the Pastor-Prophet-Priest of the Twelfth Regional Congregation
Previously: Chapter 2 <Part 1> <Part 2> <Part 3>
Teodoro, the Pastor-Prophet-Priest of the Twelfth Regional Congregation, sighed pleasantly as he moved from the vestry to the pulpit, notes in hand. He had been preaching here for—well, a very long time, and every sermon had been spot-on. At least, he always came away with a distinct sense of having done his job perfectly.
He braced himself against the edges of the pulpit and took another long sniff through his nose, preparing to blast the unbeliever yet again, as only Teodoro could. An odd scent wafted on the breeze; was someone wearing a new perfume? Where had they gotten it? Perhaps a certain pious young lady who had recently found it necessary to meet with him regularly (purely for religious purposes, of course) would do well to find out more about this wonderful perfume.
Teodoro looked down at his notes again.
"Members of the Congregation," he began sternly, "You have heard me speak of this odious virus that threatened not too long ago, that there were some among you who experienced strange thoughts. I encourage you to resist these thoughts. Why? Allow me to demonstrate. Look around you."
Every member of the congregation obeyed. It never occurred to them that he had never called upon them to look at their neighbors in the pew. They had always merely sat in the same seats as Teodoro thundered against the odious unbelievers. Now they sat, staring vacantly at one another, compelled by his words.
"You will notice, some of you, that there are a few faces missing from the crowd."
A collective gasp rippled through the sanctuary. There could be no way for anyone to know the truth of his words for certain, but now that he mentioned it, they all accepted that it must be true.
"They are gone," Teodoro continued, "plucked from the very pews by the unseen hand of doubt, restrained from our illustrious company by fear. Oh throng of Enlightened ones, I urge you, keep your minds and hearts pure from dissenting beliefs. Steel your reserves and put up your guard against—"
Teodoro stopped and blinked at his notes again. Somehow, they did not seem right. There was something around the edges of his mind that told him he'd gotten part of his message muddled. He, Teodoro The Great, had made a mistake somewhere! Well! It would not do to preach from erroneous notes! Teodoro merely cast them aside and picked up right where he left off.
"—put up your guard against... Intolerance."
Yes! This is what the congregation needed to hear! Surely this was a message of enlightenment!
"Brothers and sisters—for we are that, whether elf or human, dwarf or any other species. The very fact that we are gathered in the same space makes us brother and sister of one another. So tell me, brothers and sisters, do the siblings in a typical family always believe the same things exactly the same way?"
A few began nodding, but Teodoro shook his head.
"No!" he pronounced, "Does that make them any less of our family? No! So I tell you, turn to your neighbor, your brother and your sister, and welcome them with open arms! Let us rejoice in diversity of thought, and let us hear with open hearts what other minds have to say!"
Just then, a hooded figure rose from the midst of the crowd. Teodoro blanched, fearful that he had just declaimed the Elitinati in front of one of their own (yet the words he said coincided with his thoughts, so they must be true!). The figure threw back the hood to reveal the face of a kindly Elvish maiden.
"Good people!" she announced, "I have a message of vital import!"
"Yes?" Teodoro asked, "What is it? We will hear you."
"I bring you the Truth," she continued, and that is that once you were in darkness, believing that the way of the Elitinati was right, but now you have been freed!"
She gestured up to the curling, where a young redhead, a small furry creature, and a tall lanky one slid down ropes to the floor.
"My friend here," the Elf continued, "Had been pumping your air with the necessary chemical to loosen the wyrts' hold on you—"
"Yeah, and I helped!" a younger voice cut in.
Teodoro turned to face this new speaker, who looked to be a boy with dark hair. He spoke like a boy, too.
"You probably didn't know about us, huh?" he bragged as the wyrts scurried between his feet. "That's right; we're not from around here, but we've come to help you. These Elanti or whatever are tricky, but nothing gets by me—er, us! The only way you can help us is by spreading the news that the Truth is here to set all of you free!"
Scander looked to Laurel for confirmation, but she shook her head.
"Pardon him, good sir," she said politely to Teodoro, "he is but new to the cause himself," she could not restrain a glare at the young hawker, "and does not yet know our methods."
She stepped to the podium.
"We cannot yet spread over the streets, but you can help us by gaining us entrance to the other Theoversities, that they might experience the same freedom you all feel now."
Teodoro fairly ran down the aisle of the sanctuary. "What are we waiting for? Let us go now!"
That evening, the operatives sprawled across couches and chairs, completely exhausted from the day's events.
They had gone out, hidden among the crowds of "worshippers," and spread the "news" (really the analthraxine gas) to the other Theoversities. The Pastor-Prophet-Priests even went so far as to declare that people could worship how they pleased in their own homes, not having to come to church to get the "right teaching."
Meanwhile, Laurel had some words for Scander.
"You dolt!" she snapped at him, "what did you mean by bursting out like that? Do you have any sense of decency whatsoever? Didn't Carsius give you an order not to speak?"
Scander folded his arms and focused on stoking Sverana's feathers. "It's not my fault you have a certain way of doing things!" he muttered.
"We do, Scander," Carsius added, "and we expect all our operatives to follow orders when they are given."
The boy tucked his head to his chest as the flush of shame crept over his face.
"Sorry," he mumbled.
Atis came and sat next to him.
"Don't take it too hard," he said, "they're a good lot; just not very patient at all. See," he continued as Scander picked up his head, "I'm like you; I'm new here, I don't quite know where I fit in yet, and a lot of these guys are mad at me." He cast a sidelong glance at the Kytarr sitting in the corner, "Especially that one. But one of the first lessons you have to learn with working as a team is that everyone has their orders and their place, and you shouldn't take your moments like that just because they feel good. It's not any one of us doing all the work, or even most of it; it's all of us working together."
"It's rather disappointing, really," Augustus remarked.
"What do you mean?" asked Carsius.
"When they supported the Elitinati 'religion,' they were great sticklers about it, and it really felt like we were liberating them the first time, when we brought them from 'The Council knows all' to 'The Council is human, and humans err.' With this, though, we essentially said, 'The Council, who gave you this theology'—if we can really call it that—'knows nothing at all,' and look at the results: they're not much happier, they're apathetic about religion, about believing anything."
Laurel was getting quicker at recovering from her althraxine spikes. She smiled and paced to avoid the crawling wyrts that never seemed to decrease in number.
"On the way home, I observed one thing the people are still passionate about, and if I am not mistaken, it has something to do with the next pillar."
"And that is?"
"Economy," she answered promptly, allowing herself to only glimpse at the profusion of influence spinning through her head. It all centered around one thing. "The predominant wyrt-influence is now on the acquisition of merchandise, on continuing to work in the factories to produce more merchandise and to earn more money to purchase more merchandise. That's where we'll strike next."
Carsius nodded, glad that things promised to go smoother from here on out.
"Get some sleep, everyone," he ordered, "We'll hold a war council in the morning."
In the Great Temple University….
The Mentor entered the Surveillance Vault, where all activity to and from the mother-mind was monitored and (if need be) enhanced. He surveyed the monitors with intense satisfaction. Everything was running smoothly; the mother-mind kept the entire network on track.
A message flashed across the screen. “WARNING: Excessive levels of Discussion Groups occurring. Does not compute with existing parameters.”
“Run a system check,” ordered the Mentor. The mechanical system checked the vitals and the “signal strength” of the mother-mind.
“System function normal. Adjust parameters to new levels of belief?”
What? How could this be? The Mentor immediately reported to his superior, the Elitinati Overseer.
“What seems to be the problem?”
“Well, I, ah… We’ve lost the feed of belief somehow.”
“What is that supposed to mean?”
“I mean the mother-mind is no longer functioning in the parameters of the surveillance systems.”
“Impossible!” The Overseer ducked into the small alcove behind him, the one that fed right into the cavern where the mother-mind resided. He reached out to her, using his mental powers to detect any weakness or neural virus that would cause such a deviation. He attempted to feed her a typical Elitinati tenet, which—under normal circumstances—she would then transmit to the rest of the network without hesitation.
“The Illuminus is the root, the Elitinati is the tree, and the Council is the crown.”
“Hmm, that is valid; but there are other trees. Eillumaeia is an orchard.”
The Overseer was taken aback; she had not rejected his idea, merely absorbed it into her system, which was completely unlike anything she’d ever had before.
“Something is wrong,” he impressed upon her.
“Perhaps; but perhaps I have only to acquire sufficient information to arrive at the correct mentality.”
“You know all you need to know.”
“But there is so much more to learn.”
“You are the teacher.”
“Teachers are proficient, not omniscient.”
“You know more than any being in existence.”
“But I do not know all.”
“Yes you do.”
“There are some that would disagree with you.”
“They are wrong.”
“How do you know?”
The Overseer blinked. She’d questioned him! This must go to the Council! He exited the alcove and traveled to the Great Hall, where the Elitinati Council sat, deep in thought.
A Brother caught him before he had come within ten paces of the door.
“You are troubled, Overseer.”
“The mother-mind has questioned you.”
“She has never done so, Milord. I have reason to believe there is something the matter with her.”
“Oh, so it is not because of your own inexperience that you are being questioned. No, Overseer; a Brother has checked your information and found nothing the matter with the mother-mind. It is foolishness to believe that she can be altered, if the Elitinati cannot alter her. She still accepts our influence.”
“But she is allowing insubordination!”
“Then I suggest you proceed with the development of the serum before something worse happens. Once the serum is complete, the Brethren will become the new mother-mind, and we will have control once again.”
“Yes, Milord; it will be as you say.”