September 28, 2005

Chapter 28

Leah sat back. "That's the strangest story I've ever heard," she said.

"Maybe we really are Canaanites," said Daniel, half-grinning and trying to suppress it.

"I think it's terribly sad," said Judith. "They seem to have lost everything good on their way to this strange belief. The Gospels tell of Christ's return, not his permanent departure. The new Jerusalem can still arrive, no matter what has happened to the old."

Isaac shook his head. "He seemed completely convinced, as convinced as you sound now."

"He'd have to be, to carry on with these attacks, and to march around the city."

"Convinced doesn't mean correct. We've had a few strange ideas develop here too."

"Yes, but we've always spent time questioning such deviations, and even our wildest early exiles never proposed anything like this."

"Perhaps their foundations were different? Christian, but with different expectations?"

"I can't even imagine where they would have to start to come to this."

"Nor can I," said Caleb, "and that's something I'd like to ask them about, if you think it wise."

Judith shook her head, while Leah nodded.

"I think perhaps you should hold off while we consider it," said Daniel. "But if there are more details about why they find Jerusalem so important, it would seem wise to collect them."

"Did you find out about Jerusalem?" asked Isaac.

"Not yet," said Leah. "We agreed to ask the city, but James couldn't tell us. He should return later with an answer, we expect."


"Jerusalem?" asked Catherine. "You mean they don't know -"

"We never told them," said Matthew, "as they never asked. We didn't think it was wise to infect them with those questions. That year of destruction caused a lot of problems for this city, if you recall -"

"It did a lot of good for this city," replied Catherine. "It gave the founders a reason to jettison that nonsense and start fresh."

"Yes, you can look at it that way," said Stephen, "and I think the founders were right. It isn't exactly a secret we could keep forever, though."

"It's never really been a secret," said Matthew. "It's just never been, well, convenient. The relationship upstairs is always focused on exchange, and even the educational work up there is primarily about either the wastefulness of the earlier civilization or what useful things they left us."

"So do we tell them about 2146?" asked William.

"Will it turn them into crazed raiders?" asked Catherine.

"No, probably not," said Matthew. "The earliest farmers started with a set of beliefs focused on one part of the Bible, probably the most peaceful part. The early culture-formers we sent to work with them deepened that focus, and it's a powerful force now."

"Not powerful for Jacob, apparently," said Catherine.

They paused.

"Perhaps not," said Matthew. "Perhaps not. But even if Jacob pushed the raider, I don't see that as a strong sign that the farmers have abandoned any of their core beliefs. There's always been occasional violence, and the elders always see to it that it's halted, by exile if necessary."

"How do we tell them?" asked Stephen. "Do we give them the same show we all saw growing up? Or do we just say 'Yes, Jerusalem was destroyed in 2146 and so were a bunch of other cities.'"


James had returned to the conference room, and plugged a controller into the monitor bank. The elders watched him quietly as he set up, and rearranged their chairs so they could all watch the screens.

"This is probably the easiest way to show you what happened in 2146," he said. "It's what we show our children, though it's not something we dwell on."

He turned off the lights, and the screen lit up with pictures of collapsed bridges. A deep voice narrated.

"The library was completed in 2143, despite increasing costs brought on by ever-scarcer energy and supplies. The road system in the surrounding area had begun to collapse for lack of maintenance, and regular flights had been suspended for a decade. The next few years would see disasters which illustrated the need for our city."

The screen went white for a moment, and then a cloud appeared on it, growing upwards from a set of hills covered in buildings.

"In 2145, Rome was destroyed by a nuclear explosion. Claims and counter-claims of responsibility were traded for years, but the destruction of this ancient city and home to one of the world's most popular religions was only the beginning."

The screen went white again, and a new cloud appeared.

"Six months later, Jerusalem, the site of furious battles over the previous century, disappeared the same way Rome had, and once again none of the claimants seemed likely. A mere two weeks later, Mecca met the same fate."

"Inside the city, this meant -"

James snapped off the display and turned the lights back on.

"I'm sorry to be the bearer of bad news," he said, "but that is, I'm afraid, what happened to Jerusalem."

"Carried up on a cloud like that?" asked Daniel.

"I'm afraid the cloud you saw was made of debris, the pieces of the city destroyed and blasted into the sky," replied James.

"And this city -"

"That's a constant fear," said James. "That someone would want to do that to us. And if they did that to us, you all would die shortly afterward from the blast and the pollution it would create. It's a horrible fate."

The elders were silent. "Thank you, James. We have a lot to discuss now," said Leah.

James left the room.

"There are worse things than being a Canaanite," said Daniel. "No one could have survived that."

"Apparently the temple didn't survive that," said Leah. "That explosion has created new explosions for us."

"And may yet create new ones. What do we tell our people?"

"The truth, I think," replied Judith. "Perhaps our telling them can reduce the danger of hearing the story from the raiders, and even shine a light on why listening to the raiders is dangerous."

"It's going to change things for a while," said Daniel. "We've never reflected much on what was lost, but this, this is too close to the stories we tell every day."

"It is," said Judith. "But we already knew that the world was lost and we were a few keeping faith in a time of darkness."


"Miriam - Miriam!" Abner was knocking on the post of Miriam's tent. "Martha sent me for you. Jacob's about to wake up again."

Miriam rubbed her eyes, and struggled out from under the quilts. She looked out the tent flap. "Now?"

"Now, or close to it," said Abner. She wrapped a warmer coat around herself and headed into the snow.

"It's coming down again," she said.

"Has been for an hour or two," said Abner. "It's warm in the hospital, though."

They walked into the hospital, and Miriam headed right for Jacob's bed, where Martha was waiting.

"Any minute now," she said. "This time I'll stay close in case there's a problem."

Jacob was stirring again. He moaned a bit, and opened his eyes slowly.

"Miriam? Is that you?"

"Yes, Jacob. I'm here."

He shifted his head, turning to look at her more closely. "Am I - am I going to be exiled?"

"No," she said, "no, I don't think so. No one has -" and the panic she'd felt when meeting with the elders earlier returned.

"They should," said Jacob.

"Don't say that," said Miriam. "You're going to be fine. You'll be better soon, and you'll be able to help like you always have."

Posted by simon at September 28, 2005 09:19 PM
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