the end Gaston!

  2. So, I finally took the time to catch up with this, and finish it.

    I liked the writing, the description, and the action . . . but . . . I’m not sure how to interpret the ending. Perhaps I missed something.

    • Thanks for the comment and thanks for reading!

      I doubt you’re missing anything. I think you are right that I may have rushed the ending a little bit and possibly could have included more foreshadowing. While I didn’t want to ‘tell’ the ending as such, I think I erred a little too close to enigmatic (or just didn’t write some bits clearly enough – which is more likely!). I hope it wasn’t too disappointing!

      What do other people think? Do you agree?

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