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HQ Snippet #21 3-27-15

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HQ Snippet #21 3-27-15
Post by runsforcelery   » Fri Mar 27, 2015 10:35 pm

First Space Lord

Posts: 2425
Joined: Sun Aug 09, 2009 10:39 am
Location: South Carolina

Now, don't you guys go reading too much speculation into this one . . . . :P


A Recon Skimmer,
Above the Mountains of Light,
Langhorne’s Tears,
Mountains of Light,
The Temple Lands.

“Do you think Sandaria’s going to make the adjustment, Aivah?”

“I don’t know.” Aivah Pahrsahn’s expression was troubled on the small cockpit screen. “Before you and Nimue took us to your cave, I would’ve bet almost anything that she’d be able to. But that was before I knew how much you were going to ask us to believe. Sandaria’s one of the Sisters who’ve interpreted Saint Kohdy’s journal to indicate the Adams and Eves’ souls had been somewhere else — with God — before they awakened here on Safehold, not that their physical bodies preexisted the Creation itself! What you’re asking both of us to believe instead is so far outside anything we’d ever conceived of that I just don’t know if she will. For that matter, I’m sure some of the the other Sisters’ initial reactions would be as bad as Sandaria’s — or worse — if we told them the entire truth.”

Merlin nodded, his own expression sober.

The problem, from the viewpoint of someone attempting to debunk the lie Langhorne and his command crew had crafted so carefully, was that literally nothing in the Safeholdian worldview offered a thread he could pull to unravel it. Safehold possessed a complete, continuous, seamless historical record from the very Day of Creation, with no breaks, no point at which any researcher or scholar could find a fundamental inconsistency. Unlike the historical record available to the theologians of Old Earth, there were no blank spots, no prehistoric eras, no sacred books whose authorship might be debated, and no civilizations which pre-dated writing, used a different alphabet, or even spoke another language. There were no periods which had to be reconstructed without contemporary, written sources — primary sources — of unimpeachable authenticity. Secular histories and even The Testimonies might disagree over minor factual matters or interpretations, yet that only strengthened the lie’s foundation, because human beings always saw or remembered events differently. The fact that those differences were acknowledged within the body of the Writ and all of the Church’s other histories only validated their integrity. And when he came down to it, those histories and firsthand accounts were absolutely honest. The people writing them truly had seen, heard, and experienced the events they set forth.

By the same token, the cosmology Langhorne had created, the explanation for natural forces and why things happened, was completely internally consistent. Worse, from Merlin’s perspective, the “laws” the Writ laid down — Pasquale’s laws for health and medicine, Bédard’s principles of psychology, Sondheim’s precepts for agronomy, Truscott’s instructions for animal husbandry — worked in real life, and disobeying them produced exactly the consequences the Writ predicted. There were no inconsistencies between religious doctrine and the observations and experiences of forty generations of human beings.

Given that lack of inconsistencies, validated again and again throughout that enormous body of recorded history, the very concept of “atheism” had never even existed on Safehold. No one on the entire planet — outside the inner circle, at least — had ever doubted that God and the Archangels existed or that those Archangels had done every single thing the Holy Writ said they’d done. Some might be a bit lax in their observation of the Writ’s injunctions, some might attend the services of Mother Church only irregularly, yet every single one of them believed, with a unanimity that would have been almost more alien than the Gbaba to any citizen of the Terran Federation.

And, as Aivah had just pointed out, even the Sisters of Saint Kohdy believed in the integrity and truth of the Holy Writ. In that sense, they were fundamentally different from the Brethren of Saint Zherneau, because they lacked the equally ancient, equally first-person account and third-party documentation from the Terran Federation’s past which Jeremiah Knowles had left the Brethren. Under those circumstances, it was far more remarkable that Aivah — Nynian — had been able to accept the truth than that Sandaria hadn’t been. And Aivah was right about how dangerous that could prove if — when — other Sisters reacted the way Sandaria had.

“So you’re certain this is the way you want to handle it?” he asked quietly. Aivah chuckled, and there was at least some genuine humor in it.

“I’m not certain about anything just at the moment! If you mean am I confident this is the best way to go about it, given what you’ve told me and how hugely that differs from what the Sisters have always believed, the answer is yes. If you mean am I confident it’s going to work just because it’s the ‘best way,’ the answer is I’ll be damned if I know.”

As responses went, that wasn’t the most reassuring one Merlin had ever heard. But at least it had the virtue of frankness. And the bottom line was that if Aivah was to become a full partner of the inner circle, the inner circle had to trust her judgment about the best way to approach the other members of her circle.

“Well,” he said, checking the navigation display, “we’ll be on the ground in another fifteen or twenty minutes. I hope you’re bundled up properly.”

* * * * * * * * * *

The sun shone down from a sky of flawless, frozen blue. It wasn’t far above the mountain peaks — it never got much above the horizon in these high northern latitudes in winter — but the brief day was bright.

Which was not to say it was particularly warm. In fact, the temperature hovered five degrees below zero, and the brilliant sun-sparkle off the deep, drifted snow was a sharp (and blinding) contrast to the blue dimness in the depths of the narrow alpine vallies. That snow was several feet deep — deeper than Merlin was tall, in places — and it wasn’t going to melt before June. It would have provided heavy going for any flesh-and-blood human, although one might have been forgiven for concluding otherwise as the two travelers moved across it.

Merlin slogged along briskly in the practiced, swinging stride of an expert snowshoer. In fact, he was rather short of the years of experience he was displaying, but a PICA’s ability to program muscle memory made up for a lot. Unlike the aforementioned flesh and blood human, he needed to perfom an action properly only once in order to be able to perform it again, flawlessly, any time he had to. He could no longer count the number of times he’d found that capability useful here on Safehold, but if pressed, he would have been forced to admit he’d never anticipated doing what he was doing at the moment.

“You really are quite good at this, Merlin!” Aivah remarked. He turned his head and looked over his shoulder, and she grinned at him. “I’m a fairly good skier myself, but snowshoes and I have never gotten along. Even if we had, I’m so badly out of shape I’d be panting like a bellows by now.”

“Which doesn’t even consider how much you’re enjoying yourself at the moment, does it?”

“It is rather fun,” she acknowledged cheerfully. “I remember how Father — Adorai’s father, I mean; not that miserable excuse for a human being who got my mother pregnant — used to take turns carrying both of us piggyback when I was a little girl.” Her tone softened. “When he did, I knew what a real father was like. There’s no way I could ever repay him and Mother for giving me the opportunity — the gift — to understand there truly is love in the world. Sometimes, when the decisions are especially hard, that’s all that keeps me going.”

“I know.” Merlin’s voice was as soft as hers had been. “I’ve been . . . damaged by a lot of things, Nynian, starting with the fact that I grew up knowing I was going to die before I was forty and that the entire human race was going to die with me. That . . . leaves a mark, and finding out what happened to Shan-wei and the Commodore and everything that’s happened here on Safehold since I woke up didn’t exactly make everything all better. But you’re right about how much difference something as simple — and profund — as love makes. It’s what keeps me trying and as close to sane as I still am.”

“You seem almost insanely sane to me, given everything you’ve seen been through,” Aivah objected.

“Appearances can be deceptive.” He shrugged easily, despite her weight on his back. “Although I probably am a bit closer to sane since Nahrmahn chewed me up one side and down the other for floundering in self-pity after the Canal Raid. But I’m afraid I’m still a little more dubious about my sanity quotient than my friends are.” His smile was a bit twisted.

“For what it’s worth, I’m on their side.” Aivah rested her mittened palm lightly against his cheek. “And I don’t envy you. I always thought the task the Sisters and I had undertaken was hard enough, and we only wanted to reform the Church, not destroy it! That doesn’t hold a candle to the one that got dumped on your shoulders.”

“Maybe. But it didn’t exactly get ‘dumped’ on me, you know. Or not on Nimue Alban, at least.”

“But that’s an important distinction,” she pointed out as the two of them moved from brilliant sunlight into the deep shadows of the valley before them. “You didn’t volunteer, whatever Nimue Alban might have done. You accepted the responsibility without any memory of having agreed to shoulder it, and the you you are today, Merlin Athrawes, is the product of that acceptance. You’re not Nimue Alban; you’re you, and from everything I’ve seen, you’re quite a remarkable human being who just happens to live inside a machine.”

“Nice of you to say so, anyway.”

Merlin’s light tone fooled neither of them, and she patted his cheek again before replacing her hand on his shoulder and adjusting her balance. Not so much to help him, as to position herself as comfortably as possible on his back.

Despite her slenderness and the fact that she was a foot shorter than he was, she knew she was no lightweight. Whatever disparaging remarks she might level at her own physical condition, vigorous exercise had always been a part of her life. She’d walked, run, and ridden horses whenever she could, and her Zion mansion, like her Siddar City town house, had boasted a well appointed gymnasium to tide her over the winter months. Part of that was because she enjoyed the workouts, and part of it had been a courtesan’s need to fine-tune — and preserve — her physical attractiveness. But for both those reasons, she was remarkably well-muscled, even more than Sharleyan Ahrmahk, and that made her a solid, substantial weight no flesh and blood human being, even one Merlin Athrawes’ size, could have carried so effortlessly.

Or so long. Merlin had landed the recon skimmer on a mountainside above the northernmost of the alpine lakes Safeholdian geographers had named Langhorne’s Tears. It was an inconvenient eight straight-line miles from their objective, which worked out to twice that distance on foot, but the landing spot he’d chosen had the advantage of a cave large enough to accommodate the skimmer. And as he’d been demonstrating for the last two hours, neither her weight, nor the altitude, nor the snow, nor the steepness of the slopes made any difference to him. In its own way, that was more impressive than all the other wonders he and Nimue Chwaeriau had demonstrated to her and Sandaria.

And it never seems to cross his mind that he’s actually better than a flesh-and-blood human, she thought. He comes from a place and a . . . technology — she tasted the still unfamiliar word carefully as she used it — none of us could possibly have imagined; he has knowledge most of us can’t imagine, really, even now; and he’s potentially immortal. Yet despite all of that, he treats us as his equals — in the privacy of his own mind, not just for public consumption — without even seeming to realize he’s doing it. I wonder if he even begins to understand just how remarkable that makes him?

She’d found Ahbraim Zhevons fascinating when they first met in Zion. She hadn’t known the source of the understanding and compassion she’d seen in his brown eyes, yet they’d been intensely attracting qualities even then. Now that she’d been allowed a glimpse inside the life and soul of Merlin Athrawes, she found them far more than simply attractive. How did someone survive a lifetime’s hopeless fight against the extinction of her entire race and then endure all the human being inside Nimue Alban’s PICA had been through here on Safehold and still feel so deeply, without walling himself off?

Her own life had taught her too much about barriers and the price of survival, and she wondered if perhaps that was the reason she felt such an intense kinship with Merlin. Despite all the centuries in which his PICA had rested in its hidden cavern, experientially he was fifteen Safeholdian years younger than she. Yet his life had demanded even more of sacrifice, of dedication, and of secrecy than her own. More than anyone else she’d ever known, even among the Sisters, he understood what she’d done with her own life . . . and what it had cost her.

She found herself snuggling more closely against his back — as closely as her parka permitted, at least — and rested her chin on his right shoulder, her cheek against the side of his neck, as he carried her smoothly down the valley.

* * * * * * * * * *

There was nothing particularly distinctive about the mountain above them.

It was steep — sheer in places — yet no steeper than many others. Its summit soared well above the tree line, its permanent snowpack gleaming brilliantly in the sunlight, but so did most of the others reaching upward around it. Merlin had gone back over the mapping imagery Owl had collected from orbit once Aivah told him where their destination lay, and the narrow track up from the valley floor could be picked out in the imagery from high summer. So could the gardens the Sisters tended during that brief warmth, yet now all those clues lay hidden under the featureless snow stretching away up the mountainside.

It was ironic, he thought, that the hidden Tomb of Saint Kohdy lay barely five hundred air miles from the cave in which his own PICA had slept away so many centuries. And that it, too, was concealed in a cave. The Church’s lack of SNARCs probably made that degree of overhead cover redundant — these days, at least — yet that might not have been the case when the tomb was first established, for he had no idea what the “minor angels” who’d expunged Seijin Khody from the Church’s annals might have been capable of. The fact that they’d commanded sufficient kinetic energy weaponry to destroy the Order of Saint Kohdy’s original abbey, even after the “Archangels’” departure, was not a pleasant thought, especially when he found himself wondering who else might have been left the equivalent of the Wylsynn family’s Stone of Schueler.

At least Merlin had ample evidence that the Group of Four possessed no aerial reconnaissance assets. If it had had them, the Great Canal Raid could never have succeeded and the trap Duke Eastshare had sprung on the Army of Shiloh would never have worked. So presumably the only way the present day Church could spot the Tomb of Saint Khody would be for someone to literally stumble over it on the ground, and that made the Abbey of the Snows, sixty-odd miles to the west on the Stone Shadow River, the Tomb’s true protection.

Like the Tellesberg Monastery of Saint Zherneau, the Abbey of the Snows, overlooking the largest of Langhorne’s Tears, had existed since the days of the War Against the Fallen. The imagery and radar mapping Owl’s SNARCs had amassed since Aivah told them about it confirmed that it had been built on the site of an even earlier structure, although the Abbey contained no lingering trace of the technology Safehold had been forbidden to develop. The evidence of that technology was clear enough from the arrow-straight approach road cut up to it through the steep sides of the Stone Shadow’s narrow valley and from the ceramacrete of which its ground floor had been constructed, however. It also accorded well with the Abbey’s own traditions that it had been built on what had once been an earthly dwelling place of the Archangel Langhorne himself. The lakes took their name from his traditional association with them as a spot to which he’d retreated when he needed solitude and the severe serenity of their beauty to refresh his soul. They’d been called Langhorne’s Joy before the Fall; they’d been renamed the Tears after his mortal body was destroyed by Kau-yung’s treachery.

Despite the spike of anger Merlin always felt when he encountered yet another charming legend about Langhorne, he understood exactly why an austere, contemplative order would find this the ideal place to build an abbey, and the Chihirite nuns who lived here and maintained the Abbey with loving devotion found a deep, sincere joy in sharing it with others.

During the summer months, it wasn’t at all unusual for pilgrims to trek up the winding, narrow, steeply climbing Stone Shadow Valley to spend several five-days in retreat and introspection in the Abbey’s guest quarters. Of course, by September, the snows for which the Abbey was named were already falling this high in the Mountains of Light. By mid-October, the only route in was closed by snow and ice, and it stayed that way until June. The nuns of the Abbey passed those winter months in study, prayer, and the calligraphy of the beautiful hand-lettered copies of the Holy Writ for which their scriptorium was famed.

What no one outside the Abbey knew was that for all its long association with the Order of Chihiro, the Abbey of the Snows had been thoroughly infiltrated by the Sisters of Saint Kohdy over six hundred years ago. Indeed, the process had begun even before that . . . about the time a forethoughtful abbess of the Order of Saint Kohdy had enlisted the assistance of the abbess of the Sisters of the Snows who’d happened to be her second cousin. The Sisters of the Snows had been instrumental in the secret construction of Saint Kohdy’s first, simple tomb in the mountains east of Langhorne’s Tears. Only a handful of them had known what was actually hidden there, but gradually, over the years, that had changed. By now, the entire Order of the Sisters of the Snows had been absorbed into the Sisters of Saint Kohdy. Or perhaps it would be equally accurate to say that the Sisters of the Snows had extended their membership — and their protection — over the Sisters of Saint Kohdy.

In either case, every Sister of the Snows was also a Sister of Saint Kohdy, and the Abbey of the Snows served as the protective gatekeeper of the cavern sanctuary which shielded the saint’s mortal remains.

It was, Merlin acknowledged, a remarkably effective defense in depth, yet the Abbey of the Snows was too remote and inconveniently located to serve as the Sisters’ operational headquarters. That was why the current mother superior had based herself in Zion — prior to her move to Siddar City — although Merlin doubted the majority of her predecessors had. Everything he’d learned from Aivah so far seemed to confirm his suspicion that young Nynian Rychtair had seen the Order’s role rather differently from those who’d come before her.

The Sisters had been a persistent, quiet force for good within Mother Church from their inception, but Nynian had . . . radicalized them. That was the best way to put it, he supposed. It was possible some of her predecessors would have made the same decisions she’d made, if they’d lived to see the corruption of the vicarate Nynian had seen, yet he rather doubted that any of those previous mothers superior would have spent thirty years training a cadre of assassins and saboteurs in the name of their patron saint. The sheer size of the Order’s network and its deeply embedded traditions of secrecy and anonymity had offered superb cover, concealment, and a support structure for Nynian’s more . . . proactive preparations, although he had to wonder if she’d ever truly believed she’d be in a position to make use of those assassins and saboteurs.

Now he set her on her own feet — or, rather, on the second pair of snow shoes he’d towed behind them the entire way here — and gazed up that bleak, bare mountainside.

“Back on Old Earth, they used to say that real estate value was all about location, location, location,” he remarked.

“The Sisters would certainly agree with that, Seijin Merlin.” Aivah’s eyes twinkled, but her tone was serious. “When the Angels themselves decree your extermination, there’s no such thing as a location that too remote.”

“I can see how that might be the case.”

“I’m sure you can, given what you’ve said about the bombardment platform and the capabilities of your own SNARCs. Of course, our true first line of defense hasn’t been hiding from the Inquisition; it’s been preventing the Inquisition from realizing we exist.” She smiled thinly. “People don’t look for things they don’t know exist, and we’ve been careful to keep it that way where the Inquisition is concerned.”

"Oh, bother!" said Pooh, as Piglet came back from the dead.
Re: HQ Snippet #21 3-27-15
Post by BarryKirk   » Fri Mar 27, 2015 11:00 pm

Captain of the List

Posts: 403
Joined: Sat Aug 11, 2012 1:27 pm
Location: York, PA

Thank you for the snippet RFC..

And so we pick up the Aivah and Merlin thread again.

She does seem quite fond of him.
Re: HQ Snippet #21 3-27-15
Post by bigrunt   » Fri Mar 27, 2015 11:03 pm

Lieutenant Commander

Posts: 117
Joined: Thu Sep 26, 2013 2:34 pm
Location: St Augustine FL

Thanks RFC. But I am sure every word will be picked apart.
I am the runt of the litter (Granted it was a litter of really big pups)
Re: HQ Snippet #21 3-27-15
Post by tootall   » Fri Mar 27, 2015 11:24 pm

Captain (Junior Grade)

Posts: 349
Joined: Mon Aug 29, 2011 12:23 am

That's a WOW.


I think she likes our hero.
Re: HQ Snippet #21 3-27-15
Post by Down Under   » Fri Mar 27, 2015 11:42 pm

Down Under
Lieutenant (Senior Grade)

Posts: 72
Joined: Sat Apr 27, 2013 12:54 am
Location: New Zealand

Thanks RFC.
(Hopefully) All good things come to those who wait
Re: HQ Snippet #21 3-27-15
Post by cirret   » Fri Mar 27, 2015 11:51 pm


Posts: 20
Joined: Mon Apr 01, 2013 8:11 am

tootall wrote:O.K....
That's a WOW.


I think she likes our hero.

Yup looks like the admiral doesn't stand a chance.

and thanks RFC for giving us our fix.
Re: HQ Snippet #21 3-27-15
Post by ksandgren   » Fri Mar 27, 2015 11:57 pm

Captain (Junior Grade)

Posts: 342
Joined: Tue Jun 14, 2011 5:54 pm
Location: Los Angeles, California


Thanks for the snippet rfc.

I'm sure we can make up sufficient analysis to fill the dead tme to the next snippet.
Re: HQ Snippet #21 3-27-15
Post by dan92677   » Sat Mar 28, 2015 12:05 am


Posts: 218
Joined: Thu Apr 18, 2013 9:33 pm
Location: Southern California

Thank you, rfc!!!!!

Have a restful Weekend.
Re: HQ Snippet #21 3-27-15
Post by lyonheart   » Sat Mar 28, 2015 3:14 am

Fleet Admiral

Posts: 4838
Joined: Tue Sep 08, 2009 10:27 pm

Hello Runs For Celery!

Thank you so very much for a new snippet!

Very interesting.

Seems like we should get a translation of Khody's journal soon.

Thanks again.

Any snippet or post from RFC is good if not great!
Re: HQ Snippet #21 3-27-15
Post by anwi   » Sat Mar 28, 2015 3:58 am


Posts: 176
Joined: Tue Oct 21, 2014 2:53 pm

runsforcelery wrote:Now, don't you guys go reading too much speculation into this one . . . . :P

Please, we're fundamentally unable to do that, so don't ask for the impossible. ;)

Moreover, while the snippet does not reveal so much new information on the current storyline, it does provide a lot of interesting background. And personally, I kind of like both the ideas and the writing. I've only one reservation, if I may: I find that bit about sacrifice and humanity between Aivah and Merlin used a rather blunt instrument.

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