Previously: Chapter 3 <Part 1> <Part 2>
The Marketplace of Eillumaeia was every bit as quiet as the Factory was loud. People milled about with their prescribed shopping lists, heading right to the various merchants at the right times, and getting the right items for the right price so that they left with full carts and empty purses. No one chatted, no one haggled; it was all very formulaic and predictable.
A Kitchen Merchant, one by the name of Wynter, watched as the ladies came by his booth and selected each of them a prescribed number of utensils and appliances. He accepted their money, packaged their selections, and nodded to them. Another dull day at the Mar—
A furious pounding in his head drowned out the absent musings. A headache? Now? His break was not to be for another half-hour! Ten more customers, and then he had fifteen minutes during which to have a headache. It could not come at a worse time!
Wynter tried to stay focused, tried to continue business as usual.
“Excuse me,” a customer stopped in front of him. Wynter looked down at her. She wore a color he’d never seen before, and her red hair stuck out wildly from her head. Decidedly unbecoming; any woman with hair like that would have the good sense to tuck it under a Dellington hat! Her blue eyes stared at him.
“You’ve given me too much change,” she said. “This item is supposed to be the same price as the others.”
Wynter blinked; since when did he give too much change? He looked at the coins in his hand. It felt right; he had certainly judged the worth of the item correctly.
The redhead with the blue eyes and the strange dress persisted, “There must be some mistake.”
With the utterance of that single word, something snapped inside Wynter’s mind. His wyrt, which had been milling placidly about his shoulder, suddenly fused to one spot and began shaking furiously. He had spent far more than the allotted time on one customer; the Market Monitors would surely come for him now.
“There is no mistake,” he told the young woman. “The price on this item has changed. I have changed it. It is now cheaper than the rest. Take it and move along.”
She accepted, but asked him, “Can you do that?”
Wynter shrugged. “It’s a free market; I can do what I please. You know… Tolerance and all that.” Free market? Since when? Wynter didn’t recall hearing that phrase ever, yet it came so easily to his tongue.
All the customers gasped as Wynter took down the price display board and forthwith replaced the numbers, reflecting the prices he instinctively knew would drive up sales and encourage people to buy from him. And buy, they did! Suddenly Wynter had customers flocking to his booth, even customers who had already made their purchases returned for a refund, which Wynter gave freely. He had more business than he knew what to do with, but at the same time, it felt right, and it felt good. Other merchants began to follow suit, and the orderly, subdued Marketplace became the scene of organized chaos as merchants and customers haggled for the first time, and customers demanded refunds, and merchants proclaimed price reductions.
As the sun went down, the Eillumaeians gradually began to depart for their homes in time for Curfew. But everyone still had money in their purses, the merchants had sold much of their merchandise and welcomed the shipment of new and improved items from the Factories (the last shipment they were ever to receive, they were told), and Wynter mused as he returned to his house that his headache was gone—and so was his wyrt.
It took one additional day, but the Resistance (as they called themselves) watched with certain glee as the face of Eillumaeia was changed once again. The smokestacks ceased belching their noxious clouds, and as the merchants sold or gave the last of their merchandise, it became common practice for neighbors to lend things to one another, or if something was needed, someone set about learning to make it themselves, to their own specifications, and lend it freely to others who found need of such a thing. Anything unnecessary to one person was put out on the “street Market” (the curbside) for someone else to pick up who might need it. Innovation and Individuality became first a celebrated thing, then common practice among the citizens of Eillumaeia. No one even bothered with the Factories and Marketplace anymore; in fact, there were a handful of citizens who noticed the profusion of empty buildings and wondered what they were for. Theories abounded, some were entertained, but no one looked twice at a group of mismatched creatures who decided to take up residence in the old Marketplace building. Many shrugged.
“To each their own,” they said.
So long as these people obeyed the laws of the land, where was the harm? The law was there, and it was good. It served a purpose: to compensate for Human Error, to enforce Tolerance, and to control the Innovation so that everyone could coexist in peace and harmony. The populace began to quiet as the wyrts returned to their former hosts. The Law was good. Obedience guaranteed peace. Taxation was necessary to fund security. Security Enforcement necessarily kept trouble and crime at bay. Innovation came with the cost of patents and licenses. Individuality functioned within the government-issued sanctions. And of course the election of said government couldn’t be left to just anybody; that was too great a risk. It was up to the Brethren to select the city leaders. They could still be trusted as leaders of government, if not the sole spiritual or scientific authority. As long as Law stood, so would Eillumaeia.
In the Temple-University of Eillumaeia...
Hammacus concentrated closely, willing his trembling hands to measure out the amounts exactly. The serum must be perfect, and it must be ready now.
His days of Mentorship were over, and he still could not figure out how it happened. One minute, it seemed, he was surveying and directing thousands of minds in how to reason and how to think; the next, he was ladling out droplets of chemicals into beakers, helping prepare the Inoculation Serum. Hammacus glanced over at Amerrit, the one-time Religious Mentor. He had lost his capacity, also. The Overseers assured them that it was merely because the Brethren had accelerated the deadline, but Hammacus knew there were other duties for a Mentor; this was Novice-work, all this measuring and heating and mixing! The Brethren were shaming the displaced Mentors.
Hammacus watched the roiling liquid anxiously. It seemed to be responding correctly within the beaker.
“Is it ready?” The Overseer’s thought boomed through his head like a foghorn on his ear. Hammacus winced; the Overseer had no doubt seen him watching, and felt the elation from Hammacus’ own wyrt.
“I believe so, Your Excellence,” Hammacus thought in response.
“Bring in the test subject,” The Overseer directed the Novice Guard outside the door. The Guard sent in another Novice.
The Novice stood patiently and waited as Hammacus prepared a syringe of the serum.
“Arm,” he instructed the Novice.
The young man did not hesitate to raise his arm. Hammacus gripped the wrist and pressed down on the radial artery till the Novice’s fingertips began to pale. Then he released and slipped the needle into the vein next to it. The Novice grunted, but made no other response. Hammacus emptied the syringe and retracted the needle. He closed his eyes and waited for the serum to take effect.
Abruptly, Hammacus had the peculiar privilege of seeing himself as the Novice saw him. Hammacus opened his eyes. The Novice was now little more than a humanized version of a wyrt; he could be controlled and directed just like a wyrt; the difference being that he still used his own eyes and ears, without the need of a host. Hammacus experimented with the extent of control he had. Deliberately, he sent a thought into the Novice’s mind by his own wyrt.
“All Hail The Brethren,” The Novice intoned—exactly what Hammacus had instructed him to say.
Amerrit stopped what he was doing and came over to watch. Hammacus directed the Novice’s attention to him.
“Master Amerrit!” the Novice suddenly threw himself at the feet of the former Mentor. “The Blessing of the Illuminus be upon you! You have shown me mercy when no other being would so much as look upon me!” The Novice gave a heaving sob as real tears coursed down his wretched face. “How does your Worship, Good Mentor?”
Amerrit frowned at Hammacus, “What is the lad talking about?” He gazed askance at the young man now fawning at his ankles.
Hammacus grinned and shrugged, “I merely told him that he was wretched and that he must show his gratefulness to you. Beyond that, I swear I did not give him the words to say.”
“So we have wyrts that can speak now?” Amerrit asked in surprise. Hammacus turned back to the Novice and directed him toward a group of scientists who were working on duplicating the serum Hammacus had completed. At Hammacus’ unspoken instruction, the Novice reached out and placed a hand on the scientist’s head. Now Hammacus could see through the scientist’s eyes, feel what he felt as he measured out the chemicals in the precise amounts.
“It works!” Hammacus looked at Amerrit with a gleam in his eye. “I’ve done it! It works!”
“Will you stop playing around?” The Overseer sounded less than pleased to be kept waiting. “The Brethren desire that all the Novices should be Inoculated. We must allow the wyrts to leave this Temple University and search out what has become of our population! We are losing ground, and we must find out why! The sooner we can figure out how to stop the ones who are doing this, the sooner we can figure out how to remedy the situation!”
Hammacus nodded, “Yes sir.” He directed the Inoculated Novice to gather all the Novices and bring them to the lab. Mass Inoculations had begun. Soon they would not even need the wyrts anymore. They would all be wyrts, and the Brethren would be the mother-mind.