THEIR LAST BRAVE HEART
Einstersh fixed this new Janitor with both eyes, hoping they looked sharp and menacing, and exhaled slowly. Then – “I think you should know that the Committee is no more,” he murmured. “The committee is an ex-committee. It is a charred lump of ignited excrement. It is no longer in charge. I have witnessed it, along with my friends. The smoke almost choked us!”
The plastic face of the Janitor might have assumed any one of innumerable expressions – many had been programmed into it, with tiny servo motors designed to ensure it could execute every one of them to perfection – but it did nothing of the sort. Instead it managed to produce what might have been the shadow of a grimace and merely said, “You will come with me now, or I will destroy you,” and turned to lead the way after having waved an impressive piece of artillery at each of them in turn.
It seemed they had no choice but to follow. Amyersh might have protested, but she could think of nothing to say that wouldn’t cause the Janitor to shoot her there and then, and the two confused nem were lost for both words and deeds.
They were led to a door (there were many, many doors in this part of the once proud city of Donnol on the dying world of Threa. It seemed there must have been and insatiable desire for rooms at one time in the past, and each room, of course, required its own door.)
This particular door bore the simple descriptive inscription CATHEDRAL.
“What’s Cathedral?” asked Amyersh. The word rang a bell at the back of her mind but she couldn’t bring anything concrete to mind.
“This is where the Great Committee preaches,” intoned the Janitor with a great deal of respect and deference oozing out of his voice.
“I told you. The Committee is no more!” snapped Einstersh. “I witnessed its destruction with my own eyes as it was outwitted by a simple woman solving its damned Sudoku puzzle.”
“Hey! Less of the simple!” protested Amyersh. “I managed to find the answer when, despite all of your brains, you couldn’t!”
“The Committee is ever-present,” sighed the Janitor. “When the Committee was given power over Threa it was deemed necessary to have many versions of it created, each charged with part of the government of all of Threa. Independent, but connected, they each know what the others are doing at any time, and the Cathedral Committee is fully aware of the demise of the Games Committee. But that matters little, for the remaining Committees are in no way diminished by the fact. Indeed, they may be all the stronger, for fewer links on Tinter are now required for their meetings and greetings.”
“It’s all nonsense to me,” growled Einstersh.
“That shows your base ignorance, then,” rejoined the janitor. “Now silence! I am going to take you into the presence of the Committee where you will learn your fate and that of all nem and nemow who rise up in rebellion against law and order and the rule of popery!”
“What…” began Amyersh, but the janitor waved his weapon so close to her nostrils that she opted for silence.
The Janitor turned to the door marked CATHEDRAL and pushed it open. With a quiet and heavy grace that door swung open, as if it weighed a great deal and concealed from prying eyes the greatest of wonders.
“In!” barked the Janitor, and the three prisoners slowly walked into a room the like of which they had never seen before.
Its walls, great stone and pillared edifices, rose high and majestically until they reached a distant ornately vaulted ceiling. In between some of the columns, and majestically arched, were vast stained glass leaded windows through which a muted light flooded. Those windows depicted scenes from an ancient text with bearded nem still fully equipped with limbs were engaged in long-forgotten tasks, beards etched for eternity in the ancient glass, and nubile females hovering about them as if they needed no support save that provided by the molecules of the air itself.
But that wasn’t what attracted their attention for more than the briefest instant. The room they were in, or vast hall, was set out with row after row of dull wooden benches, leading to, in the distance, a high lectern or pulpit before which stood a magnificently robed figure. And they could all see that if those glorious and luxurious robes were to be taken away the creature left behind in naked splendour would be the exact duplicate of the Committee they had just witnessed bursting into clouds of smoke and flame in the Sudoku room.
Nervously, they couldn’t help walking down a central aisle that led between the rows of bench seats towards the distant Committee. It seemed as though they were being drawn by its magnetic soul, unable to control their own actions, and the ambience of their new surrounding contrived to take every last vestige of will from them.
The rotund figure held its mechanical hands up, and they paused, still many yards from the Committee in its pulpit. Pausing, it seemed, was the most natural thing for them to do, an imperative, a law, unspoken, that must be obeyed.
“Stay where you are!” rumbled the Committee in the pulpit. “Take a seat on one of the pews and attend to me. Hearken to my every word, and learn!”
It seemed they had to obey. The echoing voice, reverberating around the cathedral as if intent in filling every corner of so huge as place, the way the light seeped in through the stained glass images on the windows, the rotund Committee in his fine and extravagant robes, all contrived to usher them into a seat. It was as if they had no will of their own. They were trapped by an atmosphere that was totally alien, yet overwhelming.
The figure on the pulpit raised one hand this time. There was a moment of silence so complete it was as if it had texture and strength, then a chord, loud and wavering, filled the room from some unseen instrument. It reached a crescendo that seemed to make the very fabric of the cathedral shiver, and then, with an almost eternal echo, it was silenced.
“We are gathered here, brethren, to entreat our Lord and Master, to postpone the ending of His creation,” began the Committee, his voice like grease rendered into melodic sound. “We are gathered here, in the name of his Almighty significance, to prostrate ourselves before him and beg his forgiveness for all of our sins. As it was written in ancient times, so will it be said today. For this world is one of sinners. There are those who would take the name of the lord our dog in vain. There are those who would announce against his greatness, who would gather to them images of false dogs, who would commit foul and carnal acts on kitchen tables, who would utter profanities in loud voices and give him cause for displeasure, and all of these must be silenced, removed from existence, their foulness offered in sacrifice to our Dog.
“But before all else, we must sing! We must raise our voices to His greatness and fill His mighty ears with praise and glory. Take your hymn-books, ye scumbags, and turn to hymn number forty two.
“And raise your voices in song, and please your dog!”
Then the music that had so recently been silenced began again, this time with the melody of an ancient song. They all knew it, for it was taught to infants as soon as they could understand the meaning of words.
A is for apple so shiny and bright, B is for bloodshed not red but pure white, C is for cannon that fires through the night and D is for deathmask to hide from his sight…
“This is the hymn of hymns,” chortled the Committee when he had stopped roaring the hymn into a hidden microphone. “This is the lordly victory! This is the song of songs!”
“It’s a nursery rhyme!” spluttered Smersh.
“I learned it at my mother’s breast,” added Amyersh.
“It’s the rattle of your deaths, you scum!” roared the Committee. “You are condemned, or had you forgotten? The world is racing to its ending and our Dog, dog of all dogs, needs a sacrifice before He will, in His wisdom, do anything to save it! And you who have dared to dream, you who have mocked his holy hymn, you who have trespassed into my cathedral, you will be the sacrifice! It was written in times of yore, years so long ago that only the parchment the words were written on remains in mildewed glory, that three would come and by the sacrifice of their flesh the world would be saved and all its sins reversed. Oh glory! Oh praise be!
“And into his heart you will go, smoke to his smoke, and your glory will be death, the death of salvation won through sacrifice!”
© Peter Rogerson 25.12.11